Thursday, 29 September 2016

Preseason: Canadiens 3, Senators 4 (OT)

Thanks to Gary, I got blacked out of the Canadiens' 4-3 loss to the Senators, so I watched it on RDS' "Canadiens Express".  Gary made it up to me with this pallid 'World Cup' that mercifully just ended.  It deflates a team when the goalie puts them behind 1-0 early in the game.

Here are my notes:

1)  Mike Condon lets in an early weakish goal, which was a pattern for him last season.  One of these can squeak by once in a while, but not necessarily, and then a goalie must certainly make two or three excellent/miraculous saves to make up for it.

2)  Mike McCarron answers, and ties the score on a good individual effort.  He takes the puck and makes a strong play for the net, protecting the puck as he beelines right at the goalie and tucks the puck in behind him, just like Lars used to do.

Canadien 1, Senators 1

3)  A few days back I expressed the wish that Brandon Prust would do the planet a favour and ram the shaft of his stick into Mark Borowiecki's ugly stranded fish mouth, and knock the few remaining teeth out of there.  I was remonstrated that violence is not the answer.

Well, after seeing the Senators, ahem, 'defenceman', outright tackle Charles Hudon to the ice, ripping off his helmet in the process, I'm going to renew my call for the edentation of the Senator's goon.  Bobby Farnham, you're up.  Make yourself useful.

4)  Major pangs of jealousy as I espy Guy Boucher and Mark Crawford behind the Sens' bench.

5)  Can I say again that I don't think we should play the Senators in preseason games?  That we should just quarantine them, freeze them out?  Let them goon each other all alone in their lonely quiet barn in the middle of nowhere an hour out of Ottawa.

6)  First goal by Mikhail Sergachev, on the powerplay.  It's hard to resist the paternal joy I feel, and to not take too great a partial credit for the tally.

7)  Another goal by Zach Redmond, the kid can't not score, scrimmages, preseason, he don't care.  He's making my prediction that he'll be veteran help in St. John's seem less and less solid all the time.  Nice rush to the net from the blue line, and a sneaky bank shot off the goalie's back as he prepared to slide across his crease.

Canadiens 3, Senators 3

8)  Pierre Houde had just prior to that announced that Sens goalie Chris Driedger was one of the stars of the game so far, with 17 saves on 19 shots, while Mike Condon had allowed 3 goals on 8 shots.  Ouf!

9)  Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn aren't as spectacularly noticeable as on Tuesday, but they look solid enough.  On the powerplay, like Tuesday, they were confident, played off each other well, moved the puck quickly and effectively.

10)  Nice stretch pass from Zach Redmond to Charles Hudon, who breaks for the net and possibly surprises Tomas Plekanec with a deft backwards pass, it handcuffs him a little bit, can't do anything with it.  Charles Hudon is more noticeable tonight.

11)  At the start of the third, I learn that Mikhail Sergachev was finally not credited with a goal, I missed that update when it was made, on the condensed broadcast.

Not sure 22 is the right number for him, for a defenceman.  That's Steve Shutt's number.  We should have kept that 22 for the next left wing sniper to come down the pipe.

12)  Love seeing Greg Pateryn get off quick hard shots at the net from the blue line.  Maybe he should have been an assistant coach last season, imparted his knowledge, his secrets to other Canadien blueliners who for some reason couldn't get a shot through on net.

13)  Canadiens lose 4-3 in overtime.  Alex Galchenyuk commits a giveaway in his own zone, with a blind pass that lands on the wrong stick blade, and ends up in his own net.

14)  Mike Condon let in 4 goals on 21 shots.  I don't know if he'll have another opportunity in preseason to make a better impression, to try to hold on to his backup job.  It might be too late now.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Preseason: Canadiens 5, Capitals 2

Thanks to Gary Bettman's love of "our game" and everlasting respect for its fans, RDS is blacking out the game in my locale, even though the deal was when Canadiens went from free over-the-air Radio-Canada to RDS that we'd still get to enjoy Canadiens games as usual, we'd get every game now instead of just Saturdays, but would have to do so on cable instead of with rabbitt ears.  Who would have thought that little shyster couldn't be trusted?

So here are my thoughts on the 5-2 win against the Capitals, courtesy of Canadiens Express, the condensed version of the game brought to us by RDS, which I can thankfully still enjoy.

1)  I still think 21 is the wrong number for Stefan Matteau.  That's Doug Jarvis' number, or Guy Carbonneau's number.  It should be worn by Torrey Mitchell or Phillip Danault.  Stefan Matteau should have the 32 in honour of Claude Lemieux, or 36 for Sergio Momesso, or 39 for Brian Skrudland.

These things matter.

2)  Nice powerplay goal by Greg Pateryn.  He has an under-the-radar shot, which we don't hear too much about from him, and appeared as if by magic in Hamilton, after four years at Michigan where he'd score a couple goals a year at best.  Really compact backswing, gets it off quickly, and it's hard and precise.

Actually, the goal is awarded to Alex Radulov, but the comments about Greg Pateryn still stand.

3)  And now Nathan Beaulieu gets into the act, sneaking in on goal and cashing in a cross-crease pass by Alex Radulov.  Again, both Nathan and Greg Pateryn looked very comfortable on the powerplay, with Greg acting as a rightie Andrei Markov, sneaking up to the faceoff circle, going for a little wander, controlling the puck well and making crisp passes.

2 PP goals, 1 goal and 1 assist each for Nathan Beaulieu and Alex Radulov, and Greg Pateryn has two assists.

2-0 Canadiens.  Sunshine and rainbows...

4)  After a Capitals goal, Paul Byron gets a partial breakaway and dekes the puck in.  He's playing on what I think will be the fourth line at the start of the season, with Torrey Mitchell and Phillip Danault.  Lots of speed and perseverance and effort, and two centres, one rightie and a leftie.  It's an almost ideal setup really.

3-1 Canadiens, and Zachary Fucale takes over in goal from Al Montoya.

5)  Mike McCarron, who had a nice turn on the powerplay acting as a drive-in movie screen for the Caps goalie, is now buzzing around the Washington zone with Stefan Matteau and Charles Hudon.  Nice work guys.

6)  Torrey Mitchell scores, top corner, on the powerplay, on a nifty pass from Phillip Danault.  And another feed from Nathan Beaulieu.

Again, I'm impressed with Nathan Beaulieu, who just before this stood up to a Capital (Walker?) and apparently delivered a few crosschecks to keep him at bay, but didn't accept the invite to drop the gloves.  Which is fine, there's no need for fisticuffs during exhibition games Nate, we have bigger plans for you.

We've been hoping, since The Trade, that Nathan can be the leftie partner for Shea Weber, since he's mobile and could play big minutes, that young buck.  But it's good to see some evidence that this may be so, that it's not a mere pipe dream.

4-1 Canadiens.

7)  I guess special teams consultant Craig Ramsay's teachings from last year are starting to sink in, this powerplay's more like it.

8)  Okay, here's where the NHL becomes the NHL, and wallows in being the NHL.  Jay Beagle, at the 17:20 mark of the second period, does a blatant, brazen slewfoot on Andrew Shaw, who falls back violently enough that I'm not sure he didn't hit his head, that he didn't see stars.  I'm glad, upon replaying it, that he wasn't concussed, or suffer a skull fracture if his helmet had shifted on him like Donald Brashear's.

Andrew Shaw picks himself up, looks around at the refs, as play continues, and is surprised no penalty is called.

I'll allow that the refs didn't see the slewfoot.  What would be really easy though would be if this action was reviewed on video, along with a myriad of other dangerous acts during a game, and punishment was meted out afterwards.  It would be like photo radar, it wouldn't stop you from actually speeding, but it would deter you, out of the concern you'll get caught and fined later.  Players wouldn't spear or slewfoot or marchand if they knew they couldn't 'get away with it' when the refs are looking elsewhere.

Even better, a video ref should be used during the game, as rugby does very effectively, to immediately punish transgressions.

But as I said, this is the NHL, the refs are blind, and so is justice, and not in the good way, so players believe they must take matters into their own hands.

9)  So what does Andrew Shaw do?  He gets his own justice, and stamps Caps defenceman Connor Hobbs into the boards from behind.  The kid is knocked out for a few moments, so as he lies prone on the ice Andrew solicitously prods him awake with a few crosschecks to the back.
a)  The NHL doesn't care about player safety, despite the meandering meaninglessness on the subject by Gary Bettman.
b)  As a fan of the Canadiens, this isn't my cup of tea, but I understand what Andrew Shaw is trying to do.  It's a little bit of the Brandon Prust "There's a new sheriff in town" bravado.  He understands what Marc Bergevin got him and Shea Weber for, to make the team less of an easy mark, to make the Canadiens 'harder to play against'.  So he goes tit for tat, and then has to take on Nathan Walker who wants to avenge his teammate, and the Wheel of NHL Lunacy keeps on rolling.  Andrew Shaw easily wins this fight, gets in a few extra shots to make Nathan Walker pay for trying to get at Nathan Beaulieu a couple minutes earlier, but not before egging on the crowd during the fight, enjoining them to cheer louder.  Shawzy then yells at the Capitals bench as he's removed from the ice by the officials, probably making arrangements for cabs to Chez Parée after the game.
10)  I don't think Lars Eller would have reacted in quite this fashion exactly to the slewfoot by Jay Beagle.

11)  I'm ever so confused by the horde of Canadien forwards with a number in the fourties on their back.  I'm barely able now to keep straight in my mind the defencemen with a seventy-something on their sweater, and they've been here for years now.

This is going to take me weeks.

12)  So this seals it, after another sequence in the offensive zone where he nearly set up Jérémy Grégoire for a goal a couple of times, Nathan Beaulieu gets my First Star of the game, and my boosterism the rest of camp.

13)  Until he messes up and the fair weather turns.  At which point Twitter and I will be merciless.

14)  At 13:45 of the third, Nate does the Andrei Markov trick, baiting an opponent into trying a pass into a wide-open space, at which point he darts in and cuts off the pass.  It nearly sets up Jérémy Grégoire for a goal in the ensuing sequence.

I know, I know, I'm gushing...

15)  Byron to Hudon to Mitchell on a break, tic-tac-goal.  Greg Pateryn started off the play with a quick breakout, and joined the rush to make it a 3-on-1.

5-1 Canadiens

16)  Darren Dietz trying to goon lilliputian Paul Byron.  You're no longer one of the good guys, Darren, so "Booooooooo!"

17)  Fly in the ointment: Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu are dinged for a goal against on the penalty kill, so they're not actually perfect, completely.

So an easy win against what will surely be a putrid Washington team based on this result.  It's all over now but the wait for a possible Andrew Shaw suspension, which I can tell right now will be grossly unfair, since it's the Caps' Hobbs who caused this by failing to protect himself, and the Caps Jay Beagle who started the whole thing, and the Caps' Nathan Walker who was trying to cause trouble all game and found it.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Preseason: Canadiens 2, Devils 3

Thanks to Gary Bettman, who deftly handed broadcasting rights to the class clowns Sportsnet and TVA, I'm offering my Canadiens Express thoughts on the 3-2 loss to the Devils, having been blacked out of the full game.

--Glad to have Pierre Houde and Marc Denis back, they're talking about the youngsters, the upcoming season, the return of Kirk Muller.  No lame foxhole jokes, no character assassination of David Desharnais, I can get used to this.

--Arturri Lehkonen gets early praise for buzzing the net, but then gets a tripping penalty late in the first period.  Cue the clichés about not moving your feet, being on the wrong side of the puck, etc.

He was part of the best line for the Canadiens at the London tournament, but it was pointed out that Mike McCarron and Nikita Scherbak were the leaders, that Arturri didn't score.  When Mike McCarron was scratched for the third game, his performance was much more muted.

Same during the scrimmages, he had the benefit of playing with Gally and Chucky, but didn't get on the scoresheet or really draw the eye.  He really needs to impress the coaches in the next couple of games if he wants to make the team.

--Pierre and Marc have praise for Noah Juulsen, how impressive he is, his size, he looks like an NHL'er they say.

--Shots are 21-9 in favour of the Canadiens halfway through the game, but the score is tied 1-1.

--And it's now 2-1 for the Devils.  Powerplay goal, not much Mike Condon could have done on this one, but the first was on a dribbly little rebound he gave up that Adam Henrique cashed in.

There's a planned goalie change at this precise moment, not really reflective of any dissatisfaction by the coaches, they just wanted to give Charlie Lindgren half a game too, but you can't help but think it's symbolic.

--Marc Denis, a former NHL goalie himself, is quoted by Pierre Houde as saying, upon seeing Charlie Lindgren at the morning skate prior to his first NHL start last spring, "lui, il a l'air d'un gardien de but".  ("That kid looks like a goalie.)

Mr. Denis continues that he makes a good impression, which counts with scouts and GM's.  Also quoting goalie coach Stéphane Waite, he says he's "very athletic, has the build for the job, he's a proud competitor, had a lot of success in the NCAA.  He's coachable, ready to learn in terms of technique."

--Arturri Lehkonen has a couple of good sequences with his linemates, threatening at the opposite net.

--Noah Juulsen does some exploring with the puck, nice to see he's confident when it's time to create.  None of his sessions make me gasp or cringe though, nothing reckless about them.

--Jacob de la Rose playing centre, is saddled with Bobby Farnham on one wing.  Chris Terry on the other is less distasteful.  Potential AHL line?

--Jeff Petry is everywhere on the ice on his shifts, skating easily.  Early in the third, he skates from across the ice to catch up to speedster Taylor Hall on a break.  Good to see.

--Sven Andrighetto takes a delay of game penalty when he clears the puck into the stands.  Marc and Pierre tut-tut that that's no way to earn a job.

--Noah Juulsen on the powerplay, looking good, after the Galchenyuk line came close to tying the score.

--The Carr-Desharnais-Andrighetto line has so far not really caused any sparks, in the scrimmages or this game.  I wonder how long Michel Therrien will stick with this combo, how patient he can be with it.  It's almost a hopeful dream, rather than a unit based on any evidence that these three have any chemistry and will complete each other well.  The lack of size on that line is glaring.

--Taylor Hall playing like he has something to prove.  "I'll show them, trading me for some nobody like Adam Larsson, grumble grumble grumble..."

--Finally, the Desharnais line gets some points on the board, with a nice pass from Sven Andrighetto to Zach Redmond.  3-2 for the Devils.

Mr. Redmond has scored in the last two scrimmages, and now this preseason game.  Am I too hasty writing him off to the AHL already?  The guy is going to be hard to ignore if he keeps creating offence like this.

--Canadiens pull the goalie, and the Galchenyuk line comes very close to tying the score.

--RDS gives Arturri Lehkonen the game's Second Star.  Denis Gauthier's headline on L'Antichambre is about him: "On A Silver Platter".  He says it's a great opportunity for him, it's easy for the Canadiens to give it to him with Max Pacioretty being away at the World Cup.  He feels Arturri started the evening off slowly, but did well as the game progressed.  The panel agrees he's a step ahead of those he's competing with.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Canadiens 2016 training camp roster preview.

It's great that there's actual hockey to discuss now on social media, with training camp opening.  The Canadiens have 61 players reporting to camp, that's a lot of forwards and defencemen and goalies vying for jobs.  We can talk about that instead of poisoning each other with memes and propaganda.

--I watched the livestream of the scrimmage yesterday, it's great that RDS does that.  Why not, they have staff over there, equipment, the technology is there.  It's one of our few chances to see guys who'll most likely end up in the AHL this season.

--I'm surprised that this article by Stu Cowan of the Gazette again talks about the fact that some players have a one-way contract vs. others who don't, as if that'll be a crucial point in the decision-making.  Again, the one-way contract has nothing to do with whether a player will play for the Canadiens or IceCaps.  At most, it might be a tiebreaker.

The most important consideration will be how a player does at camp, how ready he is to play in the NHL.  Then, whether a player is eligible or immune to waivers when being sent down will be the most important factor.  The management will not want to risk a player they consider an asset on waivers, to lose him to another team for nothing.  That's the aspect we should consider, not whether a player has a one-way deal.

And I think this concern over waivers might be more pronounced this season, after the 'housecleaning' from this summer.  A lot of guys who the Canadiens risked on waivers last fall have now moved on, the Canadiens didn't even attempt to qualify guys like Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, Gabriel Dumont, and Bud Holloway.  Lucas Lessio was another fringe guy who could have been qualified and sent down but we walked away from.

The players they've kept now have a clearer path to the NHL, or at least to significant roles in the AHL, without so many veterans ahead of them on the org chart.  And whereas last season there were a half-dozen players exposed to waivers after camp, none of the guys drafted or signed and then developed in-house, the frontline guys, will be risked on waivers this fall, or very few, in my opinion.

--All summer we've posited our putative rosters, the players we think will start or would like to start the season in Montréal.  I've refrained from that game myself, thinking the decisions are pretty much already made, except for the odd exceptional performance at camp which could win a dark horse a job, like Michaël Bournival in 2013.  The decisions will probably revolve around waiver status, for a prudent GM like Marc Bergevin, along with decisions about development and icetime in a frontline role in St. John's versus hotdog consumery in Montréal.

And I support that strategy.  As a dogmatic inflexible armchair GM who's also a risk-averse scaredy-cat, the last thing I'd want our team to do is to lose assets on waivers.  Our prospect pool is better than during the Pierre Gauthier régime, but it's not that deep that we can squander prospects and farmhands.

Watching the Canucks, they were skillful/got lucky in 2014 when they sneaked Jacob Markstrom through waivers, but got bit last season when they lost Frank Corrado on waivers to the Leafs.  He probably won't be a great NHL player, but they definitely could have used him last year when injuries struck.  They could have kept him and sent Ben Hutton down for twenty games to Utica, and kept both players.

Let's not do that.  Let's not waste players on waivers.

--With that in mind, here's my 99%-certain-to-transpire roster:




NOTES: 1) Sven Andrighetto is assured of a roster spot over the likes of Charles Hudon because of his waiver status.  The guess is he’d be snapped up if they tried to send him down. His one-way contract isn’t the deciding factor, but I think it does reflect the reality of his situation, the team gave him a one-way knowing this, like they did with Greg Pateryn last summer.

2) Daniel Carr is the only player on my roster who can be sent down without waivers.  He can be sent to the AHL without a risk of losing him, so that makes him ‘vulnerable’ if Arturri Lehkonen or Charles Hudon have a great camp. He’s the player who’ll need to fight off all comers. His play last season before he got injured, along with the fact that his style of play endears him to Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin, gives him a big head start though.

And here I'll hedge my bets a little, and admit that the fact the Canadiens gave him a one-way contract this summer is a pretty good indication that they see him playing in the bigs.  The Canadiens won't mind, as a 'rich' team, paying him his NHL wage in the AHL if it came to that, the NHL salary cap is what they're concerned about, not necessarily organizational dollars and cents, but then again, they don't want to just throw money out the window.

3) Arturri Lehkonen would need to prove that he’ll be ready to contribute for a full season as a Top 9 player at least to remain in Montréal. I think the Canadiens would prefer that he play big minutes in the SHL instead of doing pressbox laps in Montréal, with his contract preventing the option of the AHL this year. He’s a little slender still, they might think another year of development will do him good. Again, the fact that he can go back to Sweden at no risk will play heavily in the balance.

4) With no one in his way in St. John’s, Charles Hudon will at least start the season there, and be counted on as a leader on the ice, with no Bud Holloway or Gabriel Dumont to steal his assignments. Him and Mike McCarron, this will be their team, they’ll be the guys who’ll play big minutes in all situations. No waivers for either means they can marinate for another half a season at least in the AHL.

5) Stefan Matteau would require waivers, so he’ll hang on to a roster spot. I hope that he’ll actually replace one of the wingers on the fourth line, that he wins and keeps one of those jobs, we desperately need his size and toughness in our lineup, more than Brian Flynn’s speed and versatility. I want Stefan on the ice rather than in the pressbox.

6) The lines I offer are a good bet to be the ones who start the season. Andrew Shaw and Alex Radulov might swap sides at least some of the time, but Michel Therrien and Mike Babcock and most NHL coaches prefer players to play on their strong side if possible.

7) Torrey Mitchell and Phillip Danault will trade off the centre position from game to game, and regularly in-game too probably. A rightie and a leftie, they’ll be a great line to have out there to take defensive draws. If Bryan Flynn is on that line, they can be very aggressive on the dot, not be afraid of being thrown out by a grandstanding linesman. If Stefan Matteau plays, they can crash and bang a little more, depending on the opponent.

The fourth line might be able to take some of the defensive and penalty kill duty away from Tomas Plekanec, who could save his energy for offence, feeding his wingers, and the playoffs.

I’m parking Paul Byron on the fourth line for now, but he’s also a coach’s favourite, and he’s likely to move up the lineup depending on injuries and other factors.

8) I’m being optimistic that Nathan Beaulieu starts the season with Shea Weber on the first defence pairing. I’m fearful of the rumblings that Andrei Markov might keep that spot, but understand that Michel Therrien is a conservative coach who loves his responsible veterans. Nate is a smart kid, I hope he gets that, and shows in camp that he will play with consistency and intensity, that he won’t be overwhelmed with the task. As we’ve discussed ad nauseam all summer, Shea would benefit from having a fleet-footed partner. He and Andrei are smart defencemen, but they may not be a great match as a pairing.

9) I do think that Mikhail Sergachev could win a job for a 9-game tryout, or even win a job outright, he’s physically able to play in the NHL, but starting camp injured is one strike against him. And it would help him if there was a fortuitous injury, a pulled hamstring or tender shoulder that would require another defenceman to sit out a couple of weeks at the start of the season. Again, he won’t be shoehorned on the roster if it means exposing another player on waivers.

The fact that Mikhail is a leftie, but one who feels very comfortable on the right side definitely plays in his favour though. If Greg Pateryn or Jeff Petry got banged up early and had to sit out a few games, definitely Mikhail could see NHL regular season action.

10) Mark Barberio is a great asset to have, an NHL vet who can move the puck, had a good season last year, is signed to a cheap contract, he can play either side relatively well, he’s an ideal #7. His local boy status is a great story, it helps him (and Torrey Mitchell also) a smidge, I think.

11) Spare me your Bobby Farnhams and Chris Terrys, they’re AHL fodder. I’m still bitter about Mr. Farnham being on our team, he’s our version of Vincent Dunn, about who I clutched my pearls earlier this week. Guys like that shouldn’t be in the league, they should be reffed out of the sport.

12) Zach Redmond is intriguing, but I think he’s in the same situation as Mark Barberio was last season, the veteran who’s the #8 or #9 d-man in the organization, and will start the season in the AHL, to provide experience down there and be ready.

I’ve hammered the point home about waivers enough that it might seem contradictory to want to risk him, but I don’t think there’s a big chance he’d be lost. He came to us as a UFA, like Mark did last season, and other teams will be battling to protect their own players from waivers too. Zach is an interesting player with a nice skillset, but he’s a fringe NHL’er at this point.

13) Philip Samuelsson is another blueliner who’ll start in the AHL, provide experience and try to work his way up. I assume he’s below Zach Redmond in the depth chart, but he’s got good size, he’s got blood lines, he might get a callup if needed.

14) About the PTO’s, David Broll is the one who caught my eye. Not his eight points in Syracuse last season, but his 6’2″, 235 lbs listed measurables, and his 112 penalty minutes. He’s probably a good foot soldier to have on the IceCaps, to support Connor Crisp and Brett Lernout and Mike McCarron if the going gets rough. I’d think he has a high chance of getting an AHL deal.

15) Yuri Alexandrov is another veteran defenceman who can help out in St. John’s. With Morgan Ellis and Darren Dietz gone, there’s a need for veteranship down there, for the team to compete and the kids to not get flustered and pushed around and blown out. A 28 year old KHL veteran, he can contribute for sure, but I’m not convinced an AHL contract would cut it for him, he might choose to return to the KHL. He might require one of our precious 50 contract slots to get him in the fold. We’re at 47 right now, don’t have much space to spare below the limit.

16) I almost forgot about Jacob de la Rose. Amazing how little buzz he’s getting this season compared to last year. I wasn’t that excited about him last fall as everyone else, but I’m not as down on him as some seem to be this camp. He’s easy to deal with, he doesn’t need waivers so he goes down to the AHL, and again, will benefit from a frontline role. He needs to get lots of ice, get his game in gear.

There’s no need to panic, no decision needs to be made, this isn’t a ‘last chance’ as some try to make it out to be. He’s simply a prospect we control, who’s not a headache or anything, not someone who we need to choose over someone else. He gets to play lots this season and get closer to the show.

17) It seems pretty clear that Al Montoya will be the backup for Carey Price. I don’t think the team will keep three goalies, and frankly, there’s no need to. Mike Condon will probably clear waivers and land in St. John’s, I don’t see another team that needs a goalie so desperately they’d claim him and keep him on their NHL roster all year, unless there’s a few goalie injuries during NHL exhibition season.

Who stays in the AHL and who gets pushed down to the ECHL out of Mike Condon, Zach Fucale and Charlie Lindgren is something we’ll discuss later. I’m keeping my fingers crossed we can trade a goalie for an asset we can better use and retain.

18) It’s unfortunate that Martin Reway is not able to attend camp, he would have had a great opportunity to work his way up from St. John’s, to at least showcase his game. He may not be exactly the prospect we need, but could have been trade bait for one we could use more urgently. In any case, I hope this is only a temporary setback, and he can make a full recovery.

19) And this bring us to Tim Bozon, who was listed on 'Team C' yesterday at camp, along with injured Mikhail Sergachev and the PTO’s. Ouch. Not sure if he was injured too, why he got to sit out the scrimmage, but it’s not a good sign.

He had an up-and-down season last year, in that he got sent down to the ECHL and was a healthy scratch a couple of times. He scored a couple of goals at the end of the season, seemed to be getting in gear, but had another setback this summer when he was left off France’s national squad that played in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Seeing as this isn’t a powerhouse internationally, you’d expect that a drafted NHL prospect would find a spot on that team.

We don’t have a lot of scorers, a lot of snipers in our system, we can only hope that Tim Bozon can overcome his struggles and regain the promise that saw him be a high third-round pick in 2012.

20) And to a lesser degree, the same goes for Dalton Thrower. He was hampered in a way by the glut of right-shot defencemen in the organization, but the departure of Morgan Ellis and Darren Dietz gives him a chance for more minutes. He’s got one more year on his contract, and I get the sense, based on his meager results so far, that he’ll need to take a couple of giant steps forward if he wants to earn another one in the Canadiens organization.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

World Cup? Meh...

I’m slow on the uptake, or, like Magic Johnson said of Vlade Divac, I’m a quick learner, but a quick forgetter too. I wasn’t overly excited about the World Cup, but figured I’d watch at least all the Team Canada games, until the first few minutes of the game against Czech, and relearned that hockey today isn’t hockey in 1987. Back then, you had a sense that Gretzky-Lemieux-Messier going up against the evil Soviets could produce something historic.

Very early on Saturday, I realized/remembered that the hockey would be clinical, the goals would be scored on the margins, in the breakdowns, on the rebounds. There would be no orchestrated circling like the KLM line would do. There would be no flights of the likes of Guy Lafleur or Paul Coffey.

Jack Todd just penned a column entitled Coaches' systems are making hockey boring.

Yet hockey should be better.  Players today are obviously bigger, stronger, better conditioned, more skilled, with better and lighter equipment. The skates are made with kevlar and carbon fibers instead of leather. Their sticks are precisely engineered to give better feel, better shots, than the lumber players used two decades ago.

The time has come at the upper levels to outlaw defensive systems. No more neutral zone traps, no more five players massed at their blue line, let’s institute illegal defences like the NBA has done. Instead, let’s force teams into man-to-man schemes. Let’s prevent teams from collapsing upon their sumo goalies. Let’s make hockey strategies more than ‘getting pucks on net’ and ‘crashing the crease’.

Another strike against this World Cup is that the geopolitical climate has changed, so playing against the Soviets/Russia or Czechoslovakia/Czech doesn’t have the same cachet, has no political overtones.

Also, back in the day, la Série du Siècle, la Coupe du Défi, la Coupe Canada, these were the only game in town, the only way to see Russian players.  Every time we saw the Soviets, we weren't sure it might not be the last time.  Nowadays, we get our fix every four years of ‘best-on-best’ at the Olympics, and the Russian greats like Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin are in our league, we see them in the NHL. Their appearance in this World Cup isn’t a thrill so much as run-of-the-mill.

Maybe in time the World Cup will grow in importance, in our esteem, but right now it seems cobbled together, improvised, at an inopportune time, so early in the season.

So I watched the game on FFWD, and hurried back to the college football. Jack Todd’s point needs to be stressed, that coaches are doing whatever is allowed by the rules and the climate to win games, and right now that’s forcing the game in an unexciting direction.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Rookie Tournament: Young Canadiens 3, Senators 6

Thoughts, notes on the Canadiens' prospects losing 6-3 to the Senators' squad.  The Canadiens sat centre Mike McCarron, who until then had acted as team captain, and were described as lacking jump by the TSN 690 radio hosts who described the game.

--Shots 39-31 for the Young Canadiens.

--The TSN 690 boys mentioned that Nikita Scherbak’s and Arturri Lehkonen’s performance is much more muted today, without Michael McCarron as their centre.

They also suppose that they’re not well served by the back-to-back games in 18 hours, they’re not as peppy as they were last night.

--“Three goaltenders, three very different performances, one was head and shoulders over the others,” says one host, meaning Charlie Lindgren.  The other doesn’t think it was that clear cut.

--Victor Mete and Will Bitten get praise also.

--Lemonade out of lemons, the hosts say Noah Juulsen had a very strong rookie tournament. Good news.

--Michael Pezzetta dropped the gloves with Vincent Dunn, the hosts call it a draw at best. They kind of think it’s a period too late, that Mr. Dunn ran around doing “whatever he wanted” after he hit Mikhail Sergachev.

--Some background on Vincent Dunn, and also here.

--I get that the Sens are still scarred after the NHL allowed them to be belaked and domied out of the playoffs back in the day, but I hate that it’s the Canadiens who now bear the brunt of their arms race.

Guys like Vincent Dunn are an obvious menace. It’s obvious that he’ll injure other players, because that the ‘style’ he’ll have to play to have a job in the NHL. And he’ll get suspended and lose salary, but somehow the Senators themselves will not be punished in any way, not the coach for failing to discipline his player, not the GM for hiring this guy in the first place. The only ones who’ll face any consequences are the players.

And the taxpayers will pay Eugene Melnyk so he can build himself a palace and gouge the fans as a thank you.

It’s the Circle of Life.

--Mr. Dunn has had a very checkered career, I’m familiar with the name from reading game reports or watching LHJMQ games on TVA.

Until teams suffer real consequences for hiring these guys, until they face suspensions and loss of draft picks and loss of cap space for having guys like Raffi Torres and Matt Cooke in their lineup and committing their routine atrocities, it’ll never change, teams will keep drafting and handing contracts to the next generation, to the Vincent Dunns of the world.

But no, let’s blame the NHLPA for Sean Avery.

--I have a gap in my fandom when I didn’t really follow the Canadiens, I didn’t have a TV or cable or anything. I’d read about hockey in the Globe and Mail, catch a game here and there at the pub, but that’s it. So I’ve relied on social media to fill in these years-long gaps.

One fact I’ve picked up is that the Canadiens used to participate in these rookie camps, but stopped after they grew tired of getting gooned by the Leafs and other teams. The refrain goes that the Canadiens would show up with real prospects, with our usual (sigh…) size and skill profile, and get thumped by a Toronto team full of AHL scrubs who were 23 and trying to mug their way onto a roster.

So the Canadiens, it’s been told, stopped the madness, figured there was no point attending these, and concentrated instead on skill development during rookie camp, along with intra-squad scrimmages. It didn’t make sense to get into a asymmetrical war with the Leafs, to let kids right out of junior get injured by cynical pros.

Marc Bergevin went along with this skills-and-scrimmages practice at first, said he didn’t have a preference but would observe what we did when he first came over from the Blackhawks, but when an opening was created in the London tournament last year, he jumped on it. I figured he’s no shrinking violet, he believes the crucible of competition is how you determine who your real prospects are. I guessed he had a gentleman’s agreement with his counterpart GM’s about the types of players who were invited, the type of hockey that would be played, and how the refereeing would go.

I trusted him, I trusted the process, even though I had deep misgivings about having anything to do with the Senators, post-Eric Gryba on Lars Eller. I don’t want anything to do with the Sens, with their Mark Borowiecki (and I’m not even going to double-check if I spelled that right, he doesn’t deserve it) and Matt Kassians. I know they’re geographically nearby, so they’re a convenient opponent, but really, I don’t care, we’re not raiding the ashtray loose change for gas money. If anything, the Senators need us way more than we need them, I say we wall them off, we quarantine them.

So my qualms were kind of proven right, with no-hope prospect Vincent Dunn running Mikhail Sergachev from behind into the boards, long after he was anywhere near the puck. This is precisely what we (I) wanted to avoid, to have our crown jewels smashed by vandals.

If next season we again participate in this tourney, I expect Marc Bergevin to discuss this matter with his fellow GM’s and make sure we’re all on the same page. Also, I expect that if the other teams bring along a Vincent Dunn-type prospect, that we do the same, if having a Mike McCarron and a Brett Lernout on hand isn’t sufficient, as evidently it wasn’t last night. If they all have one of these guys, we bring two. If they bring two, we bring four.

And I’m not saying that having these guys along will ‘prevent’ violence or injuries, that they’ll really act as a deterrent, but more that they’ll keep each other occupied, like having George Parros in our lineup kept Colton Orr busy, he wasn’t running around slavering in the third period, still not having been fed, attempting to de-leg-itate Tomas Plekanec. When Colton Orr squared off with George Parros, we didn’t hear from him the rest of the night, he’d been neutralized. He’d done his duty.

And yeah, all that talk about size not mattering any more in the NHL, how the Penguins blah blah blah, and Victor Mete and Samuel Girard are the new wave of NHL defencemen, tell that to the Senators. If that’s the way they want to play, I literally would pick up my stick and go home, rather than risk an injury to Mikhail Sergachev. Let the Sens collapse in on themselves in their tiny backwater.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Kerby Rychel was obtained for a song by the Leafs.

Here is an article which reminds us that the Leafs obtained Kerby Rychel for nothing, essentially. They got him from Columbus by swapping Scott Harrington, or a conditional 5th-rounder if he doesn’t make the 23-man roster next season, and is claimed by another team on waivers when sent down to the AHL.

Now, I don’t know Kerby Rychel except that he was a sexy name during the 2013 draft, one who we hoped would be in range with our #26 pick, along with Anthony Mantha. I didn’t know Kerby Rychel, hadn’t seen him play, so I wasn’t a cheerleader for picking him, left that to others who’d seen him in the OHL or who liked his profile. I was tempted by the sales pitch though, that of a big bruising forward who can skate and put up points, he seemed to be what the doctor ordered.

During the draft, Marc Bergevin tried to move up a couple of times, once apparently to get a chance at Samuel Morin, and once more to move up in the late teens, possibly to draft Kerby Rychel. He explained later that he couldn’t find a deal that worked for him, anything affordable.

And this was captured on video, as we saw on a Blue Jackets’ behind-the-scenes video, when Jarmo Kekalainen shortly before he’s to be on the clock to make a pick, gives a cursory listen to someone on the phone, but curtly answers “No, we’re making the pick.” And when he’s asked who was calling, says “Berj.”

But Scott Harrington caught my eye in this trade, and earlier when he was a throw-in in the Phil Kessel trade. It made sense to me that he might be acquired by Toronto, since he’d played for Mark Hunter’s London Knights. But he was also someone who was nearly lampooned by a blogger on “That’s Offside”, as everything that’s wrong with Hockey Canada, and things like drafting intangibles.
“One of the things that drives me off-the-wall crazy about Hockey Canada at the junior level is the fetishization of stuff as nebulous as “heart” and “grit” and “toughness.” Consequently, we get guys on our international junior teams who, when they appear to exhibit some of these intangible qualities, are lauded for their on-ice defensive abilities.

Take, for example, Scott Harrington. A Penguins 2nd round pick in 2011, he was named the captain of the OHL champion London Knights this past season (leadership!), was a finalist for OHL defenseman of the year (defense!), and was guaranteed a spot on Canada’s World Junior Championship team’s blueline because he was there before because he blocked shots (heart!). Corey Pronman lists him as one of Pittsburgh’s top-10 prospects, saying that his upside is a 3rd or 4th NHL defenseman due to being a “high-end thinker” with stellar defensive ability.

And yet he’ll more than likely be out of NHL hockey by the time he’s 25, doomed to a career bouncing around the minor leagues and Europe, mostly because he’s not a very good hockey player, relatively speaking.”

The blogger’s main thesis, which I’ve leaned on since then when analyzing drafts, is that point-generation is the most important factor you can look at when drafting CHL defencemen, that they have to have produced 0.6 points per game in their draft year to have a reasonable chance of making the NHL. Anything below that level, you have a vanishingly small probability of making it.

And of course Scott Harrington didn’t come anywhere near that level. And we can argue that neither did Jarred Tinordi, who wasn’t in the CHL in his draft year, but couldn’t manage it in his Draft+1 year, or even his Draft+2 year.

In the death throes of Jarred Tinordi’s Canadien career, a lot of trial balloons were floated on social media whereby we’d swap Jarred for Kerby Rychel, see if either stalled prospect could revive his career in a new locale. That seemed fanciful at the time, but seeing how eventually Kerby Rychel was had for a song, it makes you think this was an eminently reasonable trade proposal, not the lopsided steal in our favour some thought he’d be.

Of course, now that he’s a Leaf, I hope that he never pans out, that he’s as long a shot as Stefan Matteau, or even longer.

World Cup (Exhibition) Game 2: Canada 5, USA 2

1)  I'm not buying the Nick Kypreos-cheerled scrumfest, the 'intensity' of Friday's game, which really means lots of illegal hitting and shoving and slashing and other uncalled penalties.  The hosts and analysts have been trumpeting that the tournament will be played on NHL ice, with NHL rules and NHL refs, with the implication that this is an advantage for Team Canada, certainly, but also for the average fan.

But I'm already sick of the constant pushing and shoving after whistles.  And if I had to compare, the style and pace of play at last spring's World Championships, or the last Olympics in Sochi, produced a much more pleasant viewing experience for telespectators, more free-flowing hockey and less nonsense after whistles.

2)  Alex Pieterangelo was horrible, relatively, during Friday night's game.  He proved the axiom that right-handed defencemen can't play on the left.  Alex Pieterangelo developed his game playing major minutes on the right side and never had to shunt over to the left, and it showed.  Gap control, controlling the puck along the boards but being forced to go with weak backhands, losing the puck, turning it over, getting caught in no-man's-land, he looked awful, in comparison to the defencemen who played for Canada in 2010 and 2014, and who were essentially flawless.

3)  I bet the brass is second-guessing itself a little bit about not taking on Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie of the Flames instead of Jason Bouwmeester,  Jake Muzzin, and trying Alex Pieterangelo on the left.  Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie were the reason the Flames traded away Jay Bouwmeester in the first place, and the numbers prove that the youngsters were ready to take over.

4)  Mark Giordano is a a superior defenceman to Jay Bouwmeester, in my opinion, and according to most objective measures.  If the brass wanted flexibility though, they could have chosen T.J. instead, who's a leftie who normally plays on the right with Mark Giordano.  T.J., able to play both sides, could have given Mike Babcock an easier time building his lineup.

5)  Jake Muzzin I'm not too familiar with, and I understand the idea that he'll form a good pairing with Drew Doughty, since they know each other and play together often, but really, he's like Marc Méthot to Erik Karlsson, a nice partner for a special player in terms of the NHL, but not in a best-on-best setting.  We're losing too much juice with Jake Muzzin that familiarity doesn't begin to make up.

6)  Since we're talking about it, the problem with a defenceman playing on his 'off' side isn't strictly limited to having to play the puck more on his backhand.  It also has to do with knowing your area of the ice, being aware of your gaps, your angles.

Also, some players just pivot better on one side than on the other.  I know as a left-handed defenceman, when skating backwards, I pivoted to my left, towards the boards, a lot easier than to my right, towards the centre.

When I was playing the left side, facing an attacker, if he wanted to try going past me on my right, that's the side I hold my stick, in my right hand, and could cover a lot of area with a sweep and a pokecheck of my stick.  Also, my partner was on my right, and could jump in and help if someone tried to go through the middle.

But if I had to play on the right, it jumbled everything up.  I couldn't make a strong pivot or  a crossover  to my left and then a bodycheck along the boards, the boards were on my right, my pokecheck side.

Alex Pieterangelo is learning this now, playing at a very high level.  He looks lost out there.  All his little tricks, his go-to moves that he polished over the years, they're all off, they're not working for him on the left.

7)  That character singing the national anthems, was that a Pokémon?  I've never seen one before, glad the NHL is trying to engage the youth, and teaching me new things.

8)  If Ryan Kesler merited a five-minute major and expulsion from the game for boarding for his hit on Shea Weber on Friday night, yet John Tavares' hit on Ryan Kesler in the first minute of tonight's game wasn't boarding, then I don't really understand the rule.  I'm not being snarky, but rather being honest.  I don't get it.

9)  Seeing Steven Stamkos trying to dish off to Logan Couture on a 2-on-1, when Corey Schneider was still trying to slide across and wasn't set, is another illustration that players aren't really certain of their roles, in this tourney, and generally when these teams get put together.  If this happened while Mr. Stamkos was playing with the Lightning, he would have pulled the trigger, taken a good shot, rather than try to defer to his All-Star linemate.

Pssst!...  Steve... You're an All-Star too...  Shoot next time.

10)  I'm glad Blake Wheeler found his game only after the Bruins traded him away.

11)  Hey, if Team Canada needed a leftie defenceman, why not Nathan Beaulieu?  He's got loads of mobility and speed, and could have disguised his lack of a slapper by feeding whichever rightie he played with, whether Drew Doughty, Shea Weber or Brent Burns.

12)  The Sharks provide the first goal for Team Canada.  Brent Burns breaks up a US rush by James van Riemsdyk with a poke check, Joe Thornton ends up with the puck in the offensive zone, who feeds Logan Couture in front of the net, who converts on a backhand up high.

13)  Good hit from Joe Thornton on Ryan Kesler.  If you're going to take a penalty, don't make it a cheesy hooking call in the offensive zone Lars.  Make it count.  Getting a good lick on Ryan Kesler is worth a two-minute penalty.  Especially given the circumstances of the previous night.

14)  The US' first goal is again on a deflection.  Braden Holtby had no chance on it, like Carey had no chance on the first goal last night.

15)  John Carlson scores on a 5-on-3 to make the score closer, 3-2, after Team Canada had jumped to a 3-0 lead.  I think I'm missing the boat on John Carlson, everyone raves about him, and I know nothing about him, never pay attention to him when he plays.

16)  I'm a doubting Thomas on Jay Bouwmeester, obviously, but so far he has a goal, and then makes a gutsy play, diving in front of a Dustin Byfuglien slapshot and getting a big block.  Let's give the guy a chance maybe?  Without admitting to anything personally, having to walk back my hot takes?  Deal.

17)  JVR chewing on his fluorescent green mouthguard during a mild scrum in front of Braden Holtby's net.  Yo, JVR, this would be a good time for you to leave that mouthguard in between your teeth, right now, when someone might jab their glove right in your kisser.  Either get a mouthguard that fits properly, or lose the nervous chew on half of your mouthguard, it's not doing you any good if it's not in between your teeth properly.

18)  During a break in the action, or on the bench, even in the dressing room between periods, Shea Weber should unload the mother of all crosschecks into Brad Marchand's rotten teeth.  Just to get a head start on the regular season, take an early lead.

19)  There's a saying in car racing that there's no substitute for cubic inches.  In hockey, there's no substitute for talent, for snipeyness.  On the Tyler Séguin-assisted Matt Duchene goal, I thought the play, the rush was stillborn, since Tyler Séguin started off a little slowly, had T.J. Oshie all over him.  But he protected the puck with his big body, and dished the puck off with a nifty backhand.  Matt Duchene one-timed it past a defenceless Corey Schneider.

This wasn't a gritty character goal.  This wasn't a goal that Rob Zamuner or Kris Draper was going to score, or set up.

20)  Agree with Dave Randorf and Gary Galley, Duncan Keith is a huge loss for Team Canada, both in the way his pure skill is subtracted from the team, and in causing that domino effect on the left side of the blue line.  Duncan Keith was the most impressive defenceman in 2010 and 2014, with Shea Weber and Drew Doughty right on his tail.

21)  The game in Columbus gave me pause, I was a little worried at the ponderousness of Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton, but I'm reassured now.  If Team Canada plays anywhere near how it should, it should breeze through this tournament, certainly against the US, who don't have the talent to compare.

22)  I'll vote thumbs up on Shea Weber's scrogging of T.J. Oshie as the final horn sounded.  That kid is an aggravation, he deserved a thorough shaking.

Carey Price provides some answers on the P.K. Subban trade, courtesy of Elliotte Friedman

Elliotte Friedman writes an excellent article:  The 23 Minutes That Shook the Hockey World .  He covers that day in June when Steven Stamkos re-signed with Tampa, the Canadiens traded P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber, and the Oilers traded Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson.  

There are a lot of insights and aspects explored, including Carey Price's take on the reasons behind the trade.  Here's an excerpt:
The most important opinion is Price’s. As he arrived for World Cup training camp, he said he did not know about the trade beforehand.
“No, I was shocked like everyone else. But I had an idea that it was possible. The way our game is structured and the way P.K. plays…we’re headed in a different direction.”
Can you explain what you mean by that?
“P.K. is an offensive defenceman and a risk-taker. That’s made him successful, that’s the way he plays the game. He doesn’t want to change that and I respect that. I respect the way that he plays the game…his type of enthusiasm and his ability to raise fans out of their seats. That’s a special gift and something that not very many players are able to do. But the way we’re coached on our team, the way our team is structured, that’s not what were looking for. We’re looking for a steady type of defenceman that makes quick plays and is able to move the puck right away. Shea fits that bill perfectly.”

Holy crap Pricey!… Everyone involved on both sides of this issue, from both teams, from league sources who’d agree to be quoted, they all pussyfooted and inched out of line grudgingly, but you just came right out and said it.
“He doesn’t want to change that…”
I was holding out hope, for years, and I bet a lot of Canadiens/P.K. fans were, that he’d come around, that he’d tone down some of his game and settle in, that he’d see the light, that he’d conform, toe the line. That he’d realize that 80 to 90% of the time, the simple low-risk play is the best option. You gamble, you wheel and deal, only once in a while, to keep the opponents honest, when they overplay the simple pass, and leave you lots of room to explore.

You press the issue when you’re a few goals down, or when you’re a goal behind in the third. The rest of the time, you play the percentages, like Michel Therrien says. You create chances, that’s all you can do as a player, like Sidney Crosby says. You don’t dipsy-doodle through the entire team every shift.

Carey says he didn’t want to change. As in, he knew better, he’d been told, and Michel Therrien said in the La Presse interview that there have been myriad conversations in various contexts and settings, but P.K., as bright as he is, was pretty stubborn, intransigent. It wasn’t a question of another season or two for him to get this down, to make it a habit, it was more of a question that he wasn’t accepting the coaching, the team concept.
“But the way we’re coached on our team, the way our team is structured, that’s not what were looking for.”
Again, a telling quote. And I’m parsing words a little bit, but only because so many people have spoken in generalities about this trade, that Carey’s stands out, in how direct it is. Carey doesn’t say “That’s not what Coach Therrien was looking for.” He doesn’t say “there was a clash…” Just outright states that P.K. didn’t fit, wouldn’t fit in, with what ‘we’ are trying to do.

Kudos to Carey Price for speaking candidly, respectfully, evenly about this trade.

And big kudos for Elliott Friedman. He so often gives us the goods, info that nobody had, or presented in quite the way he does. He makes it look easy, and then makes other hockey writers pale by comparison.