Because the Leafs entrain all of Hockey Night in Canada's resources with them, we got the A-team with Jim Hughson calling the game tonight, and not our usual helping of the reliably fallible Bob Cole. Which was a plus, in a way, we got a play-by-play caller who helps the game along instead of obscuring it.
One of my hobby horses on social media is that there is no Canadiens-Leafs rivalry, that Toronto hasn't mattered for decades, certainly not in my lifetime. The last we saw of them in the playoffs, we swept them, two years in a row, that whimsical assemblage of Mike Palmateer and Tiger Williams, and their trio of Jack Valiquette, Pat Boutette and Bruce Boudreau, who the ownership of the team was quick to point out didn't speak French, that they 'weren't French', as a point of pride. They were merely saddled with a French surname, to their fans' implied chagrin. As if it would have been a grave injustice to their gullible fans to have had a Gilbert Perreault or Yvan Cournoyer in their ranks.
Yet the CBC kept perpetuating this myth of a Canadiens rivalry with the Leafs, unbeknownst to most francophone fans who had their priorities straight, and knew that their hated rivals were the Bruins and the Flyers. The challengers who usurped our crown, the Islanders and eventually the Oilers, those were the teams we were struggling with. Not the ridiculous blue-and-whites, the fearsome Inge Hammarström.
And it was a surprise to me, when I met some English-speaking Canadians from all over the country in university, some of them Leafs fans, and they would eagerly want to bust my chops about my Canadiens, and how the Leafs were going to win in three weeks' time, a game they'd already circled on the calendar. It was unfathomable to me that they were a) fans of the Maple Leafs to begin with, b) that they would admit this verbally, out loud, c) apparently for all the world as if unabashed, and d), that they expected me to mount a defence of my team for some reason, as if there was this back-and-forth that we and they regularly undertook. As if we were the mongoose and the cobra, rather than the polar bear and the seal. This was a genuine stumper to me, and I couldn't play my ascribed role. I didn't understand the game they were playing.
I began to understand this phenomenon when I'd watch games on CBC, on Hockey Night in Canada, instead of on Radio-Canada and "La Soirée du Hockey", and was exposed to this completely twisted narrative that the Leafs were our hated, worthy rivals, as opposed to less-fearsome Sabres from not-across-the-border, importunate inconsequential hurdles while we bid our time until the next Bruins game, the next meeting against those Nordiques upstarts.
And I've stated all this before, and when I do the HIO vets will call this whippersnapper to order, that maybe there have been a couple generations or so that have not known the Leafs to have been in any shape or form an adversary, but back in the Sixties, wooh, boy, the Leafs, well, they were one of the five other teams that didn't quite suck, they'd win some of the Stanley Cups we let slip through our fingers. When the Red Wings faded, well, the Leafs kind of took a shufflestep forward and they were a team to contend with, they'll inform me.
Which is fine, but that's what it is, ancient history. Actual history. Dead and buried history. Not an enduring conflict, as Dave Hodge and Ron MacLean and Bob Cole would have me believe.
And tonight, Kyle Bukauskas, Sportsnet's latest lowest bidder, who ousted more senior and better paid Chantal Desjardins with his polished insipidity at half the price, showed a photo montage to start the second period, and intoned that with Auston Matthews and their slew of rookies, the Leafs can once again challenge the Canadiens, like way back in the days of Dave Keon. "The rivalry once again matters," he intoned.
Well, first of all it would be prudent to wait until those chickens actually hatched. But mainly, how infuriating that, after years of being fed propaganda and lies and dreck like the Leafs new "Big Three", or their other new "Big Three", or their breathless reports about Brandon Kozun and Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer and Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov and Nikolai Borschevsky, all of their failed next great Leafs, all this hype about the Saturday clashes, all this one-way 'hatred', they come clean and tell us they've been selling us a bridge to Mississauga.
"What they need is a playoff meeting. It hasn't happened in a long time..." now says Jim Hughson, and Craig Simpson agrees. That's nice boys, but maybe that should have been the party line since, oh, maybe the Nineties? Instead of this ginned up rivalry you've been fabricating, you've been shoving down our throats for all these years? Vainly?
But I'm not one to dwell, or dramatize, so let's focus on the game.
--Shea Weber's 'secondary assist' on the powerplay goal that made the game 2-0 was as primary as it gets. He never looked directly at Alex Radulov, instead kept searching for a shooting lane, and angled the puck at him at the side of the net, catching the defenders unprepared.
I understand the value of the primary assist and primary points as a statistic, how the're more 'replicable' from year to year in a player's career, how there's less variability, but I think some people go overboard, and discount secondary assists too much. Shea Weber, in this instance, engineered this play, delivered the puck to a an excellent point producer on the goal's doorstep, with an extra half-second's respite with his subterfuge. He gets a full point in my book.
Two assists so far in the game, and a crunching bodycheck on winsome heartthrob William Nylander, that's a pretty good night's work for him.
--There was a profile on Jamie Benn, how he was a baseball player growing up, and how it might have depressed his stock as a hockey prospect for various reasons, at least in some scouts' eyes. Well, Frederik Andersen was obviously a soccer player growing up, he tried to head a high floating puck instead of catching it with his glove, as he frigging should. That's what it's for, that glove.
I've wondered a few times why goalies are so poor at catching the puck nowadays, and whether the fact that so few kids play baseball is a reason. When I was growing up, we'd all play baseball in the summer, organized ball and sandlot, all day all summer. And the guys who were goalies all played catcher or first base, that was 'their' position, no one argued about that, they'd own the specialized glove anyway. But it was understood that they needed to work on their catching hand, and that playing first and catching hoppers and throws off the line, or playing catcher and seeing pitch after pitch, sometimes having to block the plate, it was good practice for being a goalie.
It was such a stark contrast to see Mr. Andersen's reflex, when he sees a puck near his head, that he should try to head it, soccer-style. A counterproductive reflex, since there was very little to be gained by that move, and it could have gone wrong in so many ways.
Which is more proof than we need that soccer is useless and bad and worthless and should be shunned by all as a participatory or spectator sport , if we can't ban and extirpate it.
--We don't have an answer for a player like Matt Martin facewashing and crosschecking in front of our net. The only Canadien with enough size and strength to deal with him would be Shea Weber, but we would lose in that exchange, if both were sent off for fighting. We'd lose our #1 defenceman, they'd lose a fourth-liner who'll score five goals this season.
--What can we say about David Desharnais getting a feed from Brendan Gallagher, receiving the puck at the side of the net with the cage wide open, but instead of having the killer instinct of the sniper, instead of flicking it into the net, has to corral it and wastes a second, until the opportunity disappears? Was he trying to find Max Pacioretty with a pass?
--56.2 Minor Penalty - A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who interferes with or impedes the progress of an opponent who is not in possession of the puck.
A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who restrains an opponent who is attempting to “fore-check.”
A minor penalty shall be imposed on an attacking player who deliberately checks a defensive player, including the goalkeeper, who is not in possession of the puck.
A minor penalty shall be imposed on Leo Komarov whenever he is involved in a clash with another player, like, say, Charles Hudon, not the other way around. Leo Komarov is always in the wrong.
A minor penalty shall not be imposed on Alexei Emelin if he crosschecks Nazem Kadri in the back like that so that he has to absorb the impact from the boards with his teeth, but on James van Riemsdyk it's kind of borderline, sort of.
Way too close of a win against a creampuff like the Leafs, but after three straight losses, I'll take it.