Friday, 16 December 2016

Game 30: Canadiens 2, Sharks 4

I watched the Canadiens 4-2 loss against the Sharks in the condensed, one-hour 'Canadiens Express' program on RDS, thanks to the esteemed Gary Bettman, who loves our game almost as much as basketball, and not at all as much as he likes revenue stolen from the players who actually generate it.

I had a sinking feeling when I saw Tim Peel's movie villain face, and sure enough, the Canadiens incurred four minor penalties in the first period, with none going against the Sharks.  Now, this imbalance may occur once in a while, but it would be more believable if the Canadiens were a goonish team who feed on lots of penalties taken, like if we were the Broad Street Bullies, but this edition of the Canadiens is anything but.

A few years ago, Ron MacLean put his big fat foot in his big fat mouth when he said on air that Québec-born referees shouldn't officiate Montréal Canadiens games, and the spit hit the fan.  When this forced him to backpedal furiously, he lamely tried to explain that he just meant this would remove any appearance of conflict of interest or bias, not that a French-Canadian official couldn't work a game objectively.

Well now, the time has come to consider whether Toronto-born Tim Peel is able to officiate a Montréal Canadiens game objectively.  He's about my age, so he probably witnessed the Canadiens blowing through the awful Mike Palmateer teams in the Seventies, Tiger Williams and Lanny Macdonald and that gross mustache, sweeping them from the opening round of the playoffs two straight years, and it's obviously left a scar.  He's partial, plainly, he can't help trying to recapture his wasted years as a Leaf fan by rewriting history.  He sees himself as a biblical plague visited on Les Glorieux.

With that said, now is the time to be resolute for Canadiens fans, or at least the reasonable ones.  Upon the return from the West Coast with 5 points earned out of a possible 10, we decided that the Canadiens should win the next two games against the Devils and Avalanche, put those four points in the bank, and then, with a much more difficult schedule after that, do well to play .500 hockey until Christmas or thereabouts.  Missing Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais, we understood that the current stretch wouldn't be easy, we'd try to plug the holes with Phillip Danault, Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn taking a bigger bite of the sandwich.

And this is where the rubber meets the road.  We're in the tough stretch.  We shouldn't be losing our excrement at the first reversal of fortune.  This was one of the tough games that we figured we wouldn't all win.  We're in the soup now.

With that in mind, those first two easy powerplay goals made me wonder if, in our obsession with fixing our powerplay, we maybe took our eye off the ball on the penalty kill.  Whatever improvements we made with the man advantage are wasted with the lack of effectiveness of our penalty kill, historically an area of strength.

In 2013-14, we finished fourth in the league in terms of penalty kill efficiency, ninth the season after that, and twelfth the following season.  This year, we're stumbling along with the eighteenth-best PK.

Kirk Muller and the boys need to tighten this up.  I'm not pining for the days of Josh Gorges and Hal Gill, but those boys could take a pounding on the powerplay and come out of it unscathed.  We need some of that magic on this team if we're going to contend.

More thoughts:

--I liked the adjustment by the coaches during the game, despite their reputation imputed by the naysayers that they're incapable of adapting.  The partnerships of Andrei Markov and Shea Weber, as well as Nathan Beaulieu and Jeff Petry, were able to apply pressure in the offensive zone.

As well as Alexei Emelin has played on the first pairing, it made sense to rely more on the offensive defencemen, sort of like a football coach moving away from his running backs and leaning more on the passing game when he needs to score points to tie up the game.

--Mike McCarron brings something different to our team.  I've groused lately that we're reaping what we sow, that the years of drafting smallish forwards stacked our organization with that prototype, and now when we need reinforcements, we're looking at a gaggle of similar types of players, Sven Andrighetto and Charles Hudon and Daniel Carr and the suchlike.

Mike, despite not having had the best start to his season in St. John's, can invigorate the Canadiens forwards with his size and toughness, with a willingness to mix it up in front of the opposite net and screen the goalie, with a deterrence factor when opponents make a decision whether to grab Brendan Gallagher's melon and take it home.

We thought Mike needed more time to work on his game in the AHL, until he started to tear up the league and showed he was too strong for it, or until injuries started to hit and we'd need callups.  That's where we are now.

--The quick hook Carey Price got in favour of Al Montoya after the fourth Sharks goal is not something I'd dispute, but I'll hold it up against the decision to leave Al hanging and take a ten-goal walloping in Columbus.  The explanation back then was that The Plan was to rest Carey that night so he could be available the next game, which is a fine plan, except that when circumstances change so should the plan.

For tonight and tomorrow against the Capitals, The Plan, announced to the public even, was that Carey would play tonight and Al would get the nod tomorrow.  Somehow, in this instance, because of exigencies, we deviated from The Plan.  And rightfully so.  But then, why was The Plan sacrosanct in Columbus?  Why was it okay for Al to be canon fodder then?  Why is The Plan etched in stone in one instance, and malleable the next?

If the coaches tell me they made a mistake back then, one they didn't want to repeat tonight, I'll accept that answer.

--Trade goal-scorer sniper Brian Flynn immediately.  To the Capitals.  For two second-rounders.  I hear they could use a third-line centre who can produce offence, despite unfavourable zone-starts and a revolving cast of linemates.

--Pierre Houde noted that early in the game, the fans grew impatient with their heroes, despite the fact that they'd witnessed only one loss so far this season at home.  I understand his reasoning, but also the fans' restlessness, and the way they verbally communicated that.  With no tickets affordable any longer, they are entitled to show their displeasure, especially when the team plays listlessly after four days off, against a West Coast team slogging through an Eastern road trip.

And, as the team perked up and showed effort and determination in the third, the smattering of boos was quelled, replaced by a thunder of cheers and support.  Canadiens fans will tolerate losses, but never a lack of passion or effort.

--After the game, when asked about Carey's long look in his direction after he was pulled, head coach Michel Therrien said he was unaware of this.  He explained that he pulled Carey for the good reasons that he didn't like the way the team was playing in front of him and it made no sense to leave him to the wolves like that, he wanted to send a message to the rest of the team.  He also stated that this will give Carey an opportunity, being more rested, to play against the Capitals tomorrow.

So The Plan has changed.

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