Sunday, 22 January 2017

Game 48: Canadiens 2, Sabres 3 (OT)

Paul Romanuk and Gary Galley calling the Canadiens 3-2 OT loss to the Sabres.

Gary Galley Magic: "The team that scores first in a game usually ends up getting a good opportunity to get ahead in the game..."

And here I was, like a sucker, thinking he might not be putrid if not anchored down by the husk of what used to be Bob Cole.  But no, Gary generates his own suckage, he's no victim, he's the author of our misery.

I guess it was bound to happen.  The Canadiens put themselves to sleep with one of their own boring games.

Certainly I was off my guard, I was counting those two points as just deserts, points we'd put in the bank in advance of not doing so against the league powerhouses.  Boy is my face red.

Carey Price certainly did enough to deserve a better fate.  His glove hand was not exposed as weak!  Weak!  Weak!

It's not like we can blame injuries either.  Our walking wounded are slowly returning, and it's not like the Sabres aren't dealing with their own headaches right now.

Oh, and la fatigue, we're even-steven with them there too, they're on back-to-back games plus travel night too.

So I don't know what to say.  We never put away a weakling, let them hang around, let them tie the game, and let them win in overtime.

Does that make us a weakling?

Friday, 20 January 2017

Game 47: Canadiens 3, Devils 1

One of the advantages of Gary Bettman's rapacious greed is that, by forcing me to watch 'Canadiens Express' instead of the full broadcast of the Canadiens 3-1 win against the Devils, he saved me a couple hours of boredom, like he did for the Detroit game recently.  Thanks Gary for queering the deal, you're a champ.

Maybe the highlight of the game was Henrik Sedin tallying his 1000th point on a beautiful goal on former teammate Roberto Luongo, and on a nifty pass from his brother Daniel.

This occurred to me as I watched the game:
27-Alex Galchenyuk
47-Alex Radulov
67-Max Pacioretty
27, 47, 67?  As in 727, 747, 767?  The Boeing Line?

And I noticed Jacob de la Rose tonight.  So did Pierre Houde and Marc Denis, who ventured that he might have played his best game in a Canadiens uniform.  A noticeable Jacob is a pleasant change.  And it's not like he piled up points or anything, but he kept going to the net, causing heck, coming close a few times.  Maybe he's very comfortable defensively, playing 'positionally', but that's not enough.  We need him to do what he did tonight, which is want the puck, and want to go to the opposition net.

When Nathan Beaulieu and Jeff Petry are on, they're a joy to watch, strapping young men who can fly around the ice, fast and mobile and assured with the puck.

And Al Montoya gets an easy win, stopping 16 of 17 shots.  It's his fourth consecutive win.  Maybe the 10-0 debacle in Columbus is fading in his memory.

Not a signature win, but the Canadiens did what they had to do, capitalize on their powerplays to put away a weak sister and bank two points.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Game 42: Canadiens 7, Jets 4

Notes on the Canadiens 7-4 win against the Jets.

--I'm afraid of the Jets.  They're the big type of team that can hurt us, physically, as in injure us.

--Only one Mike McCarron is not enough on a night like this.  This is when you'd hope that Jacob de la Rose and Brett Lernout were ready.  And Connor Crisp.  And Jarred Tinordi.  And Jason Missiaen.

--I fear Mark Barberio and Ryan Johnston will expire, on some of those shifts they're trapped in their zone.

--Although the Jets seem to focus on Alexei Emelin, like they've got a score to settle, like they took his number for something that happened before.  He's taken a couple of big hits.

--Torrey Mitchell's delay of game penalty is a bad one.  He's taken some poor penalties lately, hooking and slashing calls, unnecessary.  That flip of the puck over the glass was careless, and it cost the team.  I wonder whether he still had in mind a previous shift when he backhanded a puck against the glass and caused an icing, and tried to finesse this one.

--That "hit" by Dustin Byfuglien on Daniel Carr wasn't a hit, it was an elbow to the face.  Of course, no penalty was called.

--Nikita Scherbak undoubtedly earned a ticket back to St. John's with his decision to take the puck, wheel around his net and try to rush the puck out of his own zone.  He got easily caught from behind, lost the puck, and almost cost us a goal.  I didn't realize he was that ponderous, I figured he could skate better than that.

--I'm glad I'm not the only one who caught that lazy half-hearted pokecheck by Dustin Byfuglien on Phillip Danault's end-to-end goal.  Jeff Petry, I absolve you of your sin on that goal by Evgeni Kuznetsov.

--Tomas Plekanec is sick of me ragging on him, of posting how I wish he'd been traded years ago.  He's doing something about it.

--Michael Hutchison?  When did the former lead singer of INXS start goaltending in the NHL?

--We're in awe of the stockpile of talented young players on the Jets, but comes at the cost of years of futility and high draft rankings.  We convince ourselves that they're a great organization that finds great talent, but when you're drafting ninth overall, you just bend down and pick up Nik Ehlers, it's not rocket science.

--At 6-3, I expect Big Buff or Adam Lowry or Chris Thorburn will decapitate someone.

--Someone remind me how goaltending is easy to find, and not crucial in the NHL?  Use the Jets in your answer, and be sure to discuss Ondrej Pavelec.

--I don't want to get carried away with Phillip Danault.  The kid is doing great now, but ultimately, our roster will be Cup-ready when he's (at best) our third-line centre.  I really liked when he and Torrey Mitchell were the left-right faceoff combination on our fourth line.

--Shawn Matthias is in Winnipeg?  After Vancouver and Toronto?  Is he on the Matt Stajan/Lee Stempniak career path?

--I'd put the over-under on the word 'foxhole' at 1 on Twitter tonight.

--Not that mad at the fourth Jet goal.  It may keep their focus on hockey, instead of their attempts at the dismemberment of Daniel Carr.

--We can't get Andrei Markov and Greg Pateryn back soon enough.

--Alright I give: keeping Artturi Lehkonen was the right call coming out of camp.  I worried we'd lose players on waivers as a result, and that he wasn't really superior to Sven Andrighetto, for one.  I may have misjudged that one.

--I'll say it again: I'm glad that Blake Wheeler blossomed once he was gone from Boston.  I'd hate to face him so often as a Bruin.  This way, the Bruins wasted a first-round pick on him, and didn't end up with the player.  Perfect.

--Good win by the boys, although Al Montoya's stats take it on the chin again.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Mark Barberio is a good organizational #7-8 defenceman.

The evidence is in on Mark Barberio, after a season and a half in the Canadiens organization. As some of us suspected, he’s a good organizational #7-8 defenceman, but if he’s a regular on your third pairing, you’re looking for an upgrade on your blueline. This is no surprise, for a player who the Lightning allowed to walk, rather than qualify as a RFA at nearly a million dollars.

We pulled the same stunt once with Yannick Weber, we preferred to allow him to go with no compensation rather than pay him a million dollars, and we never looked back. Yannick grimly hung on as the #7-8 defenceman in Vancouver, had stretches when he played well and vivified the powerplay, but again was allowed to walk after a couple of seasons. This year, he’s apparently caught on as a third-pairing guy in Nashville, he fits their ideal profile of the new NHL defenceman. He scored his first goal in two seasons this week.

Getting back to Mark, it’s funny that Steve Yzerman is lionized as the uber-GM, the wheeler and dealer and talent-finder that Marc Bergevin will never be, yet when it comes to Mark Barberio, a faction on social media thought he’d been a dunce, that he’d let a player who could replace Nathan Beaulieu or Andrei Markov eventually slip through his fingers.

The qualifying offer provision in the CBA is a great advantage to teams, they can retain RFA’s by giving them a token raise, yet Steve Yzerman didn’t think Mark was worth that. He didn’t mind losing him, preferred letting him walk rather than having to pay him…

[Checks CapFriendly]

…110% of $874,125 on a one-way deal. The Canadiens got him at $600 000, and $325 000 in the AHL.

Basically, Steve Yzerman established a ceiling on Mark Barberio, put a maximum dollar amount on that value, and walked away. And has been proven more right than wrong.

We were lectured by a more acidic commenter that Mark had nothing left to learn in the AHL, that he was a NHL defenceman, the new prototype who can skate and make passes and create offence. In fact, we’ve apparently reached the ceiling for Mark: first-pairing defenceman and leader in the AHL, bottom-pairing or #7 in the NHL. Steve Yzerman was right, not the ever-optimistic Canadiens fans.

There’s no need to get down on Mark though, he’s good to have in times like these, when two of the regular defencemen are injured. He won’t win you any games, but he won’t lose you some like Ryan Johnston and Joel Hanley can. He’s a local boy who can play a few seasons for the Canadiens and contribute, maybe having to start seasons in the AHL, but a great option to have when injuries strike and you need to call up someone.

Again, not saying Mark is horrible or worthless, but that we have to keep our expectations reasonable, especially considering his track record.

Should the Canadiens sign Alex Radulov to a long term contract?

Okay, I’ll say it. I don’t want Alex Radulov signed to a long-term deal.

Right now, he’s found money. What we’re getting out of him right now, at 30, as he’s trying to prove himself to the entire NHL and he’s on his best behaviour, putting out 110% effort most nights, is amazing, great value for the no-risk contract Marc Bergevin signed him to.

It’s a very short track record though, to entertain ideas of a 4 or 5 or 6 year deal. With a raise in salary.

That’s too much risk for me. I’d fold rather than keep anteing up into that pot.

The way to build is through the draft. I’d keep my powder dry, save those future dollars to pay for our own players that we develop. Patch on other reclamation projects on no-risk deals when we’re not using those dollars.

Slow and steady does it. It’s unwise to swing for the fences all the time. And as I said before, I don’t think this is really a window for the Cup for us, we’re not a deep and talented club. We still need to pack on players and prospects, and we don’t benefit by taking on a 30-year-old player on a large long-term deal.

I wanted Tomas Plekanec traded at the end of his last contract, at the deadline, before his play started to decline, when he still had value that would net us young players or prospects or draft picks. To turn around and advocate for a big UFA-type deal for Radu wouldn’t be consistent.

Plus, signing him now means we have to protect him in the expansion draft, and will lose an incrementally better player by consequence.

My ideal pie-in-the-sky scenario is for Radu to keep playing like he is, and if Marc Bergevin can’t get him to bite on a reasonable three-year deal, you flip him to a contender at the deadline for a young player and a first-round pick. I know this won’t happen, Marc Bergevin won’t unload players this year with our position in the standings, but long-term, this would be best for us.

Game 41: Canadiens 1, Capitals 4

A marooned viewer on Canadiens Express thanks to our Commissioner of our game Gary Bettman, I thought it was touch and go until the third period when the Capitals put it away 4-1.  The shots on goal don't quite tell the same story, maybe the edited broadcast gave me a false impression, that the game wasn't really that close, but it seemed like the Canadiens could hang on and maybe find a way to win this one.

1)  An oddity in this program was that a complete, entire, unabridged powerplay was edited out of the broadcast, the one early in the third on the Capitals' too-many-men penalty.  RDS has to cut out around five minutes of game action to fit the game into a one-hour program, with commercials and other breaks eating into that hour.  Usually, it's understood that they'll cut out stretches when neither team threatens the opponent's net, where nothing much exciting that happens.  Sometimes they'll cut out fisticuffs.  And I disagree with their decision in shootouts, when they usually only show the winning goal.

That they could hack out an entire powerplay from the telecast is a good indication of how much the Canadiens struggle setting up in the opponent's zone and getting to work.  Maybe Andrei Markov's return from injury will help in this area, but even when he's healthy, that's still a problem for our boys.

2)  We often talk about players playing their off-side, how some forward like being there to be able to protect the puck on rushes, like Erik Cole notably, and also to get off one-timers more easily.  Coaches these days are very leery of that arrangement, want their forward to work on defence and along the boards on their strong sides.  This allows them to make the proverbial 'strong play' with the puck, to bang it off the boards, or a good clean hard pass to a teammate that they might fail to do on their weaker backhands.

We saw an example of this during the game when Nikita Scherbak, on his off-wing deep in his zone, with his back to the opposition, got the puck on his stick with time to make a play near his own goalline.  Problem is, there was no open teammate nearby to progress the puck to, and he couldn't really tell what would happen if he shoveled the puck along the boards on his backhand, so he rimmed it around the boards to the other side of the ice.

This wasn't a more favourable option, it left the Canadiens scrambling in their own zone for a few more seconds and the Capitals got to bang and hack at the puck near Carey Price's net a few times.  No great scoring chances for them, but an opportunity that was created because Nikita wasn't in a position to make a strong play.

3)  Lars Eller with a slewfooty braincrampy tripping penalty on Artturi Lehkonen in the third, which allows the Canadiens to tie the game on Tomas Plekanec's powerplay goal?  Not really what Lars had in mind I'm sure, but we've grown accustomed over the years to his numerous minor penalties, often in the offensive zone away from danger.

He almost made up for it by scoring on a 2-on-1 break late in the third when the game was out of reach really, but Lars missed the net and failed to convert.  Again, expectations.

In keeping with these expectations, he didn't have a bad night, won 63% of his faceoffs and tallied one hit.  I didn't pay attention to matchups, but on L'Antichambre they mentioned a couple of times that the Pacioretty-Danault-Radulov line didn't have its best night.  Probably Lars played a role in that, by defending effectively.

And I still would feel better about our centre situation if we'd flipped Tomas Plekanec for draft picks and prospects as his contract was expiring, and kept Lars in the fold.

4)  Is Shea Weber healthy again?  Tonight he was using his wicked slapshot again, after a stretch of a few games in which he eschewed it.

5)  Watching Jeff Petry get posterized by Evgeny Kuznetsov, it's obvious from my couch and from the stands that he got caught looking at the puck and got fooled.  You get taught early on as a defenceman that on a two-on-two or similar situations, your job is to not let your guy get by you.  You're taught, again and again, because it's difficult to achieve, to not look at the onrushing forwards head or eyes, not to get hypnotized by the puck, but rather to focus on the crest of his jersey and bar his way to the net.  If you're looking at his chest, you're not going to bite on a head fake.  You close the distance towards him and hopefully force him to pass before he's ready.

Not that Jeff Petry is an All-Star who won't make mistakes and needs me to make excuses for him, but as I watched the replay, I wondered how the 'get the puck' focus of Michel Therrien's Canadiens contributed to Jeff's blunder.

If he played on the Bruins, he'd have to adopt their ethos of intimidation and physical dominance, that you guide and funnel the forward towards the boards where you finish your check no matter what, no matter how long the puck has been gone.  If you achieve that as a Bruins defenceman, you've done your job, that's a win, a checkmark in your smiley-face column.

Michel Therrien and Jean-Jacques Daigneault preach a different philosophy that we've discussed before.  They tell their defencemen, their players, to not worry about dishing out hits, that those will happen naturally, organically during the game.  What they want their defencemen to worry about is to strip the puck from their opponents, gain possession and get it going the other way, quickly.

We see how Andrei Markov is the master of this, he'll hang back, keep his stick close instead of outstretched, and fool a forward into thinking he has a passing lane.  Then, when the pass is attempted, Andrei's stick springs out like a scorpion's tail, snags the puck, and he catches the opposition flatfooted.  Andrei doesn't play the body, he plays the puck.

And in this instance, Jeff tried to play the puck, was looking for a pokecheck opportunity, and got hypnotized by it, got bamboozled by the wizardly Kuznetsov.

6)  Did everybody see how Bobby Farnham bounced off Karl Azner on his attempted bodycheck?  Get this useless stiff off my beloved Canadiens' roster, please, and pronto.

7)  Nathan Beaulieu got the most icetime of any Canadiens defencemen, even more than Shea Weber.  Pierre Houde and Marc Denis lauded him for a very good stretch of play by him lately.  I sometimes think that Nate just needs to understand that he doesn't need to do anything extraordinary.  He shouldn't try to pull a rabbit out of a hat every second shift.  Instead, if he realizes that his mobility and ability with the puck is an advantage to his team, and that if he just goes out there every shift and plays to the best of his ability, without needing to try a Hail Mary or three every game, that the Canadiens will come out ahead, and that he'll become and excellent defenceman.  With his skillset, if he plays hard and focused and cuts out mistakes, he'll easily be a Top 4 defenceman.

8)  Carey Price makes a puckhandling mistake that leads directly to a Capitals goal?  That's kind of jarring.  Carey's puckhandling is effortless and flawless.  Dependable.

Chantal MachabĂ©e of RDS was saying last week that Carey isn't his usual self, she says he's choleric instead of calm in practice, breaking sticks over the crossbar.  She says this has been going on for a few weeks, she's not sure if he's fighting through a minor injury, or what else may be bothering him.

He's certainly not been the dominant goalie we've come to expect, but maybe that's more of a issue with our expectations, since we can't rely on him to be otherworldly for entire seasons at a time.

9)  Very nice suit on a composed Michel Therrien during his post-game remarks.  He says the Caps played a good game and his charges didn't, that he noticed in the first they didn't have their usual spring to their step, that they were late getting to the puck, lost puck battles.  He was questioned about the first game back on home ice after a long road trip phenomenon, and allowed that it's difficult to explain, but it does exist.