Tuesday, 10 January 2017

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.

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