Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Game #78

Habs Back To Looking Sloppy

Details



Date: 30/3/2011
Opponent: Hurricanes
Location: Carolina

Loss: 2-6

Habs Goalie: Price (L), Auld
Opposition Goalie: Ward (W)

Habs goalscorers: Cammalleri, Subban
Opposition goalscorers: Skinner (2), McBain (2), Pitkanen, Stillman



Play of the game


2 Power-Play goals is encouraging and I liked the second goal. It wasn't a tough goal, but it was quick and seemed rehearsed. In our best PP days (Kovalev, Koivu, Streit, Markov) we had a set play that worked. The good thing is that teams will always be worried about a potent play and that always opens other doors. The Wiz and Subban may be a good fit together back there; tonight was a good start.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Mike Cammalleri
Mike actually had a decent game tonight. It wasn't up to the level that we need him to be, but it was a far better effort than we having been seeing of late. The goal was quite nice and reminded us what kind of hands this sniper has.


Benoit Pouliot
There were a couple
of give-aways and the usual careless play in his own end, but I saw something tonight. It helped that most of his teammates were off, I think, as I wouldn't have really had much to say about Ben had they not been. The one thing that is stopping Pou from being an impact player again is confidence. He is one of those guys (Samsonov anyone?) that needs to feel comfortable and needs to feel trusted by his coach. I am not sure if that will come back, but I saw glimpses of the skill tonight and think that it would be in JM's best interest to encourage him and use him from now on rather than punish him.

Scott Gomez
Scott was again our top centre. He played with some zip and was effective, especially early on. Right now it is actually Gionta that is slowing him down. I am done with that duo, but am really not sure where to go from here on in. Patches would give us options and if Pleks/Camms were on it would also open things up. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Defencemen

PK Subban
Didn't like the penalties and not too pleased with his play in our own end, but he was one of the top 2. That is mostly due to his offensive play and the goal that he scored.


James Wisniewski - Game Puck
James had quite a nice game tonight. He picked up two assists and was our best player in their end the whole night. His 5 shots led the Habs and he was once again tops in ice-time.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Auld had his chance, but did not look good at all in the third period. It was another tough game from Carey (3 pulls in his last 7 games), but his D must carry a lot of the blame. Not a night to remember in our own end, that's for sure.


Comments


We had chances throughout, but Ward was good and we couldn't get on the rebounds. In the end, though, we scored 2 goals and had many, many more chances. Apart from not finishing once or twice more it wasn't a bad game offensively. Defensively, however, this was a bad, bad game. We looked confused and extremely sloppy. Our coverage, at times, was simply non-existent. Of all the games and all the aspects of play over the past month or so this was the most worrying. We were going against a team that needed to win and we had no answer on how to stop them. Containing the Thrashers is one thing, but from now on (playoffs) we'll be playing against teams that really want to win. I am happy with our D and goaltending overall, but tonight was a reminder that we certainly can get ourselves into trouble. That, you see, is why scoring, and scoring early, is so key as it can change the way you have to defend against the competition.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Game #77

Montreal Can Breathe a Little After Solid Team Effort

Details



Date: 29/3/2011
Opponent: Thrashers
Location: Montreal

Win: 3-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Pavelec (L)

Habs goalscorers: Hamrlik, Darche, Kostitsyn
Opposition goalscorers: Antropov



Play of the game


Price made a great save on Byfuglien in the first minute of play. The Habs came out a bit slow and Atlanta came out strong. That chance was a result of us not quite being ready for their urgency. The save, however, calmed things right down and perhaps saved the game for us. After that the Habs took control of the game and it was much nicer to be able to do that being tied at 0-0 than being down 0-1.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
He played a good solid game and was very involved physically. The chances weren't there as much as they have been, but I felt that it was always a positive shift when he and his linemates were on. He did, however, get a goal right at the end, a goal that sealed it; it was an empty-netter from his own blue-line, his 20th of the year.


Mathieu Darche
Darche was at his best tonight. It was for games like this that we re-signed in and why we let Lapierre go. It had been a tough return from injury, but after missing 5 weeks I can't say that I am surprised. Tonight he was a weapon to be reckoned with in the offensive zone and, once again, played smart hockey.


Scott Gomez
Scott was our best centre tonight, just ahead of Desharnais (didn't see anything too special from Pleks). He was on right from his first shift and set a good example for others to follow. This is the type of play that will help us in the playoffs - speed, aggression, passes and the ability to get under his opponents' skin.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
I had a feeling that someone like Hammer (my instinct, for some reason, said Sopel) would score the goal that we had all been waiting for. It was a good team goal and with four people in as close as they were you could tell how badly we wanted it. Aside from the goal Hammer played a solid, reliable game as he logged the second most ice on the team. Tonight may have been a reminder from him and to us fans that he is still our #1. Who knows what will happen in the future, but for now it seems like he will do his best to lead us throughout the remainder of the season.


James Wisniewski
Wide-open games against a weak defensive team is the type of game that James must love - at least it looks that way. I am not sure if he will be as effective as he was tonight against tighter (playoff) competition, but I am sure he'll still find a way to contribute. The good thing is we have Hammer, Subban and Gill ahead of him who are ready to carry huge loads. Add to that the fact that Mara and Sopel have been decent, Weber and Picard can do the job and Spacek will, if he is healthy, be well rested and all of a sudden our D seems to be in good shape (just imagine Markov and Gorges were around).

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
On a normal night beating the Thrashers 3-1 at home wouldn't be a big deal. But, after 3 straight shutouts and in need of points for the plyoffs this game was huge. Carey knew this and did not let anyone down. In fact, this game was a shutout whether the NHL believes it was or not (once again 4 men miss an obvious play by the puck-carrier) and that just shows how key Price is. We have 5 more games and with 3 points likely being enough I would like to see Carey sit 1, maybe 2 of those just to be safe.


Comments


I am not going to say that all is good and that we are back on track, but there are certainly some positives here. First off, however, Atlanta are a pretty weak team (when compared with the current competition in the East), maybe only slightly better than Florida, Ottawa and the Islanders. So, beating them, at home, is more like a must than a big deal. Add to that the fact that they played like a team that was already on vacation and that makes this win not that special. What is important to note, however, is that the Habs did play a good game and I think that this was true despite Atlanta. The significance of this isn't the win, but the fact that we had played 2, maybe 3, pretty passionless games over the past week. We had looked tired, out of ideas and sloppy, but tonight looked re-energized and ready for what lay ahead. So, it doesn't matter who the opponent was or what the score was as it was the effort that mattered.

Tomorrow is our last back-to-back game of the season and after that we'll have 4 games in 10 nights. Hopefully we'll get enough points to breathe even easier next week so that we'll be able to rest (either by press-box, limiting ice-time or giving easier assignments) some key players. It is looking like our last two games (in Ottawa and in Toronto) will (thanks to all the other games that will be played by then) simply be for form and placement as I anticipate us being in and both of them being out by then. That means we have one week to make it count and then a pretty easy 7-9 days as we wait for the real season to get going.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Game #76

What Is This? 1949?

Details



Date: 26/3/2011
Opponent: Capitals
Location: Montreal

Loss: 0-2

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Holtby (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Sturm, Semin



Play of the game


The Habs just make it harder and harder each game to find greatness. Thankfully, Price had some good plays, otherwise I wouldn't know what to do. The play of the game for me was a glove save that Carey made on Hendricks with 14 to go in the third. It was a great save and kept the Habs within one - something that just didn't seem right.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
If he played like he did tonight and all those players that should be playing better did too we would be in good shape. Andrei shouldn't be our best, most dangerous looking forward each game, not with the roster we have, but that is what is happening.
I am happy that Kost is playing to near his potential, but very upset that his teammates aren't doing the same.

Lars Eller
Lars, like Andrei, is actually playing some good hockey. We need to score goals and he has been our most creative centre of late. I think that it is desperation time now and I think, after 76 games it is time to let Gomez play on a 3rd or 4th line. Give Eller Kostitsyn and another talented winger (no offence Moen, well, a little) and let's see what happens. One or two games with Gionta may do everyone involved some good.


Brian Gionta
He looks tired, he looks to be out of ideas and he even looks to have no lasting chemistry with Gomez. But, he also looked like he cared tonight and seemed to be trying. Sadly, however, his best play was a sliding save in front of the open net and not a highlight reel goal or assist.

Defencemen

Paul Mara
Not Paul's best game, but I didn't notice too much wrong with his play tonight. I am not sure where he fits in to our plans for the next few weeks, but if he plays like he has the past two games (and others continue their sloppy play) I think that he could be a lock to play in every game from here on in.


James Wisniewski
I felt that James played quite well actually. I would appreciate more offence, but I can't really blame him for the PP's ineptitudes or our inability to generate a score of quality chances. He was steady in our own end tonight and his play in theirs was the best of any of our D-men.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
Carey looks tired and doesn't seem to be at his best, but is still able to put in a good, solid performance. It has been a long season and it seems that we were worrying about the wrong player getting tired. In comparison to the rest of the team, Price looks like he just had 3 months on a beach.


Comments


Goalscoring, it is always goalscoring. Over the past few (20?) years when things are going badly it always comes down to a lack of offence, a lack of depth. We always say that we have good depth and good players, but at the end of the day we only have one player who has played the whole year with us that has more than 41 points. It is amazing really that had we won 2 or 3 more games we would have a serious shot at the division. See, we obviously don't need big number players to be an above-average team (thanks to team play, defence and Price), but when things go bad it is generally due to a lack of goals. Now, I have watched some offensively challenged Habs teams in my day, but I can't say that I am old enough (I'd have to be 61) to have ever seen the Habs be shutout 3 times in a row. I am not embarrassed about nor am I mad, just a little worried maybe. I am worried that our lack of depth, injuries and fatigue have all caught up with us. I am worried that we may not wake up and find our legs and our touch in time.

So, it can be said; what good are the playoffs if you simply stumble into them? If you can't score a goal to save your life? Well, remembering last year and the struggles that we had to end the season are proof enough that things can (and do) change. All we have to do is get in and then we'll see what happens - that is when the fun begins. Unfortunately for us, however, that means that we actually need some points. We have 6 games left and I think that if we don't get at least 3 points (likely 5) we are in trouble. So, wake up Habs, let's just assume that the playoffs start a few games early this year, so score a goal or two this week please.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Game #75

One To Forget

Details



Date: 24/3/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Boston

Loss: 0-7

Habs Goalie: Price (L), Auld
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Boychuk, Campbell (2), Horton (2), McQuaid, Kaberle



Play of the game


Really? Can you think of a good play tonight? I guess the two things that stand out are the opening face-off as it was then that we briefly held control of the match (lost the draw, but reclaimed the puck in their end) and Mara's fight as it was the closest that the Habs and the Bruins were in any aspect of play tonight.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
He tried things in the offensive zone and never really got burned in our own. Most of our forwards were horrible whether they took too many penalties or made too many give-aways, so this dome isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for any of the players.

Travis Moen
Travis managed to play a quarter of the game and not be on the ice for any of the goals. He chipped in with 3 hits and has been playing decent hockey of late.


Brian Gionta
He couldn't finish tonight, but seemed to be in the right place at the right time on many occasions. Scoring goals is all about finding the spots and with a bit of luck it could have been two goals for him thanks to his positioning.

Defencemen

Paul Mara - Game Puck
Mara wants to play and wants to play in the playoffs so he is showing that he can play that type of hockey. His fight with Campbell was decent and I admired him for going after Recchi. There was nothing dirty about targeting the big-mouthed small-man, he was simply sticking up for a teammate,
organization and city; at least that was how I saw it.

PK Subban
He skated well and got a few shots off. This wasn't a good game for him really, but I did like him over the other 4.

Goaltender

Carey Price
They both played bad, but Auld played worse. This was Auld's dome until he stepped on the ice; that was when Carey won it back. Just one of those nights I think - forget it, move on.


Comments


I have been in Europe for a couple of weeks and had missed a few games. I kept up with my news and scores, but did miss watching games live. There was added excitement tonight as we would be icing 4 players who haven't played in a while. Surely the addition of Pleks would make a difference, and if we stuck to hockey we would win. Well, it was Plekanec who stood out tonight, but more for poor defensive play and his penalties than for what I had hoped. It is unfair, I guess, to target just Tom as the team, in its entirety, was beyond off. Camms lacked any touch whatsoever, Darche looked about 25 steps behind, Gionta was as bad as can be and the list goes on and on. It was a tough night of hockey with the worse part being the fact that it was a loss to the Bruins. If I needed one positive, though, it would have to be that the Bruins will now be even cockier the next time we meet them. There is a good chance that we will see each other in the first round and I think that we could surprise some people if we play like the team of 2 weeks ago and not like the one of tonight. 7 more games to go until the season really starts, that means 7 warm-up games. Anything that has happened until now is irrelevant, it is now time to prove our worth. I think that we are a good team with good depth, but I will base my final assessment on our April play, not our October-March efforts.

Old News

Habs, Bruins Players and Fans Hate Each Other

Yesterday's main story around Montreal revolved around the words spoken by Mark Recchi on Boston radio.

The second-hand account is that Recchi came out and flagrantly stoked the rivalry by questioning the severity of Pacioretty's injury.

I had no reason to doubt that that is what happened, but I thought I might as well do a bit of due diligence and listen to the radio interview rather than taking twitter's word for matters. What I heard from the Felger and Mazz, the "reporters" who question Canadiens reporting under the banner of "Fact. Not opinion" (in their opinion).

What I heard was typical sports "journalism". The two jockeys jockeyed by reading one article on the internet and speaking about it for 10 minutes. "Let me be more direct: Does it bother you that they embellished it?". Mark goes on to agree, that it bothered him. He even said the team embellished the extent of the injuries. I don't think he said that Pacioretty embellished anything. After all, one can't embellish a broken vertebrae or a concussion, and he was certainly told to lay perfectly still lest do damage to his spine.

Recchi was a bit irresponsible to make those comments. I certainly don't like them, but they are hardly worse than the extremely insensitive ones Patrice Bergeron made mere minutes after the hit, proving himself to be a hypocrite of the highest degree.

I think we've learned a few things from this whole debacle. The first is that fans and hockey players don't necessarily see things the same way. Just because Mark Recchi has been slammed into the turnbuckle 40 times in his career doesn't give me any more reason to want to see any player slammed into it in the future. There are certain plays that some hockey fans could do without. I can only speak for myself, and my own reaction, when I say that it is those future plays I wanted to see eliminated.

I'm no sure it's a learning, but we've also seen the depth of the hatred between Montreal and Boston. We revile what the Brutes refer to as "Bruins (Brutish) hockey". We watch enough games to know that their brand of hockey is not essential to the entertainment value of the sport. The hatred between cities goes deeper than that though., to the point that fans on both sides can explain away anything using their own particular bias. This is the root of the embellishment story, a long-time Boston mantra that protects them against hating their own bullying. If Montreal players and fans are embellishing the effects of their roughness, then it can't possibly be going too far. They cling to one example from Mike Ribeiro, not exactly a hero for Montrealers either.

Recchi partook in this game, just as other Bruins did, precisely because he is a Bruin and he is immersed in the thinking that engulfs that team's fans, and to some extent the whole underdog city (oh, New York is so close).

But let's not pretend that Montreal and its fans aren't on the hook here too. Some people have gone over the top. And because of that, it's easy to see where outsiders get these ideas about the cloud affecting the city's judgment. I don't think the Habs organization was anything less than sincere in wanting to eradicate violent hits in the wake of Max's injury. However, I do think a large portion of Habs fans were more concerned with Chara's suspension than any waves that might be sent through NHL rule-making circles. i can tell you this based on response we got before and after a suspension announcement.

And Montreal knows it's dealing with a sensitive underdog in Boston. And Montreal must recognize that it takes great joy from poking the dog to get a response. It is the custom for Sportswriters in our city to overdo things before a Brutes game. Everything will be payback, epic, better than ever before. This is the case again today. The Recchi story has been blown up to the size it has to make this game more significant.


Vezina trophy
And don't tell me Boston fans have no reason to suggest that Habs fans are a little bit self-centered. In the midst of Tim Thomas laying down some of the best statistics to be recorded since recording began, the call from Montreal is that Carey Price should get the Vezina instead.

I'm all for riling the Boston fans too. But let's recognize when we're doing it.


About hockey

The rest of Mark Recchi's intervew (most people no doubt tuned out to twitter long before) really emphasizes that Bruins desire to make the game about the result, to make the contest tonight about hockey.

I think Recchi recovered from the lapse to make a good point here. And it was one emphasized by Julien as he faced the rabid Montreal media: that the upcoming hockey game should be about the points, about the goals and the saves.

Let's not forget that amid our calls for justice and change those that went beyond hatred for the Bruins had this at the heart of our desires. We asked hockey games to be about hockey, to have hockey without the nonsense of staged fighting, unprovoked attacks and reckless hits.

Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail thinks revenge is going out of style and that the Pacioretty aftermath is proof of that. I would like to think he's right and that retribution and troglodyte codes can be filed for another sport to use.

It remains to be seen if the Bruins will toe the line being laid down by their coach and their elder statesman, whether the jumped-up forwards can subdue some of their natural urges. I for one hope they will. And then maybe we can talk about the Pacioretty hit and its aftermath changing the game for the better.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Montreal Music Ciity

Return Of A Favourite Habs Fan

Was just looking into booking some summer concerts and came upon the news that Sam Roberts and his band have released a new album.


Sam and his band are set to release their new album in May. They are probably hoping it may coincide with some serious Habs playoff action. The first track is quite a departure from what I think of as the Sam Roberts sound. But I think that's a good thing. Like a player in the shootout, or an assitant coach in charge of the PP, you want a musician to get creative and try new things going forward. Anyway, it's good to have him back armed with new music.

Seeing as he's a big Habs fan. I thought it worthy of noting on this Habs blog. You can listen to the first new song if you're interested on the band's website.

Keeping with the musical theme, we're also happy to see that long-time friends the Sonic Avenues have joined the list of LIW followers in the right hand margin. You can check out their music too and concert dates on their MySpace page.


Don't worry, just a little musical interlude. This won't lead to a change in posting patterns. Though we may have cause to ask for Arcade Fire's Wake Up when the Habs take to the ice on Saturday if they put up a sleepy effort like they did last night when they visit Boston.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Game # 74

Buffalo Soldiers Through Habs


Details


Date: 22/3/2011
Opponent: Sabres
Location: Montreal

Loss: 0-2

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Miller (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Gerbe (2; 1 EN)




Play of the game


I was hoping to have this determined for me in the dying minutes of the third with something a little more decisive. Without that, I'll go with Cammalleri's steal with a little under 9 minutes left in the third. A man with the power to change the momentum of a game stole a lame Buffalo pass and charged down the ice to get a solid chance on Miller. Sadly, it didn't work out in our favour, but it represents the kind of thing we'll need to see from Cammalleri and others down the final stretch.




Dome hockey team


The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Scott Gomez - Game Puck
Tonight Gomez was without a doubt our best two-way forward, and in my opinion our best forward, period. He was extremely effective on the PK, especially during our second penalty, and had good forechecking all night. He broke up some transition zone plays and spearheaded some of our best offense. In other words, it's almost as if he was playing like Plekanec out there.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Our most lively offensive player tonight, Andrei even had the RDS boys talking positively about him despite not scoring. His line often looked dangerous tonight and he did a lot of the hard work in creating those chances.

Travis Moen
Though Desharnais also had a good game, I felt that Moen was all over the ice tonight, and he was playing hard for the puck. I saw him making hits, taking shots, digging in the corners, and breaking up plays in our end. He made a big impact in this game and seemed to be really gearing up for playoff-style hockey.

Defencemen

James Wisniewski
Predictable, but he's so consistently good! Again, great hockey sense, really knows when to join the rush and when to hang back. Had some great shots tonight and was part of a rush with Gomez that nearly tied it with about 2 minutes left.

Roman Hamrlik
Again with the tried, tested and true. Although a little boring, I think it's a good sign when we put our two best defenders in here as often as we do. Hamrlik once again logged nearly 25 minutes of ice time but still seemed to be in the right places at the right times up to the end, creating a great chance about halfway through the 3rd.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Price played this one very well, and could have easily been given the game puck for this one. Buffalo's first goal was excellent, and certainly beyond anyone's abilities. It looked like he got a piece of a cross-crease pass that would likely have made it 2-0 a whole lot earlier. Overall though, I didn't think he was challenged much by this Buffalo squad and as a result, didn't get a chance to really shine.


Comments


A pretty tight game overall, there were good rushes and some end-to-end action, but overall play felt stifled as both teams played solid defence. I thought we looked pretty good and played the game we like to play in our own end, no one really jumped out at me as playing terribly (except maybe Mara). It also seemed to me that we had less trouble gaining the offensive zone than I've seen us have in too many games this season, but Buffalo did an excellent job of dismantling our offence. Ruff must have done something right during the intermission after we ended the first with some hard pressure, as we never really got many extended chances after that. Liked seeing Gill doing a lot on second efforts, even if I'd rather he got it right the first time. I could have done without Subban and Mara getting penalized after they've tied up their men. Overall a solid effort, this one could have gone either way. Unfortunately, it didn't fall in our favour, and it hurts to lose this one against a division rival only 6 points back with a game in hand.

Games With Meaning

Once again you and I sit here as winter turns to spring looking ahead to a host of meaningful Canadiens games. Tonight is the first. The Buffalo Sabres are grappling for the playoffs (if you can call 6-6-4 over 14 grappling) and the Habs need more points to achieve any peace of mind.

But it’s not so for everyone.

Down the road in Ottawa, for example, games with meaning expired in January. That’s when they entered the puzzling realm where fans start to accept and even encourage the loss. I recently attended an Ottawa game and will be attending the Habs game in Kanata as well. Watching the post-trade deadline Senators face the Bruins was interesting from an academic point of view, but I can assure you that not many of those fans seem to revel in the clean back pass like I do. By the time the Habs play the Sens in April, it may be that the result means less to both teams. It begs the question: why are people paying the same amount to watch this game as the early season run-ins with everything still on the line.

The teams at the bottom struggle to bring in fans (especially where fans were already scarce) as cheering for the loss is just as easily done without the $100 price tag. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad if the teams at the top weren’t also playing meaningless games as the season runs down.

Vancouver and Philadelphia are the only two teams that have formally clinched their playoff berths. But there are also several teams that have a 100% chance of making the playoffs if you round up the decimals (Washington has escaped all scenarios in which they could miss thanks to head-to-head games of those chasing).


Few games with meaning

So ten teams with less than 1% chance of making it and 9 teams with a less than 1% chance of missing. With playoffs being the only pressing reason to win a game that suggests that most teams don’t have very much left to play for.

In my opinion, this part of the season is just another thing that is fundamentally wrong with the NHL. I think there’s a problem at the top and at the bottom of the pile.


League champions

To start with, the league’s attitude to the President’s trophy only fuels the fans disdain. 82 games is a long and arduous season for players and fans when the single reward for most teams is berth in the playoffs. Add to that the possibility that a first round loss will completely eclipse any notion of accomplishment. Imagine a first round sweep.

There aren’t many good reasons as to why the league couldn’t do more to elevate the league champion. I am not suggesting that anything like the right to play for the Cup be reinstated as it was in the beginning. There could, however, be ways to honour the winners. Presenting the trophy could be a start. Other possibilities could include making the champs participants in the outdoor game, or the all-star game (and making a trophy for the victors of that as yet meaningless contest). Some sort of hockey champion’s league to start the season (as opposed to random selection for European involvement) might also create interest in hockey that way.

A fan of North American sports will point out that not recognizing accomplishment for the regular season is the norm for all sports. Of course, in doing so, said fan would have to ignore the reality that sport takes place outside of North America too and those leagues routinely find ways to honour two achievements and make them meaningful to fans. They would also be condoning the 162-game debacle that leads to months of meaningless baseball games every year.

Why must we cling to a system that was made for 6 teams, when we can clearly see the problem that a single honour to go around for 30 teams is creating disinterest? Why must the NHL copy the NFL when the difference between 16 games and 82 games is so clear?


Lottery winners

The same could be said for the bottom. As I was discussing the Senators last night with my father-in-law, I needed to explain why the teams missing the playoffs must now attempt to lose as many games as possible. We both agreed this gave fans a very good reason for their apathy.

Of course, this doesn’t need to be the way forward either.

The top pick to bottom team system is in place to allow recycling of teams from top to bottom. It works in that regard. But in 10 years when Crosby and Malkin are on their last legs, will we again be staring down the threat of one of the NHL’s most legitimate markets losing its team? The more Pittsburgh try to win now, the more likely it seems we will.

And what for? So that teams from far less viable markets can take a turn at the top?

The solution might need to be creative, but there could certainly be a way to make missing the playoffs on a tie-break (like Florida has done a couple of times recently) worth more than trading away all NHL talent in March like that team did this year. It’s not every day that the Toronto Maple Leafs stumble on viable solutions to problems, but they may be onto something with their first round swap – winning to prevent a rival’s reinforcement seems to entertain.



At the end of the day, fans cheer for the goal, the save, the win. Not many are so forward-looking to be cheering for the increased odds of nabbing Couturier. Certainly not when they’ve paid to watch a hockey game. As a fan willing to pay for a late season game this year, but beginning to question, I can speak to this.

Want to know why hockey is sucking air in Florida and Atlanta. Want to know why Colorado failed before and could just as easily lose interest again? Want to know why Columbus is no longer selling out? Look no further than meaningful games. In addition to showing some iota of concern for player safety, I think this sham leadership has to address this situation where meaningless games make up 15% of the schedule.

So as Toronto face Minnesota to decide Boston’s draft position, enjoy the game tonight.

(Note: Of course I never expect a league run by the current team – who can’t even muster enough interest to deal with serious injury – to do anything. It’s still something I think needs to be addressed by the next competent guy they get in a leadership position)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Game #73

Winnesota Mauled

Details



Date: 20/3/2011
Opponent: Wild
Location: St. Paul, Minnesota

Win: 8-1

Habs Goalie: Auld (W)
Opposition Goalie: Theodore (L), Backstrom

Habs goalscorers: White, Kostitsyn, Subban (3), Wisniewski, Moen, Pyatt
Opposition goalscorers: Koivu (PS)



Play of the game


A missed call left Kostitsyn flattened after he had played the puck around. With some great play from his linemates, and to his quickly regaining his own feet, Andrei was back in to receive a puck in the slot. A split second later, he undid Theo's confidence with another high shot. It was the gamewinner minutes in, it felt like it.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Benoit Pouliot
Just as the key to the last game was the last 40 minutes, this game swung right from the start. By the time the game was 21 minutes old, the Canadiens had basically won and Pouliot had been involved in all three goals. The pre-game was a all Pouliot (his first game back in Minnesota) and so was the first few minutes as his line injected superior energy against the Minnesota bewildered. Not all his assists were big time plays, but the first goal certainly was, a highlight play for the reel.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Looked invigorated every time the camera panned to him (except maybe after 7-1). His goal was truly exceptional and his play meant the Wild D had a lot to worry about on two lines. His stat line only shows a single goal, but his pass to Eller (no goal) in the third was also sublime. The dangerous forward is back for the time being.

Ryan White
Great first goal against Theodore blocker side and a brilliant game through and through. Back when I predicted White would make the team in 2009, this is what I had in mind. It's safe to say he won't do this every time, but perhaps a little injection of confidence in Minnesota will help Ryan to open up like this more frequently.

Defencemen

PK Subban - Game Puck
It was a game ago that McGuire spoke of the emergence of a superstar. It didn't take long. Tonight's game showed Subban to be dominant in many situations. His first goal was his usual determined puck protection turned goal and the second and third showed us all the utility of his protracted wind up. But as I said to my wife as we watched, the amazing thing about Subban is that his goals were probably not his best contributions. I would count his outlet pass on important Goal #1 as example of more play, as well as other outlet passes. But in this near shutout, he also had multiple minutes of calm and controlled defensive play.

Roman Hamrlik
Most nights this performance from the Brigadier General would merit a game puck, or at least the best defender spot. He was slick and looked comfortable despite the minutes of the season. I think it shows the difference of the system and the wins the system has afforded. 20+ minutes this season is not equal to 20+ minutes in Roman's previous seasons. It's no wonder he wants to extend his millionnaire days in this city.

Goaltender

Alex Auld
Good concentration and good luck gave him a real-game shutout. The only blemish being a classy breakaway move by little (big) Koivu. In 2 straight games, Auld has done the job and performed the important task of allowing Carey to rest. Tonight, Alex returned to his early season form, filling his team with belief and calm.



Comments


One of those games for the Habs. Goals came quick and on nearly every chance. Minnesota seemed determined to show Canadiens fans that other teams can let up more odd man rushes than the defence we complain about. As the praise flows, it is important to recall that this result will have little effect on the Buffalo game.

The result does, however, have an enormous effect on the playoff security of this hockey team we watch. 87 points moves them closer to a certified place in the playoffs. 0.500 from hear (9 points) would clinch regardless of what anyone else does. It closes the door to teams lower down coming through a bit more. And it puts the heat on the Boston Brutes.

Speaking of unsportsmanlike reactions to being down by more goals than your team can score. I thought the refs did a great thing by ejecting Clutterbuck when they did. It probably saved the Habs another injury.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gam #72

Habs Make Most Of 40 Minutes After Meltdown

Details



Date: 18/3/2011
Opponent: Rangers
Location: New York

Loss:3-6

Habs Goalie: Price (L), Auld
Opposition Goalie: Lundqvist (W)

Habs goalscorers: Subban, Wisniewski, Gionta
Opposition goalscorers: Anisimov, Girardi, Callahan, Gaborik, Boyle, Prospal



Play of the game


The coach made the play of the game in this one. The decision to start Carey Price was the right call, but after a fluke goal and a bad minute, it was right also to pull him. Auld coming in didn't turn the tide right away, but did eventually have that effect. In addition, it provided the comical moment of the game as the large goalie had to get on the ice without the benefit of a door, clambering over the boards in his pads. A close second must be whatever Martin and his leaders said in the room during the first intermission - since those words salvaged 40 minutes from the contest.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

David Desharnais
David did a nice job, but he really does look better going against lesser defenders, especially against playoff level teams with organized defence. We hope Plekanec comes back soon for the sake of the overall attack, and so the Canadiens can complicate the lives of opposing coaches as they struggle to deal with a 3rd/4th line centered by this tricky attacking centre.

Brian Gionta
Gionta played a nice game and had another goalscorer's tally. TSN hit the nail on the head (unlikely as that sounds) when they recognized the importance of Gionta in the Canadiens never-say-die attitude in this one. The captain's determination both troubles and surprises his opponents and will be a major key in the Canadiens future hopes.

Scott Gomez
It's really too bad Gomez can't score. That's because it would be the final complement to his play. He really does do so many of the other things just right. Most noticeable for me tonight was his stickwork in boardlong battles. Gomez should deliver a clinic to his teammates, as winning the puck with a quick burst and clever stick check seem to be the norm of late for him.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
Clear villain of the first act. His crosschecking penalty was just about unforgivable and certainly unnecessary. The confusion of the penalty unravelled all the good from the Subban goal and rally. In a game of redemption, however, Hamrlik was central. He looked good on the PP and began to look confident at the back again too. Usually, we aren't too forgiving of veteran mistakes, but in a 5-goal meltdown, most had mess on their hands.

PK Subban – Game Puck
What a goal. What a player. Pierre McGuire is not a man I find much opportunity to agree with, but in the case of Subban, I find no dispute. After yet another rush, Pierre affirmed we were watching the first year of a superstar's career. Like Hamrlik, he was not unscathed in this contest, no defender was, but he availed himself well when down, never giving more ground.

Goaltender

Alex Auld
Embodiment of the resilience of the Habs. Alex looked determined to leave it at 5 and to lead his team from the back. There were several decent saves in his 18. What's more, he outperformed his rival against the same opposition. As simple as it gets for dome goalie calls.


Comments

Those who thought I was harsh after the Washington loss will certainly have reason to question tonight (or not). The nature of this loss, being so different, leaves me feeling another set of emotions. The lows came in the first, and resignation of a loss was turned into hope.

Part of this was playing an opponent with a 4-goal lead. But I also thought the depleted Habs showed a lot of will and spirit as the refused to relent in their task. The win was never going to be in reach, but the moral victory, the team-building endnote was. It's worthy of note then that the Canadiens stuck with it and won the second two periods and led the hopeful to believe their hope was reasonable.

Important stuff at playoff time. Important stuff for the players tasting their first action in the NHL and important for those coming back. A loss is a loss, but this loss had some victory in it. For that, there's reason to be positive.

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

In the wake of announcements made by Gary Bettman about the seriousness that the NHL is going to start ascribing to head hits, this week the NHL Wheel of Justice assessed Dany Heatley 2 games for a deliberate (if not very injurious) elbow to the head of Steve Ott, Lecavalier was handed a game misconduct for a deliberate high-stick to PK Subban’s head, and even Bruin Brad Marchand is getting a suspension for an unpenalized play. Given that the GMs have just finished a meeting specifically addressing concussions and head hits (among other things), it’s worth asking whether the league has done enough to address what a lot of hockey minds seem to think is a key issue facing the game today?

Ken Dryden, Habs legend and one of the more intelligent players to ever grace the game, had a very smart piece in the Globe and Mail last Friday where he compares today’s perceptions of head hits to yesteryear’s perceptions of the health risks of smoking (i.e. none) and asks the question: "How could we be so stupid?" This is a valid point, and 20 or 30 years from now I think many doctors and family members will be asking the same question. It is all too easy to think of our players as gladiators and heroes, and that head trauma is just part of earning their stripes; part of the the job.

This certainly seems to be the outlook of the NHL executive committee, with very little about head hits and concussions coming of this week’s GM meeting. What we got was a very public 5-point "action plan" from Gary Bettman after the first day, which seemingly calmed sponsors by making it sound like the league is really going to do something. My feelings are obviously a little mixed on the subject. I certainly hate their data on the source of concussions – especially the category labelled "accidental hits." According to their classifications, the Chara hit would have been "accidental" simply because it wasn’t ruled as intentional (i.e. suspension-worthy) by the executive, and I don’t think this provides a very meaningful representation of the data.

One point I was very happy with, and that was the new protocol for determining what constituted a potential concussion threat and how the teams are expected to react. Clear rules are set for what scenario requires an intervention by the team doctor, and the player is removed to “a quiet place free from distraction” for examination with a validated acute concussion assessment tool. These are good steps, most of all because they are clear, logical, and will probably improve the prognosis for players with concussions dramatically. In fact, the only way that this could be better is if doctors had an obligation to share data from tests (maybe at season’s end) for use in evaluating how various rule or equipment changes affect concussion rates.

The rest of the list I’m less excited about. The first item is for Brendan Shanahan to lead an investigation into whether equipment size can be reduced without compromising safety. I think that the answer is a resounding “yes.” Equipment size has grown rather dramatically over the past three decades, mostly in the name of player safety. However, I wonder whether this has backfired somewhat; protection against higher forces seems to have encouraged harder hits, and likely leads to less forgiving impacts between players. It is important to remember that no equipment can protect a player completely from injury, however, and that changes made at a cultural level might be more effective in reducing concussions.

The second, related, item is the naming of Joe Nieuwendyk, Rob Blake, Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan to a committee investigating concussions and concussion-related issues. I have tremendous respect for all of these men as hockey players, but have less faith their ability to ask smart, testable questions about why concussions have been on the rise, and supervise the data collection and analysis required for this job. I’m biased, being a scientist, but I’d like to see people who do this kind of analysis for a living doing this work.

Which brings me to the next point, which is the hiring of an independent safety consulting team to tour the 30 NHL arenas to ensure they conform to the highest safety standards. My question is: how is this not a routine procedure for the league? The same could be said for the last point, which is penalizing teams as a whole for repeated offences by multiple players, though I can’t find anything saying 1) how many offences it takes to become a “repeat offender, or 2) how many “repeated offenders” would qualify as enough for a fine or other punishment.

What I hate most about this is that, unlike the new head injury protocol, it doesn’t seem to be clear, logical, or structured. It requires on-the-fly judgement calls that will lead to inconsistent rulings from referees and the disciplinary committee, which is why so many of us refer to them as the "Wheel of Justice." Inconsistency and judgement calls are ruining the punitive structure of the league both on the ice and in suspensions (although our friend Down Goes Brown seems to have the suspensions figured out). Decades of psychology research have shown that if punishment is not consistent, it doesn’t change behaviour, and that’s what we’re seeing on the ice.

My dad and I were talking about this last night, and came up with a good example: in the old days (for me this means the 1980s), 3 steps and leaving your feet meant a whistle and 2 minutes for charging. Now, charging is a rather abstract concept because, as Colin Campbell freely admits in his emails (remember those?), referees are more or less expected to be inconsistent by making calls based on the score, the number of previous penalties and the flow of the game. Bad judgement by the referee on some stickplay between Subban and Lacavalier in front of the net last night led to frustration and the eventual 2-handed blow to Subban’s face that saw Vinny ejected. It never should have gone that far, even if it meant 2 minutes for PK and none for Lacavalier.

I think overall the league has taken some steps in the right direction by introducing independent safety consultants, clear criteria for high-risk hits, and protocols for how deal with these hits. However, we’ve been taking a lot of steps in the wrong direction over the last couple years in terms of man-games lost to injury. Until the punitive structures are made more severe and consistent, I think we’ll continue to watch that stat rise.

Game #71

Solid Team Effort Grounds Lightning

Details



Date: 17/3/2011
Opponent: Lightning
Location: Montreal

Win: 3-2 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Roloson (L)

Habs goalscorers: Kostitsyn, Gionta (Dawes, Cammalleri - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Purcell, Gagne (Gagne - SO)



Play of the game


This was made easy for me. Tied at 1-1 with Tampa on the power play, Gionta was in just the right spot to grab a pass gone slightly awry and took off with the puck. He made St.-Louis look slow down the ice (no easy feat) before positively undressing Roloson to bring it to 2-1 and put the taste of victory on the team’s lips.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
Put himself in good position and showed serious stick control in our first goal, and put in a solid offensive game with Eller and Cammalleri (even if that wasn’t the line he scored with).

Brian Gionta - Game Puck
The captain did what was needed to make victory look like a possibility tonight, and created some quality chances as he always does. He also covered a defensive lapse late in the third to stop what would have been a breakaway for the Lightning.

Lars Eller
I almost wanted to put the Bulldogs as a collective unit here, but Eller convinced me otherwise by doing the simple things well. He has great puck control, keeps his head up, and is learning to use his body and strength to protect the puck so that that he can be patient and create solid chances like he did tonight.

Defencemen

James Wisniewski
Showing great skill and hockey sense in both ends from the first period, Wiz continues to impress me. A key acquisition that we’ll be heavily reliant on down the stretch, it’s a relief to see him deliver game after game.

Roman Hamrlik
Our Czech workhorse played his 1 300th NHL game tonight, and his experience showed through his superb positioning, 7(!) blocked shots, and almost 30 minutes of ice time without a goal against. He had some smart pinches in the dying minutes of the third and some great defensive play in the overtime period.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I almost put the game puck here, and you can accuse me of bias as I’m a huge fan of our captain. Certainly neither goal can be blamed on our netminder, who played a more-than-solid game, and did well to shut the door on some key rushes after Gionta’s goal. He stared down Stamkos and shrugged off charges at the net with equal
ease and kept us in this one as well as anyone could ask.



Comments


A really fun game to watch, with plenty of wide-open, end-to-end hockey. Both teams are fast and like to skate, and it made for a very entertaining game. Roloson was solid for Tampa and had his share of luck in the face of some solid chances, and we flubbed a few besides. With the injury to Plekanec, I was really hoping for Gomez to step up to the plate and deliver. Instead we got a boost from the Bulldogs, and I thought they did well to create some quality chances through simple hard work; Dawes added a welcome goal in the shootout. With our decimated roster and Gill out with a virus on top of it all, I would have been happy with one point against a team like Tampa Bay, let alone two. I’m going to focus on the positives and a big team effort
that brought home a very welcome win.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Game #70

Washington Deal Canadiens Significant Injuries: Plekanec, Lower Body; Team, Pride

Details



Date: 15/3/2011
Opponent: Capitals
Location: Montreal

Loss:2-4

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Holtby (W)

Habs goalscorers: Moen, Kostitsyn
Opposition goalscorers: Johansson (2), Laich, Knuble



Play of the game


The save of the night had to be the team effort that duped Brad Watson into disallowing a goal that clearly was. It starts with Price who made the initial save then flopped back just enough to give the illusion of control. Subban, who batted the puck before the myopic ref would spot it. And Kostitsyn who knocked Johansson into the net before the puck could settle without doubt into the back of the netting. Unconventional. But a certain goal didn't end up on the scoreboard for this work. I suppose some credit must also go to the league for setting the ridiculous precedent that intention to blow a whistle is as good as blowing it.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

David Desharnais
Sloppy at times before the finish, but still the player who created the most danger in close on the Capitals net. e led the team in shots and his linemates were right there with him. I think he's stretched to play a top two centre's role, but when he was tasked with the lower docket, he was impressive again.

Tom Pyatt
Popped off the screen early before his ice time was limited to shift Cammalleri around. Pyatt didn't look much like scoring, but neither did many Habs forwards. At the least, he was creating rebounds and forcing the puck to danger zones. A great game by Tom's standards.

Lars Eller
Determined and dynamic. Eller continued his progression to important player for this team. His pass to Kostitsyn was a nice assist. His pass to Gomez was a pass too far. The next step is for him to find some selfish tendencies when in clear positions.

Defencemen

James Wisniewski
James had a good game at both ends, I thought. Some good moments on the PP, with a near goal in close. That goes with some moments of calm as well as at least two backchecking saves for the team. The signature moment for the man in the hockey mask was his shot block, going off in severe pain, and coming back before a shift was missed.

PK Subban
Subban had a tough assignment with Ovechkin. He handled it extremely well. I think we all thought we were getting an exciting and somewhat irresponsible offensive defender with PK. Instead, he continues to show his ability to learn and grow. I maintain that his defensive game is one of the biggest surprises of the season.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
4 (or 5) goals. Some dicey puck handling. It wasn't a banner game for Carey, yet he makes the dome because he simply was the Canadiens best. The difference between Carey Price 2011 and 2009 is in the saves he can make after a bad bounce like goal #1 and a disallowed goal so close to the start. He not only settled but played a full half game of stunning shut out hockey. Oh, and his glove. The difference for the Canadiens is that Carey can carry a team close with a standard below his best.


Comments


Chances are we were due for this moment. The coach can be angry. But his team just played a playoff rival to a standstill on Saturday and had to face the hottest team in the East. They went down on some pretty bad luck within a minute and then ended up losing two important players (the Plekanec loss could weigh heavy on this teams hopes).

What I saw was a loss to a much better team on the night. Certainly a much better prepared team. Think of all the moments you saw Hal Gill beaten outside and tell me that wasn't a targeted strategy. The Capitals defence allowed those outside shots, but kept it to that. They limited the impact of Canadiens speed by forcing very early passes from defenders that failed most of the time.

The lesson to take from this game is twofold. First, losses will still happen, there is no need to despair. Second, the Canadiens are winning on the back of some pretty basic strategic maneuvers. An intensive examination by an opposing coach (such as the ones you typically see during a playoff series) will reveal weaknesses to exploit. Luckily, there's also a third lesson. The Canadiens once again have a wildcard in goal, a player who can disregard the momentum of the game and keep it close.

Playoff Check Up

Lots of people around this time of year like to do an inventory of the games that are left and cal it a playoff check up. The logic being that few games mean we can start to predict what will happen just by looking at the schedule.

This may seem true, but there are actually millions of possible scenarios, even at this point for all the possible outcomes. That's what happens with so many teams and 4 possible outcomes from each game.

That's why, I prefer to let a computer do the thinking for me. Thankfully there is a computer that does just this. Sports Club Stats is a website that has posted the odds of NHL teams making the playoffs for the past few years, it also predicts the likely placement of teams.

Looking at this site, it becomes possible to see the relatively watertight position of teams that are in the playoff positions at this point and the hopes ever so faint of teams like the Maple Leafs that are trying to claw their way in.

The Leafs lost last night and it cost them valuable points. No big deal? Well not if you were thinking in terms of one simple scenario you thought needed to happen. But in reality, the Leafs just lost more than half of the possible scenarios where they could make the playoffs with that single loss. Because they have to catch teams (one which they lost to) and depend on losses from those rivals and leapfrog teams that could equally win (and will need to win if the Leafs hope the playoff teams are to lose), the chances slim down.

This is more complex because of the way the NHL schedules. By making things more interdivisional and intercoferencial at the very end of the season, the league ensures the most scenarios right to the end of the schedule. The Leafs are by no means out. But the thousands of scenarios where they make the playoffs all depend a lot on others.

The Canadiens are in a very different position. 97 points will guarantee a playoff position at this point. 97 points represents 14 points from 13 games, which is very much in keeping with their record.

96 points is a virtual lock as well. If the Canadiens get a record of 6-6-1 for the rest of the season, there are thousands and thousands of scenarios where they will end up in the playoffs in either 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th or 8th. There are 5,151,915 scenarios whereby they will end up 6th. And there is a single scenario where they could miss the playoffs. Even a 5-5-3 record only yields a single possibility where the rivals all win the right games and slip ahead.

Even if the Canadiens have an abysmal record like 4-9-0, because of the games that are left to play for every team, it is still more likely that they will make it with their 91 points than not.

Looking at things this way is a bit cold, and wouldn't be my tip for Leafs fans who probably don't want to extinguish the flames of hope just yet. But for Habs fans who might just want to cool off their nervous twitches in the month of March, some cold hard stats can be calming.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Game #69

Canadiens Play Penguins To Perfection

Details



Date: 12/3/2011
Opponent: Penguins
Location: Pittsburgh

Win: 3-0

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Fleury (L), Johnson

Habs goalscorers: Plekanec, Moen, Cammalleri
Opposition goalscorers: None



Play of the game


Some great saves and some very pretty goals to go with all the little things done right. The play that reflected the Canadiens resolve in this game more than any other was the patience that Carey Price showed on his save on the very first Pittsburgh PP. Carey dealt with the bad bounce, trusted his positioning and reactions and just waited out James Neal. A goal would have changed the game. The save ensured the Canadiens could just stick to details and run out the clock.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Mike Cammalleri – Game Puck
Cammalleri was on and focused. You could see that from the moment they showed him stepping on for warm up. This was the Cammalleri of the 2010 playoffs again. Quick to react to loose pucks and usually to them first. He really set the tone for the quick put down in this game. His pass on the Pleks goal was outstanding, his own goal was pretty too. Besides that, he was always backchecking and often slowing the play down in his own end before creating the outlets from the zone.

Tomas Plekanec
See Cammalleri above. Tomas played just as well as his partner in most aspects of the game today. His goal should bring hope that he's returning to his dynamic best, as it was a slick goalscorer vintage. He too was a defensive pest and key to ushering Pittsburgh into dead ends.

Scott Gomez
This game was won early and so early plays have big significance. Early on, Gomez was on the ball (puck actually, I guess) as he zipped around the Pittsburgh zone winning and keeping possession. His play on Goal #2, the tipping point goal was just classic Gomez – a puck battle won and a pass to space he knew his player would reach before anyone else. A good game for Scott, together with his linemates.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
I thought the whole team played well. But Hamrlik and Wisniewski played the bulk of the minutes against Pittsburgh's remaining star, Jordan Staal. I thought the Staal line did stall tonight and that's largely because they took ill advised outside shots instead of showing patience. Credit to Hamrlik and Wisniewski for being tight on them all the time. Credit to Hammer for blocking 7 shots all himself.

PK Subban
Don't ask me why Pittsburgh's players and fans suddenly took interest in targeting Subban when they realised they had slept through 30 minutes of play. I may have missed the reason. Subban, though, didn't take the bait (unless you count rushing the length of the ice and being penalized for carrying too much momentum). Earlier in the season he would have been baited. Subban growing up has been a big story of the season and the mature PK gives the Habs a formidable defensive player at the back – another reason the Pens looked to have nothing going.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Never in question (except maybe for a split second before the post did its job). Carey played calmly and gelled seamlessly with his defence once again. There were a couple of big saves, but most of the difference came from the calm he created for his partners on the team. Pittsburgh had no answer for this.


Comments


This game wasn't a "classic", or so Ron MacLean signed off. But you know what, this game was the classic item on every Canadiens fan's wish list. Most times the team wins by taking an early lead, fans complain about sitting back and letting the other team come on. If the team wins with a comeback, the complaint is about a bad start. This game offers no room for complaints. The team started well, scored early, scored again, then again, didn't take penalties, defended well, let up few shots of consequence, shut out the opposition, never had a late scare, and so on.

The CBC crew insinuated that Montreal had perfected this art, but for me this might be the first evidence of them playing this solid a game against a team that's still trying to win (sorry Florida). I think the team has been building to a game like this, but it's nice to see it. I was also happy to see that Pittsburgh thought better of making this a Bostonian nightmare by playing hockey right to the end. There was a brief period where I thought Subban might be punched with gloved fists for the last 20 minutes.

On the CBC coverage of the Pacioretty hit: I am a little underwhelmed. I know they are saving their party line for Donald S (?!?) Cherry, but they could have shared an opinion. Bylsma's interview was interesting, as he's always worth listening to. Ron Wilson's interview was predictable and only reinforced the need for the NHL to turn away from dinosaurs in positions of consequence. I guess we'll see where they really stand after the Leafs go down to the Sabres in the first.

Game Today on Hockey Night In Canada

The play that rocked the Habs happened Tuesday. Since that time many have had their chance to respond.

The Canadiens and Bruins responded in words and action that very night in the third period and following. The 24-hour sports reels let their opinions known. Canadiens management responded. The NHL did. Air Canada and yesterday Via.

But hockey's biggest vehicle and most important collection of voices has yet to have their full time on the soapbox.

Hockey Night in Canada goes to air just before the Canadiens face the Penguins today. They will show that game as well.

Usually I would watch this on RDS. But as someone interested in where the debate on the Max Pacioretty hit and its effect on future NHL violence will go, I think I'd better listen up to what the voices of the nation will tell the nation to think.

The blunt end of the argument is bound to be coming from Ex-Bruins collaborators Don Cherry and Mike Milbury. Cherry will be of particular interest. The man of a million crusades has made unnecessary hitting one of his longest crusades. Hitting that happens on icing plays, that is. It will be interesting to see if he is a man of principle or a man incapable of sequestering his allegiance and distaste for the parties involved. He has surprised before, so you never know.

More subtle, and probably more influential in the long run, are the views of the long-time hockey journalists. Those that can wrap their thoughts in a bit of eloquence. They will interview their handpicked opinions and they'll interview each other. Between all this we'll get a picture of the bloc of opinion that could actually move the NHL.

Ron MacLean will be central of course, as he is the ringmaster with hands in every spinning pie. He has actually given us a short preview of what he thinks. It's an interesting preview, with a few puzzling turns, such as:
"When I hear "Pacioretty could have ended up in a wheelchair," it makes me think we go too far teaching such fear. A wheelchair life is different, but it could be better than the one before and until we grow into a less superficial take on the gift of life we'll run aimlessly trying to interpret the forces of life, from floods and fires to crimes and accidents as though they give technical and instructive shape to the abstract."
I'm sure his thoughts will become much clearer after we've heard him debate Stephen Brunt and sit beside Don Cherry.

I think, like me, many who care about this issue seriously are still not quite ready to dive headlong into worrying about backpasses gone wrong or blatantly missed scoring opportunities. The memory of events and the significance of the decisions ahead mean that thoughts are still whirling about on this.

I'll be watching the game with interest as always. But as much interest will be directed to the debate and discussion that will be happening in all available moments between plays.

Have a good Saturday. All the best to Pacioretty and family. Go Habs Go.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Not Yet Time To Move On

There's little that bothers me in this world more than someone telling me to move on. When it comes three exchanges into an important argument

I think the rest of the fans in the NHL, those in Boston, the people who lead the NHL and many of the mainstream media are feeling like the time for complaining is done. The time to watch the race to the playoffs is back.

I can understand this stance from outsiders. They did not watch the Pacioretty hit live, they did not sit there for 10 minutes shaking with genuine fear for a player's life..

There are many reasons things don't change in this world, but one of the main reasons is apathy.

I would bet that 90% of the people who support other teams would prefer to watch hockey without having to worry about one of their players being knocked out cold, paralysed or possibly even dying in the process of vying for two points and an early playoff exit.

Yet most of those people have already moved on to more important concerns like how many points they'll get in their hockey pool from the Panthers:Senators game. Some Montreal media seemed to want to move on to Thursday fretting about lines and production (hugely disappointing). Most disappointing of all, the league (b)leaders are saying the same through their store-bought statements.


When Mike Richards laid his dirty hits, things should have changed. When Patrice Bergeron was savagely checked into the boards, things should have changed. When Matt Cooke made Savard a non-hockey player, things should have changed. Back then Montreal was in the distracted, apathetic masses.

But the things this incident has that the others didn't is the momentum of a city worth of fans - the second hockey-crazed city of the NHL. Fans who happen to sponsor and support the league. This might just for the first time be a critical mass to effect some change. Change that will be better for the players who can play (sorry Trevor Gillies), better for the fans who want their children to watch with them.

All that to say it's not time to move on. It's time to keep up the discourse and to keep the momentum.

The NHL general manager meetings are a week away. It's not too long to hold on. If it has any effect on the rules that protect players and a game from descending further into a violent abyss then it will be worthwhile.

On that note, I encourage you to read a blog that gets the pulse of this thing and tell those that are wimping out that they're wimping out (no need to name names, you'll know who they are).

And while you're about it, press play on this:


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Game #68

Emotional Couple of Days Ends in Loss to an Old Friend

Details



Date: 10/3/2011
Opponent: Blues
Location: St. Louis

Loss: 1-4

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Halak (W)

Habs goalscorers: Halpern
Opposition goalscorers: Backes, McDonald, D'Agostini, Oshie



Play of the game


We worked very hard for our only goal, all five players did. In fact, I think that it was our best burst of effort all game. Cammalleri got the ball rolling by controlling the puck very well in the Blues' end. Pleks then took over and did a good job to get in to Mara. Paul quickly got the puck to the pinching Picard. Alex then skated in and instead of shooting made an amazing pass to a wide-open Halpern who merely had to re-direct the puck in the open side.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Mike Cammalleri
Montreal didn't look too strong in this one so it is a hard dome to choose. I did, however, like Mike's effort on the goal and thought that he did an OK job the rest of the way. With Patches out we really need him to pick it up as I doubt anyone from the 3rd or 4th lines is going to score at a higher rate than they have. To me, he is a player that we must focus on in the last 14 games.

Jeff Halpern
He was our only goal-scorer tonight and that has to count for something. Any goal, in fact, from him seems like a bonus as he isn't the one you would expect to be scoring.
He was also OK in our own end and on the PK.

David Desharnais
David played a good game, but I felt that we didn't use him enough tonight. Just because he is on the 4th line isn't reason enough for him to get the least amount of ice-time. I am not asking for him to be used 15+ minutes a game, but when he is on relative to the rest of the group this must be recognized.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik - Game Puck
This wasn't the best game that Roman has played this season, not even the best in the past few weeks, but I did feel that he was there to compete. He made quite a few very solid plays in his own end that stood out to me and likely saved the Habs a few goals-against. He had the most ice-time on the team which I think is encouraging as we need him to be on his game now more than ever and we need him to be ready to play big minutes down the stretch.

Alexandre Picard
Alex stayed out of trouble in his own end and made up a decent first-time partnership with Mara. Those two would likely be the two I would sit if given the choice, but it is nice to know that they are ready and capable. His pass to Halpern on the goal was fantastic and was another reminder that he indeed has some decent offence in him.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Carey started with some great saves and kept the Habs within striking distance for most of the game. The third goal was very nice and confirmed the loss that we were all expecting. It was a slow, unemotional and somewhat dull game, but Price was there, as usual, to give his team a chance.


Comments


I think that the players, like me, found it hard to get into this game. We have all spent 48 hours worrying about Pacioretty and questioning our faith in this league and this game. To then have to travel halfway across the continent and face a good team and good goalie is a tall task. We certainly had our chances and could have won, but I think on this night the better, more focused team won. I can, however, live with this loss as it is a no consequence game really. My focus really has shifted away from results over the past few hours and I still need a few days to start thinking that they really matter. I am happy with our spot in the standings and feel that we should make the playoffs. I do expect that my interest and the players' passion and energy level will return, though as it can only go up from here. This game, however, did offer one bright spot as it was a chance to see Halak again. Jaro played a solid game and deserved the win. His season, and the Blues', isn't what he had hoped for, but I think that that team will improve over the next few years and it will be interesting to see if he'll do for them what none of us can forget he did for us.