Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The land of misfit toys

The Maple Leafs play the game better than anyone else.

The blame game, that is.

"I don't know what security is doing. It seems like we're giving the guy a couple minutes to flip everybody off and mock real fans," said Nazem Kadri following the Leafs loss Monday night against the Hurricanes at the ACC.

Yeah, it's security's fault.

Maybe that example is unfair, but the issue digs deeper.

Ron Wilson blames Phil Kessel.

CEO Tim Leiweke blames unnamed top players.

Dave Nonis blames Randy Carlyle.

Brendan Shanahan likely blames Nonis.

Fans blame Shanahan.

Another 18-wheeler has driven off the cliff. The only problem is this time nobody knows who is sitting in the driver's seat.

The firing of Randy Carlyle was clearly a mistake. And now a lame duck interim coach is a fish out of water.

The funny thing about this whole thing is the predictable final outcome. Well funny to some, not so funny to others...

At some point, the Leafs will turn the slide around, but it will be too late. They'll make a late push when they are all but eliminated from playoff contention. Because of this, Toronto will have another first round draft selection that will be in the 7-10 range. Mediocrity forever.

Because of the missed playoffs, the Leafs will make some moves. But because of the untradable contracts, they'll be forced to trade the wrong players.

Out goes Joffrey Lupul, Cody Franson and possibly JVR. The team remains stuck with Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson.

It's not to suggest that these players are bad. Or that single handedly they are the problem. But they represent the flaws in team building and vision that an organization must have if they want to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

Certainly a team can win with Kessel. But the TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS cannot, and definitely not with him as their top player.

There's plenty of examples of fantastic hockey players that you wouldn't want to label as "the guy." Some guys produce at a great clip, but are much more suited to be in a complimentary role. Jakub Voracek (currently leads the league in scoring), Patrick Kane, Tyler Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Nikita Kucherov, Vladimir Tarasenko and Nick Foligno highlight players in the top-20 of NHL scoring that most people would take on their team any day. Try to build around any of those guys, on their own, in a market like Toronto. It just won't work.

If we try to prognosticate even further into the future, next fall when everyone starts off with a clean slate, the Leafs rush an undersized and underdeveloped William Nylander because, well, this is what the Leafs do.

The solution to the underlying issues aren't so clear. And at this point in time, the answer as to who is driving the truck is equally confusing.

- Mitchy

Friday, 12 December 2014

Canadiens vs LA Kings: Santa came early this year.

The Canadiens found a way to win, again.


A fluke.

Smoke and mirrors. 

However you want to describe it, they got the job done Friday night at the Bell Centre with a 6-2 victory over the LA Kings. 

The Kings dominated in the shots department (46-20) and had the puck for the entire game. But it didn't matter because the best player for the Canadiens was their goaltender Carey Price. 

"We totally dominated the first period... Carey Price was really good, wasn't he?" Coach Darryl Sutter remarked after the game. 

In what was a sensational game, Price was beat twice, once by Jake Muzzin on a play where he never saw the puck because Andre Markov couldn't clear Trevor Lewis from the front of the net. The other was a laser off the stick of Drew Doughty. 

"Price wins games for this team all the time," said Doughty. "We wanted to get pucks to the net and as you saw in the third period we eventually started putting pucks behind him." 

So the Habs make it two in a row, with victories over two teams that should be in the playoffs come April. Perhaps the hockey gods wanted to even out games where they deserved a better fate (Buffalo and Chicago.) Whatever the case, Montreal is now just one point out of top spot in the Atlantic division of the NHL. 

It wasn't pretty, and if the Canadiens play like this every night, it's not a recipe for success. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Jean Beliveau


Many fans, alumni and media members have described Jean Beliveau as perfect.

Tuesday night's pre game ceremony honoring the legendary captain was in the same mold, perfect.

From the video montage, to the moment of silence... perfect.

Having been to the rink following events that called for a moment of silence, it's usually brief and not as silent as you might want. Everyone is waiting for the game to begin.

This moment of silence seemed longer, quieter. Every second seemed like a minute, yet you never wanted it to end...

As the silence turned into applause, the attention turned to his widow Elise. With elegance and remarkable poise, Mrs Beliveau quietly whispered "thank you," and acknowledge the fans of Montreal for their support by simply raising her hands.

Her husband's seat at the bell centre remains lit up with the number four beaming light down on the Canadiens for the rest of the season.

From the Vancouver room post game:

- "When I saw his wife I got kind of choked up there," said goalie Ryan Miller. "You have such a bond with someone, somebody who walked beside him and then to accept that standing ovation and to see her face, how the relationship must have meant so much, it just got me choked up."

- "I think that's a tribute to a great man and his family," said coach Willie Desjardins. "I coudn't believe his wife she's such a trooper, she shook hands all week and she was there and it must have been really hard for her but she was awesome."

- "Once they showed Mr. Beliveau's family, it was another level, it really got to me, and I'm sure alot of other players and fans, it was really emotional," said Alex Burrows.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Bruins Hibernate Part Two

The Bruins were hibernating in Montreal... Again.

All signs would have pointed to a bounce back from Boston following an embarrassing loss to the Leafs and facing a rival team in Montreal the next night. 

That's not what happened, at all. 

The first period was good, the second was bad and the third was terrible from a Bruins perspective. 

Final score, 5-1 for the Montreal Canadiens. 

"I think as a team right now we have to not be so fragile and get so down," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. "We have to show some resiliency, character and when we fall behind continue to play the way we play." 

The injury situation with David Krejci and Zdeno Chara is well documented. It's not easy to throw out the likes of Torey Krug, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow on defense but right now Boston has no choice.  

"If you start the game the way we did and can't sustain for two periods it's not because the game plan isn't working, its because you're not able to sustain your focus," said coach Claude Julien. 

There was flashes of life for the Bruins even when they were down and out. Matt Faser dropping the gloves with Nathan Beaulieu (that didn't go well), Adam Mcquaid throwing Dale Weise into the crossbar and then the boards and Lucic catching Jiri Sekac in the neutral zone without the puck subsequently goading PK Subban into a fight. 

But it wasn't the emotion that we've become accustom to seeing from the Bruins, specifically in games against the Canadiens. 

"We're a team that thrives on playing with emotion and maybe we needed to play with more emotion and more bang," said Lucic. "It wasn't there tonight, so the next time we play them hopefully we play with the emotion that gives us success." 

Boston will probably be fine and most good teams stumble during the long and vigorous NHL schedule. But all this game did was reinforce a long standing narrative. The Bruins can't figure out how to play against the Montreal Canadiens. 

- Mitchy 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

POST Game Five: Bruins @ Habs

The Bears were hibernating.

The Montreal Canadiens caught the Boston Bruins in a second game of a back to back and it showed.

Bad bounces were equally exchanged but the Bruins took a couple naps during the game that cost them two points to their arch rival.

"We were tired, the decision making wasn't there," admitted Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask after the game. "Our heads weren't really there but it's understandable, but it's not an excuse."

The main turning point was the conclusion of the second period when the Canadiens got Jiri Sekac's first NHL goal and PA Parenteau's first as a Montreal Canadien.

The building was rocking and there was no looking back.

Boston played a strong third period when Niklas Svedberg replaced Tuukka Rask.

Simon Gagne scored late in the third pulling Boston within one with a chance to search for the equalizer with the goalie pulled.

But then... Milan Lucic took an ill-timed penalty on Alexei Emelin, negating any realistic chance to tie the game.

Parenteau slipped the puck into the empty, giving the Canadiens a 6-4 win in the first meeting between these two teams this season.


- Brad Marchand's spear on PK Subban was dirty. But the embellishment call was fine by me. Sometimes your reputation follows you around for a long time. 

- Dennis Seidenberg struggled. Everyone knew the departure of Johnny Boychuk would impact the Bruins defensive core. If Seidenberg can't regain his form of old, the Bruins won't have home ice in the first round of playoff. 

- David Desharnais' play in the faceoff circle lead to goals. Even though he was just over 45%, key offensive zone faceoffs lead to goals by Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty. 

- Coach Michel Therrien coached a strong game. Never got caught in a bad match up. Balanced the ice time. And the moment of him receiving the torch was great. 

- Milan Lucic is out of control. Antics in the penalty box. The run in with Emelin. Yelling at referee Tim Peel. Dude, settle down. I'd still take him on my team though. 

- The third line controlled the play almost every time they were on the ice. Rene Bourque - Lars Eller - Jiri Sekac had a handful of shifts where they got momentum and controlled the play. That and a fearless block shot from Bourque on the powerplay shows me that at least he's still "all in."

- Also liked the Bruins third line. Loui Erickson - Carl Soderberg - Chris Kelly started the game, and looked like their best line. 

- Carey Price's struggles aren't concerning. And there was breakdowns and bad bounces on all the goals he let up. However, if he doesn't turn things around from a statistical point of view soon, the Vezina Trophy could be lost in the first month of the season. 

- Mitchy 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

PRE Game Five: Boston @ Habs

It's an exciting time.

Habs fans will pile into the Bell Centre and witness a rematch with the team that provided them with the most entertaining moments last spring. The series fresh minds of both teams. The wounds, both physical and mental are still raw. BOSTON VS MONTREAL. It'll be good.

Here are some of the questions fans have heading into tomorrow's tilt:

Scooter ‏@Habs_Scooter : Will Swedish Gretzky, Dale Weise, drop Milan Lucic about his comments from last year??

LOL. Swedish Gretzky... I think that the situation was pretty well diffused by both sides. The playoff series was so emotionally charged and that was definitely a boiling point. The waters have calmed and I'd be surprised if we saw anything occur. It wouldn't be a smart decision for Weise to try to "drop" Lucic. Unless it's a sucker punch, I'd put my money on Lucic staying on his feet and landing some damaging blows. Don't expect anything to happen, Weise will stay away and if Lucic is completely distracted to settle a personal vendetta, advantage Habs. Furthermore, I don't even think they'll be on the ice at the same time on many occasions, considering the roles they play. I'd be more inclined to see a confrontation between Lucic and Alexei Emelin, with Lucic taking a retaliatory penalty.

@Cnt_ScrutinizerTherrien protect Weise and have him as a healthy scratch?

This is the Boston Bruins, on opening night at the Bell Centre. There's no "protecting players." You have to go with the lineup that gives you the best chance to win. That lineup would include Weise and not Travis Moen. Plus, it sends the wrong message. Scratching Weise for that reason would be playing scared. He's a big boy and he can handle himself. And he's going to have to face Lucic at some point. Wouldn't a better spot be the friendly confines of the Bell Centre instead of the TD Garden in Boston?

HabsFan ‏@ChrisShannon16: Are the Bruins going to goon it up is my question. Would love to hear your opinion And how should the Habs set their lineup for tomorrow?

Thanks for the questions. The Bruins really appear to be heading away from that identity of "gooning" it up. Of course they have a ton of guys that play tough, physical and can hold their own in a fight. But I don't think they'll go about looking for fights. Having started the season slow by their standards, with expectations high... they're better off just playing hockey. If the score is titled in either direction, then all bets are off.

As far as the lineup is concerned. I don't think much changes. The Canadiens won 3/4 on the road to start the season. The only question mark I have is the final defensive spot. With Emelin potentially coming back from injury, that leaves Jared Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu at risk of coming out. My preference would be to see Beaulieu stay in the lineup, however with the size and physicality of Boston, perhaps Therrien plays things differently.

FROM MYSELF: What is the pre game ceremony going to look like?

We all remember what the pre game ceremony was like at last year's opener... Daniel Briere lightning the torch. It turned out to be a bust. As did the Briere experiment in general. This year, I'm hoping they get it right. This team is Carey Price. The team knows it, the media knows it and the fans know it. Many have speculated that despite having four alternate captains, Carey Price is the true leader on this team. There wouldn't be a better way of showing that than having Price light the torch. It won't be a bust like a year ago.

- Mitchy

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Game Two: Habs @ Washington

You don't know what it's like.

After taking on their rivals in Toronto on opening night in the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens had to travel to Washington for the Capitals'
home opener tonight.

It should have been a tone setter for the Capitals. New coach, new system. Barry Trotz is the man to put the reigns on Alex Ovechkin.

When the first period was in the books, it looked like Washington was a transformed team (kind of like Toronto did last night.)

Montreal on the other hand was tired, emotionally drained and frustrated.

But old habits die hard and Capitals reassumed their selfish identity, while the Canadiens remained selfless.

Terrible penalties taking by both Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom

Same Capitals.

Eventually the game was tied in the third period and the Canadiens went on to pull out the 2-1 shootout victory because...

The best players on the ice were Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuck and Dustin Tokarski.

Give the kid credit in net. Made huge saves when they needed him. When the rest of the team was sleeping he looked rested (because he was). Tokarski made 29 saves, plus several key stops in the shootout, including Ovechkin.

Maybe it's the assumed added responsibility of being named an alternate captain. Perhaps it's the new offensively gifted linemates (although the right side has fluctuated in the first two games.) Or maybe he's always this damn good. Plekanec has gotten this season off on the right foot. And even though I don't like putting numbers on the lines, if Plekanec continues at this rate, he is a "true number one."

Galchenyuck has been flying. This is the most comfortable he's ever looked in the NHL. This is the biggest role and most ice time he's received. Galchenyuck has arrived and I sense for the fans, that the excitement and anticipation is building for what this kid will eventually become.

Have to say, also impressive in his own way was Lars Eller. Not that it showed up on the scorecard but he was feisty. Playing in that third line spot, he needs to mix it up and he did. John Carlson was running around and taking liberties after this whistle. A glove to the face and visor is great to see from Eller as long as he ensures that the opposing player is going off with a penalty as well.

Unfortunately Travis Moen is now in a winless situation. To stay in the lineup everyone expects him to "do something." But with that mindset for this player, it's an ineffective approach.

Got to give the Habs praise. Playing on back to back nights in two different buildings isn't easy. In fact, the Flyers and Bruins both lost tonight dealing with back to back (Calgary is currently in action with Edmonton)

With the 0-2 start, the Flyers will be a handful for the Habs Saturday night in Philadelphia.

- Mitchy