I don’t know what one can say about Tuesday night’s stupifyingly dull game at Madison Square Garden. On one side it can be said that the Canadiens played the clichéd “perfect road game”. They certainly did that. Jacques Lemaire would have been proud.
The Canadiens clogged up centre ice by sending one forechecker. They brought the flow of the game to a near-halt by icing the puck sixteen times and forcing faceoffs at every opportunity. The Rangers aided and abetted by showing no will to win individual battles. In the end the usually vociferous Madison Square Garden crowd was silenced. Ranger broadcaster Sam Rosen pointed out near the end of the second period that if the two teams were to play that way Saturday night at the Bell Centre, Canadiens fans would boo both teams off the ice. And deservedly so.
But there are no style points in sports, only wins and losses. And for the Canadiens, who earned an “A” for their hard work and patience Tuesday, this was a win.
A NEW WAY TO MAIM
Rangers forward Rick Nash was a game-day scratch against the Canadiens and he is not on the Rangers trip to Ottawa and Montreal. It’s suspected that he suffered a concussion and tried to play through a concussion after a hit by Milan Lucic in Boston eight nights ago. The check had the same look as the one Brandan Gallagher took in the Philadelphia game Saturday. .
In Wednsday’s New York Post, Larry Brooks pointed out a disturbing surfacing trend in which players are initiating a legal check and then finishing it off with a forearm or elbow to drive the opponent’s head into the glass or boards. So far the League isn’t paying attention.
A blow to the head cleverly and maliciously disguised as finishing a check, and a wink and nod from the league. On Saturday night, the Flyers’ Braden Schenn concussed Canadiens rookie Brendan Gallagher on a similar check that went unpenalized. Monday night, Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban took a circle route to deliver the same kind of blow against the Hurricanes’ Alexander Semin.
It’s impossible to know how many more of these checks have been thrown, but three within a week connotes a trend. If this becomes commonplace, if this permeates the game with the blessing of the NHL, then the Department of Player Safety will become an oxymoron.
So here we are one third of the way home and the Canadiens have eleven wins in their first sixteen games. And, who predicted that?
Lots of things have gone into the early re-birth. Few outside of GM Marc Bergevin believed that Michel Therrien had shown exponential growth both emotionally and technically in the ten years between Montreal head coaching stints. It was widely believed that Bergevin paid to much to land the services of Brandon Prust. Ask the Rangers how much they miss him.
Andre Markov may be a little slower after those knee injuries, but he’s still one of the smartest defencemen in the league.
Raphael Diaz has been a revelation. In the seven months between the end of last season and the start of this one he has gone from tentative rookie with difficulty dealing with the NHL’s limited time ad space to a confident puck moving defenceman with 12 points ranking himthird among league defencemen. The catalyst may have been thos 23 games he spent with his hometown EV Zug in the Swiss National League . When he left Switzerland at the lockout’s end he led all SNL defencemen with 7 goals and 22 assists in 23 games.
And Tomas Plekanec? With the benefit of regular linemates for the first time in two years he leads the team in goal scoring and points. Last season longest stretch with the same linemates was the ten games he spent with Brian Gionta and Michael Cammalleri. That ended with the simultaneious trade of Cammalleri ad the season ending bicep surgery to Gionta. At season end Plekanec played on twenty-five different lie combinations including eight different left wingers and ten right wings. The final eight games of the season his linemates were Rene Bourque who, we find out, was playing hurt and rookie Louis Leblanc. Now Gionta is back and Bourque is healthy and together they make up the Canadiens number one line.
It goes without saying that the rookies Galchenyuk and Gallagher have produced above any expectation. Lars Eller has stepped up his game. All of it has led to the biggest team turnaround of the season.
When Carey Price suffered that late season concussion last season, the Canadiens called up Robert Mayer to back up Peter Budaj. When Price was out with the flu last weekend, again Mayer got the call. Even so, Mayer has decided he has no future in the NHL. He has signed a two year contract with Biel of the Swiss National League starting next season. Mayer, despite the Bulldogs horrible season, has a winning record (11-10-3 and a 2.99 GAA). Mayer will replace 6’5″ Reto Berra at Biel. Berra, a St. Louis 2006 fourth round draft pick and now an unrestricted free agent, wants to give North American pro hockey a try. He’s considered Switzerland’s best goaltender. With the state of Canadiens goaltending depth right now, would the Canadiens be interested?