Wednesday, November 29, 2006

11-28-06: Canadiens 1, Panthers 0

It is certainly possible for low-scoring games to be exciting. Possibly, two excellent teams could be so well-matched that 65 minutes without a goal could still be captivating to watch. Such games have probably been played. That was not this game. The long-anticipated, much-discussed, emotionally-traumatic-for-everybody night of Pronger’s return to Edmonton, and I’m watching ahbabi try not to out-suck the Panthers. I’m not resentful, really.

  1. In some ways, the Canadiens’ numbers on this one look good. 39 shots on goal, very healthy. Only 2 real penalties, amazing. But on the ice, this just wasn’t a strong game for them. The Panthers actually looked to have the offensive edge for the bulk of the game, and they weren’t playing very well. The Habs were intermittently aggressive but chaotic, and not chaotic in a fun way, but chaotic in a what-the-hell-is-going-on sort of way. They pulled it together considerably by the time things stretched to prolongation, and some of the tirs were nice, and both Koivu and Kovalev made pretty in the shootout, but on the whole, my general impression was that not only have they lost their second period, but perhaps they’ve misplaced the first as well. The offense is deteriorating, and not for lack of talent- pick almost any given player, and you can find significant chunks of really great play per game. But add it all up and you get: not much. Possibly random statistics moment: Montreal is 15th in the League in total goals-for, but 26th in GF during 5-on-5 play. 5/66 of their goals are empty-netters (compare to 5/101 for the Sabres). Anyway, I know that the Habs are not exactly known for being a mega-scoring team, but this is getting beyond strange. Everybody on the team seems mystified by the pervasive scoring-droughts, and indeed this game was preceded by an atypical flurry of on-the-record anxiety by players about both their individual problems and the team as a whole. In spite of all the talk about ‘building chemistry’ on the 1st and 2nd lines, Carbonneau is rearranging them mid-game now, perhaps hoping that some other configuration will just click into place.
  2. Let me just point out, however, that Huet now has 2 shutouts, the best save %, and the lowest GAA in the League. We are very, very happy about this. So happy, in fact, that it impels us to talk about ourselves in the plural, which we don’t do often. Unlike many Montreal fans, we are not upset that he isn’t on the Allstar ballot. We don’t like to share, and we don’t see any particular reason to send him all the way to Texas for a game that has no actual significance, and moreover, if he was to go to Texas for any reason, we’d really recommend San Antonio over Dallas. Y’all can have Brodeur or whoever.
  3. The Panthers have more problems with finding and keeping the puck than any other team I can remember seeing. They just seemed to lose track of it mid-play- unlike actual panthers, they evidently have trouble seeing moving things.
  4. The Murray-Allen fight exemplified everything I hate about hockey fighting: a pair of uninteresting players wasting my time by whomping at each other in a more or less ineffectual manner over some mysterious and probably insignificant slight light years away from the actual game. Look, I know fighting is a hotly debated topic, and I have plenty of my own conflicted thoughts about it, but in this case as in so many others: WHO CARES? Yeah, there are fights that have real emotional content which impacts the game (although in what ways is debatable), but most hockey fights are like this one: pointless. I suppose if they want to do it, who am I to stop them, but can’t they just go do it in the stands or something? That way the fans who love any fight no matter how ridiculous can get a closer look, and the actual game can continue.

I must be becoming a true Habs fan, if I’m complaining this much about a win that nudged us above Toronto in the standings. So here’s my attempt at an upbeat ending: The Canadiens don’t have to win like this. They can win spectacularly. They can be, and perhaps someday will be consistently, a dazzling team. The season is long, and at their current rate of speed, they’ll make the playoffs, where (as everybody loves to say) anything can happen. If they can get the mental, emotional angles of their game together by then, they’ll really be something worth watching. Until then, though, take the 2 points and keep going. Next up: Carolina. Huet’s previous shutout was against these guys. Moreover, the Sens smacked them around a bit tonight, and unlike the Habs, the Hurricanes are very capable of losing several games in a row, so I’m tentatively liking the odds on this one.

[Check out Habs Inside/Out to see the tortured souls of the Montreal Canadiens, and Battle of Alberta for a nearly complete catalog of Pronger-related emotional trauma.]

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