Sunday, February 04, 2007

2-4-07: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3

It’s very strange to be the bad guy. The surging Penguins are everybody’s favorite hockey story right now, the golden gift the media has been waiting for. You can feel their excitement, on CBC and TSN and all over the internet, at finally being able to talk all Sidney, all the time. The disconnect between the way hockey is presented in Montreal and in not-Montreal has never been so clear to me as after last Thursday’s game. For although everybody, everywhere was hoping for a gruesome grudge-match today, most people beyond my borders were hoping for the Penguins to pummel the Habs and continue their ascent in the standings. We were not supposed to win this game, the story said, for they are the rising stars and we are the falling ones. That is the order that should be. So obviously, it gives me a particularly deep, twisted pleasure that the Canadiens won. Really, half the fun of being a Habs fan is having a contrarian attitude towards the rest of the hockey world.

1. The gods of hockey are trying to send a message to the Canadiens, and that message is: DON’T TAKE SO MANY FREAKING PENALTIES. The Penguins, with all their offensive magic, cannot seem to get even-strength goals off the Habs. But it doesn’t matter, because nobody in the League takes ridiculous penalties like Montreal. You’d almost think they were doing it to help the Penguins. Rivet: “Wow, these guys suck against us 5-on-5, and our 5-on-5 is terrible.” Bouillon: “That’s so sad. I know, I’ll take a pointless penalty and give them a chance to get back in the game. It’ll be more of a challenge that way!”

2. Aebischer is playing gloriously these days, so of course now people are starting to demand that Huet be traded. When Huet was flourishing, everyone wanted to unload Aebi. Hey, y’all, I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we keep both of them? Because then, you know, we’d have two really good goalies in a League where most good teams are relying very heavily on one. That might come in handy one of these days. Oh wait, it already has.

3. Total line chaos today, not even going to try to keep track of it. Plekanec got two goals and an assist, thereby sealing his status as The Light and The Salvation, although Streit is now giving him a little bit of competition in this regard. But ultimately, Souray is the hero of this game just as he was the hero of Thursday’s, although for totally different reasons. Plekanec exploits one of Crosby’s more egregious fuck-ups, Souray buries it, and finds himself at the center of the biggest group hug the Habs have managed in a while. Seriously, I could feel the waves of pure joy through the television set.

4. The Venerable Sidney’s diving is an interesting phenomenon. It’s actually probably a strategy he’s been developing for years, based on the division of labor on North American hockey teams. Everyone always goes on and on about what a precious flower he is for the Pens and the NHL in general, and such a valuable ‘skill player’ isn’t supposed to run the risk of getting involved in potentially dangerous altercations, so basically he’s expected to rely on teammates and refs to come to his defense. Thus, it’s in his interest to make it as clear as possible when he’s been offended against, even in a marginal way. Generally, there are two sorts of players in the NHL who get routinely accused of diving: agitators, ala Darcy Tucker, who presumably do it to annoy people, and smallish, quickish scorers like Crosby and Briere, who are designated by hockey culture as players-to-be-protected-by-others. It’s rather like the way women in Victorian times used to go around swooning all over the furniture- a way of signaling a need for support by people who are culturally discouraged from supporting themselves. Anyway, he should either stop doing it or stop being so freakin’ obvious about it, because it’s getting embarrassing.

Of course, the Pens did pick up a point, so they’re still streaking in a way, but the Canadiens wiggle back into 4th place. You can feel something in the air changing- the stakes are getting higher and the games getting closer. So many worthy opponents in such close proximity are both a blessing and a curse for the Habs- blessing because good opposition will force them to be a better team, curse because they’ll be squished mercilessly if they don’t rise to the challenge.

The next two months are going to give me ulcers.


Lyle Richardson said...

You're not the only one who'll be battling ulcers!

A few points of my own.

First, the big guns have been silent far too long. Yeah, Kovalev got a couple of assists and Ryder got a helper, but they, along with Captain K and Higgins, aren't scoring. If there's to be a resurgence over the next 25-30 games, these guys gotta get it done.

Carbo's coaching style. I'm starting to wonder if the players are tuning him out. This current slump has gone on far too long. He should've snapped them out of it by now. Pitter-patter, Guy, time to get at 'er!

Big Shel. If there's any way possible to keep Souray in Montreal, I'm all for it. Yes, his defensive game is average, but he's the straw that stirs the powerplay, plus he's stepped forward as a leader.

E said...

ooo! an opportunity to talk technical.

don't know what to do about the lack of top-line scoring. personally, i've never understood why there's so much patience with kovalev, but it seems to be understood that he'll go for a long time without doing much, and most people are okay with it, since they have faith that eventually he'll do glorious things. so we all just shrug and say, 'he's mysterious', and leave it at that. ryder is only as good or as bad as the rest of his line- he seems to do well when good plays are set up for him, but he ain't gonna compensate for anyone else's deficiencies. higgin's problems are pretty obviously in his head, but i have no idea what to do about that, i'm not a sports psychologist and would never want to be. and i'm just plain worried about koivu.

i don't think carbo has 'lost the room', as they say. the team's been up-and-down all season, with the exception of a brief good streak in december and a bad one in january. it's not a question of snapping out of a slump, it's a question of finding some hint of that dreaded consistancy, and that's not so easy for them.

and yeah, i'd love to keep souray too, but my feeling is that he'll stay if he wants to and go if he wants to. the habs can afford to offer him a pretty nice deal, but not the best one he'll get, so it really comes down to whether or not this is where he'd prefer to be.

Matthew Macaskill said...

Ulcers and cardiac arrests for sure. I've already warned my doctor, he's on high alert every game night.

Lyle Richardson said...

Regarding Kovalev, he's is indeed mysterious. Sometimes I think his inconsistencies are due to his troublesome knee, but there are nights when he really doesn't look interested.

I think the only thing that truly motivates Kovy is to play with truly great players, like Jagr and Lemieux during his days with the Pens. On his own, or with lesser talent, he simply doesn't shine.

As for Koivu, I think he's trying to do too much. He knows the team's struggling, so as captain he's trying to step it up and provide the leadership. Unfortunately, by doing too much, he's lessening his effectiveness. His linemates need to wake up.

I think Carbo needs to pair Kovalev with Koivu as they've had success together in the past. I'm also curious why Carbo didn't try a Kovalev-Koivu-Samsonov line.

He probably doesn't like the notion of Higgins and Ryder with Plekancec, but right now, the lack of offensive production means he must reunite his best offensive talent