Thursday, April 03, 2008

4-3-08: Canadiens 3, Sabres 1

Bye bye, Buffalo. Don’t think of it as being eliminated from the playoffs, think of it as a chance to get back to the fun and exciting process of getting rid of good players for no discernable reason. It’s been working so well thus far…

1. It’s a little scary how irrelevant our injury ‘woes’ are starting to seem. No Koivu, Komisarek, Bouillon, Ryder, or (incidentally) Grabovski, and yet no obvious deterioration in the Habs’ overall game. Not to say that I don’t want those guys healthy again for the playoffs, but there is clearly more to the team’s success than just good luck with bones and muscles. Still, I think the Montreal Canadiens’ Childrens Foundation should have a reciprocation day: get a bunch of adorable kids to come to their physical therapy sessions and sign their jerseys. In the meantime, I expect each and every one of you to get out your crayons and send a nice get well card.

2. However, one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity, and Matt D’Agostini is very lucky that the injuries and illnesses have hit at such a seemingly awkward moment. Who knows, he could be the Drew Miller of the Habs. Although he wasn’t particularly prominent in this game, and showed nothing of his rumored scoring touch, he did make a couple of nice defensive plays, knocking Sabres off the puck or keeping them from getting to it. Good policy. This time of the year, competence is a lot more desirable than flair in a call-up.

3. Bryan Smolinski: World’s Most Selective Sniper. Few realize it, but many years ago, young Bryan realized he had unholy goal-scoring abilities- abilities so magnificent, so powerful that he simultaneously realized in his infinite wisdom that they must be kept secret so as to preserve balance in the tao of hockey, and possibly the universe itself. And so he renounced his powers, choosing rather to live the life of a simple grinder. Yet occasionally, when confronted with one of his arch-nemeses from the Fraternity of Evil Goaltenders Bent on World Domination, he is forced to unleash fragments of his long-hidden talent. That’s the reason so many teams have preferred to start their less megalomaniacal backup goalies against us this year. So far he has defeated Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller; who knows what kind of horror he might unleash on Marc-Andre Fleury?

4. Hshuma, Begin, hshuma alayk. I understand that the Habs’ tougher players must feel pressured to be doubly aggressive because of all the accusations that the team is soft, but opening a game by grabbing an opposing defenseman’s head and smashing it into the glass is going too far. The Canadiens aren’t the sort of team that needs to do that to win or to be interesting, and the fact that they can play tough without resorting to pointless sadism is part of what makes them great. So next time, Steve, put on your ‘rational behavior’ helmet and don’t do that kind of shit.

5. For a game with such a low score, lots of Habs got great chances: several close calls by Plekanec and A. Kostitsyn, some shockingly fancy moves by Gorges, and one of Latendresse’s best non-scoring games of the season. However, after watching him closely for several games (prior to and since his injury), I feel comfortable in asserting that Latendresse does not play the bang-around-the-boards style commonly attributed to him. Sure, he hits, but I think the most common Latendresse bodycheck is to slam an opposing puckcarrier behind the net just after the puck has been dished around the edge to the blue line. Most of the time, though, he seems to prefer to play more in the mold of the rest of the Habs’ (smaller, faster) youth- carrying the puck into the zone on the wing, then firing from somewhere inside the right circle. Lapierre is the one who does the digging in deep to recover the puck and pass it forward again. Not always, of course, but certainly more than Latendresse does. Please note that I don’t mean this as a criticism, I don’t much care what style he plays as long as he does it well. I’m just saying that I don’t think he’s actually the kind of massively physical player that many seem to perceive him as.

6. I hate it when people bully Pleks. But nevertheless, I’m going to miss Lindy. Never has a coach made the suborning of late-game goonery seem so righteous.

This win ties the Habs with the Penguins for the Eastern Conference lead. If we get more points than they in the final game, the regular season conference championship is ours, whereas fewer or equal points will leave us in second. I don’t know what to hope for. Getting the title would be thrilling, but if Washington stays in the 8th seed, I’d just as soon stay in 2nd, for several reasons. First, and most important, I think the Capitals would be one of the tougher match-ups for us. Secondly, I like the Capitals (and I still love Huet) and therefore I would get less pleasure from whomping them than any other team. And finally, I’m pretty sure that if the playoffs opened with a Pens-Caps series, the entire TSN analysis crew would be so excited they’d go into two full weeks of continuous, uncontrollable on-air orgasms, which would be the height of so-bad-it’s-good television viewing in the hockey world.

[Apologies to Sabre fans for the flippant tone- I'm actually sad to see you go. But more on that later.]


Kaz said...

I don't understand why Grabs wasn't playing. Or why Locke, Chipchura and a variety of other Bulldogs weren't called up. The Habs are obviously hurting, and they don't need the wins. They had 2nd place locked up. Why not rest up playerr?

In fact, it would be almost better if they didn't win. Even before last night's games, it seemed probable that the Bruins would take 7th and either the Caps or Flyers 8th. As the 2nd seed, the Habs would then face the Bruins.

I'd like to see that matchup, and not just because the Bruins couldn't beat the Habs this season. The playoffs bring hardnosed, grinding, defensive hockey. The Flyers will probably take that to another level, prompting comparisons to the Broad Street Bullies of years ago.

The Habs, despite their finesse speed game, can hold their own in the hits department. But I'm not sure how they will do against out-and-out goonery. The Bruins are probably a better opponent in that regard. They're smaller than the Flyers and have less players that play that game.

And the Caps? I want them to ride Huet as far as they can, until the Habs absolutely have to meet (and beat) them. Huet deserves that, not to mention the resulting big, fat contract this off season.

Anonymous said...

Gotta say that I love reading your blog e, it's partially because of this blog that I'm not terribly sad that it was the Canadiens who knocked off my beloved Sabres. It was a long shot for them this year anyway, but they'll be real good in a few years (provided they lock up Pominville and Miller)Now that the Sabres are out, I'm rootin' for Montreal to take it all this year. It'd be great to see the Canadiens continue their tradition of winning the cup at least once every decade. Every sport needs at least one team who is consistent like that.

Wish ya luck in the playoffs, enjoy the hell out of them, there's nothin' better than playoff hockey.

E said...

kaz- i thought grabovski was sick? personally, though, i still think it might be worth it to win the conference, no matter what sort of match-up it brings. this is partly because strategic tanking makes me squeamish, but also because i think it'd be great for the team's mindset to go into the playoffs in that position. they're young, and i think the extra confidence boost that comes with the conference title will probably do them good. as to the flyers, you're right, but i think that with the habs reputation, anybody they play is going to try to go all thuggy on them. but the flyers are going to be watched a lot more closely for that kind of thing, which might make them actually a preferable opponent, since the refs will be more likely to penalize them and the league feel more pressure to suspend offenders. maybe.

anon- thanks for the kind words. hop on our bandwagon! we have tasty poutine and attractive women.