Sunday, October 04, 2009

Game 1- Monster

It is a hockey custom, of a kind, that a player who has recently switched teams make some sort of performance of hatred towards his erstwhile teammates. It’s an empty gesture. This is not 1957, no one really believes that 21st century hockey players are such sentimental creatures as to play soft against dudes they like. Nevertheless, it is de rigueur to display added hostility; bare minimum, an extra-rough check on your former captain or maybe an unnecessary run at the goalie- just so the reporter has some excuse to comment during your intermission soundbite on how there’s no love lost between you and the [X]s, eh?, and you can say how much you loved playing for the [X]s, but life goes on and it’s a business and the [Y]s are your new team and you’re going to play as hard as you can for them. It’s one of the few ironic moments in life wherein one proves maturity and professionalism by behaving like a vengeful kindergartener.

Anyone, anywhere, could have told you that Mike Komisarek was going to make a statement of his season-opening game against the Canadiens. Firstly, because they being the team that birthed him and raised him up into the NHL, there might be a particularly strong faux-suspicion of lingering attachment. Secondly, because it is a rivalry, and folk on both sides would expect him to play up the treacherous villain thing, for narrative purposes. Thirdly, because he’s made his name on playing rough and would need to make a show of that for the ACC fans early in the season. And ultimately, because he plays now for Brian Burke, who seems to believe that thwacking and bashing are a moral imperative. Lord, if there’s any player anywhere ever who absolutely had- for his reputation, for his honor, for his paycheck- to go apeshit on an opposing team, that player was Komisarek on Thursday night.

And he did such a good job. The Canadiens lose players all the time, but few have ever made such a spectacular display of NOT BEING A HAB ANYMORE REALLY REALLY REALLY as our dear Komisaurus did. He yapped and growled and grimaced and threw his body around and whacked his stick at all available faces. It was impressive, the scale of it; I’m sure Gomez felt rather as though he was being set upon by a territorial albino gorilla. It even makes sense, strategically speaking, if you believe the pre-season opinion. The Canadiens are diminutive up front, as well as having a couple of players with reputations for effeminacy and fragility. Hypothetically, a couple of nasty hits and a non-Laraque fight or two, and they’d skitter away to the neutral zone like cockroaches under a refrigerator. Right?

But here’s the thing, the beautiful, serendipitous, deliciously poignant thing: Komisarek, with all his size and fury, almost singlehandedly lost the game for Toronto. Yes, there were other factors- Carey Price put in a spectacular opening performance, and by the third period Gionta and Cammelleri sparked a bit. Nevertheless, the Leafs were legitimately, solidly, decisively killing the Habs at even strength through two-plus periods of hockey. That kind of dominance, in the absence of ludicrous stupidity or misfortune, wins games. My boys, especially my first-and-second-line boys, they were out-shot, out-skated, and out-thought in every segment of the game. And yeah, probably out-hit, but therein lies the fatal flaw.

The Leafs, they could have beaten the Canadiens clean. They could have played God’s own kind, gentlemanly, pussified hockey and emerged with two comparatively easy points. But no, habibi Komisarek had to commit his random acts of violence, take a heap of penalties, and give the Canadiens exactly the amount of extra power play opportunities to keep the game even unto overtime. From the penalty box, he watched his old teammates get two of the three goals they managed the entire game, two of the goals necessary to tie the score with his own superior squad. In the 4th period, sudden-death, you’ve got a pretty good chance of winning, no matter who you are, no matter what happened previously- if you can only stay in the game long enough to get there. There were two people last night who made it possible for Montreal to stay in the game: Carey Price and Mike Komisarek. In all his zeal to prove his new allegiance, Komi gave us- gift-wrapped- the first unearned bonus point of the season. Maybe, deep down, he still loves us, eh?

So to the Toronto Maple Leafs, I give you the fullest of full credit: you were the better team, in the just universe to the left of this one, you won that game something like 4-1. If only you hadn’t signed Komisarek.


Jeff J said...

To be fair to Komi, Exelby and Beauchemin were goats too. Brian Burke has a reputation as a hockey guru just because he's smart enough to look up 'truculence' in a dictionary. There is a reason you don't see as many big hits these days as you did 20 years ago - because it's usually a stupid play. Exelby's and Beauchemin's runs at Kostitsyn resulted in scoring chances for the good guys. They demonstrated (imo) that Kostitsyn is the tougher player, because he was willing and able to take a hit to make a play.

I think if we were capable of looking at it objectively, we would have seen the same flaws in Komisarek when he was a Hab. But yeah, those flaws were glaring last Thursday when he was all jacked up for a home opener versus a hated rival that also happened to be his former team.

E said...

honestly, i think those flaws in komisarek have become more pronounced over the past season (and a half, give or take), than they once were. once upon a time, he was big and thwacky, but not especially rough otherwise, and i remember once thinking he had a fine instinct for making the smart hit, not just the big hit. but somewhere along the line- maybe when he calcified his reputation as a monstrous-type player, maybe around those embarrassing duals with lucic- he started amping up the nastiness and the theatricality, and his hockey sense suffered. when he was among us, i had hope that it was just a phase or a facet, but it might be exactly what burke was after.

Habsfan1993 said...

How true.