When Good Coaches do Bad Things.

Quickly:  I can’t believe Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau started Jaroslav Halak in place of Carey Price at goaltender in last night’s Game 4 matchup with Philly.  Bonehead move.  I do not understand the thinking behind that;  Price had not played poorly in game 3, despite what the sportscasters are blathering about in their 30-second soundbites, not even in games 5 and 6 in the Boston series when the Habs allowed 10 goals in two games.  Although it would be fair to say that Price was not brilliant in any of those three games,  the goals allowed were not attributable to negligent goaltending; it took a team effort to surrender leads consistently and quickly.  On Monday night in particular, (game 3 vs. Philly), Price was screened badly by his defencemen on the first two goals.  If the Habs’ blueliners would either stand up at the blueline a little more, reduce the gap between themselves and the attacking Philadelphia forwards and possibly generate the occasional offside OR get the hell out of the 22 year old netminder’s way, he might have had a chance.  Since they chose to do neither….not so much.  It is true that Price made a mistake on the third goal, but what of it?  Is Carbo sending the message that one mistake will result in a player’s butt being nailed to the bench?  If so, I suggest he examine the game film a little more carefully, especially any footage he might have filed under “Kovalev, A:  defensive coverage”.    I suspect that file might be a little thin, so it won’t take Guy long to review the available material.   Also, the Kostitsyns’ pictures ought to be showing up on the side of a milk carton any day now.  Anyone having knowledge of their whereabouts is invited to contact Canadiens’ management and advise.

My point is that the whole team turned in a Game 3 performance that was a big pile of meh (much to my delight, I might add).   To single out Price and bench him as a result has nothing to do with encouraging accountability among the players, and any efforts to justify it on those grounds are ridiculous.   Once you accept that, it’s obvious that playing Halak in game 4 was a mistake – down two games to one in the other guy’s barn, you need to win and carry the series back home tied.  Going down 3-1, knowing you’ve already surrendered home ice advantage, and heading back home is not a plan for success.  The rest is easy:  if you have to win this game, you play your best goaltender, no ifs, ands or buts.  Choosing instead to turn to a guy with limited NHL experience and who hadn’t played in something like three weeks until the 3rd period of game 3 is not a wise choice.

As it turned out, Halak did not play terribly.  He was  facing the wrong way for two of Philadelphia’s goals, but at least one of those goals was a direct result of more incredibly bad team defensive coverage.  Halak could not be blamed for the loss, but he did not play well enough to steal a win either.  It’s possible that Price would not have raised his game to such a level either;  we’ll never know, though, because Carbonneau kept his powder dry and his best player on the bench in the Habs’ most important game of the season to date.

I actually like Guy Carbonneau even though he spent all those years as a player wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge and then toiling away in obscurity and boredom for the Dallas Cattle Rustlers (or whatever they’re called).  I think he’s shown himself to have some flair for coaching;  you can’t argue with the success that the Montreal power play had in the regular season, and there’s no doubt the team over-achieved this year.  Both of those things are symptomatic, in my opinion, of good coaching.  Even good coaches make bad decisions, though, and tapping Jaroslav Halak on the shoulder last night was one of them.

Ovie’s Overtime?

Game 7 between the Capitals and Flyers is now going to overtime. A pretty good game with some (again) horrid officiating. It is difficult to know what gets a guy a penalty in this league any more. Ritual decapitation? Is that always a penalty? Even late in the third period of a tied game 7? Argh. The situational ethics of NHL officiating continue to frustrate me.

My picks for the goal scorer: for the Caps, I have to go with Ovechkin, he’s had at least four amazing chances so far tonight, the guy is just a force of nature; for the Flyers, I just know it’s going to be Daniel Briere, and then I’ll have to think about that stupid fist-pumping thing he does for the next few weeks.

Update:  Crap! At least it wasn’t Briere.  Dilemma:  sounds like the Habs play the Flyers in the next round.  I hate both teams.

Gr8 Game Seven Coming

Watching Game 6 of the Caps/Flyers series tonight, I was struck by how great a game Mike Green was having. From the hit he laid on Sami Kapanen (the one where they had to get the Philly Fire Department to pick l’il Sami out of the rigging up in the rafters) to his rapid and purposeful sprints up ice, to his masterful puck handling along the Flyers blueline while on the attack, Green made me a believer. I wish this guy was on our team.

Of course, Green’s play was overshadowed by that of certain a hairy Russian force of nature. What a play Ovechkin made on the go-ahead goal; he blocked the point shot of his constant tormentor Timmonen, then immediately broke for open ice between the two Flyers defencemen, instinctively knowing that the partially blocked shot would surely be recovered by Kozlov and that he had an opportunity for a breakaway – but only if he didn’t hesitate. Ovechkin took two lightning quick steps towards centre and was eight feet past a now very alarmed Timmonen and the much maligned Kozlov hit Ovechkin on the tape with a beautiful pass as Ovie blazed up the middle of the ice. Everybody in the rink, including Martin Biron, knew that Alex the Gr8 would not be denied, and moments later the Caps had taken a very improbable lead.

The Philadelphia fans had barely resumed breathing through their open mouths when, for a change, it was the Flyers who took a “too many men” penalty (really, Gabby – three of those in the last couple of games is waaaaay too many). On the ensuing powerplay, Ovechkin was served up another beautiful pass, this one from Brooks Laich and Ovechkin hammered that thing so hard, everybody seated in the stands behind the goal ought to immediately drive to the nearest church, synagogue, mosque or temple and thank the resident deity or deities that Ovie’s shot bulged the twine, because if that puck had hit the glass it would have killed everybody in the first six rows. Do you think that game will shut the TV monkeys up about Ovechkin needing to “step up”? Probably not; five’ll get you ten that’s still the main theme harped upon by the flapping gums – “monster” or not.

Alex’s interview on TSN after the game was awesome; it was so obvious to me that he wanted to strap the blades on and play Rasputin-PDGame Seven RIGHT NOW. This guy is Rasputin on skates – aside from the near spooky physical resemblance, there is the matter of Mr. Ovechkin’s superhuman constitution to be addressed. He played a shift in the second period that lasted well over two minutes of concerted attack. The Flyers may well need a group of Russian assassins and some cyanide-laced confections to take down their hirsute nemesis, because neither the substantial hits applied within the rules by Richards, Umberger and others, nor the straight up punches to the back of the head administered by the ever-classy Derian Hatcher have done the trick, and the hitherto-successful Philadelphia scheme for Ovechkin prophylaxis by the constant application of major doses of Timmonen has run its course. Ovie has figured out how to get away from that coverage, as evidenced by the six shots he had on goal in Game Five and the further seven (not to mention two goals) he added tonight.

This is going to be a great Game Seven.

Can I ask what the hell Pierre McGuire was babbling on about when he kept referring to Martin Biron’s “active glove”? Umm, Pierre, that’s just stupid. No goalie has a “passive” glove. They catch stuff with them. They’re called “trappers” and “blockers” for a reason; these items of equipment represent an active concept. Anyone who stands there just waiting to get hit, is… well, Andrew Raycroft does that. Perhaps that’s a bad example, but you get my meaning.

As for the other game this evening, I didn’t see much of the Habs/Bruins Game Seven. I did see Game Six of that series and much of Game Five too. One thing I don’t understand is the media babble about Carey Price supposedly having come apart at the seams. The so-called experts point to the ten goals surrendered by the Habs ‘tender in those two games and lazily conclude that Price played poorly. Now I’m no Habs fan, but I do know a classy and talented kid when I see one – Spouse and I were lucky enough to see almost all of Price’s games with the Hamilton Bulldogs during last year’s Calder Cup winning run – and Price is most certainly getting a bum rap from the wags on that one. Yes, he coughed up the puck late in Game Five to put the B’s ahead, and yes, he looked rattled after he made that rookie mistake, but none of the five that got past him on Saturday night in Game Six could be called soft goals. The pundits ought to have been asking where the defensive coverage and veteran leadership was on the Habs bench; how, it might fairly be asked, were the Bruins allowed to continually come back and score throughout the third period? With the series on the line, the Habs got a questionable effort from the Kovalev unit, for example, which was a -3 on the evening. I do not recall hearing much mention being made of that fact; it’s too easy, I guess, to point the finger at the goalie. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for whatever kind of Habs-related misery there can be, but it’s the job of those in the media to correctly identify the reasons why the Habs suck, not to pin the whole shootin’ match on  a twenty year old rookie who was playing in the WHL last year at this time.

Birds, Louts, and Losing

A couple of days ago, I congratulated myself for sticking with this blog project fairly consistently. I then promptly disappeared for a couple of days. So it goes.

A few things:

As I type this post, I am seated out back of the family estate here in Juniorvania on a Muskoka chair that needs a coat of paint and some TLC. Nevertheless, the birds are chirping, the wind is rustling through the trees, even I can see that there are buds in places that used to feature only bare branches, and the daffodils have announced their yellow presence throughout my general vicinity. I am in my shirt sleeves and the sun is shining. I do not have to work today, and in a couple of hours I’m going to go in and watch a playoff hockey game. The wireless signal produced by the JBC geegaws is of sufficient strength to permit me to chronicle my indolence from this most favoured position.  Life is good.

I became aware of this as a result of a comment by PPP in a post over at Pension Plan Puppets. It’s truly sickening.

Hugo Contant’s only connection to countryman Jean Pierre Masse was that he happened to be close enough on Causeway Street after the game to see Masse try to walk past about two dozen drunken Bruins boors.

“He (Masse) was wearing glasses,” Contant recalled yesterday. “And he had a red Canadiens shirt on. When he approached them, they began yelling things like, ‘Go home, you French (expletive)’ – things like that. I heard (Masse) laugh and say, ‘We don’t want to fight . . . we don’t want any trouble,’ as he tried to pass. Then someone punched him once, maybe twice, in the face. He went down and his eyeglasses came off.

“That is when I see this other man in the Bruins shirt walk up and kick him in the head, while the man was still laying in the street,” Contant said. “And then he kicked him again in the face. That’s when I ran to him, because I thought they would kill him. When I got to him, I thought he was dead. That is when I screamed, ‘Look what you’ve done!’ ”

It is truly astonishing to me that some people apparently have so little going on in their own lives that they would even consider physically assaulting a complete stranger because of his support for a rival sports team. All joking aside, I have real difficulty conceiving of the complete and utter lack of basic civility and humanity that facilitate the commission of such an act.

Obviously, such behaviour is unacceptable. As I indicated in my reply to PPP’s comment, I think that morally, we are obliged to prevent such things from happening where possible, and that we must see to it that those who do offend in this way are punished severely. If we do not, we are to a certain extent complicit in this outrage. There will be a tendency among newspaper columnists and other social commentators, eager for the easy angle I suspect, to try to make this an issue about Boston sports fans, or perhaps American culture; any such attempts to neatly confine the issue are, in my opinion, misguided because they fail to admit of the possibility that it could have happened anywhere. Neither the City of Boston nor the United States of America has cornered the market on hooliganism and loutish behaviour.

Keeping that proviso in mind – that I do not suggest that either Bostonians or Americans are uniquely or especially morally defective – it seems to me that at the very least, the Boston Bruins ought to be all over this incident. They ought to be making an example of the waste of skin in the Jason Allison jersey ( ! ) who did this to Mr. Masse and any other person that they believe to be involved. For starters, they ought to be taking steps to ensure that nobody who participates in anything remotely like this is ever admitted to a Bruins game again. They ought to go public with an announcement to that effect, and they ought to make it clear that they will not tolerate, under any circumstances, any kind of association with those who behave in such a fashion. The other NHL clubs ought to be adopting similar policies and security measures, and the league as a whole ought to speak out immediately and emphatically on this issue, making it clear that violence and hooliganism will not be tolerated in any way. I recognize that the NHL is big business, and that taking such a stance may be more problematic in certain markets than others (I’m looking in your direction, Philadelphia). I further recognize that the last thing the league wants to do, on the best of days, is to re-ignite the eternal debate about the role of violence in hockey, a topic that will inevitably arise as those with sport-related agendas and small brains will point to fights on the ice as somehow “causing” an incident like this. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for the league to take a principled and ethical stand on an issue of general societal importance; we ought to demand no less from good corporate citizens.

As for our own individual conduct, we should each of us remember this sickening incident and see to it – by policing ourselves – that no one around us is ever permitted to cross the line separating civilization from barbarism again. Long before the scumbag in the Allison jersey went off on Mr. Masse that night, he was asshole. There were people around him who knew he was an asshole. They failed to make it clear to him that he was behaving like an asshole and that he needed to not be doing that. Those who failed to discourage such behaviour are not guilty of assaulting Mr. Masse; they do not have his blood on their hands. They have, however, most assuredly failed us and failed our society in general.

Game Five, Washington/Philadelphia: I was left with two lingering thoughts following Knuble’s goal in double overtime to end Game 4. First, I wondered where this game would fit for Caps fans in Bill Simmons’ “Levels of Losing” taxonomy. At first, I was convinced that this had to be a “Level XII” or “Achilles Heel” loss because it seemed to me that Washington’s defencemen were revealed to be so obviously and woefully overmatched in this game (particularly the uniformly execrable Milan “Here, Let Me Tee That Up For You” Jurcina) that no other description could possibly apply. On further review, however (he says, holding the little black phone to his ear and jamming the other finger, the one with the whistle clipped on to it, in his other ear to staunch the crowd noise) I believe this to have been a “Level VIII” or “Dead Man Walking” loss: Jurcina in particular had played badly in the series prior to Game 4, and even the otherwise heroic Mike Green had committed some costly turnovers in all three previous games, so I think it would be a little false to characterize this loss as revealing a hitherto secret weakness on a contender. Rather, it seems to me that this loss was one from which mentally, it is likely that there is no coming back for the team. The Capitals got such outstanding goaltending from Cristobal Huet, and as a team they hung in there so tough in the face of an amazing amount of adversity – the five minutes shorthanded in period one, brutal officiating that allowed the Flyers to unleash their elbows at will, their own stupidity in taking not one, but two “too many men on the ice” calls, more brutal officiating that had Victor Kozlov in the box for a laughable goaltender interference penalty with less than three minutes to go in a tied game that they HAD to win – and they came so close to winning in spite of it all, but it was not to be. The point is that they had the chance to turn the tide in the series – a win in that game, in the face of all that adversity would have given their legs an incredible burst of energy stemming straight from enhanced confidence. Instead, they went down 3-1 and have to suspect, in their heart of hearts, that it is not meant to be. They are Dead Men Walking.

Second, as I have noted elsewhere, in my opinion the person who ought to be most ashamed of his performance in this post-season (with the possible exception of the aforementioned Mr. Jurcina) is Steven Walkom, the NHL’s Director of Officiating. Seriously, what the hell is going on this year? There have been goals scored when the attacking team was offside. There have been goals disallowed because the official was “intending” to blow the whistle. The types of calls being made within games and from game-to-game vary so broadly and erratically that the referees have become nothing but a laughable source of frustration for the fans and players of every team. In what world was it fair for the referee to banish Kozlov for goaltender interference (please read, “being propelled into the goaltender by an opposition player”) with 3 minutes remaining in the third period of a tie game, and yet no call at all was made when a Philadelphia player (it may even have been Knuble, now that I think of it) steamrollered right over Huet in overtime? Bugger the fiction that it’s fair to “let the players decide” by putting the whistles away: that philosophy of officiating gives an advantage to a team that takes physical liberties with its opposition. If you can make it into overtime with a bunch of muggers and goons, your opposition is doomed because they don’t stand a chance of surviving the extra frame. This type of “situational ethics” is exactly the kind of thing that engenders suspicion of the officiating in general. If it’s a penalty in the first period, it’s a penalty in the second overtime. Call it, and call it the same for both teams. How hard is that to understand as a mission statement for the zebras?

Twenty-five minutes to game time now. I need to go run a couple of quick errands, then settle down in front of the tube. Ovechkin and Semin need to dominate early in this game, and the Caps need to score early and often. If they can win this one, who knows what might happen – but I suspect they are Dead Men Walking.

Project Adopt-a-Team Underway.

Blatantly swiped graphic from Japers’ Rink, posted there as a welcome for those of us clambering aboard the bandwagon and shouting “Just say OVIE!”

Go_Caps_Go___medium

Thanks to the folks there, and the folks at On Frozen Blog for throwing out the welcome mat for us in a big way.

I got home right at 7:00 only to find that TSN was showing golf, for God’s sake. I know it’s the Masters, but dude – anyone who’s still chasing their ball around the course at 7 pm isn’t likely to win, am I right? Thus, as a result of some idiot in Programming’s questionable decision-making, I was consigned to watch as some fool in even more questionable pants stood with his hands on his hips in the middle of a wooded area, evidently in the area of a golf ball, instead of Ovie and the boys taking to the ice as the Phone Booth goes batshit for playoff hockey. I also missed Donald Brashear’s opening goal, though I did manage to catch the replay of both the goal and the most unco-ordinated seizure masquerading as a celebration I’ve ever seen.

Instead, I flipped over to CBC and caught a bit of the first period of Game 2 in the Ottawa/Pittsburgh series. The first period is now over and the Senaturds are down 1-0, having been outshot by a margin of 20-8 in the opening frame. What a bunch of lame ass mailer-inners, and I oughta know – I watched a lot of Leaf games this year.

Anyway, apparently enough old guys are now finished spraying their Titleists into various ponds to permit the telecast of the Caps game to continue. Excuse me, I’m going to enjoy having a team in the playoffs for a while.

Update: What a finish! The Caps had a collective brain fart there in the second period and coughed up three quick ones to Philly. Down 4-2 to begin the third, first Mike Green and then the Great 8 willed the Caps on to a rousing victory. First Green pots a backhand on a lovely feed from an apparently rejuvenated Sergei Federov, then he goes all Bobby Orr and pops one in past a stunned Marty Biron and wooshes overhead like some badass F-18 for good measure. Then, with the score tied and little more than a minute remaining, Ovechkin makes like a freaking wizard, casts some crazy voodoo spell on Kukkonen and turns him into stone steals the puck deep in the Flyers’ zone. In a flash, he’s rocketing towards Biron, who tries to go to his left as fast as Ovechkin is cutting for far post. ovtallBiron seems to stumble and is going down; simultaneously, Ovechkin-wan-Kenobi unleashes a fucking laser that hurtles through space so quickly Einstein sits up in his grave and says “holy shit.” 5-4 Caps, and Ovechkin looks like he’s trying to knock down the rink board glass as the entire Phone Booth has a collective brain aneurysm and collapses inward under the weight of its own joy. Game over, comeback complete, and a classic moment for the ages from a truly remarkable player. Just say Ovie!

I flip quickly over to CBC to see what’s up with the Sens/Pens. I am dismayed to see that the Senators have finally managed to put a couple biscuits in the basket and the game is tied at 3-3. I curse loudly. No sooner has the profanity left my lips than Marty Lapointe draws a high-sticking minor. His arse has barely grazed the bench in the penalty box when the Pens scramble the draw and Ryan Malone tucks one past a sprawling Martin Gerber on a wraparound. In the final minute of the game, Ottawa can’t even get the puck out of their own zone long enough to get Gerber to the bench; they may not have managed to get the extra attacker on at all except that Gonchar makes like a dimwit and ices the puck with 12 seconds left; not to be outdone in an impromptu imbecility exhibition, Bryan Murray one-ups the Pittsburgh blueliner by calling a time out to permit the tired Penguin defenders time to rest, so that they can manage to diffuse the attack after one final faceoff in their zone and extinguish the final fading hope of the National Capital Region gang. A shot of the Ottawa bench during the said timeout showed the Senators players looking like Wile E. Coyote after yet another ACME-product related, smolder-inducing incident with that damn bird. “Meep meep” say the Penguins and race out the Zamboni doors, leaving a trail of fire behind them.

It’s been a good night for the Leaf fan-tourist.

Further update:

This post from Theory of Ice says it best about Ovechkin:

Ovechkin was irresistibly charismatic as a high-scoring rookie; as a nearly record-setting goal scorer, he’s like crack with an accent. Everyone’s hooked.

Trying to measure a moment: Leafs/Flyers March 11th, 2008

Back in the mid-1970s, when I was about seven or eight years old, I built a crystal radio set. The radio came in a kit, and I got it as a gift, I think probably for my birthday. Building the radio was fun, and I learned a little bit about electronics and how radios work; really just enough to whet my already substantial appetite for any kind of technology. It was cool fitting the pieces together and actually using a piece of technology that I built with my own two hands (thanks to heavily scripted and almost entirely idiot-proof instructions in the Radio Shack kit). In my mind’s eye, I can still see the little dark green box made of transparent plastic (all the better to see the resistors, capacitors and such).

Even more fun than that, though, was listening to the radio at night when I went to bed. Once tucked away under the covers, I would pop the (one) greyish, ugly and bulky earphone into my ear and tune in whatever I could find on the AM dial (man would the kids today, with their fancy noise-cancelling iPod earbuds and 80 GB mp3 capacity be shocked by this whole concept). I learned that Elvis had died listening to my crystal radio. [ed. note: for clarity, Elvis died on the toilet – my radio was nowhere near him at the time. I learned about the King’s unfortunate demise while I was listening to the set; that’s what I meant to say. ]