I normally don’t watch/listen/read/tweet when I’m off but everybody in my world was asleep so I couldn’t resist checking out the Habs-Ducks game in Anaheim late last night. I caught up to it about one third of the way through the first period so I couldn’t help be impressed by how well the Canadiens controlled the play until they ran into penalty (referee) trouble in the second. Some quick observations:

  • It’s very likely too late to save the season but they finally rallied around each other. I’ll credit Chris Nilan who told Pierre Durocher of Le Journal de Montreal how frustrating it was for him to watch the Canadiens all season with nobody but Nathan Beaulieu willing to protect a teammate. The piece on Knuckles was a two page spread in Friday’s paper. Three days later GM Marc Bergevin claimed veteran willing combatant Mike Brown on waivers from San Jose. I did not see any of the Habs-Sharks game. But last night featured a team that was fully engaged. From P.K. Subban rushing to the defense of his partner Andrei Markov after Ryan Kesler tried to rough  up the oldest member of the Habs; to Max Pacioretty jumping on Andrew Cogliano after the Ducks forward pushed Greg Pateryn into the boards; to coach Michel Therrien letting veteran ref Dave Jackson have it after learning that a roughing call on Pacioretty was the only penalty called; to Michael McCarron jumping to the defense of Lars Eller after Eller was steamrolled by a a hard charging Kevin Bieksa; this was a new look Habs team in a lot of ways. They had become much too easy to play against. Yes I’ll use to ‘S’ word – so soft. But at least they showed they still care and more importantly are not going down this season without a fight or two.
  • Referee T.J. Luxmore is the worst ref I’ve seen in the NHL this season. He misses so much. It started early for him when Pacioretty was clearly tripped deep in Anaheim territory. Jackson was down low on the other side of the ice blocked by the net but Luxmore had the play in front of him. Once he decided a bleeding Pateryn (12 stitches) was not boarded and common sense did not prevail in a 4 way meeting with Jackson and the two linesmen following the play, they were asking for trouble. A referees job is to take the temperature of a game and keep it as low as possible. These guys did the opposite. They all but forced McCarron to fight Bieksa after the veteran defenseman charged the length of the ice to deliver a forearm blow to Eller’s head. There was no penalty call because Eller had his head down, as if that matters on a head shot or a charge. It’s Luxmore’s first full NHL season and it shows.
  • Eller is such a strange case. The play noted above is a perfect example. He had control of the puck with nobody around him entering the Anaheim zone but then inexplicably lost it in his skates. When he looked down to find it, Bieksa nailed him. Eller was so good in so many areas including chasing down and creating loose pucks but the problems start when he has control. And then missing an open net in overtime put an exclamation point on those issues.
  • Alex Galchenyuk. His marvellous set up to Eller (“He’s not a playmaker”) should have capped one of his best nights as a Hab. Too bad he couldn’t pass it to himself. (And too bad Luxmore/Jackson failed to call an obvious penalty by Ryan Garbutt in OT when the Anaheim forward grabbed Galchenyuk and sent him to the ice in Montreal territory.) This whole “keep him on the wing because he’s successful” narrative is plain silly. As if he wouldn’t be creating scoring chances down the middle. But it does look like he could use a time out in the shootout. Galchenyuk’s been mostly stymied this season but keeps going back to the same plodding, deke to the backhand move.
  • Pateryn was outstanding. And that was as good as Alexei Emelin has looked in a long time. I kept waiting for Emelin to send Garbutt into orbit.
  • Mike Condon made a lot of saves and I get the sense that he’s this close to taking out a rookie season’s worth of frustration on the next forward who pushes him into his net.
  • Two more debuts with mixed results – Morgan Ellis did not look out of place on the blue line but his boarding penalty – which was a lot more innocuous than Cogliano-Pateryn – led to the tying goal by Corey Perry. And when your reputation as a player who takes bad penalties precedes you it’s not a good idea to take a neutral zone holding penalty on one of your first shifts, as Stefan Matteau did.
  • This was a game full of jam. So it was disappointing to notice Tomas Plekanec only when there were less bodies on the ice – in overtime and when the Habs had to kill off those three consecutive penalties following Pacioretty-Cogliano in the second. Plekanec was at his penalty killing best. But 5 on 5? Not very good.
  • It’ll be a surprise if Subban and Markov don’t struggle vs LA after logging 31:38 and 27:52 of ice time respectively.
  • There should be no surprise that Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber were named to Team Canada for the World Cup. And Marc-Edouard Vlasic keeps getting better. But Subban is better than the other defensemen on the 2014 Olympic team – Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Boumeester of St. Louis, and Dan Hamuis of Vancouver who is not a factor this time around. Brent Seabrook, Brent Burns, Mark Giordano and Kris Letang are also in the picture. It’s difficult to believe Subban won’t make it – especially with his own GM involved. So relax. Until mid-summer anyway.
  • It was great to see a smiling Carey Price this afternoon, even if we (he) still don’t know when we’ll see him play again. But hopefully now we’ll be spared the long, loud cries of “Shut him down!” from people who have no stake in anything remotely related to Price’s playing career. If you’re so concerned that he’s going to re-injure his right knee, you’re going to be just as concerned whether he plays against the Maple Leafs on opening night of the 2016-17 season or for a team with a maple leaf on its jersey in late summer. It’s his knee and his career. Not yours.


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