I hate preseason hockey. It's the first taste of the sport we get after the loooonnnggg off-season, so the excitement around such a meaningless event is way out of proportion. Then, when the team gets pasted, as it did last night in Halifax, we see the first chunks of airy blue hit the ground around the sky-is-falling crowd.
Sure, it's not fun to see the team come out on the wrong end of an 8-3 score, to the Bruins of all teams, (okay, maybe the Leafs would have been worse) even if it is only preseason. But to let the result colour expectations of the coming season is a bit silly. Yet, some fans are already saying Jaro Halak isn't as good as we all thought he was, that Sergei Kostitsyn's poor game means he's set for a sophomore slump and Alex Tanguay disappeared after the team got down by a couple. Of course we know those things are probably not true in the big picture, but the fear is there that a loss like that might sow even the tiniest seeds of doubt in the minds of the players that they might not be as good as they think they are. And in a season when the team needs every single ounce of confidence and energy it can muster if it hopes to live up to its own and its fans' expectations, even the tiniest doubt is too big.
The truth is, the Habs played a Boston team much more pumped to prove something than they were. And many of the Canadiens' players, particularly defencemen, will not be on the Centennial opening-night roster. It was a lousy effort by half a team playing its first game in four months after just two days of "training camp" and a same-day arrival in Halifax. Big deal. It doesn't mean the Habs will be disfunctional this year. It doesn't mean Halak is weak or Tanguay heartless. It does mean...exactly nothing. Which is another big reason why I hate preseason hockey.
I don't like sending out players on whom the team depends to contest these pointless battles. Last night, Roman Hamrlik left the ice with a groin injury as a "precaution" according to Coach Carbo. He's a player the Canadiens can ill afford to lose for an extended period of time regardless, but his loss would certainly hurt more if the injury happened in a preseason game. The Penguins are feeling the truth of that with the loss of PP quarterback and general pack animal on defence, Sergei Gonchar, for an undetermined part of the coming season...all due to a shoulder injury sustained in a meaningless game.
I understand the players need game time to build line chemistry and to get up to speed for the coming season, and the preseason is a good chance for prospects to get a taste of the big leagues and show what they can do. But so many games pressed into such a short period of time, especially after only two days of on-ice work, seems to me to be a little irresponsible on the part of the teams who arrange these things. The games are an additional source of league revenue of course, which makes the case in favour of them a strong one in the eyes of NHL management and owners. However, there should be a more responsible way of scheduling them.
In the end, for reasons of tradition or economics, preseason games will go ahead as they always do. I'm not hoping for a great record or for the Habs to prove to the league that they're Cup contenders. I just want them to find their feet for the start of the real season. And I hope they come out of the preseason healthy and mentally ready to make a splash when it really counts.