We woke up this morning to all kinds of hyper sports analysts (who may or may not have played pro hockey in their lives) telling us the Bruins delivered a "statement" game last night. The question many of us are asking in response is what "statement" did they make? Was it that they have ten guys who will fight players who really aren't fighters, for no apparent purpose? Or that they can take advantage of a team with a patchwork defence, half of whom have played 1000 NHL games, and the other half less than 100? Perhaps it was that Colin Campbell's nasty kid plays for them, so they can commit head shots with impunity, as they did on several occasions? Or maybe it's that they have cretinous fans who rival Philly's for pure bloodthirsty idiocy? Yup. Lots of statements there. Sure.
The Bs weren't the only ones who made statements, though. Lost in the shuffle, bob and weave of last night's game were a few Montreal Canadiens statements. Prime among them was that Timmy Thomas still has a hard time stopping the Habs. He looked like an all-star in the middle of the all-star game last night. The Canadiens beat him at will, which, when you consider the Habs' general lack of firepower, is impressive.
The Canadiens made a very important statement to their GM as well. The defence, when faced with an aggressive forecheck by skilled forwards, completely collapsed once again. Jaro Spacek is just done. He's soft on the boards, and he's lost a step since last year. Hal Gill is just painful to watch against speed. He's good at blocking shots, but when it comes to quickly manouvering the puck, he's hopeless. He's too slow to get himself into the proper position against fast teams, and he can't make a simple zone clearance with his hands of stone. Jacques Martin recognized the difficulties the two oldies were having, as both of them played less than 17 minutes. Fellow senior citizen Roman Hamrlik was also on the ice for just over 16 minutes, probably partially because he got rocked by a dirty hit. As a result, P.K.Subban played a game-high 26:22 on a night when he was clearly not at his best (he ended up a -3), and James Wisniewski, in his first game back after strep throat, was on the ice for nearly 25 minutes. Yannick Weber played 19 minutes, put up three points and finished even, so even if he looked a bit overwhelmed at times, his stats didn't show it. The problem with the defence was, in the end, Martin had no other choices.
The loss of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges was never more apparent than it was last night. The message the team sent to Gauthier was: if there's any shopping to be done in the next couple of weeks, it must, without a doubt, be for a solid defenceman who doesn't skate in cement or panic when faced with speed. If he comes with size and an ability to make a solid hit, that's a bonus. Carey Price might have been able to stop one or two of those goals last night, but for the most part, he was helpless. That has to change if the Canadiens are to make even a squeak in the post-season.
A secondary need is for a fourth-liner who can handle himself better against a brainless goon like Gregory Campbell than poor Tom Pyatt did last night. If beating up a guy twenty pounds lighter who's not a fighter means the Bruins are making a statement, it's a pretty shameful one. Still, since there are Neanderthals running loose in the division, the Canadiens might need to make a play for Mike Fisher, Chris Neil or Zenon Konopka to counter that.
Some individuals made statements of their own last night as well. Benoit Pouliot played some of his best hockey of the season. He worked really hard for his 11:42 of ice time, and since punch-driven statements were all the rage last night, he made his by dropping David Krejci.
David Desharnais delivered an emphatic statement too. The smallest player on either team in both height and weight, he provided a goal and assist and was one of only four Canadiens who ended the night on the plus side of the +/- ledger...all in 13 minutes on the ice. He was 50% on faceoffs as well. The biggest concern about Desharnais has been that he's built to play against quick, offensively minded teams, but will fold against tougher oppponents. It turns out, DD's two best games have been against the Flyers and Bs, and you can't get bigger bunches of goons and bullies than those teams. He's held up his end of the bargain admirably, as opposed to the alleged top-liner Scott Gomez.
Ah yes. Gomez. He made a statement last night too. He said when the going gets tough, he'll do nothing. He was atrocious in his own end, although he wasn't helped by Andrei Kostitsyn's usual brain-dead stretches of play. The pair of them, as well as the unfortunate Lars Eller, ended up -4 in less than 14 minutes on the ice. Gomez was a humiliating (if one were to give a crap in the first place) 0%. Jacques Martin made a huge statement back at him, by nailing Gomez and his unhelpful linemates to the bench for the majority of the third period. That the Canadiens were never out of a close game until late in the third, it was shocking that Martin thought so little of Gomez' or his linemates' contributions that he sat them out altogether. Gomez has spent the entire season dragging down every winger he's been given while contributing little to nothing himself. He's got to go.
Max Pacioretty's statement was "I have arrived." The kid is big, tough and strong, and can skate like the wind. His two PP goals (thought he tipped Weber's for the hatty, but the league didn't agree) showed an admirable wrister too. It would be very interesting to see last night's three hardest workers; Pouliot, Desharnais and Pacioretty on a line together, if one of them can play the right side.
Brian Gionta re-stated he was the right choice to be this team's captain. Down two goals after the first, he was the one to break through and score the goal that got the Habs' offence going. He never backed down, even though he faced hulking Zdeno Chara on just about every shift. His leadership was a source of inspiration for the younger players, who all seemed to respond. (With the exception of Lars Eller, who was stuck in the Pit of Despair, also known as Scott Gomez' wing.)
Despite all the statements flying around on both sides, though, the outcome was poor for the Habs. Losing 8-6 doesn't look good any night, but it's worse when it's against the team directly ahead of you in the division standings. The concrete positives out of that game were few, with the exception of the three PP goals the Canadiens scored. That was a relief, considering the dreadful showing over the last couple of weeks.
The intangible positives included the way some players responded to bullying. They answered the bell, even though most of them were not physically suited to do so. That kind of brothers-in-arms mentality goes a long way toward forging bonds that sustain a team during a long, hard playoff drive in which bullying and idiocy is at a minimum.
Amidst the mess of statements this morning come questions. What's the league going to do about the four unpenalized head shots against Canadiens players, including the most egregious on P.K. Subban, when the kid had been knocked to the ice by Nathan Horton and had his head stapled to the boards by another Bruin while he was down? What's Pierre Gauthier going to do to shore up a desperate defence? What will happen if the Bruins try this crap in the playoffs, as it's looking likely that they'll be the Habs' first round opponents?
The statements are clear enough today. The answers to the questions, however, are not.