Last night was the only pre-season game worth watching, as far as the Canadiens are concerned. Even though the fourth line was made up of aspiring guys and not real NHLers, it was the closest to an opening-night lineup we've seen.
The relief of the matter was that the Canadiens...the real Canadiens...were fast, opportunistic and aggressive on the rush. The D got the puck out quickly and didn't give Tampa a chance to line up in their zone. And Carey Price was solid when he had to be, spectacular when required.
The only bruise on the body of an otherwise great game came when Ryan Malone, who'd been looking for trouble all night, came rushing at Chris Campoli, elbow up. He struck Campoli in the head, making no attempt to play the puck. Campoli, predictably, went down hard, body spinning. Malone got a match penalty and an undermatched revenge fight with Josh Gorges, who took a significant cut on the forehead in the process.
Now, today, many Habs fans are screaming for revenge. They want a guy who can go out and revisit the violence on offenders from other teams, or who can prevent said violence in the first place, with a well-placed glare or icy stare indicative of the consequences to be suffered by messing with Canadiens. The more experienced of us know that doesn't work. Not in this day and age, when head shots are being punished and the league's chief of discipline is looking at fighting as a contributing factor in the NHL's high rate of brain injury.
We know goons don't work. We've seen too much of Georges Laraque chasing Milan Lucic around the ice, and Derek Boogaard playing three minutes a game. Now we see the "new" version of enforcers...decent players with a mean streak...being reeled in by NHL discipline for their tendency to hit people in the head. So, what's a team to do?
In the case of the Canadiens, they're doing the right thing. They're icing a team that can play the game. All four lines can skate hard and pressure the opponent. The defence can move the puck up and out quickly and the goalie can stand against the other team's rush. The Canadiens play hockey. The cries of those who bawl for the Habs to employ some other strategy that can intimidate opponents in the old-school way are wrong-headed. Revenge, head shots and maybe even fighting are on the table to be removed from the game. What does that leave? It leaves a skilled team with the ability to beat the other team on the ice, not in the alley. That's the Habs.
If Brendan Shanahan can reel in the unnecessary violence and intimidate players who intend to hurt for the sake of hurting, it gives the Habs a leg up in the league. They don't have people who employ those tactics and can't compete with those who do. But if the teams that depend on intimidation are limited, it gives teams that play hockey a chance.
Brendan Shanahan, in the end, could be the difference between the Canadiens competing for the Cup or not. That's some kind of power. That's tough.