Monday, May 6, 2013

Goon Show

More fingers are pointing at the Canadiens today than Andrew Ference sticks up at opposing fans when the Bruins are winning. Everyone's got a pet theory about what happened to completely take the Habs away from their game and fall into the trap of attempting to play someone else's. So, today, there are many explanations for why the small, fast Habs tried to out-hit and out-tough a bigger, stronger team. Everyone's trying to pinpoint the minute the Canadiens rolled over and gave up that pivotal game.

A lot of those pointing fingers and weary explanations are directed at Carey Price. Craig Anderson has been very strong in the Senators' net despite facing more shots than Price. The Canadiens goaltender needs to be at least as good if the Habs are to have a chance in this series. In Game Two, he was spectacular. In Games One and Three, not so much. That's why some deconstructionists are saying the tide turned at 1:18 of the third period, when Price whiffed on a clear shot by Senators rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau. That gave Ottawa a two-goal lead that must have seemed insurmountable with the way Anderson was playing. It was all downhill from there.

Other Monday morning critics look instead at the first goal of the game, at 5:58 of the first period with the Habs two men down. That, many believe, was emblematic of the indiscipline that marked the beginning of the Canadiens collapse. Certainly, penalties...many of them stupid...played a big part in the result of the game.

Perhaps, though, the real catalyst of the team's melt-down happened before any of that, and was the result of a penalty that wasn't called. Nineteen seconds into the game, the Canadiens P.K.Subban held the puck just behind his own blueline, and was looking for a passing option. The Senators' Erik Condra bore down on Subban, crosschecking him in the head and knocking him to the ice. It was a questionable hit at the very least, but play continued without a whistle. From that moment on, Subban and the Canadiens were thinking more about hitting back and getting even than they were about skating and speed.

The Senators aren't stupid. They know Subban and Brendan Gallagher are the emotional hearts of the Canadiens. Both players were targets last night, but their responses were very different. Gallagher just kept playing his game as hard as he could. Subban fell into the Ottawa trap. While the Senators were penalized twice in the first period for attacking Gallagher, Subban took his first minor of the game at 12:04 of the same frame. He was called twice more in the second, for high-sticking (a bizarre, after-the-fact penalty on the first Pageau goal that should have been a delayed call and thus negated when the puck went in) and for hooking. At 8:31 of the third, he finally lost it and pummelled Senator Kyle Turris. He ended up getting a fighting major, double minor and, almost mercifully, a game misconduct. In between his trips to the box, Subban was visibly frustrated and fell back into old habits of trying to make dramatic stretch passes and end-to-end rushes. While entertaining, the showy Subban is not the most effective Subban. By successfully taking him out of the game, the Senators removed one of the Canadiens' most important weapons and, in doing so, set a tone.

Subban was frustrated and angry, as evidenced by his completely out-of-line public lambasting of teammate Max Pacioretty on the bench, and so his teammates became. When a player is as involved as Subban, it's hard for his emotion to be contained. Michel Therrien, for all his useful passion in the first two games, lost control of the mood on his bench as well. He needed to call his time out and get his players, particularly Subban, back on track before it was too late. He didn't.

Ultimately, the greatest failure lay with the officials in that game. If the correct call had been made on the head shot to Subban on the very first shift, the referees would have sent the message that targeting certain players would not be tolerated. Subban might have felt justice had been served and he might have kept a better leash on his temper. Instead, the play went uncalled and the Habs, Subban first among them, embarked on a doomed mission to find their own vengeance.

Subban is a franchise defenceman. If he's not playing his game, he's not effective and becomes a pawn of the opposition. He's got arguably as big an impact on the team and its fortunes as Price does. How those guys go, so go the Habs. Last night, Price was soft and Subban angry, and that is the identity their team wore. They have to realize the reffing is terrible and rise above it. If they and the Canadiens sink into the mud, they'll soon suffocate. They have a day to recognize the truth of that. In the meantime, they'll find themselves the targets of a lot of fingers.


Unknown said...

Good column. The Subban play was P.K. trying for the big hit and the Sens player cross-checking him in the face. No call, then Kassian slew-footed Price also on the first shift, again no call. The tone was set for the game.

Jerome said...

C'mon guys, let's not start talking about the officiating. We all know how much that has deteriorated in the last few years. After all, there is only one official: Brendan Shanahan, the model of inconsistency. The result of a hit decides the punishment? If Chris Neil had been carried off the ice after PK's clean hit, would Subban be sitting for two games?
What he decides today, especially on Rene Bourque's elbow late in the game, will give us ample time to discuss the officiating part of the game.
Players today are confused as to how to play the game and don't know, when they're traveling at 25mph, whether their target will be judged to be vulnerable by Shanny.
For the record, the on ice officials are trying to keep things even in power play opportunities; the Canadiens are 2/13 and the Senators 3/15.
It's when it goes to Shanahan that punishment is really administered.

Phil G said...

Since the TWO referee system was brought in has eroded the excellence of that skill. I think that is where the problem is...One control.The punishment system is way out of proportion.Can't be...never will be because your dealing with one person melting out the suspensions.Panel of 3 not ex players that keep prejudices...ex refs perhaps ...Right now until the league get it right will continue.We have one last game in Montreal and that all there is is.I am disgusted with the Sens coach...his remarks after and during the game are designed to make all angry.Classless scum sucking pig.

Jerome said...

Whatever it takes to win Phil G.
MacLean's comments were meant to make the Habs angry, and it worked.
As for the officials, referees like Andy Van Hellemond, Kerry Fraser, Don Koharski and a few more, controlled the games and dealt out the punishment. Were they always right? Of course not; they made many terrible calls in their day, but in the end, 99% of their calls were not questioned by the NHL front office. In today's game, every elbow, high stick and even body checks are reviewed, and in too many cases "supplementary" discipline is handed out.
Just like the player talent has been watered down with expansion, so has the caliber of the officials.

pierre said...

On the very first shift when Condra crosscheked Subban to the face while heavyweight Kassian knoked Price off his skates without either infractions being called by the reffs I knew that game 3 was bound to get out of control.

Good hard checking teams do well in the regular season but in the playoffs when the officiating goes to sleep it is the hard nosed agressive teams built to play over the edges who succeed best and Cup winners L.A. and Boston were good exemples of that. A team's readyness to play it ugly is a + factor in today's playoffs hockey were the reffs cant be trusted to do their job half properly.

Unknown said...

habs got more power play opps then any other team in the entire league and in some cases by a lot, please do NOT whine about refs, please, it's disgusting to think your that biased and can't see through your rose colored glasses. The habs showed a LOT of classless acts so please don"t go there

Denise^2 said...

Good points about targeting Gally and PK but blaming the refs for the outcome? Treading on thin ice there. Or is there more to say about the possible change of reffing we see every year come playoff time? Call normally called during the season suddenly are non-calls during playoffs. This is all teams, unless your Boston, I suspect.

J.T. said...

For all those who think this is about blaming the officiating for missed or non-calls, especially you, Gapper Gordon, you're missing the point. Richard Courtland, Phil G and Pierre get it. Referees aren't just responsible for calling the penalties, they're responsible for controlling the tone of the game. When a team comes out gooning immediately, as the Sens did with their crosscheck on Price and their slewfoot on Price, the refs have to say, "whoa, I see where this is going, better intervene here." Their job is to call the early stuff and make sure things don't degenerate to the place where they ended up on Sunday.

Of course, they're never going to call every single infraction on either team because they'd bog down the game with whistles. But, when a team shows a very blatant intent in the first minute, it *is* the ref's job to reset the tone. The older officials understand that. The less experienced guys, not so much.

Topham said...

"Ultimately, the greatest failure lay with the officials in that game."

I can appreciate what you are trying to say. But the Habs were terrible almost from top to bottom. How can a player let what happened 19 seconds in derail a whole game. How can coaches who see this let it happen?

Carey Price cannot be absolved. he struggled with the meagerest opportunity in Game 3. Sitting in the arena, there were nerves from every Habs fan in the building on each barely controlled rebound.

His defencemen have to adapt better to this change in goaltending. The way it is, with the desperate double teaming, they end up giving up better chances for trying to give away none.

Carey's rebound control is in him somewhere. If he must play, then his defence must trust him, lest they spend all the energy they should be directing at Anderson (which was almost sum 0 last game) at winning a battle they cannot win.