If the dream Stanely Cup final is Canadiens-Red Wings, the nightmare scenario would match Nashville against Florida.
The TV ratings would be the lowest ever …. and not just because the finalists were two of Gary Bettman’s ridiculous Sun Belt teams.
It’s the style – or lack of same.
Grinding defensive hockey. Rapid line changes. Hard-working, tight-checking players who won’t be in the All-Star game.
In his superlative The Game, Ken Dryden wrote that defensive hockey was the easiest to coach, as long as players were dedicated and bought into the system.
Easy to teach; but man, it was hard to watch last night.
Maybe it was the letdown after an emotional game in Boston.
Maybe it was playing an unfamiliar and largely faceless opponent lacking two of its best players: Shea Weber and Jason Arnott.
Whatever, the Canadiens and Predators dialed up a non-classic, the most exciting moments of which came during the final minute, when the home team managed to miss an empty net five times.
The Canadiens had TWO shots in the second period and six in the third. Absurd … and really boring.
But two points is two points. And it’s not like I paid to get into the Bell Centre.
The team bagged a W against a difficult opponent. And they did it – again – without their number-one goaltender and three of their top forwards.
Not to mention the "heavyweight champ."
When his face appears on the giant scoreboard during pre-game introductions, Georges Laraque still gets tumultuous applause.
BGL has played in 17 games this season. He has fewer penalty minutes than Alex Kovalev.
And while Laraque nurses a tweaky groin and a bad back while ballooning up to 260, his valiant teammates are losing fights.
I don’t know why Steve Bégin squared off with Jordin Tootoo last night. It wasn’t a good idea, and Bégin joined Kyle Chipchura and Tom Kostopoulos as players with big hearts and inept fists.
(For a example of effective pugilism, check out Sheldon Souray drilling Craig Weller with a left.)
So tell me again why the Canadiens signed Big Georges.
Robert Lang was a better acquisition. I love watching this guy play hockey.
Lang never makes bonehead plays. He has intuitive hockey sense, the lack of which was what me drove me nuts watching Michael Ryder last season.
Segei Kostitsyn has it, too. But Lang is more experienced and bigger. He’s no Todd Bertuzzi, but Lang uses his size and reach effectively.
Lang is a superb complement to those two wild and crazy guys from Belarus, the older of whom is on fire. Andrei Kostitsyn bagged his 15th last night on a one-timer to Pekka Rinne’s short side. AK46 has scored in four straight games, all on the power play.
The PP is 8-for-26 after a 1-for-22 drought. The first wave still loses the faceoff too often, which necessitates regrouping and wastes time, but once it gets set up, the PP has ecome a dangerous weapon again – and a disincentive for opponents who might otherwise take liberties against the Canadiens.
The most impressive stat last night? Against a fast-skating, hard-working and disciplined team, the Canadiens took only two minor penalties – and none in the third period, when Nashville was coming on strong.
A minor quibble about a minor: my friend Sean Gordon of the Globe and Mail, who actually watches the game while I’m live-blogging like a maniac, pointed out that Patrice Brisebois’s interference penalty came after the referee had warned Breeze about holding up a Nashville player on a previous dump-in.
Brisebois was minus-2 last night, as was Roman Hamrlik. But Mike Komisarek (four hits, six blocked shots), Josh Gorges and Francis Bouillon were steady, and Andrei Markov was spectacular.
The Canadiens blocked 26 shots (to 14 for Nashville) and did a good job clearing the rebounds that still bounce off Jaroslav Halak often enough to keep the fans on the edge of their seats. Jaro made 23 saves and did not look elegant on any of them. He’ll never win style points, but Halak has won 10 games and provided quality goaltending while Carey Price rehabs a sore ankle.
Speaking of blocked shots, Alex Kovalev had six of seven blocked last night. But Kovy played a strong game with Tomas Plekanec (10-6 on faceoffs, including a crucial win late against Radek Bonk in the Canadiens zone with an extra Nashville attacker on).
I’m starting to love Max Pacioretty on the Pleks line. Big kid who uses his size. Excellent and tireless skater. There’s still the odd defensive lapse or bad decision in the O-zone. But what the heck, Max-Pac is 20 years old and has played all of seven games in the NHL.
Definitely a keeper … and we can only hope Pacioretty’s play inspires Christopher Higgins.
Here’s one to ponder: When Higgins, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay return, do Maxim Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos become the Canadiens’ fourth line?
If so, there won’t be a better one in the league. Max has to be the most improved player on the team, Gui! has been revitalized and Tom the Bomb is the line’s Energizer Bunny … albeit a rabbit with bad hands.
Off to Ottawa tomorrow morning for the first of three road games heading into the All-Star break.
Canadiens are sitting fourth in the conference, three points up on Philadelphia with a game in hand.
Best of all, they – and we – have seen the last of Nashville.