OK, let’s cut him some clack.
Cunneyworth is a good guy who was handed an impossible job and has handled it with grace, dignity and good humour.
And for all the losses the Canadiens have sustained on home ice this season, it would be churlish to point out that a win – a rare shootout W at that – was something less than a classic for the must-have DVD collection.
Long stretches of the game were stultifyingly boring.
But it was fun any time the Two and a Half Men line were on the ice. And Erik Cole celebrating his 27th goal by high-fiving referee Greg Kimmerly will make every sports telecast highlight reel in the civilized world.
Carey Price made some terrific saves in regulation, then stoned the Senators – including Daniel F. Alfredsson, who was 5/5 in previous efforts – in the shootout.
An emergency call-up when Tomas Kaberle was attending the birth of his new son in Toronto, Frédéric St. Denis paired with Chris Campoli and was barely noticeabale … which is a good thing for a defenceman.
Andrei Markov played almost 18 minutes – up from 17 in Vancouver and Buffalo – and had a solid night paired with Yannick Weber, of all people.
In the duel of the D studs, Erik Karlsson scored his 19th goal. But P.K. Subban played almost 29 minutes, fired the point blast that David Desharnais redirected for the Canadiens’ second goal, skated about 1,000 miles and dished out three hits.
Karlsson probably will win the Norris Trophy. P.K. won’t, but he wasn’t outshone by the Senators’ young star.
The Canadiens have three wins in their four games against Ottawa this season. Subban and his teammates match up well against Karlsson and the Senators. The Canadiens do a decent job of containing Ottawa’s most dangerous scorers: Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Karlsson, who had been held to one measly assist in the three previous games.
And despite Chris Neil, who has been a burr in bleu-blanc-rouge britches for years, the Canadiens held their own in the physical aspects of the game – holding being the operative verb for Petteri Nokelainen’s tussle with Hulking Jared Cowen.
In the absence of Alexei Emelin – who picked up a shoulder knack in Buffalo that isn’t serious – the Canadiens still managed to outhit the Senators 22-17. Brad Staubitz had four of those hits in his 5:10 of ice time as neither Cunneyworth nor Paul MacLean made much use of fourth-liners.
Tomas Plekanec arrived at the Bell Centre too late to join the warmup. The Canadiens said he was detained by personal business, and I hope for Pleks’s sake it was psychotherapy.
It’s too late to do anything this season, but the Canadiens have to get Plekanec a couple wingers who can play. Rene Bourque is an enigma, Ryan White is a third- or, more likely, fourth-line plugger. Neither winger has the skill set to complement Plekanec.
A healthy Brian Gionta would be one part of the puzzle. I don’t know about the other wing. It will depend on who’s back at training camp.
Lars Eller also could use some scoring wingers and may eventually develop some chemistry with fellow ingenues Louis Leblanc and Blake Geoffrion. At least Eller has the size and reach to control the puck in the offensive zone and take some time to look for open linemates.
With Plekanec, it’s more of a speed game. Pleks needs quick-thinking players with whom he’s in synch, as has been the case in the past with Alex Kovalev, Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Cammalleri.
These are issues that can wait until training camp.
For now, the Canadiens are complicating other team’s postseason aspirations – the loss left Ottawa two points ahead of Washington in seventh place, and the Capitals have a game in hand – and playing to be part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem, when the season’s ledger is tallied up.
We know who the good players are, and they all showed up against Ottawa.
Carey Price got a needed confidence boost from his perfect performance in the shootout.
With 11 games left, Erik Cole has topped the 26 goals he scored last season in Carolina.
Playing what is essentially a pre-season, Markov is displaying flashes – tape-to-tape passing, power-play creativity – of what he was before that horrifying series of injuries.
And yes, 21,273 fans held their breath when he was hit in the face by a shot. But Markov came back – as will this team next season.