A few nuggets to chew on while we wait for the 4 p.m. Pats-Cowboys kickoff:
• I liked the Canadiens’ defence last night. Francis Bouillon played a monster game. The team of Roman Hamrlik and – gasp! – Patrice Brisebois play like they’ve been together five years. Weakest pair against Carolina: Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek, and they’ll be fine. The D is so much better than last season’s.
• Cristobal Huet was absolutely superb – everything you’d want from a number 1 goaltender. In addition to making all the media happy because he’s such a good guy, Huet is playing himself into great trade value.
• Latendresse rhymes with “mess.” For the life of me I can’t understand sticking him with Plekanec and Kovalev.
• Andrei Kostitsyn on the PP is more nervous than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
• Last season everyone ripped Michael Ryder for not passing the puck. Now we all wish he would shoot more often.
• It’s as plain as the nose on your face: a referees’ conspiracy, masterminded by NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom, is entirely responsible for the Canadiens getting eight shots through 40 minutes in their home opener.
Lyndon LaRouche has documents to prove this. And Vince Foster had to be killed because he was about to expose Kerry Fraser as a Hab-hater.
• Rod Brind’Amour on faceoffs: vs. Saku Koivu, won 7 of 14; vs. Tomas Plekanec and Bryan Smolinski, 10 of 13.
• ‘Canes coach Peter Laviolette is on to something with five forwards on the PP.
This appeared in the version of the game blog that WiFi gremlins ate last night.
In analyzing Carolina’s cakewalk in Toronto, Allen Muir of Sports Illustrated stressed the importance of speed in the new NHL.
Players need quick feet (sorry, Guillaume) and quicker hockey minds (good luck, Michael Ryder).
From where I’m sitting, the Canadiens are a lot closer to Carolina, in terms of speed, than to Toronto.
Muir wrote (emphases added by me):
Some things are patently obvious. The city of Buffalo is cursed. The creators of Heroes have no blessed idea what they’re doing this season. And speed continues to separate the elite from the meat in the NHL.
Of course, it’s not good enough simply to be fleet of foot. You also have to be able to think the game, to understand what’s happening — and more important, what’s about to happen — at a pace that would put a Centrino Duo to shame.
Here are two more things that seem readily apparent after Carolina’s 7-1 thrashing of the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night:
The Hurricanes have that type of player in spades.
The Leafs do not.
Now, it’s fair to say that one game does not a season make. The Leafs, for example, have 78 more chances to prove themselves playoff worthy. But from a Toronto perspective, Tuesday night’s performance wasn’t an aberration from the path to redemption, nor was it something that can be chalked up as just one of those games. This was a sequel to last season’s miseries that started from the goal line out.
So much for the promise of a more defensively responsible club.
You have to feel bad for Vesa Toskala, the goaltender acquired amidst much fanfare at the draft to shore up the team’s most critical defensive hole. Left alone time and again by blueliners who were out of position or simply beaten by a speedy and creative crew of Canes, Toskala was nowhere near as bad as the seven goals might suggest. He’ll be better in the future.
You have to wonder though whether the Leafs can take that same “sun’ll come up tomorrow” view of their defense. Bryan McCabe, the anchor of the squad, has been brutal, making bad decisions with the puck and away from it that have left his mates scrambling to cover his $7 million behind. The lack of speed — both physical and mental — left Hal Gill, Ian White and Andy Wozniewski routinely exposed. And while Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle have played relatively well thus far, it’s hard to imagine that this gang of six won’t be left flat-footed more nights than not.
Compare the grim reality of Toronto’s situation to that of the Hurricanes. Like the Leafs, the ‘Canes missed the playoffs last season, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. This 2007-08 version looks considerably more like the squad that captured the Cup way back in ’06, powered by a relentless forecheck and a dizzying transition game that exposes the pylon-like tendencies of bluelines like Toronto’s. The ‘Canes also employ defenders who make the odd mental error, but their speed and commitment allows them to cover up adequately — traits the Leafs seem incapable of mirroring.
Carolina was particularly deadly with the extra man, scoring four times on eight chances, thanks to a unique configuration that saw coach Peter Laviolette giving his defensemen a breather and going with five forwards. Newcomers Jeff Hamilton and Matt Cullen manned the points, and showed considerable aplomb with the puck, whether they were setting up plays or moving down low into an open space for a scoring chance of their own. All five forwards proved capable of rotating into a point position, a level of versatility that gave the Leafs fits all night. Blessed with one of the league’s deepest forward groups and a resurgent Cam Ward in net, the Hurricanes looked every bit like a contender.
The cautious may not want to put too much weight into a single early October contest, but the trends that were on display Tuesday night are hardly coming out of the blue. Based on what we’ve seen, it’s fair to say that only Carolina is on the fast track to the playoffs.