The Canadiens home opener against the Lightning is perhaps the most compelling game on the NHL schedule tonight, in part because of the number of Quebec-born players on Tampa Bay, and in part because it’s the first visit to the Bell Centre by Guy Boucher (last year’s AHL Coach of the Year as boss of the Habs Hamilton team and a McGill grad) as an NHL head coach.
So in a St. Petersburg Times story that’s mostly about the Lightning’s Simon Gagne, Damian Cristodero quotes Renaud Lavoie of RDS saying, “There’s a lot of people saying
Tampa is the No. 2 team in Quebec. If (the game) turns ugly, the fans
could cheer for Tampa to put pressure on Montreal.”
In the Tampa Tribune, Erik Erlendsson talks about the media frenzy surrounding the Lightning’s visits to Montreal and quotes coach Guy Boucher saying, “I don’t want to make this a big fuss, I really have to focus our team
and our players. I think (the Canadiens organization)
are great people, they have given me a lot, it was the first
organization that gave me my first pro chance and I will always respect
that but at the same time I want to make sure I don’t focus on that
going into the game.’
Boucher’s innovative approach to guiding a hockey team is a theme of this
profile by Nick Williams in the Tampa Tribune (one of many Boucher
has inspired for this game) in which he writes, “Since he stepped onto
the ice as the Lightning’s new coach, Guy Boucher
has preached to his players the importance of crowding the net to look
for deflections, tip-ins or rebound goals. With such a strong offensive
showing in Saturday’s 5-3 win against the
Thrashers, the Bolts proved they have absorbed and executed what their
coach is teaching.”
“Eighty percent of the goals come from the
involvement of defensemen,
whether it’s a shot, or pass, or rim or anything,” Boucher said. “We got
four of those five goals right off defensemen touching it. It’s exactly
my 80 percent (philosophy), so obviously the players see it, but
they’ve seen it before. They want it, they understand it, (and) it’s
just a question now of enforcing it and the players are enforcing it
Cristodero in The St. Petersburg Times adds that Boucher preaches short shifts for his players, Forty five seconds is too long in his world. “I strongly believe that if you’re full-out out there for 30, 35
seconds, you’re dead (tired),” Boucher said. “So, if you’re having
one-minute shifts and 45-second shifts, it’s because you are not
(playing) full out.”
Any player or coach’s first game in Montreal can be overwhelming, but Boucher is quite familiar with this setting. In a story on NHL.com, Dan
Rosen notes that Boucher is no Bell Centre
virgin, having coached the AHL Bulldogs here twice last season.
“There were 17,000 people there, so I kind of have a sense of how it’s
going to feel,” Boucher said. “I know the environment.”
Here’s the game preview from the Lightning’s website with the info that “Tampa Bay has gained points in eight of its last nine contests
against the Canadiens and has also gained points in three of its last
four games played in Montreal, posting a 2-1-1 record. Though the teams
have split their last eight meetings, Tampa Bay has lost once in
regulation during that span with a 5-3 defeat at Montreal on Mar. 9,
* * *
The NHL suspended Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson two games for this hit from behind on the Sabres Jason Pominville (video) in Monday’s game. Pominville was stretchered off the ice and has been diagnosed with a concussion. His streak of 336 consecutive NHL games will end tonight when the Sabres play the Devils.
The Canadiens travel to Buffalo after tonight’s game and play the Sabres there on Friday.
Pominville is a big part of the Sabres special teams, quarterbacking their power play, a key penalty killer and a guy coach Lindy Ruff often put on the ice in the last minutes of periods. He’s also a top line forward. So Ruff is going to have to manipulate his personnel to fill those holes.
An emphatic Sabres goalie Ryan Miller reacted strongly to Hjalmarsson’s hit (audio, and it’s worth hearing the whole thing), calling for league action, saying, “It absolutely needs to be punished. I don’t care if
it’s unintentional. That’s what we have to get away from in hockey right
now. Its’ the culture of ‘I was trying to make a play, therefore it’s
not my fault.’
“A hockey hit is to separate a man from a puck, not anticipating the
puck getting there, hitting from behind and driving him into the boards.
You have two things right there; the puck wasn’t completely there, it
was anticipation of it, there was no separation, it was a hit from
“It’s completely something where I don’t even know if there was enough
made of it because Jason was walking out with just stitches. What if
Jason has a fractured neck? We don’t know if it’s going to have an
impact with concussions.
“I just think no matter how badly Hjalmarsson feels, no matter if it’s
unintentional, we have to change the culture of it if we’re ever going
to change the situations we’re seeing – with guys laying on the ice
bleeding and missing time with concussions.”
It raises the question of whether two games is enough of a punishment. “Personally I don’t think it is,” Ruff said earlier today (video). “If I had to play commissioner, I would have went more. Two games
isn’t a long time sitting in their case. They play a couple games this
week and it’s over in three days.”
Quoted in the Buffalo News (and on video) Miller was more diplomatic saying, “It’s good they did something about it. It does set some
sort of a tone. It’s some kind of discipline, a step towards making the
players responsible for decisions they make on the ice. We’ll see how it
unfolds in the coming weeks and months, if guys are really going to pay
attention to what they’re doing on the ice. “
For TSN’s Pierre McGuire, it was not enough. Speaking this morning on Ottawa radio Team 1200 (audio), McGuire said he was surprised it was only two games, but thinks that the league used the Alex Ovechkin hit last season on the Blackhawks Bryan Campbell (video) as a comparable and Ovechkin got two games for that one.
But McGuire expressed surprise that it was only two games and agreed with host John Rodenburg that a much stiffer punishment would be appropriate, suggesting 10 games would send the right message.
“It’s a different mentality they have in Hockey Operations,” he said. “I really can’t explain it. I don’t know.”
The Sabres and Blackhawks play again on Saturday in Chicago and Hjalmarsson will have served his time and be should be back in the lineup for that game.
“Each game has a new feeling to it,” Sabres captain Craig Rivet said in The Buffalo News. “I’m sure the next game
is going to be heated. The most important part is to get the two
points. We’ll see what happens.”
Miller added, “People will be talking about it and there will be some
emotion surrounding it but you’re not going to condone a donnybrook and
go old-school or whatever your guys are talking about. I’d like to
think the game has evolved a little bit.”