Hockey on New Year’s Eve can be special.
On Dec. 31, 1975, a game at the Montreal Forum was more than special.
The 3-3 tie between your father’s Montreal Canadiens and Central Red Army of the Soviet Union was historic.
I was there, way up the cheap seats.
It was the greatest sports event I’ve ever attended.
On Tuesday, your Montreal Canadiens will play a New Year’s Eve game in Carolina.
I’ll live-blog it from a cheap couch in my basement.
Based on what we saw in Florida Sunday evening, anyone expecting an historic hockey game to ring out 2013?
The team that took the ice that night in 1975 would go on to win the first of four straight Stanley Cups. It was Guy Lafleur’s breakout season: he would total 56 goals and 125 points. Steve Shutt had 45 goals, Peter Mahovlich 71 assists. Playing behind the big three – Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe – Ken Dryden went 42-10-8 with eight shutouts and a 2.03 GAA.
And the 1976-’77 team was even better.
Why this stroll down memory lane?
Because even for Canadiens fans who were only the gleam in their grandaddy’s eyes in 1975, that magical game is part of the CHe legend that is passed on from generation to generation.
It may be 20 years and counting since the Stanley Cup was paraded through the streets of downtown Montreal, but glory is part of the bleu-blanc-rouge DNA.
And we’re all waiting – with varying degrees of patience – for the good times to resume.
It might be a while yet.
Some key elements are there.
Carey Price has been a franchise goaltender this season.
P.K. Subban is the reigning Norris Trophy winner.
The core of promising young players includes Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher. There is talent in the Canadiens system and on display at the World Juniors.
But man, the Montreal Canadiens – as currently constituted – can be hard to watch.
They are not a bad hockey team. Price keeps them competitive; and halfway through the season, the Canadiens look a good bet to make the playoffs.
But on their off nights – and the game at the BB&T Center was most certainly an off night – the Canadiens are worse than bad.
Not just to the rheumy old eyes who watched Lafleur in full flight. Fans of more recent vintage look at this team and get teary-eyed and nostalgic remembering Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev.
The team has had its ups and, mainly, downs since 1993. But there have (almost) always been talented offensive players: Mats Naslund, Stéphane Richer, Mark Recchi, Vincent Damphousse … right up to and including the courageous, cancer-conquering captain and L’Artiste who wore number 27.
Here’s the stat that jolted me briefly awake during the loss to Florida: through the first 40 minutes of the game, Max Pacioretty didn’t attempt a shot. No SoG, none missed the net, none blocked by the Panthers. Pacioretty’s final stats line for 17:39 of ice time was two third-period shots that missed the net.
The Canadiens didn’t lose because Pacioretty had an off-night. And they didn’t lose because the zebras disallowed two goals.
I think they lost because Florida, which also played on Saturday, had more energy and determination to win. In the face of such resolve, the Canadiens had few answers.
In his pre-game segment on RDS, François Gagnon talked about the Canadiens’ identity. He echoed the Michel Therrien dressing room rant we saw a couple episodes ago on 24CH, when the coach told his players they were a grinding team.
OK, a grinding team with a good goaltender and solid defence can make some noise in the NHL. Exhibit A, until recently: the New Jersey Devils.
But I wonder how much grinding you can do with a lineup that includes Brian Gionta, Daniel Brière, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher.
And while someone like Tomas Plekanec gives you solid, 200-foot hockey playing any style, I wonder if the imposition of a conservative style stifles the talent of players like Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk.
The latter played 13:35 in Florida. None of Galchenyuk’s ToI was on the power play, which has yet to register a goal on this road trip. He finished the game at minus-1.
Aleksander Barkov is 18, a year younger than Galchenyuk. Florida took the Finn with the second pick in last summer’s draft.
Barkov played 17:57 – including 1:26 on the PP – against the Canadiens. He scored a goal and was plus-3 on the game.
Florida can play a teenager almost 18 minutes because … well, because they’re Florida. The rebuild continues … and continues … and continues.
With visions of Lafleur and Kovy dancing in our heads, Canadiens fans don’t want to hear about rebuilds.
We want Ws and we want them now.
Th Canadiens have won more games than they’ve lost this season.
But how many times have they been fun to watch?
And where will the visit to Carolina rank on your list of New Year’s Eve hockey memories?