North of the 400

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Posts Tagged ‘Montreal Canadiens

The Ying and Yang of P.K Subban

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A few years back, my dad and I went to a Toronto Marlies/Hamilton Bulldogs game. I honestly don’t remember too much about the game except for P.K. Subban.


It wasn’t that he was everywhere or made some memorable play – although he checked a guy through the glass, which was amazing. No, what I remember most was his presence: when he was on the ice, he just popped out like the message in a magic eye puzzle. It was pretty cool.


So I guess I’ve been a fan of him for a while, watching the ups and downs of his short career. And there’s been more than a few: a contract dispute where he missed a few games, a Norris trophy and many, many controversies. See, the thing about Subban is he works people up almost as much as Sean Avery once did. But more than that, Subban is a good player. He’s very good and arguably the best defenseman in the NHL.


There are many invalid and moronic reasons he gets so much flak – one’s I’ll leave unsaid because I’m completely unqualified to discuss them – but there’s good ones, too: he occasionally makes a dirty play. I think a good example of both kinds of criticism came into play the other night, during the first game of the Montreal/Ottawa playoff series.


I’m going off the top of my head here, but I think there’s been sixty million-plus words written about Subban slashing Mark Stone’s wrist and the immediate backlash. Subban was given the boot, which since it happened so early in the game was effectively a one-game suspension; Stone sustained a micro fracture to his wrist but hasn’t missed either game of the series.


The takes came both quickly and hot in the hours after the slash. They ranged from “Subban slash deserved multi-game suspension” to casting doubt on Stone’s injury. Ottawa coach Dave Cameron made a vague threat against the Habs: “when one of their best players gets slashed, just give us five. It’s not that complicated,” he said per a TSN report. That remark’s in poor taste, but given the context, I’m not getting bent out of shape. Indeed, things on Twitter got a little crazier, but that’s the nature of that beast.


By the time game two rolled around, I was primed for something crazy: a physical game, one where the Sens crash the net and try to rattle netminder Carey Price or maybe a cheap shot against Subban. It didn’t work out that way, but it ended up as a hell of a game. And again, Subban was the story.


If the first game was of the more frustrating side of Subban’s game, the second was one showcasing his positive side. When he was on the ice, he again just popped up over everyone else. Which was a lot, since his 29 minutes of ice time was the most of any Habs skater.

The goal in the second is the lasting impression. It was an amazing shapshot, an absolute beauty from the top of the circle that blew right by Ottawa goalie Andrew Hammond.


But there were other moments, too. One that sticks out for me was a late shot where he had the angle but didn’t quite get as much of the puck as he probably would’ve liked and didn’t score. Another is how he was right there on the ice when Alex Galchenyuk scored the OT winner, too.


I think the thing with Subban is how he can be frustrating but also exciting. I can’t think of another defenceman I enjoy watching as much as I do Subban, but I can’t think of anyone who generates as much controversy as he does, too. And again, most of it isn’t his fault: I completely believe Subban is held to a different standard and is criticized for things most of the NHL could get away with (ie: he celebrates too much, whatever that means).


But there’s certainly a ying and a yang to him. There are going to be games where he’s frustrating and games where he’s exciting. And man, that goal on Friday night. At his best, there’s nobody as exciting as Subban.

Written by M.

April 18, 2015 at 11:56 am

2014 NHL Playoff Picks – First Round

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Something of an annual tradition around here: picks for each round of the NHL playoffs.

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston over (WC) Detroit in six

I’m still not quite used to Detroit being in the Eastern conference, so it’s a little weird to see them playing Boston in the first round. It’s actually the first time since 1957 they’ve played at all; back then, Boston won in five before getting trounced by Montreal in the final. And yes, the Leafs weren’t in the playoffs that year either. Funny how things change. Anyway: this year, I expect Boston to hold off the Red Wings. With Tukka Rask, they’ve got arguably the best goalie in the conference and Jerome Iginla’s had his best season in years.

(3) Montreal over (2) Tampa Bay in seven

This could be a close one. In four meetings this season, Montreal’s won just one but lost in overtime once and in a shootout twice. They’ve been outscored eight to five, their last meeting was the only one decided in regulation. I’m pulling for Montreal this postseason and I think they’re coming into the playoffs on a nice streak, winning eight of their last 11 games – although I should note Tampa’s won their last four. I expect a close series regardless, so I’m going with who I’d like to see move on.

(1) Pittsburgh over (WC) Columbus in four

I haven’t caught too many Pens games this year, but the game they played against Philadelphia last weekend was one of the best I saw this season. Sure, they lost, but they looked great. Columbus? I haven’t caught them once, but I feel confident writing them off: they’ve lost all five games against the Pens this year and were outscored seven to 16. Nobody dismantled them as thoroughly this year.

(4) Philadelphia over (3) New York Rangers in six

Again, could be a close one. They’ve split their four meetings this year, including two in March. I’m going to give the edge to Philly based on my limited exposure to them: I enjoyed the way they came back against the Penguins last weekend in particular. Either way, this will be a fun series. I bet NBC gets the best ratings of any series with this, too.

Western Conference

(1) Colorado over (WC) Minnesota in five

Remember when the Avalanche were a doormat? It doesn’t feel like that long ago. But then again, it doesn’t seem like that long ago when they were winning Cups with Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Maybe I’m getting old.  Coming into game one, the Avalanche look a little banged up – they’ve got four people listed as questionable – which might tip the scales a little. But I don’t think too much of that either. They’ve beat Minnesota four times this year and their lone loss came in a shootout. And Semyon Varlamov’s been nothing short of fantastic this year, too: a .927 save percentage, 2.41 GAA and 41 wins, if you’re into that sort of thing. This one could be over in a hurry.

 (3) Chicago over (2) St. Louis in six

There’s a part of me that doesn’t trust the Blues. They collapsed in the playoffs last year, blowing a two-game lead to the Kings and the year before lost in four straight, also to LA. I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t ever feel confident taking them in the postseason. But that’s just a gut feeling, so here’s some numbers: this season, the Blackhawks beat the Blues twice. Twice more, they took them to a shootout. They’ve outshot them four times, too. I’m sensing a trend here: usually the team who can regularly outshoot the other will win. That’s not a gut feeling, that’s called being a Leaf fan.

(1) Anaheim over (WC) Dallas in five

This is the first time since 2008 the Stars have been to the postseason, I believe, and with 91 points they’re also the worst. But somehow, they’ve managed a winning record against the Ducks: two wins, including a blowout 6-3 victory back in November. But they’re still the worst team in the playoffs and it’d be a big upset to upend the Ducks, who’ve won more than anyone in the West. I’ll hedge a little: the Stars will take a game, but probably not much more than that.

(3) Los Angeles over (2) San Jose in seven

There’s an ad on American TV where two people meet in a bar through some sports dating app and each is a fan of the above teams. In real life, I can’t imagine anyone resorting to online dating really gives a shit about who the other cheers for (I’d be happy they actually like hockey, myself) but maybe I’m a weirdo. After all, I didn’t know this was even a rivalry, really. And it’s a curious one: the Sharks have a better overall record, but the Kings have played them hard this season. In five meetings, the Sharks won just once in regulation, a 2-1 win in early April (they also won a shootout in November). And the one game where the Sharks outshot LA was a 1-0 Kings win. Confusing, eh? Last year, the series went seven games, the final two decided by a goal apiece. I’m willing to bet something similar happens this year and again, I like the Kings.

What went wrong – NHL playoff picks and first round recaps (Eastern Conference)

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With the second round of the NHL playoffs kicking off tonight, this seems like a pretty good time to make my picks for the second round.

But before I do, I’m going to take minute or two and go over my first round picks and why I was right or wrong, at least for the Eastern Conference (I’ll have my Western recap and picks up in the next little while).

What I predicted: Washington over Montreal

What actually happened: Montreal won in seven

Well, if I can be so bold, this was a massive upset. Going by point differential, the second biggest upset in playoffs ever. It’s certainly the biggest upset since Edmonton beat the Red Wings in 2006.

So, what happened? I took the Capitals because I bought into their hype. I still would, if the series were being played again starting tomorrow. By almost every stretch I can think of, the Capitals were the better team:

  • The Capitals had 54 wins and 121 points on the season; Montreal had 39 wins and 88 points.
  • The Capitals scored 318 goals to Montreal’s 217. Their goal differential was 85, Montreal’s was -6.
  • Washington’s SRS – a measure of strength and quality of wins –  was 0.90, Montreal’s was -0.14.
  • The Capitals had three players with 30 goals or more and four with 70+ points. Montreal didn’t have a single player who scored 30 goals and nobody with more then 70 points.

It wasn’t really hard to say to think that the Capitals were the better team. So, again, what happened?

Goaltending happened, especially for Montreal.

In the regular season, the Habs GAA was 2.57 and their Save percentage was .919. In the first round – against one of the best scoring teams in the NHL, no less – their GAA was 2.78, but their save percentage jumped to .931.

Jaroslav Halak made nearly 220 saves in the first round, far more then the number of shots both goalies for the Caps faced. He was more then impressive, he was stunning.

There was no better example of this then game six, when the Habs needed a win on home ice to force a game seven. He turned away over 50 shots in a 4-1 victory, stunning the Capitals. In a must-win game, Alexander Ovechkin was stopped eight times, Alexander Semin seven times, Joe Corvo ten times.

And remember, home ice was not friendly to the Habs in the playoffs. Games three and four, both played in Montreal, were blowout losses, 5-1 and 6-3, respectively.

Of course, it wasn’t just Halak who won the series. Washington did their part, too. Both goals in game seven for Montreal came off of bad defensive breaks for the Capitals. The first, a Montreal power play goal, came on a Marc-Andre Bergeron one-timer right after the puck was passed through Washington’s defenders – in a space right through three players.

The second was even weirder, coming from a long Montreal dump into the Capitals end and took a weird bounce from two players and ended up right on Domonic Moore’s stick, who scored stick-side and made it a 2-0 game. Again, this came off a defensive lapse on Washington – with three people in their own end, nobody was keeping a body on Moore; when the puck landed on his stick, he had a clear path to the net. It wasn’t Washington floating, but was something they should have avoided.

Those two goals were a microcosm of what went wrong for the Caps, especially in the later games: they spent so much time putting pressure on the offensive end, they were easily caught unguarded on breaks to the net on when shorthanded. It was an ugly, frustrating way for it to end for the President Trophy winners and it was one I certainly didn’t see coming.

What I predicted: New Jersey over Philadelphia

What happened: Philly won in five games

Another upset, although not one quite as staggering. The Devils had won 48 games, had 101 points and a SRS of 0.31; the Flyers only got into the playoffs on the last day of the season (thanks to a NY loss) and had 41 wins, 88 points and a SRS of 0.08, making them decidedly average.

So what happened this time? The first instinct is to say something along the lines of, “Oh Marty Brodeur is too old” or that he played too many minutes. Maybe if I were a lazier writer, I’d say the Flyers wanted it more or some other old warhorse cliche.

But honestly? I think was a fairly evenly matched series.

In the regular season, the Devils lost four games to the Flyers, three of them by just a goal. They only won once, a 4-1 victory in December. Same for the Flyers – only once did they beat the Devils by two or more goals.

So really, for two teams so far removed in the standings, you couldn’t have asked for a closer regular season series. It was a trend that repeated itself in the postseason. Two games were decided by a goal, and another was pretty close – two late goals by the Devils, including an empty netter, shoved it in their favor.

Still, in the final two games, the Devils were stymied by the Flyers and only scored once, losing 4-1 and 3-0. For a team that eight times in the first three games, it represents at least a dropoff and at worse, a major collapse. How much of this actually lies with their goaltending?

Well, it certainly played a big role: Brodeur’s GAA exploded from 2.24 in the regular season to 3.01 in the first round. His save percentage fell from .916 to .881. In both cases, they’re the worst in his career as a starting goaltender. But if Brodeur played such a role in the collapse, why did backup Yann Denis not play a single second in net?

I’d argue it was the Devils scoring that played as big a role in the collapse.

While the Devils were not a high-scoring team – with just 222 goals scored this season, they’re below the league average – in the last two games, they had a hell of a time scoring.

In the regular season, Zach Parise scored 38 goals for the Devils. Travis Zajac scored 25 in 82 games. Combined, they scored just two goals in the first round. Indeed, the only Devil who scored with regularity was Ilya Kovalchuk, who had been brought on board in February. In five games, he scored two goals – one of only two Devils to score more then once. Only six players for New Jersey had two or more points.

For contrast, the Flyers had six players with two or more goals.

Credit has to be given to Flyers goalie Brian Boucher. One of the three goalies that got regular starts with the Flyers, he shined in the postseason. His GAA went from 2.76 to 1.59 in the first round; his save percentage went from .899 to .940. He even posted a shutout in the first round, something he only did once in the regular season. I certainly didn’t see him playing this well.

What I said: Boston over Buffalo

What happened: Boston won in six games

Here’s one I got right. At the start of the playoffs, I thought the Bruins were an underrated team and I didn’t like Buffalo a whole lot. Sure the Sabres had won their division, but head to head with Boston?

They had won four of their six meetings, one in overtime and another in a shootout. In a vaccum, that makes them the better team.

What I didn’t see was just how intense their matches would be. The Bruins racked up over 100 penalty minutes, with Chara alone getting 25. The Sabres had 112, with winger Patrick Kaleta getting 22. For contrast, the Devils had 88 penalty minutes, the Sharks 44. This was a rough series.

Plus, it was a close one, too: all but one of the games were close affairs and one – game four – went into a second overtime. That was a pretty good game.

For one thing, goaltending for both sides – Ryan Miller for Buffalo, Tuukka Rask for the Bruins – stayed about the same in the series.

Scoring was weird, too. Boston had their scoring more spread around – six players had four or more points, to Buffalo’s two – but the Sabres had the only blowout win in the series, a 4-1 victory in game five.

Thusly, back to game four, the second OT. I think it was that too many men penalty, the one where the Bruins scored on the ensuing power play, that really tipped this series. Before it, it was anybody’s series; Boston led 2-1, but all three games were close. The next game was a big win for the Sabres, but they lost another close one in game six. This is where a cliche comes in handy since I’m not sure why Boston won without resorting to one like “they wanted it more.” Three of their wins were by a goal; the one where they won by two was punctuated by an empty net goal.

The one thing I’ll take away from this series is that they could pull out big wins when they had to, just like the Canadiens did against Washington.

What I said: Pittsburgh over Ottawa

What happened: Pittsburgh won in six

My prediction here may have been a bit biased, since I can’t stand the Senators and I kind of have a soft spot for Crosby. But I also liked the offensive presence of

Still, it was another good, close series. Two went to overtime, including a three-OT game, and a couple other that were close.

But it was the one that wasn’t close that defined the series for me. Game four, a 7-4 win for the Penguins on the road. In a wild second period, there were eight goals scored. After 40 minutes, it was a 6-3 lead for the Penguins and I felt they were clearly in control of the series. Why?

Be exploding like that in a must-win road game, they showed that they can be maybe the best pure scoring team in the Eastern Conference. It was an outburst of offense that no other team, including two teams that finished higher then them in the standings, were able to accomplish. The Penguins may not be the best defensive team in the playoffs, but they can sure score like nobody else.

And after winning game four, the Penguins took a big 3-1 series lead. Ottawa had to fight tooth and nail to win game five. In game six, they were playing with an amazing amount of will – they were hitting hard and often, throwing themselves into hard checks along the boards. They wanted that win and were pushing themselves as hard as any team I’ve seen. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t have it in them; a game seven between the two teams would have been electric.

 Anyway, that’s enough recap. Here’s my Eastern Conference picks:

– I like the Bruins over the Flyers. The Bruins have solid goaltending in Rask and while their season series is 2-2, the Bruins have won the last two meetings. It’ll be a rough, series, though.

– I like Pittsburgh over Montreal, but with reservations. As shown against the Capitals, the Canadiens are on a roll and can shut down high scoring teams. But the Penguins have won three of the four games between the two this season. Given that, and how the Penguins have had a few days to rest after their series, I like them.

Five hockey pitches for 30 for 30 + NFL Week 13 picks

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ESPN’s 30 for 30 series is fascinating, unique and surprisingly good.

They’re also heavy on the big sports – except hockey.

Basketball is especially represented: there are docs on Reggie Miller, Len Bias, Allen Iverson and Hank Gathers. So is football, with docs touching the USFL, the Raiders in Los Angeles and Miami’s powerhouse Hurricanes in the 80s. Baseball is also in the mix: Jordan’s foray with the White Sox, Steve Bartman and the new Yankee Stadium.

Hockey’s lone entry: one about the cultural impact of the 1988 Wayne Gretzky trade.

Not to bash ESPN – I do understand that hockey is still a niche sport in the eyes of The Worldwide Leader – but it does feel a little lacking, especially given how other, far less popular sports (women’s tennis, for instance).

But rather then write some lengthy diatribe about how ESPN has screwed the NHL – a topic beaten to death – how’s this: five angles that ESPN could use to fill any remaining slot in it’s 30 for 30 series. Read the rest of this entry »

Habs documentary leaves much to be desired

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I wonder why it is that the CBC’s new documentary on the Habs seems to have almost as much music video footage as it does game footage?

Why does it gloss over the downfall of the Habs over the last 20 years; when they have been to just two Stanley Cup finals and gone through their longest Cup drought ever.

And why does it seem, at times, like a plea for anglos and quebecois to get along?

Well, it’s honestly because this is less a telling of what happened and why as it is a retelling of memories. Memories of Skrudland scoring nine seconds into overtime in 1986; of Dryden’s outstretched leg in 1970; of a draw in 1975; of Roy winking in 1993.

Montreal is home of the Canadiens and, for a time, the most celebrated arena in hockey, the Montreal Forum. The Canadiens are maybe the most successful team in all of professional sports; maybe only the New York Yankees or Boston Celtics come close to rivaling their streak of success.

And it’s a pretty good cultural town, too. More then a few good bands have come from the city, many of which seem to be prominently featured in this documentary. It seems that for each player interviewed, there seems to be either an actor, a singer or somebody vaguely described as a performer.

Sam Roberts talks of his fandom; Viggo Mortenson explains that he wore a Canadiens shirt under his costume in Lord of the Rings; Guy Lafleur’s disco record makes a cameo appearance. Only the late Mordecai Richler is missing from this tapestry of the Montreal arts, for the obvious reason of his death.

But this isn’t an arts documentary, so where are the athletes? Host George Strombolopolis talks to Bob Gainey, Guy Lafleur, Guy Carboneau and Jean Beliveau. But Patrick Roy is conspicuously absent despite being a segment devoted to him; so are current Habs like Saku Koivu, who’s captaincy is briefly discussed.

There is some game footage, but it’s loosely defined. Bits and pieces are mixed together; only eagle-eyed fans are likely to tell cup runs apart. Still, there are the timeless clips: The Red Army playing in the Forum on the eve of 1976, Patrick Roy winking after a big save in the 1993 Finals, Jean Beliveau carrying the Stanley Cup off the ice in the last game he ever played.

On the whole, this was a fun program to watch, even for a devoted Leaf fan. But still, it seemed to lack focus; there was just so much on the cultural impact of the Canadiens, it seemed too much. There were light jokes about Montreal’s nightlife, there was a clips from assorted French-Canadian artists (Malajube’s Montreal -40 Celsius actually showed up twice) and precious little on key figures in Canadiens history: I barely heard the names Sam Pollock, Scotty Bowman and Danny Galavan.

For something as important as the hundredth anniversary of the Canadiens, this documentary was more then a little underwhelming.

Written by M.

January 25, 2009 at 5:22 am