Authors Posts by tbird



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Original story onĀ

The NHL didn’t just dodge a bullet last night. It dodged an intercontinental ballistic missile with a thermonuclear warhead capable of blasting the league the rest of the way back to the Stone Age to which it apparently aspires.
The thickheadedness of the coincidental minor penalty call that negated Chicago’s tie-breaking goal late in the third period cannot be overstated. It embodied everything that’s wrong with NHL officiating in the playoffs, from the blatant inconsistency in the application of the rules to the ill-conceived obsession with equal opportunity penalty calls. Only in the NHL – and maybe on the pro wrestling circuit or in a corrupt Third World police state – can a guy get absolutely bushwhacked and be adjudged as guilty as the perpetrator.

The collective hot dog and coffee-scented sigh of relief from the NHL hierarchy after Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook’s overtime goal could have knocked a buzzard off a manure wagon – the same wagon that would have dumped its load on the league’s doorstep if Detroit had won the game in overtime. A Wings win would have embarrassed the NHL and its apologists into finally addressing the elephant in the room, but fate decreed that they can continue whistling through the graveyard, when they’re not either swallowing their whistles or blowing them at entirely inappropriate times.

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The NHL owed the Ottawa Senators one after suspending Eric Gryba as a public relations gesture, and the Sens collected in a big way last night. The difference was that upholding a suspect goal by Mika Zibanejad wasn’t a sop to political expediency and had infinitely greater consequences than an enforced two game absence for Ottawa’s sixth defenceman. If there wasn’t irrefutable evidence that Zibanejad kicked in the goal that triggered the Senators’ comeback, there was something awfully close to it – close enough that overruling the goal would have resulted in less of a controversy than was created by allowing it to stand. Had the goal been waved off and the Habs gone on to win, there might have been some grumbling from the Sens, but it wouldn’t have felt like the injustice it feels like for the Canadiens this morning.

The NHL was willing to apply a loose interpretation of the rules to suspend Eric Gryba for a clean bodycheck because it wants to project the image of a league serious about cracking down on the hits to the head, whether or not there’s intent to injure. Evidently, it’s less serious about the p.r. consequences of turning a blind eye to a suspect call that didn’t do anyone any physical harm, but cost the best team on the ice the game and probably the series.

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michel therrien habs canadiens head coach montreal

If the “blame P.K.” Twitter hashtag isn’t a distant memory, it should be based on the way Canadiens fans closed ranks around P.K. Subban following Tuesday’s loss to Buffalo at the Bell Center.

Almost to a man(and woman), TSN 690 listeners called Michel Therrien to heel after the coach publicly criticized Subban for taking a high-sticking penalty that set the stage for the Sabres game-winning power play goal in overtime. How, you wondered sarcastically, can Subban go from being a Norris Trophy candidate in one game to being a liability in the next? To answer a question with a question, does calling out Subban mean Therrien is no longer a Coach of the Year frontrunner? Of course it doesn’t.

No one is more responsible than Michel Therrien for the Canadiens’ turnaround this season. It’s his system, his game plan and his insistence that all hands put personal ambition aside for the sake of the team. Tuesday’s overtime brain cramp aside – and make no mistake, it was a brain cramp – Subban is thriving under Therrien, and he’s not the only one. The coach’s tough love handling of Lars Eller, however questionable at the time, ultimately helped make Eller a significantly better player. Ryan White has been a model of discipline since being benched for losing his composure early in the season. The decision to start Peter Budaj in Boston when Carey Price was struggling was equal parts stroke of genius and common sense in what was the Canadiens biggest statement win of the season.
When you talk about how it’s petty to nitpick when the Canadiens are flying high, that applies to Therrien as well. Calling out his star defenceman for taking a stupid penalty at the worst possible time is all in a day’s work.

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If a campaign for bigger nets emerges from this week’s NHL general managers meeting in Toronto, expect the Canadiens to lead the charge.

The Habs were a hunting accident waiting to happen last night at the Bell Center, where they posed a danger to everyone except their actual prey. Fortunately, there were no friendly fire casualties, but the fact is with their almost comical lack of shooting accuracy, the Canadiens would have had a difficult time beating Gigi Buffon in a soccer net, never mind Jhonas Enroth in regulation NHL dimensions. By the time they found the range against Enroth with a pair of third period goals to erase the dreaded 2-0 lead, the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight had squandered enough opportunities that they should be grateful to have escaped with one point to start a week in which five out of six points was a reasonable expectation against inferior opponents.

Aside from not being able to hit the broad side of a barn with a railway gun, the Canadiens were largely stymied by the unorthodox Enroth, who brings to the stylistics of goaltending what Kraft Dinner brings to haute cuisine: nothing fancy, but surprisingly effective.

So what did we learn last night? Three things: 1. Go for the knockout early against a palooka, because the longer you let them hang around, the more likely they are to hurt you, 2. The odds of scoring on a ricochet off the glass eight feet wide and three feet above the net are negligible. Leave the trick shots to Annie Oakley and put the puck on the net., and 3. Pick your spots and don’t put yourself in a position to take a costly penalty in overtime. P.K. Subban is playing terrific hockey, but that doesn’t excuse an ill-timed, ill-advised and reckless play at a decisive juncture in the game.

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I’m neither a goalie nor a goaltending coach, which makes me as qualified as just about everyone else who’s weighed in on Carey Price’s woes, so here’s what I’ve got:

Every player and every team have their ups and downs over the course of a season, whether it’s a full six month grind or an abbreviated 48 game schedule, but Price is threatening to go beyond the typical garden variety slump, if he hasn’t already. Five or more goals in three of his last ten starts is not the stuff of Jacques Plante as much as it resembles the ill-fated exploits of Red Light Racicot. To the naked and untrained eye that can only go by what it’s seen in 40-plus years of watching goaltenders from Gump Worsley to Rick Wamsley to Steve Weeks, a big part of Price’s problem is that he’s on his knees as much as he’s on his feet, and it’s probably not a coincidence that just about every banana he gives up is in the upper half of the net. His body language also suggests there’s a crisis of confidence, which isn’t surprising for a guy who’s been lit up like Place Jacques Cartier at Christmas time in back-to-back starts and has a history of inconsistency.

It would be less disconcerting if Price had something on his resume (besides his contract) that defines him as elite, but he hasn’t had so much as a nomination for the Vezina Trophy, which is the most tangible measuring stick for elite goaltenders. None of what ails Price is insurmountable, but it’s disappointing and borderline discouraging that six years in, he’s still trying to sort himself out.