Hockey: My Hockey Adventures Part I: The Preseason

N.B. Large portions of this post are lifted directly from my journal. I meant to post this a long time ago, but never quite got around to typing it up.

 

Penny of the thousand stories used to tell me how she loved working at rinks – or simply being at rinks. She waxed poetic about the smell of the ice and the sound of skates. I didn’t disbelieve her, but it seemed a little crazy. I mean, I couldn’t very well disbelieve her when I can honestly say I love the way a stable full of horses smells. I just didn’t really get it.

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I have since spent quite a few summer Sunday evenings sitting in a rink, soaking in the cold and the smell of the ice at Steph’s ringette practices, listening to the sounds of blades, and sticks and, in this case, rings on the ice, and I understood a bit better.

IMG_20150926_154311Then this September, through a pretty incredible series of events, I had the chance to go see a preseason game with
Steph at the Bell Centre. Habs vs Hawks, sitting way up in the rafters. It was amazing.

Well, the game part of it kind of sucked, because the Habs played pretty terribly, but the rest of the experience, that part was amazing. As I said, we were way up in the sky, almost level with the press gallery, but while we were really far away from the ice, it gave us a great view of the plays as they unfolded (or didn’t unfold…as the case might be…).

Also, no amount of hearing how great the Bell Centre is quite prepares one for the sounds of “Fix You” booming over the dark arena, or for when the horn goes off and the crowd erupts. Thanks Zach Kassian. If he did nothing else, he at least ensured that I got to witness a Habs goal at my first game.

It was also pretty special to hear the crowd (thin as it was) come alive for Francis Bouillon when he came out to be acknowledged at the start of the game.

Unfortunately for me, there was no Eller, and no Pacioretty, no Subban, or Christian Thomas, but it was still great. There’ll be other opportunities to see them.

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The crowd came alive again when Gabriel Dumont dropped the gloves in defence of his teammate, Ryan Johnston, and again when Jeremy Gregoire dropped the gloves after a terrible hit on Dumont. It was pretty scary.

Other than that, it was a great way to finally understand why people were so grumpy about the way the Habs were playing at the time.

IMG_20150925_190211889_HDRIt’s one thing to hear how the Habs had been a perimeter team and know that they had trouble exiting the defensive zone, and another to actually see Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry struggle to get past what was essentially the Blackhawk’s AHL team. It was also pretty amazing to get to see Carey Price play, and all the others, even if they were mostly tiny numbers on the ice.

But even at that distance, Plekanec’s stride and Gallagher’s goalie adventures were easily identifiable, as were Emelin’s…defensive…um…adventures of a totally different kind. He’d been looking pretty good all game, not great, but  certainly not bad, and then…well…adventures. Frustrating when he essentially was (and is) keeping Jarred Tinordi or Mark Barberio out of a spot.

Nathan Beaulieu looked fantastic, singlehandedly bailing out several veterans, and Brett Lernout looked surprisingly solid for a baby defenceman (it’s also so strange that Beaulieu’s the one taking rookies under his wing when last year, that was basically him).

Regardless of the results, it was hockey at the Bell Centre, and I got to see it.

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Hockey: Some Exciting News!

I haven’t had internet for the past few days, and I’m terrible and didn’t queue a post in anticipation. However, I have some super exciting news!

I have been a huge fan and long time reader of the Montreal Canadiens’ fan website Habs Eyes on the Prize and it’s been a dream of mine to write for them for a similarly long period of time. Then they announced that they were looking for new columnists and such, and of course I had to apply. I didn’t expect to get a spot because there were so many applicants, and because there were bound to be so many really excellent writers applying, but I figured at least it couldn’t hurt.

And then this happened:

So I’m now a hockey writer for my favourite website that’s not actually the Canadiens website.

Because it’s me, my first article was on Lars Eller, as is tradition. I also wrote a season preview for Nathan Beaulieu.

I definitely sat there in shock when I first found out that I got a spot, and though I’ve now written two pieces for them, it still hasn’t completely sunk in.

Anyway, that’s what’s happened to me recently!

Hockey: In Defence of PA Parenteau

Originally posted on my Tumblr in response to a post arguing that Parenteau was terrible and not worth his contract.

uhhhhhhh for the amount he does and the salary he has he is not worth it. You do realize that if a player is being overpaid that isn’t a good thing…right?”

He missed a lot of games due to injuries, and stupid and inexplicable decisions by Therrien. He also suffered from utterly strange deployment, being frequently lower in the lineup than the likes of DSP and Weise (which meant he sometimes played with Eller, which makes it really hard to score, see any Eller piece ever written by myself or people at EOTP).
Saying Parenteau is over-paid based purely on his offensive output when he was under-utilized and strangely deployed is lazy, and quite frankly, wrong. He doesn’t need to go, he needs to be properly used. As the original poster said, the Habs were quantifiably better with him on the ice, and he should never have been a healthy scratch.
The Habs should definitely keep him.

Hockey: In Defence of Lars Eller

Posted originally on my Tumblr in October 2014.

The season is six games old and the Habs are a beautiful league leading 5-1. Pacioretty, Desharnais and Gallagher are buzzing, as are Galchenyuk, Plekanec and Parenteau. Malhotra is wowing the world with his skills as a phenomenal 4th liner, and Lars Eller is getting the Plekanec treatment, deployed largely in the defensive zone with meh wingers. People are already criticising his lack of offensive production and his seven goals against. I’ve heard that he needs to make more of an effort, that he looks terrible, and needs to step up his game. 
This is ridiculous. 
Despite being buried in the defensive zone, Eller’s Corsi For was 42% in all situations, he personally had two shots on goal, was ROBBED of a goal, and had an assist. He was also part of the play that lead to the second Habs goal. (Yes he was on the ice for two goals against, the first one for sure was not a result of any play Eller could have controlled. I don’t remember the second goal well enough to comment on it right now.)
Against Boston, Eller’s CF was 50% (in all situations), and he started 33% of his shifts in the offensive zone. While he did not get an assist, he was part of the play that netted Sekac’s first goal of the season.
Against the Flyers, in all situations his CF was 54% and he started a very cushy 75% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Only one of the game’s 3  goals were scored with him on the ice, and he was absolutely ROBBED of one goal, possibly even two.
Against Toronto, his zone starts were the team low at 22% in all situations, his CF was at 50%, and he was only on the ice for ONE of the three goals scored against the Habs. As I ranted to a friend of mine, Desharnais was sheltered like a delicate flower in a storm (78% of his shifts started in the offensive zone!) and Eller wasn’t — in fact he was thrown head first into it. 
Additionally, before this Avs/Habs game, Eller was an absolute MONSTER in face off wins (54% against Toronto, 71% against Washington, 64% against the Flyers, 42% the awful game against Tampa, and 58% against Boston.) Against the Avs he was a miserable 29%, but he only TOOK nine face offs as opposed to nearly twice that amount on the previous nights (and on those nights, I remember looking at the percentages a few times and thinking oh wow… Eller’s doing TERRIBLY, but then by the end of the game it had balanced out, so I’m fairly willing to bet if he’d taken more draws the numbers would have ended up looking much more like the numbers from previous games). 
In short, by and large, Eller’s been buried in the defensive zone with an invisible winger who is criminally incapable of hitting the net, or sometimes of being in the right place at all, and a brand new NHLer. Like large portions of last year, his line seems to be made up of the rejects from the top six (though six games in, Sekac and Eller are showing signs of chemistry). He’s been robbed of multiple goals, and had a few scored against when he was on the ice which were in no way his fault, and he trails only the big guns; Pacioretty, Gallagher, Plekanec, Subban and Parenteau in shots. Furthermore, his possession stats are amazing.
The Habs are using Eller like they used Plekanec in the past, and people are wondering why he’s not scoring. (Meanwhile, Plekanec, with this year’s equivalent of the EGG Line wingers is scoring quite nicely with fairly comfortable zone starts. Funny what happens when you give talented centres offensively talented wingers…) Of the TWENTY goals scored against the Habs in these six games, Eller was only on the ice for seven of them (and all but blameless in at least three). His +/- only looks so bad because his line hasn’t been scoring. 
Against the Flyers and against the Avs, it took players physically hauling Eller down in front of the net and taking penalties to stop him from scoring on amazing plays. On the second Subban goal, an Avs player felt the need to stick his arm around Eller and completely block him out from any chance at taking a pass. He has the potential to be lethal, and teams know it. 
But to me, the most telling sign of Eller’s value to the Habs, and their faith in him, is what happened in the last thirty seconds of the 3-2 Avs game. Roy had pulled his goalie for an extra attacker, and Therrien responded by icing his defensive guns to batten down the hatches, win the face offs and hold on to the lead. He deployed Eller, Malhotra and Prust. Malhotra, presumably to win the defensive zone face off, Eller to take the face off, should Malhotra get thrown out, and all three to be capable of holding off the Avalanche that was sure to follow. They did just that. 
The goals will come, and in the meantime, Lars Eller, like Plekanec before him, is performing a thankless and herculean task, and doing pretty damn well.