Monday, January 23, 2012

Two Days in January (21/22)

Two days: two games, 3 points in the standings, 16 goals, 4 fights, 109 penalty minutes, a natural hat trick, and a three game suspension. That about sums it up.

Sundays game vs. Philly was sloppy, but they won anyhow. I expected it to be bad, given the tough game and loss the day before. In fact, I claimed after the Rangers game that if the Bruins beat the Flyers the next day that would be a sign of an elite team.

The main event was Saturday's game vs. the Rangers. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the season series with them. In fact, I wish the Bruins could play the Rangers more. One of the things I don't like about the proposed re-alignment is that the Bruins would only play the Rangers twice per year.

The Rangers are very impressive--easily the best team the Bruins have faced all year. When you compare them to the Canucks, the Canucks don't come off looking very well. The Rangers are everything the Canucks are not: tough and straight ahead. It was a pleasure to lose to them.

I must say that I felt the Bruins were marginally the better team. Although Rask played very well, particularly in OT, both regulation goals against the Bruins were a bit on the soft side. The Rangers didn't have to work for their goals in the same way the Bruins did.

About the Ference suspension... in short I thought he deserved punishment but three games seems too harsh. The way the Bruins used their defensemen in this game was really rather astounding. I can't recall seeing them lead the rush deep into the offensive zone so often before. It wasn't an accident that both goals were scored by defensemen. But I believe that is what lead to the reckless hit. Ference is usually on the other side in that situation (being chased into the corner at high speed in the offensive zone), which is why he should be the first one to recognize that the hit was extremely reckless. After all, that could be him hitting the boards next time. But he also isn't often in this position. Ference was having probably his best game of the year and had scored an important goal. I think he went into the corner trying to play right to the edge and crossed the line. Nevertheless, McDonaugh wasn't even injured, which seems to matter to the league, and Ference is not a repeat offender. So three games seems like throwing the book at him. It would seem to me that one or two games would have made the leagues point just as well. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More on the Marchand Hit

After sleeping on it I have some more, perhaps less biased, observations about the Marchand hit and its aftermath.

It seems clear to me that the position of Marchand and the Bruins organization that he was simply defending himself is, well, indefensible. Marchand saw an opportunity to throw a hip check at Salo designed to toss him onto the ice in spectacular fashion. But he did so dangerously with what was clearly a clip.

Also, Claude Julien said that, "In my opinion, if guys start protecting themselves the way Marchand did, maybe guys will stop taking runs at other guys because that’s the consequences you end up paying for taking runs at guys, too.”

I hate to agree with Vignault, but this really was a dumb thing to say. It is clear to everyone who has looked carefully at the video that Salo didn't take a run at Marchand. Even if he had, it was still a dumb thing to say.

I must also say that I really like how Shanahan makes these videos explaining the league's decisions when a suspension is handed out. Here is the one about Marchand.


That said, I still think some things about this suspension stink. First off, I don't like the use of the term predatory. It implies the intent to injure. I do not believe that Marchand wanted to injure Salo. I think he wanted to make a spectacular hit, and being smaller than Salo, some sort of hip check was his best option. Others may disagree, but that is in fact my point. We cannot know what his intentions were. Therefore intentions have no place in these disciplinary actions. It follows that it is unfair for the league to label this as a predatory hit.

Second, I don't believe a suspension should depend on whether or not the other player was injured. I am not alone in this. Many others have spoken out about this absurd practice by the league. Punish the infraction, not the result. It is my belief that Marchand and Salo could replay this hit a hundred times and 95 times Salo either bounces off or lands harmlessly on the ice. The way the two players came together Salo landed on his head, which was unfortunate. This is one of the reasons clipping is dangerous and should be penalized. But to not suspend other players for the exact same move simply because nobody got hurt is inconsistent. The result is that the Marchand suspension can legitimately be seen by Bruins fans as too arbitrary.

Lastly, there were some regrettable things that were said in the media yesterday by people connected with the Bruins organization. I think they should take a long hard look at themselves and in the future not be baited into this sort of debate. If you hear yourself saying, "I usually don't like to comment on these things," then for goodness sake stop right there!

Consider what was said when Marchand was suspended last spring for an elbow to the head. Afterward Julien said, "You hope the player learns from it. You have to respect what the league is trying to do and not be hypocritical. We looked at the play with him a few times and made sure he saw what had happened there, so he could understand it. Hopefully he learns from it and is a little more careful in regards to those head hits. We don’t think there’s any need for it in the game, so we all have to be aware of that. If we’re going to clean it up as coaches, you’ve got to be supportive of it and you’ve got to help those players through that as well.”

That was clearly taking the high road. It was taking responsibility for what happened. Why didn't that happen this time? It doesn't excuse what the Bruins said, but I believe that had the Canucks organization simply said, "We don't comment on league discipline matters" things would have been very different. One of the more difficult things to do in life is to remain  above it all rather than stoop to the level of your opponent when they have no class. The Bruins failed to do this. The Canucks should have taken the high road and turned their attention to their next game versus the Panthers rather than create a media circus. Who knows, maybe they would have even beaten them. In short, I still think they are a bunch of whiners and their success in bringing the Bruins down to their level only makes it all the worse.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Great Teams Do Their Talking On the Ice

I recently praised the Vancouver Canucks in this space for playing a solid, tough game against the Bruins. That was on the ice. But recent comments made by various people associated with the Canucks organization have once again proved them to be a bunch of pathetic whiners.

The comments were made prior to the hearing regarding Marchand's hit on Salo in an apparent attempt to influence the results. This, when they won't even be playing the Bruins again this season. So why care so much?

Perhaps the worst comment was made by their coach, Vigneault, who had this to say: "Marchand – and this is just my feeling – but some day he’s going to get it. Some day, someone’s going to say ‘enough is enough’ and they’re going to hurt the kid because he plays to hurt players. And if the league doesn’t care, somebody else will.”

I have watched every game Marchand has ever played in the NHL save one or two. How many games has Vigneault seen him play in? A dozen? How is it that I missed seeing Marchand trying to hurt players? For that matter, how is it that the league has failed to punish him for all these attempts he has made to hurt players in the past? Not only is this nothing more than sad, sour grapes, but it is the worst kind. Vigneault sounds like my 13 year old when he's trying to get his 11 year old brother in trouble. What a class act.

The thing about whiners is that they think the world hasn't given them everything they think they deserve. They make excuses for their failures rather than take responsibility for them. They think the blame always lies with everyone but themselves. They think its Ok to break a window or burn a car just because they didn't get what they wanted. They think... like losers.

And they are.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Finally, a Worthy Opponent

A lot has already been written about the Bruins vs. Canucks and everyone seems to have a different perspective. This is my spot to share my own, and from what I've been reading I'll probably tick more than a few fellow fans off with it. Oh well.

It was great to see the Bruins face a team they could measure themselves against. As everyone knows, since November 1st the Bruins have been not just beating, but utterly destroying, most opponents. The Bruins have scored six or more goals eleven times. And in the two previous games they outscored their opponents 15-1. The good times have been rolling for some time now, but it is only fun for so long to see games end after the first three minutes. Looking ahead to the games in the new year my attention was drawn to the ones  that might actually be close, and the Vancouver game was the first on the list. Sure, the Bruins did lose a couple since November began, but no offense to Dallas et al, this was because the Bruins didn't come to play.

So I got the challenge I wanted. Truth be told, the Vancouver Canucks were the first team the Bruins have played this season that I felt was good enough to truly make the game interesting. The result was determined as much by the officiating as anything else, so I look on it as a sort of tie, or better: the first game in a long series. Vancouver did earn the first win, I can't take that away from them, but the Bruins would hardly be counted out if this was the first of a seven game series. Before Vancouver fans get too excited, they should consider that playing most the game without Looch and losing Marchand late, who was playing very well, was like tying one hand behind their back. That represents the loss of chemistry on two of the Bruins best lines.

My view is that the Bruins are a better team this year than they were last year. But here's the part that's going to ire my fellow fans: I think it's pretty clear that Vancouver is better too. Or if not better, they are at least tougher. Speaking about the Canucks in this article, Dan Shaunessy claimed, "They are posers and floppers, arrogant and cowardly." Then he went on to describe all the fighting and rough play. This comment may make him popular among Bruins fans, but to be perfectly honest it doesn't accurately describe what I saw during the game. What I saw was a Canucks team eager to prove they were tough and, unlike a few other teams that have tried the same in the Garden, they handled themselves quite well. So cudos from me where they are due.

I'm not going to claim that the referees were biased, but it is clear they made a lot of mistakes. I would very much like someone to explain to me how three Canucks can jump on a pair of players who are fighting and that's not being the third man in. When I saw those white jerseys fly-in I thought I was having a flashback to the 70's! That sort of thing simply isn't allowed today, or so I thought. For the officials to send Lucic out of the game instead, something that the league has now admitted was a mistake, was simply confounding. I still don't get it. I know that the situation was difficult for the officials, but this seemed pretty basic.

All this was made much worse by the fact that I was forced to watch the Vancouver broadcast because the NHL network decided to show the game nationwide exclusively. This begs another question: why have I never once seen the NHL network pick up the NESN broadcast? Not once. Is this some sort of contractual thing? It sure doesn't seem fair to this distant Bruins fan. But I digress. The Vancouver coverage appeared at first glance to be professional, better than what I am forced to watch from some of the other markets. But they seemed oddly uninformed. They never told us what the full penalties were in the first period so I just had to wonder if anyone other than Lucic was ejected. And they didn't even get that right, claiming that he'd only been given a 10-minute misconduct. What really amazed me was when they returned for the second period and admitted that they still didn't know what the penalties were. It made me wonder why they didn't just have someone ask the official score keeper. Or for that matter use their phone to look it up on for heaven's sake! They also went on and on about a supposedly missed icing call that supposedly led to a Bruins goal. Even their between-periods analysts called them on this, rightly pointing out that the icing was in fact waved off and it was the Canucks turnover that actually led to the goal.

The same thing happened when Marchand was given the five-minute major. Nothing was said at the time about a misconduct. They only mentioned much later that the Bruins were "without Marchand." Their whole broadcast seemed like that: just two stuffy old guys jabbering about whatever came into their heads rather than having actual information to pass on to the viewers.

Anyhow, about the Marchand hit. My feeling is that although he clearly didn't intend to hurt anyone, his reaction was of questionable judgement. It was a borderline dangerous choice. I thought a 5 minute major was pretty much deserved. This was no different from charging or leaving your feet to make a hit. And it did, after all, lose the Bruins the game. But I don't believe the misconduct, much less a possible suspension, are warranted. If you watch the video, note the position of his leg. Marchand was in fact very lucky not to have suffered a severe injury himself. If he had been the one hurt, would they have penalized the other guy? I'm not one to claim the NHL is being wussified. I support the attempts to protect the players from concussions. But there is a point where you have to say that sometimes things just happen. I know some Canucks fans think Marchand is some sort of goon, but they are wrong. He doesn't have a history of reckless hits. Think of all those times that players have been dumped over the boards into the bench over the years. It's always highlight reel stuff. Isn't this pretty much the same thing? Are we going to start handing out penalties for dumping players over the boards too?