Monday, April 20, 2009

Canadiens Must Not Allow Bruins To Paint Themselves Victims

The Boston Bruins are in the process of taking a large page from John Stevens' ultra-successful contra-Canadiens playoff strategy book:
Play on the feeling that the league may just favour the Canadiens

After all, how else did this team win so many Cups? How did they scout and recruit better than everyone else for 30 years? Why did French Canadian stars want to play for this team exclusively?

The current rendition of the story has the league and their henchmen (that'd be the refs) turning a blind eye to the despicable and dangerous play form the dirty dirty Canadiens (or Europeans, if you prefer the xenophobic take).

As a ploy from the opposition coach, it is top notch. In theory, at its best it can distract the refs and make them see every Canadiens tumble as a dive. In practice, it seems to have done just that so far.

After all, how do we come out of a game where the Canadiens were assessed 5 of the discretionary penalties (I classify high-sticking as non-discretionary) to the Bruins zero with the Boston coach ranting about how his team has been cheated and treated unfairly?

There is no doubt that Sergei Kostitsyn, Glen Metropolit, Alex Tanguay and Kovalev all hooked, but as was pointed out in the broadcast, many of the calls were recognising plays that had just happened 50 times over in the preceding minutes. Even if the Canadiens were guilty of two thirds of the offenses, their rate of penalization was still disproportional.

The rate of penalty calls was also out of balance in Game #1, where we were all a bit perplexed to see the 47th crosscheck of the game called mid-way through the third period of a pivotal tie hockey game. And Plekanec was certainly the only player called for stick touching opponent's hip.

What should the response be?

This is much tougher than it seems. The Canadiens cannot simply stop taking penalties. They cannot stop hooking or interfering either quite simply because the vast majority of that stuff is not called and so not doing it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

No, what I think they must do is meet the Bruins at their level. Feel a crosscheck in your back, go down. Player through the crease, flop out. Not quite getting around the player in the corner, go to the ice. If diving is a new standard of play, we should not be left behind. After all, the worst that happens when you dive is no call, or worse a coincidental minor?!?

It's not the high standard the ambassadors of the teams discuss with youngsters in schools, but desperate times call for desperate measures, eh? Besides, teams of the 60s and 70s couldn't have won so much without a little flex in their interpretation of the rules.

In addition, I feel someone from the organisation needs to meet Claude Julien head on and address the media in the following way:
"We feel that Milan Lucic got the suspension he deserved, because intentional or not sticks to the head need to be removed from the game. We also feel that it is insulting to have to listen to the coach of a team that enjoyed all the powerplays of the previous game insinuate that we are being favoured."

All of this nonsense comes out of the very gray area the league has left itself in with regard to calling penalties int he playoffs. In some circles, there is an understanding (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) that the rules from the season are put away from now on. And on certain nights, that seems to be the case.

Obviously, the league needs to be more consistent. I see only two ways to do that: 1) call everything, or 2) call nothing. All this in between leaves no one satisfied and more than a few with a sour taste in their mouths.

Anyway, here's to a better spectacle this evening. Go Habs Go.

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