Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Watching Preseason Games

Not very long ago, the preseason was something to be followed through the newspaper. Unless we were in actual attendance, we never knew much more than the score and what Red Fisher or Pat Hickey told us.

Times have changed a bit now and the internet has patience a thing of the past. Where once we waited until opening night to see the new edition of the Habs play hockey, we now watch youtube clips of drills on Day 0 of camp. This year, RDS will carry four preseason games in prime time TV. I know RDS has been dying for some sports action that their viewership might actually have interest in, but four games seems a lot.

Anyway, the televised season of the Montreal Canadiens begins tonight, like it or not. I'll be watching, I'm sure you will be. But while we no longer have to stretch our patience until the first game, we can still exercise a little bit of patience in other ways.

So, before game 1 of the preseason, I want to offer some advice to the most rabid among you on how to enjoy a preseason game:

1. Ignore the score
Never mind how the game or the score reflects what you thought about the team before the game, these games don't count and so don't offer a realistic yardstick with which to measure your team. If the team isn't playing to win, their competitiveness is hard to read. So forget it. Ignore the score and look for other things.

2. Look for improvement
Remember playoff Pouliot, or Lapierre's regular season? He said he's changed his ways. Let's see it. Is Pouliot avoiding the float? It's not just Pouliot, every player has flaws and all have more or less gone on record about their summer focused on improving. It's the coaches too. Look for the old bad habits and whether they're disappearing. This will tell a lot about what's to come, more than any score tonight.

3. Observe combinations
Lines, partnerships, power-play units. These are all things that the coaches have decided they want to examine. Much of the intrigue of training camp comes from observing the next generation. This is where we see who the coaches think those guys are. Eller looks good, but can he really play the PP? Weber might be a call-up down the road, can I trust him with O'Byrne? etc.

4. Enjoy the youngsters
Even with all the coverage of the Habs, chances are these few games will be the only chance you get to see most of the youngsters this season. Unless you're a Bulldogs booster (and in Hamilton) good luck catching glimpses of Robert Mayer (4th in line to the throne), Andrew Conboy or Frederic St. Denis. I enjoy watching these games for this reason. It gives opportunity to see if what we've been fed by scouts and reports measures up.

5. Watch the other team
During the season and the playoffs, it's tunnel vision for the Habs. Every Habs goal is a great Canadiens play, every goal against is a breakdown. Although we know it, it can be hard to admit that everything we see in a game comes with enormous bias. A meaningless preseason game is the perfect opportunity to step back. Maybe Price is beaten by a beautiful Bruins build up, maybe Lapierre scores because Hunwick blew his coverage and nothing else. Take a chance to see things from the other side.

6. Pick a player
Look over the starting line-up and pick out a player or two. Watch a game like a scout and not a crazed fan obsessed by results alone. When else will you get the chance?

7. Tell us what you saw
Just as the score of preseason games is irrelevant, so are the scorers, the goalies who won and lost and just about everything else you can find in a boxscore. When we come to remember what Aaron Palushaj was like in camp, or how Dumont isn't getting promoted in January, it will be handy to have some record of what we saw as a collective. We'll give some thoughts, add to them. And, as always, tell us where we're wrong.

Enjoy the game and the start of of our 86-game commitment with RDS.

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