Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Habs an easy pick vs Lightning

   In the mug's game of Stanley Cup playoff predictions, it doesn't get much easier for the mugs than the Canadiens' opening round series with Tampa Bay. 
   The injury to Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop makes Montreal the clear favourite. Bishop's Canadiens counterpart and Vezina Trophy co-frontrunner, Carey Price, is coming off a breakthrough season that included career-bests in goals against average and save percentage and an Olympic gold medal. Never mind the Vezina - Price a frontrunner for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, and anyone who thinks his suspect post-season history is cause for concern hasn't been paying attention. The way Price has embraced pressure situations this season, it wouldn't be surprising if he actually lifts his game to another level in the playoffs. 
   With Tampa pinning its goaltending hopes on journeyman backup Anders Lindback and/or 21 year old rookie Kristers Gudlevskis, the Canadiens have a decisive advantage at the most important position on the ice. Everything else being equal - and there's not a lot else that separates the Canadiens and the Lightning - the smart money says the Habs take the series in fairly short order. 
   Montreal in five. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hats off to tradition

                                        That's not a baseball hat....

                                         THIS is a baseball hat.

     By definition, a uniform is the distinctive and identical clothing worn by members of the same organization. In team sports, there are common and acceptable minor variations to uniforms.  Some football players like their sleeves cut off at the shoulder, others prefer longer sleeves.  Major League Baseball gives players the option of wearing their socks inside or outside their pants.  The NHL became the biggest stickler for the in-game dress code when it began enforcing the rule forbidding players from tucking their jersey into their pants a la Wayne Gretzky and Alexander Ovechkin.
     None of the aforementioned breaches of uniformity strikes me as offensive, but one that does is the oversized, flat-billed, noticeably askew baseball cap.  Rightly or wrongly, it's a look associated with hip hop culture, and rightly or wrongly, hip hop culture is associated with street gang violence.  I'm not saying every major league baseball player who wears a flat-billed sideways cap is gang-affiliated.  My blond-haired whitebread West Island teenaged sons have adopted the look, and that I'm aware of, they're not involved in running gun battles on the mean streets of Beaconsfield.
     Besides the obvious sociological connotations, there's the more fundamental issue of professionalism.  At the major league level, you should look like a ballplayer.  To my mind that means hat straight and bill curled, and if you insist on being a little bit different, stain that bad boy with some infield dirt and tobacco juice.  And while you're at it, take the stickers off the underside of the brim.  It's your hat now.  Wear it like you own it.  And don't make me come over there.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Whole lotta separated at birth (and other Monday musings)

As playoff wild cards go, it doesn't get much wilder than Kristers Gudlevskis.  The 21 year old Latvian, who famously stopped 55 of 57 shots in a memorable performance against Team Canada at the Olympics, turned aside 36 to beat Columbus 3-2 in his first NHL start for Tampa Bay Friday, and could be a compelling choice as a playoff starter against the Canadiens in the absence of the injured Ben Bishop.  At the very least, Gudlevskis gives the Lightning an interesting option with proven big game chops in the event that journeyman backup Anders Lindback falters. 

Every time CBS showed Robert Plant look-alike Miguel Angel Jiminez at the Masters, I'd hum Whole Lotta Love to myself until the next time they showed Jiminez and another Led Zeppelin song started running through my head.  Jiminez took me through the entire Zeppelin discography with a six under par 66 Saturday, but his 71 yesterday barely got me through side 1 of Houses of the Holy.

Unless he's discovered a youth elixir and undergone a spiritual transformation, the Alouettes' flirtation with Chad Ochocinco is tantamount to a publicity stunt.  Ochocinco is on the far side of 36, hasn't played professionally in three years and his character flaws are well-documented.  As a former All Pro and marginal reality TV star, Ochocinco might sell a few tickets, but he's no longer a football asset. 

Formula One fans are in for shock and disappointment at this year's Canadian Grand Prix.  The switch from V8 to V6 turbo-charged engines has radically changed one of the most important and appealing components of the sport: the sound.  The longstanding signature scream of the F1 cars now sounds more like your grandmother put a turbo-charger on her sewing machine.  Still impressive, but nobody goes to a Black Sabbath concert to hear an acoustic set.  F1 needs to find a way to turn it back up to 11.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

PK vs. the Coach

     There's been a shift in the public perception of the relationship between Canadiens coach Michel Therrien and star defenceman PK Subban - not a seismic shift, but enough movement that it's noteworthy. 
     The benching of Subban for all but 37 seconds of the first period in Ottawa two games ago was greeted by the usual knee jerk incredulity on Twitter, with fans and media alike clamoring for Therrien's head on a stick.  But after Subban delivered another lacklustre effort Saturday against Detroit, sober second thought took root, and people not blinded by the residual gleam of last year's Norris Trophy started giving current events priority over marginally recent history.  Subban hasn't been the same player this season, and at some point, he has to be held accountable. If Therrien is coming down harder on Subban than he is on other players, it's because more is expected of Subban.  Blaming coaching or defence partners doesn't wash with a player who has the natural gifts to adapt and excel even in the most extraordinary circumstances, and there's nothing extraordinary about what Therrien is asking of any of his players. 
     Subban's talent is beyond dispute.  What's being tested now is his professionalism, and how he responds to what the coach demands of him in the playoffs will speak volumes about his character development.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

That's one way of getting Murray out of the lineup

     It's a foregone conclusion that Montreal defenceman Douglas Murray will be suspended for elbowing Tampa Bay's Mike Kostka in the head last night, and the running gag among Canadiens fans is the more games, the better. 
     Murray's graceless and laborious style makes him an easy target for criticism.  Like a good offensive lineman, nobody notices him when he's at his best.  At his worst, he's a spectacular train wreck.  Murray must be doing something right, because he's been in the NHL for nine years, has taken a regular shift wherever and whenever he's played, and is a significant contributor to a Canadiens penalty killing unit that ranks third in the league.  He's never been suspended and probably faces a maximum of three or four games for last night's incident, which was more circumstantial than it was deliberate and which Murray probably regrets more than anyone. 
     If you think the Canadiens are better off without Murray, be careful what you wish for.  He might not be poetry in motion, but properly utilized, his experience, size and defensive awareness make him more of an asset than he is a liability. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Appropriately bittersweet

     The tireless efforts of a dedicated band of volunteers come together this weekend when major league baseball returns to Montreal, however fleetingly.
     The 1994 Expos will be honoured at a gala dinner celebrating a team whose most ardent supporters are convinced were headed to the World Series before the season was infamously derailed by a labor dispute.  Major League Baseball is throwing the die-hards a bone in the form of a two game exhibition series at the Big O between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets, which so far has generated ticket sales in excess of 80,000 - equivalent to the combined turnout for a 10 game homestand in the Expos' dying days.
     While this weekend's events represent the most ambitious and conspicuous chapter in a grassroots campaign to bring baseball back to Montreal, even the wildest dreamers are doing their best to stay rooted in reality.  There are no current MLB expansion or relocation scenarios, and even if there were, Montreal hasn't found the elusive angel investor to cough up the billion or so dollars required to finance a team and a new stadium (and a billion might be a conservative estimate).
     Anyone who expects this weekend to pave the way for baseball's rebirth in Montreal is setting themselves up for disappointment.  Take it at face value and enjoy it for what it is, and the weekend will at the very worst be bittersweet, which in the context of franchise history would be entirely in keeping with the Expos fan experience.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lucic nut job

    Montreal hockey fans and media were predictably critical of the conduct and comments from the Bruins' Milan Lucic during and after the Canadiens 2-1 shootout win in Boston Monday.  In the interests of getting a balanced perspective in a heated rivalry, I read several Boston media accounts of Lucic's latest go-around with Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin. 
    While the notoriously partisan Bruins media would only go as far as to say it appeared that Lucic speared Emelin in the midsection behind the play in the third period, they reported the incident and Emelin's earlier textbook hip check that so enraged the Bruins without comment or opinion.  They were similarly fact-bound in their reporting of Lucic's postgame tirade in which he called Emelin a chicken for not fighting.  But really, what could they say?  Lucic's puerile reaction to a legal bodycheck and lame denial of the stickwork charge despite clear video evidence to the contrary smacked of a pouting schoolboy's wounded pride. 
    I didn't read, watch or listen to every Boston-based account, but the ones I saw reflected a consensus that there's no credibility in defending the indefensible - even when you're catering to an audience that's more than willing to live the lie.