Montreal - October 2, 2013 - Sliding an Archie Shepp CD into the CD player at 1 AM (The Grateful Dead are on deck) in the hope of wiping out the image of George Parros lying unconscious, face down, with blood trickling out of his chin less than 43 minutes into his debut as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. But it ain't working. This might call for something harder.
- Lars Eller. Best player on the ice. So why did he see only 1:29 of it while Habs were on the (punchless) power play for nearly 7:00?
- Alex Galchenyuk. Picked up where he left off last spring vs Ottawa.
- Brendan Gallagher. I thought it was important for Gallagher to hit the back of the net early after several near-misses (or as George Carlin might say, "that's a near hit") during the exhibition season. You never really know about second year players and their confidence level. This trio looked to be in mid-season form.
- Carey Price. Tough to fault him for any of the goals, even the bleeder by Van Riemsdyk. It was a 5 on 3 with a proven goal scorer left alone at the side of the net who had time to pick his spot. It'll be interesting to see how many goals are scored - especially early in the season - on Price and other NHL goaltenders as they adjust to smaller pads. Accurate shooters now have more room to go 5-hole. Start counting.
- Brandon Prust - Parros - Travis Moen. The Habs 4th line was having a very good night, long before any gloves were dropped. They had an especially strong shift very late in the first period when they were up against the Leafs top trio of Bozak - Kessel - Van Riemsdyk and hemmed them in deep, forcing James Reimer into making a couple of big saves. Pugilistically speaking, Parros handled Orr while Moen stepped in for Prust against big Mark Fraser and surprised a lot of us by landing more punches.
- Rene Bourque. Way ahead of his line mates.
- Jarred Tinordi. Nearly 15 solid minutes, a couple of blocked shots and an easy fight win over Carter Ashton.
- Opening ceremony. Simple, elegant and moving. As always. Great to see The Flower smiling. I liked the passing of the torch from Lafleur to Daniel Briere. It was good theatre, even as Briere seemed slightly overwhelmed by it.
- Captain Brian Gionta handing off the torch - perhaps for the last time - to coach Michel Therrien. Which prompted Tony Marinaro to suggest that Therrien should use it to light a cigarette.
- "Oh Canada" performed by the fans with organist Diane Bibeau. Nothing against the fine anthem singers here but they should let the customers sing more often. Just not Tony.
- The Canadiens top two lines, save for Bourque. Tomas Plekanec and Gionta both looked out of sorts, especially after missing the net a couple of times. They totalled just three shots on goal between them. They each usually have that many after two periods. Maybe it's just rust. The David Desharnais - Briere - Max Pacioretty trio was a non - factor. Of more concern, perhaps, is the injury Pacioretty suffered after getting hit in the corner behind the Montreal net by Orr. Earlier in the game, Pacioretty was driven roughly into the boards by Dion Phaneuf. Clearly a target, Pacioretty gamely returned to play but could be seen grimacing on the bench. Perhaps his trip to the dressing room upset the chemistry of the line but they are going to have to be a lot better, especially on the power play.
- Andrei Markov. Flubbed a clean face off win by Desharnais on a Montreal power play with the scored tied 2-2, then was caught flat footed as Bozak blew by him to eventually beat Price on a breakaway. It was one of a game high four give aways by the Habs veteran defenseman.
- Michel Therrien. Here we go again. The Canadiens PK unit actually did a good job (6-7) but what exactly is the point of having the much older and offensive minded QB - Markov - out there in virtually every penalty kill, or for that matter, the smooth but slight Raphael Diaz on for nearly 5:00 of PK time while PK Subban gets a grand total of 44 seconds? I asked the coach over the summer why he was so hesitant to use Subban on what has been a mediocre PK unit without him, and Therrien's response was that it was "very demanding" to ask a young player (Norris Trophy winner) to play five on five, the power play and the penalty kill. But it's not too demanding to ask a 35 year old with a bum knee to do the same? At least the WTF chorus is getting louder. And I get that Therrien wants to see immediate results from the Desharnais line but you could tell early on that Eller was flying in his first real game back on Bell Centre ice since the Eric Gryba hit last spring. But he played 16:20 to Desharnais's 18:24. At least Therrien looks sharper.
- I had a bad feeling, as I expressed on the air, about the inevitable Parros - Orr scrap(s) we were going to see. I thought it was unfair to ask a guy who had missed the entire exhibition campaign to come out cold on his first shift and start throwing bombs without even getting a chance to skate. Thankfully, Parros and Orr ignored each other on their initial shift. But even as Parros eventually dropped Orr in their first bout, he landed awkwardly, over Or's prone body, while managing to brace himself by getting his hands on the ice before his head hit it. As you can see, he wasn't nearly as fortunate in fight number two.
I don't know if his inactivity had anything to do with what happened two and a half minutes into the third period. But I do know that a long time ago I learned to trust my instincts. I'm conflicted on the fighting issue. As long as the NHL allows it, and as long as Montreal's main opponents attempt to bully the Habs better (smaller) players, Marc Bergevin has little choice but to do what he did over the summer. As enforcers go, Parros is near the top of the list. He's been on a championship team. He's effective. He's beyond smart. And unlike the previous top cop employed by Montreal, Parros can actually move up and down his wing without requiring a push from a teammate. But the site of him lying on the ice out cold sent shockwaves through the NHL. Who could possibly like or enjoy it? How many more players will we see lying in a similar fashion, eyes rolled back, legs twitching uncontrollably, before the NHL is forced to act? Who becomes the NHL's Don Sanderson? Does anybody know for a fact that if fighting is removed from the game it will become safer?
I'd like to see that question at least partially answered by testing it out in the American Hockey League for a year. But I wouldn't count on it anytime soon. Fighting in the NHL is kind of like Canada's version of the gun lobby in the U.S. It's way too entrenched to be outlawed. And it doesn't matter how many well meaning, award winning members of the hockey media scream about the brutality of it all. The only people who have the power to actually change things are current and former PLAYERS. The active guys, even by secret ballot, have consistently shown no desire to get rid of fighting. So it's up the older guys.
The more high profile the better. Wouldn't it be something if someday soon two former players in the NHL head office - who totalled 264 career NHL fights between them - posted a video explaining the new anti - fighting rule in the NHL?