Game 42: Montreal 0 St. Louis 3 (Bell Centre)
MONTREAL, QC. — Hoopla. It’s our word of the day. It means sensational publicity — in some instances, it is publicity that completely obscures the issue at hand.
You may have heard that Jaroslav Halak was returning to Montreal. The game between the St. Louis Blues and the Montreal Canadiens was billed as a colossal Halak vs Price showdown. Who is really the better goaltender?
Well, if you have been following hockey, that debate has been closed for awhile. Price has become one of the elite goaltenders in the league that many of us knew he would be. Former Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey called him a thoroughbred.
Halak, on the other hand, has shown himself to be an average goalie who plays small, sets up deep in his crease and gives up a ton of rebounds. He has relied on the Blues defense who have allowed the fewest shots on goal this season and were the second best team in that category in 2010-11. Even with a solid team in front of him, Halak hasn’t proven that he can be consistent as a starting goaltender in the NHL with only 57 starts last season.
This season Halak has dropped in the depth chart losing the No. 1 position to Brian Elliot. Yes, the same Brian Elliot who struggled last season for Colorado and Ottawa posting a 3.34 goals against average and a .893 save percentage. If the Blues can make Elliot look good, and Halak is such a god, his stats should be in the stratosphere — of course, they aren’t.
But really, why are we bothering to review stats and facts when hoopla is just so much more fun?
Halak was always a mainstream media-darling so it is not a surprise that he was given a hero’s welcome. Remember, Price was the evil one who displaced Cristobal Huet, another media-darling? So Halak was the media-anointed anti-Price — and fan sentiment soon followed.
If you didn’t watch the game tonight, I’m sure that you’ve heard by now that Halak single-handedly slayed the Canadiens, that offensive powerhouse who rarely lose in venerable confines of the Bell Centre. Cough.
In reality, Paul Deutsch, the 51-year-old practise goalie briefly signed by the Minnesota Wild earlier this season could have posted a shutout for the Blues on Tuesday night. Against a strong St. Louis forecheck, fierce puck pursuit and effective backcheck, the Canadiens offense was anemic registering only 19 shots on goal. Halak was untested, unless you consider a weak attempt at a shorthanded breakaway by Tomas Plekanec who, with three goals in his last 22 games, hasn’t exactly been ripping the cover off the ball.
In short, the Blues played like a team who is fifth overall in the NHL. The Canadiens looked worse than the position they hold, 24th overall in the league.
St. Louis negated the speed of the Habs by pressuring them, making them rush their passes and disrupting their flow. The Blues made both P.K. Subban and Hal Gill look like pylons, and Canadiens forwards appeared confused about their defensive zone coverage assignments. The Habs are a damaged team, and were exposed by a very good, well-coached St. Louis squad.
Carey Price was the best goaltender on the ice, and the only reason that the Canadiens were in the game at all. The home-town NHL scorers were kind to the Habs only counting 21 of their turnovers. The power-play was brutal.
But in the the midst of all the doom and gloom, hoopla came to the rescue. Canadiens fans wanted to salute the man who took them to the third round of the playoffs in 2010. But since Kirk Muller wasn’t available, they cheered for Halak.
Still there was something missing, so a fellow named Erik Riley provided the jolt that was needed. Riley is one of the lads who allows you to swear on his hockey radio show. Well it’s actually internet radio, but the teens who call in think it’s cool and don’t seem to notice.
Riley “reported” that the Canadiens had swapped Chris Campoli for a fourth round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The announcement came with the usual “done deal” “trust me” “my source has never been wrong” assurances. The so-called done deal quickly spread via social media even being propelled by some mainstream folks.
Now Riley is not a bad guy — he caters to his audience. And the deal is plausible — the Canadiens are shopping Campoli, and the Lightning would be a reasonable landing spot. But the post-game silliness underscores the appetite among some Habs fans for hoopla.
In the movie “The American President” Michael J. Fox played Lewis Rothschild, a communications advisor and speech writer to the President of the United States. Rothschild told President Andrew Shepherd that “in the absence of genuine leadership, [the people] will listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”
In the absence of a team with a genuine shot at the Stanley Cup, and given an agenda-driven media, Canadiens fans are thirsty for the hoopla.
After the Campoli story was squashed, one of the rumour-mongers on Twitter candidly admitted that of all the trade deals he publicizes, “the completion rate is about 2%.”
With that kind of batting average, why does anyone follow you, I wondered?
So prepare yourself Habs fans. The NHL All-Star game is soon upon us, and we’re not too far away from the trade deadline on February 27, 2012. We have a Canadiens team that is quickly fading from the playoff race, and some in the fairy-tale business are starting to gear up to grab your attention.
Expect an onslaught of hoopla, and maybe even a little ballyhoo for good measure.
All Habs game stars
1. Carey Price
(no other Canadiens worthy of a star on this night)
Category: Game review