Last night was the classic game where fans overreact and look for an individual to blame for a loss. The officials gave fans an easy scapegoat too, giving P.K. Subban a high sticking penalty in overtime that lead to Steve Ott's game winning goal after the Canadiens had climbed back into the game.
Never mind that Subban's stick never touched Mark Pysyk, and that his mostly missed check broke up a rush by the Sabres, or that his defense partner was in position to beat the other Sabre to the puck, or that both Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta were in position to cover for Subban if he'd missed the check completely and gone out of position, fans were dead said on the opinion that it was a horrible play.
This is the kind of thing that a lot of fans don't understand about Subban. There was constant caterwalling after the game that P.K. needs to simplify his game, "Make the safe play, it's overtime", along with "He should have kept his stick down, he allowed the ref to make that call".
I don't understand either line of thought, but we'll start with the second one. The assumption inherent in this kind of thinking is that P.K. Subban should alter his game so that even the hint of a possibility of a penalty should be of great concern to him because the person officiating the game is so completely incompetent that they can not be trusted to do their job with regularity. So we shift the call blame from the person who actually made the mistake, the official, and put it on the person who didn't, Subban, because you're desperate for a person to blame. See how monumentally stupid this is?
On to the other point. The safe play is what Subban does quite often, but in this instance he made the judgement call that the lower percentage play could pay off. And make no mistake, a big open ice hit is always the lower percentage play. To call this a bad play, or a poor choice, ignores the fact that it was a successful play. Subban accomplished exactly what he set out to do, even if he didn't fully connect with Pysyk. If the referee didn't blow an obvious non-call, the puck was headed down the ice the other way, most likely in Subban's possession, probably on a 2-on-1 with Gionta.
Subban made the low risk play because he's skilled enough to make that play and succeed. 5 or 6 times a game Andrei Markov makes a pinch that is an unnecessary risk, and sometimes he gets burned, but sometimes it results in a goal. That's why he keeps doing it. These are the players that are rare in hockey. I like Josh Gorges as much as the next person, but I don't want P.K. Subban to become Josh Gorges.
The average play that Subban makes is like much more high risk than the average one Gorges makes, yet he has the highest rate of success of any player on the team in the events he takes part in. This is precisely because he is so damn skilled. If you want Subban to stop making these kinds of plays, that's well within your rights as a hockey fan. But don't dare complain when he's no longer making big hits, when he's no longer an exciting hockey player.
How about the actual game?
The Canadiens came out asleep. They let the Sabres into a game that they never should have been in, and the worst line in the first period was the line that was scored on twice. Brendan Gallagher had energy from puck drop, but both David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty were lackadaisical on both goals against. Gallagher's inspiring drive got Pacioretty going in the second, but in what's been a familiar story of late, Desharnais was MIA.
After spotting the lowly Sabres a 2 goal lead, the Habs suffered from some accuracy problems in the second period. Enroth was beat on multiple shots, including 3 in a row on a great shift by Michael Ryder, Tomas Plekanec, and Brian Gionta, but every good chance seemed to go just wide.
After what seemed like ages stuck at 2-1, Alex Galchenyuk won a battle along the boards and found Lars Eller behind the net. Eller reversed the puck to Galchenyuk on the half wall, and he sent it to Colby Armstrong in front of the net. Armstrong was left completely uncovered and dangled around Enroth to knot the game at 2, and score in his second straight game after a goalless streak of 40 games going back to last season.
The Canadiens were absurdly dominant against the Sabres last night, which you can see if you click on the possession numbers up the page a bit. No Canadiens player was negative on either Corsi or Fenwick, and only Ryan White wasn't positive on Fenwick, finishing even.
Let's take a minute and talk about how impressive the two AHL call ups have been. Michel Therrien moved things around for last night's game so that he could try Gabriel Dumont at center on the 4th line, and seeing as how White hasn't been brilliant there, it was a smart thing to try. Dumont's Fenwick possession was 61.2% at evens heading into the game, and managed a ridiculous 81.8% against the Sabres. Dumont has been excellent everywhere Therrien has tried him, and he may push Ryan White out of a job before long.
Jarred Tinordi has also impressed. He played fewer minutes than he did against New Jersey since the Canadiens were trying to produce offense, but several high hockey IQ plays and a 78.6% Fenwick show that he's far ahead of where we expected him to be at this point in his career.
Last week I speculated that Beaulieu might get a shot with the big club after Tinordi plays a few games, but he could be forcing them into a bit of a decision here. The Canadiens have 3 more games before they burn a year off of Tinordi's entry level contract.
Check out reaction from the winning side at Die by the Blade.