Wednesday, April 15, 2009

They may not be teenagers (although they act more like pre-teens), and they *may* not be mutants (the jury is still out on a few of them)...but they most certainly are NINJA TURTLES! Ninjas, because they're famous for sneaking up on their opponent from behind to launch their attacks. Turtles because, well......that's just what they do when their foe turns around. I never was a fan as a kid, and I sure as hell am not a fan of "Turtle Power" now. But hey, I guess everyone has to do what they feel they need to do, right?

All turtle related nonsense aside, there has been one topic that amazingly has taken on a life of it's own on the web today. Being the playoffs and all, you would think the debate is centering around the Thomas vs Price match-up. Or the injury to Markov. Or maybe a debate about Chara's place in history if he carries his dominant regular season to new heights with an incredible playoff run. Well my friends, you'd be wrong if you guessed any of those topics was today's "burning issue".

No, the hot topic today has been none other than..... georges Laraque. I kid you not. The same Georges Laraque that has been deemed useless often enough this year to be a healthy scratch for the majority of Montreal's games this year, having played in only 33. Just as a starting point, to establish the player we're talking about, here are "Big Georges Laraque's" (henceforth to be called BGL because I'm lazy) stats on the season: 33GP 0G 2A 2PTS 61PIMS -6 +/- rating and a whopping 15 shots on net. ALL year....15 shots on goal. Yet this guy is the one every Habs fan seems to obsessed with. Curious, to say the least.

So, you may ask, why? Why is a completely irrelevant player being hyped so much north of the border? (to be fair, many a Bruins fan site has been over loaded with BGL talk today as well....with obvious differences of opinion than our Habs friends). Here's my theory, and I think it's obvious.....not exactly a shocking discovery on my part. Montreal was flat out embarrassed by the game in the Garden last week. Their fans saw their Ninja Turtles running around, being yappy and getting pushed around. Deep down, it emasculated them. It shamed them to their core. They of course will never admit that. They'll put on the brave front and say that their guys are every bit as "tough" as any Bruin. This, as we know, is laughable. Thing is, they know it too. The fact is, they also know they don't have the talent to match up with the Bruins. So what do you do? They can't out-skate the B's. They can't "out-tough" them either. So, their last resort is to suit up the hired goon and hope that he can somehow be the security blanket his little buddies need. The theory is, as long as BGL is dressed, those big meanie Bruins won't "run around" and hit their "star" players.

While that sure is a heck of a theory, I don't think it's much of a game plan. If Montreal is pinning their hopes on BGL, they have some serious issues on that team. BGL's only contribution is, he's a decent fighter. Not nearly the undisputed heavyweight champion he once was. But far from a man to be taken lightly when the gloves come off. But you see, the flaws in the plan are two-fold. One, it's the playoffs. Fighting is beyond rare in the post season. So automatically, BGL's biggest (nay, only) asset is stripped from him. Secondly, BGL touts himself as the self appointed keeper of "the code". And by his set of values, he has to cordially ask you for an appointment to fight him. You can be sure Julien has given, at the very least, Chara and Lucic strict orders to not waste their valuable time fighting that waste of a roster spot. Bingo, Claude has now completely neutered BGL.
Oh sure, you'll have plenty of Habs fans hooting and hollering, calling Lucic all kinds of names (like Lucie .....personally, I LOVE LUCIE), but the truth is, everyone knows just ignoring BGL is the right thing to do. Especially for a top player, like Looch or Chara. Why in God's name would Boston want to trade five minutes in the box with BGL for either of those two? You just don't do it. Besides, with BGL's style of fighting, it's very easy to end up with an injury. Not because of a hard punch, but because he is now hell-bent on wrestling guys to the boards and tackling them (after punching the back of their head a few times). Why risk a shoulder injury for him? Foolish.
OK, so I think most rational fans can agree that a Lucic or Chara trade for BGL isn't a wise move for Boston. But many Montreal fans, for some reason, feel that Thornton needs to fight him. Again, fighting isn't a priority in the playoffs. And Thornton, while a fourth liner, is a vastly superior player to BGL. Thornton can actually PLAY HOCKEY. A concept completely lost on BGL. Thornton has gone with BGL in the past. He has zero to "prove" to anyone.

About all you can say for BGL is that he isn't a Turtle. He will actually drop the gloves, unlike any of his teammates. But I'm still confused as to Gainey's line of thinking. Hang with me while I try to explain my confusion. Here's the deal; Montreal knows they can't beat Boston five on five. So they know they have to do everything they can to create power play opportunities. If you listen to most Habs fans (at least the vocal ones on the message boards etc), they'll tell you that they're banking on the Habs pulling all the garbage they did in the last game. Cheap shots. Extra whacks after the whistle. Running their mouths. Basically anything and everything they can think of to get a response from the Bruins. Then part two of that plan, obviously, is to turtle and/or hide behind the refs (while chirping more). I mean, hey, it worked last week right? The B's completely lost their cool and over reacted to many situations that could have been let go. Certainly the Lucic take-down of Komisarek crossed a line (despite it's enormous entertainment value). And yes, I suppose Thornton COULD have not gone after O'byrne.....but I would have been upset if he didn't. The Chara altercation with the cowering Komisarek was completely deserved. An elbow to the head after the whistle to a small skilled player ALWAYS deserves an "intervention" from the Captain. But here's the thing the Habs seemingly are forgetting. That game meant absolutely nothing to the Bruins. So, if you've spent the season, or longer, taking this crap from a team.....what better opportunity to "settle old scores"? Trust me, if it was anyone other than Komisarek, Looch wouldn't have blown a chip and gone after him.
So the fatal flaw to this "instigate then run" game plan is, the Bruins understand exactly what they're trying to do. These games matter, the last one didn't. They're smart enough to know that there is a time and place for everything. This clearly isn't the time for frontier justice (unless something incredibly egregious takes place). So Montreal can take their little shots all they want. The B's game plan will be to let them do so. If Boston stays smart, it's the Habs that will find themselves in the box. And if not, five on five is fine with Boston.

But here is where things get all convoluted for me (hey, I asked you to hang in there with me....I'm getting there, I swear).
The obvious reason to insert BGL in the lineup is to stop the Bruins from "running around" and "taking advantage" of the Habs. But......if you're TRYING to goad the Bruins into taking liberties on one hand, how can you try to DETER them from taking liberties with the other? I mean, seriously...which is it? Do you want the B's to act the way they did last week? Or, as Gainey is clearly indicating, do you want them to be "settled down" by the presence of BGL? Maybe it's me, but I don't think they can have it both ways. Seems to be a dysfunctional game plan in my opinion. The vast majority of Canadiens fans I've seen talking about BGL have insisted that he will be a great deterrent....let's assume (incorrectly) for a moment that that is true. So the Bruins look to the bench, where BGL is sure to be stapled for long stretches, and they decide "OK, it isn't worth 'gooning it up', let's all play nice and gentlemanly". How does a nice polite skating game help Montreal? Sure, the Habs top line can very dangerous in a wide open game. So can Boston's. And the B's second line. And their third. No, playing it straight doesn't help the Habs this year. For a change, it is their fans that realize that the only real shot they have, is to muddy up the game as much as possible. Use every dirty trick in the book, and hope you make the Bruins lose their composure.
BGL does nothing to help that strategy. As much as you, me and everyone else knows what his role is, rest assured, so do the officials. I have to believe, that if Gainey rolls this hammer head over the boards with the express intent of him "stirring the pot", the refs eyes will never leave him. Reputations do precede you in this league. That is why, in my opinion, if I were Montreal I would sit BGL. A one dimensional player that can't keep up with the pace of the NHL has no place in the playoffs. And if that player is known only as a fighter, well, I just don't get it.

So I know I'm rambling, and I'm sure I've made my point as clear as mud. But in a nutshell; you can't try to be the team instigating bullshit while simultaneously trying to make sure no BS starts. Yet this seems to be exactly the approach Gainey is taking. As Bruins fans, I think we can agree the biggest concern we'd have is seeing the Habs on the power play all night. But again, I think we all know Boston won't get sucked into the nonsense (while the game/series is in doubt anyway). If dressing BGL works the way Habs fans think it will, that just makes it easier for the B's to stay disciplined.
The last little thing about this "strategy" of dressing BGL that I don't get is.....the game is in Boston. Does Gainey honestly think that Julien will allow him to dictate who BGL plays against? He has last change. If say for example, Julien doesn't want a repeat of the circus in Montreal earlier this year. As soon as he sees BGL hop the boards to square off with Looch, he just changes lines. Now poor Georgey will actually have to play hockey. And we all know that isn't exactly his strong suit. Does Gainey honestly want to see BGL having to chase down actual skilled players all night (all night being a relative term. In BGL-speak, that's about five minutes of TOI)?
In fact, Julien may already be one step ahead of poor old Bob on this one. It's been reported that Blake Wheeler has been slotted in as a fourth line winger. Seems to me that Claude wants to spread out the scoring a bit, which is always a decent idea (plus, honestly Axe isn't a great fit on that line). Throw a lumbering player like BGL on the ice, and now whatever line the B's throw out there, they have more than enough speed and skill to make him completely useless. BGL doesn't skate nearly well enough to be a physical force in an up-tempo game. Spreading out the offense, while I'm sure not done specifically to take advantage of him, hurts BGL more than anyone on the Habs roster. No place for him to hide.

I don't know, maybe it's me. But I would think that on the eve of Game one, there has to be more for Montreal fans to hang their hat on than BGL. Pretty sad state of affairs when the guy everyone in Hab land has been RIPPING all season has suddenly emerged as their savior. Flawed logic reins supreme suddenly. And I for one couldn't be any happier.

Go B's-Kynch

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