So I was at Friday's ghastly, ominous, craptacular excuse for a sophomore season debut against Colorado at the Pepsi Center. I was pretty close to everything: The good, the bad and the FUGLY. Now, the dust has cleared. The black eyes, the welts and the insulted egos have almost healed since everything went down but obviously, it remains to be seen whether Roman Josi's concussion fog is anywhere close to clearing up. For better or for worse, here's my take on what happened.
First off: I should have known things would go south (sorry) because of the bad omen that greeted me at the Pepsi Center doors in the form of TSA/airport x-ray scanners. Just beyond awful. Not 24 hours prior I had gone through this at the airport, only to be punked once again at the Pepsi Center to do something fun. Yeah, for my protection blah blah blah, but still. Weird, awful, jarring, and off-putting long before the puck even dropped. A bad freaking scene people. I usually enjoy seeing events at the Pepsi Center so to say this development was disconcerting would be an understatement. I just wasn't prepared for it...
But when I got to my seat, I had reason to be hopeful things would get better! Why? Because this:
What is this, exactly? Well, it's Coach Trotz chatting well before the game with Peter McNab, who does Avalanche color for Altitude TV. These two laughed and yammered on for what seemed like forever. This seemed like a good omen sage burning that cancelled out the initial weirdness at the doors and made me forget about the guy ahead of me who got his switchblade confiscated. The conviviality between these two codgers was nothing short of infectious and uplifting. I dug into my gummy candy corn and was newly excited about the game. Another person who seemed excited about the game was none other than Matt Duchene, seated by himself on the Avs bench, wearing a backwards baseball cap and a t-shirt, seemingly engrossed in his telephone but not really because at the first opportunity he jumped up and ran over past McNab to shake Trotz's hand.
Think and say whatever you like about Matt Duchene, but he's a very intelligent player who knows the game and knows exactly what he needs to do to advance his career as a hockey player. He also knows precisely what he needs to do to distract elite players from getting him off his game. But more on that later...
The ushers were cool. Several Preds fans were making their way to their seats in and around my section. What a sweet coinkydink. Warm ups kicked in. The usual deplorable, autotuned robotshite soundtrack happened, but it was all negated by this:
I felt good about the game. I was excited. This was going to be good! The return of regular, full-season hockey! The first period was creepily uneventful - in fact, it oddly felt like a playoff game in that the officials seemed to have put away their whistles. No penalties whatsoever. Then, ALL S**T BROKE LOOSE. It was almost as if everybody made up for lost time.
It should not be necessary nor do I want for this to degenerate into a factoid about Steve Downie. But I don't think it can be underestimated that 1) HE WAS DRAFTED BY THE FLYERS (enough said); and 2) he has been one of the league's consummate instigators ever since, regardless of where he plays. I took it upon myself to (politely) remind several Avs fans of this as they were voicing their outrage over the fact that more Preds were not penalized at once during the second period after the choking/roughing/tagteaming incidents, and again in the third after Varlamov's net was crashed. I even (not so boldly and correctly) predicted that after one of his numerous penalties, the Preds would score because often when he draws a dirty penalty he can't help himself and he ends up getting too excited about it, subsequently incurs a penalty himself and the other team then scores. So he ends up winning/losing at the same time. It's no secret that he's basically looking for cheap reasons to retaliate and stir up trouble at every opportunity. It can be argued that a coach who exploits such a player with such tendencies also deserves to be scrutinized and questioned. But it wouldn't be the first time Patrick Roy would be questioned for his coaching tactics and ethics. Nowadays, violence and vengeance are often disguised as passion, vim and vigor. Right? C'est la vie, hein?
I can understand that Avalanche fans are excited to see their venue full once again, and they're happy to welcome back a legendary champion to the fold - somebody they equate with winning - who can hopefully lead their team to a successful season. But there's a difference between infusing your team with newfound confidence and enthusiasm and enabling outright thuggery and mayhem. Roy has established a reputation for having temper issues and not necessarily knowing when to control himself - on and off the ice - for decades, now. He grew up in my home town (the town that lost its hockey team to Denver) and there are all sorts of things I could say about him, but the most important thing is this: His team is simply following his lead, quite frankly. I hope they all figure out sooner than later that this is not the way to the Hall of Fame and this is certainly not how champions comport themselves in 2014. It's not classy, it's not dignified and most of all, it's not necessary. He knows better. Watching Downie whine to the officials on the jumbotron and being in a sea of Avs fans drunk on the Roy bug juice was beyond insufferable. Loving your team is one thing but when your hero is a thug and his weapon of choice is a hit man and you applaud? Please.
Having said this, it bears mentioning that the Predators certainly did not have their best night on Friday. Just generally, only two games into the regular season, there seemed to be a lot of confusion on the bench about who should be playing with whom (pushing guys on the ice and pulling jerseys off in a big hurry kind of thing). Their initial coping mechanism was retaliation - pathetic tit-for-tat - and then the downward spiral commenced whereby the officials tended to only notice the Predators' offenses and not Downie's instigations that led to same. So everybody looked foolish and frustrated, and progressively lost composure. Matt Duchene was understandably frustrated by Shea Weber, because he was predictably doing a fantastic job of preventing him from scoring. So of course below-the-belt and completely inappropriate words were exchanged that upset the defenseman but that's part of the game and it's still not an excuse to lash out and choke a b***h
even if and because cauliflower. More composure is expected of him as captain and as a player of his calibre in general; as such, I believe Weber's reaction was inappropriate and he inadvertently contributed to the sequence of mishaps that led to Josi's injury.
Remember this is also somebody who is purportedly supposed to be setting an example for rookies like Seth Jones - supposed to be showing him the ropes, showing him how to comport himself on and off the ice. Really? Wasting over 5 minutes in the box because somebody said something obnoxious and/or you wanted to show some jacka** who's boss isn't exactly raising the professional bar. It is imperative for the Predators to have an elite/exorbitantly expensive player like Weber on the ice at all times. He can't be wasting his team's time in the box like that. I realize this is Captain Obvious but clearly, players didn't get the memo because they kept retaliating and letting their lack of discipline get the better of them. This happened when the Preds still were in the game and had every opportunity to tie and subsequently win it. As a fan, it's excruciating to watch your team blow what precious chances they've got at the hands of juggalo wannabes with an elite goaltender. It was supposed to be different this time around, remember?
Where were the new guys? Injured, non-existent or in the box. No offense (pardon the pun), but... Yeah. Meanwhile, Pekka's standing on his head with his brand new, freshly-minted donut hips. I felt so badly for him because he played an incredible game.
In sum, this was clearly an atrocious beginning to what is going to be a brutal division rivalry going forward. The Preds are going to have to devise a methodology for dealing with Roy, first and foremost, and then they'll need to contend with how to keep Downie under their thumb until he's traded. Why? Because cauliflower.