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Play Of The Day: Anthony Beauvillier, Le Homecoming King

The Islanders rookie’s Glorious Bell Centre Debut

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NHL: New York Islanders at Montreal Canadiens
Ehhh I wuz ehhhh so happy ehhh
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens have won nearly twice as many Stanley Cups (24) as any other team. Throw in the city’s other four teams from hockey’s early days (the Maroons, Shamrocks, Victorias and Wanderers), and Montreal accounts for almost one-third of all Stanley Cup titles. It is also responsible for one-quarter of all Hart (MVP), Vezina (best goalie) and Norris (best defenseman) trophy winners.

All this is to say there’s no question Montreal stands apart from every other NHL city. To illustrate this point, I’ve reduced 100 years of NHL history into one visual:

What we have here is something of a plot graph mixed with abstract art mixed with poop. It’s not drawn to scale, but it sums things up well enough. Particularly the Rangers logo I doctored to make the whole thing really pop.

Put in simpler terms: if the NHL were a universe, with each team representing some part of that universe, the Canadiens would be God, the Islanders would be the Saints and Angels, the Rangers would be the Devil, the Devils would be something unimportant whatever who cares, the Capitals would be an idiot named Tom and the Leafs would be an asshole named Darcy. That should clear things up for you.

So things just feel different in Montreal. For example, we’ve seen some great hometown performances from the Islanders in recent years: Ladd in Vancouver, Okposo in Minnesota, Tavares in Toronto (twice). All memorable, no doubt.

But when Anthony Beauvillier, the Isles’ 19-year-old, French-Canadian rookie, went home to play his first game in the Bell Centre against the Canadiens, well, that was something else entirely. Or maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Maybe I get carried away sometimes, so what? Like you're perfect? Regardless, it was most definitely a special day for the young forward:

This translates loosely to: “Thanks bro! I’m soooo excited and emotional like omg its gonna be lit AF” or something. So with his family and friends in attendance, the stage was set for Beauvillier to come through and have himself a special evening.

And that’s exactly what he did, scoring what turned out to be the game-winning-goal just over five minutes into the game. After the Isles' 3-0 win was over and he was announced as the game’s first star, he even received a nice ovation from the home fans (despite having just watched their team get shut out). It was a perfect ending to a perfect night.

"It was so was probably one of the best memories I've ever had in my life,” Beauvillier would later say about fulfilling his lifelong dream of scoring a goal in the Bell Centre.

This is why today’s Play of the Day was also my favorite Islanders moment from last season. Here is Anthony Beauvillier scoring a goal against Carey Price in his Montreal homecoming game on February 23rd:

And here’s a numbered list consisting of an assortment of words:

(1) From Montreal’s perspective, you simply cannot ever allow such a wide cross-ice pass – like the one Brock Nelson completes to Beauvillier – to be made in your own zone, particularly when you’ve got enough guys back to defend against it.

(2) So when did things go wrong for the Habs? Well, you’d actually have to go back to the late 1920s. That's when it was first claimed that the “H” in Montreal’s logo stands for “Habitants” (or “Habs”). It’s not true. While these have always been informal nicknames for the team, the “H” in the logo actually stands for the word “Hockey” from the team’s official name: Club de Hockey Canadien.

So who perpetuated this lie to the media? It was a man named Tex Rickard. And who was Tex Rickard? He was the founding owner of the New York Rangers. Yep, he’s the guy who brought them into the league. Try to contain the shock you must feel right now, having just learned one of history’s earliest instances of “fake news” was tied directly to the Rangers.

To this day, I can’t think of a single time when an owner of a NY-based professional hockey team displayed such willful disregard for the principles of truth, honesty and integrity. I literally cannot think of one, single time.

(3) Now, let’s take a closer look at Beauvillier’s goal:

We’ve got two culprits in red on this play: LW Artturi Lehkonen and LD Andrei Markov. Lehkonen’s the first forward back but instead of picking up the uncovered Beauvillier, he chases the puck carrier, Nelson, who’s already being guarded by Markov. He does this because he never turns around in the neutral zone, so he never even sees Beauvillier.

(4) Which leads to a point that will probably become a common theme of mine when highlighting mistakes: a defending player should always have his head on a swivel. That’s because on defense – to paraphrase Knicks legend/commentator Walt “Clyde” Frazier – “you've gotta see the [puck] and see your man.” And you can’t see what’s behind you without turning around.

If you watch a great defensive player like Patrice Bergeron at work, he constantly has his head on a swivel to stay aware of what’s going on around him:

Bergeron’s in a similar situation as Lehkonen in our play: first forward back, neutral zone, weak-side of the ice. Because he turns his head twice while back-checking, he knows Pacioretty’s breathing down his neck and he’s got no time to play around with the puck. He makes one helluva play here, too, taking the hit to start the breakout while eliminating two opponents in the process. Bergeron's whole Mr. Perfect act is starting to wear a little thin on me, but he’s so damn good, seriously.

(5) Here’s one more fine example of having your head on a swivel:

Wow, it turns out this lovely little demon child is a Rangers fan. This makes sense when you consider that all possessed demon children are, by virtue of the evil spirit in control of their pure, innocent souls, Rangers fans. And hey look, before you tell me I’m being offensive, please understand that yes, sure I am, but I’ve also never seen such superb head-swiveling in my life. Great job, little one. My compliment cancels out my insult, and I’m in the clear.

Also, this is my attempt at landing the top spot for all Google searches relating to "demon child Rangers fan." What have you contributed to the cause lately?

(6) Moving right along to Markov, who’s off to Russia after a distinguished 50-or-so-year career in Montreal (per Dan Saraceni). Though he’s in position to stick with Nelson, he’s unable to do so, as he's fooled badly by Nelson's sharp cutback move just inside the blue line:

(7) Nelson practically fakes him out of his skates here. Once Markov pivots, he’s dead in the water. With the move, Nelson buys himself more than enough time to assess his options and exploit the huge gap Markov’s failure to stick with him afforded. And with Markov's partner, RD Jeff Petry, occupied by the cutting Ryan Strome and unable to recover, Nelson's left with about as big of a passing lane as you'll see in this spot.

(8) From the Islanders’ perspective, this play should reinforce the notion that the best way to induce a defensive breakdown is through good puck movement (Leddy’s cross ice-pass to Nelson, and Nelson’s to Beauvillier) and good player movement (Strome and Beau filling their lanes).

(9) And look at how genuinely happy Poppa Beauvillier was after Anthony’s goal. That's so nice to see isn't it? He just looks so proud of his son. Tears of joy, surely.

Or were they?

Well well well...once again, not everything is as it seems. These were tears of disappointment, not joy. And based on the word bubbles I inserted, it's reasonable to conclude Anthony will probably spend the rest of his life desperately seeking his father’s approval. Will he ever receive it? No, he won’t. This sucks for him I guess. Let’s just hope this will drive him to play better hockey for as long as he’s an Islander, and not a second longer.

(10) By the way, did you catch what happened behind the glass right after the goal?

en Russie, l'escargot mange l'homme

Don’t wear a Bruins jersey to a Habs game. Don’t wear a Rangers jersey to an Isles game. Don't do these things. Unless you’re just completing your fight club’s homework assignment, then you can do these things.

(11) Looking back, it was an up-and-down rookie season for Beauvillier, to be sure. He had his struggles, as any teenager tasked with playing (mostly) center in the NHL would. He needs to get stronger, make quicker decisions with the puck, get better in the faceoff circle, among other things.

(12) But he showed considerable promise, too. He’s got great wheels and soft hands, which he used to finish off some sweet breakaway moves. And the underlying tenacity with which he plays indicates a work ethic that makes me fully expect to see a stronger, noticeably-improved Beauvillier in his sophomore campaign.

(13) It’s also worth noting that a 19-year-old playing 66 NHL games is itself an encouraging feat. Over the last 15 years, only two other Islanders rookies have hit this mark as teenagers: Josh Snailey, er, I mean Bailey (68 gp in 2008-09) and Tavares (82 gp in 2009-10).

(14) "[Beauvillier]'s going to be a real cornerstone of this team for a long time," says Tavares. “So I’m willing to overlook the pompous French accent, at least for the time being.”

(15) Whatever his future may hold, Anthony Beauvillier will always be able to look back fondly at the first game he played in his native Montreal. What a memorable night it was for no. 72. Until next time, friends.