Coach Scotty Bowman of the Montreal Canadiens sat in front of the videotape machine and replayed a scene in which Montreal defenseman Guy Lapointe permitted boston's Terry O'Reilly to skate in for what almost became the tying goal late in the second period of Saturday night's Stanley Cup final opener, eventually won by the Canadiens, 7-3.
Bowman shook his head, watched it again, then commented. "Twenty-eight times we gave up the puck in our zone. We average about 10, six in a really terrific game.
"We were careless a lot. Instead of shooting it out, we were trying to make a little extra pass. We have to do a little more hitting back of our blue line, too. We let them carry the puck too much."
Montreal had won with a relative case to take a 1-3 lead into Tuesday night's second game of the best-of-seven series at the Forum and, in the process, totaled more hits - solid checks - than in any game all season. But instead of celebrating. Bowman was criticizing, because Bowman is a perfectionist. He is the man for the Canadiens, because their fans are perfectionists too, demanding victory at all times.
Two years ago, when Buffalo eliminated Montreal in the Stanley Cup semifinals, there were cries for Bowman's head. They have been silenced temporarily by success unparalleled in sports, but the threat is never far removed.
Montreal journalists do not pass up all opportunity for criticism, and often trivial incidents become the staff of which scare headlines are created.
A year ago, when defenseman Don Awrey was benched during the final series, Bowman picked up a newspaper expecting to see a glowing account of how the Canadiens had crushed Philadelphia the night before. Instead, prominently displayed, was a story of how Awrey had been deprived of his seat in the press box. What wasn't mentioned was the fact that Awrey had received three free tickets in the stands, rather than the normal two.
A midseason roughhousing incident on the road in which Peter Mahovlich was cut in a scuffle with Mario Tremblay became front-page news, with the inference that there was trouble between the team's English and French players. Even now, a Montreal writer has been commissioned to delve into rumors of friction between players of the two nationalities on the club.
In late March, Toronto and Montreal players became involved in a fight and Bowman objected to the penalties that were assessed. A Montreal paper ran a picture of Bowman, face distored, with the caption pointing up his anger over the incident. Asked if he had really been that angry, Bowman suggested another look at the picture. It had been taken a year before, when he was wearing glasses.
The attempt of the competitive French press to magnify any possible problems within the Canadiens has made Bowman a cautious man in mass interviews. One on one, or with small groups of out-of-town writers, Bowman is a good interview, ready to talk at length on any subject from baseball to separatism. But enter a Montreal writer and it is obvious he suddenly becomes cautious, wary of any words that could be given an unwarranted meaning.
"I don't talk to him; he never says anything," a French writer commented today when asked if his relations with Bowman had imporved. Yet, two hours later, after practice, Bowman was lunching with a small groups of writers and making profound suggestions for the improvement of the sport.
"I would like to take fly feet off the neuazrpuntt laie dhibhneetnt suggestions for the improvement of the sport.
"I would like to take five feet off the neutral zone and put it behind the net." Bowman said. "It would stop clogging back there, stop a lot of whistles and allow a lot more room to maneuver. Fans don't get excited about much that's happening in the neutral zone."
Bowman also suggested it would be worthwhile for hockey teams to employ a technician to edit videotapes, so that a busy coach could concentrate on a few items or importance and illustrate them to his players, much as football teams do.
He pointed to the conditioning advantage enjoyed by North American teams at this time of year, rather than in September international games, and said he expected a European challenge for the Stanley Cup soon, "because economics are going to demand it."
Of his own job, coaching a great team that is always expected to win and usually does, Bowman said, "Guys that have a got of ability mften overlook a lot of small things, and it's a coach's job to point them out. Also, you have to be sure the stars kept their feet on the ground. We've had a lot of great individual players, but they play for the team. The stars have never tried to lord it over the others."
While some critics claim Bowman merely has to sit back and push buttons, he has actually done some marvelous juggling of talent. For example, two-thirds of his second offensive line. Rejean Houle and Yvan Cournoyer, have been lost to injuries. Bowman shifted players and, on Saturday, saw defenseman Rich Chartraw, while skating a shift at right wing, score the goal that made it 5-3 and broke Boston's comeback.
Bowman is intense during a game, chewing ice from a bucket under the bench, and serious afterward. in contrast, Boston's Don Cherry is an outgoing type, screaming at officials but joking with the press.
After that 7-3 loss. Cherry apologized for the absence of his usual oneliners - "After that game, I don't feel up to it" - but then talked of a couple of Boston penalties incurred against Guy Lafleur: "Evidently Lafleur is getting better than Esther Williams. I thought Bill Barber was good, but he's (Lafleur) the best."
"Who's Esther Williams?" a Chicago writer asked, and if the result hadn't aged the 43-year-old Cherry much, the question probably did. Bowman, too, is 43, and Cherry has an edge on him in one respect: Cherry played one game in the NIL, Bowman none.
Cherry has done an outstanding job with the Bruins and in 1976 was named coach of the year by the broadcasters. They will announce the 1977 winner Friday and there are two more logical candidates, Bowman and Washington's Tom McVie. One thing is certain: McVie will get the French vote.