Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman was tantalizing disgruntled Canadien fans with a game of musical goaltenders (rah for Bunny Larocque, boo for Ken Dryden) today.
It is obvious, however, that the Canadiens need a turnabout in more areas than the goalie's crease when they play the New York Rangers Tuesday night in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final.
"We've got to work harder and get more out of everybody. You never win anything with passengers," said Al McNeil, the Canadiens' director of player personnel.
"On the Rangers, the 15th or 16th man is not just the 15th and 16th man," McNeil continued. "He's a contributor. They're getting big contributions from guys like Eddie Johnstone and Bobby Sheehan. Johnstone is a good, hustling forward, but because he's not six pick handles across the shoulders nobody ever took a look at him before.
"The Rangers have a good, mobile defense, but they play a gambling style of game. If we put pressure on them, they're going to cough up some pucks. There's no defense around that won't give pressure. But if we don't put the pressure on, we'll be in the trouble. We played poorly Sunday. We can play a heck of a lot better."
Bowman called the players off the ice during this morning's practice session for a discussion of the goaltending situation, which has become a major issue in the Montreal media. Bowman let the players know that Sunday's 4-1 defeat was not the fault of Dryden, but of the men in front of him.
"I'm seriously considering a change, but only if I'm convinced the team will play tighter in front of him (Larocque)," Bowman said. "I never want to let the team feel that I'm pinning blame on the goalie.
"We let in too many goals in the last three games, 13 in eight periods, and Kenny had a tough time in the last two games against Boston. But Kenny couldn't do anything about those goals Sunday.
"I put Larocque in in the third period because you've got to start somewhere. And at least we got one shutout period, and gave him some experience. But I'm not sure about the starter tomorrow and I want both of them to be ready. The starter will know when the trainer gives him the puck at 20 after seven."
Immediately after the loss Sunday, Bowman had indicated he would go with Larocque, who shut out the Rangers, 1-0, in New York and lost to them here by 2-1 during the regular season. The Rangers bombed Dryden twice, 6-2 and 6-3. Until Sunday, Dryden had played every minute of every Montreal playoff game since 1971, except for the 1974 season when he was in temporary retirement.
The supercritical Montreal fans have heaped abuse on Dryden and they greeted Larocque with excessive cheers Sunday. Should Bowman choose Dryden Tuesday, he is risking bedlam in the Forum. Yet Bowman many times has ignored the fans' desire, operating on the theory that only victory will ultimately satisfy them anyway.
"I've learned to live with that," Dryden said of the fans' marked preference for Larocque. "The first two periods of that game were not easy periods in which to be a goalie."
"It makes you feel as though you want to go out and play for them," said Larocque from an obviously contrary viewpoint. "It's a lot better to have them behind you than against you."
After today's practice, the Canadiens held their traditional media luncheon, at which the Montreal players in past three years have chatted at length with the press. Today only three-Bob Gainey, Rick Chartraw and Cam Connor-chose to appear. Apparently, losing effects the digestion.
Although the Canadiens were outclassed Sunday, few are predicting a Ranger blitz in the best-of-seven series. Ranger Coach Fred Shero, asked in French by a Montreal broadcaster how long he expected the series to go, replied in slow, cautious French that it would last the full seven.
Ranger veteran Phil Esposito said, "It would be pretty stupid of me to say we're going to win the Cup. After all, we've still got to win three more games. But the way this bunch has been playing, don't be against us." CAPTION: Picture, Bunny Larocque is a possible replacement for Canadien goalie Ken Dryden in tonight's Stanley Cup game with the Rangers.