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Friday, December 31, 2010

Roadtrippus Agonizingus Continues

It's fun to be a hockey fan... but not right now if you're a Montreal Canadiens fan.

Last night's game has to leave most of us -- and the Habs' coaching staff -- scratching their heads.

What can we do to get this team out of its current funk?

Unfortunately even James Wisniewski's debut couldn't inspire the troops last night as they fell to the Lightning 4-1 in a game where the Canadiens had good early jump and a few near misses to end the first period in the lead, only to then thrown it all away off the bat in the second with indiscipline, mental errors and uninspired play.

This wasn't Carey Price's sharpest effort either, and Martin pulled the plug on him in the third.

But you know, it's not too often you win hockey games when you score only 1 goal... whether it's my beer league team or the pros. Scoring continues to be a major issue with this team.

Good for Cedrick Desjardins, the former Habs rookie goaltender -- he'll remember this for a long time. He was solid, but really wasn't seriously tested.

Who is to blame for not one, but two "Too Many Men" penalties in a row leaving the Canadiens down 2 men early in the second?? Could be the coach, could be the players. In the post-game scrum, Martin clearly blamed these penalties on "mental mistakes" ie: the players on the ice.

In any case, it changed the mood of the team considerably once St. Louis tied the score on a play Price should have had. After that, the team crawled back into its shell and played the kind of hockey we've almost come to expect on this road trip.

Thank goodness, only one more game left before heading back home, tonight against the Florida Panthers. Maybe the Habs can at least end the year on a positive, head home and regroup for the second half.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Habs Nosedive Continues

Two teams going in two very different directions met last night in a snowy D.C.

Unfortunately, it's the Canadiens going the direction of the wastepile, falling 3-0 to a resurging Capitals team. They're now 1-5 with two more games left on this roadtrip.

Looks like Mario Tremblay was correct when he said last week that if the Habs started this trip 0-2, it wouldn't turn out well for the team. Darn him for being so right!! This time.

Can't really say the Habs played a poor game, but once again, avoidable mistakes cost them. The first period was relatively even, yet the Habs couldn't muster much on two quick powerplays that were given to them by the sluggish Caps. Then they started taking penalties, effectively handing the momentum back to Washington, who then scored two quick goals late in the period.

For some reason, as I've noted in previous posts, the Canadiens have trouble at the beginning and end of periods. This time, they get scored on with about 30 seconds to play in the 1st period, then take a penalty right off the bat in the 2nd.

Ultimately the Canadiens inability to score, on the powerplay or at even strength is now their biggest concern. Carey Price could not be blamed for last night's loss as he made some terrific saves against Ovechkin et al.

The Habs were also dominated in the faceoff zone. Halpern hasn't had the same presence of late. Wonder if he's hurt too!?

I was pleased they sat Gorges as he needs time to heal. We need a solid Josh Gorges playing like the way we all know he can play. Subban still looks a bit shaky, but he'll come around. I don't think anyone is worried about him. I just wish fans would let it go already how Martin is ruining the guy. He's a rookie and he needs to cut his teeth, for the good and the bad. In general, the team as a whole does not look very confident in either end of the ice, and it shows on the scoreboard.

Ultimately the Canadiens need to find a way to get some pucks into the net. Things don't get any easier over the next two games as the team finds itself in warm and sunny Florida, where they tend not to fare too well, even if they usually play in front of a large contingent of Habs fans.
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In an unconfirmed What did I say!? moment, the Habs acquired James Wisniewski from the Islanders yesterday. I know I wrote very recently that I wouldn't be surprised if the team made a move very soon. I just can't recall if I wrote it here, or on one of my many postings around the hockey blogosphere. Let me know if you find it.

Also, I want to repeat that it's time the Habs started winning a few games for their beleaguered goaltender Carey Price.

Yes, it's true, we need him to make some big saves to keep us in the game. He did that last night in the first when he stopped Ovechkin from point blank range.

But do we need pundit Arpon Basu writing articles about how Price may be tired!? Are we losing because of Price!? I think not. See my posting on his article detailing Price's first and second half of seasons past.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Habs Trade for Big Gun on Blueline!!

Well I think those following the Montreal Canadiens kind of sensed something was going to happen.

With Markov a long ways away, P.K. Subban's confidence lagging, Josh Gorges ailing, Hamrlik and Spacek aging, and Hal Gill... well being Hal Gill, the Canadiens made a move today to shore up their defense by acquiring James Wisniewski from the Isles for a pair of draft picks.

Wisniewski scored the other night against the Habs. He has a cannon for a shot and should prove to be quite valuable for the power play. He also scored against us earlier this year.

Still quite young at 26, the Habs get the third-leading scorer on the Islanders with 3 goals and 18 assists; 13 of those points coming on the power play. He came up with the Blackhawks before being traded to Anaheim and then Long Island. Last year he had a career best 30 points, so this year he's poised to post his best offensive season as a pro.

(Wisniewski scoring in 3rd period action against the Habs Dec. 26, 2010 -- Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

However, he's a minus 18 which should be tempered somewhat given he's coming from the Islanders, who have had many challenges keeping the puck out of their own net.

Small at 5'11 but built solidly, listed at 205 pounds, he's scheduled to join the Canadiens on Wednesday in Tampa Bay. He plays a gritty game, and yes, he is the same player who clocked Chicago's Brent Seabrook into the boards last year, receiving an 8 game suspension as a result.

New York received Montreal's second-round selection in 2011 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2012.

It should be noted this was the Habs' compensatory second-round selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (given to the Habs after they didn't sign former first-round pick David Fisher).

The deal with the Wiz, who makes $3,250,000, is he's set to go unrestricted next summer. He was on the list of unrestricted d-men at season's end who might be a good fit for a team looking to bolster their lineup. He was the one who stuck out the most for me as someone who could help the Habs best, so I'm pleased with this deal. The Habs need some fresh air and some help scoring goals. Whether he's resigned in the summer is secondary at this point.

I'm a bit surprised as to why the Islanders would make this move now, given they probably could have squeezed out more for him from another team at the trade deadline in February. Doesn't seem like that much to get this guy, but let's see how things pan out.

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In other NHL news, Darryl Sutter did the honourable thing today and fell on his sword, stepping down as the Calgary Flames GM. It's only a matter of time before his brother Brent does the same. Assistant GM Jay Feaster takes the helm.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Habs Beat Themselves on the Island

I said it once, and I'll say it again.

I don't mind the Canadiens losing a game here or there, when they are soundly beaten by a good team.

What I don't like is when the Habs find ways to lose and end up beating themselves... like what happened last night in their 4-1 loss against the New York Islanders in front of a snow-shellacked pitiful crowd who came out to see this one. Most of them Canadiens fans, mind you.

So the Canadiens continue to stumble through their most difficult part of the season. Last year the team was flying high after a 6-1 trip which ultimately put them in a playoff spot. This year, could the opposite happen and take them out of the playoff picture????

Right from the start the Habs didn't have their stuff, again inable to complete their offensive plays and pull the trigger when the puck was on their stick. The Canadiens outshot and outchanced their opponents but only found the net in the 3rd period when Plekanec scored, who once again was probably the best forward on the ice for either team.

In the 1st, Kostitsyn was left alone in front of Roloson but meekly put the puck right into his pads. He also butchered a 2-on-1 with Gionta, failing to make a pass or shot. Cammellari also had his fair share of chances but couldn't muster anything, missing an open net after a perfect pass by Gionta. Spacek also missed a gaping wide open net in the period.

When they're not playing up to snuff, the team makes the same mistakes over and over: fumbling scoring opportunities, taking bad penalties which halts their momentum, then giving up terrific scoring chances to their opponents which usually ends up in the back of their net.

Last night, the Canadiens were down a man for 6 minutes in the first period. And though they didn't allow a goal on those penalties, it certainly didn't help them to shake off the turkey from the night before. Then they gave up a soft a 2-on-1 when Maxime Lapierre made a bad decision in the offensive zone and Blake Comeau slid the puck past Carey Price.

Price looked weak on the play and showed his frustration after the goal. To me, being a goalie, it looked like he thought Comeau was going to go around the net, a la Plekanec, so he tried to follow him and appeared to cheat on the play. This left his legs wide open, providing a gaping hole for Comeau to slide the puck into the net.

Price can't be blamed for the second goal which was a clear cut breakaway after a bad giveaway by Gionta in the neutral zone. True, Price was making these saves earlier in the season. But does that legitimize the fact the Canadiens keep on giving up breakaways like this???? I think teams are figuring out that the Habs have a slow, aging defense in Gill, Hamrlik and Spacek, and are fully taking advantage. With Gorges not at a hundred percent... yeesh.

Second period saw the Habs come out flying, but again couldn't convert. Honestly, Roloson wasn't really tested and they made life easy for the seasoned veteran.

3rd period, down 2-0 and still within the realms of reality to win or at least score a point from this game, Pacioretty drills an Islander from behind and takes a major and game misconduct. There goes any hopes for a comeback. A goal 5-on-4 then another 5-on-3 after a Gomez tripping penalty put the game out of reach.

Ultimately they gave the Isles 8 power plays -- way too much, even for the 2nd best penalty killing team in the league. Pacioretty will now have a quiet chat with league official Colin Campbell. He'll probably get a 2-game suspension. Meanwhile Lucic displays his goonish tendencies, throws a suckerpunch and gets a mere $3500 fine. Too bad Campbell's son isn't on the Habs, eh?

Things don't get much easier as the team plays in Washington tomorrow night against the Caps, who are playing with much more confidence of late. The Canadiens are going the other direction and could well be in 8th place in the conference by week's end.

Let's hope for the best.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Habs Get Important Win in CrankCountry

Phew! The Habs needed that one.

Big win last night. Good effort all around by the team. Kostitsyn maybe should play every other game, and then he'll score 40 goals.

Habs carried the play and really this one shouldn't have been close. If not for the usual strong play by Cam Ward, and a few bad bounces and sloppy plays by the Canadiens' rearguards (esp Hamrlik), the Habs wouldn't have had to go down to the wire to collect a 3-2 win in Raleigh last night.

Habs got goals from whom should be doing the scoring: Gomez and Kostitsyn. The Canadiens have won every game when either scores, except once ... which says a lot. These guys score, chances are the team wins. That's how important they are to the team's success.

I really do think Kostitsyn needs to play out the season on the Plekanec line as his goal imput is sorely needed. He shouldn't be scapegoated, there's other goats on this team. Voila, back in the lineup and he scores. Plekanec, who hasn't been at his best either lately, also had a strong all-around game and was the best player on either team last night.

Important for the Habs to take a win to the break to regroup. Right now they look a bit shaky confidence-wise. Josh Gorges is definitely not 100%. But I liked the way the team seemed last night, loose and not uptight. They asserted themselves right from the get-go. Even Martin was laughing and smiling on the bench (when they were down 2-1, no less). I like that he was setting the tone for the Habs to stay cool, calm and collected. No reason to panic, they know they're the better team, just have to go out and prove it, which they did.

Now the Habs rest for a few days before taking on the Islanders in Uniondale on Boxing Day. Hopefully they ease up on the turkey and turn in another solid performance.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gamus Horribilis -- Habs Shot Down in Dallas

Sure, you can't win 'em all.

And I have no problem with the Habs losing a game where they are soundly defeated.

But last night's game left a bad taste in my mouth for a variety of reasons. This was the kind of game that makes me wonder "Why the hell do I waste my time watching this shit!?"

The Habs beat themselves in this one and were never in the game. From the first shift where Spacek took a puck right off his knee, to Benoit Pouliot missing an open net, to Carey Price looking quite mortal, nothing went right for the Habs and nobody was firing at full capacity last night.

And it's not that the Stars even played a good game. They were outshot and outchanced... so how come such a commanding 5-2 victory??

Turnovers and the inability to finish. The Canadiens plain and simply played a terrible game... a gamus horribilis.
Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald
1964 Pulitzer Prize, Photography, Robert Jackson, Dallas Times Herald

Bound to happen right? I guess... but there are some major issues this team is going to have to address, if they want to show the fans and the league that their start to the season wasn't just a blip on the radar screen.

Finish the Offensive Plays

This is where the size issue that everyone in the media harps on seems to play out. And since goals are at a premium for this team, they better start taking advantage. Now.

The Canadiens can't finish their plays!!! MaxPac, who is the rare player who can honestly say he had a strong game, had a couple of goals on his stick but made Lehtonen look good. But he's new. What about the rest? Plekanec and Cammellari were complete no-shows last night, with Eller's presence on their line barely making an impact. Do we blame Kostitsyn for this too!? He didn't even play, which was a mistake in my view. More on that later.

Pouliot missed an open net on a 2-in-1 with Lapierre. Be stronger, hungrier on the puck man!! That goal would have made it 3-2 and put some wind in the Habs' sails. From the replay, it looked like you just had to extend your stick to tap it in. You had the man beat. Lapierre looked pissed. What happened soon after? Dallas made it 4-1.

How many times did Habs players whiff, fan or get off a half-hearted shot in the scoring zones last night!? Wayyyy too many times.

They couldn't get their sticks on the juicy rebounds Lehtonen consistenly provided last night. Get a freaking rebound goal for crissakes!! Man, they're off in the corner getting rebounds, shooting from sharp angles praying to bounce the puck into the net off the goalie. Pretty pathetic. Get some net presence. But even when players park themselves in front, they don't win battles and don't come out with the puck.

But start by going to the net! Scott Gomez, stop pivoting at the top of the circle. Pass, sure. But then go to the net. Even on the Gionta goal, he stood watching the Captain shoot instead of launching himself towards the net looking for a rebound.

The only one who seems somewhat good at crashing the net is Darche... who scored the Habs' first goal. And MaxPac is doing it, but let's see how long it lasts. He wasn't even in anyone's thoughts 4 weeks ago. This team regularly loses battles in front of the opposing net and they need help with this. Enter MaxPac. Because Maxwell or Desharnais down on the farm are not the answer...

Stop the Turnovers

Lord, how many times did the Habs turnover the puck last night in their end? I'm going to start calling them the Pillsbury Doughboy turnovers!! What happened to their solid defensive play? Suddenly they look very unconfident an unsure of themselves in the D-zone.

Everyone can have an off night, but last night had to be Josh Gorges' worst game in a Montreal uniform. His turnover at the Dallas blueline led to the Stars' second goal of the game -- shorthanded; and the 4th goal, he deflected past Carey Price when he tried to stop a Richards shot from the point that Price would have saved with his eyes closed.

He also "donated" the puck quite a few other times. We all know what you can do Josh, so we'll forget about this one. Try not to remind us of it.

Picard's play also for the first time put some doubt into whether opting for him over Ryan O'Byrne was the right decision. He's been solid, but his play is also starting to lag.

Subban had a rough night too. Looked like he hurt his finger in a fight, then got clocked to the head later in the game which left him stunned.

Man, do we miss Markov.

Poor execution -- in all zones

This speaks to the team's inability to finish their plays, but they couldn't make or receive a pass last night for their collective lives!! Passes consistently in the skates, fumbling shots, trying for stick checks and missing, skating over the puck, skating over each other... the Habs could have lost against their farm team the way they played last night.

Is this a lack of skill or practice!? Definitely not. This is going on between their heads... someone call in the team psychiatrist.

I am not sounding the alarm or pushing the proverbial panic button. The Habs are stumbling and we know they can play better. Now it's a matter of rolling up their sleeves, and maybe winning some games for their prized goaltender, instead of counting on him to save their asses night after night.

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Undoubtedly, it was a frustrating night for goaltender Carey Price. Although he hasn't been as sharp as he was earlier in the season, it's hard to blame the guy:

First goal, weird one off a deflection -- because Burrish went to the net hard and interfered with Price. This shouldn't have been a goal, but not because of Price. Who was watching the point?

Second goal, shorthanded breakaway -- again, not Price's fault. He can't be expected to save all breakaways. That said, he essentially made the save, but when things go bad, you don't get the bounces. And the puck fluttered over his right pad and into the net.

Third goal, speaks to above points. Turnover in our zone. Puck comes back to the point. Price makes the save, falls on the puck. But then one, count 'em, one Dallas Star player in front is able to beat four... that's right, four Montreal Canadiens to the puck and put it past a beleaguered Price. Ech!

Fourth goal, after Darche scored to give the team some hope... which was quickly dashed. The aforementioned Gorges, I mean, Richards goal.

Fifth goal, another deflection by another Stars forward going to the net, uncontested.

Should Martin have put in Alex Auld for the third? He's sick apparently, and if for some chance the team was able to rally, better to keep Price in. It's a game he needs to forget, for sure.

Well this game really blew up in Coach Martin's face. Sitting Kostitsyn may have sent a message to him and the rest of the team, but ended up badly. Eller didn't have an impact on the Plekanec line. Remember, Brother Andrei is third in team scoring. With the Habs not scoring... he must re-enter the lineup, and let him play through his drought. We did that with Gomez... but it must be said that chances are, Kostitsyn is not one of Martin's favourites and is on a short leash. He could be trade-bait.

As for Martin, well he looked kind of exasperated after the game and who could blame him? Now a down in the dumps, looking for answers team heads to Raleigh where they typically lose, even if the Habs are the better team. Typically, Cam Ward plays his best games against the Habs.

After the loss in Denver, Mario Tremblay quipped on RDS' "L'Antichambre" that if the Habs lose the first two games on this 7 game road trip, uh oh. Unfortunately now his theory will be put to the test, and we're all rooting for Mario to be wrong.

I had hoped the team would come out of this with at least 10 points. To achieve this, they have to win the next 5 in a row. Toughie.

Possible? Of course. Probable? I wouldn't bet on it.




Monday, December 20, 2010

Rocky Mountain Loss

Disappointing result for the Canadiens last night in Denver, falling 3-2 to the Avalanche in a game where the Habs had the lead twice, but ultimately couldn't hold back the enthusiastic... and speedy, Colorado offense.

The skinny: Ultimately it was a dirty goal that did the Canadiens in late in the 2nd period... Price made a nice stand up save, but the puck hit him high in the chest, then popped out right into traffic and somehow pushed the puck back through the goaltenders's legs and into the net.

Canadiens had some nice chances in the 3rd period but couldn't seem to finish, missing rebounds, open nets etc. That's the way the puck bounces sometimes. Can't fault the Habs as the effort seemed there last night, it just didn't go their way. Anderson made a couple of solid saves but wasn't really a factor. It really did look like the team was going to tie the score.

Price made some terrific saves in the 2nd period, namely on a 2-on-1 and a great glove grab later or it might not have been close. He probably would want the 2nd goal back but really hard to fault him on a backhand shot coming off a rush which was the result of a Picard turnover.

The Habs lost because they were beaten 5 on 5. Their only goals came on the power play.

The team had a good effort, but just came up a little short. It happens sometimes. The Gomez line didn't contribute on the scoreboard, but they had some good opportunities and just couldn't close the deal. But they're playing well in my opinion. MaxPac is bringing some good energy and winning battles along the boards.

Honestly, if the Habs could reign in their neutral ice turnovers, they'd be really close to playing excellent hockey. OH, and stop taking penalties at the end of periods. Again the team got burned with a goal in the dying seconds of the 1st period. Those hurt.

This was the first time we got to see Ryan O'Byrne since his trade. He's happily playing a lot of minutes and is regaining his confidence. He was solid last night -- but should have been called on a crosschecking penalty against Darche in front of the Avs net last night which would have resulted in a 5-on-3 for the Habs. He got away with one. Good for him.

Quick comment in support of Andrei Kostitsyn: not sure why the commentators on RDS are so quick to diss AK46.

It's true, he's not going through the most prolific stretch of his career, but in my opinion, it's not that he's playing poorly, it's just one of those things.

Let's be honest, Plekanec has had more productive stretches too. Pierre Houde and Benoit Brunet were very quick to point out, and harp on, how Kostitsyn's giveaway led to Spacek's late period penalty that resulted in the Avs tying the score at 1-1.

But there was no mention about how the Habs' first goal was the direct result of Brother Andrei winning a battle on the boards and passing the puck to Plekanec, which started a nice give & go ending with Cammellari whipping the puck past Anderson.

Moving AK off this line will not prove to be productive in my opinion. Give him the time to find that synergy this line was showing early in the season.

So not the start we wanted for this road trip -- but the Habs get to show off their "bounce back" abilities tomorrow night in Dallas where they'll shoot for a win against Mike Ribeiro and the Stars.

Friday, December 17, 2010

BOING! Habs rebound after loss to Philly with solid win against Bruins

Last night's 4-3 win by the Habs over the Bruins was important for a bunch of reasons:
  1. It stopped the Habs 3 game losing streak -- their longest of the season so far;

  2. It allowed the team to stay on top of their division and put some room between themselves and the Bruins, who are now 4 points back but with two games in hand;

  3. The Canadiens assumed the 2nd spot in the Eastern Conference, on divisional position, not points... but I'll take it;

  4. It was the last home game for 7 games, so it was important to head out on the road on the right foot;

  5. It showed the bounce back ability of this team... again.

Last night also presented a lot of firsts: Cammellari's first penalty shot, first penalty shot goal and first fight! That's right, he dropped the gloves with David Krecji and both walked away bloodied. If that doesn't motivate Lapierre to do this a bit more often, I don't know what will. He also just missed out on his first Gordie Howe hat trick!!

It was also the first goal for Max Pacioretty in his second game back with the big club. I know I'm not the only one saying this, but man, he looks very good so far, and seems to be just the thing that Gomez and Gionta needed.

That line looks complete now and so hopefully Gomez -- who's game has been trending upwards for the last two weeks, takes it to another level. Gionta is definitely on track and leading by example, per what we've come to expect from him. MaxPac brings size, skill and ruggedness to the line. Pierre McGuire compared him to Mike McPhee during the Flyers game on Thursday and I tend to agree with that. Use your size and speed, work hard, create momentum and get goals.

Now the Habs have two solid offensive lines and two good checking lines. Penalty kill still strong and the power play is producing.

This game wouldn't have been close if not for Timmy Thomas. The Habs seem to have his number though. This was only the 2nd time this season he's let in 4 goals.

Subban also had a bounce back game -- laying a bone-crunching hit on his ol' junior pal, Brad Marchand.

Habs start their 7 game road trip this Sunday in Denver against the Avalanche. A successful trip will go far in pushing the Habs into the second half of the season on a positive note.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Pics of Me at the Game!!

A few more grabs from Saturday night's defeat at the hands of the Laffs... think you should be able to make me out better this time around.

Here's Travis Moen taking Gunnarsson into the boards right in front of me and my buddy in the Habs jersey. I'm the one wearing the brown tuque.

Unfortunately the resulting blow against the boards spilled my friend's wine and threw my camera onto the ground... and my Pension Plan Puppet... but everything ended up being fine.

And here's a closer shot a few milliseconds after the above:



Here's Shantanu and I watching the action from the corner. You can clearly see the brown bag Pension Plan Puppet on the inside of the glass over the Esso sign:



And finally here's a close up with my good buddy, Dion "what have I done?" Phaneuf.

Kind of impressionistic, if I don't say so myself :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Two Different Cities -- Same Ol' Story

It's funny how things tend to repeat themselves. This time for the Habs, the result wasn't what they were looking for.

The Canadiens traveled the Windsor corridor this weekend and came out with a goose egg points-wise in back to back games against the Red Wings and the Leafs.

Really it was a story that repeated itself, starting with Friday night in Detroit where the Canadiens essentially lost the game in the first period, even if they were up by one before Lindstrom scored with 2 seconds left on the clock.

Too many penalties meant the Habs were playing defense all period and really never found their game. Stuck in neutral, the trend continued into the second period which saw Detroit score 2 more goals. The Wings won because they were puck-hungry and relentless whenever the Habs had control of the puck.

The Habs don't seem to react very well when they are pressured and need to make quicker decisions and passes. Detroit exploited that weakness to the tee.

But once the Wings went up 3-1 for whatever the reason they deserted that strategy and the Canadiens suddenly took flight. If it weren't for some timely saves by Jimmy Howard and an inability to finish, the Habs might have pulled it out. The turning point was when Andrei Kostitsyn missed an open net (from a sharp angle, but still he's usually money with those) on a rebound when the game was 2-1.
Instead, Detroit made it 3-1 not much long after.

Nice goal by Pouliot made the game interesting in the 3rd -- he owed us that one because it was his turnover at the Detroit blue line that led to their 3rd goal.

In the end the Habs fell short 4-2 after an empty netter. The big news I guess was that P.K. Subban was back in the lineup, but he didn't have an impact on the game. Dustin Boyd was also in the lineup, and also had a couple of good chances he surely would like back.

Can't say the Habs played a bad game, but they didn't play good enough to win against a strong Detroit team that was looking to bounce back after losing their last three games.

The next night, the Habs were in Leafland. Weber was reinserted into the lineup in lieu of Boyd. The game started off pretty chippy with very little flow. The Habs looked very flat and generated very little offense, the only highlight being a Cammellari breakaway where he just missed to top shelf.

I was at the game sitting in the upper bowl with my ode to the Pension Plan Puppets.

Turned out my friend had a friend who works the Platinum seats down in one of the corners, so after the 1st period we mosied on down and were lucky enough to be able to sit right in the corner behind the net (where the Canadiens played for the 1st and 3rd periods). That's more like it.

Actually it's interesting to see the game from two different vantage points. Up high, you get a good sense of the flow and playmaking of the players; down low, you get a sense of the speed on how quickly things happen, and how big these guys are.

Unfortunately for the Habs, they started the game off much like they did in Detroit. To our surprise -- and disappointment -- Alex Auld was in nets. That makes two games in a row I've seen in Toronto where Price hasn't played (I went last year and Halak started and they lost 3-2 in a shootout). Auld looked a bit soft on the Leafs first goal but after looking at it again, it was a bit of bad luck the way the puck caromed off the boards to come back out in front of the net. Auld looked the wrong way, and by the time he caught up to it, Phil Kessel put it home. Picard should have had Kessel on that one in my opinion.

The Leafs second goal came on a mini 2-on-1 and Auld probably would want that one back too. But it would be too easy to blame this loss on poor A.A. He actually made a few nice saves. The Habs, once again lost the game in the first period. They couldn't generate any sustained offense and too too many penalties -- Halpern taking two in a row. They only got their first shot over 9 minutes into the game. That's not acceptable for one of the better teams in the league.

It does seem however, the Habs are being shafted by the officiating of late. Not a lot of calls are going their way. But nevertheless, they need to be more disciplined. Penalties change the momentum of the game and keep good players (like Cammellari) out of the game.

In the second, the Canadiens did have a bit more jump but they really weren't able to generate any quality scoring chances or sustained pressure.

Cammellari finally broke through with his 10th goal of the season on a nice play with Plekanec, using him as a screen and firing a hard wrister through Tomas' legs to beat Giguere high on the glove side.

Here in a screengrab from HNIC, you can clearly see... yeah right... my friend and I in the corner.

He's the tall, lanky Indian gent wearing a Habs jersey.

I'm to his left, right over the word "Run" on the Esso slogan ad.

I'm bringing my camera up to my eyes to take a picture of the Habs celebrating.

Here's a closer view. There I am, with the camera in front of my face:















And here's the pic of the Habs celebrating the goal. Didn't come out that great, I'm afraid:

Unfortunately it was too little too late. The teams swapped chances in the 3rd, but honestly the Canadiens really didn't muster any quality scoring chances, and didn't force Giguere into any heroics.

Le Tricolore didn't deserve this one. They should have come out and asserted their game and the fact that they are indeed the better team. Instead, it was like they were waiting on the Leafs to make mistakes. Unfortunately, sitting back only caused the Canadiens to be the ones to make the mistakes, making turnover after turnover -- especially in the 1st period.

Near the end, our only hope was that the Leafs would be the Leafs... and blow it. But they didn't this time. Always against the Habs for some reason! Well there's always a next time. And that next time will be in Montreal, most likely against Price.

If only the Leafs would play the Habs and Senators all season huh? They'd be 82-0!!!

Too bad Habs, but honestly, you got what you deserved. A better, more consistent effort is needed. This team needs to assert its game instead of waiting around for something to happen.

It's times like this when you're happy this happens earlier than later so the Habs can gleam some sort of lesson from it.

Trying to be optimistic here, folks.

Anyhow, no need to panic, just 2 losses in a long season. Now the Habs go home and get to rest up and practice to try to avoid losing 3 in a row for the first time this season when they host those pesky Philadelphia Flyers. That should be a good one.

Btw, Scott Gomez didn't play for the second straight game, and Spacek fell awkwardly on his left hand/arm after getting pummeled by Clarke MacArthur -- which is embarrassing enough. Weber took his spot on the blue line.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guy! Guy! Guy!, Habs Unseat Sens & Other Good Times

HABS RIDE 3 GAME WIN STREAK INTO DETROIT FRIDAY

The Canadiens are now riding a 3 game winning streak -- also winners of 4 out of 5 -- thanks to a nice, but somewhat lacklustre 4-1 victory over Ottawa last night at the Bell Centre. I say lacklustre because in the 2nd period it was starting to look like "one of those games" where the Habs should have been up by 3 or 4 goals and instead were squandering opportunities that could (and usually) come back to haunt them.

But on this night, the Senators showed why they are now one of the lowest scoring teams in the league because they hardly mustered any offensive fight after the Habs completely blew both a 5 minute and a 4 minute man advantage in the 2nd period.

After trading powerplay goals in the 1st period (Sens goal coming with less than 10 seconds on the clock, ugh), the Habs played much of the 2nd on the powerplay but came off uninspired and frankly, looked bored on the ice. Although they should have put at least one or two away, or in the least, created some serious offensive momentum, the Canadiens were actually lucky to go to the 3rd tied 1-1. Price made some key saves, but it was really the lack of any Sens pressure that helped the Habs out on this night.

As they came out for the 3rd, you could tell someone had lit a fire under the team's bums... or better yet, you could see the imprint of Jacques Martin's shoe on many of their backsides, because they quickly provided a much better effort. And the Habs depth continued to shine through as Jeff Halpern put the team up 2-1 on a nice solo effort, then Captain Gionta icing the game on a 2 on 1 with Andrei Kostitsyn.

P.K. Subban was a healthy scratch for the 3rd straight game, but many of the tv commentators were calling for Subban to be back in the lineup on Friday given the team's poor powerplays. Someone is going to have to sit. Weber had another good game last night and definitely does not look out of place. I say sit Picard. Even if he's also playing well, it would be a rare glimpse into the future by seeing both Weber and Subban manning the Montreal blue line.

What would you do?

Meanwhile, as bad as the PP was last night, entering last night's game, the Habs had the 11th best powerplay in the league. Not too shabby considering the terrible start for the PP at season's start, and the fact that Andrei Markov is out. And with a league-leading penalty unit, you can see how crucial special teams are to this team's success.

GUY! GUY! GUY!

Where else but Montreal would you find 16 000 screaming fans applauding a bunch of old bags skating around in pain!? On a Sunday afternoon, no less. Well that's exactly what happened this past Sunday to celebrate Guy Lafleur's final tour of duty as a hockey player. A bunch of old favs from years past joined Guy on this very special day, including Jacques Demers as Habs legends coach.

Lafleur posed with the trophies he won as a player, scored a hat trick (putting it under the bar for the 3rd) and saluted the fans. Total class. The fans responded with a 5 minute round of applause for Le Demond Blond to end the game. Ginette Reno did the anthems -- avec passion. Reminded me of Roger Doucet's widow Geraldine who performed the task after her husband's death. They should get someone like this again -- someone with passion, who gives the players and fans goosebumps. I find the guy doing it now kind of lame and boring...

Btw, Chris Nilan played and scored a goal! He looks great too, considering he's been put through the ringer. Chris Nilan on a breakaway...

They don't make 'em like The Flower anymore. He was the best player of his generation and is truly the source of many happy childhood memories of mine. Love that guy, Guy!!!!!!!!

Thanks for the memories Guy!!!!!!!!!!!!!


HABS FAN IN LEAFLAND AT ACC ON SATURDAY

Thanks to a good buddy I will be in attendance for the Habs/Leafs tilt this coming Saturday. The Canadiens have no business losing this game, but it's always a toss up when the Habs play the Leafs. If Komisarek continues to make great passes to Cammellari though, we shouldn't have a problem :)

I won't be in the dressing room, but I will post pics of the Habs as they leave the room for the ice. Habs play in Detroit the night before, but the Leafs play 3 games in 4 nights... so no excuses!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

It All Comes Out in the Wash

What a way to forget about a bad game huh? Exactly what we and the team needed last night, with the Habs skating to a 5-1 victory over the newly hapless New Jersey Devils. The Devils!!!!

Pocketing 3 out of a possible 4 points over the last two games... hard to find anything wrong with that. Even Scott Gomez scored.

Our Montreal Canadiens seem to be quite resilient after a loss this year... which not only bodes well for the season, but for the playoffs as well (not losing 2 in a row in the playoffs is usually a very good thing).

It was great for the team to play a game right after the disappointing OT loss on Wednesday so they could skate it out and get back to their winning ways. It was also great that Martin Brodeur was in the stands for this one -- something that paid off within 11 seconds of the opening puck drop, when Brian Gionta jammed home the 1st goal of the game behind a seemingly surprised -- and un-ready -- Johan Hedberg.

A little over a minute later, Lars Eller showed some speed and swept in to tuck in a wraparound, and that was the end of Hedberg's night (after less than 2 minutes of play).

But let's not get too carried away with this one. Very happy to see Pyatt, Eller, Pouliot and Gomez score, but let's be honest. This New Jersey team is simply not very good, and they played even worse than that. They were listless last night, and one can only assume that Kovalchuk must be thinking "What have I done?"

Well what he's done is weigh down the Devils with salary cap issues for years, while bringing his negative energy to the team. But the real loser is Lou Lamoriello, who for possibly the first time in his successful hockey career, made a bad move. The "Sam Pollack" of his generation, he's now stuck with Kovalchuk. And Kovalchuk could have been in L.A. with the sunshine, the girls and probably, more goals! He has 4 goals on the year! Something smells very bad in Newark (well there's always a bad smell there, but you know what I mean).

Speaking of a bad smell, Dany Heatley and his San Jose Sharks come to Montreal on Saturday for a rare matinee outing. I've never liked Heatley and was glad to see the Ottawa fans tear into him last night. Well done Dany.

Hopefully the 60 minute version of the Habs shows up tomorrow and not the Minute Rice version. Puck drop is at 2pm.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

HABS Lose Like Leafs!!

Boy, is it ever true what goes around, comes around.

If you believe in karma, then I definitely was asking for what happened last night.

After I tore the Leafs a second one because of their terrible loss the night before, the Habs went out and did the EXACT SAME THING losing 4-3 in OT to the Oilers.

With the game well in hand 3-1 with under 10 minutes to play in the game, the young Oilers seemed to gain a step on the Montreal defense as the period wore on and took advantage of some sloppy plays and poor decisions by the Habs, eventually tying it up, short-handed, on a 2-1 after P.K. Subban made a bad play at the Oilers blue line.

Habs fans wanted a penalty on a supposed trip on Cammellari, but actually I didn't think it was a penalty. It was just a bad play by Subban. There was no need to pinch on a power play with the Canadiens leading in the game. He'll figure it out.

Then in OT, Cammellari pulled a Luke Schenn by giving the puck away on a rush (this time in the neutral zone) leading to a Dustin Penner breakaway, where the lanky forward slipped a puck through Carey Price's legs for the game winner.

Price deserved better, he was solid and made some very good saves. But even he couldn't bail the Habs out this time. At the other end, Dubnyk was also quite solid and kept the Oilers in the game as the Habs carried most of the play for 2 periods.

At least the Habs still got a point out of it.

This is maybe the only good time to be playing back-to-back, as the Habs can immediately bounce back with a strong outing tonight in ulp, New Jersey against ulp ulp, Martin Brodeur.

Let's hope they show some character. I would have been fine with 2 out of 4 points for these two games -- with a good game tonight they can still get 3 of 4 and put yesterday's meltdown behind them.

Kudos to the Oilers though. They didn't fold, kept coming hard, and their young talent (esp. Taylor Hall) all had good efforts.

A FEW OTHER NOTES
  1. P.K. Subban is sitting tonight!! Healthy scratch for the 1st time in his young career. Yannick Weber takes his place. Do us proud Yanny!
  2. Carey Price was named 2nd star for November in the NHL, just behind Sidney Crosby. I'll take seeing Price's name after Crosby's any day -- except in Conn Smythe voting :)
  3. Tony Molinaro of 990 radio in Montreal is reporting that Andrei Markov will be having surgery on his knee next week and may be out... 1 year!!!! ugh
  4. Max Pacioretty was named AHL MVP for November. Way to go Max.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Leafs Lose in Classic Fashion

It's so true. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Witness last night at the Air Canada Centre.

Leafs were up 3-1 with less than 13 minutes left in the 3rd after scoring a fluky goal when the puck hit a stantion behind the net and popped right out into the slot for Kulemin to put home. Our boy Komisarek actually got an assist on the play.

But just over a minute later, our boy Komi was up to his usual poor decision-making, leaving Marty St. Louis completely alone in front of the net while his linemates botched up a play at the blue line. "San Louis" as Joe Bowen pronounces it, made no mistake when the puck came his way. Love that guy (wish he was on the Habs).

Still only 3-2 and the Leafs settled down and it looked like they were going to win... but wait! We've seen this one before. It's like "Groundhog Day" -- practically as reliable as a Timex. With 12.5 seconds left, Schenn iced the puck!!! Which would/should normally result in a scolding. Icing the puck when you're up by one in a close game, always dicey. You know Jacques Martin would have been pissed.

If Ron Wilson didn't chew out his defenseman, in my opinion that's reason alone to fire him. This guy lets too many poor plays slide.

So of course, the Bolts win the faceoff (Dominic Moore btw) and San Louis scores from the point. Nice. Then Schenn, not having been benched by his coach for that icing play, makes a brutal backhand pass that leads to the game winning 2 on 1 for the Bolts in OT.

I couldn't help but laugh... made me feel like a kid again. Why? Because I've seen the Leafs lose soooo many games like this, it's funny!!!!!! This is a trend that's been going on since the early 80's. The Leafs -- they are experts in throwing games away.

Btw, the Habs organization should be very careful with making deals with the Lightning, a team that seems to be taking cues from the Habs, with success. More on this down the road. Also, GM Steve Yzerman -- he's like a kid watching the game. Chomping on chewing gum. He looks like he's loving this! It's nice to see a guy around hockey who really loves hockey for a change.

Ho! The Leafs have now dropped 15 of 19 since winning 4 in a row to start the season. Cue to Tom Petty: Freefallin'!

Love that song.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Best Habs Facial Hair

Thankfully Movember has only a few hours left as many men reach for their razors to rid themselves of the horrors growing on their upper lips.

Some men just aren't meant for facial hair; others do it with style, panache and ease.

In sports, baseball seems to breed some good growth, probably because they have so much time on their hands.

This year's winning S.F. Giants had quite a few on their roster, led by their closer, Brian Wilson -- who looked like he was wearing a fake beard because he dyed his jet black, giving him less of a Goose Gossage look and more of an intimidating Mad Dog Vachon one instead.

But nobody did it better than Rollie Fingers (above with the Oakland A's).


My brother reminded me of some of the great Habs facial hair from the teams in the seventies -- pretty much everyone had sideburns then, but he forgot the best one of 'em all: Larry Robinson!!!

I still think he looks funny now that he goes without the 'stache :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Tale of Two 'Staches

I'm a much happier camper today.

Habs continued their recent trend with a solid bounce-back victory last night over the listless Sabres 3-1. Next game is Wednesday night at the Bell Centre against the Edmonton Oilers, a game they must win because the next night they play in New Jersey -- and we know what that means.

Hopefully they can start stringing some victories together and increase their lead at the top of the Northeast division.

A couple of statistics as it stands right now:
  1. Habs are 2nd in the league in victories (15) -- which bodes well given the rule changes this season in regards to wins in regulation vs. extra time.
  2. Habs are 2nd in the league in goals allowed (47) -- but league-leading Boston (42) has played 3 less games.
Last night's game was proof that no matter how good a goalie is, if the team in front of him is deficient, there's not much he can do. Ryan Miller played great but it still wasn't enough. Credit to the Habs though for keeping the pressure on him all night.

Is it only me, but isn't it more special when Andrei Kostitsyn scores? I seem to always be happier when he contributes. He was in the right spot to pot the first goal of the night, and made a sweet pass right on the tape for Gionta's first of the night on a 2 on 1. Even though we'd like more production from him, I think he's been very solid since the first puck drop this season, and hope it continues.

Kudos once again to Carey Price last night and too bad he didn't get the shutout, but no matter. Although he didn't get tested early, it is always a challenge for a goalie to stand for long sequences without much action -- which was the case for him last night.

Now that December 1st is right around the corner, the shavers will be coming out to trim off all of those ugly Movember 70's style mustaches. But maybe Carey should keep his? He looks like a young Bernie Parent -- someone who had some success in this league :)



Although Parent didn't need to use a Sharpie marker to colour his in!!! Good one CP!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Canadiens LOSE on my BDAY!!??

It was a good day yesterday as it always is for me on November 26th -- my birthday. Work followed by a few pints followed by some burgers from my favourite burger joint, followed by a rare Friday night hockey game to watch on tv. Things were good.

I was psyched to watch my team dismantle the Thrashers. I was hoping (read: expecting) the team would come out and assert themselves as the better team, and help me end my special day with a win!!

But I didn't go to bed happy.

Here's the deal. In recent years, the Habs have had trouble in Atlanta, never fully playing up to their potential. Although I think they won there last year, usually the team doesn't perform that well in Atlanta. Maybe it's the relatively long trip, maybe it was the fact that they were playing on a Friday, maybe they just underestimated the Thrashers.

Whatever the "maybes" are, it all equaled up to a sound loss for the Habs, losing 3-0 to the Thrashers. Shut out for the 2nd time this week.

Yeeesh! I thought me and the Habs were tight!? Right!? Like, they of course would deliver a solid, 60 minute road game and bring home the bacon on my bday. Well it started off like that might happen, but they couldn't find the net after a few power plays in the opening 10 minutes. Then after some fumbling around by Hal Gill in the last minute of the 1st right in front of poor Alex Auld -- who probably feels like a crisp, white sheet today after being hung out to dry by his team last night -- the Thrashers made it 1-0 and never looked back.

So far this season, the 2nd period hasn't fared all that well for the Habs, and last night may have been the worst 2nd period they played all year: giveaways, losing faceoffs, taking penalties, losing battles. If it wasn't for poor "he's big, he's bald, he's Alex Auld," this game could have been a total write-off. Auld was solid in nets and did everything he could to keep his team in the game. So we definitely can't hang this one on him.

Honestly, this was the kind of collective effort the Canadiens tended to reserve for Carey Price last year. So if there's one good thing about last night, it's that CP didn't play, so he didn't have to take this kind of abuse.

This may have been collectively one of the worst games the team played all year, although to their credit, they didn't play terrible in the 1st and 3rd periods -- it's just that 2nd period which completely put the game out of reach. I mean, getting outshot 23-4!? That's pretty sad, especially when you can only wonder what was said after the 1st when the team gave up a last minute goal to make it 1-0. The game was still in reach at that point.

Hal Gill probably had his worst game in a long time and Gorges didn't look that much better. Subban wasn't his usual self, and although he finally dropped the gloves to fight Zach Bogosian -- guess he wanted to "learn those lessons" Mike Richards was speaking of. Unfortunately it didn't help to fire up the team, and Subban was largely ineffective last night.

I could go on, but no point singling out each player.

One alarming trend that I hope the Habs are able to curtail soon is their end of period play. Many times this season, they have taken late period penalties and start the next on the penalty kill. Luckily, their PK has been terrific, but it puts a kink in their flow. Last night, they were scored on with less than 20 seconds left in the 1st, then took a penalty in the first minute of the 2nd. This needs to stop.

Got to give the Thrashers their kudos though. They came out and really competed. They wanted to win and pressured the Canadiens net all night. They really are a transformed team now that they're in the post-Kovalchuk era. They have a strong young goalie (Pavelec), some great young talent (Evander Kane, Little, Peverley) bolstered by the Blackhawks' cup-winning cast-offs in Byfuglien (absolutely love that guy), Ladd, Eager and Sopel. Then add Jonny Oduya which they got in the Kovalchuk deal, and you know? This team might actually make the playoffs this year. They're a fun team to watch. But I had my fill after last night, that's for sure.

All I can hope for now is that the Habs continue with recent history and bounce back strong after a loss. They seem to be stringing wins and losses together lately, and they play a still insecure Buffalo Sabres squad tonight back home at the Bell Centre. Even with Ryan Miller in nets, the Habs should by all means take this one, and there's no excuses for playing last night, because the Sabres also played on Friday (beating the Laffs 3-1).

I think the Habs owe me this one.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Canadiens at the Quarter Mark

Let's not get too out of whack after last night's loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia.

Sure they should have fared better, up 2-0 after the 1st. What happened? That's for Martin to iron out. I'm not worried. Good to have these lessons learned now.

Your Habs are doing quite well after 20 games (now 21). Things could get better but it could also be a lot worse. Let me remind you that our beloved team was 9-11 at this point last year, struggling to find their way.

You may be wondering why I didn't post anything after the Habs victory over the Leafs on Saturday. One reason was travel. But the main reason is that this game is such a write-off, such a non-news item, that I treated it with the due respect it rightly deserved. That is, it was a no-brainer the Habs should have defeated the Maple Laughs at home, on Pat Burns remembrance night of all nights. It was only close due to the Habs inability to finish (which would come back to bite them against the Flyers last night) and because Gustavsson was very solid (and is the only reason Leafs fans have any inklings of hope for this season or the next).

Two things I do want to mention about this game though:

1. Carey Price's shutout is the first against the Leafs at home since Ken Dryden did same in 1977 -- hard to believe, but true. About time then. I like seeing Price's name next to Dryden's.

2. Mike Komisarek -- when he was on the Habs, I loved the guy but did feel he too often put himself in bad positions and made bad turnovers -- something that has become more pronounced now that he doesn't have Markov backing him up. LeafLand is not that smittened with him and for good reason. Well, I still love the guy. Why? Because of the kind of plays he makes consistenly, like the one in the 3rd leading to Cammellari's goal.

After 20 games, the Habs are (were) 13-6-1. Pretty good for a team that most pundits picked not to make the playoffs, which I find kind of mindblowing...sure there was risk in letting Halak go. But they have a good if not potentially great team on paper and are well coached.

A few things of concern are obviously: the power play; the lack of consistent production from some of the top players; and relying too much on Carey Price.

In any case in my humble opion there are ultimately three reasons why the Habs are in such a strong position after the quarter mark, third in the conference and tops of their division:

1) CAREY PRICE -- VEZINA BOUND!? Carey Price has done everything he needed to do to silence his long list of critics (which famously did not include me). Play his tail off and stop pretty much everything thrown at him. That pre-season game against Boston where he asked us all to "Chill out" is just convincing me even more that no matter what we may think, he knows the score, he knows what he can do and he also knows what he will deliver. Thankfully so does the Habs brass.

While his old buddy Jaro Halak is starting to stall in St. Louis, it looks like CP is just getting going. His numbers including last night's tilt are: 12-7-1 with a GAA of 2.05 and .932 SV% as well as 4 shutouts in 20 games -- melaka. Took him almost 200 games to get his first 4 shutouts. The guy is posting Vezina trophy numbers, maybe even MVP-worth, given the Habs would be quite mediocre if he wasn't playing at this high level.

Now that his critics have been silenced, hopefully once and for all, and he's shown he can perform at this level for real stretches, the Habs faithful can finally focus on something else and aim their collective wrath towards someone worthy...cough cough Gomez...

2) TOMAS PLEKANEC IS AN ELITE PLAYER!!! Not sure why I'm the only one putting Plekanec onto this pedestal. It's fully deserved! It's as if the media is afraid to go out on a limb too soon. Too soon!? For the last 3-4 seasons, TP has produced no matter who he's played with. His breakout year was excused to playing with Kovalev. Then after putting up still decent numbers on a down year for everyone, he posts a banner year last year, sans Kovalev, while playing with a revolving door of wingers.

This year, same thing. He puts up points consistently no matter who he plays with, and whoever plays with him suddenly racks up the points. Playing with Kostitsyn and Cammellari, they were the team's top offensive line. Then Gionta is mercifully separated from Gomez to play with TP, and all of a sudden Gionta starts producing. Kostitsyn is playing with Gomez, and suddenly he's gone silent (though still playing well in my opinion). I"m thinking Gomez should start playing the wing with Plekanec!!

Everyone recognizes he's been great, but nobody wants to give him the full kudos. Well I do.

This guy wins faceoffs, kills penalties, scores big goals, makes everyone better around him... he does it all! That's why I don't like the fact he was knocked by much of the media for his production in last year's playoffs. He can't do it all by himself. True, he needs to produce, and he did. But when a guy plays such a good two-way game like him, in the playoffs, it's that part of his game that's going to take precedence when those games are ultimately decided by winning a faceoff here, picking off a pass in the neutral zone there. Leave the scoring to Gionta, Cammellari et al. And that's exactly what happened.

Gauthier got TP at a steal this summer!!! Everyone's writing what a gamble Gauthier took by signing TP, letting Halak leave and staying with CP in goal. From my perspective, this was the only decision and not a risk at all!!! Price is the better goalie and just needed some ripening on the vine. Plekanec is an elite 2-way player who we groomed to play at this level... so we weren't about to just let him walk away. Now we have TP for all of his prime. Nice.

He also represents the Czech National Team and is one of the top players on that team. He's a great team player, never complains and always takes the heat when he deserves it. I think he's a class act and truly worthy of wearing the CH jersey.

Both Carey Price and Tomas Plekanec should be the Habs' All-Star selections this year. Plekanec probably won't be picked, but he should.

3) P.K. SUBBAN -- CALDER CANDIDATE!? We all knew that P.K. would start this season where he ended up last year. Or did we? Well one never knows. Man can this guy skate. He's playing over 20 minutes a game and makes it easier to forget about Markov. He's single-handedly improved the Habs' defensive zone breakouts, which were very tedious last year. He gets under the opposing side's skins (hi Mike Richards) and he can produce offensively (and will do so more frequently the next quarter of the season, methinks). He's a great team player, he's well-spoken. He's Canadian. He's strong. He's fast. He doesn't back down. He can do it all, and he knows he can.

Who else has generated this kind of excitement as a rookie since maybe Kjell Dahlin!? That's right, I said Kjell Dahlin!! And he eventually tanked. No wayyy that's going to happen with P.K. We haven't had a player come right out of the AHL and make such an impact so quickly and so profoundly. It's about time... our drafting has been mediocre at best over the last 15 years.

He will have to drop the gloves as was suggested last week. He'll do it when the time is right. He also knows that's not his job, but it's just one of the rites of passage for this gifted d-man.

---------------------------

That's it folks. It's been an entertaining and satisfying first quarter of the season. But there's a long way to go. Honourable mentions have to go to Jeff Halpern, who's had the best start of his career and seems to be a good fit on this team; and to Roman Hamrlik, who even though he missed training camp with his own injury, dusted off the rust very quickly and picked up some major slack with Markov out.

Let's hope the Habs stay healthy, Gomez starts producing and Price continues to be my boy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jaro Pulls a T.C. Chen !!

It's been a tough week for poor Jaro Halak.

After a sizzling start with his new team, Jaro has been pummeled of late, giving up 19 goals in 4 games -- all losses of course. He was also pulled the other week. Well there's another stat he has up on Pricey -- Jaro has been pulled once, to Price's none.

I watched the game the other night that saw Jaro facing his old d-man Ryan O'Bryne, now on the Avalanche (btw O'Byrne got smoked in a fight). He gave up 3 goals in the 1st period, and looked a bit rattled. If Halak's GAA was on the stock market you'd want in, because it is going up up up!

Last night Halak got shelled for 7 goals against the Red Wings. But it was the first Detroit goal that's getting all the attention because Jaro scored on himself by pulling a T.C. Chen!

Now for those of you not literate with such semi-obscure cultural references, first you should learn everything there is to know about "Jumping The Shark."

T.C. Chen will always live in infamy in the sporting world, and specifically the golfing world, because of what he accomplished in the 1985 U.S. Open. In the 4th round, he hit a chip shot twice (in the same swing) that ended up costing him the tournament.

Jaro accomplished the same feat last night. A bit of bad luck, but a T.C. Chen nevertheless -- right into his own net:



Ultimately, I think the Blues' deficiencies are starting to manifest after a great start and there's not much Halak can do about it. The loss of T.J. Oshie to injury hurts big time and they just don't have the kind of offensive punch needed to succeed in their conference. When a guy like Matt D'Agostini is leading the team in goals -- that's right, that Matt D'Agostini, then you know you have a problem. Nothing against D'Agostini. I liked him as a Hab. He has a great shot. But as we are all well aware, his production tends to drop off, big time.

I just can't wait until the Habs play St. Louis this year.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

HABS Make Statement Against Phooey Flyers

So the HABS sans Markov Part 3 keep rolling on with a solid, 3-0 victory last night at the Bell Centre. ALAKA!

On a night where the left-for-dead Maple Leafs gave Leaf Nation their trademarked glimmer of hope, the HABS continued to show the NHL-at-large they are a force to reckon with. Somewhere Bob Gainey is smiling. Or whatever he does when he's happy.

So is it just me, or can we all agree this team IS FOR REAL!?

Pierre LeBrun has a nice piece about the game last night, which you can read here.

My comment on espn.com was as follows:

It's true, it's only November. But the HABS have been one of the most consistent teams so far this year. Their special teams are becoming quite dominant. They are strong 5 on 5. They have deft playmakers but these same players have bought into Martin's system (I'm looking at you, A. Kostitsyn) of playing a tight defensive game.

I still find it mind-boggling that after such a nice run in last year's playoffs, most pundits/experts completely discounted the Habs this year, even predicting they wouldn't make the playoffs. This team is for real. They've found the formula, found their identity and are a hungry bunch. This isn't a cocky, swagerring bunch like the Flyers, or an over-confident group like the Caps who think they can take 2 periods off and still win. This is a dangerous, for real team with proven winners in their lineup. If they are playing like this come April, those who picked the Canucks as Canada's cup contenders will be wearing red instead.

The Flyers are a good team no doubt but I sense they're a streaky team, like they were last year. I think there's more of a question whether the Flyers goaltending will continue at a high level than with the Habs. The Flyers give up a lot of quality scoring opps. For Bobrovski to continue at this pace would be asking a lot. And I was never a big fan of Leighton, he just went on a fortunate run last spring but his bubble was popped by the Hawks -- possibly never to return.

Jaro who??

As an aside, the Flyers were playing their second game in as many nights, so expect a much more spirited bunch for the rematch in Philly on Monday. Then we'll see how the Habs react.

Also, I really like Peter Laviolette as a coach. He really knows how to motivate his players and make 'em believe. And when the game is lost, as it was for the Flyers las night for sure, send a message for next time. But I think it got a bit out of hand last night, no? Putting Jody Shelley on the powerplay? Give me a break...I wouldn't mind seeing Martin chew him out between benches next time. But this also shows a small hole in the HABS' lineup. Who's our enforcer? Laraque was a waste. Lapierre can't fight for his life. O'Byrne wasn't the answer either -- who btw, got punched out in a fight the other night against St. Louis.

We need someone specifically for these games. To me Moen is the closest we have to a reliable enforcer, but we need him more to continue doing what he's been doing. Any idears?

Monday, November 15, 2010

La première étoile, the first star... mais oui, it's CAREY PRICE!


He's my boy!

If this keeps up, I'll have to start a column titled "What Did I Say!?" because what I write today seems only to happen tomorrow. I always knew I was ahead of my time. Maybe I should start picking lottery numbers!?

In any case, for my latest "What Did I Say!?" moment, Carey Price was named the NHL's 1st star for the past week, as I had predicted in yesterday's post:
PS: Carey Price will undoubtedly be one of the NHL's three stars this week if not #1, going 3-0 with 1 shutout and 3 goals allowed in 4 games. Nice...
Mnsr. Carey Price won all 3 of his starts this week, allowing just 3 goals and posting a 2-0 shutout over the Vancouver Canucks, with a goals-against average of 1.00 and a .970 save percentage. The Canadiens goaltender improved to 10-5-1 with a 2.18 GAA with a .923 save percentage and 2 shutouts in 16 appearances this season.

Yepper. I have to say, this one is feeling good. For those of you in my hockey circles, you know then that I'M THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS BEEN ON CAREY PRICE'S SIDE, through thick and thin. With all the dissing, booing, then dissing once again to the point where the fan base almost ran him out of town, I have stayed true to the young man. I'm a goalie too, and know what a cruel position it can be when the the puck doesn't bounce your way. I also know what it feels like when a team hangs you out to dry, which is what happened to Price wayyy too many times last season.
Hey, last year was tough. I just want the HABS to win, and so if Jaro Halak was doing the job, I was fine with that. And boy did he play his heart out. I wish him well and he's doing well with St. Louis. And he made Alan Walsh a ton of dough. But that was the best he could play. And we still lost!!!
So I knew the Habs would keep Price. In any case, they needed to sign Plekanec so ultimately Halak was expendable. Price has won at every level, with poise and sportsmenschip. Thank god Bob Gainey et al didn't listen to the fanbase and stuck to their guns. Maybe it will turn out that last year was the best thing that could have happened to Carey. He's come back stronger both mentally and physically.
And the kid's only 23. So in my next "What Did I Say Moment!?" -- that will only be cashed in in about 15 years -- I say Price will be the NHL's next Marty Brodeur. That's right. He will win cups. He will break records. He will be on the Habs for his (I hope) entire career. Don't be surprised if he gets locked up big time for his next contract. Oh, and he will be a top 2 goalie for Canada's Olympic team next time around.
I have always believed, and still believe, that he is our franchise goalie, and will be in nets when the Habs win their next Stanley Cup (yes, he'll be in the Habs nets, fools!).
And I can't believe the chorus of people who still think he's a bad goalie or who think this run is lucky. When a guy dives to make a save when his team is up 5-2 in the 3rd period, you know he means business. Wake up and smell the smoked meat folks. Admit you were wrong. He's da man. He's my man. He's our man. He's Carey Price.

Oh. Also the Pens' Sidney Crosby and the Caps' Alexander Semin were the second and third star. Yawn. We know first-hand that Semin will run and hide in the playoffs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Perfect Week for the HABS Until...

There it was. The HABS were comfortably ahead of the pesky Hurricanes 5-2 and things were looking great. The top scorers were scoring. Price was continuing his stellar play. The Habs were about the wrap up a perfect week of hockey, going 3-0, winning two games against two of the most-seemingly powerful teams in the league, the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins (both overrated if you ask me) and on the verge of defeating their nemesis in the 'Canes, when all of a sudden, we saw a total replay of Markov's injury against the Pens in the second round of last year's playoffs.

Markov Goes Down

Hoo boy what a waste. Just when his game was coming around. Well after all the talk about the team's depth this week after O'Byrne's trade, it'll get put to the test now. The funny thing is I don't think the loss of Markov (rumoured to be three months but unsure until tests come back) will be as much of a negative impact to the team as it was last year. The Habs have their identity and Markov is slowly becoming less important to the team, especially with the inspired play of young Subban. This week saw the team play the kind of hockey that they were playing in last year's playoffs. Outstanding goaltending, followed by strong special team play and timely goals.

Let's wish Markov a speedy recovery. But boy it was essentially the same play as in last year's playoffs, Markov falling awkwardly into the boards trying to make a play in the corner...

Markov gets hurt against Pens

ALL - STAR GAME, HO HUM

There are three Habs on the official All-Star ballot touting the experiment the NHL is trying for this year's bore: Gionta, Cammelari and Markov. Obviously, these were made over the summer...we know this because Mark Streit is on the ballot for the Islanders and he hasn't even played a game this year. Not only should Price be on the ballot -- which everyone was calling for this week -- but what about TOMAS PLEKANEC!!! 

This guy has been the engine for the Habs offensively and is an elite player and proves it every night. Here's a guy who took less dough than he could have got on the open free agent market, plays his heart out every night, puts points up on the board no matter who he plays with, and plays a terrific two-way game. Man is he underrated in the eyes of the league, but you can be sure that when teams play against the Habs, his name is always on the board in their dressing room as one to keep an eye out on.

Great week for the Habs. Gionta looking like he's coming back and even Gomez scored. And Kostitsyn got a goal last night which will hopefully wake him up. Except for Markov going down, damn good week for the Habs, solidifying their lead atop the Northeast. KEEP IT UP!!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Boyd Stays, O'Byrne Traded -- What Did I Say??

So Ryan O'Byrne's rough and tumble time with the Habs has now officially come to a close. Too bad, I liked him, he was big, but he never quite gave the team the kind of consistent play that someone like Gorges is able to provide. I think his downfall ultimately was that he didn't show any improvement this year and this is what the team is looking for. Get better. That's what Gorges ultimately did and now he finds himself as a top 4 d-man.

Although O'Byrne is a big guy, he never really used his body to the best of his ability. But he left us with some memorable moments, unfortunately both not so good:
  1. "Pursegate" -- Team is getting set to play the Lightning. The night before, O'Byrne walks out of a Tampa Bay bar with some girl's purse, accidentally!?
  2. Against the Islanders 2 years ago at home, he scores on his own net.
Anyhow his fate was pretty predictable, like I wrote in my last post:
I think we can all agree that Picard is now ahead of O'Byrne in the Canadiens depth chart. Chances are, O'Byrne is going to be traded unless something else happens or someone gets injured.
So O'Byrne takes up residence in Denver for the Avs, while the Habs get the young, French Canadian prospect Michael Bournival in return. Since the Habs are looking pretty deep in the defense department right now, given Weber is also chomping at the bit on the farm, this was probably the right move to make. The deal also takes O'Byrne's $941,667 cap hit off the Canadiens' books.

Bournival is an 18-year-old centre from Shawinigan who was Colorado's third-round choice, 71st overall, in the 2010 draft. He's currently playing with the Cataractes in the QJMHL.

It'll probably be some time before we see him with the big club. With even more wiggle room under the salary cap, don't be surprised if GM Gauthier makes another move soon.

As a result we'll wait to see what happens with Dustin Boyd. Personally I was a bit surprised that no other team picked him up... right now, Ryan White would certainly be an upgrade if he shows the kind of spirited play that he presented in the preseason.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Story of Sergei K. and a Bag O' Pucks

So probably like many other Habs fans I was a bit surprised to learn yesterday that Dustin Boyd was placed on waivers. "Soumis au ballotage" is how I first saw it. It's not that surprising because his play so far has been subpar, or because he's already sat out quite a few games, but more because of how Mr. Boyd came to the Canadiens in the first place.

As you may recall, the saga began in the summer when Sergei Kostitsyn was finally given his walking papers in a trade to Nashville for Boyd and goalie Dan Ellis. This was of course after the Halak trade and Price was annointed the number one goalie (once and for all). Ellis, you may also recall, had no intentions of  being Price's backup, and ultimately signed with Tampa Bay, where he's gone on to whine about the difficulties of being an overpaid athlete. That left Sergei for Dustin. Now, Dustin is on waivers, shocked, rattled and surprised to be in this position.

What does this mean!?

Well, by putting Boyd on waivers, if he's not picked up by another team today, he will most likely be sent down to Hamilton. Which means the Habs free up some cap space, potentially to make some sort of move. There's been a lot of rumblings about Bill Guerin becoming a Hab, but personally I don't see it happening, given Guerin's age (he's 40) and the fact it's going to take him that much more time as a result to get up to game shape.

I think Boyd is a good, young 2-way player who has lost his way and has yet to find his "niche" -- as Jacques Martin put it. But with the Canadiens struggling to find the net, maybe something needs to be done sooner than later, and this may just be the start of something else to come. We'll see.

This could also be seen as an implied gesture of confidence to Ryan O'Byrne, who has been sitting for most of the season due to an underwhelming training camp and mostly, a lack of confidence. Although in reality,  O'Byrne is precariously close to the same situation Boyd is in. With Markov now back in the lineup all the defensemen are healthy, and Alexandre Picard, whose play has been solid, has recently been relegated to the press box. I think we can all agree that Picard is now ahead of O'Byrne in the Canadiens depth chart. Chances are, O'Byrne is going to be traded unless something else happens or someone gets injured. Personally, I'd rather see Spacek get the heave, but the chances of someone taking on his salary are next to nil.

GM Gauthier's moves up to this point have been somewhat dodgy. Last year, he made a somewhat questionable move in trading a 2nd round pick for Dominic Moore. Many, including myself, didn't understand the need for it. But that's why I'm not the GM. Obviously he saw a gap in the Habs lineup. And Moore ended up proving Gauthier right because he was a key factor in the Habs playoff run in the spring.

Then of course, the Halak trade. While Jaro has now officially hermetically sealed his net in St. Louis, the jury is still out on that one as we have yet to see the best of Lars Eller. Personally I like the kid, and he doesn't look out of place. He just needs to assert himself more on the ice and everything should be fine. I've got a good feeling about him, as I'm sure the Canadiens brass do.

Later in the summer out of the blue Gauthier signed Jeff Halpern, a veteran faceoff guru. I was puzzled because I thought Moore, who was now part of the core that seemed to help the team turn the corner and find its identity, was a better option. Now maybe it appears that Gauthier again knew something I didn't, because Halpern is having the best start of his career and is very reliable in the faceoff circle -- something the Habs needed help with. There's no way his current pace will continue, but he provides veteran leadership and a will to win. He's also somehow kickstarted Benoit Pouliot -- which ultimately could be Halpern's biggest contribution to the team -- and hopefully that will continue.

I guess ultimately the team is pretty deep in 3rd/4th line players. Moen is Moen and that's usually a good thing. Darche is playing well and Lapierre is solid if not underwhelming at times. Then there's Ryan White and Aaron Palushaj (who the Habs got from the Blues in the D'Agostini trade) both who had strong camps and are sitting by the phone.

Seems as if Gauthier specializes in making good moves that aren't evident right away. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, for now.

So...if Boyd IS picked up on waivers, the Canadiens still save his 650K salary, but they get absolutely nothing for him. Zero. Nada. Which then means the Habs got ZIPPITY DO DAH in return for Mr. Sergei. Not so good methinks. Even if Sergei is riding pine in Nashville.

Guess that bag o' pucks deal is starting to look pretty good in retrospect.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

HABS Win in WingLand, but Loss at Home Not Surprising

Shuffled off to Buffalo to watch the HABS play the Sabres on Friday night and it was well worth the trip. A few of my buds in tow, after dropping our stuff off at our hotel and chugging a couple of beers we made our way to Anchor Bar restaurant to mange on the obligatory wings pre-game din din. Never a disappointment.


 After an entertaining taxi ride to the arena by a driver claiming to be hiding in Buffalo from the mob, we got to our seats about 7 mins. into the game. From the shots on goal, we could tell the Sabres were hot out of the gate and Price was obviously the difference in the 1st period. There didn't seem to be much flow from both sides but definitely the Sabres had the better of the chances, finally cashing in with Mike Grier making a slick move to deke Price out of his pants on the backhand. However, on this night goals against only seemed to serve as motivation for the HABS as Jeff Halpern would tie the game with a wrist shot from the slot on a nice feed from Darche a little over a minute later. Not sure if Lalime had much of a chance on that one.


Second period was pretty much a repeat of the first, except this time the HABS seemed to find their legs and were generating more opportunities and tested Lalime, forcing him to make a few nice saves. Sabres though took the lead when Leopold wheeled in from the point and batted in a fluttering puck behind Price, but once again Montreal had an immediate response when the resurging Benoit Pouliot took the puck on the side of the net and moved out into the slot to slide it between Lalime's legs, tying the score under a minute later.

The Halpern line was definitely the strongest line of the night for the HABS, on a night where the team's top lines were somewhat flat. Gomez, off to a slow start this year, didn't drive towards the net on one opportunity which led to a turnover that resulted in the Sabres rushing up ice and scoring their second goal. So it was good timing for the Halpern line to get some timely goals for the team. Just what the doctor ordered, so says Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette, who after the game tagged them as the PhD line: Pouliot, Halpern, and Darche. Good one.

Ryan Miller's absence became a factor later in the 2nd when Pouliot streaked down the left wing and drove a slapshot from the top of the circle beating Lalime on the short side -- a save he should have made. In the 3rd, the HABS definitely tightened things up and really provided a solid defensive effort in front of Price, who wasn't as busy as the previous periods, but still  made a big stop on a partial breakaway midway through the period.



Somewhat sloppy effort, some timely goals by Pouliot and Halpern, and another strong outing by Carey Price gave the HABS an important 2 points and also may have driven another nail into the coffin of Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, whose Sabres have yet to win at home. Me and my bud agreed, Ruff is a great coach, but maybe the time has come to make some changes in Buffalo.


Unfortunately the next night back in Montreal was a bit of the same: sloppy defensive play led to some breakdowns to a streaking team that is quickly finding its identity with Mike Fisher as the leader instead of Daniel Alfredsson...and guess who would make one of his 8-10 appearances in a game out of 82 this year, but Alex Kovalev who probably is the most motivated against his old club than any other, scoring two goals (both were a bit lucky in my opinion but good for him).

My mother and brother were in attendance and witnessed a pane of glass break during the pregame warmup. Good thing they weren't sitting there at the time:


Honestly the Habs weren't ever in this game even though they had a couple of nice chances. Elliot was solid in nets, but it was Price who made this a game, giving the HABS a chance to squeeze out some points in this one. Gionta finally broke his goalless streak but it was too late and the team fell to the Sens 3-2. Habs looked slow and lethargic, mostly due to the game the night before, and once again, their power play was powerless. They really have to get this going or this is going to catch up to them in a a big way. They've now lost 3 of 4 and a couple of goals with the man advantage would have helped a lot in those games. Let's hope they figure out a way....ultimately with the team not playing their best, I'm sure Jacques Martin is content with with getting at least 2 out of 4 points, but knows they are walking a thin line unless the top scorers begin to find their touches once again.