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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.

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