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Friday, December 30, 2011

Blew It... Again!

Broken record, Groundhog Day, instant replay you name it ...

Leading 3-1 late into the 2nd period, the Habs gave up a soft goal, let Tampa Bay back into the game and ended up losing 4-3.

We've seen this over and over... and over... this year.

How many times have the Habs had leads in games, only to end up stumbling down the stretch and lose out on the 2 points!??

Carey Price looks up to the crowd in Tampa Bay last night. He knows he can be better. Habs lost the game 4-3. 

So many times, that when they showed a graphic on the subject on RDS last night, they needed two screens to do it.

That's a lot of points thrown away.

Points that make all the difference at the end of the season.

Hard to think the Canadiens could make the big show at season's end, given that they can't seem to protect leads.

Hard to lay blame for last night's loss per se except that Carey Price has had stronger outings. He made a couple of nice saves, especially on Vinny Lecavalier but the softie he let in at the end of the 2nd period really set the team back on its heels coming into the 3rd. And a soft rebound in front led to Tampa's winning goal which I'm sure he'd like back.

This year's Canadiens can't seem to play with the lead. Lack of confidence, for sure.

Sad to see because after going down 1-0 early the Canadiens were really the stronger team on the night.

But that just seems to be the way things are going this year.

Lottery pick? Why the hell not!? I'm starting to think this might be our best bet to get SOMETHING positive out of this year. Better to get the high draft pick than to pull a Maple Leafs, go on a late season run and miss the playoffs by 2 points.

And that's the fact Jack.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hard Reboot

After losing five straight games, four with Randy Cunneyworth as Head Coach, the Canadiens to a man could go home and take some time during the Xmas break to recharge, refocus and think about what they need to do to get back to winning ways and try to give themselves a chance at playing in the 2012 postseason.

Erik Cole celebrates his powerplay goal with Tomas Plekanec last night in Ottawa. The Habs won the game 6-2. Photo by: Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images.

So starting off their first game back from the break against the Senators in Kanata, what did the team do???

They gave up the game's opening goal within the first 2 minutes then took a minor penalty to go shorthanded less than 5 minutes in.

Hoo boy!

I'm sure many of you all in Habs nation were saying "Here we go again" or some other variation of such which I can't repeat here but fortunately... and surprisingly... the Canadiens were able to bounce back and take advantage of some seriously shaky goaltending by faux first-stringer Craig Anderson, starting with Lars Eller's shorthanded tally during that early penalty kill.

Has Lars been working on his shot??? That's the same wrister he beat the Bruins' Tukka Rask with back in October. It's sneaky fast when he gets it on net. Even still I think Anderson should have had it.

Eller of course as has been harped upon incessantly over the past few days sat in the hapless loss against the Jets, as did Subban. And it was Subban who also put the puck into the Ottawa net, this time behind one time Hab Alex Auld, when completed a nice play by Erik Cole on the rush.

Randy Cunneyworth had nothing to lose. So he decided on a hard reboot for his squad. I'm talking about pulling the plug painfully quick from the wall and jamming it back in to kickstart the Habs' collective hard drive. And Coach Cunneyworth was rewarded with his first win as an NHL head coach against the team he captained near the end of his playing career.

And for one game, it worked. It's no surprise that when you see the names Plekanec, Cammellari, Subban and Cole on the scoresheet, this team is going to win. Cole continues his consistent play. But Plekanec, Cammellari and Subban need to start chipping in offensively with more consistency if this team is going to have any shot at making the playoffs. And the playoff push starts right now.

Cunneyworth also finally showed there indeed is a difference between him and Jacques Martin with his rejigged lines.

No line before the break remained intact. Even Desharnais' line was torn apart -- perhaps also to help the struggling Pacioretty who seems to be in a bit of a funk of late. Michael Cammellari, who doesn't have much chemistry with Plekanec this year and who's been my favourite whipping boy of recent times, seemed to benefit the most from the shake-up, potting a goal and an assist playing on a line with Desharnais and Leblanc. Leblanc also had a goal and an assist.

I have to say this Leblanc kid really impresses me night after night and has been one of the rare bright spots in an otherwise murky season for the Canadiens. He plays like a smart player and seems to have a great head on his shoulders. He keeps it simple and seems to have a knack for knowing how plays will develop and where the puck will go. On Cammellari's goal, he waited a couple of beats before taking his shot so that the other forwards could reach the net and lo and behold, Cammellari was able to pot the rebound into the open side.

It's the little things like that which make all the difference, and it's what the Canadiens need to continue to do, shift after shift, game after game, night after night -- if they want a snowball's chance of making the postseason.

The climb is steep. The rewards great. If somehow the Canadiens could string some wins together and eke into the playoffs to play Boston in the 1st round -- you just never know what'll happen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Lump of Coal for Christmas

Twas the night, or a few, before Christmas. Nothing was stirring in the Canadiens' head office or house, not even Mr. Gauthier's mouse...

Montreal is getting colder and finally got some snow on the ground just in time for Christmas.

"Why am I listening to you? You can't speak French." Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images.

Awww. The holidays just aren't the same without any snow. But you know as well as I it's been quite cold for the Montreal Canadiens for some time now.

Just when it looked like things couldn't get any worse, they do. The Habs are winless since Randy Cunneyworth took over the head coaching duties and so the question I have to ask is... what has changed?

How is this team different from the one that Jacques Martin coached? I'll tell you how.

It's worse!!!

Last night's blanking at the hands of the upstart Winnipeg Jets is indicative of the team's play of late. Not much energy, nobody doing what it takes to win and mainly -- no flow.

For a team that supposedly counts speed and skill as its primary assets, the Habs are showing very little of each and has absolutely no flow in its game. Chipping and chasing clearly does not work when the team is regularly beaten to the puck and loses puck battles along the boards.

The Habs were essentially steamrolled last night by a Jets team that looked head and shoulders better than Montreal.

Are the Jets that much better than OUR Montreal Canadiens!?

No way.

Are the Habs freefalling!!

Uh huh.

Will the Habs as a group somehow put their demons behind them and start playing to their full potentials???

Not if they don't start playing a different style of game, that's for sure.

The problem I'm having right now is that if the team is going to play the same defensive style game, what was the point of letting Jacques Martin go?

Then Geoff Molson comes along and makes a poor strategic decision by announcing the team will find a bilingual coach, essentially cutting Cunneyworth down. As Nick Kypreos said on Sportsnet, from a player's perspective one might think: "And why am I listening to you??" The team is in a state of hockey purgatory, without an identity or a leader.

This team doesn't look tight. Nobody's skating or hitting. Nobody's battling. Nobody's scoring. Nobody's showing any passion, any fight. Nobody wants to lose, but nobody is doing what's required to win.

And NOTHING is going to change unless something else changes.

What is that something else? We'll find out soon enough...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Martin's Firing Needs to Produce Results

The axe has fallen. The head has rolled.

The open letter from Habs Fan in LeafLand to GM Pierre Gauthier... received and apparently, heard.

Habs Fan in LeafLand poster "Anonymous," as did much of Habs nation, finally got their wish.

Jacques Martin is out as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens after 2 1/2 seasons. Randy Cunneyworth steps as interim head coach.

"It's disappointing. We've been underachieving for the entire season. Jacques' not the reason we weren't winning games," an ashen faced Erik Cole said this morning. "This is a good wakeup call to us here in the room that we have to play better."

And better play, they must. Because now that Martin has been fired, it's high time for the players to play to their full potential. The excuses have run dry. This is a good team and it's time they started playing like it.

Let's remember not too long ago how a struggling Pittsburgh Penguins team, out of the playoffs and not playing to their full potential, fired head coach Michel Therrien mid-season, brought in Dan Byslma -- and the rest is history. The Penguins took flight and eventually won the Stanley Cup later that spring.

Look at the St. Louis Blues this season. Ken Hitchcock, one of my early calls to replace Martin, has seemingly turned that team's season around.

So now the BIG question is, will this make the same difference with the 2011-2012 edition of the Habs???

"When a team isn't performing as well as it should be or as well as it's expected to be, then changes are going to be made, and if we continue to play the way we have been, more changes are probably going to come."

Hello Mr. Cammalleri!!! Time for you to step up and get better my brother. At a million dollars a goal, the price is way too steep for my blood. I'm not as worried about Gionta or Tommy Plekanec -- they bring a lot more to the ice than just point production. But you, you need to score goals and score you must.

So the heat turns to the players and of course, Mr. Gauthier. I've been reading the boards. Many think Gauthier is a goner no matter what in the offseason. Molson certainly wants a winner and wants to put his stamp on this team. He inherited Gauthier and Martin.

The other BIG question of course is, who fills Martin's shoes full-time? Is this just temporary until Gauthier finds the right man this season? Or will he wait to see what happens and pull the trigger over the summer. I guess time will tell. I just want the team to win -- I couldn't care less who it is.

Though I still love to think: BRING BACK SCOTTY BOWMAN!!! ONE MORE KICK AT THE CAN SCOTTY!!! ONE MORE CUP MAN!!! YEAH!!!!!!!!

It's now become somewhat legendary in my circles that I boldly predicted the Habs would win the Stanley Cup this year. And I don't back away from that seemingly foolish statement. But for that to even have a snowball's chance in hell to happen, the Habs as a team need to start showing results and play themselves into the playoff picture.

Mr. Gauthier mentioned at today's press conference that "Jacques Martin did a good job for us"-- though he said "excellent" in French. The fact remains that the GM (as certainly did owner Geoff Molson) thought the team wasn't playing up to snuff and it was time to make a change.

I agree 100%.

This is a good team. The best since '93. Our best players haven't been our best players and it's time for them to step it up and start getting some results. Even with this week's win at home against the Islanders, it was hard to get excited about the win, when they gave up another lead in the 3rd. How many times has that happened already this season.

The Habs are a fast team that can use their speed, strong transition game and quick-moving puck skills to their advantage. But they haven't been doing it. Now hopefully they will.

Randy Cunneyworth steps in as interim head coach. He was a gritty, hard working, intense kind of player. We've only heard good things about him as a coach. Now he has the job of turning the ship around -- the first unilingual head coach the Canadiens have had since Bob Berry in the early 1980's.

And that's the last Cunneyworth would want to be associated with Berry, that's for sure. We all know how that turned out but if you don't... it wasn't too good.

So Cunneyworth is joined by Larry Carriere, already Gauthier's assistant GM and a man Cunneyworth knows well from his days as assistant coach in Buffalo. He's also a former player in his own right. He'll be handling the French language commentaries for the press.

Today we all got what we wanted. Let's hope we continue to get what we want, starting tonight against the New Jersey Devils. Puckdrop is at 7pm.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kabs to Habs, Collects Two Points in Win

Nothing seems easy these days for the Canadiens. No matter how well they play, in the end collecting the 2 points has been a struggle all year for this year's edition of the Habs.

The Thursday night game in Montreal against the Canucks was a perfect example. Up 3-1 in the 3rd the team should have been able to seal the deal. In the end, they once again let their opposition back into the game, took a penalty late to allow the Canucks to tie it up, and lost in a shootout.

Forward Erik Cole is currently carrying the Canadiens offense on his back.  Pic: Getty Images.
It was kind of predictable. In fact, it's exactly what I did predict after Mason Raymond scored shorthanded to make it 3-1. That's just the way things have been this year. Sadly.

So up 2-0 in the 3rd against the Devils in New Jersey this afternoon, it looked like it was going to happen all over again. The Devils got on the board late and with the Habs hanging on for dear life, took a penalty providing the Devils with every chance in the world to tie the game and send it to overtime.

But that even that wasn't enough. This time, in a mad scramble in front of Carey Price with 50 seconds left on the clock, Josh Gorges closed his hand on the puck in the crease and New Jersey was awarded a penalty shot.

I couldn't stand it. Actually made me sick to my stomach.

I wonder how Jacques Martin and Mr. Gauthier felt!?

I didn't want to watch but I did and this time was happy to see Price make the big save to allow the team to win the game 2-1 on goals from Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole. These two power forwards seem to be carrying the team right now.

But let's not forget the big trade -- Kabs to the Habs. Most online posters including the media absolutely roasted GM Gauthier for making this trade. When I found out, I figured it was a start, but in my opinion it's just the beginning. No doubt in my mind that Gauthier is not finished. I really think Michael Cammellari is the next to go. He has potential value to another team and he's just not getting the job done. We'll see.

For now, let's get this straight: Kaberle was brought in for his powerplay prowess, and for one game at least, it worked. Kaberle assisted on Pacioretty's powerplay goal and also picked up a second assist on Cole's tally, which came right at the end of a powerplay.

So far, so good. A good friend of mine predicted this move to bring in Kaberle and but I'm not as excited about it because it's a lot of money for an underwhelming player. Supposedly Carolina GM Jim Rutherford was shopping Kaberle around for weeks and finally found a sucker in Gauthier. But the upside is this: Kaberle is 33 whereas Spacek is 37 and wouldn't have been re-signed in any case. Kaberle is a good puck moving dman and Spacek is kind of injury prone. And although he has 3 years left on his contract at 4.25 million per season, it doesn't come with a no-trade clause -- so Kaberle could be moved if needed down the line.

Many thought the move reeked of desperation. I think something was needed. Is Kaberle the answer? Definitely not. Can he help? Absolutely. Will this drive die-hard Maple Leafs fans absolutely bonkers!? You bet.

And maybe that's all that matters...

AND, with all their struggles, the Canadiens are now only 2 points back of Toronto.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Habs Fan in LeafLand Profile #2: Mickey Inzlicht

Hey I want to write about good things.

Fun things.

Things that get me excited.

So that automatically discounts me blogging about last night's anemic performance by the Habs.

Look. When you can't beat the league's worst team -- at home -- then you certainly do not deserve to  have me write about your exploits here, let alone make the playoffs.

Hopefully things will change soon. I smell another open letter...

Which is why this is the perfect time to present to you Habs Fan in LeafLand profile #2: Mickey Inzlicht.

Mickey Inzlicht and his little boy Jonah. Just because he's being raised in Toronto doesn't mean the kid can't be brought up rooting for a winner.

Mickey is one of my oldest buds and a chip off the ol' block: originally from Montreal, he's been living in Toronto since 2005 and perhaps is even more passionate about the Habs now that he's in LeafLand than when he lived in Montreal.

Quite possibly because he despises the Leafs so much.

Want to stop this University of Toronto professor dead in his tracks? Ask him who he prefers to lose in a game between the Leafs and Bruins. He'd still say the Leafs.

Just don't tell his students that.

But unlike myself who remembers the Habs' last dynasty of the late seventies, Mickey came to seriously follow the Habs somewhat later in life, around 1996. He just didn't have the same kind of influence I had because his parents were both immigrants and not hockey fans per se.

But he did become hockey-aware in the early eighties listening to his father kvetch how bad the team was. So he remembers the Steve Penney-fuelled run in '84; he remembers the aging Lafleur; but Patrick Roy is probably his favourite Hab of all time, as well as Bob Gainey, Saku Koivu, Jose Theodore, and Mike Komisarek -- who after signing with the Leafs, he says was like "a dagger to my heart."

Later in the eighties he used to debate the Habs with some of his high school buddies, much like my own experience. He also saw the Habs play at the old Montreal Forum against the Winnipeg Jets.

Mickey started following the Habs for real later in life -- which won't be the case for Jonah.

But as is often the case in life, he needed to leave Montreal to truly appreciate and root for the Habs. So while doing his grad studies in Providence, Rhode Island he'd often smuggle a beer in to the psych department in the evenings and listen to the Habs games over the internet.

Believe it or not the guy has no cable. So in Toronto when he's not coming over to my place or watching the game over the internet he heads over to Kilgour's Pub which regularly shows Habs games.

Ole ole ole ole cher Mickey. Hopefully the Habs will win a cup some day that you can truly call your own. Let's just hope you're not a grandfather at that point.

HABS FAN IN LEAFLAND PROFILE #1 UPDATE: GREG CHAMBERS

Congratulations to Habs Fan in LeafLand Greg for his engagement to his new fiance Ashley. 
And Greg popped the question in style. The couple spent a terrific weekend in Montreal, chowing down at Moishe's steakhouse (my mother's favourite) then the next night went to the Bell Centre for the game where the Habs beat the Bruins 4-2. 
Then he proposed on Mt. Royal under a tree. 
Awwww. 
Way to go Greg! Good luck to you and Ashley. 




Sunday, December 4, 2011

500 Hockey = No Playoffs

The Habs picked up a big two points yesterday afternoon in Los Angeles with a 2-1 win over the Kings.

That's good.

Louis Leblanc picked up his first point in the NHL on a sweet play with Kostitsyn and Eller, and now has more points than Aaron Palushaj -- who was sent back to Hamilton today.

That was really good.

The Habs ended their western swing with 3 out of a possible 6 points.

That's not good enough.


The team averted a total disaster by winning yesterday but threw away valuable points in San Jose the previous game. The late 3rd period tying goal by the Sharks was certainly one Carey Price would like back. But we're not going to play the blame game today. All we can hope is the Habs keep working hard and try to get better, because right now -- as I mentioned above -- it's not good enough.

Louis Leblanc and Andrei Kostitsyn fight for the puck in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon. The Habs beat the Kings 2-1, salvaging 3 out of 6 points on their western swing. Photo: Harry How/Getty.

Let's look at yesterday's game. Mike Richards was out and probably helped Montreal's cause as the team came out flat and was lucky to take a 1-0 lead to the 1st intermission on Tomas Plekanec's powerplay goal. Finally the team broke through on the powerplay which has practically flatlined.


Price made a terrific reaction save after a really weird bounce off the glass almost found its way to the back of the net.

Andrei Kostitsyn had a great game and made a great play on Plekanec's goal by taking the hit in front of the net and somehow passing it back to Plekanec at the same time. Then he converted for the winning goal on a terrific play started by Louis Leblanc and finished by Kostitsyn after a nifty give-and-go with Lars Eller.


Obviously, it's easy to already see that Louis Leblanc is an upgrade to Palushaj so it's no surprise he's staying with the team for at least the short-term. The Habs need goal production and hopefully he can help out with his strong work ethic.


Keeping with Leblanc, his parents were able to see him play in Anaheim because of the extreme generosity of Erik Cole. What a class guy... Leblanc's parents had trouble finding last minute flights, and Cole stepped in to make sure it happened. A great example how this guy is a total leader and class act for the team off of the ice.


With the win, the team at least could head home on the 5 hour flight with a lot of positive energy and reload for a must win against Columbus. Max Pacioretty will be back after completing his 3 game suspension for his hit on Kris Letang last Saturday.


And, the update on Mr. Andrei Markov as provided by Mr. Pierre Gauthier is that Mr. Markov is out at least another 3 weeks because he needs to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his surgically repaired knee. Hoo boy...




Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mired in Mediocrity

1 out of 4 possible points over the weekend is just not good enough.

Not when the Canadiens keep losing ground to teams in the Eastern Conference.

Not when they are about to embark on a tough western road trip and needed to take 2 points at home.

The Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity, teams have games in hand on them, and if they can't come out of their upcoming western swing with a minimum of 4 points, the team will be in serious trouble.

The Philly game on Friday afternoon, I knew from experience that scheduling didn't favour the Habs.

But last night, the team should have been rip-roaring to go, show Crosby et al that they were ready, and take the 2 points in their building. AND IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY TO BOOT!

So what happens? They give up a goal 21 seconds in to Malkin.

The Desharnais - Pacioretty - Cole line has been the team's best and most consistent line so far this year. But it's not enough. Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images.

And to be completely frank, even with the Canadiens within minutes of taking 2 points last night against Pittsburgh, for all intent and purpose they had no business doing so. Many turnover, many breaks, many great saves by Carey Price and some timely shooting by the Habs' best line of Desharnais - Pacioretty - Cole carried the team to at least one point.

But the game wasn't without controversy. Max Pacioretty, the guy who should know better, clocks Kris Letang with his head down and snaps his shnozz. No penalty was given. We'll see what action the league takes, but I didn't like the hit.

Two Pens goals called back -- both the correct calls. But did that affect the referees's non-call in OT when the whistle should have blown when Carey Price covered the puck up, only to have it stripped from him by Kris Letang and put into the open net for the 4-3 OT winner???

How many times have we seen a Habs goal called back because the referee lost sight of the puck? On plays where the puck was clearly loose???? Last night, there's no way the referee could see that puck.

Kris Letang checks his marbles after getting clocked by Max Pacioretty last night. The Habs lost 4-3 in OT to the Pens. Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images.

But let's focus on what's really wrong here:

Why is Letang standing uncontested in front of Price with the opportunity of doing what he did?

Why does Coach Martin not furiously argue the non-call on the OT winner? Why is there no pushback?

On the first goal called back, who is taking Kunitz in front? On the second goal called back, why is Kunitz on a shorthanded breakaway???

Why aren't the Canadiens scoring on the powerplay?

Why is Brian Gionta MINUS 4 on the night??? And the Plekanec line a combined minus 9???

What the hell is wrong with Michael Cammalleri??? His voice was cracking in the pregame interview with Chantal Machabee of RDS and the first goal of the game came off a Penguins rush after an extremely soft and weak forecheck by the sometimes sniper.

Methinks changes are a comin'. Rough night for Gill and Weber. And honestly, I like Cammalleri but his play of late is starting to get me mad. Either he's not 100% or he's not happy. Because if the guy isn't scoring, get him off the ice. Because that's his job, his only job and he's not doing it at all. When a guy like that has less goals than Travis Moen, you know something just ain't right. And nothing against Moen, he's playing great and giving us more than we should expect from him. His goals should be the icing on the cake.

Gionta has on nights been one of our worst forwards and last night -- boy that's a game I'm sure he wants to forget. And now the two are bringing down Plekanec who is our best player. That line was in the shit all night.

The group has a few days to think about it and for Gauthier to work the phones. Giddy up Habs.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Start Weak Finish Strong?

Start weak finish strong? A metaphor for the Canadiens' 2011-2012 season?
Perhaps.

But it was exactly just that with last night's 4-3 shootout win in Carolina over the struggling Hurricanes.

Carey Price and his team started slow, fell behind early 2-0 but fought back to tie the game on two separate occasions to eventually win in a shootout.

A few positives from this game:
a) Nice to see the team come back from behind to win, especially in the third period;
b) The team finally won a shootout on Brian Gionta's goal (even if he was -3 on the night);
c) The team won a game when Carey Price didn't have his A-game;
d) Lars Eller scored a short-handed goal in the 2nd period which gave the team some momentum;
e) Scott Gomez injured!?

Travis Moen tips the puck past Cam Ward last night in Raleigh. Canadiens won the game 4-3 in a shootout.

Yes Gomez did not finish the game with a supposed lower-body injury...good or bad my friends!?

Minus Brian Gionta, who really misses the guy? He hasn't been an impact player at all for the Habs, and frankly takes up valuable playing time away from guys like Eller who was slowly coming into his own when Gomez was out previously.

One game out of 15 in Gomez's case is not good enough. We know that. Jacques Martin knows that. Pierre Gauthier must certainly know that. So why is he playing so much??

For the last few seasons the Habs have kind of limped into the playoffs. I wouldn't mind them getting on a roll late in the season for a change. Maybe this will be the year. After passing the quarter mark, the team is out of a playoff position, but only a few points back. So lots can happen.

And what are the positives thus far?

The emergence of Max Pacioretty as a Johnny Leclair type power-forward for the Canadiens.
The acquisition of Erik Cole, who has finally given the team power and speed on the wing and a net presence.
The ever-present, consistent play of Tomas Plekanec, our best all-around player and one of the NHL's most underrated players.
Josh Gorges regaining his previous form after a tough start -- proving he's the real deal and playing himself into a nice contract starting next season.
Travis Moen scoring more goals in 21 games than all of last season, with 7? Now that's a bonus. He must really want to stay with the Habs for next season.
The young defence play of Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz and to a lesser extent Alexei Emelin, showing they can play and be effective on the backend in this league. Now you can add Frederic St. Denis to the mix.

And finally ...

Andrei Markov skating with the team... and set to make his return. Soooooon, we hope.

Phew.

There's plenty of room for improvement, including more consistency from Price; more production from Gionta and Cammelari; more production from the powerplay; and more consistency from Subban.

Tough game in Philly on Friday afternoon. Habs need to put together a winning streak to keep pace with the other teams in their division, especially if the Toronto Kesseleafs keep fluking off wins...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tough One

Habs lose to Bruins 1-0!? Ech! Tough one to take. After a solid game followed by a crappy game on Long Island followed by a total team game on Saturday against the Rangers, the Habs came out and played hard but didn't get the bounces -- or the puck -- past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.

Montreal played a good game and came very close to scoring in the first period -- really nothing to fault except not taking advantage of the 4 minute powerplay from the late 2nd to early 3rd period courtesy of former Hab Benoit Pouliot.

Timmy Thomas played an excellent game and was the game's first star.

Mo' saves makes for a great Movember! Timmy Thomas' moustache bests that of Price as the Bruins beat the Habs 1-0 in Montreal tonight.

Carey Price couldn't be blamed on the only goal of game by Andrew "it was an equipment malfunction" Ference.

And d-man Alexei Emelin played the kind of rough and tumble game that we've all be waiting for, making smart plays and using his body against the boards which was great to see. The inexperienced Montreal blue line is still holding up for now. Hal Gill should be ready for Wednesday night in Carolina.

Price was named the league's first star of the week for the 2nd time this year after his two shutouts in a row. Unfortunately he needed a 3rd shutout in a row to get the job done tonight.

The Habs are playing well so this is the kind of game that, even with the loss, still needs to be used as a positive to push them forward and start building a winning streak of their own.

Meanwhile the Bruins have yet to lose in November and have won 9 in a row. No likee.

Tough week ahead as the Habs head out on the road for their game against the Hurricane on Wednesday to then play an awkward afternoon game in Philly against the Flyers on Friday due to Thanksgiving holiday in the States. I already don't like the sound of that.

Then we host the Crosby show on Saturday. This could be a rough week.

MEANWHILE, in Pittsburgh, Sidney "someone please get that Steckel" Crosby made his triumphant return -- in style as all the elite players seem to do -- scoring on his first shot on goal and ended the night with 2 goals and 2 assists. Nice one Sid the Kid. Can't wait until Pittsburgh plays the Leafs again -- I really hope someone takes that Steckel out. Wishing him all the best, except when he plays the Habs.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nailbiters Will Be the Norm

It's tough to win games when you're only scoring 2-3 goals a game.

But the Canadiens were able to pull out 2 wins doing just that, with subsequent OT winners first in Phoenix then in Nashville last night. The Habs finally ended their scoring futility against Predators goalie Pekka Rinne and got out of Nashville with 2 big points because of a nice wrister by Max Pacioretty in OT.

For the second game in a row the Habs had to battle through adversity with players coming back into the game after spending time in the dressing room, only to then come back and be difference players.

You da winning goalie!? You get the Subban low-five. Peter Budaj continues the tradition with P.K. after a solid 2-1 OT win last night in Nashville. (Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
 
In Phoenix it was Plekanec who took a bad a fall only to then ignite the Habs' offense, while last night P.K. Subban came back to the game after a big hit to then set up MaxPac for the game winner with some nifty puck control in the Nashville zone.

Once again, the Canadiens powerplay went 0-fer, but there was good puck movement and some nice opportunities so if the team continues this way it's only a matter of time it begins to break through with some regularity. Coach Martin has to be a bit concerned though especially with the fact that the team gave up another shorthanded goal last night.

Nailbiters will be the norm if the Canadiens can't score a bit more moving forward. It makes for exciting ends of games but I'd prefer a bit more cushion, thank you very much. In any case it's always positive for a team to win OT games.

Kudos also to the Habs defense for tightening things up for their goalies; Price was great in Phoenix and last night backup Peter Budaj was solid -- which has to be somewhat comforting for Coach Martin especially after Budaj's previous shaky performances.

And the return of Scott Gomez didn't seem to hurt at least. Played on the 4th line and powerplay, perhaps the Habs and Gomez are committed to make that move last. It's not a bad thing...if he can help the 4th line generate some speed and chances, it really makes them that much tougher to play against. Evolving to the 4th line is not the end of the world and it's something the Habs weren't able to do with Saku Koivu as his productivity started to slow. We just can't have a void on the first few lines like Gomez has been giving us. Meanwhile he was still a -1 last night.

Much needed wins help the Canadiens keep pace with their other rivals as things slowly begin to tighten up in the middle of the conference. Now back to playing 500 hockey, the Habs get the chance to build upon that when they play the Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre on Monday night. A big game to keep things moving in the right direction and pick up a big 2 points on their division rivals.

The Sabres will be coming in hot and angry after they took a beating from the Bruins last night, highlighted by head goon Milan Lucic's hit on Buffalo goaltender Miller.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Start it Up Again

500 hockey on a back-to-back!? 2 weeks ago, we'd be happy with that.

Win 4 of 5!? 2 weeks ago, we'd be absolutely thrilled with that.

Losing the game because of completely unbalanced and maybe even, unfair officiating? Today, we're pissed with that!

But your Canadiens have no reason to be pissed except only to use last night's loss 5-3 at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers as motivation and a rallying call moving forward.

Brad Richards looks to thank last night's referee after scoring in New York last night. The Habs lost 5-3. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images).

The Canadiens were shot in the foot right from the get-go with penalty after penalty. The Rangers had nine powerplays. Subban even got 2 minutes for snow-showering Lundqvist.

But the Habs never gave up and fought hard, and when they weren't killing penalties, looked like a confident team who played like they could come back and pick up some points. When Gionta scored late, they at least had a chance. But it didn't work out. It just wasn't our night. The bounces -- and officiating -- didn't go our way.

But the team needs to be better to adapt in these situations when the officials decide to take the game into their own hands.

Habs still have a ways to go in the standings but they have every reason to hold their collective heads high after last night's loss. Pacioretty had his best game in a few. Erik Cole continued to play well, barging into the Rangers zone on multiple occasions and creating scoring chances, even hitting the post in the second off the rush. The penalty kill was great; and the powerplay scored. Carey Price really can't be blamed, but I'm sure he'd like that one against Richards back, even if he was partially screened.

Hopefully the Habs will come out strong and hungry on Tuesday night when they face the upstart Edmonton Oilers at the Bell Centre and start it up again for a new winning streak.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Smiles Are Back

The Canadiens seem to be getting their collective mojos back and are starting to look like the team we all thought we had.

The rhetorical question that everyone in the media is asking is "Who could have thought the week would end on such a high note?" especially after losing their sixth in a row against the Florida Panthers on Monday then with upcoming games against the Flyers and the Bruins? Not me, that's for sure.


Now winners of their last 3 after a solid 4-2 win over Boston last night in Montreal (while not giving their opposition any points either) the Canadiens now have the next few days to recharge, re-motivate and work hard towards keeping this momentum moving forward towards their next game on Friday against the surging Ottawa Senators.


Smiles were aplenty pre-game in the Habs' locker room, notably from power-forward Erik Cole, who over the last few games has performed the way we had hoped he would when signed over the summer.

The Habs are beginning to play like a team that's ready to fight for eachother. The team celebrates its 4-2 win over Boston last night in Montreal.


Sports psychology is a funny thing. Michel Bergeron on RDS was astute early on in his comments about Cole. When he first signed he was all pearly whites.

When he came to the locker room in the preseason, he was happy. After the first few games after not playing on the powerplay and averaging about 11 minutes a game, he was downright dour.

Now that Martin has seen the error of his ways, kissed and made up with big Erik like I asked him to, the powerforward is playing the powerplay, using his speed to create chances, parking himself in front of the net and playing closer to 18 minutes a game.

And the smile is back.

It's amazing what a couple of wins can do. Martin is off of the hot seat; Price is rounding into form; the powerplay and penalty kill seems to be heading in the right direction; and the Canadiens' d-corps is slowly coming into shape, buoyed by the return of Spacek who has become a shotblocking beast with 18 over the last 3 games.

Add the fact that the Canadiens are getting scoring from their entire lineup (all this without any input goal-wise from P.K. Subban) and you have a team that we all thought we were going to have when Cole was signed: 3 scoring lines that can do the job on both sides of the ice.

Lars Eller continues to keep chugging along, finally scoring his first of the season while obtaining a few more quality scoring chances. He's now playing with Kostitsyn, which worked last season as well. Although he was the victim of a giveaway on the Bruins' first goal of the game, Eller looks to be getting better and better.

Now who thinks we got the short end of that trade with the Blues for Jaro Halak?? Jaro is riding the pine in St. Louis and has seemingly lost his job to Brian Elliot. We got their first round pick and he's starting to show why he was a first-rounder. Hey the kid is still young, and he's got a long way to go still, but that's what makes me excited because I like what I see from him right now.

It's only three games but all I can say is that their tough start can only be a good thing now, if anything just to keep the team grounded and focused on what it needs to do to succeed. Now that this edition of the Montreal Canadiens has felt the wrath of the fans and media alike when the team struggles, it should now be very clear that it's not something they want in large doses.

Now what do we do with Scott Gomez when he comes back to the lineup???

Gomez on the fourth line?? Does Martin have the balls???


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Goal That Saved The Season!?

Ay-yoy it was an eventful day yesterday for Montreal Canadiens fans, as well as the team and organization itself.

First, we heard conflicting reports about Max Pacioretty's wrist injury from the previous game. He may require surgery. No he doesn't need surgery. He's for sure not playing against the Flyers. No, he'll be a game-time decision.
Well as it turns out, he did play -- thank goodness for that. Ended up, he was key to the Habs' 5-1 win last night against the Philadelphia Flyers in Montreal last night.

Yannick Weber et al celebrate his goal with 2.6 seconds on the clock to end the first period last night. Was this the moment where we'll look back and say, this is where the Habs got their collective mojos back!? (Photo: AP).

MaxPac had his first 3 point night in the bigs, is now averaging a point a game so far this season, and although we know the guy has a great wrister, his two goals were of the dirty variety.

About 90 minutes out from gametime, the team announced that one coaching head did roll, but it wasn't like we thought (and maybe hoped). Perry Pearn, a long-time friend and colleague of Jacques Martin, whose main responsibilities were the powerplay and the defense, was sent packing by GM Pierre Gauthier.

Message to the team? Message to Jacques Martin? Tease as to what's to come if things don't change? I guess we'll have to see.

The panel on TSN last night (which included Marc Crawford btw) was unanimous in labelling Pearn a "sacrificial lamb" and that the intent of his firing was to light a fire under the players and coaching staff alike. Bob McKenzie even went so far as to say he found the timing "puzzling." What does it accomplish? Especially since the Habs have almost all of the coming week off, that might have been a better time to make such a move. But there may still be more moves coming...

Then again, fans and writers alike were calling for something to be done right away. So we got something alright.

So even with all the pregame drama, it was the Flyers who came out like a house on fire, completely dominating the Canadiens and taking a 1-0 lead on a goal by Hab-not and Plekanec buddy Jaromir Jagr.
In fact, the Habs were so flat, they didn't have a 5-on-5 offensive shot on goal all period...and didn't have a shot for a span of 15 minutes.
But then...

But then with just under a minute and a half left in the period, the much maligned Erik (I'm being used the wrong way by Jacques Martin) Cole used his speed and power to create an interference penalty on the Flyers. And with 3 seconds left on the clock, Yannick Weber drilled a one-timer past Flyer goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to tie the game at 1.

It was a big moment.

It was if the Habs -- to a man -- had that mighty heavy weight suddenly lifted from their shoulders.

It was if they were free.
Because come the second period, they looked like a transformed team. They came out flying. They supported eachother. They went hard to the net. They did the right things. AND for a change, they had some bounces go their way. Like on Andrei Kostitsyn's 3rd of the season, where the puck caromed off of his leg and into the net.

It was the game winner.
And when Kostitsyn scores a dirty goal like that, you know things are going Montreal's way. It's also going their way when SOMEONE ELSE misses an open net, that someone being Wayne Simmonds who had a gaping wide net only to put it off the post. Kostitsyn's strike came soon after.

Later down in the defensive zone, Carey Price made a terrific pad save and then a short while later, the puck bounced right to Pacioretty who put it home to make it 3-1. And the team never looked back.

Price got rid of the pink pads, made all the key saves when he had to (like the breakaway by vanRiemsdyk to open the 3rd period) and finally picked up his 100th win in the NHL. MaxPac showed why if he were in the lineup, the Habs would have beaten the Bruins last spring and why he's so important to this team. Erik Cole showed the kind of hustle that makes him the kind of player the Habs need and why Gauthier signed him in the first place. There were other strong performances. If Lars Eller were more of a goal scorer, he could have easily had 2.

So will we look back at Yannick Weber's powerplay goal with 3 seconds left in the 1st period in this game against the Flyers on October 26, 2011 as the moment where it all turned around????

It's just one game. One win. But you never know...

Hey if the Habs win the next 9 games in a row, this will all have seemed like some weird dream. Just like when Pamela woke up to see Bobby showering in that infamous "Dallas" episode :)

At least the team has some confidence going into their home-and home series against Boston that begins tonight. And everyone can focus on that instead of who is going to replace Martin as head coach.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

An Open Letter to Pierre Gauthier

Mnsr Pierre Gauthier
General Manager
Montreal Canadiens Hockey Club
Bell Centre
Montreal, QC

Dear Mr. Gauthier,

First off let me say that I do not envy you. Your job is very difficult. Especially when there are millions of people who think they could do it better than you. It's easy for me to sit back, crack open a cold one and shout at the television screen and pretend that I know what I'm talking about. It's easy for me to think that I would have made all the right moves for the Canadiens in the offseason.

Although I must say, I have been watching and playing hockey for almost 30 years and I do feel I know a think or two about the game, especially where the Montreal Canadiens are concerned.

It's also easy for me to think that immediate action needs to be taken to put to a halt this epic and record slide for our team to start the 2011-2012 season. A season, I will inform you, in which I boldly predicted the Montreal Canadiens would win the Stanley Cup.

And while I'm still not throwing in the towel on that seemingly foolhardy prediction, I do think that you need to face up to reality and get with the program -- which is to start making the very tough decisions. Okay, start making more tough decisions.

I know it was tough letting Mr. Roman Hamrlik go this offseason. I know it was tough signing Mr. Andrei Markov to a 3 year contract when he's barely played for the past two seasons and still has no definite timetable as to his return. You have a difficult job with many tough decisions. And you make them.

That's why it's so important for you to make another one now and relieve head coach Mr. Jacques Martin from his current duties.

Mr. Martin is a professional coach. A winning NHL coach. A good guy who speaks French and is respected by many people. Unfortunately it is becoming very clear that he does not have the respect of his players -- the players that you assembled -- to put forward our best chance to winning a championship this season.

Mr. Gauthier, I call on you to begin the process of replacing Mr. Martin as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. No matter what the press and media say, there are some very viable options out there. I have already come forward to present Marc Crawford -- former NHL coach and former Stanley Cup winning coach as a potential candidate. There is also Ken Hitchcock, who although has not had much success of late as a head coach, is a professional and dedicated man who could bring a new structure to this team. And he worked for Bob Gainey in the past, winning Dallas' only championship.

There are others, too.

I truly believe the pieces you have assembled for this year's edition of the Montreal Canadiens are strong and although we have a few injuries, if healthy, this is the best team Montreal has iced since our last championship in '93. I know I'm not the only one to think this.

But your team is not playing up to its full potential and I think I know why. They no longer buy into Mr. Martin's system and they are not playing the kind of system that would help them to prosper and excel. Namely, a system that would allow them to maximize their full potentials.

Mr. Gauthier, it hurts me to see my beloved Montreal Canadiens in such a state. It hurts me to listen to people kick the Habs while it's down, especially in Toronto. And it hurts me to see such great and proud players struggle for answers. They know this cannot continue. I hope you do too.

I eagerly look forward to your decision and quick attention to this matter.

Yours very truly,

Ari Grief
Habs Fan in LeafLand

PS: Can I have an autographed Carey Price rook gamer jersey? Thanks in advance. HFLL

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The GOOD, the GREAT and the NOT SO GREAT

My evening last night can be summarized by the good, the great and the not so great.

It started with dinner with my brothers at Fabbrica, Mark McEwen's take on artisanal Italian food here in Hogtown. We tried a bunch of different plates. Washed it down with Italian beer and San Pellegrino. It was good.

Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals pounded 3 home runs in Game 3 of the World Series. First ever National League player to do so. Joined the ranks of Babe Ruth (who did it twice) and Reggie Jackson as the only players to achieve the feat. That was great.

Reggie! Reggie! 

Then with my belly full I watched last night's tilt between the Leafs and the Canadiens in Montreal. Not so great.

Carey! Carey!

Say what you want about this year's edition of the Montreal Canadiens -- and nothing against him -- but when Travis Moen leads the team in goals you know something just ain't right.

He's having a great start to his year, but where is the defense on this team??? Oh yeah! One's in Florida hobbling on skates contemplating his future; the other is nursing sore ribs -- and maybe eating a few too; and the last is out for months after getting potentially concussed in the preseason then playing one measly period in his Habs career.

Former Hab Mikhail Grabovski scores the OT winner past a helpless Carey Price last night in Montreal. Are you ready to come in off the line, Carey? (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

In the locker room after the game, a game that saw the Habs blow leads on multiple occasions to lose eventually 6-5 in OT, everyone was saying the right things:

"We had a much better effort than in Pittsburgh."

"If we play like this, we'll win our share."

"We did a lot of positive things so we have to build on that."

Maybe the effort was there, but the result is still the same. Winless at home to open the season. The Habs have now lost 5 games in a row and earned a measly 4 points out of a possible 14. Ooof!

To put THAT into perspective, the Habs would have to win 46 of their next 75 the rest of the way to achieve the 96 points that put them into the playoffs last year as the number 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Still quite possible. But can you see this team doing that? Especially with a team that can't seem to seal the deal with 3rd period leads? That's twice already: Colorado and now Toronto.

On a night where Hal Gill was honoured in front of the hometown crowd for his 1000th NHL game, it's sad the Habs couldn't muster an inspiring defensive performance that would have been the ultimate honour for Gill.

It's sad the Habs can't score on the powerplay which is powerless. That included a 5 on 3 that lasted for nearly a minute.

It's sad the Habs fumbled around in the defensive zone multiple times last night, leading to goals by Kessel (on a giveaway by Josh Gorges, the likes of we have RARELY seen but already have twice this year) and to the OT winner by Grabovski.

It's sad that Carey Price's numbers are bloated like my belly was last night post-Italian din-din because he really does deserve much, much better. He's being hung out to dry like my mother's tablecloth on a crisp spring afternoon.

You know, there were some bright spots last night. Obviously Travis Moen is doing his part. And Lars Eller, hey the guy is really starting to come along. He made a great play on Moen's shorthander to open the game's scoring, and he also looked strong headmanning the puck on Andrei Kostitsyn's goal to open the second frame.

And although he didn't get any points -- nor did he receive any time on the powerplay -- Mike Boone of the Montreal Gazette felt that Erik Cole played his best game as a Canadien. I don't know... I think he's not happy with his icetime. I wouldn't be. Darche was on the powerplay and not him? And supposedly Martin was chippy when asked about it after the game.

Folks are getting restless. Which of course is nothing new for us Cup-starved Habs fans. But the hole is getting deeper and this next set of games could put the clock to twelve. After Florida, Boston twice and then Philadelphia.

I don't know if she reads my blog, or if she is the now-infamous Anonymous poster of mine, but here's a comment that one Jessica S. from Alberta left on Yahoo sports:

think the habs need a replacement in the coaching..MARC CRAWFORD is a very good choice..got some good players..too bad they got rid of wies..great defenceman..markov's done..GET WITH IT....IT WOULDN'T HURT TO GET SOMEONE THAT KNOWS THE HABS SYSTEM..PATRICK ROY COULD HELP..EVEN LAFLEUR.....GOTTA GET RID OF MARTIN.....

Guy Lafleur as coach!? Okay NOW that is funny. And Patrick Roy!? Maybe some day, but not now.

But it does kind of sound like the comment Anonymous left to my previous post:

Team has to be on board with the coach....I don't think the Habs players respect Martin. This is the main reason for the passion-less play. A really big front office shake-up is coming that may see a few heads roll and a distinct possibility that the over zealous Sir Patrick Roy could be coaching the CH???? Just A sick rumour.....but don't be shocked if it happens.....and don't be shocked at the shake-up if we don't get the two points from the leafs tonight. GO HABS GO !

It's now officially 3 minutes to midnight on the PANIC BUTTON CLOCK. When the clock strikes twelve, it'll be the death knoll for Jacques Martin as head coach of the Canadiens.

Hey as always, win or lose IT'S ALWAYS ENTERTAINING!!!



Friday, October 21, 2011

Anemic Performance Has Finger Hovering Over Panic Button

So get this. My brother who lives in Chicago came to town on Thursday and we watched that night's game against the Penguins. He enjoys hockey and goes to see the BlackHawks every once in awhile especially when the Habs are in town, but he leads a busy life and has other pursuits.

Aaron Asham scores on a borderline highstick for Pittsburgh's 3rd goal October 20, 2011. He always seems to get one of his 5 per season goals against the Habs. The Pens won the game 3-1.

And although he still is (and always will be) a Habs fan he doesn't really follow them, yet he still offers some strong opinions. Some in fact may be just as valid as Red Fisher's or Yvan Pedneault's given he's bringing at this point a somewhat outsider's objectivity to his views.

Lately it's been the unfortunate case that when we seem to get to watch a Habs game together, the bleu-blanc-rouge lay an egg of a game (games against Tampa Bay and Nashville from recent seasons come to mind). And unfortunately last night's game continued that trend with the Canadiens's anemic (his words, not mine) performance, falling to the injury-plagued Penguins 3-1.

Although they had a few flourishes and a few early scoring chances (namely Mathieu Darche on a short-handed breakaway and Erik Cole in front from a nice set up by Lars Eller) the Canadiens really were a flat team on this night. No passion, no fight, no clutch plays, no luck and no goals until just under two minutes left to play in the game, thankfully breaking Fleury's shutout.
Can't blame Price on this one -- he played well and gave his team a chance to win. All three Pens goals were kind of flukey if you ask me...

The expression goes, you make your own breaks. And I believe it. The Habs need to start making their own breaks.

And it's not as if one player stood out as being terrible or whatnot -- just the team as a whole came off as uninterested and flat. Or anemic as my brother put it. It was an anemic performance, the powerplay is verging on the pathetic and the team needs to find answers very soon otherwise they'll find themselves sitting at the very bottom of the Eastern Conference.

My brother doesn't know some of the newer Habs and I of course told him to look out for Max Pacioretty who in my mind at least has by far been the best -- and most consistent -- Habs forward so far this year. And he agreed. On a night where most of Montreal's team did their best not to stand out, my brother was impressed by the big winger and commented how he was a presence on the ice.

So how come Erik Cole is not being the same presence?

I don't want to kick him while he's down, but Cole, as well as Gionta and the now-injured Gomez once again were shooting blanks last night. (Maybe Gomez's injury will be a blessing in disguise?)

Hey, if the team lost with an effort like the previous game against Buffalo, I could live with it. But to lose in such a boring, bland and lack-of-any-fight way, that could say quite a bit about... THE COACHING STAFF!

Uh oh!

On October 16th, an "Anonymous" poster left the following comment after the team's 6-5 shootout loss to the Avalanche:

"...Head Coach Jacques Martin is on the block....3 more games...maybe as much as 5...quote me."

Well well well I am now officially quoting you Anonymous (are you GM Pierre Gauthier?). And I'm starting to believe that I may be quoting you again very shortly.

Has Jacques Martin lost the room?
And if he gets the axe, who will replace him???

My brother and I laughed: "Hey let's bring back Scotty Bowman! One more time!" If he could win the cup with this team, he really would be the best coach ever! Not that he isn't of course.

But Scotty is too old... and too smart, to take this job. But seriously, after running through the options with another Habs Fan in LeafLand, you heard it here first that hair boy Marc Crawford is probably starting to lick his chops and readying his coiff for the big show once again, falling into a long line of former TSN panelists to jump back into action (Torterella, MacTavish, Burke).

Makes the most sense. He's won the cup as a coach, he's available, he's tough, his wife is a Quebecer, he coached the Nordiques -- and what I really love the most -- he's got a great head of hair :)

And speaking of heads, fans are calling for Martin's head. On a block with a little sauce, please.
Now I'm a supporter of Martin, but now even I have to admit, I'm not liking what I'm seeing:

-- I don't want to see Plekanec on the point during the powerplay. It's been tried and doesn't work. He's best down low. Give it up and find new solutions. As my brother said last night, if the point men are being pressured on the powerplay, it's up to the coach to give them options to do something about it.

-- I don't want to see line-tinkering with lines that are clearly working, like the Desharnais-Pacioretty-Kostitsyn line. Leave them alone will ya!? Poor Frere Andrei... and give some time to the others before tinkering. This team needs time to gel and you keep disrupting that process!! When you make a souffle, if you open the oven too soon, it gets ruined!

-- Make up with Erik Cole and give him the minutes and the powerplay time -- jeez he couldn't be worse than Scotty G. You lost this guy from the get-go, we need him and his use by you from the start of the season has been questionable.

Love (but not kisses),
Habs Fan in LeafLand

Habs play the Toronto Phil Kessels tonight in Montreal. Lose this game and Anonymous may just be heralded as the official cryptic fortune teller for Habs Fan in LeafLand.

Here's an interesting read about the team's slow start and reactions from Yahoo's Puck Daddy:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

DESPERATION!!

DESPERATION!!! And I don't mean Habs Nation should be desperate. I'm talking about the way the Canadiens need to play to be successful.

Carey Price makes the save against the Avalanche's Milan Hejduk last night at the Bell Centre. Montreal lost the game in a shootout 6-5.

Off to a slow start last night and down 1-0 early on, the Canadiens ramped up their energies and began playing with desperation. And it started to show results.

For stretches last night, the Habs put a lot of pressure on Colorado and generated many scoring opportunities. There was desperation to their play and they were able to come back and take leads in various stages of the game, the last coming off of a two goal in 20 seconds spurt in the 3rd period to only give up the tying goal late while killing a penalty by Diaz.

So this is -- as they say -- a work in progress. There were a lot of encouraging signs for the team though. Cole, Gomez and Gionta ended their 0-fers. The Desharnais - Pacioretty - Kostitsyn line was great last night -- Pacioretty showed not only a scorer's touch but playmaking abilities as well on that sweet feed on Desharnais' goal -- which by the way was created only by the hustle and insanely good backhand pass of Andrei Kostitsyn.

Plekanec was... Plekanec. Too bad he hit the post in the shootout but dem's the breaks.

Price had an off night. He knows it and he'll be better. There's no doubt about that. But the defense does look a bit soft. Gill and Subban both had rough nights, Subban having his pocket picked in centre ice by Paul Stastny who then came in alone to slide the puck between Price's pads for Colorado's 4th goal of the game.

This team needs to play hungry, desperate hockey for 60 minutes until their defensive-end coverage finds its identity. It's also obvious for the time being that for the team to win, Price has to be practically lights-out game after game -- and he wasn't last night.

We're getting there. Last year we didn't start hard out of the gates either. And there's more optimistic news. Reports say that Andrei Markov will begin skating with the team next week. Let's hope he's not that far off from making his return. Not that we shouldn't put all our hopes onto his shoulders, but let's face it -- the Habs are a much, much better team with him in the lineup.

Next game is at home against the Buffalo Sabres -- the first real test of the season.

Friday, October 14, 2011

No Slow Starts Allowed!!

Should we be concerned after a 1-2 start by the Habs?

Should we be worried the team let their fans down with such a weak performance to open up the season against a playoff bubble team at best -- the Calgary Flames -- who were winless before last night's 4-1 whooping against the Habs??? Mad and disappointed maybe. But worried? No.

The Habs have seen regulars go down already and a lineup that appeared quite good in August has yet to be iced due to injury: Markov, White, Cammellari, Spacek, Campoli. That's enough!!!
Lars Eller made his debut last night and looked like he wanted a spot on the top two lines.

And why not? Because once again this year, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta are off to lame-duck starts. No points in 3 games. Toss in Erik Cole -- who by all accounts is being misused by Coach Martin -- who is also pointless, and so goes the Habs' fortunes.

Does Gionta really need to play with Plekanec to get his game going like what happened last year? As one statistician pointed out, he had more penalties than shots on goal last night.
What does this say about Gomez? What happened to his bounce back year? 3 games in, it's a bust!

You can talk all you want about how Kostitsyn needs to produce or how good P.K. Subban is going to be (he's off to a rough start too) or that Max Pacioretty is going to be that power-forward we haven't seen since John LeClair wore the bleu-blanc-rouge, but if the veterans don't lead this team, we're in trouble.

Our powerplay is essentially 0-fer this year with the sole goal coming from Yannick Weber in Winnipeg. Plekanec is obviously not the answer on the point -- back to the drawing board Jacques.

But we also need to be concerned with Erik Cole because he hasn't been much of a presence so far. True, Martin has been criticized early for not using him enough but the guy's a veteran who needs to contribute whenever and wherever he plays. He's also used to playing with the best players (Staal on Carolina) so he may have some mental adjusting to do.

Adjust away Erik -- but make it quick -- otherwise it'll just force Martin into more line tinkering.

I think I can speak for many Habs fans that we'd like to see the lines stay together for a bit in order to create some consistency and chemistry. This is a challenge when your best players don't perform and others go down to injury. So I'll give Martin a mulligan for now.

I'm confident the team will get it together. But let's get going -- at least lose in style and with some fight. That gives the fans something.

And that's who I am, a fan. Just not a concerned fan... yet.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Get HabsFan in LeafLand Right to Your Email!!

Now you can get HabsFan in LeafLand right to your email!!!

I know, it gives me the warm and fuzzies too.

Add your email using the feature on the right-hand side of this page and you will receive my latest blog postings and updates hot and fresh straight to your email.

Looks great, tastes great and best of all it's convenient and less filling. It even reads great from your mobile phone.

So you know, I do not have access to your email information nor will you receive any SPAM that's associated with this site.

I've tested this out with my email and I love getting my own postings... you will too!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Price of Admission

Well well. The Winnipeg Jets have officially taken off and good for them. After 15 long years, NHL hockey is finally back in Winnipeg and let's hope this time its for keeps.

Habs rally around injuries to play an all-around team game last night in Winnipeg. Montreal won the game 5-1.
Photo: REUTERS/Todd Korol


Especially if the Habs keep getting results against them like they got last night with a 5-1 win to ruin the Jets' party. But unfortunately as has been the case over the past few seasons, the price for the Habs to win was extremely high.

Both Jaro Spacek and Mike Cammalleri left the game in the 1st period: Spacek was checked into the boards by Evander Kane and was favouring his ribs -- oh oh; and Cammalleri, who scored the first goal of the night (as well as the first in Winnipeg for 15 years and for the Habs' season) with a great individual play picking off an Oduya pass then sniping it past Pavelec's glove -- was cut in the lower thigh by Yannick Weber's skate blade. Hoo boy.

Last time we saw something like this, it was the beginning of Markov's snafus with injuries. They say right now that it'll be 2 weeks -- let's hope that's all it is, because if tendons were torn, he's out of months. Spacek I'm guessing is a goner with a broken rib. Just the way he immediately reacted makes me think he himself heard a crack, but let's hope for the best.

Price is making the big saves and looks to be picking it up where he left off from last season. Photo: REUTERS / Todd Korol

Is there more of a dangerous position these days than to play defense for the Montreal Canadiens??? Better not be akin to playing drums for "Spinal Tap."

But to Jacques Martin's defense, he juggled a few players around and made the night work. And to Pierre Gauthier's defense, our newly acquired depth seemed to pay off with contributions throughout the entire lineup.

The team rolled up its sleeves led by Tomas Plekanec who was strong on all sides of the puck. After penalty trouble put them down two men at the end of the first, Plekanec and company shut it down, the Jets going 0-7 on the night with the man advantage. Later, Plekanec stole the puck from Oduya (who had a tough night obviously) and went in alone to beat a helpless Pavelec with a snipe off the high post.

Yannick Weber went back to the blue line and contributed with a power play goal, showing off that shot we've been waiting -- and hoping -- to see.

Travis Moen was moved up and played a solid game, creating a few chances and potting his own goal on a breakaway. The man with hands of steel showed a deft touch on this play.

And Max Pacioretty showed the world that he's back and not ready to let Gomez or Gionta fall into an early season funk by picking the top shelf for Montreal's 5th goal.

But on a night where the Jets carried most of the play, I really liked what I saw from Raphael Diaz and really loved what I saw from Josh Gorges -- who slowly but surely seems to be getting back into the swing of things.

Then of course there was Carey Price, who is living up to his pedigree as Prime Minister Harper looked on in the audience. Price was outstanding. Nothing was fancy or overplayed but boy was he focused and sharp.

When a team sees their goalie playing like that, they decide to work hard too and good things can happen and they did last night for the Habs -- on the scoreboard at least. Price is giving notice that he's prepared to carry this team because at times last night the Habs looked confused and disorganized in their own zone and were prone to penalty issues.

But with Price and Plekanec playing their best, the Habs could be that opportunistic team we saw in the 2010 playoffs. In fact, last night kind of reminded me a bit of that. The Habs were outshot and maybe outchanced but when they got a scoring opportunity they were able to capitalize.

Habs return home for some turkey and to prepare for their home opener on Thursday against the Calgary Flames.


MORE INJURY UPDATES:

We'll know more about Cammy and Spacek in the coming days, but unfortunately for Chris Campoli the news is not good. Campoli is out for months with a torn hamstring

And it seems the Habs couldn't bet on Betts. Blair Betts was sent back to the Flyers because he was injured. Why should we pay for an injured player. We'll have to go without him. But with Lars Eller set to come back to play any day now, we should be okay. Engqvist was solid last night too.


SUPPOSEDLY...

Leafs GM Brian Burke, who was at last night's game in Winnipeg, was in serious discussions with Pierre Gauthier. Will there be some body's moving down the 401?


I LOOKED FOR IT ...

... but couldn't find the exact play I mentioned in my last post -- the one with Chris Nilan on a breakaway as called by Dick Irvin. But this is as close as it gets:



Classic. Bob Cole with the call, Gary Dornhoffer on colour. Mats Naslund, Guy Carbonneau, Larry Robinson and Craig Ludwig on the ice to congratulate "Knuckles." Man we had it good and when I watch old clips like this, it just makes me that much more adamant that it's time for the Habs to bring the Stanley Cup back home where it belongs...


AND FINALLY...

The CBC put out a statement over the weekend distancing themselves from Don Cherry and his outdated rants/opinions. What a cop out. Do the right thing and lose the guy. I read somewhere that when others have slipped up in the past (like Jimmy the Greek on CBS during a football telecast in the '80's) they're given their walking papers. And why not Cherry? Grow a pair CBC.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Just Another Job

Things are starting to reach the boiling point around the world of hockey where fighting is concerned.

Chris Nilan is one of the hockey heroes from my youth. To this day, my brothers and I still repeat Dick Irvin's call from back in the '80's in that whiny voice "...Chris Nilan on a breakaway. Scores!"

I didn't see it but more than a few people came up to me the day following the Habs' 2-0 loss to the Leafs this past Thursday night talking less about the game and more about Don Cherry's rant on "Coach's Corner."

Good for TSN to air a response from those former tough guys accused by Cherry as being cowards and hypocrites. Chris Nilan was one of my favourite players growing up and it hurt me to learn of his problems with drugs and alcohol. I would never doubt this man's character and the guy has millions of fans across Quebec who would go to battle for him like he did for the Habs in the 1980's. "Knuckles" Nilan -- you're my hero bro. Way to shake your demons and hope you're on a better road now, once and for all.

You know when I was a kid I liked Don Cherry for a variety of reasons. First, I loved the fact that he hated the Habs because I knew they always got the better of him and his beloved Bruins -- especially in 1979 with the famous "too many men on the ice" call from game 7 in that year's semi-finals. Second, he brought an air of honest and frank commentary to CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" that I found very amusing.

But it's not funny anymore. And it hasn't been for years. It's disgusting as a matter of fact.

I find it sad that "Hockey Night in Canada" -- once the gold standard in hockey broadcasting, commentary and coverage, is now just a shadow of its former self. But this didn't happen overnight. It's been on a slow decline for years. From not broadcasting the Habs and providing a Leafs-centric bias, to losing A+ play-by-play men (like Chris Cuthbert) and the iconic "Hockey Song," "Hockey Night in Canada" is now and has been for quite some time a joke and an embarrassment to fans like me across our great hockey-mad country.

I'm sorry, but if Don Cherry was a carton of milk, not only would he be way over his expiration date -- he'd be a curdled lump of mold. And you know, he doesn't look that far off from that in those sickening suits of his.

Don Cherry: why don't you drop the gloves some time and scrap it out instead of sitting behind that small little desk of yours with your lackey Ron MacLean there to cover your endless miscues??

I'm not going to go into what he discussed, rather end with this message to the CBC: your hockey telecast is a joke; you should be ashamed to have such a moronic, bigoted and homophobic commentator on your flagship show who hangs on to whatever he can of an era that's dead and buried; and you should not be surprised that more and more of us turn away from hockey on Saturday nights to do other things with our time.

"Hockey Night in Canada"... you suck!

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I wasn't surprised by the Habs' loss to the Leafs the other night and I wouldn't be surprised that they lose in Winnipeg tomorrow night, who'll be amped up to the max for that game. But not to worry, we'll get our mojos going. It was sad they didn't score, but you know -- who cares!? These are the kind of games that are good to get out of the way early...

Too bad for Chris Campoli, hopefully he'll come back strong and soon but in the meantime the Habs continue to work out the kinks for the blue line. You know P.K. will come back strong and with the signing of Joe Callahan and Emelin itching to play, we should be alright.

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Habs Fan in LeafLand Greg Chambers sent me a link to the animated version of "The Hockey Sweater" produced by the NFB (also a former shadow of itself, but that's another discussion) and I found this other great hockey short from the early days of the Quebec Nordiques in the WHA. Love those jerseys! When they're back in the NHL, I seriously recommend something like that for the team. Enjoy!!!

http://www.nfb.ca/film/just_another_job/

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Finishing Strong for an Even Stronger Start

Onwards and upwards for the Montreal Canadiens' 2011-2012 season.

Josh Gorges means business last night after taking on Ryan Malone in the third period last night in Quebec City. Habs won the game 5-1. Photo: REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger.

The Habs in Quebec City? Used to be quite the game when the Nords were still in town. Now backing the team from Montreal, Quebec City residents did their job pushing the Habs to their strongest outing of the preseason with a 5-1 romp in the rubber match against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This is what we want to see all season: Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Erik Cole and Michael Cammalleri all scoring with a fluid Tomas Plekanec making plays; a solid Carey Price; a powerplay that creates momentum and a tight defense. Mathieu Darche chipped in the other tally for the Habs.

I thought Raphael Diaz had a good game and looked like he's ready to take a spot on the blue line. Campoli was also solid in his second outing as a Hab, but was taken out of the game after taking a shot to the head from reckless maniac Ryan Malone -- who must be having marital issues or something -- because the guy looked like a ticking time bomb ready to go off the entire game and he finally blew his lid in the third.

What I liked was that Hal Gill came to P.K.'s defense when Malone was about to start bashing on him, and Josh Gorges making Malone pay after the Campoli hit.

No doubt in my mind that Malone will get a suspension, given the precedents that Brendan Shanahan has set so far this preseason.

Is this our opening day lineup? The fourth line is still a bunch of question marks with Lars Eller, Travis Moen and Ryan White all recovering from injuries. Lars Eller has been cleared for contact but no word whether he'll lace 'em up for the opening night tilt here in Toronto against the Leafs. Last night it was Andreas Enqvist centering a line between Palushaj and Yannick Weber. And what about tough-guy Yemelin on the back end?

I actually like Weber up front and Palushaj showed a lot of energy last night. RDS' "Antichambre" crew roasted Enqvist after the game and it's true, he's not a big bruising type (he is Swedish after all) but the guy wins a lot of faceoffs and that will probably keep him in the lineup -- for the time being at least.

Mario Tremblay seems confident that Scotty Gomez will have a bounce-back season this year. So far he looks good and the pucks are going in for him. Time will tell but I can say after watching last night's game that he's definitely trying different things especially in going hard to the net so ultimately he's becoming less predictable -- which could make him a very dangerous player if he shoots when the opposition is expecting him to pass.

The Habs head up to Collingwood for a retreat and practice before their opening game here in Toronto. It all begins for real October 6.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Still a Work in Progress

Last night's game at the Bell Centre against the Tampa Bay Lightning was the closest thing so far to a regular season game in terms of lineup and flow and the one positive we can take away from last night's 4-0 loss is that it still is a preseason game and counts for nothing.

Scott Gomez watches as Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson lunges for puck in Montreal last night. Photo: AP

Missed assignments, lack of finishing and a couple of other bounces leave the Habs looking for answers as we near the start of the season. I mean when you have a two-man power play for practically a full 2 minutes and fail to score, you know there's still work to do.

Peter Budaj got the start and was shaky right from the onset; probably the most astute and entertaining moment of the game came when RDS' colour man Marc Denis, standing next to Carey Price in between the two benches, commented that "... here's something you won't see very often this year -- Carey Price sitting next to me." True dat.

To his defense Budaj was screened on Stamkos' second goal in the first period by David Desharnais, who's probably still wondering why he was standing in front of his own goal on that play, but Budaj was as loose as a Vegas slot machine. Soft rebounds, swiss-cheese holey, bad execution. He'll take his spot next to Denis and probably won't look back from there. The Habs should have been down 3-0 if it weren't for a quick whistle on a Vincent Lecavallier slapper that dribbled through Budaj to roll into the net. On the other side Dwayne Roloson -- the only player left in the NHL born in the Sixties, was sucking those up with ease like a Dyson on dirt.

I guess there were a couple of positives from this game:

1) The Canadiens did have some good scoring chances, but just didn't bury them. That'll come;
2) Chris Campoli played in his first game as a Hab, and was solid;
3) Josh Gorges fell awkwardly on his repaired knee in the third period, but got up without issue.

Meanwhile Andrei Markov meets with his doctors today to find out where he's at. He's skating, just not with the team as yet. Get well Andrei, we need you.

Now the team heads to Quebec City to play the same Tampa squad to finish out the preseason. The Habs are 1-6 in the season that counts for nothing. It all begins in earnest in Toronto October 6.

ON ANOTHER NOTE:

MLB is heading towards its postseason and it is now apparent -- to me at least -- that the pendulum is starting to swing the other way for Boston sports teams. The Red Sox's epic collapse gives me hope that all the bad karma from the Bruins last year is slowly beginning to even out this year. Finger-pointing in Boston abounds and now reports indicate that former Expo Terry Francona is going to be fired as Red Sox head coach.

And to top if off, the Atlanta Braves (the team of the 90's -- phooey) also completed an epic collapse of their own, losing the wild card on the last game of the season to the St. Louis Cardinals.

I don't really hate the Red Sox like I do the Bruins, but dem Braves -- dem bums got what they deserved!!

When's that new stadium being built in Montreal, btw? :)