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Monday, January 31, 2011

The NHL All-Star Game: Better, But Still Boring

Back from my own personal All-Star break. I figured I'd take the breather in the NHL schedule to recharge my batteries for what's sure to be an exciting season's end.

Next stop, February's trade deadline.

Personally, I do think the Canadiens will be active. For who, and for what? That I'm not sure of. I need to better assess the situation.

The All-Star Game: Better, But Still Boring: I think Shanahan's player-driven improvement to the NHL All-Star game were well received and made the proceedings more engaging and fun.

Carey Price and P.K. Subban during the NHL All-Star game skills competition. Getty Images

The draft on Friday night was cool. But unless they decide to spruce things up on a year to year basis, I can see this getting very boring, very fast. Fact is, waiting for players to be called up on stage was kind of lame, and it was relatively easy to predict who would go where. Probably the most fun was waiting to see if the Sedins would be split up (they were) and who would be the last pick. To my delight, it was Phil Kessel -- the undeserving forward of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But I was happy for him, because he was a good sport and as a result, to everyone's surprise, he was given a new car for the trouble. Nice!

At least Carey Price wasn't picked last in the goalie category. He ended up playing on Staal's team, which was also predictable, since he played with Jordan Staal on Canada's junior team when they won gold. Staal's team seemed like the party team, while Lindstrom's team seemed all business and experience, mostly. I kind of wanted both Price and Subban to play on Lindstrom's team, if only to gleam whatever they could from the sure to be Hall of Famer.

I was also reminded that, you know, Carey Price isn't that charimatic. He's best kept away from the cameras, so as not to distract him from his true calling -- stopping pucks. P.K. on the other hand, well he didn't get the nickname "Primetime" for nothing...

It's great to see those two guys soak it in and be in the presence of all these great players. Hopefully, this will help them in the aspects of the game which is not stopping or putting pucks in the net.

The skills competition was probably the best and most entertaining part of the weekend, at least for me. Some nice events, highlighted by a couple of cool moves by Subban in the breakaway event, and Chara breaking his own record in the hardest shot competition.

The game itself was kinda a snooze. Some nice goals, but nothing really special. The best part of it for me, was listening to Eric Staal and Timmy Thomas speak from the ice as they were playing. I think more of this, plus more interaction between the players in the locker room, would make this more interesting for those watching it all on tv.

Ultimately, the All-Star weekend is really for the players. They're the ones who truly enjoy and benefit from it. They may say it's for the fans, but really only the ones who are in attendance truly get the full experience.

Tomas Plekanec -- He's My All-Star: I know all the teams need to be represented, but when I see Phil Kessel on the All-Star team, and not a guy like Plekanec well, something's wrong with this.

Plekanec has improved season after season (as a player, not necessarily in points), and is one of the NHL's elite two-way forwards. The guy does it all: scores goals, makes plays, takes face-offs, kills penalties, plays on the power play. He's an essential component of our team, and after Carey Price, he's our most important player, bar none.

He's played internationally for the Czech Republic on all levels. He played at the Olympics. He's playing in World Championships.

But most importantly, what makes T.P. the elite player he is, is that he makes the players around him better. We were all a bit curious to see how he'd perform out of Kovalev's shadow after l'Artiste signed with the Sens, and Tomas didn't miss a beat. Play him with Kostitsyn, Andrei starts lighting it up. Play him with a struggling Gionta who had a rough start and suddenly the guy finds his scoring touch. The examples are endless. Play him with Pacioretty, he scores a big goal to tie the game late against the Ducks. Everyone on the team wishes they played with Plekanec. And if you are playing with Plekanec, it's also the recognition that you're doing a good job.

Tomas Plekanec is my All-Star. He'll be recognized eventually. Just like Brad Richards was this weekend... can you believe that this was Richards' 1st All-Star game!? I was shocked to learn this. I mean, I think other than one kind of subpar season he had with Tampa, the guy's been the model of consistency in putting points up on the board, and he's a great two-way player as well.

I couldn't help but to lament to myself that the Habs should give Gomez's money to a guy like Richards. Man, wouldn't he look great in a Habs jersey!!?? And he speaks French too. Maybe it'll happen.

The All-Star weekend makes me dream as to who would be a great fit in Montreal. Richards is one. Eric Staal is another. I mean, on CBC's "Inside Hockey" he complained that not once he's had a Saturday night, high profile match-up between his 'Canes and the Leafs. And he's right.

But hey man, you want high-profile? You want to be in the hot, oh so hot spotlight??? Then come and play in Montreal man. You can play against and take pleasure in whooping the Leafs six times a year... think about it!!! You've won a cup in Raleigh. Now come help us win one. You'll be a God....

You know who else would be a nice addition to the Habs this year, but not on the All-Star team??? Dustin Penner from the Oilers. He's big, he's strong, he's got a nice set of hands. He can be tough.

The Habs brass should go back to the old school way of managing things. You know, target the league's best players (or picks) and get them!!! Like they used to. Like Sam Pollack did. Man, how do you think we got Lafleur!? Pollack was at his best with that one, but that's a story best told some other time. Point is, we've lost touch with this over the years, and that's why we haven't won a cup in almost (gulp) 20 years.

Mr. Gauthier -- tear down this wall. I mean, go get us a great, elite player. Get that big guy up front. Trade who you have to in order to get the job done, except maybe Price, Subban, Plekanec and Gorges. That's right, even Gionta is trade bait. And Markov.

Perhaps we can turn the corner and get a better elite player than Markov.

I had more to say but it's hard to remember everything when I don't write stuff down. Next time.

In any case, the Habs season continues with a tough road game against the Capitals in D.C. Hope they show up for it because the 'Canes are breathing down their necks and we need to keep pace with the Bruins. That said, the Bruins face the 'Canes tomorrow night. No 3 point games!!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Habs Limp Towards All-Star Break With Loss in Philly

The Habs have nobody to blame but themselves for last night's 5-2 loss to the Flyers in Philly.

They were playing a good game up until they started falling back into bad habits, namely taking bad penalties. Three penalties in a row and three goals in a 4 minute stretch between the 1st and 2nd periods essentially did them in.

Special teams were the difference. Habs went 0-7 with the extra man, while the Flyers were 3-5. Can't say Bobrovski was peppered or had to be at his best, but he was solid, and got a bit lucky on a few occasions -- but that's what happens when things are going well for a goalie.

Quite a few players didn't have their best games last night, namely Wisniewski and Gomez. It happens. Just make sure it doesn't happen regularly, ok? Right.

The Flyers are a hot team right now and are riding high on a wave of confidence. But the question is, are they peaking too soon? They're now leading the league standings.

Price was solid and can't be blamed for the loss, though I think he needed to be a bit more aggressive on the puck for the 1st goal, where he made the save but the rebound was put home by Jeff Carter. On a 5-on-3, he would (should) know there would be someone alone in front, which should have prompted him to be hard on the rebound. He wasn't. Live and learn. Now he's off to the All-Star game. Let's hope this time around his play doesn't take a nose dive once the season reconvenes like he did back in 2009.

The Canadiens did a good job hanging around in this one, and when Darche scored with a little less than 5 minutes remaining in the game to make it 4-2, the team got a bit of a lift. And with the team's recent comebacks, I'm sure everyone on the bench was feeling they could pull something out of a hat. But they couldn't manage another one, and Briere ended it with an empty netter.

David Desharnais continued to show why he belongs and seems to be getting better and better by the game. I'm really starting to like this kid. He scored his first non-deflection goal for his 3rd of the season. Unfortunately, for some reason, each game he's scored, the Habs have gone on to lose. Coincidence? Must be. Or does this just underscore the lack of production by the top lines, and that Desharnais is not ready yet to assume the role of leading the team in scoring from the 3rd line????

It's not all doom and gloom for the Habs. Though they missed a chance to jump into the 6th spot, they're solidly in 7th in the conference, 2 points behind the Bruins who hold a game in hand.

The Habs, at 59 points after 50 games, are also 9 points better than they were after 50 games last season. And considering their injuries (we thought last year was bad), the Habs and their coaching staff should be commended.

Rest up boys, we expect a lot of good hockey from you in the coming months.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Saku! Saku! Saku!

Well with a relief we're all happy that this one is over. The heralded return of Captain Koivu to Montreal was a success, more for him than the Habs to be sure, but all in all a nice way to once again share some love and admiration with him. He has been and always will be total class, which puts him at the head of the class for Canadiens alumni.

It was nice what the Canadiens did at the end of the anthems by showing images of Koivu when he came back from cancer, then showing him on the ice with the Ducks, and the crowd gave him a standing O before puck drop. Both number 11s faced off, Koivu against Gomez.

Gamewise not the greatest game all around. Ultimately great that the Habs came back from 2 goals down with less than 4 minutes remaining in regulation to get a point out of the affair. They certainly had their chances but either missed the net (especially Gionta) or Jonas Hiller made the save. Both Hiller and Price had strong outings.

Koivu put his team in hot water, taking penalties at inopportune moments -- like he did so many times during his last few seasons with the Canadiens. And it cost the Ducks. The Habs scored the tying goal with 12 seconds left while he was in the box. Max Pacioretty continues his strong play since his rib injury, hammering home two dirty goals while the team's top scorers couldn't find the mark.

MaxPac is that kind of power forward the Canadiens so desperately need, getting those dirty goals in front. His hard work is starting to pay off. Desharnais also had a good game. And so did Engqvist in my opinion. So good to see the newbies fitting in and earning their keep.

It was almost the dream situation as in OT I was thinking how great it would be if Koivu scored. Even if the Habs lost the game, I wouldn't have minded seeing that. Kind of like when Lafleur made his triumphant return with the Rangers, only to score twice on Patrick Roy. That was a night I'll never forget. It was great. I love Guy. And you know what? I love Saku too.

Come to think of it, the ideal would have been the Habs winning in a shootout, with Koivu scoring in the shootout. Instead the Habs were blanked, and Bobby Ryan -- who was all over the ice last night -- potted the winner. I was a bit disappointed that Martin didn't send out Pacioretty given his strong game. In any case, he was named 2nd star, and got to take in more of the love from the Canadiens faithful.

So although the Canadiens didn't get the two points, there was a lot of good things in last night's game they can build on. Ultimately it was still a good week for the team, scoring 6 of 8 possible points.

The team closes out the schedule before the All-Star break with a visit to the Flyers, who are playing the Chicago Blackhawks as I write this. Should be a good one.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Cousin, Habs Good Luck Charm!!!

This story begins earlier in the season when the Habs beat the Senators in Ottawa 4-1.

Great game by the troups, made better for me because my good buddy and cousin Warren Kleiner was in attendance -- with his best bud Charles -- but also because they were in primo position to be shot by RDS cameras on television.

Nice one Warren.

No this guy's not Warren!!! But in any case this gent, wearing Subban's number, was funny looking enough to capture my attention, celebrating the Canadiens' first goal less than two minutes in last night by Benny Pouliot.

The story continues when we fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago when the Habs played the Bruins in Montreal.

Habs are down 2-0 and it looked pretty dire. Thomas was in nets and the Habs weren't really generating any serious offence to even think of a comeback. Then we know the rest of the story. The Habs got a lucky goal (aided by the hockey Gods) by Gomez, Gionta ties it up, then Pacioretty scores in OT for a dramatic comeback win.

Then later that week, I found out that Warren was at the Bell Centre and it all made sense. The guy has a horseshoe up his arse. But it gets better. Turns out after the game he stayed downtown and decided to go for an upscale burger at m:bgr on Drummond St.

And who should he bump into later that night???

That's right!!! P.K. Subban and the game hero, Max Pacioretty.

Warren didn't want to bother MaxPac because he says he was sitting quietly with a hot girl, maybe his girlfriend, maybe not. Hey, Warren understands not to cut anyone's grass... especially the latest Habs hero!!!
So now we get to last night when the Habs marched into Ottawa to face a listless, down-on-their-luck Senators team. Clouston: dead man walking. Murray: dead man walking. Kovalev, back in action and who cares!? The guy's got 18 points in 42 games!!! There was even talk on RDS' "L'Antichambre" after the contest that the Habs could be interested in picking up the mercurial winger for the stretch run. What a joke that'd be.
Who needs that mess on our hands!? The Habs have moved on, and going forward with a new team and new direction.

The Habs got off to a great start with Pouliot's goal then Tomas Plekanec potting a nice one after Andrei Kostitsyn created a turnover deep in the Sens' zone. And I'm wondering, where's Warren? But my question was answered later in the period when I saw him before a commercial break.
So the Habs blew the Sens away 7-1, with pretty much all of the first three lines chipping in, which today Martin said was encouraging. Kostitsyn popped in a nice one, Pleks got another on a sweet breakaway of his own creation, and Subban finished her off with a nice slapper. Nice to see that the young lad is getting his shot off a lot quicker -- he must be working on his release; and, performing for his new good buddy Warren as he sat in the stands.

So I'm watching with a big smile on my face and as the show ends with its usual mash-up, I see the money shot!!! Warren and Chuck...yeah boys!!!

Last shot to end the show. Nice!
Then they appeared again in the mash-up that began RDS' "L'Antichambre":
So, who wants to start a petition these two mensches get season's tickets to all the Habs games moving forward -- fer ever!!!!
Turns out Warren is trading in his big league lawyer suits, working and living in Toronto, for the rolled up sleeves as the owner of Montreal's newest, and best, smoked meat deli to be called "Ettingers"!!! More on this story sometime in the spring when it has its grand opening. I'll see what I can do to make your visit more pleasant should you go... maybe he'll be okay with giving you a 10% discount by saying "Habs Fan in LeafLand" at the cash!!!

Warren and I ring in the New Year, January 1, 2011

Some other game notes:
Engqvist and Ryan White both performed well, playing over 11 minutes each.
Max Pacioretty, what can I say? Comes back from taking a blast in the chest. That's what we need dude!! Scores a goal... alaka.
And finally:
  • Story out of Los Angeles that Mike Komisarek allegedly punched a woman at an L.A. nightclub. Details to come, but if it's true, what a loser!!!! Who does he think he is? Star of "Jersey Shore!?"
  • I love this one: After the Red Wings tried to get a deal done with goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and then placed him on mandatory waivers first because he'd been playing in the KHL this year -- the New York Islanders picked him up off of waivers. Haha! Not only do the Isles get a decent goalie who can fill in while DiPietro convalesces -- again -- but they screw Detroit at the same time. Love that!!!!!
  • Tonight at the Bell Centre marks Saku Koivu's return to Montreal. Gonna be emotional. He's already emotional. I hope he does get the first star of the game so we can give him the love he deserves, one more time. I also hope the Habs don't get too caught up in it and play a solid game. As for Paul Mara, Kyle Chipchura and Max Lapierre, they also have their homecomings... but who cares!?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Habs at the Crossroads

Some updates while the Habs continue to lick their wounds on another off day for the team.

The reinforcements are on their way to Montreal

We knew this was going to happen.

Forwards Andreas Engqvist and Ryan White have been called up from Hamilton. Engqvist is big and Swedish. White is gritty and Canadian. You may recall White from previous call-ups but this is Engqvist's first call-up to the big show. White probably had the best camp of all the Habs' prospects -- in my opinion -- and possesses the ability to finish plays and score potentially big goals. He could be the Maxim Lapierre we always wanted -- except he's English and his name is Ryan White and he fights.

Engqvist wasn't exactly wearing out the red light in Hamilton, but he's solid defensively, which will make him useful in a 3rd or 4th line role. Let's see how these two pan out.

Update on the injuries

Some good news, Max Pacioretty DOES NOT, I repeat, DOES NOT have a cracked rib as was rumoured yesterday. All tests came back negative. He skated today and is listed as day-to-day. The All-Star break will do him good.

Unfortunately, the news is not as good for Cammalleri. Separated shoulder. Placed on IR today. At least 2 weeks but we can guess, probably more. He needs to take his time with this one, due to his size and the way he plays. Better to take more time and be good for the playoffs, then rush it and play so-so. The fact that the All-Star break intervenes here is also good.

If you recall, last season around this time he hurt his knee. Then he was shut down during the stretch run, only to catch on fire in the playoffs.

I would take a replay for this season if I had the choice.

No updates on Jeff Halpern and no confirmation whether he has a shoulder or head issue. Hopefully we'll know soon and it's nothing major. He skated today which is a good sign, so he's also day-to-day. I think it was his head personally. He looked a bit out of it on the bench in Buffalo.

Benoit Pouliot who was out with the flu should be back in tomorrow night.

This is their big chance

Here we go for the Habs' prospects. This is their big chance to shine and show they belong.

Engqvist and White could stay up if they play well; when MaxPac comes back, he needs to continue doing what he was doing and not shy away from the danger zones (how he was injured in the first place).

David Desharnais continues to show why he belongs by using his speed and deft puckhandling abilities. He can be another Marty St. Louis.

And Lars Eller needs to continue to learn and start generating real offensive chances, especially if he plays on one of the top lines. Some are saying he should be the guy to be in front of the net, considering the beating he took from Tyler Myers the other night in Buffalo, yet still walked away with the puck. He is a large boy, after all.

Not that he's a prospect, but this stretch could ultimately clear up Andrei Kostitsyn's future with the club. If he performs, he may be re-signed. If he goes on another nothing for 12 streak, he may be moved at the deadline. Which would be too bad, but understandable. I mean, imagine if Guy Lafleur, with all his talent, scored a measly 20 goals back in 1977 instead of the 50 +.

Kostitsyn's got the talent and the skill. His problem is his oscillating drive and desire. He seems to have a bit of the Kovalev in him, that Andrei.

We'll see how it all unfolds tomorrow night in Ottawa.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Point in the Very Least!!!

If you thought Monday night's game against Calgary was weird, last night's game took the cake.

I've posted previously how certain losses are just unacceptable and reek of a lack of effort. Last night's 2-1 OT loss to the Buffalo Sabres was not one of those losses. The Canadiens have nothing to be ashamed of as the effort was there. In fact, they should be proud of the way they performed and almost eked out 2 points.

Canadiens head athletic therapist Graham Rynbend helps Michael Cammalleri (left) and Max Pacioretty off HSBC Center ice in Buffalo. Note photo at left: Pacioretty on the bench, soon to be headed off in distress himself.Bill Wippert, NHLI via Getty Images

Ultimately, the Canadiens must have been happy to hobble out of Buffalo alive... battered and bruised, they lost 2 forwards before the game was 5 minutes old.

Cause and effect worked its magic on Cammellari last night. Posted just to the right of Ryan Miller, the small but powerful forward had a wide open net, only to put the puck back into the goaltender who made a good save.

As he chased the puck to the side boards, he was shoved forward, taking the full brunt of the fall into the boards with his left shoulder. Habs got a power play out of it, but lost Cammellari -- who continues to stumble through a difficult season so far -- for at least 2 weeks, and probably more, with a rumoured separated shoulder.

So instead of celebrating the first goal of the game, #13 for the Habs limped off the ice in pain.

The Canadiens scored on the powerplay, with David Desharnais again showing signs that he is in fact a younger Marty St. Louis in deflecting a nice pass by Hamrlik past Miller.

Then Max Pacioretty, posted in front of the net like he should be, took the full brunt of a James Wisniewski slapper in his lower chest. He hobbled off the ice in pain and was taken to hospital for precautions. Hopefully he does not have internal damage or a broken rib.

The Habs had a few more chances and could have gone up by a few more goals in the frame, but the weird bounces continued. Near the end of the period, Subban took a shot right off his ankle. Later, Gionta took one off the head. Jeff Halpern got hit to the head and left the game for a short while, only to play a couple more shifts. Hal Gill was hobbled. Andrei Kostitsyn was hobbled. Scott Gomez was hobbled.

Thankfully, nothing happened to Carey Price (so we know) who was great last night.

As the game wore on, the Canadiens appeared tired, sore, dishevelled -- but determined. And they fully sweated out this very valuable point. If it weren't for pure grit by those remaining on the bench and Price's strong play, the Habs walk away with nothing. They even almost won the game at the end of regulation with Plekanec walking in alone, only to be stopped by Miller.

It also helped that the Sabres, well... frankly, they're not that good. They're an average, middle of the road team even with Ryan Miller in nets. And they could barely take advantage of a beaten-up Habs team, needing a powerplay in OT to get the win.

The team will try to evaluate the situation moving forward before getting ready to meet the Senators in Kanata on Friday night, before hosting the return of Saku Koivu at the Bell Centre on Saturday.

PS: If anything but outstanding applause occurs for Koivu, I will write the Canadiens indicating my displeasure. He better not be treated like Chara by the Habs faithful. Not that I think he will, but the Bell Centre crowd can sometimes be fickle.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Big Win Keeps Habs A-Rollin'

The Habs needed a bounce back game to further solidify their spot in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, and that's exactly what they provided last night winning 3-2 against the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre last night.

Habs goaltender Carey Price eyeballs the puck before grabbing it against the New York Rangers, January 15, 2010. Photo by John Kenney, The Gazette.

Things were stacked against the Canadiens in their previous game against the Pens: 2nd game in two nights; Pens looking to avenge the sloppy loss against the Bruins; Fleury looking to show up Price and give him a pose of his own. The Habs looked slow and tired that night and it showed as they took too many penalties and handed the game to the Pens. Too many penalties, a late period goal by Staal, and the Habs were done like dinner.

So coach Jacques Martin put the team through an up-tempo, loud and boisterous practice on Thursday and it seemed to pay dividends as last night the fire was back. Though they were down 1-0 after Boyle shoved a puck by Price against the post -- surely a goal Price knows he should have stopped, even if Yannick Weber should have taken the man in front -- the Habs stormed back with two strong power plays, getting goals from Hamrlik and Plekanec in subsequent opportunities before Kostitsyn -- yes that Kostitsyn, bazookad a slap shot past Lundqvist to make it 3-1. Bang bang bang in just over 3 minutes and the Habs took control of the game.

In the 2nd they maintained the pressure and if it weren't for some outstanding goaltending by Hank Lundqvist the game would have been out of reach. The Habs power play moved the puck extremely well last night. Offensive deception, as I have been calling for from the team, helped them take the lead when Subban faked a slap shot, then pulled a Markov by finding Plekanec across the ice with a terrific pass who then took the puck off his skate and put it home.

Kostitsyn scored his first goal in 10 games and it was a relief for him, the coaching staff and the fans. I've said it before, personally, he's the guy I'm hoping will score. The game always seems more exciting when he does. Last night, he had the fire burning. Now with the help of the coaching staff, he needs to find a way to stoke it and keep that fire lit. A great show of emotion from Frere Andrei after that goal. But he was all over the ice last night, winning battles, headmanning the puck and creating scoring opportunities.

Honestly, and I know it's very far from such a comparison, but last night Kostitsyn showed that of all the players on this current roster, he's as close to a Guy Lafleur as we've seen since the Flower laced them up for the bleu-blanc-rouge. Blonde hair flying, Kostitsyn moved into the Rangers zone, pulled a couple of stickhandling moves, and fired the puck with a lightning wrister that just missed. Nobody else on the Habs shows this kind of fire off the rush.

I hope he continues to build upon this and gives us this kind of effort on a consistent basis. His goal production is pretty darn important to this team. Game winning goal last night -- need I say more!?

If Lundqvist kept his team in the game in the 2nd, it was Carey Price's turn in the 3rd, which saw the Rangers make a game of it by scoring their second goal and applying a lot of pressure with 21 shots in the period. Price looked focused and determined, finally making a last second save on a shot from in close to get the important 2 points.

"The Wiz" James Wisniewski continued his solid play with two assists and gritty presence on the Habs blueline, garnering the player the 1st star as voted on by the fans.


Habs are now 5-1-1 in their last seven, 2 points behind the Bruins in the 7th spot in the conference. They're two points up on the Thrashers but also have 2 games in hand on that team.

Next game is Monday against the Calgary Flames at the Bell Centre.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Habs Hang Around Long Enough to Pull Out Win in NYC

The Canadiens have had a tough time on the road lately. But they're slowly starting to find their game, proof with a tight 2-1 win over the New York Rangers last night at MSG. Sometimes if you hang around long enough, you can pull out a game or two when you don't have your best stuff. Last night was one of those games for Montreal.

This one certainly won't be going into the books as a classic. The Habs started slow and the Rangers took a 1-0 lead when Brandon Dubinsky took advantage of Hal Gill's slow feet to speed around him and put the puck past Alex Auld, who was getting the start against his most recent former teammates.

Martin wants to try to play Auld a bit more in the second half to try to keep Price at ideal freshness, and with performances like the one he gave last night, there's no reason why the coach has any reason to change course. Auld remains undefeated against the Rangers in his career (4-0-2).

Auld made some very solid saves and essentially kept the Canadiens in this one until they found their legs midway through the 2nd period.

Not that the Rangers were dominant. For awhile it looked like neither team was motivated for last night's tilt. Maybe it was the impending doom of another big storm looming on the east coast.

Chris Drury drilled a slapshot off the post on a 2-on-1 midway through the 2nd which seemed to wake up the Canadiens. With just over a minute remaining in the period, the Habs kept the puck in the Rangers' zone on several occasions and maintained good offensive zone coverage when finally Tomas Plekanec got the puck to Spacek, who slipped around a sprawling Ranger to wrist a weak one towards the net. It seemed to glance off of Darche's skate and in between Lundqvist's pads. But it was the action of Benoit Pouliot charging the net that caused the Rangers goalie to slide his left leg back into the net (in a defensive posture) which ultimately put the puck into the side of the net.

Martin juggled his lines a bit playing Plekanec with Darche and Pouliot and it seemed to work. They began generating good chances in the 3rd.

Benny Pouliot was all over the ice last night, and he was rewarded for his hard work just over 6 minutes into the 3rd period when he streaked down the left side and from a sharp angle he roofed a shot over the right shoulder of Lundqvist -- one the All-Star Swedish goalie knows he should have had.
Pouliot to his skill released the puck very quickly and caught Lundqvist by surprise. The guy has a great shot and really thread the needle on that one. If Pouliot keeps up this kind of effort game in game out, he will be rewarded by Martin with additional ice time. Let's see.

Lundqvist actually made quite a few good saves once the Habs got going, notably a terrific blocker save off of poor Hal Gill who is still looking for his 1st goal of the season.
All in all, the Habs got a late period goal for a change instead of giving one up, and got secondary scoring. Add Auld's key saves early, and it all resulted in a chippy, dirty road victory Jacques Martin and the Canadiens will happily take.

Benoit Pouliot celebrates his game-winning 3rd period goal last night against the Rangers in New York. Photo Jim McIsaac/Getty images.
The Canadiens have now won 3 games in a row and collected 9 of a possible 10 points. The win also snapped the Rangers 3 game winning streak. Unfortunately they didn't gain on either the 'Canes and Bruins, who were both winners last night.
However, the team is now in 7th place, tied with the Atlanta Thrashers with 51 points, but have two games in hand; and are 2 points the Rangers who sit in the 6th spot.
Other game notes: Before the game the NHL All-Star selections were announced and Carey Price made the grade. Kudos to Carey, this one is truly deserved. Although he's not at the top of the goalie pile, his numbers are very, very good, and he leads the league in games played and minutes played. Considering his annus horibilis last year, he has successfully rebounded and put it all in the rear view mirror. Hopefully he doesn't let this one go to his head.
Ryan McDonagh, the Habs' former first rounder from 2007, played and in general was solid. McDonagh was part of the Gomez deal last year. Another reminder why I don't like the Canadiens' head of scouting, Trevor Timmins.
New Rangers addition Wojtek Wolski had a bunch of scoring opportunities last night, the best with 3 minutes to go when he fired a shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle that Auld got his blocker on. The puck redirected off the post, off Auld's backside and slid out along the crease while Spacek cleared the puck.
What comes around, goes around: Wow! The Bruins were in Pittsburgh Monday night, and exorcised their demons from their previous meltdown against the Habs by scoring 4 goals with less than 5 minutes to go in the 3rd to make up a 2-0 deficit. Bad for the Habs because the Bruins moved 2 points ahead with a game in hand; and the Pens will be looking to avenge their loss with a strong effort tonight against the Habs at the Bell Centre.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bruins the Tonic that Does the Habs Body Good

So yesterday afternoon I was filling in a good buddy of mine about the Habs' progress, or lack of such, over the last few weeks because he was out of town. Ultimately, the conversation concluded with my assertion that the game later that night against the Bruins was exactly what the Habs needed as a team.

Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins watches as the puck flies past him to give the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 OT win last night in Montreal. AP

What's that you say? Well hey! I've been watching the Habs somehow shaft the Bruins year after year. Sure there are blips, like the playoffs a couple of season's back. But if you know hockey, even if you're not a Habs fan, would you ever bet against the Habs when they play the Bruins??? I think not.

We agreed the only team in the NHL that does this for the Habs is the Bruins. We used to have two teams like this, when the Nordiques were in Quebec and the hate was strong between the two squads. Now with the team in Denver, the only team that boils the Canadiens' soup to a fiery red are dem Boo-ins. We agreed that this is why the Habs have a tough time with the Leafs, because although they have a long and storied rivalry, they just don't have that hate element that can push a team to the high of highs and exciting, nail-biting finishes that end up in the Habs' favour.

I also told my buddy that the team was stymied offensively. And although he's done some good things so far, especially in mixing it up with Gionta and Gomez, that Max Paciorretty had yet to score a "clean" one. What I meant by that is the two goals he scored to that point were kind of flukey, and he had yet to score a good one.

Funny how this would all come to the fore at about 9:45pm last night.

For 50 minutes it seemed the Habs were going to mosey on into the sunset without a whimper. I thought to myself "Boy, some Bruins fan is probably thinking 'Haha, Not Tonight Habs!'"

Well my imaginary Bruins fan friend yes. Yes tonight!!!!

The Habs literally pulled one out of their posteriors to eke out an exciting 3-2 OT win over the Bruins last night in Montreal. Down 2-0 and to that point unable to generate any serious offence, the Habs caught a break with less than 3 minutes remaining when former Hab Michael Ryder took a bad penalty to start the Bruins' meltdown. Thanks man.

And still, it looked like the Habs would blow this generous opportunity handed to them by the hockey gods because they weren't generating any real scoring chances. Alas, the gods said "Enough!" and coaxed a weak Gomez pass attempt through a bunch of sticks and skates, finally glazing off of big Chara's oversized skate past a clueless Timmy Thomas. 2-1 and the Canadiens had life.

Cue to pull the goalie. Price, who was solid last night if not that busy, sat on the bench for the extra player. Now, the Habs could smell the blood in the water. But they couldn't break through. It's less than a minute remaining and the Bruins just iced the puck. Faceoff deep in the Bruins' zone.

Habs win the faceoff. Back to the Wiz. Bruins keeping a close eye on him, he pulls off a little bit of deception -- exactly the kind of offensive play I've been calling for -- fakes a shot, swings past the swimming Bruins defender who was now on the ice after trying to block the shot, and moved into the open ice to wrist a shot towards the net. Gionta, ever the one to go to the net, tries to block Thomas' view and gets rewarded by having the puck graze his skate and past a stunned Timmy Thomas.

Canadiens celebrate tying goal in 3rd period of last night's action. AP

And we're going to OT. And if you were one who was going to bet against the Habs, you should be ashamed that you don't pay attention to history. We can learn from the past to predict the future, folks.

When the Bruins took a bad penalty in the Habs zone 10 seconds into OT, the feeling in me just got stronger. But the Habs couldn't break through 4-on-3. WTF! Guess it'll have to wait for the shootout.

This is where I borrow some infomercial language: "But wait! There's more!"

Oh yes, there was more. My man MaxPac, who had yet to score a "clean one" in my words, took a nice pass from P.K. Subban and confidently made his way into the Bruins zone to zing a snapshot through a bunch of defenders, against the grain, to beat Thomas stickside. Habs win, 3-2.

Unfortunately, there was one glitch. As the rook made his way to the corner to celebrate, he pushed Chara out of the way!!!! Chara didn't take kindly to this and made his way to the scrum. What I don't like about this is that it provides additional fodder and motivation to the Bruins, and we don't need to giving them anything. So we'll see how things pan out when they play eachother next time, which won't be very long.

Habs now go to 3-0 against the Bruins this year. And the last two games, both times the Habs have scored more goals than Thomas' goals allowed average so far this year. Funny, no matter how good Thomas is, the Habs always seem to beat him.

Well my friend, don't blame yourself, blame the sweater you're wearing.


A few other notes. Mike Cammellari left the game in the 2nd period but I heard it was due to a virus... he was probably throwing up etc. So it'll be game to game for him.

After the game, Bruins coach Claude Julien put this to a lack of concentration and focus, which is unacceptable. Great to have the seed of doubt move from the Habs dressing room to the Bruins.

Funny how you can spin things one way or the other. No matter their recent struggles and offensive liabilities of late, the Habs have now earned 7 of a possible 8 points. The Bruins hold onto the 3rd spot in the Eastern Conference because they have two games in hand. Both teams now have 49 points.

Next up for the Habs is a Tuesday night tilt at Madison Square Gardens to face the Rangers.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Habs Win Despite Themselves

Don't you just love hockey?

I sure do. It's really the only thing that gets me through the winter.

It's been a fun and entertaining NHL season so far, with the Kovalchuk affair, trades, teams struggling etc. And it looks like it'll only continue, especially for the Canadiens, in the second half.

Lots of news, let's get to it:


Well 2 points are 2 points. The team sorely needed this win, even if it was in a shootout, and even if they really didn't play a great game. And with a Bruins losers last night (well, they're always losers, but last night the lost), they gained 2 points on that squad. Thankfully, Carey Price was solid, especially in the pressure-packed shootout, which resulted in a 2-1 SO win for the Habs. A very small step towards rebuilding this team's confidence.

Crosby and Fleury weren't in the lineup, but that didn't matter much (we usually neutralize Crosby pretty good). The Pens certainly weren't at their best, with Aaron Asham being their best forward on the night. Johnson played well in nets, but he's very beatable. Still, the Habs didn't test him all that much last night.

Ultimately, the Canadiens still look very shakey, nobody wants to make a mistake, and there's a noticeable lack of flow in their game that is so present when the team is flying high (skating over pucks, bumping into eachother, fanning on shots -- you know what I mean).

They're also just stymied. Moen, Paciorretty and Kostitsyn had goals on their stick last night and couldn't convert. Spacek drilled the puck off the post. Cammellari broke his stick as he was about to take a good shot close in. Even AK46 muffed his shootout attempt, doing his best Koval-choke impersonation. If it weren't for Benoit Pouliot (who would have thunk it huh?) and for the fact that the Pens played the night before, the Habs would have lost this game for sure.

The Habs seemed to want to lose and won despite themselves. Sure the effort was there, but the first two lines had better nights, and when you have a 5-on-3 for almost 2 minutes in the third period to take the lead, and only get 1 shot on net, pretty pathetic. The Wiz, James Wisniewski, couldn't get his shots through, and the unit looked slow and nervous.

Actually I thought the best line for the Habs was the Darche-Desharnais-Pouliot line, with Desharnais picking up an assist on Pouliot's tying goal. But I'm sure everyone figured the Habs would lose the shootout and again, it seemed like they tried to. Cammellari, Gionta, Kostitsyn, Subban, all came up short.

Pouliot figured he had nothing to lose and tried a move he used in junior... why the hell not? Why not try some things, and play like they have nothing to lose!!?? Good for you Benny. But I'm a bit perplexed why clutch scorer Tomas Plekanec was not employed in the shootout!?? I liked the choice of Subban and he made a great move. For all intent and purpose, he should have scored if he only held on to the puck a second or two more.


That Josh Gorges, the heart and soul of this team, is done for the season. He needs knee surgery a la Markov and is out. Time for the young defense to step it up and show their worth. Ultimately this is Yannick Weber's big time chance. He does well, he'll remain a Hab. If he doesn't, well there are a few options.

Hopefully Hamrlik gets back soon.

Chances are, the Habs will make another move. Personally, I can see the team going after Kaberle from the Maple Leafs. You heard it here first.


No matter the team's current struggles which I'm confident they will emerge from, the team is 6 points ahead of its pace from last season at this point. That's good. And remember, the Habs went 6-1 last year on that same trip. Had they done that this year, they'd be at the top of the conference. So things are going in the right direction.

For it to continue, Price needs to be at his best every night. The team's best scorers need to be more consistent. The defence needs to be alert and help Price out. And overall the team needs to stay focused over 60 minutes and stop making avoidable mistakes.


The St. Louis Blues were in town last night to play the Leafs, and poor ol' Jaro was pulled after 4 goals. The Blues were up 2-0 but the Leafs stormed back with 5 straight tallies. Of course the Blues came back to tie it, only to lose to the Buds in a shootout to go down 6-5.

Do you still miss Jaro!? Come on now...


The remaking of the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Canadiens south continues, with the signing this week of Marc-Andre Bergeron. I was surprised at this move, but am happy for him. He's a good team guy and will try his best. He's got a great shot, but I still think the Habs are better off with Wisniewski. And maybe they'll sign Wiz for next year.

So let's see. The Lightning have players we wanted (LeCavallier, St. Louis), players we had (Moore, Desjardins, Bergeron) and our coach in waiting from the AHL (Boucher). Boucher (and Yserman) are doing a great job down there. But goaltending is still an issue. Not sure why they sent Desjardins down, he looks ready to make the jump. Roloson, who they also got from the Isles this week, is solid and experienced, but he can't do it game in game out. Just look at this week. He shutsout the Caps, then gets blown out of the water against the Pens....


Monday, January 3, 2011

I've Seen This One Before

It's funny how certain games repeat themselves, like a story or film you've seen before.

Yesterday afternoon's tilt at the Bell Centre against the Atlanta Thrashers was one of those games. Once the game started, I had that funny feeling no matter what the Habs threw at the Thrashers, they were going to come up short.
When I get that feeling, I keep watching, hoping I'm wrong and that I got the read wrong, like in poker or something. But unfortunately last night my read was right.
The Canadiens deserved a better fate, for sure, but can at least be happy with one point for their 4-3 OT loss.

I've seen this game before. The Canadiens were solid at both ends of the ice, pelting the Thrashers' goalie with lots of good shots, but for some reason, they kept on playing catch-up because Carey Price wasn't at his best.

Now everyone knows I've always been a big supporter of Carey and do believe he's poised to be the NHL's elite goaltender. But we still have to deal with these kind of games from him from time to time. I've been calling for the team to win a few games for him and essentially that's what they tried to deliver last night.

Hard to fault Price on the first goal, but it was an opportunity for him to make a "big save" and he failed. Price didn't seem comfortable in his net and the Thrashers took advantage of this.

The second goal was a joke and was one of his trademarked "softies." Their third goal exemplified this fact even more, as they simply just put a sharp angle shot towards the net. Price kicked it out to Andrew Ladd in front who put the rebound into the open net with 15 seconds left in the 2nd period. Another late period goal!!!

Then again, the Habs' defensive zone coverage wasn't all that sharp on the play. Lack of ability to bear down in the last few minutes of periods is becoming epidemic with late period goals now.

The Habs showed a lot of fight in this one, and for all intent and purpose they would have won this one walking away if it weren't for another standup performance by Pavelec, who seems to always play well in Montreal.
Ondrej Pevelec makes a glove save against the Montreal Canadiens, January 2, 2011. Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images.
Goals by Plekanec, Subban and Gionta did the body good, Gio's coming with a bit less than 5 minutes to salvage a point for the team.

But once it was 3-2 I upped the stakes with myself, predicting the Canadiens would lose in OT. Because like I said earlier, I've seen this game before. Only thing, ultimately I was happy to see the team get to OT since they were down late in the 3rd before Gio's tying goal.

I know it's only superstition, but the RDS commentators, namely Pierre Houde and Benoit Brunet. should stop JINXING THE HABS!! There have been many examples over the last couple of seasons, but last night's was pretty bad. In OT with the Habs pressing, Pierre Houde quipped how Dustin Byfuglien had been shutout so far.
Why'd you say that Pierre!? I think you're a great commentator, all class and professionalism, but maybe you should start educating yourself a bit about the superstitions of professional sports??

I totally knew what was coming now. This was like the last nail in the coffin for my gut feeling. So I upped the bet again with myself. Now not only would the Thrashers win, but Byfuglien would score the game winner.

And what happened less than a minute later? Subban was called on a marginal hooking penalty; after a few exciting moments, just like it looked as if the Habs would kill it off 4 on 3, Byfuglien wound up from the point and drove a shot right through Price for the game winner.

Canadiens lose. Man I hate winning those bets with myself. I wanted my gut feeling to lose!!!! But I'm compelled to call 'em like I see 'em, and this is why I've learned to trust my gut. After all, the ending to this game was written a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. ;)


Yesterday's game was also the first for David Desharnais and though he didn't get on the scoresheet, he had a solid game on a line with Pouliot and Darche, who collectively had a lot of energy and a few good scoring opportunities.

The Wiz, James Wisniewski, again proved why Pierre Gauthier pulled the trigger on this guy. He makes good first passes from his zone and his transition game is solid. He didn't score, but picked up two big assists and even showed his best Andrei Markov impersonation when he found a streaking Tomas Plekanec up the middle to send him in alone to score the team's first goal.

The Canadiens need to build on this game as they did a lot of things right. Price needs to ramp it back up to where he was in the first 30 games of the season, and maybe the team can get on a much-needed roll. It won't get any easier, as they host Crosby's Penguins on Thursday night.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Habs win important game on heels of Lapierre trade to Ducks

Out with the old, in with the new.

The plane ride home must have been a good time at least -- the Canadiens ringing in the New Year with a 3-2 OT win against the Florida Panthers last night.

Just what the doctor ordered. Now the team can go home, regroup and get their mojo on again after completing a painful 2-5 roadtrip.

What's been missing in their play of late has been the compete level, a passion to win. Last night, thankfully they showed up wanting to do what it took to win. Alex Auld got the start and he was solid though he didn't look that great on the first goal. But even with the Panthers moving out to a 2-0 lead early in the second, one could see the Canadiens might just make a game out of it, which they did.

Even when they still had yet to score, it looked like they were slowly getting their collective mojos back, at both ends of the ice.

James "The Wiz" Wisniewski, our newest Hab favourite, proved why Pierre Gauthier acquired him when he scored with a rocket shot from the blueline on the powerplay to make it 2-1. A few minutes later, also on the powerplay, he then drilled a shot wide, which came out right to Scotty Gomez who faked a shot then made a sweet pass to a wide open Captain Gionta standing at the side of the crease to put it home past a sprawling Tomas Vokoun.

I love this kind of goal and it's what the Habs need to do more of. Instead of telegraphing their plays and being predictable, they need a bit more subterfuge in their game. That is, they need to confuse and make more fake plays to get their offence going. So Gomer faking the shot to then make a quick pass to Gionta -- I want to see more plays like this from everyone. Keep 'em guessing.

The Habs had a lot of great scoring opportunities in this game and if it weren't for Vokoun, they would have walked out of this one with a win in regulation time. Instead, it took the Wiz to score his second goal of the night as he popped in a Mike Cammellari rebound as the trailer on a rush.

A rebound goal!? Hallelujah!!! Something to build on moving forward.

The win was a tonic that cured a bunch of things for the Habs. Winning and getting an important 2 points to end the calendar year on a high note. First time they came back to win this season. First time they won without having scored first. And that important rebound goal, something the Habs can't seem to do on a regular basis.

Pierre Gauthier looks like a genius today with the Wisniewski trade. Let's see how long it lasts, but there's no doubt, that's what we got him for, to do exactly what he did last night. Help out on the powerplay and restart our offence. He ended the game with 2 goals and an assist. Sweet bro.

Speaking of Gauthier, before the game, he traded Maxim Lapierre to the Ducks for Dman Brett Festerling and a fifth round pick. As you can see, the Habs brass are stocking up on defense because as I mentioned in one of my last posts, there's no way this team will see all of Hamrlik, Spacek and Gill on the team next year. Maybe one of them, but not all three. So the Habs need options on defence. Could be a good move. At 6'1, 210 lbs, he could add some additional size to the Habs' blueline. He'll start in Hamilton and we'll see where he goes.

Too bad for Maxim though; I liked him, but he didn't bring the kind of gritty play that we need from a guy like that enough on a regular basis. He's an agitator who doesn't back it up with his fists, and he may have lost the respect of his teammates for this. I'm sure the French press will make a big deal of another Frenchman leaving the team, but I could care less who is playing, as long as the Habs win. I wish they would leave politics and other anxieties out of sports.

Lapierre was class as to how he took it though -- the complete opposite of Guillaume Latendresse who basically ranted and raved to RDS after he was traded last year. All the best to Maxim Lapierre and hope he enjoys his time playing once again with Saku Koivu.