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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.


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? :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Habs Fan in LeafLand Profile: Greg Chambers

Here's the start of a new set of articles for this year, profiling my fellow Habs Fans in LeafLand. Not all of us are as traditional as myself, growing up in Montreal then resettling in Toronto to chase the American, err, Canadian dream.

Greg with P.K. Subban, Montreal's thoroughbred star defenseman at an autograph signing in Toronto, Summer 2011. We won't slight P.K. for wearing the Blue Jays cap. After all, he did grow up in the area.

As I'm sure you're all aware, there's quite a few of us out there. None are disguised as Leaf fans.

Of course maybe today some may have contemplated that after the Habs fell to the Bruins for the 2nd straight game, 2-1. However, there is a light at the end of the horizon, as this was definitely the team's best outing of the preseason -- an impressive feat given Montreal only iced 8 NHL regulars. Price had a strong game, as well as Bournival and everyone's current darling, Brendan Gallagher.

Bournival and Gallagher remain with the team today. Chris Campoli arrives after being signed. More depth? Or is Subban hurt worse than the team is letting on? And then there's Markov. Eller still needs some more time and what about Ryan White? It is troubling to have so many injured already, but maybe this is a good sign for this year -- get it out of the way now!!!


Peterborough is a sleepy little town roughly 125 kms Northeast of Toronto but it probably has one of the best pedigrees going for Canadian cities who produce NHL players -- especially players that suit up for the Habs.

The Peterborough Petes is the longest continuously run hockey team in the Ontario Hockey League and boasts such NHL alums like Eric and Jordan Staal, Steve Yzerman, Chris Pronger and Corey Perry.

The team's connection to the Habs is strong, producing Mickey Redmond, Bob Gainey, Doug Jarvis and Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman. And that's where this story begins. Because Greg Chambers grew up a Habs fan in Peterborough.

Funny enough his physician father was born in Toronto, yet rooted for the Red Wings. Well they had some darn good players in Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, so easy to understand that. But he liked to follow the Petes and Bob Gainey was a star player on that team when the legendary Roger Neilson was coach. So Greg liked Gainey for his Peterborough-ness and the fact that he was a winner -- and a Habs fan was born.

And of course, once a Habs fan, always a Habs fan.

Greg Chambers in 1982 at Kew Gardens rink (not far from where I live now funny enough) wearing Gainey's iconic #23 -- with matching gloves to boot -- wondering why it's taking so long for the Habs to win another cup. The Canadiens won their fourth in a row 3 years earlier, an eternity for spoiled Habs fans who lived through the dynasty of the late 70's.

Eventually the family moved back to Toronto, and Greg the little boy skated around town proudly wearing Gainey's #23 after Santa left it for him one Christmas morning.

The Chambers, regardless of their NHL allegiances, are hockey fans through and through and have had Leafs seasons tickets for over 30 years.

How else can you get to see the Habs and Red Wings when living in Toronto?

Now a grown man, Greg continues to watch the Habs whenever they're in Toronto plus he skates down the 401 once or twice a year to see them in Montreal. He's a diehard, no doubt. He even makes time to see his heroes in person. Like when P.K. Subban did a little autograph session this summer in Toronto.

Greg getting the P.K. treatment to his jersey. That'll make a nice collectable in the years to come pho-sho!!

It should be noted here and now that the last couple of times I went down to the Air Canada Centre to see the Habs play the Leafs here in Toronto was due to Greg's generosity in letting me have his tickets. And maybe he couldn't stand to see a grown man beg too.

Not only is the guy a fan, but a team player to boot.

He even told me about an autograph signing a few weeks after P.K.'s with Carey "my man" Price. Would've been great to see the Griefster face-to-face with Pricey. But truth be told, I forgot.

Some Habs Fan in LeafLand I am, eh?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Max Scored 2?! Love it!!

Did I ever tell you about my theory about how preseason losses usually results in regular season wins? Well it's true. I don't have any hard figures to share with you, but it's just something I know to be true. Usually when the Habs shit the bed in the preseason, they have a strong regular season.

Let's hope this to be correct because the Habs lost their 3rd game in a row tonight in Ottawa against the rebuilding Senators. Carey Price et al fell behind 3-0 before Max Pacioretty scored two straight power play goals (nice Max, that first one must have felt amazing).

Well that's what this is out the kinks, get back to the flow, find your rhythm. Scott Gomez returned to action and posted an assist on Max's first tally, along with Erik Cole. I like that. Keep it up boys.

Nathan Lawson, a pickup from the Islanders, came in to replace Price and got an assist on Max's 2nd goal. Boy, maybe this guy is after Price's job!? Shutout hockey, gets an assist. Reminds me of...well, me!! Just kidding. He's going down to the minors next week, like I certainly would -- as the water boy!!

SCRATCH THAT SHIT! SCOTT GOMEZ JUST SCORED WITH LESS THAN A MINUTE TO TIE THE GAME 3-3. ET LE BUT!!!! Way to go SG11. Now there's a man on a mission this out kids! Erik Cole and Weber with assists. Ahhhhhh. On to OT, but I don't care what happens now. This is possibly the worst fumbing in journalism since the 1948 US Presidential election where papers declared Dewey the winner. But I digress. I'm posting this before I change my mind. Game is now going to a shootout. Hope MaxPac scores the winner.

Serves me right to write posts before the game is in the books. A pleasant error to be sure. Hmm, Brock Trotter is -2 tonight. Not the way to make your case for the 13th forward...

In any case, the preseason continues tomorrow night with the Senators coming back to Montreal to play at the phone booth tomorrow night. Maybe they'll all go out to Chez Paree tonight :)

Wish I was there now...g'night.

NEXT TIME: I'M NOT THE ONLY HABS FAN IN LEAFLAND... and being from Montreal has nothing to do with it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Not Exactly Classics

And they're off!

This week we saw two Habs preseason games back to back, adding up to two preseason losses. Means nothing of course, except for the rooks who are looking to impress.

That said, the first game against Dallas on Tuesday night saw the team fall behind 4-0, only to then make a game out of it scoring 3 quick goals but then ultimately lost 6-3. Carey Price was in nets for the first four against, and thankfully this year, no postgame "Chill out" speech was required.

Nobody's worried about him -- the way it should be. That's what the preseason is for.

Nobody really shined in the opener, as far as prospects are concerned. I kept waiting for someone to show something. Jeff Woywitka scored on a nice setup by Brock Trotter and both players were all over the ice that night, but aside from them, no real standouts. Everyone was shaking off the rust. Trotter definitely showed his improved skating abilities after his KHL stint.
Unless you count everyone's fav ex-Hab, Michael Ryder, who scored and posted an assist against his old club.

Although one thing that was nice to see was Erik Cole scoring -- hope that's not some little preseason blip. I liked the way he drove the net and went to the dirty areas -- just what this team needs!

Last night the Sabres were in town and they took the game 3-1 but there were more standouts from a Habs point of view:
1) Max Pacioretty made his Bell Centre return and received a loud ovation upon his first appearance on the ice. Way to go Max! He looked good, drove the net, did the things we are looking for him to do. Glad he's made a full recovery.
2) Josh Gorges didn't miss a beat. Played a lot of minutes, took hits -- looked like the reliable, steady guy we've come to rely on.
3) Nathan Beaulieu -- this is exciting. The guys on RDS' L'Antichambre were lauding this guy after the game, and for good reason. He made a nice pass to Subban for the Habs only goal and he did not look out of place. He's another puck carrying dman who is going to be very, very good. We're lucky we got this guy. Imagine both him AND Subban on the same team!? It's going to happen pretty soon.
4) Brendan Gallagher -- having a great camp. He's some time away, but this guy looks like he could be our version of Carolina's Jeff Skinner. Hope he makes the National team's junior squad this year.

Habs have a few more game later in the week as the team begins to whittle down the numbers and ice their real team. Still no Markov or Gomez.

It was great to watch hockey again though, even if it was a tad on the boring side...

Friday, September 16, 2011

I'm baaack!

Yessir I'm back!

Back for another jam-packed, exciting and entertaining NHL season.

So much to talk about even before the season starts. But what better way to make my return than on the day the Habs take their physicals in Brossard and officially open the pre-season.

What a crazy offseason, from the airplane crash in Russia killing an entire KHL squad, to the untimely deaths of Belak, Rypien and Boogaard, to Michael Ryder showing off the cup in Newfoundland.

I told you the hockey karma was out of step with the Bruins winning the cup, and so it's no surprise we had probably the most tragic offseasons on record.

Now it's up to the Canadiens to right the ship and make it all better.
And you know what that means...

The Habs are going deep this year, and in my mind, they will be the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions. On paper at least, this is probably the best team Montreal has iced since their last cup in '93. With the addition of power forward Eric Cole; a healthy MaxPac, Gorges and gulp... hopefully Markov; the continuing improvement of our 2 young thoroughbreds Carey "my man" Price and P.K. Subban; and a possible rebound year for Scotty Gomez -- this team could have the right combination of young and experienced talent to go all the way. Hopefully the team stays healthy. Newbie Yemelin gives us much-needed grit in the d-zone; Eller, Desharnais, Pacioretty and Kostitsyn will be battling for second line minutes; and returning leaders Gionta and Gill will help the team navigate the ups and downs.

Plus GM Gauthier still has another 4 million bucks to boot against the cap to go out and get someone to push us over the top when that time comes before February.

I like this team.

Myself, I had a terrific offseason and come into it renewed, revitalized and in shape, having lost 30 pounds after completing the "Insanity" workout regimen -- one of those crazy 6 days of 7 intense fitness plans, from the makers of P90X which a lot of folks know. Hard man, very hard. But happy I stuck with it.

As a result, I had a Timmy Thomas type season in my summer hockey league, posting the best numbers of my career. I'm a goalie, if you don't already know.

However, my team lost in the finals, and to my surprise I found out after the fact that one of the players on the opposing side was John Bartlett -- the new voice of the Habs on TSN radio. The guy scored on me in the first game of our two game final. Phooey. But I won't hold it against him. John was the voice of Toronto's AHL Marlies but now moves over to become the voice for the Canadiens, his boyhood team. Supposedly he's the second coming of Danny Gallivan. We'll see about that. But good luck John, call 'em good, call 'em hard but most importantly, call 'em wins!!!

More to come folks...