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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.


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.


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. 
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...