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Monday, March 11, 2013

BIGGER! STRONGER! FASTER!!!

We can rebuild it... we have the technology...

HABS FAN IN LEAFLAND has OFFICIALLY MOVED!! New blog! Whoopee!!

Continue the fun, the good times and all things Habs at:

HABSFANINLEAFLAND.COM

Bookmark it. Share it. I don't care what you do just get down there!!

"Look Maw.. they got there a ding-darn Habs blog now":

HabsFanInLeafLand.com

Hey if Guy Lafleur, Peter Mahovlich and Jacques Lemaire can get into this blog, so can you. PS: These three former Habs greats do not officially endorse this blog. But they do like to hug each other.



It's Hab-errific, Habs-tastic, and Habs-tacular!!

Come up with your own Habs pun. Everyone is a winner!!

Stick tap to Brian and Tom at Uniseo Inc. for their outstanding work in getting it done just in time for the Habs to sweep their 2 game sojourn in the Sunshine state.

Ahh, I could use some sunshine, but at least I got me a great blog!!

We're going to the big leagues folks; got the call up today... and I owe it all to you. But don't expect any money.

Don't forget to follow me on that thing they call the twitter: @habsfanleafland

PS: This is the last time I will be posting here.
I know it's sad, but just go to HABSFANINLEAFLAND.COM and you'll feel much, much better.

Buh-bye.


Friday, March 8, 2013

CP Rides High In 'Cane Country

Carey Price makes 42 saves in leading the Canadiens to a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes
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So what was it that I was saying?

Last post, that game against the New York Islanders!?

Oh yeah, about Carey. Carey Price. You know!? The young star goalie of the Montreal Canadiens. Right.

Carey Price made 42 saves on the night helping the Habs beat the Canes 4-2. AP

And what was it that I was asking him for?

To steal a game? Actually, to stand on his head and win the Habs a game.

Well I don't know if CP reads this blog but if he does, the message was received loud and clear as last night the Canadiens might have played one of their worst games of the season in Raleigh yet still managed to get out of there with the two points.

Price made 21 saves in the second period alone which was a completely one-way affair, the Canes coming at the Canadiens like a dog on a bone.

Actually the Habs started this game strong, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Prust and Gorges -- who seemed to be channeling Andrei Markov on this night.
In Prust we trust? Brandon Prust got three points in the Habs 4-2 win against the Hurricanes. AP









Then the Hurricane onslaught began in the second; and if it wasn't for Price the Habs could've been down by a few going into the third.

But alas, Price kept his team in the game and though he'd probably like that second one back, it's tough for a goalie when a forward has the time to wind up and blast one from the faceoff dot. The puck can go anywhere. Yet he was strong in potentially the turning point of the game on no other than Eric Staal, making the save on a penalty shot with a little more than five minutes left in the middle frame.

The Canadiens then regrouped and came out strong once again in the third, getting goals by Lars Eller and P.K. Subban on the power play.

Prust continues to make Bergevin look like a genius, tallying a goal and two assists on the night. The guy brings the sandpaper but can also play. Eller and Gorges also had strong games, as well as Galchenyuk.

Michael Ryder? Not so much. He was benched for the third.

There were too many passengers on this night. Did Desharnais and Pacioretty even play?

And poor Yanick Weber. In his first game of the season he looked a bit rusty, getting caught flat footed on the second Carolina goal, then left the game early with a lower body injury.

Habs now head down to the sunshine state where we can only hope they get the same results like the last time. That is, fly out of there with some sun and four big points.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Islanders Have Habs Number!

Habs points streak ends at 11 games; Gionta scores 20,000th goal in Canadiens history in 6-3 loss to Isles

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Not a great game all-around, Habs vs. Isles on the island.

The defense was sketchy; Price didn't have the bounce back game we had hoped he would; and the Islanders took full advantage. So let's give that mediocre team the kudos they deserve for doing what they needed to do to get the two points.

Get it together Carey. Your team, your fans... need you to be at your best. Isles beat Habs 6-3 on Long Island. AP

But nevertheless, the Canadiens lost the chance to get two points against a team that does not play well at home; a team that probably won't make the playoffs; a team starting an aging, past-his-prime goalie in Evgeni Nabokov.

Michael Ryder had three assists and Captain Brian Gionta scored the Canadiens' 20,000th goal in its history. But it still wasn't enough.

Defensively, the Canadiens have been making a lot more mistakes of late. And Carey Price is getting the shaft because of it.

You know I'm his biggest supporter. As a goalie myself, I understand what it's like to play between the pipes.

But hey! The team needs a big save once in awhile. Lately, Price just doesn't look comfortable in his crease. That's the reality, that's the truth. You can blame the defense all you want, but it's nice when your goalie saves their behinds sometimes... that's what goalies are for!!

And Price just isn't doing it right now. To be honest, he hasn't looked the same since he came back from the flu. Maybe he's not totally 100%. But the fact is, he looks shaky. Point finale!!

Michel Therrien was clearly frustrated in his postgame presser. He was positive in general, didn't throw anyone under the bus, but he did mention how Price probably would've liked the Islanders' fourth goal back.

That's the one that hurt. The Canadiens came back from a 3-1 deficit to tie it up and needed a few saves to keep the momentum going. They didn't get it.

On twitter, Price's defenders were bashing anyone who even suggested Price was at fault for this game. My position was that the loss wasn't his fault per se, but just because the puck is deflected does not mean that automatically should be a goal. I've made plenty of saves off of deflections. So has he. Make some big saves when your team isn't playing its best. The Canadiens need that from time to time. Stand on your head!

When was the last time we said that? That Carey Price stood on his head to get the win for the HABS!? Seems like a long time...

Remember what Ben Bishop of the Ottawa Senators did to us last week? I'd like to see Carey Price do that for us sometime soon.

Hopefully he gets it together. Do we see Budaj or Price on Thursday against the 'Canes in Carolina?? I think Price needs to play through this... but he better get it together quick because it's still pretty tight in the Northeast division.

Hey did I tell you I'm on twitter? I have over 400 followers now: #habsfanleafland

Monday, March 4, 2013

Character Wins Hockey Games

Habs take 3 of 4 points on weekend to reclaim top spot in Eastern Conference

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If there's one thing we know about freshman GM Marc Bergevin is that he likes hockey players with character.

So it was no surprise that his first signing was gritty forward Brendan Prust as a free agent from the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts still seem to be having issues replacing him.

It's players like Prust who provide those intangibles that can often swing momentum from one side to the other.

Brandon Prust taking one for the team from Milan Lucic in Boston. Lucic should really know better and pick on someone more his size, but it says a lot about both of their characters. Habs won 4-3. AP

Last night in Boston, it happened when Prust dropped the gloves to take on beast Milan Lucic and literally got punched out took one for the team.

The Habs were trailing 3-2 at that point and with the Bruins a strong third period team, it didn't look good.

But his teammates took notice, and responded in the best way possible by going out and winning that third period.

They also took notice when Alexei Emelin, steel plate in cheek, took on monster Zdeno Chara -- who received a fighting major and 10 minute misconduct going into the third. Bit of a mistake by the big Z but it paid off for the Habs.

So this year's edition of the Montreal Canadiens doesn't seem to wilt like they have in the past when faced with adversity.

Character.

It can go a long way on a hockey team.

Good teams seem to win games and collect points even when they don't have their best stuff. This weekend was a perfect example of that for the Canadiens. After Saturday night's surreal 7-6 OT loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Montreal, which saw a see-saw battle of giveaways, odd man rushes and somewhat sketchy goaltending, the Canadiens marched in to Boston's barn to begin a five game roadtrip. And they didn't exactly play a perfect game, but they did what they had to do to win, coming back in the third with two unanswered goals for the 4-3 victory.

Coach Therrien went with his gut, sent his team a message, sent his star goaltender a message -- whatever you decide -- by starting backup Peter Budaj in Boston. Twitter was ablaze, per the norm, questioning his judgment. Why start a backup who hasn't played in Boston since 2007 when the top spot in the conference is up for grabs? Doesn't make any sense...

But it does. Therrien is showing consistency in his message and that no player is immune from the team concept this season. You play well, you play. You don't perform to expectations, you sit. And it applies to Carey Price, just like it does to Lars Eller or Ryan White. Doesn't matter what nametag is on the back; what matters is that "CH" on the front.

I'm sure Price didn't like the call, but could respect it. He knows he didn't have a good game against the Pens. He knows he was shaky. He knows he has to be better -- as his team has to be better in front of him. And Price will be better. But in the meantime by starting Budaj, Therrien sent a message to the entire team and not just a single player.

And it worked. Budaj was solid and made a terrific save in the dying moments of the game to seal the deal.

So the Canadiens returned the favour to the Bruins in beating them on their home ice and coming back in the third to win. The Habs have to be happy with 3 of a possible 4 points when they didn't have their best stuff.

Things tend to even out; after all, the Habs had their best stuff in Ottawa last week and only got one point out of it.

Now it's on to Long Island to face the Islanders. Let's hope the Habs return the favour to the Isles from last week...


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pacioretty Bites Back

Ryder returns, Pacioretty scores two as Habs down Leafs in LeafLand 5-2

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What did that crime dog MacGruff used to say?

Take a bite outta crime!?

Well luckily there wasn't any biting going on, but there was a dose of revenge for the Canadiens as they marched in to Toronto and dominated the Leafs 5-2 at the ACC.

Max Pacioretty continued his tear of late with his first goal of two on the night helping the Habs to a 5-2 win against the Leafs in Toronto. AP

Newly acquired Michael Ryder was not a factor, but newly minted #11 was: Brendan Gallagher gave the veteran sniper his #73 and grabbed Captain Koivu's old number (which he wore with the Vancouver Giants), then proceeded to score the game winner on a nice deflection from a shot from the point.

One game with #11, one goal. I think it took Gomez over 80 games, right? Way to exorcise those demons kid.

The Leafs were up in arms as Tyler Bozak blew the faceoff for reasons that he thought the faceoff was going to be restarted. I say he gave up on the play, and David Desharnais did not.

The Canadiens dominated on the scoreboard and shots on goal; Max Pacioretty potted two and continues to  have the hot hand.

This game should have been out of reach earlier than the third period, but Leafs goalie Ben Scrivens made a few good saves, notably on Brendan Gallagher.

Carey Price didn't have to be great in this one, but I'm sure he would have liked to have back MacArthur's goal. Even if it was a nice passing play, he could have sucked that one up.

But he did excel on Mikhail Grabovski's penalty shot when the game was only 2-1 Habs; had Grabovski scored the game might have turned in another way.

Credit the Canadiens for being very disciplined and not getting pulled into the goonish play of the Leafs like the last time. Honestly now that I look at it, the Leafs look like the poor man's version of the Bruins. They want to play tough and with skill, but they're just goons with flashes of talent.

And I'm still not that sold on their goaltending, whoever is between the pipes. Scrivens was a bit soff on a few of the Habs tallies.

The Habs were a motivated team last night and have yet to lose in regulation since their 6-0 drubbing at the hands of these very same Leafs. It might have been all about getting "the two points" but this game proved my point in an earlier post that the Leafs made a big strategic error in embarrassing the Habs in Montreal a few weeks ago. They awoke the beast in the Habs -- now Montreal has something to play for against Toronto. The flame has been re-ignited for the Canadiens in this classic rivalry.

Well now that the Leafs had their rears handed to them in their barn, will they respond and go on a tear like the Canadiens responded after their drubbing??? I wouldn't bet on it.

No ifs and buts about it: the Canadiens are a much harder team to play against this season -- exactly what Coach Therrien wanted. They keep limiting their opposition to under 30 shots a game and are now starting to dominate in the faceoff circle. It's all in the little details. Winning, that is.

Habs have a tough weekend which could say a lot in where they stand in the conference next week. Back home to face the Penguins on Saturday, then off to Boston to play the Bruins on Sunday.

As always: SHOULD BE FUN!!!

You know that Twitter thing? Yeah, I'm on it: #HabsFanLeafLand



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Back to the Future -- Again!!

GM Bergevin pulls trigger on deal with Dallas Stars trading Erik Cole for Michael Ryder and 3rd round pick

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I was just about to get into the shower after a hard "insanity" workout. Then I heard from the television downstairs on RDS saying the Canadiens made a trade today. My immediate thought was "...oh what draft pick and prospect now!?"

But then I was shocked to hear the Habs traded big power forward Erik Cole with two more years on his four year 18 million dollar contract to the Dallas Stars for Michael Ryder and a third round pick!

Wow! Was I blown away.

Welcome back Ryder. Times have changed in Montreal. Good luck in Dallas Cole. Let me know if you find out anything I don't already know on the JFK assassination.

Why? Well Cole had a terrific season last year with 35 goals. He was off to a slow start, no doubt. But we at least thought that he was a good team guy, a leader and would get going.

I have to admit, I was a bit surprised when this veteran winger who clicked so well with Desharnais and Pacioretty last year came into camp saying he was going to retire at season's end. Seemed very odd. He was definitely rattled by the lockout, and maybe a change of scenery will be good for him.

Kind of a weird way to start a year. And then his play and lack of production has brought up questions about his fitness, leadership and will.

I admire Bergevin for pulling the trigger and making a splash to make his team better.

The big question is: was this the right deal?

From a numbers perspective, after looking at the specifics quite frankly, yes.

Cole has another two years left on an $18 million contract. Ryder is a UFA at the end of this season. So in one swoop, Bergevin frees up money against the cap for next season; gets a natural goal scorer who also scored 35 goals last season and so far this season has 14 points in 19 games -- tying him with team leader Plekanec; gets a player who'll be hungry to get a good contract for next year with whichever team; and gets a pick.

And the other intangible? Bergevin shakes his team up a bit, ensuring over confidence and complacency doesn't set in, and puts some of the other "leaders" on this team on the hot seat (I'm looking at you Brian Gionta).

The other big question? What else does Bergevin have up his sleeve? Is he done?

Ryder struggled under head coach Guy Carbonneau in his last season with the Habs and during his first year in Boston but now he's a veteran player who is confident in his abilities. He's a proven goal scorer, even if he is one-dimensional to some extent. He's a sniper. He'll be expected to snipe.

Erik Cole waived his no-trade clause for this. Maybe he wasn't happy? Maybe he wasn't the leader we were led to believe? Maybe Bergevin wants to purge anything Pierre Gauthier? Whatever the case, Cole can now retire a Dallas Star if he so chooses, while Michael Ryder can enjoy playing on an up-and-coming team that could be competitive in the post season this year.

Time will tell whether this works out for the Habs. In the end, Erik Cole was the best thing that happened to the Canadiens during last year's debacle. But I knew we wasted the best year of his career. Maybe Ryder still has his best in him.

Twitter! It's good, clean fun: #habsfanleafland

Bishop Burns Habs

Ben Bishop stops 44 shots to steal win for Sens against Habs in shootout

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Craig Anderson? Who's that guy? Oh yeah, starting goalie for the Ottawa Senators. You know, best goalie so far in the league this season; went down with an ankle sprain last week. Yeah yeah.


Hey, he played a heck of a game, that Ben Bishop goalie person. AP

Ben Bishop? Who is that guy? Isn't he the Canadian candidate for the papacy?

Not even close.

Unfortunately for the Habs, they probably wished they faced Craig Anderson in Ottawa Monday night, and that the 6"7 Ben Bishop was the papal candidate, because he was the difference maker in stealing the two points for the Senators, stopping 44 shots in regulation and OT, then 3 of 4 shooters to win the shootout.

He was very good on this night, and also very lucky. Hey when you're good, you get the luck. The Habs hit five posts in total and Bishop made more than one save with the butt of his goal stick.

As a goalie myself, I love those saves. Not just when they go against the Habs. Sometimes that's just the way it goes.

But the eternal truth is, if the Habs play like this consistently, they're going to win a hell of a lot more games than they are going to lose. The team dictated the play and all four lines really had good chances.

Carey Price looked a bit uneasy from the beginning and unfortunately he whiffed on the Sens' only goal in regulation -- a low slapshot that normally the goalie would have sucked up in his sleep.

After big time saves on Brandon Prust and Tomas Plekanec, Ben Bishop finally let one by when Andrei Markov blasted one from the point on the power play with four seconds remaining in the second period. It was the Habs' 30th shot at that point. Ultimately they won on the shot clock 45-24 but the Sens won the shootout on a goal by Peter Regin.

In the end, it was a pretty entertaining game filled with sharp passing from the Canadiens and good plays. But the Sens' backstop was the better player on this night. And so was the butt of his stick. Nobody on the Habs tried to put it top shelf on the big goalie in the shootout -- they might want to practice that because a guy like that covers a lot of net along the ice.

Nevertheless the Habs still technically hold the top spot in the East with the point but the Bruins still have games in hand. Wednesday night they roll into LeafLand to face the Leafs and hopefully looking for revenge from that 6-0 drubbing of a few weeks ago.

Follow-moi sur le twitter: #habsfanleafland

Friday, February 22, 2013

Parity is the Message

Isles snap Montreal's winning ways at five, winning 4-3 in OT
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Parity.

You've heard of that word, right?

For the last few seasons it's been one of the catch phrases for the NHL. The league has parity.

Huh?

What that means is that any team, no matter their record, can come out and beat another team on any given night -- or afternoon for that matter.

The L.A. Kings are the poster boys for NHL parity. After all, they barely made the playoffs in 2012, got on a roll and walked away with the big trophy.

Carey Price makes a save, but couldn't hold off the storm in a 4-3 OT loss to the New York Islanders. AP


So let it be a lesson to your 2013 Montreal Canadiens, that no matter the score or the team they face, that if they let their guard down, they can be defeated.

And that's what happened in last night's OT loss to the Brooklyn Long Island New York Islanders 4-3.

Your 2013 Montreal Canadiens came out flying and took it to the Isles, at one point running up a 14-3 shot differential and 2-0 score.

Then like a shock from the paddles to a heart patient, a bad penalty by Lars Eller gave the Isles life near the end of the period. And when they scored on that powerplay to start the second period, you could almost see the Canadiens letting this one slip away, even when they went ahead 3-1 on Max Pacioretty's second goal of the game.

Yes, parity. Hey the Isles have some good players... Matt Moulson (love that guy) potted two and wunderkind John Tavares made a terrific play from his stomach in OT to set up the winning goal by Isles dman Thomas Hickey. And Evgeni Nabokov made some big saves when he had to.

But this really shouldn't have been close.

Success can sometimes breed complacency, and that's a dangerous thing in the NHL. A sense of urgency, keeping the pedal to the metal, blah blah blah -- your 2013 Montreal Canadiens must never let go no matter what's the score or how many wins they've won.

Things are getting very tight with the Senators, Bruins and Leafs all winning.

So only time will tell whether your 2013 Montreal Canadiens will take this one and turn it into a positive like they seemed to do with the drubbing they got from the Maple Leafs the other week and start a new winning streak. They'll have their chance to do so on Saturday night against a New York Rangers team who'll be looking for some revenge from the other night. Should be a good one.

PARITY! 

Follow me on twitter where good times reside: #HabsFanLeafLand


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Habs Knock Off Rangers at MSG

Canadiens extend winning streak to five games downing New York Rangers 3-1 for their first win in NYC in five tries
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Remember last week when the Habs kept blowing third period leads?

Remember last week when the Habs kept losing third periods?

Remember last week when after those games, Michel Therrien said that his team needed to learn how to win!?

Well after some tight, one goal games and a few nailbiters thrown in, it appears as if the 2013 Montreal Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup have learned how to win. Or better yet, they're finding ways to win.

Carey Price celebrates Raphael Diaz's empty netter sealing the deal for the win. Habs beat the Rangers at MSG 3-1. AP



















This one started off kind of slowly for both teams. The Canadiens were coming off of last night's win in Montreal and were definitely sluggish. But the Rangers weren't that better and after one period, the shot total was 5-3 in favour of the Rangers.

Things got going in the second period. Carey Price, back from his battle with the flu, made some nice saves as did King Henrik Lundqvist. Then on a delayed penalty the Canadiens got caught watching in their own zone allowing Anton Stralman to pick up his own rebound to put the blueshirts up 1-0.

Finally the Habs seemed to get their legs going midway through the second and some good hustle by David Desharnais resulted in Max Pacioretty's goal with under two minutes left in the frame to tie the game 1-1.

The game was for the taking... so who was going to take it?

Well the Habs came out flying in the third and bang-bang, they went down the ice on a three-on-one which they kind of butchered, yet Brandon Prust -- playing for the first time against his old team -- returned the favour from last night to Alex Galchenyuk by passing him the puck through the crease and the rookie didn't miss.

#Prustchenyuk is now trending on twitter.

In fact, get used to it. Any time Galchenyuk is involved in the scoring, you're going to get a rise in anything-enyuks. Yuk yuk.

A dodgy call on Tomas Plekanec put the Rangers on the powerplay with under three minutes left in the game, but some key faceoff wins, especially by Ryan White, helped the Habs kill it off until Raphael Diaz whipped the puck down the ice from inside his own blueline and into the empty Rangers net. Habs win 3-1, take four of four points in a tough back-to-back, and temporarily take over first in the Eastern Conference.

Wow! Let's enjoy this, shall we?

Ultimately a few things:

  • The Habs suddenly are winning the important faceoffs. That's good coaching.
  • The team plays a patient game sans panic and is outlasting the opposition.
  • The fourth line is eating up minutes and bringing energy to the team. Ryan White -- for the last two games at least -- is playing Ryan White the Good.
  • The Canadiens are becoming a seriously stingy team. 
  • Lars Eller: this guy is starting to look like another Plekanec -- someone reliable in any situation. Boy did he get the message.
  • Playing a team game, Coach Therrien can roll all four lines.
The Canadiens powerplay is an area for improvement but as long as they keep winning any way they can, they can work it out without panic or pressure. And Erik Cole still doesn't look like the power forward from last year, but hopefully he'll get going soon. At least Pacioretty seems to have.

Habs are in Long Island to play the Islanders on Thursday looking for their sixth straight win.

Follow-moi on le twitter: #HabsFanLeafLand






Monday, February 18, 2013

Backup Budaj Earns Shutout for Fourth Straight Win

Canadiens outlast Hurricanes scoring three in third to win 3-0 in Montreal
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Captain Kirk was in Montreal Monday night.

Captain Kirk Muller that is -- Head Coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Peter Budaj earns his first shutout as a Canadien and picked up his second win in a row as the Habs beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 in Montreal. AP

I like him. I always have. But I don't care much for his team. And goaltender Cam Ward, I'd take him on my team any day. But he always seems to burn the Habs.

Fortunately, not on this night.

On this night, it was Peter Budaj who had the last laugh, netting the shutout as the Habs outlasted the Hurricanes 3-0 for their fourth straight win.

Enjoy it tonight but tomorrow is another day -- they play the Rangers tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.

With Brendan Gallagher recovering from the concussion he suffered against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night, Ryan White got his chance to re-enter the lineup and prove himself to his coach and team that he is and can be the player they want: someone who brings energy, emotion and momentum to his team from the fourth line. And on this night, he didn't disappoint.

And though he didn't score, rookie sensation Alex Galchenyuk once again proved the difference-maker, stickhandling into Carolina's zone, drawing the defense towards him and somehow managing to get the puck to Brandon Prust who potted his first goal as a Canadien. And it was the game winner on this night, earning the rough and tumble Prust the second star.

But tonight was Budaj's night. Not that he had to stand on his head or anything. But he was there when the Canadiens needed him and that's all a team can ask from their goaltender. He earned the first star and I'm happy for the guy. A lot of fans don't have a lot of confidence in him but as a goalie I know, it's a tough gig coming in when you haven't been playing. He did what he had to do helping his team pick up four big points during Price's bout with the flu. And this will go a long way with his teammates later in the season when he has to take the crease again.

But now what does Therrien do? Go with the hot hand? Err, probably not. If Price is cleared, he'll play on Broadway Tuesday night.

This wasn't a classic hockey game and was reminiscent of the game in Florida last week until Prust scored early in the third. Then Tomas Plekanec took a hard shot which hit high off of Cam Ward's shoulder and bounced in, and the Canadiens were on their way. We could barely get our tweets off about that one when Max Pacioretty finally broke his goose egg by putting a ground ball on net that somehow hopped over Cam Ward's glove hand.

Ward must not have played infield in baseball. Ugly, but I can imagine he was still stinging from Plekanec's shot which caught him up high. Game over.

At least the Habs are improving where they have to. On this night they bested the Hurricanes in the faceoff circle, winning 54% of the draws.

They're not doing it the fancy way either. Nothing wrong with that. Coach Therrien has the squad playing a strong, patient two-way TEAM game where everyone is doing what they need to do to succeed. And they're racking up the wins. Four in a row now. Let's see what they can do against the Rangers Tuesday night.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Battle of the Backups

Budaj records first win of the year as Habs beat Flyers 4-1 in Montreal

NO EXCUSES

It's the Canadiens' slogan this year, emblazoned in large letters in the dressing room.


Habs continue their winning ways by beating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 in Montreal. AP

The Flyers were coming off a loss in New Jersey last night while the Canadiens waited for them in Montreal, having won two straight in Florida.

NO EXCUSES not to win.

And they didn't disappoint. The Canadiens came out flying against the Flyers, taking the lead 1-0 on a goal by first star of the game Brendan Gallagher, who took a pass on the fly from Max Pacioretty and beat Flyers goalie Brian Boucher to the stick side.

Yes it was the battle of the backups, with Brian Boucher getting the nod while Peter Budaj took the crease for the Habs after it was announced that my man Carey Price was suffering from an intestinal flu.

Right away, twitter was ablaze, firebombing the Habs' chances with Budaj between the pipes. True the Habs backup was winless so far this year in two starts and more true, his career numbers against Philadelphia were pretty weak: 0-2-0 with a 4.5 GAA and .842 save percentage.

My view? Budaj was due. And he delivered when he had to.

But kudos to the Canadiens, they played a strong game in front of their netminder tonight keeping the Flyers to the perimeter. They made it 2-0 early in the second after Max Pacioretty drove the net then set up David Desharnais for the score.

Then the Habs got into penalty trouble and handed Philadelphia the momentum for the rest of the middle frame. Danny Briere got the Flyers on the board after his shot deflected off of Andrei Markov's skate past Budaj.

The third period so far this year has been a problem for the Habs so it was nice to see them come out and win the period adding goals by Plekanec and Bourque in an empty net. Final score 4-1 Habs and for now placing the Canadiens second in the conference with 19 points, one ahead of the Bruins but Boston has two games in hand.

The Canadiens faced a Flyers team that looked lost. Their best player, Claude Giroux, was nowhere to be found pretty much all night. Average goaltending and defense combined with injuries to Scott Hartnell and suddenly the Philadelphia Flyers are a pretty normal team. If this is any indication, they won't make the playoffs this year.

Unfortunately for Montreal the game didn't come without a price (ahem). Brendan Gallagher didn't finish the game as he fell awkwardly into the boards and Max Pacioretty also left the game after driving the net and apparently taking a skate in the ribs!? Let's hope both will be okay. Well we know Pacioretty is invincible, but Gallagher we'll have to see.

Other good points for the Habs on this night:

  • Max Pacioretty seemed to have a lot more jump on the night and was driving the net -- as he needs to do to succeed; still goalless on the year, he finished the night with two assists;
  • The Canadiens dominated the Flyers in the faceoff circle;
  • The powerplay was powerless, but the penalty kill was perfect on the night.
Habs have a busy week, starting Monday against the suddenly hot Carolina Hurricanes.

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New book: Montreal Canadiens -- Stanley Cup Champions

Twitter has brought me into contact with a whole new world of Habs fans and so I wanted to give a stick tap to Habs Fan in New Brunswick Jocelyne LeBlanc, the author of the upcoming book Montreal Canadiens -- Stanley Cup Champions.

Jocelyne grew up cheering the Habs along with her father in Dieppe, New Brunswick. Her decision to write this book, celebrating the Habs' 24 Stanley Cups, is a tribute to her love of sports, hockey, the Canadiens and especially, her father who passed away in 2011.

I look forward to reading it when the book is ready, which she hopes will be this coming fall.

For now, you can check out the links below for more information:



Follow me on le twitter: #HabsFanLeafLand


Gary Carter: Up, Up and Away!!!

In tribute on the 1-year anniversary of the death of my boyhood idol, Gary Carter, I repost my original post from February 2012. Lots of love "kid."
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Occasionally I use this space to write about stuff that matters to me, not just hockey or the Canadiens. Today is one of those days. It's a sad day for me and millions of other baseball fans -- but I'm finding happiness in it too.

And although this blog is called HabsFan in LeafLand, my avatar picture from which you can see has never been the typical shot of me in a Habs jersey, and is instead a caricature of myself as a smiling child, swinging for the fences in a Montreal Expos uniform. That should tell you something about who I am and where I come from.

I may have been wearing Ellis Valentine's #17, but the smile is all Gary Carter. 
 
That drawing was done in the summer of 1980 when I was 8 years old and it means a lot to me for many reasons. It marks a part of my life where I lost some of my innocence... my father had passed away that previous winter and my mother and brothers were on the ropes emotionally. But my mother's strength and guidance allowed us to continue and she followed through on my father's promise to take us on vacation to the Nevele Country Club in the Catskill Mountains, where they had their honeymoon years before. This caricature was drawn there.

I remember struggling to decide over which number to include on my jersey. It was between Ellis Valentine's 17 and Gary Carter's 8.

I chose Valentine's number. And I regretted it ever since. But the smile -- it's all Gary Carter.

Gary Carter passed away at the age of 57 on Thursday and I did shed some tears for him. As I did when the Expos left Montreal.

The Expos feted Gary Carter's election into Baseball's Hall of Fame by putting him on their Official Schedule for the 2003 season -- their second to last in Montreal.

A part of my life, one of my two childhood idols -- the other being Guy Lafleur -- gone before his time. It's funny, I was visiting an investment advisor late Thursday afternoon who also happened to be from Montreal originally and as I was leaving asked if he still followed the Canadiens. Sure he did. The Expos too, he said. I then mentioned Carter, that he wasn't well, probably wasn't going to make it.

I came home and heard the news. RDS' "5 a 7" dedicated their entire show to him. Then a friend called and asked me if I had heard the news. That when he found out, he thought of me. Because he knew how I would feel. That made me feel a bit better, actually.

Carter showing the ball to the umpire in a classic pose. The Expos finally beat those pesky Phillies in '81 to go on to the National League Championship. That was the best!

I have no hesitation or hang ups to say this very clearly: I love Gary Carter.

He never knew me, but I knew and loved him as did so many others in Montreal and New York. He was loved -- not just cheered -- and that's what made him so special and unique. Because in the modern era of sports which is chock-full of overpaid, egotistical and selfish athletes -- Gary Carter stood apart.

His enthusiasm, his generosity, his hustle, his work ethic, his charms, his genuineness -- let alone his clutch hitting and howitzer of an arm -- it's all what made him special and endeared us to him that much more.

I will always have a special place in my heart for Gary "The Kid" Carter. I know it's true for my brothers as well, even though they may not express it as much.

As kids watching the Expos, he was bar none our favourite player. The chant of "Garrrry" a familiar refrain in our den. To this day we still exclaim it to eachother. Even this past December, when I was organizing a trip for us to Sawgrass to play the Stadium course there, my older brother replied "Garrrryyy" in an email response because the guy organizing our arrangements at the resort was named Gary.

Gary Carter's signed "game worn" batting jersey, circa 1982-84. From Gary to Ari, I will hold this jersey dear. We all wanted a piece of "The Kid" and I have one.
Gary Carter was the heart and soul of the Expos teams of the mid-to-late seventies and early eighties and I will always cherish the memory of him leaping into Steve Rogers' arms after the Expos clinched the National League Eastern Division in 1981.

He gave me thrills and chills as a child rooting for my hometown team. I loved it when he was named All-Star M.V.P. twice and the fact that he was finally getting league-wide recognition that Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk obtained solely for playing in Cincinnati and Chicago. I loved watching him gun down base runners or catch pop ups behind home plate. The guy never missed. He was money. I loved watching him being introduced and watching his joy and enthusiasm. I loved seeing him raise his glove high, showing the home plate ump the ball after tagging out a runner at home. And I loved trying to copy his swing, hitting balls behind a high school with my brothers: right side of the plate, weight on the back right leg, open stance, hands upright with bat pointing straight up.

Sure I have many memories of the Expos from my childhood and liked a lot of players like Valentine, Dawson, Cromartie and Steve Rogers. But Gary, he was it. He was special. He was there, living in Pointe Claire making an effort to speak French, selling 7UP and other stuff on t.v., whatever.

Gary wearing the jersey in spring training. It's in good hands, Kid.
He was a class act all the way, and even if some of his teammates and others around the league thought he was a show-off and camera-hungry, it's only because they were jealous of his raw talent and charisma. At least that's what my mother would say.

Baseball was my father's favourite sport and he even had aspirations to play pro until he was injured as a teen prospect. He passed his love of the game on to me. I played hardball every year as a kid up to age 14... and when I was twelve I strapped on the pads and played catcher -- just like Gary. I mowed 'em down the best I could when they tried to steal second, just like Gary. And just like Gary, I was an all-star that year.

The day he was traded, I found out early in the morning. Back then, I was delivering the Montreal Gazette newspaper before going to school. The trade to the Mets was on the front page. It was also a sad day. But the team was moving on, and so did he. It's funny how in '86, the Habs won the Stanley Cup and later that year, Gary finally realized his dream of winning the World Series. Just not with the Expos unfortunately.

I remember watching the comeback game, the game where the Red Sox had it in the bag, until Gary came up with 2 outs in the 10th inning. I remember thinking "Hah! Carter's going to be the last out!" I was rooting for the Red Sox. Another big mistake.

Gary Carter's book "A Dream Season." In it, he candidly discusses why he was traded from the Expos. Namely because owner Charles Bronfman thought he was making too much money. He also mentions how he would have liked to have played his entire career with the Expos and be a "franchise player -- like Ernie Banks."

Carter was always clutch. And true to form, he lined a single to left. Without Gary, Bill Buckner would just be a normal, former ball player instead of being known for letting a grounder dribble through his legs allowing the Mets to win. It took me awhile, but eventually I was very happy and proud of Gary. He just never quit. He'd never be the last out.

And in that spirit, it should also be remembered that Gary Carter wasn't the last out in the '81 Championship Series against the Dodgers on that fateful "Blue Monday." Carter got on base. But unfortunately for the Expos, someone else on that squad made the last out. Just wasn't Gary. Carter was at his best that post-season, batting .429, clubbing 2 homers, 4 doubles and 6 RBIs.

My 1982 All-Star Game ball, with the entire signatures of the National League team -- including Duke Snyder, who was the team's honorary captain. We all wanted Carter to be the game's M.V.P. but that eventually went to Dave Concepcion of the Reds. Gary's signature can be seen right below Snyder's signature in the picture on the right. Played in Montreal, I remember watching the game on ABC and listening to Howard Cosell say how bad the Olympic Stadium's artificial turf was. He was right!


The guy had the flair for the dramatic. So when Carter at age 38 played his final year with Montreal, everything seemed to be right again. His last at-bat in his career was classic Gary -- slamming the ball to the opposite field and over the extended arm of -- how fittingly -- Andre Dawson -- who was playing for the Cubs. Maybe Dawson didn't want to catch that ball!? Whatever. Carter's double scored Larry Walker. The crowd went nuts. And there was a pretty good crowd too. Expos win 1-0. Gary Carter got the game winning RBI. What a way to end it all.


When the Expos left Montreal in 2004, I was hurt. It wasn't surprising, just like the passing of Carter isn't surprising to me either because I knew he was really sick. It's still sad though. And since the Expos left town I began to collect a few pieces of Expos memorabilia -- something to hold on to other than just my mostly happy memories. And so I have a piece of Gary Carter with me, and today that means so much more.

Gary's spirit will live on in those who knew him; it will live on in the hearts of Expos and Mets fans alike; it will live on in Baseball's Hall of Fame and it lives on with me.

It took 6 years before he was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first to go in as an Expo. But he was already a Hall of Famer in our hearts.

It's not just that he was "The Kid." Gary Carter was the kid in all of us.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Florida Dreaming

Habs beat Panthers in OT 1-0 to take all four points in the sunshine state
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It wasn't the prettiest of games. But in the end, it's the two points that matter.

In a tilt that at times was a complete snoozefest, in front of a crowd that consisted mostly of Montreal Canadiens fans, the Habs were able to sneak out of Florida with all four points by beating the Alex Kovalev-led Panthers 1-0 in OT on a dirty goal by Rene Bourque.

Kind of makes you forget that Michael Cammalackey guy, eh?


Power forward Rene Bourque celebrates with Josh Gorges and Alex Galchenyuk after scoring the game winning goal in OT against the Panthers. Montreal beat Florida 1-0. AP

There wasn't a lot of flow to this game. The Habs definitely had the advantage in scoring opportunities vs. the Panthers but none of them were of the bang-bang play or gaping wide-open net variety. Still, former Hab Jose Theodore was solid in nets for the Panthers and when they came on with a push of their own in the third, Carey Price stood tall to earn his first shutout of the season.

Definitely not a classic. But there were some positive points for the Habs to continue to build on:

  • The team took only two penalties on the night, one right off the bat on a debatable call against Bourque running into Theodore; and Gorges in the third which was a key kill;
  • After two periods, the Canadiens were 34% in the faceoff circle -- verging on the pathetic; but the team rallied in that area in the third especially by Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec winning some key defensive zone faceoffs, ending the night at 46%;
  • Although he didn't end up on the scoresheet, Erik Cole had a lot more jump and played more of that physical up-tempo game like last year;
  • Big bodies count: Therrien looks like the man by putting Galchenyuk with Rene Bourque in OT resulting in the game winning goal. New lines next game?
So now there's a new trend on twitter: #bourchenyuk!! The winning goal was the result of a great individual effort by Galchenyuk, driving the net and staying with the puck when it looked like the play was done, then getting the puck on net for Bourque to knock in the rebound. 

On to Montreal to face the Flyers Saturday night.

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Although they are the Habs' rivals, I have to say I got shivers up my spine for all the wrong reasons watching Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators take a skate to the achilles from Matt Cooke of the Penguins. As you may know in reading an earlier post of mine from January, I tore my achilles this past summer and let me tell you, it's no fun at all. After surgery today, Karlsson is officially done for the season, suffering a 70% tear of his left achilles tendon. And there's no getting around it. He's got at least a month in a cast where his achilles needs to stay immobilized. After that, his leg will have atrophied, and he'll need to do physiotherapy for months to start walking again let alone skate. I really wish him well and it's too bad as he's a good, young player who is exciting to watch. The Senators as a team are in deep doo-doo -- GM Brian Murray looked like had suffered a coronary last night in Pittsburgh when he learned the news.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pinch Me, I'm Dreaming!!

Habs blow 3-0 lead with less than 6 minutes left in Tampa but hang on to win in shootout
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You know that feeling when you experience something like you've already experienced?

What's that called? Deja-vu?

Uh-huh, that's what it's called.

Though tonight's performance by the Canadiens against the Tampa Bay Lightning could be defined by some as a nightmare.

I happen to be one of those people.

Game well in hand, up 3-0 in the third period, less than six minutes left in the game -- you win!!

The Canadiens almost found a way to lose. Two points yes! A win, yes! But it doesn't feel good.

It feels downright dirty!!

Hard to blame Price on any of the goals though. I know I know, I always take Pricey's side; I'm a goalie.

But the first Tampa goal that got this whole mess started was a defensive breakdown resulting in a two-on-one down low and Price had no chance. The second was a borderline gloved-in goal by Victor Hedman, off of a deflection. And the third with just over a minute left? A Tampa power play goal, after Tomas Plekanec took a tripping penalty in the defensive zone.

Thankfully, the fourth line of Eller-Armstrong-Moen got the message and helped this team over the hump on this night.

Carey Price forces Steven Stamkos into the first move and makes game-winning save in the Habs' 4-3 shootout win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. AP

And Carey Price stopped all three shooters in the shootout, including a nice one to seal the deal against sniper Steven Stamkos; while David Desharnais scored the lone goal giving the Habs the win. Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback stood on his head all evening, yet still took the loss. But he gave his team a chance to win, which is all any goalie can do.

Two points? I'll we'll The Habs will take it. A win yet the team is still searching for answers. Coach Therrien spun a very positive message after the game, saying the team played an impeccable game for 54 minutes. The message? The Canadiens need to stay focused and put forward that effort for 60 minutes.

A win is a win. So why do I feel so very dirty. Very, very dirty -- on a night that for all intent and purpose should have been a good, clean win!

Habs face off against Alex Kovalev and the Florida Panthers Thursday night.

Follow me on le twitter: @habsfaninleafland

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Habs Make Leafs Look Like Cup Contenders

Embarrassing performance by Canadiens at home against Leafs leaves team looking for answers

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Wha happen?

Huh?

Err... is this the Mongolian bar-b-q!?

Last night's game in Montreal against the Leafs -- was it one big "wake up and find Bobby in the shower" type dream!?

No. Unfortunately not.

But was it reality? Not entirely...

The Habs were looking to bounce back after two disappointing losses this week and maybe get some revenge for their opening night loss against the Leafs; instead they laid one very large egg in front of their hometown supporters, losing 6-0, their worst home loss since 1996.

Embarrassing is one way of looking at it. But it isn't the time just yet to push the panic button.

The Habs came out flat and lost faceoffs, puck battles -- you name it. And the Leafs to their credit came out with a lot of speed and pounced on Montreal's errors right off the bat.

Are the Habs that bad!? No sir.

Are the Leafs that good. Definitely not.

As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

In this lockout-shortened season, weird things are going to happen. Last night was definitely weird. The Canadiens couldn't establish any flow or net presence and made Leafs starter James Reimer look like Ken Dryden. Or maybe his brother Dave. Whatever, Reimer didn't have to work that hard to get his shutout, even if he stopped 20 shots in the second frame alone. He might have been tested five times all night.

Then the weird stuff happened in the third. The game was out of reach and Prust et al tried to at least send some messages for the next time. But when Colton Orr ran viciously towards Tomas Plekanec's knee, or when Mikhail Grabovski apparently bit Max Pacioretty's forearm in a scrum, things downright turned from the surreal to the nasty. Grabovski is set to have an NHL hearing Sunday afternoon.

But I'll tell you something. That was a major mistake by the Leafs moving forward against the Habs. You know why? Because the classic rivalry between the Habs/Leafs just hasn't been as strong from Montreal's perspective for a long time now. That's why for the last 10-15 years the Leafs seem to better the Canadiens, no matter how bad the buds are. They just get up for these games much more than the Canadiens, like they do for the Bruins.

But next time might be different. Next time the Habs have something to fight for, to get up for, to play for...

And that's all what Habs nation has right now after a loss like last night. Next time...

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24CH -- Entertaining but a bit soff

Like pretty much all of Habs nation I've seen the first two episodes of the HBO 24/7 type series 24CH which gives us an insider's view of the Montreal Canadiens like never before. This would've never happened under Pierre Gauthier's watch, that's for sure.

And it is entertaining, though a bit on the superficial side. Unlike the HBO series, the show doesn't seem to build on any storylines except that the Canadiens as a franchise are moving forward from last year's disaster. Maybe it's still a bit early, or maybe it's because it's only focused on one team, whereas the HBO had two teams to play off of. For me as in the HBO series it's the locker room stuff that I really enjoy. And probably the most evocative image -- for me at least -- was that of a Molson Centre staffer removing a picture of Scott Gomez from a wall.

The French version on RDS is also just a bit different than it's English counterpart on TSN, so I recommend watching both. Obviously the language of the players is English, so there's more footage of the players shown in the English version. And the music is different. The French version's soundtrack really was pretty cheesy. Glad to see they toned that down in the second installment which unfortunately only ran for a half hour. Doesn't seem long enough. In any case, 24CH is worth watching if you're a diehard Habs fan but as a show it doesn't bring as much of that sports documentary feel that HBO does so well. Maybe it needs Liev Schreiber narrating.

Follow me on Twitter: @HabsFanLeafLand

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Habs Tale of Two Cities

Canadiens drop 3 of 4 points in back to back games against Bruins and Sabres
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If I said Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller would give up four goals five straight games in a row, would you think I was crazy? Drunk? Just plain stupid?

(Well I am fighting a cold right now.)

But it's true. Yet still, the Canadiens unfortunately reminded us of the team we painfully watched last year Thursday night in Buffalo when they gave up a two goal lead in the third to lose in a shootout 5-4.

For their part, the Canadiens came back strong after a disappointing loss to arch rival Boston Bruins, falling 2-1 on Wednesday night in Montreal but let the Buffalo game slip away. Twitter-folk were screaming for Peter Budaj's head but the truth is, he had a solid outing and kept the Habs in the game in the second when they ran into penalty trouble.

Thomas "I'm on fire!" Vanek celebrates his game tying goal with 2 seconds left against the Habs Thursday night. Buffalo won in a shootout 5-4.

In the Bruins game the Habs roared out of the gate but an inability to capitalize and a hot goaltender in Tukka Rask did them in. That and the fact that Boston is a strong third period team and with a quick goal 14 seconds into the third, the Bruins stunned the Habs who came out flatfooted eventually leading to the winning goal a few minutes later.

So it goes sometimes. I don't mind the Habs losing like that -- sometimes that's just the way the puck bounces. And Tomas Plekanec finished the night minus two.

But as good players often do, Plekanec bounced back with two goals but unfortunately it wasn't enough.

But what I do mind is how the Canadiens lost the game to the Sabres.

What's worse is how Montreal took leads into the third period only to lose both games. That's also like last year. Ulp!

Ryan White re-entered the fray replacing Travis Moen against Buffalo and you have to wonder what is going on with this guy. Game after game, he's taking unnecessary penalties and putting this team in difficult situations. And with the Canadiens in full control 4-2 in the third period, the guy takes another pointless penalty, opening the door for the Sabres to get back into the game -- which they did when Vanek scored.

Ryan White is essentially playing his way off the team and straight into the press box. Two losses in a row sting and we can feel the pressure ratcheting up. And boy Therrien was pissed -- a very quiet, controlled pissed, mind you -- in his post-game scrum. He didn't call him out by name at first, but it was easy to know who he was talking about. Then right at the end he mentioned White and how it might not have been his best decision to put him in back in the lineup. Oof!

Twitter was ablaze with rants and raves when it was announced that Budaj would get the call over Price against the Sabres but the Habs are entering a tougher part of their schedule and Therrien needs to keep him fresh. This was as good an opportunity as any to get Budaj a start.

And what can you say about P.K. Subban? After sucking it up and taking his two-year "bridge" contract he's clicked right away with Andrei Markov and has put up points in each of his four games.

I was a bit surprised with Subban's reaction to his goal against Boston -- not that it was flamboyant or anything but it was a bit more energized than I had predicted earlier. Against the Sabres, Subban blasted a one-timer off a Markov pass past Miller on a five-on-three and kept his reaction muted.

There's a time and place for everything.

Next game against the Leafs back in Montreal. No need to panic, but is it fair to say it's a must-win for the Habs?

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Big thanks, or in hockey talk, stick tap to Anthony aka HabsHappy on twitter for the brand-spanking new masthead image which now sits at the top of this blog. The guy has some serious talent and he perfectly visualized my Habs Fan in LeafLand handle -- no easy feat. Still need to do some additional work on the design here but again, I can't thank him enough for donating his special skills and generosity. Check him out at www.arttocanvas.com

Follow-moi on le Twitter: @HabsFanLeafLand


Monday, February 4, 2013

SUPERBOWL WEEKEND JUST SUPER FOR HABS

Canadiens Collect Four Points in Back-To-Back This Weekend

Coach Michel Therrien went on the record saying he wanted his team to send a message after losing 5-1 this past week in Ottawa.

Well I think the team received the memo.

Two strong team wins against divisional rivals the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators put your Montreal Canadiens in fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. And if you want to get technical about it, the Habs with 12 points are tied with the Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning -- and the Pens have played one more game but get the nod because they lead their division.

Who could have imagined this?

Well, GM Marc Bergevin and Coach Therrien, that's who.

But even they couldn't have anticipated their team going 6-2 to start the season. Hey, it's only eight games, but there's no doubt it's been night and day from last year and with a healthy team, excellent goaltending and scoring through the lineup, you're going to see results.

And there's the continuing, inspirational story of Max Pacioretty, who returned to action a week after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. He was scheduled to return in three to four weeks.

Last year's Canadiens gave up leads, lost games in OT and shootouts and found ways to beat themselves -- kind of like the Calgary Flames are doing this year.

This year's squad is playing a solid team game, standing up for each other and scoring goals. On Saturday the Canadiens came out flying and took it to the Sabres who looked flat and uninspired safe for Tomas Vanek -- who is making an early play for the Hart and Maurice Richard trophies.

But if we've learned anything from last year's Canadiens, one scorer or even one scoring line does not a team make.

And so after promising his mates pre-game he'd be better, Ryan Miller did his best to keep his team in the game by only surrendering one goal to Rene Bourque right at the end of the first period. Bourque nearly scored a few minutes back on almost the exact same play -- driving the net and deflecting the pass into the side of the net. Nice play. For a second he looked like Yvon Lambert, without the chest hair jutting out from his jersey.

Did you ever see Mike Cammellari drive the net like that? I tweeted this question to the official Calgary Flames twitter account last night. I didn't get a response.

Coach Therrien continues to keep his finger on the right button in getting the most out of Rene Bourque and he's been one of our most consistent players of this young season, scoring two goals in the Canadiens' 6-1 drubbing of the Sabres. David Desharnais and Lars Eller had big games too, D2 scoring twice and Eller scoring one along with two assists. The two Gallys also came to the party with Brendan Gallagher scoring the game winner and Alex Galchenyuk getting two assists.

But the Canadiens were in for a different test on Sunday afternoon with the well-rested Ottawa Senators in town and they grabbed the early lead on a nice top shelf shot by Jacob Silfverberg when he was sent in alone with a nifty pass by Patrick Wiercioch. Price had no chance.

The Habs special teams came to the rescue with David Desharnais and Erik Cole closing the scoring out in the first period to take the lead 2-1, though Cole's goal came just at the end of a power play. Desharnais' goal came off of a nice feed from Pacioretty who seems to be able to play no matter what is thrown at him. Just please Max, don't contract Hep C or anything!!

Then it was Carey Price the rest of way, turning back 32 of 33 shots and taking his record to 6-1. Carey Price, Vezina trophy winner sounds good. Though Carey Price, Conn Smythe trophy winner sounds even better! But I digress...

The Senators appeared to have tied the game early in the third but the goal was called off due to goaltender interference. It was pretty borderline in my opinion and according to Sean Gordon of the Globe and Mail Ottawa GM Bryan Murray was livid with the referee's call on that play. Well you win some, you lose some. Nice to see the Habs win some.

So the Canadiens are winning games all sorts of ways this year and don't seem to be counting on trends like having to score first or whatnot. The only trend that counts is winning, any and all ways.

Habs Nation is a very happy place right now and this sets up beautifully the BIGGEST GAME OF THE YOUNG SEASON so far against the hated Boston Bruins on Wednesday. Should be a good one.

Follow-moi on le twitter: @HabsFanLeafLand


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Closing out the P.K. Subban Affair

Well P.K. Subban finally came back to his team with his tail somewhat between his legs. Now it's up for him to make good with his teammates and put words into action. And I think he will.

Throughout this process, there was a lot of emotion involved, some good some bad by fans and writers alike. Some were in favour of the Canadiens signing him to a longer term deal, which was reported that's what Subban wanted. He came out in the press to state he wanted his "fair value" and wasn't looking to break the bank. Using the press like that during a contract negotiation was a mistake by Subban, in my opinion.

That said from my viewpoint, making 5.75 million dollars (that's Canadian, folks) over two years sounds like breaking the bank to me. Especially for a young, talented rearguard who still has a lot to prove.

Coach Therrien spoke of being humble, having respect for the team, the fans and the opposition yesterday after Subban practiced with his teammates for the first time this season. Over the phone, Subban expressed his thanks to GM Bergevin, his father who has been a lifelong Habs fan, and even Andrei Markov. And that means no more "triple low-fives." Some liked that decision. Others felt it should've stayed in the room. Others thought Therrien was out of line. But those people are missing the point. Therrien's point is to respect the other teams and that this year, the team will celebrate wins by celebrating the fans at centre ice. Not particularly original, but the point is that it's about the team. It's about humility and maturity. It's about the logo on the jersey. Therrien even "scolded" team physician Dr. Mulder when he addressed the players in the locker room while standing on the Canadiens logo in the middle of the room, as seen on the series 24CH (more on this series in a future post). Players like that kind of thing by the way, and will only make the players that much closer to Therrien. So this year, no antics, even after a victory. Pay attention to what Subban's celebration is to his first goal scored. I'm absolutely sure it will be muted.

After the deal was made, the Canadien players were somewhat aloof, unwilling to discuss it. Markov wanted to talk about the upcoming games because that's what truly is important; Gorges wanted to talk about the team, and not one player in particular. Especially one that hasn't yet laced 'em up in game action this season. RDS reports that that will change as Subban is set to play against Buffalo in Montreal on Saturday.

I went on a blog radio show last Saturday saying that Subban should take his place on the team, take the two year "bridge deal" and earn his longer-term deal -- just like Carey Price and Max Pacioretty did. What kind of message would it have sent to the guys in the room if Bergevin signed Subban to a longer-term deal? The official reason was that the cap is going down next year and the team needs to watch the spend. But Bergevin is a former player. He know how it goes in the room.

It's about the team, not the player. If Patrick Roy or Jacques Plante can be traded; if Guy Lafleur can be pushed out -- then so can P.K. Subban. Pic: Brian Rotztein

Last weekend it was reported that Subban was returning home to talk it over with his family. And you know what needed to be discussed? It was most-likely this: you either take the two-year deal or sit out the season with the possibility of you being moved to any team around the league. That's what was at stake for Subban. And he made the right decision.

There's no winners or losers. But if you want to look at it that way, everyone won here. Bergevin signed Subban to the term he wanted; Subban gets to make millions and prove himself to his team and go for that longer-term deal for the team he rooted for as a child; and the fans get to root for their favourite rearguard. But you know I was keeping a total just for fun and the final tally was:

Bergevin 4 - Subban 2

Now I never called for trading Subban; nor did I ever state against his signing. All I want is what's best for the team. As does Bergevin. As does Therrien. As does Subban, so he says. But what I did say was that if it ultimately came to that, and Bergevin gets a deal that can better the Montreal Canadiens, then why not?

And by the way as I write this, RDS' Chantal Maccabee interviewed Subban in the warmup for the game against the Sabres and he said "help my team" twice. Now it's up to the player to turn words into action.

A few of you have asked about the "writer" who I had a bit of an encounter with in the Twitter-verse, who in my opinion was completely offside and unfortunately let his emotions get the better of him in regards to Subban. Without naming this person, for the record the "writer" does not contribute to the Montreal Gazette, newspapers or any other television affiliations. It begins with my response to the "writer's" tweet that trading P.K. Subban would be a 'disaster' for the Canadiens.

I didn't think his personal attack on me was justified. Here's the transcript. You can make your own conclusions. Please note that because it's twitter-speak, grammar and style are suited for that platform:

HabsFanLeafLand: disaster? Trading  that's a disaster. Hiring  as  GM that's a disaster. Trading good if right deal

Writer: wrong.

HabsFanLeafLandman as a GM you have to be open to every option team before player soooo wrong back, no matter the numbers

WriterTrading players for attitude lead to this team being a joke for 10 years.

HabsFanLeafLandno bad trades and bad drafting led down that road and  doesn't gel with the unit

WriterThats complete bullshit but have fun believing it.

HabsFanLeafLandnoneed for that I like  but he's not bigger than the team and doesn't merit a better 2nd contract than 

WriterExcept he does, and you're wrong. And confident in your ignorance.

HabsFanLeafLandemotion is for the ice and not contract negotiations

All I can say is, I'm glad Marc Bergevin is the Canadiens' GM.

Follow me on Twitter for more of this fun! @HabsFanLeafLand


Friday, February 1, 2013

What'd I miss!? A lot, apparently...

GAMES NUMERO 4, 5 & 6 AND OTHER HABS STUFF

Wow! You go away for some fun in the sun for a few days and you can miss a lot in a lockout-shortened season.
For instance, I missed the Canadiens extending their winning streak to four before going down against the Senators in Ottawa in their first back to back of the season.

Buh-bye "triple low-five." The fans may like it, but you know what? The team lost a lot of games during the shelf-life of this celebration and it's time to leave it behind. 

It was universally stated by the media that the Canadiens lost the game in a four minute span in the second period where Ryan White took a bad unsportsmanlike penalty, put his team in the soup and the Sens scored three goals. It should be clearly noted that backup Peter Budaj was in nets for the Habs, while starter Craig Anderson was between the pipes for Ottawa. It's going to be that kind of year for Budaj but hopefully he can step it up when needed.

I missed a terrific performance by the two Gallys as they're now known, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher against New Jersey last Sunday. Then head coach Michel Therrien announced after game four the two would stay with the team!!!!

Wow that's big -- big for the two youngsters and the team. Totally a major departure from the way the Canadiens have treated young talent in the past. A big deal was made of how Galchenyuk is the first eighteen year old to make the team like since Mathieu Schneider or Petr Svoboda or something. Nice. Well youngest to make the team since Guillaume Latendresse. But that's not saying much.

Youngsters are making their presence around the league with players staying with their squads. More on this after their true impact reveals itself after more games played.

The New Jersey game was supposed to be the first big test for this team. Well, they passed. Beating Marty Brodeur is always a bonus for this team because he plays so well in Montreal.

Then the Habs continued their winning ways against the Winnipeg Jets. They even came from behind in the third period. This team has character! Good! And the powerplay led by Andrei Markov has kept rolling along.

What else? Well my last tweet before heading down south was about Max Pacioretty who had an emergency appendectomy and would be out for roughly 3-4 weeks. That was Saturday. Today he went through a full practice with the team. This guy is unbelievable. Let's hope that's all for him in regards to the injuries but man the guy's healing and perseverance is inspiring.

And speaking of today's practice no way he's going to get his b@#!s  cracked by his teammates you know who made his first full appearance on the ice with his mates: P.K. Subban. This one is going to take a post of its own tomorrow. But let's just say I'm happy he took the two-year deal and I know the team and more importantly, the head coach, is going to break him in to the TEAM concept the Habs have been preaching this year. And so far, it's been working. The Habs are 4-2 without him, but are a better squad with this exciting, young rearguard.

Probably this means Tomas Kaberle will be the one to ride the pine or visit the press box. We'll see how it shakes down tomorrow afternoon against the Buffalo Sabres -- who had a nice win of their own last night against the Bruins in Boston.

Listen. Michel Therrien was on RDS' "L'Antichambre" all of last year and so it's quite well known what he thinks of Subban's showboating and style. Don't break the personality, but some things could be toned down, especially in the room. So it should be no surprise to anyone that today he came down on the "triple low-five" between Subban and Price after Habs wins. I don't mind it. This team is going to be "...more humble," in Therrien's words.

More on the PK signing and all that jazz in my next post.
Follow moi on Twitter: @HabsFanLeafLand

PS: Alex Kovalev scored the game winner for the Panthers against the Jets.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

HABS TAKE CHARGE IN 4-1 WIN AGAINST CAPS

GAME NUMERO 3: HABS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LISTLESS CAPITALS FOR 1ST ROAD WIN OF 2013

It's nice to be wrong every once in awhile. Once in awhile, okay?

My Habs vs. Capitals pregame thoughts were this: playing in Washington, Caps are 0-2, Ovechkin has yet to score and with all of that, figured we would should could be in for a long night.

Markov is back en force. Habs beat Caps 4-1 in Washington. AP

Then when the Habs took the early momentum on a power play just over a minute into the game and didn't capitalize, I thought "oh boy, I've seen this before." The Canadiens continued to create solid chances but couldn't finish. Brian Gionta open net, missed! Bourque in tight, no go! Alex Galchenyuk barging to the net and flicking a high backhand... nice save by Caps 'tender Neuvirth.

The Habs were skating, clicking, making solid first passes, turning the puck up the ice quickly and the Caps were completely flat. But yet the score was still 0-0.

That always scares me.

What I expected to come then was the Caps would get the first goal and then take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Instead, the Caps took two quick penalties to start the second period, went down 5-on-3, Tomas Plekanec scored his second in two games and the Habs never looked back in a solid 4-1 win in Washington.

The Habs' power play, its bread and butter for so many seasons of late -- except last year -- suddenly seems to have roared back to life with the return of Andrei Markov, who scored the second goal of the game and whose pairing with Raphael Diaz appears to be a stoke of genius on Therrien's part.

Should could would you have ever thought, even dreamt of uttering the following after the last few years of futility and hard times for the Russian:

Andrei Markov leads the Montreal Canadiens in goals!?

Well it's true. The veteran blueliner now has three. Not only that, with his goal and assist tonight he's now the fifth highest scoring defenseman in Habs history. Not bad. He's got to be feeling great for himself and what an impact a healthy, confident and surgically-repaired Andrei Markov has on this team.

When even Josh Gorges gets into the scoring action, you know things are going the Canadiens' way.

With all the good that is going on with the Habs -- for these past two games at least -- let's not forget how bad the Capitals were. Goalie Neuvirth could not be blamed for this one. The Caps came out completely listless. No energy, no tempo, no synergy. And the Canadiens took full advantage.

And all this without the first line really going on all cylinders as of yet. Pacioretty picked up a couple of assists and Erik Cole hit a post but that line has yet to fully assert itself.

Brian Gionta continued the trend of the bounce back with his second goal of the year on a nice set up by Rene Bourque. And you know what? Suddenly, Bourque brings a size element to the Plekanec line. Another nice move by Therrien. The man is pushing the right buttons so far.

And where was Ovechkin in all of this? Did he play!? Personally, I think he's not into it. He doesn't want to be in Washington. If he's going to play in the NHL, the guy wants to win. And it looks like already, the Capitals' time has passed.

------------------------------------------------

Last night I had a bit of a negative twitter exchange with a hockey writer (who shall remain nameless) who was absolutely adamant that trading P.K. Subban would be an absolute disaster, and that I was completely WRONG for suggesting that he could be traded for the better of the team. Personally I found his tone completely unprofessional and insulting. But I guess that's the twitter-verse.

While I like P.K. and think he's a great player with so much upside, I also think that he isn't bigger than the team, and if Carey Price and Max Pacioretty can take the so-called "bridge" contracts of two years before they cash in longer term (which they did) then so can Subban. What makes him so special?? He didn't win the Norris. He didn't drive into the ground lead the power play last year. He still needs to grow up.

If Patrick Roy can get traded, anyone / anything is in play. Geez Wayne Gretzky was traded!! This talk that trading Subban would be a disaster is utter nonsense and is a purely emotional response. I'm not saying I want him to be traded. I'm saying if the deal is right, it's an option.

And the Canadiens all of a sudden seem to have depth on the blue line. Raphael Diaz is taking full advantage of the P.K. situation playing with Markov. Frankie Bouillon is eating up solid minutes. Josh Gorges is doing his thing as usual. And Kaberle is trying his best to stay out of their way. And with Tinordi and St. Denis just a call away and Nathan Beaulieu working on his development... well, I'm not saying I want Subban to be traded, but what I was trying to communicate to this "writer" was that Bergevin should do the best move for the team... whatever that should be.

With tonight's victory and Markov, Diaz and the rest of the defense pairings performing as they did, the score is now:

Bergevin 2 - Subban 1

It's certainly bringing up a lot of emotional responses from Habs fans. But hey, if we could get a Sean Couturier from the suddenly nosediving Flyers, well, why not?

It dawned on me today that the ebullient Subban is the Canadiens' version of Gary Carter. Carter was a bit despised by his teammates when he played in Montreal because he was always smiling, always camera-ready and always available to talk to reporters. He was misunderstood. We know he wasn't grandstanding. As we probably know that P.K. isn't grandstanding.

But the difference is, Carter took more than a few years to assert himself as a leader on the Expos' teams of the late seventies and early eighties and he did it with style, integrity and grit. Not to knock P.K. but it's true, the guy has rubbed some of the veterans on this team the wrong way; and if you know hockey, you know how tight the room has to be for a team to win.

I personally feel P.K. needs to sign his "bridge" deal, find his place on the team's pecking order, and keep his flash for the ice.

Next game: The Devils are in Montreal for a somewhat rare Sunday night tilt at the Molson Centre.

And by the way: Alex Kovalev is no longer leading the league in points. :)

Follow moi on le twitter: @HabsFanLeafLand