Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Game #36

Price Drop: Carey Slashes Scoring To Boost Habs Post-Xmas Hopes

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Tuesday December 30th, 2008
Opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning
Venue: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, FL

Team Stripes

Final Score: 2-1 - Win (SO)

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Mike Smith (L)

Habs goalscorers: Guillaume Latendresse, (Alexei Kovalev, Maxime Lapierre - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Vaclav Prospal, (Jussi Jokinen - SO)



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

In a game bereft of exciting goals, there was still plenty to admire for the fan of the game. There were breakaways, near misses, big hits and plenty of saves.

As far as the Habs were concerned, the highlight of their night (over and over again) was not falling behind when they probably should have been paying for defensive lapses. Carey Price made a number of saves worthy of mention in this section of the post. About midway through the second period, with the team still trailing 1-0 and looking of vulnerable of running out of goalscoring ideas altogether, the puck was sprung and so was Lecavalier. He descended in on Carey Price all alone, unleashed a great slap shot, and in game-stealing fashion Carey stopped it. As saves go, it was not a spectacular pad stacker or last ditch glove save, it was not beautiful to look at. But the timing of it, the quiet effectiveness and positioning, sent a message to the team - get me one goal and I'll win this one for you...



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Carey Price
Carey Price was quite simply head and shoulders above his teammates tonight. The Canadiens skaters weren't bad, some were even very good; but Carey turned in one of the great games of his young career.

I can't remember a game where Carey challenged shooters so boldly as he did tonight. He stopped 3 or more breakaways (clean or partial), he caused players to pass when they should have shot, he showed them a hulking mass when they looked up to pick a corner. It shouldn't be surprising, as this is Carey's game. He is the positionalist, gliding from one side to the other, quietly deploying his pads against the ice. This game just seemed to show off so many of his skills in a better light than usual. Of course, statistically this game will not be Carey's best ever and will not prompt a commentator watching the scoreboard from another arena to exclaim the Carey was simply amazing (as Jacques Demers did when he saw Quebecois Fleury had faced 16 shots in one period and stopped them all - he would later let in 5). No, and this won't be a shutout. You had to watch it, but this was a Carey Price win.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Maxime Lapierre
Even before he won the game in the shootout with a great shot, Max was a lock for the dome. He carried his confidence that springs from not only a hat-trick game, but really a couple of months now of great hockey into this game again. His energy is beyond reproach. Recently he has added timely bursts of (to this point unrecognised) footspeed to his bag of tricks and it helped in this game to open up the zone again for the Habs.

Guillaume Latendresse
Guillaume scored the important goal Carey needed, and was mentioned as much as any Hab again. But perhaps what was most impressive was the way he stepped into the fray after Tanguay fell. It was wrong (though not surprising) of Joel Bouchard to leave Guillaume Latendresse of players who must step up after Tanguay got injured, but now that Guillaume seems to be over his own hype, it probably didn't matter. He played hard, hit when he could and found more than a few goalscoring positions when Tampa was making it hard to do that. He is the player who will need to ramp his game up, I feel, as he is the third year player who needs a breakthrough. More games like this will qualify as a step up.

Alexei Kovalev
Alex did not have perhaps his most dominant game, but he put in a good one. Wearing the C and killing penalties show off his versatility and it was on full display this night. Perhaps his best moments in this game did come on the penalty kill, and when other Montreal players were content to pursue their futile dump and chase exercise, he was a a ray of puckhandling light on the PP - even getting the puck in the zone to control (rather than just chase).

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
Once again, Josh put in the big minutes. Thanks to Hamrlik's penalty, he was third in ice time on the team. In the same way Carey Price played a quietly effective affair, so did Gorges. In fact, his contribution helped to make this game as boring as it was for stretches as he mopped up the defensive end with constant attention. It is fitting that he also had the non-Carey Price play of the game with his picture perfect 2-on-1 defending to foil Lecavalier and St. Louis before a Habs goal had been netted.

Francis Bouillon
The last time we played the Lightning, St. Louis and Lecavalier did not shine their brightest but generally came away thinking they could have their way with this team. If they were going to be prevented from running roughshod all over the place again, something would have to be done. That something was done by little Francis Bouillon as he outpositioned and made giant Lecavalier look like a rag doll early on. The hit was one amongst four for Frankie, but set the tone for his and indeed the Canadiens (aspired) defence for the night.

Goaltender

Carey Price
As we've said a couple of times now, Carey had a great one. He won this game. It's fitting, therefore, that he did actually win the game with his sensational shootout save on Lecavalier. You can see this getting into the head of a player like Vincent. I say: finally.



Eye-Openers
In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

It's not often that Patrice Brisebois will make these reports for a moment of brilliance, even if we do accept he has his moments now. Last night he had an eye opener. No, it wasn't his best of the bunch New Year's message to the fans. Nor was it one of his blocked PP shots or passes. Patrice Brisebois is featured here because of a hit. Yes, you read correctly.

Mike Smith had come out yet again to handle the puck unchallenged by most Habs when boom - bashing him somewhat despite himself into the boards came Patrice Brisebois. As a moment in the game, it may not have been as notable as the Kostopoulos fight, but it sent a more important message: we won't let you run around doing what you like "rookie"...

I searched the play-by-play report to see the exact timing of the hit, but found nothing. It begs the question, if a goalie is hit on the ice and no one writes about it afterwards, did it happen? Apparently the NHL doesn't think so. It must be one of those unwritten rules that they have so many of. Gosh, I'd hate to see the rule book in person if so many unwritten rules must be left out for fear of bursting the seams. The hit was an eye opener for that reason really - hitting the goalie just isn't something that's done. And despite wanting to acknowledge Brisebois' wonderful revolutionary play, I think even he did it half by accident.

It really does beg the question, though, why can't a goalie be hit (or shoved as it was) in the same way every time he gets too cocky around his net. There is no written rule against it, so I say fair play. I see it as more effective and even safer for the goalies than the alternative of barreling them over in their net. I would like to see more of it. I would like to see Carey made to stay in his net too, hmm...

In the context of our own game, it was also an important hit as Mike Smith needed to be put back in his box, so to speak. Someone needed to let him know there would be no more clearances on the PP, no more fancy passing, just staying in his net. It didn't work, not really. But I think Patrice had the sentiment just right, and I give him credit for that.


Overall Comments

Another road game, another win - quite incredible really, when you think about it. I don't buy the whole 2 games in 2 nights malarkey that everyone sells. we all work everyday, and professional athletes are capable enough guys. But, even so, we mustn't forget that each of the teams we have now beaten also needed points and each (well the Bolts got one) were left wanting more. This is the mark of a team on a roll, and I like it. This one game came down to Carey Price, but when you claim to have a franchise player in goal, stolen games should become a fact of life over a season. Hopefully they will.

As for the game, apart from a few notable hits, great shootout dominance and Carey Price, the other story to come out of this game was the injury to Tanguay. Does anyone feel the same way I do here? I mean, is there a lack of uneasiness or a sense that we'll be fine without him. It's funny, when Komisarek got injured he was playing very poorly, same for Higgins. Now Tanguay goes down after quite a stretch of floating without reward. It appears that slump-saving injuries are a new fad in Montreal. If he's gone for months, there is no doubt that his loss will hurt the Canadiens. But if he's gone a week or even two, there might be something good to come of it - namely ice time for Kostitsyn, Lapierre and maybe a keen again Latendresse. In any case, it's clear there's no fretting like there was when Koivu stumbled out.

The next game is next year now, so I'd like to add my voice to those of the Canadiens in wishing you all a Happy New Year (Bonne Annee), and a great New Year's Eve while we're at it. We hope that 2009 will bring renewed vigour to our Habs and to our writing here at Lions in Winter. If any of you are needing a New year's resolution, feel free to add commenting more on LIW (we'll do our best to respond and make sure there's room for what you need to say...). The best moments for Tobalev and I come from the back and forth with you guys, being called to defend positions, seeing new points of view, building the team differently from a different armchair. 2008 was fun for us. Thanks to all of you. See you in '09.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Game #35

Lapierre Gives Pro-Hab Crowd 3 Reasons to Cheer

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Monday December 29th, 2008
Opponent: Florida Panthers
Venue: BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL

Team Stripes

Final Score: 5-2 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Craig Anderson (L), Tomas Vokoun

Habs goalscorers: Alexei Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec, Maxim Lapierre (3)
Opposition goalscorers: Michael Frolik, David Booth



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

The game-winner, Max's first goal of the night, was a favorite of mine. It showed the amount of skill Lapierre, our 4th centre, possesses and put the Habs ahead for good.

With the puck behind the net Max tried a wrap-around to the right of Anderson. The Florida goalie was quickly there and gave Lapierre absolutely nothing to shoot at. What Anderson didn't do, however, was freeze the puck. Max was able to take the puck back and try the same play on a now open left-side of the net. He took the puck around, just past the goal-line, and unleashed a very accurate backhand shot that found the far top corner.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Maxim Lapierre
One game after fellow youngster, Andrei Kostitsyn scored his first hat-trick Lapierre was able to notch his. I would have to say that with 25 minutes to play in a road game it was not a feat I was expecting. Max is the type of player who will score 5-15 goals every single year of his career and you wouldn't expect this type of single-game output from him. His 3 goals tonight were just one short of his entire total from the first 34 games. I liked his effort level, again, tonight and thought that he has deserved this type of reward for a long time.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks carried the momentum he had created against the Pens into this game as he looked really good. He seems much more confident on the ice, thanks, of course, in huge part to the fact he is back with his two favorite linemates. He scored a breakaway, short-handed goal that showed off his incredible speed and shot. The hustle was there all night in both ends.

Alexei Kovalev
For those who forgot that Alex was a good player and wanted him traded I just want to point out he has 9 goals. That isn't as great as last year, but is still quite a good amount to have before the end of the calendar year. He was very dominant with the puck tonight, especially on the PP. His puck-handling skills were, for the most part, too much for the slow Florida defence to handle.

Maxim Lapierre
12 minutes of ice-time, 3 shots and remarkably, 3 goals. Max's play tonight was what you want from every player, in every game. He skated, created chances and on top of all of that played smart in his own end. I really liked the effort he put in to get his third goal. He skated hard and stripped McCabe (admittedly not hard to do) at the Florida blue-line to give himself an empty-net breakaway.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
Josh played 12 seconds less than Markov as he logged the second most amount of ice of any Hab. I think that it would be prudent to include his name, along with Hammer and Marky, when you speak of the big-3 from now on as he has clearly stolen the third spot from Komi. Gorges is being used in all situations and is really excelling in all of those different areas. He played a simple game tonight, but again: no mistakes.

Roman Hamrlik
The play of the game from our defence came from the stick of Hammer. While killing a penalty he lifted the puck high into the air and had it land a few strides ahead of the speedy Plekanec. Most penalty-killers will simply ice it, which is fine, but what Roman did here was a simple play that showed just how good of a hockey mind he has. He ended the game with a +2 rating, he is now +9 on the season.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I am sure Carey would like the first goal back, but I can live with one mistake. Overall he played a very solid game. He found pucks when he had to, stood his ground when the Panthers were coming hard and seemed very focused on getting the win. The thing that stands out to me most is the fact that the first Florida goal, his one bad play, wasn't the reason we lost this game. He was able to bounce back from an error and in turn played a very strong game. This has been a problem for Price in the past - the inability to let bad plays go - so I can only hope this is one step in the right direction.



Eye-Openers
In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

There were two plays tonight by two of our best players that really made an impression on me. On two separate occasions Markov and later Hamrlik did something so small and subtle that most people won't even recall what I am writing about. I believe that by doing these little things they avoid turn-overs and giving the opposition chances.

First I'll look at Markov's play. The one skill that comes to mind when I think of Andrei is his ability to keep the puck in at the point. Tonight, however, there was a time on the PP when it was quite obvious that even he would not be able to keep the puck in. So, unlike pretty much all other defencemen who would have gone for the blue-line stop, he conceded the zone and trapped the puck just inside the neutral-zone, just out of reach of a Panther.

Hammer's play was similar in that it was another example of a star realizing when not to use a specific skill. The puck was behind our net on the stick of a Florida forward. It was an ideal opportunity to lay a hit, and most would have done so, but that would have been like getting caught in a bear trap. So, instead of playing the body and taking himself out of the play he simply turned his back to the player and stripped him of the puck.

Two simple plays that didn't lead to anything, but that is my main point really. Had they done the usual, standard things then the Panthers may have benefited. I equate this to Gretzky realizing when was not a good time to pass the puck or Bossy knowing when a shot wasn't the best option. Great players are not only great for what they do do, but also for what they don't.


Overall Comments

This game will be remembered for a few things. First it was the Habs 3000th win, not bad at all considering we didn't play more than 50 games/year for about 40% of our existence. Secondly this was one more win against Florida - the only team we currently have a life-time losing record against. And, I think I will also remember this otherwise uneventful game for Lapierre's first (and hopefully not last) career hat-trick. This really was a classic Montreal-Florida affair. There weren't too many chances and nothing too out of the ordinary happened. There weren't any spectacular goals and neither team really dominated play. In the end we scored a couple of weak goals on Anderson and that was the difference. I liked, however, how Montreal just kept going all night. They didn't let goals-against or penalties alter their plan. They stuck to their simple game-plan of creating quality chances and, with patience, it paid off. That makes 4 points out of a possible 4 - not a bad way to start a road-trip at all.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Game #34

Habs Hold on For 2 Points in Pittsburgh

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday December 27th, 2008
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
Venue: Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

Team Stripes

Final Score: 3-2 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (L)

Habs goalscorers: Andrei Kostitsyn (3)
Opposition goalscorers: Pascal Dupuis, Sidney Crosby



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

By the end of the 1st period the game was tied at 1. The Habs weren't playing too well, nor were they getting many chances. But, with less than 5 seconds left Plekanec got the puck in front of Pittsburgh's net. He made a great move to freeze Fleury, but instead of shooting took the puck behind the net. He then stopped and passed the puck back out on the side that he came from. In front of the net was 1 downed-goalie, 3 onlooking Penguins and 1 wide-open Kostitsyn. Andrei made no mistake and gave the Habs a 1-goal lead with less than 2 seconds left.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Andrei Kostitsyn
I think Andrei, after missing a few games with injury, wanted to prove that he deserved his spot on Kovalev and Plekanec's line. He wasted very little time in having his message heard as he scored just 1 minute into the game. He then went on to score our other 2 goals on the way to his first career hat-trick.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
Tom played a decent game tonight. He looked like his old self back alongside Kovy and Andrei and he made two excellent passes on our first two goals. In a game where we were quite badly outplayed it was nice to have at least one centre with a +'ve rating and an above-average face-off percentage.

Alexei Kovalev
Had Andrei not scored our first goal Alex would have. Offensively he seemed to get in the right places tonight, but overall we didn't get too many offensive chances. He led the game with a +3 rating and got an assist on our second goal. In a game where our team didn't really shine it was nice to see at least one line play to their potential.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Andrei took 1/3 of our shots tonight, so it is a good thing he knows how to score. The team didn't get too many chances, but we did capitalize when those great chances presented themselves. Kostitsyn now has 9 goals on the season, but 6 of those have been in his last 10 games. In fact, over that 10 game stretch Andrei has 9 points and is a +7 - he is truly playing some great hockey.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
I wasn't too impressed with our D tonight as I felt there were too many giveaways and too many weak plays. Gorges, however, was one of the 2 D-men that I didn't really have a problem with. He played his usual strong game at the back and even got involved offensively. Besides being used on the point during the PP he added an assist on our 1st goal.

Andrei Markov
Thank goodness for Andrei. I think that most of the team probably had too merry of a time this week as not too many players seemed ready to play. Our best players, as is needed, were our best tonight. Markov was the only real defensive standout against the high-flying Penguins attack. He is probably one of just a handful of players in the league who are not only unintimidated by Crosby and Malkin, but who can actually stop them.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Carey was the other player, besides Andrei, who could have been given the game puck. He played a very strong game which included countless great saves on what should have been gimmes for Malkin and co. He seemed really focused and I think benefited from the week off. I stand by my comment that it was right to play him on Sunday versus Carolina. I think that tonight's win had a lot to do with our loss (and more importantly Carey's first game in 2 weeks), as it was always going to take at least one game to get back into it.



Eye-Openers
In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

Aren't wins nice? It doesn't matter if you win 8-o in a truly dominating effort or if, like tonight, you squeak one out. A win, as they say, is a win. Good teams have to learn to win in all situations and that, inevitably, means winning when you are outplayed. Tonight Pittsburgh played harder than us and we were out-matched in the skill department. Despite all of that, however, we found a way to win. Thanks to 3 or 4 players we got the 2 points tonight, and that is quite alright. It is nice to know you can win games like this as there will be nights when things won't go your way. If every time we were being outplayed we lost I could see how we, as a team, would lose hope. Tonight we were rewarded for having a very sharp goalie and a true scorer return to the line-up, and we took full advantage. There will be games that we lose when we are the better team, so thank goodness, for our sake, we have learned that the inverse of that is possible.


Overall Comments

The Habs started this game very strong with a goal very early on. It then seemed that Pittsburgh took over as it was chance after chance for them and very few for us. The next great chance for us came at the end of the first period and, just like Andrei did early on, we converted. The second period was a slow period with neither team really controlling play. The shots were quite even, but Crosby's quick goal made the game into a 2-2 tie going into the third. We started the third as we started the first - with a goal. Andrei's third wasn't anything too spectacular, but was another great example why a good, hard shot from anywhere is never a bad idea. We then played 'hold-on' hockey for over 15 minutes as it was a period of very few chances for us. We pretty much allowed Pittsburgh to walk all over us as we sat back and took it. Weak clearing attempts coupled with a non-existent fore-check meant Price had to be sharp. I personally didn't think that shutting down the offence for a whole period would work against the Pens, but I was wrong. I just hope that Carbo doesn't now think that this is a legitimate strategy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Careers of Numbers:

Amazing Habs Feats

This week is a rare chance for the Habs and their families to be together for an extended period over the holidays. It is rare that we don't have a game on the 23rd or 26th. That, of course, also means that these are slow times for us here at Lions in Winter as there is little going on in Habsworld.

We have, however, been conducting some research for an upcoming piece on the greatest players in team history and through that we have stumbled across some very astounding and fun stats. The following is a list of 20 achievements over the Habs career of certain players. Some you may know, some may be news to you, but I urge you, nevertheless, to take a look and remember just how good of a team we have been over the past 99 years.


Centres


Newsy Lalonde
We don't hear much about the Habs' first star, but before Morenz there was Lalonde. He only suited up for the team in a total of 218 games, but during that time he accumulated 353 points. He played in the inaugural season and went on to play in 11 of the first 12. He led the team 9 times in regular season scoring and led the league a total of 3 times.

Howie Morenz
Among Howie's major achievements are the fact that he led the Habs in both goals and points a total of 7 times each - twice he led the league. More impressive was the fact that he won an astonishing 3 Hart trophies as league MVP; more than any other Hab.

Henri Richard
The pocket-rocket was team captain for 4 years, is a hall-of-famer and is one of the very few to have his shirt hanging from the rafters. The one stat, however, that I believe he will never lose or share is the fact that he won 11 Stanley Cups. Just think of that for a second, think of Roy and his 4, Gretzky and his 4, Messier and his 6 and it just makes this that much more special.

Jacques Lemaire
Before the trap in New Jersey there was a fire-wagon in Montreal, and, don't be fooled, Jacques was definitely among the flying frenchmen. His 139 career playoff points ranks second in team history, only le Gros Bill has more.

Saku Koivu
Koivu will hopefully, if we get him signed, become the longest ever serving captain in team history. Saku's leadership, however, extends beyond the ice. In 2006 he became the only player in team history to win the league's King Clancy Award, given annually, since 1988, to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.

Right Wingers


Didier Pitre
Don't be alarmed if this name isn't familiar as I too learned it for the first time a few days ago. In 274 games alongside Lalonde on the earliest versions of the Habs (playoffs included) he managed 296 points for a point/game average of 1.08. He ranks 4th all-time on the team in points/game, of players who have played at least 250 games, behind Lafleur, Frank Mahovolich and Beliveau.

Claude Provost
Claude ranks 5th all-time in games played for the Habs and most notable has played more games in the bleu-blanc-rouge than any other right winger - notably Maurice Richard, Lafleur and Cournoyer.

Yvan Cournoyer
Of all the impressive stats that the roadrunner put up in his career one in particular stands out to me. He is the all-time leader in playoff game-winning goals with 15. I really don't know if there is more crucial stat than that at the end of the day.

Chris Nilan
When you think of Chris you think of knuckles, fighting and thus PIM. However, did you realize he leads the Habs in all-time penalty minutes by over 1000 minutes over his next closest rival; Shayne Corson. Nilan averaged over 4 minutes in the box, per game, during his Hab career.

Left Wingers


Toe Blake
The coach right? Well before the coach came the player. Did you know there are only 6 players in team history to lead the team in scoring at least 5 times? 4 of those players are now immortalized in bronze outside the Bell Centre, the others are Lalonde and Toe Blake. Blake holds the distinction of being the only LW to achieve this feat.

Bob Gainey
Was Scotty Bowman a LW too? Apparently great hockey minds started their journeys on the left sides of ice rinks. Once called the greatest player in the world by the Soviets (at a time when they were also playing against Lafleur, Dryden, Orr, Esposito etc.), Bob has the distinction of having a trophy made for him. That trophy is the Selke; awarded annually to the best defensive forward. In all Bob won a league-record 4 of those and that doesn't include all the ones he would have won while he convincing the league he deserved such an honour.

Defencemen


Doug Harvey
Doug was regarded as the best defenceman in the world before a certain Bobby Orr came along, but still likely ranks in the top-5 of all time. In fact, many consider him the best player to ever suit up for Montreal. It, therefore, is no wonder that he has won an impressive 6 Norris trophies as the league's best defenceman - more than all other Habs combined.

Jacques Laperierre
I remember Jacques as a long time defensive coach for the Habs, but little did I know just how good of a player he had been. In all he played 779 games for the Habs and put his name on the Cup 5 times. He is the only defenceman in team history to ever win the Calder Trophy, as the league's best rookie. This trophy is usually reserved for forwards and goalies as defencemen usually take years to develop into NHL-capable blue-liners. In all the Calder has been won by 8 other defencemen, including Orr, Potvin, Bourque and Leetch.

Larry Robinson
I took an interest in the career +/- of Habs players and I found that the top-ranked player is miles apart from Sheldon Souray, whose -44 ranks as a team worst. Larry's +/- is a whopping +700! I can't even believe how that is possible as it ranks over 200 points better than any other player in team history. Robinson clearly was a lot more than a big hitter and high point-getter.

Goaltenders


Bill Durnan
Luongo isn't the only goalie to be the captain of a team. In fact, we had 2: Vezina and Durnan. Bill, however, seems to be one of those players that has got lost in the history books. Few Habs fans would put him on a top-5 of our team's all-time best goalies as few even know the name. His most impressive stat, however, could change a few minds. He played over 200 games less than Plante with the Habs, but matched his 6 Vezina trophies nonetheless.

Jacques Plante
The numbers would probably suggest Plante was the Habs' best ever goalie and he may very well be the best the league has ever seen. Despite all the accolades there was still one number that amazed me. In 646 career games he recoded 68 shutouts - more than 1 every 10 games.

Ken Dryden
He came in at the top and left even higher. In only 8 years he accomplished more than any other goalie before or since. His Stanley Cups and 5 Vezina Trophies are mind-boggling considering the length of his career. I was most taken, however, by his 0.737 winning %. In every 2 games he played he came away with about 3 points - forget losing streaks!

Jose Theodore
We all know the drama that came with Jose, but at his core there was a fantastic goalie. Rarely has that player been seen since the 2002 season, but so long as he isn't facing the Habs I hope he one day rebounds with the Capitals to the form we all know he had. In that magical season of 2002 he became the 12th Hab goalie to win the Vezina, but more impressively was just the second (Plante) to win the Hart as the league's MVP. We waited 24 years to win this trophy, our longest ever wait, let's hope the next one comes a bit sooner.

Cristobal Huet
Of all the great goalies we've had few have impressed me the way Cristo did. He was a fierce competitor and a true gentleman. But, above all he was an excellent goalie. He, in fact, is the Habs all-time leader in save % as he is the only player to stop 92% of shots he faced.

A Question

The last of the 20 pieces on numbers is something that has always bothered me. According to my NHL guide (1995-1996) the Canadiens had at that time retired 2 more numbers than they now claim to have done. Along with the 15 players we honour now, I believe there are 2 that we are forgetting. Both Aurele Joliat (4) and Elmer Lach (16) had, according to the league, their sweaters retired. These 2 players' career numbers would leave any other team calling them franchise players and even on the Habs I believe they are amongst that illustrious group. If anyone knows the story behind all of this I would love to hear it.


That is all for now. From us hear at Lions have a great Christmas and we'll be back in touch on Saturday as the Habs get back at 'er.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Game #33

'Canes Team With Refs (Again) to Beat Habs

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Sunday December 21st, 2008
Opponent: Carolina Hurricanes
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 2-3 - Loss (OT)

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Cam Ward (W)

Habs goalscorers: Matt D'Agostini, Robert Lang
Opposition goalscorers: Sergei Samsonov, Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruutu



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

We didn't get what we wanted tonight, the big 2 points, but the reason we got anything at all was thanks to a crazy pad save by Price late in the third period. The puck took a weird bounce off the end-boards and came back in front where Chad Larose was left with a wide open net to shoot at for the win. He got off a good, hard shot, but luckily for us Price came across with his pad and preserved the tie.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Robert Lang
Lang was very involved tonight and was the player who tied the game at two with a one-timer on the power-play. He was used on two different lines, but what at his best with Tanguay and D'Agostini. Between the 3 players they got 4 points and were the only forwards to get their names on the scoresheet tonight. Robert was the best of all centremen (both teams) in the face-off circle winning a very impressive 11 of 15 draws (73%).



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Matt D'Agostini
Matt scored yet another goal tonight; that makes 6 in 11 games. I liked how he really used his speed tonight and once again proved how good of a goal-scorer he is. He seems to always get himself into the right place and considering he took a game-high 6 shots it is no surprise his name showed up on the scoresheet.

Alex Tanguay
Another 2 assists tonight give him an impressive 16 on the year. His play on Matt's goal was world-class. The puck came to him in the slot and he could have shot at a partially open net, but he instead realized that right beside him was D'Agostini in a slightly better position. So, like all excellent players, he passed and didn't shoot himself, the result: a goal.

Robert Lang
Lang has been a really good pick-up for the Habs and now, once again, leads the team in goals with 11. He has been one of our most consistent players all year and has certainly been our second best centre. I believe his experience, especially the years he spent in Detroit, are priceless and are essential to a team that has hopes of hoisting the cup.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
None of the Habs defencemen really excelled defensively tonight, and, believe it or not, our 3 goals against is way better than it could have been. That being said Roman did play well offensively. His menacing shot turned into an assist when the rebound ended up on Tanguay's, then D'Agostini's stick.

Andrei Markov
Once again he was our best defender tonight, I didn't notice one single mistake by Andrei. I wish I could say the same for his partner, Komi, who had a difficult game. Marky played well on the PP and set up a few quality chances. The good news is that we are scoring more often on the PP (6 goals in 4 games) and a big reason for that is the reliability of Andrei.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Price was at times spectacular tonight, but at other times was quite bad. A long rebound on the first goal, over-commitment on the second and fumbling of the puck on the third can all likely be attributed to his absence. On top of that, however, there were a couple of posts and a few other, bobbled, close-calls. I have him in the dome though as he did keep the game close and I believe getting him a game before the long lay-off was essential. We need Carey to be our best player from now till the end of the year, and that all starts on Saturday.



Eye-Openers
In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

I could talk about early whistles, blown calls or even non-calls, but I won't, for tonight I am going to focus on a positive, something that we did very well.

For a second straight game we were able to erase 2 deficits (yesterday it was 3). We are developing into a team that can seemingly comeback when they are down with relative ease. I am not naive enough to think we will always erase every opposing team's lead, but I am very happy to know that we are a team that just won't give up. Believing that you can comeback, and then actually doing it, are such valuable tools to have in the tool-box. As we move into the second half of the season, and beyond, we will need every bit of confidence we can get and games like this have added a few more weapons to the arsenal.


Overall Comments

This was a pretty ordinary game, but will stand out in my mind for a couple of reasons. I will always remember the 2 disallowed goals (both the results of unnecessary early whistles) and the double-standard of penalty calling. Carolina had only taken 3 penalties in their 3 previous games, so I assumed they must be a clean, disciplined team. I was wrong. They are no different than any other team we play, or ourselves for that matter. So, it is a shame that they continually get less penalties than their opposition. I felt with better officiating this game could have been put away a long time before we were scrambling to tie it up. Instead Carolina was given a pass to OT and then took advantage of us to steal two points. From a Habs standpoint, however, I am happy. I have no problem with the way we competed tonight. Price wasn't at his best, nor were the defence, but offensively we were threatening.

So, we ended our 11 game stretch with 14 points, 1 less than our goal. Obviously that is no disaster, but I really don't feel that we took full advantage of our prolonged home-stand. On Saturday a whole new season begins and I hope we will be ready after a nice 5 day break. We have 56 more points to get in 49 games. It is certainly doable, so let's keep the good play up and make a push in 2009.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Game #32

Kovalev Shines in OT Thriller

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday December 20th, 2008
Opponent: Buffalo Sabres
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 4-3 - Win (OT)

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Ryan Miller (L)

Habs goalscorers: Sergei Kostitsyn(2), Alex Tanguay, Alexei Kovalev
Opposition goalscorers: Derek Roy, Clarke MacArthur, Andrej Sekera



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

I waited a long time to be convinced tonight by one play and thankfully I was rewarded for waiting. Thanks to tireless work in the offensive zone we drew two penalties in OT. On the second one there was a certain player who decided there would be no shootout in Montreal tonight.

Lang did well to win the face-off with 35 seconds left in the extra-frame and we were able to set-up our PP nicely. So nice in fact, that within 10 seconds the game was done. During that time D'Agostini got the puck back to Markov at the point and then the two Russians took care of the rest. It was a script written in 2007, but I didn't mind re-watching it tonight. Marky found Kovy in his usual spot, down to the left of the goalie. Alex took a quick look at Miller, saw the puck-sized hole above his shoulder and roofed one that would send 21,000 people home very happy.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Alexei Kovalev
In a week Alex is all of a sudden back on pace for solid numbers. He is back above 20-goal pace and if he keeps this up he will hit over 65 points. This is precisely the reason we want Kovy on our team. He is a game-breaker who wins you games you could have lost. He finds ways to be the best player on the ice when you need someone to step up. He may not do it in every game, but I guarantee that by the end of the year he does it more than any other single player on the Habs. After taking a penalty in the third that led to a 2-3 deficit he single handedly created the tying goal and shelfed the winner. It was incredible to watch the master at work tonight.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Alexei Kovalev
3 goals in 3 games makes this a solid week for our fill-in skipper. He has been playing excellent hockey all year so I was never worried. I am, however, happy for his sake that he is putting some numbers beside his name, as after all there are a lot of fans who use this as their sole method of evaluation. I am thankful that the LIW readers seem to know a good player when they see one and thus will be happy for Alex tonight, but mostly for the team.

Sergei Kostitsyn
Welcome back kid. You can see the positive effect that playing with good players has on a youngster like Sergei. Last year he excelled with Saku and over the past few games he is playing very well beside Pleks and Kovy. He scored 2 goals tonight, one of which was a point-shot on the PP. Having him as a shooting option on the point has added some much needed diversity to our power-play and I think he should remain there for quite some time.

Steve Begin
Steve played an excellent game tonight. I attribute our spirit and momentum to him tonight more than any other player. It seemed that he was the one player to lift us up each time we needed it during the game. His fore-checking and hitting, of which there were 7, tired out a Buffalo team who seemed to run out of gas by the end of this one. He created chances, drew penalties and got the crowd very much into the game.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
Roman was a rock tonight. He played a fantastic game in his own end breaking up play after play with such a calmness about him. He is playing with Gorges now which means we now have two complete pairings. It is the first time since he played with Streit last year that he has had a proven player to play alongside. I feel that this partnership will develop into a great defensive tandem this year and I am happy Carbo went for it. Hammer got an assist on Tanguay's goal, our second, with a very well placed point shot.

Andrei Markov
This was a second straight game that we have scored two PP goals and once again Markov played a big part in them. He added two assists tonight, giving him 21, and both came with the extra man. I feel that all that matters is how well your PP will play, not how well they did. Our low percentage from the early part of the season will become irrelevant as long as we continue to score those goals when we actually need them. Tonight our even-strength play wasn't as dominant, so I am happy to report our PP picked up the slack. Markov didn't just play his best with the extra man tonight though, he was very good in all situations.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
I am really glad that Jaro has been getting some offensive support over the past few games. It is nice for him that he is able to add some Ws to his already impressive numbers. He made some great saves throughout the game, often at times when we were trailing. The Habs don't seem to be able to come back from 2-goal deficits much as of late, but thanks to Halak that wasn't necessary tonight. All we had to do was erase 3 1-goal Buffalo leads, no small feat, but we were in that position, 3 times, thanks to the Slovak.



Eye-Openers
In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

The value of players like Begin, Lapierre, Kostopoulos, Latendresse and Laraque should never be forgotten. I am sure if you watch RDS it would be impossible to do that, but if you watched an unbiased report I am sure those Quebecers (Tom is honorary for his french interviews) would go unnoticed in many games. I don't think that group is the reason we win when we do and I don't think they are all the best players on the team, but I do really appreciate the work they do. Tonight they were the ones who got the crowd into it and although they didn't actually get any assists I believe it was that group that set-up a few of our goals. Their fore-checking, hitting, puck-possession, yapping and drawing of penalties are all such essential parts to the game that has a very positive effect on both the team and the fans alike. Occasionally they will score a goal or make great defensive plays, but that is all just a bonus to me. As long as they keep working hard and keep the flow going then I feel the other players will do their part too. It shows how much of a team we have become over the years as I truly believe all 20 pieces are crucial to the success of this great group.


Overall Comments

Buffalo started strong in this game and were able to jump out to an early lead. Luckily, however, we seemed to play better tonight when we were trailing. You could tell a goal was going to come and soon the game was 1-1. Then we seemed to take our foot off the gas a bit and once again placed ourselves in a hole. Again our play picked up and soon enough it was 2-2. History repeated itself for a third time when a wobbly point-shot from Sekera somehow found its way to the back of the net. That goal happened while Kovalev was in the box for what could only be described as a bad penalty - he got caught for holding the stick in the offensive zone, late in a tie game. On Alex' next shift, following Buffalo's third, you could see something special was going on. He had fire in his eyes and you could tell he felt he owed his team one. Within seconds of an offensive-zone draw Kovy was fighting hard for the puck. He somehow managed to steal the puck from a Sabre in the corner with what can only be described as a play that demonstrated his pure strength and insane talent. Within seconds he found Kostitsyn in front of the net and we were back level. In OT we enjoyed 2 power-plays and one disallowed goal. Lang's marker that was waived off, but really should have counted if the league evaluated their silly rule (yes the net was off when the puck went in, but that had no bearing on the play whatsoever, plus it was blatantly obvious that it was a Sabre who intentionally knocked the net off) got us all thinking of what could have been. Thankfully, though, the ghosts rewarded karma tonight. On our second PP, with less than 30 seconds left it was Kovalev, again, who took things into his owns hands as he unleashed a truly incredible wrist-shot that kept our dream of 15 points in 11 games alive. The last game before the break is tomorrow, at home, against Carolina. I believe that it is time for a little payback.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mats Sundin

To Cement His Place Among Highest Paid Ever

Don't know if you knew, but Mats Sundin was a free agent. What's more he signed yesterday for some silly amount with the Vancouver Canucks (Little Sweden). I hadn't heard or read about him for so long that I'd nearly forgotten that he was the best player in the league and therefore deserved to earn more than Niklas Lidstrom, Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin.

In fact, I shouldn't have forgotten, because if pay is the way to judge (and it must be with Keith Tkachuk perennial cup winner so high up the list, then Mats Sundin is the third best player of all time.

OK, facetiousness aside, he is a good player. And in a salary cap environment you're not a good GM if you have $10 million spare at the end of the year. So, indeed, why not sign Sundin?

Am I bitter the Habs lost out? Well I'd rather have Sundin to Lang, but not overly bitter no.

Leafs fans on the other hand have reason to be bitter. My esteemed Score Federation compatriot at Down Goes Brown explains why here.

As for the Canucks, they are "happy". Some must be. Their fans (all proudly wearing their retired number 7) will expect a lot from the team that already has shutout machine Luongo. Cup or bust.

Retired Numers

Habs Honoured Elsewhere

A couple of nights ago, the Vancouver Canucks retired Trevor Linden's number 16. As a former and much-loved Hab (at the time, by me, anyway), his career and exploits have always interested me. His honour is well deserved.

His number retirement also prompted me to have a look around to see which other Canadiens alumni have had their numbers retired (or honoured) by teams around the league. The list is interesting and even a little longer than I had expected.

JC Tremblay – Quebec Nordiques (3)
His career with Montreal began like so many others in the 1960s on a defending Stanley Cup Champion. Groomed through the system on one of the junior teams stocked with C-form signees, he made the transition to the NHL right after making the successful transition fom winger to defenceman (a la Markov). He played 794 games over parts of 13 seasons with the Canadiens and hauled a massive 5 Cups. A key part of the "forgotten dynasty" of the late 60s, Tremblay was also an all-star in the NHL twice.


In 1972, he jumped to the upstart Nordiques of the WHA, where he became their first true star player. In fact, he played in every season the Nordiques competed in the WHA – leading them to the championship in 1977. Considering he entered the WHA at the ripe age of 33, his 424 points in 454 as a defenceman is truly impressive.

A great Hab and a great Nordique.


Rod Langway – Washington Capitals (5)
Langway came up with the Canadiens via the WHA at the very end of the 1970s dynasty. His ascent among the defensive corps came as Savard and Lapointe were winding down. The big three was morphing into Langway and Robinson. It never really happened as Langway was traded in a blockbuster with current coach Doug Jarvis and others for Rick Green and Ryan Walter. In parts of 4 seasons, he had amassed a respectable 127 points in 268 games. His +160 was a little more than respectable, I'd say.


It is said that trade made and saved the Washington Capitals. Langway was the first true star for that franchise. He played 11 seasons in all for the Caps. His point totals were respectable again. But he was quite the defenceman. He won two Norrises with the Caps and was even second in Hart trophy voting behind the mighty Gretzky in 1984.

Another great Hab (if short-lived) and the best Cap before Ovechkin came along. For his toil, he's been put in the Hall of Fame, too.


Marc Tardif – Quebec Nordiques (8)
In a move that would satisfy conspiracy theorists for years to come, Marc Tardif was selected with a special French Canadian pick by the Habs in the 1969 draft. By the end of the next season he was with the big club. But his stay would be short-lived. He too jumped for the glitz and galmour of the new WHA. His stay in Montreal was short: 2 cups and a 20-25 goalscoring role on a team with Beliveau, Cournoyer, Lemaire and a young Lafleur.


The WHA was where Tardif came to life: 666 point in 446 games, including a 148 and 154 point seasons when Esposito was the only player who could do such things. He was a one in a kind offensive talent in that way. As the Nordiques first captain in the NHL, he led them to a respectable beginnning in the league.

A great Nordique and a good Habs prospect.


Trevor Linden – Vancouver Canucks (16)
His Canadiens career was a shadow of what he did in total. Just over a hundred games with just over 60 points is respectable enough. His career elsewhere was remarkable.


With the Canucks, Linden played over 1100 games at full tilt. He was an 80 point man and a 30 goal man for years. He wore the Canuck jersey with honour and even lugged the team to the Stanley Cup final with 25 points in 24 games that year.

Always a gentleman, he has been a good ambassador for the league over the years. In Montreal he was highly involved in the community, as he was in Vancouver. A tribute to him is how quick he was to get in touch with his good friend Saku Koivu after his diagnosis with cancer.

A great Canuck and a brief Canadien.


Denis Savard – Chicago Blackhawks (18)
In recent Canadiens lore, is there a greater story? The local boy shoots out the lights in Verdun: 146 and more than 450 points in 3 years in junior but still not good enough for the Habs. Selected 3rd, not 2nd behind Wickenheiser (who we remember) and Babych (who we don't), he cobbled a Hall of Fame career for himself in Chicago.


Then, the hero that got away comes home. By the time he arrived in Montreal via Chris Chelios trade (bad trade, no two ways to look at that now), he was already a guaranteed Hall of Famer and 1000 point man. His 5 100-point seasons behind him, he nonetheless played an important role on the Canadiens for two seasons.

Finally, the triumph and storybook ending. In his third year, his most important role might have been raising the Cup, or coaching in the final. But whatever it was he played a role. He was a Hall of Fame player winning his first and only Cup (in Montreal). His hoisting the Cup is one of the most indelible memories of hockey in my mind. The way I felt at the time, and the way Denis clearly felt (honour, pride and complete joy written all over his face) – it was what winning the Cup is all about.

(Whenever I look at 18 Savard hanging from the rafters at the Bell Centre I see a spin-o-rama, a pass and a Gilbert Dionne goal. It's a nice coincidence indeed that Denis shares a name and number with a banner up there...)


Frank Mahovlich – Toronto Maple Leafs (27)
Another Hall of Famer, Mahovlich had a long and winding road to Montreal. His NHL start came in Toronto at a very young age and with a Calder trophy. And, it wasn't long before his stature as star in the league was cemented. In 1961, he was even on the cusp of being the greatest goalscorer in league history at the ripe age of 23, with 48 goals with 2 games to go.

Frank's time in Toronto overall was both a success and a disappointment. Though he would win 4 Cups and be a constant first or second all-star, he would still get booed by portions of a demanding Toronto crowd. Lore has it that he was even booed during a Stanley Cup winners reception (imagine) because he was the superstar who did not score a playoff goal. His fractious relationship with Punch Imlach would even drive him to depression.


Leaving Toronto was a rebirth (the first one) for Frank. He joined his brother in Detroit and played on a line with Gordie Howe. He responded with renewed vigour and 49 goals. But Detroit was languishing and his time was not remembered by any Cup parades.

The Big M had his third win when he was dealt to Montreal midway through the 1970-71 season. This masterstroke from Pollock brought Montreal a Cup and stunted the development of the mighty Bruins. Mahovlich became a Habs legend almost instantaneously with an incredible (and league-leading) 14 playoff goals to go with 13 assists in 20 games. He did not disappoint the next season either with a massive 96 points, and then 93 the next season. He was again a key member of the 1973 Cup team with 9 goals and 14 assists in 17 games.

The Big M would have probably just about cracked the Hall of Fame with his Canadiens years alone. It is for that reason number 27 is so revered in our city.

A great Hab, Leaf and Wing. A great great player.


Rogatien Vachon – Los Angeles Kings (30)
Rogatien (Rogie) Vachon was one of the best Canadiens goaltenders in the history of the team. In 206 total regular season games, he won 110 and tied 30. In the playoffs, his meager 19 starts provided 14 wins. And his playoff average of 1.94 stands as one of the more impressive marks from team history.


But Vachon, who progressed through the ranks impressively, was often the victim of a bit of bad timing with the Habs. That is to say, he was good, but he had peers who were laying down Hall of Fame careers. First, he backed up Lorne (Gump) Worsley – a great veteran and Cup stalwart with whom Rogie shared one Vezina trophy. And just as he saw an open door for the starter role in 1970 then 1971, some kid from Cornell came and stole his thunder. Following Dryden's miracle cup run and subsequent dominance, Rogie was traded for next to nothing to LA where he would play out games in the number one role again.

His best years did indeed come in LA, as is evidenced by his jersey retirement (their first in franchise history). There would be no more Stanley Cups on the upstart Kings, but individual honours would roll. He was consistently named among the very best of LA Kings, often winning MVP of the team over a certain Marcel Dionne. He was also a league all-star and even came second in Hart trophy voting behind Bobby Clarke in 1975. Statistically great for that era, his 32 shutouts on the expansion Kings in an era with scoring galore are truly impressive.

The best Kings goalie ever and a great Hab.


Patrick Roy – Colorado Avalanche (33)
Unlike the other guys, plenty has been written here about the great Patrick Roy. He is one of 6 players to have his number retired by more than one team and is widely recognised as the greatest playoff goalie ever.


His career began in the most impressive fashion possible and ended with every record a goalie could hope to achieve.

Great great Hab and great great Av.


Tony Esposito – Chicago Blackhawks (35)
Finally, little Tony Esposito.

His time on the Habs was stunted to say the least – a mere 13 games in all. If Vachon was obstructed from getting starts, Esposito was near blockaded. He was way down the pecking order behind veteran star Worsley and young up-and-comer Vachon.


He was traded to the Blackhawks in 1969. In his first full season there, he was impressive indeed winning both the Vezina trophy and the Calder trophy. The next 14 years he would establish himself as one of the best and most unique goalies in the league. The Blackhawks never missed the playoffs over those 15 seasons, and that was no coincidence. Alas, they would never win a Cup either and Tony's sole Cup ring would remain the 1969 beauty he won as a back-up to Gump Worsley.

A momentary Hab and a Hall of Fame Hawk.


Finally, in researching this piece, I came across some hilarious information. It turns out that both the Wild and the Canucks in their infinite wosdom have retired numbers in honour of the fans of the team (Can you imagine?!?!?). Minnesota took number 1 out of circulation in 2000 (and have had stellar goaltending ever since) and Vancouver honoured the number 7 in October of this year – 7th man, get it???

So, in addition to all the players who have legitimately earned their number retirements, add Jyrkki Lumme (no doubt a fan of the Canucks) and Lemaire, Riseborough and Tremblay among others I'm sure who played for the Habs but support these teams.

Imagine, our number 7 is only dedicated to Howie Morenz. How do we survive knowing this as fans? And fans with retired numbers and Sundin, who will ever stop the Canucks now?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Game #31

Habs' High-Tempo Play Too Much For Philly

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Thursday December 18th, 2008
Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 5-2 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Antero Niityymaki (L)

Habs goalscorers: Matt D'Agostini, Sergei Kostitsyn, Steve Begin, Alexei Kovalev, Guillaume Latendresse
Opposition goalscorers: Arron Asham, Braydon Coburn



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

The Habs started the game quite well, but I felt had Philadelphia weathered that storm then things may soon have gone bad for us. I felt we were an unlucky break, a penalty or two or even a scoreless first period away from allowing Philly to run the show. That is why the play of the game wasn't only spectacular, but it was also pivotal too. It not only gave us the lead, but gave us the momentum we needed to carry us through the game.

A hard, crisp pass came all the way from the face-off circle beside Halak to just over centre-ice. A few years ago this was a two-line pass, tonight it was a beaut. It was a hard pass to handle, but the speedy D'Agostini appeared to have no problem at all with it. He skated in on the left side, at full speed, beat his defender and almost effortlessly beat Niittymaki.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Jaroslav Halak
Jaro only had to let in 3 or less tonight and we would have been OK, but I still believe he kept us in it at critical times. He made some unbelievable saves in this one and played with a certain confidence that was readily apparent to me, sitting at home. Towards the end of the game he let in a bad goal (an unlucky bounce off Bou), but was seemingly unphased. It is this focus and determination that are so crucial to winning.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Alexei Kovalev
Kovy notched his 900th career point tonight with a spectacular breakaway goal. He was reunited with Andrei and Pleks and I thought, until Kostitsyn got injured, they played well together. Alex was getting very involved and, although he may not have been on the ice for either of our PP goals, I felt it was he who wore out Philly's penalty-killers the most. He did a very good job to draw a penalty in the third on a play that would have been the goal of the year.

Sergei Kostitsyn
I am really happy for the kid tonight. In fact it was nice to see both him and fellow dog-house resident, Guillaume Latendresse, contribute. Sergei potted a nice goal and added an assist. Considering the ice-time and the linemates he sees I think his 11 points are quite suitable for this stage of the year. His PP goal came from a very good point-shot on the PP and I can only hope he keeps up that good work.

Matt D'Agostini
After 2 games of playing with an AHL centre-man it was back to the big leagues tonight. He played very well alongside the experienced Robert Lang, in fact I felt Matt played his best game in over a week. His goal was just one of the many chances he had, which included a shot square-off the post on a very well placed wrist-shot. It will be interesting to see what happens when we are fully healthy again as I feel D'Ags truly deserves a spot amongst the top-6.

Defencemen

Mike Komisarek
Now, I know Mike had a mediocre/poor start to the season, but that was only relative to the high standards he had set for himself. Last year he was really one of our best players and we all expected that again. Over the course of the first 14 games he was average, but believe it or not, in hindsight, that placed him ahead of at least 3 of our other choices. The good news is that tonight he played his best game of the season. I had forgotten the potential of this player and was really quite glad to have him back. He was a presence on the ice - in both ends. For all of his faults I believe he is a good leader and tonight, for maybe the first time all year, he led by example.

Andrei Markov
Andrei didn't seem to notice that he had changed partners tonight. Gone was Gorges, in was Komi. To Marky I don't think any of that matters at all. I am sure he is happy to see Mike healthy again and is equally happy to be playing alongside of him, but at the end of the day it didn't change a single thing he did. He once again was excellent in all aspects of the game. One play in particular, on a 2-on-1, stands out for me. Hartnell, coming down the left-wing, had absolutely every option taken away by a perfectly timed slide by Markov - it was truly first-class.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Halak put in yet another solid performance and is single handedly making the absence of Price seem like not that big of a deal. Of all that I have read about the Habs' troubles I see so little about the fact that Carey is injured. Mention of all other injured players abounds, but the fact that Jaro is playing so well has made people forget we are missing another player in nets. Right now the only real impact of Price's injury is the fact that we have Denis on the bench. If Halak continues to keep this play up we will hopefully never find out what that really means.



Eye-Openers
In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

I know what we will all be hearing for the next few days - 'Why can't the Habs play like this every game?'. Of course that would be nice, but the way we play is dependent more on the way the other team plays, the calls we get and the momentum than anything we as a team can do. Hard work and grit is a step in the right direction, but rarely is it enough to win a game. The Habs didn't decide to win tonight, much like they didn't decide to lose the past 3 games. Each and every game has it's own set of variables and things seem to go all wrong as ofter as they all line-up. If you think of a season as one long game with each game being a single goal it is easy to see how loses, like goals-against, are inevitable. A good team will win more games than it loses, but it will indeed lose. Similarly, a bad team will generally score in most games and will also win a fair share of those games. So we are all obviously happy with the 2-points and the effort tonight, but that doesn't mean we haven't been trying or that the effort wasn't there this past week. Sometimes you can explain a loss or a goal-against and sometimes you simply can't. It is a good team (and players), however, that have the ability to take them those failures in their stride. In the end all that matters are the final standings in April, how you get there is irrelevant.

Just some food for thought. Do you think Philly fans are questioning their team right now, asking why they didn't show up tonight? Maybe they are wondering where the effort was or why they let the Habs set the tone. Maybe they will question all their players that didn't score and praise their 4th line for contributing. I am betting that they do all of the above, and more. Now, from the perspective of a Habs fan do you think that is right? Do you think it was Philly that played bad and that is the only reason we won? Of course you don't. So please after the next loss (or series of losses) remember that there is another team out there trying as hard to win, and it isn't always due to a lack of effort on our part.


Overall Comments

There are so many things that I am happy with tonight and I have to start with the win. Right from the start of the game we played a very good style of hockey. In fact we played, what I consider to be, Montreal Canadiens hockey. We used our speed, took shots from good positions and even tried to be fancier than necessary. All of this, even the last point, helped us get at least 12 quality scoring chances and supplied us with a steady stream of goals from beginning to end. The fact that we exposed Philly for what I believe them to be, a weak defensive team, is also encouraging. Hopefully we (along with other teams in the East) will take full notice of this and we can all together put an end to this winning that I see they've been doing. Other areas that were nice to see tonight were goals from Kovy, Latendresse and Sergei, strong defensive play, which included the return of Komi and last, but not least, the continued strong play of Halak. All in all this is one we should be proud of and hopefully is a win that will set up a winning weekend. We have 2 games left now before Christmas and we are 4 points short of our goal. I think reaching our goal, on a 3-game win streak, would be an ideal way to start the break. To boot, Carbo will give the whole team a week off if they play well this weekend. Nothing like a little incentive to get the boys going again.

Another Ten Games Down

Habs Ratings: Ours and Theirs

This season is really chugging along. It seems like just yesterday I updated this post for the last 10 – I guess that's the middle of the NHL season for you – lots of games, not many memories... Anyway, here are the stars from the last ten games according to Tobalev, three star selectors and other bloggers.

Who were the best players over the last ten games?


A funny ten game spell. The feeling is all negative now, but there was a nice stretch from games 21-27. The game reports once again cough up a list that feels right (to me anyway).


Our top team over 10 games (Season dome)

Forward 1: Andrei Kostitsyn
6 dome games (again) and 2 game pucks mean Kostitsyn is consistently one of the best Habs. He continues to look like a real threat game in, game out; even though Carbonneau: a) can't wrap his head around that or b) can't figure out how to use him.

Forward 2: Alex Kovalev
6 dome appearances and two game pucks. Funny how as his goalless streak wound on (well, not anymore) he was actually getting more into games and becoming a bigger factor. If we had eyes on Kovalev like last season this 10 games would have shown he's back to form.

Forward 3: Matt D'Agostini
4 domes. The rookie makes quite an impression. That said, Koivu would be the one in the team here if not for his injury. It is a reflection on Koivu that Matt makes it here on his first try. Still, his goals were both impressive to watch and timely. Couldn't ask for more than that.

Honourable mentions (forwards): Koivu and Lapierre – 3 domes each. Both players had been on fire for the winning portion of the 10 game spell. Lapierre continues to deliver what is asked of him and more.

Where are they?: Isn't Tanguay paid nearly $6 million dollars. He's been good at floating and poaching shots, but when the chips are down, so, unfortunately, is he more often than not. No domes in 10 games – not very impressive. Consider Latendresse had 2...


Defenceman 1: Andrei Markov
An incredible 9 domes without argument from readers. And a game puck to boot. He simply is a class apart from the other Habs defenders. Even without his PP mastery he would be first in the pecking order.

Defenceman 2: Roman Hamrlik
6 domes. Carries a big burden for the Canadiens and is impressively reliable. The one problem is that he isn't making this team due to impressive efforts on his part – a lot of best of the rest type stuff.

Honourable mention (defenceman): Brisebois. He'd been knocking on the door a few times in these ten I thought. Let's hope there's more where this came from.


Goaltender: Jaroslav Halak
7 domes in 9 starts. Ignoring the 2 games he blew up, he has been good over the past 10. Only games like those to remind us he has yet to play a full NHL season.

Honourable mention (goalie): Price – 2 game pucks as well. His injury is hurting us as much as Koivu's at the moment. one of those team in front of him confidence-type things that he has...


En Route Pour La Coupe Power Rankings

One again, a very good read (if you read french, anyway), and comprehensive ranking.

As Fred is doing these rankings a bit differently than me (i.e., taking into account the previous 20 games, I think), he comes up with a bit of a different list. For example, his forwards for the 10 games would be Lang, Koivu and Kovalev. Fair enough, but how does Tanguay linger in the top 6? Andrei Kostitsyn has been better over 20 games now, much of the time without support. D'Agostini, our other star forward from 21-30, languishes in 21st somehow, while Latendresse (who played 5 of 10 games) loses no places and is apparently a top 10 talent on the Habs. Good thing I linked to this post, because that is real news to most habs fans, I think.

Everything else looks just about right to me. Not sure that Gorges is still Hamrlik's superior on the team. The fact


Three star selectors

Any scientist will tell you, too little data does not make for a good experiment. That's what I said last time. The Habs can't get a star selector to pick them to save their lives these days. it's hard, I guess, when you have to reserve a spot for the opposition goalie in every loss. So again, these 3 star averages look a bit pointless (just like most of our players)... But check it out, Plekanec makes it!

Based on 5 points for first star, 3 for second and 1 for third. here's their dome:

Forward 1: Andrei Kostitsyn (2, 0, 0)
Forward 2: Matt D'Agostini (1, 0, 0)
Forward 3: Tomas Plekanec(0, 1, 1)

Defenceman 1: No defencemen selected
Defenceman 2: No defencemen selected

Goaltender: Carey Price (2, 0, 0)