Saturday, January 31, 2009

Game #49

Boo-Birds Have All Re-Boarded The Bandwagon

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday January 31st, 2009
Opponent: Los Angeles Kings
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 4-3 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Jonathan Quick (L)

Habs goalscorers: Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Christopher Higgins, Saku Koivu
Opposition goalscorers: Michal Handzus, Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll



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

No question today as to what the play of the game was - Higgins, to tie it, what a beauty. With 2 minutes left and only 1 minute removed from a PP the Habs' chances of losing 5 in regulation in a row looked way better than coming away with any points. Higgins, however, had told his teammates throughout the game to get him the puck in the middle of the neutral zone. He was confident that his speed would be enough to get around the young and inexperienced Kings defence. Kostopoulos started the play with a pass to Lapierre in our own end. Then it was Max serving up a long, open-ice, pass to a flying Higgins. Chris took the pass well and had just one man to beat. With an incredible head of steam he was able to get a step on Doughty, but it was his throwing-off of the rookie that was most impressive. Drew had grabbed a hold as Higgins went by, but Chris simply pushed him to the ground and continued to the net. A great top-corner wrist shot sealed the deal and tied up the game.



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

Saku Koivu
Saku was at his best this game. He was pivoting a line composed of 2 first year players, but rather than using that as an excuse he made a point of making them better. All game long he was supplying the Habs with quality chances and great effort in the offensive zone. He scored the game-winner and added an assist to give him 4 points in his 4 games back from injury.



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

Christopher Higgins
Poor old Higgins seems to be out of favour as of late. For some reason he has been stripped of the 'A' as Mike 'I play like Rivet' Komisarek has taken over the duties. Chris, however, hasn't let all the politics get in the way of the fact that he is still a great player. He is no 40-goal man, probably isn't even a 1st line player, but what I do know is that he belongs on our team and that he a really great player; perhaps a secret weapon. His goal was not only super timely, but was also a fantastic effort.

Andrei Kostitsyn
With one quick shot Andrei gave us our first lead in what seems like weeks. He played quite a good game tonight, but most of all it was great to see him get back on the scoresheet. I felt that he and Plekanec brought quite a bit of effort and played well together. They both scored goals and that hopefully is a sign of good things to come.

Saku Koivu
During the second intermission I told Topham that I 'knew' Koivu would score, that I could 'feel it'. Well, it took about 19 1/2 minutes (and another 30 after the game worth of review) for my premonition to come to fruition. I don't know why I said that - normally I am too superstitious for comments like that - but there was just something about the way that Saku was playing. I didn't want to believe that the skipper would allow 5 losses in a row - I was right.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
Hammer was on the ice for all 4 even strength goals (2 and 2) and none on the PP. He didn't really contribute to either of the goals-against, but I felt did have a positive effect offensively. He picked up an assist on Plekanec's 10th, giving him 14 on the year. He was first on the team with 3 shots and was just one behind Komi for the team lead in blocked-shots with 4.

Andrei Markov
Originally credited with the game-winner Markov ended up with an assist on the play. What really matters, however, is that he got the puck on net. He played well on the PP all game as I noticed quite a few great point-shots. He played a defensively responsible game, but most importantly drew the penalty that put us on our game-winning PP. Komi was weak tonight with multiple over-commitments, there to clean up the mess, as usual, was Andrei.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
I felt that Jaro deserved the start after Price's string of poor performances and that notion was confirmed as I watched Carey play today. He was no better than he has been since he came back, in fact he was a goal-post away from blowing yet another one for us. His play with the puck out of the net led to 4 give-aways, and another poor pass to a woozy Gorges ended up being their 3rd goal. Tomorrow I think Halak has to start, we have to show Price that his play is unacceptable and we have to see if there is a better alternative - I believe that there is.



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

Stupid penalties come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes we are the culprits, but tonight, for a change we caught a break. Kyle Calder, a career brutal-player, took a cross-checking penalty with 5 minutes to go, but we failed to capitalize. Being the genius that he is Calder decided to take another cross-checking penalty, this time there were 30 seconds left, we had just tied the game and this was 200' from his own net. He complained, there was yelling and obviously there was a feeling amongst the Kings players that the refs had blown the call, but I am glad, that despite all of that the refs stood their ground. Stupid and dangerous plays should be penalized, no matter what time of game it is. If a team is playing cleaner (us) than the other then they should have an advantage. For once the refs were able to get that aspect right and put the appropriate Kings in the box. Stupid plays and stupid players cost the Kings a point, and bagged us 2. This should be a lesson to our penalty-takers - stay out of the box, don't assume you'll get away with everything, because eventually it will cost the whole team in a big way.


Overall Comments

Once again we started the game well, but once again we let in an early goal. A stupid penalty by Lang (after a brutal missed-call by the refs) gave LA a chance to work with the extra man. It looked like, at that point, that it was the same story in a different building. The Habs, however, refused to roll over and die, like they had done for 4 games in a row now. Instead they kept playing hard and one could sense something was happening. 20 minutes later we were in the lead and things were looking good. Then there was a slight shift in momentum, coupled with a few weak plays and all of a sudden we were down again. It was a familiar sight as the Habs went into the last 5 minutes of the game in need of a goal. That goal happened to come from a player who was waiting for a big moment to arrive - Chris Higgins. The goal brought the Bell Centre to life and pretty much assured us of our first point in 2 weeks. A bad penalty by LA opened the door for us which turned out to be quite timely as the Kings were coming very close to scoring another one on us. With our 5 best players on the ice (Koivu, Kovalev, Kostitsyn, Lang and Markov) we found a way to get the puck in. Koivu got credit, but the whole unit did very well to get the puck to the right spot. This game, however, may not be remembered for the win as much as for the dirty, dirty hit that Gauhtier laid on Gorges. It was another clear example of a player who has no place whatsoever in this league doing something incredibly stupid. I for one would say enough is enough in his case. He has never brought anything positive to our game, so why oh why is he even in the league? How many more people does he have to hurt before the league realizes this?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Right On Cue

Pundit Panic Button Pressed

They lost. They panicked:

Is it time to panic yet? (Arpon Basu):
Um, yeah, I would say so.

About last night... (Mike Boone)
I hate to sound like an alarmist, but YOUR MONTREAL CANADIENS ARE IN TROUBLE!

They are six points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference – and eight points out of 10th.

Predictable as a Brisebois' zone clearance strategies.

Had they read yesterday's post: Streak Three; then the illuminated ones would know that steaks happen. Streaks are good and streaks have to be endured.

All this blowing up the roster BS is nonsense. Pittsburgh didn't blow up the roster, and mark my words, they will be in the playoffs – despite that nasty losing spell of theirs over the holidays. The Habs have solutions at their fingertips, and are just waiting for their timing to get them streaking the other way again.


Bandwagon

I have been tracking the website traffic for more than 2 years now and I have been compiling a fairly good study on the bandwagon. It's better data this year with more readers.

I can tell you fairly definitively that about half as many people are reading this site now compared to the heady days of our past winning streak. Of course, the hysteria of the playoffs (first round) is still the pinnacle of game review viewing).

If you are reading this post, on a day after the fourth loss in a row, you can rest assure you are a getting dangerously close to the core of Habs fandom.

Sorry I don't have it today, my correlational study on bandwagon traffic is in the statistical gears for the moment...


Benoit Brunet

It's not all optimist from me. I'm annoyed too. If Benoit Brunet claims one more time that what the Habs must do to erase a 2-goal deficit and vast margin in play:

"N'est pas complique"

I think i will explode. It is complicated Ben. The other teams have plans to beat us and we are getting foiled by them. Someone will work them out, but it won't be a matter of dumping the puck in.

That my friend is just about the single easiest play to defend.


It's complicated, but it ain't dire.

In the illustrious words of The Hitchiker's Guide: DON'T PANIC

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Game #48

New City, Same Effort; Habs Blown Away Again

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Thursday January 29th, 2009
Opponent: Florida Panthers
Venue: BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL

Team Stripes

Final Score: 1-5 - Loss

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

Habs goalscorers: Robert Lang
Opposition goalscorers: Jay Bouwmeeter, Stephen Weiss, Richard Zednik, Radek Dvorak, Michael Frolik


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

Wow, now this is hard. Choosing a play of the game is actually proving harder than it was to watch the entire game. I suppose I will focus on our only good play of the game - our goal. It took place on a one-man PP, right after we had blown our chance on a 5-on-3. Kovalev, at the right point fed Koivu down low, Saku tried to come around, with his left-hand shot, and take a shot. The puck came out into the slot where Robert Lang had planted himself. Lang quickly put the puck up past Vokoun who had no real chance on the play.


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

Roman Hamrlik
OK, so you didn't notice him either? Well that, to me, makes him the ideal recipient of the Game Puck. He wasn't on the ice for any goal-against, didn't make any visible mistakes and led the team in blocked-shots (2) and led our defence with 3 shots.


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

Steve Begin
Steve played with a lot of energy tonight. He shot from everywhere - rarely, however, were his shots threatening - and actually applied pressure in the offensive zone. His attitude should be an example for those players on the team that possess the skill that a guy like Begin longs for.

Christopher Higgins
Like Steve Chris played with energy and also like him, he lacked the hands. Higgins definitely has the brain of a goal-scorer and of a chance-creator, but I have never seen someone miss so many good chances. He took 7 shots tonight, which led the team, and actually got things going around the net. Had he converted on just one or two of those he could have won the game puck and could have possibly had more of an affect on the game.

Tomas Plekanec
Every time we take Tom away from Kovy he seems to play well. Then, like the genius he is, Carbo rewards Pleks for his improved play with a promotion back to Kovalev's line. I thought that he was our most dynamic centre as he wasn't purely thinking linearly in this one. I thought he did quite well on the 4th line and he, after Lang, was our second best in the face-off circle.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
Carbo put Hammer back with Brisebois tonight - a move I don't quite understand. I am guessing that he will play with Brisebois, O'Byrne and possibly anyone else who may come along from now until season's end. This may be due to the fact that Gorges hasn't been playing that well of late, maybe because Roman himself hasn't either. What I do know is that we need Roman to be our second best defender from here on in - tonight was a step in the right direction.

Andrei Markov
Don't let Komisarek's horrendous play tonight fool you as Markov didn't really have that bad of a game. He wasn't too noticeable offensively, apart from being on the ice for the duration of our only PP and contributing to our goal. He played solidly, but unfortunately that was it, he was nothing more than average tonight.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
It seemed that Carey wasn't as cocky tonight, but he was equally as bad. Another 5-goal against effort leaves me wondering if goaltending, once again, is our biggest weakness. Some of the goals weren't his fault, but on a couple of them I felt that his lack of awareness and fight, to find the puck, cost us. Halak must get a start this weekend, if not for the team's sake, then please for Price's.



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

Tonight Florida didn't give us much room to operate and I think that was the main reason we couldn't generate much up front. This is now the second time in three games (New Jersey) that we have been smothered by a solid defensive team. Yes, I am equally surprised to be saying that about Florida. I think this is a problem that skeptics associate with the Habs - great in wide-open games, but unable to fight through traffic (playoff/Canada style) to score. I know players like Kovalev, Kostitsyn and Koivu all can excel in this type of game, but I really think we need to see that soon, before it is too late. With the East as tight as it is now we'd better get used to playing games of this nature as it may be playoff-type hockey from now till the end.


Overall Comments

We started the game well enough, but once we got into penalty trouble we were never able to regain our early momentum. It doesn't take much to crack a non-confident team, and that is precisely what Florida did as they went up by 2. Unfortunately for us the refs didn't return the favour as we had many PP opportunities that simply weren't called. Add that to the fact that we weren't willing to fight very hard at even-strength and you'll see why we never really stood a chance in this one. Our defence and goaltending were suspect to say the least, but I am making no excuses for our forwards either. We need to start scoring, but more importantly getting some leads. Enough is enough with this trailing/giving-up style of play. We have an opportunity with two home-afternoon games this weekend and I think two W's would make me forget the past 4 games very fast. LA at home should be a win (and now is a must-win), so I think our big one is that game on Sunday against Boston. It would be huge for our spirits to get one over the Bruins and I think it could be the kick-start we need as we head into the last 2 months.

Streak Three

Confused Fans Need To Remember The Aim

streak

noun 1 a long, thin mark of a different substance or colour from its surroundings. 2 an element of a specified kind in someone’s character: a ruthless streak. 3 a spell of specified success or luck: a winning streak.

verb 1 mark with streaks. 2 move very fast in a specified direction. 3 informal run naked in a public place so as to shock or amuse.

— DERIVATIVES streaker noun streaking noun.

— ORIGIN Old English, related to STRIKE.



The Canadiens are on a losing streak. It is worth remembering the definition from above.

It's a funny thing that in the past few years, I have come to associate Canadiens winning or losing with the word streaky.

In other parts of the world, there are many types of bacon. Back bacon is the most commonly sold and consumed. But you can also get streaky bacon. Streaky bacon is what we might call bacon in Canada. In fact, if you buy Canadian bacon, it is invariably the streaky kind. So allowing for the spelling variation of our French cousins (Canadien), even in the world of charcuterie, the Canadiens are synonymous with streakiness.

The Habs have fulfilled this affiliation recently (since the lockout really) with their play. There's no regular win-loss-win-loss-win. We can't depend on them beating any team no mater how lowly, nor can we depend on them losing to any team no matter how lofty.

But you know what? We aren't alone.

Remember those Flyers last year – the ones that looked contenders as they mauled us in round 2? They lost 10 games in a row midseason last year. Washington, though people hailed Boudreau as the greatest thing since sliced bread, streaked their way into the playoffs too; this year they are topping us thanks to a mssive streak. Buffalo, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Carolina, all our peers are as streaky as the rest.


Fans

As fans streaks are hard to take. Win or lose. But they are certainly integral to the experience. Streaks are what allow us to dream, to grumble, to hope, to despair.

The emotional ride is what watching and caring for the adopted team is all about. If I think about my mood after a loss, I can say it is as sour as my temperament after a win is bubbly. Streaks are borne as a fan, because the reward of the next win will be greater. Cup droughts can heighten the taste for that champagne once again.

One Canuck fan I read about today (at Dennis Kane's blog) has had enough with streaks. He has given up on the Canucks.

Now, far be it from me to criticise a man who is choosing to spend more time with his wife or child. I think it is a great call on his part.

But is being a fan all or nothing? Is there no option for weekends only? Highlights during the season, whole games in the playoffs? Watching when you feel like it?


The aim

I used to get tied up in every win and loss, just like that poor renounced Canuck fan. Every losing streak was painful to endure. But after years of watching the Habs rollercoaster and, more importantly, watching our rivals make finals and win Cups; I decided that we may be getting carried away with the wrong thing. I think I found a way to proof myself against streakitis.

My immunity: solidifying the expectations for the team into points they need to make the playoffs (in the case of this year – with a few games to spare), has shown the streaks for what they really are: spells of specified success, insufficiency or (of course) luck.

A loss is just a goal against in the game of the season, where a tie spread over all rivals is enough to get another period of hockey (particularly if you can lose in OT a lot). A 10 point lead in December is no safer than a 3-1 lead coming into the second intermission – 5 points clawed back and it's a jittery closing session.

Now when the Canadiens lose three in a row, I update my points left in the 98-o-meter and do a quick calculation. I revise the date and leave the phrase: Ahead of the pace in place. Even when it's not ahead of the pace, I can look at that pace, and as long as it's around 1.1 to 1.3; I'm breathing fine.

It's worth remembering these goals every once in a while too. We want a Stanley Cup not a President's trophy (enjoy that Sharks). We want wins, not Plekanec goals. We want to play our best hockey in May, not January.

Wisdom, as they say, comes from the mouths of babes (courtesy of the best Habs interview in an age – a coup considering the 100 some-odd scrum was scooped by a blog on this one):
"Interviewer: It's the centennial season for the Canadiens, and the team finished first in the conference last season. How do you handle the expectations from fans and media that your team should win the Stanley Cup this season?

Sergei K: Our main goal is to make the playoffs. And once we get there, everyone will try and play their best game..."


Timing

The Canadiens are currently in 5th place in the Eastern conference. As I mentioned, they are ahead of the 98-point pace. In fact, they're ahead of last year's pace. There's no need to panic, no need to do what Richard formerly a 7th man for the Canucks (number retired and all) and jump – his team is tied 7th, btw.

Streaks in the regular season, by and large reflect the general expenditure of energy and the turn of luck of a given period. If luck is what you make, then it all comes down to energy. (So you know I'm not getting a 22 on my jersey, by effort, I mean directed skill as a team – players making extra effort to control passes, protect possesion, create space, etc.).

A study of two consecutive seasons watching the Senators showed me that when you're expending more effort to get wins (and thus streak) is much more important than how much you streaked over a season (i.e., 105 points > 113 points, if done right):

- In 2005-06, the Sens got off to their usual blistering start with a 19-3-0 record going into December. They finished the year top of the division on the back of that achievement. A look at how they got their 52 wins shows that their streaks were ill-timed – 13 wins by Game 15; 26 wins by Game 35 (20 games); 39 wins by Game 58 (23 games); and 52 wins by Game 82 (24 games)

– 2006-07 (the year they made the finals), they seemed to have learned something. The only accumulated 48 wins, but they were more constant instead of slipping each quarter – 12 wins by Game 25; 24 wins by Game 45 (20 games); 36 wins by Game 62 (17 games); and 48 wins by Game 82 (20 games)

Consequently, Daniel Alfredsson, the man who would have won the Conn Smythe trophy, scored 87 points in 2006-07 compared to 103 the year before.


The relevance here to the Canadiens is the pacing. Last season, the Canadiens came into Game 68 with 36 wins. 15 games later, they had 47. It was admirable they gave their all to win the division, clinch home ice and beat the Penguins, but ultimately, their timed outburst of energy fooled none of those who'd been focusing on how the playoffs would go, rather than how the standings would look.

Carey Price blamed fatigue for his form. He was tired because he was used in all those nerve-wracking late season wins. He was tired because he had never played on a team that had so many meaningful games in a row. Kovalev burned energy in those last months too, as did Plekanec and Komisarek. It was rookie errors from a team that had no idea what winning in the regular season should feel like, much less what winning in the playoffs was all about.

This season, like the Senators of Cup year, the Habs have behaved like a team heading for 48 or so wins the whole way. They have put the experience of being good into confidently carrying themselves as a good (if not surprising) team: 12th win in Game 21 (one quarter mark); 24th win by 40th game (half-way mark).

Their lack of urgency is nothing to be alarmed with. Their lack of urgency is something to hope they can maintain as they clinch points and a berth.


On that note, let's not do a Richard the 7th and get all in a huff over 3 losses, 4 losses, whatever. Nor get over the moon like a fair-weather Bruins fan basking in Tim Thomas' string of wins. As we turn on the televisions for another game in Florida, banish the words "must-win", "costly defeat" and all the others and remember the game:

98 points, 4 wins, 4 wins, 4 wins, 4 wins...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Game #47

Price Takes His Young-Stars Effort to Florida

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Tuesday January 27th, 2009
Opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning
Venue: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, FL

Team Stripes

Final Score: 3-5 - Loss

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

Habs goalscorers: Maxim Lapierre, Alexei Kovalev, Guillaume Latendresse
Opposition goalscorers: Ryan Malone, Vincent Lecavalier, Vaclav Prospal, Steve Downie, Martin St. Louis



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

It was a play we saw at the All-Star game this week-end, a play that involved great passes, 3 Habs and one not so solid All-Star (who chose this to be his moment of the game). The Habs were shorthanded when Higgins, Komisarek and Lang went in on a 3-on-1. This was all thanks to a great clearance by none other than Markov - the real All-Star on the ice. Higgins, skating up the left wing, dropped it into the middle to Komi who then returned the puck to Chris. Higgs then sent the puck cross-slot to Lang who had a sharp angle to work with. Rob did his best, but he was almost past the goal-line and in the end his shot was stopped by Smith anyway. It looked good on TV, but would have looked even better had it gone in.



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

Andrei Markov
I thought that our two best players were Markov and Kovy, thus their All-Star appearances must have helped. Not so fast - Komi and Price were two of our worst tonight which throws that theory away pretty fast. So, I think Andrei was strong tonight, but I think the reason is, simply put, he is Andrei. He stood out in this game as there weren't too many of our players playing at an NHL-level.



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

Guillaume Latendresse
He scored a goal, but more importantly, he never gave up. He only played for 10 minutes, but I felt he used his time to make an impact on the game. His line created chances and were exciting to watch. His goal was a pretty bad goal in that it was shot off a defender's skate, but a goal is a goal. The key is he is getting to the right spot and getting a fair number of quality chances on net.

Alexei Kovalev
Kovy looked good tonight, in fact he played better than he did on Sunday. Tonight the defence and goalie were trying, so it was a little harder, but luckily Alex stepped up. He led the team with 7 shots, played almost 20 minutes and scored a goal to give us our only lead of the night.

Maxim Lapierre
Mr. Energy played well tonight as it looked like he couldn't wait to get back on the ice after nearly a week off. He scored a goal and was the main reason Guillaume's found the back on the net. He took 5 shots, played as much as Saku (16 minutes) and was 56% in the face-off circle.

Defencemen

Ryan O'Byrne
Ryan obviously benefited from 6 weeks in Hamilton as the player I saw tonight was the one that Gainey signed last summer. He played with confidence, didn't try anything too risky, but at the same time he had control. He knew when to hit and when not too, there were no hooks or holds due to poor positioning and best of all he moved the puck. I hope this was just a preview of what's to come. From what I read he did well in Steeltown, so let's see it on the Habs now Ryan.

Andrei Markov
Andrei extended his point-streak to nine games tonight as he collected his 38th point. This weekend was a chance to see some of the best Habs defencemen from the past few years (Souray, Streit and Robidas), but it was Andrei that really stood out amongst not just that group, but amongst all 12 All-Stars. He can move the puck like none other present and is far and away the best defender of the group. I am glad Bob picked him from that group as I believe he will be our best players for many years to come.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
What is worse than seeing Carey's 'I couldn't care a less' attitude at the Young-Stars game? It most certainly must be seeing it in a regular season game. All night I was very disappointed by the way he played. At times he acted too cool to try and then there was the showing off with his long passes, which more often than not became give-aways. It wasn't the 5 goals, again, and the fact he didn't give us a chance to win, again, but it was the way he acted when he left his net. There was never any urgency or desperation, no, all I could sense was cockiness. I just hope that all the fans who voted for him will remember how he got such a big head.



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 love the work that Lapierre is doing. Let's face it, we haven't had a 4th line player like this in years. He can score, he can hit, he can agitate and he can bring energy. Tonight, however, there was one thing that he didn't do very well, in fact he did it very badly. It was during the PK that Max held the puck in the zone for a long time as the seconds ticked on by. Finally 3 Lightning players were able to get the puck from him and off went St. Louis around his own net and up the ice. Lapierre gave a half-assed effort of catching him before going off on a line-change. That poorly timed change gave Martin the space he needed to get the puck to Vinny and the rest (at least the game) was history. Penalty-Killing is about staying behind the puck and most importantly behind the opposition. Lapierre chased the wrong way, but worst of all he gave up. He had put in such a great effort to kill time that it was a shame to see such a lack of it 5 seconds later. Bad penalty-killing leads to confusion and more often than not that will lead to a goal.


Overall Comments

The Habs started very well in this game, 20 of their 34 shots came in the first period. Some missed opportunities and a few bad plays by our defence and Price, however, turned the momentum fast. The 2nd and 3rd periods belonged to Tampa as it seemed like the chances and goals just kept coming. Our team did not look comfortable at all in front of a goalie who has a lot of work to do to prove to me he is a legitimate All-Star. It was like we were happy with our first period effort and our 1-goal lead. Happy enough, it seemed, to stop attacking and, in some instances, stop trying. That makes 3 losses in a row now, all in regulation. I think we need to start winning in bunches soon as the East will be very tight come March, and I for one do not want to be battling for that 8th spot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Montreal v Tampa

Real Hockey Is Back

Real competitive hockey. How we missed thee, let me count the ways...


Here are 5 things we'll be glad to see on the ice again (and at home) tonight:

1) Backchecking
2) Saku Koivu and Andrei Kostitsyn
3) Carey Price's focus and concentration (we hope)
4) Points awarded
5) Cheering against Bruins, Leafs and Flyers

5 things I can admit I'll miss about all-star vs. regular season hockey:

1) Kovalev playing with an all-star left winger (sorry, rookie...)
2) Supporting Malkin and Ovechkin's team
3) Regular three-player passing plays
4) Lack of Red Wings
5) An alternative to Benoit Brunet when I tire

Finally, 5 things we hope will be packed up and stowed in a deep dark corner of the Bell Centre:

1) Boston rookies scoring at will on our goalie
2) Other rookies scoring at will on our goalie
3) Offensive pinches from stone hands Komisarek
4) Ovations for opposition players
5) Claude Julien behind our bench


Tampa tonight should be a real challenge. The all-star break is like a reset button for all teams in the league and Tampa might decide they are the Lightning again and not the "Dolts". Montreal players on the other hand have a huge task distinguishing holiday in Florida from near-holiday in Florida.

Good game.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Ideas Please!

Even A Good All-Star Weekend Has Me Longing For A Meaningful Game

Even though the weekend ended as well as anyone could have hoped for from a Montreal standpoint, the headlines of the morning after are certainly touching on overkill:
Unforgettable (NHL.com)

I went into the weekend with hope, honestly. 4 Canadiens. In Montreal. There's something to work with here. But hope deflates as quickly as an 18-minute farce they call the Young Stars game. My enthusiasm for the skills competition quickly deflated to the level clearly being shown by those players being interviewed (I won't even mention the interviewers).

It's a shame, because with all the talent there – there must surely be a way to entertain a crowd and television audience who only turn up or tune in because they truly love the sport already.

All this got me to thinking. As usual, I feel that it is silly to criticise if one doesn't have anything better to suggest. So, I wanted to share with you some of my ideas. And I know you must surely have ideas of your own, imaginative and articulate as you all are...


Skills competition
The skills competition for me could be summed up by one quote (from memory):
JB: "Andrew how do you feel to be the fastest man in the NHL?"
AC: "Um, I don't think I am really. We had this competition in Edmonton and I lost..."

Andrew Cogliano was not an all-star (merely a second year Young Star – the losing type) and he was not even the fastest Oiler (apparently). So, what I gather from this is that he was the fastest guy from among the 6 who competed. nothing more, nothing less.


Isn't it obvious to the NHL? What is stopping them from actually inviting the fastest from the teams around the league? What is stopping them from inviting the people who actually have the hardest shots?

Each and every team could (if they don't already) hold their own skills competition. the results could be compiled across the league and the top 8-12 players could be gathered for a race, shot competition, whatever.

It would certainly add some cachet to the event – we'd actually be seeing the fastest players, hardest shots, etc. The winner would be the champion in that skill. It would give players who aren't all-stars a chance to show that they are stars in their given skill (Plekanec could take Cogliano, I think...) and make the event a real competition.


If I think of the only exciting event at any all-star competition, it would be the home run derby from baseball's midsummer classic. It combines the show case of a skill, with the suspense of the home run (something that is still hard to achieve). The NHL's equivalent (accuracy shooting) pales in comparison. There's no drama anymore since Ray Bourque sucked it all out.

But do you remember that Wayne Gretzky McDonald's ad? The one where he was betting Mats Sundin? That ad has some good ideas in it. Several shots could be taken from different places around the ice (including from the defensive zone a la McD ad). 20 opportunities to score as many goals as possible. It could be the NHL's own home run competition. The drama would come from the difficulty (obstacles?) and the players who battle to overcome that.




Young stars game
This part of the weekend is the most ridiculously boring of all. Even the NHL knows this, as they sandwich in between the skills competition in hope of having people watch – and keep the only truly exciting competition (hardest shot) until after this farce is run out.

It would be so easy to make this game better. For the sake of argument, I'll retain the Young Stars game. But instead of pitting rookies against second year players who couldn't care less, I suggest having the best young NHLers play the best non-NHL youngsters.

From a practical point of view, perhaps it could be the AHL All-stars (or stars under 25). Perhaps it could be the best from that Don Cherry/Bobby Orr game.

Pitting these two groups would hopefully make the bragging rights on reward worth winning. Both sides would be out with something to prove. Imagine – some of the non-NHLers could even win a job out of this.


All-star game
If you listen to the game's biggest critics, they will tell you that the reason the game is boring is because it doesn't have hitting, fighting or, by and large, defending. They often miss the most important lack – the reason to care.

Think in terms of Montreal fans alone:

- In the regular season, there's hardly a moment of quiet
- In the playoffs, fans go home hoarse and not having spoken/heard a word to their friends on either side

- Last night, in Montreal, I could hear the players talking... (it was louder than last year in Atlanta, but not louder than a Tuesday in November vs. last place Atlanta)

The fans don't care as much because it makes no difference who wins. The players don't care either and it shows.

The solution here (I think) harks back to the past. The all-star team should play an NHL team. Obviously the ideal would be the Stanley Cup Champions, but it could also just be the host team. But there's a twist.

The host (or SC Champs) can make an all-star team of their own – using any player from the league (or still able to play) that has ever worn that team's sweater – ever (draft, game, practice, three-way trade).

Think about that. The Habs as hosts suit up this team:

Kostitsyn Plekanec Kovalev
Petrov Koivu Recchi
Higgins Ribeiro Ryder
Lemieux Tucker Keane

Markov Schneider
Streit Hamrlik
Souray Chelios

Price
Huet
Vokoun

Teams with GMs a little more active than Gainey (wouldn't be difficult) would have even more choice. In Boston, you'd have Thornton back, Ottawa gets Hossa, Chara and Havlat. It could be interesting.


Not only would it give a chance to reconcile with players (Ribeiro, Ryder, Streit). It would make the game Montreal vs. players that would rather not have Montreal win. Irreconcilable differences (Grabovski), well those guys just wouldn't be invited...

To add to the stakes, I'd suggest a wager (paid by the losers – own cash) to a worthy charity (Chosen by the winners). $100,000 at least to make a dent and an impression. There could be a Cup too (why not?).

Finally, I'd move the game to the week after the Stanley Cup finals (which would be earlier without this current break).


Now we have a weekend to get a bit excited about... Whaddya think?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Canadiens All-Star History

I know you're all a little all-starred out by now. I was going to write a post, but I'll save it for tomorrow or another day.

Instead, if you haven't already check out the short film the excellent Canadiens history website has on the all-star game – it will enlighten you on some of the history of this whole game, no doubt; as it did me.

Enjoy the exhibition!

Go Habs Go.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Habs Superskills

Not An Impressive Bunch Over The Years

The NHL Skills (or Superskills as it is now known) has not been kind to Montreal Canadiens players over the years. With Kovalev, Komisarek, Markov and Price in play is that about to change?



Breakaway Challenge
The premier event with Ovechkin in it. He is pitted against Alexei Kovalev and some other dudes who should have fun watching (Getzlaf, Kane and Crosby's replacement).

Historical winners
2008 Alexander Ovechkin and no one else, after he swung and missed at a puck lasts season.

Hardest shot
An event with some historical pedigree, this is the 100m of the skills competition. The NHL is billing Souray vs. Chara (both previous winners. But Mike Komisarek (entered) could have a shout so long as someone tells him to aim 15 feet to the right of the net. Habs heartthrobs Lecavalier and Streit (who we know shoots straighter than Komi), as well as Shea Weber are also in this one.

Historical winners
2008 Zdeno Chara 103.1 mph
2007 Zdeno Chara 100.4 mph
2004 Sheldon Souray/Adrian Aucoin 102.2 mph
2003 Al MacInnis 98.9 mph
2002 Sergei Fedorov 101.5 mph
2001 Fredrik Modin 102.1 mph
2000 Al MacInnis 100.1 mph
1999 Al MacInnis 98.5 mph
1998 Al MacInnis 100.4 mph
1997 Al MacInnis 98.9 mph
1996 Dave Manson 98.0 mph
1994 Al Iafrate 102.7 mph
1993 Al Iafrate 105.2 mph
1992 Al MacInnis 93.0 mph
1991 Al MacInnis 94.0 mph
1990 Al Iafrate 96.0 mph

Fastest skater
Jeff Carter, Zach Parise, Brian Campbell and Jay Bouwmeester compete here. I think Carey Price could do well trying to get away from these four who score against him a t will sometimes...

Historical winners
2008 Shawn Horcoff (elimination races)
2007 Andy McDonald 14.03 seconds
2004 Scott Niedermayer 13.783 seconds
2003 Marian Gaborik 13.713 seconds
2002 Sami Kapanen 14.039 seconds
2001 Bill Guerin 13.690 seconds
2000 Sami Kapanen 13.649 seconds
1999 Peter Bondra 14.640 seconds
1998 Scott Niedermayer 13.560 seconds
1997 Peter Bondra 13.610 seconds
1996 Mike Gartner 13.386 seconds
1994 Sergei Fedorov 13.525 seconds
1993 Mike Gartner 13.510 seconds
1992 Sergei Fedorov 14.363 seconds

Shooting Accuracy
Here we have defending champ Tomas Kaberle facing those who don't have other events: Jonathan Toews, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, Marc Savard, Mike Modano and Evgeni Malkin. Conspicuous in his absence is Andrei Markov - I guess they didn't want the fans at the event to get too excited and interested in goings on...

Historical winners
2008 Tomas Kaberle 8 hits, 9 shots (new format)
2007 Marian Hossa, Eric Staal 4 hits, 5 shots
2004 Jeremy Roenick 4 hits, 4 shots
2003 Jeremy Roenick 4 hits, 6 shots
2002 Jarome Iginla, Markus Naslund 4 hits, 6 shots
2001 Ray Bourque 4 hits, 6 shots
2000 Ray Bourque, Viktor Kozlov 4 hits, 5 shots
1999 Ray Bourque, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk 4 hits, 6 shots
1998 Ray Bourque, Peter Forsberg, Brendan Shanahan 4 hits, 6 shots
1997 Ray Bourque 4 hits, 7 shots
1996 Mark Messier 4 hits, 4 shots
1994 Brendan Shanahan 4 hits, 5 shots
1993 Ray Bourque 4 hits, 4 shots
1992 Ray Bourque 4 hits, 4 shots
1991 Mark Messier 4 hits, 6 shots
1990 Ray Bourque 4 hits, 7 shots


The now defunct puck control relay (where an individual showdown was held) was one other event a Hab had won, with Pierre Turgeon taking it in 1996. Other winners mostly included Paul Kariya.

Of course, Patrick Roy won the goalie standings a couple of times with the Habs too. but somehow tying with Vanbiesbrouck for 12 of 16 saves, doesn't seem superskillish to me. Compound that with Roy's most GAA in the all-star game and it's not something I'm blowing the horn about.


Records to fall
Some records cannot fall, such as most wins at hardest shot (MacInnis - 7) and shooting accuracy (Bourque - 8) for some time. But the absolute records could:

The hardest shot ever, for example: 105.2 mph (Al Iafrate)
The fastest lap: 13.386 (Mike Gartner)

Or most goals scored by the winner of the Breakaway challenge: 0 (Alexander Ovechkin)


Have fun, and root for those Habs. there's years of futility to be set straight, and who knows if they'll let us vote the whole team in again...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Koivu Can't Buy A Winger

Even TSN All-Time Habs Effort Begrudges Him A Scorer

It must be a great honour to make TSN's all-time Habs team. Kind of like making this year's all-star starting lineup.

You start to feel really proud of yourself and your career and then you look over and see Mike Komisarek beside you. It doesn't bear reason.


If you want to look at the piece (which is sure to generate more traffic for their website than had they done a serious attempt) click here. The pathetic reasoning for their choices is here. Their choices here are akin to responding Farhan Lalji when asked who the best hockey media person of all time would be – short on work, long on ignorance.

They threw all their effort into being able to write this (to hook people in):
"What, no Guy Lafleur?"

"Where's Patrick Roy?"


TSN staff watch too much Toronto hockey

Two top right wingers – impossible. 6 defencemen that can play with the puck – never been seen. A second goalie who can step in and win some games when the other gets injured – why bother?


Even their attempts to choose reliable, unspectacular players are silly. Top of that list is Mike Komisarek who can't hold a candle to Eric Desjardins, let alone Tom Johnson or Emile Bouchard. And adding the late John Ferguson would have been fine on the fourth line, but line 2. We know you liked his son, but come on – where's Aurel Joliat.


Koivu gets honoured then stiffed


It's a stretch to put Saku Koivu in as the number two centre of all time for the Habs, especially with Morenz and Lach not even scoring a place at all. But then to give him Ferguson on the left and Rousseau on the right is nothing more than a reminder of his last 8 years on the team – toiling with what he's given.

Had a Hab fan made the team (and kept Koivu), we would have at the very least endowed him with Toe Blake and Bernie Geoffrion, if not Lafleur and Joliat.


Third and fourth lines to shut down their better-thought out all time Leafs

Since when does an all-time team need 2 lines to kill time and penalties. Most decent GMs in the league now know that this strategy is for incompetents who haven't bothered to stock their minor league system for the past 9 drafts (hence, Toronto's initial instinct). I'm scrapping the "energy" line and putting in forwards that played with energy and skill (believe it or not, it's possible). Put Lemaire in there with Riseborough and Lambert for all I care, at least we'd be using some of the assets TSN left on the bench.


All purpose D for me

No disrespect to Mike Komisarek, but he isn't even one of the top three D on the team now. In fact, in domes at LIW he's still in 5th (even without injury, he's been far worse than the top three). I understand that the staff have to watch their own channel and thus only see what passes for hockey in Toronto. But one must cast an eye beyond blocked shots and hits – especially when those actions haven't been helping the team with defending the net by and large.

The Canadiens haven't been as well endowed with defencemen as forwards but I'd still put together this group and pick the pairings later:

Harvey, Robinson, Savard, Bouchard, Chelios and Johnson


If you want a better idea of the top team, have a look at this from a while back.


I rarely read TSN. It takes something really extraordinary for me to bother commenting on something those guys say. So I guess their mission is accomplished. I'll be watching this story with intent, but after that? Maybe a hiatus from their general shoddiness?

Even so, their tactics are interesting – I think I'll talk to Tobalev at getting Racine, Dirk, Traverse and Laflamme back in the figuring for our top 100...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Welcome Home Pat

Pat LaFontaine will be coming to Montreal this weekend, not only to watch the all-star game, but also to open a Lion's Den at St. Justine hospital in league with the NHL (according to NHL.com):
On Friday, the NHL and NHLPA will partner with LaFontaine's foundation to establish the All-Star legacy 'Lion's Den' at Sainte-Justine's Hospital in Montreal -- the first Lion's Den unveiled in Canada. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, which will include LaFontaine, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly and a few NHL All-Stars, will take place at 9 a.m. ET.

A Lion's Den is a a sort of themed playroom for children who are in the hospital can go to enjoy themselves:
The All-Star legacy playroom at Sainte-Justine's will be an interactive game room utilizing innovative communications tools, including multiple Xbox 360 consoles and games, flat panel televisions connected to Windows Media Servers and video conference pods that connect patients with family and friends.

Obviously, we approve of the name. But we are also very supportive of ideas like these. Innovative ideas that make children's lives brighter through hockey - this is great work from the former Verdun junior.


Canadiens projects

Earlier this week, there was another feel good story for the community as part of the Canadiens 100 year celebrations. In my opinion, it is one of the very best things to come out of the centenary: statue, sweater, plaza or otherwise.


The headline earlier in the week was clever, and I wish I remembered it, but it spoke of the Canadiens doing something for healthy children as well as those in hospital. They did this by opening a multi-purpose rink in a Montreal neighbourhood. I tell you, I wish I was a kid growing up next to this (Mike Boone really thinks so too):
The artificial ice rink has been built according to NHL standards and dimensions (200 feet by 85 feet), with red and blue lines, just like the pros use. The Parc François-Perrault rink offers the flexibility necessary to accommodate the practice of other seasonal sports activities. The skating season will last from mid-November until the end of March, while various types of ball games, such as basketball or soccer, and other sports will take over for the spring, summer and fall months.

A good week then for the kids in Montreal. Oh and then there's the all-star game...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Game #46

Koivu Returns to Find a Team Already on Vacation

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Wednesday January 21st, 2009
Opponent: New Jersey Devils
Venue: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ

Team Stripes

Final Score: 2-5 - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Scott Clemmensen (W)

Habs goalscorers: Josh Gorges, Matt D'Agostini
Opposition goalscorers: Paul Martin, Travis Zajac, David Johnny Oduya, Zach Parise, Patrik Elias



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

This play didn't result in a goal, but it was our nicest concoction of the night. It was a 2-on-2 with Pleks and Kovalev being our two players. Tomas had the puck on the right and entered the zone a few feet ahead of Alex. Kovy, at the time of the pass, was behind his defender (further from the net), but somehow managed to get a stick on the puck. The pass was far enough in front of the two battling players that it was really any one's puck. With speed and effort Alex made his touch count with a very well placed re-direction that was unfortunately stopped by Clemmensen.



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

Saku Koivu
It was definitely good to see the captain back tonight and I thought he played a very good game. He was put on the 4th line which meant he was playing with a combined 26 games worth of NHL experience. That of course didn't stop the skipper from picking up where he left off. He played with more energy than anyone else and generated the most chances of any one on the team.



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

Robert Lang
Tonight it was the Kostitsyns' turn to take a night off as Lang was the only one on that line going. It seems as of late that the three players rarely all excel in the same game. Robert played a smart game tonight and did a good job of distributing the puck, even if it didn't often lead to anything. He was our best face-off man as he won 10 of his 12 draws.

Saku Koivu
Koivu managed an assist and 3 shots tonight in what was a very good return considering he missed 17 games. I for one, however, am not surprised that he played well. Why wouldn't he have? Why did people even bother questioning if he still had his place on this winning version of the Habs. He was our best centre tonight and has been our best all year. The only question will be; who does he play with?

Matt D'Agostini
Matt got 2 points tonight. The first was an assist on Gorges' goal. It was in fact a great pass to Koivu who had his rebound come right out to a wide-open Gorges. His second point was a PP goal in which he used a Devil very well to screen the goalie before taking yet another high shot. He seems to know how to beat the goalies of this day and age - shoot high.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
Josh was the only defender that didn't end with a negative rating tonight. His goal was a culmination of what has been solid offensive play of late and I believe that the strong play has given him the confidence to wander into more dangerous positions. Defensively he did the job and was definitely one of only two blue-liners I would want out there tonight in a defensive scenario.

Andrei Markov
Markov picked up another assist on the PP tonight giving him 30 on the season. He was also our best all around defender in this game and was the only one who was able to carry the puck through the Devils with any amount of success. I think the All-Star weekend will do him well, especially since it is at home. In the second half we need him to be as good as he was in the first because right now he is the only defender playing with game-in-game-out consistency.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Is it true that you can't blame the starter, but you can blame the back-up? It is if you are a member of the Montreal media; which thankfully I am not. Price did not look like his old self tonight and he certainly didn't give us a chance to win. Three of the goals were shots that we need a goalie of his amount of hype to stop. 4 goals on 33 shots will not be enough to win the East and will certainly not be enough to go any farther than we did in last year's playoffs. We need Carey to be one of our top 5 players in the second half, we need him to be the Tim Thomas or Mikka Kiprusoff of our squad.



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

2 goals down, 2 minutes to go and we opt for the 6-on-4 PP. I agree here with the pulling of Price - 100%. What I don't agree with, however, is who Carbo used tonight in this situation. Out there were Koivu, Markov, A. Kostitsyn, D'Agostini, Pacioretty and Gorges. The first 3 players are no-brainers, but what is up with the last 3? Where are Kovalev, Lang and Plekanec? I mean are we even aware that we have to score 2 goals? It is a nice sentiment to reward your Gorges' and Pacioretty's, but enough is enough, show a little desperation Carbo. I feel that Guy lacks the confidence to put his precious line combinations aside for 5 minutes and react to the situation at hand. Yes it wasn't a good game for Kovy, but come on, we all know he is the best chance at a goal. It is this lack of imagination that I feel costs us at times. I was actually quite surprised Latendresse and co. weren't out there, but I bet had they had a better game they would have been.

When you have 2 goals to make up you have to score at least one fast. That means you have to get the puck in the zone and apply pressure. When NJ iced the puck and we had possession we came up the ice and went from a 100% possession scenario to a 50/50 (the Gorges dump-in) one. As predicted we came up on the losing side of that battle and the Devils added a goal. Why not have the only player who can actually gain the zone with the puck on his stick on the ice? Why not take that 100% situation and keep it at just that? Carbo may be trying to send messages to some players, but to this fan the message was loud and clear: I am not prepared to look desperate. Desperation, folks, is not a bad thing, admitting it, in fact, is actually a proven method when times call for it.


Overall Comments

Tonight looked a lot like last night. We started the game well, but a weak goal against really slowed us down. You can almost forget coming back in New Jersey - well that is at least what the players thought. You could see on certain faces the feeling that this was a lost cause and the desire to start their 6-day vacation. Most of the team went through the motions for pretty much the whole game, which is quite a concern. The good news is that I don't think this is a tendency of ours. Yes, the past two games were bad, but let's not forget the first 44. We have 60 points in the bank at the All-Star break and even though we had the same amount 2 games ago we should be very happy with what we have done. Let's all take 6 days to take a deep breath, enjoy the festivities and realize what now needs to be done. We still have a lot of work to do, but for a few days let's all try to forget about that and take advantage of what essentially is an all-hockey break.

Game #45

Goaltending the Difference as Atlanta Steals 2 Points

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Tuesday January 20th, 2009
Opponent: Atlanta Thrashers
Venue: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA

Team Stripes

Final Score: 2-4 - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (L), Carey Price
Opposition starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen (W)

Habs goalscorers: Max Pacioretty, Steve Begin
Opposition goalscorers: Erik Christensen, Chris Thorburn, Rich Peverley, Zach Bogosian



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

You could probably call this a turning-point-play rather than a play-of-the game, as I never like seeing anyone get hit. The play was when Boris Valabik (who?) hit Andrei Kostitsyn from behind, sending us to our first of two power-plays. That hit seemed to awaken our team and after that point we were by far the superior team. In fact we scored on that PP and had it not been for an 0-3 deficit at the time of the hit we would have been the ones with the two points.



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

Max Pacioretty
This may seem like an odd selection and in a way it is. You see, the whole team played quite poorly for 25 minutes and again for the last 5, so I only had 30 minutes of play to base this on. I felt that Max was the best all around Hab during those 30 minutes and that he wasn't all that bad during the rest of the game. He played with a certain type of energy which I see as a good sign of our draft-picking style and of the way the players are being taught in Hamilton.



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

Steve Begin
Begin is no fool and he can clearly see the writing on the wall. With Koivu, Higgins and Tanguay all ready to come back he knows that 3 of tonight's forwards will be watching more games than they play. So, he went out and did the only thing he could to save his spot - play well. He was a leader tonight as I often saw him on the bench rallying the troops. He also scored quite a nifty goal on a wayward pass form Brisebois.

Tomas Plekanec
Plekanec got a bit unlucky again tonight as a broken stick and a couple of great saves kept him off the scoresheet. He, however, played through his bad luck and actually played a decent game. He was also great in the face-off circle as he won 75% of his 12 draws.

Max Pacioretty
Here is another case of a player who obviously wants to remain on the big team. This was Max's best game in about the last 4 or 5 as he led the Habs best trio tonight. He took 3 shots and also co-led the team with 2 hits.

Defencemen

Mike Komisarek
Mike, unlike half our defenders, was able to avoid being on the ice for a goal against. Granted those 3 could point fingers at Halak, but they were the ones that allowed the shots. So, Mike is in here more for what he didn't do (he didn't make any mistakes) rather than for what he did. He also, as usual, led the team in hits and blocked-shots.

Andrei Markov
The best of the group again tonight, but not one of his most dominating performances. That being said he still managed a point, to not be on the ice for an Atlanta goal and led the team in minutes. I felt he had an off night keeping the puck in at the point - something that cost us about 3-4 possessions.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I don't know what it is about Carey being 'not quite ready' and sitting on the bench, not in the press-box, that bothers Halak, but there must be something to it. For the second straight time Jaro forced Carey to come on in relief in his first game back from injury. I don't really know what happened to tell you the truth. It seemed like the first 2 goals should have been stopped by Halak - that for me was enough to pull him. I think the goals-against also had an adverse affect on the team as we seemed deflated by the 2-goal deficit. Carey came in to play a mediocre 35 minutes which included some decent saves, an unlucky goal and some very poor play with the puck.



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

Just one little thing I picked up on in this game which I really, really liked. It was actually quite a simple play and I wish that we would see it more often.

Komi had just failed to keep the puck in at the blue-line, but was able to trap it about a foot outside. Most NHLers (including Komisarek) will simply, almost instinctively, shoot that puck right back in. In that scenario one of two things can happen. Either we get called on the off-side and then get a 50/50 chance of re-gaining possession or we simply flee the zone and leave the puck for the opposition. What Mike did, however, was he passed it all the way back to Price. Like a smart play in soccer this increased our chances of maintaining possession from either 0% or 50% to 100% . Price then worked the puck back up and wouldn't you know it everyone was now back on-side and we mounted another rush. This was a very smart play from a player who does indeed have his moments.


Overall Comments

This game is quite simple to re-cap. We started with a few good shifts and looked to be taking control of the game. Then, after 5 minutes of play, Atlanta scored 2 quick goals. The rest of that period and the beginning of the next belonged to them as they actually looked like a decent team. One bad hit from them, however, woke us up and seemed to shatter their frail confidence. We scored 2 quick goals ourselves and seemed prime for a full-scale comeback. We did a very good job to generate chances, but Lehtonen, uncharacteristically, made great save after great save and wasn't lettin' any in. It took one more lucky bounce for Atlanta late in the third to kill any chance we had at what seemed to be a gimme of a comeback. 2 points lost tonight means we need 2 tomorrow night. Maybe with the re-insertion of a few familiar faces we can beat the Brodeur-less Devils in what has always proven to be a hard road match-up for us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sharks Reinstate Claude Lemieux

Wilson: "Thinking How To Mess Up The Season Is Hard"

Thinking of ways to keep people interested while winning streaks drag on is the burden of the San Jose Sharks. Unaccustomed to actually starting well as finishing well, the Sharks have found their minds wandering to keep themselves occupied. Their most recent move cannot be described any other way:


The NHL-leading Sharks recalled the four-time Cup winner Monday from their minor league affiliate in Worcester, Mass. Lemieux practiced in San Jose, and he's likely to play Tuesday night against Vancouver in the Sharks' final game before the All-Star break.


Claude Lemieux should add an interesting piece to an already interesting team – one that already has two elite centres and Jeremy Roenick.

But is there anything beyond an interesting story here? Can Claude Lemieux help this team be better – in the playoffs that is.

One would have to think that was Doug Wilson's actual logic. But can we really attribute logic to a man who invites a 43-year-old, 5.5 years into retirement, to come back and play for his stacked team? Can we really say that Doug Wilson is doing anything other than rolling the dice? After all, he built a team he hopes will win the Cup around Joe Thornton (not to mention Patrick Marleau).

I get the thinking too:

My players = All chokers
Claude Lemieux = Has always found ways to win (even Conn Smythes!)

Despite that, in my humble opinion, Claude Lemieux will not help the Sharks. You can't expect a reclamation project like him to come in and turn a team's stomachs around. Nor could you expect him to fare very well in the new faster NHL. He didn't help Phoenix at the end of his real playing days, did he? His effectiveness was spent more than 9 years ago.

If anything, with Thornton and Roenick already crowding the dressing room; I think he's a personality too far. What's more, some poor youngster who could be learning the ways of winning will now be relegated back down so Claude can exorcise his whim.

I wish Claude all the best, but I'm infinitely glad we didn't sign him. Normally, I'm the first to criticise Bob Gainey for canny manouevres he missed out on. But this is not a canny manoeuvre in my book, and I wholeheartedly disagree with JT's fanciful take on the matter:
If Gainey passed over Lemieux without at least considering making him an offer, I worry the Habs GM is too conservative or unimaginative to give his team a leg up on the other teams scrabbling to be the best...


And, what is it about the late 80s Habs that just won't retire. Chelios, Richer and his repeated attempts at comebacks and now this. If Larry Robinson wants back in, we have a gaping place open for him at 6th defenceman...

Chemistry 101

Old Faces Back Into the Mix

Injuries that happened an age ago are healing. It appears that many of our walking wounded will be back in the lineup in short shrift according to RDS.

That is if they can crack the lineup...


Guy Carbonneau himself said:
J'aurais des craintes si j'étais actuellement un joueur blessé, a affirmé Carbonneau, lundi. Je saurais qu'on peut me remplacer.

I have this to say to Guy: What on earth are you on about?

A lot has been made of the Canadiens success since the fall of Higgins, Koivu and latterly Tanguay. Since all three have been out of the lineup, the Canadiens have really caught fire. The Lapierre axis has thrived with more ice time and the Kostitsyns have enjoyed some statistical boosts with the centreman Robert Lang.

But does anyone for a minute think that Andrei Kostitsyn surged because Saku Koivu injured his ankle? Does anyone think that Lapierre's line is better off with Kostopoulos instead of that slouch Chris Higgins?

Saku Koivu was by far and away the best player to begin the season for the Canadiens. With him in the lineup, they were doing an able job at keeping up 104 point+ pace. The fact that they have had a winning streak in his absence should do nothing to take away from that.

Chris Higgins had a poor start statistically. However, he is a trusted officer in Carbonneau's game plan. He does everything right (apart from shoot straight, that is) and should easily find a place on any line whose role isn't scoring or perhaps on a line that could do with some energy (e.g., Plekanec's).

Tanguay, for his part is further away from return. His pure offensive know-how should not be taken for granted. And Price, well, he's straight back in as starter.


The casualties

Carbonneau is right about some people about to lose their jobs on this team, but those days were long foretold:

Mathieu Dandenault
for instance, despite his valiant demonstration, will probably find it hard to justify the exclusion of the younger Kostitsyn, Latendresse or Pacioretty/D'Agostini from this point forward. One can only hope they keep up their torrid production and make Dandenault, playoff game 1 starter a more remote possibility.

Georges Laraque might have trouble convincing teammates that won the East without an enforcer that they suddenly need one – as all their best hockey has come when he has been nursing one of his many injuries. On the bright side, at least his salary is being paid by insurance companies and not our ticket revenue...

Steve Begin hasn't done himself many favours lately often managing to be outshone by all of line three and often Hamiltonians as well. He'll see games into the future, maybe not a certain place, though.

And, barring more injuries, Marc Denis will never have as good a chance to make the Canadiens this season as the one he blew when he looked shaky as Halak for a period.


Dilemma (not so much) – The lines to come


Koivu for Chipchura or Begin is not a dilemma, nor is Higgins for Stewart, Pacioretty or D'Agostini in my eyes. The prospects have availed themselves very well, but they are prospects – who hope they could one day be as productive as Koivu or Higgins. They are not contenders yet.

So, onto the changes. Carey Price is back already, with Marc Denis back to the minors to try and win that job back... And, assuming the reintegration will go in stages as expected, we should expect to see Koivu and Higgins the first to return. I would put Koivu back with people he has chemistry with (oh wait, that's almost everyone...), so probably Higgins and D'Agostini:

Pacioretty – Plekanec – Kovalev
A Kotitsyn – Lang – S Kostitsyn
Higgins – Koivu – D'Agostini
Latendresse – Lapierre – Kostopoulos

Pressbox: Begin, Stewart

Hamilton: Chipchura


Then, once Tanguay returns, he refinds Koivu and you could get something like the following:

Tanguay – Koivu – D'Agostini
Higgins – Plekanec – Kovalev
A Kotitsyn – Lang – S Kostitsyn
Latendresse – Lapierre – Kostopoulos

Pressbox: Begin, Stewart

Hamilton: Pacioretty


Health is not a dilemma, but an opportunity. An opportunity to have people on the ice at all times who can threaten to score a goal, not just run down the minutes. An opportunity to make wins and comebacks from a multitude of different situations. And, an opportunity to hunt down those Bruins...

If you see a dilemma, let me know, because I can't.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Senators Humour

Maybe There's A Rivalry Here After All For The Habs

Tobalev astutely pointed out that games with Ottawa are tight matches no matter what now. No matter how good we appear to be, no matter how bad a slump we're in, no matter how much Ottawa is looking for that lottery place.

In the preview for the game, both Sens Chirp and I wondered out loud about the rivalry between these two teams. In the analysis, it seems there is one in its infancy, but by and large Montreal fans have never had a reason to bother with Ottawa (either far too good or far too poor). The time for rivalry looked ripe before the inexplicable implosion in our capital city. Since then, there's been little to despise.

But wait, I think I'm finding some reasons...

1) Senators fans like this guy:
That Olé chant is the homo anthem. Never heard anything so queer in my life.

Or this guy:
That ole ole ole stupid song is making me think Leafs fans are less annoying, and that's saying something.

Both posters on some Sens blogs after the game. Another guy who was at the game, who also detests our cheers, claimed he tried to drown out Ole Ole Ole with the ever-original and ubiquitous Go Sens Go.

This isn't the first wrath the Ole cheer has been showered with. Boston and Toronto fans also hate it, for it is so European. Oh please let us never need prompts from the scoreboards to cheer for our team like the Go ____ Go crew...

What's more, i don't think the Sens really hold the high ground when it comes to musically supporting their heroes. Both the theme tune (drum then trumpet, wait for it in the video) and Ray Emery's rap below are prime examples:





2) No Habs No!
Cleverly based on the only cheer they know, this Sens blogger has started a campaign to donate $1 to every player across the league who can score a GW goal against the Habs.

I'll be honest, I'm posting this bit because it is worth seeing. It is clever, funny and gives a good pretense to express hatred of another team. We'd be patting ourselves on the back too if we had come up with the Wicked Loser Bruins fund too.

It is so well established with a Facebook group, a section of the SensArmy blog, merchandise and coverage on one of the most popular hockey blogs around.


It's clear that hating this fan will be easier as he's already invested so much energy into the belligerence.


3) Car flags
They infected us. Somehow the Sens and their flag-waving fans infiltrated Montreal's best and brightest – now we have to look at flags everywhere, ugh...


I think it's safe to say there's a seed of something to go on here. Be sure the next time you see a Rev Up The Red flag or a No Habs No! T-shirt, to break into a hearty chorus of Ole Ole Ole, it's fun to watch them melt to the tune...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Weakness Protection Program

Garth Murray Resurfaces

Just prior to the Habs explosion onto the NHL scene last season, they quietly removed one of their big weaknesses: a forward with plenty of ice time but not a shred of nose for the net.

Since that day of infamy, we haven't heard much from Garth Murray. Until now. Take note of what he looks like, then read on below.



Last night I noticed a pretty cool name in the scoring summary as I was looking for the pathetic Horcoff to put up some points for me in my hockey pool: Liam Reddox. As it happens, Dennis Kane of the eponymous blog had a bit about names today (he likes Bonk for himself, apparently) and so I submitted Reddox as the cooler name in the NHL.

I checked Liam's profile on Yahoo hockey to see if he could actually play anywhere near worth his name, and I found this.

Next time Garth Murray hires a lawyer and WRP expert to come up with a new identity, he would do well to pick someone who could come up with more realistic names than Liam Reddox. We know you're not in Phoenix...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Game #44

Welcome to the Shootout Mr. Elliott

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday January 17th, 2009
Opponent: Ottawa Senators
Venue: Scotiabank Place, Kanata, ON

Team Stripes

Final Score: 5-4 - Win (SO)

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Brian Elliott (L)

Habs goalscorers: Alexei Kovalev (1, SO), Andrei Kostitsyn, Matt D'Agostini, Tom Kostopoulos, (Maxim Lapierre - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Chris Kelly, Dany Heatley (2), Mike Fisher



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

Unlike Don Cherry I didn't think that Max's goal was similar to Mike Richards' snail pace shootout effort. First of all Lapierre scored (great comparison Don...) and second of all Max came in with speed from the blue-line in, unlike Richards who walked all the way into the slot.

The goal itself was quite something. At first I thought the choice of Lapierre in the shootout was the wrong one, but I am actually quite ashamed by my lack of faith in both Carbo and Max himself. They both obviously knew something that I didn't and I think that was shown on Guy's face as he simply laughed after Max pulled the move off. Like I said, after a few slow strides Max picked up the pace and sped in. A few dekes with the puck froze Elliott before Lapierre eventually took the puck to his backhand. The final touch was when Max shelfed a backhand and won the game for the Habs.



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

Alexei Kovalev
No I am not just putting Alex in here because of his 2 1/2 minute shift to start OT. Although I did appreciate it and found it quite comical I didn't think it helped the team. Kovy gets the game puck for a couple of beautiful goals. The first was a gimme after a sublime pass from Lang on a 5-on-3 and the second was a tantalizing deke in the shootout that was second only to Max's mind-blowing move.



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

Robert Lang
Lang made two superb passes tonight that earned him his 19th and 20th assists on the year. He is now on pace for a 67-point season, his best since 2003-04, which he split with Washington and Detroit. In addition to his great passing he was also a scoring threat of his own. He always seemed to be around Ottawa's net as his line gave fits to the Sens' defence all night.

Maxim Lapierre
Max topped off a great night with another shootout goal. His line, and he in particular, were a big reason for the win tonight. Their line spent a good portion of the game in Ottawa's end as they were once again a force to be reckoned with. A team needs a player like Max who can do the dirty work, but also can flash some occasional brilliance, so Max, once again, well done.

Alexei Kovalev
Kovy came very close to scoring our 5th goal a few times, once in the third when he rang it off the bar, and again in OT right towards the end. Tonight I didn't notice Alex in our own end, which is always a good thing and whenever I saw him in the offensive zone something was happening. His linemates didn't have great games, but were saved by another solid performance from the skipper.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
This was a solid performance from Hammer who at times had to play a little clean-up in his own end. It seemed that he stood out most tonight for making sure our other defenders weren't the reason we lost. He showed his toughness, and brains, when he didn't back down from a shoving match with Neil, but also didn't drop the gloves. He led the team in hits with 3 and also had the same amount of shots.

Andrei Markov
I noticed Markov caught out of position, way up the ice, on a couple of occasions tonight, but those were the only blemishes on what was another fantastic game. He got an assist on Kovalev's goal and took twice as many shots (6) as any other Hab. He also blocked 3 more shots than Komi as he ended with a team-high 5.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
After he let in the tying goal I was torn. He had played well till then, but he hadn't made the big save when we needed it most. I decided at that point, when it was obvious we would go to OT, that he would have to really impress me to keep his dome spot. Well, he did just that in the shootout. He stood his ground against Spezza and stopped the ever-dangerous Daniel Alfredsson. It was an OK game for the most part, but I am glad for his, and the Habs', sake that he came through in the end.



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

Forget what you heard or what you read - the Ottawa Senators will always give us a good game. We all know that Ottawa is struggling to find their form this year and it seems that they are the latest team to fall into the '3-star/no other good players' trap (Tampa Bay), but against the Habs, you can never count them out. The crowd, thanks in most part to our fans, had Scotiabank Place rocking and you could see how that made a difference to both teams. It really had a playoff atmosphere in there and because of it I think Ottawa remembered how they can play. Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley have always been Hab killers and that alone scares me. If you take away all of the other 17 players I would still treat that team with respect. Those 3 are world-class and are reason enough to be prudent. Add to all of that the fact that the Sens remain one of our fiercest rivals. We always say that a Toronto-Montreal affair will be a close game, but I think we should extend that sentiment to Ottawa too. For years we have had some great match-ups with them and I for one wasn't about to let a bad half season from them let me forget it. It was as exciting a game as we could have hoped for and for that I must give credit to the feisty Senators.


Overall Comments

I expected a good match-up on a cold Saturday night in Ottawa and I am glad to say that I wasn't disappointed. Early on the Habs were dictating play, but our failure to ever run away with the game was incentive enough for Ottawa. They played a quiet first two periods, but gave their home fans something to cheer about with 3 third period goals. The Habs should have done better not to let up a tying goal so late, but since we got the win it shouldn't really matter. I have a hard time believing that this single point for the Sens will help them beat us in the standings. Offence is something I knew they had, at least the potential of it, so I was always a little nervous. In OT every time I saw Spezza or Heatley with the puck I was glad that Souray wasn't around for us. If these guys know how to do something it is probably how to beat the Habs. Since they came in the league we have had quite a difficult time with them. One thing that did shock me a bit tonight, however, was their defence. I knew not to expect much as Volchenkov is out and they are clearly not the team they were when they had Chara, Pothier, Redden, Corvo or Preissing, but wow were they bad. Schubert is no Mark Streit, just because he occasionally plays the wing is no reason to keep him on your team. And what about Jason Smith? Still living off being the captain of the Oilers are we? This guy has no place in the NHL, well at least not since the lockout. To me their defence was the biggest change (goaltending has always been a huge question mark), but I never thought it would come to this. Phillips was a good #4, but does quite poorly as a #1. So, I feel your pain Ottawa, as we have been there too. It would be nice for your city and people if you were still at the top, but I guess all good things must come to an end.

As for us we now have 60 points in the bank. We have 38 points to go till we secure a playoff berth and we have 38 games to do it in (it took us 31 games to get our first 38 points of this year). That of course means .500 hockey will do, even 38 OTLs would assure us our place. I for one hope that we can exceed the 100-point plateau again this year and maybe even eclipse our 104 point total from last season. All that aside, however, as we have 2 more games before the All-Stars come to Montreal (for the first time since 1992-93). I think we must get at least 2 points in Atlanta and New Jersey to end what has been a fantastic 1st half on a good note.