Saturday, February 28, 2009

Game #63

Halak Brilliant Against League's Best

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday February 28th, 2009
Opponent: San Jose Sharks
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 3-2 - Win

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

Habs goalscorers: Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Saku Koivu
Opposition goalscorers: Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton



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

Sent into the zone by Saku Koivu Matt D'Agostini was off to the races. He beat his man to the outside, but had run out of room to get to the net. So, instead of a tough-angle shot he took the puck around the net. He then caught an edge and went down, he didn't, however, give up on the play. As he was falling he fed the puck out front to Gorges who had made a very timely pinch. Josh had a pretty wide open net to shoot at as Boucher was still on the other side thanks to Matt.



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

Jaroslav Halak
The kid did it again tonight, he stole a game we probably shouldn't have won. It was another 40+ save performance (46) for the man that has suddenly become our best player by a country mile. He let in 2 quick goals early in the second period, but really shut the door after that. It was a dominant performance and I think everyone who has watched this team over the last 2 weeks knows that in Jaro we have something very special.



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

Saku Koivu
The captain played as strong a game as anyone of our forwards tonight as he scored a goal (a gift from Markov) and added an assist. The 2 points give Saku 5 in his last 4 games - all wins. I felt that during our losing streak Koivu was the one player still working hard each night and he was the one leading this team. It is no surprise that now, with the team winning, he is, again, leading the way. His line played well against a very talented San Jose team.

Matt D'Agostini
I saw great energy from Matt tonight, it was the type of energy and play that I believe has won him a permanent spot on the roster. Tonight we saw with his speed, passing and shooting that he is the complete offensive package. He also knows how to fore-check and isn't a liability in our own end. I think MaxPac has a place in this team's future, but when Tanguay comes back Matt gets my vote to stay on one of the top 3 lines.

Christopher Higgins
Chris has found a way to stay off the scoresheet this year, but that doesn't mean he isn't involved. Tonight he was right there on 2 of our goals, but he didn't get any points. I for one don't mind that at all. If he can do what he did tonight - check, skate and win battles - then I am not too worried about points. I think he is the digger that Saku needs on one wing and soon I think we'll see the scorer he needs on the other.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Andrei got the ball rolling tonight with a PP goal and then added an assist, on a sublime pass to Saku, to give him 2 points on the night. In all he now has 50 points and continues to lead the team. After that he went on to have a very strong defensive game as he was paired with all sorts of people throughout the game. He was our best player at making sure that San Jose's chances weren't dangerous as when he was on the ice there were shots against, but very few quality chances.

Mathieu Schneider
Mat was +2 tonight as he was on the ice for all of our goals and none of theirs. He probably has Jaro to thank for that, but you don't play 20+ minutes of calamity-free hockey by accident. Tonight as our team looked worried in front of a scary Sharks team Schneider was the calming influence that we needed in the back end. There were no major mistakes, no give-aways, just sound, defensive play. Offensively he was quiet (we only had one PP), but he did pick up a single assist to give him 6 points in 6 games in his new uniform.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Beating San Jose doesn't just happen by chance you know. They had only lost 10 games, of 60, in regulation prior to tonight and it seems that they are there in every game. Tonight they didn't have a bad game by any means, but it does show that one player can make a difference. Halak's play was the only reason the Sharks weren't celebrating their 94th and 95th points of the year and that we were instead celebrating our 74th and 75th. In his last 6 games Jaro has been incredible as he has gone 5-1, he, in fact, is the main reason we have turned things around in the past 2 weeks. His save % over that stretch is an incredible .944; how can you argue with that?



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

What we did tonight was we not only beat the best team in the league, but we proved something very valuable to ourselves: anything can happen in hockey and you are never down and out. This version of the Habs looked ready to pack it in 2 weeks ago as the world was falling down around them. There were scandals, trade-requests, fractures within the team and worst of all losses - a lot of them. Well the recent wins, and especially the one tonight, will do a world of good for this group. Not only do we get the points and move that bit closer to the playoffs with these wins, but we also prove to ourselves that we can rebound from anything. I mean if we can win 4 in a row in the fashion that we did, after what we went through, then we can do anything. If we make the playoffs then I think a lot of people will look back at the rough patch as a good thing. It was a time for the team to hit rock bottom, and at some point they realized that the answer to success lay nowhere else but within. Confidence is everything in sport and tonight, by beating the Sharks, we went and got ourselves a whole lot of that precious commodity. Right now the team must think they can beat anyone on any give night, and you know what, they are right.


Overall Comments

With 2 wins this week and 3 in a row a win wasn't a must tonight, in fact, all I was looking for was evidence that we could once again play with the league's best. Well that proof came early and it came fast. Within an 8 minute stretch during the first period we scored 3 goals and were all over San Jose. We spent the first part of the game being slightly intimidated by these giants from the west, but after the novelty wore off we played our game, and we excelled at it. 3-0, however, is a dangerous lead (ha, aren't they all) as we thought we had won. We spent the next 40 minutes watching our goalie stand on his head as we hoped they would score 2 or less. 2 minutes into our last 40 our plan didn't look like it was going to work. The Habs, however, kept at it and in the end held off the mighty Sharks. Now, we may have let up 48 shots, but a lot of those were weak attempts. There is no doubt that we were outplayed (save goaltending), but I don't think the shots tell the whole story. The quality scoring chances were few and far between for SJ as I felt we played a half-decent defensive game. There are obviously things to work on, but it is great to get the 2 points while hopefully learning a lesson or two at the same time. Next up is the trade-deadline and it will of course be interesting to see what happens with that. Following that comes 3 road games (of which we need 3 points - BUF, ATL, DAL) and then we are into the final 16 games of which 11 will be played in Montreal.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Game #62

Habs Comeback, but Almost Blow it With Penalties

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Friday February 27th, 2009
Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers
Venue: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA

Team Stripes

Score: 4 - 3 Win (OT)

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

Habs goalscorers: Tomas Plekanec, Tom Kostopoulos, Alexei Kovalev, Mathieu Schneider
Opposition goalscorers: Joffrey Lupul, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne


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

The Habs had no interest in waiting until the third period tonight to start their comeback, nope, tonight they got at it right away. With the score 0-2 very early on we were pressing hard with glorious chances coming from everywhere. We managed a PP goal and then it was Kostopoulos' turn to tie the game up. Niittymaki made a pretty poor play with the puck which was followed by an even worse play from the Flyers defence. Sensing something was up Tom followed the play. The puck bounced off MaxPac and ended up on the side of the net. Niittymaki was slowly getting into position when Kotops lunged at the puck and swept it in on a very sharp angle. It was yet another example of Tom's tenacity.


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

Alexei Kovalev
Kovy racked up points 5, 6 and 7 since his forced break last week and couldn't have looked better out there. He was in complete control on the PP and is working nicely with Schneider at the right point. The pair teamed up on both of our power-play goals tonight, including the OT winner. He was also a major contributor on the PK as he spent over 3 minutes killing his teammates penalties.


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
Remember that 6 game road trip which was meant to be an opportunity for the Habs to find their game? Well, Carbo struggled to realize who his #1 goalie was and Gainey was busy dealing with his superstar, so, it seemed like the team was going nowhere. Pleks, however, unlike the rest of the squad, didn't let that trip pass him by. A 2-game suspension cost him 2 games on the trip, but he still excelled in the 4 others. In fact, in the 7 games he has played since the start of that trip he has 12 points, including 2 tonight. He was a force down the middle all game and played a very strong offensive game.

Saku Koivu
Saku kept a claen sheet defensively tonight as he was never on the ice for one of our goals against. He also did fantastic work on the PK - over 4:30 of it. He, however, saved his best for last as in OT he was a face-off machine. He won 3 key draws in the extra frame, the third of which led to the game-winner. In all he was 15-9 and picked up an assist on the winner to move into sole possession of 10th all-time on the Habs scoring list.

Alexei Kovalev
Kovy had one of those games tonight where you could just see that he was in control. He handled the puck so well, but also distributed it when he had to. I think that the chemistry between him and Plekanec is certainly back and I also think Kostitsyn is catching up nicely. We need Kovalev if we want to do anything significant this year and tonight was another clear example of just how, unlike anyone else, he can shape a game.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
It says a lot, on a night when our defence was suspect, that Andrei was on the ice for 3 of our goals and none of theirs. He took, what I thought, was a pretty bad penalty, but I felt that he made up for that with some extremely brilliant PK work. He didn't factor on the scoresheet tonight, but was a contributing factor on both of our PP goals.

Mathieu Schneider
I was thinking during the game how nice it would have been to have kept Mat his whole career. As upset as I am that we missed 14 of his best years, I am forever grateful that he is back. Tonight his OT winner was another example of a D-man that can shoot; something that is apparently harder to do than it looks. He also had an assist which gives him 5 points in his 5 games since rejoining the club. It is wonderful to have a top-3 defenceman who actually plays like it and I mean that in every sense of the term.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
The game didn't start well for Halak or the Habs as we found ourselves down by 2 early. Luckily Jaro, unlike other Habs goalies, didn't buckle after this, in fact he played better. All 3 goals can be attributed to horrible plays by our defence, but I know that a great goalie has no excuses. Aside from those 3 shots there were no excuses for Halak. Komisarek and Brisebois did their best to test their keeper with brutal giveaways left, right and centre, but the Slovak was up to the task. In the end he put in a very solid 35 save (.921) performance to grab us the 2 points - points that 2 weeks ago would not have been ours.



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 is one glaring 'good' from this game, but, in my eyes, a more worrying 'bad'. It is good that for a second straight game we killed all our penalties (8/8), but honestly, what is with all of the stupid penalties? Tonight, as usual, Komisarek led the charge as he picked up 4 minutes and 7 other Habs visited the box once. Amongst those 9 calls I can't pick out a single useful play, they were all stupid, careless penalties. We were very lucky to come out unscathed as the Flyers have the best home PP in the league. So, I have decided that we have to be a bit smarter and make an honest effort to make the refs work for the calls. It is no secret that a home team gets more PPs (especially when they are losing), in fact the numbers are astounding - 4130 home PPs vs. 3643 road PPs. That translates to 13% more per game, or on average around 1 extra chance. That is something that the Habs must be aware of and something that we must work on. Our penalty-killers and Halak are doing incredible work, but eventually a team will find a weakness. We can start by playing a little smarter and we should start that on the road. Home ice is where you can cheat and break the rules, on the road, however, we must learn to be good boys.


Overall Comments

It didn't take long for this game to get going as within 20 seconds the Flyers were all over us, after 28 they had a lead. The goal was the result of a defensive meltdown, a trend that would be prominent all night. Philly kept coming and another defensive lapse led to their second goal. What Philly didn't bank on, however, was our ability to not only comeback, but also to expose extremely weak defences. Within 10 minutes of the Flyers' second goal the Habs had about 9 scoring chances of which we scored on 3. The second period proceeded much like the first with chances at both ends and very little defence to be seen anywhere on the ice. Brisebois' worst (but not anywhere near his only) cough-up of the night led to the tying goal and it seemed like once and for all Philly was back in control. The rest of the second period, as well as the third, belonged to Halak as he was very strong, making quality saves to keep his team in it. Towards the end Patrice tried his hardest to ensure this game didn't go to OT, but Jaro would have none of it. In fact, it was a horrible Briebois play (he let Upshall whiz around him and then fell) that led to our OT PP. A real defenceman would have stopped Upshall himself, thus he would have never had a quality scoring chance, nor would he have bowled over Halak. Carbo didn't waste any time on the PP as he put his 4 best weapons on the ice - Markov, Schneider, Koivu and Kovalev. It seemed like he would stick with them until the game was over - and he did. Schneider ended it with a great shot after a very good deke and pass from Kovy.

We needed a win on the road and playing a fellow Eastern Conference Playoff Hopeful made it that much more of a must-win situation. It is a shame that we allowed them to get 1 point, but at the end of the day we got the 2 and that is the most important thing. Tomorrow will be a big test as San Jose is in town. A good effort, or better yet, a win would be a good boost for this team that seems to be headed in the right direction. It also represents our last game before the trade deadline, a day that is exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time.

Every Local Boy's Dream

To Ask To Be Traded From The Montreal Canadiens

Three players line up to ask for trades this week.

Curiously, they are all from La Belle Province. Curiously, they are all products of the QMJHL. Curiously they all once said it was their dream to be part of the Montreal Canadiens.

First came the sucking limpet that is BGL. We've had his nauseating tale a few too many times. He's not good enough to play in this league - he should be happy he's paid to play hockey.


Next (probably first in reality) was Steve Begin. His wish was granted, and he was traded to the Dallas Stars to be with former teammate Mike Ribeiro. Finally, the news that Mathieu (no discernible patience) Dandenault has asked for the same.

What's going on guys?

Steve Begin
The Steve Begin trade does not look good on the surface. I thought Begin was still someone that served a purpose on this team. An injury and he's in – that's how close. A message needs to be sent to Lapierre, Steve's in. He had value to us.

By all accounts, Steve did not make a nuisance (or a fool) of himself by requesting a trade publicly or only to the media. The reports I read said he asked Gainey politely to keep the possibility open. That presumably gave Gainey the flexibility to only make the trade if he felt it was bettering or at worst neutral to the Canadiens.

As I said, I don't immediately see it. Gainey has traded depth up front for depth at the back, which may be very useful given age, trends and current play. But it will take a bit of convincing for Janik to be as versatile and useful as Begin. I only hope that Bob Gainey had something up his sleeve here like he did in the Garon and Rivet trades. No Memorial Cup captaincies to speak of though, so maybe his time in Tampa revealed something I didn't see. Montreal does like USA development programme defenders, though.


Mathieu Dandenault
This one's nothing new. I commented on the very same thing at around this time last year. It is puzzling mind you, since Dandenault has been playing and playing alright. Still, his place in the lineup is tenuous, and somewhat undeserved. Maybe he sees the writing on the wall as he is surpassed by yet another generation of rookies.

For, me Mat's problem is his delusions of grandeur. Whenever he sits out we hear how he could be helping other teams – even though we barely notice what he does for us. I said it before, but it bears repeating:
"The teams that Mathieu could help by playing everyday are numerous and all have one thing in common: they are going nowhere. Not many teams with one or two pieces to fill for the cup run are looking for a really fast forward turned defenseman turned forward who can't really score. Players who can't score come cheaper than Dandy, that's for sure."


General management
All three of these players have made things a bit sticky for the general manager. All three did so by thinking of themselves first and the team second.

When I was chatting with Tobalev over the Begin trade, he said something very apt. He said (and I embellish):
"Players have to realise they are being paid to be a part of this team, this organisation. They are not paid to play on the first line, fourth line, any predesignated number of minutes. The team's goal is to win, and they take home their massive paychecks to help the team in whatever way those in charge see fit."

These three players seem to have forgotten that. Kovalev forgot that and was nearly trampled by the hysterics. He had to be reminded of his duties. Yesterday, I saluted Brisebois for not being as big of a selfish baby as Laraque. And I should also like to give a nod to captain Koivu, who over the tenth most productive career in Canadiens history has never shirked his duties on PK or to bring along yet another fresh winger.

Where we praised Bob Gainey for his handling of Alexei Kovalev last week, I think this will be as big a test of his management abilities. He cannot allow players to think he will bow to their selfish demands just so they can get ice time.

Hence, the Begin trade is a bit worrying. In the same way, so was the Cristobal Huet trade – which was generously remembered for giving a good guy a good chance to make as much free agent booty as he could muster. Unless Bob Gainey's five-year plan included making the most money for Begin, Dandenault and Laraque, I would hope he now focuses on winning the championship instead of making sure everyone likes him around the league.


Local boys
I started the article discussing the origins of the disgruntled three. I wonder how much that plays into things.

One thing I do know is this: RDS and it's sister RIS put an incredible strain on the Canadiens players by submitting them to 24-hour demands for quotes and stories. As they go, they much prefer to address and discuss players in the langue of Moliere not Milton. And that meant the Canadiens had 8 roster players, a coach and a GM. Tanguay is private, Latendresse is injured and 5 of the remaining 6 are on the very bubble of this team. You have to admit, it's a big burden for the every other game fourth liners to bear – to be the interviewees every single day of the year.

The Canadiens are complicit in this game too. As the picture above shows, they put Begin and Dandenault into situations where the biggest stars of the team step. The Canadiens website spends more than it's allotment on this group of players, too.

The constant attention and all the profiles game after game only serve to unfairly build these poor guys up to expectations they could never possibly fulfill. Tell me where else would they speak to Steve Begin after a win where Kovalev came back? Where else would the media worry about the feelings of the enforcer who sat out for games where there would have been nothing for him to do anyway?

All of this is only my musing on the subject. However, I can't help but think that it plays a part in the three recent demands: "If I'm not going to play anyway, maybe I can go somewhere to relax while I collect my millions".

For me it does cut to the heart of a problem with this team for some time now. That is the dichotomy between the big French language media machine geared up for the sole purpose of covering this team; and, on the other side the small and unimportant role of the local boys on the team.

With Maxim Lapierre and Latendresse being one of a few truly solid contributor that has come from a decade of bones thrown to young QMJHLers, I can only really see a few ways out (the draft not being one, anymore):

– RDS backs off their all-out coverage a bit
– The Canadiens win the championship, or
– Gainey brings in a star that can satisfy their thus far insatiable demand

You tell me which is more achievable...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

To Georges Laraque:

We've Done Controversy Mate, Move On...

Georges Laraque is behind the play as usual. Yesterday he spoke to RDS and the French press to try and create a little controversy.

Georges – nobody cares this time.


A week on from a rift between star player, coach and GM; a media storm; a police investigation; and a goaltending controversy; we're supposed to care about our 29th best player being unhappy with minutes?

Not me. Not likely.

Frustration

I can see where Georges frustration/disappointment is coming from – his gravy train is at an end. A team that made it to the Stanley Cup with him decided he was expendable. A new team that thought it needed toughness to progress further has now decided he is expendable too.

Being the very intelligent guy that he is, he can see the writing on the wall. If he can't make it happen in Montreal – a city that has been crying on and off for a fighter for near a decade – how on earth will he find employ elsewhere?

Guy Carbonneau doesn't value Georges brand of tough – quite simply because there is no one to line his goon up against. In fact, Georges should treasure his games, because from what I've heard, most people think he's played too much – not too little.


Kovalev's mirror

Kovy needs to lend his big teammate the mirror he used to look at his game and his life early last week. If Kovalev's 2 days off proved anything, it was that the player was capable of taking criticism (from Gainey at least) and using it to probe for solutions within himself.

Laraque should take a good look at himself too. As we all know, because he said as much earlier this season, Georges only fights fighters. Usually he only fights in the first 30 seconds of the game. He is the best fighter on the team, but the worst hockey player by a country mile.

What does Georges think he brings to those games after the 6th minute when he is released from the box? Where does he think the evidence for more minutes comes from?

The mirror would tell all. It would tell him, he's done nothing to try and improve himself and is resting on his laurels as a league evolves to exclude players like him. It might also tell him that willingness to fight is a lot more valuable than weeks ahead planning with a buddy on an opposing team when it comes down to it.

It would certainly tell him to eat his pride as he reaps the rewards of a silly decision from Bob Gainey. $4.5 million dollars for doing nothing, and to hang around an NHL team when you're not much a of a hockey player anymore ain't all bad.


On that note I offer you with this stinging criticism from the usually positive JT. If she's this harsh, it must be bad:
If Laraque isn't smart enough to realize he's got it bloody made in Montreal, with his big salary and the legions who love him despite his failure to become an effective part of the team, he's got a serious problem. If he thinks he's more than a fourth-line player who will be shuffled in and out of the lineup like every other fourth-liner, and that he has a right to moan about it in public at the expense of team unity, then I hope he is traded.

Even if Bob Gainey shops him this week, though, I doubt there'll be a lineup for his services. So, shut up and take your money, Georges. We've seen what you can do, and we're not impressed.



Brisebois deserves credit

On a similar tack, Patrice Brisebois is also benched more than he'd probably like. But, you know what, Patrice doesn't complain, because he's too busy thanking his lucky stars that someone took another (and another) chance on him as a professional calibre hockey player.

For his quiet willingness to take $1.5 million dollars, Patrice should be commended. He has perspective in his life. Laraque could learn a lot from his teammate...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Game #61

Halak Shines in a Shutout Win

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Tuesday February 24th, 2009
Opponent: Vancouver Canucks
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 3-0 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Roberto Luongo (L)

Habs goalscorers: Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, Maxim Lapierre
Opposition goalscorers: None



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

Late in the first we were down 2 men for a full 2 minutes. The splendid penalty-killing that took place during that time was capped off by the best penalty-killer with a fantastic play. Just as the first penalty was ending Saku, with a dive, broke up a pass at the blue-line to get the puck out. His second effort was to spring the suddenly penalty-box-free Plekanec, his third effort was to subtly trip Vancouver's best chance at catching the speedy centre. In alone Tomas went and he didn't disappoint; a perfectly placed shot gave the Habs an unexpected first intermission lead.



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

Jaroslav Halak
Jaro not only played his best game of the season, but I don't think we have seen a goaltending performance this strong since March or April of last year. He was absolutely dominant as he stopped all 34 shots that came his way. He didn't have it easy tonight, however, as a lot of those shots were quality scoring chances which required some truly fantastic saves. I haven't been so confident in our goaltending in a long time and those sentiments seemed to be echoed by Carbo, the players, Halak himself and the Bell Centre fans as everyone, from 1-0 up, seemed to believe this was Jaro's night.



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

Saku Koivu
Saku played quite possibly his best game of the year and had it not been for an above solid goaltending performance he would have run away with the game-puck. Instead he led the forwards in a major way. His assist was truly world-class especially considering it came at the end of a very tiring shift. That assist also gave him 623 career points to move him into a tie for 10th all time in Habs scoring. Oh, did I mention that he was far and away our best penalty killer and that he won 10 of his 13 face-offs.

Mathieu Dandenault
This may seem like an odd pick and I actually had to think about this one for a while, but I couldn't deny Mat this honour. On his very first shift of the game he came out with blazing speed and was knocking people around all over the place. I felt that the energy he brought in those first five minutes energized not only his team, but all those in the building too. He, for me, was a huge reason why we were able to witness a truly fantastic game. He only came back on the ice 12 more times, but he was very energetic and active during each and every presence.

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks just isn't stopping! It was another great game for Tomas tonight as he scored on a breakaway and made an unbelievable pass to Markov on our second goal. He, like Saku, also had a strong night face-off wise going 11-6. I was very happy to see him flying all over the ice as he distributed the puck so well to his wingers. That didn't, however, stop him from getting chances of his own as he shot a team-high 5 times on Luongo.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Andrei played a very strong game at both ends of the ice. He was particularly effective on the PP as that is where he notched his 8th of the year. The way he is working the puck around from the left point is reminiscent of last year when he played alongside Streit. A hot Markov inevitably means a hot PP.

Roman Hamrlik
Most of our defencemen played pretty well tonight, but I thought Hammer stood out above the 4 others for his strong defensive play. He and Komi worked well tonight which was a relief after seeing so many bad games from Mike. If they can keep this up then we are in much better shape than we were a week ago. Roman did good work on the PK tonight as he logged close to 4 minutes. Offensively he was quiet, but did manage to pick up an assist on Lapierre's empty-netter.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
I was very happy with what I saw tonight from Jaro. He was quick, focused and so in charge. He was oozing confidence all night and I think this one performance may have been the best medicine for our ailing team. When he needed to hold the puck he did, but also realized when it was smarter to play it. When he handled the puck he did so with care and competence which meant he was never scrambling to make up for his mistake. When he was challenged by Vancouver he was there with big saves upon big saves. He played like a #1 tonight, so let's go, leave him in nets and let's see where he'll take us.



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

Outshot 34-17 this could have been a whole different story for Montreal. We, however, got a goaltending performance that not only shaped tonight's game, but will hopefully give us some sort of momentum heading into the last 21 games. Patrice Brisebois played hero twice and villain twice tonight in what was a pretty typical performance for the near 1000 game-man. His first act of heroism was when he got hit in the face, a play that led to a 5-minute PP. The Habs were up 1-0 and had a chance to do some serious damage as their PP was going to work. Soon into it, however, Brisebois sent a soft, blind pass along the blue-line which was easily picked off by Henrik Sedin. There at the other end, with the save of the game, was Halak to shut the door. Soon after we scored on that same PP to go up 2-0; a world of difference to 1-1. That one save and countless others kept the Habs in the game when quite possibly they shouldn't have been. His play allowed us to go to the other end on odd-man rushes and to try risky plays as in the back of our minds we always knew he would be there - and indeed he was. It was refreshing to see the effect of a strong goalie tonight and it was even more refreshing to see the effect that that had on his team. I haven't seen the Habs just go out and play their own games in a while as they are usually concerned about what their teammates weren't going to do for them. Tonight Halak did the work, what the others did, in his (and my) mind, was simply a bonus.


Overall Comments

We needed a win as we are in what will be a bitter fight right until the end. I liked how the whole team, the coaches and the fans reacted tonight. Right from the start of the game there was an energy in the air that had me believing that, win or lose, we had left the streak behind us. Of course if you lose too often with that feeling in your minds it will soon disappear. So, I think the players realized it is one thing to believe that everything will be alright and another to actually make sure that it is. Vancouver played a good game, but didn't seem prepared for what was quite a penalty-filled game. As we all remember last week, when we played in BC, the refs put away their whistles. Well, tonight was Eastern Conference rules night as the penalties just kept coming. The Habs, a suddenly strong special-team type of group, dominated as they went 1/7 on the PP and 6/6 on the PK. Those results, coupled with great goaltending is the reason we are 2 points farther ahead than we were this morning. This game was a good start to the week, but we must keep it going. A trip to Philly on Friday will be an ideal opportunity to get a big road win against a team we desperately need to beat.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tools For The Trade Deadline

There are many tools you can use to keep on top of the news for the trade deadline:

Web pages
Newspapers
Blogs
Cable sports channels

One huge tool you may want to avoid this year: Eklund

Today the pseudonymous one took a break from telling us about his kids and dog to do some serious investigating (no, not on TSN this time (T5)), but by actually picking up a phone.

The story he felt compelled to investigate was not a trade rumor (there's no need to investigate those - at all), but rather something that had been troubling him for some time.

Perturbed by the "unprofessional" blogsite run by PuckDaddy, he checked out a story they had reported about a parody twitter someone was doing for Brian Burke. I don't know the nuts and bolts of the story like our other NHL and Leaf brethren do, so I'll lead you to them (Barry Melrose Rocks and Down Goes Brown. Our Score Federation friend DGB makes me laugh the hardest when he says this:
"I'm not sure which is stranger, the idea of Eklund taking a stand against anonymous online fakers, or that even when reporting the incredibly obvious Eklund is still 12 hours behind the mainstream media."

Other chuckles come from Eklund's blog where he gives Brian Burke's actual response (T1):
"Anyone who pretends to be someone else like this is just scum, and anyone who would would pretend to be a journalist or run a credible site that would allow something so obviously bogus should be held accountable for their actions and should seek serious medical attention because they [are] obviously not right in the head. This is not a professional and this is a serious issue."

Not like supporting hideous assaults during hockey games, eh Burkie?


{UPDATE: Go and read Puck Daddy's interview with the man behind the parody]

Getting The Puck In Net

The Candiens PP Resurgence

The Montreal Canadiens have scored 25 goals on their last 100 powerplays.

Consider that in their first 173 PPs, they only scored 24 times and you start to get the idea about the extent to which a resurgence has occurred.


The difference is marked. 25% in their last 100 PPs as opposed to the lowly 13.8% for the first three months of the season.

How did this happen?

A lot of people point to Mathieu Schneider as the major turning point in the Canadiens PP this season. There is no doubt that he will help bolster an already good PP that refound its form long before his arrival. The 7 PPGs in 12 opportunities since his reinsertion into the Canadiens lineup certainly help to make the numbers look a little rosier.

However, before Schneider there was a first surge. The surge that helped us win all those games we're pretty thankful to have won now – in January.


Game 39
The turnaround as it happens took place some time during a game against the New York Rangers on January 7th. That game, the Canadiens were going in on a 3-game drought PP-wise, a drought they extended from 15 to 17 PPs over the course of the night. While the even-strength goals were going in, the Rangers were able to answer each time. With a PP at 2:29 of the third period, the Canadiens had another opportunity.

Would they score and solidify their position in the game, or would they let another chance go wasting and balance the battle on a knife's edge?

It didn't take long to answer. Plekanec won the PP and Markov was able to snap a shot past a dozing Henrik Lundqvist. It turned that game around, and as it turns out, it seems to have turned around the fortunes of the would-be number one PP of the league (two years running and resurgent). As if to hammer home the homecoming of the 5-man unit, Lang scored an absolute stunner 2 minutes later on a double PP – the play of the game for LIW that night:
It's Robert Lang's goal, but not the one you think - it was his first on the PP. The amazing thing about this whole play, which admittedly was a 5-on-3, was the speed at which the puck covered distance in the Rangers zone. The play essentially starts when Lang having received the puck from Markov, returns the puck to him. Markov readies himself and one-times a pass to Andrei Kostitsyn at the other point (finally Carbo) and he in turn one-times a shot. The shot misses the net but luckily rebounds behind the net cleanly out the other side right to Lang, where he completes the 4-touch play by one-timing a shot himself. Kovalev, not involved in the play himself also played a nice part as he signaled to his old buddy Lang that the puck was coming around cleanly.

This is the Canadiens PP of last season. It's been a long time...

From that time the Canadiens have scored 25 goals in 92 opportunities (that's 27%). I haven't confirmed it with months of calculations, but I'd be willing to bet that's league leading over this period of time.

Even taking away the Schneider games, the Habs still coast to 22.5% clip – already an impressive turnaround in my books.


Maestro
A lot of the talk about the Habs PP over the past two years has focused naturally on the main protagonists – the goalscorers themselves. In 2006-07, wonder shot Sheldon Souray personally accounted for a score of Canadiens PP goals. The natural fear upon his loss cried for a lost PP. It didn't happen. Pundits scrambled to explain it, Mike Farber said Koivu, others to using regular lines instead of special units; many were just confused.

This year, the commentators love to hone in on missing piece Mark Streit. While I would certainly expect the Canadiens PP to be better with Streit than not (for his passing excellence); I hoped, nay expected, they should find a way around the Streit and Ryder losses with the core of talent they had: Kovalev, Koivu, Tanguay, Markov, Kostitsyn, Higgins, Lang.

I was pretty certain back last season, as I am now that most of the success on the PP can be traced pretty reliably to one person in particular:
"His tricks on the PP include breakout passes, gaining the zone, keeping the puck in, simple passing, cross-ice seeing eye passing, shooting from the point, and pinching when appropriate. His biggest trick is how he manages to do all this and garner hardly a mention from the critics who drooled over Souray.

If you watch him on the ice, watch his eyes. What you can see is concentration, poise and vision at the line. He passes and sets himself up for the next play seconds ahead of the opposition. He inherently knows where Koivu and Kovalev will be. When to pass to Streit and when to take on the defenders."


At the beginning of this resurgence, we said this of the player who had the power to kick this PP back into gear:
"If the PP is back for a short stay, it's because he has dragged it back. His goal on the PP was opportunistic and patient at the same time. He sprung to get to the puck but waited to unleash his accurate wrist shot until Lundqvist was sliding. His involvement in the second PP goal was textbook Doug Jarvis PP work. His game up front was impressive and his game on defence this game was solid, despite being on the ice fr a couple of goals. That's to say, his play also prevented a number of chances."

The maestro is Andrei Markov, of course. Fitting that his goal started this road to recovery. Fitting that he set up the most beautiful PP goal of the season (that Lang goal). And, it's fitting that he should be recognised now.

Because although Schneider has provided an indubitable spark, it is Markov who directs, assists and maintains the Canadiens PP. His most recent game was a primo performance from the maestro.


Schneider
The addition of Mathieu Schneider should do two things immediately:

1) Get more accurate and powerful shots on goalies
2) And, more importantly, make opposing coaches think about the Canadiens PP again

For a long stretch, the Canadiens did not have a viable option on the point fr the PP. This was before Kovalev made his move back there, before Andrei Kostitsyn was tried and before Josh Gorges had any clue what he should do outside his own zone. They have since regained themselves, so adding Schneider comes at a good time – it gives the team a bonus option.

With Schneider, the team can set up for a shot from the point instead of trying to jam the puck in from the side of the net. They will still try to jam it in – but should have more space to do it with the defenders worried about Schneider.


The goal of the PP
It is sometimes forgotten, but the goal of PPs across this league is to discourage people from taking penalties. The penalties in place, of course, to discourage people from breaking the rules as they are on that night.

A team with a good PP benefits doubly from it. Not only will they score many goals, but the opposition must play them cleanly.

A team playing at full force and full energy (can anyone remember that? other than the last game guys...) can then win battles and put the other team into a series of compromising dilemmas – let the man go free or hook/trip/crosscheck to prevent the opening at risk of a PP.

I give Benoit Brunet a hard time, but I wanted to highlight probably the most insightful thing I have heard during a hockey broadcast in an age. It was said during the good times, of course, but it still applies. When discussing Georges Laraque and the way the Canadiens were being disrespected around the league, he said (something like):
"The way to get people to stop roughing you up and disrespecting you isn't to have an enforcer; the way is to punish them by scoring goals with a god PP"

Hit them where it hurts, so to speak. On the scoreboard, in the standings. Nobody reels from a black eye to a guy who plays to fight for a living (that is a sideshow). Hit Koivu from behind: Markov scores on the PP. High-stick Kovalev: Kostitsyn rifles one home on the PP. A coach will not stand for penalties that cost the team. So long as they don't, he will (maybe not publicly).

The Canadiens need to heed this great advice from number 17/22.



Matt Schneider has been here for 3 games, but I think it is fair to say we haven't seen the full potential of this addition yet. The next game for example, no self-respecting coach will fail to note to his team that Montreal is 58% on the PP over the last 3 games. No coach will fail to notice that the Habs have scored 12 goals since his arrival.

I think we should start to see a few less liberties taken by opposition players, opening up the ice for the Plekanecs of the team who love the open surface. I think the Canadiens will have the potential to hammer home leads like they once did using the PP. I think it should change the complexion of things from here on. I think the brain-dead calls to trade Andrei Markov will dry up like the Okavango in the Kalahari.

Ten Games From Ottawa '08

The Story of 51 to 60

Last time I did this report, I speculated that the 8 points in 10 games we garnered then may have helped us to purge some bad habits. Clearly I was very very wrong. If those were 10 games we regretted, these 10 had us all wishing for a return to Games 41 to 50.

Strange things happened over these ten games, stranger than in a while. Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak refused to stop pucks at the outset (Jaro's resolved to try to earn his salary now); the players went bowling; Mike Komisarek played himself off 15 GMs wishlists; Kovalev was benched, denounced by most if not all and then welcomed back with loving arms; we actually scraped 7 points from this atrocity in the end (demonstrating how even the Islanders get points).

I'm not sure what the tabulation of players will show, but the best players in the worst stretches are sometimes the ones with the greatest value of all – the ones who never slip to Sub-NHL levels...


Our top team over 10 games (Season dome)

Forward 1: Saku Koivu
6 domes and 2 game pucks. Through the first 5 games of this difficult stretch, he was consistently the brightest forward on the team. He played a big role in 2 of the team's 3 wins over this span. This is the thing with Koivu – his standard in the regular season is consistent, with few sputters and few flashes of dominance. It's worth wondering how Koivu and the Canadiens might have done over this losing period had he had a decent scorer on his line at all times (Kostitsyn, for example)

Forward 2: Christopher Higgins
5 domes and a game puck. Since returning from injury, Chris has found his form and energy from 2007 and before. His anticipation and manoeuvering along the boards is a pleasure to watch and can only pay dividends if he keeps it up while others awake from their hibernation.

Forward 3: Tomas Plekanec
4 domes and a game puck. It is not surprising to see Tomas here, even though he missed 2 games. If you get over the fact he might not score every game, you will surely notice that he rarely plays a bad bad game (unlike many teammates). He is dependable and driven, something that has allowed him to refind his mojo and mock the slower defences of the league.

Honourable mention (forwards): Kovalev (4 domes, 1 game puck). Kovy also missed 2 games and returned reinvigorated. but it must be said that the short memory crowd were extremely unforgiving about his form. Not only is it false to suggest he has been terrible since the all-star game (he played well in Tampa, for instance); it was unfair to single him out in all those games where Price and Halak sabotaged any momentum and chance to win we ever had – as he was among the top of the group a few times.


Defenceman 1: Roman Hamrlik
6 dome appearances and 2 game pucks for Hammer. After a pretty sub-par 10 game stretch last time by his standards, he rebounded with form. Unfortunately for him, it was spoilt by inept goaltending and then a partnership merry-go-round. The highlight for Hamrlik were a couple of beautifully timed pinches and goals – which we would probably get to see more of if he were paired with a reliable foil.

Defenceman 2: Andrei Markov
7 domes and a game puck. He risked missing this list for the first time this season as he trailed Josh Gorges after 5 games. His closing 5 games, though, have been a return to mastery of the blueline. That he has both eased Schneider's induction and learned his new partner in no-time flat shows the talent and intelligence of the general.

Honourable mention (defenceman): Mathieu Schneider. With 2 domes in 3 games and an instant impact on the PP, he has made a mark on the team. The pick-up by Bob Gainey is shown to be even more valuable when you listen to the man speak after games. Instead of having to listen to Komisarek's honest and since, but painfully repetitive, mantras; Matt's succinct and accurate analysis offer fresh air. He should bring fresh air to the dressing room too.


Goaltender: Jaroslav Halak
7 domes and one game puck. I have been hard on Price, and rightfully so, I think. But Halak was not providing much of an alternative over this ten games either. Halak gets 4 of his domes from the bench, and lost one himself to Price on the bench. I could have written empty net or bench for this section with 5 domes going to anyone who didn't play. Halak looks to have at least found a way to battle for a win and has 2 in his last 3 starts now (to add to a decent performance while abandoned in Vancouver). Next time, though, I hope that one of these 2 guys will give me some stats to rave about (other than domes from the bench...).


En Route Pour La Coupe Power Rankings

This should be an entertaining list from Fred this time. I am curious to see if being injured will be beneficial for player rankings this time around. Can Latendresse, Lang and Tanguay climb? I'll update the post with the link when it comes out. Until then, here is the link to the last edition.


Three star selectors

Ten games, 8 star selections. Ouch. To have no stars at all, 4 times, hurts. The selectors weren't wrong either – hurts even more. The small sample again doesn't say a lot. But the names that come up at least show some players can elevate themselves from the depths if called upon. Halak is the only multiple honouree – Price conspicuous by his absence. Should be a funny Molson Cup presentation this month – a first star for anyone from here on should clinch it...

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

Forward 1: Andrei Kostitsyn (1, 0, 0)
Forward 2: Alexei Kovalev (1, 0, 0)
Forward 3: Tomas Plekanec(0, 1, 0)

Defenceman 1: Andrei Markov (1, 0, 0)
Defenceman 2: Roman Hamrlik (1, 0, 0)

Goaltender: Jaroslav Halak (0, 2, 0)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Game #60

Kovalev Lifts Habs to a Much Needed Win

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday February 21st, 2009
Opponent: Ottawa Senators
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Score: 5 - 3 Win

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

Habs goalscorers: Tomas Plekanec, Alexei Kovalev, Mathieu Schneider, Patrice Brisebois, Mathieu Dandenault
Opposition goalscorers: Jarkko Ruutu, Dany Heatley (2)


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

Kovalev's goal, our second, was not only the nicest, but I felt was the timeliest. The play allowed the Habs to jump to a rare 2-goal lead and seemed to make the Bell Centre come alive. Kovy stripped a Sen of the puck in the offensive zone and was quickly back the other way towards goal. A quick, low, blocker-side, wrist shot was the end result of what was truly a spectacular one-man effort.


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

Alexei Kovalev
Did Kovalev have something to prove today, or was he simply playing with the team's interests at heart. I for one believe that this warrior is too much of a team-player to worry about anything but the team. So, I think he played his heart out today, not for himself, but for us. He has had such an amazing career and I don't think he has anything to prove to anyone. I don't know why we constantly ask our star to 'prove' he belongs, it reminds me of the way we treated Huet before we traded the All-Star (and he still is playing like one...) for nothing. Today it was obvious, as chants of 'Kovy, Kovy, Kovy' resonated throughout the Bell Centre, that Montreal loves their star and that we truly need him. It looks to me like he wants to be here and I think I speak for the majority of fans when I say that we are glad he still is.


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 didn't miss a beat today as he was reunited with Kovalev and Andrei. He was used more than any other forward (besides Kovy), scored a goal and was a very impressive 15/22 in the face-off circle. He distributed the puck well tonight and continued to play with the same speed and drive that we have seen in his past two games.

Christopher Higgins
Chris was the best player on what was a much improved line tonight. He had a good game fore-checking as he continued his strong play. The effort was certainly there as he picked up an assist and took a team-high 4 shots. The one area that bothered me tonight were his 4 penalty minutes, but, considering it is not a recurring theme, I am willing to overlook them.

Alexei Kovalev
Alex's truly magnificent return to the line-up was highlighted by his first 3 point game in over a year. Unlike RDS (who's evidence are stats alone), I wouldn't immediately claim that this was his best game in a year, but I think it was a very strong performance. Aside from the strong offensive play, which also included a few other very dangerous chances, there was also some very strong defensive play. He was our best penalty-killer and played a very responsible 2-way game.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Andrei was an absolute rock in our own end tonight. He made so many subtle plays that didn't go unnoticed by this fan. The thing that stands out is the lack of time Alfie and Spezza had with the puck. Heatley managed 2 goals, but, even though he was on for both of them, neither were Markov's fault. He played 28 minutes and added an assist on what is an all of a sudden smoking PP.

Mathieu Schneider
Markov can shoot, but I don't think we have seen a shot like the one Mat scored on since Streit was around. The goal was an absolute bullet to the top corner and was Schneider's 2nd goal and 3rd point in 3 games. Since his arrival we are 7/12 on the PP including 3/4 tonight. He also played a good game in our own end and continues to play very well alongside Markov.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Now that is more like it. Today we got solid goaltending when we needed it and we never let Ottawa get too close. Halak was very strong at controlling rebounds, handling the puck and facing shooters square on. I felt he commanded the play in front of him way better than Price has done. I don't think I am alone when I say that he represents not only our best chance, but likely our only chance, at winning games. He made 44 saves today (.936) and is the biggest reason we aren't writing about a loss. The best part is he didn't force the offence to score 6+ goals to have a chance, so I think everyone was a little more relaxed. I would keep going with Jaro for now, I mean we have nothing to lose.



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

Let's not get too ahead of ourselves as all that we did today was beat a pretty bad Ottawa squad that was probably more due for a loss than a win. The Habs played well and it was of course great to see Kovalev and Halak play so well, but let's not forget we let up 47 shots. If this is a better opponent, we are on the road or Price gets the start this is no longer a feel-good story, but it just becomes another chapter in what has been a disastrous 100th February for the Habs. We have so much work to do if we want to start winning games more frequently, make the playoffs and then possibly make some noise once we are there. So, we did play as well as Ottawa today if not a little better, but we still let them see too much of the puck. The good news is, however, that to win the Stanley Cup or even make the playoffs you don't have to be that much better than your opponents, in fact you can be worse, you just have to score one more than them. Tonight we proved, hopefully to ourselves, that tight games can be won and that they can be pretty quickly turned into good looking performances. To get out of a slump you need wins, no matter how you get them and that is really what gets the ball rolling. So, while this wasn't a memorable performance against a great team, it was a win. A win, as they say, is a win and I believe this is certainly something we can build on.


Overall Comments

I was surprised right from the start of the game as the Habs were cheered very loudly as they came on. It made me realize there are truly 2 types of fans - those who want to tear this team, and it players, down at any given chance (mostly media members here) and those who still stand by this team and want them to get to the playoffs, thus giving their unconditional support. The Bell Centre is obviously filled with more of the latter group of fans than the former as we just never stopped cheering. We got off to a great start thanks to some inspired play by Kovalev who really led this team all night. Ottawa couldn't contain our PP which in the end proved to be the difference. I thought that we played quite well overall, but we are still giving up too many shots. Many of those shots came on the PP which leads me to my second point - we are taking way too many penalties. Mike (Rivet) Komisarek continued his rapid descent down the depth-chart tonight with a 3-penalty performance. I don't see the penalties as a major problem, but we do need to find a way to give up less shots and I think that could start with a few less trips to the sin bin.

We have 22 games to go and have 29 points to get. We have clearly dug ourselves a big hole, but I think today's win, coupled with how Kovy reacted to his time-off, will be the first step in the right direction. I think Halak is the goalie we need to be playing as he is the only goalie, of the 2, that can keep a game close. Close games mean a chance every night at points and not a chance at a 3-goal comeback.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Price Vs. Pogge

I was a bit angry with Carey Price again after the latest debacle. On a whim, I decided to search Google with the following terms:

Carey
Price
Pathetic

Nothing too interesting came up, but I did find one thing. Apparently a couple of days ago, Ron Wilson of the Toronto Maple Leafs said this:
"I don’t want Justin Pogge to be what Carey Price is today, a shell of himself..."

Even better, I followed the links to find the original interview with Ron Wilson (which you can listen to on Toronto's Fan 590 here).

Wilson himself comes across incredibly well. I have to say I was thoroughly impressed as I could be with a Leafs coach. His bit about Pogge and how to develop a goalie naturally leads him to question what Gainey and the Canadiens have done with young Carey.

So, you see, we must reserve some scorn we toss at the boy for the men who thought they could defy conventional wisdom this time and gambled more than we might have wanted them to on a quick fix for the Habs. Whether they took the experiment too far is playing out right before our eyes right now.


Anyway, as I gradually resign myself to another Carey price start on the weekend; i find myself hoping and hoping that he can sort himself out (starting out with the tragically slow glove hand).

So, Carey, in the illustrious words of new itunes heroes of mine:
And you will try to do what you did before
Pull the wool over your eyes for a week or more
Let your family take you back to your original mind


Go Habs Go.

Don't Believe What You Read

Reporting On Canadiens A Shambles

You know what they say in internet land: "More haste, more speed"

Desperate reporters look to desperate measures as they would prefer to scoop anything from the murky waters of the online channel than scoop nothing at all.

Unfortunately, the result for the rest of us. Those who would rather know the truth in an hour than 15 guesses at what the truth might be now is often confusion and, ultimately, frustration.

On the same day as all this, I found this classic quote from a classy champion:
"Their haste is a reflection of the sad way the game is going, with everyone from owners, the board members, the supporters and the media demanding instant success and showing absolutely no patience in the pursuit of their ambition."

It could have been said about this sorry situation and not Luis Felipe Scolari's dismissal at Stamford Bridge. Had Sir Alex been so unlucky as to be tuned into RDS two days ago, I'm sure he'd concur.


The Kovalev story

The Kovalev story this week started easily enough. The news that he would be benched for 2 days came straight from the horses mouth and wasn't preceded by any speculation or rumours of the news.

But this juicy tidbit was spotted as a cash cow right from the start. Every newspaper and every blog had posted news of the press conference announcement within a few minutes. I tried to get something out as fast as I could - it probably earned me a good 30 cents just from hits (cash cow, indeed)...

The real cash from this story was in the spinning out, not in the initial report. The obvious fabrications sprung up remarkably quickly. No sooner had Gainey stopped talking that someone in the French press reports that Gainey has been trying to trade Kovalev for 2 weeks (to the Western conference, no doubt). The story is so predictable. It could be true, but it probably wasn't. We move on.

The next predictable part of the saga is Kovalev's musings on this matter via – you guessed it – the Russian press. This old cherry is a good one because it assumes (probably rightly) that not many in Montreal read Cyrillic, much less check up on Pravda by the day. The story as it was released can be found here: Prêt à partir, Kovalev blâme les jeunes.

This was as lazy as it was unprofessional. Back in 2007, La Presse broke a story that was either fabricated or shoddily translated. Back then it was purported that Kovalev, said the same things as this time. Kovalev denied it. The Canadiens investigated and decided their was no foundation to it. And the coup de grace, La Presse's alleged source came on Quebec French radio and refuted that Kovalev said any of this things the rag claimed he did.

This time it was not La Presse, but a locked-out employee (who used to work for La Presse). De Foy's sources, according to his CKAC interview were as watertight as La Presse requires – he merely claims he has a Russian friend in common with Kovy (not that he told the Russian friend these things, even). Even if Kovalev did tell his friend these things, it's hardly bullet-proof [The other night I told Tobalev I would stop watching the Habs if they started Carey Price without him earning a minute of it – clearly that was a heat of the moment exaggeration on my part]. De Foy, as a journalist with access to players (when they don't hang up on him...) could hold a higher standard. He chose not to. He instead favoured the scoop (again).

Still one rogue journo is not the end of the world. That is if any of the others held a high standard with regard to sourcing.

Within minutes of the initial report (see here for timing comment 1 to 15, about 30 minutes), RDS had it up. Given the reliability of La Presse's sources in the past, and the fact it was a recycled story line, you'd hope RDS spent the time checking the validity. It strikes me they probably didn't. As pleased as I am to be able to turn the TV on any time and listen to a new debate on the Canadiens, RDS yesterday showed just how low their standards are.

They weren't alone. The once excellent Habs Inside/Out, who I once praised near daily, were among the more professional; were also hapless in their own terror of being scooped. They waited an astounding ten minutes to become a tertiary source. Pat Hickey followed with this. There were more.

The Montreal media caught out by false reports? Try idleness...

As a blogger we hear at length how inferior we must be to the great professionals because we don't have access to dressing rooms and to players. Yet in this situation, in a breaking situation where a call to a player could have resolved the whole thing and saved embarrassment, they chose to print.

One reporter did end up doing some reporting. With a sccop that should thoroughly humiliate the self-important Habs writing community, Darren Dreger of TSN broke the news. He wrote to Kovalev.

The usual suspects picked up this story just as quickly. RDS swept their previous story under the rug, hence the absence of a link here today. Habs Inside/Out at least admitted they had no idea what was going on.

The whole episode, precipitated by the search for the scoop and the fear of being scooped, is wholly disappointing.


Operation Axe

First, let me say that this mass arrest from the Montreal police (with the minor exception of a few Habs players) is great news for Montreal as a community. I don't have the full details (CBC reports), but a sting planned over almost 3 years, the biggest in Montreal history, did well to bring in so much.

As far as Operation Axe affects the Canadiens, you'd think the journalists fresh off their adrenaline-induced flurry of the previous 24 hours might have shown some restraint. But again this story was rushed to our bandwidths without much diligence. The first reports only spoke of the hype (generated by La Presse, of course). But as soon as the flimsiest of details came out, the half-baked products were uploaded.

I have spewed enough vitriol above and don't think i need to retread the same ground. Needless to say, the initial reports full of sensation were picked up by nearly everyone. As the light dawned on the situation this morning, and the story gets duller by the minute for conspiracy theorists, the alternate version is presented as a competing news story.

Friend and fellow blogger Robert L does the business on this episode. If you haven't had enough of ragging on the media, give his latest a read.


Eric Engels

I would be negligent if I didn't give a special nod to my fellow blogger Eric Engels who has also called for better standards of journalism from this group. Quite an indictment from a member of Hokeybuzz.com, no? His comments can be found at the bottom of this article.


The irony

You have to admit the irony of the whole situation is fun to take in.

The networks and press that flounder to get out stories criticising and cutting down players on the Montreal Canadiens, essentially for not doing their jobs properly, are doing so all the while neglecting the values of journalism. The result is they look as big fools on the page as Sergei Kostitsyn after a giveaway with a failed deke at the Vancouver blueline.

If Gainey had the power, I think he'd be suggesting a mandated vacation for certain non-performers in the press. Overheard via a common Azerbaijani friend of mine and Gainey's:
"We don't need them the way they are performing their duties right now."


As an editorialist rather than a reporter it's easy for me to point the finger, maybe too easy. I'm sure the demands of the reporting job are heavy and that I too would have trouble. However, I would be remiss in my own role as commentator on Canadiens and their media if I did not at least shine the light on this embarrassing episode. I don't think I'm alone with 2 bloggers in feeling a bit ashamed of our brethren here...

What I do know is that the internet and 24-hour news has changed everything for the news media. I can see that some aren't able to keep up...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Game #59

Price Puts a Solid Team Effort to Waste...Again

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Thursday February 19th, 2009
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
Venue: Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

Team Stripes

Score: 4 - 5 Loss

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

Habs goalscorers: Tomas Plekanec (2), Mathieu Schneider, Andrei Kostitsyn
Opposition goalscorers: Petr Sykora, Miroslav Satan, Evgeni Malkin, Maxime Talbot, Sergei Gonchar


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

Plekanec's first goal was a gem, it was a fitting reward for the player that created a play out of nothing. Pleks was the player who back-checked and stole the puck from a Pen near our blue-line. He then flew up the ice with AK. A quick pass to Kostitsyn sent Andrei in and he made one hell of a fake before returning the favour with a solid pass of his own to Pleks. Tomas one-timed the puck from the slot and beat Fleury to tie up the game for the first of three times.


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

Tomas Plekanec
Plekanec continued his hot play tonight with a very good 3-point performance. 2 of those points were goals, both were good. He used all of his speed tonight and really looked good with Andrei Kostitsyn. Max Pacioretty played a decent game beside those two, but I think there is a better alternative. If Pleks is playing well because Kovy isn't around then I say keep the two apart, but if Pleks is just finally waking up from his summer hibernation then I think we would be fools not to put our biggest talent on a line with our two hottest players.


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
I thought that Pleks had been playing well for some time now, but he has only really started putting up numbers in his last 4, so on this road-trip. During that stretch Plekanec has posted 7 of his 29 points - 4 goals and 3 assists. If he can play like this from here on in then I could care a less about what he did prior to last week.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Another very dangerous looking game from Andrei tonight. Both he and Pleks looked better than Crosby tonight, but, unfortunately for the Habs, Malkin outdid them all. Kostitsyn, like Plekanec, has been playing some solid hockey as of late. He, however, has been pretty consistent for us all season long. It is interesting to note though, that he too has 4 goals and 3 assists in his last 4 games. He has been at his goal-scoring best since Christmas with 16 goals in 26 games; a 50-goal pace.

Max Pacioretty
Max didn't have that great of game and was in fact not quite at the level as his two linemates, but he was our third best forward. Saku's line looked disorganized tonight, especially defensively which cost them time to operate. MaxPac did show a lot of effort and hustle tonight and made quite a nice pass to Plekanec on our third tying goal of the night. I am not sure that he has his place on this team once the Alex's are back, but he is impressing nonetheless.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Markov was on the ice for 2 goals against, but I felt it was more the fault of our forwards and of Price than of him or Schneider. Andrei picked up another assist tonight and had an extremely strong passing game. He looked very comfortable with Mat tonight, which is a change. Komi is being reduced to #5 ice-time which is where he belongs as he has played like a #5 most of the season. Putting Mat with Marky represents a rare occurrence in which Carbo surrounds his talent with talent.

Roman Hamrlik
Hammer picked up an assist on Kostitsyn's goal and finished the game at +1. He also joined in on the attack quite a bit tonight and looked very good when doing it. His 3 shots were more than any other defenceman as he was never afraid to let one rip. I liked the way he played in our own end and especially liked when he flattened Crosby in front of our net. It is nice to have 3 good defencemen again, but tonight was a clear example of how you need someone strong behind them for it to make any difference at all.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
What was that? Why do we continue to voluntarily throw away points? Could this game (and yesterday's) really be Kovalev's fault? I mean, come on people. Price was atrocious yet again tonight and once again cost us any hope at points. The 'All-Star' continues to let in goals at all the wrong times and has trouble making any key saves. The worst part is that his 'slumps' have now spanned almost half of his career! In his 12 games of 2009 he has numbers that would make Brian Burke make him the starter in Toronto - he is really bad enough that he doesn't belong in the AHL. A record of 2-8-1, 2 games with 2 goals or less against (both were 2 goals), a save percentage of .870 and 40 goals against for a GAA of 3.40! These numbers are horrible and are in my opinion the #1 reason why we are in danger of not making the playoffs and why I don't believe we have a chance in hell of winning the cup with Carey anywhere near our net.



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

Alright, we embarrassed our star, but I think enough is enough. We have to start winning, end of story. We could make trades, we can continue to shuffle our lines, but at the end of the day this is the team we have. We have a goalie who doesn't really know what the goal of hockey is and we are pinning a whole system on him and the prospect of him making a save from time to time. Well, Guy, it isn't working. We need action, so I think it may be time to stop trying to fit our square pegs into your round holes and to try making some square holes. We have a fast team, we have a bad goalie, why not make a system that can complement that make-up? Let the forwards go, let the D pinch, because at the end of the day we won't get that save to keep us in the game anyway. We need offence (I reckon 6 goals/game to be safe, maybe 5 during a Price 'gem') and the most painful part is we have loads of that on this team. We have tried this 'defensive' system for way too long now and I think it is obvious that we need a serious change in philosophy. I don't, however, believe that there has to be a change in personnel, just an effort by them to work with the tools at their disposal. In a good year you can hope for 3, maybe 4 trades from Bob, well we have already had 1. So, Guy, this is your squad, please, oh please start using them to their fullest.


Overall Comments

If I were on the team I wouldn't be too relieved to be ending this road-trip. A return to the Bell Centre and a match-up against the suddenly found-again Sens may be worse than anything these guys have seen in weeks. So, what we need is a core of veterans to guide this team, to show the kids how to win again. Kovalev and co. can't teach Price not to kneel on every shot, but they can (and have done tons of times before) play through this type of thing and come out better for it on the other side. I think we will really see what type of warriors Kovalev, Hamrlik, Koivu, Schneider and Markov are in 2 days time as they are the ones that I am pinning my hopes on - sorry Guy, you had your chance.

Tonight's game could have gone either way really. The 2 goalies played a game of who's worse with Price winning by a hair. I am not surprised, after seeing that display from Fleury, that the Pens are as low as they are. I can (and am sure Kovy can too) imagine Crosby and Malkin's frustration with their 'star' goalie too. We had one really good line tonight, one decent one and two (Koivu/Chipchura's) who didn't really help. Our defencemen were better than the scoreline would suggest, but with the goaltending we are getting we are actually going to need them to be way better. I liked the fight we showed to get back in this game on 3 occasions and can only imagine the disappointment and anger the group must feel. Overall we played 2 solid games in just over 24 hours and have a single point to show for it - not really 1st in the East type stuff. Kovalev has to be in, Halak has to be in and I would even put Begin back in (I can do without a boring, 1-punch, boxing match if you don't mind) on Saturday. We are running out of time and, unlike Bob, we can't really wait till the deadline to do something about this mess.

Pittsburgh Coaches

Before Your Nostalgia Dose Tonight On RDS

Playing Pittsburgh tonight and the commentators have plenty to talk about. But I have a sneaking feeling that the little topic of good friend ("Adams calibre") coach Michel Therrien is going to make an appearance.

Say what you want about Carbonneau, he's so much better than Therrien it's not even funny. Though I think Gainey did the right thing in keeping the coach through the stormy seas; I think Shero did the right thing too - jettisoning the one-minded temper tantrum waiting to happen.

In honour of the day, i thought I'd resurrect this piece from 13 months ago. It still reads OK, I think: Therrific Or Therrible?

The difference between Carbonneau and Therrien (apart from that Stanley Cup final business, is this is the third time Pittsburgh has had a massive slump coming off Xmas in as many years. IN Montreal, they talk about losing a dressing room after 3 losses. imagine 3 seasons of bitterness?

The other reason i think Therrien had to go on this particular team is that he was not able to maximise the use of two of the three best offensive players in the league. He never figured it.

When you have Crosby and Malkin, you don't turn to the trusty old trap - you invent a new system. Unwillingness to do as much is grounds for dismissal.


Finally, Dan Bylsma. No judgment on him yet. It seems like he was a good AHL coach with what we know is a horrible group of prospects for the Pens beyond the big 2. I am happy that he's in the NHL though, as it is a constant reminder of the guy who used to yell "Bylsma" as a response to the other's "Kariya" when playing street hockey. I guess it was heady days for Anaheim??

Good game. GHG.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Game #58

Not Even Kovalev's Absence Can Coax a Win Out of Price

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Wednesday February 18th, 2009
Opponent: Washington Capitals
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.

Team Stripes

Score: 3 - 4 Loss (SO)

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Jose Theodore (W)

Habs goalscorers: Christopher Higgins, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (1, SO), David Steckel, (Alexander Semin - SO)


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

Early in the game Price made a rare glove-save, it came after a not so rare giveaway. It was Carey that sent the puck up the right side, right onto the stick of Ovechkin. Alex came right back in with his usual speed and tried going upstairs. Price made quite a glove save and I believe with that one save showed his teammates that he wanted their trust back. I think it worked as the team played better in front of him than they have for a good amount of time.


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

Andrei Kostitsyn
Now that we have let the French media get their way with Kovy I fear that Andrei may be their next target. Let's all try and remember games like this though when that time comes. Tonight he was amazing as he scored a goal and added an assist and created an OT turn-over that led to a Plekanec post, a goal that of course would have won it.


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 hit the post in OT and failed to lift the puck over Jose's pad in the shootout, both things that really cost him player of the game in my mind. I thought that otherwise he was very solid. Washington's need for speed allowed our faster players, like Plekanec, to show just how fast we can be too. He may have only got the single point on the night (a goal), but was really one of our most threatening players. He took 10 shots tonight, 6 of which reached the net.

Andrei Kostitsyn
21 goals and counting from the player we are led to believe is in a slump. Well, don't let RDS do the talking, let Andrei do it. Tonight he yet again showed just how dangerous a player he can be and how that can increase significantly when he is teamed up with an offensive centre-ice man. Plekanec or Koivu are the only ones with the speed, talent and vision to feed Andrei and I really hope he plays with one of those two from here on in. Pacioretty kept up, but in reality their line was a 2-man show tonight.

Christopher Higgins
5 seconds into our first PP and just 2:30 into the game Higgins put the Habs on the board. His goal was the type you would expect a goal-scorer to score as he put it right up into the roof of the net, over the fallen ex-Hab. He played his usual up tempo game and was able to service Saku and D'Agostini with some quality chances. If he keeps playing as he has done then I know he has a spot on a top-2 line. With Tanguay (and hopefully Kovalev) coming back it looks like certain players are firing up to give us 3 scoring lines once again.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Markov assisted on all 3 goals tonight, but was unable to play the hero in the shootout as his shot dribbled just wide. It was a bitter way for Marky to end what was a pretty solid game. I liked the way he played with his new partner, Schneider, as he looked much more comfortable than when he was playing with Komi (at least recently). Defensively he looked solid, just like the way we need him to be.

Mathieu Schneider
It is nice to have this guy back. He has waited almost 14 years between Habs appearances breaking Jesse Belanger's record by over 7 years! All I can say is that it wasn't soon enough. Carbo had said he would be careful with the 39 year old's ice-time, which in Carbo talk (not normally doing what he says) meant a team-leading 27 minutes. He brought instant results to our PP as we went 3 for 4; he was on the ice for all 3 goals and assisted on one. The best part, however, about his game was the calm that he brought. I haven't seen a Habs defenceman able to clean up mistakes so effortlessly in a long time and I think that his reliable play rubbed off on others. This was an absolutely great pick up and if this game is any indication of what is to come I have a feeling this won't be the last time you see Mat's name in here.

Goaltender

Carey Price
This is about as bad as you can play to end up in the dome. The reason I am putting Carey in is because he only let in 3 goals in the first 65 minutes. He made some key saves and never took his team out of the game. We came a post away from winning it, so for that I would say he gave us the chance we needed. All is not well, however, his 3 goals against may be better than his usual, but his shootout play and puck-handling were far worse than what we presently need. The NHL counted 1 giveaway, I counted 3, but I also noticed how easily players from the other team read his obvious plays. Puck-handling unfortunately is no longer the single area that needs work as this goalie has a long way to go if he is indeed the next one.



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

Line-up changes, a shift back to the East and more even reffing were just a few of the reasons the Habs showed up tonight. Washington's style of play allows us to play the game we want to play, it allows us to use our speed and allows us to try things in the offensive zone. Don't expect this from Western teams as they just shut you down at every opportunity. The last time that we played a team of this sort it was Pittsburgh and that also happened to be the last game that we played well in.

The addition of Schneider (and thus subtraction of Brisebois) was a huge plus, so let's hope that Hammer's injury isn't serious as we really need the 6 we saw tonight playing D and nothing worse. Sergei's absence was negligible as he could have easily done what Dandenault, Laraque or Chipchura did tonight - nothing. It was Kovalev's absence that, of course, was the most significant, and was, what I believe, the biggest reason for the change in attitude. I can't for one second believe that Kovy is a cancer in the room, I won't believe that no one likes him and I would be a fool if I were to say the team is better without him. What I think happened, however, was that the 19 guys on the ice took notice and they got scared. I believe that NHLers have no desire to leave Montreal and can actually, at times, get scared for their futures. So, I think that when they all saw what Gainey (and worst of all, the media) has done to Kovy they began to realize that no one is safe. I mean if your best player, occasional captain and All-Star MVP can be treated like that, then who is next? The players played for themselves tonight more than for their team, they played for their lives. There was some good team play, but at the end of the day I saw more great individual performances than anything else. I saw 19 players who realized the Habs mean business and who realized there was a lot at stake. The good news, of course, for us is that when everyone plays well our chances of winning increase. It may not have happened tonight, but we were a hell of a lot closer than we had been in any of our recent losses.


Overall Comments

This was actually a pretty exciting game to watch. Early on, when we went down 1-2 after 13 minutes, I thought we were in for another 'Price' performance. I thought the odds of him bouncing back from a couple of goals that early in the game was highly unlikely. Luckily our PP went to work tonight with 3 goals. I think we have our old friend Theo to thank as much as Schneider, but we did what we had to do. It was painfully obvious, however, how 0/4 is not that different to 3/4 as 3 bad Capitals' breaks makes this a strong performance by us. Like I said it was a strong game for the Habs, but an element of team play seemed absent, especially on D. We played better than we had, but I still didn't feel we were all there in our own end. In fact, it was Price that kept what could have been a very high number of goals down. The third period, and especially OT, were high-paced and were fun to watch. Each team traded chances, so it was fitting it ended in a tie. I thought that Theo would be the weakness we needed in the shootout, but it was unfortunately Price who looked the worst. I haven't seen the kid stop a breakaway in a while so I am not surprised he didn't do to well on those. I would, however, suggest that he may want to work on those before his next game.

3 points in 5 games and a maximum of 5 points on this trip has made the trip a bad one all around. I am glad we got a point tonight, but it is about time we start winning. Tomorrow's game is now the most important of the season as it is the Pens who scare me the most amongst the teams chasing us. If we ever needed a win, in regulation, this season I would say the next game is it. The trip is already a bust no matter what happens tomorrow, but that is no reason not to make it less of a bust.