Thursday, December 29, 2011

Game #38

Lightning come back late to pound Habs

Details


Date: 29/12/2011
Opponent: Lightning
Location: Montreal

Loss: 4-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Garon (W)

Habs goalscorers: Cammalleri, Desharnais, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Stamkos, Wyman, Bergeron, Lecavalier



Play of the game


Pacioretty and Eller hustled hard for a puck dumped in the far corner. As Eller opened up some space, Pacioretty smartly took a good look at the ice and sent a perfect pass to the slot in front of the far post. A streaking Cole had shaken his coverage and had all the space he needed to bury the prettiest goal of the night and put the Habs up 3-1.



Dome hockey team


The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

David Desharnais - Game Puck
An offensive sparkplug from the outset. Set up Cammy's PP goal and scored one himself to overcome the 1-0 deficit early on. Helped create some of our better offensive moments late in the game. Frankly I think I've seen him play better games, but he certainly wasn't outplayed by anyone on this outing.

Michael Cammalleri
If you heard the same stat I did, you would have double-checked it and freaked out a little when you found out it was true: Cammalleri only scored his first power play goal of the season tonight. We're going to need him to pot quite a few more of these to have a chance at salvaging this season.

Eric Cole
This could just as easily have been Eller, but Cole put one in tonight and Eller didn't. Their line was our secondary threat but didn't score as much as we needed them to. However, Cole continues to be a primary source of offense and continues a tear that has seen him score 7 goals and 10 points in his last 10 games.

Defencemen

P.K. Subban
Subban is beginning to look like a seasoned veteran these days. He is obviously being asked to play more conservatively, and he's making excellent adjustments to be more defensively-minded and to make safe decisions about joining the rush. Despite finishing -2 tonight, Subban is continuing to impress me by facing the strongest opposition week after week and developing into something far beyond the flashy offensive phenom we saw in the playoffs some 18 months ago.

Alexei Emelin
Still loving almost every shift this guy puts in. Saw him joining the rush in very intelligent fashion tonight and delivering yet another 6 hits, putting him 17th in the league after only 27 games. He recovered well from his error late in the 3rd, and I continue to like what I see from this journeyman Russian player.


Goaltender

Carey Price
Honestly, I have no complaints about Price's performance tonight. The first goal was a bit of a fluke, and the second wasn't weak and he did get a good piece of it. The defence really let him down on the 4th, the way that Lecavalier stepped around Gill was a little shameful. He had some solid play throughout but suffered the consequences of his team slowing down in front of him through the last 20 minutes.


Comments


The game felt pretty good just after the halfway point. We were up 3-1 and outplaying an uninspired Lightning side. Once again, the Habs started to fade late in the second and the Lightning were all over a dogged-looking Montreal team. They took advantage of some lazy plays for some of their goals, and also managed to beat Price with a couple of lucky shots on some instances. While the Habs did a good a job of shooting the puck early in the game, it seems that Lady Luck was a bigger Tampa fan this time around.

Again, the team looked slow and unsteady later in the game. While they looked slightly more defensive after going up 3-1, they didn't look organized. Cunneyworth has juggled the lines, but kept them together from the Ottawa game the other night. Maybe we can look forward to some chemistry developing and some consistency of units so players can get used to their roles; and some of this confusion will disappear as time goes on.

If only I thought I could say the same about what seems to be an ongoing fitness issue...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Game #37

Cunneyworth Gets First Win As Coach

Details



Date: 27/12/2011
Opponent: Senators
Location: Ottawa

Win: 6-2

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Anderson (L), Auld

Habs goalscorers: Eller, Plekanec, Cammalleri, Leblanc, Subban, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Smith, Spezza




Play of the game


Ottawa started the game as if they knew they had lame prey. They pounced and pressed with full force and got their reward after barely a wait at all. When our best penalty killer was sent to the box for tripping the current Ottawa captain, the former Ottawa captain made a decisive call. He put benched Eller out for the kill.

Eller reacted like a lion just out of cage would. After Diaz's lucky clearance and Darche's timely tip, Eller saw puck and knew he wanted to taste possession. He turned on the stride, beat off a couple of challenges and put a strong wrist shot past Anderson right side. Changed the flow of the game and probably the Habs fortunes this night (and maybe beyond).




Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Lars Eller
Eller showed us last night that one game of pain (benching) is sometimes worth it. He was better in this game than he has been in a long time, and that's not simply due to new linemates. As we saw on that first goal, he approached it with the hunger of the goalscorer that can sometimes get lost over a long season. Hunger restored for while it seems.

Tomas Plekanec
His unappreciated first penalty aside (actually it did provide the turning point in the end), he played a good 18 minutes. He was finding his determination on the ice again, and that was reflected in the very important second goal. Yes it was lucky in the end to go in, but to find the Canadiens winning a puck battle, feeding the point, providing two screens and tips at even strength early in a game is new for the past little while. Pleks was leading this kind of effort all night.

Erik Cole
Cole continues to be a handful for opposing teams, and he showed that again in this one. His was reward for a lot that has gone by recently. But it was his assist to Subban that was the play of beauty for the night and the play that sealed the Senators fate.

Defencemen

PK Subban
The other benchee also found more of his old appetite. His one goal provided pleasure and relief. At 4-on-4 he made a costly error that left Emelin and Price with work to do, but instead of sulking (or being immediately called to bench by strict taskmaster) he turned around and skated to make amends. Some have started to talk in risk reward, and I'm not sure what they mean by it. But for me this is the risk reward of Subban. One doesn't get the very big rewards (goals like these) without accepting the risks (cough ups like that one). It would be a mistake not to at least attempt to find ways to work a system that can use his rewards -- one that was being made so far this season, I think.

Raphael Diaz
He may be accused of luck when this game is viewed in the hard light of day. His first assist was perhaps not my favourite clearance method and left a lot of work to be done, his second (a shot) needed the help of deflections and crossbars. And his third was a very nice hack at the puck, but Louis skated a long way. But guess what? This is how players get a lot of points and look good to us all on stats ledgers across the league. Diaz put himself in some nice situations and did the rest of his job well. More and more looking like Gauthier stole this player from under the noses of all the other GMs.

Goaltender

Carey Price -Game Puck
The requisite early goal on the first composite chance of the game steeled him for the rest it seemed. As his team responded with commitment, so did Price and made some nice (and key) saves along the way. He kept the team in it early and was very solid throughout, saving 33 of 35 shots. The two Ottawa goals from close range during goal mouth skirmishes were not not at all his fault. He also adjusted his wandering tendency to allow his team to do their work, and it paid handsomely this time.


Comments


On another night 12 shots for and 2 goals against by 6:49 of the second period might have taken on a different feel. However, thanks to a little luck, and some new accountability coming to the rise out there, that Spezza goal was just a bump in the road to big victory.

I believe in luck and I can see it and appreciate it when it happens. However, I am more reluctant than some to throw luck (good or bad) down as the lone explanation for these kinds of games. All games have their luck, but it takes people doing the right things to take advantage. In this one, Plekanec pressing the net was required for the second goal, Darche following the squirming puck for that Diaz bounce out to count, and so on. When teams play well and win well you often see luck, and when teams lose and lose badly you often see misfortune. Let the Canadiens bask in this one because a) they need to and b) they deserve it more than some allow.

Having other commitments this Xmas (meeting my new nephew), I was unable to watch live and had to enrol the help of my Dad. But Dad, having taught me to watch sports the way I do anyway, was seamless in his views and notes to me. More importantly, he had asked me not to make him watch another version of the pre-Christmas games in its entirety, I assured him it would be different (assured meaning hoped). And look we were right. Our family having developed a good catalogue of superstitious methods to induce goals and wins form this team, are happy now to have found another. Reading notes on big wins works for me if it works for you.

A few more games on this road trip to build a win streak and turn the hardcore fans' holiday mood around. In addition, we have the rare treat of three Canadiens prospects lacing up for Canada in the next few days. Should be a good end to 2011. Enjoy.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Game #36

Habs Accomplish Main Goal, Make Line Changes, Finish Game

Details



Date: 22/12/2011
Opponent: Jets
Location: Winnipeg

Loss: 0-4

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Pavelec (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Wheeler (2), Glass, Stapleton



Play of the game


After Kaberle made one of the worst plays of the year, definitely the game, the Thrashers broke in clean on Price shorthanded. Price saved the first shot, gave up a rebound and slid across to preserve the 3-0 deficit for a while. Woo-hoo.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Petteri Nokelainen
This guy had no business being the player showing the most passion. He's not from Montreal, he's not even from Canada. He isn't a Canadiens career player, he's a journeyman likely with no future with this team. He played hard because he's a professional who can't live with the dissonance that losing brings (I presume). he just won little battles and did very little that would be recognized on most nights. It says something when you can sincerely say we need more players like Nokelainen.

Louis Leblanc
Louis has some talent, perhaps not enough to deal with this mess on his own. He had some opportunity to show his instincts at times. But like so many Habs forwards with instincts, it was all for naught on the scoresheet. Still, a dim light on the horizon here.

Tomas Plekanec
You can see it in his face. He is asking why when he is on a slump that no one else is able to fill in. A 60 point guy on 60 point pace. he played OK tonight and got the best honest chances. He's the only player you can look at and begin to suggest bad luck up front.

Defencemen

Alexei Emelin - Game Puck
Same as Nokelainen, he doesn't have the obligation to do what he did in this one. He played hard and at times very smart. He made some of the best breakout passes of the whole game and drew a penalty brilliantly. This is brilliant news for the Habs who cannot go on playing 5 offensive defencemen who have no wherewithal at the back forever. Emelin can find his way around the first two zones and is showing that rare quality on this Habs team - improvement.

Raphael Diaz
Again he was less bad than a few of his peers and makes the cut. He was better on the PP than Weber who played longer minutes and safer in the defensive end than the robotic Gill and Gorges.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Price had his moments, but he also has to do better. In the net, I have little to hold against him, but with a defensive unit as chaotic as this one, there is no excuse for playing the puck the way he has been. He needs to help his weakling partners back there by mkaing things simpler, not more complicated for them. It's not ideal, but for a veteran and leader of this team now, he must lead by compromising on his boredom release tactic.


Comments


What a shambles.

The Canadiens skated into the Christmas holidays with the most lacklustre effort I have had to sit through in a while. How many times do I have to watch a trailing team fight for 20 seconds to win the puck in their own end only to promptly dump the puck back to the opponent so a line change can be made exactly on time. How many times do I have to watch a shot from the outside on goalies who are clearly showing they are not troubled (didn't Martin teach you anything about easy defence and outside shots?).

The team nearly to a man is showing no nuance, no appreciation for the situation's they get themslevs into. How can a team approach the beginning of the third period of a game in which they trial by 3, in a streak that threatens to total 5 losses, within a season that slips through the fingers? The team is disinvested in the process and unmotivated by the outcomes. This has gone beyond slump in finish, to slump in start, follow-through and end. The feet do the talking in this case and most times, like the score board, they are not moving. Nor are the mouths, which is scary for other reasons.

Looking at the positive, this new depth may just prompt more than a patch. Perhaps practices will gain focus. Perhaps players will start to ask serious questions. Perhaps coaches will hold the responsible to some account.

Next game will see the return of two players who have shown they like to take matters into their own hands. With the spur of a benching, perhaps some more focus to the efforts of Subban and Eller is to come. One can only hope.

More importantly, we break now. Enjoy the time off, savour some fine wine and cheese. Enjoy the company of those you love. Merry Christmas to all. We didn't get a win for Christmas, but our team gave us the gift of endless conversation topics for Sunday's meal.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Game #35

Must It Get Worse To Get Better?

Details



Date: 21/12/2011
Opponent: Blackhawks
Location: Chicago

Loss: 1-5

Habs Goalie: Budaj (L)
Opposition Goalie: Crawford (W)

Habs goalscorers: Kostitsyn
Opposition goalscorers: Brunette, Sharp. Stalberg, Toews, Bickell



Play of the game


The final horn was the feel good moment of the night for me, but it wasn't the play of the game. That honour actually goes to a hockey play; our goal. The best parts about the goal were that it was scored on the PP and it gave us a lead against the league's best team. The play itself is noteworthy too as it was indeed a good goal by Kostitsyn as he was able to redirect a quick pass from Plekanec up and over a well-positioned Crawford.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn - Game Puck
I had to give the game puck to someone, didn't I? It wasn't his best game and he wasn't too much a threat throughout, but tonight, when nothing was going on, a goal is really all we have to go on. Would you give 13 minutes, 4 less than Camms, to this player? I think that Cunney has to re-evaluate this one, after all he was on for no goals against (unlike 9 other forwards).

Max Pacioretty
What do I want? Goals. Well, if I can't have that I at least want shots. Tonight he took 38% (8) of our shots and, although he didn't score, came closer than pretty much everyone else. The thing is, however, we need him to score, he is not being paid to simply shoot; I hope he picks it up soon.

Erik Cole
When no one on the depth chart below you steps up you can sometimes squeeze into the dome. That is what has happened here with Erik. He wasn't good, but I'll take a bad Cole over a bad anyone else at this point.

Defencemen

Raphael Diaz
On for a goal-for and no goals-against gets Diaz another dome. Oh, it also helps that the other D were pretty bad throughout. I am not pleased that a rookie who isn't really doing much positive is becoming a regular in the dome halfway through the season, but that is what seems to be happening.

Hal Gill
Like Diaz he wasn't on for any of their goals. I am not sure if that makes him a logical choice for the dome, but I really didn't like the others tonight. The sad thing is that he got 16 minutes and, contrary to most dome selections, I likely wouldn't want to use him for much more than that. (I think I just implied that we need some people to start seriously stepping up).

Goaltender

Carey Price
I didn't expect Budaj to win this one and would only think that 2 of those goals were stoppable, but at the end of the day he wasn't good enough. His team was horrible in front of him, but I still look at his performance and can't say that I was filled with too much confidence.


Comments


I don't have much energy to write too much in here and I am sure that not too many of you have the energy to keep reading about the latest way we learned to lose, so this will be short.

Chicago is a good team, even a great one and we were probably doomed from the start. It was nice to go up, but staying on top and winning was always going to be a tall order. We certainly didn't compete the way that one would have hoped and that seems to be the problem, again. Coaches, players available and opponents aside the least we fans can ask for is an honest attempt at a win. Now, I think that we do show that in a lot of our wins (even if that means playing defensively), but tonight I didn't see it. I don't think this loss means that the season is over or that more changes are required right away, but I can't stress how important a win in the Peg tomorrow is. There is a bad taste in Montrealers' mouths right now. It is quite the potent bad-tasting hockey/political tonic that I for one don't want in my mouth over the weekend. So, come on Habs, send us on the break with some hope, give us something to forget about so we can enjoy all the stuff that really matters without fretting about what may be happening to our beloved team.

What A Habs Fan Wants

Let me preface this opinion. I grew up in Quebec and I consider myself a Montrealer and a Quebecker. I am as anglophone as they come (bilingual, of course), and I don't think I speak for all Quebecois.

Even though I'm by no means a "Habitant", I still identify with its evolved, as it arrived on my door, late 21st century sense. As a fan I wish the team to be a reflection of Montreal, of me. In truth, I actually want it to be in the image of Montreal in its best pose with glorious sunshine poking through the spires, lighting the mountain.


In the ideal scenario, what this would look like would be an organization and a group of players who grew up idolizing the Candiens, many because they originate from Montreal (francophone or not) that wins their Stanley Cups in bunches and with regularity. It would be a team that drew on the passion of its fans to never be outplayed at home at any man strength and carried itself as the perfect ambassador for the city on its travels.

We can also be clear that this fan is not interested in the least in a team that exhibits none of the values it wants to project, has no players it can identify with and loses rather than wins both the majority of games and the majority of the battles it undertakes on the ice.

But this isn't an ideal world is it? Ideal left the NHL some time after they thought a team in Kansas City would be a good idea (the first time).

In the real world, when faced with the fact that ideal equates to unattainable, one looks to compromise to find the best alternative of the many.

Breaking it down to its simplest components then, we could say the choice in this case, taking into account league regulations and the real world of modern hockey talent, is between:

- Ideal team composition and
- Ideal team results

I suggested the other day that this was somewhat captured in the cute marketing tagline that has stuck with the team for a century: Flying (in this case an allusion to both the results and the flair with which they are accomplished) and Frenchmen (reflecting the local makeup).

I also suggested that it was perhaps the Flying half of the couplet that mattered more. For just as no one would wish to watch a team of Americans lose the conference every year, nor would they wish to watch a team of players from Roxboro, Rosemere and Repentigny do the same.

I think I speak for the section of fans with most attachment to this team that it is the winning that matters and it has been winning that has brought the most pride.

But one can't just build a winner, just like that. Columbus has been trying to build a winner, so has Atlantapeg, so did Rejean Houle.Winning depends on many things, and winning as defined only by Stanley Cups depends on those things plus timing and good fortune.

Through analysis, one can still build a team that has more chance of winning than another -- make a San Jose vs. a Florida -- but Cups will decide for themsleves whether that's enough.

So our new choice becomes: team built on well-researched principles to be in position to win if timing and good fortune line up (hello Boston) or team built to serve a different goal, made up to reflect Montreal as a people, both literally and spiritually.

The easier choice is the latter. A GM knows for a fact where a player was born, grew up and what languages he speaks. He konws with a pretty good degree of certainty, if he's watched him, how he approaches a hockey game. A GM on the second mandate could fill his team from this point in a couple of years, if not weeks.

Building a contender is harder bceause those well-researched principles aren't exactly written in stone. What seems to win today may not be what wins tomorrow. A player signed who once stormed his team, to an unlikely final may not work in your own mix of talent. Neither is it impossible, though. Others do it. Teams sit competitive for years, decades, because their management has worked tirelessly to manage their talent both present and prospective.

As a Habs fan who would love to get as close to that ideal as possible, I would hate for the GM to jump headlong into the geographic approach, because just as I won't identify with a team of Americans losing for my city, I won't relate to a team of Montrealais scraping the bottom of the barrel either.

But because winning in that Stanley sense is so unreliable (as San Jose and Philadelphia can attest) then neither do I want a GM to abandon all balance and number-crunch his way to a team with a 0.06% greater chance of winning.

I guess what I'm saying is that this fan does not want his team to be built by someone who disregards the many available paths to winning, and the flexibility in team make up and strategy that can land you in a parade. However, what I'm also saying is that the identity of the team, the "Flying Frenchmen" aspect of its essence is not to be interpreted only in its most literal sense.

In the hierarchy of importance, I think the winning (flying) is more essential to the image Montreal wishes to project. I hope that as the organization works to that ideal version of the team (a version, I might add, we were so spoiled to have for a couple of generations), it understands where the compromises should come.

How many do I speak for? At least one Habs fan.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Game #34

Habs Fall Short Against Impressive Thomas

Details



Date: 19/12/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Boston

Loss: 2-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (W)

Habs goalscorers: Plekanec, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Pouliot, Krejci, Marchand



Play of the game


Price made a fantastic save on Hamill with about 8 minutes to go in the third and it was one of his best this year. We were facing some excellent goaltending throughout this game and it was Carey who answered Thomas with this stellar save to keep the game close. Without that save we would be wondering how that goal happened and who to blame, with it somehow all players are off the hook as Carey again bailed them out.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Max Pacioretty
His line was the best and he competed well tonight. A worse goalie or Thomas on an off night would have meant more than one assist from Max. The goal for him now has to be how to get back to the level that we need him to be at? Will he follow Cole's example?

Erik Cole
Would you be embarrassed if you were Camms, Gionta or Gomez? The answer is likely yes; one of the specific reasons is Erik Cole. He was brought in to be a complimentary player to our 'Big Guns', but instead has been our best. He has shown that it is not impossible to come to Montreal and to excel (even out-do) as you had done elsewhere. Erik continues to be a great role model on this team, but can he inspire?

Mathieu Darche
As Darche did with Martin (initially, not quite this year) he is trying to win a spot in the eyes of his new coach. He has been great (for a 4th-liner) over the past two games and is being rewarded for his efforts. I like when guys like Darche get going, it generally is a good sign for your team; I am hoping that that will become a reality over the next little while.

Defencemen

Raphael Diaz
If you want Emelin back (as I do) don't expect Diaz to be the one to sit. Tonight he logged the second most ice time on the team (Gorges) and was great throughout his 21 minutes. He played well at both ends and was used in all situations. The questions may have to be asked about Camploi or Gill because for now I think that Diaz has a friend in his new coach.

Hal Gill
Gill wasn't on the ice for any goals against during his 19.5 minutes and was a rock on the PK again. He led the team in blocked shots and played well enough otherwise. There were a few bad moments, but I still felt that he deserved this dome over the others.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
Price had a better game tonight than against New Jersey, by a lot. Boston, whether we like it or not, are a hard team to beat; a team that can beat you on almost every level. In fact, I think that they are a better team this year than last. So, I was happy enough that the game was close and that was mostly due to Carey.


Comments


Boston played well tonight and we were just OK. We aren't going to win too many times in Boston if that is the case. It isn't surprising given the current situation of the two teams, but it is still upsetting. It looks like the problems of our team may have gone quite a bit beyond coaching as not much (granted it has only been 3 days) has changed. I still want to give the new staff time to work things out, but do hope that they (and our players) can reach their full (or near full) potential in the not too distant future. If we aren't on a better track in about 3 weeks then I think we'll be having to find different things to do this April and a few other people will have to find different things to do come next September.

What Just Happened?

The Canadiens Recalibration Project

Jacques Martin was released on Saturday, hours before a game, days before Xmas. The team is still mired in the battle for a bottom playoff spot, but it was also coming off a long series of games in which points were gathered and sometimes hard-earned.

As coaching changes go, this was one was strange. primarily in its timing.

Because it is strange, I think it is important that we step back and ask ourselves some questions.

In our traditional view of things there are several reasons why one would fire a coach:

1) The team's results don't match their potential
2) The players have asked for a change
3) There is a better candidate
4) The GM is grasping at one last straw


The answer to all these questions in this case are slightly unclear.

No one can dispute that the Canadiens are sitting near the bottom of the standings and behind some important benchmark peers. However, all but the blindly optimistic thought there would be periods of sitting outside the playoff list as the team battles to get in. In effect, the team is matching those expectations, and is merely battling back from a slump that happened to occur at the beginning rather than in the midst of a season. Taking into account injuries to some key players over these months, the expectation are even more in line with what reasonable people would expect from this list of talent at the stages they are all in in their careers.

As for the players, I think the core buy what Martin is selling. Any reasonable member still skating from the 2010 playoff team will know that they made a playoff run because of his strategies built to suit their talent deficit. I'm relatively certain that they can still see there's no Lidstrom or Crosby in their midst and are happy to go with the pragmatic approach that Martin employs. I don't think they asked for this move.

Better candidate? Perhaps. But he's not been installed. That alone undercuts this argument.

GM panic? From what I've been hearing and reading, this is the position of most who've run through the other possibilities. It's possible, but I have another set of questions first.



A few weeks ago I read an article by Michael Farber about Louis Leblanc that delved much deeper than that. If you look back at it, it is like a harbinger that signalled the end of Martin and perhaps even Gauthier.

Farber starts predictably enough down the line of francophone vs. other on the team, in the organization. But as his thesis develops, he hones in on something else.

Montreal as a city may or may not have given birth to hockey, but it certainly gave it its upbringing. The earliest hockey leagues were at their most relevant when Montreal teams were involved. Montreal was the home of the Stanley Cup in the beginning and the league's (and game's) decision makers. The rules were written in Montreal and apart from the cosmetic surgery that has been taking place the past few seasons, the rules were perfected there as well. And it's not only been the administration of the game that has mattered. The Montreal teams through the years, and the Canadiens in particular have shaped the game in so many ways. There aren't many rules originating from the problems posed by the New York Rangers, for the Canadiens there have been.

But it's the Canadiens in particular on which the city has settled. And not just the Canadiens come what may. Rather the Canadiens cast as Flying Frenchmen.

In the early years of the franchise, the "Flying Frenchmen" tag was more of a marketing tag than a comment on the hockey. But at some point, the brand infused the team. The Flying Frenchmen became a philosophy. And later still, I think the brand was adopted by this city.

There are those whose constant gaze is fixed on the word Frenchmen, and this is where Farber started. But then he lands on short examination of what I would call the Flying half of this couplet:

The Canadiens' failure is not one of falling short of some mythical quota, but one of imagination.

The players who have most touched the city in recent seasons were not French Canadians but the problematic Alexei Kovalev, an artiste in style and temperament, and defenseman P.K. Subban, whose game is layered with curlicues. Indeed when Martin scratched Subban last season, there was general outrage about his efforts to stifle the player rather than applause that the team, with its dandy rookie exiled to the press box, actually won a few games in a row.

I thought this was an insight at time. Maybe an insight I would write about later. But later is now when people are looking for possible answers to "why?" and "why now?"

Isn't it indeed the "Flying" that defines our love affair with this team?

From rough and tumble beginnings from which a modern Don Cherry might have shielded his view, the Canadiens emerged with Howie Morenz to change hockey with this attacking mentality. The heritage was passed next to the teams of the 50s, 60s and 70s, even 80s -- al the while emblazoning itself on the hearts and minds of its followers.

When Farber notes:

This current iteration of the Canadiens, lagging even the rebuilding Ottawa Senators in the Northeast Division, has not made many new friends and might be in the process of temporarily alienating some old ones.

he suggests the answer could be Louis Leblanc. Perhaps.

But if someone were really asking this question (someone like say Geoff Molson), would his recalibration begin and end with a 20 year-old already comfortable in the ways of deferring to defensive assignment for the win?

I wouldn't have thought so. He might start by identifying the roots of the alienation that has been occuring between once adoring fan and the "Flying Frenchman" brand. He might overhear all the begrudging admissions that Jacques Martin is successful , but somehow just not right; that playing the percentages is sound statistically, but ever so tedious a spectacle.


Clear your minds of preconceived notions for a minute:

- Maybe this firing is not about the Candiens wins and losses of a partial season
- Maybe this has nothing to do with Randy-on-the-spot Cunneyworth (I'll bet money it doesn't)
- Maybe there isn't a hero in the wings

Maybe what we are seeing is some recognition at long last that Montreal so loves not hockey, but their hockey; winning, but not at any cost (not at this cost); that the city if not able to boast about strings of Stanley Cups (and most are realistic to know those days are past) would at least wish to look down their noses on the adherent of trapping and negative tacttics as their team skates for goals.

Maybe what we are seeing is a deep recalibration, not just a superficial one, ten times tried in 20 years.

For me, this is the line of questioning that leads to the best answers. And for that reason, if no other, it's worth asking.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Game #33

Devils Torment Anxious Habs

Details



Date: 17/12/2011
Opponent: Devils
Location: Montreal


Loss: 3-5


Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Brodeur (W)

Habs goalscorers: Subban, Campoli, Eller
Opposition goalscorers: Sykora, Elias (2), Clarkson, Zubrus




Play of the game


In need of a goal, the Canadiens needed to take advantage of a PP. They were able to do that on their first opportunity of the game. It ended in a goal, but the play of the game was the whole collection of play that led up to it including good battles won by Cammalleri, keep ins by Kaberle and Subban and strong play from Plekanec and Cole. The sustained pressure meant the Canadiens could be patient and it was the most patient shuffle back and then across that opened a shooting lane on a perfectly screened Brodeur for PK Subban.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Lars Eller - Game Puck
Looking for clues as to why Martin was let go? Tonight Eller played the most ES minutes of any forward and he played on the PK. He played well too. Hopefully Cunneyworth will find a way to channel a player who is capable of burning opponents on his offside to cut into the net, who is capable of outmuscling bigger players with strong balance, who can score goals like the one he did.

Andrei Kostitsyn
It was a typical Andrei game. His best moments were all of the offensive variety and he made a couple of plays that will lead his critics to claim he doesn't pay attention. But he was certainly the most dangerous forward on the ice in re, had the most dangerous shots and made that one jaw-dropping play that we all wish he'd do more often.

Tomas Plekanec
Consider this an indictment of those that had the chance to step up and didn't. Plekanec was OK, nothing spectacular for most of his shifts. He had a clean sheet on the PK over 5 minutes and was part of that PP goal for his 3 minutes of PP time. But when down someone needed to step up and make a play and no one could muster it. So instead Mr. Steady gets the dome here with nothing over steady play.

Defencemen

PK Subban
Something has been off this season with Subban. In the off season we had been talking about the best prospect this organization had had in years. This sophomore slump (if it's that) was batting away at that warm weather optimism. But tonight, tonight of Martin's release, Subban seemed to show some release of his own and make a few rushes that didn't end in a memory of the coach berating him. He showed signs of the exuberance that makes him great and what makes Montreal love hockey. It didn't hurt that he scored a goal too.

Tomas Kaberle
His pass on the PP was sublime. he was making it before Cammalleri knew he would even feed the pass. Such is this player's comfort on the point in the PP. he buys the team seconds, not just milliseconds and it pays off in goals when they can get in the zone. Add to this that his peers were at times utterly atrocious (Campoli) and it makes his claim an easy one.

Goaltender

Pater Budaj
Carey made some serious saves, don't get me wrong. It was probably a tad of bad luck, but he didn't give his team a chance to win. Perhaps we blame Kevin Weekes who was still praising Price for a save when he allowed a goal on the identical chance. or perhaps we heap a little more blame on coach long gone s=who never saw fit to rest Carey despite many many games just like this with errors abounding.


Comments


The Cunneyworth era nearly looked like it would begin with a high note for a while in the second period. But some odd decisions with Nokelainen on the ice at strange times (and Campoli) made sure Martin's last day would be a Martin style loss. The Devils are a formidable opponent when they want to be and they showed it here with the better counter-attack of the night.

The changes that were made by the coach weren't drastic. But nor would we expect them to be hours into a tenure. The play proceeded as it likely would have if JM had been there. What changes lie ahead are uncertain. Cunneyworth coaxed better results from a depleted Hamilton team than this year's staff can and managed to have them scoring, so he may be suited to a team of middling talent and laden with injury. I would welcome, personally, any approach that seizes the initiative and makes the Habs run games rather than wait for results. I guess we'll see.

Of note other than the coaching were the play of Campoli and the implosion of Erik Cole. Campoli the stop gap has hopefully signed his own press box pass with his play tonight. He scored a goal that must be labeled one-off, after all it came off a Hal Gill pinch. He was Briseboiesque most of the rest of the time. Cole took several silly penalties including one that cost a goal and another that was the wrong kind of hit. He should be suspended for that play and this will hurt the team, just as his play off the puck hurt the team tonight. A rare series of lapses from a player who to this point has been nearly impeccable in bleu, blanc, rouge.

The System Is Down - Martin Out, Cunneyworth In

In what is sure to generate a lot of commentary from a lot of places this weekend, Canadiens management has signaled the end of the Jacques Martin era and have given the reins to Randy Cunneyworth for the interim. JM is a peculiar kind of coach, and his particular style of play (AKA "The System") has generated plenty of praise and ire from commenters here and around the web. I, for one, am not sorry to see him go.

I've never made it much of a secret that I'm no fan of JM and his System. I find it's boring and frustrating to watch, and more importantly, it's predictable to opponents and sometimes stifling for talent. I'm not saying that Gomez putting up garbage numbers is somehow Martin's fault, but I feel like Kostitsyn for one might have developed into an even better player had he seen more time on the ice the last two seasons. I also hate Martin talking about puck possession when he will let opponents have it enough to pepper his goalie with 50 shots while seeming to discourage physical play.

My take is that through most of his tenure, Martin has kept 2 scoring lines, a checking line, and another line consisting of people that had pissed him off lately. Obviously, AK46 spent a lot of time on that line. The emergence of a third scoring line this year has been a welcome surprise to us, but may have confused Martin—how is he supposed to punish players like Kostitsyn when he ends up skating with Eller and Desharnais to become one of the stronger threats we've iced this season?

Well, you could always break up the trio. Martin seems opposed to the whole idea of consistent lines and letting players develop chemistry. I'm not a big fan of this idea. I think players are better as they get to know each other and where each other like to be on the ice. I think physical play is an enormous part of hockey, and that the Canadiens are rightly criticized for being soft on their opponents at times. The System discourages things that aren't collapsing into your zone, like making your man pay the price for crossing your blue line or delivering the kinds of punishing hits Emelin is becoming known for. The lack of physicality allows opponents to take certain liberties, like running Price and and coming across our blue line with their heads down.

This is a better team than last season in my opinion. We have more offensive weight and are just as good in the back. Price is playing well and so are key players like Plekanec, Subban, Gorges, and Kostitsyn. We've had a number of players performing well-above my expectations, like Desharnais, Cole, Pacioretty, Weber, Diaz, and even Emelin. I have a hard time believing a coach can't do more with this squad compared to last season's.

We'd like to see more from Gomez, obviously, and Cammalleri and Gionta haven't been performing to their normal standards. Is this a coaching issue? I have no idea. We don't seem to be able to finish adequately around the net, either. We still seem tired and out of shape at times, and have trouble playing 60 full minutes. After several years of being one of the better power play teams in the league, we've suddenly forgotten how to use the extra man. Are these coaching issues? Obviously we can't tell at this point, but I'm inclined to say 'yes'.

With a new coach we'll find out the answer, and here we can let speculation run wild. Will Cunneyworth be left in charge for the long-term, or will Habs management be on the phone with Bob Hartley all year? Will the team get better without JM, or should we have held on to him for just a little while longer? Does Gauthier regret letting Guy Boucher go to Tampa, or is he still laughing over the Philly incident? How bad will the RDS rants be about Cunneyworth's poor French and his Toronto roots?

My take is that the team will improve, but more because things aren't about to get much worse. I've been seeing a team that does a lot of things right but just isn't getting the wins. I think they would have started coming in even if JM stayed on, but maybe they'll start coming a little quicker and more often under Cunneyworth. Let us know your take on the firing and what's next for the CH.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Game #32

Refs Travel Back In Time; Calling Foot-In-Paint Heritage Rules

Details



Date: 15/12/2011
Opponent: Flyers
Location: Montreal

Loss: 3-4

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Bobrovsky (W)

Habs goalscorers: Desharnais, Leblanc, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Talbot, Zolnierczyk, Simmonds, Meszaros



Play of the game


Cole's goal wasn't the prettiest of the night, but it was the goal that let the Flyers know that we were for real, that they would have to work hard to beat us. It was a PP goal on a night when we should have scored more of those, but at least we scored one. I always like scoring at the end of the period, this is because momentum rarely carries through the intermission and taking advantage of the type of momentum that we had going at the end of the second was paramount.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

David Desharnais - Game Puck
I was very happy with Desh's play tonight. He scored a goal and an assist and was our best forward throughout. His goal was a smart goal, the type of goal one would expect from a player like David, a player that has had to be very smart just to make it to the show.

Erik Cole
Erik played another good game and because of it was a no-brainer for the dome. Other than the stellar offence, that he obviously brought, there were hits, 4 of them in all. Is it just me or is he a better player now than the one we remember in Carolina?

Michael Cammalleri
I am starting to feel a bit bad for Camms. He is getting a very bad reputation of late and I think it all stems from his low goals total. To call him useless other than when he scores is a bit unfair to him as a player. He isn't Cole or Plekanec, but he isn't Darche, Nokelainen or Blunden either. One thing that he rarely gets credit for is his defensive play, specifically his play on the PK. Tonight he played over 3 minutes man-down and helped the Habs go 6 for 6 against the hot Flyers. Oh, there were also 7 shots (10 attempts). The goals aren't going in, but the effort was there tonight, in both ends. The goals, I assure you, will come.

Defencemen

PK Subban
Kaberle was OK, but didn't do enough on the PP to work his way to the dome. Gill was solid throughout, but his wasted offensive opportunities were frustrating to watch. Didn't like what Campoli brought tonight, scary in his own end at times. A player that I was happy with was Subban. Nothing flashy, just good strong, positional hockey. He doesn't get many a night off when it comes to tough assignments, tonight was no exception.

Josh Gorges
I was happy to see Emelin back in and was happy with the 6 hits. I even liked the pinches he made, but I still felt that tonight Josh was my man. For many of the same reasons as PK, Gorges finds himself in yet another dome.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Carey has had better nights, but he wasn't that bad. The Flyers are a good team and unless you are excellent you can expect at least 2 against you. I guess we won't win many games by letting in 4 goals, but I didn't feel that anyone could have done a much better job than he did. Oh wait, there is one: Chris Lee. If he learned the rules of hockey we likely would have won this game.


Comments


A loss isn't great, it is zero points after all. But, when we accept that we can see that the Habs put the effort in tonight. There were good chances and they played well enough at both ends to warrant a win on most nights. There are things, however, that we can't control. Those that we can control include the PP and making sure that we go more than 1/9. This has been the story of our season and will continue to be until we turn it around. We can't blame the Habs too much though as guys like Cammalleri, Desharnais, Subban and Weber are no Kovalev, Koivu, Markov or Streits when it comes to playing with an extra man. So, we can't expect to be top of the league anymore, but I guess asking for Kaberle to turn us into a top-20 team would be a suitable Christmas wish.

Things that we can't control are things like the reffing. Tonight I felt that there were three goals that could have gone the other way. All were because of goalie interference type things and all three calls went against the Habs. The first was a Montreal goal that got called back. Lee called the famous 1999 (non cup-winning, of course) foot in the blue rule. Remember the one where a player like Cole screens the goalie, doesn't touch him, but has his skates in the painted ice that really has no purpose whatsoever? Ya, of course you do. The next two were called as goals for Philly. Both goals involved contact on Price, both probably should have been disallowed. It is thus surprising that Lee can find a hockey helmet big enough as he didn't even have the courtesy to seriously review any of those calls. The call on the ice stood all three times. We may not have won the game had these three (or even one of them) gone our way, but it would have helped. The good thing is that we don't really have to change the way we played, we just have to change who we let ref our games.

The Pat Hickey Debacle

I'm not sure how up you all are with the recent events surrounding the trial of Graham James. I'm certain you've all heard something about it.

In the wake to of the latest ruling, Pat Hickey wrote an article on the matter that has proven to be his most provocative writing ever. Of course, it is the opinion of most that choosing to be provocative in the way he did was simply in bad taste and a distraction from the issues.

I thought about weighing in on the matter, but on reflection was feeling woefully unqualified to do so. Luckily, the piece I would have loved to have my name on has been penned by long-time commenter here and new member of Habs Eyes on the Prize, Andrew Berkshire. I strongly recommend reading it through as it sensitively paints a picture of the Hickey debacle.

I am not one to read Pat Hickey much anyway, but this is causing me to take a clearer break from his writing. I understand what his view was, but I object to the fact he gave air to it, and I am turned off by the way he refuses to admit bad judgment in the matter.

Where do you the commenters sit on this?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Game #31

Montreal Changes The Script In The Third, Win At Home

Details



Date: 13/12/2011
Opponent: Islanders
Location: Montreal

Win: 5-3

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Montoya (L)

Habs goalscorers: Kostitsyn, Darche, Cole, Nokelainen, Gill
Opposition goalscorers: Moulson, Bailey, Tavares



Play of the game


After New York tied it up I was sure that we were either going to OT or, worse, would lose in regulation. Kostitsyn, however, had different ideas and it was his initiative that led to the winner. A dump-in was made with about 6:30 to play and it looked like the defence would grab it, the Habs would change and the game would continue. Andrei didn't let that happen, though. Instead he chased down the puck, made a beautiful hit to win both body position and the pcuk and kept the play alive in the Isles' end. That play led to good possession which led to Nokelainen, Kostitsyn's eventual replacement, firing home his second of the year.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
He was close to winning the game-puck tonight, he was that good. He used size and strength to win battles and win pucks, he used it to get off shots or chances that others would not be able to make. His goal was a perfect example of his drive and his incredible shot, his hit on the play-of-the-game was an example of his speed and strength. Tonight's goal was his 9th, in just 21 games.

Erik Cole - Game Puck
Erik can fly out there and because of it generates so many chances for himself and his linemates. Another thing that he does really well is shoot. He has an amazing shot and when he gets passes like he did on his goal (courtesy of the crafty Desharnais) he rarely makes mistakes. His 11th goal (coupled with his slow start) has me firmly believing in 30 from him.

David Desharnais
I must just mention Nokelainen here as his shot, the game-winner, was incredible. Overall, however, I felt that Desh had the stronger game. He picked up two assists including a fantastic one on the PP on Cole's goal. He also did well in the face-off circle at 53%. When he plays as he did tonight he is a legitimate 2nd-line centre and he then adds so much to his wingers' games. Not sure what will happen when Gomez and Gionta are back, but can't say I mind David getting 18+ minutes with a good amount of 2nd unit PP time.

Defencemen

PK Subban
PK played 26 minutes of hockey against New York's best tonight and did a formidable job of containing them. He also, unfortunately, led the team in giveaways which is something that he must work on. He did, however, contribute offensively and picked up an assist, a nice PP assist, on Cole's goal. In the end I am not too worried about his offensive or PP numbers in the end, though. If he can limit the blunders in his own end then he'll be one of the most imposing defensive D-men that we have had in years and that may just be what this team needs from him.

Tomas Kaberle
Tomas only played 17 minutes and was on (looking a bit lost) on New York's tying goal. How can I take away what he does for us offensively though? That is why we got hi, right? He can be the #5 or #6 in our end provided he does what no one else this year has done. And, for his part, he is getting his job done. He collected a third assist tonight, but, more importantly, ran our PP calmy and with authority. He is so good at controlling the middle of the ice, moving the puck and controlling it that we are getting more time in their end on the PP and more shots, just like that. As of now it is looking like a great move that Gauthier has made. But, check back in 2 weeks to see how it's going then.

Goaltender

Carey Price
It was an average night for Carey, but in the end he got the job done and delivered the Habs a rare home win. He did make some good saves down the stretch which enabled the Habs to stay tied. I am sure that he was as happy as you and I when Nokelainen, and then Gill, scored to keep this game to 60 minutes. I'd like to see Budaj get a start before Christmas, but only to give Price a rest. He has been playing well and we have to make sure that he is fit and rested enough for the second half.


Comments


You look at games like this one in October and you pencil in a win. Home to the Islanders, that wouldn't even be funny. The Isles jumped out to a lead, but good plays by both Kostitsyn and Campoli had us right back in it. The Habs then dominated the play until they were up 3-1 after a few seconds in the third. Their good PPs, strong fore-check and solid D didn't matter anymore as it was 'see if we can hang on' time. As is the custom these days the opposition tied it up as the Habs, once again, looked disorganized in their own end. After the tying goal, however, Montreal went for it. Nokelainen's goal gave us the lead again and Gill's unlikely 175' marker gave us the win. New York probably regrets tying it up so early as it lit a fire under the Habs, a fire that sometimes isn't lit until OT.

Kaberle looks like he may be the December PP specialist acquisition we were looking for. Is he the latest in a long line of players that we have found over the past few years that can get the job done? It looks like he may very well be. I am not quite sure about Campoli though. I am glad he is healthy and game-ready, but I am not convinced he is a top-6 on our team (even with Markov out). Let's not forget that Chris was brought in to do what we have now brought Kaberle in to do and I think Tomas will most certainly do it better. So, do we want Campoli over Emelin? I don't. Over Diaz? Probably not. A win is a win and I am thrilled, but I feel that we can't let a guy like Emelin sit too long as wins aren't a given and I think he is certainly part of the solution.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Game #30

Habs PiP Devils For Points

Details



Date: 10/12/2011
Opponent: Devils
Location: New Jersey

Win: 2-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Brodeur (L)

Habs goalscorers: Pacioretty, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Palmieri




Play of the game


There wasn't a bigger moment in this game for the fragile Canadiens than when Zach Parise stood at centre ice facing down Carey Price. Carey, to this point, not where he wanted to be on penalty shot proficiency had something to prove. On the line: the game, of course; but perhaps also some of the unconditional faith his players and fans have in him. It takes a big character to stand facing those things, not to mention one of the better shooters in the league, and walk (nay leap) away with the prize. Carey did it by doing what he does best -- staying with the shooter in the ready position, making the save look easy in the end.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Erik Cole
What can you say about this guy? I thought he was good when he skated rings around the Habs in 2002, but I think he might be better now. There is spark in his game, a real desire to get the puck on his stick and make something of it. Whether it's cutting to the net (and drawing the critical penalty), saucering the incisive PP pass that opened the scoring or making sure the Habs would have enough in the bank to get away with points.

Max Pacioretty
A couple of great shots (one a goal of course) and some other good ones. There was a time when the Habs were at risk of testing the 1-0 goal lead for the win, but it was Pacioretty and his line that retook the momentum and put that idea to bed.

David Desharnais
Right there with his linemates, Desharnais was on for the best Canadiens attacking moments. Perhaps unexpectedly, it was also his line that got the bulk of the time against Kovalchuk and Parise, the recently hot Devils unit. Desharnais played the good centre, winning many faceoffs, dishing passes to his hot wingers and staying aware of his opposition.

Defencemen

Tomas Kaberle
I think we'll have to get used to things happening when Kaberle is on the ice. He was on for each of the goals this afternoon and played a part for all. While he was way out of sync in the defensive end (to be expected a day into a new system and partnership with a rookie), he provided plenty of glimpses into who Kaberle at his best is too. The first goal was a simple pass to an open Cole. The second goal was a simple press then lay off to an open Darche. Finding open players with simple passes on the PP? Sounds so simple. Yet... well let's not get into it. His plays of the game for me both entailed keeping it in at the line -- once on something that would previously have gone to Price, and on the second goal where he pinched to keep PP possession past the expiry of the punishment. No full verdict is in here, but it's a nice start.

Josh Gorges
I thought this was a pretty good defensive game from the Habs. To me they kept shots to the outside and tidied up messes pretty well. Josh played all the important defensive minutes in this one and with a lessened PP burden could really concentrate on doing that job which he does best.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
No doubt about this one. The Canadiens system is dependent on their lynch pin making all the saves. There's no sense in allowing wide and distant shots if they result in rebounds or occasional goals. With Price orchestrating from the back, the system as it is conceived worked the way it should. He solidifies the Game Puck today for me with that very clutch save described above.


Comments

There are always different ways to interpret the same events.

The Habs since they beat the New York Rangers 10 games ago have not sealed an easy regulation victory for themselves. In all the games since the Anaheim debacle, they have led and tried to hang on with greater or lesser success. Some choose to focus on the imperfection of their game and their propensity to allow other teams in. Those people seem to miss the 7 points from 5 games (that's 0.700 hockey), no regulation losses, and 5 games where they were able to jump to leads by some means or another.

I'm not going to pretend I wouldn't like the team to be the perfect executioners of every aspect of the game. I long for the day the Art Ross trophy winner gets us the lead to hand over to the Norris, Selke and Vezina trophy winners to hold on. I wait for the time when the team will not only astound with the PK, but once again with the PP. However, I think the team is owed credit for getting these points in sometimes difficult circumstances.

A win changes the perspective, of course, and the write-up. But so it should. The Canadiens after all didn't lose the lead, they kept it. They did some good things to keep scoring chances to a minimum after the first period and Carey Price turned the game while time was stopped for a penalty shot.

It's easy to see the negative, so far are the Canadiens from the perfect team. But it's worth noting in a league where first is still only 5 wins away, there is no perfect team. Better then to consider this team vs. their actual peers -- one of which we saw this afternoon. Against 5 straight peers, the Habs have competed and been winning or tying at 60 or 65 minutes. There far from perfect, but not far from competitive.

What's more, the PP looked improved. The memories of Anaheim and repeated chases back behind their own net neatly banished by a few Kaberle zone saves and simple passes. Gauthier has said this was the only thing that needed fixing. An understatement to be sure. but he was right that it needed fixing at least. Now when the Tedenbys of the world break the rules to take away golden scoring opportunities, they may once again pay for it.

The games the come next are critical for solidifying this "streak". The Islanders haven't thrown in the towel yet, but need to be shown that is the way. The Flyers are a resilient bunch too, and can score from all over, a win against them would be a nice prize. Then it's the Devils you know again next Saturday (evening, thankfully).

The Soundbytes of US Presidents

Yesterday Mike Boone invoked Sylvester the Cat and Harry Truman to explain his "positive" spin on the Canadiens season thus far.

In reply, I would like to refer to a line appropriated by and sometimes attributed to another US president, Abraham Lincoln.


“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

The Canadiens have proven this line is a fit for them. Pleasing all the people? Well that happened as recently as an Erik Cole against Roberto Luongo. We all know they please some people all the time too.

In the wake of the Kaberle trade, my estimation is that Canadiens have not pleased all the people this time. But they weren't probably aiming for that impossible goal.

Please the media? Good luck, they're too grumpy these days as they realize they might have to find new ways to come up with stories as the press conference gravy train delivers drivel readers don't want to read...

Please those who have their minds made up? Impossible. Might caue an internal rupture causing them to have to do the thing they despise most -- admit they were wrong.

A team can only do what it thinks is best and hope the results they anticipate go about pleasing the people.



My favourite part of all this is how I'm suddenly hearing almost gushing love and admiration for the player that was traded away.

Give me a break.

I have defended Spacek on a few occasions, but I scarcely remember many people joining in. I certainly never remember outward display of this highest regard from those who are otherwise just dying for interesting things to write about.

On the whole, I'd say that Spacek had a lot more trouble pleasing all the people all of the time than did the organization during his tenure. Much maligned, this may be the biggest outpouring for him yet (and he hasn't played in weeks).

Friday, December 09, 2011

Kaberle Deal Is A Big Deal

There have been realistic conversations taking place that Jaroslav Spacek might not find a place on the Canadiens blueline if he ever were to return form injury. Well now it's confirmed, he won't.

He's been traded for Tomas Kaberle.

Make no mistake about it, this is a big deal.

Kaberle is perhaps not what Kaberle was 3 or 4 years ago, but he is a different player to Spacek for whom he was just traded. For years a stalwart of the Toronto PP, he often led that team to have a good one. And this is not distant past either. Last season, Kaberle had 25 assists on the PP.

He is faulted both for his lack of production this season (9 points) and his apparent lack of return on value for the Bruins, but let's not forget he won the Cup with that team. Whatever he did, he didn't hurt the effort too much -- a moderately above average team still won the Cup with this guy.

The key to watching Kaberle will be tempering expectations. he does not shoot, almost cannot shoot. But he is slippery in possession none the less. What's more, he can turn quick plays and move the focus of attack from the point (and keep the darn puck in at the line), all things the Canadiens have been crying out for since they have begun this season without the triumvirate of Markov, Hamrlik and Wisniewski.

Obviously the downside is his salary (or so it was for the Hurricanes).
But that has to be accepted as a way to acquire players that can actually make an impact at this level mid-season. For all the groaning, Kaberle is only signed to make just over $4 million (NHL average salary is now pushing $3 million, remember) and will only cost the Habs a few hundred thousand more than Spacek this season.

If the other downside is that he is untradeable, that seems to have been proven untrue by recent events (namely two trades in 10 months).


Be optimistic

I suggest everyone takes the optimistic view on this. Kaberle probably won't save the team, but acquiring a 33-year-old veteran who scored 47 points when he was 32 from defence is not a bad thing. Hope that his limitations will be covered by those defencemen who will now be freed from having to man the PP as ineptly as they have been.

And though it's tempting to view this as Markov's replacement, as that's been a recent fixation, remember it was for Spacek he was traded and not Markov. If Markov returns, Kaberle will be filling those skates, not Andrei's.

I did not feel a real impending need for a move at this time, but if there was any emotion it was the dread that pressure from others less patient would lead to a vast overpayment for the purposes of placation. This doesn't feel that way at all. In fact, pleasant surprise is the way it feels.


Farewell Spacek

I don't want anyone to mistake my gushing language as an indictment of Spacek. I always felt he was a good addition given the options available and that for the most part he made the defensive corps better. He was a big reason for the playoff push of 2010, and should be remembered fondly for giving us that.

I'm sure he'll be just fine in Carolina until his contract expires. After that, we wish him the best of luck in finding employment with a new team somewhere.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Game #29

One More Slips Through Habs's Hands

Details



Date: 08/12/2011
Opponent: Canucks
Location: Montreal

Loss: 3-4 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Luongo (W)

Habs goalscorers: St. Denis, Diaz, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Raymond, Hodgson (1, SO), Salo



Play of the game


The play of the game was going to be the Cole goal, that is until we got to OT. In my head it was then going to be the winner or a fantastic save. When neither of those happened I went back to the one play that made us look our best. Cole did very well at the blue-line to block a shot. The puck bounced favourably for him and he was off towards Luongo with Pacioretty on a 2-on-1. Cole made the right choice and Luongo guessed wrong. The goal gave us the dreaded 3-0 lead.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
Andrei tied for the lead in shots and in hits tonight and that didn't come as a shock. He made things happen in the offensive zone and, unfortunately for him, ends the night with a -1 rating and no points. When he uses his size, strength and shot, as he did tonight, he is easily one of our best all-around players.

Erik Cole - Game Puck
Speed, size and more speed was Erik's game tonight. His goal was the pay-off for playing that way throughout the first two periods, for making the Canuck defence question themselves. He almost cost us the game in OT with a horrible giveaway, but Price bailed him out with a fantastic save and saved him game-puck honours.

David Desharnais
Desharnais didn't pick up any points or have a great night in the face-off circle, but did a fine job in other categories. He centred our best line and contributed to quite a few of Cole and Pacioretty's chances. He also ended up being one of only three forwards (Cole, Camms) to improve their +/- tonight.

Defencemen

Raphael Diaz
Scored a goal and logged huge minutes again. I was also pretty impressed with his confidence at both ends. His play and that of Emelin's vs. that of Weber's has me liking the playing-pro-in-Europe route quite a bit. Where else can you get 25 year-olds who are ready to play top-4 minutes?

Alexei Emelin
I would have liked to have Gorges in here, but in the end I couldn't get over him being on the ice for two third period goals against. So, I went with Emelin, the obvious (how crazy is that?) choice. He logged close to 24 minutes, led the game in hits (tied with Kostitsyn) and is becoming the one Hab that you don't want to be skating in on with some speed.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I have Carey in, but it was close. I know that it isn't his fault that we always lose our leads, it is the team's. It would be great if we had a goalie who could hold-off the nightly third-period bombardment, but it shouldn't be expected. Price would have a lot more wins with a better team in front of him, but there are goalies, few as they are, who would have this team winning. He made some fabulous saves to even give us the chance at one point and then a couple in OT that gave us the chance for a shootout (or, realistically, a chance to win in OT). I would, however, have Budaj in for the shootout. I don't now how good or bad Peter is in the shootout, but I know that 9 goals on 17 shots (38th of 45 goalies) isn't good; I would give change a chance.


Comments


If you didn't see this game, but you saw the San Jose one, I think that you're good. The Habs couldn't hold their lead, sat back and gave it too little too late. The upsetting part is that when we are playing well (as we did in the first 40 minutes) we can keep up with any team, we can beat any team. We are too content, however, once we have the lead to see if we can hold on. Why anyone in their right mind would think that a defensive shell would be the best way to win or tie a period is beyond me. It seems pretty obvious that if we kept playing to score we could be winning games by more than 1 goal (generally the result when wins actually happen). This is the reason that so many of our games go to OT and so many of our other losses or other wins are by 1-goal margins. We allow the other team to catch-up, if they want, all the while being good enough ourselves to catch-up and keep a game close when we don't have the lead. Tonight's game is frustrating because it is one point lost. A point that we all know how we could have gotten, a point that the players know how to get, a point that the coaches should know how to get, but won't just do it. Until we change our gameplan it will always be a 50/50 toss-up. The playoff hope will remain alive, however, (not any old team can stay with Vancouver), but won't be a certainty (not any old team can keep it so close with Columbus).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Game #28

Habs Steal One From Jackets' Pocket

Details


Date: 6/12/2011
Opponent: Blue Jackets
Location: Montreal

Loss: 3-2 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Sanford (W)

Habs goalscorers: Kostitsyn, Gionta
Opposition goalscorers: Prospal, Umberger (Nash - SO)



Play of the game


We'd been lucky once already this game with a last-second goal in a listless first period, so hoping for a second while trailing late in the third seemed like it might be asking a little much. Then, a shot from outside by Plekanec was actually followed to the net by a couple forwards for once, Gionta to one side and Cammalleri to the other. The captain ended up with a soft rebound and made no mistake in putting it home to send this one to overtime and absolutely stealing a point from Columbus.



Dome hockey team


The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
His goal late in the first off a beautiful feed from Cammalleri was the only thing keeping us alive through the first 58:39 of the game. His defensive game wasn't up to scratch, and was on for both goals against. Still, he was one of the few that showed any offensive spark.

Brian Gionta
His late goal to salvage a point from a pretty uninspiring performance by most of the squad makes him a shoo-in.
I love to see a captain that does exactly what a captain needs to do.

Erik Cole
Poor Erik Cole couldn't buy a goal tonight. The fact that he had so many missed chances almost made me want to leave him out, but we know he's doing a lot of things right to get all those opportunities. Seems to magically create offense from nothing on a regular basis.

Defencemen

P.K. Subban
It's easy to sell Subban short these days with the expectations he has built for himself. He's played flashier games, but I like that he's been a little less flamboyant on the ice. He was on for almost 32 minutes and did his fair share of work to pitch in on offense while still being expected to be playing a more defensively responsible role.

Alexei Emelin
9 hits. 9 hits, and all over the rink. At least 3 of them were real earth-shakers, too. He plastered guys at the blue line to make them pay the price for coming into the zone, and he rocked them on the boards to make them pay for being in his house. Played solid defense for over 22 minutes and picked up his first NHL assist, he should be proud of his work.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
No question about this one tonight. Without the stunning work by Price throughout the game, we would have never had a chance. His absolute stoning of Umberger on the breakaway with just under a minute left in the second was a strong play of the game candidate, along with his huge save on Nash in the opening minutes of the third. Price was huge all night and was instrumental in getting that point for the standings.


Comments


Perhaps a little tired after a long road trip, the Habs started the night slowly and looked lethargic at times, especially early in the first. Columbus had a good game plan tonight, and they did a great job of clogging up the neutral zone and playing the body to prevent us from using our speed to play strong transition hockey. I haven't seen the team so completely and thoroughly stymied as this in any game I've blogged so far this season.

Worse than that, Colombus has some speedy players, and they created a shocking number of breakaways and odd-man rushes through breaking up plays in the neutral ice. Nash and Huselius looked particularly dangerous together, and I was reminded of how much I love watching Nash play hockey. Our power play woes continue, and we looked particularly pathetic in the third opportunity when another ridiculously slow line change stranded two lone Habs in the offensive zone while the forwards figured out who was supposed be doing what, and when. Oh, and when we went 0-for-3 on the shootout.

As I alluded to above, it seems to me that we got more a little lucky at times tonight. But given how unlucky some of our guys were (Cole fanned on some golden opportunities tonight), we deserved a little. Overall, though, we looked tired and weren't passing the puck well. It looked to me like we got outplayed by a Blue Jacket squad that really had their game together, and we should be pretty happy to take home a point.

Re-Align That Frown:

Montreal Gets Easier Playoff Road

The NHL's realignment has been hyped as victory all about travel and geography. But I'm not so sure. I'm not sure anyone has plugged in the miles, but with the redistribution of games played makes it seem like teams might do more travelling. The Canadiens will be one.

But let's face it, the lengthy arduous part of travelling is all the shuttling and airport, the toll that a flight 1.5 hours longer has on players is negligible.

The travel argument is salient. Sure it is for teams in places like Dallas. But I've got news for Dallas -- the reason your team has to travel so much is because there are no teams located anywhere near Dallas. That won't change however the conferences are reorganized.

Lost in the hype, perhaps is the coup that certain Governors seem to have carried out here. The New York teams, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington and Carolina (the NHL's best shots at strengthening newish roots in the US) make off in this deal like bandits. It seems like any and all concerns these powerful parties might have had will be met. The travel they will have to do must be the league minimum, the rivalries are all natural enough, and they got Florida turfed from their mix.

But the Governors from the Northeast also have red hands, because the most important coup from all this realignment is not which teams are in which divisions, nor how much less flying teams will have to do. Rather the coup is the unbalanced number of teams without a correcting mechanism in the playoffs.

By this new alignment, teams in the East can play 0.500 hockey and virtually guarantee playoff runs because only 6 of 14 teams will miss each year.

For Habs fans, I don't think anything should matter as much as this.

If our team plays in a league where 82 games are played without any recognition other than entry into a new tournament, then surely the most important thing for people who wish to watch winners of the tournament is that any imbalance runs in their favour.

With 7 teams in Conference Whatever It's Called, it surely does.

So while there's little niggles to complain about (more trips to Florida less to Pittsburgh, poor guys), the protest should be muted before we seem ungrateful for the playoff advantage. This realignment should bring all smiles to Montreal.


What's lost, what's gained:

+2 games vs. Florida, Tampa
+1 trip to Florida, Tampa
-2 games vs. NYR, NYI, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Carolina, Washington and Winnipeg
+12 games vs. various Western teams
+ chances of making the playoffs
- having to be careful of every Eastern team in March
+ possibility of Boston, Buffalo, Ottawa or Toronto in playoffs
- possibility of having to face NYR, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington in the first round
+ more late games
- (hopefully) afternoon starts