Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hope springs eternal once again in Montreal

Tomorrow marks the proverbial beginning of the 2011-2012 Montreal Canadiens season, as the majority of the organization will be present at Club Laval sur le Lac for the team's annual golf tournament. The event marks the first time the entire team will be available to the media since the sombre days following the Habs elimination at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Boston Bruins. Members of the media and fans alike will finally get some of the answers they've been waiting for all summer; how are Andrei Markov's and Josh Gorges' reconstructed knees? Is Max Pacioretty ready to confront perhaps the greatest mental block an athlete can ever be confronted with-that is, returning from a devastating, potentially career-ending injury? Is Carey Price ready to carry the load between the pipes for a second consecutive season? Will P.K Subban be able to fly around the dreaded sophomore slump the same way he flies around flat-footed defenders?

In reality, however, none of these answers will be fully answered by the time the team heads home tomorrow night to begin preparing for physicals and medicals on Friday. Tomorrow simply symbolizes the beginning of what Habs' fans are praying will be the year, the true Drive for 25. The foundation of hope is laid, and sparks of excitement will begin to fly around the city as the Montreal faithful gear up for another eight-month long campaign, full of ups and downs, highs and lows, with the hope that it is to be followed by a lengthy playoff run. Only in Montreal are the fans as emotionally involved in the game as their heroes on the ice. Each year brings a new sense of cautious optimism as armchair general managers around the city analyze and critique each move Pierre Gauthier has made over the past four months; is Nathan Beaulieu the real deal? Is Erik Cole the missing ingredient to round out the top-six forwards group? Is Peter Budaj an upgrade over Alex Auld? Will Gauthier regret hanging onto Scott Gomez following his disappointing year, or will he come out looking like a genius as a resurgent Gomez returns with a vengeance?

All intriguing thoughts, all to be cleared up in the very near future.

With the memory of Nathan Horton's Game 7 overtime winner no doubt still lingering, the Habs come into this season with something to prove. They must show that pushing the champs to Game 7 was not simply a fluke, but a genuine case of two elite teams duking it out to the final buzzer, with one team getting the knockout blow just before the bell. With an elite goaltender on the cusp of greatness, the makings of a top-tier defense and the addition of another bonafide top-line forward should only raise the expectation level for this edition of the Montreal Canadiens. It is time for this team to take the next step and ascend into the conversation of the elite, contending teams. Barring injury and other misfortunes, they have the capability to surprise a lot of people.

 It is time for this franchise to carry the city on its back, and not the other way around. The support and love for this team, these players, this logo, is at an all-time high. It is now time to pay it forward; this city has been aching for glory for the past two decades, the streets of downtown impatiently waiting to be paraded and celebrated upon once more.

Another year, another season, another chapter in history. Once again, hope springs eternal in Montreal.

“To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high.”

The torch has been flickering for eighteen long years. It is time for these Habs to re-ignite it and once again hold it high.

So, I ask you, fellow partisans-is this the year?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

And we're back! A quick look back on the Habs offseason

Yup...it's been awhile, to say the least-and as much as I'd love to delve into the many reasons why Magg's Habs Musings has been sitting on the backburner for the past 8 months, there is no time. There is no time because my back hurts and this chair is uncomfortable. There is no time because I am tired and might pack it in early tonight-but, most importantly, there is no time because training camp is right around the corner, and it is now time to look ahead to the beginning of the long, nerve-wracking, anxiety filled hockey season that comes with being a fan of the Montreal Canadiens.

It is time to break out the jerseys, the hats, the tuques and scarves. It is time to sit with fellow fanatics and debate, discuss, argue, and agree to disagree on various issues that would leave many wondering "Why do they even waste their time talking about this stuff?" But alas, only a true fan of the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge can truly appreciate a full-fledged conversation over whether or not Jeff Woywitka was the right defenseman to sign in the role of a depth defenseman.

If I wanted to waste your time, I would figuratively wind back the clock to Draft Day and analyze everything that has happened since then, in an attempt to formulate my opinions on the matter and with hope to persuade you into believing that I am credible, knowledgable person on the topic of hockey (which I plan on achieving, by the way). But its already August and anything I say will simply be repetition at this point, so unfortunately,  in keeping with the theme of this blog post-time, and the lack thereof-I will keep it short and sweet:

- I was rooting for Tyler Biggs, not Nathan Beaulieu. But Beaulieu has made me a believer (I watched the tape) and Biggs ended up with the Leafs...go figure.

- I was pleasantly surprised by the acquisition of Erik Cole. I'm hoping his history of success in Montreal as an opponent will translate to even better prodcution as a member of the home team (and on the road too of course).

- I was puzzled by the addition of Peter Budaj over Alex Auld, but you won't get any complaints from me. Besides, Price is going to play 82 games this year, isn't he?

- I am ever so thankful that Andrei Markov has re-signed, and for three years. And I can't wait for him to shove it in all his critics faces.

- I am quite skeptical about the Josh Gorges situation. I was among the many hoping Pierre Gauthier would lock him up long-term to a cap-friendly salary, but apparently the Canadiens believed taking the wait-and-see approach with the Habs Ironman. Gorges is a fighter, an unselfish, fiery competitor who has brought it every single night he ever wore a Canadiens uniform. He worked his up from pressbox afterthought to one of the leaders and potential future captain of this team. Now that future seems in doubt, because if Gorges has a good season, he may price himself out of the Habs' range-especially with Price and Subban in line for major raises next summer.

- It only took 7 years to get Alexei Yemelin to Montreal, but he has finally arrived-and we finally know how to actually spell his last name. There is indeed a "Y" in there...

- Watch out for Raphael Diaz-he has the potential to be the second coming of Mark Streit. Streit was a complete unknown when he broke in with the Habs, and with little to no expectations for him people wrote him off quickly. Diaz comes to Montreal in a similar situation, and judging by the rave reviews about his play in Switzerland, don't be shocked if Diaz finds a home in Montreal in the near future.

- Andrei Kostitsyn's comments to the Belarussian media were not surprising-not in the sense that we expect this kind of behavior from the elder Kostitsyn, but because it wasn't hard to figure out that he wasn't happy bouncing around from line to line all season long. His play was extremely streaky and the effort that he brought to the table came in bursts and spurts. His long-standing reputation as an inconsistent talent will probably result in this being his last season as a Canadien, barring not only a huge statistical season, but a major mental breakthrough.

If I missed anything, its because it isn't worth talking about. Or I'm too tired to remember. Or I'm rusty and need to get back to posting regularly before the thoughts flow properly again. All in all, my main offseason thoughts are highlighted. Next time, we'll focus more on the beginning of training camp and the always intriguing storylines that come with it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Habs dethrone Kings, and a look back on the first quarter of the season

The Canadiens went into last night's game against the Los Angeles Kings looking to rebound from an unimpressive outing two nights earlier against the Philadelphia Flyers, and they did just that in a convincing 4-1 victory over the visiting Kings. Goals from Andrei Kostitsyn, Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, and Lars Eller, along with Carey Price's 24-save performance, gave the Canadiens their 14th win of the season, as well as peace of mind that the Flyer's game was nothing more than an off night. It was also another step towards asserting the Habs as not only a good team, but a dominant, clear-cut contender in the East. The Kings may have come into last night's contest as losers of four out of their last five, but they are currently sitting in 6th in the Western Conference. As middle-of-the-pack as that may seem, the West tends to be much more competitive than the East; evidenced by the fact that they are two points behind Detroit for first place in the conference and the Central Division. The point is, the Kings aren't pushovers-they are stacked with young talent, headlined by Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Wayne Simmonds, Jack Johnson, Jonathan Bernier, and of course superstar Drew Doughty. Despite all the firepower, the Kings only managed one goal and were completely snuffed out offensively in another solid Markov-less effort by the defense, spearheaded once again by the old Czechs Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek.

Another high point in this one was Lars Eller FINALLY potting his first Habs goal, a moment that no doubt lifted the weight of the world off his shoulders. You could see the wave of relief crashing over him in his celebration, and he could not wipe the grin off his face on the bench while being congratulated by teammates and coaches. Overall, another good win for the Habs, who slowly but surely are erasing all doubts that people had coming into the season.

We are now 22 games into the season, meaning that we're officially past the quarter mark. In a word, the Habs have been surprising; so surprising that the "experts" who were trying to convince people that the Habs were going to suck and picking them to finish in the cellar of the Eastern Conference during the offseason are now trying to convince people that the Habs are a fluke, just a giant farce that comes with a hot start while the true elite are busy working out the kinks. For all we know, the Habs could have a major meltdown halfway through the year and those same pundits will be right. But for now, the Habs sit comfortably in third place in the Eastern Conference, as well as atop the Northeast Division, with the only real competition being present in the form of the Boston Bruins. So before we continue following our heroes long, arduous road to the playoffs, let's take a second to look back at what's happened so far this year.

It began a little over a month ago, an unimpressive loss to the Leafs in which Carey Price haters began to ruffle the feathers once again, crying for their saviour Halak after only 60 minutes of hockey. Price bounced right back with a last-minute-come-from-behind victory against Pittsburgh two nights later. The Habs then lost a heart-breaker to the Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lighting, but rebounded with solid back-to-back efforts in Buffalo and at home to Ottawa, the Ottawa game standing out as the Habs came back from down 3-1 in that contest. After a long lay off, the Habs tossed up a stinker against the hapless Devils, but bounced back nicely with Ottawa, Phoenix, and the Islanders twice in a home and home series spread over three nights. The streak ended with a 3-1 setback against Florida, followed by another no-show in Columbus, which began to sprout doubts about the Habs early successes. They responded with a 3-2 win in Buffalo, followed by a 3-2 loss to Ottawa the following night, a game in which the Habs looked tired but also allowed Brian Gionta to rediscover his scoring touch; this parlayed into a another four game win streak, by far the most impressive stretch of this young campaign: a 2-0 win against Vancouver, 3-1 win against Boston, 7-2 beatdown of Carolina, and another goose egg for the opposition in a 3-0 victory against the Flyers. It was during this week where Carey Price sent a clear message to not only the rest of the league, but to those who have constantly hated on and belittled him over the past three years. The Flyers avenged the loss Monday night, and then finally last night's game against the Kings rounded out the first part of the 2010-2011 season.

Its safe to say the Habs have exceeded all expectations thus far this year. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this early success is the fact that the Habs' pillar on defense, Andrei Markov, has been absent for all but seven games this year, after re-injuring his already fragile right knee against Carolina at a moment when the game was already out of reach. Also impressive is the Habs success in spite of a sporadic and largely ineffective powerplay and routinely unimpressive and inefficient performances by 8 million dollar man Scott Gomez. It's not the cap hit that's the issue, its that Gomez isn't even playing well enough to warrant 1/8 off that salary. Jeff Halpern has 13 points in 22 games playing less minutes, usually against the other teams top lines, with less powerplay time and more shorthanded minutes, while Gomez has but six point to show for his efforts thus far this season, despite having ALL of the Habs top talent line up with him throughout the first part of the year. Something has got to give, so Gomez has either got to start producing or Gomez has got to go; off the second line anyways, because no one is going to pull a Gainey and pick up that ridiculous contract. At some point Jacques Martin is going to run out of patience and give Halpern or youngster Lars Eller a chance to take that second line center spot.

Speaking of Jacques Martin, talk about a coach getting the most out of his players! So much for firing him and keeping Guy Boucher...Martin has been pushing all the right buttons, and he's getting top-notch results from his team. He may not be flamboyant or fiery, but his knowledge, experience and awareness behind the bench are much greater assets to a team than a coach who simply yells to have his raging voice heard in an effort to scare his players into playing better. A good example of Martin's impact came just this week, when he was clearly unhappy over the collapse in Philadelphia; he didn't call his team out or point fingers at anyone, but he made it clear that a better effort was necessary, and made his players pay the price by putting them through a bag skate and an intense practise the next day. The following night, the Habs responded nicely with a dominating 4-1 win against L.A. Clearly Martin has his player's attention and trust;they are focuses, believing in the system, and putting it out all out there almost every night, and its leading to good results.

Last but not least, how can we not talk about the revelation that is Carey Price? Sure, the revelation that was supposed to come and practically drag the franchise to another Stanley Cup three years ago, but better late than never, right? Price has arrived and he's doing it in style; 13 wins (1st overall), .933 save percentage (5th overall), 2.00 GAA (5th overall), and 4 shutouts (1st overall). Arguably the best all-around numbers in the league, and fans are rewarding him for it-he's sitting in first place with over 71,000 votes in the All-Star voting. Some expected Price to falter. Some expected him to fail miserably. Some expected him to do OK, but nothing great. Some expected him to be solid overall...but NOBODY saw this coming. Price has been downright dominant. He's done everything an elite starting goalie is expected to do; steal a few games, keep the team in a few games, make the key, big saves, and on the odd night, just don't let in more than the other guy. Price has yet to allow more than 3 goals in regulation time, and the most he's allowed all year in one game is 4, in an overtime loss against Tampa in the third game of the year. If Price keeps this up, the long wait for the Price to be right will have finally come to a happy end, one with a very bright future.

The Golden Boy has finally arrived. Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier can finally rest easy.

I figured since most people either grade or rate the players individually with a letter or number grade, or with a tag of some sort, I decided to be creative with it and give each player a little piece of advice that I would give them if I were Jacques Martin. Assuming I would call them each into my office, I would tell each player what they need to do to keep playing well, to pick it up a bit, or to get off their asses and get with the program:


Dustin Boyd: Keep patient kid, you're chance will come-but when it comes, don't waste your chance, seize it and don't let go.

Michael Cammalleri: Put the puck on net, your doing well but we know you can do even better. We need consistency from you, you're a pure sniper, so do what you do best; shoot and score.

Mathieu Darche: Not one bad thing to say to you. Keep working your tail off, everytime your in the lineup all you do is work, work, and produce. Keep it up.

Lars Eller: We're going to keep bringing you along slowly, but be ready when called upon-we need more production and if you prove yourself you'll get a legitimate shot on the top two lines. Keep up the effort.

Brian Gionta: You're my leader and you haven't disappointed one bit. You never take a shift off, you do and say all the right things, and you're hitting the score sheet with decent regularity. Don't let up, we need you, captain.

Scott Gomez: You need to get your s**t together my friend, or the media will tear your head off. You have it in you, just bust your ass out there and stop gripping the stick so tight. Make good passes and make the guys around you better-I don't 50 goals out of you for us to be successful, I need 50 assists.

Jeff Halpern: You're superhuman, and I'm so glad Pierre signed you. You're the unsung hero of this squad and your contributions have not gone unnoticed...you're leadership and determination are going to be huge come playoff time. Don't change a thing.

Andrei Kostitsyn: THIS is the real Andrei. This is the Andrei I like. Shoot whenever you get a chance, that wrister can go in from anywhere on the ice. Keep motoring and don't let up or get lazy. Throw that big body around, keep scoring and show everyone that you were a great pick in a deep 2003 draft.

Maxim Lapierre: Mon ami, keep rubbing opponents the wrong way. Get under their skin and piss them off. Don't listen to what they say or think, just keep driving them nuts. I need Mad Max, not Slack Max. Go all out and hit people, staple them to the wall. And don't be afraid to get in front and bag some garbage goals.

Travis Moen: We need to see more physicality out of you, you're doing a solid job but we need you to intimidate. You a tough guy who can play; take advantage of that, filling that role will pay dividends for the team in the long run.

Tomas Plekanec: You're top notch elite, you're doing it all. Don't let up, just keep doing your thing.

Benoit Pouliot: I still think you should be on my second line, but I'll digress for now as you've been productive on the third line. Keep hitting and shooting, you're doing a good job;but at the end of the day you have the skills to be top-six. If you slip up, I have Max Pacioretty and Ryan White itching to be up here. So don't get to comfortable, keep playing a good strong game.

Tom Pyatt: You're doing all the little things, but the hands of stone worry me. I need a few goals from you, something to set you apart from a guy in the press box or a guy in the minors, or else it'll be constant in-and-out of the lineup for you.


Hal Gill: Keep leading by example and shutting down the opposition. The less I hear you're name being brought up, the better-it means your doing your job right.

Josh Gorges: You keep proving you're the ultimate warrior. Keep up the hard work, limit chances and chip in on the powerplay-we're going to rely heavily on you without Markov. You've been up to the task so far, keep it going.

Roman Hamrlik:  I need you to be at your best every night without Markov. I know its harder at your age, but I trust you. You still have it, old man, don't let up. You're solid every night and you rarely make mistakes. We'd be screwed without you.

Alexandre Picard: Here's your chance, seize it. You can prove to everyone that you're an everyday player, or you can falter and continue being a borderline spare part. Your choice. So far, so good. Don't let up.

Jaroslav Spacek: It took you awhile to find your game, but your back to form and that's a relief. I came close to sitting you, and if you start slipping again I won't hesitate to do it again-Yannick Weber isn't up here just to eat hot-dogs in the press box.

P.K Subban: So far so good rookie, keep playing solid hockey-defense comes first; and with good defense comes offensive chances. Take chances when your sure you can, and don't be careless. Be yourself out there, be reign it in and don't try pushing the envelope-you're still young and have a lot to learn. But you've done a great job so far, keep up the solid effort. Without Markov, you're going to be relied on to move to puck up, create offense, and man the powerplay. Are you up to it? Damn right you are.

Yannick Weber: Time's running out for you young man. You have a good chance to prove your worth here, take advantage of it and we'll be more comfortable keeping you up here full-time next year as opposed to spending money on an older free-agent. It's in your hands.

Andrei Markov: Damn, it just keeps getting worse for you doesn't it? Get that knee healed up and then we'll talk.


Carey Price: What needs to be said...you're awesome. I'd start you every game if I could. Don't let up, you're doing great. Without you, we're not where we stand today. Great job.

Alex Auld: Can't base much on one game can me...so you're starting tomorrow night in Atlanta. Keep the ball rolling, that's what you're getting paid for. Prove to me that I have two goalies to rely on.

With that, we move into the next chunk of the season, and important one as this is the lead up to the eventual second half playoff push. Let's see what these Habs are truly made of.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Canadiens drop the ball against Flyers, Habs reps getting much love early in All-Star voting

In a word, the Habs collapsed last night, at the hands of the not-so-Broadstreet Bully Flyers. This Flyers team is built on speed and skill, and last night they avenged the 3-0 loss at the hands of Carey Price and the Canadiens from last week with a 3-2 come-from-behind victory. The Habs came out strong and grabbed a two-goal lead to start the game, but the Flyers pushed back and pulled this one out.

Things were looking up for the Canadiens after the first period; Brian Boucher conceded two soft goals, both off the stick of Maxim Lapierre, the whole team looked energized and prepared, and P.K Subban hadn't been attacked yet. Thankfully P.K was spared, after "threats" from Mike Richards last week that the rookie had to earn respect; but nothing else went right for the Habs from the second period onward. The Habs were dominated in every aspect of the game, and without Carey Price this one would have been a blowout. Price was bombarded in the second and third periods, in the process giving up three goals to Ville Leino, Claude Giroux, and James van Riemsdyk. He couldn't really be faulted on any of them; Leino and van Riemsdyk had all day to take their shots, and Giroux had to simply deposit the puck into a gaping net, when Price was thrown out of position by a Hal Gill deflection that happened to land right on Giroux's blade. The Habs hit two posts that could have changed the entire outlook of the game, but neither Lapierre nor Roman Hamrlik got the puck past both Boucher and the red metal...in the end, hitting posts is no excuse for getting dominated and giving up a two-goal lead. Perhaps we can let this one slide as this was the first time all year the Habs had lost a game they had been leading going into the third, and they are still the only team in the league that has yet to allow more than three goals in regulation time. Now the Habs will try to bounce back against a strong, young L.A Kings squad that rolls into town tomorrow night, to continue proving what they are truly capable of. A hot start to the year is commendable, but sustaining that effort and getting consistently positive results is the mark of an elite team. For now, the Habs have proven their worth through the first 21 games-now that things are going to start heating up, its time to prove that this level of success can continue.

I was pleasantly surprised when I read today that Carey Price was leading the All-Star voting for all goaltenders with over 71,000 votes through the first two weeks. He isn't on the ballot (a mistake to begin with, but I'll drop that issue for now) but fans have made it clear that they want the top players from so far THIS YEAR at the NHL's glorified shinny game, and Price has certainly been one of them. No doubt Canadiens fans had a large say in the matter, as past ballots had obviously been stuffed by Habs fans hoping to see as many of their heros as possible at the Game, notably in 2009 when it was held in Montreal. This time around is different though, because this time Carey Price deserves it. Other names high on the list are Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, P.K Subban, and even the injured Andrei Markov, who was on the ballot despite missing the beginning of the year. If these trends continue, it looks like a few Habs could be representing in Carolina this coming January.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Habs dominate Leafs with help from Price and Komisarek

Toronto Smashing Weekend is now complete, and its' safe to say that the mission was accomplished; wipe the Leafs on Saturday night, squash the Argos on Sunday afternoon. Congrats to the Als on earning yet another birth in the Grey Cup! But let's focus on the Habs for now.

The Habs came out flying in this one, looking fully like a team ready to bounce back from a sub-par performance last game against Nashville. Despite 17 shots and numerous scoring chances that included several odd-man rushes, the two teams headed into the locker room locked in a scoreless tie after one period. Jonas Gustavsson was solid and it looked like the Habs we're going to have a tough time beating The Monster...until Jeff Halpern tipped a Jaroslav Spacek point shot past the Toronto netminder early in the second period to give the Habs the lead.

That proved to be the winner, with the insurance coming from a powerplay goal by Mike Cammalleri, assisted by Mike Komisarek. No, Komi is not back with the Bleu-blanc-rouge-he simply served up a nice fat one right in Cammy's kitchen, and 13 made no mistake, roofing a laser shot into the top corner of the net. The Habs never looked back from there, shutting it down and limiting Toronto's opportunities to a few hardly dangerous moments, only to have their hopes crushed by Carey Price, who was a brick wall in the Habs net once again, collecting his fourth shutout of the year.

To give perspective on how far Price has came in only 20 games this year, consider that he has four career shutouts coming into this year; he has already matched that total through a quarter of this year. Price once again made a number of big saves, limited second chances, and was all-around solid. No slip-ups, no heart-stopping moments; just good goaltending. An encouraging sign in all this is that Price has not shown any residue of old bad habits that we're limiting his ability to perform. He doesn't sag or mope in his crease after letting in a goal, he's always in position, and he's not letting his emotions get the better of him. He's confident, but at the same time he's keeping an even keel and not allowing the early success to get to his head, like it did during his rookie year. Last year's experience have taught him that his job in never secure, that if he let's up he'll find himself right back on the bench watching games instead of playing them. Good on Price for finally maturing, and good on the Habs for finally being patient with their blue-chip prospect and not giving up on him only to watch him prosper on another team.

A tough week in store for the Habs this week as they have a rematch with the Flyers in Philadelphia tomorrow night, followed by a visit by the L.A Kings on Wednesday, and then ending the week with back-to-back games in Atlanta and against Buffalo at home. A busy and perhaps telling six days that will give us further insight on how good the Habs really are.

Although this weekend was filled with a lot of fun moments, we must remember and pay tribute to the life of one of hockey's greatest men over that past 30 years. I don't have many memories of Pat Burns besides him winning the Cup with New Jersey, but I do listen to people who did know him, and by all accounts he was a passionate, fiery, intelligent coach that will forever be remembered for not only his success, but who he was as a man. Condolences to the Burns family, and may Pat rest in peace.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Habs hit the wall against Nashville, Weber called up, and other random thoughts

The Habs weren't about to go on a 70 game winning streak, so those of you who were hoping that Carey Price would shutout every team for the rest of the year were somewhat disappointed last night when the Canadiens fell 3-0 to the Nashville Predators. After a four game win streak that included emotionally draining games against Vancouver, Boston, and especially Philadelphia, a lot of people nailed it on the head when predicting that the Habs would run into an obstacle against the Predators, despite the fact that they went into last night's game sitting in 13th in the Western Conference. Grinder Marcel Goc scored twice and former fan favorite and good guy Francis Bouillon marked his long awaited return to Montreal by notching two assists. I can't help but be happy for the guy; he gave it his all every single night in Montreal, never complained, always did what he was asked, and was always there for his teammates. Good on Frankie for settling down in Nashville.

There weren't many positives to take out from last night's lethargic performance, but one of those was that Lars Eller showed up to play. He stood out among all the Habs players despite limited ice-time and his third-line role. On the flip side, considering the way the Habs are using him, Eller shouldn't be the guy standing out among a group that includes Plekanec, Kostitsyn, Gionta, Cammalleri and Gomez. The four of them played a sub-par game-the Plekanec line finished up a combined -8. Andrei Kostitsyn was implicating himself but has cooled off after a blistering start; he need to get back to putting pucks behind goalies for the Habs to continue to be successful. Unfortunately, as seems to be the case way to often this year, Scott Gomez was once again...invisible. I hate to rag on one player, and I hate to bring up the salary again, because Gomez didn't ask for 8 million dollars, it was handed to him; would you say no to eight million?...didn't think so. But Gomez has to pick it up, big time. Six points in 19 games is inexcusable for a second-line center. With Plekanec ahead on the depth chart, Gomez's job is to support the offense, pick up the slack when the first line falters, and make his linemates better. So far, the secondary scoring has come from the third line, the Habs just tend to lose when the first line doesn't score, and no one has been able to stick with Gomez this year-even long-time teammate and friend Brian Gionta got moved away from Gomez, and look at the results: Gionta has 8 points in his last 6 games, all with Tomas Plekanec. So clearly, Plekanec is steering the offensive ship, but Gomez has to be there to help carry the load. And I hate to break it to everyone, but he's not going no anywhere, unless a team is in a desparate positiong and in dire need of an established center. No one is going to bite on his cap hit, especially the way he's been performing of late. So we all better hope Gomez gets his game together, or it won't be easy going forward for the Habs.

Perhaps it's time to give Lars Eller a shot at the second line center position? Maybe moving Gomez down to the bottom six will light a fire under him...food for thought.

Moving right along...Yannick Weber was called up from Hamilton yesterday, and according to the Team 990's Tony Marinaro, the Habs have set up Weber in a Montreal hotel for 30 days. Clearly Weber is going to be here for awhile, but the real question is when will he play, if at all? Is he here to be an extra body in case of sudden injury, or is he here to help provide the offense lost when Andrei Markov re-injured his knee? Or is something brewing in the front office that could eventually lead to Weber being in the line-up full time? Only time will tell; as of now, it looks like Weber is here to provide insurance to the club. Perhaps it was a timely call-up too, as Jaroslav Spacek went hard face first into the boards last night near the end of the game. If he got hurt badly on the play, Weber could see action as early as tomorrow night against the Leafs.

Random Habs' Musings...

- Should P.K Subban have more of a role, a la Markov, like he did during the playoffs last spring? Or are the Habs doing the right thing in letting him develop steadily?

- Do the Habs have enough right now to survive on the blue line, or will a replacement for Markov need to be acquired from outside the organization? If so, who?

- Should the Habs give Max Pacioretty a shot on the second line, to not only try and spark the offense but to see if Patches can back up his words? Or are they better off leaving him in Hamilton for the time being?

- Should Carey Price continue playing this many games, despite the risk of him burning out in the playoffs? Or is it time to start giving Alex Auld some more action?

- Should Travis Moen really be growing a moustache? I understand that its for a good cause, but blond moustaches just look...awful. It looks like a yellow cat is living under his nose...just putting that out there.

Don't forget to vote for your Habs to represent Montreal at the 2011 All-Star game! Gionta and Cammalleri are on the ballot, but make sure you write-in the guys who got left off, like Plekanec and Price!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Habs fly high and shoot down Flyers, Markov out long term, Subban too cocky?

The Habs proved up to be up to the challenge presented to them yet again last night in taking down a formidable, streaking Flyers squad in a solid 3-0 win. Carey Price stole the show once again, making 41 saves for his third shutout of the season, and second in the past 4 games. Price has arguably the best all around numbers of any goalie in the league up to this point and has without a doubt arrived and is finally living up to the lofty expectations placed upon him since the day he was taken 5th overall by the Habs in 2005.

There wasn't much optimism among pundits heading into last night's tilt-the Flyers demonstrated last spring that they were capable of manhandling the Habs, and earlier on during the day Canadiens management made it official that Andrei Markov would be out for a indefinite, but lengthy, amount of time with a significant injury to his right knee, the same one he had been rehabbing since the Pitsburgh series last year. Yes, a devastating blow to the Habs; no doubt Markov is the Habs best blue-liner and his absence presents a major loss for the defense, as well as the offense and specifically the powerplay.

But catastrophic? Perhaps not.

The Canadiens scored another two powerplay goals last night, continuing the unit's hot streak during the past week. The Habs have jumped from dead last to 16th in the league in PP efficiency, a sign that it was only a matter of time before the special teams broke through. P.K. Subban will be expected to pick up the slack in that regard, and he started last night with an assist on Brian Gionta's goal, which came with the man advantage.

Markov will also be missed for his defensive prowess, but time and time again the two old Czechs, Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek, have come through when the team has needed them most. Sure, we rag on them a lot because they're old, slowed by age, and overpaid; but when the coaching staff leans on them, they don't break. Reliable is an understatement, especially in Hamrlik's case, and maybe it's time we show these guys a little faith from the start, instead of panicking and lobbying for the return of Marc-Andre Bergeron or the acquisition of a notable defenseman-like the oft-rumored about Kevin Bieksa. Patience is a virtue, and for now the Canadiens seem OK without Markov in the lineup. On top of that, the season is still young, and while Markov's absence is big, his 5.75 million dollars is off the books, and that money can be used should the Canadiens feel they have to fill a glaring need that might not have shown itself so far this year.

Another hot topic in Montreal today is P.K. Subban. This time, however, its not about his undeniable talent, but about his apparent cocky, all talk and no action attitude out on the ice. Flyers' captain Mike Richards said post-game that Subban can't strut into the league and expect to get away with acting like he better than everyone without first earning respect from other players. He also warned that, while he wouldn't be the one doing it, someone would eventually give Subban what is coming to him. In other words, keep your mouth shut, kid, or someone will shut it for you.

Perhaps Richards was bitter after a loss, but P.K. has been getting attention from opposing teams thus far this season. The guy seems hard-working and genuinely honest, and his effort and passion are undeniable. His skill is unquestionable, and maybe guys are just envious that P.K. has come in at 21 and been so good. Who knows...but it seems apparent the Habs young superstar has a massive target on his back; but I think he'll be able to handle it. This is the same guy who stepped into a heated playoff battle last season and handled it as coolly as a 30 year old veteran who's been around a few times, so who says he can't handle guys taking runs at him?

Subban's a big boy, he can take care of himself. Don't worry folks, P.K.'s gonna be O.K.