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'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'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 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 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 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.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Markov injury situation looking bleak

Today is November 15th. Andrei Markov was injured two days ago, and with that 48 hour span, numerous media outlets have reported various lengths of time that Markov would be out.

RDS was on the story first, reporting that Markov would be sidelined for at least three months due to a re-aggravation of his surgically repaired right knee, the injury that he returned from last week, almost six months after injuring it when he was hit by Matt Cooke during the Habs-Pens series.

...if you thought that was bad, you probably shouldn't continue reading.

According to, Agence QMI (citing reliable sources) is now saying that Markov could be done for the year. Yes, the entire season...let that sink in for a second.

Nothing is confirmed at this point, but if these reports are in fact right, Markov would need between eight months and a year to recover from this setback. Do the math, folks-that means that at if worse comes to absolute worst, Markov might only return to action this time next season. Assuming he's even still with the Habs next year; Markov is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year, and no doubt this latest major injury will put any long-term contract negotiations between Pierre Gauthier and Andrei Markov's agent to the side for the time being.

Tomorrow I'll preview/recap the Habs vs. Flyers game, as well as go further into the Markov situation: his future with the club, his supposed proneness to injury, and the potential routes the Habs can take to deal with his absence, be it three months or the entire year.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Habs thump 'Canes, but Markov goes down...again

Gonna keep this one short people...

The Habs came out on top yet again last night in a convincing 7-2 victory. Carey Price was solid once again, picking up his 10th win of the year, and his teammates were fantastic in front of him. Seven different goalscorers, twelve players with at least one point...everything went right on this night. I'm sure more than a few started getting nervous when Carolina roared back with two quick goals in the second, but the Habs did not let up and took control of the second half of the contest. The big positives were that the majority of the goals we're scored by the guys who are getting paid specifically to do just that; Plekanec, Gionta, Cammalleri, Kostitsyn, and even Pouliot to an extent. The powerplay struck yet again, scoring on its last three opportunities of the game, finishing a solid 3-for-7 on the night. The PP unit has scored on 6 of its last 15 opportunities, which adds up to a 40% efficiency rate in the last three games after going a dismal 3-for-47 to start the year. Clearly things are starting to turn around for the powerplay, which is excellent news going forward.

The not-so-excellent news is the fact that Andrei Markov looks to have severely injured himself for the third time in a little over a year. First the sliced tendon, then the knee tear, and now a potential re-injured right knee, an injury that Markov just recently returned from. Seven games later and he could be back on the shelf for up to three months, according to early reports from RDS. The Canadiens have not made this official, but if you watch the replay of the injury, it did not look good. Markov's knee clearly buckles under the weight of Carolina captain Eric Staal, and Staal isn't a pushover. Over two-hundred pounds being forced against a reconstructed knee is never a good combination. Markov pounded the boards in frustration after falling to the ice, and looked devastated and dejected as he was being helped off. Let's just hope that its nothing serious-although the Habs started 7-2-1 without Markov this year, history shows that this team is straight up better with him than without him. This year may be different though-this team isn't relying on one player, or their goaltender, to win games anymore. The victories are definitive team efforts, and that could reduce the impact of losing the All-Star defenseman-but only time will tell...starting this Tuesday when the Flyers are in town, marking the first opportunity for the Habs to extract a little revenge on the team that ended their Cinderella run during last year's playoffs.

Speaking of all-stars, someone please explain to me how Tomas Plekanec and Carey Price aren't on the All-Star ballot? Last time I checked, All-Star rosters were based on the performance of a player during the current season. So, according to the NHL, Plekanec is performing well enough to beat out Alfredsson, Krejci, Oshie, Lecavalier (injured), Parise (injured), Statsny, Umberger, Doan, Hedjuk, Smyth, Vanek, Hemsky, Morrow, and PHIL F***ING KESSEL, just to name a few? I get that the NHL wants firepower. Names that sparkle. The guys that people idolize, and the guys the NHL want to see strut their stuff in their glorified shinny game. If Tomas Plekanec isn't considered on of the top centers in the NHL, then clearly my ideas of the adjectives useful, talented, electrifying, and reliable are overrated and outdated. Plekanec DOES IT ALL.

The NHL wants scoring? The NHL wants playmaking? The NHL wants razzle-dazzle? In a nutshell, they want Tomas Plekanec. But they decided to go with the "big names"-as much as I love them both, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri should not have been picked ahead of Plekanec.

In an even more mystifying decision, Carey Price was also left off the All-Star ballot. Guess consistent play, solid performances, and top-of-the-league statistics weren't to impressive to the NHL. Guess a 10-5-1 record with a 2.18 GAA, a .923 save percentage and two shutouts weren't good enough. Guess Nikolai Khabibulin's 4-9-1, 3.97 GAA, .879 save percentage and single shutout stat-line just jumped right off the page.

Well done, NHL, well done.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Canadiens put down Bruins with ease, O'Byrne shipped out of town

Coming into this week, everyone was talking about the Habs' biggest test of the young season; taking on the visiting Vancouver Canucks, and then two nights later going up against the Big Bad Bruins in their rink.

Its Friday, the test is now complete-and it won't take a professor to grade this paper. The Habs passed with flying colors.

As I already wrote about the Vancouver game, I'll focus on last night's tilt in Boston for this post. Heading into the year, the Bruins were being predicted by everyone to win the Northeast Division with relative ease, some even going as far as placing them first in the East and categorizing the Bruins as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. No doubt it is too early in the season to say the Bruins are overrated;they made some good offseason acquisitions, notably power foward Nathan Horton, have some good young players, are are going to have a "good problem" when David Krejci and Marc Savard return from injury. Clearly the Bruins have the depth and firepower to compete consistently. Last night, however, they ran into an obstacle. An obstacle that most considered to be nothing but a speed bump on the road for the Bruins.

That obstacle was Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs came into Boston confident off of the win against the Canucks, and it showed early on. The powerplay struck for the second consecutive game when P.K Subban put a knuckler past Tukka Rask. Even P.K admitted that he fanned on it, but a goal is a goal. Boston replied late in the first when Zdeno Chara unleashed a vicious wrist shot over Price's right shoulder, but that was Price's only letdown during yet another solid (sometimes ranging to spectacular) performance. The guy is FEELING IT. He's square to the puck, technically sound, and making the big saves when his teammates need to be bailed out. Price is doing exactly what he needs to do to succeed, and its shows in the numbers: a 9-5-1 record, .923 save percentage and a 2.19 GAA, to go along with his two shutouts. He's on pace to post career highs in every statistical category, which will mean good things for the Habs as the season goes along. As long as he stays consistent, Price will be just fine.

As for Price's teammates, they weren't to shabby themselves. Subban sparked the faltering powerplay, Markov is regaining his all-star form, and Cammalleri and Gionta are back where they belong: on the scoresheet. And although Scott Gomez's goal wasn't one for the ages, it was a timely one that sucked all the air out the Bruins and their fans, and will hopefully re-invigorate the sometimes invisible Gomez; he needed that one is a bad way. Props to him for making his 800th career game a memorable one.

Its only November, but Jacques Martin's troops are off to a great start. Winners in 10 of their first 16 games, the Habs are winning at a 0.625 clip, impressive numbers for a team that was supposed to be old, lacking talent, and questionable in goal. They're buying into the system because it's working, and once everyone settles into their roles and the big guns start producing consistently, the Habs will begin to truly come into their own. They've shown they can skate with the top teams (let's not forgot the Pittsburgh victory early in the year), are confident in themselves and their style of play, and are riding a hot goalie who has finally arrived. We won't get over-excited too early, as often happens in this great city of ours, but if things continue the way they have, we could be in for quite a ride this season.

In other Habs news, eighth defenseman Ryan O'Byrne was shipped out of town yesterday, a move that most probably saw coming during the offseason when the Habs went out and acquired Alex Picard. The move takes almost 950,000$ off the books, giving Pierre Gauthier a little wiggle room in terms of cap space moving forward. In return the Habs acquire 18-year old center prospect Michaël Bournival, a 6'0, 190 pds. Shawinigan native who is currently playing for his hometown Cataractes in the QMJHL. He's off to a solid start this year, posting 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points in 17 games. He was representing the QMJHL in the Subway Super Series, a series essentially putting three Canadian junior all-star teams (one QMJHL team, one OHL team, and one WHL team) up against Russia's top junior players. He is also being looked at as a potential invite to Canada's World Junior tryout camp, so the immediate future looks bright for this young Quebec native.

Bournival was a third round pick (71st overall) in this year's draft, and if we analyze the trade closer we can pretty easily figure out what went on behind the scenes here. Montreal did not have a third round pick in this year's draft, and Gauthier most likely had Bournival on his radar going back to last June, and probably tried to move up in the draft but didn't find a suitable deal, so Bournival went to the Avalanche. Fast forward to today, and Colorado's defense is decimated by injuries, notably to regulars Adam Foote and Kyle Quincey. Gauthier, realising this, probably picked up the phone, called up Greg Sherman, GM of the Avs, and offered O'Byrne for the young Bournival. In the end, this deal could work out in Montreal's favor. O'Byrne has never established himself as a reliable NHL defenseman, so unless he blossoms into one in Colorado, he will be but a Band-Aid solution for the Avs until the injured players heal up. On the flip side, Montreal not only gets a young, solid (not to mention French-Canadian) prospect that joins a solid stable of young forwards in the organization, but the move also clear up almost a million in cap space for Hamilton call-ups or a potential move later on in the year.

The Habs welcome Carolina at the Bell Center on Saturday, coming off an 8-1 beating at the hands of the Flyers. Keep an eye on Jeff Skinner, the 'Canes 18-year old phenom who is currently leading all rookies in scoring-the guy can play. If the Habs play like they did this week against stronger opponents in Vancouver and Boston, Montreal comes out of this one victorious, winners of three straight, and heros for a few more days.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Habs hold their own against the mighty Canucks

Going into tonight's tilt against Vancouver, were you wondering to yourself  "Who are the REAL Montreal Canadiens?" If you were one of those people, you're answer was partially answered this evening. I say partially because tonight was only one game out of 82, so it would be irrational to definitevely say that the Habs are "for real". However, optimism reigns supreme; the Habs were outstanding on a night when many probably thought Vancouver was only here to pass by and trounce the home team.

The Habs won tonight because of good team play, strong defensive hockey, FINALLY scoring a powerplay goal, and a perfect night from the penalty killers. Although caught on the ice for several long shifts resulting in sustained pressure by the Canucks, the Habs held their ground and limited Vancouver to perimeter shots and few rebounds or seconds chances. Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek were solid, with Hamrlik coming through with the timely powerplay goal in the third period. The forwards skated hard all night, created chances off of strong forechecking, and overall had a good performance. Scott Gomez has yet to find his stride but looked a little more interested tonight, and didn't do anything to hurt the team, so that's a plus. Michael Cammalleri had a few chances, as did Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. Plekanec was all over the place, creating chances off the rush, leading transitions through the neutral zone, setting up his linemates and killing penalties. Anyone who disagreed with Pierre Gauthier re-signing this guy long term needs to go get their head checked-Plekanec is a BEAST.

Despite all the positives that came out of tonight's game, one stood above the rest. Or should I say, one man stood above the rest. This victory was signed Carey Price, point finale. Price was solid, made the key saves, gave up few rebounds, and made several spectacular saves throughout the contest to seal the victory-topped off by his three saves during the last fifteen seconds of the third period. Usually Price has trouble keeping a clean sheet, but on this night, Carey Price would not be denied his shutout. The guy is oozing confidence, and it shows. He even tried getting in on the scoring action when he took a shot at the empty net across the rink at the end of the game, but it was blocked by a Vancouver defenseman. If I had told you a year ago that Price would one day be out-dueling Roberto Luongo, you would have laughed in my face. Called me crazy. Maybe even slap me and call me silly, if you were so inclined to do such an awful thing. But no longer; ladies and gentlemen, Carey Price is back. The Price is right, and that's a GREAT thing for the Montreal Canadiens.

If only the top two lines can start producing consistently, and the "power outage" goes back to being a powerplay, the Habs will be in pretty good shape. Vancouver was not at its best tonight, not by a long shot; but if Montreal can handle and take down such a formidable foe, what else can this team accomplish? Only time will tell, but for now-or until Thursday anyways-all is good in Habland.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Gomez Conundrum, Dustin Boyd, and the week ahead

You would think sitting atop the Northeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference would provide reason for great joy and optimism among fans, wouldn't you say? Wrong. Take a step back and remember what city we're talking about here. There is ALWAYS a problem in Montreal, and this time around, its a familiar face.

From the day he was acquired, Scott Gomez has had great expectations placed upon him by management and fans alike. While Pierre Gauthier will never admit it, Gomez was brought in as a way to attract free agents who, in the past, would have the tendency of telling the Habs "thanks, but no thanks" before signing on elsewhere (sometimes for less money). If Gomez in fact did have anything to do with it, we can thank him (if only partially) for the acquisitions of captain Brian Gionta and top sniper Michael Cammalleri. Gomez was also expected to pick up French, which he apparently has been doing since he's arrived in Montreal. He's even gotten involved in the community, most notably in pairing up with Brian Gionta in inviting sick children to watch Habs games from a Bell Center loge. But despite all the great things Gomez has already accomplished off the ice, its on the ice that matters most. Its on the ice where he earns his cool eight million dollar salary. He has only one goal and two assists in fourteen games. To give an example of Gomez's futility thus far, take a look at the PhD line of Pouliot, Halpern and Darche (who make a COMBINED 2.4 million $). They have 22 points already-at the snail's pace Gomez currently collecting points at, he'll have 16 points all season. As Jack Todd pointed out in this morning's Gazette, that comes out to 500,000$ per point...can you say grossly underachieving?

Gomez truly is a conundrum, a problem that Jacques Martin can't even get a vague clue on, let alone a definite solution. One might point the finger at captain Brian Gionta, but Gio has been skating hard and has been solid overall; he's been getting plenty of chances, but just hadn't been able to hit the back of the net until Saturday's game against Ottawa. Gionta currently leads the team with 54 shots. The other obvious reason for Gomez' slow start could also be the revolving door at left wing, but I personally find that excuse weak and redundant. The fact is that Gomez should be Montreal's best player-he's certainly getting paid like he is-and your best player is supposed to make the players around him better, plain and simple. Sidney Crosby has success with whoever he is playing with, be it Dupuis, Kunitz, even Fedotenko and Satan going back a few years. Alex Burrows doesn't score 20 goals with the Sedin twins, and Jonathan Cheechoo most certainly does not score 56 goals in 2005-2006 without Joe Thornton feeding him pucks all season long. Obviously, Gomez is not a player of that caliber, but 3 points in 14 games?! Somethings got to give. And its on Gomez to do something about it-not Gionta, or Pouliot, or Moen, or Eller, or Darche, or Kostitsyn...should I keep going? Gomez should be the one making all of those guys better, not the other way around. Martin has given Gomez ample opportunities to get his game back, only to receive little to no results and a noticeable lack of effort.

Against Buffalo, Gomez stopped on a breakaway (OK, maybe a partial breakaway, but still!). A night later against the Sens, Gomez looked lost and slow, giving only tantalizing images of his true self. I was at that game, and I wasn't impressed with what I saw. The tantalizing images have to turn into actual realities if Montreal is going to remain competitive throughout the year, and it has to happen soon.

In other news, Dustin Boyd was placed on waivers today. Not an press-stopping announcement, but a little surprising nonetheless. It's not like Boyd was a borderline AHLer, or an insurance free agent pick-up: Gauthier went out and traded for the guy, and although its great that he got rid of the nuisance that was Sergei Kostitsyn, you would expect something in return for a still solid young prospect like the younger Kostitsyn was. Unless Sergei never reaches his full potential, and being relieved of his babysitting duties turns Andrei Kostitsyn into a bonafide superstar, this trade will be yet another questionable one that Habs' brass will have to answer too...but hopefully that won't happen. The big question that arises from all of this is who takes Boyd spot, if anyone even does. If Martin and Gauthier do decide they want a replacement, does someone get called up from Hamilton, or do the Habs go out and get some reinforcements, perhaps in the form of powerplay specialist Marc-André Bergeron? Or does Yannick Weber get a chance to revive the Habs non-existent powerplay? Although those moves make sense for the special teams, the Habs would add to their already overflowing stable of defensemen, so unless Bergeron or Weber were to fill a fourth-line role (as we saw a bit of last year) those two options don't make much sense...perhaps opening a roster spot for the much deserving Ryan White, or big talker Max Pacioretty, who feels he can pick up the offensive slack if presented the what happens to Dustin Boyd during the next 24 hours could have an impact on the Canadiens roster going forward.

A big test this week for the Habs as they welcome the mighty Canucks tomorrow night, then fly to Boston the face the big bad Bruins for the first time this year, and end the week with a visit from the resurgent Carolina Hurricanes. This week should give a good indication as to how good the Habs really are, as they have been carried thus far this season by the strong play of Carey Price, good defensive play, and a relatively lenient schedule against middle-of-the-pack opponents and lots of time off.

Until the next time, GO HABS GO! And if you see Scott Gomez, get him a nice XL cup of Timmy's and tell him to wake the f**k up! :)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Welcome Habs Fans!

Oleeeeee, Ole Ole Oleeeee, Oleeeee, Oleeeee.....what up Montreal?! And future far away visitors (I hope)! Welcome to Magg's Habs Musings, your one stop shop for everything Habs. Nothing original mind you, you can find at least 500 of these all over the Web, and that doesn't include the French ones. However, the goal is to be the best of them all. As you can see, the blog is quite bare at the moment, just give me a day or two to set everything up and we'll be off and running towards...towards something,I guess, something awesome hopefully. In the meantime, GO HABS GO!!