Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The story so far....

Ok, so we are three game into the season and are slowly starting to get a look at what the 2008-2009 Montreal Canadiens can do. So far, things look pretty good to me. Mmmm, maybe not actually. Things don't look bad, they just look a little uncoordinated, at times. That is totally normal, however, and the result of the team trying to gel. One thing is for sure, and that is that this team is going to be somewhat of a juggernaut once they come together.

Right now, you can tell that they are still learning how to play together. There are new players, and TONS of skill on every line.

A few things that have stood out for me in the three games I have seen, that are very encouraging. First and foremost, is that this team is absolutely loaded with talent. It is crazy, because I feel like I don't know who to watch. There are skilled, talented players on every line, and every line can score, hit and pass. I haven't watched anything like this in Montreal, for many, many years.

Lang is a GREAT addition to this team, and his size and faceoff skill has shown since game 1, along with his still present offensive prowess. Tanguay is looking good and starting to gel with Koivu and that is another great addition, but the thing that has struck me the most about this young season is the kids.

Lapierre, Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn have REALLY started to blossom - especially the latter.

Lapierre apparently took boxing lessons this summer, and it shows, because he is much less afraid of dropping the gloves. Latendresse, on the other hand, was handed a gift when Higgins was injured to start the season. The Higgins injury meant that Latendresse was slotted in as a second line winger, and that move is paying dividends. Latendresse looks like the perfect compliment for Tanguay and Koivu. He size in the corners and in front of the net is working well. I believe that if things continue like this, they should keep Guillaume on that line. He should be able to play the roll of garbage man and pick up 25 goals this year by planting himself in the crease and scooping up the trash. Guillaume looks a little quicker, but much more confident and solid on his skates, this year, and I am hoping this will translate into a 50 point season for him.

Speaking of being more solid, Sergei Kostitsyn has got to be the best player on the team through the first three games. He has an incredible vision of the ice and is working out swimmingly on Lang's wing. Kostopolous too, doesn't look entirely out of place on that line, but I believe that Higgins should take that spot once he comes back. I think that will give us three very balanced lines, all capable of scoring and all defensively responsible. Adding Higgins to that line, in Kostopolous' place, will add even more skill to the line and arguably make them just as good as the second line.

We'll have to see, I guess.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Addicted to Habs

Usually summer provides sufficient distractions to keep hockey addicts from jonesing over the lack of news, updates, scores, and highlights. Beachwear, BBQ’s and sunshine normally do a good job of that. Unfortunately, this summer fell short on the sunshine which had a negative domino effect on the other two “raison d’etre” of summer. Add to that, the never ending Sundin affair and no Habs fan could possibly have forgotten about hockey unless they were in the Caribbean for two months. Summer is supposed to be a kind of rehab for Habs junkies. But this summer pushed most of us onto the “Hard” stuff. Some of us even started blogging about the team/sport… Luckily, the long awaited fix has arrived. Training camp is well under way, and I no longer have to watch a painful half hour of baseball updates on Sports Centre or RDS.

So what do the Canadiens have in store for their fans this year?

Last season they did unexpectedly well, mostly due to the team’s intangibles which most analysts bet against. Kovalev was magic. Price was worthy of the number 1 goalie billing and mature beyond his years. Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn had breakout years. Komisarek and Markov were probably one of the best defensive pairings in the league. None of that should change this year and if it does, dust off your clubs boys, cause it'll be a short winter.

So what could make them better than last season? Maybe Latendresse’s off season training makes him a better skater? Does that translate to more points? Who knows? The pre-season has shown him to be a lot speedier, but that doesn’t mean he’ll put more pucks in the net. Maybe Mr. Koivu learned to keep his stick on the ice and will get fewer stupid hooking penalties. That would be a nice surprise, and will definitely translate to less power play goals against the Habs.

What else could surprise us? … Although Chris Higgins had decent numbers last season, most agree that they weren’t up to his potential. If the chemistry is good with probable line mates Koivu and Tanguay, he could have a breakout year. Then there’s the addition of Robert Lang at center, which should provide the Habs with three lines capable of scoring. None of those elements are a stretch individually, but I doubt all them will come to fruition.

What could make them worse then last year? Boston, Philadelphia and Ottawa.

The Habs beat the Bruins 8 times last year. That’s 16 points. But the Bruins got better in the off season. The return of Patrice Bergeron fills an enormous hole in a team that did pretty well, even without him. Don’t expect them to be so kind this year. And Philadelphia…. They put a damper on all Habatics dreams in the second round of the playoffs last spring. Although they lost R.J. Umberger, who seemed to have Carey Price’s number, they should have Simon Gagne in the lineup all year if he stay’s healthy. They made some other moves which should make them more competitive also. And finally Ottawa… they weren’t even close to living up to their potential last year. I think, just dumping the Emery side show is going to improve team morale and chemistry and that should translate to more wins.

The east was so tight last season that only 10 points separated first and eighth place. Five small wins. That doesn’t exactly demonstrate a Montreal “Dominance” of the conference. Carolina missed the playoffs by 2 points. One victory. They had 43 wins versus Montreal’s 47. With that in mind, I don’t think this year is going to be a cake walk. Then again, if it were, it would be a boring sport and damn hard to be a fan of it… Kind of like baseball.

(Guest blog by Pinchey)