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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ho-hum another boring Monday in Montreal...or was it?

With the weather starting to slowly feel like winter outside and the sky getting a little gloomy on a sleepy Monday morning, the Montreal Canadiens had a flurry of activity to wake everyone up. Latendresse was traded to the Minnesota wild for Benoit Pouliot, Sergei Kostitsyn was recalled from Hamilton, Carey Price was named the 2nd star of the week by the NHL and Georges Laraques gets a 5-game suspension for his knee-on-knee hit on Detroit's Kronwall.

Wow. Where to start? Well why not start in chronological order. Or at least the chronological order that I heard about the events, in. So here goes....

Carey Price named 2nd star of the week by the NHL:
http://canadiens.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=507153 - offical release

With a 1.89 GAA and a .940 save percentage, Price stormed out to a 2-0-1 week with the Habs. What the release doesn't mention is that Price has let in 2 goals or less in each of his last five starts. Now, I don't think that fans should start bouncing off the walls too soon, as five games is a long way from an entire solid season. That being said, I think a combination of factors might be getting Price back into the groove.

The first step in the right direction was management getting rid of Roland 'quick drop to your knees' Melanson, as the Habs' goaltending coach, and replacing him with Pierre Groulx. Under Groulx, you can see that BOTH goaltenders have less of a tendancy to drop to their knees, something that was prevalent under Melanson. If you watch Price, over his last 5 games, he is playing much more of the hybrid style that is so well suited to his bigger frame, than the butterfly style. He is standing up tall, more often, challenging shooters and giving them very little to look at. As a result, he has been making those keys saves at key times and that, after all, is what separates elite goaltenders from regular ones. They make that key save at the key time. Again, Price is not there yet so let's not get over excited. However, he is taking steps in the right direction.

The other factor, which is even more important in my opinion, is that Martin has refused to give Price the soft seat. Like Martin or hate him there is no question that he has demonstrated an ability to take young, talented players and help them reach their full potential. Just look at Alfredson, Hossa, Redden, Vermette, Havalt, etc. What Martin has done differently from all the previous handlers of Price, is that he has forced him to earn his spot and not just assumed that it is his. I have always maintained that if you make Halak and Price "fight" over the starting postion that Price would beat Halak, hands down, as he has a much higher level or raw talent. Right now, it looks like this scenario is exactly what is starting to play out.

If you remember, there was a stretch of 10 days, at the beginning of the season, where Price did not play. During that stretch, Halak won four games in a row. It was around that time that Price realized or Martin showed him, that he was going to have to earn his starts. By extension, Martin showed every player on the team that he doesn't care what the name is on the back of your jersey. If you play well, work hard and produce, you will be rewarded. Umm, can anyone say Glen Metropolit? By taking this approach, with Price, I think Martin is pushing the buttons that needed to be pressed to get Price to start reaching his potential. Let's hope it continues!

Latendresse traded to Minnesota for Pouliot:
http://canadiens.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=507209 - official release

This one is a bit cut and dried. The headline could easily read: Montreal and Minnesota swap big, underachieving players. Pouliot, drafted 4th overall in 2005 - one spot ahead of Price - has been largely a bust since he broke into the league while Latendresse has shown some flashes but has largley shown that he is not a top 6 winger. This looks like two players who needed a change of scenary in order for them to have any success.

Over the last 5 games, or so, it has been clear that Latendresse's role with Montreal was diminishing by the shift. To Montreal playing Detroit and see how Holmstrom - also a big bodied, slow footed player - was always parked in front of Price and to watch his supposed counterpart, Latendresse skimping around the perimeter was sickening. Holmstrom has no more skill than Latendresse but he just 'gets' it. While, given every chance to succeed, being told EXACTLY where to be on the ice and what his role was, Latendresse just was never able to pull it all together. That is not to say that he won't be able to do it in Minnesota. In fact, it is quite possible that he WILL be able to pull it off in Minne. Sometimes a player has to be traded once in their career before they can really get it going. And that goes the same for Pouliot.

While it is likely that Pouliot was overrated and not worth a 4th overall pick, he still has the size and skill to have been a 1st round selection, just not so high up the board. Now, coming to Montreal, Pouliot gets a fresh start. Whether he will ever be a top notch power forward or not, is beside the point. In Montreal, Pouliot does not come with the expectations of a 4th overall pick - because Montreal did not choose him 4th overall. He now has the chance to show that he can be an effective player, whether that is on the first line or the third line is irrelevant. He, like Price and the other young'ins, should benefit from playing under Martin. Let's see if Martin can turn this piece of coal into a diamond or not.

Sergei Kostitsyn recalled from Hamilton:
http://canadiens.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=507201 - official release

After begin demoted to Hamilton, refusing to report to the team, changing his mind and reporting to the team, going AWOL from the team, having a face-to-face meeting with Gainey and 'choosing' to return to the team then proceeding to put up 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists) and being +2 in 16 games, Sergei Kostitsyn's time in purgatory is finally over. And, if you ask me, this is the right move.

Jacques Martin said, at the beginning of training camp, that his two biggest projects were the Kostitsyn brothers. If you look at what has happened with Sergei and Andrei, since the start of the season, you have to believe that his strategy was "divide and conquer". I think that Martin did his assessment and determined that he had to separate and 'break' both brothers. Sergei needed to be taken down a peg, to eat some humble pie and learn that he does not hold any cards.

I believe that point was further driven home with Gainey's face-to-face meeting where he likely told him that A) the Habs hold his rights B) if he flees to play in the KHL it would mean he is no longer eligible to play in the Olympics C) his options were to play in Hamilton, show he is a good player in order for Montreal to trade him, play in Hamilton, show he is a good player in order for Montreal to trade him, OR demand a trade at which point Gainey would simply let him sit on the shelf and play NO hockey for an entire year. It was after that meeting that Sergei finally stopped crying and just started playing hockey. And, by all accounts, he looks like he has got his mojo back and just in time too, because Montreal needs his combination of skill and grit, in the lineup. Let's see if he has learned to check his ego at the door or not, because if he hasn't his time with Montreal will truly be done.

And last but not least - or actually it is least - Laraque is suspended for 5 games (and there was much rejoicing):
http://canadiens.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=507235 - official release

Who cares? Not me. Laraque is a relic in this league and is, in my opinion, struggling to show that he still belongs. His knee-on-knee against Kronwall is proof that he is too damn slow for the modern NHL. While I am sure that he didn't mean to hurt Kronwall, there is no question that Laraque was just too slow to keep up with the Detroit player, the result of which was his desperate move to keep his leg out and kneecap Kronwall. Laraque has been out of action for weeks and since he has been back he has lost a fight to Washington's John Erskine (the fight on HockeyFights.com http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/88933) and taken six minutes of penalties on 1 shift, allowing Detroit to take a 2 - 0 lead. Wow. This guy is SO unnecessary for Montreal. While he was out, Montreal showed that they have team toughness and refused to be pushed around.

Sorry George, but if I were Gainey I would buy your contract out immediately. Either that or send you down to the minors to go beat up on some 18 year-olds. Gone for 5 games? Too bad it is so few!

K.

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