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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 3 - Caps 4 (SO)

Wow, what a game and what a comeback and what an unfortunate tying goal by Caps with 11 seconds to go and what a heartbreaking loss in the shootout. Ummm, ya. The Habs basically came out flat in the first period and Washington used their speed to back up the Montreal defence. It resulted in a 2 - 0 Caps lead, and it would have been even worse had Price not played another solid game. This match, in many ways, came down to Price vs. Ovechkin and the two of them did not disappoint!

Ok, on with my observations from the game...

1 - Carey Price has found a new gear. This can no longer be called a streak. Price has simply taken his game to another level. He looks calm, cool and collected in the net but also displays the intensity needed to succeed as an elite goalie in this league. When Markov went down in the first game of the season, everyone said that in order for Montreal to have ANY chance, Price was going to have to carry them. Well, in his last 7 games, Price has let in 3 or less goals, per game. He is centainly doing his part! Interesting fact: Steve Yzerman was in attendance at the game, scouting for team Canada for the olympics. Given his rebirth, does Price get consideration as the thrid goalie for Team Canada?

2 - Roman Hamrlik continues to be one of the unsung heros of this team. Playing more than 20 minutes a night, every night, Hamrlik is better compared to a metronome than a hockey player. Constant, constant, constant. He is a stabilizing force on the blue line and is Montreal's best defenceman game in and game out.

3 - In the two games Montreal has played against the Caps, Spacek has done a phenomenal job of shutting down and shadowing Ovechkin. Yes, Ovy scored tonight, but the number of times that Spacek shut him down or took the puck away or block one of his shots, could have been the difference between losing in shootout or in regulation.

4 - Sergei Kostitsyn looks like a new player. He puts his head down and works, shift after shift. He makes great defensive players, dusplays excellent vision on the ice, and is, generally speaking, a key contributor on the team and will continue to be until at least the injured players come back. That brings up another quandry, and that is what do you do with Sergei when Andrei K, Gionta and Gomez are back?

5 - Ovechkin is simply a stupifying player. Unbelievably fast, incredible strength, wicked shot...this guy can do it all, and that was evidenced as he undressed Marc-Andre Bergeron and almost scored. This guys is a treat to watch every time he steps on the ice and hockey is a better game with him in it. Now if we could only get him to sign in Montreal!

6 - Montreal has to stop taking stupid penalties. From the MaxPac penalty less than 3 mins into the game to Mara's penalty with less that 20 seconds left in a 3-2 game, Montreal takes too many bad, untimely penalties and they have to stop. If not for Mara's penalty, Montreal would likely have won this game in regulation. Sadly, however, the Caps won the o-zone faceoff and scored the tying goal with 11.2 seconds left in the game, to force overtime. No goals in overtime led to the shootout where Backstrom was the only player to score for either team, and the Caps sealed the deal.

The bottom line is that Montreal, a team decimated by injuries, was down 2-0 in the first and Price held them in the game long enough to get their offence going. While the second point in the standings would have been great, there were a lot of positives to take out of this game, not the least of which is that Montreal continues to win and/or get points with one third of their regular players out of the lineup. I don't know how, but Jacques Martin is performing miracles with this lineup. Let's hope the miracles keep rolling in December!

K.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Habs' Markov COULD be back by late December!


According to RDS, Markov skated yesterday and for about 10 minutes today and is ahead of schedule, from a healing perspective. If things keep going on the right track he could actually come back around late December which would put him about 4-8 weeks ahead of schedule. He will be interviewed by the press today. Here is the rds link (French only):

http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/286942.html

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 1 - Pens 3

Last night, the banged-up Pittsburgh Penguins beat the even more banged-up Montreal Canadiens 3 - 1, in regulation. The streak is dead. Long live the streak! Ok, it was a meager streak but the way things have gone so far this year, you have to make each baby step a celebration or you'll be waiting too long to rejoice! So without further ado, here are a few observations from last night's game:

1 - Despite losing the game and being outshot 30 - 19 and outhit 45 to 34, Montreal didn't actually play that bad a game. This team - which looked more like the Hamilton Bulldogs than the Montreal Canadiens - competed on every shift despite having played the night before. However, they looked over match and tired. You could see the effects of missing 8 regulars from their lineup and having played the night before. By the third period, they looked like they needed a collective nap!

2 - Pittsburgh did an amazing job of keeping the Plekanec (with Sergei K and Cammy) off of the scoresheet. Starting with Jordan Staal's line - who was on the ice almost every time Pleky stepped out there - and following through the rest of the lineup, the Pens used the home ice advanatage effectively to get that last line change and hence, the match-ups they needed.

3 - Plekanec continues to establish himself as a top notch center in the NHL. Despite being shut off of the score sheet, Plekanec played inspired hockey all night. He made hits, dug the puck out of the corner, setup plays and was generally combative. Despite having the larger Pittsburgh forwards leaning on him heavily, he was still able to create some chances and even gave Crosby a shot in the chops while battling for the puck.

4 - Price strong play continues. Despite only having a .900 save percentage last night, Price looked confident and firm in the net. He is handling the puck masterfully - which is always a sign of good confidence with Price - he is fighting through screens and traffic to track the puck, and he is moving nicely in his crease. The only blemish on his game last night was the second goal. On that play, Price had stopped a shot from the side of the net but didn't cover the puck up properly. It was loose enough that when Guerin poked at it, it squeezed through his pads and in to make the score 2 - 0. That is one that I am sure Price would like to have back.

5 - The oft heralded organizational depth of the Montreal Canadiens is starting to show. With a bunch of AHL players replacing the missing regulars, in the lineup, we can see that this organization has a bunch of NHL capablity guys. There are not really any superstars among them but they are definitely servicable NHL players. If you look at Pyatt, White, Desharnais and Wyman, these are all guys who are showing that they have the ability, smarts and right attitude to be players in the NHL. Going forward, this could be good for Montreal on the trade front. While these guys can all play in the NHL, most of them are the same or very similar type players. This means that some of them can become expendable.

6 - Sergei Kostitsyn looks like a new man. From his humble interviews with the press to his 'put your head down and work' attitude, he seems, and I do emphasize the word 'seems', to be a player reborn. With two assists and a +3 rating over two games, Sergei looks like he means business. Give him a week or so to further acclimate, and I believe the Montreal might get back a much better player than the one they sent down at the beginning of the season, in Sergei. If he continues to show the right attitude, contribute and play smart hockey, he should definitely have a spot somewhere on this team.

Overall, this past week has shown that, in my opinion, Jacques Martin is a really good coach. Love or hate him or his style there is no questioning the results. Martin has taken a team decimated by injuries and drilled a system into their heads that has resulted in wins over Washington, a shootout loss to Detroit and an insipred comeback win versus Columbus. That was 5 out of a possible 6 points. With the Pittburgh game, that gives them 5 out of 8 points. With one more game - in Montreal on Saturday vs. the Caps - to close out the month of November, Montreal still has a chance to get 7 out of 10 point in five games where I, personally, thought they would get none. Montreal can use the two day break before facing Washington on Saturday, to lick thier wounds. Hopefully they can get back some of their walking wounded from Team Clinic!

K.

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.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Latendresse traded to Minnesota for Benoit Pouliot

Ok, quick post just so everyone knows. As it stands, I don't know much about Pouliot except that he was drafted just ahead of Price in the 2005 draft and that he is a big underachieving player.

Here are his career stats:
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/players/stats?playerId=3207

It looks like a pretty clear case of swapping one struggling player for another.

More analysis later...

K.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 2 - Wings 3 (SO)

So the overtime/shootout streak has been broken. Sad, but it was bound to happen. After winning 8 games in either shootout or overtime, this season, the Detroit Red Wings, led by Datsyuk and Zetterberg brought this dramatic night to a close. Looking at this game and the great comeback by the Habs, I really think that if it wasn't for Laraque's useless string of penalties in the 1st, Montreal would likely have won this game. Still though, 3 out of 4 points against Washington and Detroit in a 24 hour period? I'll take it.

1 - Price continues his strong play. For the past 5 games he has let in 2 or less goals per game and again tonight he looked relaxed and confident in the nets. This is a good sign for Montreal, going forward.

2 - Plekanec continues to be the best and most consistent player since the beginning of the season. Not only that, but he seems like he was finally able to wake Andrei Kostitsyn up!

3 - Speaking of AK46....he looks like he is back. Tonight, he was involved in the defensive zone, offensive zone, physically and on the score sheet. There really isn't much more you can ask of him. The timing of his renaissance is perfect considering that we now have no Gionta AND Gomez.

4 - O'Byrne, in his second game back, seems to be a stabilizing force on the blue line. He, like Price, looks calm and poised out there. It is a welcome change from last year. Also, his physical presence was sorely lacking while he was gone.

5 - No Gionta, no Gomez, no Gill, no Markov, no problem. Yesterday and tonight Montreal has been impressing by playing some of their best hockey of the year despite missing a slew of key players.

6 - Laraque lost this game for Montreal. The main storyline in this game was Laraque's 6 mins of penalties that resulted in two Detroit goals, in the first. Montreal had been playing very well until Laraque took two useless penalties in the same shift. That turn the game in Detroits favour and ultimately cost them that extra point. For a guy who has been out of the lineup for a few weeks and who is struggling to show that he has a place in the NHL, Laraque certainly did not help his cause tonight!

I think that, over the last 24(ish) hours, Montreal has shown themselves that they are capable of playing much better hockey than they have over the first 20 games. They have been playing like a well oiled, cohesive team and it has shown with 3 out of 4 points versus two of the best teams in the league. Now, two games does not a season make, but it is a good starting point.

K.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday morning rumblings...

As our Montreal Canadiens get ready to take on the Washington Capitals, in Washington, there are some interesting rumblings that are percolating in the city this Friday morning. Aside from the fact that Montreal will be getting reinforcements in the form of Ryan O'Byrne (yay!) and George Laraque (who cares) back from tonight's game, I am starting to hear a lot of people mention Pierre McGuire's name as a possible candidate for the GM position in Montreal, should it become available.

I think that, barring a miracle turn around, this is going to continue to be a disappointing year and that the Habs will either just make or just miss the playoffs. As such, I think that it is highly likely that Gainey will not be back for another season at the helm of le Club de Hockey Canadien. As such, the natural follow-up question becomes 'Who could be the next GM of this team?' While I am sure that there are no shortage of candidates who would love to be the GM of the Canadiens, one name in particular comes to my mind and that is Pierre McGuire. For those of you who don't know who McGuire is here is a link to his bio on TSN.ca:

http://www.tsn.ca/tsn_talent/bio/?fid=2457

Aside from his profile, I personally believe that with over ten years working in broadcast and as a TV analyst, McGuire has a great bird's-eye view of the post-lockout game. I believe that seeing so many teams, getting to know so many GM's, learning different organziational philosophy's and just being exposed to so many different views and ways of conducting business, makes Pierre an excellent choice to be the GM of ANY NHL team. However, to become a GM in the NHL one has to be a good fit for the organization and the organization has to be a good fit for the GM. I believe that the siutation in Montreal presents exactly that situation for both McGuire and for the Montreal Canadiens.

Pierre is born and raised in Montreal, he speaks French - even though he is an anglophone - and deep down he bleeds Blue, Blanc and Rouge. The thing that I find interesting is that, while I personally would love to see McGuire running this team, it seems that I am not alone in this thought. Over the last few weeks, on the Team 990 - a local Montreal sports radio station - I have heard Tony Marinaro mention a few times that he thinks McGuire should be, and maybe will become, GM. Also, this morning, I heard the morning show guys - Casavant, Price and Starr - skirting around the same notion. Seems to me that a groundswell is slowly starting to grow.

Ultimately, this will all be up to Geoff Molson et al., to decide. However if there is one thing that I feel is certain, it is that the Molson brothers will not take losing lightly. They have a legacy, in their family, of success and winning with the Montreal Canadiens brand and they didn't take over ownership in order for the Habs to continue being a first round right off. We'll see what the future brings, but my prediction will be that the rumblings that we are hearing, for McGuire, will slowly grow into a deafening din.

We can only hope that Geoff Molson and co. see things the same way that the fans do or at least has a better suggestion in mind.

K.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 3 - Canes 2 (SO)

Blech. This team is freaking weak. Sorry guys (and gals), but its true. For sure they have the very real excuse of having a boat load of injuries to key guys, but still. This is just a weak team and they are showing that unless their goalie stands on their head - which Price has done the last three games he played - they don't have any chance of winning. Consequently, WHEN their goalie does stand on his head, that doesn't necessarily mean that they WILL win.

Carolina is THE worst team in the league and, until Kostitsyn popped one in, during the third period, Montreal was minutes away from losing to them on home ice. Ouch. Very, very ouch.

1 - Price continues to play strong in nets. I get the feeling that the transition between the Roland Melanson drop and flop technique to the Pierre Groulx stand up for youself method is starting to take shape. Price is a big, imposing goaltender who plays best when he employs the hybrid style rather than the full butterfly. Under Melanson - former Habs goaltending coach - Price was dropping to his knees WAY too early and often getting beat high glove side. Now - at least in the last few games - it looks as if Price is being coached to stand up more, to make himself look big in the net and give the shooter very little to look at....and it seems to be working. Looking at Price in shootouts, last year, he was terrible. He was dropping and flopping like a fish out of water, and was having players deke him out and or go high glove side. Yesterday, he mostly stood up or did that 'one pad down' technique and it resulted in a solid effort.
2 - Andrei K finally scored! It is his first goal in 16 games. Wow. Brutal stretch there for a supposed sniper. But, like Carey Price, maybe the system - and his handling by Jacques Martin - is finally starting to seep into the older Kostitsyn's head. The last two or three games have seen some of the best and most heart felt performances of the season, from Kostitsyn. Granted that up until yesterday, he hadn't been rewarded with any goals. Yesterday, however, skating on a (great looking) line with MaxPac and Pleky, Kostitsyn got the game tying goal in the third. Was it pretty? Hell no! In fact, it was pretty ugly. Kostitsyn skated behind the Carolina net and towards the corner and just threw the puck - with a backhand - on net. It hit the inside of Legace's pad and squeaked into the goal. You could see on his face that he was elated. The goal aside, Kostitsyn played one of his most inspired games, throwing the body around, making moves around defenders and shooting much more than he has recently. Hopefully, last nights game will be a performance he can build on. We all know that the Habs need Kostitsyn to start scoring in order for this team to have any chance of making the playoffs.
3 - Speaking of long over due goals, MaxPac opened the scoring, early in the first, with a bit of a lucky goal himself. Taking the feed in the slot, from Pleks, MaxPac just whiffled the puck past the right pad of Legace. And, just like Kostitsyn, you could see the relief on his face.
4 - IF, and that is a big if, the 2nd line of Andrei K, Pleks and MaxPac can continue to play like they did last night, Montreal will suddenly have two scoring lines and be in a much better position to claim points going forward.
5 - The third line was excellent! Putting Lapierre back at center - on the third line - with Latendresse and Moen on his wings seemed to provide an excellent combination of speed, muscle and grit which was too much for Carolina to handle each time they were on the ice. If you think about it, this line is a logical choice considering how good Lapierre, Latendresse and Kostopolous looked last year on the third line. Not to take any thing away from Kosto, but Moen is an upgrade on the size, skill and grit level, hands down. Here's hoping THAT line can jell too!
6 - O'Byrne can't come back soon enough and we should, hopefully, see him in action by the weekend. I know that Spacek and Hamrlik will benefit immensely from some reduced minutes, and O'Byrne - once he hits his stride again - should be playing about 20 mins a game.

Well, despite the positives, we have to keep things in perspective. And the perspective is that Montreal barely beat the worst team in the league. What does that say about the Habs? Keep that in mind as Montreal now enters a tough 5-game schedule versus Washington twice, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Columbus once each. Apart from potential points - and I do emphasize the word POTENTIAL - against Columbus, does anyone expect Montreal to win any of the other four games (Wash X2, Pitts X1, Detroit X1)?

I didn't think so. Here's hoping I'm wrong.

K.

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 4 - Yotes 2

Montreal was finally able to spin out of their offensive lethargy last night by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 4 - 2 IN REGULATION! Yes, in regulation. For the record and in case anyone is counting, that is only their second regulation win this season. A frightening stat for even those with the most stable hearts. Ok, on with the observations:

1 - Tomas Plekanec has not so quietly become the leading scorer and most consistent player on this team. Even the other night, against Calgary, when Plekanec was clearly being targeted for punsihment by the Flames, Pleky was no shrinking violet. He became aggressive and combative, whereas last year he would have disappeared. Note to Bob Gainey: You can't resign this guy soon enough! DON'T make the same mistake you made last year!
2 - Carey Price is one unlucky guy. You've got to feel bad for the kid because despite his playing his heart out he just has no luck on his side. Both goals last night were unfortunate and unlucky. On this first goal, he was speared in the throat by his own player, Paul Mara and was on lying on his back when the puck went in the net! On the second goal, a harmless shot that was about three feet wide of the net hit Paul Bissonette's skate and deflected behind Price. Poor guy. You'd imagine that luck has to turn around for him at some point!
3 - Montreal's already poreous D took another hit last night and if they keep getting over-worked, more of them are sure to go down with injury too. Last night it was Spacek's turn to leave the game with an injury. This is what happens when you take a 35 year old third or fourth string defenceman and make him play first or second string minutes. I was wondering to myself, just this past week, how long Hamrlik and Spacek, both 35 year olds, could go playing 25+ mins per game before they go down with an injury. Well, as you saw last night, the answer was NOT very long! Yes, O'Byrne is coming back soon, but losing four regulars from your defence corp would severely weaken even the best team in the league. Things are definitely not getting easier for this team.
4 - Tom Pyatt did not look out of place on the second line. While Pleky keeps producing points no matter who he plays with and Andrei K still looks like he is asleep, Pyatt added a nice burst of energy to that second line. He is definitely not a permanenet solution but I think that at least for now, he could be a great fill-in.
5 - Montreal limited Phoenix to 20 shots on goal and very few scoring chances, as they tightened up their defensive play.
6 - Monteal only managed to throw 20 pucks as the Phoenix net and somehow managed to score goals enough to win.

With Phoenix out of the way, Montreal takes their 1-game winning streak into Nashville for a Saturday night tilt against the Preds. With Spacek potentially out of the line up, things could get even more grim for a team that has struggled to play .500 hockey so far.

K.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lack of proper player development is killing the Habs

Having been a Habs fan for my entire life and watched the supposed renaissance of the team, under Gainey, it is apparent that something is amiss. Well, many things are amiss, actually, but the thing that stands out the most to me is our seeming lack of proper player development. I don't know if it is because of the media pressure in this city or the nightlife that makes young players lose their mind, but it is evident that Montreal just isn't able to turn raw, talented players, into stars. With the exception of Saku Koivu - who skirted the line between being a star and a non-star for his entire career in Montreal - and Andrei Markov, who has Montreal drafted, molded and turned into a star over the last 10 years? If you answer that question honestly, the response you come up with has to be 'no one'.

When Gainey started his five-year rebuilding plan six years ago, one of the main things he spoke about was rebuilding through the draft and it was about time! If one were to look at the Canadiens farm system, when Gainey took over, one would see a system that was devoid of any top-tier - and largely second-tier - talent. The cupboards were empty as a decade of bad management and managers traded away picks and prospects in an effort to bandaid a winning team together. When Gainey started drafting players like Higgins and Komisarek and Carey Price, it was evident that by holding onto his first rounders, Gainey was in the process of putting together a decent crop of youngsters.

Sadly, one by one, each of the prospects that Gainey has brought on board has either quickly hit a low hanging ceiling, regressed or been traded away for scraps, only to prosper in another city. Umm, Mike Ribiero anyone? He was traded for Janne Ninnema by the way, just in case you were wondering.

How'd that trade work out for us?

If you look at last year's team - before the season started - there were a ton of young, talented prospects on the team and in the minors. Higgins, Plekanec, Komisarek, Price, McDonough and Max Pac, to name a few. However all of them took a step back last year while young guns on other teams seemed to be excelling.

How did Milan Lucic do last year?

Exactly.

It seems that looking around the league, teams are seemingly draft players who get better and better. But not in Montreal. Lapierre was ascending last year. This year he is invisible. Kostitsyn looked like he was a great 10th overall pick, two seasons ago, and this year his is lost out there. Chris Higgins was hitting his stride two years ago, but fell, mightly last season. Carey Price had his sophomore jinx, Komisarek looked like a defensive liability, D'Agostini couldn't put the puck in the net, Latendresse forgot how to hit people and McDonough was traded for Gomez.

Why? Why are other teams able to draft the same calibre players and have them turn into stars? Johan Franzen anyone? What about Thomas Holstrom. What about us? Where are our stars? Where are our Crosby, Stalls and Nash?

I don't know what the answer is, but everything points to some kind of organizational malaise that is deeply imbeded within the Canadiens system and it is causing us to burn our prospects and/or not being able to help them reach their true potential.

Look, I am not saying that this is a team of underperforming stars, but it would take a blindman not to be able to see that Latendresse has an infinitely higher ceiling than where he is currently playing. Whatever the problem is, the blame has to lie squarely at Gainey's feet. This is his system, his ideology and his process in place. The team is running as he has set it up and the results, whether positive or negative are his to bear. He is the guy steering the ship and it is ultimatley his responsibility to fix, and so far, apart from getting rid of everyone, he has yet to show that he has the ability to do so.

The more the hole in this team becomes apparent, the more the spotlight is flashed in Gainey's direction and if he, or any other GM for that matter doesn't see that 'through the draft' is the only sure-fire way to rebuild, then they are missing a large component of the salary cap era. Gainey excelled as a pre-lockout GM, when you could throw as much money at a roster as possible. With the salary cap, GM's have to constantly be producing good, cheap talent through their draft and their farm system in order to keep a good balance on their team of highly paid veterans and lowly paid rookies. It is the only way to put together a winner in this age and if Gainey doesn't realize that by now, then his days with this team are truly numbered.

K.

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 4 - Atlanta 5

Ouch. Groan. Blech. Another day and another weak performance by the Montreal Canadiens. Three days after barely beating the Toronto Maple Leafs, our beloved Habs lost to the Kovalchuk-less Atlanta Thrashers and man was it ugly! From top to bottom, Montreal was disorganized and discombobulated. From sloppy defensive zone coverage to bad turnovers. From inconsistent goaltending to terrible special teams, the Habs were sloppy opposition for the Thrashers even without their superstar player. Ok, enough of my crying about how bad the Canadiens played and on with the observations.

1 – Carey Price is simply not ready for primetime. While he started strong and made some great saves in the first period, as soon as Atlanta started putting the puck behind him, he began adopting that all to familiar depressed, confidence-lacking posture. He reverted to the drop and flop technique that is clearly not working for him. There was one play in the third where an Atlanta player broke down the right wing and around Price, only to slide the puck across the crease – but not into the net. Well, you wouldn’t have been able to tell by looking at Price. As soon as the guy had him beat you could see that Price just gave up on the play. Meanwhile, Hamrlik was behind him stopping the puck from going in. That was the Price that we saw at the end of last year, and he seems to come back as soon as a few goals are scored on him. Price simply does not have a lot of confidence and, unfortunately for him, he isn’t getting the breaks either. While he played a solid first period the first Atlanta goal, that deflected off of a skate, was another unlucky break in a string of unlucky breaks for Price. For Price to get his confidence back, he needs to play with the lead for a change. I feel bad for him because the team has simply NOT played well in front on him, so far this season. And all the while, Halak is getting much better team performances in front of him. If only they could have scored the first goal tonight, I believe it would have been a different story.
2 – Tomas Plekanec continues to be the Habs’ best and most consistent player. Plekanec has gone through some kind of psychological metamorphosis this year and is playing at a level even higher than he did two years ago - when he scored 65 points. His challenge still remains showing that he can do it when it counts in the playoffs, but we have plenty of time before that happens.
3 – Mathieu Carle will be a good replacement on the blue line. While he had a bit of a tough 1st game, he didn’t look out of place on the ice. Give him a few games and he will make himself indispensable.
4 – Marc-Andre Bergeron should ONLY play on the power play and the only reason he is not is because we have three regular defensemen injured; Gil, Markov, O’Byrne.
5 – Cammalleri was a GREAT pick up by Gainey. Only 14 games into the season and Cammalleri is showing that he is a point per game guy regardless of whether he plays with Iginla or not.

Overall, this was a bad game. In fact, Montreal is just a bad team. Of course they are not as bad as their losses make them look but if you look at this team honestly, there are a glut of problems that need to be addressed. Bad penalty killing, worse power play, weak/fragile goaltending, poor defensive zone coverage, a lack of size, TOO many turnovers, no secondary scoring, too many lefties on defense, and on and on and on and on. As a GM, I would think that it is challenging enough to try to plug one or two holes or problems, but this team looks more like a brick of swiss cheese! Too many holes and too many problems. Gainey has his hands full and it is all of his own making. While I am sure that he will try to make some changes before Christmas the reality is that it is not easy to make trades in the salary cap era. The bottom line with the Canadiens is that while it is still early(ish) in the season, in all likelihood they are a team that will either just make or just miss the playoffs. To be honest, I would rather they miss the playoffs and at least get a higher draft pick in 2010 but I have a feeling that that won’t happen.

K.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 5 - Leafs 4 (SO)

Wow. What a game. The usual hype of a Saturday night tilt between the Habs and the Leafs played out, in all its spendor last night. While Montreal should probably have won this game in regulation, going to a shoot out made the end all that much more exciting for the 21,000+ fans in attendance - of which I was one!

A few things I noticed/enjoyed about the game:
1 - Loved the hate that was heaped upon Komisarek. Although it was predictable, it was still enjoyable to watch Habs nation vent their anger towards Komi for his betrayal.
2 - Loved that Komisarek was -3 for the night and is -9 for the season. He is among the worst in that group. I wonder whether this is an adjustment period for him or whether not having Markov as his D partner is exposing his weakness in his own zone.
3 - Metro and Moen continue to contribute and what a pleasant surprise it is!
4 - Habs are getting some secondary scoring. Since, with the exception of Plekanec, the second line is basically not scoring, it is nice to see the Moen's, Metropolit's, and Latendresse's of the world scoring and help get the wins.
5 - Overall, Montreal is NOT a very good team. There is just no depth on this team and the 'secondary' cast is largely underachieving or invisible. Sure, MaxPac will be good in a few years, and so will D'Agostini, but right now they should probably BOTH be back in Hamilton - at Least MaxPac should be.
6 - Hal Gil and Marc-Andre Bergeron are defensive liabilities. Both players are turnover machines and often cause scoring chances and goals against with their glaring mistakes.7 - Plekanec is a man possessed. Since the beginning of the season, Tomas Plekanec has got to be the hardest working most consistent player on this team. He is playing tough, aggressive and is reaping the benefits. Let's hope that Gainey has learned his lesson from last season and signs Plek to an extension DURING the season!

While Montreal can be fun to watch, at least at home where they have the last line change and can put the top line out against whoever they please, they are not a team that will win a ton of games on the road. Granted, they are missing Markov and O'Byrne - both of which cannot come back soon enough - but even with them, this team does not have enough meat to be much of a threat in the playoffs. Until Gainey does something to address the lack of depth on this team, they will continue to be a number 6, 7, or 8th place team at best.

So what about you? Did you watch the game? What did you like the most about it? What did you dislike the most about it?

Thoughts?

K.