Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Habs worst 5-on-5. Will the real 3rd/4th lines please stand up?

Yep, it's official: The Habs are THE worst team in the league, 5-on-5. Combine that with their second overall powerplay and it is not big surprise that they have essentially been a win-one, lose-one team this year.

With 122 goals scored 5-on-5 so far this season, the Habs are 30th in the league in that department behind the likes of Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Boston Bruins—all of whom are known for having troubles scoring.

Here, look for yourself:
http://www.nhl.com/ice/teamstats.htm?fetchKey=20102ALLAAAAll&sort=goals5On5&viewName=goalsFor

Sadly, this is not a new trend for the Habs as they have struggled mightily in the 5-on-5 category AND had an excellent powerplay for the last three or so seasons.

So how is it, then, that the Habs managed to fire off six straight wins after the Olympic break?

Its simple, their third and fourth lines—who have been non-factors on the scoresheet all season—woke up.

During their streak the Habs' third and fourth lines combined for 20 points (10 G, 10 A) with contributions from Sergei Kostitsyn (4 G, 2A), Glen Metropolit (2 G, 1 A), Mathieu Darche (2 G, 0 A), Dominic Moore (1 G, 5 A) and Travis Moen (1 A, 2 G).

Since then, the Canadiens have played five games winning one and losing the other four. The same five players above who were helping lead the Habs to victory over their win-streak, combined for a grand total of zero points over their last five games.

It doesn't take a genius to see that at the only point in the season where the Habs bucked the win-one, lose-on trend, they were doing so by getting contributions from all four lines. When the third and fourth lines are contributing on a regular basis, they take pressure off of the top two lines by spreading out the offensive thrust.

When a team is scoring by committee, as the Habs were doing over their streak, the opposition really does not know who to key in on. Stop one line, and the three others will sink you.

Whatever the Habs did to get a jump from those bottom two lines, they need to find that magic again if they are to A) qualify for the playoffs and B) do any damage once they get there.

With six games left in the season and another pivotal match up tonight, this time versus the Hurricanes, the Habs have very little margin for error. A reasonable estimation is that they have to win three more games, or half of their remaining schedule, in order to make the playoffs.

It's win-and-you're-in time for the Habs as they are clearly holders of their own destiny. Being in the driver's seat is better than having your fate in someone else's hand, but you still have to win the games that you have to win.

Let's hope they start that trend tonight.

---
Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter

Habs News Links - Metro calls bull, Carolina pre-game, Habs sign Nash

Pre-Game: Habs versus Carolina
Habs Inside/Out:
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31886

RDS:
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296410.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-canadiens

ESPN.com:
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300331010

Other Habs News
Habs Inside/Out - Metro: "I wanted to call bull on 6-8 weeks."
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31884

RDS - It could be long for Metropolit (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296419.html

Habs Inside/Out - Habs sign Big Red Defenseman
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31883

RDS - Canadiens sign young defenseman
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296430.html

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Official Press Release - Habs Sign Free Agent Brendon Nash

CANADIENS SIGN FREE AGENT BRENDON NASH TO A TWO-YEAR CONTRACT
MONTREAL (March 30, 2010) – Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier announced today the signing of free agent defenseman Brendon Nash to a two-year contract (2010-11 and 2011-12). Nash, who is currently completing his studies at Cornell University, plays with the Cornell Big Red in the ECAC of the NCAA.

Brendon Nash, who will turn 23 on Wednesday, March 31, is a 6’ 3’ 206 lbs defenseman who hails from Kamloops, BC. In his last season at Cornell University in 2009-10 (team also includes his brother Riley), Nash led all team defensemen in scoring with 19 points in 33 games (2 goals, 17 assists). He also served 48 penalty minutes.

Nash recorded a total of 67 points (8 goals, 59 assists) and 173 penalty minutes in four full seasons with the Big Red. He also led all team defensemen in points in each the past three seasons.

From 2004 to 2006, Nash registered 60 points (9 goals, 51 assists) in 112 regular season games with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League). Nash participated in the Canadiens’development camp in 2009.

Habs News Links - Pouliot demoted, Gomez pumped about Montreal, Updated prospect rankings

Habs News
Habs Inside/Out - This city rocks, pumped Gomez says
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31880

Let's get Pat Bruns into the Hall of Fame
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31879

Darche skating with Gomez, Gionta
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31877

RDS - Martin send Pouliot a message (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296359.html

Hockey's Future - Canadiens Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010
http://www.hockeysfuture.com/articles/11967/canadiens_top20_prospects_spring2010/

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Habs News Links - Metro wants to stay with Habs, practice day, rest for the Habs

Habs News
Habs Inside/out:
Metro hopes he's not done as a Canadien
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31875

Practice resumes, Price
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31876

RDS - A break for the Habs (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296314.html

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HabsAddict.com New Logo Unveiled!

The HabsAddict.com logo design contest is over and the winner is......drum roll please:




The voting was tight with over 70 people completing the survey and first place was won by a mere 0.01 ranking difference. The second place logo, submitted by Twitter's "quiveri" gets a special mention as first runner-up.

Final Voting results (average rating out of 5)
Logo 1 2.96
Logo 2 1.83
Logo 3 1.63
Logo 4 2.63
Logo 5 2.04
Logo 6 2.97
Logo 7 2.80
Logo 8 2.90

Thank you to everyone who submitted logo's and voted in the contest. Your designs were inspired and creative and I thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for your work!

The winner now gets to enjoy Wednesday night's game of the Montreal Canadiens versus the Carolina Hurricanes, in Montreal.

Please leave comments on the logo as I want to know what you all think. Thanks!
K.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Montreal-New Jersey: Martin Brodeur and Devils Stifle Canadiens in 4-2 Win

It's always a big occasion when Martin Brodeur comes to town to play against his hometown Canadiens.

Yesterday, at the Bell Centre, was no different and unfortunately for the Habs the end result was an all too familiar one: Another loss to Brodeur and the stifling Devils trap.

The Canadiens started the game by playing to their strengths: Speed, skill and an aggressive forecheck. As the result, during the first five minutes of so, the ice was clearly tilted towards the Devils zone.

Despite several scoring chances, the Habs couldn't capitalize. The result was a Patrick Elias goal on the powerplay which took the wind right out of the Habs' sails.

For the rest of the game, try as they may, the Habs had a difficult time getting through the New Jersey trap and setting anything up offensively.

The Devils carried a 3-2 lead into the third before closing it out with an empty netter with 9.6 seconds left in the game.

The Canadiens got goals from Andrei Kostitsyn (15th) and Tomas Plekanec (23rd).

Note: The Habs lost Glen Metropolit during the game and it was confirmed this morning that he has a separated shoulder. He will be reevaluated on Monday.

Final Score: Habs 2 - Devils 4


Game Notes
1. Short and simple: Halak continues to play like a number one.

Not much to say here except Halak was the solid/consistent player we have come to expect and he made several great saves, including more than a couple of breakaways by Ilya Kovalchuk, to keep his team in the game.

The Habs lost despite Halak's best efforts.

2. God, is New Jersey a boring team to watch!

Now I understand why the Devils seem to average around nine thousand spectators per game: they are simply a boring team to watch. Sure, their stifling, trap-based system wins games, but man is it boring.

Yesterday's game was, for long stretches, like watching paint dry as the Jersey players clogged up the neutral zone and took away the Canadiens speed.

There is a lot of talk the Habs match up well with Jersey and should hope to get them as a first round playoff matchup. That very well might be the case, but I don't know if I can stay awake through a best-of-seven version of what I watched last night.

3. Andrei Kostitsyn is back.

After going 13 games without a goal, AK46 now has three in his last three games--not coincidentally since Michael Cammalleri's return.

Andrei K. has always been known as a streaky scorer who struggles to get the monkey off of his back but who, when he does, tends to score in bunches. He actually came close to scoring two goals last night as his shot banked off of Tomas Plekanec's skate in front, to make it a one goal game in the second period.

The timing for AK46's phoenix-like rise from the ashes could not have come at a better time as with only six games left to play, the Habs need all the offense they can muster.

4. Power outage in Montreal.

Despite having the second best powerplay in the league, operating at a 22.3% efficiency, the Habs have struggled mightily to score with the man advantage over since the Olympic break. Over their last 13 games, the Canadiens have scored on six of their 47 powerplay opportunities, good enough for a 12.76% efficient.

That is not nearly good enough. While the Habs have cut down on penalties for and are employing a speed-based game that is causing opposition to take penalties, they just do not seem to be able to capitalize.

Despite now have Marc-Andre Bergeron and Michael Cammalleri back in their lineup, the Habs are not only struggling to score, but most of the time struggling to keep the puck in the offensive zone.

If their efficiency rate had been around the 20% mark since the Olympic break, they would surely have at least a few more points in the standings.

The Canadiens simply have to get that aspect of their game going if they are going to make the playoffs and have some success.


Standings and Next Game
The Habs again missed a golden opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the teams chasing them in the standings. Last night's loss leaves the team stalled in the standings with 82 points in 76 games for sixth overall in the East.

In winning last night, the Sens put a five point cushion between them and the Habs (87 points in 76 games), but it is behind the Habs were things might be a little treacherous.

Boston (80 points, two games in hand), Philly (80 points, one game in hand) and Atlanta (78 and one game in hand) are all within striking distance of the Canadiens. Behind them are the Rangers (76 points, one game in hand) and the more distant Islanders and Tampa, both with 72 points and one game in hand.

The Canadiens now have three days off before taking on the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, in Montreal.

Habs News Links - Devils win, Metro separated shoulder, post game

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Habs News Links - Devils pregame, though decisions for Martin

Pre-Game: Habs versus Devils
Habs Inside/Out:
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31762

RDS - Though decisions for Habs (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296180.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-canadiens

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300327010

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Habs News Links - Habs win, Devils next, Moen lucky and unlucky

Post Game: Habs 4 - Panthers 1
Habs Inside/Out - Habs make it interesting
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31652

RDS - The movie did not repeat (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296098.html

TSN - Gionta scores twice, Halak sharp
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=315490

ESPN.com
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300325010


Other Habs News
Habs Inside/Out - Devils next
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31760

RDS - Moen lucky and unlucky (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296122.html

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Montreal-Florida: Brian Gionta's Two Goals Lead Habs over Panthers, 4-1

So, stop me if you've heard this one before: The Habs take a 2-0 lead into the third period of a game--on first period goals by Brian Gionta and Benoit Pouliot--only to sit back in a defensive shell and let the opposing team come at them.

Then, with about three minutes left to play, the opposition scores a goal and comes to life, threatening to tie it up and take the almost certain win away from the Habs.

But, they say that lightning never strikes the same place twice and unfortunately for the Florida Panthers, the Habs did not repeat the same script from the previous night.

Instead, with the Panthers goalie on the bench for the extra attacker, Tomas Plekanec shot the puck into the empty net--his 22nd of the season--with a minute and a half left to play.

Gionta followed suit by putting his 25th of the season into the still empty net with 8 seconds to go, and that was all she wrote.

On the same night that the NHL implemented their new "hits to the head" rules, there was a horrible moment in the second period when Jaroslav Spacek hit David Booth, with a clean face-to-face body check. Booth had his head down and Spacek's shoulder hit him right in the head. Booth stayed down for a few minutes before being helped off of the ice.

With his previous concussion at the beginning of the season, I think it is fair to say that Booth probably got another one last night and will be done for the season. Let's just hope that, for his sake, it is nothing too serious.

Please remember that while it was sad to see Booth again ko'd on the ice, Spacek's hit was clean, even under the new rules.

Final Score: Habs 4 - Panthers 1


Game Notes
1. Halak it. Halak it a lot!

The Panthers started the game with fire in their eyes and took the play to the Canadiens early in the first period. Halak was up to the challenge, however, making several spectacular saves to keep it tied at zero.

His work held the Panthers off long enough for the Habs offense to get going, as they turned the first period tide on goals by Gionta and Pouliot.

So while Halak only faced 24 shots on the night and the Habs were generally speaking the better team, his strong performance in the first was the reason they were able to come away with the win.

Let's just say it if the Canadiens won't: Halak has unofficially won the starting job, but Carey Price can still be the future of this team.

2. Travis Moen the warrior.

Only 72 hours after taking an errant Senators' skate to his face, causing a severe facial laceration that took over 50 stitches to close, Moen was back on the ice.

The laceration, you should know, goes diagonally from his forehead above his left eye, over his eyelid and ends to the left of his eye socket. How he did not lose an eye in the injury is beyond me, but that he was back in action so soon shows what kind of player he is: a warrior.

Not only was he playing again--with a visor to cover his Frankenstein-esque injury--but he also played one of his most inspired performances of the season.

Playing on a line with Sergei Kostitsyn and Dominic Moore that is full or energy and grit, Moen was making plays, taking shots, hitting players and generally being a workhorse.

Good on you, Travis! Now just make sure you keep that visor on for the rest of your career.

3. Has Dominic Moore has found a home in Montreal?

Over his five years in the league, Moore has played for the Rangers, Penguins, Wild, Leafs, Sabres, Panthers and now Montreal. Talk about a hot potato!

Since joining the Habs, however, Moore not only seems to have provided a stabilizing influence to the third--and by extension fourth--lines, but he seems to have found excellent chemistry with Moen and SK74.

Their combination of grit, skill, speed and talent means that his line spends most of their ice time in the opposition’s zone.

In addition to being defensively responsible, Moore is excellent on faceoffs and can contribute ten to fifteen goals per season. At 29 years of age, making $1.1 Million per season and a UFA at season's end, Moore looks like he good be a good fit to stay for a few years.

Say, $850 to $1 Million per season over two to three years? Given that Metropolit, as good as he's been, is 34, also a UFA this summer and was a healthy scratch last night, it looks more and more like Moore might have carved out a spot for himself going forward.

4. After a temporary fall from grace, Benoit Pouliot has rediscovered his form.

Yes, it was only a two game blip during which Pouliot looked slow, sloppy and disorganized as he fumbled passes and missed assignments. But it was enough to make people wonder, even for a second, if he was going to revert to the player who struggled in Minnesota.

Pouliot, however, would have none of that. Last night, he looked every bit the player who has become the missing cog on the Habs' second line, even though his first period goal was a bit of a softie from Tomas Vokoun.

Glad to have you back, Benny!


Standings and Next Game
The win give the Habs 82 points in 75 games; good enough for sixth overall in the East. Just ahead of the Canadiens are the Senators in fifth with 83 points in 74 games.

Behind the Habs are the Flyers (80 points, one game in hand), the Bruins (78 points, two games in hand), the Thrashers (76 points, one game in hand) and the fading Rangers (75 points, one game in hand).

The Habs have one day off before taking on Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils in Montreal on Saturday. After Saturday's game they will enjoy a rare three day break before facing the Hurricanes next Wednesday, so they'd be wise to leave it all on the ice against the Devils!

Montreal-Buffalo: Sabres Rally Late to Beat Habs 3-2 in Shootout

They say that a 2-0 lead is the worst lead in hockey and the most difficult to defend. Last night, the Montreal Canadiens proved that theory right.

The Canadiens took a 2-0 lead into the final two minutes of the game—on two goals by Andrei Kostitsyn, his first in 14 games—but couldn't hold off the Sabres onslaught.

On the powerplay and with Ryan Miller on the bench for the extra attacker, the Sabres made it a one goal game with 1:59 to play and tied is with 46 seconds left to send it to overtime.

Overtime solved nothing and Thomas Vanek sealed the deal for the Sabres in the shootout.

Many people will save that the Habs lost this game in the last two minutes but the story of the game was the Habs inability to score a third goal on Buffalo's four straight penalties in the second period.

Their powerless powerplay coupled with a supremely spectacular performance by Miller—reminding us all why he will win the Vezina this year—are the only reasons that Buffalo was able to hang around long enough to comeback.

That and a major coaching question mark—Coach Martin had Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn on the ice to protect the lead—were ultimately the undoing of the Habs.

Final score: Habs 2 - Sabres 3 (SO)


Game Notes
1. Woe is Carey Price.
Last night's loss by the Canadiens is in a lot of ways a microcosm of Price's season this year. Despite playing an excellent game, looking big in the net, displaying excellent lateral movement and showing tremendous focus, Price lost.

Like they said on RDS after the game, in a year from now no one will remember how the game was lost as it will just go in the loss column for Price.

I have to admit, that it is difficult to watch how arduous this season is and has been for Price. He just can't seem to catch a break and seems to lose whether he plays well or not. Maybe it's karma and he is paying back into the pool for having "enjoyed" himself a little too much last year.

Whatever the situation is, Halak has shown that he is the number one right now and despite the loss, Price, as the backup, did his job in getting a point on the road. Keep in mind that he stopped 40 of 42 shots on the evening and was 1:59 away from being named the game's first star.

2. Welcome back Cammalleri.
While Michael Cammalleri didn't get any points last night, he was on the ice for both Andrei Kostitsyn goals—one at even strength 41 seconds into the game and the other on the powerplay.

While Cammy didn't play a direct role in either goal, his presence on the ice had an indirect effect in allowing AK46 to score.

On the first goal Cammalleri was tying up 6'6" Tyler Myers in front of the Buffalo goal, allowing AK46 to snap the shot past Miller, unmolested. On the second goal Cammy was being overplayed, allowing AK46 that extra second in the slot to fire his shot over Miller's shoulder.

It just goes to show that having him back on the top line creates more space on the ice and takes away attention from Andrei Kostitsyn. AK46 can then turn that extra time and space into goals. Let's hope he keeps it going!

3. End of the line for Maxim Lapierre?
Lapierre's poor play since returning for a four game suspension in early March, earned him a seat in the press box last night and with good reason.

Lapierre's minus-15 rating is second only to Paul Mara's minus-16, on the team this year. More importantly, he isn't playing that gritty, speed-based game that he played last year. More often than not, you will see Lapierre pull up on a check rather than finishing it, move out of the way and lose the puck rather than taking the hit to make the play and, generally speaking, play without a lot of intensity.

When he was succeeding last season, Lapierre was always moving his feet, was always first on the puck and caused havoc for the opposition all season long.

Right now, Lapierre looks like a man who thinks he has no future with the team and is riding out the season. Sad, but it looks like he might be another prospect with potential who will be traded out of town.

So who else thinks he'll be moved at the draft?

4. What was Jacques Martin thinking?
With less than three minutes to play in the game and the Sabres on the powerplay—with Miller on the bench for an extra attacker—why were Michael Cammalleri and AK46 on the ice?

Martin, who is known as a defense first coach, would usually have a barrage of defensive/shutdown type players on the ice to protect the lead and kill the powerplay.

Was he trying to help AK46 get his hat trick into an empty net? I am not sure what he was thinking but the poor personnel choice likely played a large role in the Buffalo comeback.

Weak, and out of character.

Standings and Next Game
The one point earned in the shootout loss last night gives the Habs 80 points in 74 games, good enough for sixth overall in the East.

Ahead of the Habs are the Ottawa Senators with 83 points in 74 games while behind the Habs are the usual suspects: Philly in seventh (79 points, one game in hand), Boston in eighth (78 points, two games in hand) and Atlanta in ninth (75 points, two games in hand).

There is no rest for the wicked as the Habs fly back to Montreal to take on the Florida Panthers tonight at the Bell Centre.

Habs News Links - Sabres comeback, post game, precious point lost, Panthers pre-game

Post Game: Habs 2 - Sabres 3 (SO)
Habs Inside/Out - Habs blow it in Buffalo
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31537

RDS - A precious point lost (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296028.html

TSN - Sabres score twice late, beat Canadiens
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=315377

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300324002


Pre-game: Habs versus Panthers
Habs Inside/Out:
http://habsinsideout.com/main/31652

RDS:
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/296098.html

TSN:
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-canadiens

ESPN.com:
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300325010

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pregame Primer: Habs versus Sabres - whole lotta shaking going on

With about six and a half hours to go till game time, there are a bunch of interesting developments going on with the Habs right now as follows:

1. Mike Cammalleri will be back in the lineup after missing 17 games.
2. Marc-Andre Bergeron will be back in the lineup after missing 15 games.
3. Carey Price will get his first start since being pulled against Anaheim March 7th.
4. Maxim Lapierre will be watching the game from the pressbox as a healthy scratch
5. Mathieu Darche will take Lapierre's spot on the fourth line
6. Travis Moen, who suffered a severe facial laceration last game, will not play tonight
5. Tom Pyatt will take Moen's spot on the third line

You had to figure that with Lapierre's weak play all season long and his lack of desperation since rejoining the team after his suspension, he'd become the odd man out.

If there is one thing that we can always expect from Jacques Martin, it is that he rewards players and awards ice-time based on the their effort. While there are sometimes exceptions to the rule—see Kostitsyn, Andrei for more info—Coach Martin generally does not tolerate slackers.

If you are performing, you get more ice time—hello, Glen Metropolit! If not, you drop down a line or two as Benoit Pouliot did last game.

After two disappointing performances against division rivals the last two games, I am expecting a lot out of the team tonight. Price, who hasn't played in a dog's age, should be chomping at the bit to show that he should stay in the net.

Cammalleri and Bergeron should be filled with adrenaline with a hop to their step, all night, and should help the Habs anemic powerplay. Pyatt and Darche should be eager to show that they belong more than Lapierre does.

All of this is a recipe for an excellent game tonight versus a Sabres team that looks like they are really hitting their stride.

Expect a playoff atmosphere tonight as it is very possible that we will be witnessing a preview of a first round matchup.

So enjoy the game. I know I will!

Habs News Links - Cammalleri and Bergeron back, Sabres pregame

Pre-Game: Habs @ Sabres
Habs Inside Out:
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31537

Price in nets, Lapierre sits
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31538

RDS - Cammalleri and Bergeron are ready (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295984.html

TSN - Cammalleri, Bergeron set to return to Habs lineup
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=315204

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-sabres

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300324002

Other Habs News
Habs Inside/Out - Habs past and present featured at collectibles show
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31535

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Montreal-Ottawa: Habs Come out Flat in 2-0 Loss to Sens

After roaring to a 7-1-0 record after the Olympic break, the Habs seem to have taken a breather over their last two games. Just when they were starting to roll, it looks like they have now taken their foot—at least temporarily—off of the gas pedal.

Habs fans were disappointed with the Canadiens poor performance in their 3-2 shootout loss to the Leafs over the weekend, but at least they were able to salvage a point. Last night, however, the Habs not only played poorly and lost the game, but they were also shutout at home.

This is not something that the Habs faithful tends to enjoy and they let the homeboy's know just that, as they sent them off of the ice to a chorus of boos.

The Sens, losers of five straight games before last night, played like their lives were on the line and generally dominated the Habs all night long.

Jaroslav Halak stood tall in the Habs net and gave them a chance to win despite his team being outplayed. The Habs were ultimately done-in by bad defensive zone coverage, poor gap control, missed assignments, turnovers, and a powerless powerplay.

There was also a scary moment when Travis Moen took a skate in the face off of an upended Senators player, in the second period. He went immediately to the dressing room and there was fear that he might have been hit in the eye. While he did not return to the game, word this morning seems to indicate that he received over 50 stitches to the forehead but will not require further medical attention.

Final score: Habs 0 - Sens 2


Game Notes
1. Halak is playing like a true number one. Calm, cool and collected, Halak has grabbed the ball and is running with it.

While he certainly did have some misplays handling the puck last night, he was otherwise near flawless as he made save after save to keep it a one goal game until the third.

Despite the Habs outshooting the Senators 29-27, the Sens had the better scoring chances all night with the Habs giving up odd-man rush after odd-man rush. The Sens could have filled the Habs' net with three or four goals in the first period alone.

2. Next time decline the penalty.

The Habs second overall ranked powerplay again fired blanks last night, going 0-for-5. If you include the loss to Toronto, that gives the Habs a 1-for-12 success rate over their last two games, or 8.3%. That is simply not good enough.

Coach Martin has been preaching the need for strong goaltending and special teams all year. While that's true, it's important to note that when the Habs were winning six in a row, Halak was not stealing games and their powerplay was not clicking at top efficiency. In fact, it was actually their 5-on-5 play and balanced attack that was winning games for them.

The Habs need to find that balance again if they are going to have success over their final nine games.

3. Speaking of balance the Habs seem to have lost theirs.

Yes, they are only on a two game losing streak and can quickly turn things around, but if there is one thing that has stood out over those games it is the Habs lack of scoring balance.

One of the main catalysts of the Habs recent six-game winning streak was the four-line balance. It seemed like they were scoring by committee with a new hero stepping up every night. More importantly, the Habs third and fourth lines were contributing on the ice with an effective, grinding cycle, and on the scoreboard with important and timely goals.

Since Saturday in Toronto, however, the third and fourth lines have been essentially invisible on the ice. Not only are they failing to offer any scoring thrust, but they are being caught out of position and causing defensive liabilities for their team. This trends needs to be reversed in a hurry.

I can't help but wonder if putting Maxim Lapierre back on the fourth line has somehow disrupted the chemistry there.

4. Tom Pyatt is not a top-six winger and Andrei Kostitsyn is firing blanks.

Michael Cammalleri—who should be back in the lineup on Wednesday against the Buffalo Sabres—should provide a sorely needed shot in the arm to the Habs sputtering offense.

While Pyatt plays bigger than his 5'10", 180 lbs. frame, there is no question that he is better suited to a bottom-six role. He has done his best in Cammalleri's absence, but is just not what the doctor ordered.

Cammalleri's return to the top line should take some pressure and attention off of AK46 and allow him some more room on the ice. Hopefully he can convert that time and space into points, because two assist over his last 12 games is just not cutting it.

5. Speaking of firing blanks, what has happened to Benoit Pouliot? While AK46's struggles are well documented, Pouliot has had no problems since joining the Gomez-Gionta line.

That was until the game against the Leafs.

Over his last two games, Pouliot is playing like he still has the Minnesota Wild's jersey on his back. He is not moving his feet, he is missing passes, he is fumbling with the puck and he is not shooting or going to the net. Basically he is doing the opposite of everything that has made him successful up until now with the Habs.

Like AK46, Pouliot needs to turn things around in a hurry because having two thirds of the top two lines clicking is a recipe for disaster.


Standings and Next Game
The Habs missed another opportunity to move ahead in the standings last night, and instead ceded the fifth overall spot to the Senators. The Canadiens now have 79 points in 73 games and sit in seventh overall in the East.

Just ahead of the Habs are the Flyers (79 points, one game in hand) and the Sens (81 points in 73 games). These two teams play each other tonight in another 4-point inter-division game with the winner moving into fifth overall.

In the Habs' rear-view mirror are the Bruins (76 points, two games in hand), the Thrashers (75 points, one game in hand), and the fading Rangers (71 points, one game in hand).

Next up for the Habs is a Wednesday night tilt versus the division-leading Buffalo Sabres, winners of three in a row. A win Wednesday would pull the Habs to within seven points of the Sabres. With only nine more games to play the seven point cushion would likely put the Sabres out of the Habs' striking range, but crazier things have been known to happen!

That being said, the Habs have done themselves no favors by losing to the Leafs and Sens and face difficult opponents in Buffalo and Jersey this week. There is no question that the losses have put the Canadiens on thin ice.

A few more losses could see the Habs fall back into the "hanging on by their finger nails" category. A few wins, however, could push them up the standings.

Note to Habs fans: While many are in the throes of depression this morning, it is important to remember that a team is never as good as it looks when it is winning and never as bad as they look when they are losing.

A call for calm and balance is in order, methinks.

Habs News Links - Sens win, Moen cut with skate, Habs in 7th

Post Game: Habs 0 - Sens 2
Habs Inside/Out - Canadiens Flat Against Senators
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31423

RDS - Ottawa keeps 5th (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295923.html

TSN - Sens end losing streak
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=315128

ESPN.com:
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/boxscore?gameId=300322010

Hospital visit not needed for Habs' Moen
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=5020032

Habs Inside/Out - Cammalleri, Bergeron in, Moen out
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31534

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Pivotal Habs/Sens Game Awards Winner 5th Place Overall

With the Habs missing a golden opportunity to jump ahead in the standings over the weekend, they get another kick at the can tonight in Montreal versus the Sens.

The Habs were able to pull one point out of their weekend matchup against the Leafs, and as a result—and because of Philly's current 2-game losing streak and the Sens 5-game drought—the Habs are now tied for points (79) and games played (72) with the Sens and Flyers.

Tonight's game is yet another 4-point game in a string of 4-pointers from here till the end of the season. As inconsistently as the Habs were playing before the Olympic break they can, almost unbelievably, move into sole possession of 5th overall in the East with a win tonight.

While there has been speculation that Mike Cammalleri and/or Marc-Andre Bergeron would be back in the lineup tonight, the latest news is that neither are ready for action.

At this point it looks like it will be one more game before one or both of them are back in the lineup leading to the obvious question of who to sit when they're back.

If it's up to me, I'm sitting Maxim Lapierre who has continued to be more or less invisible on the ice. Sit him and put MAB in his spot on the 4th line. As for Cammalleri, it is a no-brainer to put him back on the top line with AK46 and Plekanec, but what to do about Pyatt?

This kid has filled in admirably on the Habs top line since Cammy's injury as he leaves it all on the ice night after night. That being said, it is pretty clear that he is not a top-6 but rather and bottom-6 player. But he is young and, even if sent down to the minors, should get a good shot at making the team out of camp next season.

As for goaltending, Halak will get the start again in nets. While no one has said anything publically, it is clear that Halak is the unofficial #1 goaltender on this team.

That being said, Price will get some starts before the end of the season—look for him to possibly be in nets versus Buffalo on Wednesday—but barring a major melt down by Halak, he will clearly be penciled in as the backup on most nights.

A win tonight would give Montreal 81 points overall, only seven back of the Devils and Buffalo. Seven points is a lot to make up over the remaining 9 games, but who would have thought, before the break, that the Habs would ever have a shot at 4th overall this year?

Parity indeed.

So the question now is: are the Habs really the team that has only 2 regulation losses over their last 10 games, or the one that struggled to break .500 before the Olympics?

---
Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter

Habs News Links - 4 point game, battle for 5th overall, Cammy/MAB back?

Pre-game: Habs v. Sens
Habs Inside/Out - Bell four-pointer for Habs, Sens
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31420

Habs Inside/Out - Habvs v. Sens
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31423

RDS - The Battle for 5th (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295923.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-canadiens

ESPN.com:
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300322010

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Habs News Links - Leafs Win, the streak is over, missed opportunity

Post game: Habs 2 - Leafs 3 (SO)
Habs Inside/Out:
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31284

RDS - A missed opportunity (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295783.html

TSN - Mitchell scores SO winner
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=314866

ESPN.com
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300320021

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Habs News Links - Leafs preview, 7 in a row? Halak in nets

Pre-game: Habs @ Leafs
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31284

Halak seeks seventh straight win
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31286

RDS - A 7th win for the Habs (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295783.html

TSN - Streaking Habs v. Rebuilding Leafs
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=314779

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300320021

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Habs News Links - Cammalleri speaks, Habs travel to TO, Plek to sign?

Habs News
Habs Inside/Out - Habs sign Hunter Bishop
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31277

Leafs kick off busy stretch for Habs
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31279

RDS - Cammalleri: Everything in due time (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295665.html

Harmony reigning over Habs
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295688.html

Spector's Hockey - Plekanec Contract Talks
http://www.spectorshockey.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1087:canadiens-a-oilers-news-march-17-2010&catid=5:trade-rumors&Itemid=4

The Hockey News - Canadiens' grinders spinning gold
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/32255-THNcom-Blog-Canadiens-grinders-spinning-gold.html

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Official Habs Press Release - Habs Sign Free Agent Hunter Bishop

CANADIENS SIGN FREE AGENT HUNTER BISHOP TO A TWO-YEAR CONTRACT
MONTREAL (March 18, 2010) – Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier announced today the signing of free agent forward Hunter Bishop to a two-year contract (2010-11 and 2011-12). He will report to the Hamilton Bulldogs early next week.

Bishop, 22, is a 6’ 196 lbs forward who hails from Fairbanks, AK. In 2009-10, he ranked fourth in scoring in his, second season with the NCAA Ohio State Buckeyes. He registered 27 points in 33 games (15 goals, 12 assists). He ranked third in goals with the Buckeyes and had 22 penalty minutes. In his sophomore season with Ohio State in 2008-09, Bishop ranked third in scoring with 31 points in 42 games (14 goals, 17 assists).

From 2005 to 2008, Bishop registered a total of 177 points (93 goals, 84 assists) in 140 regular season games with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League), including a 97-point season (57-40-97) in 60 games back in 2007-08.

Bishop participated in the Canadiens’development camp in 2009.

Random Hockey Thoughts: Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mike Cammalleri, Brent Seabrook hit.

With three days off between Habs games, we are all left with plenty of time to sit and think.

To think about the incredible 6-game winning the streak the Habs are on. To think about the upcoming Saturday night matchup against the Leafs at the ACC. To think about the possibility of extending the winning streak to seven all while making sure not to take the Leafs lightly. To think about the Habs taking their second team picture of the year this morning and wondering who will sit in the "captain" spot, front and center.

But on a more immediate topic, I am thinking about the return of Marc-Andre Bergeron and Michael Cammalleri to the lineup.


Return of the MAB
News from practice this morning suggested that as Bergeron took the skate with his teammates, his return to the lineup should not be too far away. With no specific date yet mentioned, I think it is fair to assume that he is likely a handful of games away, at most.

While his booming shot is sorely missed from the powerplay, I am wondering where exactly he fits in the lineup now that the Habs have been winning without him. How do you dismantle, even a little bit, a lineup that has won six in a row and seven of their last eight?

Before he was injured, Bergeron was playing on the fourth line and on the powerplay. I, personally, think that this is exactly how he should be used given his misgivings as a defenseman. That being said, the fourth line has been a key contributing line over the Habs 6-game streak.

When he returned from suspension, Maxim Lapierre took Ben Maxwell's spot on the fourth line so now that Bergeron's return is imminent, does he bump Lapierre—who's play has been weak of late—from the lineup? Does Mathieu Darche—who gives every ounce of himself on every shift—get pulled from the lineup to let MAB in?

It's hard to say what Coach Martin will do, but I think it is fair to assume that one of those two will get the hook. If Lapierre stays in the lineup over Darche, I believe it will only be out of respect for his tenure with the team. I also believe, however, that if this is the choice that Martin makes, Lapierre will be on a very short leash.

If, however, Martin decides to make his decision based on who is playing better and/or contributing more on the ice, then to me, it's a no-brainer to sit Lapierre.


The Talented Mr. Cammalleri
Then there's the topic of Mike Cammalleri. While it will be easy to reinsert him in the lineup by sending Tom Pyatt back to the minors and giving him his regular spot back on the top line, the question in his case is more of when he will return.

At the beginning of the week and end of last weekend, it was looking and sounding like Cammalleri would make his long heralded return this weekend in Toronto.

As of this morning, Cammy is not skating with the team, which would seem to indicate that he is probably not as close to returning as we thought.

While I think it is fair to assume that he is not playing on Saturday in Toronto, there is no longer any clear indication of when he will return. Did he suffer a setback? Was he not as far along in his rehabilitation as they originally thought?

We'll have to wait till practice is over to get a better idea.

UPDATE: Looks like he is aiming to return Monday versus Ottawa. So not so bad afterall!

Shamrocks and Shenanigans
With a St. Patrick's Day matchup between Chicago and Anaheim, last night, people were acting the fool as if they had been partaking in the day's celebrations.

When Brent Seabrook took out Corey Perry behind the net, the Ducks' James Wisniewski thought he should exact his revenge a few shift later but charging at and completely obliterating Seabrook.

If you didn't see the play, take a look:


Is it me, or does there seem to be an epidemic of dirty hits this year and more so, recently?

While the hit on Seabrook was not of the "from behind" variety, it was still plenty dirty as Wisniewski didn't break stride and seemed to put his forearm right into Seabrook’s face/head.

Ugly.

With all of this going on, seemingly game after game, I think it will just continue to push the NHL to adopt their new headshot policy this season rather than next.

What do you all think? Bring in the new headshot policy this year or wait till next year, and why?

Habs News Links - Carbo interview, Bergeron rejoins team, Martin looking for 3rd

Habs News
Habs Inside/Out - Carbonneau at 50
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31272

Carbo to look back and ahead
http://www.montrealgazette.com/sports/Carbonneau+keeps+options+open/2695405/story.html

RDS - Martin wants 3rd overall (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295610.html

Bergeron rejoins teammates (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295637.html

Plekanec didn't want to be a distraction (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295536.html


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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Montreal-New York: Habs Extend Streak to Six in 3-1 Win over Rangers

Bombs over Broadway. That's what must certainly be going on in New York this morning. If not this morning, then for sure after last night's 3-1 win by the Habs over the Rangers in New York.

The bombs that were likely going off were of the "F" variety, coming out of Coach John Tortorella's mouth as he could not have enjoyed the way his team played.

While full marks should be given to the Habs, who continue to roll and get contributions for all four lines, the Rangers were simply a hollow, emotionless team last night. This is a bit surprising considering how important last night’s game was. However, from the opening faceoff to the closing buzzer, the Rangers seemed disinterested; like many of them were already thinking about their offseason golf game.

Glen Metropolit opened the scoring for the Habs in the first by deflecting an Andrei Markov shot from the point, on the powerplay. Sean Avery got that one back in the second for the Rangers but that was all they would bring to the table.

The Canadiens got the winning goal from Sergei Kostitsyn in the third and Tomas Plekanec sealed the deal with an empty net goal with time running out.

The story of the night, however, was Henrik Lundqvist—the only reason the score was as close as it was—who stopped 18 Canadiens shots in the second period and faced 35 overall on the night.

The Habs continued to look solid last night, by rolling four contributing lines and three firm defensive pairings.

I like Marc-Andre Bergeron a lot but I am not sure how coach Jacques Martin will reinsert him in the lineup once he’s back from injury.

Final Score: Habs 3 - Rangers 1


Game Notes
1. Halak was solid but didn't have to be outstanding. As we have surprisingly become used to over the course of the Habs six-game winning streak, Halak did not need to be the first star for the Habs to win.

Sure, he made some solid saves at key times—as we have come to expect—but he really wasn't tested all that much, facing a total of 20 shots on the night. It’s nice to see the Habs playing to their strengths, which are speed and skill, and winning as a result.

2. There's something about Sergei. The younger of the Kostitsyn brothers continues to be on fire and act as the spark plug for the Habs third line. In scoring the Habs second goal last night—the game winning goal—Sergei now has six points (4G, 2A) and a plus-four rating over the last six games.

More importantly, SK74 has combined with Travis Moen and Dominic Moore to create a hard working, grinding, skill-based third line for the Habs. Every time the Habs’ third line was on the ice last night, the play was in the Rangers zone. The effective cycle and down-low play of Moen and Moore works to create extra room for Sergei to quarterback the play.

The result, last night, was sustained pressure by the Habs third line for the entire game. In addition, the Habs fourth line of Metropolit, Maxim Lapierre, and Mathieu Darche seems to be producing the same style of grinding hockey and the combination is helping the Habs tire out opposing defensemen.

3. Speaking of Maxim Lapierre, while his line is contributing on the ice there is no question that he is the weakest link in that chain.

When Lapierre was suspended for four games a week or so ago, and the team was winning the entire time he was out of the lineup, you would have expected him to come back with fire in his eyes.

Instead, he is the same old Lapierre as before the suspension; playing with or displaying no heart, pulling up on rather than finishing checks, and overall looking a step behind everyone else on the team. If Lapierre can't find his game from last year he might get passed over for Darche or Metropolit during the offseason.

Anyone else see Lapierre being moved draft day this summer?

4. Andrei Kostitsyn continues to spin his wheels. While Lapierre is a concern on the fourth line, AK46 is a problem on the first. Andrei has only two assists over the Habs last ten games and last night he looked lost.

AK46 has had stretches where he looked like he was on the cusp of breaking out of his scoring slump but last night he regressed, taking two bonehead penalties that could have been costly to the team. Those are the kind of penalties that can sink a team in the playoffs and Coach Martin nailed Andrei to the bench for parts of the third to remind him of that fact.

Michael Cammalleri can't come back soon enough as, aside from Plekanec, the Habs first line isn't really producing anything.


Standings and Next Game
The Canadiens have now won six straight games and seven of their last ten overall. Last night's win gives them 78 points in the standings with 71 games played.

The Habs can, perhaps for the first time all season, start looking ahead of them in the standings rather than behind them. Just ahead of the Canadiens are the Senators with 79 point and one game in hand, while behind them are Philly (77 points, two games in hand), Boston (74 points, two games in hand), and the Rangers (71 points, one game in hand).

The Habs have finally started to put some separation between themselves and the middling teams behind them and they now have three days off before taking on the Leafs in Toronto on Saturday night.

The three days off will give the Habs some time to rest and give their competitors some time to make up their games in hand. Come Saturday night, I believe that the Habs will still be in a playoff position. Whatever happens from there to the end of the season, they have done everything in their power to put themselves in the driver’s seat.

Habs News Links - 6th straight win, Rangers post game, day off

Post Game: Habs 3 - Rangers 1
Habs Inside/Out - Canadiens move into sixth place
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31140

RDS - The Habs continue to climb (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295509.html

TSN - Canadiens defeat Rangers for 6th straight win
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=314322

ESPN.com - Habs extend streak to 6
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300316013

Other Habs News
Habs Inside/Out - Day off for six-straight Canadiens
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31270

Richard Riot 50 years ago today
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31271

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Habs @ Rangers, 2 Games for Ovechkin? NHL discipline/lack thereof. Videos.

Ok, let me get this straight:

1. Mike Richards blindsides David Booth resulting in a severe concussion and gets no suspension.


2. Matt Cooke, a repeat offender, blindsides Marc Savard resulting in a severe concussion, and gets no suspension.


3. Maxim Lapierre pushes Scott Nichol from behind, five feet away from the boards, who is uninjured. Lapierre gets a 4-game suspension.


4. Alexander Ovechkin pushes Brian Campbell from behind, five feet away from the boards, resulting in three broken ribs, a broken clavicle and likely the end of his season. Ovechkin, who is a repeat offender, gets a two game suspension.


Qué?

Is it me?

What is the pattern? I can't figure it out. Can you?

Actually, if there is a pattern it is that the NHL is trying to come down extremely lightly on star or superstar players while making examples of the lower rung guys.

Despite the league saying that they want to crack down on head shots, in letting Richards off without a suspension they sent the message that they want the stars to be on the ice and not at home.

Since the precedent was already set with the Richards hit, the NHL office felt that when Matt Cooke did essentially the same thing to Marc Savard, they had no choice but to follow the same logic. This despite the fact that Cooke is a repeat offended and is not a superstar.

So in essence, they were saying that they screwed up the first time and would screw up this decision as well, in order for it to be fair.

So why then did Max Lapierre get four games? He is not a repeat offender. Sure, he is a despised player and his on ice toughness is often in question, but that has or shouldn't have anything to do with the length of his suspension.

So again, if we are to follow the league's supposed logic, when Alex Ovechkin did the EXACT same thing to Brian Campbell that Lapierre did to Nichol, and considering that he is a repeat offender, he should get more than four games. No?

Nope. Wrong.

That would be the logical assumption but the league, in handing down two games to Ovechkin, just reaffirmed the belief that there is a two-tier punishment system: One for stars and one for everyone else.

Ridiculous.

In a month that has seen head shots and the NHL's discipline policies put in the national spotlight, I still can't understand what the league is thinking.

With every new decision he makes, NHL head of discipline, Colin Campbell, is making himself look more and more like a fool.


Habs @ Rangers
A HUGE two points are on the line tonight when the Canadiens clash with the Rangers, in New York. The Habs currently sit in 7th place overall in the East with 76 points in 70 games while the Rangers are in 9th with 71 points in 69 games.

A win by the Habs tonight will go along way towards pushing them up in the standings and simultaneously take a leg off of the Rangers playoffs hopes.

I expect big things from the Gomez line as well as Gaborik, for the Rangers. Expect to see Jacques Martin trying to get Hamrlik and Spacek on the ice every time Gaborik is, while Tortorella will do his best to get away from that matchup.

With all that is going on with these two teams, the difference tonight could quite possibly come down to goaltending as it is likely to be Halak versus Lundqvist.

There is so much on the line for both teams and they both know it so expect a playoff-like atmosphere tonight!

Habs News Links - Rangers pregame, Maxwell recalled, Who's in nets, Plekanec injured?

Pre-game: Habs vs. Rangers
Habs Inside/Out:
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31140

RDS - Habs can hurt Rangers playoff chance (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295509.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-rangers

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300316013

Other Habs News
Habs Inside/Out - Plekanec contract talks going well
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31134

Plekanec leaves practice with Injury
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31136

Maxwell recalled from Bulldogs
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/31138

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Small Moves Making Big Difference for Habs: Pouliot, Darche, Moore.

As we bask in the glow of the Canadiens' 5-game winning streak—they've actually won six of their last seven—there are a few things that I have noticed are giving the Habs success, of late.

More than a few things, I think there are a few players in particular who, while not being "big names" in the league, are helping the Habs become a more cohesive unit.

As fans, we are often looking for trades with a big name who will come in and save the day—hello Vincent Lecavalier. But for the Habs, their recent success is more the result of minor moves that are paying big dividends and helping them make a dramatic push towards the playoffs.


Mathieu Darche
With 121 games of NHL experience over 10 years and spanning five teams; Darche is the text book definition of a fringe NHLer. When he was picked up by the Habs during the off season, his role was to act as a mentor to the young Habs prospects in Hamilton.

Darche was never really being considered for a spot with the big club, but given his NHL experience there was a thinking that he could be an adequate fill-in with the Habs if need be.

His biggest triumph in Hamilton was working with Sergei Kostitsyn when he was sent to his room with no supper, at the beginning of the year. From all accounts, Darche took Sergei under his wing and helped him get his head screwed on straight.

Sergei aside, when the Habs fell into serious injury problems this year—Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn—Darche was given a fill-in role with the Habs and he has done everything in his power to stick with the club.

Darche's hungry play seems to have breathed life into the Habs fourth line as his speed and determination are rubbing off on the players around him. As a result, Darche has nine points (5G, 4A) and a plus-2 rating over 20 games.

As a free agent this coming summer, Darche has played his way onto the team and is making a strong case for the Habs to resign him.


Dominic Moore
When Habs GM Pierre Gauthier pulled the trigger on his first trade, it was for Dominic Moore. Moore is a player who has five years of NHL experience and has played on seven teams—including Montreal—over that span.

Talk about a journeyman!

While most Habs fans were disappointed that Moore was the only acquisition that Gauthier made leading up to the 2010 trade deadline, Moore has done everything in his power to make his presence felt on the ice.

Where Moore had 17 points (8G, 9A) and a minus-17 rating over 48 games in Florida this year, in only nine games with the Habs he already has two goals, five assists and a plus-6 rating.

In addition, Moore is averaging over 14 minutes of ice time per game and plays five-on-five and shorthanded. He is also being counted on by Jacques Martin to take key faceoffs at key times.

Like Darche, Moore is a man who desperately wants to make a home somewhere in the NHL. His hunger to stay is, like Darche, showing up on the ice through his determination, grit, and work ethic.

Also like Darche, Moore has lit a fire under his line and as a result the third and fourth lines have 11 of the Habs last 27 goals for.

An amazing stat when you consider that there was a stretch this year where both lines went weeks without scoring.

The balance that their contributions bring to the Habs lineup is one of the main factors in their recent resurgence.


Benoit Pouliot
The move that has had the biggest effect on the Habs this year is the acquisition of Benoit Pouliot from the Minnesota Wild.

In trading Guillaume Latendresse to the Wild for Pouliot, the Habs killed two birds with one stone: They traded a player who had potential but was not performing well and got a player back, in Pouliot, who was in an equally underwhelming position with the Wild.

While Latendresse has been ripping it up in Minnesota, Pouliot also seems to have found his game and the change of air that he needed.

Since arriving with the Habs, Pouliot has played 27 games and has 21 points (14G, 7A) with a plus-8 rating. More importantly, Pouliot is proving to be the missing ingredient from the Gomez-Gionta line.

Pouliot's success should not really come as a surprise considering that he was the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft, one spot ahead of Carey Price.

Since the Pouliot trade, Gomez has scored 32 of his 50 points, or 64% of his points total this season, while Gionta has scored 24 of his 37 points, or 64.9% of his points total.

Staggering numbers when you consider that both Gomez and Gionta have been injured at different points since Pouliot arrived in Montreal.

Pouliot's size and nose for the net are the perfect complement for the smaller Gomez and Gionta, and the three are proving to be an excellent second line for the Habs.

Once Cammalleri is back from injury—possibly this weekend versus Toronto—the Habs will conceivably have two legitimate scoring lines for the first time in years.

Couple that with the regular contributions from the third and fourth lines, and you have one potentially dangerous playoff team.

With 12 games left to play in the season, I think that the additions of Darche, Moore and Pouliot are going to become the catalysts that propel the Habs into the playoffs.

Where they go from there remains to be seen.

Habs News Links - Habs get some help, Back to practice, NYR

Habs News
Habs Inside/Out - Habs some help - and not
http://m.habsinsideout.com/index.php/home/470

Back to practice, off to New York
http://m.habsinsideout.com/index.php/home/471

RDS - Sergei wakes up, #13 is coming back (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/295409.html

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Montreal-Boston: Sergei Kostitsyn Stars in Habs 3-2 win over Boston Bruins

Well it wasn't the classic Habs-Bruins matchup that we were expecting, but it was an entertaining game never-the-less. With both teams fighting for their playoff lives this four-point, head-to-head game was massively important for both teams.

Sergei Kostitsyn led the charge for the Habs scoring two goals, including the eventual game winner. As Rask came out to play the puck behind the net and missed, SK74 was there to dump it into an empty net to make it a 3-1 game.

Andrei Markov was the other goal scorer for the Habs, as he continued his streak of getting at least one point over the last six games.

The Bruins responded with goals from Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler but ultimately their pop-gun offense--playing without Marc Savard, their offensive catalyst--wasn't able to mount enough of a challenge for the Habs.

Final score: Habs 3 - Bruins 2


Game Notes
1. Halak didn't have to stand on his head. If there is one trend that has taken shape over the Habs' five-game winning streak, it is that their goaltenders do not have to be the first star in order for the team to win.

Last night the trend continued as Halak faced only eleven shots over the first two periods and 23 on the night. Halak was sharp in the third, however, as the Bruins brought their best effort to make it a one-goal game.

While the Habs have the best one-two punch in nets in the league with Halak and Price, it is nice to see them not relying so heavily on their goaltenders for wins.

2. Scoring by committee rules the day. Another interesting and very healthy trend for the Habs since the Olympic break, is that they are getting contributions from every line on the team.

When it comes to scoring, it seems that a differnt player steps up and plays the role of hero every night. Spreading the scoring across all four lines is giving the Habs the kind of balanced scoring that makes teams extremely difficult to defend against.

Interesting note: The Habs third and fourth lines total 11 of the Habs last 27 goals.

3. Speaking of third and fourth lines, both seem to be clicking for the Habs at the right time. Even if they don't always put points up on the board, they seem to be spending the majority of the game in the opposition's zone.

The result of their tenacious, grinding play is that the opposition's D is spending much more time in their own end on the defensive side of the puck. The result is that opposing defensemen will often be more tired by the time the third period rolls around.

While this might not seem like a big deal in a regular season game, it can have a huge accumulating factor over the course of a playoff series.


4. Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn are rounding into form. With three goals, two assists and a plus-3 rating over the last two games, Sergei seems to have rediscovered his outstanding Olympic form.

Andrei, on the other hand, is still struggling to find the back of the net but he does have two assists and a plus-1 rating over the last two games. Interestingly though, Andrei is starting to get physically involved in the games by throwing his weight around to great effect.

While he seemed on the cusp of breaking out of his scoring slump, one of the biggest plays of the night was his crushing shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Milan Lucic with less than three minutes left in the third.

Lucic, who passed the puck to his teammate, was stuck admiring his pass as AK46 put his shoulder into him. Lucic was absolutely flattened by the Kostitsyn hit and neither he nor the Bruins players liked it.

I understand that the Bruins players have a sensitivity to having their players knocked out, in light of the Savard hit. But I'm sorry, that play was clean.

Here, see for yourself. Try not to listen to the announcers who clearly feel it was a dirty hit. Watch the replays and you will see that Lucic was watching his pass and skating in the other direction. AK46 put his shoulder into Lucic's shoulder/chest area and floored him. Sorry, but that's a clean hit.



So who else thinks that was clean?


Standings and Game Notes
With five wins in a row and six wins in their last seven games, the Habs have 76 points in the standings having played a league leading 70 games.

The Habs are tied for points with Philly who has three games in hand. The win puts them four points ahead of Boston who has 72 with three games in hand.

Despite the games in hand, the Habs have now put some buffer room behind them with the Ranger (69 points, two games in hand), Tampa Bay (68 points, three games in hand) and Atlanta (66 points, three games in hand).

As I have said before, a game in hand only counts if you win it and the Habs currently winning streak is putting pressure on their competition to win.

The Habs now enter a week where they play only two games--Tuesday versus the Rangers and Saturday versus Toronto. In addition to the light schedule, each of the Habs competitors plays three or four games this week in making up games in hand.

It will be interesting to see what the playoff standings look like next weekend.