Monday, May 31, 2010

Montreal Roundup: Habs Fire Six Scouts, Columbus Speaks to Boucher

It has been about a week since the Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, and things have already started percolating in their offseason.

News surfaced a few days ago that the Habs brass had given the Columbus Blue Jackets permission to speak with highly touted Hamilton Bulldogs' head coach, Guy Boucher.

Boucher, if you didn't know, is the wundercoach who took the Canadian Juniors to the gold medal during last years World Junior Championship.

He is also the guy who was appointed head coach of the Habs' AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, last summer.

During his first year in Hamilton, Boucher led the Bulldogs to a second place over all finish with a 52-17-3-8 record good enough for 115 points. In addition, Boucher was credited with being a master at the psychological end of coaching; helping disgruntled players like Sergei Kostitsyn regain their footing.

With screams for Jacques Martin's head all season long from the fanbase, many people were hoping that Boucher would be the one brought in to take over the reigns.

As unlikely as Martin's possible dismissal was before the playoffs, after the Habs excellent run it is safe to say that he ain't going nowhere!

Boucher, on the other hand, if not snatched up by the Jackets will surely find himself in the NHL in the not too distant future and it is very unlikely that it will be with the Canadiens.

He is a talented, up and coming coach, who has a track record or success and, once the right opportunity presents itself, he is as good as gone.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, have three more years on Jacques Martin's contract and Boucher is sure to be gone before it's up.

And good for him.

Getting to the NHL, in any capacity, is about excelling and working your butt off and making the most of your chance when you get it. It would be wrong of the Canadiens to try to protect the asset that Boucher is by denying other teams the right to speak with him.

So, while he might be a great fit for the Habs, and could possibly do a great job working with the likes of Benoit Pouliot and P.K. Subban, when he time comes the Habs will rightfully let him walk.

Trouble in the Hen House
According to Tony Marinaro of the Team 990, the Canadiens today fired six members of their scouting department—five amateur scouts and one professional.

The list of dismissed scouts is as follows: Dave Mayville, Denis Morel, Pelle Eklund—no not the guy from—Nikolai Varoutov, and pro scout Gordie Roberts.

While the timing of the firings is a little surprising given that the Habs open their development camp tomorrow in Brossard and that the entry draft is about three weeks away, it is a reflection that the Habs brass was not happy with their drafting results.

While these six members were singled out, there is no question that this is an indictment of the Canadiens draft track record.

As Marinaro pointed out on the Team 990 today, the Habs greatest failing is in their first round pick: Carey Price, Andrei Kostitsyn, Max Pacorietty, David Fischer, Kyle Chipchura, Chris Higgins, Alexander Perezhogin and Ron Hainsey.

While some of the players mentioned above still have time to develop and become impact players, there is no question that Andrei Kostitsyn, Chris Higgins, and Kyle Chipchura have just not worked out.

The Habs couldn't get Hainsey working hard enough, Perezhogin ran off to Russia, Fischer has not progressed as expected, and Chipchura was a bust.

In later rounds, the Habs have done a pretty good job finding player like Sergei Kostitsyn, Michael Ryder, Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Halak, Ryan O'Byrne, P.K. Subban and Maxim Lapierre who range anywhere from being serviceable to elite.

In moving 5 amateur scouts out today, Gauthier is in essence admitting that. Moreover, I believe that while Trevor Timmins job as head scout is probably still secure, I think that if the scouting continues to slip he could find himself in the unemployment line too.

I wonder how long Gauthier had planned to make these moves and if this was something he wanted to do to make his mark on the team.

Aside from bringing in Dominic Moore at the trade deadline, Gauthier has not had a chance to do much.

Now, however, Gauthier enters his first offseason at the head of the team and will get a chance to put his stamp on the team.

In a lot of ways, I find it appropriate that he is first looking to make changes internally before making them in his player lineup. I like it. Get your house in order before making player decisions.

And there will be no shortage of difficult choices for Gauthier this summer with pending UFA Tomas Plekanec, RFA's Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, the Habs limited cap space, and their desperate need for size up front.

If today's move in anything it is a step in the right direction. Let's hope that Gauthier's subsequent moves continue that trend.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Official Habs Press Release - Statement from Pierre Boivin re: Heritage Classic


MONTREAL (May 28, 2010) – Montreal Canadiens President Pierre Boivin, issued the following statement regarding the NHL announcement of the Heritage Classic that will feature the Montreal Canadiens and the Calgary Flames at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, in February 2011.

“We are very proud to have been selected to be part of this historic event for the city of Calgary next February at McMahon Stadium. As an organization with a strong fan base throughout Canada, we welcome this opportunity to do honour to our great game,” said President Pierre Boivin.

Habs News Links - Development camp starts, Halak gets support from U.S.

Habs Inside/Out - Habs Development Camp begins Tuesday

RDS - Halak gets the support of the U.S.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Habs News Links - Darche says Gionta is leader, Habs to play outdoors, Boivin, Price, Halak, Plek

Darche says Gionta is the main leader for the Habs (French)

The Habs in McMahon Stadium in Feb? (French)

Habs pick up an American defenseman (French)

Pierre Boivin is optimistic (French)

Halak or Price? Plekanec holds the key. (French)

The Hockey News - Rumour Roundup: Habs aftermath

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ode To a Season: The 2010 Montreal Canadiens

As I sat watching the Canadiens trail the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-1, during the second period of Monday night's Eastern Conference Final game five, something strange and unexpected happened.

The power went out.

In a city that lives and dies by the successes and failure of the Montreal Canadiens, it was more than a little amusing to hear the profanity laden tirades of hockey fans across my neighborhood yelling at their TV sets and the local power company.

While the timing of the power outage might have been bad, I think that it was ultimately a merciful twist of fate.

A sign maybe, that it was all over and time to turn out the lights.

So as I switched to my car to listen to the Canadiens lose the game 4-2 and get eliminated from the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I could not help but feel that despite the loss, the Habs had done something special this year.

And, as much as I wanted them to go on to the Stanley Cup finals, I felt that there was a lot of positives to take away from what they had accomplished this offseason.

So where does this storied franchise go now?

With their playoff success this year, the expectations have surely gone up for a fan base that had its closest whiff of the cup since 1993.

But can the Habs meet or even surpass those expectations?

Keep in mind, that the 2010 Canadiens were a team that finished with 88 points during the season and qualified for the playoffs by losing their final game in overtime.

Hardly the stuff of heroes.

But the Habs' first and subsequent second round upsets of the Washington Capitals and then the Pittsburgh Penguins have perhaps given us a glimpse of the future. Or have they raised the bar a little too high?

Let's take a look.

The Season
The 2009-2010 NHL season began with a bevy of questions marks for the Montreal Canadiens. With a completely revamped lineup, no captain, and a new head coach, it was really anyone's guess as to how this team would fare.

The Habs had added a mix of speed, skill, and highly priced contracts to their roster but seemed to be lacking in the size department.

Their goaltending was a question mark—as it always is in Montreal—with Price having yet to seize the starter's position and Halak possibly looking for greener pastures elsewhere.

The season started in Toronto against the Maple Leafs and the Habs lost Andrei Markov—a top-five defenseman in the league and arguably their best player—to a freak skate-cut injury.

The Markov injury got everyone thinking that the season was over for the Canadiens, before it even truly began.

There was no way this team could make the playoffs, let alone compete, with Markov. Right?

Without Markov, and trying to adapt to a new coaching scheme and a completely new roster of players, the chemistry experiment that is known as the 2010 Montreal Canadiens had a rocky year.

With injury after injury to defenseman and forwards, it seemed like the Habs never really had a chance to jell.

Aside from Markov, the Habs had key injuries to Jaroslav Spacek, Ryan O'Byrne, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and Michael Cammalleri among others.

On the goaltending front, Coach Jacques Martin decided to slowly move away from the Bob Gainey style of handing everything to Carey Price on a silver platter, and started making him earn his starts.

Unfortunately for Price, he didn't earn many.

His play ranged from weak, to adequate, to stellar but he never seemed to get the offensive support in front of him that Jaroslav Halak got.

Often letting in one of two goals, but having his teammates unable to score, Price struggled to amass wins and maintain his confidence.

Halak, on the other hand, quietly became better and better as the season went on, eventually seizing—albeit unofficially—the No.1 goaltending spot from Price.

To add to all of the tumult, shortly after Christmas, Bob Gainey made the not-so-shock announcement that he was stepping down as the Habs' GM and handing the reigns over to Pierre Gauthier—who was not given an interim tag by Canadiens president Pierre Boivin.

This coup d’état-style appointment of Gauthier had the Habs' fan base in a tizzy, as many people were hoping that some new blood would be brought in to the Habs front office and that Coach Martin would lose his job in the process.

This was not to be, however, and it just added to the frustration of the Habs' faithful.

With all of the drama during the season, and aside from a post-Olympic winning streak, the Habs were never much more than a win-one-lose-one hockey team.

Despite their inconsistent play that earned them the moniker "Jekyll and Hyde", they somehow managed to qualify for the playoffs on the strength—or weakness—of an overtime loss to the Leafs in their final game of the season.

The Playoffs
Round 1 - Montreal v. Washington
Finishing in the eighth and final playoff spot in the East meant that the Habs had earned themselves a dance with the President's Trophy winning Washington Capitals.

Hardly a happy reward.

Needless to say expectations were rock bottom and predictions by the pundits—this one included—had the Capitals handily beating the Habs.

Despite the predictions, there was a belief, however slight, that the Canadiens might have a chance against the Caps given their defense was known to be offensively potent but defensively porous, and their goaltending was inconsistent at best.

So, Habs nation held their collective breath, happy at the thought of being the playoffs but nervous about playing the offensive juggernaut known as the Caps.

To everyone's surprise, the Canadiens won the first game and completely shut down Alexander Ovechkin in the process.

While the Caps won the second game, in overtime, the Canadiens actually held a 4-1 lead at one point and looked like they were headed for a 2-0 series lead.

The Caps roared back, however, and continued to roll in the next two games, taking the Habs to the brink of elimination with a 3-1 series lead.

It was at that point in time that something changed for the Canadiens.

Whether it was an attitude adjustment, players rising to the challenge, the Caps taking the wins for granted, or the Habs' coaches employing different strategies, the Habs were somehow able to turn the series on its head.

In Game Five of the series—and after being pulled in the previous game—Halak came back with a vengeance and stood on his head as he was being bombarded by Ovechkin and company.

It was during that game that Jacques Martin started to make adjustments, putting Travis Moen on the wing with Gomez and Gionta, shortening his bench, and increasing ice time for players who were performing.

The result was a historic comeback by the Canadiens, winning the series in seven games and being the first No.8 seed to ever comeback from a 3-1 series deficit versus a No.1 seed.

Round 2 - Montreal v. Pittsburgh
Despite their victory over the Caps, the Canadiens didn't stand a chance against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.

Or at least that is what the experts thought.

The Pens, it was said, had a much deeper lineup than the Caps and—despite his inconsistent play down the stretch—Stanley Cup caliber goaltending in Marc-Andre Fleury.

No more would the Habs be able to be sustain 35-plus shots per game and escape with the win. No more would they be able to squeak questionable goals past the opposing goaltender.

No, this was a "real" team that they were playing and the Habs had met their match.

The series started poorly for the Habs, losing both Game One and Andrei Markov to a season ending knee injury.

When Markov went down—and after the Pens 6-3 Game One drubbing of the Habs—the thinking was, yet again, that the Penguins would make short work of the Habs and move on to their third consecutive conference finals.

But like during the first round, the Canadiens had other plans.

To a man, the Habs' players lifted their game to another level in committing to Jacques Martin's hermetic defensive scheme.

Again defying the critics, the Canadiens not only gave the Pens a run for their money but won the series.

Fleury, for all of his experience, looked like a leaky sieve at times, while the Canadiens were able to competently shutdown the Pens big three up front: Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jordan Staal.

Just like in Round One, the Canadiens generally limited the Pens to shots from the point and the outside, and completely collapsed in the slot, frustrating the Pens snipers.

Malkin had sequences where he looked dominant, but overall wasn't able to get too much past the Habs' stifling defense.

Crosby was the one who became the most visibly frustrated by the Habs system.

Having the misfortune of being matched up largely against Hal Gill, Crosby was rendered ineffective in the series and finished with one goal over the seven game series.

The Canadiens staunch defense exposed the Pens as a team that was deep down the middle but thin on the wing. As such, the Habs just concentrated on taking away the middle of the ice and won as a result.

Halak too continued his brilliance, against the Caps, and "the little team that could" started to believe in themselves.

Whispers of a cup final and a potential championship in the city of Montreal—from the first time in 17 years—started to take over the hungry fan base.

Round 3 - Montreal v. Philadelphia
After two major upsets in two straight rounds, things were starting to look good for the Canadiens. I mean, if they could handle Washington and Pittsburgh, then surely they could give the Flyers a run for their money.


I remember that while watching the Flyers/Bruins seventh game to see which team would play the Habs in the next round, I felt that the Canadiens just matched up better against the Bruins.

If one thing was clear during the season, it was that the Canadiens tended to play better against highly skilled teams who focused more on talent than brawn.

Both the Flyers and Bruins represented exactly the kind of bruising opponent that the Canadiens tended to have trouble against, but the Bruins were a team decimated by injuries and who had trouble scoring.

If the Canadiens could somehow get the Bruins as an opponent they should make it to the finals, I thought.

So, when the Flyers came back from a 3-0 deficit in Game Seven which capped their comeback from a 3-0 series deficit, I have to say that I was a little worried.

Not only did the Flyers represent a serious physical challenge for the Canadiens, but they had a level of depth up front and on the back end that the Habs had not yet faced.

With a lineup includes Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter, the Flyers are a team who is four lines deep with skill and grit on each of those lines.

In addition, the Flyers top-four defense of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn represented the best four-punch combo the Habs had faced in the playoffs.

The result? Ugliness.

While the Flyers did muscle the Habs around, they tended to stick more to hockey than aggression and came out smelling like roses.

The Habs power play—operating at a 20-plus percent rate over the first two rounds—went 1-for-21 in the series, and the Canadiens were shutout in three of the four games as the Flyers turned the table on them.

The Flyers employed a tight defensive scheme that limited the Habs to shots from the point and the outside. Try as they may—and with the exception of Game Three—the smaller Canadiens forwards struggled to get to the front of the net and were not able to provide screens, deflections, or pick up rebounds.

The result was seven goals scored over five games—five of them scored in Game Three—and a trip to the golf course.

And that is how the playoffs and their season ended. With a thud.

So now what?
So now it's over.

The dreams of a nation of Habs fans crushed as their heroes were sent packing.

While most are still in the throes of anger and depression, I say that it is time to smile.

The Canadiens gave their fans something to cheer about for the first time in years.

Sure they won the division crown a few years ago, but they bowed out to the Flyers that year, in humiliating fashion.

This year, while the Habs were frustratingly inconsistent over the course of the season, they made the fans believe in the playoffs. And that's what really counts at the end of the day.

The Canadiens improbable run just goes to show how the regular season really doesn't matter, and as long as you make the playoffs anything can happen.

We should be proud of our team because believing that they had a chance this year is not something that Habs fans have felt in a very long time.

Sure, there are ton of question marks surrounding the Canadiens this summer: Should/will they sign Tomas Plekanec before he becomes a free agent on July 1st? What should they do with RFA's Halak and Price? Should they extend Markov's contract now or trade him? Can they move Gomez, what about Hamrlik? Who ends up being the captain? etc.

The list goes on and on and there will be time to review it and speculate about what the Canadiens can, should, and will do.

For now, though, it's not the time to talk about the future.

I believe that it's time to recover from the disappointment of what could have been and to revel in what has been.

The 2010 Montreal Canadiens brought pride back to the city of Montreal.

Their improbably run showed us that maybe, just maybe, with a few key tweaks to their lineup this team could become a contender.

So don't be down in the dumps today, Habs addicts. No. Be proud of your team. Be proud of players like Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri, Josh Gorges, and Jaroslav Halak.

Be proud of their two incredible playoff upsets. Be proud that they did their best in a mismatch against the Flyers.

But most of all be proud to be a fan of the Canadiens, because it hasn't felt this good to be a Habs fan in a long time.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

by Tyg

Now that the post-season has ended for the 2009-2010 Montreal Canadiens, hockey analysts as well as much of the team's own fan base are busy trying to figure out what moves Gautier will make during the summer to help improve the Habs' chances to actually contend for the Stanley Cup again next year.

In the two days since their long shot run at the Cup finals this year, I've read arguments for trading pretty much every player, but I've yet to fully agree with any of them, and while I don't pretend to be an expert, like everyone else I have an opinion and here it is.

The fact is Gautier and Co. by their own admission are content with the core of this team, and it's hard to blame them really. Gainey took a heavy axe to the team last year, and it caused a lot of criticism and ill will on the part of the fans.

Whether or not this had a hand in his eventual resignation is neither here nor there, but the fact is he brought in the nucleus that had been missing, which is a solid foundation of leadership that up until this past season had clearly been lacking. It was that same leadership that helped define this year's team identity, which is good old-fashioned teamwork, maximum effort, self-confidence and an overwhelming drive to win.

It's worth preserving, because without it the players themselves are never going to aspire to much more than mid-pack mediocrity, and I don't know about you but I've pretty much had enough with that.

It's finally nice to see winning become a priority among the players again.

Goaltending: Keep Halak. Trade Price.
Personally I think both goalies are solid, and am a fan of both, but it's highly unlikely that Gauthier can afford to keep both. It's worth noting that even the great Patrick Roy played tandem for a few years in Montreal, but neither of these two seem to want to do it again next season.

I'm not sure forcing them to do it will help with the rah rah unity team spirit that the team has found. They might both suck it up, but in the long run it's probably going to cause discord.

Right now Halak is riding the popularity wave from the fan base, but the fact is he fought hard for the number won spot and won it under his own merits, then shouldered a lot of the burden for the team's playoff run, so I'll give the nod to him.

Wouldn't be upset though, if Gauthier kept Price instead. It's hard to lose, with two great goalies to choose from.

Lose MAB, Mara, and Hamrlik. Keep Markov, Spacek, Subban, O'Byrne, Gorges, Gill.

The defensive structure of this team is largely what got it past the Capitals and the Pens.

I've read arguments against Gill - largely salary cap and speed related - but the fact is he's part of the leadership group that's driving this team that Gautier wants to preserve, so I doubt the Habs will willingly cut him loose.

Mara is a non-factor for me, and MAB's defensive liabilities are in no way able to be overlooked because he has a power play cannon. That said, Jacques Martin seems to have a real love for the guy, so that worries me. Hamrlik is a huge cap hit, and he has trade issues, but if the Habs can offload him, it'll free up some money to shore up the team's offensive lines, which is where the biggest holes are.

Markov's offensive contribution to the Habs is unmistakable, as I posted previously. We might only be able to afford him for one more year, but in that year he can help shape Subban and hopefully even O'Byrne, who along with Gorges are the future of the Habs blueliners.

Lose both Kostitsyn brothers. Resign Pleks, Moore, Lapierre.

Plekanec, for all the criticism about him not producing offensively against the Flyers, was not alone in that. The Habs got shut out 3 times, so that's on all the offensive players, not just him.

He's a solid two way forward, so to just look at his points in the post-season and decide to cut him loose makes zero sense to me. Where are you going to get better for between 4-5 million a year?

The huge problem is the top two lines need big, hard-hitting forwards to support the talented and quick smaller players, something even Josh Gorges alluded to.

The kindest thing I can say about the Kostitsyn brothers is that they're inconsistent. Offloading them can only be an improvement.

Pouliot I'm on the fence about. He's another working project (he wants to gain 15 pounds, etc), but I'm not sure Gautier can afford to get two big wingers for his top 2 lines, and he has the size, speed and skill.

Gomez would be nice to offload, just for the cap space, but even a perpetual bottom dwelling team is unlikely to bite just because of his salary, and his chemistry with Gionta is unmistakable. He's a playmaker, but we need more of it from him next year to justify that oversized paycheck.

Who would you keep? Who would you let walk?

Tyg used to frequent the old Forum during her early childhood when her father was a corporate season ticket holder, where she fell in love with Larry Robinson, so her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.

Habs News Links - Post Mortem, a captain next year? Report card, Lapierre, Markov, Plek, Halak.

RDS - Halak and Cammalleri the best (French)

Your Habs' report card (French)

Lapierre: A year of adaptation (French)

The Habs will have a captain next year (French)

Halak, Markov and Plekanec: Prudence (French)

The Habs keep their options open (French)

TSN - Halak want to take time before thinking about contract

The Hockey News - Top Shelf: Off season priorities for Canadiens

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Habs News Links - Do or die for Habs, Game 5 preview, Pyatt uncertain

Round 3, Game 5 - Preview - Habs @ Flyers
Habs Inside/Out - Canadiens at Flyers

RDS - As long as there's life...(French)

TSN - Gameday - Preview

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

To Take Up Our Quarrel with the Foe...

by Span

Now that Montreal has had another iron spike dropped in the corner of the semi-finals coffin by the Flyers, does any of it matter at all? Is the Montreal Canadiens 2010 NHL Playoff season really about carrying themselves to the end of Stanley Cup finals and winning? Or is it about something more than just the win?

I hate hockey...not exactly.

I've never understood it; thirty years ago I would watch the games with my father and his friends on was Hockey Night in Canada then, and it's Hockey Night in Canada now--just no Dick Irving, and no Peter Puck. There was always some kind of mania that would take over the living room when the Canadiens would play, a fever and a buzz that I just didn't get.

I'd never been big into sports unless you counted reading, Lego, or daydreaming as ones, in which case I lead the national team with records that have held to this day. For some reason hockey never clicked with me. As I grew older I threw myself in to Football (European), some Cricket, and I even made the school track team. Attending British private school for three years neither drew me closer to Canada nor to the national pass-time.

When the family finally moved back to Montreal in 1983 I was emotionally caught in a weird purgatory of citizenship: I didn't know enough about the UK to be English, and didn't know enough about Canada to be Canadian. But still I knew that landing back in Montreal the one thing that I remembered was hockey, and the love of hockey that poured out each and every time we sat in front down in our living room to watch the game. Back then Hockey was a winter sport and summers were meant for swimming and outdoor recreational activities (in my case reading on the porch). Into the month of June you just weren't worried who would win the cup...

In '93 I was there. In a crappy bar my brother, cousin and I watched the Habs claim the glory and the cup. We poured into the streets like everyone else and watched as the mania turned Montreal into a low brow city continuing the tradition of hockey riots. I saw it start; I felt the mania; and I got hit by a police baton--which (by the way) hurts like nothing you've felt before. And I think that's when it all changed for me. That's when I started to get it.

To be honest I still can't tell you the names of all the players that winning year...of course I know that Roy was our upstart star. But since then the Habs have been a low buzz in the back of my mind never once reminding me of that buzz. I followed some of the games, I followed year after year as we tried to win, and live up that incredible legacy that no offspring would want to have on their shoulders. But even for the fans the weight is too heavy, the legacy too great, the emotions too high, and the expectation too much...

That's the mania.

Since Sid The Kid's golden goal in the Olympics I'm back in the game. We all are. From that moment on we proved that hockey was our game, in our country meant to be played and won by Canadians. When our Canadians became Canadiens sending Sid--a fellow Canadian playing for the "other" side--to an early golf season our hearts beat stronger and together. All boundaries transcended for those few minutes we stood and sang to the MSO's instrumental version of O Canada in our living rooms. We are proud of our team, proud of ourselves, and proud that they are now the next Team Canada. Holding together Canada's Olympic pride, the dream of a 25th cup, the institution of a 100 year history even if it is only for a few more days.

Too heavy. Too historic. Too emotional. Too much? You bet.

I hate hockey...not really.

I mostly hate what it's come to do to me and I hate the rioting. That mania that engulfs me makes me want to jeer the home team on home ice, yet do everything I can to support their chance at winning. THAT contradiction is why it's so hard this year to be Canadian and a Canadiens addict.

Eighth seed team takes out the first seed team.

Eighth seed team takes out the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

We've taken up our quarrel with the foe, so do we really need to do more, or is that enough of a tribute to the ninety-nine teams that came before this one?

I think so. They got me passionate about a sport for which I'd never cared much.

This year especially I believe it's less about winning, and more about everyone acknowledging that no matter what they do from here on out, this year--the centennial year--the team has done all it can to hold that torch up on high.

Of course it's always nice when we win too.

SPAN is a burgeoning Montreal Canadiens fan who owes his new found passion for hockey, and the Habs to the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team, Peter Puck, and his father. Go Habs Go!

Canadiens-Flyers: Michael Leighton's Third Shutout Pushes Habs to the Brink

Wow, was that the Habs from the playoffs or from the regular season?

While I know that yesterday's Game Four 3-0 loss by the Habs was a playoff game, that sure looked like the Jekyll and Hyde team that I remember from the regular season.

As has been the case all series long, the Habs came out of the gate determined to win.

Their speed was engaged, they were forechecking and taking the play to the Flyers. The problem, for the Habs, is that they didn't score during the first ten minutes.

Marc-Andre Bergeron took a holding penalty at around the mid-point of the first, that while the Flyers didn't score they grabbed the momentum.

From that point out, it was all Philly as they outshot the Habs 13-1 in the second period and 25-17 overall.

As the Flyers took the lead, the Canadiens became a panicked bunch: rushing passes, going to low percentage shots, and struggling to get the puck into the Flyers' zone.

While Michael Leighton earned another shutout, he was not tested very much except for early in the first period.

The Flyers got two goals from Claude Giroux—one into an empty net—and one from Ville Leino.

Final score: Flyer 3 - Habs 0. The Flyers lead the series 3-1.

Game Notes
1. A tale of two goalies
Once again, Michael Leighton earned a shutout—his third of this series—and Jaroslav Halak got no offensive support for his team.

While Leighton made some good saves early in the first period, he wasn't really tested. As much as the Habs drove hard to the net in Game Three, they completely avoided the dirty areas yesterday and were rewarded with no goals.

As for Halak, he did what he had to do, stopping all but two shots by the Flyers. The problem, once again, was that his team did not score in front of him.

This is something we have seen far too often this season and the Habs have to try and correct it going into Game Five.

2. In a game of inches, two mistakes was all it took
Yesterday's Game Four was the most tightly contested match between these two teams so far.

Every inch of the ice was under dispute and, until the Flyers opened the scoring, it was an outstanding chess match.

Ultimately, two mistakes did the Habs in and changed the complexion of the game.

The first was a terrible neutral ice giveaway by Maxim Lapierre that led to the first Claude Giroux goal. There was some bad luck on the play too, as Josh Gorges skate strap had come undone and he was unable to skate properly as a result.

The second was an offensive blueline turnover by P.K. Subban leading to a Leino breakaway and a 2-0 score.

From there, the Flyers hermetic defense kept the Habs to the outside and shut the door to earn the win.

3. Speaking of P.K., that was his worst game yet.
He's a kid. Young, exuberant but with a lot to learn. While Subban has shown periods of sheer brilliance, we all know that he will make mistakes given that he is a rookie.

Well, last night, was unfortunately one of his worst games in the NHL so far. P.K. made mistake after mistake, made poor decisions with the puck, and ultimately caused a turnover leading to the second Flyers' goal.

As Subban skated to the Flyers' blueline he failed to dump the puck in and opted to try for a deke instead. The result was a turnover that Chris Pronger fired down to Leino for the breakaway.

That second goal really was the final nail in the Habs coffin as the whole team seemed to slump after it.

4. Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta are great, but...
The Habs can't score.

It's been their problem all year long and their success so far this playoff season has been on the backs of Cammalleri and Gionta's scoring prowess.

Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Scott Gomez have now gone a combine 42 games without a goal between them.

That is simply not good enough.

While they do other good things on the ice, that is three out of the top-six players who aren't scoring. Throw Benoit Pouliot's scoring droughts into the mix, and you only have two out of your top-six forwards who are scoring.

With stats like that, it is a wonder that the Habs have gotten as far as they have.

5. Philly ain't no Caps or Pens
You've got to give credit to the Flyers. They simply have a crushing amount of depth up front and the most solid top-four defensemen the Habs have faced so far in the playoffs.

Couple that with a coach—Peter Laviolette—who is outstanding at making in-game and post-game adjustments, and you have what looks like a team that is destined for the cup finals.

Not to mention that with the additions of Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter last night, they are getting healthy at exactly the right time.

Their own potential problem is the problem they have had for a decade, and that is suspect goaltending.

The Habs exposed Leighton in Game Three by going to the net, putting traffic in front of him, and generally making his life difficult. While the Habs have only done so in one out of four games, the Chicago Blackhawks—if they meet the Flyers in the final—will not return that favour.

Look Out Ahead!
How can you predict what we will see in Game Five on Monday from a team that is largely unpredictable?

You can't.

The way the Canadiens have played, I would not be surprised to see them put in their best effort of the season and pull out the win, forcing a Game Six in Montreal.

If the Habs can do that, anything can happen.

With the veteran leadership on this team, I can't see them throwing in the towel and I think, like all of the game so far, that whoever scores the first goal will win the game.

Next Game
The teams now fly back to Philadelphia for Game Five on Monday night. The Flyers hope to close out the series and, not wanting to come back to Montreal for a Game Six, are sure to bring their best effort yet.

What kind of game will the Canadiens bring? Can they force a Game Six? Do they have anything left in the tank?

In a little more than a day, we will find out.

NOTE: The Habs are currently 5-0 in elimination games. Let's see if they can keep the streak going on Monday!

Habs News Links - Backs against the walls again, Habs lose, post game

Round 3, Game 4 - Post Game:  Habs 0 - Flyers 3
Habs Inside/Out - Blanked, Habs on the brink again

RDS - In danger again (French)

Ian Laperriere is a happy man (French)

"We have to be more patient" (French)

TSN - Bad Hab-its - Recap

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The 2010 Montreal Canadiens - Great Expectations

by Tyg

Where to begin? So long and thanks for all the pucks?

I suppose I could choose to be flippant about the season that the Montreal Canadiens are on the version of closing out, but that would be a disservice both to me and to the team that I love.

While the great expectations for the Habs' post season were indeed mine (and many others), they were clearly a direct result of their actions, which was to set the bar much higher than it ought to be for a team cobbled together on the fly in what Gainey admitted was a crap shoot.

For most of the year, a lot of the players went onto the injury roster at one point or another.  Still, post-olympics they managed to rally, and even though they had their full roster back near the end of the season, they still couldn't get it together to do much more than squeak into the playoffs, one slot behind Philly, for a precarious 8th place.

That meant facing Washington, so there was a small glimmer of hope. The Habs were one of the few teams that had held its own vs. Washington this season (2 Wins, 1 Loss, 1 Loss in O/T), and at the very least I thought they'd last past the 4 or 5 games most experts predicted.

After going down 3-1 in the series, I resigned myself to the loss, glad they had at least taken one of the games to avoid a sweep. Then, magically, the Habs pulled themselves together and started playing tight defensive hockey.

This is the system of hockey coach Jacques Martin prefers, and it's pretty much the entire reason why I dislike him as head coach for the Habs.  For a team of small, speedy forwards, this defensive system effectively hamstrings your own offensive output, because it's always going to be secondary by design.

It's basically rope-a-dope hockey, and against an outright offensively built team like the Washington Capitals, it can and does expose a defensive weakness.

There's no denying that the Capitals deserved their reputation as a scoring powerhouse. They completely steamrolled the rest of the East, and had their playoff berth locked up for quite a while, cooling their jets while they waited to see which lamb would be led before them to slaughter.

But although Mike Green is a Norris Trophy candidate, he is, quite simply, a poor defenseman, especially when on the ice vs. Hal Gill, Josh Gorges or Andrei Markov, who know how to stop a fast foward coming over the Habs blueline and box him out so the goalie can make the save.

Green tried so hard to help produce offensively against the Canadiens' superior goaltending (which says more about his role as a defenseman than I ever could), that he often took stupid penalties which more than once led directly to the Habs scoring a goal.

He wasn't alone in creating opportunities for the Habs, and while the Capitals are a formidable team and deserve their reputation and respect, in the playoffs it's not all about firepower. If that's all it ever took to win a war, no one would ever bother to fight.

You'd know beforehand you were beaten, so why bother?

There's a reason it's often said that playoffs are won via goaltending, and that's because to a large extent it's true. Habs starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak did, however, get yanked in game 2 of that series after being perforated by the Caps superior firepower, and although the Habs made an admirable run for it and only lost 6-5 in overtime, the fact is they blew a 4-1 advantage during that game.

It was a game the Habs had in hand, and they let get away from them.

By the time game 5 rolled around, they had figured out how to play the defensive shell system that Martin knew could expose the Caps weaker defense. It was a solid and sound strategy given the opponent, and however Martin managed to finally sell it to them after being unsuccessful with it during the regular season, during the playoffs the Habs bought it hook, line and sinker.

Halak took on the appearance of near-invincibility and got lauded—deservedly so—in the press, but in that stunning 3 game winning streak the Habs eeked out lay a recipe for disaster.

The Pens will expose them

I thought surely the more well-rounded team of the the Pittsburgh Penguins would expose Martin's fatally flawed strategy.

The Pens had pretty much dominated during the regular season. The Habs managed to get only a single win against them in the four games played.

Yes, the Habs had injuries during that time, but the Pens were the defending Stanley Cup champs with all the knowledge and experience that brings, and had a much tighter defensive team than the Capitals.

Even if the Habs managed to shut down Crosby and Malkin, the Pens were still a formidable opponent, with a strong goalie. Marc-Andre Fleury had proven himself a solid goaltender, and even if his stats weren't as impressive as Halak's were going into the series, he had both the experience and the offensive/defensive balance required in front of him.

Again, the Habs won in game 7, and this time didn't have to play as much catch up with the Pens as I predicted, but frankly, it was the Pens series to lose.

I had the Pens winning in 6, but the Habs with their never say die attitude and rope-a-dope system managed to shut down Crosby and Malkin.  The Habs caught a break in that Staal missed a couple of games, and since the Pens have so much money tied up in their three centers, the wingers are not high powered scorers.

The Pens offense - without Malkin and Crosby leading the charge - was not strong enough to counter the Habs defensive shell game.

The Habs, meanwhile, have a true sniper in Cammalleri—currently leading all playoff scorers with 13 goals—and he got two past MAF in a couple of games. Gionta was also formidable, and there was enough production from the Habs third line to lend a hand as well.

The Habs again played superior defensively, courtesy of Hal Gill who was now siding effectively against his former team, and when Crosby took a stupid retaliatory boarding penalty against Josh Gorges less than a minute into game 7, that was pretty much all she wrote for the Pens.

Their captain got flustered, they got flustered, and maybe too much hockey for too long—going into the Cup finals 2 years running plus the Olympics—had simply worn them out.

MAF proved inconsistent, leaked like a sieve, not helped by his defense at all, and Moen was practically greenlit by Gonchar into his own net for a short-handed goal.

The Pens weren't the same team that had fought so hard to win the Cup the year before, and it was not simply because Hal Gill was gone. Gonchar looked like he didn't want to play anymore, and so did a lot of his teammates, including Malkin at times.

The exception, as always, was Crosby.

While I don't personally like the Kid, I do admire his passion for the game, and his ability to play it.

Bring on the Philadelphia Flyers.
Actually, no.

They were better off with the Caps and the Pens. The Caps had defensive weaknesses and shaky goaltending, and the Pens were tired and also had superstars that could be shut down. They were exploitable under Jacques Martin's defensive shell system.

The Flyers simply are not.

Prior to the start of the season, while everyone was writing off the Habs, Philly was getting some good looks, with some experts believing they could actually contend for the Cup this year.

Don't laugh.  I'm not a fan of the Broad Street Bullies, and for me having the Flyers win the Cup is an affront to the very sport itself. 

Carcillo on the Cup?  I'd sooner see it melted down and sold for scrap metal.

And yet, here were are, with the Habs down 3-1 in the series. I doubt it will be a repeat of the Washington series where Les Boys clawed their way back via a 3 game winning streak.  Even if the Habs manage to eeke out another win, the fact is they are highly unlikely to beat Philadelpha. It's Jacques Martin's system—so good in the first two series—that is going to be the team's undoing in the ECF.

Against Washington, the Habs shut down Ovechkin and Backstrom.  Against the Pens it was Crosby and Malkin.

To take down the Flyers, the Habs have to shut down the entire team, which is impossible, even for a team with great defense like the Habs possess. 

The Flyers are all proven goal scorers and there's no real superstar among them.  Carcillo and Richards get the press, but when you've got Gagne, Leino, Briere, Laperriere and Carter, you have serious depth that was lacking defensively for the Caps and offensively for the Pens.

Whereas before the Habs were getting jabbed with a knife or two and could thrust and parry, now they're having to dodge pitchforks. Add into that the Flyers solid defensive core led by Pronger, and suddenly the Habs are the exploitable team.

It's a very different opponent and different type of war that the Habs are not built for, and their strategy is now a handicap.

The clear problem is the Habs' lack the offensive firepower—hampered by Martin's system that they have bought into—that is needed to counter the Flyers strong defensive shell.

Defensively, both teams are about equal. Offensively, the Flyers are superior.

The Habs have more speed, but with the exception of Gionta and Cammy, they lack the scoring depth.

Yes, Pyatt, Moore and Lapierre's line caused a lot of damage to game 3 vs. the Flyers, but it's a 3rd line, and when only 2 members of your top 6 forwards are producing in a series, it's awfully hard to win playoff games.

Unless Plekanec, A. Kostisyn, Pouliot and Gomez suddenly get hot, this series is over. The Habs might win Monday night—Halak is still a strong goaltender and the Habs defense has proven just as good as the Flyers—but I very much doubt they'd win another after that.

In game 3, the Habs used their speed to exploit Leighton and the Flyers defense, which suddenly seemed to be tired and vulnerable, both physically and mentally.

The Habs swarmed like angry bees, and while Leighton had really no chance on the first two goals, the Moore goal was soft, and Gionta's should have never gotten through.

Since his defenders for the 5th Habs goal were putrid, I'm not even going to bother with MAB's PP goal—the only one for the Habs so far this series. 

Leighton's defensive core let him down, just like Halak's did in game 2 vs. Washington.  The Flyers' defense came back in game 4 and the Habs stopped skating after the first period.

They only took a single shot on net in the 2nd period, and only a single shot during the 2 power plays they eventually got.

The Habs PP has gone ice cold because 4 of its top 6 forwards have gone cold, and there's not much left to pick up the slack.

Also, without Markov the PP lacks a defenseman to quarterback its attack, and while Subban has size and skill, he is still a rookie, as evidenced by his many mistakes in game 4. 

It's too much to expect him to fill Markov's skates so soon, and the other Habs defenders simply cannot do it either.  The loss of Markov has always meant problems for the Habs, and even though they've spent much of the season without him and can cover for him defensively, the stats don't lie.  They need his offensive output.  

Here's an excellent summary of the importance of Andrei Markov to the Habs.  I'm not sure he would have made the difference, but I feel pretty confident in saying he would have made a difference in their series vs. the Flyers.

What about Leighton?
Leighton—the career NHLer that has just been handed his 3rd shutout vs. the Habs—is not all that and a bag of chips, despite what the experts say.

Having watched the Habs ice Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy winning goaltenders for years, I can confidently say he isn't anywhere near them in the required mobility, quickness, and skill.

Halak has better instinct and reflexes, is a solid butterfly goalie, and will only continue to improve. Leighton hasn't singlehandedly stolen a game for his team—like Halak arguably did in game 6 vs. the Caps.

What Leighton has is a very solid defensive core surrounding him.

In game 3 he was lit up like the type of goalie he is—a backup. There's a reason he's 29 and no one's ever made him their number one goaltender before now. If he was that good, he'd have landed on the top of the heap long before this series, and we'd have never had the great Halak/Price wars of 2009-2010.

Leighton's a bit above average at best. Backing a team with a lesser defense, he'd have been exposed by now. Unlike Halak, Leighton has not had to make impressive save after impressive save. You'll never see him get peppered with 40 or 50 shots a night, and come out of it having let in only one or two—something Halak has done consistently even against the high powered offenses of Washington and Pittsburgh.

Sure Leighton gets a couple for the highlight reels every now and again, but that's the law of averages, and they're very few and far between.

Whatever happens, I've enjoyed the run
I've had a lot of fun with the Habs this post season, more than I expected really and I'm grateful for it, because it's the first time since 1993 that I've had that kind of time in the playoffs with my favorite team.

I wouldn't be a fan if I didn't want more, and after their performances vs. the Caps and Pens, I began to expect more, even though logic dictated that I shouldn't.

There are Habs fans in both camps right now—some saying we should be able to make it all the way and we still can—others like me happy for what we got.

I can see the appeal for those frustrated Habs fans who think there's no reason we can't go all the way this year. No one wants the party to stop or to give up, and I certainly don't expect the Habs to go down without a fight, but the fact remains that this team is as flawed now as it was in the beginning of the season, when the experts predicted it wouldn't even make the playoffs.

It's certainly better than anyone expected it to be, more than many fans—including myself—hoped it would be, but to be brutally honest here, they're not yet a Cup contender.

I take solace in the fact that the foundation is there, and that is pretty much what has allowed the Habs to get this far in the post-season.

I'm excited at the potential that finally exists, because prior to this post-season I didn't really see much progress being made within the Montreal organization to seriously ice a true Cup contender anymore.

Gainey, and I've never been a fan of his, achieved that much at least, with his drastic overhaul this past summer.

There's no superstars, just a core of hard workers, some experienced, some new, full of heart, grit and determination, who have made history once again, which is hard to do on a team as storied as this one.

They are the only 8th seed to ever topple a 1st seed after a 3-1 game deficit. They are the only 8th seed to ever oust the President' s Cup Trophy winner and the defending Stanley Cup champions in back-to-back series. So there's no shame here, just pride at what they have accomplished.

There are still holes that need plugging, and it's up to Gautier and Martin to do it if they want to make a serious run at the Cup in the season to come.

I'll write about the holes some other time, though.

If you need even more solace, as I suspect many Habs fans will, then consider the following: While the Flyers do have a strong playoff team, the Chicago Blackhawks are better.

I've watched them both play, and Chicago has an attack led by the red hot Toews who is deserving of the reputation he's getting. They have better depth offensively and defensively, and are a much faster team than the Flyers. They are constantly dictating the play of their games, and for them it is all about speed, precision and execution.

Then there's their goaltender, Antti Niemi, who also has a strong defensive shield in front of him.

As stated above, playoffs are also largely won via goaltending, and Leighton's 'Magical Mystery Tour' is about to come to an end.

The Flyers have a big hole of their own to fill before Carcillo ever defiles the Stanley Cup with his name. And the Hawks are an Original Six, even more overdue for a Cup win than the Habs.

I can get behind that.

Tyg used to frequent the old Forum during her early childhood when her father was a corporate season ticket holder, where she fell in love with Larry Robinson, so her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Marches On - Montreal Canadiens

Found this vid on Habs Inside/Out. If this doesn't get you hyped about the Habs, then nothing will. Enjoy!

Habs News Links - Game 4 preview, Habs confident, Flyers will be better, Laperriere returns

Round 3, Game 4 - Pre-Game: Habs v. Flyers
Habs Inside/Out - Canadiens vs. Flyers

Game 4 reading list

RDS - Laperriere will play in Game 4 (French)

Martin complements Gainey (French)

The Flyers vow to be better (French)

The 7th man, 1st star of the game (French)

The Habs are confident but grounded (French)

TSN - Martin Lauds Gainey

Gameday - Preview

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Canadiens-Flyers: Montreal Turns Tables on Philadelphia to Earn Win

I have two words for you: Utter domination.

That is what last night's game amounted to. In an interesting turn of fate the Montreal Canadiens turned the script on its head and gave the Flyers a little taste of their own medicine.

Things didn't start off well, however, as the Canadiens again took an early penalty—Ryan O'Byrne for delay of game 27 seconds in. The difference last night, was that the Habs came to play.

After killing off the Flyers power play the Habs put the pedal to the metal and did not let off until the final buzzer.

The Canadiens were relentless with their forecheck as they pressured the Flyers defenders and used their speed to draw penalties and win foot races.

The result was that the Habs outshot the Flyers 38-26, beat them in the faceoff circle 34-29, and shutdown their power play while scoring one of their own.

As good as Flyers goalie Michael Leighton had been over the first two games, you got the impression that once the Canadiens scored it would open the floodgates.

Well, that is exactly what happened last night as they were constantly swarming his net, bumping into him, screening him, and otherwise doing all the right things in order to score.

The Habs' goals were scored by Michael Cammalleri (13th), Tom Pyatt (second), Dominic Moore (fourth), Brian Gionta (eighth), and Marc-Andre Bergeron (second). The Flyers lone goal was scored by Simon Gagne—this seventh of the playoffs and over the last seven games.

Final score: Habs 5 - Flyers 1. The Flyers lead the series 2-1.

Game Notes
1. The Flyers were Leightoned by Jaroslav Halak!
Hehe. Not really, but I couldn't resist that headline. Last night, Halak returned to the form that saw him play a starring role in defeating the Penguins and Capitals.

While the Canadiens controlled almost the entire 60 minutes, there were a few minutes early when the game was tied at zero and when the Habs were leading by one, where Halak came up with huge saves.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: An elite goaltender makes keys saves at key times, and Halak did that last night.

Interesting note: Yesterday's game was the first time the Canadiens have won a game in the playoffs when outshooting their opponents—shots were 38-26.

2. P.K. Subban and Roman Hamrlik were superlative.
Both players played arguably their best games of the playoffs and certainly their best game as a tandem.

Earning the game's first star, Hamrlik was a juggernaut on the blueline last night. He made excellent defensive plays, jumped up into the rush, played a strong physical game, and even fought with Scott Hartnell.

The result?

Seeing 23:06 of ice time, Hamrlik has two assists, a plus-4 rating, three shots on goal, and 3 blocked shots.

His partner, Subban, was equally effective playing 18:11 and getting three assists, a plus-3 rating, and one shot on goal.

Together, this tandem was a key offensive catalyst for the Habs and they will have to continue to do so, given the absence of Markov, if that Habs want to continue to have success.

3. Ode to the muckers.
As has often been the case this playoff and regular season, when the Canadiens get goals from their bottom six forwards they win the game.

Last night, the Habs third line of Maxim Lapierre, Moore, and Pyatt were the most effective all night long.

Playing between 11 and 15 minutes each, this line caused problems for the Flyers defenders every time they were on the ice.

They used their speed and tenacious forecheck to pressure the Flyers' defenders leading to turnovers and scoring chances.

Not only did this line build a lot of momentum for the Habs, but they also contributed on the scoreboard with Pyatt scoring the second goal of the game as he drove to the net—the puck went in off of his leg—and Moore scoring half way through the second to make it 3-0.

Maxim Lapierre too, was all over the ice and was effective because he was moving his feet. When he decides to skate instead of just yapping, he becomes a force to be reckoned with.

4. The Habs' best players were their best players
As has become habitual for this team, Michael Cammalleri got the party started last night by scoring, from his knees, at 7:05 of the first period.

Not only did he score his league leading 13th of the playoffs, but he was all over the ice all night long.

From the drop of the puck, you could see the determination on his face and in his play as he went to the net and took the abuse necessary to get scoring chances.

And Cammy was not alone in that department as Brian Gionta scored his eighth of the playoffs early in the third to make it 4-0 Habs. The work of the two Habs offensive stalwarts seemed to trickle down the lineup.

Even Benoit Pouliot—reinserted into the lineup after being a healthy scratch last game—was going to the net, hitting people, and playing an aggressive game.

Andrei Kostitsyn too went shoulder to shoulder with Daniel Carcillo, and Carcillo is the one who found himself on the ground.

That kind of enthusiasm and will to win is contagious and Cammalleri, knowing how badly the Habs needed to score, lead the charge.

Look Out Ahead!
I don't care how much opposing players say that they are not affected by the raucous Bell Center crowd, because the Habs' seventh man makes a difference.

After the Pittsburgh series, Kris Letang said that when playing in the Bell Center the noise of the crowd makes you feel like the Habs are coming at your that much faster, or that if you get scored on that things are that much worse than they really are.

That effect was apparent last night as the Flyers looked confused and disorganized for long stretches of the game.

I expect the Canadiens to come out just as strong in Game Four tomorrow afternoon as they did last night. The difference is that I expect a much better effort out of the Flyers players.

They know they didn't play well and they know that they have a great opportunity to go home with a 3-1 series lead.

If the playoffs, so far, has taught us one thing it is that both of these teams play their best when their backs are against the wall. As such, I fully expect the same, winning effort from the Canadiens in Game Four.

Next Game
There is little turnaround time as the teams are playing a Saturday afternoon matinee.

Afternoon games are always interesting because they break the players' regular routines and you never know how that will affect them.

The good thing is that we won't have to wait long to find out in a series that I think is just getting starting.

Habs News Links - Habs win, post game, Statement made, breaking through

Round 3, Game 3 - Habs 5 - Flyers 1
Habs Inside/Out - Candiens down Flyers 5-1

Finally a W

RDS - In the Flyers face (French)

"We owe the fans" (French)

The first goal was again important (French)

We got spanked (French)

TSN - Statement Made - Recap

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Habs News Links - Game 4 preview, Markov knee surgery, Habs make adjustments

Round 3, Game 3 - Pre-game:  Habs v. Flyers
Habs Inside/Out - Teeing up Game 3

Forget Markov for playoffs

RDS - Getting through the mysterious Leighton (French)

For Briere being booed is an honour (French)

"The crowd can make a difference" (French)

TSN - Canadiens making adjustments ahead of Game 3 - Preview

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Official Habs Press Release - Andrei Markov Has Successful Knee Surgery


MONTREAL (May 19, 2010) – Montreal Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier issued today a medical update on the status of defenseman Andrei Markov.

Markov underwent successful surgery today to repair a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee.

His recovery is estimated to be six months.

Markov, 31, suffered this injury to his right knee during the first period of the opening game of the playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, at Mellon Arena, on April 30.

Markov played 45 games for the Canadiens in regular season. He registered 34 points (6 goals, 28 assists). He missed 12 weeks (35 games) due to a foot laceration suffered in the first game of the 2009-2010 regular season
last October 1st in Toronto.

Markov played eight playoff games in 2010. He recorded four points (0-4-4), registered nine shots on goal and averaged 23:46 minutes of time on ice per game.

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Live in-game chat for Game 3 - Habs v. Flyers!

Yep, we're back again...Steven Hindle from, Prax from The Checking Line and yours truly will be hosting another LIVE in-game chat for tomorrow's pivotal Game Three in Montreal.

Is it because we believe, or because we're a bunch of sadists? Who knows. But it will be fun either way!

Oh, and we will be having a special surprise guest (to be announced tomorrow) so make sure you sign up now!

Canadiens-Flyers: Leighton's Second Straight Shutout Puts Habs in 2-0 Hole

Well, that was better than last game, but not by much.

While the effort from the Canadiens was missing in Game 1 against the Flyers, last night you could not make the same complaint.

The Canadiens tried.

There was effort there, however, they were still completely ineffective and were shutout for the second straight game.

While many will be pointing to Michael Leighton this morning as the goaltending savior for the Flyers, the fact is that the Canadiens have done nothing but making things easy on him.

While the Habs did play with determination last night, they still refused to go to the net, and were essentially a bunch of perimeter players.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: you do not score many goals on NHL goaltenders with shots from the outside.

The familiar recipe from Game 1 repeated last night with the Flyers scoring two of their three goals on the power play—they now have four goals on eight power play opportunities for a 50% success rate.

The Flyers got goals from Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, and Ville Leino—a rare weak goal allowed by Jaroslav Halak.

Final score: Flyers 3 - Habs 0.

Game Notes

1. Halak is not the problem.
OK, let me start by saying that Halak has not been the peak of perfection so far in this series. Let me continue by saying that the third Flyers goal—from the outside on a narrow angle—was bush-league and would have been stopped by a minor league goaltender.

That being said, we must remember that if it was not for Halak, the Canadiens would not have made the playoffs to start with and would not have beaten either the Caps or the Pens.

In addition, we must keep in mind that the Canadiens have yet to score a goal in this series.

So while many will be asking whether the Canadiens should play Halak or Carey Price tomorrow night, I think the question is not even worth asking.

The only way Price gets the start is if the coaching staff sees or knows that Halak is tired and needs a break. They do not put Price in the net based on Halak's play so far.

Halak has gotten the team this far and it is his series to lose.

2. Leighton? Really?
Newsflash people: Michael Leighton is not the second coming of Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy.

While he is clearly a serviceable NHL goaltender, the Canadiens have not done any of the things that are necessary in order to score at this level.

Sure they outshot the Flyers 30-23, but how many of those shots were dangerous, second chances, recouped rebounds, deflections, or shot through screens?

None, or very close to none.

People will point the three saves that Leighton made on Michael Cammalleri during a first period Habs power play as evidence of his excellent play.

I say, watch that replay.

The first shot was along the ice, right into his pad, the first rebound was along the ice right into his pad, and the second rebound was along the ice right into his pad.

To Leighton's credit, his positioning was solid and he was in the right spot. That being said, none of those three shots by Cammy were dangerous.

3. The Flyers are giving the Habs a taste of their own medicine.
Whereas the Habs spent the first two rounds taking away the middle of the ice, pushing the Caps' and Pens' skilled players to the outside, scoring opportunistic goals on their few scoring chances and the power play, the tables have clearly been turned on them against in this round.

The Flyers combination of grit, size, and skill on defense has turned the entire Canadiens offensive corps into perimeter players.

As a result, the small but speedy Habs' players are taking shot after shot from 30 or more feet out, from the outside, with no one in front of or going to the net.

For the Habs to be successful, they need to start chipping the puck into the corners and creating foot races with the Flyers defenders. This is where the Habs strength lies as they are much faster than the Flyers, overall.

If they can create foot races, this will lead to defensive zone break down, odd man situations, and much more room to maneuver.

Instead, however, they seem content to look for the perfect, pretty play.

How many times, last night, did we see a Scott Gomez, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec, or Maxim Lapierre get the puck in the corner and sweep behind and around the net, rather than driving straight towards it?

There is a mental block with the Habs as they are not currently willing to try to drive to the net and get abused. So, instead they sweep around, throw it out in front, to a sea of waiting orange sweaters with nary a red one in sight.

The result? Two consecutive shutouts for the Flyers, a highly successful power play, a few lucky goals, and a 2-0 series lead.

4. Scott Gomez again sunk his team.
Not only is he ineffective on the attack and the penalty kill right now, but so far in this series Gomez has taken a series of boneheaded penalties that have cost the Habs dearly.

Again, yesterday, Gomez took an early penalty that sent the Flyers to the pp and a quick 1-0 lead in the game. That Flyers' goal was the only one scored in a first period where the Canadiens outshot them 16-6.

There is a big difference between outshooting your opponent and being tied 0-0 than down by one goal.

5. Speaking of waking up, it is time for Jacques Martin to do just that.
Before yesterday's game, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that 6'5", 250 lbs Ryan O'Byrne would be in the Habs lineup that was in desperate need of size.

However, not only was O'Byrne not in the lineup but Sergei Kostitsyn—whose attitude was deemed so bad recently that he was effectively kicked off of the team—was in the lineup instead.

As expected, SK74 played without heart, emotion, or any sign that he gave a crap for all of his 4:57 of ice time.

So my question is that if Coach Martin is intent on playing Marc-Andre Bergeron on defense—a position that he is ill equipped to play—then why not put O'Byrne on the fourth line as a forward with the mission of body checking Pronger, or any other Flyers defenseman, every chance he gets?

I think he'd also look pretty good parked in front of Leighton—a position that no other Habs forward took up all night long.

Look Out Ahead!

Look out indeed, as the Canadiens are in an early hole just when you thought they had some momentum.

You get the impression with this series, that once or if the Canadiens finally score, the floodgates might open up. As good as Leighton has been, he is still a goaltender who has an up-and-down history of inconsistency.

If the Canadiens can get a few by him, maybe he gets out of his comfort zone and starts to think too much. If that happens, anything is possible. But the Canadiens need to get in his face if they want any chance of knocking him off of his game.

Go to the net, make contact with the goaltender, give him a snow wash, and do something, anything to make his life difficult.

If the Habs continue to be spectators and take shots from the outside, I would be surprised if they win even one game in this series. If they change that tendency and start going to the net they still stand a fighting chance.

Next Game

The teams now travel to Montreal for games three and four of this series.

The boisterous atmosphere of the Bell Center might be just what the doctor ordered for a Habs team who looks frustrated but not angry.

Anger is the emotion they need to start exhibiting in order to have success, but frustration seem to be the one guiding them right now.

They say that you're never in trouble in the playoffs until you lose a game on home ice. While that tends to be true, I believe that given the way the Canadiens have played so far, they are already in trouble.

If they don't change their ways on Thursday night, this could be a four game sweep where the Habs don't score a goal for the entire series.

Let's hope that they shake things up for Game Three and/or get a lucky bounce or two. We all know they could use one!

Habs News Links - Habs lose, post game, Leighton 2nd shutout, Where's Habs offense?

Round 3, Game 2 - Habs 0 - Flyers 3
Habs Inside/Out - Canadiens fire blanks again

Picking up pieces

RDS - The plot thickens (French)

The better goalie is wearing orange (French)

Leighton again had things too easy (French)

TSN - Leighton shuts out Habs for second straight game - recap

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Live In-game Chat for Game Two - Habs v. Flyers

We're back!

By popular demand and a belief, whether misplaced or not, that our live chats bring the Habs luck, Steven Hindle (From and I will be hosting another live in-game chat tonight. Take part below!

Canadiens-Flyers: Can Montreal Rebound in Game 2 Versus Philadelphia?

We've seen this movie before, no? The one where the Habs come out flat and lose a game only to rebound triumphantly in the following match. Right?

That's the way the story goes, or at least the way it has gone thus far in the 2010 NHL playoffs.

So why is it then that the majority of Habs nation is feeling less confident than at any other point during the playoffs so far?

I mean, the Canadiens were down 3-1 in their first round matchup against the Caps. Shouldn't that have been more daunting?

Perhaps it was.

I think what is bothering Habs fans this morning, has more to do with the Canadiens current opponents than what the Habs themselves are capable of doing.

While both Washington and Pittsburgh presented formidable opposition for the Canadiens, they are both teams whose play is based largely on skill.

Now, both teams also bring a physical edge to their games, but their force majeure is skill and not force.

The Philadelphia Flyers, on the other hand, while extremely deep with talent, have a boatload of size, grit, belligerence, and scoring on all four lines.

That is something that the Habs have not yet had to contend with.

As evidenced throughout the regular season, the speedy, skilled Habs tend to play better against teams who employ skill first, rather than force.

The Flyers, to their credit, bring both to the table and the small Habs forwards had a lot of trouble contending with it in Game One.

Now, we must keep in mind that while the Flyers played a good game on Sunday, the Canadiens simply did not show up. So there is a lot of room for improvement.

I believe that the Habs will bring a much better game today and will make a much better effort to get to the net, screen goalie Michael Leighton, and try to get secondary scoring chances.

The problem, again, is that given the sheer size of the Flyers' players, this will be no easy task for the vertically challenged Habs.

While no one really wants to talk about it, there is a sense that the Flyers might bring a game to the table that the Habs cannot counter, despite their success at making between game adjustments so far.

I am sure that Coach Martin will want his players to dump the puck in more and create foot races that his nimble forwards can win. And, if they can move their feet enough, maybe they can even get the Flyers to take some penalties.

Who knows?

Tonight is Game Two of the series and while they say that you're never in trouble in the playoffs till you lose a game at home, I believe that the Canadiens performance tonight will go a long way in dictating how this series plays out.

If the Canadiens can get to the net, use their speed to their advantage, and fight through the larger Flyers to win the game, I think this series will go long. Six or Seven games, with the Habs having a legitimate chance at winning.

If, however, the Flyers crush the Canadiens again tonight, I think this series might be over in a hurry. Say, five games, with the Habs grabbing one at home.

So all of the "...we didn't bring out 'A' game..." and "...our level of compete wasn't where it should be..." and "...they wanted it more than us..." in the world just amounts to "...blah, blah, blah, blah, blah..." right now.

Make no mistake about it, the Canadiens have an enormous task in front of them tonight and I believe that their performance will dictate their playoff fate.

What do you think? Can they pull it off? Are the Flyers too much for the Habs? Is this series going to go long? Short?