Sunday, October 31, 2010

Montreal Canadiens: The Happy Hallowe'en Horror Edition

by Tyg

In getting into the spirit of Hallowe’en, I thought I’d point out a few things that are scaring me about my favorite hockey team right now.


The Second Line

For an entirely capable centerman, Scott Gomez is just playing some truly poor hockey right now. He’s missing passes to his wingers, constantly powering through to the offensive zone and then turning over the puck, parking himself behind the net instead of in front of it, and making poor decisions time and again.

He’s a better player than this, and I’m not sure why he typically starts so slow, nor how the Habs can afford to wait until December for him to get going.

Brian Gionta, meanwhile, is working hard but can’t seem to dislodge that monkey off his back.

Missing an open net is proof positive that the Habs' captain is indeed snake-bitten. I suspect he’ll come around a lot sooner than Gomez, but just to shake things up a bit I’d really like to see this duo given a break and Gionta given a new center, like Lars Eller. I find it hard to believe Eller could be much worse than Gomez at this point.

The Insert-a-Left-Winger-Here strategy that Jacques Martin has going on this line is surely not helping matters either. It’s hard to build chemistry when playing with a different linemate every couple of games or couple of shifts. While it’s not an excuse for the second line’s current lack of production, there’s no way this experimentation is helping any.


The Power Play

Currently sitting at an embarrassing 3-for-39, the Habs power play was a source of strength that helped overcome their lack of 5-on-5 scoring last season. While it’s great to see that the Canadiens have managed to figure out how to score goals without the extra man, it’s also imperative they score them with the man advantage.

Last night versus the Panthers they had another 5-on-3 advantage and while they applied pressure, they still failed to cash in.

More traffic in front of the net and less trying for the perfect shot would probably help, but parking PP quarterback Andrei Markov on the bench for the beginning of the 3rd period was simply another headscratcher move by the Habs' head coach.

It has been 11 games and the Habs coaching staff still seemingly can’t fix this issue. Mike Cammalleri keeps saying the team is getting plenty of chances, and while that’s somewhat true, this is hockey not horseshoes. Close doesn’t count.


The Sniper

Speaking of Cammalleri, he’s now taken to sniping shots from the worst possible spots, including the blue line. He’s has some pretty setups by his centerman Tomas Plekanec, but he’s having Gionta issues in that he also can’t put it in the net.

The top line is the Habs best asset right now, but of the three players on that line, Cammy's shot is the best and the Canadiens need to see it more consistently.


The Proposed Solutions

A couple of the names I’m seeing thrown around as possible solutions for the Habs problems are Bill Guerin and Marc-Andre Bergeron.

Bill Guerin is not going to fix the second line, even if the Habs could fit him under the cap. Firstly, he’s a right winger and the opening slot is on the left wing. He’s also 39 years old, and while he did have some good numbers last season, I’d still rather see the slot go to Pouliot who already has five points despite being kicked down to the fourth line.

Bergeron’s point shot would no doubt help the power play, but his defensive play is such an enormous liability that I’d rather see the Habs take their chances with PK Subban, Josh Gorges, Roman Hamrlik and Andrei Markov working the power play.

Bergeron had a nasty habit of failing to hold the offensive zone, making blind passes through the neutral zone, and dropping the puck rather than taking a hit.

So there’s my current list of horrors regarding the Montreal Canadiens this Happy Hallowe’en. What are yours?

---
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 lose, post game, Markov off, power play sputtering, and more...

Post game: Panthers 3 - Habs 1
HabsAddict.com - Montreal-Florida: Vokoun and Booth Combine to End Habs Streak
http://www.habsaddict.com/2010/10/montreal-florida-vokoun-and-booth.html

Habs Inside/Out - Game 11: Panthers end Habs' four-game streak
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38879

Snow!
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38968

Markov a manqué de synchronisme
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308990.html

Jeu de puissance en panne
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308948.html

TSN - VOKOUN SOLID AS PANTHERS END SKID, BEAT CANADIENS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=339335

ESPN.com - Tomas Vokoun records 40 saves in Panthers' win in Montreal
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=301030010

News

Russian Hockey Fans - Interview with Kari Ramo
http://www.russianhockeyfans.com/khl/ramo-on-nhl-goalie-fighting-move-to-habs-ties-with-tortorella-230.html

Spector's Hockey - Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup - October 31, 2010
http://www.spectorshockey.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1952:sunday-nhl-rumor-roundup-october-31-2010&catid=5:trade-rumors&Itemid=4

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Montreal-Florida: Vokoun and Booth Combine to End Habs' Streak

by Kamal Panesar

Playing back-to-back games in two different cities is never an easy feat for any team. But doing it when the second of the back-to-back games is your fourth match in six nights is even harder.

So, when the Montreal Canadiens stepped onto the Bell Center ice against the Florida Panthers last night, it was not surprising to see what looked like a slow, sluggish team.

The Canadiens had moments where they were moving their feet and when they did, they tilted the ice towards the Panthers zone.

The problem for the Habs—who welcomed star defenseman Andrei Markov back into the fold—was that once the Panthers scored their first goal, it was difficult for them to maintain a high level of energy.

Instead, they oscillated between looking flat and playing with vigor.

Despite outshooting the opposition 41 to 31, the Canadiens were disorganized for long stretches of the match and really looked like they needed a nap.

The end result was that the fresh Panthers took advantage of turnovers and missed passes to put this game away.

Final score: Panthers 3 - Habs 1

Habs' scorers: Mathieu Darche (2)
Panthers' scorers: Michael Frolik (1), David Booth (4), Shawn Matthias (2)

Three stars: 1. Thomas Vokoun, 2. David Booth, 3. Mathieu Darche


Game Notes

1. Carey Price was excellent but Tomas Vokoun was better.

For some reason, players who used to play for the Canadiens tend to put on their best efforts when facing their former team.

Last night was no exception as Tomas Vokoun did his best impression of a brick wall in shutting down the Canadiens. The one goal that did get by him was the result of hard work from Mathieu Darche, but on the replay you could see that it squeezed under his arm and would be slotted in the 'slightly weak' category.

For his part, Price was yet again solid in the Habs' net. In particular, he continues to make key saves at key times and gives the Habs a chance to win every game.

Last night, when the score was 1-1, Price made two great saves from in close just when the Habs energy level looked like it was at its lowest. Time and time again this season, Price is making those key saves and giving his team a chance to win.


2. I know people dislike Jaroslav Spacek, but the David Booth goal was not his fault.

The Habs defense looked slow and tired for most of the game and made a ton of bad decisions with the puck which often lead to turnovers. Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, and others were continually throwing the puck into harm’s way and many of those plays led to scoring chances against the Canadiens.

None was more egregious than the play that led to the David Booth penalty shot though.

On the play, Hamrlik tried to skate the puck through the Panther's trap, lost it, and found himself skating back to try to cover up his mistake.

The problem was that the puck ended up on David Booth's stick and he had a clear break away. Spacek, who is not the most fleet footed defenseman on the team, couldn't catch Booth and had no choice but to haul him down.

On the subsequent penalty shot, Booth scored the game winning goal and the Twitterverse was alight with calls for Spacek's head.

While I agree that Spacek looks terrible so far in this still young season, he was not to blame on that play. That entire situation happened because Hamrlik made a foolish decision with the puck. Rather than passing it off or trying to dump it in, he tried to stick-handle through the Panthers trap. That was a foolish play by a veteran defenseman who should have known better.

The rest you know.


3. If Tomas Plekanec's line does not score the Habs don't win.

I've been saying for a while now that despite the Canadiens success so far this season, they have a lot of holes on their team. One of the biggest holes, aside from their impotent power play, is the lack of production from the Scott Gomez line.

What I had also said is that there will come a point where the Plekanec line does not score and in games like that it will be very difficult for the Habs to win.

Last night's game illustrated that point perfectly.

The Habs only goal-scorer on the night was fourth liner Mathieu Darche. While the offensive contributions from the bottom-six are a welcome addition to the team, The Habs must get consistent offensive contributions from the second line.

Last night, the Plekanec line also looked tired and disorganized at times. At other times, they had their mojo going and came close to scoring on a few occasions. They didn't, however, and since Gomez is still lost in a fog, the Canadiens had no offensive thrust to speak of despite their 41 shots on goal.

It is when the Canadiens lose that we can see how big of a problem the second line is.

Jacques Martin and co. need to figure something out quickly because with games against the Flyers, Bruins, Kings and others this month, the margin for error will only get smaller.


4. Andrei Markov was back but the power play still fired blanks.

Markov, playing his first game after recovering from off-season knee surgery, looked a little tentative last night. He didn't seem to have his game timing where he needs it to be. Also, he and P.K. Subban looked like they need to get used to playing together.

Both are very dynamic players and it will take a few games for them to find their rhythm. When they do, however, they will become a formidable first pairing for the Canadiens.

The duo also struggled on the power play where Subban fired the puck as often as he could but often missed the net or had his shot blocked. Subban will have to learn that he doesn't have to shoot the puck as hard but that he does have to get it on net, a la Josh Gorges.

The coaches made a strange decision when the Habs had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:25 to start the third period. On the ice were Tomas Plekanec, Michael Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn, Brian Gionta, and P.K. Subban.

You would think that a 5-on-3 would be the best opportunity for Markov to do his thing. But no, the coach had four forwards and one defenseman on the ice for the entire time and they were unable to score the tying goal.

It’s kind of hard for Markov to help fix the power play when he is sitting on the bench.


5. Gomez continues to be an island.

All night long, Scott Gomez was trying to rush the puck all the way up the ice by himself. And, when he would get to a wall of Panthers sweaters at the offensive blueline he would either turn the puck over or just toss it to the Panthers' players.

He has been doing this all season and it is getting a little tiresome.

On another play he passed the puck to Gionta near the right offensive zone faceoff circle and then, instead of staying at the side of the net, he positioned himself behind it.

The result was that Gionta's pass to the vacant wing sailed into the wind as Gomez watched what would have been a sure goal, from behind the net.

Gomez is making bad decisions with and without the puck and is completely ineffective for the Canadiens as a result.

His partner, Gionta, is working hard and leads all Canadiens' players with 40 shots on net, but he is completely snake-bitten.

During the Habs' third period 5-on-3 power play, Gionta had the tying goal on his stick and couldn't put it into the empty net. Instead, he somehow managed to hit the defenseman's skate on the play, keeping the puck out and the score 2-1 Florida.

With each game that passes, Gionta is getting more and more frustrated and is squeezing his stick a little tighter.

The Canadiens second line is just a disaster right now.


Standings and Next Game

The loss drops the Canadiens to 7-3-1 and their 15 points in the standings mean that they are still in first place in the Northeast Division.

The team now has a couple of days off before taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus on Tuesday.

Maybe they can get their power play going during this two day reprieve.

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kamal Panesar on CJAD's The Habs Show with Barry Morgan - Sunday October 24, 2010

CJAD's Barry Morgan, HabsAddict.com's Kamal Panesar, and Cowhide and Rubber's Kyle Roussel discuss the going ons of the Montreal Canadiens.

 Carey Price, Lars Eller, the power play and more.

Click play below to listen:

Montreal-New York: Pouliot's Goal Lifts Habs to Home-and-Home Sweep of Isles

by Kamal Panesar

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you your first place Montreal Canadiens. Not just first place in the Northeast Division, but first place overall in the league.

With their win last night in Uniondale, your Habs are now officially the hottest team in the league with a 7-2-1 record and 15 points in the standings.

So while yesterday's game against the New York Islanders—the second of a home-and-home—was not as well played by the Habs, they still managed to pull out the win in a match that was much tighter than Wednesday's night tilt in Montreal.

The ice in Uniondale wasn't very good and, at times, it looked more like keystone cops than hockey as pucks were bouncing and players were falling all over the place.

Despite the terrible conditions the Canadiens were the early aggressors in this game, taking a 9-2 shot advantage only ten minutes in. Ultimately, the Isles made adjustment, gave up fewer odd-man rushes, and ended up outshooting the Canadiens 31-26 on the night.

The Habs did a good job, however, of keeping the majority of the shots to the outside and cleared any rebounds, meaning that Auld didn't have to make a ton of heart-stopping saves. But when he was called upon he was ready.

In addition to outshooting the Canadiens, the Isles outhit them 27-22 but lost 34 of 57 faceoffs due to the strong work from Plekanec and Jeff Halpern.

The Isles, took every opportunity to drive to the net and make contact with Auld, who was playing his first game of the season. This tactic tended to draw a lot of post-whistle melees and scrums in the Habs' zone. Despite the extra attention, Auld remained calm and collected and picked up his first win of the season in the process.

Final score: Habs 3 - Isles 1

Habs' scorers: Tomas Plekanec (5), Benoit Pouliot (2), Travis Moen (2)
Isles' Scorers: Matt Martin (1)

Three stars: 1. Alex Auld, 2. Matt Martin, 3. Benoit Pouliot


Game Notes

1. He's big, he's bald, he's Alex Auld.

OK, I'm only using that line—which I did not invent—this one time. But seriously, what a game by Auld and what more can you ask for from your backup goaltender?

After sitting on the bench and watching Carey Price carry—no pun intended—the Habs to a 6-2-1 record over their first nine games, Auld took the net in the grudge match against a revenge-seeking Islanders squad.

With six power plays on the night including a 5-on-3, the Islanders held the momentum for large stretches of the game, but Auld was equal to the task as he stopped 30 of 31 shots for a scintillating .968 save percentage. Auld kept the score tied at one long enough for the Canadiens to get back into it and score the eventual game-winner in the second.

None of his saves was more key than the one he made on a shorthanded Matt Moulson breakaway when the score was still 1-0 for Montreal. That was one of those "key saves at a key time" and exactly what you need your goaltenders to do in order for your team to remain competitive.

Auld, like Price, is a big goaltender and he looked as much in the net, standing square to the shooters and giving them very little to shoot at. His rebound control was good too, either swallowing up the pucks or deflecting them out of harm’s way. When he did pop a puck out he was able to make the second save and his defense did the rest of the work clearing the rebounds.

With all of the question marks surrounding his potential play last night, Auld came out and delivered exactly the type of game you want from your backup, giving the Habs a chance to win and continuing their momentum. And it’s a good thing too, because the Habs will need a good 15-20 games out of him this season for Price to be ready for the playoffs.


2. The Habs defense was targeted for physical punishment tonight.

Usually Subban gets most of the attention from the opposition, at least over the first 9 games of the season. But last night the Isles shone the spotlight on Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek and hit both players as often as they could.

The result was that when Spacek wasn't making bad passes and turning the puck over, he was usually on his butt.

For his part, Gill also took a lot of hits but he responded by playing one of his stronger defensive games of the season. In addition, he stood up for Andrei Kostitsyn late in the second period, by fighting Matt Martin after he got a little too physical with the Habs sniper.

Gill, a consummate leader, took exception and when to town on Martin. It was more of a wrestling match than a fight, but hey, at least Gill stood up for his teammate.

That fight was an example of the "team toughness" that Jacques Martin is always talking about and considering the Habs lack of a heavy weight, it will continue to be an important factor going forward.


3. The plumbers continue to get the job done.

Is it me, or does the Habs bottom-six look even better since Lars Eller was switched to the third line center position?

The combination of Maxim Lapierre, Tom Pyatt, and Eller makes for a speedy, forechecking line that should start contributing on the scoresheet once they are a little more familiar with each other.

Further down the roster, the line of Jeff Halpern, Benoit Pouliot, and Mathieu Darche caused problems for the Isles defenders almost every time they were on the ice. Moreover, their determined play lead to the game winning goal by Pouliot.

On the play, P.K. Subban dumped the puck up the ice to Jeff Halpern who had Darche on his wing and Pouliot trailing in what became a 3-on-2. Halpern used Darche as a decoy and then dropped the puck to Pouliot in the slot who rifled a wrister top shelf past Dwayne Roloson for the game winner.

That was the type of goal that Pouliot absolutely must score on a regular basis if he wants to keep playing on this team. While I'd still prefer to see Pouliot playing on Lars Eller's wing on the third line, there is no questioning the chemistry that is starting to form in the bottom-six.

This chemistry cannot be understated since one of the biggest problems the Canadiens had last season was that they rarely got scoring from their bottom-six.

With the parity in this league, a team must be able to rely on multiple lines to contribute offense. Since the Gomez line is still firing blanks, it's a good thing the plumbers are getting it done.


4. Speaking of the Gomez line, they finally scored a goal!

Jacques Martin did a lot of winger shuffling on the Gomez-Gionta line again last night, but ultimately had Travis Moen playing with the duo for most of the night.

The result was the insurance marker with less than two minutes to play in the game.

On the play, Brian Gionta just winged the puck towards the net and it was deflected by Moen over a kneeling Roloson for his second goal of the year.

Gomez, who wasn't really involved in the play, continues to look like an island out there. He is doing a good job of skating the puck out of the Canadiens' zone but seems to panic at the offensive blueline and either miss a low-percentage passing attempt, or turn the puck over to the opposing team.

Given how much Gomez's game is based on clean, tape-to-tape passes, it is surprising to see his passes consistently in his winger's skates or just out of their reach.

It's a good thing the Habs' top line and bottom-six continue to contribute, because Gomez is clearly the weak link on a sputter second line. Whatever funk he is in, he has to figure it out quickly because, despite their early success, the Habs need two consistent scoring lines if they want to remain at the top of the heap.

Gomez is the playmaker on that line and if he is always missing his passes, it is very difficult for the trio to get anything going.


5. Special teams ruled the day.

It's pretty simple: the Canadiens were 1-for-2 on the power play (50 percent), and killed all six Islanders' man-advantages.

Gill and Gorges had a lot to do with the penalty kill being so successful as they played 3:39 and 5:28 of short-handed time respectively. As was the case during the playoffs, those two are still the Canadiens top defensive penalty-killing unit.

That being said, the trio of Plekanec, Gorges, and Roman Hamrlik did a good job of killing off an early 5-on-3 where the Islanders really didn't get any quality scoring chances.

The Habs power play goal, on the other hand, was the result of a quick shot by Michael Cammalleri. The puck caromed off of Roloson and right to Plekanec, who's quick stick allowed him put the puck in the net.

The goal was scored only 18 seconds into the power play—and was Plekanec's third goal in his last three games—and it was nice to see the Canadiens trying to create something off of a shot rather than looking for the perfect pass.

With their second man-advantage goal in the last three games, maybe the Habs are starting to defrost their PP just in time for Andrei Markov's return to the lineup tonight.


Standings and Next Game

The win gives the Canadiens 15 point in the standings and first place in the Northeast division and overall in the league. It's still too early in the season to start planning the parade route and playing teams like Vancouver, L.A., and Philly this month will go a long way to determining whether these Canadiens are the real deal or not.

But so far, winning seven out of ten games with an impotent power play, without the services of your number one defensemen, and without a second scoring line is more than anyone would have expected.

There's no rest for the wicked as the Habs are back in Montreal to take on the Florida Panthers tonight at the Bell Center. The game also marks the long awaited return of Andrei Markov to the lineup.

The puck drops at 7:00 pm-ish.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Habs win, post game, Habs in first, Panthers preview, and more...

Post game: Habs 3 - Isles 1
Habs Inside/Out - Game 10: Auld keeps Habs rolling
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38701

First place? Get out of here!
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38847

RDS - Alex Auld répond présent
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308875.html

TSN - POULIOT LIFTS CANADIENS TO HOME-AND-HOME SWEEP OF ISLANDERS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=339179

ESPN.com - Canadiens sweep home-and-home, deal Isles first regulation home loss
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=301029012


Pre-Game: Habs vs Panthers

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


ESPN.com - Panthers-Canadiens Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=301030010

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)


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Friday, October 29, 2010

Press Release - Habs Pay Tribute to Children of Leucan

THE MONTREAL CANADIENS PAY TRIBUTE TO CHILDREN OF LEUCAN

Montreal (October 28, 2010) – On Saturday October 30, the Montreal Canadiens will pay tribute to children fighting cancer as part of the NHL Hockey Fights Cancer Program. This home game will be dedicated to children members of Leucan, an association whose mission is to help cancer-stricken children and their families believe in a brighter future.

On that occasion, the coaching staff, team management and RDS broadcasters will be wearing lavender Hockey Fights Cancer ties. A total of 46 companies who own private suites at the Bell Centre will be supporting the Montreal Canadiens’ organization in this initiative by hosting 71 young members of Leucan and their parents in their suites.

Children and their parents will attend a pre-game reception hosted by the players’ wives and girlfriends, during which a $10,000 donation will be made to Leucan on behalf of the NHL and the Hockey Fights Cancer Program. The evening will come to an end as the young guests will enjoy a post-game meet and greet with a few players and team mascot Youppi!.

A dedicated partner of the Canadiens in this initiative since its inception, RDS will offer a night to remember to some of the young guests who will have the opportunity to watch the game from the RDS suite, visit the broadcasting studios and the press gallery before calling the play-by-play with Pierre Houde and Benoit Brunet. Various RDS personalities will also be attending the pre-game reception to meet with all the children of Leucan and participate in the distribution of souvenir gifts. Radio rights holders CKAC Sports and CJAD will also welcome children for interviews during intermissions.

Since the creation of the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer program eleven years ago, the Montreal Canadiens have teamed up with all NHL clubs and the NHLPA as active participants in this annual event to promote public awareness and raise funds for organizations involved in cancer care and research in North America. Since 1998 the program has raised in excess of $11 million.

Habs/Isles pre-game, Markov tomorrow, Auld gets the start, rumours and more...

Pre-game: Habs @ Islanders
Habs Inside/Out - A heavy week continues
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38698

Auld tomorrow, Markov Saturday
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38696

Le baptême d'Alex Auld vendredi à NY
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308837.html

Qui écopera avec le retour de Markov?
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308863.html

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

ESPN.com - Canadiens-Islanders Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=301029012


News

Spector's Hockey - NHL Free Agent and Trade Rumors - October 29, 2010
http://www.spectorshockey.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1947:nhl-free-agent-and-trade-rumors-october-29-2010&catid=5:trade-rumors&Itemid=4

The Hockey News - Tom Thompson's Blog: Five points to understand the plus-minus stat
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/35961-Tom-Thompsons-Blog-Five-points-to-understand-the-plusminus-stat.html

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Montreal-New York: Canadiens' Depth Delivers Win Over Islanders

by Kamal Panesar

Ho hum, another day, another convincing Habs victory.

In defeating the New York Islanders 5-3 yesterday in Montreal, the Canadiens pushed their current winning streak to three games in a match that featured two fast-paced teams that have so far been exceeding all expectations.

For their part, the Islanders present an excellent blend of youth and talent and, aside from John Tavares, don't really have any superstars. That being said, the balance that they have across all of their lines is what is making them competitive.

One problem the Isles have is that they take a lot of chances and cheat a little defensively and as such, the Canadiens had a bunch of odd-man rushes last night.

The Habs looked like a well oiled machine and their tape-to-tape passes allowed them to make a smooth transition from defense to offense, and attack off of the rush with speed. A lot of that smooth transition started on the stick of P.K. Subban who played his best game in a Canadiens uniform.

He just seems to be getting better every game.

What made this victory so satisfying for the Canadiens, however, was that each of their five goals was scored by a different player. That is kind of depth that makes teams successful over an 82 game schedule.

The Canadiens took the lead early in the game and never ceded it but the Isles did their best to make things difficult and kept things close. Ultimately, however, the Habs were too much for the Isles, outshooting them in every period and 35-21 on the night.

Final score: Habs 5 - Islanders 3

Habs' scorers: Mathieu Darche (1), Travis Moen (1), Tomas Plekanec (4), Jeff Halpern (3), Andrei Kostitsyn (6)
Isles' scorers: James Wisniewski (2), John Tavares (6), Doug Weight (2)

Three stars: 1. Plekanec, 2. P.K. Subban, 3. Carey Price


Game Notes

1. Price is the man.

Admit it, you're getting used to hear it by now aren't you?

Last night, Price set the tone early in the game by making two quick pad saves, from in close, on an Isles 2-on-1 less than two minutes into the game. The saves were brilliant and they got the home crowd engaged and chanting Price's name.

While Price continues to look stable in the net his biggest improvement over last year is that he is making key saves at key times, and that is paramount for a No.1 netminder.

If Price hadn't made that save it would have changed the entire complexion of the game. Instead, his save brought the crowd to life and buoyed his teammates who were able to bring home a third straight victory.

And that, my friends, is the mark of a No.1 goaltender in the NHL.

Oh, Price also got his first assist of the season on Jeff Halpern's goal.


2. Finally, Lars Eller was the third line center!

I guess Jacques Martin has been reading my articles because he took my advice last night.

Ya, right!

Last night JM has Eller penciled in as the third line center between Maxim Lapierre and Tom Pyatt. While I'd prefer to see Benoit Pouliot on that line instead of Pyatt, it was a good start.

Both Lapierre and Pyatt have the foot speed to keep up with Eller, while Lapierre also has enough offensive skill that he should be able to score a few off of Eller's passes.

You could see that they were a little off last night which is normal given that they haven't played together much. That being said, I think that given a few games and a little chemistry, that line will become a fast, tenacious third line that can chip in offensively.

The amazing thing to me is how many people were saying that Eller played his first good game last night and that he finally looks engaged. Really? Don't you think that has something to do with him having half decent linemates to play with for a change?


3. Andrei Kostitsyn is playing better than anyone thought he was able to.

Not only is he contributing in the offensive zone—he potted his sixth goal into an empty net—but AK46 is also performing in the defensive zone.

I guess some of what Jacques Martin was preaching and berating Andrei about last year has sunk in because lo-and-behold, he is becoming a pretty solid two-way player.

Now we're not going to start seeing him on the penalty kill mind you, but watching him rush up the ice for a scoring chance and then skate back to help break up a play in his own end, is a thing of beauty.

Love him or hate him, JM demands that all of his forwards are responsible at both ends of the ice. He was, after all, the man that turned Marian Hossa into one of the best two-way player in the game.

Kostitsyn's line, with Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri, is firing on all cylinders and have a combined 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists, plus-21) over nine games and account for 52% of the Canadiens' goals for.

What will be interesting is to see how they fare on the road against the better teams in the league as Martin, who loves to match lines, will not have the luxury of last line change.

If this trio can fight through tough defensive matchups and still produce consistently against elite teams on the road, they will be on their way to becoming one of the most dangerous lines in the league.


4. P.K. Subban seems to have found his groove.

I still can't get over how quickly Subban went from playing his worst game as a Canadien to his best, in the span of a week.

Subban has settled his game down and has found a groove for himself. As such, he is getting better and better each game and Jacques Martin is leaning heavily on the youngster.

Getting 19:29 of ice-time over 29 shifts, Subban had one assist, a plus-one rating, five shots on goal, two blocked shots, and was the Canadiens best defenseman all night.

Not only is Subban making great first passes and setting up plays on the offensive side of the puck, but he is absolutely shutting down the opposition in the Habs zone. Last night, he broke up a few 2-on-1's and 1-on-1's without taking a penalty and without the opposition getting a shot on goal.

Moreover, Subban is taking less chances and doing a better job of picking his spots and it is making him so much more effective in both ends of the rink.

So the big question is who will he be playing with when Andrei Markov returns to play this weekend? With the Gill-Gorges and Spacek-Hamrlik duos seemingly set, perhaps JM will put together the super duo of Markov-Subban.

That would be a sight to see!


5. Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez looked a lot better!

OK, neither of them registered a point in the game but both of them looked calmer and more engaged. To his credit, Gionta has been engaged since the beginning of the season but he has looked frustrated at times over the course of the last few games.

Last night, however, he looked calmer and more even keeled.

Gomez, on the other hand, has looked lost and out of sync so far this season but last night we saw flashes of the speed and stick handling that can make him such a dangerous player.

Now if only Coach Martin could stick with one winger on their line for a few games, they might be able to build some momentum.


6. The real first star of the game was the Canadiens' depth.

While their power play continued to fire blanks, going 0-for-3 on the night, the Canadiens scored five 5-on-5 goals with a different author for each one.

Plekanec, Halpern, Darche, Moen, and Kostitsyn all scored for the Canadiens with assists from Halpern, Subban, Plekanec, Hall Gill, Benoit Pouliot, Price, Kostitsyn, and Hamrlik.

Halpern, in particular, is having a good season so far with three goals and two assist over nine games played. Those numbers are not insignificant if you consider that he had a total of nine goals and eight assists over 71 games split between Tampa and L.A. last season.

All in all, ten Canadiens got their names on the score sheet and that's the kind of depth that the elite teams of the league count on to win on a consistent basis.

If the Habs can find consistency from their bottom-two lines and a winger for Gionta and Gomez, they could become a three to four line offensive team which is very difficult defend against.


Standings and Next Game

The win moves the Habs to 6-2-1 with 13 points in the standings and a share of first place overall in the league.

They now fly to Long Island to take on these same New York Islanders on Friday in what is sure to be an intense grudge match. The game will be the first of a back-to-back for the Canadiens who fly home to welcome the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

Most reports are indicating that Andrei Markov will be back in the lineup on Saturday against the Panthers, but Habs Inside/Out's Pat Hickey seems to believe he will be back on Friday.

Either way, it's good news for the streaking Canadiens.

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Habs win, post game news, Halpern, Darche, Moen, Price, rumours and more...

Post Game: Habs 5 - Isles 3
Habs Inside/Out - Game 9: Supporting cast helps Habs down Isles
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38564

Three 3s
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38694

RDS - Une contribution de tous
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308731.html

Le CH connaît un bien meilleur départ
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308824.html

Auld aime l'ouverture d'esprit de Price
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308783.html

TSN - HALPERN'S WINNER HELPS SURGING CANADIENS WIN THIRD STRAIGHT
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=338922

ESPN.com - Canadiens top Islanders for third straight win
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=301027010


News

Spector's Hockey - Latest NHL Trade Rumors - October 28, 2010
http://www.spectorshockey.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1945:latest-nhl-trade-rumors-october-28-2010&catid=5:trade-rumors&Itemid=4

NHL Free Agent News - October 28, 2010
http://www.spectorshockey.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1944:nhl-free-agent-news-october-28-2010&catid=5:trade-rumors&Itemid=4

(Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images North America)

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Game Day: Canadiens and Islanders Face Off In Montreal

by Kamal Panesar

The mood surrounding the Montreal Canadiens practice yesterday was light following their well earned win against the tenacious Phoenix Coyotes on Monday.

Even Jacques Martin, normally known for his stoic, monotone ways, was cracking jokes with the media while sporting an ear-to-ear grin.

And why not?

His team is playing well despite some egregiously glaring holes in their play. This brings to mind the old sports adage that you are never as good as you seem when you are winning and never as bad when you are losing.

Despite a 5-2-1 record and a share of first overall in the Northeast Division, the Canadiens have a few problems that need fixing as they prepare to take on the surprising New York Islanders at the Bell Centre tonight.

The Isles, with a 4-2-2 record, have ten points and are one point behind the first place—in the Atlantic Division—Pittsburgh Penguins.

While it is still very early in the season, a match-up against a conference rival is always important whether in October or in March.


Offensive contributions

On offense, the Canadiens have been receiving some fine play from the likes of Andrei Kostitsyn (five goals, three assists), Michael Cammalleri (three goals, three assists), and Tomas Plekanec (three goals, four assists) who is clearly the offensive catalyst for the Habs.

Their second line, however, has been flatlined as Scott Gomez (one goal, two assists) and Brian Gionta (one goal, one assist) have struggled to get going. Their difficulties are compounded by the carousel of players who have played on their wing—Benoit Pouliot, Tom Pyatt, Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche—in an attempt to find chemistry.

While the Habs' penalty kill has been excellent so far—three goals allowed on 32 chances—their power play has left much to be desired—2-for-29, 6.9% efficiency—and it should benefit from the return of Andrei Markov this weekend.


Strengths and Weaknesses on the back end

On the backend, Jaroslav Spacek has been struggling while his partner, Roman Hamrlik, has been a steadying influence playing a team high 24:55 on Monday against the Coyotes.

Youngster P.K. Subban seems to be settling into a groove after an up and down pre-season and first few games of the regular season. He seems to have taken everyone's advice and simplified his game and the result is that he is the Canadiens best defenseman right now.


When will we see Alex Auld?

Montreal wouldn't be Montreal without some discussion of the goaltenders and, despite Carey Price's brilliant performance so far this season—five wins, 2.23 GAA, .918 save percentage—a lot of the talk yesterday was about backup goaltender Alex Auld and when he will play his first game of the season.

In my mind, the only reason to start Auld is because you don't want him to get too rusty sitting on the sidelines. The idea is that he should play every once in a while, regardless of how well Price is playing, so that he stays sharp.

Given that the Canadiens are playing four games in six nights this week, I think there is a very real possibility that Auld could get his first start in Long Island on Friday.

While I understand the logic of playing Auld, Price is on fire right now and unless he tells the coaches that he is tired or they have some reason to believe he needs rest, I would keep playing him.

Price is only 23 and tonight is only the Habs' ninth game of the season, so there is no fatigue factor going on right now.

Price is in a groove right now so why not keep him there?


What to do with Lars Eller?

Eller played a few shifts with some talented wingers, for a change, and the result was the winning goal in overtime. While one game does not make a season, there is no denying that Eller's considerable talents seem to be wasted on the wing—as he is a playmaker—and on the fourth line.

I said in my post-game analysis, that I would either try him between Gionta and Pouliot, or slot him as the third line center between Lapierre and Pouliot, and see what happens.

That being said, all indications are that Coach Martin is going with the same lineup that won Monday night, meaning that Eller will start on the fourth line. Don't be surprised, however, if we see him shifted up a line or two at certain points in the game, depending on how the game plays out.


The puck drops at 7:30 pm tonight and the game is being broadcast on RDS.

So what would you do with the Alex Auld? What about Eller? Would you play him on the wing or at center and with which wingers?

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Isles pre-game, Martin happy, checks from behind, Devils in trouble?

Pre-game: Habs vs. Islanders
Habs Inside/Out - Game 9: Canadiens vs. Islanders
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38564

Gio. Cammy, Gomer rest; Marky works overtime
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38565

Game-day skate
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38562

First-star pucks a team initiative
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38560

RDS - CH: la visite des surprenants Islanders
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308731.html

R. O'Byrne et B. Gervais: même combat
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308723.html

Le sourire de Jacques Martin en dit long
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308701.html

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

ESPN.com - Islanders-Canadiens Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=301027010


News

The Hockey News - THN.com Blog: Checks from behind lost in head-shot debate
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/35940-THNcom-Blog-Checks-from-behind-lost-in-headshot-debate.html

THN.com Blog: Devils coach MacLean puts job at risk by benching Kovalchuk
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/35916-THNcom-Blog-Devils-coach-MacLean-puts-job-at-risk-by-benching-Kovalchuk.html

Justin Bourne's Blog: The art of goal scoring
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/35920-Justin-Bournes-Blog-The-art-of-goal-scoring.html

Spector's Hockey - NHL Rumors - Wednesday, October 27, 2010
http://www.spectorshockey.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1942:nhl-rumors-wednesday-october-27-2010&catid=5:trade-rumors&Itemid=4

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Montreal Canadiens Answer Some Question Early On

by Tyg

What a difference a year makes. Last season, after eight games, the Montreal Canadiens had suffered a five game losing streak and had only managed to accumulate six points.

Right now the Habs are at the top of their division and tied with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh for the conference lead. They’ve not yet lost two games in a row, and a few of the things that bothered me going into this season no longer cause me to gnash my teeth in worry.


Goaltending

First and foremost on my list of things I was concerned about heading into this season was the goaltending. Will Carey Price rise to the challenge following the fan outcry over the trading of Jaroslav Halak, or will the exacting nature of the position coupled with the harsh glare of the Montreal spotlight continue to undermine his confidence?

The answer is that Price is solid. He looms large in the net, soft goals no longer shake him or his team, and his confidence is growing after every win. He’s been the consummate professional that his teammates lauded him to be at the end of last season’s playoff run—despite the sometimes unfair treatment of his own fanbase.

I have yet to watch a game the Habs lost this season where this kid was part of the problem.


The Halak Trade

I didn’t like the trading of Halak for a number of reasons, but the return of Lars Eller has done a lot to reverse that opinion. While I do dislike him being used primarily as a third line winger or a fourth line center, there’s no question that this kid is a solid investment for the future of the Habs.

He has the potential to be Tomas Plekanec 2.0, and if that’s the case Pierre Gauthier made a really good trade for playoff hero Halak. My only gripe about Eller is that he can’t feed wingers with stone hands, and if the Habs want him to play the wing, Jacques Martin ought to at least try him out on the Scott Gomez – Brian Gionta line.

With that said, Eller looks more comfortable and dangerous at center even on the fourth line. In a total reversal to an article I posted a few weeks back, I’d probably rather keep him anchoring the third line at this point.


The Two Wingers

Before this season I could not for the life of me figure out why Andrei Kostitsyn got drafted by the Canadiens ahead of Jeff Carter or Zach Parise.

Now, however, it seems perfectly understandable.

If he’s going to play like this all season, I’m going to want to keep him. I don’t know why he was so hot and cold last year, and I don’t really care anyway. I just want this version of Andrei to stick around.

Along with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri, Kostitsyn has become outright lethal. Here is a line with blistering speed, skill, and intelligence that just got a fantastic boost in power and size thanks to Kostitsyn's renewed efforts.

It’s not an easy magic to find, but I have to give props to Jacques Martin here for finding it with these three.

What I refuse to give props to Martin for is the revolving door of wingers on the second line. Mike Cammalleri said it best after the Habs beat the Phoenix Coyotes last night.

“I’m a big believer that the longer you stay together, the more chemistry you can build and the more dynamic you can be offensively.”

Cammalleri gets it, but Jacques doesn’t seem to.

Tom Pyatt was never going to finish that play from Gionta last night. As much as I like Pyatt, he simply doesn’t possess the skill set to play Gomez’s wing. Neither do Travis Moen or Mathieu Darche.

I’d really like to see Benoit Pouliot get more than three games or three shifts on that line, because there have been moments when he has seemed to spark a bit with Gomez and Gionta. Having played with them for the last half of the 2009-2010 season, I think he deserves more time to help find some chemistry.

Last night’s couple of lazy plays aside, for the most part I’ve found Pouliot’s been working much harder this year and has a better attitude and focus. He’s also hitting more, forcing turnovers and while his positioning needs work, he is showing improvement over his lackadaisical play that marked the end of last year’s campaign.

Other than the revolving door of second line wingers, though, my gripes about this team right now are refreshingly few and far between. I’m enjoying watching my team this year. They’re much less Jekyll-and-Hyde than last season’s Habs.

This year they’re better meshed, have remember to use their speed when they’re behind the eight ball, and have found a group spirit that allows them to fire each other up and play their system with confidence.

It’s an important carryover from the team’s playoff run.

After the Habs beat the Ottawa Senators last Saturday night, Carey Price said it was the best team he’s played behind in a long time.

Happily, I’d have to agree.

---
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.

Montreal-Phoenix: Andrei Kostitsyn and co. Lead Habs to Victory

by Kamal Panesar

So how about those Habs?

Two nights after shutting out the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa, the Canadiens were back at home to take on the speedy, Shane Doan-less, Phoenix Coyotes in what was an incredibly speedy and entertaining game.

These two teams are very evenly matched and it showed in a back and forth, high-paced game that seemed more like a tennis match at times, than a hockey game.

How evenly matched are these teams, you might ask? Well, each team had 29 shots on goal, they both went 1-for-5 on the power play, each team had ten penalty minutes, and both won 23 faceoffs.

Moreover, both teams showcased tremendous speed and a strong five-man defensive unit. The cherry on the sundae, however, was the goaltenders. Both Ilya Bryzgalov and Carey Price put on goaltending clinics as they used their huge frames and excellent mobility to stop a myriad of quality scoring chances.

The Coyotes opened the scoring in the second on a Kyle Turris goal, but the Habs stormed back with two of their own—including their second power play marker of the season.

The Coyotes tied the score on the PP early in the third period which only cranked up the intensity. The final twenty minutes of regulation seemed more like a sudden-death, seventh game overtime than the seventh game of the season, with both teams pressing for the win.

It wasn't to be, however, until Andrei Kostitsyn potted his fifth goal of the season off of a Lars Eller deflection, to seal the deal at 1:25 of overtime.

Final score: Habs 3 - Coyotes 2 (OT)

Habs’ scorers: Tomas Plekanec (3), Michael Cammalleri (3), Andrei Kostitsyn (5)
Coyotes' scorers: Kyle Turris (3), Derek Morris (1)

Three Stars: 1. Andrei Kostitsyn 2. Michael Cammalleri 3. Tomas Plekanec


Game Notes

1 . Andrei Kostitsyn is a man possessed.

I usually start my analyses with the goaltender and while Carey Price has been an undeniable star through eight games, the early season story of the Canadiens has got to be the play of AK46.

With his fifth goal of the season—his second game-winner in as many games—Kostitsyn now leads the Canadiens in points with eight in eight games (five goals, three assists) and a plus-five rating.

That is quite a turn around for a player who slumped to career lows last season.

While Andrei is using his considerable size and incredible shot to good effect, there are two other factors that are even more important.

Firstly, his positioning is excellent. Looking at the majority of his goals so far, AK46 is always in the right spot to pick up the rebound. On the game-winning goal last night, Kostitsyn was at the left side of the net just as the Eller deflection came to him and he had an easy goal into the empty net.

The other night, he scored a goal off of a Tomas Plekanec setup and then another off of a Cammalleri setup where he was in the prime scoring position and able to pot the rebound. That is the kind of positioning that he needs if he is going to keep scoring in this league on a regular basis.

The second thing that Andrei is doing well is smiling. Andrei is having fun on the ice and that is something that we haven't seen from him in almost three seasons.

When named the first star of the game last night, Andrei skated around the ice with
a handful of pucks and tossed them to his adoring fans in the crowd. That is the second time he has been named the first star and the second time he has done that.

It is still early in the season, but if he keeps playing like this, AK46 is on a collision course with a 30-plus goal season.


2. Carey Price is in the zone.

Making save after save, looking calm and confident in the net, and easily able to shake off a goal, Price looks like he is becomming the rock that the Canadiens need him to be.

Last night was his eighth consecutive start of the season. One more start and he will tie his nine-straight from last year.

At some point, Alex Auld will have to get some time in the net, but the way Price is playing there is little motivation to make a change in that department.


3. Despite their goal, the Habs' PP continues to sputter.

Going 1-for-5 on the night and 1-for-24 on the season (4.2%), the Habs are trying to be too fancy on the PP.

Watching them last night, you could see them trying low percentage passes and shots. They seemed like they were looking for the perfect, picturesque goal instead of trying to get an ugly one.

When your PP is not working you have to simplify, not complicate things: Shots from the point, create traffic in front, and try for a deflection or a rebound.

It's not rocket science.

The Canadiens, as a team, need to take a page out of Josh Gorges book. Gorges, who is not known for his offensive abilities, has been playing the point on the PP and all he does is shoot the puck at the net. Sure, he doesn't have the hardest shot in the world, but you don't need to in order to be effective. All you have to do is hit the net and that is what Gorges has been doing.

Word yesterday was that Andrei Markov could be back as early as Friday but more likely Saturday. His presence is well needed on the power play and hopefully he can kick-start things for the Habs in that department.


4. The second line, and specifically Scott Gomez, are still firing blanks.

Let me start by asking, why in the world Tom Pyatt is still playing on the second line?

I understand that Jacques Martin is trying to mix things up in an effort to get Brian Gionta and Gomez going, but Pyatt is not the answer.

Don't get me wrong because I like Pyatt and think he is an excellent bottom-six player. He is fast, tenacious, and works his butt off every shift. The problem is that he does have an offensive touch and this was never more clear than when he and Gionta had a 2-on-1 break in the second period, just after Yotes' first goal.

On the play, the puck was rolling a little bit, but Pyatt ultimately didn't have the hand-eye coordination to put it into the empty net. It was a play where a player with softer hands would have scored. Dustin Boyd, Maxim Lapierre, Benoit Pouliot or even Lars Eller would have potted that one.

So why then does JM keep putting Pyatt and Travis Moen on the second line?

The Canadiens are winning, which is a good thing, but they can't keep that up for 82 games if they only have one line that is scoring.

Right now, Scott Gomez seems to be the weak link on that line. Gionta, to his credit, is working his butt off and leads all player with 32 shots on goal. The problem is that he is starting to get frustrated and is taking low-percentage shots in an attempt to get something going.

It is looking more and more like Coach Martin needs to separate that duo and put Gionta on a line with Lars Eller.


5. JM switched it up in the third and found some good combos.

Speaking of Eller, JM finally gave him a shot with some talented wingers last night and it resulted in the winning goal.

When the game was tied 2-2 late in the third period, Martin shortened his bench. The result was a line of Eller, Lapierre, and Moen and they looked good together for the few shifts they played.

The other change Martin made was to put Benoit Pouliot back on the Gomez-Gionta line and they too looked to have some spark.

But the most beautiful combo was seeing Andrei Kostitsyn skate on Lars Eller's wing at 4-on-4 in overtime.

Eller is a strong, fast, talented play maker and he needs offensive wingers in order to be truly effective.

On the winning goal, Eller dug the puck back to the point then went to the net. The Gorges shot from the point was deflected by Eller—who had drawn the opposing defender, leaving the left side of the net open—to a waiting Kostitsyn who fired the puck into the empty net.

It is clear that Eller is being wasted on the third line wing or fourth line center role and, I've been saying for a while, that if he is only playing ten minutes a game on the fourth line that his development would be better served in Hamilton.

Last night, Eller finally got to play with some talented wingers for a few shifts and the result was the winning goal.

Gomez's play so far dictates that he should not be playing in the top-six. Moreover, I think it is time for the Canadiens coaching staff to try Gionta and Pouliot on Eller's wing. It surely can't be worse than what they are getting so far!

So what will the lineup look like on Wednesday?


Standings and Next Game

The Canadiens have the day off before taking on the New York Islanders tomorrow night at the Bell Centre. The game is the first of a home-and-away series that concludes Friday in Long Island.

After last night's win—and at the time of writing this article—the Canadiens are first place in their division with 11 points in eight games, first overall in the league with a 92.6% penalty kill, and all of this without their No.1 defenseman, a league-worst power play (4.2%), and a sputtering second line.
Now, I can't state those facts without also stating the obvious: it's still early.

Too early in fact to start getting overly excited about anything.

The true character of a hockey team tends to be more evident closer to the 20-30 game mark, so anything can happen from here to there.

But, for now, let's enjoy the early success that this team is having because there are a lot of things to feel good about.

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Habs win, post game, Kostitsyn shines, Markov back this week, Power rankings...

Post Game: Habs 3 - Coyotes 2 (OT)
Habs Inside/Out - Game 8: Kostitsyn gives Habs win over Coyotes
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38443

Plenty to smile about
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38556

RDS - L'importance de Price et Kostitsyn
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308685.html

Kostitsyn est en feu
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308619.html

TSN - KOSTITSYN SCORES IN OT TO GIVE CANADIENS WIN OVER COYOTES
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=338709

MARKOV COULD RETURN TO CANADIENS AS EARLY AS FRIDAY
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=338650

ESPN.com - Andrei Kostitsyn, Carey Price lead Montreal past Phoenix
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=301025010

Power Rankings
http://espn.go.com/nhl/powerrankings



(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Habs/Coyotes pre-game, Markov, Price, Gill, and more...

Pre-game: Habs vs. Phoenix
Habs Inside/Out - Game 8; Canadiens vs. Coyotes
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38443

No rest for the Canadiens
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38441

Tough week begins
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38442

RDS - Markov remplace Gill à l'entraînement
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308590.html

Price donne le crédit à ses coéquipiers
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308604.html

ESPN.com - Coyotes-Canadiens Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=301025010

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


News

ESPN.com - Weekend wrap: Sens trade search, Bruins' cap issues, Erik Ersberg's deal
http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/1102/weekend-wrap-sens-trade-search-bruins-cap-issues-erik-ersbergs-deal



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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Montreal-Ottawa: Carey Price and Andrei Kostitsyn Lead Canadiens to Victory

by Kamal Panesar

Two nights after getting shutdown and shutout by the New Jersey Devils, the Montreal Canadiens were in Ottawa to return that same favour to the Senators.

Outplaying the Senators for large stretches of the game and outshooting them 34-19 in the process, the Habs won the game on the backs of two goals by Andrei Kostitsyn and a shutout by Carey Price.

The Sens, who had play the night before against Buffalo, brought a physical game to the table in the first ten minutes of the game but fatigue quickly took over and they couldn't muster much offense—as their four first period shots can attest.

Fatigue aside, the Sens just didn't look like a very cohesive team on the ice, lead by the freestyling-solo-act of Alex Kovalev, who has one assist and is a minus-five over eight games.

The Sens had a stronger forecheck in the second period but Price was solid and made several spectacular saves to preserve the Habs' 1-0 lead.

By the third period, with the Habs leading 3-0, they settled into their 1-2-2- trap which allows the Sens to have much more puck possession time in the Canadiens' zone.

Oddly, though, which the Sens had a lot of puck possession in the Habs zone, showed lots of movement, made a lot of passes, they ultimately had few shots and even fewer scoring chances. When they did, Price was there to make the save.

Final Score: Habs 3 - Sens 0

Habs scorers: Andrei Kostitsyn (3,4), Benoit Pouliot (1)
Sens scorers: None

Three stars: 1. Andrei Kostitsyn 2. Carey Price 3. P.K. Subban


Game Notes

1. Price was solid again and seems to have found a new level of play.

Even when his teammates had stopped skate and were sitting back in their 1-2-2 trap for the entire third period, Price still maintained his focus. This was evidenced by his save on Daniel Alfredsson's partial break with 1:39 to play in the game.

On the play, Price cut down the angle, gave the shooter nothing to look at and calmly made the save.

Overall, his body language while in the net is much calmer and balanced than it used to be. He doesn't get too high when he makes a great save and doesn't get too low when he lets in a goal.

Last night was Price's first shutout since November 11, 2008 ironically also against the Senators.


2. Andrei Kostitsyn continues is torrid start to the season.

Kostitsyn's two goals, plus-two rating and three shots on goal give him a total of six points (four goals, two assists) a plus-three rating, and 21 shots on goal—third to Brian Gionta's 28 and Michael Cammalleri's 26.

Moreover, his chemistry on with Plekanec and Cammalleri is stupendous.

Plekanec did all of the work on AK46's first goal, as he drew both Ottawa players towards him and one-handing the puck to Kostitsyn in the high slot. AK46 made no mistake of that opportunity and roofed the puck over Elliot for a 1-0 lead.

That goal demonstrated the incredible skill and vision that Plekanec has but also showed that maybe AK is learning how to be in the right place at the right time.

He second goal was scored in a similar manner with Cammalleri driving to the net and Kostitsyn picking up the loose puck on the side and firing it past the Sens goalie.

With the shot he has, if he can continue to find the open seem he will be a force on that top line all season long.


3. Lars Eller finally played as a center. Yay!

However he played center on the fourth line with Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche. Boo!

Since the beginning of the season I have thought that Eller should be playing his natural position of center. However I thought he would be a good fit as the third line center on this team playing with maybe Maxim Lapierre and Dustin Boyd. So far, Jacques Martin has seen fit to play him as a winger on the third line.

While Eller has shown a few flashes of brilliance out there, he is not getting enough ice time and does not look entirely comfortable playing the wing.

Last night, Jacques Martin moved him to the wing, but on the fourth line with Moen and Darche which makes no sense to me. Eller's skill level and vision as a centerman are lost on Moen and Darche neither of whom have the speed or the skill to keep up with Eller.

As a result, Eller was once again relatively invisible last night. I still maintain that if he is going to play on the wing it should be in the top six. Failing that, he should be the third line center or sent down to Hamilton to get a ton of ice time.

He is just not being well utilized in Montreal so far.


4. Subban played his best game in a Habs uniform.

Taking and giving punishing body checks, making outstanding defensive plays, showing excellent position and speed, and making a great first pass, P.K. Subban played like a stalwart on the back end.

He was and is easily the Habs best defenseman right now and, in Andrei Markov's absence, his abilities are sorely needed.

Subban is clearly being targeted by the opposition and he is neither backing down nor getting intimidated. That being said, it would be nice to see a Travis Moen go after some of these guys to give P.K. a little more breathing room. Subban is too important to the team to have to be fighting and scuffling with the opposition. Someone on his team needs to help him out in that department.

That aside, he was simply outstanding last night. One assist, four hits, a plus-one rating, four shots on goal and a number of blocked shots—but none more painful than the Chris Campoli slapper off of his ankle.

If Subban keeps playing like he did last night, the Habs defense will become formidable once Markov is back in a week or so.


5. The power play was again powerless.

The Habs look lost on the power play, pure and simple. Watching their play with the man-advantage, they are looking around and don't know who to pass to, don't know whether to shoot or not, and are never in the right position.

When there is an opportunity to shoot from the point, there is no one in front of the net. When there is a cross-ice pass attempt, it is always picked off or block. Even shots from the point rarely get through.

The result is that the Habs are not able to move and disrupt the opposition’s box and as a result, get few to no scoring chances. The closest they came to a pp goal was when Benoit Pouliot scored his sigh-of-relief-inducing first goal of the season four seconds after pp was over.

That goal was the result of a flubbed shot by Josh Gorges that missed the net and bounced off of the back boards to Pouliot for the tap-in.

Boy do these guys need Andrei Markov back to help revive a flatlined pp. The good news is that they have still been winning without the power play which is now 1-for-20 for a five percent efficiency rate. Ouch.


6. The second line is still running with a flat tire

Let me just start by saying that "trying" Tom Pyatt on the wing with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta is foolish. For all his speed and tenacity, Pyatt does not have the finish to play in the top six.

For their parts, Gionta is still leading the team in shots on goal but only have one goal to show for it.

Scott Gomez, on the other hand, must be focusing too much on Halloween because he is doing a great job of playing the invisible man. He is the biggest problem with that line right now and until he gets going there is little that the coach can do to create a spark.

Is it time to split up the Gionta-Gomez duo and try something completely different?


Standings and Next Game

The win gives the Canadiens a 4-2-1 record good for nine points and a share of first place in their division with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Habs now come back to Montreal where they will face the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night at the Bell Center.

Who will Jacques Martin put on that second line on Monday? Tune in to find out!

SIDENOTE:

I'll be on Montreal's CJAD AM 800 Habs Show, with Barry Morgan, tonight (Sunday Oct. 24, 2010) from 6 - 6:30 pm. Listen in or listen live here.

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Habs win, post game, Carey Price, Andrei Kostitsyn, and more...

HabsAddict.com - Habstalk Podcast Episode Two - October 23, 2010
http://pc.habsaddict.com/2010/10/habstalk-podcast-episode-two-october-23.html

Post Game: Habs 3 - Sens 0
HabsAddict.com - Montreal-Ottawa: Carey Price and Andrei Kostitsyn Lead Canadiens to Victory
http://www.habsaddict.com/2010/10/montreal-ottawa-carey-price-and-andrei.html

Habs Inside/Out - Game 7: Canadiens, Price blank Senators
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38310

An idea whose time has come?
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/38440

RDS - Les pendules à l'heure
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/308488.html

TSN - KOSTITSYN SCORES TWICE, PRICE EARNS SHUTOUT AS HABS TOP SENS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=338495

Carey Price, Andrei Kostitsyn lead Canadiens' shutout of Senators
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=301023014

Canadiens 3, Senators 0
http://www.nhl.com/ice/recap.htm?id=2010020099&navid=sb:recap

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

HabsTalk Roundup - Episode Two - October 23, 2010

Habstalk podcast episode two with Kamal Panesar from HabsAddict.com and Rick from AllHabs.net.

In this podcast, Rick and I discuss the Canadiens performance over the first five games of the season, rookie Lars Eller's role on the team, goaltending strength, defensive weaknesses, and more.

Click play below to listen in and, as always, please post your comments and let us know what you think!

Is Head Coach Jacques Martin Playing Favorites?

by Tyg

Outside of his hard work ethic and his ability to chill without complaint in the press box, I just don’t get Mathieu Darche. What else does he bring to the Montreal Canadiens, who re-signed him for league minimum to another year?

He’s weak defensively and offensively. He’s far too slow on his skates compared to the rest of the team. He’s a perimeter player, a fourth line grinder who can log minutes when someone goes down to injury.

The thing is, no one is currently injured, and Darche is about to see ice-time again tonight as the Habs gear up to take on the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank. Cooling his jets this evening will be Dustin Boyd.

Boyd is, without question, a better skater and a better grinder, with more skill and ability than Darche. He’s also got a bigger cap hit, the same solid work ethic and is not currently injured.

This is Jacques Martin, playing one of his favorites. I saw it last year with Marc-Andre Bergeron too, and I didn’t like it then either.

Even when Bergeron was constantly turning over the puck, throwing blind passes through the neutral zone, and failing to keep the puck in the offensive zone, Jacques Martin kept him on the ice and kept Ryan O’Byrne in the press box.

Speaking of Ryan O’Byrne, is he even still on the team? If he is, I suspect he won’t be for much longer. He’s assumed the role of Sergei Kostitsyn, which means he’s now the Alpha Dog in Martin’s doghouse. I’d bet serious money he’ll be offloaded before the trade deadline, and it’s really to his benefit, because he will never fulfill his potential under this coach.

Also unlikely to fulfill his potential under this coach is Benoit Pouliot. He’s got top-six potential and was not drafted or projected to be a third or fourth line grinder. It’s the same with Lars Eller. Yet Martin seems to think that instant magical chemistry will develop for the second line with Travis Moen, Tom Pyatt or even Darche before it will develop with Pouliot or Eller.

Pouliot and Eller are the only two on the roster with the skill set to potentially compliment the Scott Gomez–Brian Gionta pairing. But Martin seems to have little to no faith in the two youngsters.

I thought Martin was hired in part for his ability to get the best out of young prospects and help their development. I don’t know what Martin did for Spezza, but I do see what he’s doing with these kids, and I don’t like it.

This year, goaltender Carey Price’s confidence is growing, as it should. He’s a solid goaltender who can and will morph into one of the greats as long as he doesn’t keep getting pulled in favor of his backup. That's an option Martin no longer has, thanks to the trading of Jaroslav Halak, and Price will benefit from that more than anything Martin really does.

Jacques expects too much, too soon, out of players that need nurturing, not constant punishment. Make no mistake, demoting Pouliot to the bottom two lines is not a show of confidence in his abilities.

Pouliot, to his credit, is working hard and is near the top of the league in hits, averaging three per game. He packed on 12 pounds of muscle in the offseason as his coaches asked and is more likely than not to battle for the puck to try to force a turnover. His effort and hard work are a refreshing change.

It’s not getting rewarded. I’ve never been a fan of the kid because I’ve always thought that while he had the potential, he lacked the focus and desire. I don’t really believe that anymore.

When I first started my current job, it took me weeks to find and follow the rhythm of my co-workers, to step into their groove and follow their lead. Now I do it without thinking.

If Martin wants chemistry on the second line, he might want to try giving it more than three lousy games to develop.

I’d also really like it if he’d stop playing favorites with his roster. It might not be the biggest problem the Habs have right now, but I fail to see how it helps anything to send that kind of a message.

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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.