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Friday, December 31, 2010

Montreal-Tampa: Bad Penalties Trip up Habs in Tampa

by Kamal Panesar

Last night's match between the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning got started on an interesting note with former Habs property and Hamilton Bulldogs goaltender, Cederick Desjardins, being announced as the surprise starter for the Lightning.

This was to be his first NHL game and it was against his former organization.

The Habs started things off with a bang, clearly intent on reversing their recent fortunes, when Max Pacioretty drove to the net and fired the puck from the right side. The puck went in off of Brett Clark, only 58 seconds into the game, who was trying to cover Brian Gionta.

After the goal, the teams traded power plays and the Habs' new edition, James Wizniewski, showed fans why he is so good from the point, ringing a bullet off of the post.

Tampa's Desjardins looked shaky between the pipes but settled down over the latter half of the first period.

With the Canadiens holding a 1-0 lead and doing a good job of stifling Tampa, the team proceeded to take two too many men on the ice penalties, only 45 seconds apart, handing the Bolts a 5-on-3 advantage.

Tampa made no mistake with Martin St. Louis firing one short side past Carey Price, who was cheating away from his post. That goal gave Tampa all the momentum they would need as they potted another one before the frame was over, taking a one goal lead into the intermission.

The final nail in the Habs' coffin, however, was when Steven Stamkos was awarded a penalty shot on a generous call by the ref. His spin-o-rama move fooled Price, giving Tampa a two goal lead. After that goal, the Habs seemed to give up, essentially going through the motions for the rest of the third period, unable to produce any offense.

As has become the case far too often this season, the Canadiens were simply unable to bury their chances early in the game and it came back to bite them.

Final score: Tampa 4 - Habs 1

Habs' scorers: Max Pacioretty (2)
Tampa scorers: Martin St. Louis (16), Pavel Kubina (2), Steven Stamkos (30, 31)


Game Notes

1. Wizniewski made an instant impact.

On his first shift, Wizniewski had four shots from the point—despite the official stat sheet saying he only had one—as Lars Eller and co. kept setting him up for his wicked one-timer.

On the Habs first power play of the game, 3:35 into the first, Wizniewski fired a bullet off of the post. While he didn't score, that shot illustrates exactly why the Canadiens went fishing for this player.

While Yannick Weber and P.K. Subban also have hard shots they tend to miss the net more often that not. Wizniewski not only hits the net but his shots are always two feet or less off of the ground; ideal for deflections and big rebounds.

Wizniewski also lived up to the promise of being a minute-munching defenseman, playing 21:48 of ice time, second on the Habs only to Subban's 23:27.

One game does not make a season but suffice it to say that "the Wiz" will make a difference on the Canadiens' back end.


2. Jacques Martin found some nice interesting defensive pairings.

With Josh Gorges sidelined due to injury for a second game in a row and Alexandre Picard sitting as a healthy scratch, Coach Martin had to get creative with his defense.

For the first time since taking over the helm of the Montreal Canadiens, Martin had three righties and three lefties in his arsenal. But despite this apparent boon, Martin chose to keep the two lefties together—Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek—and the two righties together—Yannick Weber and James Wizniewski.

Of course he did.

Fortunately, things worked out pretty well for the stoic coach.

Weber and Wiz looked good together despite both being right handed shooters. Moreover, they look like a pretty good combo on the first wave of the power play with both being able to fire the puck with authority from the point.

Personally, I'd still prefer to see them each paired with a lefty defender, but that's just me.

The other pairing that Martin used was Hal Gill and P.K. Subban and they also looked decent, with Gill's veteran presence seeming to calm Subban a touch. Also, given Gill's playing style and lack of speed, that is a combo that should allow Subban to focus on the offensive side of the game knowing that Gill can cover up for him. But Gill is a slow skater so there could be instances where he would be unable to cover up for Subban. This means that P.K. will have to be that much more vigilant.

Last night that wasn't the case but, depending on how long Gorges is out of the lineup, it could become a problem.

When Gorges is back in the lineup—he won't be playing against the Panthers today—you would have to think that Yannick Weber and Alexandre Picard will be the odd men out.

That is unless the coach is going to go from playing Subban a team high 23:27 to placing him in the press box again.


3. The Habs system is one-dimensional.

It is no secret that Jacques Martin is a coach who likes to employ the trap.

You know, that one-man forecheck that is meant to push the opposition to the outside only to come face-to-face with four Canadiens players in the neutral zone, forcing a turnover?

Well this system, so far this season, has only seemed to work when the Habs score the first goal of the game. Now, the Habs scored the first goal last night and still lost the game. That is because scoring first for the Habs doesn't guarantee victory, it just makes it possible.

When trailing after one period, the Habs have yet to win a game this season.

Why?

Well, if you watch Martin's strategy, he uses the one-man forecheck regardless of whether the Canadiens are winning, losing or if the game is tied. It's a passive system that relies on the counter-attack and taking advantage of mistakes, rather than pushing the play the way Tampa does.

The result is that the Canadiens continue to play defensively when trailing instead of opening things up in order to create more offense.

Last night was no different as the Canadiens, down by a goal to start the third, continued to play their passive style. The result is that the players who should be trying to score goals are too busy hoping for a turnover rather than trying to forcing one.

I have never hidden the fact that I am not a fan of Jacques Martin. I think that he is a coach who uses an antiquated system that worked better before the lockout, when there was still a red line. Now, however, it is becoming more and more obvious that it is a system that just does not work, at least not with the players he has.

I just hope that someone upstairs in Canadiens' management sees the same thing I do.


4. What purpose does Maxim Lapierre serve in the Canadiens lineup?

While Lapierre had a bad season last year, he rediscovered his game during the playoffs where he become a key cog in the Canadiens lineup. Combative, in your face, aggravating, fast, hitting players and scoring timely goals, Lapierre looked like he would be part of the core of this team for years to come.

Last year, Lapierre had a rough regular season largely because he was recovering from an ankle problem for most of the year. This year, however, Lapierre is in perfect shape and he has yet to show up for work. Averaging 11:44 of ice time per game and with eight points (5G,3A), Lapierre is simply not contributing anything on the ice.

Moreover, in the past 10 games, Lapierre has one goal and is a minus-six.

Not only is he not getting any points, but he rarely hits anyone, makes lazy defensive plays and, overall, just seems to be going through the motions. With players like Ryan White, Dustin Boyd and David Desharnais in Hamilton, I'd rather take a shot with one of them and move Lapierre out of town. I know, Boyd will never happen seeing as the team has already waived him twice, but I would still prefer to see him in the lineup than Lapierre.

Lapierre is an RFA at the end of the season and I for one would be happy to give him his walking papers. While he is not alone in his lethargy, this is a player who is doing nothing to earn another contract.


5. The Habs best players are not being their best players.

Tomas Plekanec, Michael Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn have a collective 10 goals and a minus-14 rating over the last 10 games. It is no coincidence then that the team has gone 2-8 over that same span.

Moreover, the Canadiens as a team have scored only have nine goals in the six games so far on this seven-game road trip. Worse yet, night in and night out too many players look like they are dogging it on the ice.

Benoit Pouliot, Michael Cammalleri and Maxim Lapierre among others, look disinterested most of the time, like they are just going through the motions and are simply unhappy.

Cammalleri in particular, seems to be one unhappy camper on the ice. In fact, he hasn't really been the same since Jacques Martin pulled him off of the Plekanec line at the beginning of the season and placed him with Gomez. He has three goals in the last 10 games, 12 on the season and is on pace to score 26.

That is simply not enough production out of the Habs' top sniper.

All of these problems point to a team that has or is starting to quit on their coach. Now, given how close Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin are, I think it is highly unlikely that there will be any coaching changes taking place any time soon. But with each game that goes by and each loss that piles up, the slippery slope that the Canadiens are on gets all that much more slippery.

Coaches don't tend to get fired lightly and given the track record between Gauthier and Martin, I would think the same would hold true in this case. That being said, if the Canadiens can't turn this losing streak into a winning streak pretty quickly, something's got to give.


Standings and Next Game

The loss moves the Habs' record to 20-16-2, stalled with 42 points in the standings.

Ahead of them are the Atlanta Thrashers and New York Rangers each with 46 points. The Habs have two games in hand on the Thrashers and are even with the Rangers.

Just out of reach in their division are the Bruins with two games in hand on the Canadiens and 45 points in the standings.

In the Habs' rear view mirror are the suddenly hot Carolina Hurricanes who have two games in hand and 38 points in the standings.

The Canadiens have no time to cry about spilled milk, as they are taking on the Florida Panthers at 5pm today in Sunrise. Whatever the outcome is tonight, this road trip from hell will be over and so will 2010.

So have a happy and safe new year and try to have fun, whether the Habs win or not!



(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Habs lose, post game, Stamkos, Desjardins, Wisniewski, Desharnais and more...

Post game: Tampa 4 - Habs 1
HabsAddict.com - Montreal-Tampa: Bad Penalties Trip up Habs in Tampa
http://www.habsaddict.com/2010/12/montreal-tampa-bad-penalties-trip-up.html

Habs Inside/Out - Game 38: Canadiens scorched by Lightning
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42310

Ho-hum, another L
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42402

Desjardins se paie le CH
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312360.html

TSN - STAMKOS NETS FANCY GOAL; DESJARDINS WINS DEBUT VS. HABS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=347432

ESPN.com - Steven Stamkos' four points help Lightning zap Canadiens
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=301230020


News
RDS - Wisniewski heureux d'être à Montréal
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312382.html

TSN - WISNIEWSKI HOPES TO MAKE MARK WITH HABS ON AND OFF THE ICE
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=347384

Spector's Hockey - NHL Rumors – Thursday, December 30, 2010
http://spectorshockey.net/2010/12/nhl-rumors-thursday-december-30-2010/

THN.com - THN.com Blog: The two sides of James Wisniewski
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37363-THNcom-Blog-The-two-sides-of-James-Wisniewski.html

Around The AHL: Mid-season team assessments
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37364-Around-The-AHL-Midseason-team-assessments.html

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Habs/Bolts preview, Hart trophy tracker, Gorges, Wisniewski makes debut...

Pregame: Habs @ Lightning
Habs Inside/Out - First of two in sunny FLA
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42307

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

ESPN.com - Canadiens-Lightning Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=301230020


News
Habs Inside/Out - Wisniewski - The view from Long Island
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42306

RDS - Gorges voulait jouer malgré sa blessure
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312346.html

ESPN.com - Tracking the Hart Candidates
http://espn.go.com/nhl/trophytracker

THN.com - VIDEO: Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec emerging as Vezina candidate after scary start to season
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37344-VIDEO-Thrashers-goalie-Ondrej-Pavelec-emerging-as-Vezina-candidate-after-scary-start-to-season.html

International Scouting Services Blog: Early thoughts from the World Junior Championship
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37343-International-Scouting-Services-Blog-Early-thoughts-from-the-World-Junior-Championship.html

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Montreal-Washington: Semyon Varlamov Shuts the Door for the Win

by Kamal Panesar

They say that hockey is a game of errors.

When you're playing well you're able to cover up your mistakes, but when you're playing poorly the mistakes seem amplified and are almost the only thing you see.

This adage holds true too for the Montreal Canadiens who suddenly find themselves hanging on the eight overall in the Northeast, while enduring their worst skid of the season. And, while the Washington Capitals had recently overcome an eight game losing streak, they look last night like they are have put things back together.

If there were any doubts about Caps' goaltender Semyon Varlamov, he flashed the leather and blocker on a handful of quality scoring chances as the Habs went to work on the power play only 23 seconds into the game.

The Habs actually had two PP opportunities before the game was five minutes old, but were unable to capitalize and struggled to maintain any pressure. After killing off both first period penalties, the penalty pendulum swung in the Caps' direction, and applied a ton of pressure in the Habs zone as a result.

The Canadiens' PK continued to excel—the Habs shut down eight Washington man-advantages last night—as they collapsed down low around Carey Price who was the Habs best penalty killer.

Once the Caps got on the PP they grabbed the momentum and ran with it.

As has become the case far too often this season the Canadiens spent far too much time in the penalty box, playing a full 16 minutes shorthanded. On the other special teams department the Habs power play was abysmal last night, whiffing on all five PPs with nary a scoring chance to show for it.

The Canadiens were also dominated in the faceoff circle winning only 16 of 52 draws. This meant that they spent a good portion of the night chasing the puck rather than pushing the play.

Ultimately, Varlamov played an excellent game and the Habs were unable to produce any offense, getting shutout for the fifth time this season as a result. The Canadiens have been shut out the second most times in the league so far this season, tied with San Jose.

Oddly, all of the shutouts have been 3-0 decisions.

Final score: Caps 3 - Habs 0

Habs' scorers: None
Caps' scorers: Jay Beagle (2), Mike Green (7), Alex Ovechkin (14)

Three stars: 1. Semyon Varlamov, 2. Jay Beagle, 3. Mike Green


Game Notes

1. P.K. Subban had an up and down game.

Subban started the game on the right foot, playing an aggressive, combative brand of in-your-face hockey that we haven't seen him play since the beginning of the season. In addition, he looked great on the penalty kill sacrificing his body by diving to block a shot in the dying seconds and coming up limping as a result.

Subban also checked Jason Chimera to the ice in the first period, after he had clearly done something to offend him, and stood over the fallen Cap talking smack.

Unfortunately, that is where the good part of his night ended for the young defenseman who has yet to learn how to pick his spots.

Going for the big hit with time running out in the first period, P.K. completely missed, falling to the ice and out of position. Then to compound his error, he dogged it coming back to the defensive zone, leaving the back door open for Mike Green to put it past Price making it 2-0 with 38 seconds to play in the first.

That is exactly the type of play that drives Jacques Martin crazy and why the coach has a recent tenancy to put Subban in the press box.

It's great to see Subban playing with an edge and trying to be dynamic, but overdoing it on the ice never produces good results.

Subban had several sequences, most notably while the team was playing shorthanded, where he dove unnecessarily trying to break up a play. These are exactly the type of plays that Subban has to eliminate for his repertoire. Moreover, if he's not going to eliminate them he has to at least learn how to pick his spots.

Simplify, young one, and all will go well for you.


2. Defensive errors were the catch of the day.

The Canadiens are still turning the puck over and missing assignments far too often.

On the first goal, Alexandre Picard was soft covering Beagle as he swooped out in front of the net. Picard's weak play allowed the Caps' player to turn and fire a backhander over Price.

Now, we can debate whether Price should have been down on his knees or not but ultimately, Picard should have smothered the Caps' player. Beagle should never have been able to get off such a good, clear shot from eight feet in front of Price.

On the second goal, Subban picked a bad time to go for a big, low-percentage hit. His miss setup a gap within which the Caps could pass the puck for the backdoor goal by Mike Green.

These two players were not alone in their errors but the Habs defense, as a whole, is making far too many mistakes and costly turnovers.

The Habs are 2-7 in their last nine games. Over that span, their defensive players are a collective minus-27. Their individual plus/minus stats break down as follows over the last nine games:

Alexandre Picard - minus-6 (over nine games)
P.K. Subban - minus-7 (over six games)
Jaroslav Spacek - minus-2 (over nine games)
Roman Hamrlik - minus-4 (over nine games)
Josh Gorges - minus-2 (over eight games)
Hal Gill - minus-2 (over nine games)
Yannick Weber - minus-4 (over four games)

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the defense, and by extension the team, is struggling five-on-five.


3. Jacques Martin needs to put the PHD line back together.

Lars Eller is a great prospect and should develop into a solid player in the future. The problem is that the Habs need results and offensive contributions from their bottom-six now.

As I stated a few games ago, it is high time that Jacques Martin reunited his early season spark plug; Jeff Halpern, Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche.

Eller has exactly six points and a minus-1 rating over the 36 games he has played. In addition, he has zero points and a minus-3 rating over the last nine games he has played. As with the defensemen, this pointless streak coincides exactly with the Canadiens' worst nine-game stretch of the season.

Eller has shifts where he looks good on the ice and is making some interesting plays but ultimately he isn't producing any points and the Canadiens need offense.

With the Canadiens mired in a 2-7 skid, they badly need secondary scoring help and the Halpern, Pouliot, Darche combination is Martin's best bet. Put them back together, get back to what was at one point working and see what they can produce.


4. The Habs PK is good but their PP is horrible again.

Let's face it, the longer the season goes the more the Canadiens miss Andrei Markov.

Their power play, which at one point was at the bottom of the league, has shown certain signs of life and has moved to 13th overall. That being said, it continues to fail them when the need it most, notably going 0-fer in losses to the Stars, Islanders and Caps.

A power play goal in any of those three games could have changed the outcome.

Last night, down by two goals with about six minutes to play in the second period, the Habs got their third PP of the game. Needless to say, scoring a goal at that juncture was paramount.

Unfortunately, not only were the Habs unable to score but they struggled to even get the puck into the Caps' zone. Moreover, when they did get into the Caps' zone Weber and Subban, the PP triggermen, struggled and seemed to panic every time they had the puck.

It seems like both players want to score so badly that they rush plays, shooting the puck without a clear lane to the net and without traffic in front of the opposing goaltender. As a result, they are often missing the net—Subban more than Weber—hitting the defender with the puck instead of getting it to the net and causing turnovers.

If the Canadiens were able to score on any of their power plays up to the end of the second period, they would have immediately been back in the game. This is part of the Habs' game that they must absolutely get rolling in order to have success.

Watching the Habs' futility on the PP last night it becomes apparent why GM Pierre Gauthier went out and traded for James Wisniewski. With a blistering shot from the point, 21 points (3G, 18A) in 32 games, 13 points (3G, 10A) on the PP and averaging 23:15 of ice time per game, his arrival in the Habs' lineup could not have come at a better time.


5. Carey Price played a stupendous game.

Making save after save, Price was once again the only reason this game wasn't over early. The Caps didn't exactly outshoot the Habs by a huge margin (30-25) but they easily out chanced them 2-1 and Price was there to hold the fort.

Stopping 27 of the 29 shots thrown his way—the 30th shot was into an empty net—Price finished the night with a sparkling .931 save percentage. That is much better than the 0.859 save percentage he has had over his last seven starts.

Unfortunately, the Canadiens didn't give him any offensive support but if they are going to rediscover their winning ways they will need Price to continue playing like he did last night. The margins of error for this team are slight and a top power play, top penalty kill and outstanding goaltending are the paths to salvation.

Their PK seems to be on point and hopefully the addition of Wisniewski will help the PP.

If Price can continue playing like he did last night, he'll be doing his part.


Standings and Next Game

The loss extends the Habs skid to two games and they are now 8-11 since dropping a 3-0 decision to the Nashville Predators.

The Canadiens are stalled in eight place overall in the Northeast division with 42. Ahead of them are the Thrashers, Rangers and Bruins (first overall in the Northeast) each with 44 points in the standings. The Habs have two games in hand on the Thrashers, are even with the Rangers and have played two more games than the Bruins.

The Canadiens have a nice six-point cushion over the ninth place Hurricanes who have two games in hand. The Habs are now 1-4 on this season long seven game road trip and are on a bit of a slippy slope right now. While they do have a buffer over the Hurricanes they need to start putting some points on the board quickly. A few more losses in a row could see them slide out of the playoff picture while a few wins could propel them back to the top of the Northeast Division.

Montreal will now travel to Tampa to take on the Lightning on Thursday evening. Newly acquired defenseman, James Wisniewski, will make his debut in a Habs uniform against the Bolts.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Habs lose, post game, Habs acquire Wisniewski and more...

Post game: Caps 3 - Habs 0
HabsAddict.com - Montreal-Washington: Semyon Varlamov Shuts the Door for the Win
http://www.habsaddict.com/2010/12/montreal-washington-semyon-varlamov.html

Habs Inside/Out - Game 37: Capitals exact a measure of revenge
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42190

Gorges's ironman streak ends at 150 games
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42193

Kerouac had more fun
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42304

RDS - Autre match à oublier
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312291.html

TSN - VARLAMOV GETS SHUTOUT, OVECHKIN SCORES AS CAPS BLANK HABS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=347136

ESPN.com - Caps continue turnaround as Alex Ovechkin backs Semyon Varlamov's shutout
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=301228023


News
HabsAddict.com - Habs press release - Canadiens acquire Wisniewski
http://www.habsaddict.com/2010/12/habs-press-release-montreal-acquires.html

RDS - James Wisniewski s'amène à Montréal
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312315.html

TSN - HABS ACQUIRE DEFENCEMAN WISNIEWSKI FROM ISLANDERS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=347111

The Hockey News - THN.com Blog: Sutter's loyalty his undoing in Calgary
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37319-THNcom-Blog-Sutters-loyalty-his-undoing-in-Calgary.html

THN.com Blog: Nothing like hockey on the backyard rink
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37315-THNcom-Blog-Nothing-like-hockey-on-the-backyard-rink.html

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Habs Press Release - Montreal Acquires James Wisniewski

CANADIENS ACQUIRE DEFENSEMAN JAMES WISNIEWSKI FROM THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS IN RETURN FOR A COMPENSATORY SECOND ROUND PICK IN 2011 AND A CONDITIONAL FIFTH ROUND PICK IN 2012

MONTREAL (December 28, 2010) – Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier announced today that the team acquired defenseman James Wisniewski from the New York Islanders, in return for a compensatory second round pick in 2011, and a conditional fifth round pick in 2012. Wisniewski is scheduled to join the team on Wednesday in Tampa Bay.

Wisniewski, 26, played in 32 of the Islanders’ 34 games thus far this season. He leads the team defensemen in scoring (18th in the NHL) with 21 points (3 goals, 18 assists) while averaging 23:14 of time on ice. He also registered 71 shots on goal, tallied three powerplay goals and amassed 18 penalty minutes. The 5’11 and 208 lbs defenseman registered a point in his last five games (1-4-5). He also recorded a point in his first seven games of the season (2 goals, 9 assists).

Since he first joined the NHL back in 2005-06, Wisniewski recorded a total of 118 points (20 goals, 98 assists) in 286 regular season games with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Anaheim Ducks and the New York Islanders. He also registered 468 shots on goal and scored seven powerplay goals. Wisniewski added three points (1-2-3) and 16 shots on goal in 12 playoff games with the Ducks in 2009.

A native of Canton, Michigan, Wisniewski was a fifth-round selection, 156th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

Wisniewski played his junior hockey with the Plymouth Whalers in the Ontario Hockey League between 2000 and 2004. Following the 2003-04 season when he recorded 70 points in 50 regular season games (17 goals, 53 assists), he was selected to the OHL and the Canadian Hockey League First All-Star Teams, and was named the OHL and the CHL Defenseman of the Year. He also represented the United States at the World Junior Championships in 2003 and 2004.

The Team 990's Sunday Shinny - Episode 3 - December 19, 2010

Nick Murdocco, Gary Whittaker, Amanda Stein and Kamal Panesar welcome amateur scout, Rick Springhetti, to the the studio to talk Habs and hockey.



Click play below to listen in (54:39 listening time).

The Team 990's Sunday Shinny - Episode 2 - December 12, 2010

Gary Whittaker, Nick Murdocco, Amanda Stein and Kamal Panesar discuss the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL, including Linus Omark's brilliant shootout goal.



Click play below to listen in (39:26 listening time).

The Team 990's Sunday Shinny - Episode 1 - December 05, 2010

In episode 1 of The Sunday Shinny, The Team 990's Gary Whittaker, Nick Murdocco and Amanda Stein welcome Kamal Panesar as a regular contributor to the show.

The team discuss Scott Gomez's lethary, P.K. Subban, Carey Price and more...

Click play below to listen in (41:54 listening time).

Habs/Caps preview, Subban and Plekanec fight, great moments of 2010 and more...

Pregame: Habs @ Caps
Habs Inside/Out - Good morning, eighth place
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42188

Habs fall five spots during flight
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42187

Habs not on their way just yet...
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42185

Caps turning season around
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42186

RDS - Journée tourmentée pour le Canadien
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312253.html

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

ESPN.com - Canadiens-Capitals Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=301228023


News
TSN - HABS' SUBBAN DOWNPLAYS SCUFFLES WITH TEAMMATES AT PRACTICE
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=346998

The Hockey News - THN.com Blog: Puzzling pieces around hockey
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37292-THNcom-Blog-Puzzling-pieces-around-hockey.html

THN Puck Panel – Great hockey moments from 2010
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37298-THN-Puck-Panel-Great-hockey-moments-from-2010.html

Rumor Roundup: Fanning the trade flames
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37293-Rumor-Roundup-Fanning-the-trade-flames.html

Habs Future
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42183

Spector's Hockey - NHL Rumors – December 28, 2010
http://spectorshockey.net/2010/12/nhl-rumors-december-28-2010/

Monday, December 27, 2010

Montreal Canadiens: Has the Habs' Bubble Finally Burst?

by Tyg

The Montreal Canadiens had a great start to their season but it seems that lately, they are having trouble managing .500 hockey. I guess that’s partly my fault because I griped about it for weeks and I feel like they’re fast becoming a bubble team again.

Going into last night’s game, I sort of expected a loss.

The Habs had barely scraped out a win against Carolina, and lately they tend to drop the next game rather than go on a tear. On top of that, the Islanders had just won a couple of games and I expected them to come out confident and pumped, which they did.

It’s the intangibles that are killing the Canadiens right now and I don’t pretend to understand a lot of them. Perhaps someone could help me out here with a few things.


Effort

Remember last year when Andrei Markov complained that they had to play for the full 60 minutes as opposed to just part of the game? Remember how Brian Gionta pointed out that there were times when they sat back on their heels and got into trouble?

The Habs seemed to remember those hard-learned lessons back in October and November. Sure they still had off-nights but there were also times that after an intermission they emerged re-focused, came out hard and played some good hockey to grab the two points.

I don’t know where that team went. I haven’t seen them at all this month.

This current Habs team mails it in more often than not.

There are always exceptions like Tomas Plekanec, but a lot of the time most of the team takes the night off as opposed to just one or two individuals not having their minds or hearts on the game.

Does that happen with other teams too?

Do they all go AWOL at the same time for 40 minutes, showing up only to play for the first part of the second period and once the panic finally sets in, for the last ten minutes of the third period?


Coaching and Leadership

There are some benefits to Jacques Martin’s system though there are some serious downsides to it as well. Puck possession and speed are supposed to be the hallmarks of this Canadiens team and there are have been nights when they have played to those strengths.

Last night was not one of those nights and before post-game interviews were even conducted I predicted on twitter what the head coach would say about the game. I pretty much nailed it.

Martin’s actual quotes were: “lacked intensity”; “too many turnovers in the neutral zone”; “too many penalties and a lack of discipline”. None of this is new or unexpected.

What is troubling is that almost half-way through the season, Martin still can’t seem to fix it.

If one of the kids has a bad night, he gets sent to the press box for a game or two. I can understand why the veterans are exempt from this treatment. I just don’t see how the “Pick a Player to Scapegoat” helps out the team spirit any, or benefits the player.

This "be-perfect-or-else" pressure is not an effective teaching tool. It didn’t work last season either but Martin seems to think it’s the way to go though.

Another problem is the constant line shuffling—which Martin mercifully seems to have stopped with the top two lines—is now going on with the bottom two lines. It didn’t work before, but Jacques is a "never say die" kind of coach once he gets an idea in his head.

Remember the PhD line?

The Habs former third line was a strong offensive threat which bailed out the team when the Gomez line was foundering early in the season.

It was a north-south line that played hard and smart at both ends of the ice, and delivered some timely goals. Since it’s been torn apart Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche have contributed little offensively, and Benoit Pouliot is playing so poorly he’s been sent to the press box.

Martin found his lightning in a bottle and stumbled upon a truly effective third line, but he won’t use it. Since his team clearly has trouble scoring goals I don’t understand his logic behind this decision either.

Has the head coach lost the room? Is the lauded leadership group not getting it done anymore? These boys lack more than discipline, intensity and focus that Jacques Martin cannot seem to inspire within them.

The team spirit the Canadiens had in abundance at the beginning of the year is nowhere to be found and that, more than anything, troubles me right now.


Defense

P.K. Subban has made some egregious errors and so has Alexandre Picard, but the fact is these kinks needed to be worked out now and not towards the end of the season.

That means they both need ice time.

But there is something Jacques can and will not do to offset their ability to commit these errors, and that is pair them with a veteran mentor.

Why is Jacques so reluctant to break apart the Hal Gill and Josh Gorges pairing and allow them to back up their shakier teammates? Subban is fast enough to offset Gill and Gorges is solid enough to help out Picard with his foolish decision-making.

The Subban-Picard duo is simply ridiculous and has cost the team games, so why won’t Jacques change it? For a defensive-minded coach, he’s chooses to take a risk by continuing to pair these two.


Goaltending

No, Carey Price’s stats are nowhere near as impressive in December as they were in October and November, but did anyone really think they would be?

I didn’t.

Martin’s system counts on a goaltender playing out of his mind. That means that Price has to shoulder a lot of the load, just as Jaroslav Halak did during the playoffs last year.

The Habs scored one goal last night.

That means in order to win, Price had to deliver a shutout while being hung out to dry by a D corp that continued to break down in front of him. That is completely unrealistic and the fact that he did it for the first two months may have led to the expectation that he could continue to do so for the entire season.

Like every other goaltender in the league, Price needs offensive and defensive support to be effective. He’s not the reason the Habs lost the game last night, and I don’t believe he’s the reason the Habs have lost any game this season.


Offense

There are too many nights the Habs simply cannot complete a tape-to-tape pass, the forwards can’t hit an open net with a flashing neon sign, and when no one other than Mathieu Darche or Max Pacioretty will go within ten feet of the blue paint.

Dwayne Roloson, like a lot of the goaltenders the Habs have faced lately, was good last night when he had to be. But there were also times when it was clear he got lucky he wasn’t facing the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Montreal’s forwards lack finish but they also lack commitment, determination and some good old fashioned grit. They rush into the offensive zone and take hurried, low percentage shots from the perimeter.

This is almost amusing to watch because it’s largely the same strategy that Martin has his defenseman employ to keep opposing teams from getting good clean shots at Carey Price.

It doesn’t work for the opposition any more than it works for the Habs. The difference is that the other team will adjust and take the punishment to get past our defense corps, outskate them, go to the blue paint and beat Price.

The Montreal forwards rarely do the same.

Instead they try for the perfect shot, the fancy play and allow themselves to get pressured off the puck. And before someone cites that they’re too small to play allow me to point out that Brian Gionta can and does win puck battles, and Mike Cammalleri almost never does.

It’s the size of the fight in the dog and lately the Habs forwards have none. Roloson gave the Habs some good chances last night, as did the netminders before him.

I don’t think this team has to be a bubble team. They proved as much during the first two months of this season. I think sometimes they choose to be, and I really don’t understand why.

Do you?

---
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, Pacioretty, around the league and more...

Post game: Isles 4 - Habs 1
Habs Inside/Out - Game 36: Habs snowed under by Isles
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42076

Boxing Day KO
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42181

RDS - Emporté par la tempête
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312219.html

TSN - ISLANDERS BEAT CANADIENS TO WIN THIRD STRAIGHT
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=346934

ESPN.com - Dwayne Roloson makes 37 saves as Islanders win in front of tiny crowd
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=301226012


News
Spector's Hockey - Post-Christmas Rumor Roundup – December 27, 2010
http://spectorshockey.net/2010/12/post-christmas-rumor-roundup-december-27-2010/

THN.com Blog: Puzzling pieces around hockey
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37292-THNcom-Blog-Puzzling-pieces-around-hockey.html

THN.com Blog: NHL backup far from easy
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37271-THNcom-Blog-NHL-backup-far-from-easy.html

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Habs/Isles preview, Darche, Habs goalies, World Junior Tournament and more...

Pregame: Habs @ Isles
Habs Inside/Out - Season resumes
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42072

RDS - Le CH doit se méfier des Islanders
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312219.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=301226012


News
M. Darche célèbre enfin Noël à Montréal
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312197.html

Le CH marqué du sceau des gardiens
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312149.html

The Hockey News - THN.com Blog: Good deeds carried out by pro hockey teams
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37275-THNcom-Blog-Good-deeds-carried-out-by-pro-hockey-teams.html

World Junior Tournament Tracker
http://forecaster.thehockeynews.com/hockeynews/hockey/tournament.cgi?wjc2011

Saturday, December 25, 2010

He Said/She Said, Habs wishlist, Lucic, Pronger, and more...

News
HabsAddict.com - He Said/She Said: A Holiday Wishlist for the Montreal Canadiens
http://www.habsaddict.com/2010/12/he-saidshe-said-holiday-wishlist-for.html

He Said: A Holiday Wishlist for the Montreal Canadiens
http://aa.habsaddict.com/2010/12/he-said-holiday-wishlist-for-montreal.html

She Said: A Holiday Wishlist for the Montreal Canadiens
http://aa.habsaddict.com/2010/12/she-said-holiday-wishlist-for-montreal.html

Habs Inside/Out - Deepest sympathies to ex-Habs C Turgeon
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42071

The Hockey News - THN.com Blog: Four WJC European prospects worth watching
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37246-THNcom-Blog-Four-WJC-European-prospects-worth-watching.html

ESPN.com - In the Crease: Confusing Flyers situation
http://sports.espn.go.com/fantasy/hockey/fhl/story?page=inthecrease101221

Thin Blue Line: Life without Pronger
http://sports.espn.go.com/fantasy/hockey/fhl/story?page=thinblueline101222

Logan Couture becoming reliable part of San Jose Sharks' lineup
http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/2843/logan-couture-becoming-reliable-part-of-san-jose-sharks-lineup

Tracking the Hart Candidates
http://espn.go.com/nhl/trophytracker

TSN - BRUINS' LUCIC TO HAVE HEARING FOR PUNCHING MEYER
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=346774

He Said/She Said: A Holiday Wishlist for the Montreal Canadiens

by Kamal Panesar

Happy holidays fellow Habs addicts! I hope that you are all enjoying the holiday season and that you all have a fantastic New Year's too!

With the holidays on their minds, Tyg and Willey thought it would be a good time to put together their holiday wishlists. But not just any wishlist. In the latest edition of He Said/She Said, they have put together their holiday wishlist for the Montreal Canadiens.

I'm sure you all know what you want for the Montreal Canadiens, so read below and let them know what you think!

He Said: A Holiday Wishlist for the Montreal Canadiens by Willey
http://aa.habsaddict.com/2010/12/he-said-holiday-wishlist-for-montreal.html

She Said: A Holiday Wishlist for the Montreal Canadiens by Tyg
http://aa.habsaddict.com/2010/12/she-said-holiday-wishlist-for-montreal.html

He Said: A Holiday Wishlist for the Montreal Canadiens

by Willey

My wife and I were sitting on the coach this week watching one of our favorite holiday movies, "A Wonderful Life", while discussing the Christmas season.

My wife and I have been together for 13 years and over that time we have seen our lifestyle evolve quite drastically. In the beginning it was all about trying to impress with both romantic and extravagant gifts to the point now where we are pretty much not buying anything for each other, but rather buying a joint gift for the house.

I am telling you this so as to get an understanding of the moment when out of the blue she turns to me and asks one simple thing, “What do you want for Christmas?”

I was certainly taken back by this as I have not heard these words for quite some time. Since moving to the Tampa Bay area seems very unlikely and since a 3,000 square foot home in the “L section” of Brossard is currently out of my price range, I could only think of a few things.

The first was the health of my family, the second was to see a smile on my daughter’s face as she opens her Christmas morning gifts and the final thing was change to my beloved Montreal Canadiens.

I am assuming that you really don’t want to me to go on and on about what gifts I have bought for my family, although I could be wrong, so allow me the opportunity to expand on the Habs.

The way I see it my wish list is three fold: First, I want to get a premier top-three forward with size, skill and toughness. Second, a true rough and tumble stay-at-home defensemen and finally a fourth line with an identity.


Top Line Winger

In 2010 the Montreal Canadiens went to the Eastern Conference Finals primarily by riding the coat tails of a goaltender playing absolutely possessed; combined with timely goal scoring and a superb shot blocking performance by the entire d-core.

Despite this success, however, the lack of physicality on the offensive side of the puck ultimately led to a five game defeat at the hands of the much bigger and tougher Philadelphia Flyers.

I know that this hardly comes hot off the presses because as long as I can remember we have all been complaining about a lack of size with our forward unit. I do, however, ask why nothing has ever been done about this problem?

Despite the common knowledge of what this organization is lacking, a collective decision is made year in and year out to simply draft the top player on the list. This means drafting guys like David Fischer ahead of guys like Nick Foligno or Milan Lucic or drafting Andrei Kostitsyn ahead of players like Ryan Getzlaf or Jeff Carter.

Instead or drafting for size, we bring in players who are past their prime and asked to carry larger roles than their bodies will allow. In the past 10 years this list includes the likes of Trevor Linden, Randy Mckay, Radek Bonk and Bryan Smolinski. The list does not end there however. Who can forget Pierre Dagenais, Jason Ward and Chad Kilger; none of which are even in the league today.

So where do we go from here?

Although I have had my doubts about Pierre Gauthier, I truly believe that we will see him address this issue once and for all. The Habs went to the ECF in 2010 and now a third of the way through the season find themselves atop the NorthEast division. What this translates in to is a team on the cusp of doing good things, assuming the right nucleus is in place.

It is a time in which the organization must make the switch from refusing to give up good young players to making that big push. It is time to bring in that big power forward, despite the high cost associated with him.

In short it is time to bring in Jarome Iginla.

There is really no need to explain why Iginla should be the Habs prime target. He is a leader who plays with his heart on his sleeve, he backs down from no one and despite being in his mid 30’s still has some good years ahead of him. In essence he is exactly what the Habs need.

It is unlikely that Calgary would want to part with the face of their franchise but with their struggles on the ice and with a system which is practically void of any and all future stars, now may just be the time to pull off a trade.


A Stay-at-Home Defenseman

Our d-core currently has a good combination of grizzled veterans and young up-and-comers alike. For every 35-plus year old Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik there is a 24 year old or younger Alex Picard, P.K. Subban or Yannick Weber.

Since the departure of Mike Komisarek however, this d-core has been missing a true stay-at-home defenseman who also possess’ the ability to strike fear in the opposition. A player who makes you keep your head up while crossing the blue line and who will clear the front of the net if you dare try to screen the goalie.

Lucky for the Habs, the team now has some much needed cap relief as a result of the injury to Andrei Markov—he is on the Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR)—in a time where the league is full of soon to be UFA players. Guys like Bryan McCabe, Shane O’Brien, Ed Jovonowski and many more players with contracts set to expire playing on teams that are under-performing and on the outside looking into the playoff picture.

On a personal level, I think the selection comes down to two players.

Although I know the operator of Habsaddict.com, Mr. Kamal Panesar is not a fan of the guy; my first selection is Kevin Bieksa.

Perhaps due to my overall man-crush I have long been a Bieksa fan. He is the type of player who can play physical, stick up for teammates or provide a steady presence on the power play when called upon to do so, and most importantly provide a right handed shot.

Now I am the first to admit that his game has slipped somewhat after suffering multiple injuries the past couple of seasons, but given the fact that his contract is expiring at season's end and that the Canucks face cap restraints, he is the type of player I would be willing to take a chance on.

The second player I would target is once again from the Calgary Flames; Robyn Regher. Although Regher doesn't drop the gloves with regularity he is the ultimate playoff warrior. He is a guy who slams bodies, crushes players with thunderous hits along the boards and yet has the presence of mind not put his team in penalty trouble.

Like Bieksa, he is far from being a No.1 d-man on any team but given the current make-up of our D-core, he would be an ideal compliment to a veteran group.

Choosing between Bieksa and Regher ultimately comes down to how much you are willing to give up; an answer only Gauthier can provide.


A Momentum-Changing Fourth Line

When I think of any hockey team I think of defined roles for each of the four lines. The first two lines are your scoring lines, the third line is a defensive line and your fourth line is a momentum-changing line.

I may be an odd-ball, but since I was a kid I have always been able to relate to the fourth line pluggers of the team. I have always been drawn to the Scotty Thornton’s or Darren McCarty’s of the league.

When it comes to the Montreal Canadiens, however, I am just confused.

At center is it Lars Eller or Jeff Halpern? What about the left wing, is it Travis Moen, Tom Pyatt or even Benoit Pouliot? Is Lapierre on the third line or does that position belong to Mathieu Darche?

The fourth line lacks an identity and that pains me.

It is time to ice a fourth line consisting of some big bodies whose sole purpose is to go out and hit, hit, hit. We need guys like Moen, Ryan White and Maxim Lapierre who are all physical, defensively reliable but who can chip in with the odd goal.


How do I see my roster coming to fruition?

So I have given you all my wish list for this holiday season, the question now remains on how I see this coming to pass?

Let me say that I have no idea what goes on behind the closed doors of the GM offices so to come straight out and say this and this player will get you that player almost seems counterproductive. Suffice it to say that landing the likes of an Iginla and a Regher would certainly come with a hefty price tag.

With that being said here is what I propose:

Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regher and David Moss traded to the Montreal Canadiens. In exchange Mr. Pierre Gauthier sends Andrei Kostitsyn, Danny Kristo, Ben Maxwell, Yannick Weber, Josh Gorges and a 1st round pick in 2011 and a 2nd rounder in 2012.

We are giving up top-six talent and players who can fill the Flames roster today and for the future, in exchange for a cup run for the Habs today.

My roster as of January 1st will be as follows:

Mike Cammalleri-Tomas Plekanec-Jarome Iginla
Max Pacioretty-Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta
Benoit Pouliot-Lars Eller-David Moss
Travis Moen-Jeff Halpern-Maxim Lapierre

Robyn Regher-PK Subban
Roman Hamrlik-Jaroslav Spacek
Hal Gill-Alex Picard

Althoughi must admit that I would still inquire about another #6 dman with size to go alongside Gill.


Read the She Said counter-point.

---
Willey was the shinning light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé, Olé, Olé!

She Said: A Holiday Wishlist for the Montreal Canadiens

by Tyg

In case you’ve missed it, the holiday season is nigh upon us and while I have a whole list of things I want for myself, I also have a list of things I want for my favorite team – the Montreal Canadiens.

Santa, are you paying attention?


A Puck-Moving, Minute-Munching, Big-Bodied Defenseman

Ideally the Habs need someone who can hit one of their forwards with a pass, split a seam or two and not get caught flat-footed. They had that in Andrei Markov, but he’s out for the season and I want a replacement.

P.K. Subban is still going through too many growing pains to carry Markov’s load. Meanwhile Roman Hamrlik can’t get it all done by himself, continue to compensate for the erratic Jaroslav Spacek and still be fresh for the playoffs.


A New Coach

I’ll admit I wasn’t going to include this on the list, but I just finished watching HBO’s 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic which had a nice look at Pittsburgh Penguins’ Head Coach Dan Bylsma, and the contrast between him and the Habs’ Jacques Martin is harsh and unflattering to the latter.

Bylsma is approachable and positive. Martin is reserved and, at best, neutral. Bylsma is a forward thinker who engages with his players. Martin is very much old-school in his thinking and not only does he fail to engage with his players, he tends to punish them the way a parent would a child, for any infractions.

I think like everything else, the sport of hockey is evolving and changing and sooner rather than later teams will seek out coaches more like Bylsma and less like Martin.

That’s great for the sport but right now not so good for the Habs.

I know the Habs have had a lot of rotation in their coaching staff over the last decade and they’re coming off their deepest playoff run in 17 years, but there’s a reason why Martin has never won a Stanley Cup.

The Canadiens are very good this year and a lot of that is because of Martin’s system. But not all of it is, and I think under someone like Bylsma this team would be a lot better off.


Much Better Effort and Focus

After the loss to the Colorado Avalanche last night, Josh Gorges went on record as saying that the Habs didn’t play consistently for the first 40 minutes of the game. It’s not the first time one of the players has sung this particular tune after a loss, but I would dearly love it to be the last.

While on the subject of focus, I’d like to include a plug for the end of late-period goals against and the constant turnovers the Habs tend to give up. They’re second in the NHL right now in terms of coughing up the puck, and if it weren’t for Carey Price and some lucky bounces they’d be in some pretty hot water right now.


Reunite the Formerly Effective Third Line

I’m not sure why Martin found it necessary to split up two lines that were working.

The first was the Tomas Plekanec – Mike Cammalleri – Andrei Kostitsyn line that has only just lately been reunited and is getting back to its normal level of production.

The other was the PhD line, comprised of Jeff Halpern, Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche. While Pouliot has still done well with Lars Eller, he looked more solid to me when paired with the two veterans.

When the second line anchored by Scott Gomez was having problems, it was the PhD line that stepped up and provided some timely goals. Breaking apart this trio has only reduced secondary scoring and provided no discernible benefit.


A 25th Stanley Cup

Yes, I saved my biggest request for last. I’ve been incredibly good this year. I just hope the Habs are too.


Read the He Said counter point.


---
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.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Montreal-Carolina: Habs Capitalize on Second Period Penalty to Down Canes

by Kamal Panesar

Last night the Montreal Canadiens were in Carolina for their third game of seven on this end-of-year road trip that has so far proved to be fruitless.

The Canadiens were coming off of a loss in Dallas and back-to-back losses for only the third time this season, and were 1-5 in their previous six games. So, with the city of Montreal getting dangerously close to pushing the panic button, it was time for the Habs to turn things around.

Montreal started the game strong with their first two lines creating some nice scoring chances before the two minute mark of the game. Hal Gill set the tone when he played the role of brick wall, knocking Tuomo Ruutu to the ice early in the game.

The hit sent a message that the Canadiens came to play.

The Habs were much more active in the neutral zone and had a much smoother transition game than they have displayed over their last two contest. Moreover, it really looked like their day off—coach Martin gave them a day off rather than practicing them the day before—did wonders for the team. The rejuvenated squad used their speed to attack the Canes' zone creating several quality scoring opportunities in the process.

Despite their strong play, however, Montreal fell behind while on the power play when Roman Hamrlik whiffed on a defensive zone clearing attempt. Hamrlik's bothced clearing attempt set up an awkward rush for the Canes and Chad LaRose, left uncovered by Yannick Weber, put it past Price to make it 1-0.

Scott Gomez got that one back about three and a half minutes later when he took a Hamrlik pass, split the D and put the puck five-hole on Ward.

The back-and-forth game continued with the Canes taking the lead in the second despite the Habs dominating play. Hamrlik was again the culprit as he missed his assignment while his partner, Jaroslav Spacek, decided to go for the puck rather than the man. The result was that Eric Cole was able to get to the front of the net and shoot the puck past Price unmolested, to make it 2-1 Canes.

The turning point of the game, however, took place only nine seconds after Cole had put the Canes ahead. On the ensuing shift, Cole slammed Spacek into the boards from behind, earning himself a five minute major. On the power play, Andrei Kostitsyn scored his 10th of the season from the slot to tie it at two.

The Canadiens then took the lead 2:03 later, still on the power play, when Alexandre Picard fired a bullet past Ward to make it 3-2 Montreal.

Special teams were key as the Habs went 2-for-5 with the man-advantage and shut down all three Canes' PPs. With the Habs leading by one, they sat back in the third and allowed the Canes to blitz the Canadiens' zone. Carey Price was equal to the challenge, however, holding the fort for a well needed win.

Final score: Habs 3 - Canes 2

Habs' scorers: Scott Gomez (5), Andrei Kostitsyn (10), Alexandre Picard (3)
Canes' scorers: Chad LaRose (7), Eric Cole (7)

Three stars: 1. Scott Gomez, 2. Jaroslav Spacek, 3. Chad LaRose


Game Notes

1. Price again let in one soft goal.

Price is still playing good hockey but no longer seems to have that laser-point focus that he had only a month ago.

At the beginning of the season Price seemed almost impervious to distractions on the ice. Lately, however, he seems bothered and even occasionally reverts to looking at his defensemen after a goal gets past him, a behaviour that he tends to exhibit when he is not in top form.

Moreover, word from practice is that Price does not look as comfortable as he did a few weeks ago and maybe even seems a bit frustrated.

Now in Price's defense, the team has been playing horribly in front of him for the past few weeks and while he likely could have stopped the first Canes' marker last night, his defensemen made several critical mistakes that lead to the goal.

It's easy to blame the goalie for a soft goal but we have to remember that the goaltender is the last line of defense, not the first. This usually means that a lot of things had to go wrong in front of him before the puck got past him.

That aside, Price seemed to be fighting the puck through the first two periods.

There were a number of saves that he made where he looked behind him, unsure of where the puck was and that's how he tends to play when he is not 100 percent on his game.

As the Canadiens sat back on their heels in the third period, however, Price elevated his game, stopping a bunch of Canes' prime scoring chances and settling into a groove. If he can carry that momentum forward he will be well on his way towards rediscovering his early season form.


2. Andrei Kostitsyn seems to have gotten the message.

AK46 returned to the lineup last night after being a healthy scratch for one game and played some inspired hockey.

While he played well, scoring a beautiful tying goal, I think it's pretty clear that this is his last chance. The knock on Kostitsyn has always been about his work ethic and consistency. As skilled as he is, AK46 is a player who tends to go to sleep for long stretches and maybe that is just his nature; he is a streaky player.

It is clear that Jacques Martin is not a fan of this trend and in order for AK to reach his true potential, he has to find the consistency that has been lacking in his game since he broke into the league in 2003.

If he can't find that consistency this year, I think he will likely find himself on his way out of town.

Kostitsyn scored his first goal in 10 games last night—his 10th of the season—off of a beautiful feed from Plekanec on the power play. The goal illustrates just how strong Kostitsyn is as he fought off the Canes' defender from the slot to put the puck up over Cam Ward.

That goal also illustrates why Martin becomes frustrated with the young Belarusian, as he has such a high skill level that he should be producing on a more consistent basis.

That being said, I was not a fan of putting Kostitsyn in the press box because, like P.K. Subban—who was a healthy scratch last night—I think the team is better served with him in the lineup.


3. Tomas Plekanec played his best game in a week.

Plekanec is one of the players who looked yesterday like he really benefited from the day off that Martin gave his players. He looked fresh, rested and full of energy; the way he did at the beginning of the season.

As a result, his line was dangerous every time they were on the ice but their timing was a little off in the first period, resulting in a number of missed nets and botched scoring chances.

Once they found their rhythm, however, Plekanec's incredible speed and creativity with the puck was on display as he setup plays, almost at will, in the Canes' zone.

Plek's line was rewarded on the power play when Tomas found AK46 in front with a sweet pass, to make it a 2-2 game, with all three players getting in on the action.

Plekanec finished the night with one assist, five shots on net, 21:21 of ice-time, 4:25 on the power play, 1:55 on the PK and 50 percent in the faceoff circle.

Not a bad night's work!


4. Welcome back, Scott Gomez.

The much maligned Gomez seems to have finally gotten his game back on the rails. After going through a stretch where had had only three points (2G, 1A) in eleven games, Gomez sat out two games with a minor injury. Since returning from the injury and being united with Max Pacioretty and longtime linemate, Brian Gionta, Gomez has been on a tear.

He has 8 points (1G, 7A) in his past five games and scored his fifth of the season last night, while celebrating his 31st birthday.

More importantly, Gomez has that goofy grin back on his face when he's playing. He looks and acts more like the Scott Gomez who was the Canadiens' hottest player over the back half of last season.

With Gomez's line firing on all cylinders and the Plekanec line finding it's form again, we finally got to see the Canadiens playing with two scoring lines and that is the kind of balance they need if they want to stay at the top of their division.


5. Lars Eller is wasting away on the fourth line.

Eller is doing everything he can on the ice but paired with Tom Pyatt and Travis Moen, getting 7:55 of ice time and zero minutes on the PP, there is only so much he can do.

His talent as a setup guy is apparent but his lack of skilled linemates continues to be his Achilles Heel.

Eller didn't necessarily play poorly last night but he was pretty much invisible on the ice.

The first time he did anything of note was when he turned the puck over at the blueline in the third period, hemming the Canadiens into their own zone. Eller ended up getting the puck back and, in an attempt to relieve the pressure, accidentally shot it into the crowd and took a delay of game penalty.

With all of the problems with this team lately, that is certainly not the type of play that Jacques Martin wants to see from the young Dane. Hopefully, JM will not exact his wrath on Eller by benching him next game.

With Eller, Subban and Yannick Weber all getting varying degrees of the yo-yo treatment from Martin, it is no wonder that people grimace at that thought of him trying to develop young players.

Eller was playing his best hockey when he was paired with Benoit Pouliot—who was a healthy scratch last night—and Mathieu Darche. Why he is now playing on the fourth line is beyond me with two checkers is beyond me.


Standings and Next Game

The win moves the Habs' record to 20-13-2 with 42 points in the standings. It also allows them to maintain a two-point buffer over the Boston Bruins, who also won last night and who have two games in hand.

The Habs now have two days off to celebrate the holidays with their families before game four of this road trip against the Islanders on Sunday evening.




I want to wish you all a happy holiday season! Enjoy your weekend!

(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Habs win, post game, visors in the NHL, Habs minor-league depth and more...

Post game: Habs 3 - Carolina 2
HabsAddict.com - Montreal-Carolina: Habs Capitalize on Second Period Penalty to Down Canes
http://www.habsaddict.com/2010/12/montreal-carolina-habs-capitalize-on.html

Habs Inside/Out - Game 35: Canadiens capitalize vs. Hurricanes
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/41912

A W for Christmas
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/42069

RDS - Noël dans la bonne humeur
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/312135.html

TSN - CANADIENS USE POWER PLAY TO BEAT HURRICANES
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=346718

ESPN.com - Power play goals from Alexandre Picard and Andrei Kostitsyn lead Canadiens past Canes
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=301223007

From the pages of THN: Visor usage in NHL levels off
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/37222-From-the-pages-of-THN-Visor-usage-in-NHL-levels-off.html

Montreal Canadiens minor-league system highlighted by diverse depth and talent
http://www.hockeysfuture.com/articles/12625/montreal_canadiens_minorleague_system_highlighted_by_diverse_depth_and_talent/

(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Montreal-Dallas: Stars Too Bright For Sloppy Habs

by Kamal Panesar

Two days after skunking a game in Colorado, the Habs were back on the horse to try to turn their fortunes around in Dallas against the Stars last night. Unfortunately for Habs' fans, the Canadiens dropped another stink bomb to keep their streak of futility going.

Aside from a few decent shifts and a couple of scoring chances, the Habs had a lot of difficulty getting setup in the Stars' zone for most of the game. When they were able to get setup they were usually firing the puck wide or over the net, missing passes, fanning on shots and missing empty nets.

Despite their offensive shortcomings, however, the Habs' downfall took place in their defensive zone as they were not working as that stereotypical Jacques Martin five-man unit. Instead, they were chaotic, missing assignments, turning the puck over and otherwise making things hard on themselves.

Price did his best to stop the Stars but he was not in prime form last night.

While a couple of the goals were deflected past him, a few of the five that the Stars scored—on only 17 total shots in the game—were shots that Price would have liked to have back. Ultimately, however, the team in front of him neither provided enough offense nor did they play well defensively, meaning the Price was left to his own devices on too many occasions.

Missed assignments, odd-man rushes and bad turnovers meant that Price didn't have a lot of chance of stopping most of the goals.

The turning point of the game was when Benoit Pouliot whiffed on a perfect pass from Maxim Lapierre while staring at an empty net during the second period. That goal would have made it 3-2 Dallas and could have changed the complexion of the game.

Instead, Brad Richards potted his 16th of the season on the power play a few minutes later and that was all she wrote.

Final Score: Stars 5 - Habs 2

Habs' scorers: Mathieu Darche (6), Brian Gionta (12)
Stars' scorers: Adam Burish (4), Jamie Benn (8), Karlis Skrastins (2), Brad Richards (16), Loui Eriksson (15)

Three stars: 1. Jamie Benn, 2. Kari Lehtonen, 3. Steve Ott


Game Notes

1. The Habs made too many mistakes.

The Habs have been making mistakes on the ice all season long but Carey Price has always been there to cover them up. Over the last 10 or so games, the mistakes that they are making are coming back to bite them in the butt.

At the beginning of the season, Carey Price was stopping everything that was thrown his way. But, as I pointed out in the Avs post game article, Price has let in one weak goal in each of the past three games. Moreover, he is not stopping all of the breakaways and turnover related chances that he was over the first 20 or so games of the season. As such, the Canadiens are falling behind on the scoreboard when they are not playing well as opposed to escaping with a 0-0 tie.

Despite their 40 points in the standings the Habs are sputtering right now and Jacques Martin does not seem to have the answers.

While it is still way too early to push the panic button and things could turn around in an instant, the Habs are 1-5 in their last six games and 4-6 in their last ten games.

That trend is decidedly negative.


2. Jacques Martin does not have the answers.

With over 1000 games coached in the NHL Jacques Martin has seen all kinds of game situations. As such, you would expect that he should be able to come up with solutions to get his floundering team back on track.

Last night he benched Andrei Kostitsyn—after he had a sequence if zero goals over nine games—he switched Lars Eller to the wing on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri, he scratched Yannick Weber again, he shuffled the bottom-six and yet, no change in the result on the ice.

Moreover, the only line that was producing anything last night was the Scott Gomez line—with Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty. The bottom-six, once a source of depth and strength for the Habs, was completely invisible until the Mathieu Darche goal.

The problem with the Canadiens is that the way the team is constructed and the system that Jacques Martin employs, depend to an obscenely large extent on how well Price is playing. If he lets in a weak goal or isn't able to cover up for all of the bad turnovers that the Habs commit, they tend to lose the game.

This is not a recipe for long term success and Martin needs to stop juggling the lines so much and get back to what works.

Cammalleri, Plekanec and Kostitsyn have chemistry, so put them back together.

Pouliot, Darche and Jeff Halpern played excellent hockey together at the beginning of the season, so put them back together.

The end result would be the following lineup:

Cammalleri-Plekanec-Kostitsyn
Pacioretty-Gomez-Gionta
Pouliot-Halpern-Darche
Lapierre-Eller-Moen

You could likely switch up Eller and Halpern with no real discernible difference.

The problems with the team are not Andrei Kostitsyn's fault, or Benoit Pouliot's or anyone else's in particular for that matter. The Habs are simply playing a low percentage system that only works if the goaltender is playing out of his mind. If he has an average night, chances are the team will lose.


3. The second line is the only one that is going right now.

Pacioretty, Gionta and Gomez continue to play excellent hockey together and provided the only real offensive spark last night. More importantly, MaxPac continues to be the straw that stirs that drink.

His enthusiasm is contagious on that line and they looks fast, skilled and dangerous almost every time they step on the ice. They are making things happen because they are constantly in motion, usually connecting on their passes, throwing body checks—well at least Pacioretty is—and always going to the net.

The thing that I like the most about Pacioretty is that when he doesn't have the puck, he is always in front of the net and his big frame is tough for opposing defenders to move.

The result is usually a bevy of scoring chances, rebounds and deflections opportunities. If he can keep it up and can start putting the puck in the net on a regular basis that line should remain a key cog in the Canadiens' offense for years to come.


4. Price wasn't great.

Over the last five of so games, Price hasn't been the miracle-maker that he was during the first 25. Since the Habs system places so much weight on the goaltender's shoulders and Price has not been shutting down the opposition lately, they are now losing more games than they are winning.

That sounds an awful lot like the formula the Habs employed in last year's playoffs. It is a formula that is only as successful as the strength of your goalie and, if he is not playing out of his mind bad things can happen.

Bad things like, say, losing two games in a row and five out of their last six.

It is asking too much of any goaltender that he be required to be perfect, night in and night out, or else a loss a pretty much guaranteed. Carey Price has bailed his team out on many occasions this season.

Isn't it about time they returned the favour?


5. The Habs defense has gone AWOL.

In the first 28 games of the season the Habs gave up four or more goals only two times. In the last six games it has happened three times.

As much as Price hasn't looked his sharpest recently hockey is a team game, and when goals are going in in bunches it speaks to a general defensive malaise across the team.

Considering Jacques Martin's philosophy of having a five-man unit working in each zone, the players in front of Price are just not getting it done. With over 900 giveaways so far this season—second only to the Oilers—the lapses start with the forwards and are being compounded by the defense.

Last night the Canadiens were playing like individuals in their defensive zone doubling up their defensive coverage on certain individuals while leaving others uncovered, scrambling to get into position and ultimately not being able to move players out from in front of the net or defend with any authority.

Jacques Martin has a team that is built off of defense—evidenced by his continuous use of the one-man forecheck even when they were down by three goals in the third period. If the team is not getting it done defensively, then what do they have going for them?

Moreover, if being a defensive team means that they actually don't play well defensively but rather rely on their goaltender to bail them out over and over, then what is their real identity?

An average team with an exceptional goaltender?

As much as Martin has been riding and benching certain players, the spotlight must now be shone in his direction this morning and he has to start finding some answers.

I remember a few years ago there was this nice guy named Guy who didn't have the answers after a game in Dallas. That guy didn't last too much longer behind the Canadiens' bench.


Standings and Next Game

The loss keeps the Habs stalled at 40 points with a 19-13-2 record. The Boston Bruins are still two points back of the Canadiens with 38 points and two games in hand. The ironic thing here is that while the Habs are camped out in third place overall in the East, if they are passed by the Bruins they will sudden find themselves in eighth.

The Habs now travel to Raleigh to take on the Hurricanes on Thursday night.

With the team on a two-game losing streak and with the Canes only six points behind them in the standings, the Canadiens would do well to pull out a win. A loss to the Canes would allow Carolina to pull within four points of the Habs in the standings, with two games in hand.

It is definitely way too early to push the panic button in Montreal, but it is time for the team to turn things around. There is a lot of character in that dressing room and it is time for the leaders on this team to lead them out of the abyss.



(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America)