Monday, February 28, 2011

The Team 990's Sunday Shinny - Episode 11 - February 27, 2011

In this episode of the Sunday Shinny, where Gary Whittaker and Kamal Panesar of HabsAddict, welcome Kyle Roussel of Cowhide And Rubber to the studio.

Topics include:
-A very interactive hour with many of the fans calling in to give their opinions on both coach Jacques Martin and GM Pierre Gauthier
-Discuss if the Canadiens fans deserve to have a GM who wants to build a contender, or if being competitive with a chance to win is enough
-With trade deadline so close, we give a yea or nay on the names that have been associated with the Montreal Canadiens

Click play below to listen in (listing time 40:26):

Trade deadline, Rumours, Team Canada 2014, Will Habs make a move?

News
HabsAddict.com - The Team 990's Sunday Shinny - Episode 11 - February 27, 2011
http://pc.habsaddict.com/2011/02/team-990s-sunday-shinny-episode-11.html

Habs Inside/Out - Trade deadline has NHL buzzing
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46785

Will the Canadiens make a move?
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46787

RDS - L'heure limite approche aussi pour le CH
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315780.html

Martin veut des joueurs frais et dispos
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315782.html

TSN - TSN'S MCGUIRE, FERRARO PROJECT TEAM CANADA FOR SOCHI 2014
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=355750

MCKENZIE: LOTS OF ACTIVITY STILL POSSIBLE AHEAD OF DEADLINE
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=355813

LOTS OF PLAYERS IN PLAY AS TRADE DEADLINE LOOMS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=355821

Leafs out of John-Michael Liles race?
http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl

THN.com Blog: What to watch for on NHL trade deadline day
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38721-THNcom-Blog-What-to-watch-for-on-NHL-trade-deadline-day.html

THN.com Blog: Debate over 'outlaw' leagues continues, Pt 2
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38665-THNcom-Blog-Debate-over-outlaw-leagues-continues-Pt-2.html

NHL Trade Rumors for Deadline Day – February 28, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/nhl-trade-rumors-for-deadline-day-february-28-2011/

Late Sunday/Early Monday NHL Rumor Roundup – February 27-28, 2010
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/late-sundayearly-monday-nhl-rumor-roundup-february-27-28-2010/

HW Recap: 2 wins heading towards the trade deadline
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2400

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Canadiens-Canes: Habs Win on Andrei Kostitsyn's Late PP Marker

by Kamal Panesar

The Montreal Canadiens played their final game in an "easy" month of February last night, against the Carolina Hurricanes.

February was supposed to be an easy schedule for the Habs with 10 out of 13 games against teams that were lower than them in the standings. In addition, eight of the games were at home where the Habs have enjoyed the bulk of their success this season.

Prior to last night, the Habs were 5-5-2 over 12 games in February, with only two wins over their previous nine.

Montreal started the game well enough but fell into their familiar habit of taking early penalties, with Scott Gomez going to the box for four minutes with an costly high stick. While the Canes were unable to score, they used the PP to seize the momentum, outshooting Montreal 11-7 in the first.

The game had a strange feel to it with large stretches where nothing much was going on, despite the back-and-forth play. And for a second game in a row, the Canadiens were extremely sloppy in their own end.

Alex Auld, who got the surprise start in favour of illness-ridden Carey Price, was decent in the net despite turning over the puck to the Canes for their first goal.

Montreal took the lead twice in the game and the Canes came back to tie it each time, taking a 3-3 score into the third.

The game seemed destined for overtime until rookie Jeff Skinner tripped up P.K. Subban behind the Habs net, giving them a power play with less than four minutes to play in the game. That left it up to Andrei Kostitsyn to tip his 15th of the season past Ward for the game winner.

While neither team took a ton of penalties—the Canes had three PPs to the Habs' one—special teams were the name of the game as the Habs blanked all three Canes power plays while scoring on their lone man-advantage.


Final score: Habs 4 - Canes 3

Habs' scorers: Mike Cammalleri (15), Lars Eller (4), Tomas Plekanec (20), Andrei Kostitsyn (15)
Canes' scorers: Jussi Jokinen (16), Tuomo Ruutu (15), Cory Stillman (8)

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


Point of interest

In scoring his 20th goal of the season, Plekanec becomes the first Canadiens' player to score 20 or more in five consecutive seasons, since Stephane Richer did it six times in a row.


Game Notes

1. Brent Sopel is going to fit in nicely.

Playing his first game in a Canadiens' uniform, 34-year-old Brent Sopel looked like a kid in a candy store.

At least before the game started he did.

Sopel got his first taste of the media—a scrum of around 12 journalists—during the day and his first taste of the Habs' faithful during the game.

As part of the starting lineup, it was awesome watching Sopel looking around the Bell Centre as the crowd sang the Canadian national anthem, clearly in awe of what he was experiencing. He was soaking it all in and had to be think "I'm certainly not in Atlanta anymore!"

On the ice, Sopel played an acceptable game considering that he hasn't yet had a chance to practice with the team.

You could see his unfamiliarity with Jacques Martin's system, as he made a second period offensive pinch leading to a 2-on-1 the other way. Martin is sure to hit him on the knuckles with a ruler for that one!

That turnover aside, Sopel was good 5-on-5 and solid on the PK.

He finished the night with no points, one blocked shot, one body check and 17:34 of ice time. Acceptable numbers that will surely get better as he adapts to the Jacques Martin way.


2. Auld looked determined but still struggled to get the win.

After a less than spectacular outing against the Leafs that saw Auld let in three goals on nine shots before being pulled, you could tell that wanted the win badly last night.

Unfortunately, things didn’t start off very well for the veteran backup.

7:25 into the first period Auld ventured behind his net to stop the puck, turning it over to Jiri Tlusty who threw it out front to Brandon Sutter for a shot at the empty net. Auld made the first stop but was unable to block the rebound by Jussi Jokinen.

When that goal went in you kind of wondered if it was going to be another long night for Auld. Fortunately for the Habs, Auld settled his game down and made several quality saves to keep the Habs from falling into a deep hole.

Just like the previous game against the Leafs, Auld was not at blame for the other two goals that the Canes scored, as the Canadiens were once again extremely sloppy in the defensive zone.

Ultimately, Auld did the job stopping 28 of 31 shots for a .903 save percentage and more importantly, his fifth "W" of the season.


3. Cammalleri looks much better than he did before his injury.

Michael Cammalleri has played four games since returning from a separated shoulder, and while he had zero points over his first two he now has four in his last two (2G, 2A, plus-4).

More importantly, and unlike before his injury, Cammalleri looks calm and confident, more like the player from last year's playoffs than the mostly frustrated player thorough 44 games this year.

As talented a player as Cammalleri is he wasn't exactly having a banner season before his injury in January against the Sabres.

And as unfortunate as his absence from the lineup was you hoped that he would come back a new man, playing without the frustration of scoring only 13 goals over 44 games.

Well so far so good.

Not only has he scored two goals in his last two games, but seems to be free of the psychological baggage that held his game back prior to injury. Now two games does not a turnaround make, but if Cammy can keep playing this way the Canadiens should see a lot of production from their top sniper.


4. Andrei Kostitsyn and Lars Eller make beautiful music together.

Eller and Kostitsyn, playing 10:30 and 11:27 minutes respectively, along with Travis Moen, looked like a very good line last night.

This was the second game in a row that the trio has been together and you can see that the their styles complement each other well.

Moreover, AK and Eller are starting to develop some excellent chemistry together.

With AK using his size and deadly shot, Eller is finally playing with a bonafide goal-scorer on his line. As a result, his excellent vision and creativity are no longer going to waste because he actually has a target to dish the puck to.

In the game against the Leafs, these two players connected for Andrei Kostitsyn's 14th of the season and last night Kostitsyn, who is playing his best hockey in a long time on Eller's line, returned the favour.

Kostitsyn got into a foot race with Canes' defenseman Carson and laid a solid body check on him freeing the puck. Kostitsyn then fired a pass out front to Eller who was able to flip it past Cam Ward for his fourth of the season, with Moen mucking it up in the crease.

Despite their limited minutes, this looks like a line that could provide consistent secondary scoring for the Habs and considering the mess that the Gomez always seems to be in, it's a welcome surprise for Montreal.


5. The trade deadline is two days away and the players are nervous.

While the trade deadline is an exciting time for fans waiting to see if or how their team's GM will modify their roster, it tends to be a stressful time for the players.

Some clearly know their time with their team is up, others are on the fence and others still are fairly certain that they won't be going anywhere.

That being said, an air of uncertainty reigns over all NHL dressing rooms right now, and that feeling can cause stress and a lack of focus among the players.

RDS got the speculation train going last night by questioning Roman Hamrlik's lack of ice time during a four-minute penalty kill in the first period. Their theory was that perhaps Hamrlik was going to be moved because he always plays on the PP.

I tend to think that if he was being moved he wouldn't be in the lineup at all and the more likely scenario is it was just and an old body needing rest. Also, the addition of PK specialist Brent Sopel to the lineup gives the Habs the ability to rest Hamrlik a little for the playoffs rather than playing his upward of 22 minutes per game.

That being said, you really never know.

But what about players like Andrei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot and Yannick Weber? While nothing is set in stone, these three seem like the most likely candidates to be moved if the Canadiens are going after a top-six winger, for example.

I think with about 24 hours to go until the trade deadline there is an equal chance of Pierre Gauthier standing pat as there is of him making a big trade.

Despite the win, the Canadiens are still an offensively anemic team that needs more scoring punch. Last night's win was only their fifth this season when the opposition scores three or more goals (5-22-4).

If I was a betting man I'd say that Gauthier will make at least one more move before tomorrow's deadline.

Whether it is a big or a small one remains to be seen.


Standings and Next Game

The win gives the Habs a huge two points and they have now won two of their last three games. Montreal sits in sixth in the Eastern Conference with 73 points in the standings and a 33-23-7 record.

The Habs keep pace with the Capitals, 3-2 winners over the Isles, who have 76 points and the same number of games played. The Bruins are still tops in the Northeast division with 77 points and two games in hand on Montreal.

The standings stay the same behind the Habs with the Rangers in seventh with 70 points, the Canes with 67, the Sabres with 65 and two games in hand and the Leafs with 62 points and one game in hand.

The Habs now have two days off before taking on the sinking Thrashers on Tuesday in Atlanta.

What will the Canadiens roster look like by then? Will Gauthier make a move or two or will he stand pat?

Tune in tomorrow to find out.

---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Habs win, post game, Sopel, Kostitsyn, Trade Deadline, Rumours and more...

Post game: Habs 4 - Canes 3
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens-Canes: Habs Win on Andrei Kostitsyn's Late PP Marker
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/02/canadiens-canes-habs-win-on-andrei.html

Habs Inside/Out - Game 63: Canadiens weather Hurricanes' storm
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46767

And the winner was ...
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46783

RDS - Un vent de soulagement
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315667.html

TSN - KOSTITSYN'S LATE GOAL IN THIRD HELPS HABS EDGE HURRICANES
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=355593

ESPN.com - Canadiens slip past Hurricanes on Andrei Kostitsyn's late goal
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=310226010


News
Habs Inside/Out - Lach undergoes successful surgery
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46784

Brent Sopel : expérience et profondeur
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315745.html

Spector's Hockey - Late Saturday-Early Sunday Rumors – February 26-27, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/late-saturday-early-sunday-rumors-february-26-27-2011/

NHL Rumors – Sunday, February 27, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/nhl-rumors-sunday-february-27-2011/

Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – February 27, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/sunday-nhl-rumor-roundup-february-27-2011/

THN.com - Ask Adam: Trade proposals
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38662-Ask-Adam-Trade-proposals.html

THN.com Blog: Debate over 'outlaw' leagues continues, Pt 1
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38666-THNcom-Blog-Debate-over-outlaw-leagues-continues-Pt-1.html

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Habs/Canes preview, Nigel Dawes, Small Players, Rumours and more...

Pregame: Habs v Canes
Habs Inside/Out - Getting tighter
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46762

RDS - Un autre poursuivant
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315667.html

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

ESPN.com - Hurricanes-Canadiens Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=310226010


News
RDS - Pour Dawes, tout est dans la constance
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315645.html

THN.com - THN.com Blog: The impact small players will have on the 2011 NHL draft
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38659-THNcom-Blog-The-impact-small-players-will-have-on-the-2011-NHL-draft.html

Mike Rosati's Blog: The mentality of a successful goalie
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38660-Mike-Rosatis-Blog-The-mentality-of-a-successful-goalie.html

Habsworld.net - Around the Boards: Being Picky?
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2398

Spector's Hockey - NHL Rumors – Saturday, February 26, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/nhl-rumors-saturday-february-26-2011/

Friday, February 25, 2011

Habs lose, post game, Sopel trade analysis, What's next , rumours and more...

Post Game: Leafs 5 - Habs 4
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens-Leafs: Phil Kessel's Four-Point Night Sinks Habs
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/02/canadiens-leafs.html

Habs Inside/Out - Game 62: Bozak, Kessel power Leafs over Habs
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46745

Video: Habs react to 5-4 loss to Leafs
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46750

The Leafs? Really??
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46761

RDS - Une soirée à oublier
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315560.html

Une vulnérabilité plus que palpable
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315621.html

TSN - KESSEL, BOZAK SCORE TWICE AS MAPLE LEAFS DEFEAT CANADIENS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=355257

ESPN.com - Phil Kessel's big night helps surging Maple Leafs nip Canadiens
http://scores.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=310224010


News
HabsAddict.com - Montreal Canadiens Trade Analysis: Brent Sopel for Ben Maxwell
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/02/montreal-canadiens-trade-analysis-brent.html

Habs Acquire Brent Sopel And Nigel Dawes; What's Next?
http://aa.habsaddict.com/2011/02/habs-acquire-brent-sopel-and-nigel.html

Canadiens Press Release - Habs Trade Ben Maxwell
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/02/canadiens-press-release-habs-trade-ben.html

THN.com - THN.com Blog: Time for the NHL to do away with divisions
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38637-THNcom-Blog-Time-for-the-NHL-to-do-away-with-divisions.html

Around the AHL: Western trade implications
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38642-Around-the-AHL-Western-trade-implications.html

Spector's Hockey - NHL Rumors – Friday, February 25, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/nhl-rumors-friday-february-25-2011/

Latest on the Devils, Maple Leafs, Penguins and Flames
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/latest-on-the-devils-maple-leafs-penguins-and-flames/

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Habs Acquire Brent Sopel And Nigel Dawes; What's Next?

by Willey

Yesterday afternoon Montreal Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier pulled off his fifth trade of the 2010-2011 campaign, acquiring Nigel Dawes and Brent Sopel from the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange of Ben Maxwell and a fourth round draft choice.

Whether or not this is the first move or the final piece for the season, in what appears to be a busy trade deadline for the Habs GM, is yet.

Here is my take on what Gauthier's latest move does for the team.


Nigel Dawes

Dawes is a left wing/center from Winnipeg, Manitoba. At 5’9, what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in determination with a game based on speed, grit and a deadly wrist shot.

Originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2003 entry draft, Dawes found himself the recipient of many accolades including being named part of arguably the best World Junior Championship team in history. On that team, he was playing alongside Anthony Stewart of the Atlanta Thrashers and Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Oddly enough, although dealt for Ben Maxwell just yesterday, these two forwards were actually teammates in the 2004-05 season as part of the Kootenay Ice of the WHL.


What this does for the team?

The acquisition of Dawes provides Jacques Martin with the luxury of a player on a two way contract with more than 200 regular season games of NHL experience.

Only Dustin Boyd—currently playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs—has this level of NHL experience. Unfortunately, Boyd is on one-way contract and would have to clear waivers to play NHL level once again.

But I digress.

Dawes has the ability to play all three forward positions and will certainly be the first call-up from the AHL should the need arise.


Brent Sopel

Sopel is a big D-man out of Calgary, Alberta. At 6’2 and 205 lbs., Sopel already finds himself on his sixth NHL team in just 12 NHL seasons. Originally drafted in the 6th round of the 1995 NHL entry draft, Sopel is on his last legs in the NHL.

Despite his diminishing mobility, Sopel found himself as the leading plus/minus player on the Atlanta Thrashers with a plus-seven, and currently sits seventh overall in the NHL in blocked shots with 130.


What this does for the team?

Sopel fills an enormous whole in our line-up, which has been present since the loss of Josh Gorges. Our penalty kill was second in the NHL prior to the loss of Gorges and now finds itself out of the top 10.

Sopel will rectify a struggling PK, provide yet another tremendous shot blocking presence and provide leadership and experience by bringing yet another Stanley Cup ring to what appears to be an already solid room.

Furthermore, with the loss of Jaroslav Spacek to what appears to be a season ending injury and the addition of Paul Mara, our defense core has been transformed from one of the youngest and smallest in the NHL to one of the most experienced and biggest in the league.

Our third pairing defense of Mara and Sopel are big, strong and will make it harder for the opposition to get to the front of the net.


Overall Analysis

The additions of both Dawes and Sopel are primary examples of trade deadline rental pick ups.

The Canadiens traded away a young center who likely had no place on this team anymore, along with a fourth round pick for players who add some serious depth to a playoff bound team.

My only fear is that we are facing a situation similar to what we saw in 2009 with a large number of UFA players with contracts coming to an end.

Only P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek remain under contract for next season with Andrei Markov, Hal Gill, James Wizniewski, Brent Sopel, Paul Mara, and Roman Hamrlik facing UFA uncertainty and with Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber and Alex Picard all facing RFA status.

The uncertainty on our back end is troubling going forward.


What's Next?

I highly doubt that Gauthier is finished tinkering with the line-up because he has failed to address the lack of size up front.

With Andrei Kostitsyn almost as good as gone and with a log jam on defense, I firmly believe that we will see Gauthier make at least two more deals before the deadline.

The first move will see the team land themselves a top-six forward with size, grit and youth on his side and the second move will see a bottom-six player with size and toughness.

In my opinion the team to target as a dance partner is the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues find themselves in the unique position of having three elite power-forwards in David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Chris Stewart with complementary components like Brad Boyes, David Perron, Andy McDonald, Alex Steen and Patrick Berglund.

What you don't see as part of this unit of forwards however is a left winger; a position where the Habs are bursting at the seams. Having already come off two separate deals in two seasons I foresee yet another trade between these clubs.

Although I originally proposed making a deal for David Backes, prying this kid out of St. Louis will be tough. Can we therefore see the exchange of two enigmatic wingers like Andrei Kostitsyn for Brad Boyes perhaps?

What about Montreal ultimately dealing a player like Mike Cammalleri?

Although he is highly regarded with the Habs can we see No.13 dealt for Backes, or perhaps back to the LA Kings in exchange for Dustin Brown or perhaps for Wayne Simmonds and a defensive prospect?

The next 72 hours will determine what happens to this squad but I will say this now: I have confidence in what Pierre Gauthier is going to do.

Man I feel almost dirty saying that!

---
Willey was the shining 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.

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images North America)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Canadiens-Leafs: Phil Kessel's Four-Point Night Sinks Habs

by Kamal Panesar

What is it with this Montreal Canadiens team?

Just when you think they are going to play well, they throw out a stinker. When you think they're going to get blown out of the rink, they win against the top team in the league.

The up-and-down season continued for the Canadiens last night, as they fell 5-4 in regulation to the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs.

You have to give full marks to the Leafs who despite being the weaker team on paper used a physical edge to get the Habs off their game. So while Coach Martin and fans alike were expecting a return to the Habs' hermetic defensive ways, what they got was a run and gun game feature bad defense with gusts up to horrendous.

Starting with Dion Phaneuf and Mike Komisarek, the Leafs set the tone early in the first period by manhandling Tomas Plekanec, among others, without taking penalties. The aggressive play seemed to distract the Habs from the task at hand and this is not the first time we have seen that happen to this team.

The Habs were able to get on the board first when Jeff Halpern deflected a Roman Hamrlik shot past rookie James Reimer at 5:43 of the opening frame. However as we have seen far too many times this season, the Canadiens got themselves into penalty trouble and the Leafs were able to capitalize.

Toronto scored two straight power play goals and an even strength marker on their first nine shots before Martin pulled Alex Auld in favour of Carey Price.

Montreal tied the game at three before the five-minute mark of the second with back-to-back power play goals before again getting themselves into penalty trouble, enabling the Leafs to regain the lead.

Toronto made it a two-goal game early in the third before Max Pacioretty scored his 11th of the season with less than three minutes to play. Unfortunately for the Habs, they were unable to gain possession of the puck in order to pull Price for the extra attacker, and their comeback fell short.


Final score: Leafs 5 - Habs 4

Habs' scorers: Jeff Halpern (10), Michael Cammalleri (14), James Wisniewski (6), Max Pacioretty (11)
Leafs' scorers: Phil Kessel (24, 25), Brett Lebda (1), Tyler Bozak (9, 10)

Three stars: 1. Phil Kessel, 2. Tyler Bozak, 3. Michael Cammalleri


Game Notes

1. The Habs need to get tougher.

Team toughness is a great catch phrase and I truly believe that the Habs have it. However with three days left until the trade deadline, the Canadiens absolutely must get tougher.

With the Leafs openly mugging players like Plekanec, Gionta and others last night it is apparent that Montreal will never be able to get past a team like the Flyers and to a lesser extent the Bruins, in the playoffs.

If there is one trend we have seen from Montreal this season it is that they tend to whither against opponents who bring a physical brand of hockey. And, at least right now, the Habs don't seem to have anyone on the team who can make room for and protect their smaller, skilled players.

In his first three shifts on the ice, last night, Plekanec got slammed to the ice, pushed, jostled and face-washed by both Phaneuf and Komisarek. Good on those two players for going after the Habs No.1 center, because that is how you win games. But what was abhorrent was the absolutely lack of response from anyone in the Habs lineup.

Your No.1 center and best offensive player gets physically abused and no one steps up? Not one player responds or goes after Phaneuf or Komisarek?

Plekanec, who is looking more and more tired each game, gets throw off his game when he has to concentrate on defending himself rather than trying to create offense. And, if you think its bad now just wait till the playoffs start and opposing coaches target him for physical abuse.

If the Habs can't find a player or two that can defend their players before the deadline, I fear that their playoffs will end with another brutal series loss to the Flyers or Bruins.


2. Alex Auld was not at fault.

There was an expectation that after winning in Vancouver, Coach Martin would go back to Carey Price last night against Toronto. Sure the Leafs weren't supposed to represent a huge challenge for the Habs but with the playoffs fast approaching, you thought the coach would go with the hot hand against a division opponent.

Martin had other plans, electing to go with Auld instead.

The first game home after a road trip is always a tough one to win and putting Auld in the net was likely intended to induce tighter defensive play from the Habs—teams tend to play tighter in front of their back ups.

Well, that theory didn't work out so well for Auld and the Habs last night.

While many this morning are blaming Auld for the loss, the Habs were defensively porous in front of him. I'll concede that Auld was weak on the second Leafs' goal, but on the play Yannick Weber and Roman Hamrlik collided behind the net freeing the puck for Kessel to skate out front and slip it under Auld.

The problem is that there is no way that puck should have gotten past Auld, who was in the one-knee-down stance. It slide right under his pad which he didn't have tight against the ice.

That goal aside, the Canadiens were scrambling in their own end on the first and third goals by the Leafs, missing their assignments and looking more like the keystone cops than a tight, defense-first team.

When Auld went to the bench, Jacques Martin made his way over to and had a brief word with him. He most certainly told him the defeated looking Auld that the score was not his fault and that he was putting Price in to shake the team up.

Still, you've got to feel for Auld who was trying for only his fifth regulation win of the season.


3. Are the Habs getting worn down?

Jacques Martin, who is far from being a fan favorite, often makes strange coaching decisions that leave fans and media alike scratching their heads.

Last night, we saw Cammalleri on the penalty kill, a role that has never been his forte with the Canadiens. In addition, we continue to see Roman Hamrlik on the first wave of the power play in place of P.K. Subban, paired with James Wizniewski.

So what gives?

With 20 games to play, the only possible explanation for these changes is that the coach is trying to rest some of his players. I mean how else can you explain Hamrlik on the first wave of the power play instead of Subban, with the Habs on the late third period PP and while trailing by one goal?

Shouldn't the instinct there be to load up with your most offensive players to give yourself the best chance of scoring the equalizer?

Is he such a robot that he can't break from his plan no matter what the score? Hmm, I think I just answered my own question there.

A lot has been made lately about the lack of production from Plekanec on the road and, overall, he only has two assists over his last six games. Moreover, as the end of the season approaches, Plekanec clearly looks like he is starting to fade due to overuse.

So with Plekanec clearly getting tired why aren't the young players getting more ice time?

Pacioretty was one of the best forwards on the ice for Montreal yesterday, finishing the game with one goal and a team high nine shots on net. Yet he only played 14:43 minutes.

David Desharnais too, who was full of energy and continued to setup excellent scoring chances, only played 8:53 minutes last night, 5:01 against the Canucks and is averaging only 12:21 per game.

Why?

These players have shown that they are capable while the veterans are looking more and more tired by the day. Bench management is a huge part of coaching and by giving so much time to clearly tired veterans, the coaching staff is setting the team up for playoff disappointment.

It is a massive failing by Jacques Martin and co. that they continue to overplay the vets while under-utilizing the young guns.

Let 'em play Jacques, and you'll probably win more games.


4. Isn't it about time the lack of discipline stops?

The Canadiens gave the Leafs four power plays in the first period alone and seven for the night, of which Toronto was able to score on three. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the game right there.

Looking at the list of penalties, most of them were the result of laziness or foolishness with three hooking calls and two for interference. Sadly, this is nothing new for the Habs who have had problems with discipline all season long and are the second most penalized team in the league.

Fortunately from the Canadiens, with players like Tomas Plekanec, Jeff Halpern, Travis Moen, Tom Pyatt, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Hal gill, they have had a top-10 penalty kill all season and that's been their saving grace.

That being said, the playoffs are a whole different ball game where power plays and special teams are often the difference between winning and losing.

With 20 game left in the season it seems unlikely that the Canadiens will suddenly, miraculously learn the meaning of the word discipline. And who's fault is that?

When a team is consistently having a problem or making the same mistake after 62 games of an 82 game season, the finger clearly has to be pointed at the coaching staff.


5. P.K. Subban is an exceptional talent.

Subban has attracted a lot of attention to himself in this, his rookie season in the NHL and for many different reasons.

Opposing players and fans despised his early-season lip-flapping during games and after whistles, while Canadiens' fans love his effervescent style. Others notice him for his flashy offensive flare while others recognize his almost unparalleled mobility on the back end.

While Subban has had his ups and downs over the course of the season, he has truly settled his game since Josh Gorges went down for the season and he was paired with Hal Gill.

If you take Andrei Markov out of the equation, Subban is currently third on the team for average time on ice, with 22 minutes per game, behind only Wizniewski (22:39) and Hamrlik (22:18).

You have to keep in mind that at one point, Subban was only seeing around 10-15 minutes of ice per game meaning that lately he has generally been the hands down ice time leader for the team.

While many criticized the way the Canadiens handled Subban at the beginning of the season, there is no questioning the results as he continues to look more than comfortable as the Habs No.1 defender.

Watching Subban last night, even when he is not making a big hit, great pass or setting up a scoring chance, he continues to do the little things well. Using his incredible skating ability to evade the aggressive Toronto forecheck, Subban looks more and more like a veteran defenseman every day.

With so many injuries on the back end, it's frightening to think about how much worse the Habs would be without his incredible progression this season.


Standings and Next Game

The Habs, 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, continue to struggle but due to equal ineptitude by their Eastern conference rivals are still in sixth overall. The Canadiens record now stands at 32-23-7 with 71 points.

Montreal remains four points behind the Bruins who have two games in hand and three behind the Caps who have one game in hand.

Behind the Habs are the Rangers with 68 points and the Hurricanes, losers of two straight, with 65 points and one game in hand. After that there is a bit more of a drop off with the Sabres at 62 points with three games in hand and the Leafs with 61 points and one game in hand.

Montreal has the day off before welcome the Hurricanes to the Bell Centre for a Saturday night four-pointer. A loss by the Habs on Saturday would leave the Canes only one point back with the same number of games played.

---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Montreal Canadiens Trade Analysis: Brent Sopel for Ben Maxwell

by Kamal Panesar

Montreal Canadiens' GM Pierre Gauthier continued retooling his injury-depleted team today, trading prospect Ben Maxwell and a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft to the Atlanta Thrashers for Brent Sopel and Nigel Dawes.

With Jaroslav Spacek on the sidelines with an undisclosed injury and rumours circulating that he could be done for the season, Sopel represents insurance on the back end.

Dawes, who is playing on his fifth NHL team in four years, will report to the Hamilton Bulldogs.


Cap Implications

Habsworld.net's Brian La Rose explained that:

"Sopel's acquisition eats up a little more than half of the Habs' remaining full season acquisition space, dropping it to a little below $1.85 million. However, with the uncertainly surrounding Spacek, that number could grow still. Sopel makes $2 million this season with a $2,333,333 cap hit, while Dawes makes $650,000 at the NHL level, and $105,000 in the minors. Due to that AHL salary, he doesn't require re-entry waivers."


Analysis

This is an excellent, if slightly expensive, insurance move by Pierre Gauthier who bolsters his back end with a playoff-hardened veteran in Brent Sopel.

With the logjam at center—Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez, David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Jeff Halpern—it was becoming more and more apparent that Maxwell had lost his shot at making the big club.

The emergence of Desharnais this season was the final nail in Maxwell's coffin.

While Dawes, who will report to the Bulldogs, is another smallish player (5'9"), he plays with a ton of grit. He will provide depth for the Habs if they need an NHL ready player to fill a spot in the bottom-six.

Back to Sopel, his acquisition means that the Canadiens now have nine defensemen on their NHL roster: Hal Gill, P.K. Subban, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek, Yannick Weber, James Wizniewski, Alexandre Picard, Paul Mara and Brent Sopel.

Something's got to give.

If we assume that Spacek will be out for a while, if not the rest of the season, then that leaves eight defensemen. The Habs are sure to, at a minimum, waive Picard or send him down to the minors, but Jacques Martin is a coach who likes to roll six defenseman.

To me this either means a change in philosophy from the coach or another move by the GM, possibly for a top-six forward and possibly shipping Yannick Weber out of town.

Now before you blow your computer up at the Weber comment you have to remember that if Gauthier is going after a bona fide top-sixer, and that is a big if, Weber represents one of the Habs' best trading assets.

If I was a betting man, I'd say that Gauthier has one more move up his sleeve.

Overall, this is a good move for the Canadiens who bring in another Stanley Cup champion player with experience to play on the back end. The Habs just became more experienced and grittier and I, for one, am a fan of the move.


Trade Links

Habs Press release - Canadiens Acquire Brent Sopel

Brent Sopel player page on ESPN.com

Brent Sopel cap information on CapGeek.com

Nigel Dawes player page on ESPN.com

Nigel Dawes cap information on CapGeek.com

Habs ongoing cap chart at Habsworld.net

---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images North America)

Canadiens Press Release - Habs Trade Ben Maxwell

MONTREAL CANADIENS ACQUIRE DEFENSEMAN BRENT SOPEL AND FORWARD NIGEL DAWES FROM THE ATLANTA THRASHERS IN RETURN FOR BEN MAXWELL AND A 4TH ROUND PICK IN 2011

MONTREAL (February 24, 2011) – Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier announced today that the team acquired defenseman Brent Sopel and forward Nigel Dawes from the Atlanta Thrashers, in return for forward Ben Maxwell and a 4th round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Sopel will join the Canadiens tonight, while Dawes will report to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs.

Sopel, 34, played in 59 of the Thrashers 61 games thus far this season, recording seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) while averaging 16:25 of time on ice. He totalled 40 shots on goal and 16 penalty minutes. Sopel currently ranks second on the team, first among defensemen with a +7 plus/minus differential, and ranks second on the club, 7th in the NHL with 130 blocked shots.

The 6’2 and 205 lbs defenseman, who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, is in his 11th NHL season. Since he first joined the NHL back in 1998-99, Sopel amassed a total of 218 regular season points (44 goals, 174 assists) in 647 regular season games with the Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Atlanta. He has a career +33 plus/minus differential and totaled 309 penalty minutes. Sopel also played in 64 career playoff games, registering 17 points (3 goals, 14 assists). He played in all Blackhawks 22 playoff games in 2010 recording six points (1-5-6).

A native of Calgary, Sopel was a 6th round selection, 144th overall, by the Vancouver Canucks at the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.

Dawes, 26, played in nine games with the Thrashers in 2010-11, his fourth NHL season. The 5’09” and 200 lbs forward recorded one assist while averaging 11:11 of time on ice. He is currently 4th in scoring with the AHL Chicago Wolves with 44 points in 47 games (27 goals, 17 assists). He leads the team, and ranks 3rd in the AHL in goals (27).

Born in Winnipeg, Dawes was a 5th round pick, 149th selection overall, by the New York Rangers in 2003. He played in a total of 208 career regular season games in the NHL with the Rangers, Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Atlanta Thrashers. He registered 84 career points (39 goals, 45 assists) and 43 penalty minutes.

Selected in the 2nd round by the Canadiens, 49th overall in 2006, Ben Maxwell was held scoreless in 20 games with the Canadiens during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. This year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, he recorded 40 points in 47 games (11 goals, 29 assists) and 32 penalty minutes.

Montreal Canadiens Trade AHL Prospect Ben Maxwell

UPDATE - 2:08 PM
The Habs traded Ben Maxwell and a fourth round pick to the Atlanta Thrashers for defenseman Brent Sopel and forward Nigel Dawes.

Sopel will not be in the lineup tonight against the Leafs while Dawes will report to the AHL Bulldogs.

Here is the 411 on both players:

Brent Sopel
http://espn.go.com/nhl/players/profile?playerId=879

Nigel Dawes
http://espn.go.com/nhl/players/profile?playerId=3041

Habs press release:
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/02/canadiens-press-release-habs-trade-ben.html

***

According to RDS, the Montreal Canadiens have made their first foray into the trade deadline frenzy by shipping prospect Ben Maxwell out of town.

There is no word yet as to which team has picked him up or what the return is.

In 49 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs this season Maxwell has 40 points (11G, 29A) and a minus-2 rating.

Trading Maxwell was a logical move given the logjam at center with Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez, David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Jeff Halpern.

Check back for more details and links as news comes out.

RDS - Ben Maxwell échangé par le Canadien
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315586.html

Hockey's Future profile on Maxwell
http://www.hockeysfuture.com/prospects/ben_maxwell

So do you think this is it or are there more moves to come from Gauthier?

Canadiens-Leafs: Montreal and Toronto Face Off at The Bell Centre

by Kamal Panesar

UPDATE: 11:49 AM

Alex Auld is getting the start for tonight. In his one previous match against the Leafs, he was on the losing end of a 3-1 decision in Toronto.

Auld has a 4-2-1 record this season with a 2.26 GAA and a .926 save percentage.

***

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens square off tonight at the Bell Centre in their fifth of six head-to-head matches this season.

The teams have split four contests so far with each team winning two home games and losing two on the road.

Strangely, Toronto has scored exactly three goals in each of their wins while the Habs have shut out the Leafs in both of their victories.

So does that mean that we're in for another Habs shutout win at the Bell Centre tonight?


Standings

The Leafs, who not so long ago seemed destined to again miss the playoffs, have been on fire of late going 7-2-2 over their last 11 games to collect 16 points in the standings.

Their recent push give them 59 points in 60 games leaving them only six points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for eighth overall in the East, with one game in hand.

At the other end of the rink, Montreal is coming off of a massive, confidence building win over the first overall in the league Vancouver Cauncks. Despite the victory, the Habs are at the tail end of a terrible stretch that saw them pick up only two regulation victories over eight games (2-4-2).

Yet somehow the Habs have managed to maintain their sixth overall place in the Eastern conference.

If you look at the standings in the conference that no one seemingly wants to win, no team is on anything more than a one-game winning streak. As such, the Habs up and down play has been mirrored by the same from the other teams and has left their position unchanged.

With 21 games left in their season, Montreal is 32-22-7 with 71 points, three behind the Caps, four behind the Bruins who have one game in hand and seven behind the Pens with one more game played. The Habs have a three-point buffer on the seventh place Rangers, six points on the suddenly struggling Canes and nine on the ninth place Sabres.


Goaltending

Montreal versus Toronto hasn't seen a real goaltending battle since the days of Felix Potvin and Patrick Roy. And with both Leafs starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere and backup Jonas Gustavsson out due to injury and surgery, respectively, you wouldn't expect that to change much tonight.

But a youngster by the name of James Reimer has flipped that theory on its head in recent weeks.

Over 16 games played, Reimer has a 9-4-2 record and is the main reason for the Leafs' recent resurgence. Reimer, who has yet to face the Canadiens, has a brilliant 2.12 GAA and a sparkling .934 save percentage.

It will be interesting to see how the youngster responds to the raucous environment at the Bell Centre.

In Montreal's net, Carey Price continues to play like the MVP of this hockey team. Price will be making his league-leading 55th start of the year while shooting for his second overall 29th win.

Price has a 2.40 GAA and a .920 save percentage to go along with his second overall 28 wins this season.


Special Teams and Scoring

While both teams suffer from scoring anemia—the Leafs are 28th with 2.57 goals-for and the Habs are 25th with 2.53—the rest of the scoring and special teams stats look like a mismatch in Montreal's favour.

Toronto has the 22nd overall goals-against with 2.9 per game, 25th power play at 16 percent and the 26th penalty kill at 28.3 percent. Montreal, on the other hand, has the ninth best goals-against with 2.5 per game, 10th overall power play at 18.6 percent and 10th penalty kill at 83.8 percent.

Considering the Leafs weak PK, tonight might be a prime opportunity for Montreal to get their power play—which has been blanked over the last three games and is 2-for-20 (10 percent) over the last six games—back on track.


Roster Changes and Injuries

The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to be without their first and second string goaltenders: Giguere and Gustavsson. Goaltending and Colton Orr (injury reserve) aside, the Leafs are healthy.

Montreal continues to have a bevy of players on the IR including long-termers Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov. In addition, Jaroslav Spacek and Mathieu Darche continue to be sidelined with no real word on the extent of their injuries.

Expect the Canadiens to go with the same lineup that defeated the Canucks on Tuesday.

Game time is at 7:30 PM.

---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Habs/Leafs preview, Hart Trophy, Richards, Phillips, Rumours and more...

Pregame: Habs v Leafs
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens-Leafs: Montreal and Toronto Face Off at The Bell Centre
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/02/canadiens-leafs-carey-price-and-james.html

Habs Inside/Out - Game 62: Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs
http://habsinsideout.com/main/46745

Hickey sets up date with the Leafs
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46742

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

ESPN.com - Maple Leafs-Canadiens Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=310224010



News

RDS - La fatigue physique, un obstacle majeur
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315538.html

TSN - DREGER: CANADIAN TEAMS EXPECT TO BE ACTIVE BEFORE DEADLINE
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=355084

MCKENZIE: LATEST ON ZHERDEV, RIVET, KOTALIK AND SVATOS
http://www.tsn.ca/blogs/bob_mckenzie/?id=355063

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

Spector's Hockey - Thursday NHL Rumor Roundup – February 24, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/thursday-nhl-rumor-roundup-february-24-2011/

Updates on Brad Richards and Chris Phillips
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/updates-on-brad-richards-and-chris-phillips/

THN.com - Rumor Roundup: What's next for the Avs?
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38611-Rumor-Roundup-Whats-next-for-the-Avs.html

VIDEO: One-on-one with New York Islanders rookie Michael Grabner
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38610-VIDEO-Oneonone-with-New-York-Islanders-rookie-Michael-Grabner.html

THN.com Blog: Al in for Montoya with the New York Islanders
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38619-THNcom-Blog-Al-in-for-Montoya-with-the-New-York-Islanders.html

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Canadiens-Canucks: The Price Is Right For Rare Habs Win In Vancouver

by Kamal Panesar

With the memory of a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Calgary Flames still fresh in their minds, Montreal took to the ice against the Vancouver Canucks last night in what seemed like a mismatch of epic proportions.

Prior to the game, the Canucks where first place in the league, had the best goals-for, the best goals-against, the No. 1 power play and the fourth overall penalty kill.

Add to that the fact that Montreal hadn't won in Vancouver since November 2000 and that they were on a three-game losing streak, and the outlook was bleak.

Despite the long odds against them and true to their form of showing up when you least expect them to, the Canadiens came out and played one of their best road games of the season.

Vancouver tends to win games with skill instead of brawn and, as such, Montreal actually stacks up pretty well against them.

With a fast paced, skilled-based game being employed by both teams, the match was extremely entertaining and a real glimpse of what true skilled hockey looks like. With very few stops in play and end-to-end action, the fans certainly got their money's worth!

Montreal got on the board first, when Benoit Pouliot sprung David Desharnais with a breakaway pass that he tucked five-hole on Roberto Luongo. Only 1:07 later, Brian Gionta potted the rebound off a P.K. Subban slapper for his 22nd of the season to make it 2-0.

The shots were 14-1 Montreal by the 10 minute mark of the first before Vancouver was able to mount any push back. After that, the tables were turned, with the Canucks firing 11 shots to Montreal's two over the final 10 minutes of the first and out-shooting the Habs 39-25 on the night.

Montreal got themselves into penalty trouble, handing the Canucks' first overall power play six man-advantages, including four in the third period, but were able to stop all but two.

Henrik Sedin got the Nucks on the board 3:27 into the second, before Andrei Kostitsyn fired his 14th of the seasonthe eventual game winnerpast Luongo at 10:36 of the same period.

The Canucks made it a one-goal game early in the third, but Carey Price, who stopped 37 shots on the night, stood tall, turning aside shot after shot to secure the victory.


Final score: Habs 3 - Canucks 2

Habs' scorers: David Desharnais (6), Brian Gionta (22), Andrei Kostitsyn (14)
Canucks' scorers: Henrik Sedin (15), Mikael Samuelsson (17)

Three stars: 1. Carey Price, 2. Ryan Kesler, 3. Brian Gionta


Key Moment

With time running out and the Habs clinging to a one-goal lead, lead-footed Hal Gill got into a foot race for an icing call. Gill dove and used his long reach to touch the puck first, sending the faceoff back to the Canucks' zone with about 30 seconds to play.

Gill's diving play prevented the Canucks from pulling Roberto Luongo for the extra attacker and helped ensure the Montreal win.


Game Notes

1. Will the real Montreal Canadiens please stand up?

The Canadiens, clearly intent on reversing their recent fortunes, employed their most intense net-presence game of the season last night. They unfortunately didn't maintain this style for the entire game, but in the first period, Montreal looked more like the crease-crashing Flyers than the habitually perimeter-playing Canadiens.

From Andrei Kostitsyn to Travis Moen to Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty, it seemed like every line had players who were crashing the crease. The result was a flurry of goal-mouth scrambles and scoring chances by Montreal, with players falling all over Luongo.

As much as a physical presence has been lacking around the opposition's net for most of the season, the Canadiens showed last night that they actually do have players who can play that role.

Why they don't do so more often is a bit of a mystery to me, but they should take note from last night's game and try to consistently reproduce that style of play.


2. Four players, four huge games.

While Carey Price was the uncontested hero of the night, the entire team put in a solid effort, helping the Habs snap their three-game losing streak.

With a 2-0 lead in the game, Coach Martin decided to shorten his bench by essentially sitting the Desharnais line for the balance of the game. I'm not sure what the exact motivation was for this move but, with the other three lines firing on all cylinders, perhaps Martin wanted to go with the lines he felt could guarantee him the win.

The entire team played well, but a few players in particular stood out: Hal Gill, P.K. Subban, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Plekanec.

All four players finished the night with more than 20 minutes of ice time, with Subban and Gill doing yeoman's work, clocking in at 26:17 and 25:53 respectively.

Gill, Subban and Hamrlik led the charge in boxing the Canucks out of the high slot, clearing the front of the net and getting rid of rebounds.

Subban in particular has truly grown into the role of the No. 1 defenseman on this team. While he still has a lot to learn and will undoubtedly continue to get better each year, at 21 years of age, you have to be impressed with his incredible poise on the ice.

As for Plekanec, while a lot has been made lately about his lack of offensive production on the road, he continues to take care of things on the defensive side of the puck.

Plekanec was one of the main reasons why the Canucks' vaunted power play only managed two goals last night and, coupled with Travis Moen, he continues to be the Habs' best penalty killer.


3. The Habs owned the defensive slot.

Montreal did an excellent job of boxing out the Vancouver players for most of the night, especially on the power play, and this despite the excellent work by Ryan Kesler to constantly be in Price's face.

Try as they may, the extremely skilled Canucks weren't able to get to the high slot with the puck very often and, as such, the dangerous scoring chances from prime locations were kept to a minimum.

As much as Jacques Martin's system can stifle the offensive instincts of a team, its ability to keep opponents to the outside is truly its crown jewel.

Time and again last night, the Canucks had trouble getting to the front of the net, especially on the power play, where they went 2-for-6 and had no answer for Hal Gill lying down to cut the cross-crease pass.

The Canucks still did a great job of getting bodies in front of and all around Price, but his focus was as unwavering as his desire to win and his strong work, backed up by excellent defense, sealed the deal.


4. Lars Eller needs to play at center.

Eller hasn't exactly been ripping up the league in his inaugural season in Montreal, but he is still a tremendously skilled player, despite what many Habs’ fans are saying.

The thing is that Eller is a natural center and playmaker and for most of the season, he has been playing on the wing. In the few brief stints that we have seen from him at center, he has looked his best and more importantly, most comfortable.

Last night with Jacques Martin juggling his lines, Eller, who has played on the wing with Scott Gomez and Kostitsyn since the All-Star break, found himself centering Kostitsyn and Moen on the fourth line.

At first glance, that might seem like punishment, but with Eller up the middle, a bonafide goal-scorer (Kostitsyn) on his wing, the fourth line was one of the Habs' most effective. They used speed, skill and grit to produce the Habs' second goalKostitsyn's first in 12 games and first point in nine.

With Moen digging the puck out of the corners, Eller setting it up and Kostitsyn getting into shooting position, the trio complemented each other very well and helped bring balance to the Canadiens' lineup.

It is amazing how much more you notice Eller's skill and vision when he is playing at center as opposed to wing, so here's hoping Coach Martin leaves him there.


5. Price had his work cut out for him.

Price, like the rest of the team, hasn't played his best hockey of late.

So much so that in his last six games prior to last night, Price had let in 23 goals for an abysmal 3.83 GAA, with only one victory to show for it.

Needless to say, for the Habs to have any chance of defeating the first overall Canucks last night, Price needed to shine.

And shine he did.

While Price wasn't really tested early, the Canucks came to life over the back half of the first and took control in the second. Moreover, as they started to rack up the scoring chances, the Canucks' game plan took shape and its prime component was to crash and crowd Price's crease.

With an almost constant screen in front of himfrom players like Keslerand players crashing around him like waves against the rocks, Price somehow managed to stand his ground.

Fighting through traffic to see the puck, displaying excellent lateral movement and unbelievable puck-tracking abilities, Price was clearly in the zone. After two terrible past experiences in his home province, Price really wanted the win last night and you could see it in his play.

So as much as Quebec-born goalies seem to bring their A-games to the Bell Centre, Price certainly returned the favour to the Canucks last night and is the main reason for the victory.


Standings and Next Game

With the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins both winning last night, the Canadiens could not have picked a better time to halt their losing streak.

The win gives the Habs 71 points in the standings with a 32-22-7 record, good enough for sixth overall in the East. Ahead of Montreal are the Bruins with 75 points and one game in hand, the Penguins with 77 points and the Capitals with 74.

In the rear-view mirror are the Rangers with 68 points and one more game played, the Hurricanes with 65 and the Sabres and Thrashers with 60 each and three and one game in hand respectively.

Montreal, who were only able to salvage two out of a possible six points on this Western road trip, now return to the friendly climes of the Bell Centre for a Thursday night tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs.



---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images North America)

Habs win, post game, Gorges contract, Prospect ranking, rumours and more...

Post game: Habs 3 - Canucks 2
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens-Canucks: The Price Is Right In Rare Habs Win In Vancouver
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/02/canadiens-canucks-price-is-right-in.html

Habs Inside/Out - Game 61: Habs salvage win in Western Canada
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46726

Finally!
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46741

RDS - Une première depuis 2000
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315446.html

TSN - CANADIENS END THREE-GAME LOSING STREAK WITH WIN OVER CANUCKS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=354995

ESPN.com - Canadiens strike early to inflict rare regulation home loss on Canucks
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=310222022


News
RDS - Offre de contrat: Gorges doit patienter
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315471.html

THN.com - The Hot List: Noesen's seeing double
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38577-The-Hot-List-Noesens-seeing-double.html

Spector's Hockey - Tuesday Evening NHL Scuttlebutt – February 22, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/tuesday-evening-nhl-scuttlebutt-february-22-2011/

Habsworld.net - Bulldogs Weekly (Feb 14-20)
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2392

Hockey's Future - NHLers P.K. Subban and Lars Eller headline prospect pool for Montreal Canadiens
http://www.hockeysfuture.com/articles/12810/nhlers_pk_subban_and_lars_eller_headline_prospect_pool_for_montreal_canadiens/


NHL.com - U.S.-born players delivering fantasy value
http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=553241

(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images North America)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Canadiens Game Day: Habs Try To End Skid Against Red Hot Canucks

by Kamal Panesar

Two days after getting their heads handed to them against the Calgary Flames in the Heritage Classic, the Habs are in Vancouver to take on the league-leading Canucks tonight.

With the Canadiens on a three-game losing streak and the trade deadline only six days away, the burning question on Habs addicts' minds today is: do I really have to stay up until 1:00 AM Eastern just to watch Montreal lose?

Admit it, that's what's in the back of your mind, isn't it?

Tonight's game is the third and final match on this so far miserable road trip for the Habs, and will once again feature a really hot team versus a really cold team.


Standings

The Canadiens are 4-4-2 over their last 10 games and are on their worst stretch since going 5-8-1 through the month of December. Montreal is 1-4-2 over their last seven games and clearly trending in the wrong direction.

Despite their horrific record of late, the Canadiens somehow remain in sixth place overall in the East with 69 points, as no one behind them in the standings seems to be able to string together victories.

Montreal is three points up on the New York Rangers for seventh, five points up on the Hurricanes for eighth and a full nine points up on the ninth place Sabres.

In fact, aside from the Bruins and Capitals who each have two straight wins, no team in the top-12 of the Eastern conference is on anything more than a one-game streak, helping the Habs to stay in contention.

The playoff picture is much clearer and brighter for the Canucks who with a 38-13-9 record, 85 points in the standings and a 7-3-0 record over their last ten games are the top team in the NHL.

Vancouver holds a five-point lead over the second place (in the West) Red Wings and a whopping 15-point lead over the second place (in the Northwest division) Calgary Flames.


Goaltending

Carey Price, who is 0-for-2 attempts in Vancouver, will be trying to get his first career win against his home province Canucks. After being benched his first time in Vancouver in favour of Jaroslav Halak and getting shelled 7-1 in his second visit, Price will have fire in his belly and be aching to pull out a victory with friends and family in attendance.

The story is almost equally interesting in the other net with Montreal native, Roberto Luongo, getting his 46th start of the season. Luongo is 11-0-3 with a sparkling 1.81 goals-against average in his last 14 home starts to go with the Canucks incredible 21-4-5 home record this season.

To say that the Habs—who have been outscored 8-1 over two games so far on this road trip—have their work cut out for them would be a massive understatement.


Special Teams and Scoring

This is where it gets really ugly for the Canadiens, or at least for their chances of winning tonight.

The Canucks have the No.1 goals-for in the league at 3.3 per game, the No.1 goals-against at 2.3 per game, the No.1 power play at 25.1 percent and the No.4 penalty kill at 85.5 percent.

Talk about a juggernaut!

Montreal, on the other hand, is 25th overall with 2.5 goals-for per game, ninth with 2.5 goals-against per game, ninth with an 18.7 percent power play and seventh with an 84.2 percent PK.

Needless to say, Montreal will be facing a huge defensive challenge and a will need a serious trend reversal from their anemic offense to score on the hermetic Vancouver D.

They would also do well to stay out of the penalty box.


Roster Changes

Despite getting Hal Gill and Michael Cammalleri back in the lineup last game, the Canadiens are still dealing with the losses of Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Mathieu Darche and Jaroslav Spacek.

With the team in a tailspin and the offense sputtering, Jacques Martin has taken out his bingo machine and is seemingly picking numbers at random to form his lines. If we go by the lines at yesterday's practice, the Canadiens lineup should look something like this:

Jeff Halpern - Tomas Plekanec - Michael Cammalleri
Max Pacioretty - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Benoit Pouliot - David Desharnais - Ryan White
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn

Halpern on the top line at wing, rather than center, is a bit of a head-scratcher considering he has been the Habs' best faceoff man this season. That being said, reuniting Pouliot, Desharnais and White is a solid move as they have been the Habs most consistent line over the last five games or so.

Despite their tremendous success this season, the Canucks have a long litany of injuries including six players on the injury reserve—Andrew Alberts, Keith Ballard, Alexander Edler, Alexandre Bolduc, Rick Rypien and Lee Sweatt.

Defenseman Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard are both skating and could return to the lineup as soon as tonight.


Intangibles

The Canadiens have not won in Vancouver since November 2000 and Carey Price has never won a game in his home province. Both the team and the player will be trying to reverse those trends tonight.

Game time is 10:00 PM Eastern.


New Sunday Shinny

With Nick home sick with strep throat, Gary Whittaker and Kamal Panesar welcome Kevin Mio, online editor of the Montreal Gazette to the Shinny.

Topics include:
-we play the role of GM of the Canadiens, and define the team needs going into the trade deadline
-we evaluate the current level of value that the Canadiens have to offer
-we look ahead to the Heritage Classic game in Calgary

Click play below to listen in (listing time 39:45):


---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Habs/Canucks pregame, Price in nets, Power Rankings, Rumours and more...

Pregame: Habs @ Canucks
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens Game Day: Habs Try To End Skid Against Red Hot Canucks
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/02/canadiens-game-day-habs-try-to-end-skid.html

Habs Inside/Out - Tough one tonight
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46724

Audio: Price gets call vs Canucks
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46723

RDS - Le Canadien, trop axé sur l'attaque?
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315443.html

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

ESPN.com - Canadiens-Canucks Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=310222022


News
HabsAddict.com - The Team 990's Sunday Shinny - Episode 10 - February 20, 2011
http://pc.habsaddict.com/2011/02/team-990s-sunday-shinny-episode-9_21.html

Habs Inside/Out - Habs Future
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46722

TSN - MCKENZIE: TRADE MARKET AS HOT AS IT'S BEEN POST-LOCKOUT
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=354844

ESPN.com - Power Rankings: Devils, Flames jump into top 10
http://espn.go.com/nhl/powerrankings

THN.com - Denis Boucher's Blog: How training your brain helps performance
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38562-Denis-Bouchers-Blog-How-training-your-brain-helps-performance.html

International Scouting Services Blog: USA-Finland prospect rivalry heats up at Five Nations
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38560-International-Scouting-Services-Blog-USAFinland-prospect-rivalry-heats-up-at-Five-Nations.html

Spector's Hockey - NHL Rumors – Tuesday, February 22, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/nhl-rumors-tuesday-february-22-2011/

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Team 990's Sunday Shinny - Episode 10 - February 20, 2011

With Nick home sick with strep throat, Gary Whittaker and Kamal Panesar welcome Kevin Mio, online editor of the Montreal Gazette to the Shinny.

Topics include:
-we play the role of GM of the Canadiens, and define the team needs going into the trade deadline
-we evaluate the current level of value that the Canadiens have to offer
-we look ahead to the Heritage Classic game in Calgary

Click play below to listen in (listing time 39:45):

Habs lose, Heritage post game, Trade rumours and more...

Post game: Flames 4 - Habs 0
Habs Inside/Out - Game 60: Flames freeze out Canadiens
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46693

Heritage Ass-kick
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/46720

RDS - Spectateur de son malheur
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315349.html

Le CH s'adapte à la froideur de Calgary
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/315306.html

TSN - BOURQUE SCORES TWICE AS FLAMES DOWN HABS AT HERITAGE CLASSIC
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=354767

ESPN.com - Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames blank Habs in Heritage Classic
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=310220003

Habsworld.net - HW 3 Stars: Not much of a Classic
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2390

THN.com - Habs View: Canadiens' slump continues with 4-0 loss in Heritage Classic
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38558-Habs-View-Canadiens-slump-continues-with-40-loss-in-Heritage-Classic.html


News
THN.com Blog: The NHL’s five most disappointing teams
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/38548-THNcom-Blog-The-NHLs-five-most-disappointing-teams.html

Spector's Hockey - NHL Trade Rumors – Monday, February 21, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/nhl-trade-rumors-monday-february-21-2011/

Lists of Potential NHL Trade Candidates
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/lists-of-potential-nhl-trade-candidates/

Latest Sabres News
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/02/latest-sabres-news/

(Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images North America)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Canadiens-Flames: Fire And Ice, The Heritage Classic Is Upon Us

by Kamal Panesar

45,000-plus fans and media are ready to brave the frigid temperature of Calgary, Alberta tonight in the second ever NHL Heritage Classic. The last classic took place eight years ago with these same Montreal Canadiens taking on the Edmonton Oilers.

After a few days of festivities the hype is over, the PR jobs are done and the players are ready. Today, at 6:00 PM EST, the puck drops for the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

Lost in the publicly televised Habs practice, the players trying on different types of long underwear, hoods and socks, and the chicken broth at the bench to help keep them warm, is the fact there there are a hugely important two points on the line tonight.


Standings

The Habs, who have been in a free fall of late going 1-3-2 in their last six games, need the win to keep pace with the Bruins and keep a buffer on the teams behind them. More importantly, they just need a good showing and two points will go a long way towards turning around a road trip that started on a terrible note in Edmonton on Thursday.

A win will also snap a two-game losing streak by the Habs.

The outlook is decidedly more positive in Calgary where the once cellar-dwelling Flames have turned their season around, sitting in a four-way tie for fifth overall in the West with 68 points.

Calgary is actually in ninth at the moment due to their 60 games played and 30 wins to the Ducks' 32, Stars' 31 and Kings' 32. However, going 7-1-2 in their last ten games and 10-1-2 in their last 13, the Flames are a team on fire—pun fully intended.


Goaltending

Carey Price will get his 53rd start of the season and will be donning his new Heritage Classic mask.

For those who haven't yet seen it, take a look at these pictures because it's a bit difficult to describe and a bit hilarious to look at!

Well at least I think so.

For the Flames, expect Miikka Kiprusoff to get his 13th straight start and 52nd of the year.

Price has the better numbers out of the two, but stats don't necessarily matter in a game where the sun will be shining brightly and possibly making it more difficult for these work-horse netminders.


Special Teams and Scoring

The Flames are a much more offensive team than Montreal with their 8th overall 2.9 goals-for per game, to the Habs anemic 25th overall 2.6 per game. The Habs, however, have the edge in the goals-against department with their 8th overall 2.5 per game to the Flames 17th overall 2.8.

As such, you would expect this game to feature defense versus offense meaning the that Price will have to be sharp.

The Habs have a huge advantage in the special teams department with the ninth best power play at 19 percent, and sixth overall PK at 84.8 percent. The Flames will counter with a below average 19th overall PP at 16.8 percent and 17th overall PK at 81.4 percent.

Despite the Habs top-10 PP, they have gone only 2-for-16 in their last four games for a pitiful 12.5 percent efficiency.


Roster Changes

Montreal is getting a bevy of players back in the lineup today with the return of Hal Gill, Michael Cammalleri and supposedly James Wizniewski. The Wiz, who took a shot in the face last game and went to the hospital with a severe facial laceration, was practicing yesterday with a full face cage, a wicked shiner and a Frankenstein-like gash on his face.

Even if the Habs only get Cammy and Gill back, it will provide a well needed boost for the team.

If we go by the lines at practice yesterday, it looks like David Desharnais will finally be getting his shot as the second line center, playing between Cammalleri and Benoit Pouliot.

Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek continues to be on the sidelines with no real word on the extent of his injury or potential length of absence from the lineup.

The Flames are a relatively healthy team but continue to be without the services of Daymond Langkow, Raitis Ivanans and Adam Pardy.

The puck drops at 6:00 PM EST.

---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

(Image taken from Dave Stubbs video on HabsInsideOut.com)