Thursday, March 31, 2011

Canadiens-Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner Pots Two, Canes Chase Carey Price in Win

by Kamal Panesar

So how about those Habs? Are we having fun yet, Habs addicts?

I didn't think so.

The only good thing about the Canadiens current funk—including last night they have won only two of their last seven—is that the players aren't having much fun either.

But maybe that's the part of the problem.

They are, after all, playing hockey for a living not doing brain surgery. Perhaps it's time for someone to remind them of that fact.

Last night, playing their second game in two nights, the Habs laid a stink-bomb in Carolina against the Hurricanes. The Canadiens started the game well enough, attacking the Canes' zone with speed and setting up some quality scoring opportunities. The problem is that as good as they looked in the offensive zone Montreal seems to have forgotten how to play defense.

The Canes opened the scoring off a Canadiens turnover, handing the puck to rookie Jeff Skinner in the high slot. His quick shot squeezed through Price's five-hole to make it 1-0 11:01 into the first.

It was a bit of a softie.

That goal aside, Price once again received no defensive support from his team. Their plentiful turnovers handing scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity to the Canes in the first period alone.

Skinner would pot another in the first period—his 29th of the season—off a strange play where Roman Hamrlik appeared to fall for no reason. Michael Cammalleri cut the lead in half with a second period power play, but the Canes got that one back only 47 seconds later.

After that, it was all Canes.

As the Habs' defensive zone coverage completely fell apart, the Canes peppered Price, scoring four goals on 26 shots before he was pulled in favour of Alex Auld.

The bottom line is that Montreal's once hermetic defensive scheme seems to have evaporated, replaced with a chaotic free-for-all that leaves their goaltender exposed.

Montreal looks like a fragile team that lacks confidence, and with only four games to play time is running out to right the ship.


Final score: Canes 6 - Habs 2

Habs scorers: Mike Cammalleri (17), P.K. Subban (12)
Canes scorers: Jeff Skinner (28, 29), Jamie McBain (6, 7), Joni Pitkanen (4), Cory Stillman (11)

Three stars: 1. Jeff Skinner, 2. Jamie McBain, 3. Cam Ward


Game Notes

Calder for Skinner

With the end of the season fast approaching, player award discussions are reaching a fever pitch. One of the most interesting races to watch this season has been for the Calder trophy—rookie of the year.

Prior to last night's game, I really thought it was a two-horse race between Jeff Skinner and Logan Couture, with P.K. Subban a not-too-distant third—perhaps even second.

After the game, however, I can't see anyone but Skinner claiming the trophy.

His two-goal performance gives him 29 for the year, 58 points (29G, 29A), a plus-three rating and 196 shots on goal. All of this while averaging 16:39 of ice time per game. And the kicker?

He's only 18 years old.

Sorry folks, but as good as Subban is, and he is having an exceptional rookie season, this looks like an open and shut case to me.


Subban is the Habs top shutdown man

P.K. Subban, in his first season in the NHL, has become that Habs undisputed No.1 defenseman.

When Andrei Markov then Josh Gorges went down with season ending injuries, most thought the Canadiens would sink like the Titanic. However buoyed by Price's excellent goaltending and a once-hermetic defensive system, the Canadiens have survived and until recently, were thriving.

A huge reason for their success has been the play of rookie Subban, something that hasn't been discussed much.

Since being paired with Hal Gill, Subban has settled into the role of the Habs No.1 defenseman and is filling the spot admirably. He is the only defenseman capable of skating with and shutting down the opposition's top offensive players.

Last night, there were several sequences that demonstrated the tremendous talent this kid has.

During a first period rush by Tuomo Ruutu, for example, Subban shadowed him move for move, closing him out against the boards before taking the body and stripping him of the puck. Subban then got the puck up the ice quickly, turning the play the other way.

On another play he bailed out his defensive partner, Hal Gill, before again quickly moving the puck up the ice while evading two Canes' forecheckers.

A lot of these incredible defensive plays go unnoticed but if you focus on Subban in the defensive zone, you'll see them.

While he won't be winning the Calder Trophy this year, he has without a doubt become one of the pillars of this team. Along with Price's play and the Canadiens system, Subban is a key reason for Montreal success this season.


Michael Cammalleri played his best game in a long time

After looking lost and out of sync the last few weeks, Cammalleri and linemate Tomas Plekanec played their best games since coming back form injury.

Neither player has looked very good in the last few weeks, but last night they seemed to be getting their timing back. Cammalleri, who probably returned to the lineup too soon, has not been playing at 100 percent in recent weeks.

Last night, however, he showed flashes of the player that led Montreal in playoff scoring last year.

His line, with Plekanec and Jeff Halpern, created several quality scoring chances early in the first, with Cammalleri acting as the spark plug.

Moreover, Cammalleri seems to have regained that speedy shiftiness that has been missing since his return. His tenacious play and quick feet are what led to Brandon Sutter's trip on him 3:52 into the second period.

On the ensuing power play Cammalleri took a Plekanec pass at the side of the net, and did a quick right-left-right deke before roofing it past Cam Ward. It wasn't a patented Cammalleri one-knee-special, but it was a lot closer to vintage Cammy than anything we're seen lately.


Price didn't make the saves so the Habs didn't win the game

Carey Price wasn't able to stand on his head last night and, surprise, surprise, the Canadiens lost the game.

Price didn't exactly play a bad game, though he would surely like to have the first goal back. The real problem, as have been the case for the last month, is that Montreal seems to have forgotten how to play defense.

In addition, they once again made a ton bad turnovers and lost most of the one-on-one battles last night. These kind of breakdowns led to the first three goals against—turnovers by Brent Sopel and Benoit Pouliot and a fall by Roman Hamrlik.

On the Canes' fourth goal, Skinner out-worked Subban in the high slot, freeing the puck. Ruutu then beat Gill in a footrace—of course he did—getting it back to the point for Joni Pitkanen to blast through a screen.

In a lot of ways, the Canes' fourth goal was the loss in a nutshell. Lost battles, turnovers and constantly second to the puck, the Habs were simply outclassed by the hungry Canes.

With the playoffs looming Montreal has a bevy of troubling, recurring problems right now, none of which is worse than their porous defensive-zone coverage.

If they can't figure things out quickly, this could end up being a short post season or perhaps, unthinkably, they'll slide right out of contention.


Standings and Next Game

The Habs return to their losing ways leaves them stalled in sixth with 89 points and 78 games played. With each loss, the prospect of catching teams ahead of them dwindles.

Tampa is in fifth with 93 points while the Bruins have 96 points. Both teams have two games in hand.

Behind Montreal are the Sabres and Rangers who are seventh and eighth, respectively, with 87 points and one game each in hand. Behind them are the Canes in ninth with 84 points and one game in hand.

Carolina has five more games remaining and can't afford a loss. Moreover, if they were to win all five games, which might be what it takes, they will end the season with 94 points. As such, it seems reasonable to think that two more wins, and perhaps only one, by Montreal is all they'll need to punch their playoff ticket.

However with only four more games to play and the team tripping over itself, that feat is not as easy as it seems.

Montreal now has two days off before taking on the Devils in New Jersey on Saturday. The match will be the second game in two days for Jersey, so the Habs really have no excuse for another sloppy loss.

---
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 lose, post game, Nathan Gerbe, Jeff Skinner, Rumours and more...

Post game: Canes 6 - Habs 2
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens-Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner Pots Two, Canes Chase Carey Price in Win
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/03/canadiens-hurricanes-jeff-skinner-pots.html

Hockey Inside/Out - Game 78: Habs blown away by Hurricanes
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/game-78-canadiens-at-hurricanes

And then they rested …
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/and-then-they-rested

RDS - « On dirait qu’on est fragile »
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317371.html

TSN - HURRICANES KEEP PLAYOFF HOPES ALIVE WITH WIN OVER HABS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=360176

Cyberpresse - Le Canadien ne fait pas le poids face aux Hurricanes

ESPN.com - Jeff Skinner helps Hurricanes bury Canadiens, shrink playoff gap
http://scores.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=310330007

Habsworld.net - HW 3 Stars: Rookie leads playoff hungry Canes
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2440


News
THN.com Blog: Diminutive Nathan Gerbe plays big for Buffalo Sabres
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39403-THNcom-Blog-Diminutive-Nathan-Gerbe-plays-big-for-Buffalo-Sabres.html

THN.com Top 10: Games to watch
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39399-THNcom-Top-10-Games-to-watch.html

Spector's Hockey - Updates on the Maple Leafs, Islanders and Oilers
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/03/updates-on-the-maple-leafs-islanders-and-oilers/

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Canadiens Game Day: Habs Look to Build On Win, Closeout Hurricanes

by Kamal Panesar

The Carolina Hurricanes have a date with destiny tonight.

3-2 shootout winners against the Washington Capitals yesterday, they welcome the Montreal Canadiens to Raleigh this evening in another must-win game.

With the season winding down and teams ahead of them winning, the Canes are running out of time to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, the task doesn't get any easier as they have not fared very well against the Canadiens this season.

This will be the fourth and final game between these teams, and Montreal holds a 3-0-0 record in the previous three games. The Habs have outscored the Canes 14-7 over three games, while limiting them to one power play goal.

A loss by the Canes would be a crippling blow to their fading playoff hopes.

Montreal will be looking to create a little momentum after snapping a three-game losing streak against the Thrashers last night. A win by the Habs would give them some much needed breathing room in the standings.


Standings

Carolina is ninth overall in the East with 82 points in 76 games. Despite their position, they are only three points behind the Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot. As such, you would expect them to play an intense, desperate brand of playoff hockey tonight.

Montreal is sixth in the East with 89 points in 77 games. The Habs have not been playing great hockey for the last few weeks, despite winning last night against the Thrashers.

As such, they can't rest of their laurels and need to be ready for a big game tonight.

A win by Montreal would inch them closer to the fifth overall Lightning, while also giving them some distance on the Rangers.


Goaltending

Both teams played and won last night.

That being said, with neither team playing again until Saturday, I fully expect Carey Price and Cam Ward to get the starts for their respective teams.


Scoring and Special Teams

As is the case with most of the Canadiens' opponents, Carolina has more potent offense but weaker defense than Montreal.

The Canes have the 14th overall goals-for at 2.8 per game (214 total goals). Their power play is surprisingly weak, however, 23rd overall at 15.9 percent. On the defensive side of the puck, Carolina is in the bottom third of the league with the 22nd best goals-against at 2.9 per game (226), and the 20th power play at 81.0 percent.

Montreal continues to have trouble scoring goals and are 24th with 2.6 goals per game (203 total goals). The Canadiens' PP has gone flat in recent weeks but still sits in 10th in the league at 18.5 percent.

The Habs are ninth overall averaging 2.5 goals-against per game (197 total goals) and have the ninth best PK at 83.9 percent.


Roster Changes and Injuries

Given Jacques Martin's trend of riding the hot hand, there should be no lineup changes for the Canadiens tonight.

That means that Tom Pyatt and Yannick Weber should continue to be healthy scratches.

Montreal continues to play without Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov, Alexandre Picard, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty.

The Canes are missing only Jay Harrison from their lineup, who is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury.


Key to Victory

Montreal has to stick to the things that have made the successful against the Canes this season: excellent goaltending, cycling with speed, taking advantage of suspect Canes' defense and scoring on the power play.

At the same time, the Habs needs to respect the Hurricanes speed, which is considerable. As such, I would expect a typical sit-back-and-wait Jacques Martin style road-game from Montreal.

For the Canes, they absolutely have to keep the puck in the Canadiens end of the rink, as that is where they tend to excel. Despite the Habs' recent PP problem, the Canes would do well to avoid the penalty box given their weak PK.

Finally, like any team trying to beat Carey Price, the Canes have to crowd and crash his crease in order to try getting him off his game.

Game time is 7:00 PM.

Canadiens-Thrashers: Carey Price Backstops Habs to Win over Thrashers

by Kamal Panesar

They scored! They scored!

199 minutes and one second after Tom Pyatt last put the Montreal Canadiens on the board, Roman Hamrlik broke the Habs' streak of futility.

Predictably, it wasn't one of those beautiful tape-to-tape passes that makes the end of night honour roll. Instead, it was a dirty, ugly goal with players crashing the crease and whacking at the puck until it went it.

So what's wrong with that?

During the Habs' three game losing streak—they were also shutout in their previous three games—it was pretty clear that they needed either a lucky bounce or an ugly goal to get the party started.

Well, last night they got both.

At 12:56 of the first period, Roman Hamrlik took a one-time feed from James Wisniewski and blasted it on net. The shot was stopped by Thrashers' goalie Ondrej Pavelec, but the rebound bounced around in the crease.

The loose rebound drew both Thrashers and Habs players to the blue paint and, with Pavelec on his back, Michael Cammalleri's shot actually went off the post. Fortunately for Montreal Hamrlik swooped around and knocked the rebound in, slaking the Habs considerable goal-thirst.

Mathieu Darche was next in line for Montreal, taking the puck from behind the Thrashers net out front and putting it past Pavelec only 11 seconds later.

After that, the Habs were in cruise control but still needed brilliance from Carey Price to pull out the win.

Andrei Kostitsyn, who played one of his best games of the season, closed the game out with an empty netter with 1:20 to play.


Final score: Habs 3 - Thrashers 1

Habs scorers: Roman Hamrlik (5), Mathieu Darche (10), Andrei Kostitsyn (20)
Thrashers scorers: Nik Antropov (14)

Three stars: 1. Carey Price, 2. Mathieu Darche, 3. Roman Hamrlik


Controversial Moment

With the Canadiens leading by two at the 8:35 point of the third period, Eric Boulton skated past Hal Gill, clipping him near the eye with his stick. Wincing with pain, Gill lost his man who was able to pass the puck over to Nik Antropov. Antropov buried it past Price, killing his bid for a ninth shutout of the season.

While I am not a fan of blaming the refs, since I understand it is a very difficult job, that was clearly a blown call. Not only should that have been a four-minute penalty—Hal Gill was bleeding—but the goal should have been disallowed.

In the end, Montreal pulled out the win so that blown call didn't change the outcome of the game.


Game Notes

How did Kostitsyn not get a star?

Have you noticed how no one seems to be complaining about Kostitsyn anymore? This change happened the day Jacques Martin decided to pair him with Lars Eller in the bottom-six.

In my estimation, Kostitsyn is a top-six player however his performance since being placed in the bottom-six has not only been some of his best hockey, but his most consistent.

Last night, AK46 continued on his same path of consistency, playing one of his best games of the season. Not only was he making things happen offensively, he continues to be solid defensively and throws his weigh around to good effect.

Kostitsyn finished the night with six body checks and was physically and mentally engage all game.

He currently leads all Canadiens with 131 hits and is third in scoring with 20 goals—behind Brian Gionta (26) and Tomas Plekanec (21). Not bad for a player that most were running out of town a few months ago.


Price is the Hart of this team

Yes, yes, the Canadiens played much better last night than they have in a week. Still, if it wasn't for Price's brilliance they would not have won the game. I know I sound like a broken record on this one, but night after night Price continues to show why there is no player in the league who is more valuable to his team.

And that's what the Hart trophy is all about.


The veterans finally showed up

Watching the game last night at the Black Lions pub with Gary Whittaker (Team 990) and Kyle Roussel (Cowhide and Rubber), we all noticed how active and awake the veterans looked.

Gary noted only a few shifts in how hungry Scott Gomez looked and how badly he seemed to want to score.

Well his fervor was contagious as line after line played with a determination not seen in these parts for weeks.

Every time I looked up, Cammalleri was around the net or in someone's face. Gomez too was involved in a little pushing and shoving. Hal Gill even got into the action with a bear hug on a Thrashers player during a post-whistle scrum.

From top to bottom, the vets looked angry last night and hungry for the two points. Unfortunately for the Habs, that is something that has been missing for too long on this team.

As I said in my look at the team's woes a few days ago, this losing streak has the ability to destroy the Habs. But, if they can get over and past it, the adversity might also bring the team together. And any newly-found cohesiveness can only make them a tighter group, helping to propel them to a strong post-season.

Now, one game does not a turnaround make, but it's a step in the right direction.


Standings and Next Game

The win not only snaps a three-game losing streak, but it gives the Habs two well needed points in the standings.

Montreal now moves into sole possession of sixth overall with 89 points and a 41-29-7 record. Ahead of the Habs are the suddenly resurgent Lightning, winners of two in a row, with 93 points. After Tampa are the Pens with 98 and the Bruins with 96.

Barring major collapses by those teams, it seems highly unlikely that Montreal can catch either before the end of the season.

Behind the Habs are the Rangers with 87 points, the Sabres with 84 points and the Hurricanes with 82 points, all with one game in hand.

Montreal is back at it tonight against the Hurricanes in Raleigh. The Canes absolutely need this win to stay alive in the playoff race. A Canadiens win would put one more nail in Carolina's playoff coffin.

Game time is 7:00 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 Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Habs win, post game, Canes pregame, Good coaching, rumours and more...

Post Game: Habs 3 - Thrashers 1
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens-Thrashers: Carey Price Backstops Habs to Win Over Thrashers
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/03/canadiens-thrashers-carey-price.html

Hockey Inside/Out - Game 77: Canadiens snap skid
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/game-77-canadiens-vs-thrashers

RDS - Le CH retrouve son aplomb
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317295.html

Roman Hamrlik en a surpris plus d'un
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317370.html

TSN - CANADIENS END DROUGHT TO BEAT ATLANTA; MOVE ALONE INTO 6TH
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=360041

ESPN.com - Canadiens start fast, beat Thrashers
http://scores.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=310329010

Habsworld.net - HW 3 Stars: The drought is over
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2439

Cyberpresse - Le Canadien met fin à sa léthargie


Pregame: Habs @ Hurricanes
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens Game Day: Habs Look to Build On Win, Closeout Hurricanes
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/03/canadiens-game-day-habs-look-to-build.html

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

ESPN.com - Canadiens-Hurricanes Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=310330007


News
THN.com Blog: Coyotes' Lauri Korpikoski one to watch during Stanley Cup playoffs
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39373-THNcom-Blog-Coyotes-Lauri-Korpikoski-one-to-watch-during-Stanley-Cup-playoffs.html

Gregg Sutch's Blog: Mental preparation key to playoff success
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39376-Gregg-Sutchs-Blog-Mental-preparation-key-to-playoff-success.html

Justin Bourne's Blog: Four points that make up a great coach
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39355-Justin-Bournes-Blog-Four-points-that-make-up-a-great-coach.html

Spector's Hockey -
NHL Free Agent News – March 30,2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/03/nhl-free-agent-news-march-302011/

Latest on the Panthers, Blues & Blue Jackets
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/03/latest-on-the-panthers-blues-blue-jackets/

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Canadiens Game Day: Habs Look To Halt Skid Against Thrashers

by Kamal Panesar

The Montreal Canadiens and Atlanta Thrashers face off tonight at the Bell Centre, in their fourth and final match of the regular season.

Atlanta is a team struggling to keep themselves mathematically "alive" in the playoff race, whereas Montreal is just trying to get back on the rails.

The Habs are on a three-game losing streak, have won only three of their last nine games and have been shutout in their last three games. They looked to avoid tying the franchise record—being shutout four games in a row—tonight.

The last time the Habs were shutout in four straight was from February 14-26, 1928.

The Thrashers kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 5-4 shootout win over the Senators on Sunday. However, with 76 points and only seven games left, it seems highly unlikely they'll be playing hockey past the end of the regular season.

Atlanta holds a 2-1 season series edge over Montreal with the Habs winning the last battle, 3-1 at the beginning of March.


Standings

The Canadiens are in sixth overall in the East with 87 points and six games left to play. The Habs haven't done themselves any favors lately, losing all but three of their last nine.

Whereas they once had a nine-point lead on ninth overall in the East and a comfortable seven points on the Rangers, they are now tied with New York for points, two ahead of the Sabres for eighth place and seven ahead of Carolina for ninth.

The Habs can still catch the Lighting who are in fifth with 91 points and have been in a tailspin for a month.

Atlanta's playoff hopes are all but dead. Still, these are professional athletes; while they are only mathematically alive, they still want the win.

The Thrashers are 11th overall in the East with 76 points and seven games left. A win tonight would move them into a tie with the Leafs for 10th overall.


Goaltending

Carey Price, who has been the only Canadiens' player to show up for the last three games, will be getting his 67th start of the season. He will be looking for his first win in five starts.

With Chris Mason getting the last three starts for the Thrashers, he should get the call for Atlanta. The only X-factor in that decision is that Ondrej Pavelec started both Thrashers wins against Montreal this season.

Mason started the only game they lost.


Scoring and Special Teams

This is a pretty cut-and-dried situation with the Thrashers having a more potent offense than Montreal, but seriously lacking on the defensive side of the game.

Atlanta has the 18th best goal-for at 2.7 per game, the 11th overall power play at 18.7 percent, the 28th goals-against at 3.2 per game and the 29th penalty kill at 76.7 percent.

The Habs, on the other hand, struggle to score with the 23rd overall goals-for at 2.6 per game. Their recent goal-scoring drought has also dropped their PP to 10th overall at 18.8 percent. On the defensive side of the puck, Montreal is still relatively strong, with the ninth best goals-against at 2.5 per game and the ninth best PK at 83.8 percent.


Roster Changes and Injuries

The sole change for the Habs is that Mathieu Darche is expected to get a shot on the second line. As such, Montreal’s lines for tonight look like this:

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

The Habs continue to be without the services of Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov, Alexandre Picard, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty.

The Thrashers are a relatively healthy bunch with only Jim Slater, Freddy Meyer and Patrice Cormier out of the lineup.


Key to Victory

If there was ever a game that should help Montreal break out of their goalless slump, it's tonight against the defensively suspect Thrashers.

Montreal needs to get their transition game going and attack the Thrashers with speed. If they do that, they should be able to draw penalties and create scoring opportunities.

For the much larger Thrashers, they need to lean on the Habs, chip the puck behind their D and engage a grinding cycle. If they are able to do that, as they have done twice this season, it will tire the smaller Canadiens and should lead to defensive breakdowns and scoring chances.

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 Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Habs/Thrashers preview, Crosby, Bulldogs, Power Rankings, rumours and more...

Pregame: Habs v Thrashers
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens Game Day: Habs Look To Halt Skid Against Thrashers
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/03/canadiens-game-day-habs-look-to-halt.html

Hockey Inside/Out - Thrashers’ youth, team defence, sabotaged season
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/thrashers-youth-team-defence-sabotaged-season

RDS - Le CH voudra mettre fin à sa séquence
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317281.html

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

ESPN.com - Thrashers-Canadiens Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=310329010

Cyberpresse - Price: «Jouer comme nous en sommes capables»


News
Hockey Inside/Out - Habs Future
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/habs-future-3

TSN - MCKENZIE: CROSBY'S RETURN IS A STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS
http://www.tsn.ca/columnists/bob_mckenzie/?id=359887

NETCRASHING: WHICH ROOKIE'S HAD THE MOST IMPACT FOR HIS TEAM?
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=359871

ESPN.com - Power Rankings: Pens, Kings, Preds make moves
http://espn.go.com/nhl/powerrankings

Habsworld.net - Bulldogs Weekly: Push for the Playoffs
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2438

The H does NOT stand for Habs - Impressions
http://habsloyalist.blogspot.com/2011/03/impressions.html

Spector's Hockey - Latest Flames News – March 29, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/03/latest-flames-news-march-29-2011/

Monday, March 28, 2011

Will the Montreal Canadiens Turn Things Around Before It's Too Late?

The Montreal Canadiens have had a rough time of things in recent weeks. After rolling off to a season-high five-game winning streak, the Habs have gone 3-6-0 in their last nine.

So at a time when they should be fine tuning for the playoffs, the Habs are instead just trying to keep the wheels from falling off the cart.

With only six games left in the 2011 NHL regular season, it's a very unfortunate time to be wondering what's gone wrong with the Habs. However, the play of Les Glorieux over the last month has left much to be desired and many scratching their heads.

Montreal gets a chance to lick their wounds today with a day off.

But their down time came at the cost of an extremely hard practice yesterday, where Coach Martin worked them like dogs. Considering how bad they've played lately, it's hardly a surprising move by the stoic coach.


How bad is it?

To put it simply, the Montreal Canadiens lack confidence in themselves and their abilities and are not adhering to their system as a result. While few in this city are fans of the Jacques Martin way, his system has not only kept the Habs afloat this season but has, until recently, allowed them to flirt with a top-three Eastern conference finish.

But after reeling off a season-high five straight wins from the end of February to the middle of March, Montreal has gone 3-6-0 over their last nine while getting shutout in their last three games.

During their five-game winning streak Montreal scored 19 goals (average of 3.8 per game), allowed seven against (average of 1.4 per game), averaged 26 shots per game, scored six power play goals in 15 opportunities (40 percent efficiency), allowed only one power play goal in 22 shorthanded situations (95.45 percent efficiency) and collected 10 points in the process.

In comparison, in the nine games since, Montreal only has three wins (six points), has scored 20 goals (average of 2.2 per game), allowed 28 against (average of 3.1 per game), averaged 25.88 shots per game, scored two power play goals in 30 opportunities (6.6 percent efficiency) and allowed seven power play goals in 39 shorthanded situations (82 percent efficiency).

Moreover, if you take out the Habs 8-1 thrashing of the Minnesota Wild, Montreal has only scored 12 goals while allowing 27 against over eight games.

That translates into a pitiful 1.5 goals-for and an inflated 3.5 goals-against.


So what is ailing the Canadiens?

The first thing that comes to mind is injuries, since many if not all of the Canadiens are playing with and through bumps and bruises.

I don't accept that excuse, however, since at this stage of the season every team is playing with injuries and no one is 100 percent.

If you ask the players, as several reporters did yesterday, they'll spout every sports cliché in the book:

"We're squeezing our sticks too hard..."

"...it's time to look in the mirror..."

"We have to put on our work boots..."

"110 percent..."

"All for one and one for all..."

It's all just talk, however, as words mean much less than actions on the ice, a department in which that Habs have been sorely lacking recently.

So while the Habs are saying all the right things, having team meetings and undergoing bag-skates by the coach, they are still not getting it done on the ice.

But why?

Like any losing streak it comes down to a combination of factors and breakdowns in their system. The first thing that sticks out while watching the Habs play, however, is their lack of proper puck support.

Montreal is a team whose game is built off speed. That speed, however, is the result of an excellent transition game where the Canadiens' defenders quickly turn the puck up the ice to their speedy forwards.

When the Habs attack the neutral zone with speed they are playing to their strength and employing a style that often backs up opposing defenders.

Recently, however, the Habs have gotten away from this basic part of their game and seem to be acting more like individuals than a five-man unit.

In recent weeks when the Habs' defenders have the puck deep in their own end, the forwards are usually too far up the ice to act as useful outlets. As a result, the gap between defense and offense becomes too big and Montreal's defenseman are left without passing options, or poor ones at best.

The Habs weak puck support is leading to a lot of defensive zone turnovers and low-percentage hail-Mary-type passes, both of which are killing the team.

So step one is for the forwards to come back and stay deeper in their own end to support a better transition. Moreover, they have to get back to carrying the puck up the ice as a five-man unit.


Scoring Drought and Defensive Woes

You'll notice in my comparison above of the five-game winning streak to the nine subsequent games, that Montreal was averaging essentially the same 25-26 shots per game in both stretches.

So why the drop in scoring?

The Habs are still getting shots on net but they're almost all from the outside with little traffic in front. With few players going to the net on a regular basis there is rarely anyone there to pick up rebounds, screen the goalie or deflect the puck.

Shots from 25 feet out with no one in front tend to get gobbled up by NHL netminders.

Fixing this issue is a matter of testicular fortitude and, sadly, this is something that has been in short supply for Montreal in recent weeks.

The Canadiens simply need to commit to the heavy traffic areas and take the physical punishment that comes along with it. That's the only way they are going to start create more quality scoring chances.

The other major issue I see with the team is their abysmal defensive zone coverage, as it's there that the Habs' lack of cohesion is most evident.

The Canadiens used to look like a well-oiled machine, communicating with each other and moving together in a defensive zone dance. Lately, however, the communication has stopped and the unforced errors are plentiful.

Montreal has become five islands on the ice rather than one five-man unit.

The answer is pretty simple: communication. They don't have it right now but they sure as hell need it!

Getting back to good communication on the ice is the only way the Habs will be able to turn things around.

It really is amazing how players stop talking to each other when their confidence is low. Moreover, as teams go into slumps, professional athletes tend to try to fix the problem by themselves, further compounding the problem and the frustration.

Whatever the explanation, the Habs need to get back to basics in the defensive zone and the path to salvation is paved by communication.


So what's next?

The Montreal Canadiens have only six games left but five of them are against teams that are below them in the standings. As such, they really couldn't ask for a better path to the playoffs.

Their fate is in their own hands and I for one believe that they will right the ship in time for the post-season. In order do to so, however, the Habs have to play their best hockey of the season.

There is absolutely no excuse for losing to the non-playoff Thrashers, Canes, Sens and Leafs—four of the six teams they will face in the next two weeks.

With 87 points in the standings, the Habs will need at least three more wins to qualify for the post-season.

If they can find their scoring touch again—and I believe they will tomorrow night against the Thrashers—and are able to get on a roll and pick up some points, this adversity might propel them to a strong post-season.

If, however, they continue to stumble and bumble and need another "loser" point in their final game to make it, don't expect a repeat of last year's miraculous playoff run!


New Sunday Shinny - March 27, 2011

On this episode of the Sunday Shinny, Gary Whittaker, Nick Murdocco and Kamal Panesar of HabsAddict.com welcome Kyle Roussel of Cowhide and Rubber to the studio.

Topic include:
-We discuss Tony Marinaro's report about the Canadiens offering Andrei Markov a 1 year deal, and Markov's agent counter of 3 years
-More of a debate on Jacques Martin, and what it will take to turn this slump around
-What to do with Scott Gomez

Click play below to listen in (listing time 39:51):


---
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/

Sunday Shinny, Markov, Gomez, Marc Savard, Jordan Subban, rumours and more...

News
HabsAddict.com - Will the Montreal Canadiens Turn Things Around Before It's Too Late?
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/03/can-montreal-canadiens-turn-things.html

March 27, 2011 - The Sunday Shinny on the Team 990
http://pc.habsaddict.com/2011/03/franchise-weekend-morning-shows-sunday_28.html

Hockey Inside/Out - Martin cracks the whip
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/martin-cracks-the-whip

Punishment, recovery and a huge week
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/punishment-recovery-and-a-huge-week

Video: 64 minutes of Sunday ‘fun’
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/sixty-four-minutes-of-sunday-fun

RDS - Un entraînement exigeant pour le CH
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317212.html

Cyberpresse - L'absence de Pacioretty mine tous les trios

TSN - HABS PUSHED HARD AT PRACTICE TRYING IN ATTEMPT TO BREAK SKID
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=359772

MCKENZIE: TIME FOR JUNIOR HOCKEY TO GET WITH HEADSHOT PROGRAM
http://www.tsn.ca/blogs/bob_mckenzie/?id=359138

Habsworld.net - HW Recap: Time to get back to basics
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2437

ESPN.com - Source: Memory issues for Marc Savard
http://sports.espn.go.com/boston/nhl/news/story?id=6262553

THN.com Blog: Will prospect Jordan Subban outshine P.K. one day?
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39340-THNcom-Blog-Will-prospect-Jordan-Subban-outshine-PK-one-day.html

Backchecking: Mike Marson
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39293-Backchecking-Mike-Marson.html

THN.com Blog: Free-falling Avalanche building in right direction
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39333-THNcom-Blog-Freefalling-Avalanche-building-in-right-direction.html

Spector's Hockey - Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – March 27, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/03/sunday-nhl-rumor-roundup-march-27-2011/

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

The Franchise Weekend Morning Show's Sunday Shinny - March 27, 2011

On this episode of the Sunday Shinny, Gary Whittaker, Nick Murdocco and Kamal Panesar of HabsAddict.com welcome Kyle Roussel of Cowhide and Rubber to the studio.

Topic include:
-We discuss Tony Marinaro's report about the Canadiens offering Andrei Markov a 1 year deal, and Markov's agent counter of 3 years
-More of a debate on Jacques Martin, and what it will take to turn this slump around
-What to do with Scott Gomez

Click play below to listen in (listing time 39:51):

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Habs lose, post game, Andrei Markov, backup goalies, rumours and more...

Post game: Caps 2 - Habs 0
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens-Capitals: Habs Lose, Shutout for Third Straight Game
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/03/canadiens-capitals-habs-lose-shutout.html

Hockey Inside/Out.com - Game 76: Canadiens match unenviable mark
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/game-76-canadiens-at-capitals

RDS - Une semaine à oublier
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317141.html

TSN - CANADIENS SHUT OUT FOR THIRD STRAIGHT GAME IN LOSS TO CAPS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=359709

ESPN.com - Capitals G Braden Holtby hands Habs 3rd straight shutout loss
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=310326010

The H does NOT stand for Habs - Aftermath: Disaster
http://habsloyalist.blogspot.com/2011/03/aftermath-disaster.html


News
THN.com - Mike Rosati's Blog: How a backup goalie stays sharp
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39298-Mike-Rosatis-Blog-How-a-backup-goalie-stays-sharp.html

VIDEO: Florida Panthers prospect Erik Gudbranson making most of final OHL year with Kingston
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39312-VIDEO-Florida-Panthers-prospect-Erik-Gudbranson-making-most-of-final-OHL-year-with-Kingston.html

Spector's Hockey - Latest Canadiens and Senators News – March 26, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/03/latest-canadiens-and-senators-news-march-26-2011/

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Canadiens-Capitals: Habs Lose, Shutout for Third Straight Game

by Kamal Panesar

The Montreal Canadiens lost 2-0 to the Washington Capitals last night at the Bell Centre, getting shutout for a third game in a row. The last time Montreal was shutout three games in a row, Maurice Richard was leading the charge and the year was 1949.

If that wasn't bad enough, the shutout loss was the Habs ninth loss by shutout this season a record of futility for the Canadiens organization.

So do you think this team has problems scoring?

After getting destroyed by the Bruins on Thursday you really thought that Montreal would bring a solid effort to the rink. Unfortunately for Habs fans, the Canadiens let in an early first period goal, took penalty after penalty, looked frustrated all night and managed only 18 shots on net in the process.

To the Caps credit, they played a smart, patient game and used their size to completely shutdown the middle of the ice.

Carey Price was once again the only player that showed up for Montreal.

With the Habs trailing by a goal a brutal neutral zone turnover led Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin down the ice for a 2-on-1. Semin potted a sweet feed from Backstrom to close out the game with 3:41 to play.

For the record, Montreal has now gone 186:05 without a goal, while being outscored 11-0 since beating the Wild on Sunday.


Final score: Caps 2 - Habs 0

Habs scorers: None
Caps scorers: Marco Sturm (5), Alexander Semin (26)

Three stars: 1. Carey Price, 2. Braden Holtby, 3. Marco Strum


Game Notes

Tomas Plekanec still has a ways to go

In his second game back after missing five due to injury, Tomas Plekanec still isn't playing up to par.

He turned the puck at the Caps blueline on an early shift, leading to a 2-on-1 break for Washington.

Marco Strum put the puck past Price to make it 1-0.

After the goal, however, with the Habs handing several man-advantages to the Caps, Plekanec started to play a little better.

Shortly after the second penalty kill, Plekanec chipped the puck past the Caps defender then turned on the afterburners setting up a 2-on-1 with Andrei Kostitsyn.

AK46 wasn't able to convert Plek's beautiful saucer pass but that play gave the Habs a ton of momentum.

I think it's pretty clear that Plekanec has not yet fully recovered from his injury. That being said, he looked better last night than the previous game so hopefully, for the Habs sake, he will only get better from here.


The Habs have no confidence

That's what happens when you are in a losing streak. You get stuck in a funk and right now the Habs just don't believe in themselves.

The Canadiens are certainly not an elite team but they are also not as bad as the one we have seen the last few games. Last night, as the game wore on and Montreal's offense continued to fire blanks, their frustration became palpable.

Sights of players gritting their teeth, swearing, constantly arguing with the refs and linesman, slamming their sticks on the ice and otherwise expressing their angst, became commonplace.

The only person who seemed to have their wits about them was Price.

The funny thing is that the Bell Centre crowd, often able to will their heroes to victory, were just as frustrated as the players. By the mid-point of the second period there was a smattering of boos for the homeboys.

By the third it was a chorus.

On the bench, the Habs looked like a defeated bunch with slumped postures and heads down.

It is a truism of human nature that winning and losing are both equally contagious and right now, Habs are suffering from the plague of defeat. With six games left in their season, you figure Montreal will get a win at some point. Until that happens, however, it looks like they need a priest to exorcise their demons.


No Ovechkin, no problem

Much has been made this year about the mid-season system change that Washington made. It was a tough road for a while as the all-out-offense system was changed for one that offers more balance and a tougher overall opponent.

Last night, the Caps were missing their best offensive threat in Alexander Ovechkin. In addition, their best offensive-defenseman, Mike Green, continued to be on the sidelines.

The new Caps system, however, is bigger than one or two players and the Caps seemed largely unaffected by these huge absences last night.

The work that Bruce Boudreau has done this season is truly remarkable and puts him in the Coach of the Year conversation. His team now plays a system rather than a style.

The Caps new way of playing has won them twelve of their last fourteen games, including the win over the Habs.


A tale of two goalies

Is it just me or does Braden Holtby remind you a lot of Carey Price?

Big, positionally solid, lighting quick reflexes and, above all, cool as a cucumber.

While the Caps are looking like the team to beat in the East, their one potential Achilles Heel is their goaltending. Don't get me wrong because Holtby looks real good. So does Michal Neuvirth for that matter, but none of the Caps netminders are playoff proven.

That doesn't mean that they will fail come playoff time, just that they are the one question mark for the Caps.

For Montreal, Carey Price bounced back nicely from the seven-goal shellacking at the hands of the Bruins—Price let in five goals that game before being pulled. More importantly, he continues to be the only player that shows up for Montreal night in and night out.

As has been the case far too often this season, Price was once again the only reason this game wasn't over early.

I firmly believe that Price lost any chance at the Vezina trophy in the game against the Bruins, but he continues to make a strong case for the Hart trophy.

Can you imagine how bad this team would be with him?


Standings and Next Game

The Habs remain stalled in sixth with 87 points. Their recent tailspin has put them in an extremely precarious position in the standings.

The Rangers, who are 8-1-1 in their last ten, are now tied with Montreal with 87 points. Buffalo, 2-0 winners over the Devils, are now only two points back of the Canadiens with one game in hand.

So while Tampa is only four points ahead of Montreal, the objects in their rearview mirror are truly larger than they appear.

The Habs now have two days off before taking on the Atlanta Thrashers, 5-4-1 in their last ten games.

---
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 Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America)

Habs/Caps preview, Price, Markov contract, Recchi, Gomez and more...

Pregame: Habs v Caps
Hockey Inside/Out - Price gets start vs Capitals
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/live-as-it-were-from-brossard

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

ESPN.com - Capitals-Canadiens Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=310326010


News
Habsworld.net - Staying out of the sin bin
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2435

Cowhide and Rubber - Recchi Puts Lipstick on the Pig
http://www.cowhideandrubber.com/recchi-puts-lipstick-on-the-pig

RDS - «Un retour à la réalité», P.K. Subban
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317120.html

Martin, Gomez et la notion de choix
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317134.html

A. Markov a-t-il reçu une offre du CH?
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317131.html

THN.com - Ask Adam: Mandatory visors?
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39297-Ask-Adam-Mandatory-visors.html

THN.com Blog: Big Ten formation great step for hockey at college level
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39296-THNcom-Blog-Big-Ten-formation-great-step-for-hockey-at-college-level.html

Friday, March 25, 2011

Habs lost, post game, Chara, Thomas, Price, Rumours and more...

Post game: Bruins 7 - Habs 0
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens-Bruins: Habs Spanked by Bruins, Thomas Gets Eighth Shutout
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/03/canadiens-bruins-habs-spanked-by-bruins.html

Hockey Inside/Out - Game 75: Bruins destroy Habs
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/game-74-canadiens-at-bruins

TSN - GRUDGE MATCH TURNS INTO SHOOTOUT AS BRUINS THUMP HABS
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=359402

ESPN.com - Zdeno Chara has 3 assists as Bruins rout Canadiens
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=310324001

RDS - Humiliation totale
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317034.html

Habsworld.net - HW 3 Stars: Only 1 out of 82
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2434


News
THN.com Blog: NHL coaches have power to change the game
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39276-THNcom-Blog-NHL-coaches-have-power-to-change-the-game.html

VIDEO: Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos struggling to reach 50-goal plateau
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39274-VIDEO-Tampa-Bays-Steven-Stamkos-struggling-to-reach-50goal-plateau.html

Spector's Hockey - NHL Free Agent News – March 25, 2011
http://spectorshockey.net/2011/03/nhl-free-agent-news-march-25-2011/

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Canadiens-Bruins: Habs Spanked by Bruins, Tim Thomas Gets Eighth Shutout

by Kamal Panesar

With all the pregame hype for last night's match between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, you figured it would either be one for the ages or a total bust.

Well from the hype perspective, it ended up being the latter and only because the Habs didn't show up.

You have to give full marks to the Bruins who not only shellacked the Habs for seven goals, chasing Carey Price from the net after five, but they did it without all of the antics.

Montreal had previously beaten the Bruins in four of the five matches by focusing on hockey and ignoring the fisticuffs. But last night Boston stuck to playing hockey and showed the Canadiens that they could beat them at their own game.

Boston scored only 1:01 into the game when Johnny Boychuk's shot beat a screened Price up high. After that, the Bruins opened the flood gates by scoring two more in the first and four straight in the third.

Tim Thomas had a relatively easy night, turning aside all 24 shots he faced for his eighth shutout of the season while Price was largely left to his own devices.

Last night was easily Montreal's worst performance of the season in their most important game of the year. Where were the veteran players? Where was this team’s infamous heart and character?

Like Frère André, I think they left their heart in Montreal.


Final score: Boston 7 - Habs 0

Habs scorers: None
Bruins scorers: Johnny Boychuk (2), Gregory Campbell (11, 12), Nathan Horton (21, 22), Adam McQuaid (3), Tomas Kaberle (4)

Three stars: 1. Zdeno Chara, 2. David Krejci, 3. Nathan Horton


Game Notes

Tomas Plekanec was back but not ready

After missing five games due to a lower body injury, Tomas Plekanec was back in the lineup last night. Given that he is the Canadiens leading scorer and plays on the top PP and PK units, you would think his presence would provide a huge boost for the Habs.

Unfortunately for Montreal things didn't work out that way.

Plekanec was on the ice for the first two Bruins' goals—he finished the night an uncharacteristic minus-four—and in the penalty box for their third.

Not exactly the "comeback" that the Habs had hoped for but after missing five games, it wasn't entirely surprising to see he wasn't in top form.

The Canadiens also got Brent Sopel, Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche back last night and none of them looked entirely ready for action. It's one thing to no longer be injured, but it is another thing entirely to get back into game shape.

Give Plekanec a few games and he should get it back.


Boston was focused on victory

Before the game NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, told both teams to stick to hockey and stay away from the dirty stuff.

Well the message was heard loud and clear by the usually chippy Bruins.

From the drop of the puck Boston was disciplined and focused on winning on the scoreboard and not the fight card. The Habs almost seemed ready for and expecting a physical battle, but when it failed materialized they didn't know what to do.

Montreal tried to get things going early when Travis Moen pushed Zdeno Chara after the whistle. In addition, P.K. Subban gave Tim Thomas a spray of ice as the latter was covering the puck. But on both occasions, the Bruins didn't bite, didn't get involved in the game Montreal was trying to employ and just skated away.

That, ladies and gentleman, is playoff hockey. As much as the focus has been on the fights, hits and injuries, the Bruins played the way they needed to in order to win.

Last night's victory is sure to give them a huge confidence boost come playoff time.


The Canadiens "best" players were their worst players.

Not only did Plekanec have a bad game but Scott Gomez—two assists over his last eight games—and Michael Cammalleri—five points (1G, 4A) over his last eight—were abysmal.

Montreal was dominated for the first twenty minutes of the game but managed a little push back in the second. But just as the momentum was swinging their way Scott Gomez took a careless high sticking penalty, sending the Bs to the power play.

Needless to say, the penalty killed a lot of momentum even though the Bruins were unable to score.

A few minutes later, with the Habs again starting to build momentum and the score only 3-0 Boston, Gomez skated the puck through the Habs zone with no one pressuring him. He inexplicably lost control of it, turning it over to Chris Kelly, and then hooked the Bruins' player in an attempt to recover from his mistake.

Gomez's nonchalance on the play is what led to turnover and the penalty.

It was just another careless play from the guy who was supposed to be the Habs No.1 center. The bottom line is that ridiculous salary and contract aside, Gomez continues to hold the team back instead of leading the charge.

That Jacques Martin has let it go on all season with neither punishment, demotion nor reduction in ice time, is a huge mistake that continues to hinder the team.


Where's all the offense?

Including the shutout loss to the Sabres on Tuesday, Montreal has not gone two games without scoring a goal. 126:05 to be exact.

The young guns have brought a lot to the party this season, but how long can the team go without their top-six performing?

With only eight games left in the season players like Gomez, Michael Cammalleri and even Brian Gionta need to take long, hard looks in the mirror. These are the offensive veterans of this team and, aside from Gionta, they are not getting it done.

Cammalleri, like Gomez, also had a terrible game last night.

He was missing defensive assignments, making poor decisions with the puck and continues to be one of the worst players on the team without it. Cammalleri just isn't bringing anything to the table offensively and continues to be atrocious defensively.

Cammalleri finished the night a minus-four.

Gionta is the only one of the "little three" that has been showing any semblance of strong play but even he needs to bring more to the table.

The real problem is that aside from a few games here and there, neither Cammalleri nor Gomez have played well for any length of time this year. With the clock ticking on the season it seems highly unlikely that they will suddenly get it going.

The Canadiens have had to win this year despite these players and not because of them and as I have said before, I shudder to think how bad they would be without Price.


A Note on the goaltenders

Thomas played well when called on last night but Boston did an excellent job of keeping Montreal to the outside. Most of the Habs' shots were first chances with no one in front of or even near the net. As such, the chances of scoring on a goaltender the caliber of Thomas go way down.

As for Price, he was the main reason that this wasn't a five or six goal game after 20 minutes.

But, as has been the case far too many times this season, when Price is unable to stand on his head the team loses. Price did let in five goals on 33 shots but the team had no defensive structure to speak of.

The Jacques Martin five-man defensive unit was abandoned in favour of a scattered free-for-all. As such, Price really had very little chance on most of the goals that got by him.

Prior to last night's game, Price was in the discussion for both Vezina and Hart trophies. After the loss, however, I think Price is no longer in the running for the former.

He can thank his teammates for that.


Standings and Next Game

The Canadiens' once strong hold on sixth overall in the East suddenly looks very tenuous. With the Rangers earning one point in a shootout loss to the Sens last night, they are now only two back of Montreal.

Also, the Sabres are only six back of the Habs with two games in hand.

Montreal likely needs to finish the season with 92 or 93 points to qualify for the playoffs. This means that with seven games left, they need five or six more points. If they keep playing as poorly as they have recently they could conceivably slide all the way to eighth.

A slippery slope indeed.

Ahead of Montreal are the Lightning with 89 points and two games in hand, the Penguins with 94 points and one game in hand and the Bruins with 92 points and two games in hand.

Things don't get any easier for the slumping Habs, as they now travel back to Montreal for a Saturday night tilt against the red-hot Capitals.

---
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)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

PRESS RELEASE: Nigel Dawes, Andreas Engqvist assigned to Hamilton

Thursday, 24.03.2011 / 3:55 PM / News

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens announced Thursday that left winger Nigel Dawes and centerman Andreas Engqvist have been assigned to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs.

Dawes, 26, suited up for the Canadiens’ last four games. The 5’09” and 200 lbs left winger was held pointless with three shots on goal, eight hits and three blocked shots, while averaging 6:44 of time on ice.

Dawes leads the Bulldogs with 54 points (33 goals, 21 assists) in 55 games this season. He ranks first on the team and in the AHL with 33 goals. Nine of his goals have been tallied on the power play and one while shorthanded. He displays a +7 plus/minus differential, has collected 169 shots on goal and served 17 penalty minutes.

Born in Winnipeg, Dawes was a fifth round pick, 149th selection overall, by the New York Rangers in 2003. He was acquired from the Thrashers, along with Brent Sopel, last February 24.

The 6’04’’, 197 lbs centreman, aged 23, suited up for three games with the Canadiens this season, including his first NHL contest on January 21 at Ottawa. Engqvist was held pointless, while recording one shot on goal, two hits and three blocked shots and averaging 8:45 minutes of ice time per game.

Engqvist appeared in 62 games with the Bulldogs this season, registering 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists). Two of his goals were scored on the power play. He has collected 122 shots on goal, maintained a +8 plus/minus differential and served 16 penalty minutes.

A native of Stockholm, Sweden, Engqvist signed with the Canadiens as a free agent on July 13, 2009.

Canadiens Game Day: Habs, Bruins Square off in Critical Grudge Match

by Kamal Panesar

The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins renew a rivalry that seems to get more bitter and intense by the day, tonight in Boston.

This will be the sixth and final regular season meeting between the two teams with a hugely important two points on the line.

With Montreal trailing Boston by three points and the Bruins holding two games in hand, the Canadiens—with only eight more games to play—are quickly running out of race track to pass them in the standings.

Tonight's game will be the first between these two teams since Zdeno Chara knocked Habs forward Max Pacioretty out with a questionable hit.

Add to that the fact that Gary Bettman took both GMs aside—Boston's Peter Chiarelli and Montreal's Pierre Gauthier—at the General Manager's meetings and told them that he wants things to cool down, that Bruins forward Mark Recchi said yesterday on Boston radio that the Canadiens embellished the injury and the fact that Montreal has won four of the five games so far this season and this looks more like a power keg ready to blow than a hockey game!


Standings

The Bruins are in first place overall in the Northeast division with 90 points in 72 games, but Boston has been in a bit of a tailspin lately going 2-3-3 in their last eight.

A win tonight by the Bruins would likely end any hopes the Habs have of passing them in the standings.

The Habs have also struggled to find consistency lately playing .500 hockey over their last seven games. Montreal is three points behind the Bruins with 87 and two more games played.

With eight games left in their season Montreal absolutely must win tonight in order to still have a shot at the division crown. In addition, a win by the Canadiens would put them into a tie for points with the idle Tampa Bay Lighting, losers of three straight.

So while it's possible that the division title may already be out of reach, the Habs can still climb in the standings and need these two points.


Goaltending

Pretty straight forward battle between two of the top Vezina candidates: Carey Price for Montreal and Tim Thomas for Boston.

Price will be getting his 66th start of the season despite tweaking his knee in practice prior to the game against the Sabres.

This will be Thomas' 51st start of the year.


Scoring and Special Teams

Both teams are known to employ extremely tight defensive schemes. That being said, the Bruins have a much better goals-for and against than the Canadiens while Montreal is better in the special teams' department.

Boston has the fifth best goals-for at 3.0 per game (217 total goals), the fourth best goals-against at 2.4 per game (176 total), the 21st overall power play at 16.4 percent and the 17th best penalty kill at 81.8 percent.

Montreal, on the other hand, has the 22nd overall goals-for at 2.7 per game (200 total goals), the eighth best goals-against at 2.5 per game (187 total goals), the seventh best power play at 19.4 percent and the ninth best PK at 83.9 percent.


Roster Changes and Injuries

The perennially injured Habs look to be getting some reinforcements with Tomas Plekanec and Mathieu Darche both scheduled to return to the lineup.

Brent Sopel and Jeff Halpern have also been practicing with the team but are unlikely to be back in the lineup tonight. That leaves the Habs without six regulars as the walking wounded slowly get back into the lineup.

Boston is a relatively healthy team with only Marc Savard and Shane Hnidy out of the lineup.


Key to Victory

The Habs have won four out of the five games between these two teams this season by focusing on hockey and ignoring the Bruins physical thuggery. If Montreal wants to win tonight they have to play to their strength which is their considerable speed.

If the Canadiens focus on skating they should draw penalties from the slower Boston defense, giving them ample power play opportunities to bury their opponent.

For Boston, it is pretty simple too. They need to get Montreal off their game and focused on the rough stuff and fisticuffs.

In the one game the Bruins won against Montreal this season, they played to their strength, which is a physical, bruising style. As the Habs got sucked into the physical aspect of the game—Boston is a physical mismatch for Montreal—the Bruins were able to beat them both on the scoreboard and with their fists.

With so much on the line tonight this is bound to be an intense, physical battle with no quarter asked for or given.

Game time is 7:00 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 Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

Mark Recchi Comments About Max Pacioretty's Injury Hold NHL Back

by Kamal Panesar

Mark Recchi Attempts to Minimize a Severe Situation

Has there ever been a game that had as much hype surrounding it as tonight's match between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins?

Well there probably has been but in my 37 years of hockey watching I certainly can't remember one.

We all know about the back story, the fallout and the subsequent call for changes in the NHL that were spurred by Zdeno Chara's devastating hit on Max Pacioretty only 16 days ago.

So with the final regular season game between these two teams set to take place tonight in Boston, Mark Recchi spiced things up yesterday by saying on Boston radio that the Canadiens embellished Pacioretty's injury "a little".

Well, as expected, that set the world on fire with a largely negative backlash against the Bruins veteran.

At 43 years of age and with 21 seasons under his belt, it is inconceivable to think that Recchi would make such a foolish comment, even if he did believe it. The only potential save for Recchi is that listening to the interview, he was clearly goaded into the comment but, as a veteran, he should have known better than to throw fuel on a bonfire.

I think Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette said it best when he called Recchi's comments irresponsible and offensive.

Damn straight, Dave!

With the recent suspension of Matt Cooke for his elbow to the head of the Rangers' Ryan McDonough, and general managers, fans, media and players alike calling for a change, Recchi's comments set him and the Bruins franchise back into the stone age.

At question in all of this is the quickness with which Pacioretty seems to be recovering from a severe concussion and broken vertebra in his neck.

I'm not a doctor but from everything I have read about concussions the severity is judged by the length of time that a person is knocked unconscious, and not by the after effects. So a severe concussion means that the brain severely impacted the skull, knocking the player out for an extended period of time but makes has no impact on the recovery time.

The funny thing about concussions is that no two are the same and each person recovers along a different timeline, the reasons for which remain a mystery to doctors.

Some people are more minorly concussed but are never able to shake the headaches that accompany physical activity and, as such, can never play again. Others need a year or more off before being able to recover.

Others still, like Pacioretty, inexplicably have little to no after-effects from the collision. So just because a player doesn't suffer after-effects of a concussion, does this mean that they or the medical staff are embellishing the injury?

Absolutely not, and to claim that they are in order to get a player, in this case Chara, suspended is obscenely ignorant and completely missing the point.

When a player is injured as badly as Pacioretty was—according to doctors his fractured vertebra was millimeters away from being a life ending or paralyzing injury—the concern is the health of the player and not suspension.

It is when a player's life hangs in the balance due that people should remember that hockey is just a game. There are much more important things in life and the fact the Pacioretty seems to be suffering no ill effects and could be back in time for the playoffs is absolutely miraculous.

That Recchi was foolish enough to try and cast an insidious shadow on the Canadiens motives shows the level to which he has been absorbed by the Bruins goon-like mentality.

This is 2011 people, not 1971, and it's time for the game and it's backward thinking players to get with the times before someone actually dies on the ice.

---
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 Nick Laham/Getty Images North America)

Habs/Bruins preview, Recchi's foolish comments, 10 most hated in NHL and more...

Pregame: Habs @ Bruins
HabsAddict.com - Canadiens Game Day: Habs, Bruins Square off in Critical Grudge Match
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/03/canadiens-game-day-habs-bruins-square.html

Hockey Inside/Out - The rivalry resumes
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/the-rivalry-resumes

Price, Gionta take day off, Recchi spouts off
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/price-gionta-take-day-off

RDS - CH : Un match qui s'annonce émotif
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317024.html

CH : Plusieurs retours au jeu à Boston?
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/317003.html

TSN - HABS JACKED UP FOR FIRST TILT WITH BRUINS SINCE CHARA HIT
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=359236

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

ESPN.com - Canadiens-Bruins Preview
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=310324001


News
HabsAddict.com - Mark Recchi Comments About Max Pacioretty's Injury Hold NHL Back
http://www.habsaddict.com/2011/03/mark-recchi-comments-about-max.html

Cyberpresse - Recchi accuse le CH et Pacioretty

TSN - RECCHI SUGGESTS CANADIENS EMBELLISHED PACIORETTY INJURY
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=359271

Hockey Inside/Out - Recchi remarks irresponsible, offensive
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/recchi-remarks-irresponsible-offensive-stubbs

Recchi speaks recklessly
http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/recchi-speaks-recklessly

Habsworld.net - Around The Boards: Looking Towards the Playoffs, Pt. 1
http://www.habsworld.net/article.php?id=2432

THN.com Top 10: Most hated NHL players
http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/39251-THNcom-Top-10-Most-hated-NHL-players.html

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Canadiens-Sabres: Desperate Buffalo Sabres Shutout Habs at the Bell Centre

by Kamal Panesar

The Buffalo Sabres, a team who until recently was not even in the playoff picture, came to the Bell Centre last night with one thing in mind: victory.

Oh sure, the Montreal Canadiens wanted to win, too, but not as badly as Buffalo did.

The Sabres played desperate hockey, as they have been doing for the last two months, and the result was a well-earned defeat of the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

Montreal didn't exactly play horribly—they were thoroughly out-skated and out-played for most of the game—but they clearly didn't "need" the points as badly as Buffalo and it showed on the ice.

The Habs outshot the Sabres 31-24 on the night, but Buffalo did an excellent job of keeping them mostly to the outside. In addition, they made sure that any rebounds were quickly cleared or covered by Ryan Miller, who played an outstanding game.

This one was a true goaltending battle with two of the best netminders in the league facing off. Carey Price was once again the only reason Montreal still had a chance to tie this game with a minute to play.

While Miller wasn't tested that much over the first 30 minutes, the Habs absolutely peppered him over the final period and a half as they tried to tie the game at one.
But Miller was in fine form last night, turning aside shot after shot as Montreal pressed for the equalizer.

However with the Canadiens down by one, less than a minute to play and Price on the bench for the extra attacker,
Andrei Kostitsyn turned the puck over at the offensive blueline. P.K. Subban tried to cover up for AK46's mistake but, pressured by Nathan Gerbe, turned the puck over to him in the neutral zone.

Gerbe grabbed the puck and fired his second of the game into the empty net with 22 seconds to play, ending any hopes of a comeback.


Final score: Sabres 2 - Habs 0

Habs scorers: None
Sabres scorers: Nathan Gerbe (12, 13)

Three stars: 1. Ryan Miller, 2. Carey Price, 3. Nathan Gerbe


Game Notes

1. Subban and the Wiz

The Canadiens power play, which has only produced two goals over the last 22 opportunities, has not been getting it done for Montreal recently.

Despite its struggles, P.K. Subban and James Wizniewski continue to look incredibly dangerous while playing the point with the man-advantage.

The real culprit of the PP's demise seems to be the lack of a constant physical presence in front of the net, namely Max Pacioretty, and it is becoming more and more apparent what a difference he made.

That being said, P.K. and the Wiz have a great give-and-go as they both have hard shots, both can pass the puck well from the back end and are good at setting each other up for one-timers.
This means that teams can't overplay one or the other but rather have to keep an eye on both players. As such, their back and forth puck movement often disrupts the opposition's box, leading to scoring chances.

When Michael Cammalleri is on his game—he is currently playing injured and clearly not 100 percent—he adds another element to the Habs' arsenal with him, Subban and Wizniewski creating a triangle of doom on the PP.

With Pacioretty far from guaranteed for the first round of the playoffs, the Habs need much more from Cammalleri.

Maybe it's time to put Travis Moen on the power play and tell him to park his butt in front of the opposing goaltender!


2. The Sabres could be dangerous come playoff time.

The Sabres play a hermetic system that is not all that different from the Canadiens' style. Shutting down the neutral zone and forcing turnovers, Buffalo feeds off their opponents' mistakes.

In addition, with players like Nathan Gerbe, Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek among others, they possess a ton of speed.

There were several times last night, particularly in the first, when the Canadiens had a lot of trouble containing the Sabres' speedy cycle. On two occasions, the Habs' attempt to contain them resulted in tripping penalties—to Hal Gill and P.K. Subban.

For a team that was out of the playoff picture for most of the year, the Sabres are playing some truly inspired hockey lately. Playoff hockey, one might say. Add the excellent play of Ryan Miller to the mix, and this is a team that is primed to cause a first-round upset.


3. Subban was a little too fancy.

Two days after the best single-game offensive output of his still-young NHL career, P.K. Subban showed why he still has a lot to learn.

Whereas Subban has been calm, patient and much more settled since being paired with Hal Gill, last night he showed flashes of his inexperienced play from the first 20 games of the season.

It almost seemed like his hat trick and all the attention it garnered him went to his head. No longer was Subban waiting to make the right play, instead he was forcing things, trying overly fancy plays and, overall, being less effective.

It wasn't so much that Subban played poorly last night, as he was shadowing Thomas Vanek all game and did a great job of shutting him down.
However, early in the game he seemed to be making more low-percentage plays than we have been used to seeing from him lately.

But, in typical Subban style, he quickly reined in his form.

It is in times like this that we are reminded that despite his excellent play this season, Subban is only 21 years old. He'll learn, like all players, not too get too high and not to get too low.


4. A battle of top goaltenders.

What a show Miller and Price put on last night!

Price in particular played out of his mind, keeping Montreal in the game as the Sabres barraged their zone for most of the game. As for Miller, while he wasn't much in the early going he was on the ball over the last half of game as Montreal pressed for the tie.

Montreal suddenly came to life in the dying minutes of the second, seizing the momentum and blitzing the Sabres zone. But each time they had a shot, rebound or goal-mouth scramble Miller was there to keep the puck out, despite sometimes making the save with his back!

With both goaltenders in top form last night it just added to the playoff feel of the game.

Could last night be a preview of the starting goaltenders for Canada and USA in Sochi 2014?

I think it's a distinct possibility.


5. Andrei Kostitsyn has come into his own, but is it too late?

Last night with the entire Montreal lineup struggling to get it going, Andrei Kostitsyn was their most consistent player. Sure he didn't score any goals but he was active and effective in all three zones—third period turnover aside.

The more the season progresses the more AK46 looks like he has turned the corner as a player and perhaps come into his own. This is about more than just points, as Kostitsyn is working hard offensively and defensively whether the team is winning or losing.

So while Jacques Martin's system isn't one that will help AK46 score 35 goals, it has definitely made him a more well rounded, two-way player.

Since being paired with Lars Eller, Kostitsyn has been one of the most productive forwards with 12 points (6G, 6A) in his last 14 games. The Habs are 9-4-1 over that span.

His 19 goals are third best on the Habs and his 41 points have him tied for second overall for total points with Brian Gionta and Michael Cammalleri. All of this while averaging only 15:50 of ice time.

So what do the Canadiens do with him this summer?

As an RFA at season's end, will the Canadiens elect to keep him? Paying a third line player $3 million-plus is not smart management and that makes me think the Habs will move him rather than retain his services.

I'm not sure if that is the best move or not, as AK finally seems to get Martin's system and is playing some good two-way hockey. That being said, the determining factor will be his performance from here until the end of the playoffs.

If he can keep playing well, win or lose, and can keep contributing in all three zones, he might just be able to convince management that he is worth keeping. I think it's a long shot but anything's possible.


Standings and Next Game

The loss to the Sabres hurts Montreal in more ways than one. Not only do they fail to climb in the standings but with the Bruins winning last night, Montreal failed to keep pace.

Moreover with Boston holding two games in hand barring some kind of major losing streak from the Bs, it seems highly unlikely that Montreal can catch them before the end of the season.

The Habs really needed a clean sweep this week.

That being said, Montreal is still in sixth in the East with 87 points, two behind Tampa and three behind Boston with one and two games in hand respectively.

The Rangers, winners of five in a row, are three points behind the Habs and the Sabres round out the top eight with 81 points and a game in hand.

Montreal now travels to Boston for their most highly anticipated game of the year against the Bruins on Thursday. It will be the final regular season game between these two teams and their first since the Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty incident.

Thursday's game is be the must-watch game of the season for all hockey fans!

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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 Rick Stewart/Getty Images North America)