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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens at Penguins (Game #61)

Canadiens Vs Penguins 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (32-21-6) are in Pittsburgh to face the Penguins (40-15-3) Thursday night, fresh off a 2-1 OT loss to the Red Wings. The game is set to start at 7:00 and airs on RDS and TSN-Habs.

This is the third and final game between the Habs and Penguins this season. The Habs took the first game 3-2 at the Bell Centre, but dropped the last meeting 5-1. Carey Price was pulled from that match midway through the second after allowing 5 goals on 21 shots. Jussi Jokinen had a pair of goals and Evgenin Malkin had a goal and an assist, bringing him up to 4 points in 2 games against the Canadiens this season.

What to Watch:

The Habs only managed two shots on goal in the second period of Wednesday's game, finishing the night with 20 in close to 65 minutes of play. Brian Gionta tallied 6 shots and scored the team's only goal in Montreal's first game back after the Olympics. Peter Budaj had 28 saves in 30 shots and kept his team in the game for 59 minutes until Gionta managed to draw the Habs even.

This will be Pittsburgh's first game since the Olympics ended, they haven't played since February 7. Like the Canadiens, the Penguins have a pair of gold medalists returning from Sochi in Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, both of whom scored in the Gold Medal game versus Sweden. And like the Red Wings, the Pens have an Olympic coach behind their bench; Dan Bylsma led Team USA during this year's Winter Games.

What's at Stake:

A win Thursday against the Conference leading Pens would help the Habs stay a step ahead of the Leafs, but, with Carey Price staying behind as the team traveled to Pittsburgh, the Canadiens will be in tough against one of the most potent offensive teams in the league. The good news is, Peter Budaj had a solid outing against the Wings on Wednesday. The bad news? He'll be playing on less than 24 hours rest if he starts in Pittsburgh.

Who's Out:

The Habs are missing Carey Price (lower body), Michael Bournival (concussion) and Brandon Prust (upper body). Prust has been placed on injured reserve for the time being.

The Penguins are missing Beau Bennett (wrist), Chris Conner (wrist) and goalie Tomas Vokoun (hip). Taylor Pyatt (lower body) and Joe Vitale (upper body) were injured prior to the Olympics but could return for Thursday's game.

What Else:

Dale Weise played in his fourth game as a Hab on Wednesday, and although he played the least minutes so far since joining the team, he still made an impact on the game with 5 hits. Weise's arrival coincided with the return of Ryan White from injury and the pair seemed to have formed an instant chemistry. Since the duo have been put together, the Canadiens are 3-0-1 and have allowed just 5 goals. White had 2 goals and an assist in the two games leading up to the break, which included his first career game winning goal.

The Question Mark:

Habs GM Marc Bergevin has already pulled the trigger on one deal for the Canadiens, sending Raphael Diaz to Vancouver for Dale Weise. What we want to know from you is, how many more deals do you expect Bergevin to make between now and the deadline and what is the team's biggest need?

Let us know what you think, leave a comment or send us a tweet by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren. Join the live conversation by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens vs Red Wings (Game #60)

montreal canadiens vs detroit red wings nhl 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (32-21-6) kick off the post-Olympic race to the playoffs when they host the Red Wings (26-20-12) Wednesday night at the Bell Centre. The puck drops at 7:30 and the game airs on RDS and TSN.

This is just the second of four meetings between these Original Six rivals. The Red Wings earned a convincing 4-1 win over the Canadiens last month when these teams met in Detroit. Gustav Nyquist, Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg each picked up a goal and an assist in the victory.

What to Watch:

Carey Price and PK Subban returned home from Sochi with a pair of Gold Medals to their credit. Price was named the tournament's best goaltender, posting shutouts in his last 2 games to help Canada achieve victory. Price has earned himself the night off against the Wings, so fellow Olympian Pater Budaj will get the start on Wednesday.

After coaching Team Canada to Olympic Gold, Mike Babcock returns to the Red Wings bench to try to maintain his team's playoff positioning. The Wings have the second and final wild card spot right now, but Washington, Ottawa and Columbus are each just one point back. To make his task that much more difficult, the Wings are suffering through some major injuries. After suffering a back injury during the Olympics, Henrik Zetterberg could miss the rest of the season, he underwent surgery on Friday.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens return to action in the midst of a heated race for second place in the Atlantic division and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. At 70 points, they're tied with the Maple Leafs for third spot, one point behind the Lightning. The Habs still have a game in hand on the Leafs, but they've played one more match than Tampa Bay.

Who's Out:

Alex Galchenyuk is expected to return to action Wednesday after recovering from a broken hand suffered in early January. Jarred Tinordi has been called up from Hamilton and could see action this week. Michael Bournival (concussion), Travis Moen (lower body) and Davis Drewiske (shoulder) are all out for the Habs.

The Wings are missing Henrik Zetterberg (back), Stephen Weiss (hernia), Jakub Kindl (knee) and Cody Emmerton (finger). Johan Franzen (concussion) and Pavel Datsyuk (knee) will both be game time decisions.

What Else:

After an extended break for many Canadiens the team has a grueling road ahead of them. The Habs will play 7 games over the next 11 nights and will play their final 23 games of the season in just 46 days. The Canadiens are not alone of course, as of Wednesday there are only 47 days left in the regular season. Just 7 teams have reached the 60 game mark so far. The Boston Bruins and St Louis Blues have the most games to make up between now and the end of the year, they each have 25 matches remaining.

The Question Mark:

We want to hear from you, how many points are you expecting the Habs to collect in their last 23 games?

Let us know what you think, leave a comment or send us a tweet by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren. Join the live conversation by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is this the end of Andrei Markov?


Everything has a beginning and an end. I believe we are approaching the end of an era: the Andrei Markov era. Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 6th round of the NHL draft in 1998. Andrei broke into the league in the 2002-03 season after bouncing between Montreal and Quebec (Montreal's then minor-league affiliate) for two seasons. He would soon become the Habs' best defenceman logging huge minutes and being the go-to-guy on the power-play. Always top 5-10 in league statistics among offensive defensemen.

Andrei Markov is currently in the final year of his three-year deal worth $17.25 million and he's looking for an extension. Earlier in the season, Andrei fired his agent Don Meehan and decided to handle the contract negotiations. Shortly thereafter it was announced that former Hab and teammate, Sergei Berezin, had been hired as his new agent. Guess he didn't realize how cutthroat negotiating can be. At 35 years of age, its not about dollars so much as it is about term. The past couple seasons he has gotten off to a great start only to fizzle out in the second half and be almost invisible during playoffs due to logging big minutes night in, night out. On repaired knees, it takes its toll and it's obvious in his play. The age is beginning to show and he knows his time is coming up, hence the term, he doesn't want to go through another negotiation. Markov wants this to be his last contract.

It was reported yesterday that Marc Bergevin offered Markov a one-year contract worth $6 million. I believe he has since rejected the offer looking more for a three-year contract. Is Bergevin prepared to go three years? No. I don't believe he is. I also believe it was a bit of a PR move. Offer Markov a contract that you know he will not take, that way you don't look like the bad guy in the eyes of fans when that trade is announced. Fans absolutely love #79, and would hate to see him go. If Andrei is not in the Canadiens future plans, it would only make sense get something while his value is still high. Smart asset management is what will make Habs successful in the long run.

Now what is Markov worth on the open market? Well, it's been reported by NHL insiders like Darren Dreger and Bob Mackenzie that he could fetch a first round pick AND a young roster player or high end prospect. If I had to guess on possible trading partners since Andrei has a modified no-trade clause, which basically means he can pick where he goes, I'd say places like Washington to play with his buddy Alex, Pittsburgh, Vancouver or Detroit. Those make sense to me anyway.

I also wouldn't be entirely shocked if he happens to re-sign in Montreal. My guess, he takes two years at $5 million per year, he gets a bit more term and Marc saves a bit more money because we all know he's got to back up the truck for P.K. Subban.

As far as rumors, Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta are being shopped pretty hard, but no bites. Barely any nibbles. A lot of the chatter will be put to bed by next week when the NHL trade deadline approaches next week.

Sean Dempsey
Writer for Habsaddict.com, Father of 3 with an awesome wife! Sports head – My father told me I'm a Habs fan cause he dropped me; he's a Bruins fan. Follow me on twitter @Dewstyle_Hockey

Monday Musings: ... On Tuesday; Sochi Recap

Greetings Habs Addicts!

Photo Credit: CTVnews.com
It was a golden weekend for Team Canada, wrapping up the Olympics with a stifling defensive performance in the Gold Medal game against Sweden. Carey Price notched his second straight shutout in the a 3-0 victory. In the semi-finals, it was the Battle of North America again, as Canada squared off against the United States. Carey Price was sensational in stopping 31 saves and out-duelling Jon Quick who had 36 stops of his own in a 1-0 shutout win to advance Canada to the final. In order to get to that point at all, Canada had to first get past Latvia. Sounds easy enough, but this game was extremely close in score due to a career-defining performance by Kristers Gudlevskis, the Latvian goaltender - and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect - who made 55 saves including many difficult ones in the 2-1 Canada win.

Carey Price was named the Top Goaltender of the tournament. The Montreal Canadiens goaltender finished the tournament with a 5-0 record, a 0.59 goals-against average and .972 save percentage. He allowed three goals on 106 shots and finished with a shutout streak of 164 minutes and 19 seconds - the longest of his career to-date. What can we say, maybe the rest of Canada woke up to the greatness that is Carey Price, but we've been privy to these performances all season long and we always knew the potential for greatness was there. Keep Calm and Carey on! (Yes, I know. Shameless plug. Sorry, not sorry).

Photo Credit: TheChronicleHerald.ca
P.K Subban finished the tournament as Canada's best cheerleader, developing quite a bond in the press-box with goalie Mike Smith.  Subban only appeared in one game - Canada's only game in which they scored more than 3 goals - which was a 6-0 drubbing of Austria. Mike Babcock preferred to dress Dan Hamhuis over Subban. Hamhuis played 1:06 against Team USA and did not leave the bench in the finals. Canada's power-play struggled and Patrick Sharp - a right-handed shooting forward - looked horrible playing the point, as many of his shots hit defenders and he rarely got the puck through traffic. I spoke at length last week about Subban's lack of use in the tournament. We won the gold medal. I'm not going to beat a dead horse. I'm simply going to reiterate what I said all tournament long: Why do you have the Norris Trophy winning, right-handed shooting, power-play point shot specialist sitting in the press box in order to play a forward at the point and dress a 7th defenseman you will not use. The point is moot, as Canada won the tournament. The logic behind that move just does not make sense. Subban was a great teammate and clearly savored the moment of being on the podium (SubbieCam strikes again) as well as the opportunity to be a part of the team. Subban should be a force in 2018 if the NHL players are allowed to participate.  Congrats to both PK and Carey!

Rounding out the medal winners was Finland, who soundly defeated a hapless United States team 5-0 in the Bronze medal game. Back in July, when Montreal Hockey Talk had us provide Olympic previews, I took on the task of predicting the Finnish team's roster and ultimate finish. While I was wrong with some of my roster predictions - Saku Koivu should have been on the team, I don't care what anyone else says and injuries to Pekka Rinne and Mikko Koivu certainly played a part with some of my wrong choices - I had the core of the team correct. I gambled incorrectly that youngsters Alexander Barkov and Olli Maata would take the necessary leaps to find a place on the roster, but both rookies have been extremely solid this season and both played a big role for the Fins. Finland's Teemu Selanne had two goals against the United States and was also named tournament MVP in what will be his final Olympics. Congrats to Team (Grumpy Old) Finland on a well played tournament. Finland surpassed my prediction of a 4th place finish by winning the bronze medal game instead of losing it and taking home the medal. My Canada vs Russia final was also wrong, but to be fair, I made the predictions in July. I correctly predicted the participants of the bronze medal game as well as the gold medal winner. I'll take that! Watch out, Wiarton Willie. I'm coming for your job next!

With the Sochi Olympics wrapped up, it was nice to see the host Russian squad get eliminated from the tournament in the quarter-finals even if it meant my Olympic prediction would be crushed. The early knock off allowed for our veteran workhorse Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin to get some much needed rest before returning to North America. Sorry, Russia. Purely selfish Habs reasoning here. Rounding out the Montreal presence in Sochi, Tomas Plekanec had a great tournament playing with Jaromir Jagr (Hey Marc Bergevin, trade deadline is approaching...) for the Czech Republic and Max Pacioretty played very well with linemates Paul Stastny (Hey Marc Bergevin, trade deadline is approaching...) and T.J Oshie for the United States. Peter Budaj only appeared in one game; in relief of a shelled Jaroslav Halak in the opening round. He'll be ready to resume wearing the ball-cap and pom-poms on the bench and dominate when called upon to play.

Coming up this week: The NHL season resumes!

P.K Subban will get to show Mike Babcock exactly how he really feels about his lineup snub when the Detroit Red Wings come to town on Wednesday. Personally, I'll expect Subban to dominate down the stretch and take the playing-time snub as an added motivational chip on his shoulder. The Habs travel to Pittsburgh on Thursday and take on Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby's Penguins before wrapping up the week at home with a rivalry showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Three very tough match-ups against three very good teams. Great way to jump right back into the action.

Welcome back, NHL hockey!

Three Questions From My Musings:

A) Will P.K Subban use the playing-time snub as added motivation to dominate down the stretch?

B) Will the Habs be affected by having so many key veteran players participating in the Sochi games?

C) With only 23 games remaining to be played, what do you think the Habs record will be from this point forward?

 ---
Nick M. is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.

Monday, February 24, 2014

We Are Hockey

Did the Canadian offence make the trip to Sochi, because I sure as hell didn't see them on the ice!

What’s wrong with Sidney Crosby? Why isn't anyone scoring?

PK should be playing, what is this bull!

Will this team be able to match the US? What about Russia?

Can we trust Price?

All of these topics were hotly debated over breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as millions of Canadians were concerned over their teams’ play. And what do you know, we went on to win 3-0 against the Swedes, and Canadians nation-wide can bask in their pride and glory. Canada played like a team. Everyone doubted their ability to make it to the final, but they committed to their game plan, and proved us all wrong. No one was playing for themselves; every single player bought into the defensive game plan and it worked. Would I have liked to see more goals scored? Of course, because I, like every other fan, can’t stand a one goal lead vs. a no-name team whose goalie decided go all Patrick Roy on us (i.e., the Latvians and Gudlevskis) or a red-hot American team. Although the latter didn't bring their A-game, a one-goal lead remains precarious in any situation, especially against a team that has a Kessel or Parise. That being said, I write to you in the fabulous world of hindsight, where everything seems so nice and rosy (and where you can breathe peacefully). The truth is, Canada’s defensive play, stellar goaltending, and, most importantly, their maturity and composure brought them to a superior level. Never did they once freak out in tight game situations, like we saw with Russia. When everyone, including myself, was questioning their ability to bring their play to the next level, they quieted us all in the semis. They brought it when it counted most, and made Canada proud.

As a Habs fan… what can I say. Carey Price embodied the Zen Buddha, and his infectious confidence and calmness formed the foundation for their defensive game. I was listening to Radio-Canada and one of the sports-casters said, half-jokingly, that he should wear the Canadian jersey under his Habs jersey... seriously? In case he can't recall, Price is the reason why the Habs aren't out of the playoff run and was named NHL's 1st star before leaving for the Olympics. Price is a good goalie: always has, and always will be. People mistakenly took his cool demeanour as nonchalance. He had his share of ups and downs, but that's a learning curve every athlete needs to go through. His tremendous potential is becoming a reality, which I never doubted. 

Even if I wanted to see PK Subban don the Canadian jersey, I think that this was a very humbling and positive experience for him. He was a team player throughout the tournament, and his smile and enthusiasm when he celebrated with his teammates is testament to his professionalism and his commitment to the team concept. Every player, whether he was dressed, benched, or injured, contributed to this team effort, and has made Canada a very proud country. We are hockey. The women’s incredibly inspirational come-back final set the bar even higher for the men, and they delivered. All in all, congratulations to all our athletes in Sochi. Thank you for making us all proud Canadians, and see you in 2018 South Korea!

Follow Safia on Twitter @Saff2013.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Surprise, Surprise...

Russia loses to Finland in Quarterfinals
Picture from the New York Times
Semi-final match-ups: 

Finland vs. Sweden
Canada vs. USA

Okay. But... where's Russia? Oh, right. They've managed to legitimatise the label "Russian Deception" or "Russian Catastrophe", or whatever defines a Russian bomb at the Sochi Olympics (and not from terrorists). Men's hockey gold was really the only medal that mattered the most to the host nation...and they blew it. Olympics after Olympics, the Russians are known to be a team that doesn't play like a team, and that was evident during the quarterfinals yesterday. The Finns, despite missing key players like Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula, demonstrated character and unity that the Russians could never match. I extend my condolences to all Russians on this disappointing day in Olympic hockey. As a Canadian supporter, a Canada-Russia final would have been EPIC. Until next time... if the NHL allows its players to go to South Korea in 2018. But that's a conversation for another time...

Moving on, I completely underestimated the Latvian hockey team. I was convinced that Canada would face-off with Switzerland. Logically speaking, the Swiss had a better team on paper, but what matters is the team on the ice, and Latvia brought it. That was the case today, as well. They are not the most skilled hockey team, but they played the body and committed to it, especially in the first period. However, the rest of the game could be titled "The Kristers Gudlevskis Show" (it has a certain ring to it, no?), as the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect stopped 55 of 57 shots fired at him, giving Shea Weber and the Canadian hockey team their second goal only on the 54th shot. 
Latvian Netminder Gudlevskis
(AP / Mark Humphrey)
Anyone watching the game could see how tired Gudlevskis was midway through the game, lying down, face to the ice, holding onto the small breaks in between plays. All in all, kudos to Latvia and Gudlevskis on making it all the way to the quarters, and making a game out of a match-up that could have been a complete thrashing from their Canadian opponents.

Speaking of which, who here is kind of (really) worried about the lack of offensive output displayed by our Canadian team? In fact, it's not much of a question. On paper, this should be the team scoring the most goals, but they have produced 13 thus far, 7 of which were from defensemen. Captain Crosby has changed lines as many times as the host of the Oscars, and there seems to be some chemistry  between him, Kunitz, and Bergeron. Heading into the semis against a hot American team, the Canadians need to start producing offensively if they want to beat a team that wants redemption from Vancouver. That being said, I know that it's not about a lack of effort or talent. With 57 shots on goal, many of which were quality scoring chances, team Canada didn't give up and panic. 

As a Montreal Canadiens fan, I don't think Subban will be in the line-up when we face the Americans. But he does offer that offensive flair and spunk that this team desperately needs. He is a risk taker, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. Carey Price made the saves he needed to make yesterday, stopping 15 of 16 shots. Pundits will probably pick on him for that lone goal, talk about his technique, or how shaky he may have seemed throughout the game. Listen, even if his shoulders should have been held higher, it was still a breakaway that shouldn't have happened. Moreover, the fact that he was able to keep his concentration while his counterpart was being bombarded with pucks, is something that should not be overlooked. The real problem here, as previously discussed, is our lack of offensive production. However, with the effort the boys put into today's game, they are bound to grow from this experience. Hopefully, they will be able to perform up to their potential on paper, Friday at noon.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Musings: #FreeSubban & Sochi Highlights

Greetings Habs Addicts!

I hope you are all enjoying the Sochi Olympic games. I know I have not followed along with too much of it. Truth be told, I've really only watched the hockey. Our athletes are performing fantastic so far and we've had an amazing medal showing and I'm proud of all of them. I'm just not interested in watching figure skating or curling. The hockey games have not disappointed, either. Very closely fought battles, with some surprising results along the way. Team Canada has had a closely contested defensive game, winning 3-1 against Norway and then exploded with a 6-0 rout of Austria, which saw Jeff Carter net a natural hat-trick and then had a nail-biting, rather disappointing 2-1 overtime win over Finland. Going to overtime dropped Canada from a potential 1st overall seed to 3rd, behind Sweden and the United States. Canada's next opponent will be the winner of the game between Latvia and Switzerland.
Photo Credit: Canada.com

- The prevailing theme of the tournament has been a surprising lack of scoring from the Canadian forwards. Drew Doughty has led the team with 4 goals from the blue line, including both goals against Finland. Shea Weber has contributed 2 goals himself and Carter had the hat-trick against Austria. The rest of the Canadian squad has scored a combined 2 goals. Aside from the rout against Austria, the other two games have been hard fought defensive games. Both Norway and Finland have utilized a trap-style system and it has stymied the offense. Carey Price has been solid in goal, starting against Norway and Finland. He has allowed a goal in each game while facing a low-shot total, but in his defense, both goals were deflected point shots through screens that even Roberto Luongo would not have saved. Bobby Lou was fantastic against Austria in his lone game, but it appears that the tournament will belong to Price going forward.

- P.K Subban has been a scratch in two of the three games played so far in Sochi. Subban sat in favour of Dan Hamhuis in the 3-1 win over Norway and the 2-1 win over Finland. Subban was in the line-up for the 6-0 win over Austria. The use of the reigning Norris Trophy winner has been subject to many Twitter comments as well as wide spread media commentary. Even Don Cherry on Coaches' Corner has lobbied for Subban to be in the line-up. Frankly, Canada has had trouble scoring goals in two of the three games and while Subban did not factor much into the offense, he moves the puck and has a much better offensive game than either Dan Hamhuis or Marc-Edouard Vlasic. His 'defensive liabilities' are overrated and often overblown in the media. Sure, Subban will take some chances with the puck and sure, he will sometimes turn over the puck. But so does Sidney Crosby. So does Alex Ovechkin. So does Drew Doughty. So did Bobby Orr. Elite playmakers take chances, sometimes they do not work. Often times, they do. With the amount of goal scoring coming from the defense, Canada is better served with PK Subban rotating through the line-up than they are having the limited offensive contributions of Hamhuis or Vlasic. While the latter two may be stronger defensively, Subban is used to playing in front of incumbent starter Carey Price and is hardly a drop-off defensively. Offensively, neither one of those two can bring to the ice what Subban can. How PK has not been in the line-up all tournament long is a slight to him and Canadian hockey fans. Knowing Subban, we can expect a beast of a performance down the stretch for the Habs as he uses his lack of ice time in Sochi as added motivation in his quest for a second-straight Norris Trophy. 

- Canada's next potential opponent is the Swiss squad led by former Habs' blueliners Mark Streit, Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz. The Swiss finished the preliminary round with a 2-1 record, all three games 1-0 affairs. The Swiss have also been playing a trap-style defensive game; the same style of game that has given Canada fits so far in Sochi. Diaz has been paired up with Streit on the blueline. While they have not scored too much in the tournament, the Swiss boast a large number of NHL players in the line-up, especially on the back end with Roman Josi rounding out the top-4 and Anaheim Duck's goaltender Jonas Hiller manning the crease. The Swiss team should get past the Latvian squad in the quarterfinals and could provide Team Canada with a real test to open the medal round.

- Max Pacioretty and Team USA has had an impressive showing so far this tournament and has to be considered a legitimate threat to Canada. Another Canada vs USA final is not out of the question. Patches has played with Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie in the tournament and they came out flying in the first game against Peter Budaj's Slovakian squad. Team USA scored 6 goals in the second period of the 7-1 drubbing. Patches had an assist to go along with a +2 rating and 4 shots on goal. His line-mate Stastny had 2 goals and Oshie added a pair of assists. This performance was the shining moment for Pacioretty, has he saw limited ice time against Russia and was a scratch in the third game against Slovenia. Former Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak started and was hung out to dry before giving away to Budaj, who allowed a goal on the first shot he faced. Budaj finished the game, but has not seen the ice in the subsequent games, as Slovakia went back to Halak before giving the third game to Jan Laco.

- Tomas Plekanec has been paired up with veteran Jaromir Jagr for the Czech Republic, as they often are in international play. Jagr has been snubbed by the Habs in free-agency the past few season, as he has bounced around from Dallas to Boston to New Jersey. Each time he has expressed interest in playing for Montreal and each time was not considered. Instead we signed Danny Briere. I've already expressed my opinion numerous times in the past about this topic. Plekanec set up Jagr for a goal in each of the first two games and has played well all tournament long, providing a penalty killing presence and the same solid two-way game we've come to expect from him each year.

- Rounding out our Habs presence in Sochi, Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin have been representing the home squad of Team Russia. While Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk form a very credible trio up front, the Russian squad has been somewhat of a disappointment so far in the tournament.  Filling out the roster with relatively unknown KHL players, the drop off in skill between the NHL players and KHL players is noticeable, as Russia has had some low-scoring games en route to a 1-0-1-1 record in round-robin play. Russia opened up with a 5-2 victory of a low-ranked Slovenia squad, before losing 3-2 to the United States in an epic shootout which has turned T.J Oshie into an American hero. Andrei Markov had 2 assists for Russia in this game. Russia ended the preliminary round by beating Slovakia in a shootout, with no goals scored in regulation. Very disappointing performance thus far in my opinion. Andrei Markov has played big minutes, which concerns me as he has faded down the stretch last year and has showed signs that his workload was getting to him prior to Sochi. Alexei Emelin has not done anything offensively in the tournament, but has played solidly in his own end.

That pretty much recaps our Habs showing thus far in Sochi. The biggest storyline coming up will be the goaltending of Carey Price and the usage of P.K Subban by Canada. The lack of offense from Canada will continue to draw attention to the fact that Subban has been watching from the press-box. Subban should be playing. He should have a big role for this team, but Mike Babcock has other ideas. Hopefully, his other ideas do not cost us the gold medal.

Three Questions From My Musings

A) Should P.K Subban be in the line-up every game for Team Canada?

B) Should Marc Bergevin make a play to bring Jaromir Jagr to Montreal for the stretch run?

C) Who out of Sweden, USA or Russia poses the biggest threat to Canada's gold medal chances?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Montreal Canadiens: The Emergence of Ryan White

How about Ryan White?

The guy that was costing the Montreal Canadiens points in the 2012-13 season with his untimely penalties more or less every time he took the ice. Every time habs fans saw him on the ice, we'd watch with one eye, with that nervous feeling in your gut, afraid of what he would do next to cost his team yet another win. You remember, right? That game against Buffalo seemed to be rock bottom for Ryan, Steve Ott knew it was easy to get into White's head and he did exactly that. Steve looked to be going in for a hip check. Almost as soon as Ott made contact, Ryan assumed it was dirty and off came the gloves and Ryan just starts wailing punches at someone who had no intention in fighting. A 2 minute penalty for instigating, 5 minutes for fighting and a 10 game misconduct.



His night was over. A rough night would be an understatement, when he left for the showers, Montreal had a 4-2 lead. That penalty took away any momentum the Blue-Blanc-Rouge had and it would not be regained. His teammates visibly annoyed with his antics, a coaching staff that was fed up to a point where Michel Therrien had to call him out to the media.

Ryan wouldn't see much more game action beyond this the rest of the season. It was his first one way contract, making things very difficult for Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin. He couldn't send him to the minors and risk losing him on waivers, he still believed in #53. He'd spend the rest of the season in the press box more than on the ice.

September 2013 is here. New season, new look, Ryan White has no hair????. That's Okay, he looks like a real bad ass now, I like it. He starts off season very well, a new Ryan White has emerged. A more calm, confident, and seemingly at peace with his role. Mr. Bergevin had a conversation with Ryan about what he needed to do, and it looks like he took it to heart.

On more nights than not, he's one of the most consistent players, not expected to score but chips in here and there with 2 goals, 3 assists this season. He was told to finish his hits, and specifically, stay out of the box. He's racked up 32 minutes this year, that includes 4 fighting majors. To do some number crunching, that's half the amount of minutes he had last year in double the amount of games, I'm impressed, you should be too. Bring energy to the lineup and he's bringing oodles of it. Can White get any better? I found myself asking this very question, Habs brass answered that question with a big YES, when a trade was made to bring childhood friend Dale Weise into the mix.

The combination of Weise and White hit it off real well from the start, and have the options of Travis Moen, whom also has really picked up his game this year or Brandon Prust onto that grinding line and Montreal Canadiens now look to have the best, most energetic 4th line in all of hockey. A line of players that other teams will grow tired of quick, after only 3 games played before the Olympic break. One can only wonder How good can this 4th line be? Will they stay consistent or will coach Therrien pull off another head scratcher and break them up before they get that chance?


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Writer for Habsolument, became a Habs fan after my father dropped me, a bruins fan, his words.

Follow me on twitter @Dewstyle_hockey

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday Musings: The Dale Weise vs Rafael Diaz Edition

Greetings Habs Addicts!

Photo Credit: Montreal.Ctvnews.ca
Well the Habs are officially on the Sochi Olympic break. Well, a third of the Habs are on the Olympic break anyway. The rest of the roster will be playing some high pressure, high intensity games on the worlds biggest stage - and ice surface, for that matter.  As always, we'll begin with a recap of this past week's games. The Habs played 3 very impressive games. Carey Price started all three, beginning with a tight-checking 2-0 shutout win over the Calgary Flames, this was followed by a thumping of the Vancouver Canucks.  Price out-dueled fellow Olympian Roberto Luongo, stopping 42 of 44 shots and Max Pacioretty netted a hat-trick (with two missed penalty shots) in a 5-2 Habs win.  Montreal headed into the break with a 4-1 dismantling of the Carolina Hurricanes, winning the season series 2-1. David Desharnais scored two goals in this one.  After a stretch where the Habs gave up 4+ goals in 6 straight games (1-5 in those games), the defensive effort came back strong in the past 7 games (2 or fewer goals allowed; two shutouts and a 5-1-1 record to show for it).  The penalty killing has been lights out over this stretch as well, allowing only 2 goals on 21 attempts during this stretch.

Recap aside, now its on to my musings.

- Biggest news of the week was the trade that sent Rafael Diaz to the Vancouver Canucks in return for grinding forward Dale Weise.  Hours before this trade went down last Monday, I had just finishing stating in my musings that I preferred to see Diaz in the lineup over Douglas Murray, feeling he'd pair up very well with Nathan Beaulieu, allowing the kid the chance to play on his natural (left) side instead of the right side. Needless to say, that will not be happening.  The stat geeks were up in arms over this deal, notably those who use the Corsi ratings who felt that Diaz has been our most effective defender.  While Diaz is a fluid skater, with decent puck moving skills, his shot is erratic and at 5'11, 197 pounds he is slightly undersized for an NHL defender. For the stat geeks, the average defenseman is 6' 1 7/8" tall, weighs 209.66 lbs and is 27.5 years old. Irrelevant, yes. But while Diaz blocks shots effectively, he provided absolutely no physical presence on the back end and while touted as an offensive defenseman, he was never going to develop into the second coming of Mark Streit on our power-play.

Dale Weise will never challenge Sidney Crosby for the scoring title (although he did show the ability to score in junior, so he's not a player who made his name solely by dropping the gloves).  He'll never win a Lady Byng award, either. Instead the gritty Weise brings size (6'2", 210 pounds) and strength to the Habs 4th line while possessing considerably more overall skill than George Parros. Weise is also fast.  He is the reigning back-to-back winner of the 'Fastest Skater' in a competition held each year at the Vancouver Canucks skills competition. Sure this is straight-line speed, but speed is speed. Weise is also a former junior teammate of Ryan White, who made his return to the lineup this week from a nagging "upper-body injury" after missing 14 games.  Paired up together with the speedy Michael Bournival, the energy line contributed 9 shots on goal and 9 hits, while averaging 12 minutes of ice time against Calgary.  Against his former team, Weise and Bournival set up Ryan White's first goal of the season, while contributing 3 shots and 5 hits, while averaging only 8 minutes on the ice (Bournival left with a concussion after only 5:02 of ice time; Weise played a line-high 10:28).  Saturday night in Carolina, White added another goal and assist and combined with Weise saw some time on the penalty kill and also added another 4 hits and 3 take-aways in their 10:55 and 14:02, respectively.

Ultimately, the Corsi-loving and stat based analysts hate this trade. But there is more to hockey than just stats.  Besides, there are stats to back up all arguments and only using select ones while avoiding others will allow for biased opinions to be made, even if they are backed up by the numbers. Much like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are used to make advance stat-based arguments in baseball, Corsi and Fenwick ratings are starting to gain traction to rate production levels in hockey. While valid and helpful, advanced stats are not the be all and end all of how a roster should be built. Moneyball illustrated how the Oakland A's could build a solid yet slightly flawed, playoff contending roster on a smaller budget by incorporating advance stats in determining how they made roster moves.  While this use of advanced stats became a trend in baseball, followed soon thereafter by teams like the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland A's still have not won a World Series since incorporating the Moneyball strategy.  Sure, they've won games and made the playoffs, but they haven't won the championship with this strategy.  In hockey, the Montreal Canadiens can win games and make the playoffs with the lineup they have, but the goal is to win the Stanley Cup.  I think its safe to say, that in a seven-game series, a lineup of Dale Weise clones repeatedly coming at a defensive core of Rafael Diaz clones would ultimately lead to a lot of punishment suffered by the Diaz's, not so much the Weises.  That same core of Weises battling a bunch of Douglas Murrays would feel more physical pain on their end, while not necessarily scoring too many more goals.  There's no advanced stats to justify what a physical presence can have on a hockey game. Only hits. With that said, I much preferred to see Diaz in the lineup over Douglas Murray - because lets face it, sometimes the stats do tell the story as Murray has been horrible at anything that is not killing penalties.  However, that is no longer an option. We'll need to find another way to replace Murray.  Ultimately, the traditional way of grading players based on their skills and abilities to build lineups will never be replaced by paper stats. The stats can assist, but games aren't won on paper. Never were, never will be.

Truth be told, Marc Bergevin went out and solved a need while giving up an expiring asset.  Diaz has been a healthy scratch by Michel Therrien and was not going to make his way back into the lineup anytime soon. While a lot of fans on Twitter were angry over the deal, Diaz was never going to land us a P.A. Parenteau as earlier rumoured, or be a part of a trade for Thomas Vanek.  He was also going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and was surely not going to re-sign with the Habs.  So rather than trade him away for a draft pick who may or may not pan out (insert Trevor Timmins comments here) three or four years from now, Bergevin went out and filled a roster need by bringing in a fast, physical energy player in Dale Weise.

The fourth line has been a problem for the Habs all season long. Michael Bournival has been a solid contributor, providing a spark offensively coupled with solid defensive play.  Ryan White missed games with an injury, but has played well when given the opportunity.  White earned himself a spot in Therrien's doghouse last year with undisciplined play, but has continued to play a gritty, agitating game this season under a lot more emotional control.  Travis Moen has been ineffective again this season when healthy and George Parros has been injured and utterly ineffective when healthy (two concussions and 0 points with a -5 rating in 16 games played - averaging under 5 minutes per game).  The Habs have had a revolving door of AHL callups rounding out the 4th line this year: Louis Leblanc, Christian Thomas, Michael Blunden, Patrick Holland, Martin St. Pierre, Gabriel Dumont, Joonas Nattinen have all seen action and in a combined 25 games played have contributed a grand total of 0 points. Zero.  Dale Weise has out-scored all of them combined in his 3 games (1 assist). 

The fact of the matter is, none of our AHL players are NHL fourth liners. They are not grind-it-out, big and physical energy players.  Their games are based on skill and scoring.  They are top-9 material but none of them have proven to be NHL ready.  Montreal's defensive prospects (Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn) are all closer to being NHL-ready than our forwards are.  In fact, Beaulieu has already made the jump and will most likely never return to Hamilton again.  We knew going into this season that depth at forward was an issue.  Instead of relying on this revolving door of non-production,  Bergevin went out and traded for an experienced, young proven NHL grinder to fill the role that has been a hole in the lineup all season long. Weise will be a restricted free-agent at the end of the season - thus still under club control - and will be easy to re-sign this off-season and ultimately ship to Hamilton if he is outplayed or replaced by other new off-season additions.

In the meantime, Weise may never lead the NHL in Corsi and Fenwick scores. But no one will argue that his first week in the lineup has been a successful one.  We can expect to see a lot more games like we saw this week from the newest Hab as he continues to make his father proud sporting the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.

Coming up this week: SOCHI!  Go Canada Go!

While I'm proudly Canadian through and through and I fully expect the gold medal to come home again this year with Carey Price and P.K. Subban. I do want to wish the best to all our beloved Habs participating in the games: Max Pacioretty for the United States; Tomas Plekanec with the Czech Republic; Peter Budaj with Slovakia; and both Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin with the host Russian squad.  Also looking forward to watching a real underdog with three former Habs on it can do this time around: Team Switzerland boasts former Habs defensemen Mark Streit, Rafael Diaz and Yannick Weber.  We're in store for some great hockey over the next few weeks.

Enjoy it, folks!


Three Questions from my Musings:

A) Will Dale Weise continue to make a positive contribution to the Habs lineup?

B) Which current Hamilton Bulldog that has received a callup this year will make the jump and remain in the Canadiens lineup next season?

C) Who will in the Gold medal in Sochi?


Montreal Canadiens Three Stars of the Week - Feb 3 - 10 2014


montreal canadiens habs tricolore 3 stars nhl

The Canadiens went a perfect 3-0-0 on their final week of NHL action be the Olympic break. Carey Price started the week off with a shutout against the Flames as the Canadiens skated off with a 2-0 win. The offense kicked in against Vancouver on Thursday, Max Pacioretty scored a hat trick leading the Habs to a 5-2 win. The week ended in Carolina where Ryan White scored the game winner in a 4-1 victory.

First Star: David Desharnais

David Desharnais put up 3 goals and 2 assists this week, scoring points in each of Montreal's 3 games. After starting the year with just 1 assist in his first 19 games, Desharnais is going into the Olympic break with 31 points in his last 37 games. DD's best performance of the week cam Saturday night when he scored twice against the Hurricanes, leading the way to the 4-1 win in Carolina.
 
Second Star: Carey Price

In his last 6 games, Carey Price has held his opposition to 2 goals or less. He opened the week off with his fourth shutout of the season, and finished it with his 26th win so far. Price hits the break with a .925 save percentage and a 2.33, he's fifth in wins and tied for second in shutouts behind just Tuuka Rask.

Third Star: Max Pacioretty

Max Pacioretty set a record this week, against the Canucks on Thursday he became the first player to draw two penalty shots in the same period. He's also the only player to miss two penalty shots in a game but still come away with a hat trick. Pacioretty finished the week with 3 goals and an assist, but he was forced out of action and did not return Saturday when he went crashing into the Hurricanes net. Despite the injury, Patch has said that he will indeed join Team USA in Sochi.

Honorable Mention: Ryan White

Ryan White returned from injury this week and provided the Habs with a huge spark in each of their three games. He was a Third Star Tuesday night versus the Flames, and again on Thursday when he scored his first goal of the season. White also scored the winning goal Saturday against the Canes, his first career game winning goal in the NHL.White had instant chemistry with newcomer Dale Weise, who the Habs picked up at the start of the week from Vancouver in exchange for Raphael Diaz. Weise picked up an assist and saw over 10 minutes of ice time each game this week.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Montreal Canadiens: Love them, and Enjoy the Sochi Olympics

It’s never easy being a Montreal Canadiens fan. In fact, it’s pretty much always an emotional roller-coaster ride.

Even when the Habs were on that winning streak a couple of months ago (it feels so long ago), I was mentally preparing myself to expect the kind of play we have witnessed over the past couple of weeks. Let’s just say that the mental prep failed to diminish the frustration and disappointment while watching our team…tank miserably. Some may call the previous description as melodramatic, but need I remind you that I’m a Montreal Canadiens fan?

I was one of the unlucky fans to attend a game at the Bell Centre this weekend. Sometimes I wonder, why should I bother cheering for a team that makes me want to get a refund on my ticket (although I’ve been fortunate enough to go for free, but you get what I mean)? I deserve to cheer for a team that WINS (I also happen to subject myself to some torture with FC Liverpool…but that’s a story for another time folks). Despite watching one of the more boring games of the season, something hit me…
There’ something so special about seeing a game at the Bell Centre. I have been blessed with a number of opportunities to watch games in the amphitheater, and I have never passed up on the chance. How could I refuse? Lord knows how hard it can be to purchase a ticket, and yet summon the funds to actually seat your ass down (and don’t get me started on the price of food.

MINOR DETAILS (but not really) aside, the atmosphere at the Bell Centre is something people talk about time and time again, and it always lives up to the hype. It’s one thing watching a game at a bar, or at home with friends…but it’s a completely different story watching the game with 21 000 crazy fans (apart from the boring business men who sit in front…have a little life guys!).

21 000 mostly hungry, self-proclaimed hockey experts cheering and critiquing their beloved team is testament to the love we Montrealers have for our hockey.

It would be nice if the Habs could give back. It would be nice if they could play like a team fans should be cheering for. Yes, if you’re a true fan, your devotion to the team is infallible.

Let’s just say that I would be willing to be a crap ton of money to watch them if I was fairly certain of seeing a good spectacle. Despite this mini-rant, I still watch them on TV, read up on the latest news surrounding the team, and listen in on the ongoing debates on Briere and many other issues.

Heck, I even take the time to write about them every week!

Why? Because there is something beautiful about uniting yourself behind a group of individuals trying to restore their past pride and glory. This group of men, whatever their skills or shortcomings, represent an integral part of our city and are an important piece to our identity as a Montrealer.

Even if I told myself: “ Screw this, I’m going to cheer for the Blackhawks!”, I could never genuinely adhere to them. I bleed, you bleed, we all bleed the blue, white and red. Now, after this miniature grammar lesson, let’s enjoy the last game against the Hurricanes before some of our boys battle it out in Sochi.

Sit back, relax, and go Habs go, no matter what.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Montreal Canadiens: Is Giving it Your All, Really that Hard?

Fire Therrien!
Trade Markov!
Trade Gionta!
Fire Bergevin!

Ok, ok, we’ve heard it all the last two weeks so no need to repeat those topics, bottom line Habs are slumping big time and the flaws of these team are more visible now then earlier this season. It’s as simple as that. We all knew what this team was; too small, not enough scoring, not tough enough, blah blah blah. Unfortunately it’s going to take time to fix those areas, and that means Mr. Bergevin is right, we have to be patient. Fine, I can live with that.

But let’s see the plan.

What is this team’s identity? Are they checkers and grinders, defence first, high-octane offense? No one seems to know. But it would sure be nice if someone could figure it out and be nice enough to let us all know in the process, but even more so, might be a good idea to let the players know.

All that being said, here’s what confuses me………how can players look like they are sleep-walking through their games? I don’t get it. If I did that at work, I’m fired. Let’s take Rene Bourque for example (yes I’m picking on him because quite frankly he deserves it). I’m not even going to go after a guy’s salary as it is what it is. That’s the industry; they make a lot of money, end of story.

I’m more perplexed by the lack of effort.

Rene Bourque on average this year plays 15 minutes a game. 15 minutes! This guy only needs to give 100% for 15 minutes per game. That’s it. That’s all. I’m removing the fact that he has practices and he has to work out. Allen Iverson made it very clear what practice really is (24 times in fact) so that doesn’t count.

As for the gym, we all try to go to the gym just very few of us are actually paid to go to the gym, so that’s a wash. As for the other stuff, yeah I know he has to make promotional appearances and charity stuff, yeah ok fine, but that’s not work. His job, for which he is paid for is to play hockey. So if the Habs play three games this week, Rene Bourque only has to actually work for 45 minutes. Wow.

Again I ask how these guys can NOT GIVE ANY EFFORT.

Everyone reading this at a minimum has to work for arguments sake 40 hours this week. That’s a long way from 45 minutes. Let’s put that in perspective; that’s an hour long TV show that you’re watching on PVR so there are no commercials. You wake up Monday morning at 7:00 am turn on the TV and press play on the PVR to watch The Following season premiere you recorded last week and 45 minutes later your actual work week is done. That’s it. Thanks for the effort, here is your pay cheque and have a nice week. Everything else is a wash, we all have to travel for work, we all have to commute, but we still have to work for many more hours.

Unreal.

The sad thing in all this (and this will be my only point regarding his salary), is that this guy has all the tools to be making $5 million per season instead of $3.333 million. Wouldn’t that be incentive enough to give more for 45 minutes?

by Andrew Anderson (posted by Kamal Panesar)

Pregame Preview: Canadiens at Hurricanes (Game #59)

montreal canadiens vs carolina hurricanes nhl match-up
Match Up:

The Canadiens (31-21-6) are in Carolina Saturday night to face the Hurricanes(25-21-9) before taking the next two and a half weeks off for the Olympic break. The game starts early at 6:00 pm and can be seen on CBC and RDS.

This is the third and final meeting between the Habs and Canes this season. The Canadiens have collected 3 of 4 points so far against Carolina, but when these teams met on New Year's Eve, the Hurricanes scored 4 straight goals to nullify a 3-0 third period and put the Habs on their heels late in the game. PK Subban eventually drew the two teams even again but Alexander Semin's overtime goal sealed the victory for Carolina.

What to Watch:

Ryan White has played two games since returning from injury and was named a Star in each contest. White was the Third Star in Tuesday's contest against the Flames and again on Thursday versus the Canucks, when he scored his first goal of the season. Max Pacioretty scored his second Hat Trick of the season against Vancouver, the third in his career. Pacioretty leads the team with 26 goals on the season.

Cam Ward's last start was the New Year's Eve match up against the Habs. Since then, Anton Khudobin has played all 16 games for Carolina going 11-5-0 and posting a .930 save percentage while Ward was sidelined with a lower body injury. Cam Ward has returned to the line-up recently but that hasn't stopped coach Kirk Muller from going with Khodobin

What's at Stake:

What a difference a couple of wins (or losses) can make. The Canadiens are back within striking distance of the Lightning for second place in the Atlantic division heading into Saturday's game. The Habs are just 1 point back of the Bolts, but Tampa Bay holds a game in hand. Montreal has also padded the lead over some of the playoff bubble teams, but the Maple Leafs are still tied with the Habs, though the Leafs have played one more game.

Who's Out:

Michael Bournival (head) did not travel with the Canadiens to Carolina, he was forced out of Thursday's game after getting hit hard in the face by Dale Weise's stick. Alex Galchenyuk (hand) and Travis Moen (lower body) are also out.

The Hurricanes could be without John-Michael Liles (lower body) but are otherwise healthy.

What Else:

The Olympics have already started and NHL players representing their countries are set to join Zdeno Chara in Sochi after Saturday's action. Chara was the flag bearer for Slovakia during the opening ceremonies Friday, countryman Peter Budaj is one of seven Canadiens taking part in the Games. Carey Price and PK Subban representing Canada, Max Pacioretty for Team USA, Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin playing for the host nation, and Tomas Plekanec set to wear the 'C' for the Czech Republic, there could be as many as five medals coming back to the Canadiens locker room at the end of the month.

The Question Mark:

Are you worried about certain Habs risking injury or burning themselves out by playing in the Olympics?

Let us know what you think, leave a comment or send us a tweet by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren. Join the live conversation by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens vs Canucks (Game #58)

montreal canadiens vs vancouver canucks nhl 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (30-21-6) wrap up their pre-olympic homestand Thursday night when they host the Canucks (27-22-9) at the Bell Centre. The game is set to start at 7:30 and can be seen on RDS and TSN-Habs.

This is the second and final meeting between these two teams. The Canadiens earned a convincing 4-1 win in Vancouver at the beginning of the season, scoring twice on the power play and once shorthanded. Lars Eller was credited with the game winner when Dan Hamhuis got the puck tied up in Roberto Luongo's skates and it found it's way into the net. Raphael Diaz had a pair of assists in the match.

What to Watch:

With the recent trade between these teams it will be interesting to keep an eye on the play of Dale Weise and Raphael Diaz. Weise had 3 shots and played 12:45 Tuesday night in his Habs debut, his fourth highest ice time of the season. Diaz scored Vancouver's only goal in a 3-1 defeat against the Bruins on Tuesday.

The other match up to watch is the goalie duel between 2 of 3 three men fighting for the Team Canada starting goalie spot in Sochi, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo. Price currently has the edge on Luongo with a .923 save percentage to Luongo's .919, but the Canucks goalie has a 2.32 goals against average, slightly edging Price's 2.37. After a string of rough games, Price also has 2 shutouts and just 4 goals allowed in his last 4 games, while Luongo has given up 14 goals in his last 4.

What's at Stake:

The Habs have two games left to play before the Olympic break and with just a 4-point cushion over playoff bubble teams like the Red Wings and Flyers, every point they earn now will help set them up for the race to the end of the season. The Canadiens are also tied with the Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic division, but still hold a game in hand.

Who's Out:

The Canadiens are still missing Alex Galchenyuk (hand) until after the Olympics. Travis Moen (lower body) and Davis Drewiske (shoulder) are also questionable.

The Canucks are missing Kevin Bieksa (foot), Christopher Tanev (thumb), Andrew Alberts (head), Brad Richardson, Yannick Weber, and Mike Santorelli (shoulder). Dan Hamhuis and Chris Higgins are also questionable for Vancouver.

What Else:

In three seasons with the Canadiens, Raphael Diaz played 128 games and had 4 goals and 37 assists. At the time of the trade, Diaz hadn't scored a goal yet this season, but he potted one in his first game with the Canucks. Diaz has yet to pick up a point during the playoffs, he played 5 postseason games last year and finished the series against the Senators with a -4 rating. This season, the Swiss defenseman had yet to pick up a goal before scoring in his first game with the Canucks. Diaz will be taking part in his second Olympics, he'll join former Canadien and current Canuck, Yannick Weber, on the Swiss blueline.

The Question Mark:

What was your first impression of Dale Weise and are you expecting him to sign with the Habs this Summer?

Let us know what you think, leave a comment or send us a tweet by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren. Join the live conversation by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens vs Flames (Game #57)

habs canadiens vs calgary flames montreal price

Match Up:

The Canadiens (29-21-6) play games 3 in their 4-game homestand Tuesday night when they host the Flames (21-27-7). The game starts at 7:30 and is on RDS and TSN-Habs.

This is the second and final game between these teams this season. The Flames handed the Habs their second loss of the season in early October, and one of just two losses in their first seven games of the year. Calgary jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 win. Rookie Sean Monahan opened the scoring and picked up an assist on Calgary's second goal.
 
What to Watch:

The Canadiens announced Monday the acquisition of Dale Weise from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Raphael Diaz. Weise looks to fit into the Habs' bottom six forwards, but it's unclear who he'll play with. The good news for Habs fans is that the 25-year old is already having a career year in terms of points scored; the bad news is that in 44 games he has 3 goals and 12 points.

Despite a mediocre record, the Flames are on a 5-game winning streak heading into Tuesday's game. Mikael Backlund has now strung together 4 2-point games in a row, with 5 goals and 3 assists over that span. He was named the NHL's Third Star last week. Jiri Hudler leads the Flames with 42 points on the season. The former Red Wing is having a career year, his best prior season was 2008-2009 when he totaled 57 points.
 
What's at Stake:

The Habs have just 3 games remaining before taking two and a half weeks off for Sochi and they've slipped down to fourth place in the Atlantic division and seventh seed in the playoff race, just two points up on the Red Wings. A win will at least let the Canadiens pace with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a game in hand and a 2-point lead in the standings over Montreal.
 
Who's Out:

The Habs are missing Alex Galchenyuk (hand), Davis Drewiske (shoulder) and Ryan White (upper body). Francis Bouillon has missed the last 6 games as a healthy scratch.

The Flames are missing Karri Ramo (knee) and Curtis Glencross (lower body).

What Else:

The Montreal - Vancouver trade marks the first trade for both teams since the season began. With just over two weeks of hockey left to play before the March 5 deadline, 21 deals have already been made this season. During the strike shortened 2012-2013 campaign there were 69 trades during the season, including 17 on deadline day. Montreal's biggest deal last year was a swap that sent Erik Cole to Dallas in exchange for Michael Ryder and a third round draft pick.

The Question Mark:

A day later, how do you feel  about the Raphael Diaz-Dale Weise swap?

Let us know what you think, leave a comment or send us a tweet by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren. Join the live conversation by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Montreal Canadiens Three Stars of the Week - Jan 27 - Feb 2, 2014

montreal canadiens habs tricolore 3 stars nhl

After dropping 4 straight games, and 5 of their last 6, the Canadiens got back on track in their 4 games last week, going 2-1-1. Carey Price stole the show on Tuesday, making 36 saves in Montreal's 3-0 win over the Hurricanes. Peter Budaj was up to task in Boston on Thursday, he put in a 34 save performance, backstopping the Habs to a 4-1 victory. The offense cooled off on the weekend when the Canadiens played a pair of matinees against the Lightning and Jets, they dropped both games 2-1, but earned a loser point for taking the Bolts to overtime.

Here's a look at the standout performers from last week.

First Star: Carey Price

Carey Price had a 5-game stretch of allowing 4 goals or more heading into last week's action, but recovered well enough to allow 4 goals total in the 3 games he played. Price started the week off with a shut out against the Hurricanes and then played a pair of weekend games less than 24 hours apart against the Bolts and the Jets, making 34 saves on Saturday and 33 on Sunday. Price only allowed one regulation goal against the Lightning, a redirected pass that PK Subban pushed towards the net. On Sunday, Price probably would have liked to get back the second goal he allowed against Winnipeg, which Michael Frolik buried after Price mishandled the puck along the goal line. Price finished the week with a 1-1-1 record and a .963 save percentage.

Second Star: Brendan Gallagher

Brendan Gallagher was his usual pesky self throughout last week, battling for space in front of the crease and frustrated goalies wherever he went. The Canadiens' spark plug picked up a goal and 3 assist in 4 games, and was the game's First Star Thursday in Boston, and the Second Star against the Hurricanes on Tuesday. He was the most visible Habs player on Sunday against the Jets, despite not finding the scoresheet, and was a regular target of defenseman Mark Stuart, who has an extra 5 inches and 35 pounds on Gallagher.

Third Star: Brian Gionta

Montreal's captain ended the week on a 3-game point streak, with 2 goals and an assist in his last 3 matches. Gionta set up Daniel Briere for the tying goal against the Lightning on Saturday, forcing overtime and earning the Habs at least one point. He was the only Canadien to find the back of the net against Al Montoya and the Jets on Sunday. Gionta also deflected a Tomas Plekanec shot for a power play goal against the Bruins on Thursday.

Honorable Mention: Peter Budaj

The Habs' back up goalie played just one game last week, but he got the job done against the division leading Bruins, stopping 35 of the 36 shots he's faced. The win helped Budaj bring his GAA under 2.00, he's now at 1.97 in that department to go along with a .926 save percentage, both those numbers have him on pace for career bests.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Montreal Canadiens Trade Raphael Diaz to the Vancouver Canucks For Dale Weise, Analysis.

In the early afternoon of February 3rd Montreal Canadiens defenseman Raphael Diaz was Traded to the Vancouver Canucks for right winger Dale Weise.


Diaz, a 28-year-old Swiss defenseman who carries a cap hit of 1,25 million dollars,
had 11 points in 46 games with the Canadiens this season. Weise, a 25-year-old right winger from Winnipeg, carries a cap hit of $750,000 and had 3 goals and 9 assists for 12 points in 44 games with the Canucks this season. Diaz is slated to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season while Weise will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Here are their career statistics and physical attributes:

Raphael Diaz 5'11'' 194 LBS
128GP 4G 37A 41PTS 48PIM

Dale Weise 6'02'' 210 LBS
162GP 10G 16A 26PTS 185PIM

Raphael Diaz days with the Canadiens were all but done

Diaz hadn't played a game since January 16th, has only four career goals and is considered an offensive defenseman. He hadn't been quite as effective since returning from his concussion at the end of last season and with the emergence of prospect Nathan Beaulieu combined with the Canadiens' surplus of defenseman it seemed as if Diaz days with the Canadiens were numbered. The axe was going to fall on someone eventually and it fell on Diaz.

Dale Weise Energy player
Weise will be counted on to provide an energy role for the Canadiens on the fourth line. He is a gritty energy player who doesn't shy away from the physical aspect of the game and that includes fighting.
Expect George Parros to play less now that we have another right winger option in Dale Weise in the line-up. Contrary to Parros, Weise can contribute on the scoresheet. The Canadiens' new #22 is not an offensive dynamo, but will stick up for his team-mates and occasionally put points on the board. He has more goals than Travis Moen and more points than Brandon Prust and Rene Bourque this season. His season high for TOI is 14:43 in a game and usually averages between 7 or 8 minutes per game.

The outcome of this minor deal

Habs traded a player they knew they would let walk at the end of the season and whom was spending more time in the press box than on the ice for a gritty energy role player in the bottom six. That sounds pretty good right??

You could also argue that the Canadiens ruined any trade value Diaz had by letting him sit in the stands. You could say he is an Olympian and he deserved ice time. I don't believe that. He is a bottom-pairing defenseman who is going to be a UFA at the end of the year and he does not bring anything physical to your hockey team. That's what hurt his trade value.

Diaz was one of the Canadiens' only right-handed defensemen and that hurts the team a bit. Playing five left-handed d-men on any given night isn't ideal for any team. His handedness is also something the Canucks needed as well as help on their second power play unit.

Be warned Canucks fans: Diaz is very good at missing the net. He will get to reunite with fellow countryman Yannick Weber. Perhaps the Canucks are trying to assemble the entire Swiss Olympic team's defensive corps? All kidding aside, if Bergevin could have gotten more for Diaz, he would. The GM got market value. I consider market value, even if low, better than letting him go for nothing.

As for Weise, hopefully, he will address the depth issues the Habs are having with their bottom-six forward group. None of the recently called-up Bulldogs really impressed and the Bleu Blanc Rouge needed a gritty player who could come in and provide some energy and maybe a little offense. He is not the solution to the many offensive challenges that have faced the Canadiens this season, but that's not why Bergevin made his acquisition.

Habs also saved $475 000 in cap space, which may be used to bring in some more help.

In closing, I have to say the Canadiens players like Diaz don't have much trade value. If those players are expendable to a team struggling to hang to a playoff spot that means they aren't worth much. Diaz was a healthy scratch for the past two weeks and it would have been amazing to get more for him, but at some point reality has to set in. Best of Luck to Raphael Diaz in Vancouver and welcome to Montreal Dale Weise.


- - -

Mike fell in love with the Canadiens at the age of 6 during the 1992-93 playoffs .When Eric Desjardins scored a hat trick in the finals that year he knew he was hooked. He is based in Montreal and studied Radio-Television. Follow Mike Gowing on twitter @habsosaurus

Monday Musings: The Mighty Brendan Gallagher

Greetings Habs Addicts,

Photo Credit: CBC.ca
Well it certainly was a tail of two teams this week in Montreal. The week started off with Carey Price posting his third shutout of the season, a 36-save effort in a 3-0 win over Carolina. This was followed up with the surprising decision to start Peter Budaj this past Thursday in Boston. This was a curious decision by Michel Therrien, as the Habs had back-to-back games coming up over the weekend. However, it proved to be the right choice as Budaj stopped 34 of 35 shots that came his way and upped his career record to 4-0 vs the Bruins in a 4-1 win. Then things took a turn for the worse, as the sticks went cold again over Superbowl weekend. Tampa Bay came to town for the annual Saturday matinee and the teams battled to another 2-1 score, this time an overtime win for Tampa. Ben Bishop continued his Vezina-caliber play and Price was solid, facing 36 shots on goal for the second straight start. Superbowl Sunday's matinee was an all-Canadian affair as the Winnipeg Jets came to town. Al Montoya continued his surprisingly solid season in goal; arguably, the former first-round draft pick should be starting, as he has considerably outplayed the incumbent Ondrej Pavelec this season when given the opportunity. Montoya shined stopping 30 shots in a 2-1 Jets victory. This week the power-play struggled mightily, scoring only 1 goal in 13 chances. The penalty kill was a perfect 12-12 this week, and 20-20 dating back to the Washington game.

Onto my musings of the week that was.

- Brendan Gallagher had a solid week this week, tallying 1 goal to go along with 3 assists. As always, he played his usual physical game and took a pounding around the goal crease. The spark-plug has had another solid season for Montreal, even if his scoring pace is slightly off from last year. Against Winnipeg on Sunday, Gallagher was physical but also ended up in the penalty box three times. First, he was called for roughing - a coincidental minor with Mark Stuart - which is simply a by-product of him playing his style of game. He was also called for holding and tripping, the later of which negated a Montreal power-play late in the third period. These two penalties hurt the Habs more on the ice than on the scoreboard. What most fans were up in arms about on Sunday occurred in the final minute of the game with the Montreal net empty, the Habs could not enter the Winnipeg zone for roughly 20 seconds as Gallagher was punched, held, tripped and hit by Jets goalie Montoya and defensemen Zach Bogosian and Jacob Trouba. Not a single penalty was called at this time.
"There could have been five penalties there. We're definitely going to ask the league for explanations. It's very frustrating. It could have given us the chance to tie the game." - Canadiens coach Michel Therrien
After the game was over, Josh Gorges spoke on Gallagher's behalf. Gorges wisely did not allow the fired-up Gallagher to speak to the media. Knowing our chatty super-smurf has a fiery personality, us fans would have loved to hear that sound-bite, but Gallagher's wallet most likely would not have. Kudos to Gorges for saving his tenant some of his rent money. Here's a snippet of what Gorges had to say after the game:
"I have to be careful with what I say... It was pretty evident they were not allowing him to get out of the zone. He took a punch to the head from the goalie, got tripped up from the defenseman, and the guy coming off the bench gave him another shot... I can't comment on how (the referees) feel toward any one individual player. I don't know if there's a grudge or something. It's too bad... It wasn't the difference, but it was a frustrating way to end the game" - Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges
Whether justified or not, Brendan Gallagher has been taking a beating for his style of play. His feisty, relentless style has irked opponents and he's often found in front of the goalie, taking punches, cross checks and slashes as he does his best to screen, deflect shots or bang home rebounds. He's been an asset on the power-play, with 7 of his 14 goals coming with the man advantage but there is only so much abuse his 5'9", 178 pound frame can take. Its also becoming evident that the referees are not giving him the calls that similar plays would garner on other players, justly or not. The non-calls at the end of the this game seemed to be the boiling point on what has been a simmering issue all season long. Gallagher is not a dirty player. He may have some Brad Marchand-like qualities, but he's definitely not Marchand. This was a terrible job of officiating.

- P.J. Stock - who most Habs fans on Twitter feel might be the worst analyst in hockey - had some praise and positive comments about Brendan Gallagher post-game. Stock took issue with the Jets treatment of Gallagher and praised his relentlessness. While he agreed that taking three penalties is bad, especially when one negated a power-play, he also agreed that Gallagher should not change his game. Nor should Michel Therrien try to change his game - maybe just tweak it slightly to keep him out of the penalty box. Most importantly, Stock questioned why the smallest player on the team is the only one going hard to the front of the net, fighting the crease battles and taking the abuse while bigger, stronger wingers - Rene Bourque & Max Pacioretty were called out, but Lars Eller should have been mentioned too - prefer to spend their game out on the perimeter. Stock went on to say that the coaches should show video of Gallagher's play to these two players. Its not too often that I agree with P.J. Stock, but I whole-heartedly agree with everything he had to say about Gallagher post-game. The Canadiens would be better served having Pacioretty and Bourque playing a game better suited to their skills. They are bigger, stronger players and should be getting to the front of the net or the slot with more regularity. When you rank next to last in even-strength scoring, you need to change what you're doing. This is a change that needs to be made. If you're not scoring the pretty goals, you better make a serious effort to get the garbage goals. Wake up, boys, and start using your size to your advantage.

- Douglas Murray was paired up with Nathan Beaulieu this week. While I will continue to remind everyone here and on Twitter that Douglas Murray has no business being in the NHL, Nathan Beaulieu would be better served never seeing the Hamilton ice ever again. He has not looked out of place and has been moving the puck up ice with confidence. While he will make the odd defensive lapses - as all rookies do - he has also been playing his off-wing since he's been recalled. While he has admitted that its new to him, he has not had an issue making the transformation. But here's my question: Why do you have a rookie defender playing his off-wing for the first time in the NHL? If you knew you wanted him playing the right side, why did you not have him playing on that side in Hamilton? It's time to eliminate Douglas Murray from the line-up and pair Beaulieu with the right-handed shooting Raphael Diaz. Diaz has not been great, but he has not been terrible for Montreal this year, but allowing Beaulieu to shift to his natural side and be paired up with another capable puck-mover should again aid the Canadiens in the offensive zone. The rookie should be here to stay. Next up: Jarred Tinordi.

- Last week we saw rumour of P.A. Parenteau being dealt from Colorado to Montreal in exchange for Rene Bourque. While it seems there were other pieces involved that led the breakdown of this deal, Parenteau is two years younger than Bourque, but does carry a slightly larger cap hit. There has been no confirmation one way or another from Marc Bergevin's office, so this remains a rumour only. It is worth noting that Parenteau has been a healthy scratch recently in Colorado. Also on the trade front, Ryan Callahan's agent has been given permission by the New York Rangers captain to seek a trade. While I do like his playing style, his contract demands this off-season may be too steep. But he's a Marc Bergevin type - a physical winger with leadership skills. Our very own Mike Gowing (@habsosaurus) wrote an analysis of Ryan Callahan when reports of his availability surfaced.

We're getting close to the Sochi Olympic break. With three games remaining before the break, the Habs look to finish strong. On the schedule this week we have two home games against Western Canadian teams: the Calgary Flames on Tuesday and the Vancouver Canucks visit on Thursday. The Habs enter the break with a road rematch with the Carolina Hurricanes. If the Habs can parlay the strong defensive effort they showed this past week, they could potentially go 3-0 and sweep the week. Of course, when you're relying on your goalies to stop an average of 35.5 shots per game like they did this past week, they can easily go 0-3 and give up 12+ goals against. With this years Montreal Canadiens, either one can happen.

Three Questions from my Musings:

A) Should leading goal-scorer Max Pacioretty start to use his size and play more of a Brendan Gallagher style of play in front of the net or continue to snipe from the perimeter/high slot?

B) Should Nathan Beaulieu be returned to his natural (left) side or continue to play the (right) off-wing side of his defensive pairing?

C) Should the Habs pursue Ryan Callahan or P.A. Parenteau?