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Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Musings: How Sweep It Was

Greetings Habs Addicts!

Tremendous week for Montreal hockey this past seven days. The Habs played four games this past week and won all four of them. Over their past ten games, the Canadiens record is 8-2. On Fire! En feu! En fuego! However you say it, they are HOT!

Photo Credit: AWinningHabit.com
The week began with back-to-back games against the Boston Bruins in Boston on Monday and then home Tuesday for a game against the lowly Buffalo Sabres. The Bruins were in the midst of an NHL best 12-game winning streak while the Sabres remained the worst team in the league. Needless to say, it caused quite a stir in the media when Michel Therrien announced that Peter Budaj would be getting the start against Boston, with Carey Price playing against the Sabres. Conventional wisdom would point to this as Therrien basically conceding the game to Boston in an attempt to ensure the two-points against Buffalo. Budaj has a stellar career record against Boston going 5-2-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .919 save percentage to go along with one shutout. Budaj has also been awful since the Habs returned from the Olympic break, even conceded a start to AHL goalie Dustin Tokarski against the Sabres the week prior when Carey Price was unable to play. Price is no slouch against Boston either for his career posting a 17-8-3 record with a 2.50 goals-against and the same .919 save percentage. Price is also your all-world, Olympic-gold-medal winning goaltender and you are facing the best team in the NHL and arguably your biggest rival. 'Therrien Logic' at its finest. Whether it was a gut-call or a carefully thought-out plan, it worked. Budaj stymied Boston and the Habs played one of their best defensive games of the season as Montreal pulled off a 2-1 shoot-out victory. The next night in Buffalo, Price stopped all 24-shots he faced in a fairly dominant but closely scored 2-0 Canadiens win. Michel Therrien's goal-tending gamble paid off and the Habs won both ends of the back-to-back set.

This past Thursday the Habs headed off to Detroit for a match-up against the playoff-bubble Red Wings. Detroit has been hit hard by the injury bug and was rostering a large contingent from their AHL team. Even with no Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in the line-up, the Wings gave the Canadiens quite a test. Tomas Plekanec had two goals in the first period, each set up by P.K. Subban and David Desharnais potted one in the second before the Wings came back and made a game out of it in the third period. Down 3-1, the Wings came back to tie the game after some very sloppy defensive play by the Habs and notably Subban, who finished a -1 even with two even-strength assists in the game. Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek each scored in the period and the Habs held on for a 5-4 win at Joe Louis Arena.

From there, Montreal flew out to Florida for a Saturday night match-up against the Florida Panthers. The Habs had not played well against the Panthers this season, but the top-line of Thomas Vanek, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty continued to roll along. Pacioretty scored two goals - his first two ever in 16 career games against the Panthers - and added an assist while Desharnais and Vanek each contributed a goal and a helper as the Canadiens easily fended off the hapless Panthers in a 4-1 victory to sweep the weeks' slate of games.

Last week my musings centered around the coaching job of Michel Therrien this season. It was very critical regarding some of his personnel choices and offensive strategy choices. This week started off with one of his most questionable decisions of all working out in the Habs favour. His decision to re-insert Douglas Murray to the line-up over Jarred Tinordi against both the Maple Leafs the Saturday prior and against the Bruins proved to be the correct call, as Murray played a very physical game against two very physical teams. Mike Weaver has been playing phenomenal hockey since he was acquired at the deadline for a lowly fifth-round draft pick. Weaver has been filling the role of Josh Gorges while Gorges recovers from a hand injury and has clearly surprised both the fans and the media with his physical style and gritty nature on the ice. While #TherrienLogic continues to baffle fans and critics alike, one is finding it hard to argue the results that Michel Therrien has been getting from his squad.

The Habs sit third in the Eastern Conference with a similar winning percentage as last season. But instead of the collapse we saw this time last season, they are playing some of their best hockey at the right time. Adding Thomas Vanek to the line-up has given the Habs the bonafide top-line sniper they have been missing in years past. Vanek and Pacioretty have combined to become a solid 1-2 punch up front. P.K Subban and Andrei Markov are two of the leagues top-15 defensemen in both points and minutes played. Carey Price is providing Vezina-calibre goal-tending on a nightly basis and Marc Bergevin has provided Therrien with overall depth that he missed last year. A deep playoff run is expected and another first-round elimination could potentially cost Therrien his job.

If there is one thing that Therrien has going for him is that he seems to have his team behind him. It's hard to know what goes on behind closed doors and the Montreal market is notorious for gossip and rumours. Many a player and coach have not survived the circus and the pressure that comes with being a Canadien. If you believe everything you read, you'd assume that Subban and Therrien are butting heads on a daily basis. You'd assume that Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk are regressing. You'd believe that the players are tuning out the coaches game plan and winning despite Therrien. Beneath the surface, there may be some truth to all of this. But teams that quit on their coaches do not show the intensity and passion that the Habs have shown all season long. The comeback against Ottawa. The Toronto game. The Detroit game. The Habs have not quit and have come back to win late in the game quite often this year. 24-CH shows us some of the behind-the-scenes, but not all of it. No one knows for sure what is truly said between periods or behind closed doors. But this team plays hard for Therrien and that has not changed throughout the year. The only problem is a lack of consistency. If seems they are either streaking or slumping hard. But you cannot argue the standings and they hockey they are playing right now. Even if he's done it while making seriously questionable decisions. If a grade had to be attached for the job he's done behind the bench this season, one cannot overlook the overall results. But the questionable decisions continue despite the wins being posted. As such, a B- would be appropriate.

This week the Habs remain in Florida for a pivotal match-up with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. The Lightning sit two points behind Montreal with one game in hand in the standings. The three previous games between these two teams have all been decided by 2-1 scores with advantage going to Tampa Bay. After this game the Habs head out to Ottawa for a Friday night game against the Senators, followed by a Saturday night home game against the Detroit Red Wings. A lighter schedule in terms of volume, but certainly not in terms of importance.



Three Questions From My Musings

A) Are the Habs getting hot too soon or can they carry this momentum over to the playoffs?

B) Should Therrien be relieved of his duties if the Habs fail to get past the first round?

C) Who do you feel the Habs will face in the first round of the playoffs?

 ---
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.


Past Monday Musings 



Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thomas Vanek Making A Big Impact With The Montreal Canadiens

12 games after his acquisition at the trade deadline, Thomas Vanek has shut up all his critics after showing his solid offensive play with his new line-mates Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, the team's best line since they have been reunited. Since his arrival with the Bleu Blanc Rouge, Vanek has scored six goals and five assists for 11 points to go along with a +6 rating.

The 30-year-old Austrian now has 27 goals and 37 assists for 64 points in 72 games with the Canadiens, the Islanders and the Sabres this season. The 6'2'', 205-lb, winger is an impending free agent at season's end, but with the way he is playing with Desharnais and Pacioretty, who knows if the sniper might decide to re-sign with Montreal.

The creative and intelligent Austrian has given head coach Michel Therrien a true NHL first line that can score on a regular basis. Heck that line scored the team's four goals last night in a 4-1 win against the hapless Florida Panthers. A true offensive sniper, Vanek can float at times in the defensive zone, but his puck-possession skills are excellent and he has always a knack to get at the right place at the right time to bury his scoring chances. The Habs are now 5-0 in their last five games and 8-2 in their last ten games with Vanek on the team's top line. The line is a combined 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in their last seven games, talk about domination.  

With now 93 points (43-26-7) in 76 games, the Habs are basically qualified for the playoffs and they are currently battling with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second place in the Altanta Division and home ice advantage. With Tomas Plekanec now centering the team's second line with youngters Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, the Habs can count on two offensive lines to do damage, while the third line of veterans Rene Bourque, Daniel Briere and Brian Gionta can play an effective two-way game.

Let's hope that this red-hot line remains together until the end of the season and manages to find the back of the net on a regular basis against the Lightning who can count on several offensive weapons such as Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, Teddy Purcell, as well as rookies Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and rearguard Victor Hedman.

Finally, don't get your hopes too high Habs fans, as Thomas Vaenk is most likely to test free agency comes July 1st after rejecting a seven-year, $50 million offer from the New York Islanders prior to the NHL trade deadline. Still, this doesn't mean that Thomas Vanek will not re-sign long term with Montreal, it just means that the Austrian sniper is likely to test his value on the market before making a decision regarding his long-term future.

Should Vanek and GM Marc Bergevin find a common ground and are able to keep the top-end sniper in Montreal, the organization will have to get creative as the team needs to re-sign UFA Andrei Markov and RFA P.K. Subban to expensive deals before the summer as these two players are the cornerstones of the Habs' blue line.

Should Bergevin re-sign Thomas Vanek to a long-term deal or simply let him walk away come July 1st? 

Who should the team let go to make room for the Austrian sniper? Brian Gionta? Lars Eller?


No Foolin' Fred Poulin 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens at Panthers (Game #76)

habs_panthers_oct242011 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (42-16-7) take their 4-game winning streak into Florida where they'll do battle against the Panthers (27-39-8) Saturday night. The game is set to start at 7:00 and airs on RDS and CBC.

This is the fourth an final game between these clubs, so far, Florida has managed to get the better of the Canadiens on 2 out of 3 tries. The Cats won a pair of games in December against the Habs, but Montreal managed a 2-1 victory the last time these teams met with the help of goals by David Desharnais and Brian Gionta.

What to Watch:

The line of Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek combined for 3 goals and 3 assists in Thursday's 5-4 win over the Red Wings. Vanek led the way with three points, bringing him up to 9 points in 11 games since joining the Habs. PK Subban had a pair of assists on Thursday but was also on the ice for all 4 goals against. Through 75 games this year, PK has an even rating.

The Panthers have won just one of their last five games and were shut out twice during that span. With 35 points on the year, Scottie Upshall leads the Cats in scoring, he's 165th in the league in points. Rookie Nick Bjugstad has 14 goals and 33 points on the year. Roberto Luongo had been fairly solid in nets for the Panthers since joining the team at the trade deadline, but he was knocked out of action in Thursday's game and isn't expected to play on Saturday.

What's at Stake:

Even with the strength of 7 wins in the last 8 games the Canadiens haven't been able to get much separation over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Habs do hold a two-point lead over the Bolts, but Tampa has a pair of games in hand. The good news for the Habs is that they hold an 11-point lead over the 4 teams fighting for a Wild Card spot, which means with time running out on the season a first round match between the Canadiens and Lightning is all but set.

Who's Out:

Tomas Plekanec returned to Montreal after Thursday's game against the Wings for personal reasons and won't play on Saturday. The fourth line of Dale Weise (wrist), Travis Moen (head) and Brandon Prust (upper body) are all out, as is Josh Gorges (hand).

Florida is without Luongo (upper body), rookie Aleksander Barkov (knee) and Tomas Kopecky (concussion). St. Jerome native, Jonathan Huberdeau (lower body), is questionable for Saturday's game.

What Else:

The Habs will play game 2of their important 4-game road trip Saturday, then they return home to play 3 of their last 4 games in the Bell Centre. After facing the Panthers they'll visit Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning on Tuesday in what could be their most important match at this point in the season. The Lightning have 9 games remaining to Montreal's 7, and they play 6 in a row at home before ending their regular season with a trip to Washington to face the Capitals.

The Question Mark:

With Plekanec absent on Saturday, Lars Eller will likely be reunited with former linemates Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. If that trio has a strong night should they be kept together after Plekanec returns?

Let us know what you think, leave us a comment or send us a tweet with 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, March 27, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens at Red Wings (Game #75)

montreal canadiens vs detroit red wings nhl
Match Up:

The Canadiens (41-26-7) look to extend their win streak Thursday night when they face the Red Wings (33-25-14) at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The game is set to start at 7:00 and airs on RDS and TSN.

This is the third of four meetings between the Habs and Wings, the Canadiens will host Detroit at the Bell Centre next Saturday to complete the series. The Habs are still looking for their first win against the Wings, they've lost 4-1 and 2-1 in OT. Gustav Nyquist has a pair of goals, including the OT winner last time these teams met, and an assist so far against the Canadiens.

What to Watch:

Max Pacioretty picked up his 100th career goal on Tuesday, and his ninth game winner on the season in Montreal's 2-0 victory over Buffalo. Carey Price earned victory number 30 on the season and shutout number 5. It's only the second time in his career Price has reached the 30-win mark, although he did pick up 21 wins in 39 games during the lockout shortened campaign last season.

With 7 points in 11 games, trade deadline acquisition, David Legwand, has been a boost to the Red Wings line up. Gustav Nyquist is certainly the player to watch on Detroit, he's in the midst of a 6-game point streak with 9 goals and an assist over that span.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens have a two-point lead over the Lightning for second place in the Atlantic division, but they've also played two more games than Tampa. Meanwhile Detroit, at 80 points on the season, is stuck in a 4-way tie for the two Wild Card playoff spots in the East with Columbus, Washington and Toronto.

Who's Out:

The Canadiens will be without Brandon Prust (upper body), Josh Gorges (hand) and Dale Weise (wrist) for much of the rest of the season and possibly beyond. Travis Moen is suffering from concussion-like symptoms and did not travel with the team either.

The Red Wings are among the most beat up teams in the league missing 6 roster players for tonight's game. Henrik Zetterberg (back) will miss the remainder of the season, Stephen Weiss (hernia) hasn't played since December and is not close to a return. Justin Abdelkader (leg), Jonathan Ericsson (finger), Daniel Cleary (knee) and Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder) are all out, as is last year's point leader for the Wings, Pavel Datsyuk (knee). One bright spot for Detroit is the expected return of Tomas Jurco to face the Habs tonight.

What Else:

This is the start of a 4-game road trip for the Habs, they play 5 of their last 8 on the road. The Canadiens have a fairly balanced record both home and away, going 21-12-5 at the Bell Centre and 20-14-2 away from it. In two more home games the Habs have scored just 6 more goals at home then on the road, and have exactly 24 goals for both home and away. The glaring difference for the Canadiens away from home is that they've given up 97 goals compared to just 84 in Montreal.

The Question Mark:

Today's question is a tough one: If a win tonight meant home ice in the first round but a loss meant the Leafs would miss the playoffs, which do you want more?

Let us know what you think, leave us a comment or send us a tweet with 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, March 26, 2014

What Will The Playoffs Hold For The Habs?

Hopefully this post is not considered to be too premature, but the Montreal Canadiens appear to be on their way to another attempt at a playoff run. According to sportsclubstats.com the Canadiens are looking at a 99.8% chance of sealing a playoff berth. Considering the way they have been playing of late, this does not come as a shock. After running through some tough times after the Olympic break, the Habs are back in form, and at the perfect time.

The Canadiens have won six of their last seven games, carrying possession in five of those games. Key players for the Canadiens have stepped up their play including two new faces in Thomas Vanek and Mike Weaver. Vanek seems to be finding his offensive abilities with this Habs team as they keep pushing to the playoffs, while Weaver is fitting in nicely on the back-end showing his small stature is capable of throwing bruising hits. The same old faces seem to be proving why they are an integral part of this squad, with the likes of PK Subban, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, and Andrei Markov stepping up to the challenge. Sophomore Brendan Gallagher has been showing his talents all season, and appears to be becoming a serious part of this team. Carey Price is obviously a huge reason for this teams success, as he has been excellent all season. If these players keep performing, and the rest of the team follows suit, the Habs could very well make a serious push for the eastern conference title. 

Montreal still has some challenges they need to over come. First, Michel Therrien needs to look at his lines, and seriously consider what kind of team he wants to ice. Make lines, and stick with them. That will create some confidence in the room, and create chemistry before the playoffs hit. Montreal has also been hit with some injuries, including Brandon Prust, Travis Moen, and Dale Weise. Basically the full fourth line. The Canadiens are lucky enough to have some decent depth to be able to fill this line with Lars Eller, Ryan White, and Michael Bournival. The big question with that is what to do once the team is healthy again. Hard to experiment in the playoffs.

It is looking more and more like the Canadiens are going to be squaring off with Tampa Bay in the first round of the post season. This could potentially go either way. As much of an obvious statement that is, it is probably one of the most even match-ups that could potentially occur. In the previous three meetings between the two teams this season, all three have gone to extra time, including two shootouts. The combined scoring, 5-4 Tampa Bay. All three games were won or lost by a score of 2-1. Montreal had an average Corsi for percentage of 45.33% which is not great; however, it is not terrible. Considering Montreal is having their best possession numbers (consistently) of the season, I wouldn't be surprised to see these numbers increase if this match-up occurs.

Should Montreal make the playoffs, this is probably the scenario I like the most. Both are quality teams, but when Montreal is on, they look like a team that can take on anybody in the East, and threaten for the Stanley Cup. They carry all the keys to success. Scoring threats on all lines. Players willing to put it all on the line. An elite goaltender capable of stealing games and the depth to be able to contend through injuries. In the last month, they managed to fabricate the comeback of the century, defeat arguably the best and hottest team in the National Hockey League with only ten forwards, and the backup goalie, and are sitting pretty with a 99.8% chance of a playoff berth. Now if you ask me, the Montreal Canadiens are looking pretty damn good right about now.

Thank you for the read and feel free to comment!

Follow me @Darrinharmy on twitter

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens vs Sabres (Game #74)

Habs vs Sabres
Match Up:

The Canadiens (40-26-7) return home after a triumphant two game road trip to host the Sabres (20-43-8) Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. The game starts at 7:30 and airs on RDS and TSN-Habs.

This is the fourth and final game between the Habs and Sabres, and the Canadiens are looking for a season sweep. The Habs have won 3 of 3 in regulation so far, 3-1, 3-2 and 2-0. Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher both have 2 goals against the Sabres this season, and Dustin Tokarski earned his first NHL shutout in the last meeting.

What to Watch:

Alexei Emelin scored the only regulation goal for the Habs in Boston and Brian Gionta and Danny Briere picked up assists. For Gionta, it's his third point in two games since being put on a line with Briere and Rene Bourque. Carey Price is expected to return to the crease to face the Sabres, a night after Peter Budaj came up big with 28 save and 4 shootout stops against the Bruins.

It's been a rough year for the Sabres, a team more or less guaranteed to finish dead last in the league. Buffalo has just 2 wins in March out of 11 games. Chris Stewart, picked up from the Blues at the trade deadline played just 2 games for the Sabres before being forced out for the season with injury, goalie Michal Neuvirth also played just two games for Buffalo before going down as well.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens are tied with the Lightning now for the second seed in the Atlantic division, but Tampa is holding a game in hand. Buffalo is the worse team but after a long and somewhat painful night in Boston, the Habs will still be tough pressed to earn a victory Tuesday. With the tight race for second and time running out on the season, Tuesday's outcome could have a big impact on playoff positioning.

Who's Out:

Travis Moen and Dale Weise both were forced out of Monday's game, essentially on the same play. Boston's Kevan Miller sent Weise sliding into the boards, and Moen was knocked out of the game on his ensuing fight with Miller. No word yet on whether the duo will be ready to play on Tuesday. Brandon Prust (upper body) and Josh Gorges (hand) are out long term while Lars Eller (lower body) is day-to-day.

The Sabres are dealing with injuries to both their top goalies, Michael Neuvirth (lower body) and Jhonas Enroth (leg). Enroth was injured the last time the Habs and Sabres met when Brendan Gallagher was sent crashing into him. Tyler Myers (arm), Chris Stewart (ankle) and Alexander Sulzer (upper body) are out, Zemgus Girgensons (lower body) is questionable for Buffalo.

What Else:

By beating the Bruins on Monday the Canadiens laid claim to Reddit's NHL Championship Belt. The belt is earned by beating the previous owner, it started the season with the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks and has now found it's way to the Canadiens for a second time this year. The Canadiens managed to keep the belt for four games after a big win over the Minnesota Wild, but eventually the Capitals claimed it with a 3-2 shootout win at the end of November.

The Question Mark:

We want to hear from you: How much would long term injuries to the Habs entire fourth line affect the team's chances at winning?

Make your voice heard by leaving a comment or sending us a tweet with 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.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Musings: Are We Winning Despite #TherrienLogic?

Greetings Habs Addicts!

After the previous weekend saw Montreal come back from a 4-1 deficit with under five minutes remaining in the game to beat the Ottawa Senators 5-4 and saw Dustin Tokarski receive a surprise start in Buffalo only to shut-out the Sabres 2-0, you just knew the Habs had some momentum starting after a dreadful losing streak. They needed it as the week started off with Patrick Roy making his grand return to Montreal behind the bench of the Colorado Avalanche. It was very fitting that St. Patrick's return occurred the day after St. Patrick's Day.

Last time Roy was in Montreal he was still coaching the Quebec Remparts and the Canadiens were sending his #33 jersey to the rafters of the Bell Centre. This time around, he's an NHL head coach. And quite an NHL head coach, as his young team in Colorado has been flying high all season long and Roy is certainly in the running for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year. The sold-out crowd gave Roy a rousing ovation during the national anthems; however, Thomas Vanek decided to steal the spotlight from him in grand fashion. Not only did Vanek score his first goal as a member of the Habs, he added two more to complete the hat-trick in a 6-3 Canadiens win. Rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon put on a show in the first period, scoring a beautiful goal to open the scoring but it wasn't enough. Montreal's fourth-line combo of Travis Moen, Brandon Prust and Dale Weise played a very strong offensive game to match their physical game. All three scored goals but Prust left he game briefly with an upper-body injury before returning. It has since been announced that his injury is regular season ending.

Photo Credit: Boston.com
As the season goes, we knew Montreal was due for a let down after this winning run. It occurred this past Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets came into the game playing solid hockey, having a 6-3-1 record over their previous ten games. The Habs played a very undisciplined game, taking eight minor penalties and Michel Therrien abandoned the puck-possession game that led to the comeback against Ottawa and dominated the games against Buffalo and Colorado. Instead he returned to his dump-and-chase mantra that has failed to yield results this season. The game plan failed as the bigger Columbus team dominated in the hit department 36-17 and in the shot department 40-27. Columbus routinely won the corner battles but because of some big saves by Carey Price the Habs remained in the game until a horrible late turnover by Jarred Tinordi led to a Ryan Johansen goal with three minutes remaining. The Habs couldn't score the equalizer and the Blue Jackets stole a critical two-points with a 3-2 victory over Montreal. Tinordi's gaffe cost them the game, but to the youngster's credit he faced the media after the game to address his mistake.

The week came to a close with a trip up Highway 401 to face-off against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Prior to the game, it was announced that Rene Bourque would return to the lineup in place of Ryan White and Jarred Tinordi would be spending the game in the press-box, being replaced by Douglas Murray. Michel Therrien had an opportunity to show Tinordi some faith after last games mistake, but instead chose to let him think about it in the press box. The Maple Leafs came into the game having lost their previous four games and were on the verge of a collapse, but the first period saw both teams come out flying. Montreal got early goals from Max Pacioretty - ending a seven game goal-less drought - and a rejuvenated Rene Bourque along with a late goal by Brian Gionta. Toronto countered with goals by Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak. Both teams took a nap in the second period with nary a goal nor penalty to be found. In the third period, a hooking penalty to Tomas Plekanec led a Nazem Kadri power-play goal but Plekanec made good late in the game, scoring as a penalty to James Van Riemsdyk expired. This stood up as the game-winning goal in a 4-3 Canadiens win.

My musings center around only one thing this week: The coaching job of Michel Therrien.

Therrien had an opportunity keep the momentum going against Columbus but opted to try and play a dump-and-chase game against a bigger, more physical Blue Jackets team. With a team built around speed and skill, Montreal should be employing a puck-possession game. Especially after acquiring a skilled sniper in Vanek. Needless to say, it did not work out again. Carey Price kept it close until Tinordi's giveaway late cost them. Therrien had an opportunity to show faith in Tinordi by keeping him in the lineup against Toronto. Tinordi had played extremely well in the Blue Jackets game prior to his gaffe. Instead, he found himself on the outside looking in as veteran sieve Douglas Murray returned to the lineup. Great confidence booster, Michel. Therrien has also paired up veteran Francis Bouillon with P.K. Subban. The strategy work as Bouillon scored the overtime winner against Ottawa. After being a healthy-scratch for much of the season, Bouillon played the second-most minutes against Toronto, ahead of Andrei Markov. Bouillon has had multiple turnovers in each of the last three games.

For a coach who was supposedly brought in to aid the development of the young players on a developing team, there has been little development being seen. Lars Eller is -17 on the season, Alex Galchenyuk is -12. Both of these players find themselves jumping around with different linemates on a routine basis and have not produced any consistent offense. P.K. Subban has seen himself benched after costly turnovers in a couple of games and Jarred Tinordi has found himself in the press box after one such mistake. Bouillon and Murray have been awful for much of the season yet Therrien seems to look the other way whenever they make similar defensive mistakes. Habs fans cringe whenever Murray has the puck. Nothing positive ever comes out of this situation as Murray has simply 2 assists in 48 games played. To his credit, Murray has been solid at killing penalties, but should not see the ice at even-strength. Instead, Therrien has given him upwards of 17-20 minutes of ice time per game.

The Habs are a smaller, skilled squad. Last season when the team started off strong, Therrien employed a puck-possession game. The skilled players carried the puck into the offensive zone and cycled it around, using their speed to create scoring chances. At some point last year - around the time of the late-season collapse - Therrien changed his strategy to that of a grinding dump-and-chase team. The smallest team in terms of size and weight in the NHL is now expected to dump the puck into the corners and win battles against larger defensemen? How in the world do you consider this to be a smart strategy? The results were evident in the playoff-loss to the Senators and early this season. Whenever Montreal matches up against bigger, stronger teams such as the beasts of the Western Conference (Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim) his game-plan is often exposed as it was on this recent road trip. The smallish Habs can play a skill game as well as anyone, but Therrien often tries to fight fire with fire with bruising teams. With all due respect to David Desharnais, he will never win corner battles against Ryan Getzlaf or Joe Thornton or Dustin Brown. Not for lack of effort, he's simply just not physically built for it.

The Canadiens overall record of 39-26-7 has more to do with the elite goaltending the club has received from Carey Price. Without a doubt he has been the team's most-valuable player. When Price went down with an injury after the Sochi Olympics, Therrien saw his line-up and game plans exposed when they received average-at-best goaltending from Peter Budaj. In game line-matching has been poor and the team always fails to make adjustments between periods. Montreal is often outplayed and over-matched in the second period of games, a consistent trend dating back to last season. It almost seems like this team is coming back to win games despite their head coach and not because of their head coach. A quick peek on Twitter under the #TherrienLogic will serve to illustrate many of the observations made here as well as countless others made past games. Marc Bergevin traded for Thomas Vanek because he believes the team has the ability to go somewhere in the playoffs. Therrien should find himself on the hot-seat if they fail to get past the first-round of the playoffs again. Deservedly so.

The Canadiens finish the month of March with a marquee match-up tonight against the Boston Bruins in Boston. The Bruins come into the game having won 12-straight games. Needless to say, a win here would be huge. Montreal follows that up with a home game Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres before heading to Detroit to face-off against the Red Wings on Thursday. The weekend sees Montreal landing in sunny Florida to face the Panthers on Saturday. Needless to say, three of these games are very win-able. Detroit is rostering most of their AHL lineup due to injuries and both Buffalo and Florida are among the bottom feeders of the NHL. Going 3-1 this coming week should be the worst-case scenario, but knowing our Habs this year, 1-3 is a distinct possibility.

Guess who is in net for the Habs tonight? Peter Budaj...

Three Questions From My Musings

A) Should Michel Therrien be on the hot-seat for his coaching job this season?

B) Has Therrien done anything to aid the development of our younger players?

C) Will the Habs end the Bruins' current winning streak?

 ---
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.


Past Monday Musings 

Pregame Preview: Canadiens at Bruins (Game #73)

Habs Vs Bruins 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (39-26-7) are in Boston Monday night to face the Bruins (49-17-5) after disposing of another Original Six rival the game before. The game starts at 7:30 and can be seen on RDS and TSN.

This is the fourth and final match between the Habs and Bruins. The Habs have earned a pair of regulation victories already this season over the Bruins, but dropped their last match 4-1 at the Bell Centre. Thomas Vanek picked up his first point as a Hab in that game, while Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand each had 2 points for the Bruins.

What to Watch:

Brian Gionta had a goal and an assist against the Leafs on Saturday, his sixth multi-point game of the season. Rene Bourque also had a goal and an assist against Toronto, he directed a season high 6 shots on goal after sitting out as a healthy scratch the previous five games.

The Bruins have won 12 straight and clinched a playoff spot in the process. Despite the fact that Boston is second overall in terms of goals per game, they don't have a single player amongst the top-20 point producers, although with 28 goals, Jarome Iginla is 16th in that department.

What's at Stake:

If the Canadiens have any hope left to catch the Bruins (they don't), then they need to win Monday's game. Boston is 18 points ahead of the Habs, and the Canadiens have just 10 games, or 20 possible points, remaining. A more likely target for the Habs would be the Tampa Bay Lightning, second in the Atlantic. Tampa has a game in hand and a 1-point lead over the Canadiens but the two teams will meet up once more this season.

Who's Out:

Lars Eller (lower body) left Saturday's game in the second period and did not return, he is listed as day-to-day. Josh Gorges (hand) and Brandon Prust (lower body) are on injured reserve.

The Bruins are missing defensemen Dennis Seidenberg (knee) and Adam McQuaid (groin).

What Else:

The Bruins have won 12 straight and picked up 25 of a possible 28 points since returning from the Olympic break. Boston's longest win streak is 14 games, a mark set over 80 years ago during the 1929-30 season. The 92-93 Pittsburgh Penguins hold the record for the longest winning streak, at 17 games, followed by the 81-82 Islanders at 15. Boston's 14-game streak is the third longest in league history.

The Question Mark:

We want to hear from you: What would it take to eliminate the Bruins in the Playoffs and is there an Eastern conference team that can do it?

Make your voice heard by leaving a comment or sending us a tweet with 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.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens at Maple Leafs (Game #72)

montreal canadiens vs toronto maple leafs 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (38-26-7) are in Toronto Saturday night to face their bitter rivals, the Maple Leafs (36-27-8). The game starts at 7:00 and airs on RDS and CBC.

This is the fifth and final meeting between the Habs and Leafs this season. Both teams have won 2 games so far in the season series, but the Leafs hold an edge earning an extra point over the Canadiens in an overtime loss the last time these teams met. A pair of third period goals put the Maple Leafs ahead in that last meeting, but PK Subban drew the Habs even with under 10 minutes to play, and Max Pacioretty sealed the victory with the overtime game winner.

What to Watch:

Thomas Vanek netted his fourth goal as a Canadien on Thursday, it was good enough to even up the game against the Blue Jackets in the third period even though the Habs could not hang on. Carey Price gave up 3 goals on 40 shots Thursday. While that gave Price a .925 save percentage on the night, he has given up 3 goals or more in each of the 3 games he's started since returning from injury.

After being held pointless for 5 games, Phil Kessel broke his drought with a goal against the Lightning on Wednesday. He leads the Leafs in goals (35) assists (39) and points (74), a feat he's accomplished for the last two seasons. With 42 points on the year, Tyler Bozak has a chance to set a new career high despite missing 24 games this season. His previous high was 47 points in the 2011-2012 campaign.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens have a chance to open up a 5-point gap over the Leafs with a regulation win on Saturday. With 10 games remaining for both teams after this one, that could give the Habs enough breathing room to keep them from looking over their shoulder so they can focus on catching the Tampa Bay Lightning, who sit in second in the Atlantic division.

Who's Out:

The Canadiens announced Friday that Brandon Prust (upper body) would be sidelined for the remainder of the regular season, he'll be reevaluated for the playoffs. Josh Gorges (hand) underwent surgery on March 10, and isn't expected to return for at least two more weeks.

Paul Ranger (head) is out of action after a hit from Tampa Bay's Alex Killorn sent him to hospital. Jonathan Bernier (groin) and Dave Bolland (ankle) are questionable for Saturday's game.

What Else:

The playoffs are just around the corner and even though it looked like a possibility just a few weeks ago, the chances of a first round match-up between the Habs and Leafs grow slimmer with each Tampa Bay victory. As it stands, Montreal and Toronto are the only two Canadian clubs currently in playoff position, and of the remaining 5 teams, the Canucks and Jets are closest to a spot, 5 and 6 points back respectively of the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Question Mark:

With the season winding down, which season series for the Habs has been the most fun to watch, and which has been the least?

Make your voice heard by leaving a comment or sending us a tweet with 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, March 20, 2014

What a Weekend of Montreal Hockey

Greetings Habs Addicts!

Coming off a horrible west-coast road trip and a deflating loss to the Boston Bruins, things were looking pretty bleak in the eyes of Habs fans. Going into the weekend, Carey Price was still day-to-day with his lower-body injury with no certain return date. Thomas Vanek had yet to score a goal for the Habs. It was certainly looking like another long slump was upcoming.

Then Ottawa happened. Carey Price made his return to the line-up but looked rusty early on. Montreal jumped all over the Senators early on with Daniel Briere scoring in the first minute of the game. The Habs continued to attack the Senators, firing shot after shot and setting up chance after chance, but failed to capitalize on them. Jason Spezza took advantage of an early defensive lapse to score and after out-shooting the Senators 17-4, the game was tied 1-1 after one period.

The second period was a different story, as Montreal backed off as they tend to do and Ottawa out-shot the Habs 16-9. The only goal of the period was scored by Zach Smith on a break-away after another Habs defensive lapse. 2-1 Ottawa after two. The third period was more Ottawa domination, as Ales Hemsky and Clarke MacArthur scored in the first five minutes to extend the Senators lead to 4-1. Brendan Gallagher was on the ice for all four goals against, capping one of his worst performances of the season. Tempers and frustration took over. Brandon Prust squared off with Milan Michalek, earning five minutes for fighting and two minutes for roughing. Shortly after that the Senators Chris Neil got involved with Travis Moen and Dale Weise with all three earning 10 minute misconducts for bad behaviour. This effectively took the entire Habs 4th line out of the game.

With five minutes left in the game, fans started heading to the exit. Boos started to rain down. Then finally the luck began to change. Lars Eller scored his first goal in 25 games to make it a 4-2 game with just under four minutes to go. Brian Gionta followed that up less than two minutes later to make it 4-3. P.K. Subban helped set up both those goals and seemed to finally be unleashed offensively. After a dazzling end-to-end rush by Subban led to a late Hooking penalty on Kyle Turris, Montreal went to the power-play with 1:48 left to play. Coach Michel Therrien promptly pulled goaltender Carey Price to give the Habs a six-on-four advantage. A ballsy move by a coach with nothing to lose in this situation. The gamble paid off as the improbable happened. With 1.9 seconds remaining in the game and in a situation where most defenders would simple shoot the puck on net, P.K. Subban found a wide-open David Desharnais in the slot and rifled a pass to little Davey, who promptly roofed the puck on Robin Lehner as time expired. 3-tenths of a second remained as the puck crossed the goal-line. The Bell Centre erupted as the Habs forced overtime.

Photo Credit: YahooSports.com
In overtime, Montreal kept the pressure on a deflated Ottawa club. Subban had another crowd-lifting end-to-end rush before a scramble in front pushed the puck to a pinching Francis Bouillon, who netted the game winning goal to cap one of the greatest regular-season comebacks in the 104-year history of Montreal hockey. The Habs set an NHL record for most goals in a comeback win with five minutes or less remaining in a game with the 5-4 overtime win.

On a personal note, I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. I have been fortunate enough to attend many games in the Bell Centre over the years, including multiple Leafs vs Habs match-ups. As the Habs rallied to tie the game, the crowd noise was deafening. I literally had to shout into my girlfriends ear for her to hear anything I said. Only once before have I experienced the arena this loud: When Georges St. Pierre was walking to the Octagon to take on Josh Koscheck at UFC 124 in December of 2010. The atmosphere was incredible and goes to show why the Montreal experience is the greatest in the game.

On Sunday, the Habs travelled to Buffalo to take on the hapless Sabres and I remained in Montreal as a guest of the boys at Montreal Hockey Talk. As a participant on both the pre-game show and the post-game show, I was able to enjoy the game itself from the comforts of their studio lounge. Heading into the game, it was announced that Carey Price would be remaining in Montreal to further rest his ailing knee. Dustin Tokarski was recalled from Hamilton, presumably to back up Peter Budaj. Michel Therrien had other plans, opting to start Tokarski for the second time this season. The move paid off as the youngster made 29-saves in a 2-0 shutout victory over the Sabres. The Habs dominated early on. Dale Weise deflected in the first goal of the game and Brendan Gallagher scored shortly thereafter, making a strong return after his performance the day before against Ottawa. The Habs out-shot the Sabres 26-18 after two periods of play and seemed to rest on their laurels in the third period, seemingly content to protect a two-goal lead. Thomas Vanek failed to score a goal, but played a solid game and had his chances in his return to Buffalo after being traded earlier in the season to the New York Islanders. Overall, it was a boring game to both watch and talk about afterwards but it was a solid performance after an emotional win the day before.

Coming off the disappointing road trip and subsequent defeat to the Bruins, there was no reason for optimism heading into the weekend. The return of Carey Price changed that. Following the two weekend victories, This past Tuesday, the Colorado Avalanche came to town. Patrick Roy, making his first appearance in Montreal behind an NHL bench drew all the headlines, but the Habs spoiled his homecoming. Thomas Vanek finally scored his first goal as a Canadien, then added two-more during the game. The Vanek hat-trick paced the attack as the Habs trounced the Avalanche 6-3. A team seemingly on the brink of a late season collapse have now seemingly re-established themselves as competitors in the East.

My how quickly things can change.


Note: Monday Musings shall return this coming Monday.

Pregame Preview: Canadiens vs Blue Jackets (Game #71)

montreal canadiens vs columbus blue jackets nhl 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (38-25-7) are home to host the Blue Jackets (35-27-6) Thursday night at the Bell Centre. The game starts at 7:30 and can be seen on RDS and TSN-Habs.

This is the third and final meeting between the Habs and Blue Jackets with the Canadiens aiming for the season sweep. The Habs have won a pair of close games. In their 5-3 win in Montreal, Plekanec's game winner came with just over a minute left in the game. When these teams played in Columbus, the Habs earned a 3-2 shootout win, David Desharnais had the only penalty shot goal.

What to Watch:

Thomas Vanek scored his first goal as a Canadien Tuesday night, and then his second, and then his third. The hat trick was the 8th of Vanek's career, he had 4 3-goal games in 2007-2008 alone. The fourth line of Travis Moen, Dale Weise and Brandon Prust have combined for 4 goals over the past 2 games for the Habs, they played an integral role in the 6-3 win over the Avalanche on Tuesday

Despite directing 47 shots at Anton Khudobin, the Blue Jackets lost 3-1 to the Hurricanes on Tuesday, scoring their first goal with less than a minute left in the game. Former Hab James Wisniewski had 6 shots on goal Tuesday, bringing him up to 140 on the year, 6 shy of his career high for a season. With 26 goals and 51 points, 21-year old Ryan Johansen leads the BJs in scoring.

What's at Stake:

The Lightning's 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs draws the Bolts even with the Habs at 83 points and leaves the Leafs a step behind at 80 points with two more games played than Tampa and one more than the Canadiens. The race in the Atlantic division is strictly for second place, the Bruins have a 16 point cushion with the season winding down.

After missing out on the playoffs last year by virtue of a lost tiebreaker to the Minnesota Wild (both teams finished with 55 points but the Wild had 3 more regulation or overtime wins), the Blue Jackets once again find themselves tied for the final playoff spot with the end of the season looming. The team is looking for just their second playoff berth in franchise history, as well as their first postseason victory, they were swept by the Red Wings in their first trip to the playoffs.

Who's Out:

Michael Bournival (concussion) is healthy enough to play but has been sent to Hamilton on a reconditioning assignment. Josh Gorges is still out with a broken hand.

The Blue Jackets are missing rookie defenseman Ryan Murray (lower body).

What Else:

For the second straight game, the Habs welcome a Vezina trophy winner to the Bell Centre, and this time, he'll actually be between the pipes. After the Patrick Roy show swept through town on Tuesday, the Habs play host to last year's top netminder, Sergei Bobrovsky. Bob the goalie has take a bit of a step back from last season when he posted a 2.00 GAA and a .932 save percentage, this year his goals against average is up to 2.49 and his save percentage has slipped to .919.

The Question Mark:

Let us know what you think, if the Canadiens played to their their full potential, how far could they go in this year's playoffs?

Make your voice heard by leaving a comment or sending us a tweet with 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, March 18, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens vs Avalanche (Game #70)

habs canadiens match up avalanch colorado vs nhl 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (37-25-7) welcome Patrick Roy to the Bell Centre for the first time as coach of the Avalanche (44-19-5) Tuesday night. The game is set to start at 7:30 and airs on RDS and TSN-Habs.

This is the last of two meetings between the Habs and Avs this season, and the only one in Montreal. Colorado won the first game 4-1 on the strength of three unanswered third period goals, including PA Parenteau's empty netter. Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog each scored for the Avalanche, while Habs youngsters Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk and PK Subban combined for Montreal's lone goal.

What to Watch:

Michel Therrien changed around his lineup again for Sunday's game again the Sabres, putting Brian Gionta alongside Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk while Daniel Briere and Brendan Gallagher played on a line with Tomas Plekanec. Thomas Vanek had 6 shots against his former club on Sunday but is still looking for his first goal as a Hab.

While Matt Duchene leads the Avalanche with 64 points in 65 games, even more impressive may be the fact the the offensive duo of Landeskog and 18-year old MacKinnon are each a plus 19 this season, sharing the team lead in that department. With 52 points, MacKinnon leads all rookies in scoring. The Avs already have 5 players to hit the 20 goal mark this season, Duchene, Landeskog, MacKinnon are all there along with Ryan O'Reilly and Paul Stastny.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens and the Avalanche are both fighting for home  playoff races but the return of Patrick Roy to Montreal as coach of the Avalanche will take center stage. Roy has his team just a point ahead of Chicago in the race for second place in the Central and home ice advantage in the playoffs. The Canadiens are in a three-way fight with the Leafs and the Bolts for second in their division and home ice in the first round.

Who's Out:

Michael Bournival has been cleared to play but will be doing so in Hamilton, he was sent to the Bulldogs on a conditioning stint following his concussion. Josh Gorges (hand) is still out until at least the start of April.
The Avs are without PA Parenteau (knee) and Alex Tanguay (hip) while Paul Stastny is day-to-day with an upper body injury.

What Else:

Patrick Roy returns to Montreal, bringing together the only two teams he ever played for, winning a combined 4 Stanley Cups, a pair with each of his teams and the last two in their history. As impressive as his on ice performances were, he's off to a strong start in his second NHL career. The Avs are already up to 93 points with over a dozen games left on the season, on pace for their best regular season record since the 2000-01, the year of their last Cup win.

The Question Mark:

Something a little special for the Question Mark today, send your answers to @MTLHockeytalk on Twitter with the hashtag #MTLHockey:
  • Draw the most unfair comparison you can of Carey Price to Patrick Roy.
Tune in to the Pregame Show at 6:30 on montrealhockeytalk.com where we'll get to your answers. And be sure to tune in after the game to the Montreal Hockey Talk Post Game Show.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens at Sabres (Game #69)

Habs vs Sabres 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (36-25-7) are in Buffalo Sunday to take on the Sabres (19-40-8) after an improbable come-from-behind victory against the Senators the night before. The game starts at 7:00 and airs on RDS and TSN-Habs.

This is the third of four meetings between the Habs and Sabres this season, Montreal has already claimed a pair of victories in the previous two matches. The last time these teams faced off, at the start of December, a 3-goal second period powered the Canadiens to a 3-2 win. Brandon Prust, Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen each had two points in that game.

What to Watch:

PK Subban pitched in with 3 big late game assists Saturday night against the Sens, helping to erase Ottawa's 4-1 lead en route to a 5-4 OT Habs victory. The 28:55 of ice time Subban logged was his second highest of the season. The Canadiens power play still had some trouble finding its way on Saturday, the Habs were 1-for-7 with the man advantage, giving them just 2 power play goal in their last 6 games and a total of 28 opportunities.

The Sabres are a team in disarray, with 5 straight losses and only 5 goals for over that time, they've look like a team simply playing out the season and waiting for next year. With 18 goals and 36 points, Tyler Ennis leads the Sabres in scoring. With 4 points in his last 4 games, Ennis has factored in 80% of the Sabres goals in that span.

What's at Stake:

Despite playing without Carey Price for a stretch of 8 games, the Canadiens are still 4-4-1 since returning from the Olympic break and are stuck in a tight race with the Maple Leafs and Lightning for second through fourth place in the Atlantic division. The Sabres have been cellar dwellers for much of the season and are in the midst of a 5-game losing streak, which means the Habs can't afford not to take the two points that are up for grabs on Sunday.

Who's Out:

Carey Price returned to action on Saturday but Josh Gorges (hand) and Michael Bournival (concussion) are still missing.

The Sabres are missing trade deadline acquisition Chris Stewart (ankle surgery) as well as Zemgus Girgensons (lower body), Torrey Mitchell (lower body) and Alexander Sulzer (upper body). Tyler Myers (elbow) is questionable.

What Else:

The Canadiens scored a huge comeback victory over the Senators Saturday night with 3 goals in the final 3 and a half minutes to force overtime and an eventual 5-4 victory. It was just the third time this season the Habs won a game they were trailing at the start of the third period in 29 occasions.

Thomas Vanek returns to Buffalo to face the team that drafted him. Vanek played 598 games as a Sabre scoring 254 goals and 243 assists over 9 seasons.

The Question Mark:

How do you think Saturday's come from behind victory over the Senators will impact the rest of the season for the Habs?

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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens vs Senators (Game #68)

Habs Vs Sens Playoffs 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (35-25-7) are home to host the Senators (28-25-12) Saturday night at the Bell Centre. The game is set to start at 7:00 and airs on RDS and CBC.

This is the fourth of five matches between the Habs and Sens this season and the last one in Montreal. The last two games between these team have gone to overtime. The Canadiens earned their first win in the season series the last time these teams met, PK Subban scored the OT winner. Tomas Plekanec scored a pair in the 5-4 win, he has just one goal in 19 games since.

What to Watch:

It looks like Michel Therrien will have new line combinations in place for Saturday night. If the lines from Friday's practice hold, Brendan Gallagher will be reunited with Alex Galchenyuk and the struggling Lars Eller, while Thomas Vanek will play alongside Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. Vanek earned his first point as a Hab in Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Bruins, an assist on Desharnais' goal.

After missing much of last season with injury, Erik Karlsson is again the Senators most potent threat with 17 goals and 58 points. Karlsson leads all defensemen in points this season, with 7 more than Duncan Keith in second. Jason Spezza has 6 points in his last two games, which brings him up to 53 points in 60 games played this season.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens are looking to put an end to their three game losing streak and keep pace with the Maple Leafs and Lightning in the race for second place in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs are three points ahead of the Habs with one more game played, and the Bolts hold a game in hand on the Canadiens and are tied with them in the standings.

Who's Out:

Carey Price (lower body) has yet to play a game since winning Gold in Sochi, but he could be set for a return this weekend, either Saturday against the Sens or Sunday against the Sabres. Josh Gorges (hand) and Michael Bournival (concussion) are still out, though Bournival has been cleared for contact and could be close to a return.

The Senators are missing starting goalie Craig Anderson (shoulder) while Cody Ceci (head) is questionable.

What Else:

The Canadiens are playing their 13th set of back-to-back games this weekend, they head to Buffalo after Saturday's game to face the Sabres on Sunday. Of the 15 games left this season, the Habs will play 8 of them in back-to-back situations. November was the team's busiest month for back-to-back scenarios, they played 4 sets of games on Friday and Saturday night, ending with a modest 4-3-1 record in those situations.

The Question Mark:

We want to hear from you, how satisfied are you with Peter Budaj's performance in Price's absence?

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, March 12, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens vs Bruins (Game #67)

Habs Vs Bruins
Match Up:

The Canadiens (35-24-7) are home to host the Atlantic leading Bruins (42-17-5) Wednesday night at the Bell Centre. The game is set to start at 7:30 and airs on RDS and TSN-Habs.

This is the third of four meeting between the Habs and Bruins, they'll meet again in Boston in less than two week to finish off the season series. The Canadiens have already beaten the Bruins twice in regulation, a 2-1 win in Montreal in December and a 4-1 win in Boston at the end of January. Max Pacioretty has goals in both games against Boston this year and Brendan Gallagher has 3 assists in the season series.

What to Watch:

Thomas Vanek has played two games as a Hab and is still looking for his first point with the team, but the former Sabre has 30 goals and 31 assists in 53 career games against the Bruins. The Canadiens struggled during their 4-game West Coast road trip, getting shut out in their last game and going 1-3-0 on the whole with their win coming in the shootout. With just 16 games left in the regular season, the team will look to bounce back strong against the Bruins.

Despite playing fewer games than anyone in the division, the Bruins have an 11 point cushion over second place as they look to clinch their fourth division title in the last 6 years. The team has won 5 straight and taken 11 of a possible 14 points since returning from the Olympic break. Vezina frontrunner Tuukka Rask has been a big part of the Bruins success. With 18 games remaining on the season, Rask has already seen more action this year than in his 6 prior season and responded by posting personal bests in wins (28), shut outs (6) and saves (1319).

What's at Stake:

Although there are points separating them in the standings, the Canadiens are essentially in a three-way tie with the Lightning and the Leafs in the race for second place in the Atlantic division. With 77 points in 66 games, the Canadiens are a point behind the Leafs who have played 67 games. The Lightning meanwhile trail both teams, they have 75 points in 65 games.

Who's Out:

The Canadiens will get a little boost to their lineup on Wednesday, but not the one most fans are looking for. Brandon Prust (upper body) should be ready to return to action but Carey Price (lower body) was ruled out until at least this weekend. Michael Bournival (concussion) and Josh Gorges (hand) are also out.
The Bruins are missing Dennis Seidenberg (knee), Adam McQuaid (leg) and Daniel Paille (concussion).

What Else:

It's been a difficult week in the hockey world culminating with the death of Terry Trafford, whose body was discovered Tuesday after he had been missing for eight days. Trafford played for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. Calgary Flames rookie Sean Monahan voiced his sympathy on Twitter:
Canadiens prospect Tim Bozon is battling meningitis and has been placed in a medically induced coma after his condition deteriorated rapidly. There has been no update on his condition since March 8.

Matt Stajan of the Flames and his wife Katie are dealing with the death of their newborn son, Emerson Stajan. The Flames forward has since taken a leave of absence from the team.

There was a scary moment in Dallas during the Stars - Blue Jackets game this week when Rich Peverley collapsed on the Stars bench. Thankfully, Peverley was swiftly tended to by the medical staff. He is now in stable condition and is undergoing tests to determine the exact cause of what has been called a cardiac incident.

The Question Mark:

Does Vanek earn his first point with the Habs tonight? How many points in a Canadiens uniform do you expect him to finish the season with?

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.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Musings: Vanek Arrives But Habs Stink On West Coast Trip

Greeting Habs Addicts,

What a trade deadline it was this past week! Marc Bergevin made his first big splash as the General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens, fleecing Islanders GM Garth Snow in acquiring Thomas Vanek. Right at the 3-pm deadline, Bergevin acquired Vanek - who earlier in the year was acquired by the Islanders from Buffalo for Matt Moulson, a 1st round pick and a 2nd round pick - for the lowly cost of Sebastien Collberg and an exchange of draft picks. Should the Habs make the playoffs they will send their 2nd round pick to the Islanders and receive a 5th round pick in return. Seriously? How amazing is that! Collberg could develop into a great player, but his development this season seems to have taken a step back and his status in the organization had dropped slightly. Vanek is one of the leagues top snipers but will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Even if Vanek leaves in the off-season and turns out to be just a rental, his acquisition did not cost Montreal any roster players.

Photo Credit: TheReuschBlog.com
Bergevin has done some good things during his tenure:
  • Signed Max Pacioretty (6-years/$27-million) & Carey Price (6-years/$39-million) to team-friendly contract extensions that will keep them in Montreal through their prime years.
  • Drafted Alex Galchenyuk with the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft.
  • Signed fan-favorite Brandon Prust (4-years/$10-million) to provide toughness with a blend of skills.
  • Traded the horrible contract of Erik Cole to the Dallas Stars for pending free agent Michael Ryder.
Bergevin has done some questionable things during his tenure:
  • Extended the contract of David Desharnais (4-years/$14-million) after a breakout season in 2011/12 then watched Desharnais fall off the map offensively until it was discovered he can only produce with Max Pacioretty on his wing.
  • Extended the contract of Travis Moen (4-years/$7.2-million) only to watch his production wane.
  • Acquired George Parros from the Florida Panthers to add toughness. Parros has more concussions (2) than points (1) and has only appeared in 19 games this season.
  • Signed defenceman Douglas Murray to a 1-year/$1.5-million contract to provide toughness. Instead Murray has provided some penalty killing and horrible play to go along with and hours upon hours of fodder for the media and fans on Twitter.
  • Instead of pursing 6'3" future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr in free-agency, Bergevin out-bid himself to sign 5'8" Philadelphia Flyers amnesty casualty Daniel Briere to a $2-year/$8-million contract. Briere has provided very little offensively - 11 goals/21 points in 53 games; Jagr has 20 goals/55 points in 65 games for the New Jersey Devils.
Needless to say, the acquiring of Thomas Vanek has changed the fans view of Bergevin for the most part. Landing Florida Panther's assistant captain and defenseman Mike Weaver - a sorely needed right-handed shooter and goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Nashville Predators for a 5th round draft pick in 2015 and future considerations respectively has added to the organizational depth. Dubnyk is a former 1st round pick of the Edmonton Oilers and is still only 27-years old. If re-signed could eventually be a solid backup to Price or a trade chip for next season. Bergevin had a very solid trade deadline. One could argue that he did the best work in the NHL on deadline day. Bergevin acquired three proven NHL players for a prospect, two draft picks and future considerations. The steal of Thomas Vanek should be the coup-de-grĂ¢ce to Garth Snow's tenure on Long Island. 

- The Habs wrapped up a six-day, four-game west coast road trip this past Saturday night. Missing goaltender Carey Price, who has been out with a lower-body injury since the end of the Sochi Olympic break, Peter Budaj began the week began with a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. This was followed up with an entertaining Habs debut for Hamilton Bulldogs goaltender Dustin Tokarski who had some bad luck and good luck while making 39 saves in a 4-3 shootout win over the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks. This game proved to be the highlight of the trip. Thomas Vanek made his debut Thursday in Pheonix, but the rest of the team failed to show up and Budaj was horrible in goal as the Coyotes beat the Canadiens 5-2 for their first win against Montreal at home since December 9th, 1998 at home (0-9-2 in that span). The Habs wrapped up the trip with an embarrassing and frustrating 4-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night. Peter Budaj was pulled early in the second period after allowing two weak goals and the Habs could not muster any offense against one of the top teams in the Western Conference. At least the weather was nice.

- The Habs have a few days to recover from the road-trip and get readjusted to the eastern time zone as their first game is not until Wednesday when they face their old hated rival Boston at home. This is followed up with a home game against new hated rival Ottawa on Saturday night before they head out on the road to face the Rochester Americans Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.  Back home for games against the division after a painful road trip along with the potential return of Carey Price should spark some better performances this week.

It better. I have tickets to the game on Saturday. 

Note: Monday Musings will be on hiatus next week, a recap of my trip to Montreal will replace it. 


Three Questions From My Musings

A) Will the acquisition of Thomas Vanek help the Habs during the stretch run?

B) Has Marc Bergevin done enough in his time as General Manager of the Habs?

C) How badly will we thump the Bruins on Wednesday?

 ---
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.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Pregame Preview: Canadiens at Sharks (Game #66)

montreal canadiens vs san jose sharks 
Match Up:

The Canadiens (35-23-7) wrap up their West Coast road trip Saturday night against the Sharks (40-17-7) in San Jose. The game starts at 10:00 pm and airs on RDS and CBC.

This is the second and final meeting between the Habs and Sharks. San Jose earned a 2-0 shutout win at the Bell Centre in October. Logan Couture scored both goals for the Sharks and Patrick Marleau picked up a pair of assists. Anti Niemi made 22 saves, while Carey Price made 35 in the losing effort.

What to Watch:

Thomas Vanek has played one game as a Hab and has yet to earn his first point with the team. He joined the Canadiens Thursday after a long night of travel and with no scheduled practice, the first chance he got to skate with his new teammates was during the game against the Coyotes. Vanek lined up with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta and is expected to stay with those linemates on Saturday.

Joe Pavelski is having a career year in his eighth season as a Shark. Pavelski has already reached a new career high in goals with 32 on the season, and after adding 3 assist against the Penguins Thursday, he's just 4 points shy of his career high, 66. Joe Thornton meanwhile is second in the league in assists with 52. Jumbo Joe has a goal and 4 assists in 5 games since the Olympic break ended.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens are holding down third spot in the East but they've also played more games than any team in the Conference besides the Islanders. The Leafs and Lightning are hot on the Habs' heels while the Flyers, Red Wings and Rangers aren't very far behind either.

Who's Out:

The Canadiens will be in tough against one of the league's best offenses, they're still missing Carey Price (lower body) and Josh Gorges (hand). Brandon Prust (upper body) and Michael Bournival (concussion) are also out.

The Sharks are without star rookie Tomas Hertl (knee), while Brad Stuart (upper body) has been out since the Olympics and may also miss Saturday's game.

What Else:
With 16 starts and 19 games played this season, Peter Budaj has seen the most action this year since he split starting goalie duties with Craig Anderson in Colorado during the 2010-11 season. While his won/loss ratio isn't as impressive as the 8-1-1 record he posted last season, Budaj has still maintained a respectable .911 save percentage and 2.35 GAA.
The Question Mark:
After Saturday's game the Canadiens will have finished up their toughest stretch stretch of the season and return home with just 16 games left to play. What we want to know from you is: in what place will the Habs will finish the season?
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.

Friday, March 7, 2014

We Got Vanek: Now What?

Therrien will have to find the right lines after the arrival of Thomas Vanek
When Montreal managed to steal Thomas Vanek during Wednesday's trade deadline all Habs fans were ecstatic with the deal. Everyone believed that most of the Montreal Canadiens problems were solved. What the Habs needed was someone with offensive capabilities while playing 5 on 5 as well as a guy who can play on their power play units. Vanek is exactly that.

Thomas Vanek has never scored less than 20 goals in all of his nine seasons (including this season). That's a pretty impressive feat. He is able to be a play maker occasionally, and is certainly not afraid to get in front of the net. If Thomas Vanek is used correctly with Montreal, it would not surprise me to see a solid offensive explosion throughout the lineup. I have an offensive lineup in mind that could help spark more than the line Vanek is on, but that would have a nice trickle-down effect to struggling players.

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Brendan Gallagher
Thomas Vanek - Lars Eller - Alex Galchenyuk
Daniel Briere - Tomas Plekanec - Brian Gionta
Travis Moen - Ryan White - Dale Weise

The top line has been together for a while now, and there is no real sense to break it up. They have been producing extremely well together, and area a big part of Montreals offense. They all have pretty apparent chemistry, and are willing to fight for every inch alongside one another. Therrien would be mad to break them up.

The second line would be considered a secondary offensive threat. All three of these players have shown at one point or another their ability to put up points. A struggling Lars Eller has been buried on a line with players who do not suit his playing style, and those who have not been producing either. Flashback to the beginning of the year, where Montreal had the "EGG" line. This was the most dominant line on the team, no questions about it. It was unfortunately broken up to help a struggling David Desharnais. Where was that help for the now stagnant Lars Eller? This is it my friends. Galchenyuk is a good sized body that will battle along the boards, and has a great shot to mix in with a nice pair of mitts. Vanek has clear upside on this line with his career-proven ability to net pucks. All three will go to the net hard, forecheck hard, and make the opposition pay.

This third line would be the shutdown line. Lines two and three would be interchangeable in TOI depending on who their up against or what the need is at that moment. Think of having the ability to have two lines worthy of being the second, for different circumstances. Kind of nice, eh? As an added bonus, this third line has the ability to show some offensive flare, and Plekanec and Gionta have the speed and chemistry for great breakouts, and a speedy playmaker like Briere would only add to the secret lethal abilities this line carries.

Finally, this fourth line is just full of grinders who do not give up an inch to the opposition. You have two great penalty killers in Ryan White and Travis Moen, and another big body willing to hit everything, and not let a team get chances. All three are proven battlers. Willing to stick up for teammates, and take a bruise (or stitch) or two to help win every night. Do they have any true offensive fire power? no. But they are capable of burying a team in behind their net, get them frustrated, and force mistakes.

Brandon Prust is currently injured, however he could easily slot into that fourth line. Once healthy I would see him slotted in for Weise, and all four of these players would be able to interchange every few games. It's a hard position and having all four of these guys to play that tough, gritty, fourth line role is essential in this last stretch, and playoffs. Parros would obviously still be available, but with teams getting quicker in these final few games, I would not recommend it.

Jarred Tinordi - PK Subban
Andrei Markov - Alexei Emelin
Douglas Murray - Josh Gorges

Our defence has been merely okay for the majority of the season. Subban has played great, however seems to be getting snubbed by Michel Therrien while players like Douglas Murray and Alexei Emelin are eating up the Norris Trophy Winner's ice time. Therrien needs to get his defence lineup straight now more than ever. I liked what I saw when Subban and Tinordi were playing together even strength. Murray NEEDS someone mobile to play alongside him because far too many times he is caught flat footed, and gets his proverbial "doors blown off". Josh Gorges is the most defensively sound Canadien, so I would like to see those two slotted in together, and then have the Russian duo suit up alongside each other. These lines are balanced enough to create some offense at the blue line, while being able to defend their own zone.

With these lines I can certainly see Montreal being a force to reckon with in the eastern conference. Whether or not Therrien decides to change up his lines, is an entirely different story. Over the course of the season we have seen Therrien hold grudges against certain players, even though they are some of, if not the best on the team. If Therrien can get over his little grudges, it will certainly help benefit the team.

The Habs are heading into the home stretch. Marc Bergevin traded for Vanek for a reason, and that is because he truly believes in this Canadiens team. They have the skill in the lineup. What they need is two things. First, they need the opportunity to be the best that they can be. This can only be achieved by maximizing every individuals strengths on the ice, and that involves moving players around. Get this team ready for playoff hockey. Second, they need the desire to win, at all costs. Habs fans have seen too many times this squad come into a game looking lazy, and disengaged. When they come in fired up, and battling for every puck and every chance, they are a dominant team.

Your move, Michel Therrien

Thank you for reading, please leave comments below, or tweet me @darrinharmy on twitter. Thanks for the read.