Thursday, January 31, 2008

Game #51

Habs Come All The Way Back To Steal 1 Point

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Thursday January 31st, 2008
Opponent: Washington Capitals
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.


Team Stripes


Final Score: 4-5 (OT) - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (OT)
Opposition starting goalie: Olaf Kolzig (W)

Habs goalscorers: Sergei Kostitsyn, Andrei Kostitsyn, Guillaume Latendresse (2)
Opposition goalscorers: Alexander Ovechkin (4), Viktor Kozlov



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Time the Kostitsyn's have socred in the same game
1st Time we have come back from 3 goals down to earn a point this year



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

The play of the game wasn't our prettiest, but it earned us one point, a point which may come in very handy down the road. Carbo showed a lot of courage at the end of the game sending out a very unlikely group to try and tie it up: Koivu, Plekanec, S. Kostitsyn, Latendresse, Markov and Streit. Those 6 players all played very well tonight and it was nice to see that Carbo was willing to live or die by their efforts. The Habs were pressing in the last minute and although it looked very hectic we obviously had it under control. We were able to keep the puck in and Streit let one go from the point. Mark's shot/pass went straight to Pleks in the slot who defected it just to the right of Kolzig. The puck was loose for a long time (most refs would have whistled thinking Olie had it) when finally Gui spotted it in the crease and tucked it home.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Sergei Kostitsyn


Sergei had a goal and assist tonight while finishing a team high +3. His assist, on Latendresse's first goal, was quite spectacular as he found a wide open Latendresse in the slot. He was flying around the ice all night. This was the first game since his demotion to the fourth line, about 2 weeks ago, where I have really noticed him. His linemates were great tonight, the only 3 players to finish with a +, but he was amazing.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Sergei Kostitsyn
- The top two lines were getting a lot of attention from the Capitals defence tonight that I think they somehow forgot about our 4th line. Unlike most of the league's fourth lines ours really packs a punch. Latendresse and Lapierre can be very good and, as we are all now becoming aware of, so can Sergei. He got very involved in the play tonight and didn't seem afraid to initate some plays and take some risks

Guillaume Latendresse
- Gui has had a hard time of late finding the back of the net, but he snapped out of that tonight in a big way. He scored 2 goals and added an assist. Tonight he used the qualities that he possesses very well, which are his size, reach, puck-control and didn't try too much in his weaker areas - skating and passing. He will play a big role down the stretch and I think a performance like this was just the right thing for him and us

Tomas Plekanec
- We have a new points leader in town and he doesn't look like he's slowing down. He added 2 assists tonight to give him 46 points on the year and now sits a top team scoring with Kovy. He has a very impressive 19 points in his last 14 games - a pace that would give him 111 over 82 games. He was a constant threat tonight and was his line's best player

Defencemen

Mark Streit
- Mark played a very good game in both ends. Of his pairing he looked the stronger of the two in his own end as Hammer wasn't really on the top of his game. He skated very well and his puck movement was fantastic. Set up the tying goal, looked dangerous at the point all night

Josh Gorges
- Josh played a great game in his own end. He used all of his size and weight tonight as he wasn't afraid to throw himself around. He wasn't on the ice for any goals against us, although on Ovechkin night that should be no surprise. That said he did have good shifts whenever he was out there against Alex and the other members of the top line. Jumped into the play often which was good, especially in the third

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
- Huet got beaten by the best tonight, but he got beaten. It was a poor outing for Cris as he should never let in more than 3 (not if he wants into the dome). We are lucky that we got a point out of this as 5 goals against us would usually mean a regulation loss. Halak has been sitting on the bench long enough and I think that he has earned his shot. We aren't talking about just any old back-up here, we are talking about quite possibly our best overall prospect. His numbers in the N/AHL last year as well as with Hamilton again this year would indicate that he is ready for the bigs - look for him to start a game this weekend



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

After having one of his 5 best games as a Hab on Tuesday Kovalev was a little more discrete tonight. He played well, but his Russian counterpart got the best of his this game, tying the season series at 2 (but our 2 losses were in OT). His stickhandling was all there tonight as was his speed, but I didn't see the same dominance along the boards that I have become so accustomed to.

Kovalev's Assessment - Good


Overall Comments

This wasn't our best game of the season, but I don't think that it's our fault. We didn't start the game as strong as we finished the last one, not even close, but we ended this one quite well. Washington is a team that is on the rise and tonight they, as a team, wanted to win and their play was miles away from what they offered us on Tuesday in Montreal. Ovechkin broke through the Mar-sarek wall tonight and there was no looking back. Players like that are capable of great things and with 4 goals and 5 points he now is alone a top the NHL scoring race.

My only regret tonight is that we didn't get on Kolzig sooner. At the age of 39 Olie is having one of the worst season's of his career and this may very well be his last. He looked shaky all night letting in 4 goals on 21 shots. Had we shot more, especially early on, this could have been another Habs-Bruins affair. I am glad, however, that we didn't let this opportunity go entirely to waste. Coming out of a home-and-home with 3 points against a team as hot as the Caps is quite good. We finsished January with a very impressive record of 8-2-2 which is quite encouraging considering last year's decline during this month. You can't win them all, but when I see efforts like that (to come back from 3 down) on the road to steal a single point I must say that I am very impressed. This team has a lot of fight in it and I am sure we will continue to surprise people right until the end of the season; and beyond.

Montreal Canadiens 5-Game Review (#9 & 10)

[Montreal Canadiens 5 Game Review takes a look at the last 5 games from an objective standpoint, with tabulations from Tobalev's game reports]

Date: Saturday, January 31st, 2008


The last 10

Opponents: Washington, Chicago, Boston, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Boston, New Jersey, Washington

Record: 7-2-1
Home record: 3-1-1
Away record: 4-1-0

How it happened: OTL, W, L, W, W, W, L, W, W, W
Goals for: 35
Goals against: 24

Conference ranking (Season): 4
Conference ranking (5 games - i.e., 01/05 to 01/30): 2





Stack of pucks

Alex Kovalev (9), Cristobal Huet (9)

Saku Koivu (7)










Play of the set
Contender for play of the year...

Andrei the Second, clearly. Love this player. Loved this goal:


Go and see this goal - it will not be hard to find. Simply turn on your TV today or tomorrow, find a sports show and you will see one of the Habs' (and NHL's) top goals of the season.

Andrei Kostitsyn took a nice pass from Plekanec in the neutral zone and then went to work. He quickly made a meal of one Thrasher at the blue line and headed into their zone. There he split 2 veteran defencemen (Zhitnik and Klee) with a superb move. Then, alone with Lehtonen, he made a fantastic move left to right, dropped the goalie and roofed a backhand - what a fabulous goal.

See the play (within the game highlights).



10-game domers

F: Koivu (5/10); A Kostitsyn (5/10); Kovalev (5/10)

D: Komisarek (6/10); Markov (4/10)

G: Huet (9/10)








Kovalev's 10-game Assessment - Good to Very Good

A couple of excellent patches and one average(!?!) one. More of what we've come to expect from the Russian aviator. Rumour has it his flight charts weren't that worse last year, just no detailed record to look back on...




Scoring and statistics (Top 5 over 10):

Goalscorers: Kovalev (5); Plekanec, A Kostitsyn (4); Koivu, Smolinski (3)

Point-getters: Plekanec (11); Kovalev (10); Streit (9); Markov, A Kostitsyn (8)

Shooters: Kovalev (33); Higgins (26); Koivu (25); A Kostitsyn (24); Plekanec (22)

+/-: Kovalev, Plekanec (+7); Smolinski (+6); Markov, Komisarek (+5)


GAA: Halak (0.00); Huet (2.05); Price (4.94)
Save %: Halak (1.000); Huet (.921); Price (.828)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Game #50

Habs Win Big; Become Last Team In NHL To Record 10th Home Win

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Tuesday January 26th, 2008
Opponent: Washington Capitals
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC


Team Stripes


Final Score: 4-0 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Brent Johnson (L)

Habs goalscorers: Mark Streit, Sergei Kostitsyn, Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev
Opposition goalscorers: None



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st 8-Win Month of the Season (8-2-1, 1 game left)



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

The play of the game was our second goal, a play that was all about Plekanec. We were killing a 5-on-3 when Tomas stepped into our slot and picked off a Capital pass, anticipating the play perfectly. He then was essentially sent in on his own. At the same time Sergei Kostitsyn was just exiting the box and joined Tom for a shorthanded 2-on-0. Plekanec held the puck, froze Johnson and then passed it to Sergei. Like a true goal-scorer Kostitsyn shelved it over the sprawled keeper.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Cristobal Huet

Huet was spectacular tonight. He turned aside all 35 shots directed towards him to earn his 18th win and second shutout of the season. He made a lot of great saves tonight in a game that could have been much closer. He saw most of his shots as the defence really did their work for this result too.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Alexei Kovalev
- He came away with one goal, but he brought so much more than that to the game tonight. As predicted by Topham he was keen to show Ovechkin a thing or two about excitement and about flare. He did just that as he was the most exciting player I saw all night, likely all season - Ovechkin was invisible

Saku Koivu
- The captain returned from the all-star break without missing a step. He, along with the Habs, finished last week strong and tonight it looked as though they had never left the ice (despite the change of city). He generated a lot of chances for himself and his linemates and was extremely effective in his own end

Tomas Plekanec
- Pleks added another 2 points to his total tonight and at 44 points is fast approaching Kovalev for the team lead. It is like we have a good-attitude Ribeiro on our hands, who, of course, is also better at hockey. At his current rate he may break 80 points which would represent a massive achievement for him and the team who has stuck with him since day 1. Offensively he had it all tonight; speed, creativity and hunger

Defencemen

Francis Bouillon
- Bou doesn't get nearly enough credit for the work that he is doing this year for the Habs, and for Gorges. Francis is no longer called on to be a top-3 defender for us, like he was the past few years, and that suits him way better. He is able to play his own solid game without the worries of shutting down the other team's top players. A #5 defenceman is exactly what Franc can be and exactly what he is right now. Tonight he played very well in his own end as he neutralized any play that game his way

Mark Streit
- Streit potted a goal and an assist tonight giving him 33 points on the year - one more than Higgins. He played a good game defensively, but his play on the PP was also great. Kovy and Markov get a lot of credit for our success with the man-advantage this year, but I would argue that another HUGE part is Streit

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
- Ever since being declared #1 (Price's demotion) Huet has been on fire. The team in front of him is playing extremely well, as they did tonight, but without Cristo some of these wins would be losses. He stood up and faced a lot of shots tonight which meant he wasn't constantly conceding the top of the net, like he would if he were butterflying. His puck-handling outside the crease was also great tonight: it was minimal



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Alex just put on a better show than anyone at the All-Star weekend - no question. Time and time again he has outplayed the league's best this season - tonight the victim was Ovechkin. He has the ability to slow the game right down, yet keep the play flying. That may sound like a contradiction, but it isn't really. He slows the play down as his movements seem effortless, almost at walking pace, while at the same time he is way too fast for any of the opposing defenders to catch him. We saw a few more new moves tonight as he continues to pick from the bottomless bag of tricks.

Kovalev's Assessment - Excellent



Overall Comments

The Habs wasted no time taking a hold of this game as they were flying within the first minute of the first period. Washington have been doing well as of late, but I think the Habs exposed them tonight for what they really are - a team of 3 talented players and 17 others buying into a system. We have had a lot of success against such teams this year; namely Boston and the Islanders. Winning games against fellow Eastern Conference teams is key, even better when they are in the hunt themselves and it is fantastic when these games end in regulation.

Tonight our best players were exactly that - our best. Washington's best players did not answer the call and that is the reason we won. When I now think of the Habs best players I can't help but list around 10 players - that's half the team! To me, that is the huge difference from years gone by. We are no loner relying on 3 or 4 guys, we now have half the team to call on when the going gets tough. It seems that not making the All-Star Game may have inspired Huet and Kovy to play at the top of their form which is great. I hope that the Habs will always get snubbed in that department from now on. I would much rather a win for the team than to see 2 of our players waste a weekend doing lame drills and playing shinny.

All Star Week: Montreal Canadiens January 15-28

The weeks that were
Let's start with the weak excuse that was. I am sorry I missed last week's update/preview, but I let work get the better of me. I will endeavour to see that it never happens again...

As for the Habs, well they had a pretty good couple of weeks in my books. 4 wins and a loss against teams in the playoff picture is tidy business.

Two weeks ago, the team was looking good getting the majority of their points and happily holding on to a playoff spot. Now, the Habs have the second highest point total in the East and fifth in the league. So what's changed?

Well, let's be honest. There are currently 21 points between first and last in the East, and only 15 between us (number 2) and Tampa (number 15). A streak of 8 points in 5 games, especially when all the games come against Eastern rivals will vault you up. It's as simple as that. So, enjoy the standings by all means, but remember to keep one eye on the intermediary goal: 96 points. If we get to 96, then we can be happy about the standings – that i guarantee.

Quite apart from the standings, the Habs have been doing positive things. There are two things in particular I would note:

1) Remember all those games I described as games that good teams would win (i.e., those teams that start to separate themselves from the pack in mid-January)? Well, we won those games. For the recent editions of the Habs, this constitutes a very big step, because remember, the Islanders, Thrashers and bruins all also wanted to take that critical step.

2) We beat the big boys. That's right, and in New Jersey too. And, it wasn't Terreri, Burke, Clemmensen or Weekes – it was the man himself. What's more we beat them with offense! That Devils win feels good for the fans because it should. It confirms what we have been seeing since December – that the team is on the rise.


While addressing ascendancies, I think it would be apt to mention two players in particular who have grown into integral parts of the team in the same vein as Koivu, Kovalev, Markov and Huet:


1) Mike Komisarek – leading the league in categories that matter, superseding Hamrlik (in the season dome, no less) as the number two defenseman and growing into a leader of leaders. Higgins and Chipchura have been downgraded to future assistant captains of this team. Mike is starting to show all his mettle.

2) Andrei Kostitsyn – I knew he was vital, I knew he was oozing talent, but even I didn't expect the turnaround to come quickly as this. 79 games into a career, we can't even agree how to spell his name, and he's scoring the types of goals we hoped for: beautiful goals, skillful goals, important goals, game-breaking goals. Whoever told this boy to shoot deserves a lot of thanks.







Quote of the weeks
On losing your place on the team (and your mind?), what does he mean???, what do the Kostitsyns have to do with anything???:

"L'équipe est jeune et les vétérans doivent montrer l'exemple. Aujourd'hui, j'étais dans le gymnase et j'ai invité Guillaume (Latendresse) à venir me rejoindre. Ca ne lui tentait pas vraiment. Mais une fois l'entraînement terminé, il était très content. En ce moment, les frères Kostitsyn sont dans le gymnase.

"The team is young and it is up to the veterans to provide an example. Today, I was in the gym and I invited Guillaume Latendresse to come and join me. He didn't really want to. But, once the session was over, he was very happy. Right now, the Kostitsyns are in the gym."




Coming off two weeks of great positive strides...

... what might Rejean Houle do?

Starts calling GMs around the league to see if there's any interest in Michael Ryder.



... what might Sam Pollock do?

Sits down with Michael Ryder to talk about the future. Keeps calling Tampa and Atlanta about those draft picks.




The week upcoming

An old fashioned return to the Patrick division – the land of unending playoff overtime. After seeing a variety of teams, the Habs will be relieved to go back to seeing the same teams over and over again. At the very least, it means I can cut and paste in this section more...

Personally, I think this recent Canadiens form has been a long time coming and is no aberration. If the team is who I think they are, we'll have at least 5 more points towards that 96 by Sunday evening.

Tuesday night: Washington Capitals at the Bell Centre.

Remember those games good teams should win. Well, this is one. it will be tough with Ovechkin coming off a high in Atlanta, but our all-star Dman and deserving winger should be up to the task too.

Caps to watch: Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green – Ovechkin's shootout competition entry was actually quite lame by his standards and anyone who thinks Rick Nash scored the goal of the decade should look back and see it wasn't even the goal of the decade against Phoenix; Mike Green is the talk of Caps town and I can see why. apparently new coach Boudreau is keen on using his talents to the fullest.


Thursday night: Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center.

Winning one game against the Washingtons of the league is difficult but vital, winning two in a row takes special concentration. This will take some Bruins style strategy, but again the points should be available come the third, if the Habs want them.

Caps to watch: Alexander Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom – Ovechkin will probably always fill this space for Caps games for the next 15 years, and it would be a challenge not to watch him; Backstrom is a talented up and comer like Green, who has been outdoing Kane in the past few weeks (Calder possibility?).


Saturday afternoon: New York Islanders at the Bell Centre.

Islanders at home. Doesn't sound scary, but 5-game winning streak does. In isolation, this game is also there for this Habs team who outclass the Islanders at every position. Winning while keeping a streak alive would be a new mark of quality for the Habs.

Isles to watch: Rick DiPietro and Blake Comeau – DiPietro is a quality goaltender, no doubt and it's worth watching him handle the puck, but he was a token on the All-Star team who afforded Huet a welcome rest (thanks NHL policymakers), Comeau is one of three plus players on a team well in the playoff race. At plus 5, I'll be watching him as he might have something to do with this anonymous team's relative success.


Sunday afternoon: New York Rangers at the Bell Centre.

Rangers after the Islanders at home. Too bad they couldn't have played each other on Saturday night in between the two games for a little round-robin. We like playing New York teams after the derby game. The Habs will have to show they can handle the Rangers next and the the Sens if they want us to be serious about their chances. This game will be the first step. I think it will be a close affair, possibly involoving the play afterhours. If it's a shootout, I want to see Kovalev as he tries to top Ovechkin's All-Star move...

Rangers to watch: sean Avery and Jaromir Jagr – Avery just back from injury is always a factor, but you can never anticipate what he'll say and do, especially in this province; you can't really anticipate what Jagr will do either, but for entirely different reasons. That quality also makes him the player to watch.






Overheard on the Habswagon:




"Monster (indiscernable yelling). Monster (high-pitched squeal coming from somewhere near the floor). I have the book on Huet."



[The subjective look at the week that was and the week ahead in Montreal Canadiens Week is supplemented by the objective analysis following every fifth game]

Monday, January 28, 2008

Why 79 trumps 71

(No, don't worry, it's not another Brisebois article. This one's about the littlest All-Star - Mike Ribeiro. Have to admit though, it is funny that Brisebois chose that number...)

How can 71 and 79 look so similar, but yet when they hit the ice and especially when they open their mouths, look so far. The space between 71 and 79 (is more than one Garon) and must be on that part of the curve where there is pretty much no horizontal component, because if the y-axis reads NHL star quality, the difference between the two is counted in tens, not single units.


Not even changing to the awkward looking 63 can hide this reality.

An article that was at one point on RDS, but now is found on La Presse makes my job very easy, as it illustrates the difference between the two post-lockout Habs at the All-Star contest this past weekend.

Check out the quotes:

«J'aimerais être accompagné d'un coéquipier, ce serait plus facile de m'y retrouver» - Ribeiro


I guess there's no love from Andrei then. Can't imagine why he would disown his old teammate.


«La possibilité de participer à un match des étoiles me trottait dans la tête depuis longtemps. Cette saison, j'estimais que mes chances étaient excellentes et j'ai été déçu de ne pas avoir été choisi initialement.» - Ribeiro


Why doesn't this quote surprise me? Career goal fulfilled? No wait there's that trophy to win, the one in all his dreams - Art Ross.


«J'aurais peut-être obtenu plus d'argent si j'avais testé le marché des joueurs autonomes à la fin de la saison.» - Ribeiro


Some would argue teams might actually look at past form (or at the possibility of signing someone reliable), but who am I to burst a bubble here?


«Les journalistes russes me tapent sur les nerfs.» - Markov


I'm surprised they got that much out of Markov. What no hyperbole about how he's always planned on being an all-star, how he could get paid more than double what Mike Ribeiro now makes, how he wishes the superstars were friendly to him?


What you've got there is the best contrast and the biggest gulf in class (in my opinion) between two 5 million plus players in this league.
Andrei Markov, the serious professional was said to enjoy the all-star experience, but would have been equally as happy somewhere else while he rested for the real challenge ahead.

Mike Ribeiro, unable to get enough photos for himself to prove to people that he actually got to this game.

Markov the number one vote getter in the East barring Sidney Crosby. Ribeiro the second choice on a team that had to provide their single all-star.

Markov the cornerstone of the Canadiens franchise with management's faith and commitment as the highest paid Hab ever. Ribeiro, the guy who fetched us Janne Niinimaa.

Frankly, I don't know where all this resentment to Ribeiro comes from. I was pleased he got shipped out of town, and he should be thanked for that, not derided. If nothing else, it has given us a chance to watch an equally as talented offensive centre play with Kovalev. And one who plays defense at that.

Ribeiro could win the scoring title, and I know it would be like watching Sheldon Souray set the record for PPG by a defenseman - providing me with not much beyond a feeling that there must be something more to being good at hockey. Markov, consequently, rarely, if ever, leaves me feeling that way.

I suppose a lot of my feelings on Mike closely mirror those of HF10 at Four Habs Fans (though I'm not sure I could find as much vitriol as he does).

Mike may be an all-star, but he's not an all-star the way Andrei Markov is. Not even the way Alex Kovalev should have been. Not even within an order of magnitude.

While Mike may mistake what he hears people saying to him in Montreal for "Markov", I think that's as close as he'll come to the skill and pedigree of our top defenseman.

Eyes on Kovalev on the rise

In other news, we're flattered that RDS reporters have been reading our posts (quite obviously), but are a bit puzzled as to why it took them 50 games to come up with this video report.

We hope this week they break other news like Kostitsyn is a better prospect than Latendresse (choose a first name), playing eight defensemen isn't working out, Halak's accomplishments in the AHL are starting to look good or Ryder will not be the key piece in a blockbuster trade for a superstar French Canadian player.

Even if their reports do sometimes leave something to be desired, you have to love RDS for the amount of coverage they provide and for the alternative to CBC commentators that other Canadian markets just don't get.

Nothing more to say about that. Go Habs Go.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Habs fine. And Dandy?

All's well in Habsland.

For the team that's playing, that is.

Listen to the Habs podcast on Habs Inside/Out and you'll hear how everything's not exactly perfect. For one thing people are coming back from injury.

Most people would classify this as an indisputable positive. However, somehow the Gazette Sports gurus managed to reason that there is negative in bodies coming back. They purport that it means tough decisions for the coach, in that he may have more than one player able to complete an NHL shift available for each place.

Forgive me for thinking that is a good thing and not a bad, and that a few tough decisions shouldn't overtax a coach, but I guess I disagree with the paid members of the Habs blogosphere. One notable Lions in Winter dissenter and purveyor of wet blanket is one-time team guy Mathieu Dandenault, who seems to give credence to what the Habs I/O guys say (courtesy of Sans ligne rouge):


Dandenault a indiqué qu’il parlerait à son agent et à sa famille afin de savoir comment réagir. « Je peux aider des équipes de la LNH », a lancé Dandenault en ouvrant la porte à une transaction. Car ce qu’il a dit ce matin c’est : si le Canadien ne croit pas que je peux l’aider à tous les matchs, qu’on me donne la chance de le faire ailleurs.

Dandenault said that he would be speaking to his agent and his family to decide how to react (to his benching). "I can help teams in the NHL," protested Dandenault, leaving the door open for a trade. So, what he said this morning is: if the Canadiens don't believe I can help in every game, they should give me the chance to do that elsewhere.


Mathieu Dandenault? Get it together mate.

You were moved to forward because the team wanted to leave a place for an inexperienced defenseman or Brisebois to get some playing time. You are on the fourth line. Your competition is improving with every shift. And, you my friend are not.

Oh, I agree that he could still help NHL teams. But let's face it, so can Jason Ward, Jan Bulis and Garth Murray. The Habs are growing up, and like those who went before him, Dandenault is becoming less useful as we discover pieces that fit much better. After all, who would opt for Dandenault over Sergei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre or Guillaume Latendresse? Tom Kostopoulos? Steve Begin?

The teams that Mathieu could help by playing everyday are numerous and all have one thing in common: they are going nowhere. Not many teams with one or two pieces to fill for the cup run are looking for a really fast forward turned defenseman turned forward who can't really score. Players who can't score come cheaper than Dandy, that's for sure. Florida might need a hand, maybe Chicago or Columbus, but his Detroit days are well and truly over.

Even so, I don't agree with all the thoughts put into Matt's mouth by Francois Gagnon (which for the sake of the argument here, I will believe that Mathieu buys into) that since he can help an NHL team, the Canadiens should automatically trade him.

For one thing, I think the team that Dandenault is most likely to be in a position to help this year is the Canadiens. As such, I do think Dandenault has a place with the team, but it can only be to help the team.

For example, if he can find the patience to sit out more than 2 games, he might look forward to a possible role in the playoffs, where coaches often prefer to get some veterans in there for key games and roles. Or, if he finds some of his September self, he can take a mature approach and help the young players to iron out parts of their game where they lack.

So, get your head together Mathieu and try to avoid saying any more stupid things to the press until you cool off. You are a large part of what this team is and why they have become what they are.

Get yourself traded to the Habs 2005 equivalent if you want, but you may well regret leaving this talented young bunch behind.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Game #49

Canadiens Mount Huge 3rd Period Comeback For Rare Win in Jersey

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Thursday January 24th, 2008
Opponent: New Jersey Devils
Venue: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ


Team Stripes


Final Score: 4-3 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Martin Brodeur (L)

Habs goalscorers: Bryan Smolinski (2), Saku Koivu, Christopher Higgins
Opposition goalscorers: Patrik Elias (2), Jamie Langenbrunner



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Win After Trailing After the Second Period
1st Win in New Jersey since February 2002
1st Multiple Goal Game for Smolinski as a Hab



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

The play of the game was our first goal, Smolinski's first of the night.

The play started on what seemed like a dead-end play where the puck would eventually end up in the corner. Kovalev broke into the zone and it seemed like he would dump it in to complete the Habs' change. He got around his first man at the blue-line and decided to keep going. Kovy was then tripped and was about to sweep the puck away with his hand, likely still just thinking about getting it deep. Just before Kovalev touched the puck with his hand (a play that would have ended in a whistle or turn-over) Andrei Kostitsyn rushed in to take it from under him. Kostitsyn then made a beautiful pass to a streaking Smolinski. Bryan made a nice move and then put it up over Brodeur's left pad.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Saku Koivu

He had a goal and an assist and looked good all night. If you ever needed to rally around your leader I would imagine that tonight would be a very good time to do it - a game in NJ that you are losing by 2 in the third. The team did just that - they looked to Saku for guidance. Koivu, a big game player, then took matters into his own hands scoring the tying goal and eventually setting up the winner.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Saku Koivu
- Saku may not be having his most productive season of all, but the Habs are winning and I guarantee that the wins are all that Saku cares about. When needed Sak will be there, he'll be our best player and tonight is a perfect example of that. The Habs felt they could win, Koivu made it happen. He was skating fast, making good passes and made his whole team better tonight

Christopher Higgins
- What a time to break out of a slump! He scored the game winner with 5 minutes to play and gave the Habs a much needed win in Jersey. Higgins played a great game tonight, he had a lot of chances and created a lot of offence. With time Saku and Higgs will be back at their usual level of production as I believe tonight was just the start

Bryan Smolinski
- Smolinski scored 2 goals tonight giving him 3 in his last 2 games. Bryan played a perfect game as a 4th line centre; good checking, good skating and smart plays. The upside to having Smolinski in that position, like Bonk before him, is that he has suppressed offensive potential. Players who used to score still know how to score and often find the net when you need it the most - his goals couldn't have come at a better time

Defencemen

Mike Komisarek
- Mike had a good game in his own end finishing with a team-high +2. His defensive play was again spectacular and was a big reason that the Devils only managed 13 shots on Huet. He added another 2 assists tonight, including the shot that Koivu tipped home to tie it up. Anytime Mike gets involved offensively he becomes even more of a dominant player

Roman Hamrlik
- This was probably Roman's best game since Christmas. He hasn't been bad in that time, he has just been his usual, solid, self. Tonight, however, he stepped it up in both ends. The Habs are a great team when we get good defensive play, but we are an excellent team when our defencemen get involved in the other team's zone. Hamrlik was involved in a lot of the offensive activity and played a big part on Higgins' winner with an assist

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
- This was an OK game for Huet. I thought, once we were down 0-2, that we had blown our chance. Huet's performance until that time did not look like it would be enough to beat Brodeur in his building (normally only a shut-out would do). Though Cristo didn't face many shots he made absolutely sure that NJ didn't score a 4th goal. Whether the Devils were trying to score very hard or not doesn't matter at all, someone had to stop the shots in the third - Huet came through for us there and gave us the chance we needed. I also wanted to point out that the goals against him weren't weak and that they would all likely go in on most nights against the Habs. NJ just happened to have a few good quality shots



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Kovalev's nose for the net, his grit along the boards and his never give-up attitude led to the first goal as he made a play that most would not have, most would have retreated to the bench for a rest. He got some relief tonight as the 1st and 4th lines took care of the scoring. Scoring goals obviously plays a huge part in a line's success, but so does intimidation. I felt that Kovy put the Devils back on their heels a little and that helped the whole team to get all over them.

Kovalev's Assessment - Good



Overall Comments

This game started as all do for the Habs in New Jersey - yes it was really that bad. It looked like New Jersey was going to beat us yet again and that we would be answering the same old questions come tomorrow morning. I didn't think that the performance Huet was giving would be enough - maybe against Boston, not in NJ. We seemed to be scared of the Devils and scared of Brodeur. We didn't believe we could score and weren't trying our usual stuff to try and get a goal. I thought that you never see Detroit or Ottawa adapt to their opponents, you just see them play their own game. We generally play our own style, more so this year than others, but always play different in Jersey. The difference tonight came with 5 minutes to play in the second when Smolinski scored his first and we realized that the Devils could be scored on just like any other team. From that moment on we played Habs hockey - we skated fast, shot the puck a lot and never gave up. In the third period alone we out-shot them 20-3 showing that even in the most unlikely of times we can make it happen.

This was the second game in a row, and only second time this season, that we played 12 forwards (rather than 10 or 11) and it worked again. Having 4 complete lines of good forwards gives you something that most teams don't have - 4 legitimate scoring threats. With the talent on our team and within our organization there is no reason that we should ever need a blue-liner playing up front again. All of the Habs forwards have been contributing as of late and I believe that our balanced attack will play a big part as we head down the stretch towards the playoffs.

This win is good news for the Habs as they have always been very intimidated by the Devils. I have always said that you have to beat all teams, in all situations to be a true winner and this represents a step in the right direction. When we were down 1-3 I must admit that all I wanted was OT. At that point I figured NJ was getting 2 points and that we may as well get at least 1. The fewer games that go to OT in the East the better for the Habs, unless of course we escape a regulation loss to send it to the extra frame. This win takes care of one of the two demons I want the Habs to rid themselves of this half. The other is beating the Sens in Ottawa. I feel that the talent is there for the Habs and that all remains is the mental; once we know we can win, we will win - just like tonight.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's Not What the Leafs Do, It's How They Do It

As everyone knows, the Leafs have fired John Ferguson Jr. and hired Cliff Fletcher to replace him.

It reminded me why I dislike the Leafs and how they do things.

(NOTE: I judiciously use the term dislike here, since lately I have been indifferent about the Maple Leafs. Hate takes more emotional commitment than distaste, and so hate goes beyond what I am feeling at the moment.)

Back to the point. I'll be the first to admit that Habs fans are no angels and can be just as annoying as Leafs fans, but that's not what I am talking about. Let's face it, what fans do only matters to other fans (and if enough people agree on one idea (cheering or booing) then possibly the team for a few minutes during a game. What I am referring, when I talk about disliking the way the Leafs do things is the way people within the Maple Leafs organisation do all of the things I noted above.

Habs fans will know what I mean when I say I dislike the Leafs. It's the way they play, the way they "develop" players, the way they score goals, the way they defend, the players they go out and get, the way they react to losses, the way they react to wins, the way they treat people on the way out...

Their latest - the long, drawn-out, lay-off of John Ferguson Jr. was the antithesis of both forethought and class in a hockey club.


I respect that they had a need to fire JFJ after the Leafs poor first half has them looking at a third consecutive season on the golf course, but the way the whole thing was done made me realise what I dislike most about the Leafs – how they go about doing the things that all hockey clubs do.

When it comes to their former GM, it's worth remembering that they hired Ferguson Jr. as green as they come. That first season, from what I remember it took about 5 minutes of baying from the fans, and the poor guy was already setting about fighting for his job - something he never really got a break from until yesterday.

In my book, if you hire a rookie GM, you must as his employers at least, be prepared to stick out one or two tough seasons. Sure, they did that, but at no point was Ferguson ever left to learn without the unrelenting pressure of playoff money and fans demands following him around. Furthermore, if you say in the summer he is not qualified for the job, surely you put your money where your mouth is and find someone else before starting a torturous 5-month stay of execution for the poor guy.

Even as recently as Gainey's takeover, the Canadiens showed that they care about the way they do things. I thought they did some nice things for the outgoing GM. I'm not sure how Andre Savard took the news of demotion at the time or how he would speak about the Canadiens organisation now, but it must have been semi-acceptable as he stayed on a while in the new position of assistant GM to Bob Gainey. The Canadiens knew he was a good man with a future as a GM, but thought they could do better in the near future with a different man at the helm. As it was, they let him stay on until he found a new post of his own. From an outsider's perspective, things like that give off the appearance that Canadiens actually do care about such things.


Though my distaste rests primarily on the way they do things; admittedly, I am not entirely convinced by what they do either. As such, I can't resist putting down my thoughts on the hockey decisions they made yesterday.

Take the hiring of Cliff Fletcher. In my opinion, the move is a perfect mirror to what the Leafs have been doing for as long as I can remember – that is giving up on a younger candidate, bringing in veteran help (usually washed up) to remedy the situation short-term while they save the long-term plan for later. It is the same approach that a team who has the young talented centre they crave (Brad Boyes), but gives him up for the dream that is Owen Nolan. Then there's that Fletcher trade to get Wendel Clark back for the fans at the expense of the Roberto Luongo pick.

Young is good, but nothing beats NHL experience to get you one round of playoff revenue, eh? And, who can wait around for those youngsters to get experience on their own? That's 7 years without playoff home games for some stupid Cup...

Cliff Fletcher is Owen Nolan and he is Wendel Clark. He is both old and overrated by the fans in Toronto. Like the playoff rentals before him, his job security is short-term and will rely on how things turn out in the near future.

For a team that could benefit from a good long look in the mirror and a couple of hard years (Washington-style), the stop-gap that is Cliff Fletcher is a puzzle to me.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on what I think will be the most interesting hockey story of the week. If you want to get an experienced opinion from a thoughtful commentator, I suggest taking a look at Damien Cox's piece on the story in today's Toronto Star.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Game #48

Habs Score 8, Win 9th in a Row Against Bruins

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Tuesday January 19th, 2008
Opponent: Boston Bruins
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC


Team Stripes


Final Score: 8-2 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Alex Auld (L), Tim Thomas

Habs goalscorers: Tom Kostopoulos, Michael Ryder, Andrei Kostitsyn (2), Maxime Lapierre, Bryan Smolinski, Mike Komisarek, Alexei Kovalev
Opposition goalscorers: Marco Sturm, Petteri Nokelainen



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Time this season that the Habs have scored 8 goals



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

Putting Michael Ryder and Chris Higgins seemed to work tonight...for the whole team! Our nicest of our 8 goals (that sounds good) was Ryder's, the Habs' second.

Mark Streit sent a knee-high outlet pass to Saku across almost 3 lines. Koivu picked the puck out of the air and had it right down to his stick - it looked amazing. He kept skating towards the net as he received the pass which made it even more impressive. He then stopped at the top of the right circle and fired a perfect tape- to- tape pass to Ryder who had a very nice deflection for his 8th of the season.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Mark Streit

Even when he plays on the blue-line Mark wracks up the points. He got another 3 assists tonight to give him him 31 points on the season, 31! He led many good rushes and along with Markov played very well at the point on the PP. His defensive play was also great tonight as he showed that speed and skill are definitely valuable assets for a blue-liner. Playing with Hamrlik seems to be the perfect fit for Mark and the team as they form one of the most effective offensive/defensive 2nd pairings in the league.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Tom Kostopoulos
- Tom had a great game in both ends and formed a very nice combination with Smolinski and Begin. Kostopoulos' goal 14 seconds into the game gave us a very good start and after that we never looked back. He offered the Habs a certain level of grit that we haven't seem from him much this year. His fight, in defence of the likely-injured Begin, showed a lot of team spirit and showed that he doesn't only score, but that he can be tough too

Steve Begin
- Steve was obviously itching to get back into the lineup after 6 weeks off. He came out on his first shift looking like the Begin of old and was a big reason for our instant 1-0 lead. That spark was evident all game as he constantly disturbed the the Boston players that were designated to play in front of the goalie (ie. DEFENCEmen on other teams). It looks like he may have been injured, again, in the third, which I believe would be a huge loss for our team

Andrei Kostitsyn
- It is hard to outplay players like Kovalev and Plekanec, but Kostitsyn seems to be doing it on a fairly regular basis. Tonight he got 3 points including 2 goals and if it wasn't for the Habs taking it easy on Boston after they were up 6-1 he could have had many more. With 14 goals and 29 points this season I think it is safe to say that Kostitsyn is far exceeding most people's expectations. The nicest part of this story is that the Habs have given him a chance

Defencemen

Mike Komisarek
- He was the stat-man tonight as he excelled in almost all categories: 1 goal, 1 assist, +4, 2 blocked-shots, 5 hits. All those stats were great to see, but the one thing that stood out for me tonight was again his maturity. He always comes to the defence of his goalie and teammates, yet rarely does anything stupid or retaliatory - tonight I saw 3 or 4 great examples of this

Mark Streit
- 31 points isn't so bad for your 2nd best offensive defenceman. The way Mark has got his points, especially tonight, is equally as impressive. He wasn't merely the last guy to touch the puck before the goal-scorer, but instead often created the goals. His puck-carrying and rushing were very visible tonight

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
- Not much to do tonight for Cristo, but as usual he made key saves when he had to. I would like to say that he kept the Habs in the game, but let's be honest he could have had a horrible game (5-6 GA for him) and we still would have won comfortably. Played a simple game; recovered rebounds quickly, rarely ventured from his net and stood up for most easy shots



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

He was flying around the ice all night making a mockery of the Boston 'defence' - again. I really liked a play that he did in the second period, a play on which the Habs and Kovy kept possession in Boston's end for almost 2 minutes. While making a move he dropped his glove, seeing that the puck had shot loose out towards his glove he bent down to collect his glove. With one hand on his stick, as he collected the puck, he did a very fast pivot to deke out Chara. The move earned Kovalev one of the biggest ovations of the night. His goal, the Habs' 7th, came at a point where he had yet to get his name on the scoresheet - so he took care of it, he put his name on there, pretty much at will.

Kovalev's Assessment - Very Good



Overall Comments

Boston looked like the same team that we have seen in our last 9 games against them (all wins) - a slow, unskilled, outmatched bunch. The Habs took it to the Bruins early scoring 4 in the first and chasing Auld with 4 goals on our first 7 shots. Thomas, an All-Star instead of Huet (Ha), didn't do much better letting in 4 on 17 shots. I will have to start watching games between the Bruins and Panthers or something, because, honestly, he does not look like a good goalie and I want to see how he has good numbers. The good thing about the way we have played against Boston all season is that we don't just beat them, we own them. I would love to face this team in the playoffs again - the only difference is that this time around the Bruins won't have the most overrated centre in the league being embarrassed by Koivu.

The Habs played 6 defencemen tonight for the first time all year and although I can't say it's the reason we won I will say that it added to our attack. It would appear that Dandenault will never likely play another game as a defenceman for the Habs; I suppose that this means he is a forward then. If that is so then I am very happy that he isn't playing. The 12 forwards in the line-up tonight, along with Locke, Chipchura, Grabovski and others, are all clearly better than Mathieu so why is he still around? In 46 games he has 11 points and is -10. Maybe these aren't horrible numbers for a defenceman filling in as a forward, but we just said that he is a forward. These are numbers that would get most forwards demoted or waived, so why the wait with Dandy?

This is another great start to a week after another great week. The Habs are playing well now and my only hope is that they keep it up for 5 more months! We are now only 6 points back of Ottawa for the conference lead (and our only shot at a top-3 ranking) with 1 game in hand. We have 5 games left against Ottawa so if we are serious about being a top team at least we will have a chance to prove it. Next up is a road game in Jersey. We have been horrible there ever since Brodeur came into the league, but I have a feeling that this group may be up for changing our fortune. If we are going to win the cup we are going to have to win in all circumstances - nothing like a trip to NJ to see if we have what it takes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ryder All Over the Place

Sometimes work gets a little busy and I even have to miss a daily fix of Habs blog reading and Canadiens headline watching at lunch.

Turning to the Canadiens news just now, I am a bit surprised to see that Ryder is the most talked about Canadiens player on this day.

Perhaps, I wouldn't be surprised if this were any other year, as I can remember a few Michael Ryder goal bursts in the cold month of January. But we all know this has been a new year for Ryder...


The promotion

Habs Inside/Out carries the good news for Ryder. He has been reunited with Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins for at least 32 seconds to start the game on Tuesday. Following his step back onto the bench, it's anybody's guess with who, when if or how he will play again. My prediction is that if he doesn't score in the first period he'll be back on a lower line (based on his shots this season that gives him less than a shot to do it). Come on Mikey!

Again, there's news behind the news here: Sergei Kostitsyn is returning to Hamilton soon. Well, at least if Ryder gets a prolonged chance he will. In my opinion Sergei is not a player that will thrive with two slow linemates or with a defensive mandate. He may try, but he won't last. Of course, he may be safe if #73 plays the role of first-half Ryder.

In other hidden news, Gainey and Carbonneau start to feel dizzy with too much scoring - throwing away the three scoring line strategy.


The trade

IN a second piece of "news" (No? Well let's just say a second piece then, shall we?), Eklund declares that Ryder is attracting loads of interest on the trade market.

I can almost buy the Ryder rumour, but the rumour about there being a trade coming up? Now that's a bit hard to swallow after 197 consecutive days guaranteeing a move.

Personally, if I were inventing rumours to attract fans of all the big markets, I would look for the equivalent of Sundin on the Canadiens, rather than a player on pace to have his worst goalscoring season ever being sold as a playoff rental (as he has no contract). For me, Ryder may very well get traded, but let's not think we should be excited about what we might get in return. If there is a forward prospect in the Calgary system half as exciting as Josh Gorges was at this time last year, then that is the player we will get. But, really I don't see what Ryder for Ryder really accomplishes...

Plus, trading Ryder would go against all logic in the "manufactured" parity era: trading for an underperforming player with quite a large salary. The fact that nobody is picking up underachievers as they yoyo up and down through waivers does not seem to phase the rumour mongerer from Philly. Though Colorado used to think they could turn any Hab career gone awry around no matter what the price, even they would shy from Ryder as a project.

From the Habs point of view, if they like Ryder (and they have always spoken and acted as if they do), why not be the ones to take a chance on him next year at a home-town discount?


And trades? I wouldn't look much further than the man Ryder replaced as prime Habs trade bait. For Sergei Kostitsyn has not only played well, but also carries the tag of untested potential - and that, unlike underachievers, is something that's actually in demand in this league.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Game #47

No Crosby, No Problem as Pens Blank Habs

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday January 19th, 2008
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC


Team Stripes


Final Score: 0-2 - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Dany Sabourin (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Jeff Taffe, Evgeni Malkin



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Loss to Pittsburgh this season (2-1-0)
1st Game Against the Penguins since the lockout without Crosby



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

There weren't too many offensive chances to speak of this game so it is only natural that the play of the game would go to Huet.

With Sabourin playing surprisingly lucky I knew that a 2 goal lead would likely suffice for the Pens. In the second period Huet was called upon to make great save upon great save. His best was a breakaway stop against the talented Petr Sykora. Sykora received a beautiful pass right through the middle, across 2 lines, from Malkin. He then went in alone on Huet. Cristo, like he did on Thursday in the shootout, stood tall and made a great save keeping the score at 1-0 and keeping us in the game. Had Sykora scored I felt the Habs would have had no chance at all.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Cristobal Huet

He was by far our best player tonight. The offence wasn't that bad, but it was always obvious to me that this was going to be a low scoring affair. In games like these you can call it a day if your goalie lets in 3, 4 or 5 goals, like we see almost every night in the league. Huet kept the Habs in the game and gave us a serious shot at winning. He continues to shine in the Canadiens' goal as being declared the undisputed #1 has seemed to have flipped his confidence right-side up again.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Christopher Higgins
- Like Michael Ryder and Saku before him Chris is going through a little rough patch in his season. Since the team has been winning I wasn't too concerned about his lack of production, but on night's like these it would have been great if he snapped out of it. Whether he scored or not tonight is irrelevant because I thought he played a great game, he had energy all night and was hounding Vezina candidate Sabourin right from the first minute

Alexei Kovalev
- Chance after chance, but no goals - the story of Kovy's night. You can't score them all and certainly can't win them all either. Tonight was a perfect example, however, how you must capitalize on your chances and it also makes me really appreciate the amount of times Alex has done just that this season. He seemed about one step ahead of his teammates tonight as he was firing on all cylinders, but most around him were not

Andrei Kostitsyn
- Comfort + Confidence = Speed + Creativity. It looked like Andrei was at the most confidant that I have ever seen him with Montreal - no doubt due to his fantastic goal last game. He is trying new things every game and it gives us just one more weapon each night. Sometimes if too many people get unlucky in the same game you get what we got tonight. With this much firepower though the Habs will unlikely all hit the wall together again. Kostitsyn is just one of about 8 or 9 Habs that can win a game for us on any given night - tonight was not that night, for anyone

Defencemen

Mike Komisarek
- He was a warrior tonight as he played a very good game in both ends again. He held the Pens to 0 goals while he was on the ice and it was noticeable each time he was out there. There was absolutely no confusing #8 for #6 tonight

Francis Bouillon
- He was used the least of all our defencemen tonight, only about 15 minutes. I think that at this stage of his career and with the players we have on the team now that is precisely how I would want him to be used. He still knows the game very well and is able to play at a much higher level and be more effective when he isn't over-used. Tonight he was very good in his own end, especially when it came to his 1 - on - 1 battles

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
- He was magnificent tonight and if he keeps this up we should get more wins than losses down the stretch no problem. The goal can't really be blamed on him as it was more a function of the team and defence underestimating Laraque's skill and strength as they allowed him to control the puck in our end for what seemed like an eternity. I noticed that he didn't wander too much from his net tonight and I liked it. Handling the puck is a very weak part of his game and unlike things like rebound control and shot blocking, among others, it is not a required skill to be an NHL goalie; my advice - just leave it alone



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Alex played a good enough game, but it was obvious tonight that the team was toying with the notion of 'if not him then who?'. He has carried this team all season, not single handily, but he has been a big reason for our success. We are at our best when we have 2 lines (or more) going up front and our defence and goaltending are sound. Tonight the goalie and defence did their job, but the offence didn't match. Kovy and the boys have been struggling to find the back of the net on the PP as of late and I think I know what may solve the problem. Have Kovy with Higgins and Saku on the first unit and then leave him out as his normal linemates come on as the 2nd unit. He would have no problem with a 2 minute shift (just ask Keenan) and it would increase our chances considerably. Kovalev for Latundressed may just be what the doctor ordered.

Kovalev's Assessment - Good


Overall Comments

I knew that for some reason we would be in tough tonight against Sabourin. It reminded me of the game we lost to Tampa Bay at home before Christmas, a game in which Marc Denis got his first (and only) win of the season. French guys love coming and playing in Montreal and for some reason always look like they have something to prove - as though the Habs really missed the boat. I can assure you that in Sabourin's case we most definitely didn't miss the boat as I would suggest that this game may go down as the highlight of his career. He is the #3 keeper on a team known for horrible goaltenders and it is actually quite disappointing that we allowed him to get the better of us. We had chances and made plays, but things just weren't clicking. Like the 21,273 people at the Bell Centre I think the Habs were slightly let down that Sid wasn't there and I honestly think it changed and messed up our approach to the game.

One thing that got to me at the end of the game was the amount I saw the 4th line on the ice for us. 4th lines are time-killers and nothing else. You put on a 4th line when the other team puts on theirs and it is a declaration by both teams that you are happy with the way things are going in the game. We were trying to score a goal (at least I thought that we were) and we had a ton of momentum, but that was killed each time I saw Lapierre, Kostopoulos and Dandenault on the ice. To make matters worse it was Dandenault that took a stupid, offensive-zone, penalty that killed all the momentum we had gained in the third. With TV timeouts and constant whistles there is no way that these professional athletes can't role with a 3 line system, or even better a 2-line one. Playing your 4th line when you need a goal is a horrible strategy and one that we must shed as I anticipate many more tight games in the days and weeks to come.

Therrific or Therrible?

A couple of days ago, RDS posted a video about Michel Therrien to "commemorate" his last day with the Canadiens franchise. In typical RDS fashion, the piece was spun out of control to suggest that Therrien may have been treated unfairly in his firing.

If you listen to the commentary in the whole video (from the LNH section on Jan 17, here), you come out feeling that Therrien was Therrific for the Habs at the time. If you look at the stats and remember the facts, though, you may not be so sure. For one thing, the report is full of mistakes and myths:

Montreal 2000 to 2003
The first element of spin showed Therrien amassing a .500 record over parts of three seasons with the Canadiens.

His record was 77-77-22(ties)-14(OTLs). And, in actual fact, he posted losing records in the portions of 2000-2001 and 2002-2003 in which he coached. Of course, every OTL counted as a tie in their assessment. While I accept that OTLs are worthwhile points, we also have to consider that more than half the teams in the league are over .500 by the RDS criteria, thus Therrien was a below average coach during his time in Montreal.


The second claim was that Michel Therrien had to deal with a team that more closely resembled an AHL team than an NHL team.

This is a commonly held belief among Canadiens fans when they look at the teams of the recent past. But, overlooked is the fact that Therrien had Jose Theodore, then a Vezina calibre goalie, who actually won the Hart trophy during his tenure. And, that one of the main reasons for this perception was the ridiculous number of players that played games for the Canadiens during his tenure.

In fact, if you thought Carbonneau could not stick with a line combination, take a look at the indecision of Michel Therrien's tenure, where he managed to use 68 different players over 2 years. In his first season, a remarkable 46 different players fulfilled the dream of playing with the Habs.

This may not have hurt the Habs so much, had it not been for Therrien's ridiculous propensity to opt for QMJHL players he had coached or coached against before - possibly because children used to listen to him, while the adult Canadiens chose to ignore him. Everyone remembers Laflamme and Traverse. But these were also the days where Brisebois was deployed as a number one defenseman and Dykhuis as a top 4. When injuries hit, Therrien subjected us to red hot prospect Descoteaux.

The third myth, was their ludicrous claim that the firing of Michel Therrien set off a period of musical chairs for the Canadiens coaching job.

This outlandish claim is laid to ridicule when you consider Therrien himself barely managed to hold on more than a couple of seasons. In fact, were it not for Jose Theodore, it might have been less.

To say that musical chairs followed Therrien doesn't really accurately report the facts. Though Julien lasted less than 2 full seasons, his replacement Bob Gainey was only ever meant as a temporary one anyway. Gainey's replacement, Carbonneau, has had a shorter tenure than Therrien, but of course we know that his is ongoing and would probably expect it to last longer than the old hydro-man's.

If one wanted to be picky, you could point out that there hasn't been a stable coach since Scotty Bowman in the 1970s, and musical chairs began with Habs coaching long before the unremarkable three year reign of Michel Therrien.

Finally, RDS notes that Therrien is the only coach to actually win a playoff series since Alain Vigneault in 1998.

Apart from being some of the worst reporting since RDS began, this report opted to conveniently omit the famous 7-game series victory over the Boston Bruins. I should also mention, that Michel Therrien's coaching, while it may have had something to do with the victory over the first-place Bruins in 2002, his childish antics almost certainly led to the turning point in a series against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round. It should be noted, that once he wen into a sulk he was unable to use his "formidable coaching skills" to get his team to play for him after he had let them down.


Pittsburgh 2005 to present
On to Pittsburgh, where Therrien holds the job thanks to the skin of his teeth (or rather Crosby's teeth). In 2005-2006, he somehow managed to coach the Penguins to a more hideous second half than they had in the first, though they would later thank him for Jordan Staal.

And, though blessed with top talent, he continues to favour second-rate players he can relate to over proven talent. If you check the Pittsburgh players used, you'll see the similarity in numbers with Montreal's during his years. What's more, there will be just as many "who the hell is that?" moments. While Mark Recchi was once Pittsburgh here and good friend of Lemieux, stubborn Therrien has managed to alienate him twice in three seasons. Just to show Therrien how wrong he was, Recchi has played well once he left, winning a Stanley Cup with 16 playoff points in 2006 and playing point-per-game hockey this time around.


Therrien probably isn't the worst coach the Canadiens have ever had, but he certainly was the worst in all the years I have been old enough to understand what's been going on.

For tonight's game, you can look at Therrien through RDS-coloured glasses if you want, but personally I look forward to the encounter as a chance to play against inferior strategy for once.

I'll be thinking, the way he's also managed to shatter Marc-Andre Fleury's confidence on numerous occasions. I wouldn't let this guy within 100m of Price, Kostitsyn and Plekanec...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Game #46

Habs Get the Better of Thrashers in Shootout

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Thursday January 17th, 2008
Opponent: Atlanta Thrashers
Venue: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA


Team Stripes


Final Score: 3-2 (SO) - Win

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen (SO)

Habs goalscorers: Andrei Kostitsyn (1, SO), Michael Ryder, (Saku Koivu - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Win After Trailing After the First Period
1st Win Against Atlanta This Year (1-0-2)



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

Go and see this goal - it will not be hard to find. Simply turn on your TV today or tomorrow, find a sports show and you will see one of the Habs' (and NHL's) top goals of the season.

Andrei Kostitsyn took a nice pass from Plekanec in the neutral zone and then went to work. He quickly made a meal of one Thrasher at the blue line and headed into their zone. There he split 2 veteran defencemen (Zhitnik and Klee) with a superb move. Then, alone with Lehtonen, he made a fantastic move left to right, dropped the goalie and roofed a backhand - what a fabulous goal.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Saku Koivu

Saku was reunited with Higgins for a full game for the first time in over a month and it worked. He was held off the official scoresheet, but was the one who ended it in the shootout with a nice, low, accurate shot. He was at the height of his form all game and Carbo obviously recognized this rewarding him with 21+ minutes of ice time. His -1 rating is not a good representation at all of his great defensive play tonight as he was used, effectively, in all situations.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Saku Koivu
- Looked great tonight and scored a fantastic winner in the shootout. His line was our most dangerous which should come as no real surprise considering he is now back to playing with an NHL top-2 line winger. Worked hard in the offensive zone creating chance after chance for both himself and his line-mates

Andrei Kostitsyn
- His goal is reason enough to put him into the dome, but otherwise he played a very good game. Looked very confident all night handling the puck as he is less and less hesitant to try new things - most evident with his super-goal

Tom Kostopoulos
- Tom played one of his best games as a Hab even though his stats may look quite bare. His fore-checking was effective, and although he was used sparingly I felt he set the tone for the Habs early in the game and the rest of the team fed off that. There were a few times in the defensive zone when I thought Komisarek had made a fabulous play only to realize that I had mistaken Komi's #8 for Kostopoulos' #6

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
- This player has come a long way, or maybe I should say that Carbo's faith in this player has come a long way. He was always meant to be good and in my eyes always was, but it seems that the Habs are only just now recognizing this. Played great in his own end as I continue to notice the amount of smart, intelligent plays he makes. He jumped up into the offence a little more tonight which is always good to see

Andrei Markov
- It isn't very often that 37 goal-scorer Kovalchuk is held goal-less or pointless (13 times all year and not once in his previous 10 games), but for a third time, in as many games against Atlanta, the Habs did just that. There is not one player we can thank more for this complete shutdown of the league's best than Markov. Defensively he was outstanding tonight and, huge surprise, he also was offensively

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
- He made my heart rate go up for about 20 minutes, but apart from handing Atlanta one point I would say that he completely redeemed himself. He made a horrible play in the corner putting the puck into the no-goalie zone with no defencemen around. With an open puck and a goalie 20' from the net the Thrashers had no problem tying the game up. This is just another example of why he MUST STAY IN HIS NET. There are 2 types of goalies - goalies that should play absolutely every puck (Brodeur, DiPietro and absolutely no one else) and those (the rest of the league) who should only come out when they 100% sure it is safe. We have seen clear examples all year of why our goalies should not wander and if they keep it up it will surely cost us a lot more than 1 point to Atlanta. Otherwise Huet played a great game, made incredible saves after his gaffe and was brilliant in the shootout - stopping both Kozlov and Hossa



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Kovy played a good game, but wasn't really the cause of anything spectacular, but was also never at the root of a major problem. The PP looked good when it got set-up with Kovy running it very well. He got a little unlucky that some of his passes, which were great, weren't converted by his teammates, otherwise he could have had a multiple point night. Kovalev was chosen as the 3rd shooter to shoot in the shootout, but because we scored our first two and they didn't he didn't need to shoot. He, along with Saku (no offence to Kostitsyn at all who made a great play to score his penalty-shot) are our 2 best shooters and should be 1 and 2 in the shootout. The order amongst the top two is not important, just that your best two shoot first and second. After that, starting with the third shooter, you should put your players in order of descending talent. This way you are guaranteed that you won't be left wondering what could have been if only Kovy had his chance. I am upset that we don't realize this strategy yet, but am sure glad that Atlanta doesn't understand it either - Kovalchuk never took his shot as he was to shoot third.

If Kovalev is having a great season we can't help but recognize that a big reason for that is his centre-man, Plekanec. Kovy would be the first to admit that a winger needs a good centre to excel and in Plekanec he has that player. A little less than four years ago, when we traded for Kovy, we gave the Rangers the option of one of the following players in return for the Russian Superstar; Jozef Balej, Ron Hainsey, Marcel Hossa or Tomas Plekanec. The Rangers chose Balej who is the only one not currently in the NHL. Thanks to the Rangers to the relief of this Habs fan and to the everlasting delight of Kovalev we still have Plekanec. Sometimes things just work out, this time they just didn't work out for New York.

Kovalev's Assessment - Good



Overall Comments

We outplayed Atlanta for most of this game, but thanks to good goaltending from Lehtonen and a gift from Huet it was a surprisingly close game. The win puts an end to a very succesful road trip in which we won 3 of 4 games. We now have a 16-7-3 road record which is good for 2nd in the NHL. Since December 20, a usual hard time of the year for the Habs, we are 8-2-3 bagging 19 of a possible 26 points (a .731 winning %). Tonight marked the first time that the Habs have come back from a first period deficit to win a game this season(1-9-1). That stat may seem like bad news and although it isn't good news, it is not as bad as it seems. The stat that stares out at me here is that in 46 games the Habs have only been trailing after 1 period in 11 games - now that is quite a fantastic stat when you think about it.

Huet's play in the shootout was very nice to see as it is usually (especially against Atlanta) a weak part of his game. He stayed with the shooters, allowed them to make the first move, but most of all made himself big and took away most of the net. This strategy is obviously far superior to that of Lehtonen. Kari slid into the net on both goals, so even had he saved the puck the goal would have counted. The Habs must have known this about him as they put both of their shots low, towards his pads, for what seems like would always be a guaranteed goal.

Our team is looking good and although many believe we are being led by our offence I will offer a different perspective. We all know that in Huet we have one of the league's best goalies, but have we ever considered our defence as an elite corps? I think that we should. Led by Markov I think that we may have the best group of 7 in the league right now. Hamrlik, Komisarek, Streit, Bouillon, Gorges and O'Byrne have all proven themselves as quality D-men and apart from the injured O'Byrne are currently all playing near the best hockey of their careers. Our veteran core of Streit, Bou, Marky and Hammer is complimented very well with 3 excellent youngsters that will carry the torch for years to come - Komi, Gorges, O'B. This is an exciting time for the team, but let's stay focused and for goodness sake let's make Montreal a very hard city for other teams to even think about getting a win in; like it always was.