Saturday, January 30, 2010

Game #56

PP Wonders When It Will Get Some Help


Details


Date: 30/01/10
Opponent: Senators
Location: Ottawa

Loss: 2-3 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Halak (L)
Opposition Goalie: Elliott (W)

Habs goalscorers: Pouliot, Gionta
Opposition goalscorers: Kovalev, Spezza, Fisher



Play of the game


2 Power-Plays all game, 2 goals all game and almost 2 identical plays. For me, however, I was able to distinguish our second goal from our first as I felt the passing involved was more decisive and the timing was impeccable. This play was ended by Gionta, but I felt that all of the players on the ice played a role. Bergeron, in particular, didn't get a point on the play, but had just made a great play at the blue-line to keep the puck alive. The goal itself was the result of great passing which, to no one's surprise, involved Markov. He was the one who took a cross-ice feed from Pleks before sending a perfect pass of his own, through the crease, to Gionta. The goal made Scotiabank Place erupt and enabled the Habs to get a much needed point.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks picked up 2 assists tonight as he, and the PP were very effective. It was a shame that he happened to be on the ice at 3-on-3 in OT when Fisher scored, though, as I felt it tarnished a pretty decent defensive game. I am hoping not, but this may be the last game Tom picks up 2 points in a game for a while. I'm not sure if Cammalleri is hurt bad, but if he is, the loss of #13 would affect Pleks as much, probably more, than when he lost his other winger.

Brian Gionta - Game Puck
I was waiting for a game-puck recipient for a long time to show up and finally, towards the end of the third I was sold on Brian. I was hoping that an OT hero would supplant him, but it wasn't to be. The funny thing was that until Gionta scored the pick for me was Halak, but because we scored, and then went to OT, he no longer looked so good - normally a goalie getting you to OT is better than not. Anyway, on top of the game-tying goal there were 5 shots and a strong desire to go to the net; it was duly noted.

Benoit Pouliot
Ben scored his 13th of the year to give the Habs life and, once again, it was scored in close, while he was standing right in front of the net. That type of play is key for the Habs and I can only hope he keeps it up on the PP and brings more of it to his even-strength play. One would have to think that 20 goals is very possible in Pouliot's case which, if I'm not mistaken, is a barrier we had all hoped Latendresse would hit, but didn't. Can't you all see it people? We now have the player we hoped and thought that Gui would be...and all it cost us was Gui. Aside from his goal he led the team with 4 hits which is a part of his game that I was glad to see.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Markov was fantastic for the most part tonight as he was, once again, very effective offensively. Defensively, however, it slipped towards the end of the game and it all culminated with him getting caught on the game-winning goal. Still, he was our best choice on the blue-line, and so it was no surprise to see him out there for 27+.

Josh Gorges
Josh was not only our best defenceman early on, but likely our best player in the first period. I counted no less than 3 great plays in that frame alone where he either made a great defensive play or laid a timely hit. He did play well after the first period as well, but didn't stand out as much because by then the rest of the team was waking up. I am assuming that his ice-time will skyrocket with Spacek out, so I wasn't surprised with his 24 minutes today.

Goaltender

Jarsolav Halak
This was a very solid game from Jaro and I can only really count one major mistake - the OT goal. Until that point, however, he had been outstanding and was particularly strong in the third and early in OT. He definitely gave our team a chance to win tonight as 2 goals, on the road, to the NHL's hottest team is respectable to say the least. One thing that I did notice was that his 37 shots against were much harder than most of Elliott's 29. This game was a good example of how a shot isn't always a shot.


Comments


I made the trip to Scotiabank today and, for the most, part, liked what I saw. Now, for the most part doesn't, obviously mean everything, so here are the negatives. First where on earth is our 5-on-5 play? Would it kill us to dominate a team at even-strength and perhaps, heaven forbid, score a goal once in a while? Second, how come we always skate to the outside of defenders and then hope to generate offence from behind the net or from the corners? Ottawa doesn't do this and, come to think of it, I don't think any other team really does it either. We have to get more creative and I know that we have the skill. Maybe it is time that the coaches think of a strategy other than 'wait for the PP'. That strategy seems to work to get us goals, but not, unfortunately, to win us games. There were also positives from this one and the main one has to be the spirit of the team to comeback and of the fans who never lost hope. The second and third periods were actually quite entertaining and coming back wasn't just a thing of luck. We played better today than we did in Florida this week, but we still have to be better than this to win more often. Losing Camms would hurt us badly, but if we can get the odd 5-on-5 goal and if we can continue to rely on the PP and Halak then maybe, just maybe we'll be able to survive till after the Olympics. That, in my mind, is when this 82-game round-robin really gets going and when the time for slipping by in games will be over.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Canadiens Coverage

When Did The Zoo Become A Jungle?

Not that long ago, I used to catch my Canadiens games on Saturday nights, my statistics in the Tuesday Gazette and my coverage in a couple of daily pieces from September to May. Back then, players called the Montreal Canadiens media frenzy a zoo.

If that's so, what is it now? The jungle?

Thankfully I can watch all games without a pinwheel and a media guide to find the coverage. And, I'll be honest, I like being able to regulate how much coverage I take in – which I can easily do, because there's far more than I would ever want or need.

I'm sure it's the same for all of you. It's a good time to be a fan and voracious consumer of sporting and other news.

On the whole, I think the expanded coverage has been a good thing. More is said about games, more is analyzed, more is recorded. Blanket statements like "Kovalev had a terrible season" are harder to make with the evidence to refute such generalizations.

But as an observer of events, I'm wondering if many (indeed any) players would take the same view. And if not, would being coerced into an untenable situation like this play out in the results, the fatigue we've seen...


A bridge too far?

On December 8, 2008, the Canadiens opened a state-of-art practice facility in Brossard, with beautiful ice, gyms, spa-like facilities, the works. But don't be fooled, Little George (that's Gillett) didn't bankroll this facility solely to help the team be more competitive, he planned this facility to benefit the organization (i.e., his bank balance) as well.

The way he would turn it to moneymaker was by integrating Canadiens practice into the Canadiens hype machine. Cleverly, the design of the facility included a viewing gallery. It wasn't long before it also became the place to stage a daily press conference and loose reporters on the dressing room.

Since the practice facility opened the Habs went 26-24-6 in 2008-09, 0-4-0 in the playoffs and now 25-25-5 in 2009-10 for a 51-53-5 record (or if you prefer 51-58). It's worth noting that the pre-Brossard Habs from 2008-09 were a rather rosier 15-6-5, defending Eastern conference champions and looked to be heading in the right direction.

It would be foolish to put down all the woes of the team to increased media scrutiny. But in certain cases it may be more feasible. We can think for instance of players who don't seem to like the camera as much, who don't seem to thrive with extra eyes and ears on them. Koivu comes to mind, several of the summer departed. I'll just pick one player from a hat, though: Carey Price.

Since Brossard, it has been 10-12-6 in 2008-09, 0-4-0 in the playoffs, and 11-17-4 in 2009-10. For those who don't read Allan Walsh, that'd be 21-33-10 (or 21-43). Remarkable when you think of his Calder trophy challenge and his 13-4-4 record before his every move was simultaneously tracked by 60 iphones from the southshore. Don't think wins count for anything? Fine, I'll do it your way. 3.15 and 0.895 in 2008-09, 4.11 and 0.878 in the playoffs, and 2.73 and 0.913 in 2009-10. Contrast that with 2.36 and 0.920 in 21 starts.

Carey's not unlike other Habs players in that he laps up the media when it's winning times. But when there's losses, he does get that noticeable "What the hell do you think I'll say?" look about him. He's not alone in the dressing room, but his case is most easily illustrated in numbers. A retroactive analysis proves little, so treat as food for thought. Just interesting that someone who doesn't seem to like the excessive coverage might be affected in the one area of his undertakings that the majority of his fans actually care about.


Today's story

I bring all this up because as I was reading the morning rounds, the story that dominated on the off day in this losing run was the Markov v. Price ten-word exchange.

I didn't need the new reports coming out to understand that people working to common goals often disagree. I didn't even need Pat Hickey's piece to know this has a precedent in the Montreal Canadiens locker room. I've been on teams, I've been a member of society, I think anyone who has knows how much value to put in strong words after an emotional fall.

But be it boredom, the stretch for anything to talk about, the loss of perspective, this became the big story of the moment.

TSN who dips in and out of Canadiens coverage only when things go wrong enough to interest their Toronto following followed up their initial story on the word-of-mouth report of rift with this story. The hug, of course, as meaningless as the initial words. The look to the media...
That Price then looked up at the media seats at the Montreal Canadiens practice facility made it clear the gesture was in response to a report this week of a confrontation between the two in the club's dressing room.
... perhaps most significant of all.

At least TSN only reported it. Michel Bergeron seems to be personally offended that a player who sees fit enough to question, even ridicule nightly on another inane tabloid gossip session would turn around and mock him and his gang. Habs Inside/Out did the usual upgrade on RDS and provided some pro journalism, but did Dave Stubbs really need to tweet every other ten seconds from Brossard? Finally, the fact that the most professional reporter in the scrum (that'd be Arpon Basu) is also airing his personal frustration on this matter (albeit about a different element of the debacle) is more striking.

It was these reports that made me think things were getting out of hand.

The players on the Canadiens were already among the most scrutinized in the league before twitter ever existed, and before every day had a press conference. But they've been asked to take on even more. I for one think Komisarek mooing, Price engaging in mock hugs – this is all fair play. What's more, I think players should be allowed to opt out of the jungle whenever they feel like doing so. I know some think it's some kind of right to have every question answered whenever they come asking, but I disagree. The players are there to play hockey, and god forbid practice playing hockey, not to be story generators for reporters looking to fill more air time and columns of type than should ever be afforded to a sporting endeavour.

I think it's high time the Habs take a look at limiting the ridiculous practice of opening their training facility to everyone. Now that George "I finance my debts with sports teams" Gillett is gone, I think there's a window to do it.


Again, this is only me, I wanted to know what you (some of the most sensible and loyal fans of the Habs) think:

Has it gone too far?
Could this be hurting the team?
Is this why we don't have a captain?
Do we need twitter updates by the minute from Canadiens practices?
Do we really benefit from seeing our idols behind the doors that used to be pretty much closed?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Game #55

Montreal Stumbles To A Second Straight Uninspired Loss

Details


Date: 27/01/10
Opponent: Lightning
Location: Tampa Bay

Loss: 0-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Niittymaki (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: St. Louis, Lecavalier, Stamkos



Play of the game


It was hard to find a good play for the Habs, so I chose more of a turning point from the game. This play came right after the Lightning went up 2-0 and I felt we had to press hard then and there and get one back. Instead Tampa kept coming and the persistence of Steve Downie paid off. Downie hit Gionta with a questionable hit which I thought was clean (barely) and so did the refs. Gionta's reaction to this (he obviously didn't agree with me or the refs) was stupid and cost us 2 minutes, and a goal. He forgot why he was on the ice and just waited till Downie came by and almost knee-on-kneed him (he got called for the trip). Tampa scored on that PP and never once looked back.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
Tomas was our best centre tonight as he tried his hardest to generate some chances. I thought that all in all his line did well, but expected a bit more from Cammalleri. Plek's team lead in shots (4) was good and so was the fact that he was our best face-off man; the bad news being that he was 40%.

Brian Gionta - Game Puck
I didn't like the retaliation penalty, but the team didn't have to let in a goal on the PP or go to sleep after (and before) that play. It was a bad play, but it wasn't the only reason we lost. Aside from that Brian played a very nice offensive game and came very close to putting us on the board. Gomez and Pouliot were off tonight, but Gionta kept plugging away nonetheless.

Sergei Kostitsyn
Sergei was probably our third best forward tonight, but, I'll tell you, that wasn't hard to do. Let's see, I didn't know that Lapierre was even playing till I saw him in the second period, Maxwell and Darche were hardly used and were pretty ineffective. That leaves 5 others (we only dressed 11 tonight) and three of those are Gomez, Pouliot and Cammalleri who I have already said I wasn't impressed with. Add to all of that the fact that Moen was nothing special and that Metropolit was way worse than he can be and I am even more confident with my pick.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
As far as our D go tonight Markov was the best, in both ends. He worked the puck around well on the PP (better than any other Hab) and was at the root of a few good chances. I didn't see any major mistakes in our own end and he even looked comfortable playing in front of his buddy Price. On top of all of this he carried O'Byrne for a good part of the last two periods and Ryan, not to my surprise, did not play well.

Roman Hamrlik
Hamrlik got put on the 4th line of D tonight when he was moved away from Spacek and put with Bergeron. That, of course, is the equivalent of playing with Lapierre after a season with Plekanec - I think we all know what generally happens in those cases. So, considering that (and watching MAB play defence) it was a nice surprise to see that Roman was only on the ice for one goal against. Not a great game tonight, but certainly a better one than our other 4 D-men.

Goaltender

Carey Price
When you don't score you don't score. You can add to that the fact that the 3 goals against were all pretty good goals. Having Carey in tonight was the right call as we certainly don't want to burn out Halak and he has played quite well vs. Tampa. His game was decent tonight and I think he gives our most competitive team a chance to win (had they shown up). I, however, didn't like his puck-handling tonight (as bad as ever) and didn't like his body language after the 3 goals. I know it must be hard to be called out as much as he has been lately, but he must keep a positive attitude now, more than ever, as that is what will help him as he goes forward.


Comments


For those of you who didn't watch, well done. For those of you that did, too bad. This was a pretty bad hockey game to watch as a Canadiens fan. It lacked pretty much any emotion whatsoever, lacked proper, good scoring chances (we may have had 2) and ended up being one of the least inspiring games of the season. The bad part is that Tampa didn't really have to play that well themselves to beat us by 3 and to shut us out. There is not much more to say about this game and I can only hope that the Habs will give a better effort on Saturday against Ottawa because if they play like this it will be a certain loss. I am, however, quite hopeful that a couple of days off will help them to forget these two games and I wouldn't be surprised if they amazed us all with their talent, speed, heart and effort yet again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Game #54

Habs Get Caught In Cat-Trap


Details


Date: 26/01/10
Opponent: Panthers
Location: Florida

Loss: 1-2

Habs Goalie: Halak (L)
Opposition Goalie: Vokoun (W)

Habs goalscorers: Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Matthias (2)



Play of the game


Can you believe that we only had one PP? If you actually watched the game the answer should be a resounding NO as the refs 'let 'em play' a little too much for the Habs liking. Luckily, however, we were able to muster one opportunity thanks to the hard work of Metropolit who was able to get a tripping call with some aggressive work behind Vokoun's net. On the PP we put together a fantastic play that had Markov written all over it. The Habs were keeping the puck in the zone nicely and it was Andrei who was doing the best at this. On this particular play he was the one who threw it to the open side where there was no coverage. There Camms shot it right back to Markov who had moved closer to the net. This got the D and Vokoun moving for a second time. As quickly as he got the puck back, however, Markov shifted the whole Panther team yet again with another pass across the ice. This time it was to Pleks who somehow flipped the puck up and then batted it in to put the Habs up 1-0.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
The good news is that Pleks is playing better than he was a week or two ago. The bad news, however, is that his play wasn't good enough to get by the trap of a very average team with any consistency. I am putting him in here though because he was our lone goalscorer and it was a nice goal to boot. He generated a few other chances too, but at the end of the day he, nor his linemates, generated enough.

Benoit Pouliot
Tonight Ben was the stand-out on his line as he accounted for more shots than his linemates combined. I would suggest that he pass more, but when I look closer I do see that he is often given the puck in an obvious shooting position, often where a one-timer is called for. He came very close to scoring on 2 occasions, but couldn't find a way to beat a team that he has been so good against thus far.

Sergei Kostitsyn
Sergei played a second straight good game tonight as he is proving to be much more valuable than any of the other three players that we just jettisoned. I am unclear why Moen is being used instead of him, with Plekanec, as I think he played better than Moen in both ends tonight. He often was involved in our attacks and played a responsible defensive game. I hope that he can work his way back onto the PK and I am also thinking that his play will force Martin to use him more than 12 minutes/game.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Markov did very well on the PP, but unfortunately had very little time to work with the extra man. Aside from that he was one of our top defencemen in our own end and represented our best chance of getting through the neutral zone. Surprisingly he played less than 3 other Habs - something that I think may have cost us more attacking time.

Jaroslav Spacek
The player who played the most tonight was Spacek who, when I think about it, deserved every minute. A few games ago I called for more usage of #6 and I am glad to see it tonight. I would still keep him at 22 minutes while increasing Markov's minutes, though, as I believe those can be taken from Gill and O'Byrne. Jaro, once again, did a great job in our own end with a few very nice defensive plays. His game-high 4 blocked-shots is another indication of how well he is doing in terms of limiting chances against us.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak - Game Puck
This game could have been a shutout, but could have also been a 4-goal effort against. I am, therefore, quite pleased that Halak gave us a very good chance to win tonight. It would have been nice to see him stop one of the two goals tonight, though, as his play of late had me believing that he should have. This game will improve his save% and GAA, but will likely get him another game on the bench as a loss, in his case, means he sits.


Comments


I thought that the Habs actually played a pretty good opening 25-30 minutes. Sure the score was tied at 0, but never did I feel in trouble as it seemed to me a point was an inevitability. Halfway through the second, however, things changed and the Panthers were stopping us with more regularity and in turn were generating more chances themselves. I think that in a vain attempt to break their neutral-zone trap we were going too far up as a team, thus letting up odd-man rushes. We then somehow found a way to draw a penalty and that gave us a chance, before the end of the second, to go up by 1. Despite more shots than Florida in the third those odd-man rushes towards Halak continued and the Habs started letting up quality chances. The 2 goals against meant that Florida was able to become the first team, this year, to beat the Habs when they have held a lead after 2 periods - impressive when you think of it.

2 things that standout from the third period, aside from the goals, don't bode well for the Habs as we near the stretch and get ever closer to the playoffs. First, there was the passing issue. Montreal, in the last 5 minutes, seemed unable to put quality passes together and the result ended up being a broken play, a giveaway or a 30-second re-group to see if we could get it right on try #2. This type of passing, to break a trap, must be improved as teams like this should not be able to shut us down so effectively. The second point, and a good reason why I think we only scored 1 was the lack of penalties called. This, to me, is representative of 'playoff' hockey which we have all come to accept as the time where the rules change. Unlike basketball, where a foul is a foul, baseball, where a catch is an out and football, where refs treat the super bowl like week 1, hockey feels the need to change the rules at certain times of the year. Tonight was a preview of this type of hockey and it does not suit Montreal whatsoever. I think that tonight's motivation was that the refs believed that Montreal had too strong of a PP and that since it is almost a certain goal they would make sure to not call anything too questionable. Within the last 20 minutes alone I saw 3 plays that should have resulted in Habs PPs, but I believe that the refs didn't want to penalize Florida that much, by a goal let's say. This, of course, defeats the purpose of being good on the PP and also represents a horrible way to officiate any sport. To be fair to the Panthers the calls did (or didn't) favour both teams, but I am assuming that the Habs PP (8% more efficient than FLA's) just may have been a better bet at a goal. We can call the Habs stupid for relying on special-teams to carry the team through the season, but I am sick and tired of hockey changing at the refs' discretion. We have a rule book, why can't we employ some non-idiots to implement those rules in every single game and every single minute of the season? Yes, it is a shame to be scored on the PP, but it is also a shame to have a player held in the corner when he had a clear route to the net. Taking away our advantage just means that you are giving the other team a bigger one. Following the rules, in my mind, is the only fair way to go and I am sad to say that the NHL can't even follow the rules they have made. Imagine GMs just went over the cap in March because the league thought it was more exciting that way, because they just wanted to 'let 'em play'?

League Table Gazing

A Strange Fixation

As we settle down following round 12 of the goalie debate, the default is to look at the standings and decide what is on the horizon.

Last week, we were "out of the playoffs", teams had games in hand, there was little hope. This week, we're "in the playoffs", teams have played their extra games, things look up. Yet, the difference between last week and this was 2 wins and an OTL. Are you telling me the world has changed in 3 games?

The language of the standings

Can we please just inject a little bit of sanity to this daily discussion. Today Mike Boone tried to explain the connotations of every win-loss scenario that could occur this evening. In a bit of self-mockery, he once again called the game a 4-pointer. He's technically right. But then every game is a 4-pointer. If Florida loses every game after this one, then it's really only a two pointer for the Habs. That's because the playoffs don't begin tomorrow.

Since it is January, not April, I have some suggestions:

Not "in" or "out" of the playoffs

Can we not say the Habs are "in" or "out" every five minutes?

Let's clear something up. If the Habs lose tonight, they are not out of the playoffs. They are not in, if they win. All they do is increase their chances.

The standings are useful to remind inform us on wins that have happened, but they don't tell us much about the future. Just as they didn't tell us last week that St. Louis was a hotter opponent than the Devils.


Not every game has to define a season

A week ago, JT of The H Does Not... asked "What is this team playing for?". Today she's upping the drama for tonight's game by insinuating it will define a season. I know what she's getting at. We all talk about must wins, but let's try to learn from the lessons of a mere week ago: The season doesn't turn on a game.

Can we please relay the importance without looking for turning points as they happen, when nothing is turning, just continuing in the cycle of up and down.

This game means nothing more than next game or the game after that. All points count, but you only need to win half your games to make the playoffs. Losses are par for the course.


This year is not so special

"Oh, the playoffs have begun early this year." Actually, it's just the inane fretting that's begun early. Every season ends with a half dozen teams jostling for a couple of places. This season isn't so different. The big difference, so far as I can tell is that the West has dominated in interleague play and have brought about confusion as to what a good point total should be.


No one wins a tie break because they've played less games

There are established tie breaks, playing less games is not one of them. It would be more useful to discuss the real tie breaks, like season series, wins and goal differential. The Habs beat the Panthers, by the way, on each.


Playoff predictions

A fun website to keep an eye on, though not to worry too much about, at this time of year is Sports Club Stats. They use algorithms with goals scored and allowed, wins and losses and opponents to come up with a playoff probability. To give you an idea of how much sense this makes in January:



If you can find the Canadiens with the cursor, you'll see their past week has boosted their chances by 26% to make them the leading contender for 8th. The Rangers had the opposite week. To watch game-by-game at this point is a roller coaster ride. To make declarations based on a single game at this point makes little to no sense at all.

For your amusement, if the Canadiens do win tonight, the website says the Habs playoff chances will rise by about 8%. Down 8% if they lose. The Panthers see similar gains and losses. It's impressive, but guess what? Next game promises to have big implications too (maybe bigger), and the one after that, and the one after...

The Canadiens lowest probability of making the playoffs last season was about 83%. They made the playoffs, but on a tie break. The Hurricanes had a 21% chance of making the playoffs in January 2009, they played in the conference finals.


Frustrating as it may be, in the age of instant gratification, by all indications we'll probably have to wait for the games to be played before we can see who's in the playoffs, who holds the tie breaks, which games literally eliminate people from contention. The sooner we all realise that, the better.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Value of Price

When I wrote about trading Carey Price 2 and a half years ago, I meant it. I still stand by it. The piece I wrote wasn't about the need to trade the prospect on his way up, but a treatise on trading at a high point.

Today, a smug Elliotte Friedman made his own declaration that the time to trade Price was nigh. Like the 14-year-old boy who thinks he's discovered a new tune, three times-covered and 20-times remixed, Elliotte is late to the party.

Here's what I know. In all the time I have known Carey Price's name, and known him as a Habs player, there has never been a time when his value in a trade has been lower. I can say this with some certainty because the boy came in with great potential, added to it with championships and Cups, turned in a commendable effort in the NHL. Last season was lower, but the smell of success was still on him. Now, it's the smell of his hard work, and the hard work ahead that I see and smell. Hard work he'll have to put in to be an all-star again.

Back in the summer of 2007, you see, Carey was a can't miss who didn't miss. A first rounder from two years prior who played like a first rounder from 5 years earlier. He had the potential and the only question that loomed over him was "when?". In other words, his value was high.

In that piece I wrote about trading Carey Price, limitless potential, for an established superstar. I believed it then. If Carey Price could now fetch an established superstar, Halak wouldn't be in doubt about his next Habs start.

Price's value to others is inversely proportional to his value to the Canadiens

OK math guys, don't flip, the relationship isn't linear, it's not proven. it's vague. What I mean is, the relationship between value of his play vs. the value he returns in a trade changes with performance. As he goes from limitless potential to good young goalie, he still has plenty of value to the Habs. But other teams who probably feel they can mine good young goalies just fine on their own drop their offers.

Elliotte Friedman can say Price will get full value all he wants:
"Do you think they get lowballed for Price? No way"
I don't believe him.


The best thing

All this sitting around has been nice from Gainey, but I think he's missed the window on trading a goalie. Philadelphia is winning again, and are comfortable in goal. Good goalies out of playoff position aren't a ringing endorsement for overpaying for a goalie. And the trade deadline is about overpaying to win in the 2010 playoffs, not overpaying for winning in the 2016 playoffs -- that trade can come later.

I think Gainey should wait too. Wait at least until Carey's hard work pays off. If it doesn't, I don't think he'll have missed as big a trade as our CBC reporter seems to.

You Asked For It

Habs Demote Slumping Wingers

I say you asked for it, I asked for it too. The players vying for 54-games of futility have been demoted to Hamilton to either find the remnants of their talent or acclimatise to minor league play before a career in Switzerland.

The demotion of Pacioretty and then D'Agostini capped a week of movement from Bob Gainey and his team, finally recognising that hoping for the best just no longer seemed to be working.

No Pacioretty till next season

Count me among those who don't want to see Pacioretty in Montreal until at least next season. This has nothing to do with the guy, or indeed the NHL player. He is efficient and an example to his teammates from the blueline (ours) in. But at the end of the day, you don't draft in the first round to get a slightly better version of Mathieu Dandenault.

Whether Pacioretty has talent enough to be more than a glorified checker is yet to be seen. But it has to be seen. Apart from a truncated AHL season and short NCAA career, Max has no formation in playing offensively outside US high school. His effort was endearing at times, but he was having as much trouble piecing together what he should and shouldn't do to succeed as I was having watching him. Now in Hamilton, there will be less eyes, far less critical eyes and a league set up for exactly Max's need.

Leave him for a sustained bout. Let him stew, let him revamp, let him thrive. Then let's see.


D'Agostini needs an intervention

D'Agostini isn't that different from Max, except that he is. Older than Pacioretty, smaller, less willing and a lower draft investment mean that there's much less organizational will behind D'Agostini. In short, not many ever expected him to succeed, and so no one will lose sleep over seeing this come to fruition.

D'Agostini, for whatever reason, never understood the gravity of this situation as it affected his career. Alleged overweight at the outset of camp, he was meant to be in a tight battle for a top job. Given his chance with Gomez and Plekanec, he always looked like he'd rather be somewhere else.

It made you want to scream at the TV: "Wake up kid, your career is slipping away."

Hamilton is a different challenge for Matt. No contract at the end of the year, Matt is struggling to keep his head above water. There may be some coddling in Hamilton, and that's because Guy Boucher seems to live for reclamation projects like this, but the Habs can just as easily move on. Someone needs to impress this important lesson on Matt himself, though I'm worried that nothing will get through to the player after 4 months of high-level coaching and people willing him on.

The other problem for D'Agostini is that there isn't a big future for him in the NHL as a checker. Lapierre is better, Sergei is better, Pacioretty is better, White is better, Pyatt too, the Canadiens have depth in forwards who can play, if not score. His way back comes through goals and assists, or at the very least making room for linemates who can take the stats. I wish him luck in finding his way there. At this point his odds on a contract are slim to none.


Lapierre escapes

Loyal readers will know that LIW is keeping track of the biggest duds this season. Pacioretty and Dagger were contenders, but Lapierre has found ways to surpass them in futility on so many nights.

Max, then, can be thankful to Mike Cammalleri for providing the call, and Mathieu Darche for providing the breakfast in bed. He has been roused just in time to avoid D'Agostini's fate.

I'm well ware that cap and other restraints make the possibility of sending this kind of message to Lapierre less than realistic. However, stranger things have happened. And Lapierre, despite the undying love from RDS, has not been relaunched for long, and he hasn't been better than Pacioretty on most nights. I'm glad he doesn't need to use these demotions as a wake up call, I'm glad he stirred before it was too late.


Maxwell recalled

Of Gainey's moves, this is my least favourite. When Trotter and Maxwell were overlooked for Darche, I saw great sense. Pacioretty has been spoiled, Sergei before him, D'Agostini might be beyond repair. All projects were held in the NHL because a quick start and a shallow team made it easier.

I'm sure Maxwell deserves a shot, and he wouldn't want it differently. However, with things progressing so well in Hamilton, the Canadiens risked developing prospects in a successful environment for the first time in decades. The incubator can do wonders for growth – both skill and confidence. I'm just a little bit worried that a season and a half is not enough to make a top two centre from a 20-goalscorer in the WHL.

Then again, Andrei Kostitsyn has a place, and so do 11 other forwards. Perhaps Ben is just getting a glimpse of the big league for some added inspiration.


Gainey's week of action

It's too bad it took losses that we could all see coming to actually stir our GM into action. Whoever said patience was a virtue?

I don't know if anyone is keeping count, but Gainey's revamp in the season is approaching his revamp out of season. Since October, the 2008-09 incumbents have lost Guillaume Latendresse, Georges Laraque, Kyle Chipchura and now temporarily Pacioretty and D'Agostini. At least we know that Gainey coach probably didn't put the crisis of Spring 2009 down to one of the remaining 5 or 6 Habs...


Anyway, I want to know what you think. Will Pacioretty grow wrist strength? Will he develop into more than his preview suggested? Will D'Agostini ever recover? Will Lapierrs keep his play at the new level, or will he slip again? Will Maxwell benefit from a stint in Montreal?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Game #53

Habs Tell Rangers What They Thought Of Last Weekend

Details


Date: 23/01/10
Opponent: Rangers
Location: Montreal



Win: 6-0

Habs Goalie: Halak (W)
Opposition Goalie: Lundqvist (L), Zaba

Habs goalscorers: Gomez, Cammalleri (2), Lapierre, Pouliot, Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: None



Play of the game


Another embarrassment of riches. Quite a weekend. I wonder what all those people who wrote about tanking are writing now? There were some truly beautiful plays in this game from the esthetic point of view. Sometimes, though, the outwardly hideous play, once the layers are peeled back, can be the most beautiful of all. For me that play was the third goal. It all began with Maxim Lapierre chasing the puck. At some point in his stride, he decided he wouldn't re-author his signature play of 1,000 iterations -- he turned on the gas. The winning of the race was impressive enough, but his resolve went further, he battled hard, won the puck and even found his way out front.and made a great pass to Darche. After the save, Darche persisted and a hungry Lapierre flashed the skill we haven't seen in some time as he picked a puck out of the air. That he was rewarded with the luck that made a goal was justice, and he savoured that. If this goal awakes the player that made this sequence of plays, it may be more than the turning point in this Rangers game, it may be the resurrection of an attack opposition coaches puzzle over.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Scott Gomez
For some time now, Scott Gomez has been delivering a standard at centre ice. While he started the season soundly, he found a way to be much more dynamic. This game was another example of that. Throughout the contest he made me sit up and think, "Wow, I am starting to see where this salary offer came from". Before you get all snippy, read again "starting". Gomez was amazing on the first goal, always so critical to the Habs morale and in maintaing that goal as the gamewinner. Though he was stripped mostly of Gionta, he continued to aliment Pouliot and make other wingers better. Good game.

Mike Cammalleri - Game Puck
Yesterday we saw what Cammalleri thought of losing. Today we saw how he feels about mercy. This game he smelled blood and circled his prey before indulging in a hearty dinner. If Mike was nothing but a good shot, he would still be top-line material for this team. The fact he also drives the play and fuels the fire that keeps the team running is bonus. This game, he had several amazing efforts, but the best was his first goal. I was happy that RDS picked out the play to highlight, because it exemplified a change in the Canadiens. Whereas once they were robotic in getting back to the bench, Cammalleri turning back to the play when he sniffed opportunity and setting the Rangers cart down the hill for good with his powerful shot was a massive turning point. Oh, did I mention he had 4 points?

Maxim Lapierre
Choosing for this position was most difficult. I had to think what the dome was really about. A lot of players played above their efforts of the recent past and merited some recognition. All the best players played well enough, and didn't leave much to desire. In short, there was plenty of choice. My notes led me to Lapierre or Metropolit, both of whom played with hunger and persistence. Lapierre won out in the end because he not only put in the effort to create a third point of attack, but actually succeeded. His goal was the obvious high point, but he also had 5 other attempts on net himself and made chances for his linemates.

Defencemen
Jaroslav Spacek
I'm often a bit anti-establishment, as you may have noticed. It borders on snobbery. When even the RDS crew noticed Spacek being special on the night, I had to remind myself that they know what they're talking about, it's just sometimes they don't watch. This game they watched, Spacek really was great in this game. With 6 goals, the fact that we shut out a team that not 6 days earlier had scored 6 on us and this goalie is forgotten a bit. Jaro played pretty well in the defensive end, and for once looked better than Hammer, who was average on the night. Spacek served notice of his standout game as he created the second goal from nothing. Battling in the neutral zone, proceeding into the Rangers end puck on stick, despite the line change, he found Cammalleri and opened the floodgates. Our best defenceman on the night.

Hal Gill
Markov played a very good game, so to be surpassed is something. Hal Gill's good play hits against me like subtle waves on a beach. There's no thundering crashes, but when he's playing well he can be relentless. This game, like Lapierre and Metro, he just added that extra bit we've been missing for a while, the 3rd pairing on D. Martin noticed too, I think, as instead of desperately scrambling to get Gill and O'Byrne off when Tortorella probed with his top players, Jacques let the defence roll more naturally. Statistically, Hal piled it up this game, he had an assist, plus 2, a takeaway, 3 blocked shots and the most minutes of any player on the team. That unexplained "A" on his chest makes sense after games like these.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
A second game in two nights, a team over 0.500, a team we needed to beat. All the reasons to put Price in the net were aligned. Some will say Martin rolled the dice, I think he's seeing what I'm seeing -- Halak is improved and improving with the minutes he gets. Once again, Jaro benefitted overall from the play of his teammates at both ends, and indeed the Rangers miscues. But let's not be silly, there was 20-25 minutes of a contest here, and though most of his saves were of the expected variety, he still fended off the challenge. One great thing about Halak is that he is adaptable, emotional and responsive to the flow of the game. This game, it meant he came in with the same fight as Metropolit and Lapierre and performed with the same voracious hunger for the stat as Cammalleri. I'd play him again in the next game as the coach, not because he represents a more likely chance at winning (I'm no fortune teller), but because the attitude he is showing is infectious. Anyone playing, anyone watching (anyone...), can see it. I hope that he might infect a few more.


Comments


What an interesting game. Like the Devils game, it began as a real sparring match -- both teams seeking the weak spots. Halak and the Ranger misses kept it close until goal #1, and then until goal #2, 3 and 4 sealed the fate of the spectacle. This home-and-home with the Rangers provides a lesson. A team can break an opponent, but the opponent won't be broken long. If you want that lesson in table form, have a look at the standings. This game, despite the lopsided appearance, is what parity is about, it's what never throwing in the towel is about.

Apart from the remedy the Canadiens provided their beleaguered followers, the team also took some important steps in their 6-month battle for a real game. First, there are the two points, which as it happens take them ahead of the Islanders and Bruins (Vezina, Norris, Adams, Team Canada and all). Then the 0 points for the Rangers, who now sit in an effective tie, with a game to spare, and a win to find. It was also tie-break help, with a 6 goal push in the right direction and a 6-goal punch in the stomach to a likely tie candidate. Not to mention, the season series. where the Habs now hold the edge and would win with an OTL or more. As Mike Boone talks about every game being a 4-pointer, this was a 5-pointer. To win with emphasis was amazing.

Here's the thing, though. Going forward, this win means no more than a loss to Ottawa a week ago did. It was a big pendulum swing, but Florida won't care about that. The task for the coaches is to start bottling what is working and keeping it on the bench and locker-room for when lucky bounces go against. Like everyone on the high this morning, I can't see why the team tha played in red won't take the points on the melting ice in Miami and Tampa. However, I hope there isn't a player among the group who believes the hype like I do.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Game #52

Patient Habs Beat NJ At Devils Hockey


Details


Date: 22/01/10
Opponent: Devils
Location: New Jersey



Win: 3-1

Habs Goalie: Halak (W)
Opposition Goalie: Brodeur (L)

Habs goalscorers: Pouliot, Darche, Cammalleri
Opposition goalscorers: Parise



Play of the game


For fans who've been longing to beat a decent opponent in a conventional way, this game had it. There were a bundle of little plays that I liked. There was attention to detail, and it was nice to see for a change. If the Habs had lost, I'd be regaling you about a sequence of possession. Instead, the attention to detail was rewarded, and I can choose the more beautiful offensive play. Pouliot's goal was the prettiest. Starting from good possession in the Devils zone, the play turned dangerous when Scott Gomez along the left side boards threaded a perfectly weighted pass to Markov for a clear chance. Markov didn't score, but no player retreated on the play. Markov dug out his own rebound and through Moen got it back to Gomez. Not one to sit and admire his passes, he instead took two steps and put an even better pass onto the predatory Pouliot's stick, the gaping goal awaited. But Team USA wouldn't need that...



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
Another reason to like this game is that the players made the dome selections a race. Instead of 3 or 4 forwards turning up, there were reasons to like 8 or 9 of them. Plekanec stood out for me this game because of his industriousness. When he's off, he finds the outside with regularity. When he's on, as in this game, he wants the puck and he plans to keep it. And attention to detail, when ready, he's Mr. Attention to Detail. He didn't win all his faceoffs, but he won some important ones. He made good passes, had efforts on net, won his dump ins and he had two steals. As games with no points go, this was a great one.

Mathieu Darche
I'll never understand the grudge some people have. Why, for instance was Darche's call up met with such pessimism? I'll never know. Having seen him in cosier arenas than NHL barns, I'd had reason to believe for a long time. However, he surpassed my expectations tonight. His goal was not only hard work exemplified, but there was exceptional skill in it, and his work on the insurance marker was timely and a long time coming for Habs fans watching the team this season. What made his performance most special, though, is that finally we get the Hamilton call-up who will actually do whatever it takes to make his place. In fighting for his career, he may have shortened a few others on this night.

Mike Cammalleri
Cammalleri hates losing and you can smell it. Perhaps we've been waiting for someone to get fed up and become the leader that says "no more". I think when Mike confronted happy-go-lucky, cash-my-paycheque, Maxim Lapierre the other day, he did that. I don't know if it woke Max up, but it actually seemed to wake Mike up, which is a better result. This game he was tenacious and sly. His goal was a great one and showed the one-mindedness of the goalscorer. In the defensive zone, he made an impact too, and one dive to clear in particular, showed me how far he wouldgo to win this time.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov -- Game Puck
It wasn't a perfect game from the maestro. That Brisebois flashback up the middle at 2-1 was a real low point. However, on balance, Markov played like a #1 defender on the night, like a #1 defender who was in control. The highlight of his game for the video editors came on goal #3, with that visionary pass to Cammalleri. And his play on the first goal was integral to the play. I think that in a game where patience and attention to some of the things that had been missing, though, Markov's general calm and calculation in his own end was perhaps even more valuable. Adding that to his offensive contribution made him the standout player for me.

Josh Gorges
Gorges got serious. A new haircut gave us a flag that he recognised the need for a new start. A new start is what he gave. A mere game after being questioned as a #4/5 defender, he brought back his claim for #3 mantle. Playing with Markov can be easy if you make it so, and Gorges did. His feet were constantly on the move and his desire was always with winning the puck. He made the Devils wish there hadn't been a wake-up call for #26.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
A much better defensive effort than in some time, combined with a goalie making the saves expected of him. Halak did nothing too spectacular for me, nothing more than paying attention that is. That first goal would have been nicer out than in, and the way he was beaten was not flattering. But from there in, Jaro brought the calm and patience that infused his teammates. Another win, and more points against a non-Islanders team (though are they still considered a cheap win as we look up at them?) does more to bolster Jaro's claim that he has ironed out some of his difficulties. He seems more stable in these wins than in the wins of a year or two ago, and it seems he's maturing. If he played like this every night, the Canadiens would be a happy bunch.


Comments


Right from the start of this game, there was a different feel. The Canadiens came out knowing that to beat the Devils, 60 minutes of hockey was required. You couldsee them budget energy early on and budget silly chances. There were moments of madness to be sure, and this was no game for the textbooks, but what an improvement? An improvement from the recent losses, an improvement on the recent wins.

I get the feeling that sometimes Habs fans are like me and look at the team they watch and ask of it "Why can't we just do things the way everybody else does?", "Why can't we defend well, score at even strength, win some of the battles on the boards, etc.?" Last night, I thought they did emulate their rivals. There was some Buffalo in that win, some New Jersey in it. Rather than pushing every break out to be a breakaway, they took the possession at times and worked it. Rather than forcing every pass forward, they recognised the backwards thinking in that philosophy. It was actually funny that at one point I was noting a play to admire and discuss later while Pierre Houde lamented the Devils pinning our Dmen down. It seems that perhaps the answer to those questions about our lack of patience, our choice of quick fix over intelligent play are slightly engrained in everyone, certainly Pierre Houde anyway.

This is what Jacques Martin is up against. A culture, an ethos. He's had an easy time of coaching puck possession into Gomez, Gionta, even Hamrlik -- you can see it. but players like Gill, Pacioretty and even Markov have a lot to unlearn. This game was a nice start.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How Marc-Andre Bergeron Usurped Georges Laraque

Georges Laraque was dismissed from the Canadiens yesterday in one of the strangest fashions I can recall of any player. Not even Sergei Samsonov, nor Mikhail Grabovski, you recall, was asked to simply be scarce.

But make no mistake, this can't have been a recent call from the boss. Yesterday's move was the culmination of months and months of having Georges on the books, while seeking possible avenues for his use.

In the end, what came to a head was Gainey's need to get some wins out of this team, and Jacques Martin's ties to the GM that hired him. Both men must have puzzled regularly about what to do with the big player who just didn't play big and wasn't really willing to toe a new party line. You could see it in the games where he dressed and played nary a minute beyond the first 8 shifts. When things were important, Georges did not have the mandate.

Gainey must have also tried to trade his winger, but a contract that was always an embarrassment to free agent fishers everywhere and Georges' own near-constant insistence on not fighting did not give the brand much allure. Hamilton not strictly an option because of the clause, was also probably out for wont of unleashing this strong personality on minds he wished formed by new thoughts on the game, not some dizzyingly nonsensical mantras on conduct.

So, Canadiens or bust, it seemed. It seemed because we didn't know of this new option.

Georges ran out of reasons for being a Hab

Commenters rightly look to Georges' inability to muster the will to fight, and also to win any fight he is in as central to this decision. And I say all of that is right. However, we knew all that after 15 games last season. I would suggest that all of those things were big factors, but that the tipping point in this whole affair came back in December, when Gainey's newest signing, Marc-Andre Bergeron, started making his clear place on this team.


Luxury items

Big Georges was and always has been a luxury item. A team that has a fighter nowadays counts itself among 15 teams that hold to the Don-Cherry-honoured tradition of the first 75 years of this league. Fighters never played much, many (most) never did more than Georges did this season – play a few minutes and have a punch up for the fans.

The thing is, teams can only carry so many luxuries. The Canadiens were carrying a few. A defenceman who's really only useful on the PP, another whose abilities don't extend far beyond the PK, a fighter who plays 5 minutes, etc.

Marc-Andre Bergeron came on board as a stop-gap for Andrei Markov. He did a nice job trying. But the day Markov came back, Bergeron had won himself a place by a) results, and b) a willingness to do whatever was asked. That day, when Bergeron could have been sent to Hamilton as we'd predicted, but wasn't – he became a luxury piece for Jacques Martin.

As luxury items go, Bergeron had made himself into a much more valuable one than Laraque. On a winning team, perhaps both are kept on board. On a struggling team, no such luxury.


Scaring them into fair play

Reporters like Norman Flynn, still confused about whether he should show full allegiance to Laraque or not, question whether a team can succeed without an enforcer. This despite seeing the Red Wings in 2 consecutive Cup finals, the Penguins winning after they jettisoned their own dead weight and the team he covers perform at their recent pinnacle in 2007-08 without a "dur a cuire".

Their theory is built on the sand foundation that you should dress a fighter to scare the opposition into behaving. If they haven't learned anything in 2 years, I can't help them, but we could all see the holes in this theory with the experiment that began 18 months ago.

What those same reporters need to understand is this: many players around the league, many who do take liberties aren't afraid to take a punch – not if it means winning a game. I can tell you what players are afraid of: losing their wins, losing their shifts and losing their jobs.

If teams do take liberties, there will be penalties (at least some of the time). And I can tell you, those opposing coaches may be intimidation enough between periods once they've seen Markov passing freely to Gomez and Plekanec. In fact, apart from teams that are poorly run and coached (so I guess I concede Flynn's point about Toronto), I can't see many taking great liberties in illegal play. As for legal pushing around, what was Big Georges ever going to do? Ask Gaustad and Peters not to? He is long past his days of usefulness as a rough player.

The number one PP in the league is the best enforcer there is nowadays. Marc-Andre Bergeron is fully complicit in making this intimidatory force into what it currently is. His shot is almost indefensible and unpredictable enough to give great rebounds as well.

When the Canadiens PP was ticking at 11%, there may have been an argument to instigate a fight following a crosscheck. Not when thanks to MAB, it's clicking near a quarter.


Friend of the media

It sounds silly to say, but one of the things that must have kept Georges Laraque from this end earlier in the year when his unbelievably wonky back kept him from playing hockey (but not finding cameras) is that he was one of a perilously small group of Quebecois players on the team. While it clearly doesn't matter to most real fans (though we'd be happy with more home-town stars, talent permitting), RDS broadcasts these games, RDS does better content when Renaud Lavoie doesn't have to translate, RDS want French speaking players for their audience.

As one of three, and the talkative one, he had value to the broadcasters and with such power, value to the team by consequence. When Bergeron came in, he tipped the balances a bit. 4 local players, and what was clearly starting to be a diminishing number of reporters who would ignore hockey to take up that sideshow. Immediately Georges value was reduced. Half a season of interviews with a "player" commenting on his view from the bench, his value bottomed out, even here.

Marc-Andre isn't the most off-the-wall guy, but as hockey players go, he's more interesting than most. He speaks his mind, and he doesn't rattle cliches. Over time, here too, he began to take Georges mandate and keep it for himself.


Salut Georges

Today we play a hockey game, and the games of off days are back to the sidelines. Bergeron will start on Georges 4th line, a better 4th line maybe.

I want to wish Laraque well. He seems like a nice guy, and I respect his incessant energy for children, justice and charity. I don't see a hockey career in his future, nor do I think his talents are suited to hockey anymore. The guy has charisma, energy and passion in other arenas now that will serve him very well in new fields, I'm sure. It won't hurt to have a $3 million starter fund to find his feet with, either.

Salut Georges, I'd say we'll miss you, but i have a sneaking feeling you'll be around to make sure we won't.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Help Haiti With your Signature

The people of the world have responded generously to Haiti's need in time of crisis. But more will need to be done. The devastation left behind means the country has been set back a generation and needs much help long after the rescue workers pack up and leave.

One way to help is to help Haiti to use the funds it does have to rebuild the country and not finance its $1 billion debt. The precedent for debt cancellation has been Africa, and there are many cases for success. If you want to help Haitian people and their country recover over the next years, please consider signing this petition at the ONE campaign. It costs you nothing but the time it takes to bash Halak or Price after the loss of the day...

Thanks, LIW

Go Habs Go

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Game #51

Habs Mount Interesting Comeback; Secure A Single Point


Details


Date: 20/01/10
Opponent: Blues
Location: Montreal

Loss: 3-4 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Conklin (W)

Habs goalscorers: Pouliot (2), Cammalleri
Opposition goalscorers: Perron, Kariya, Steen, McDonald



Play of the game


The Habs needed a spark after a bad 1st and horrible 2nd. Luckily there was one group of players (our good ones) who were trying to make things happen. So, with 10 to play and down by a pair it didn't surprise me when Gomez forced a turn-over in the Blues' end. He then very casually tapped the puck against the grain and turned his defender right around. That simple, yet smart, play created a 2 (pretty much 3) on 1. He then quickly got the puck across to the hottest Hab of all, Pouliot, who fired a sweet one-timer past a stunned St. Louis goalie.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards

Scott Gomez

Scott was integral in the comeback tonight as he not only created our 2nd goal, but was also very much in the mix on the tying one by creating traffic in front of Conklin. I am really happy that he seems to have as much chemistry with Pouliot as he does with Gomez. That type of chem. was unheard of for him in NY and is the very reason he has become one of more valuable players.

Benoit Pouliot - Game Puck
When we got rid of Latendresse I was happy to get something, anything in return. I was then happier that we would have an NHL-ready player to insert in the line-up thinking that it couldn't possibly be worse than what we had. Then, after seeing Gui explode, I was surprised to see us get an equal explosion (maybe not quite in quantity of points yet, but certainly as much in the unexpected department) and now can't imagine what we would do without that punch on the second line. He has come in and has become one of our best players and shooters and has given us a player that we were sorely missing earlier this year. His 2 goals tonight, +2 rating and 7 shots are all fine examples of what talent this young man possesses and is finally being able to show.

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks has a great assist early on in the game on Pouliot's first. That play, however, almost got wiped out as the Blues looked like certain winners for most of the game. It was, however, thanks to the play of Tom, amongst others, that allowed us to comeback. How about 17-7 on face-offs (many of them at key times and in key places) and 21 minutes of competent hockey.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Now, I can't hide the fact that our D wasn't great tonight, but one thing that was encouraging amongst all the confusion was the fact that Markov was the best of the bunch. He managed to get very involved offensively (he almost won it in OT) and played as well as anyone in his own end. It would have been nice if he would have been a bit stronger on McDonald in OT, but you can't blame a guy who just gave you your best chance at 2 points (he had just been robbed). His ice-time was back up tonight (27+) and that is a good sign as generally a good Markov means a good result.

Jaroslav Spacek
Hearing Brunet call Spacek our #4 tonight was almost as hard to take as when he called Hammer our #3. Gorges is good, folks, but the Czech brothers (tight slacks?) have been very, very good for us all year. In my mind they spent most of the year at #1, #2 and now are fitting in very nicely to the #2 and #3 spots. Tonight it was Jaro's one-timer that found the back of the net to tie it up and for that reason alone I think we need to see him on the PP more and we need to see him get off more shots. He has a great shot, but he also is becoming our best at blocking them - tonight he led the game with 3.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
To me Jaro had to start this game as I am getting a bit tired of the lose, you're out plan of attack. Clearly it isn't working and I think the time for games like that must come to an end. Halak has proven, all year (and last) that he is our best chance at winning. Maybe that is because the team scores more for him, maybe because he faces easier shots or maybe because he is better, but at the end of the day he simply wins a higher percentage of games (12.5% higher winning % over the past 2 seasons - that is huge - 1 win/8 games). I just know that the time for trying to prove Price is the future is getting very tiring to sit through as the time for winning is certainly now. Now, for the game itself. Price let in a softy early and looked shaky most of the night, but what did it for me was the wrist-shot in OT. We need those shots to be stopped and the bottom line is I believe we have a goalie that can do that. Losing in OT, on a weak goal, may be an accomplishment against a Western team during the season, but when it matters most we'll need the win instead.


Comments


Let's get one thing straight, right off the bat - we played poorly tonight. Our forwards, for the most part were lazy, out of gas and simply bad, our D was its usual disastrous self and Price didn't really inspire back there. It wasn't, however, any one player's fault, it wasn't even the coaches' fault, no, it was everybody's fault. Would Halak have made a difference tonight? Probably not, but why not give it our best shot more than 1/3 of the time? I am not saying that Price is bad, not even saying that Halak is that good, just simply that Halak wins more games and that is what we need. The bottom line, however, is that neither goalie can score when we need a goal, play defence instead of joining in on the run-around or maintain pressure in the offensive zone. We need a full team effort here, we need Gainey to ice a team with more than 10 NHLers on it and less than 8 defenceman, we need Martin to use his legendary 'young-player' skills and get some guys going and most of all we need our players to play like regular, talented, rich, exciting hockey players. St. Louis is not the type of team that in January should be able to come into our arena and have us on our heels. We have one injury of any significance and I still hear that as an excuse. I need to see some forward thinking from all personnel instead of the usual band-aid fixes if we are ever going to do anything with this season. We have the talent, the brains and the passion to be better than this and that is why I'll never lose faith, it would just be nice to see a few of the players, maybe even all of them, share in this belief...maybe even for 60 minutes in a row.

Canadiens Search For Scoring:

Call Up Veteran Darche

Yesterday all the media outlets announced, then confirmed that McGill alum Mathieu Darche had been called up by the big club ahead of the contest against St. Louis. It turns out the two people who voted for Darche in the survey are the winners. D'Agostini who received one vote (probably from himself) will be the loser...



It's a move that reflects the need to do something, anything, to get the other half of the team interested in this fight for points. It's a simple move that could do just that.

Proud day for McGill Redmen hockey

This promotion is a proud day for McGill Redmen hockey, and indeed as a former non-hockey playing sportsman for all Redmen. Already having the distinct honour of being the 10th McGill alum to make the NHL, Mathieu Darche will be now be the third graduate of one of Montreal's other historic institutions to play for its most historic institution.

The first players from McGill to don the Bleu, Blanc, Rouge were Jack McGill and Nels Crutchfield (Hockey Legends story) in the 1934-35 season. The last McGill Redman to play was McGill as he finished up in Montreal in 1937.

But the McGill links go further than that. Ken Dryden went to McGill University in 1973-74 (in the midst of his NHL career) to finish his law degree. He didn't play for the Redmen, though I'm sure they wouldn't have turned him down.

Before you scoff too hard at me lauding McGill, consider for a second the significance of that Redmen team. Started in 1877, it was the world's first, and now oldest, organized hockey team. The team from 1877 played in and won the very first organized hockey game to ever take place in the Victoria Skating rink (now a car rental business). Thought their NHL numbers look thin on the ground (especially recently) Redmen have also won the Stanley Cup 35 times, and that's not including coaches like Mike Babcock. And some NHL trophies owe their names to some Redmen alums too: Art Ross, Lester Patrick.

The Habs decided they would tap the local resource last spring when they snagged rising coaching star Guy Boucher from the Q. Boucher then reached back to McGill to recruit his associate and last year's Redmen coach Matin Raymond. they both in turn probably had a say in bringing in Darche. The trifecta of Redmen have done something in Hamilton, as the shaky team that we saw on the ice last season with Lever at the reins is now second in the AHL and vying for the goals against lead with defencemen we all thought were offense only and goalies we had written off as hopeless.

If the Habs can tap just a little piece of the Hamilton/McGill magic (maybe Darche knows of a system?) then reporters may soon be dreaming up playoff scenarios once again.


Just what he was signed for

I liked this signing all the way. In the summer, noting how Darche was signed before many homegrown players, I suspected the Martin Raymond hand at work. I think my initial feelings on the signing have been confirmed with his play so far in Hamilton:

The Canadiens signed Mathieu on July 2nd, before they even put pen to paper with any of their own RFAs. In what may well be an AHL only signing, I think the Canadiens have picked up a nice piece here. And, if injuries do happen and you stare down the left wing depth chart and start to realise there isn't one, then it will be a relief to have Darche in the pocket for a call-up. After all, he has played over 100 NHL games, with one 73-game season 2 years ago. The timing of the move shows me Gainey was targeting Darche and was worried that other teams might also be interested.
As most suspected, this was indeed a depth signing – one to ensure depth in Hamilton as well. But with injuries coming and solutions (at least ones the organization is willing to test) are running out. Darche was always the insurance against this, and the Habs are cashing it in now.


Darche here for scoring, but not on second line

People around the team have been a bit excited about the mini slump endured by Plekanec and Cammalleri on the first/second line. While this has been an important factor in our recent difficulties, it's not the only problem.

As Tobalev noted in the previous game reports, and the Incredible Zero award acknowledged, tertiary scoring going as dry as the Mauritanian desert is just as big, if not a more troubling problem. Between "I try, so don't get at me" Pacioretty and "I was once a media darling" Lapierre, I think it's fair to say we expected more. I think Darche may just be the medicine to a) put Pacioretty where he belongs and b) wake Lapierre up from whatever he is currently doing.

Veteran reporters with more grudges than energy for reporting have already dismissed Darche off-hand as a career minor leaguer. While it is certainly true, what perhaps hasn't been considered is that he's been a pretty darn good minor leaguer, and one whose career was perhaps hampered by being developed by the most inept organization in recent NHL memory (the Doug MacLean Blue Jackets). Now, I wouldn't go as far to say that he would be a star today. However, one must question the eye for talent of that organization whose lone NHL survivor 9 years after joining Syracuse in 2000 was given a mere 34 games over 3 years in the NHL – this at a time when Patrick Traverse could have been a difference maker for the team.

The belief in Darche as a scorer is part borne from seeing him play and part borne from seeing him lead 5 of his 9 AHL teams in goalscoring. It's also got a bit to do with the fact he's the G/game leader in Hamilton right now. Here's the basic low-down on the player from hockeydb. Highlights to note include 73 games played with the Lightning two seasons ago (his first sustained chance in the NHL) and all the 30+ goal seasons in the AHL.

I believe that the second line could benefit from having Darche, but may just catch a few good games with Bergeron while waiting for Sergei. Anyway, even if I'm wrong about Darche and he doesn't score a single goal – nothing is lost. He merely then adds his name to the lengthening list of players providing that unique set of statistics.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Come On Habs Fans

Plenty of reason to be positive

If you watched the games this weekend, you'd be feeling down enough. But the Montreal media, the blogosphere and frothing pessimists have taken this 50-game mark as a definitive opportunity to kick all optimists while they're down.

I have to concede that we do join in the fun. In my case, I tried to limit the sucker punch to the area of your cranium reserved for feelings of pity and/or NHL forwards incapable of, well, going forward. But in general I think we try to portray our general and misguided optimism that once led us to believe the Habs would score 5 goals in 20 minutes to keep the playoff series against the Canes alive and still leads us to believe that anything is possible in 2010.

On that note, I direct all the pessimists to read the latest doom and gloom churned out from Pat Hickey and Eyes on the Prize. I invite all left (optimists, I presume) to consider all the good stuff ahead:


1) We won't need 93 points this year

A lot of articles point to the wins the Canadiens will need to achieve their 2009 point total which saw them into the playoffs on a tie-break. Don't believe the hype. Because the whole East has done a tremendous impression of the Southeast division this year, the West has won 96 of 170 contests. That means there are less points to actually go around.

Because some games are East vs. East, there are a minimum number or points left to be spread around us and our rivals. By my count the minimum is 392 points (or about 26 points each), but that would mean no OTLs and losing all games to the West form here. The maximum is 788 points (or 52 each), which means winning all Western games and going to OT each and every time out in intra-conference games – just as nonsensical.

Consider this, though, if trends continue as they've been going then there are 537 points to go around all Eastern teams. That means about 36 points each. If the Canadiens steal points over and above 36 from the right teams (or if Western teams, top Eastern or bottom Eastern teams do) then we're in like Flynn.

So banish 93. I won't promise 86 points will do it, but it could well suffice. 18 wins from 32 games doesn't seem impossible. Neither does 15-11-6...


2) More interesting games

I'm not only referring to Habs games here – those are always interesting. But maybe you'll all join me in becoming the newest big fans of New Jersey, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Washington and every Western team playing the East.

At the beginning of the year, I couldn't care less about Sabres v. Panthers or Caps v. Isles. But now these games take on a new sheen. If the Canadiens had put more points in the bank, what would I worry about when Sportscentre fires up on off days?


3) Some GMs are ready to take the dive

In Montreal, it's unheard of. Tank a season? No chance. But as parity is shown to be for the mediocre, teams that see little chance of Stanley's Cup may look to the lottery ball instead. Teams like Tampa who need more young core, Florida who can't alienate anymore fans and Hurricanes who might finally tank it properly all could go for it. We play these teams. We can win these games if they let us.


4) Teams will start playing their back-ups

It goes hand in hand with the above, but winning teams will also join the ranks. When planning for long runs of games and expected playoff workloads, back-up goalies start to see the light of day. If you were choosing teams to send Yann Danis against, wouldn't league worst in shots for look good? Ah, our clever ruse...


5) More features on Latendresse, Koivu and Kovalev

At first it seemed like we may miss our old friends, but as the Habs slip while others flourish (more or less), we get constant updates on how our departed heroes are doing. It makes it seem like they never left.


6) You can enjoy the Olympic hockey for the hockey

Imagine if you can being a Pens fan. The Olympics are a nightmare. First of all, your country entrusted player selection to a crack team of GMs who haven't seen the happy side of 90 points in some time. Next, all your best players are going and playing for countries you've barely heard of, let alone can point to on a map (Canada, Russia) and risk injuring themselves in a pursuit you don't understand.

The Habs have no such conundrum. Firstly, many players played poorly enough thus far to ensure a lengthy beach volleyball tournament will be their only chance at injury in late February. Secondly, what's the difference? The Olympic medal will be the only award anyone of the players gets a chance to look at this season. No one, after Pat Hickey has confirmed our doom, need worry about a twisted ankle ruining a Cup run.


So you see there's plenty to keep your spirits up. A few are reasons to believe this mediocrity will be enough, some that the mediocrity will bring benefits and then the final consolations of the Olympic tournament.

It's not as bad as the naysayers say. Keep the chins up Habs fans. Go Habs. Go.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Incredible Zero:

Lapierre Not In The Clear Yet

Not many of you are aware, but in parallel with the NHL competition going on this winter, Gainey and Martin have begun an interesting in-house competition.

The prize for the winner will be the chance to have his name inscribed on the number "00" and have it retired to the rafters for all time. The number "00" was chosen to honour the hundredth season, and chosen over the number 100 since three digit numbers would just look silly. The number you see, has been taken out of circulation leaguewide after last being used by Martin Biron in Buffalo.


Stumbling onto this competition, and its rules, made a lot of things about this NHL season in Montreal clearer to me. If I think back to training camp and the battle for the number 6 forward role (or the zero hole, as it is affectionately called by the chief contenders), the fact that it was given to the player with the best showing in pursuing the zeroes now makes sense.

The rules of "Incredible Zero"

A) The contest is only open to forwards

B) The player competing only receives points towards for "Incredible Zero" for games in which he made zero contribution to goals or offense in general

C) Contributions that negate a "Zero" game include scoring, assisting, shooting on target, screening the goalie, touching the puck before a teammate scores, making a bodycheck that doesn't take you out of the play, winning a battle on the boards, deking a defenceman, hitting the post, etc.

D) Points awarded increase with each game in a zero streak: game 1: 1 point, game 2: 2 points, etc.

E) There is a bonus of 20 points for going ten games in a row without making a contribution, after which the clock is reset on the bonus clock


The "Incredible Zero" competition

The competition for the "Incredible Zero" has been hot, with fierce competition from more competitors than initially expected. Most nights, fans can expect to see at least 6 forwards going hard to make zero contribution, deftly avoiding positive touches and narrowly missing affecting the play of their teammates.

Incredible Zero Leaderboard




Canadiens forward
GP
G
A
Pts
Goals created
"00" games
"00" pts
Bonuses
Longest "00" streak
Maxim Lapierre
50
2
6
8
2.96
40
241
1
17 GP
Matt D'Agostini
34
2
2
4
1.42
31
232
1
18 GP
Kyle Chipchura
19
0
0
0
0.00
19
210
1
19 GP
Georges Laraque
28
1
2
3
0.79
24
187
2
13 GP
Max Pacioretty
49
3
11
14
3.71
35
140
1
11 GP

It appears some fans got wind of this competition long ago, as the have been giving the contenders warm 00 support, or "ooing", them every time they touch the puck. The "oohs" can usually be heard when the keenest ooers cease to be drowned out by the mindless Ole Oles or Na na na nas.

Said Lapierre of his strong claim for the title:
"I already had three zero on my chandail, and more in my career stats, so it'd be pretty cool to be recognised for that."
D'Agostini agreed:
"When you have limited talent, you have to be creative in securing a memory, so the chance to be among the immortals, it's too good to pass up."
Pacioretty, for his part is a little despondent for having missed his bonuses and at the fleeting chance he'll ever catch Incredible Chipchura, despite his trade:
"I mean, it's hard, I can make sure to get beaten on the puck and that all my shots are ineffective, but if Metro starts a play after I accidentally touch it, there's not much to be done. For me, Kyle for playing so many games like he did and not even step foot on ice for a goal for is the best example – it's something I'm not sure I'll ever be able to match, but I am working at it, probably at about 32% effort, everyday."

Judging by last night, it promises to be an exciting end to this competition. I can tell you honestly that I'm anxious with anticipation for the night when Don Lever (who mentored most of these guys) and Guy Carbonneau are on hand to stand by the "00" protege as the number is raised. It will be a fitting final ceremony of this centennial program.

Anyway, what a great competition. What makes it so exciting is that the Habs really have a full stable of competitors to get behind in this one, unlike perhaps the hockey competition, that is...