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Of Pixie Dust and Dandruff

The last week has seen a fine particulate matter fall over a large swatch of Quebec, and not all of it is from raging forest fires. What Marc Bergevin may consider as his magic pixie dust, is in fact merely a ton of dandruff caused by the incessant head scratching that Habs fans have been doing over the last week.

Whether confused over the “reach” of drafting Michael McCarron in the first round, or the brand new signing of the freshly bought-out Daniel Briere, Habs fans have had much to talk about in an offseason that is already producing more questions than answers.

By the time news broke late in the afternoon that the Habs had officially signed Daniel Briere to a two-year, eight million dollar deal, Habsland was already ablaze with opinion, most of leaning to the negative side. And who can blame the naysayers? While I jumped for joy when Bergevin dumped Erik Cole for Michael Ryder, I did so thinking that the cap savings would be put to better use. It’s not time to jump to conclusions yet, especially since Briere has not played a game for the Canadiens yet, but the signs on the surface are not encouraging. He’s become injury prone, is in decline and is limited in terms of what he brings to the table. All this on top of being yet another diminutive player on a roster stacked with small players.

There are many, many reasons to be disappointed in this move. There is a distinct sense that the “Habs need Quebecois stars” crowd has penetrated Bergevin’s thought process and struck a chord, especially on the heels of missing out on Lecavalier. I’m not so sure I buy that, but it’s always loomed like a large shadow over in Montreal whenever a French player is brought in. Age, slipping production, health, and size are all additional reasons to be concerned about Bergevin’s judgement in this move. When you consider that Briere will occupy the right wing along with Brian Gionta and Brendan Gallagher, you can’t help but shudder at how this will be a glaring weakness on the road and in the playoffs.

The contract itself isn’t suicidal. Two years at eight million isn’t absurd, but Bergevin is going to have to do more than cite “character and experience” as reasons as to why this move is a smart one for the Canadiens.

Briere’s best days are surely behind him, but the outrage is over the top. There’s a large contingent of Habsland that prefers being right than to see the Canadiens succeed, so these people will not issue any credit even if Briere does make his mark on the powerplay, in shootouts or anywhere else for that matter. Many of these same fans are also holding fast to their six-year-old-grudge when Briere rejected the Canadiens as a free agent. Many still are masking their fear with anger that Bergevin added a French player “as a PR stunt”.

However this plays out, it is not a move that will cripple the Canadiens. It’s no better than a sideways move, and it paves the way for the trade of other small players like David Desharnais, or Brian Gionta at some point. To think of the Canadiens carrying Briere, Desharnais, Plekanec, Gallagher, and Gionta at the same time is stupefying. To have five of nine forwards measuring less than six feet tall is a disconcerting thought to say the least, but let’s give Bergevin more credit than this. He has to know by now that this is untenable and maybe bringing in Briere is the first domino that will trigger a series of moves that sees the Habs kicking off the 2013-14 campaign as a better team.

We’ve long believed that Quebec-born players that return to Montreal to play with the Habs always seem to struggle under the weight of expectations. If we keep our expectations in check, and be honest with ourselves that a 50-point year from Briere would be a success, then this isn’t the end of the world. While Briere and Desharnais (while he’s here) will surely get tons of sheltered minutes, protection, offensive zone starts and more powerplay time than they probably deserve, we can hope that fulfilling a dream, as Briere put it, will help him find a late-career second wind that makes his addition a positive one, and not something that will be a constant, unerring source of frustration for the next two seasons.

It’s all we’ve got, right?

If You Only Read One Habs Blog Post

…make it this one.

Friend and fellow blogger @Habswatch once again hits pay dirt with an insightful and data-driven (read: not skewed by lazy opinion) piece.

No player has polarized Habs fans in recent memory like Carey Price has; you either love him to itty-bitty pieces, or you want his head on a pike. His ardent supporters say that he’s young, has elite talent and a growing body of work that will only continue to impress. They say his defense is the main reason for his failings. His critics say that he’s paid among the elite, has accomplished nothing at the NHL level and has fallen woefully short of lofty expectations.

In his piece, HabsWatch doesn’t only put Price’s 2013 season in to perspective, he puts his entire career in to focus in relation and context to his peers. The results may shock you, as they did for me.

If you want the real deal on Price, then I urge you to take 10 minutes to read HabsWatch’s piece. Drink in the evidence and then share it with your friends. I promise that it is well worth your time.

The bar has been set

So what really happened in the 2013 post-season for the Habs?

From Pacioretty, Plekanec and Price to Desharnais, Markov, Gorges and Ryder, the veterans on this team did not accomplish enough good things collectively in order to have a deep playoff run. Simple as that. No player bashing, no nailing to the cross. A lot of guys were hurt, or playing hurt and as much as they refuse to use that as an excuse, the fact is no team can sustain the losses and injuries that the Habs did to key players and hum along like nothing happened…except for the Senators. The Habs veterans were average-to-below average and that doesn’t get it done in playoff time.

Here’s what you really need to know:

  • Senators goaltending outplayed Habs goaltending, to the tune of a .950 save percentage for Ottawa versus .870 for Montreal.
  • Ottawa scored an average of four goals per game, while the Habs chimed in with less than half of that total, at 1.8.
  • The Senators scored 13 third period goals to the Canadiens’ grand total of zero.
  • The Canadiens centermen scored a grand total of zero goals.
  • The officials stymied the Habs at least once in a very costly way.

Game, series, and season…over.

What may come as a relief is that the Canadiens missing ingredients are painfully obvious and I think we can expect Marc Bergevin to remove some of the redundancies on the Habs current roster and fill the voids with what he, and the rest of us believe to be the missing pieces.

With the team set up with talented youth and a General Manager who seems to have a firm grasp on the realities of the league in 2013, there’s very little doubt that Marc Bergevin has a cogent plan to continue to remake his team. Even the most passive fan has been able to identify areas where the Habs need lots of help:

Size with toughness and scoring ability on the wings: The top nine forwards include the following names from the under-six foot clan: Plekanec, Desharnais, Gallagher, and Gionta. It’s hard to imagine the Habs charging in to 2013-14 with that many smaller bodies despite “how big they play”. 5’8” does not have the reach or power and dominance of 6’3”. To ignore this is to think yourself above the laws of physics, or that they don’t apply to the Habs. Dredge up any stat you like, but when everyone has long since come to the realization that small bodies wear out faster and more often than big bodies, the road map becomes clear. Even if the impact of physical dimensions of any given player is a point of debate, what the Canadiens do need both up front and on the back end is aggression and that typically that comes in larger packages. I’m not here to say that the Habs are criminally small and weak and fragile. While the Habs loss to the Senators is not specifically due solely to size, if you take a moment to scan the defense corps of the Habs division foes for next year, it isn’t a stretch to think that adding some beef and snarl up front is unreasonable. Of course, one-dimensional thugs need not apply, and Bergevin strongly hinted at this in his post-mortem press conference. Although we can be fairly sure that Michel Therrien would love to have one of those guys in his back pocket, it appears unlikely that Bergevin will waste a roster spot on a goon.

Universally respected as he rightfully is by his teammates, coaches, opponents, the media and fans, With Gionta’s contract going in to its final year, it’s not impossible that Bergevin could move the captain at some point once he has proven to be healthy and productive again. It would be an unpopular move to trade him but forward-thinking GMs do unpopular and bold things on the road to success. Fact is, they could use a right-handed, large body to compliment Pacioretty and Rene Bourque on the wings. Gionta may be an interesting acquisition to somebody out there who needs leadership, and scoring ability.

Clarity at Center: There’s a jigsaw puzzle down the middle. Tomas Plekanec is the Habs most complete forward, and until he can be adequately replaced on the fly, and not under an assumption or hope that Eller or Galchenyuk can replace him, there’s little sense in talking about trading him. That said, Plekanec is currently the Habs best centerman and would fetch the most return on the trade market. At 31 years old, he’s not getting any younger, and Bergevin appears to be in to moving “aging assets” before they’re worthless, but trading Plekanec now is premature, lest the Habs GM invoke the “unpopular, but bold” clause. Lars Eller was on the verge of breaking out in this shortened season. 2013-14 will be labeled as, and expected to be his full coming out party, but he is not yet ready to take on all of the duties currently held by Plekanec. We know Desharnais is both one dimensional, yet secure with his new deal, so the Habs will have to work around his, umm, shortcomings. Alex Galchenyuk remains the wild card. Drafted as the team’s future frachise #1 centerman, the 19-year-old spent nearly all of his rookie season on the wing, and with good reason. Though he led the team in +/-, that is the single most misleading stat in hockey. Rely on that number at your own peril. However, he cannot be counted on defensively just yet, especially when it comes to defensive zone faceoffs. Between his and Eller’s inability to take draws reliably, the Habs have much work to do, and until they get one, or both of them both up to speed, it makes Plekanec’s presence on the team a must.

Another top-four defenseman: This is a tricky one, but needs to be addressed. Andrei Markov’s play collapsed at even-strength in 2013; anyone with a pair of eyeballs could see this. He is no longer the team’s best defenseman, but is heavily relied upon nonetheless. He was very often caught behind the play after a bad pinch, and with ravaged knees, he no longer has the speed to recover, and once he gets back in to position, he is not physical enough to knock opposing forwards off the puck. Bergevin can get on his hands and knees and pray that Markov spends the summer strengthening his knee, and that Jarred Tinordi’s imminent arrival as a regular will be enough to save him from shopping for a pricey free agent, or trading assets to shore up the defense, but that’s a risky gamble. The blueline for next season is already crowded what with Subban, Gorges, Emelin (who may not be ready until November or later), Markov, Bouillon, and Diaz all but assured spots in the top seven (Weber and Drewiske won’t be back), which means that only one place remains for a kid like Tinordi. No upgrades have been made yet aside from the natural progression that young players demonstrate, and that’s no guarantee, either. For Habs fans who treat free agent frenzy like a free-for-all, this is sobering, disappointing news. If Bergevin decides to look outside the organization to make his defense better on the top two pairings, he’ll have a tough choice to make in terms of moving Markov or Gorges. Moving Bouillon is the easy call, but doesn’t create the hole needed to upgrade the top-four.

Iron in the bottom-six forwards: As a simple one-year band aid solution, Colby Armstrong won’t be back. Travis Moen disappointed many in 2013 on the heels of signing a four-year extension and may be moved as a result. But both players brought something to the table in terms of penalty killing and character. Bergevin will need to replace those traits, to the chagrin of the fancystat propeller heads.. Michel Therrien’s (and most fans, too) face turned unhealthy shades of greenish-purple when the Leafs and Sens (among others) took turns slapping the Habs silly in lopsided losses. In that respect it is the expectation of most fans that Bergevin fetch a player or two who can throw his fists. Therrien may be a changed man in front of the cameras and microphones, but I’d bet my last dime that he, too wishes he had at least one player with the ability to bust heads on a nightly basis. The rub is that players who can carry a regular shift (i.e. actually play hockey), yet acquit themselves well when the rough stuff starts don’t grow on trees, and Bergevin will need to decide how much this is truly a priority before investing time and energy in bringing in this sort of player.

The debate will rage all summer as to whether or not the real Canadiens were the team that streaked to a 26-9 record or the team that gave up 3.9 goals per game after clinching a playoff spot. That said, and whether it’s fair or not, expectations for the 2013-14 season are going to be sky-high for the Canadiens. Bergeron and friends will have no other mandate – both internally and externally from fans to build upon what was statistically speaking the best season from the bleu-blanc-rouge in 20 years. I hope you enjoyed drafting Galchenyuk at third overall last season because it will be the last time that they select that high based on merit for quite some time – at least that’s going to be the plan. Bergevin may not be able to make ALL of this changes required THIS summer, and no doubt this will piss off Habs fans who want it all right away. This year was like a honeymoon that ended with a nightmarish trip home. Fans will no longer be so willing to accept future first round exits if they are preceded by strong regular seasons, that much is plain and simple.

Sabotage

Playoff game #4

Through 40 minutes, the Habs had done everything right, resulting in a 2-0 lead. Then they took a page out of the Jacques Martin playbook and sat back to defend that lead through the third period. Predictably, it did not work out for them. Without going through the painful exercise yet again, here’s why I think the Habs lost:

We can complain about the officiating all we want. By the letter of the law, the Sens’ first goal was legit. The tying goal was rife with officiating blunders from the icing call, to not calling Turris’ interference with Price.

In the end none of this matters.

The Canadiens were their own worst enemy last night when they had been their own best ally for two full periods. Now with Eller, Gionta, Prust, Pacioretty, and Price (that we know of) either playing hurt or outright injured, the Habs face a huge uphill climb.

After being the better team in three of four games in this series so far, the Canadiens certainly deserve better, but the hockey gods don’t work that way. Those of us who remember 2010 know this all too well.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

They’re Dead, Jim

Regular season game #40

Whatever you do, don’t let this game get the better of you. Yes, it’s fun to watch the Habs run roughshod and totally dominate an opponent, but let’s be honest: the Sabres have quit. They had no will to compete tonight and once the Habs took a 2-0 lead, the game was over. The Habs outshot the Sabres 42-15, just to give you an idea of where the action was in this game; I’m not even sure if the zamboni passed in the Habs end of the rink. The Sabres were wildly undisciplined, granting the Habs eight powerplays. Some teams don’t get eight powerplays in three games, so it’s safe to say that the Sabres were more intent on making this a street fight rather than forcing the Habs to wait one more night to punch their playoff ticket.

But we’re not going to penalize the Habs for the unwillingness or inability of an opponent to compete, so on with the accolades for the night, yes? You could blindly pick any member of the team and find something nice to say about their game tonight. The usual suspects like Subban, Plekanec, Gallagher, Pacioretty and Ryder all made substantial contributions to the score sheet, but let’s reserve a measure of praise for Francis Bouillon, who stood up for Brendan Gallagher by taking on Sabres agitator Steve Ott after the latter delivered a high hit to the Habs rookie. By the book it was a clean hit, and I’ve never been ok with a player having to fight after delivering a by-the-book hit, but Steve Ott was looking for trouble all night, and it’s a comfort that Francis Bouillon took on the job of dispensing some justice. In my opinion, he earned his recent one-year extension on that scrap alone.

Tonight’s win finally clinched the playoff spot that we knew the Habs would secure back in late February, but now that they’re in, we can concentrate on winning the division and starting the playoffs with home ice advantage – a virtual necessity to winning the big prize. The win was also important because it showed once again that the Canadiens are a very resilient team that does not take to losing lightly, and with the playoffs around the corner, avoiding prolonged losing skids might come in pretty handy as you might imagine. Tonights two points also vaults the Habs past the Bruins once again and in to the Northeast division lead. With just eight games remaining, it will go down to the wire to see who takes the division crown.

The Leafs on deck Saturday night, we’ll get a potential first round matchup preview, although the two teams will meet each other for the final time at the end of the regular season. Rest assured that both teams know the potential to bump in to each other in the post-season and will be looking to get in to each other’s heads.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Everything Happened

Regular season game #33

I’m not going to lie to you: I don’t know where to start. When you look up the definition of a roller coaster game, whatever is currently in the hockey dictionary is going to be supplanted by this game. The Habs blew a 2-0 lead, then came back from a pair of third period two goal deficits, finally tying the game with just seconds to go in regulation.

To paraphrase Stefon: “This game had everything”.

Fans of both the Habs and Bruins experienced the full gamut of emotions that hockey has to deliver; everything from despair to exhilaration.

With the Habs having played just one night earlier in Pittsburgh, many wondered how much gas the Habs would have in the tank. The answer is plenty, though Therrien may want to check that  Markov and Emelin aren’t having their gas cut with water. Markov is still a key cog for this team,and did score the game-tying goal, but it’s clear that his mobility has been affected by knee surgeries galore.

It isn’t often that we see Carey Price get pulled, but when Budaj came out to start the third period it was less an indictment of his play as it was a message to the team to get the lead out and to try and change the momentum. Message received, and Budaj was spectacular in Price’s stead, shootout included, as he did not surrender a single goal.

Other laurels go out to P.K. Subban, who played over a half hour of hockey, had a goal and an assist and was a +3 . Brendan Gallagher was also a difference maker, as he scored the goal that gave the Habs renewed life, was in Rask’s kitchen on the game-tying goal, and scored the shootout winner. He continues to make a name for himself, and his buzz saw style has inserted him in to the conversation for rookie of the year. Plekanec quietly had three assists and continues to be the glue that holds the team’s top six together. Captain Brian Gionta also had a pair of assists to go with his three shots on goal. Michael Ryder, who hit nothing but post in Pittsburgh last night had fortune in his favour last night, scoring two more goals. He now has 13 points in 13 games since rejoining the Habs (Erik Cole is stuck on two goals, and is a minus 9 in 13 games with Dallas, and he continues to make Marc Bergevin look like a genius.

You’ve got to wonder what Therrien told his team during the second intermission, but once again it worked. He also had the good sense to not put the struggling David Desharnais out for the last minute powerplay. Desharnais, plucky chap that he is, is useless on the powerplay on the road.

All in all, it was a badly needed win, and goes to show that winning ugly trumps losing while playing well.

And yes, the Habs can run with the big dogs.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Desharnais extended: when players are more than a collection of statistics

the following is another take on the Desharnais signing by J.F., otherwise known as Gimchihabster on twitter. Should you have any comments, feel free to leave a comment below, or to contact J.F. directly via twitter. Like all of us, he has a passion for Habs talk.

by @Gimchihabster

Early on Friday, Habs General Manager Marc Bergevin signed David Desharnais to a 4 year, 14 million dollar contract extension. This works out to a 3.5M cap hit. This unleashed a veritable flood of reaction on twitter and on the radio. This tends to happen in the snow globe that is the Montreal hockey market.

Let’s dismiss something right off the bat: this is not a language issue, thinking that it is grossly misunderstanding how Bergevin has worked thus far. With that out of the way, let’s move on to the contract itself.

The contract

David Desharnais is 26 years old. The 4 year contract will bring him to 30 years of age. The cap hit for a 50-60 point centre is more than reasonable. The term may be up for debate and I would have preferred a 3 year deal. Those thinking Desharnais could have been signed for less than 3M a year are dreaming. So in terms of cap hit and term, this is a contract that works for Desharnais and for the Habs. It does not handcuff the team or ruin their cap situation. Desharnais remains a movable asset if Bergevin chooses to move him down the road. A playmaking centre making 3.5M is not going to be impossible to trade.

Let us clear up another misconception, this deal has nothing to do with PK Subban. Desharnais is coming off his bridge deal. He was on the last year of a 2 year 1.7M deal. So the Habs did not commit to him sooner than they did or will to Subban. In fact, let’s leave Subban out of this for once!

The size obsession

Habs fans have developed over the years a nearly clinical obsession with making the team bigger. This has led many to complain about how small the Habs are; at how many small players they sign. This can indeed be an issue but size is not everything in the NHL. We can all name dozens of big players that had no physicality to their games or had no heart. What matters in the NHL and apparently for the Habs GM is heart and the compete level or if you will, players that play big, regardless of their size. This is where Desharnais comes up aces. This where he, compared to other small players, has overcome the size issue in some ways. Is Desharnais a top flight center? No but then again neither is he being paid like one. I think the current Habs GM will value heart, dedication, skill and compete level over other considerations. I think the coach also thinks this way. In such a light the Desharnais deal make sense. Brendan Gallagher is another smaller player who plays big, Brian Gionta is the same.

Beyond the stats

This brings us to the core of the issue: players are more than a collection of statistics. All too often we get blinded by numbers as if they sum up a hockey player, as if they can measure all that he brings to a team. Yet most of us realize that we can make statistics say whatever we wish to. There are numerous examples of this out there but before discussing a few let’s identify a two of those intangibles that may not show up on the tally of stats.

Heart: this is defined as effort, dedication and compete level. A player can have this and that can be hard to see if you us the stats-only lens.

Leadership: this is the impact of a player in the room and on the ice and again is hardly measurable in statistics.

These two elements are considered by GMs when signing or drafting players. They mix in with the list of numbers associated with a player. It is clear that Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien wish to build a tight knit team that will compete hard and work as unit. David Desharnais is that kind of player, despite his size. He competes every night. He also leads by example and this is important too.

Chemistry is also an important issue and in the case of Desharnais, it appears to be very important. Indeed, Desharnais came up with Max Pacioretty as they had performed well together with the Bulldogs. Pacioretty was signed to a 6 year extension and has said repeatedly since then that he owed a lot of this to Desharnais. He has said many times this year that he would do all he could to help Desharnais get a new contract. This is more than some lip service declaration made to the media to look good. Patches means it and I am pretty sure Bergevin and Therrien noticed this. It is also important when building a team concept.

Now concerning how stats do not show everything…..

Take a goaltender that lets in 2 goals on 20 shots. His save percentage would not be that great and if one were to stop at the stat line he could conclude this goaltender was sub-par. Now let’s say the two goals came on blistering one timers and that after this the goaltender was lights out for the duration and won in the shootout. That shows character and guts, neither of which can easily be shown by statistics. That was just one example, there are numerous others that could be cited I am sure.

The big picture

Where does this contract extension fit in the larger picture then? It provides the Habs with depth a centre, something they have not really had in years. I do mean quality depth at centre. It also provides flexibility to the team and gives it time to develop a player like Galchenyuk without rushing him. This is not the end of Eller or Plekanec in Montreal. Why should it be? Depth is what most teams crave and seek. Habs now finally have some at centre. Should Bergevin wish to trade a centre, Eller, Plekanec and Desharnais are all movable assets with reasonable contracts. Eller can play on the wing on occasion and one would assume Desharnais can be played there eventually. We apparently have a GM who is not afraid of making deals and of selling high. In that respect, no player is insulated from being traded if it will improve the team. This includes Plekanec, a player I have been a devoted fan of ever since he first laced them up for the Habs. For now, as Galchenyuk and Eller mature, the Habs will be able to continue to ice decent centers. This is just smart hockey management.

So in essence, this deal fits the new philosophy of the team, provides depth but not at the expense of flexibility. I would have preferred a 3 year deal but one cannot always get what he wants!

So it is time to exhale Habs fans and just enjoy this ride the bleu, blanc, rouge are on. Take pleasure in watching a hard working team that finally has some moxie, something David Desharnais is a part of.

Just Like a Vacation

Regular season game #26

On the last game of a five-game road trip, a lesser focused team would have looked past a far weaker opponent and perhaps fallen in to the trap of taking them lightly. The 2013 Canadiens are not that team. Instead, they stormed in to Sunrise and proceeded to steamroll the Panthers, who barely put up a whimper. The Habs are a perfect 8-0 against Southeast Division teams, which is an clue to the Habs consistency and the weakness of the Division as a whole.

Nevertheless, this is the schedule that has been handed to the Habs, and their 17-5-4 record says that they are doing what they need to do to erase last year’s rotten memory.

No time was wasted in throwing dirt on the Panthers, as David Desharnais, who has  turned his season around after a terrifyingly awful start. Michael Ryder quickly followed (and added another later in the game, upping his total to 9 points in 7 games since being acquired). The second period has become synonymous with the Habs taking a nap, but in this period they turned up the heat on the Panthers, effectively ending the game before it was minutes old. Another player who had a slow start, Captain Brian Gionta, scored what proved to be the winning goal, and now quietly has 9 goals when it appeared that he had lost a step. Apparently it just takes a little longer for older legs to get going!

In what is looking like a coronation rather than a slow build, PK Subban was flat out sensational once again. Three assists, on the ice for four Montreal goals and no Panthers goals. With 18 points in 20 games since his return, he is chasing down the leaders faster than a cheetah runs down a sick baby gazelle. He’s now 3rd in league scoring among defensemen, with fewer games played, and an average TOI that ranks him 65th among NHL defensemen. Yeah, he’s been that good.

Tonight’s game was such a walk in the park that we hardly didn’t notice Brandon Prust’s absence. The truth is with a team barely capable of fighting back, he was not needed on this night. With a shoulder injury that will keep him out of action for 10-14 days, a break until Wednesday is exactly what the doctor ordered.

If there were any doubters left, the clock has struck midnight. Many realists, myself included, said that the Habs hot start was due to a home-friendly schedule. Well now they’ve played more road games than home games and have a better road record than home record, so the time has come to abandon all further reservations. This team is for real, and will play the remainder of the 2013 season with the mind set that they will chase hockey’s ultimate prize. What that means for the April 3rd trade deadline is anyone’s guess, but Bergevin’s work thus far has had a Midas Touch, so as long as he doesn’t mortgage the future, we’re good.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Sunday Drive

Regular Season Game #4

I keep some canned text handy for whenever the Devils and Canadiens play. Game reviews featuring these two teams normally read “The Canadiens and Devils played each other tonight. It was slow, boring, tedious and enjoyed by nobody”.

That’s it.

We know the script. The Devils slip in a quick goal or two, then apply the sleeper hold. This night, the Habs looked to turn the script on its ear by jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead, and forcing the Devils to play catch up, which incidentally, they do quite well. For a while it looked like the Canadiens had broken free when Brandon Prust put the team up by two goals early in the third period. But the Devils, dogged lot that they are came back to tie the game and squeeze a point of the affair.

While the Canadiens skate away with another precious two points, there are still some glaring areas of concern. Faceoffs remain a problem, with the team only winning 21 of 59 draws all night. When Desharnais is your leader in faceoff efficiency, Houston, you’ve got a problem. They also continue to flirt with having twice as many turnovers as takeaways, and that’s not a good thing, either. Despite the win, there were a bunch of players who are expected to lead who did not deliver. Plekanec, Gionta, and Desharnais were all virtually invisible all night. It goes to show the Habs paper-thin depth and delicate balance in the top-six when Max Pacioretty is out of the lineup. Virtually everyone was lost. It’s to Alex Galchenyuk’s credit that he carried the offensive mail for the forwards tonight, along with Brendan Gallagher, who scored his first NHL goal on a sweet feed from the Habs third overall pick. Hard work through four games also earns Rene Bourque an honourable mention. With any luck, will soon be rewarded for his work. The biggest accolades, however, belong to Andrei Markov, who has not missed a step since having his knee rebuilt for what feels like the umpteenth time. His importance to the Habs early success cannot be overstated. Anyone who thought he should have never been signed, or that he should be bought out is fit for a dunce cap today.

A win is a win, and it would be awkward to linger for too long on the aspects that ail the team. Hopefully the coaches and players will work out the kinks while they continue to put points in the bank.

Through four games, Montreal look like a tenacious, energetic bunch who are definitely harder to play against. We’ve seen Therrien on the bench communicating with players, we’ve seen him emotional and we’ve seen him supportive of his players. All of this is the opposite of what we had to suffer through under the Jacques Martin regime.

Things start to get tougher from here for the good guys with games against the Jets, Senators, Sabres, Senators, Sabres and Bruins coming up.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Lars Who?

Regular season game #2

I kid, I kid. No matter the result, or how you slice it, the decision to make Lars Eller a healthy scratch is a baffling one. Coaches get let off the hook if their choices lead to a win, so we won’t dwell on this but let’s pray that young Eller finds his way back in to the lineup right away. After all, Therrien himself said that young players have to play.

Following Saturday’s loss to the Leafs, the top two lines were deemed to be AWOL for the most part, from top-to-bottom. Not so tonight. Plekanec opened the scoring on a sweet feed from Brian Gionta and David Desharnais reported for duty with a great bit of pocket-picking along the boards to start the play that led to Markov’s power play goal…his first goal with the Habs in a long, long time. We could choose to mention the lazy penalty that Desharnais took to start the second period which led to Florida’s first goal, but we’re trying to enjoy the season’s first win, right?

Suffice it to say that that was the start that Habsland was expecting for the season opener. Better late than never, especially in a season where falling behind the pack early is more or less a death knell. The second period started the way you thought it would given the Habs inconsistencies. They took an early penalty, gave up a goal and surrendered some momentum…that is until Markov put the Habs back up by two, followed by a beauty of a tip by newcomer Alex Galchenyuk for his first NHL goal (also of note was Brendan Gallagher’s NHL point on the goal).

The third period unfolded the way you thought it would. The Habs sat back on a 4-1 lead and in doing so took some penalties, but none as severe as the five-minute major taken by Ryan White when he jumped Tomas Fleischmann for running Gorges in to the boards. If one of Michel Therrien’s intentions is to make the Bell Center an inhospitable place to play for the opposition, then sometimes what White did is a necessary evil. Price (who was again spectacular) and friends made the rest look easy en route to their first win.

If This is the game template that Michel Therrien wants to move forward with then we may see some nice things this season. Though with one dodgy game and one strong game in books, we still have no idea who the real Habs are. In the quest for 8th place, the Habs took the first step forward, and it was a mandatory one. With 6 of their next 9 games at the friendly confines of the Bell Center, they absolutely must rack up wins before going out on the road where recent history shows they suffer badly. They were able to impose their will on the Panthers and their season rides on their being able to do the same on the road.


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