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Desharnais Tests Therrien’s Patience

When David Desharnais was awarded his long-term extension last season, it seemed hurried, sudden and most importantly – inexplicable. With their stalwart at center in Tomas Plekanec, an on-the-rise Lars Eller and the team’s best prospect, Alex Galchenyuk all laying claim to future center spots (unless you believe Galchenyuk’s future is on the wing), the move to lock up Desharnais made many fans – myself included – fearful that either Plekanec or Eller would be moved. Let’s be blunt – any move that sees Plekanec or Eller moved to accommodate Desharnais would be a disaster, and we wouldn’t even have to wait to see the return to make that call.

But things are never only about hockey with the Canadiens, and such was the driving force to keep Desharnais. Fully sensitive to the criticism of not having enough Francophone talent on the roster, the Canadiens made a public relations and marketing decision to re-sign Desharnais. Bergevin was certainly aware of the abundance of centermen at his disposal, so he had to know that he’d eventually have a problem on his hand. He just hoped it would be a good problem, with four productive centers. Instead he has the type of problem that keeps the codeine in the coat pocket. Just how bad is it? We don’t need to delve deep in to fancy stats to see the answer. In this case, the basic hockey card stats will do just fine: In 36 regular season games since signing his extension, Desharnais has two goals and 11 assists for 13 points. Last year’s brief playoff run doesn’t help his cause, with just one assist in five games. In the “what have you done for me lately” world of armchair GM’s, the tale gets even sadder. Through 15 games of the 2013-14 season, wee Davey has one lone assist, and has often looked lost, which is never a good look for a player thatis knocked off the puck with a light breeze.

At the time of signing his four-year, 14-million dollar extension, a lot of Habs fans (mostly Anglo) were enraged, feeling that he was overpaid, that the contract was too long, and that he only got it because of his birthplace. He was being overpaid, but not egregiously so given what he had done the season before. At 3.5 million per season, we are not even talking second line center money, so the cries of overpayment were a bit over-the-top. If a reasonable expectation of 45 points was what motivated the extension, then Bergevin could almost be excused. Knowing what we know now, Desharnais is stealing money for his level of production. I don’t think you’ll find many people who will say that his effort hasn’t been there, but 14 million dollars aren’t doled out because a guy tries hard. As one of the only offensive-minded Francophones on the team, Desharnais enjoys a special status; one that grants him a certain amount of immunity from criticism, and one that buys him bought him a boat load of patience. Or at least it did. With his awful production, Coach Michel Therrien can no longer justify Desharnais’ spot in the lineup, nor can fantasy hockey owners for that matter. With the need for balanced offense, there’s nowhere left to hide the small center. With his trade value basically reduced to ash (if he ever had any), Desharnais has put the Habs in a very tough spot. While Therrien is having a hard time protecting and justifying Desharnais’ once-safe roster spot, it’s harder for Bergevin to justify 3.5 million dollars tied up in one 4th-line player, and it’s nearly impossible to justify those dollars eating hot dogs. In short, Desharnais’ poor play has twisted the Habs up like a stale Bell Center pretzel.

Certainly Desharnais has pride and has tasted a modest level of success, so this has to embarrass and burn him in the worst way. I don’t for one second believe that he doesn’t care now that he has the protection of a contract that sets him up for the rest of his life. At this point the likely diagnosis is that Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty made him look better than he is, and without two bruising wingers, he is simply incapable of consistent offensive production.

I doubt the Habs are primed to cut ties with Desharnais permanently, both because of the “backlash” it would still produce (though any backlash now would be nothing more than disingenuous hot air from bloated gas bags) and because they are dealing from a position of absolute weakness. The solution, if one is to be found, has to come from Desharnais himself. There has to be a level of responsibility in signing a long-term contract, and coaching staff has coddled him with quality ice time and line mates. Before he’s cast away, the Canadiens will systematically take away Desharnais’ cheese – his ice time and roster spot – as a last ditch motivator before calling it quits for good. Remember the “NO Excuses” team motto? If Desharnais has any ability to control his own fate, now’s the time for him to get off the treadmill to oblivion.

There’s a lot of “I told you so” going on now about Desharnais, although there’s not much point to it considering everyone has been parroting the same line for well over a year. While the media focuses on Subban vs Therrien, the subplot is even juicier, for it tears at everything the Canadiens build themselves on nowadays. How long will the Canadiens cling to one of their marketing linchpins is anyone’s guess, but we know now for sure that the egg timer has been flipped, and Desharnais has only himself to blame.

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

When Facing an AHL Goalie…

Regular season game #30

The Islanders have long been a doormat, but in recent years they have been a thorn in the Canadiens’ side…at least that’s the popular belief. Once again, a quick glance at recent history says that the Habs are 5-3-3 against the Islanders since the 2010-11 season. Certainly not what I’d call “owning” a team, but a .591 win percentage hardly qualifies as something to whine too much about when perception is out of whack with reality.

After leaving a point on the table on Tuesday against Buffalo, it was important for Montreal to get the win against Long Island. In the early going, things looked iffy, as some sloppy play from both teams led to a 2-2 game. The ingredients were present for the Habs to let another one slip away, but once again, the third period came along to save their bacon.

That, and one Kevin Poulin. The Islanders backup looked about as confident and graceful in goal as Martin Short did in his short career as a synchronized swimmer. He looked like he was terrified at the sight of the puck all night long, as pucks bounced off him in every which direction. Scrambling to stay on his feet and in his crease, Poulin finally gave up the ghost in the third period; surrendering three goals on 10 shots. The lesson? Shoot the puck at jello-legged AHL goalies.

The usual suspects were stirring the drink for the Habs tonight. P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, and newcomer Gabriel Dumont. Just two nights after being publicly admonished by his coach, Subban simply scored another pair of goals, and now has 22 points in 24 games. The cost to resign him goes up by the day. Rookies Gallagher and Dumont were busy raising hell and keeping the Islanders off their game all night long. While Gallagher’s a permanent resident, Dumont looks poised to unseat one of Travis Moen or Colby Armstrong with his in-your-face style.

We would also be remiss not to mention David Desharnais’ 100th and 101st NHL points, as he assisted on Brian Gionta’s game winning goal early in the third period, and also assisted on Gallagher’s tally. It was also his first point since signing his contract extension two weeks ago. Interestingly, Desharnais was finally held accountable by Michel Therrien for recent lacklustre play, as he saw less than four minutes in both the second and third periods. Let us stow the talk that he’s ben getting a free pass for now, yes?

Michael Ryder’s opening tally represented his 10th point in 10 games since joining the Habs (Erik Cole, for his part, is still mired in his season-long funk at two goals in nine games since joining the Stars). Bergevin’s trade looks better and better, doesn’t it?

At 20-5-5, Montreal has twice as many wins as combined losses. With the season 5/8ths complete, nobody on the planet could have predicted this. The Canadiens have been on a season-long run that shows no sign of slowing down.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Selling High

Late this afternoon, Habs General Manager pulled a fast one and dumped Erik Cole and the two years left on his fat contract to Dallas for Michael Ryder and a third round pick in this year’s draft, which is said to be extremely deep.

Applaud this move, for there is no downside.

The Habs save cap space now, and for next season, as Ryder is a free agent after this season. They get a right handed shot that is as productive, if not moreso than Cole. They get younger. They dump an asset that will only continue to depreciate as Cole ages. Oh, and they get a third round pick out of the deal.

Again, applaud this move. In fact, stand up and cheer!

With the cap set to drop steeply for next season, dumping this contract is a masterstroke that allows the Habs to go shopping in the summer for more pieces to the puzzle.

Michael Ryder’s last days as a Hab were not glorious ones. He had fallen way out of favour and was last seen throwing paper airplanes in the press box. But since then he was whipped in to shape by Claude Julien, and like Rene Bourque, Michel Therrien will not allow Ryder to loaf around.

In the worst case scenario, Ryder is as unproductive as Cole was and quietly becomes a free agent in the summer. Done deal.

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Eaten Alive (ode to Mikhail Grabovski)

Regular season game #11

It can be hard to distinguish anger from panic, but tonight, it’s all anger. Or at least it should be. For the second time, the Habs failed to show up at home versus one of their arch-rivals. The last thing the players see on their way to the ice when they leave their dressing room is a big “NO Excuses” graphic above the door. If the moment wasn’t enough to bring focus, if the coach’s last minute words aren’t enough to motivate, then that slogan is the final reminder that the onus is on the player to rise to the occasion.

It’s inexplicable that the Canadiens would come out this flat. The Leafs are not a good enough team for the Habs to say they met a far superior opponent. It’s too soon to claim fatigue, and it’s far too soon to say that the coach’s message is falling on deaf ears.

It would be easy to deflect attention away from the mess that were the Habs tonight by pointing at referee Tim Peel’s circus act, or at the antics by some of Toronto’s players in the third period (the Habs weren’t boy scouts, either). The focus should be kept squarely on the play of the Habs, who deserved to get pounded in exchange for their hollow effort. From the opening goal where Markov and Emelin looked like Fred and Barney, to the sixth goal where the Habs resembled Easter Island statues, there is not one aspect of the game that the Canadiens can salvage anything positive from. The so-called first line was again, totally invisible. For the week, Desharnais, Cole and Pacioretty combined for 1 assist and 17 shots in 9 games while posting a -13. Desharnais was a miserable 36% on faceoffs for the week. Talk about not getting the job done.

Now that the bloom is off the rose and reality is setting in, we see what happens to the Habs when they don’t feast on powerplay success, can’t win faceoffs (Leafs centerman Tyler Bozak had a 19-for-23 performance- how’d that look on the Habs?) and have only five more even strength goals than they’ve surrendered through 11 games, it’s no wonder that the 6-2 start feels like a distant memory.

Go ahead and be angry about this game. Be angry about the no-show on the scoreboard. Be angry about how the Leafs bit and kneed their way through an embarrassing third period. Be angry about whatever you want to be angry at, but don’t touch the panic button.

This was inevitable.

The Habs were not, and are not the equivalent of a 6-2 team. They’re closing in on the .500 mark, which is where they likely figure to be after 48 games. It’s just they’ve chosen to take the most painful route to get there. If there is any good news, its that losses like this prompt galvanization, internal changes, or speed up the inevitable.

Salt for the wound: don’t expect any suspensions for bites or attempted kneeings.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Their Own Worst Enemy

Regular season game #10

When news broke early today that Peter Budaj would be getting the start over Carey Price, Habs fans everywhere had to gird themselves. When they found out that Tim Peel was officiating, they dusted off the old “blame the refs” lament.

Two strikes against, and the puck hadn’t even dropped yet, right? Factor in the predictable old problems of lack of discipline on the road, inability to win faceoffs, and the continued malaise of the Desharnais-Cole-Pacioretty line, and you’ve got five ingredients to explain the loss. In these three things, the Canadiens are a triple dose of ‘Old Faithful’.

We can cast aside the imagined problems of goaltending and crappy, skewed refs and focus on the real issues of discipline, lack of production from the top line, and a team almost totally incompetent on faceoffs. Sure, we can cry foul on the tying goal, but these things tend to balance out over time (see the Senators disallowed goal last weekend). Yes, Budaj could have been a tad better, but Ryan Miller could have been better, too. The so-called first line of Desharnais, Cole and Pacioretty combined to go pointless, +/- -6, and a 4 lowly shots on goal. How much longer can Michel Therrien protect the one-dimensional centerman before having to pair the team’s two strongest wingers with someone like Lars Eller, who has responded very well since his stint on Therrien’s black list? The feisty Ryan White took an inexplicably stupid double minor that cost his team dearly. Up by two goals in the third period, White took the opportunity to “avenge” a clean hit levied by Steve Ott on Brian Gionta. First of all, nobody should have to answer for a clean hit, regardless of who gets hit, or who gives the hit. Second, White just escaped the Coach’s doghouse for not showing proper judgement. You can bet White is going to spent a lot more time in the cold, lonely doghouse from now on. Not good if you’re a fourth line player with a tenuous grasp on an NHL job on the best of days.

The Canadiens managed an important point, but it should have been two points. The reasons why it was just one point rest in the Canadiens room, and not in the vivid imaginations of a fanbase looking to lay blame elsewhere. The best part is, the problems are fixable. Stop with the penalties, practice faceoffs until nausea sets in, and have the stones to take replace Desharnais with somebody who isn’t pushed over by a light breeze.

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

He’s Lying to You

I really feel like I could spin the title of this post – “He’s Lying to You” in to a series of posts, and I may just do that. But for now, let’s kick this one around.

“The plan was not to sit back at all. The best defense is offense.” — Jacques Martin

Martin has tried to sell us many good yarns this year, but this one is really a shocker coming from the King of Passive hockey. But if we are to believe what the Coach said in the aftermath of a game blown to the Buffalo Sabres last night, then certainly he must have recent memories and statistical evidence track record that speaks to that belief, right?

Let’s take a look and see what the Coach may be talking about.

In 2009-10, his first season in Montreal, the Canadiens scored 217 goals. That was good for 10th overall in the Eastern Conference, 23rd overall in the NHL and the 2nd lowest of any Eastern playoff team. I know, I know. The Canadiens went to the Eastern Conference Finals, so stuff it, right? Blah blah blah. Spare me your circular logic. As I’ve said before, we know how the Canadiens got to the Eastern Conference Finals and it had little to do with a spectacular offense.

In 2010-11, his second season in Montreal, the Canadiens actually slipped to 216 goals, good for 12th in the Eastern Conference, 24th overall in the NHL and the LOWEST of any Eastern Conference playoff team. I can hear the homers already: “But they took the eventual champs to overtime in game 7…and the injuries…..THE INJURIES! ARGH!!!!”. Where’s the snooze button, because I’m going to push it. Hard. There are no moral victories in the playoffs, and there were plenty of other teams that had more injuries than the Habs last season. In fact, the Canadiens were pretty much right in the middle of the pack in terms of man games lost to injury.

This season, the Canadiens have scored 42 goals through 17 games. That’s 2.47 goals per game on average, and projects out to 203 goals for the season. So if the Coach think that a best defense is a good offense, his team is going in the wrong direction, and has been going in the wrong direction for what is now a 3rd consecutive season. The addition of Erik Cole, a full season of Max Pacioretty and a bounce back season for some vets were supposed to set the stage of a more potent offense, was it not? Aside from Markov, who has been a gigantic question mark for many months now, the team has been relatively healthy. Cammalleri and Kostitsyn have missed a few games apiece, but certainly not enough to be the sole reason for the Habs’ continued inability to score goals.

Going back to what the Coach said: “The plan was not to sit back at all. The best defense is offense.”…how exactly does the Coach practice what he preaches? As the moribund powerplay continues to circle the drain, the Coach still affords Mathieu Darche precious minutes while other more talented, more deserving players sit and watch from the bench. Does having Tomas Plekanec on the point help or hurt? Does the Coach get his team to continually push the pace? Does he encourage and motivate them to play the same way that put them in a position to have a 2-goal lead to begin with? Or rather does he stand pat while his passive 1-2-2 system kills any offensive momentum his team may have had? If he in fact does not preach sitting back to protect a lead, then why does he continue to let it happen? It’s his job to change his players’ habits, is it not? If the players come out and talk about how they sat back, yet the Coach says that wasn’t the plan, then where’s the disconnect from the Coach to the players? Are the players stubborn? Incompetent? Is the Coach’s message not getting through? Is it not properly delivered? No matter, getting the best from his team and ensuring that his message is getting through is HIS job.

We’ve taken a look at some of the things we can see with our own eyes, but now let’s delve a little deeper in to some stats to try and help paint a clearer picture.
The Canadiens have 14 third period goals this season, which puts them in a logjam with the likes of Phoenix, Columbus, Nashville, Winnipeg and Detroit for 21st in the NHL. Red Wings aside, those aren’t the teams I think of when I think of “offense” and pushing the pace. Until last night, the Canadiens were actually 5-0 when leading after two periods, so a 5-0-1 record this morning should not be the end of the world, and truly it isn’t. The record and team are not on trial here. But that 5-0-1 record still only places them 18th overall in the league when leading after two periods. Since a near-perfect record ranks them a mediocre 18th, it can only mean that more than half of the teams in the league have had more leads to protect after two periods than the Habs, which speaks to the Habs overall inability to score at any point in the game. But the Habs ranking of 21st in the NHL in 3rd period goals means two thirds of the league still manages to score more goals in the final frame. When you put these seemingly disparate pieces of information together, it tells me that the Canadiens don’t push the pace in the third period, whether they are leading or trailing (Habs remain winless when trailing after two periods with an 0-6-2 record) and do in fact sit on leads going in to the third period when they have a lead to protect.

The final analysis says that if Jacques Martin believes that the best defense is a good offense, he does almost nothing to prove it. Is the Coach simply stating what he believes, but is unable to implement? Or is he trying to make us believe (similar to him telling us that young defensemen are to blame, or that his team plays puck possession hockey) what he wants us to believe? Given his track record, we know he’ll probably throw his friend and boss, General Manager Pierre Gauthier to the wolves for failing to provide enough talent. Hmm, that is curious, isn’t it? Tomas Plekanec, Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller, David Desharnais, Erik Cole, Andrei Kostitsyn, PK Subban, Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz…does that sound like a talentless roster to you? Is that a list of names that evokes “can’t score goals” to you? It’s not to me.

2011-12 Habs Milestone Tracker

As we bake in the hot summer sun, incubating our collective yearning for the return of the hockey season (note: I’m just fine with summer sticking around a good while longer), there is once again no shortage of milestones within reach for most of the players who will don the bleu, blanc et rouge this season. Some will be absolute lay-ups, some will depend on performance, and most will depend on the ultimate of bugaboos: health.

Let’s get the young players out of the way first, since by simply showing up they’ll reach certain low-hanging fruits:

Carey Price: he who just celebrated his 24th birthday will undoubtedly pick up his 100th win of his young career, as he’s only 2 wins shy of that mark today. He may even have that milestone locked up by the end of the first weekend of action. If Price has a season similar to last year, he’ll also have a decent shot at his 20th career shutout. That puts him about 100 behind Martin Brodeur, who hasn’t retired yet, but who’s counting?

Andrei Kostitsyn: If fans want to continue to talk about “potential” with this lad, I’m going to continue putting him in the younguns group. When you take a look at the milestones that are within AK46’s reach this year (in a Habs jersey or not), you can kinda see where fans are feeling impatient with him. He’ll play his 400th career game as the playoff push reaches its peak, but he’ll almost certainly hit 100 career goals, and 100 career assists (and thus 200 career points) well before that. Doesn’t it feel like he has – or should have – scored 100 career goals already?

P.K. Subban: He’ll play his 100th game as the season creeps past the 1/4 pole, and if he avoids the dreaded “Sophomore Jinx” and turns in a Norris candidate season (yes, I know that’s a bit of a reach), he’ll threaten to break 100 career points. If that happens, General Manager Gauthier better grow some long arms because he’ll have to reach deep in to his pockets to keep Subban happy.

Max Pacioretty: Following near decapitation, it will be interesting to see if the Habs young scorer can pick up where he left off last season. An exceptionally healthy and productive 2011-2012 campaign will see Pacioretty breach 200 career games, while threatening the 50 career goals mark as well as the 100 career points plateau.

David Desharnais, Lars Eller, Ryan White and Yannick Weber will all break the “100 career games” barrier. Significant statistical milestones are still way down the road for these four. Establishing themselves as full-time NHLers remains job #1 for them, and they’ll all undoubtedly reach that status this season.

Alexei Emelin, Raphael Diaz and other assorted young hopefuls and farmhands will crack an NHL roster for the first time this year. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

As for the veterans on the team, the milestones are as beefy as their paychecks.

Perhaps the most significant of all of reachable milestones for this Habs bunch will take place (barring injury of course) on October 20th in Pittsburgh, where he won a Stanley Cup ring. Hal Gill will play his 1000th career game. Not bad for a guy who has been the butt of many, many “slow as molasses” jokes for his entire career. He must be doing something right to have stuck around this long, and 1000 games is a LONG time.

Not far behind is Jaroslav Spacek, his 66th match will be the 900th of his successful career.

If his past two seasons are any indication, then these upcoming milestones may have to wait a while longer. But let’s be positive and believe that the worst is behind for
Andrei Markov, who will have to be remarkably healthy if he wants to play his 700th career game. If he hasn’t lost any of his tremendous skill, then he may also flirt with (but probably not reach) his 100th career goal (he sits at 81). He will, however, probably notch his 300th career assist and 400th career point; he only needs 15 and 34 respectively to reach those benchmarks.

Is this season the last in a Habs uniform for Josh Gorges? I sure as hell hope not. He  just celebrated a birthday (his 27th) and will be entering the prime of his career. For a kid who was signed as an undrafted free agent, Gorges has since gone on to play in 364 NHL games. His 36th game of the upcoming season will be his 400th. Not to shabby at all. If you want to consider 10 career goals for a typical stay-at-home defenseman in the middle of his career as as a milestone, then more power to you, as that’s what Gorges is looking at this season. 10 career goals? Eat your heart out, P.J. Stock.

Mike Cammalleri: the proud new father may have other things on his mind right now, but he has a handful of meaningful milestones on the horizon: His 4th game of the year will be  number 500 for his career. His 23rd goal will be his 200th, while his 16th point will be his 400th.

Brian Gionta: even if the Captain plays in every regular season game, he will fall just shy of playing his 700th career game. Gionta will never be confused with Adam Oates, Craig Janney, and other skilled set up men, but his 5th assist of the season will be the 200th of his career, to go along with his 209 career goals.

Scott Gomez: Spacek won’t be the only member of the team to hit 900 career games played. In what everyone, Gomez especially, hopes is a big bounce-back year, he’s also in line to rack up his 700th career point. He only needs to post 25 points to get there, but let’s hope he can get there sooner than later.

Tomas Plekanec: Mr. Everything for the Habs is quietly racking up some impressive longevity numbers. His 30th game of the year will be his 500th career game played, and his 14th assist will be the 200th of his career. Fun game: will Plekanec pick up 14 assists for 200 before Gionta picks up 5 for 200 on his career?

Erik Cole: the Habs prized off-season acquisition will have to prove that he can be durable for more than one full season if he wants to play in his 700th career game. He currently sits at 620 and will have to play in all but 2 regular season games to reach this milestone. Also within reach for Cole is his 200th career goal (16 goals shy), and his 400th point (10 points shy).

Travis Moen: The ultimate plumber has shown he has staying power, as evidenced by his 522 career games; each one of them played in a punishing, rugged style that takes a toll not only on opponents, but on the player himself. He’s been remarkably healthy during the course of his hard-fought career and if he plays in 78 games, that’ll be good enough to put him up to 600 for his career. His 7th goal of the year, should he get there, will represent his 50th career goal, while his 2nd assist will also put him up to 50 for his career. All told, his 9th point will put him in to triple digits for his career.

Mathieu Darche: The man is all guts and courage, and he’s fought hard to play in each one of his 189 career games spanning 11 years and 5 NHL teams. His 11th game of the year will put him at the 200 games played level; not so impressive for players with “pedigree”, but for this blogger, I can’t think of a sweeter milestone reached for any member of the team this year. He’s well deserving of his new contract, and should have the admiration of all hockey fans.

Peter Budaj: Let’s hope he’s a patient guy. There’s really not a lot for Price’s new backup to look forward to. His 100th loss (currently at 91) and 10th career shutout (currently at 9) are within reach. Let’s just say that if he does hit 100 career losses, his season will be a spectacular failure, or it means that Price gets hurt and Budaj is pressed in to more action than any of us bargained or hoped for.

While the season is still over a month away, and while changes to the roster may still take place, it always helps to stoke the fires of enthusiasm by looking ahead to what the year may hold in store for us and for the Habs. Needless to say, if the majority of the above listed milestones can be hit, the Habs can look forward to a very strong season.

Which milestone do you see as the most important? I look at the potential milestones within reach for Markov, Pacioretty and Cole as important beacons. If those 3 players can remain on the ice, the numbers should follow, and that’s a great omen for fans.

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