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So You’re Upset

Evidently it takes a snoozer of a game against a squad of AHL talent to bring me out of hibernation!

With home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs still up for grabs, I think we all expected a stronger effort than what the Canadiens put forth last night. Not an unreasonable expectation given the opposition. What is verging on unreasonable, however, is the mentality that a team that was 7-2-1 in its previous 10 games needs to be needs to be even better than that before letting the foot off the gas.

I’ve spoken a lot in the past about the need for home ice advantage if you want to win the Cup. Over the last 20 years, it’s been more or less a requirement, with only a couple of teams starting the playoffs on the road and going all the way. From that standpoint, you’d love to see the Habs lock up home ice and at least put themselves in the camp that have won the vast majority of Stanley Cups in the last 20+ years. We in Montreal have become used to the Habs wearing the underdog tag, and wearing it quite well, if only for a round or two (2010 excluded). A lot of fans actually want the Habs to start on the road in Tampa, the logic being that if they can steal a game there, the Lightning are screwed. I would suggest that those people are unaware of the importance of home ice, are blind optimists, have forgotten about 2011, or don’t consider the Stanley Cup a possibility for this team whether they have home ice or not.

Playing the second game of a back-to-back at home vs a “weak” opponent had trap game written all over it, and whether the Habs sprung the trap or simply didn’t care enough to avoid planting both feet directly in to it, they were booed lustily for most of the night by fans seemingly unaware that their team has 98 points and playing decent hockey. What have you done for me lately, indeed!

Here’s the rub: the Lightning have been hot on the Habs heels for home ice for a few games running, and if the Canadiens want home ice, they would have had to nearly run the table, going 9-2-1 in their final 12 (for a total of 102pts), assuming Tampa Bay wins its last two games (leaving them with 101pts). Only Habs fans get upset when their team doesn’t play .792 hockey down the final stretch…”Geez guys, if only you cared, you could have gone undefeated!”

I find it difficult to stress out too much over last night’s game. While it was a waste of an evening, that’s all it was. With a win over the Rangers on Saturday, the Habs will force Tampa to win both of their final games to grab home ice away from Montreal. But from the amount of anger thrown around last night over the loss, you’d think the Canadiens were limping in to the playoffs with a 2-5 record down the stretch.

Which they did in ’93.

Just saying.

Bizarro Habs

Going in to last night’s game in Washington, the first of a back-to-back set, it’s safe to say that nobody was sure what to expect. Memories of the stunning playoff upset from 2010 is probably still the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the Capitals. But that was what feels like a lifetime ago, and in the fast-paced NHL, it is a lifetime ago. Roster, coaching, and management turnover has rendered those halcyon days (hey, that’s all Habs fans have to hang their hats on for the last 20 years) buried in the past. The reality is that the Canadiens have struggled mightily against the Caps recently, going 1-5-1 since the start of the 2011-12 season. In those seven games, the Habs had been outscored 22-10, including being shutout twice. Four of their 10 goals came in their lone win, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Habs have been curb-stomped by the Caps lately.

The Canadiens are best described as an up-and-down team this season, and with backup Peter Budaj starting last night’s tilt against a Caps team featuring a renewed Alex Ovechkin, the initial knee-jerk reaction may have been to write off the game entirely and look forward to a traditional Saturday night game. Even the most off-beat uk betting sites couldn’t have predicted how last night’s game would have unfolded.

The Habs got even-strength goals from noted non-sniper Travis Moen, as well as goals from the stone-cold duo of David Desharnais and Daniel Briere, the latter’s coming on the powerplay. Taking in to account the entire roster, guessing that Josh Gorges would be the guy to pick up two assists to lead the team would have been somewhere between a longshot and a miracle. Wait, there’s more weirdness on this Freaky Friday. Despite having Ryan White and Brandon Prust in the lineup, it was PK Subban who dropped his mitts and sat for five minutes.

If you’ve watched any sport for long enough, you probably think you’ve seen it all, but as is clear from last night’s game, there’s always room for more odd-ball occurrences. What the hockey gods have planned for tonight’s game vs the Penguins is anybody’s guess, but it’s safe to say that expecting ham-fisted checking wingers and 4th line grinders to bail out the Habs against Crosby and his traveling death squad is a fool’s bet.

Then again, we do remember those 2010 playoffs, right?

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.

The Story to Here

Sometimes you need a good calling out, and thanks to a few loyal readers (who I’m very grateful for), I’m back posting my blatherings on the Habs, at least for today. With a life that has become uncomfortably busy in a short time, blogging has had to take a back seat while other priorities play themselves out. In my own defense, I have not been totally absent from the interwebs. For a couple of years now I’ve been posting my thoughts with the good folks at The Montreal Bias. Today’s topic was our thoughts on Daniel Briere, if you’re interested. While I cannot commit to post-game reviews as I did last year, I will try to post a little more regularly. Thanks for your patience and readership. It would be awfully dull ’round here without you.

So, where were we? Ah yes, enjoying the Habs sneakily solid 4-2 start. The stink from the opening night bust to the Leafs is long behind us, and the Habs have only lost once since, in a place where they haven’t won since the early 2000′s. A loss in Calgary was pretty much expected, so really it’s almost as if they’ve gone undefeated, right? They’ve weathered their Western Canadian swing in grand fashion, exceeding everyone’s expectations (and maybe even their own) with 3 wins in four games after tonight’s dusting of the Jets 2.0.

Pending the results of Max Pacioretty’s injury, the season has yielded more pleasant surprises than letdowns:

Galchenyuk, Eller and Gallagher: Simply brilliant. While they haven’t played every game together, they have each picked up from last year and are to-date the Habs most potent offensive weapons up front. They are dynamic, determined, skilled and most importantly, still getting better. Gallagher is still a Calder-runner up gem, Galchenyuk has risen to the top of the 2012 draft prospects list, and Eller is making Pierre McGuire duck for cover.

Other assorted Habs thoughts through 6 games:

P.K. Subban: Just nuts. Not much else can be said about the current Norris trophy holder. He’s been utterly dominant in all facets of the game, and currently leads NHL defensemen in scoring with 8 points in 6 games. He is still prone to the poor judgement penalty from time-to-time, but at this point, he’s going to force Hockey Canada brass to not only include him on the team but give him a starring role, which Habs fans know he’ll embrace. The only question, which media that follows the team seems reluctant to ask is why he doesn’t get more time on the penalty kill. It’s as mystifying as trying to figure out the people that don’t like Subban. Seriously, what’s wrong with you people?

Carey Price: It’s been feast or famine so far. He was pretty weak in his two losses, but rock solid in his wins. If he’s actively looking to make his case for starting goalie for Canada in Sochi, he’s going about it the right way. He looks efficient, and economical in his movements, which is exactly the way he needs to play in order to have success. He has a lot to make up for after last season’s collapse, but with a new goalie coach and a new approach, Price looks to be up to the task.

The Quota: Desharnais and Briere. Just terrible. Not an ounce of production from Desharnais, literally, and just two measly assists plus an empty netter from Bergevin / Molson’s “prized off-season acquisition”. Sure it’s still early, and it’s tough to complain when the team is off to another solid start. But when the EGG (hate that nickname) kids come back to earth (and they will), the veterans who are useless unless they are offensively productive had better start doing something. When Desharnais and Briere are sharing real estate with Ryan White, Brandon Prust, Michaël Bournival and the injured George Parros on the team scoring list, you know things have not gone according to plan. Even the most cynical of Habs fans didn’t think they’d be this ineffective. Yes, Briere may have had himself a two-point night tonight, but let’s be for real here, shall we?

Tomas Plekanec: Still under appreciated. While his offensive numbers aren’t staggering and although he’s won less than half of his faceoffs, he remains the team’s undisputed, unchallenged go-to guy in tough situations. Until and unless Lars Eller can unseat Plekanec as far as tough defensive assignments and minutes go, Plekanec will continue to be an indispensable piece of the Habs puzzle.

Team scoring: It’s a drum that I’ve been beating for a couple of years now, and this season will be no different until fans come to realize it: Dominance at even strength is king, while the importance of the powerplay is vastly and grossly overstated. The Canadiens are once again showing signs of being a team that will thrive at even strength, scoring 2 goals per game at 5-on-5. That they are well over 25% on the powerplay is nothing but a cherry on the sundae.

As a group: the Habs are still in a period of transition. Last season’s 2nd place finish was not a total mirage, but the late-season malaise was a strong clue that the team isn’t quite deep enough to compete at the highest level yet. Bergevin addressed this by adding some toughness, size and depth on the defensive end. Up front, hopes will be pinned on development of youth and veterans staying healthy. Nobody knows how this will pan out, so it’s hard to make a determination on where they will finish out the season. They could just finish 5th or 6th in the conference, they could be a bubble team and they may fail to make the playoffs entirely.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the Habs win, despite the apparent serious injury to Pacioretty (keep your fingers crossed that it isn’t as bad as it looked). A shutout for Price, and another two points in the bank.

Lecavalier to Montreal, part 4692

No sooner did the news break that the Lightning announce the buyout of the former face of their franchise, Vincent Lecavalier, that media and fans alike exploded with speculation as to whether or not the Habs should snap up the former Art Ross trophy winner at a reduced rate.

For me this is a very simple proposition that only works on once condition: Dump the freshly-signed Desharnais, and sign Lecavalier to no more than 3 years at 4 million per season. With the log jam at center, somebody would have to go and suggestions of moving Plekanec to open up a spot for Vinny is about as pleasant as lemon juice in my chocolate milk. Moving Eller or Galchenyuk is a non-starter, and the reasons for this should be obvious. I also wouldn’t explore the option of having him around for one year just so that he can return to Tampa, where his heart appears to be. What clearer way to tell everyone that you’re just here as a tourist than to sign for just one year at a time when you may have one last chance at signing a long term contract? When bringing in a guy of his stature and birthplace to Montreal, you’ve got to make sure that he’s in the plans for a while because the circus surrounding his arrival will only just calm down before he’s out the door again. The Gainey/Gauthier/Martin era is over. The circus has left town.

If I’m Bergevin, I certainly reach out to Lecavalier’s camp and do more than just kick tires…but I cut and run at the first hint that he’s using Montreal as a way to bump up the asking price around the league. Either Lecavalier wants to come “home”, (as he has had the chance to do in the past and declined) or he doesn’t. He’s not the player he once was, and the Habs no longer need to beg aging, injury prone veterans on the downside of their career to join the team.
At the end of the day, General Managers are still intent on spending themselves silly and doing stupid things, so no doubt somebody will offer him the long, multi-year deal that he’s asking for. Let’s hope that person is not Marc Bergevin.
Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

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.

The Future is Here

Playoff game #5

It just wasn’t meant to be.

The Habs were arguably the better team in four out of the five games, despite being decimated with injuries. In the end, the Senators got far superior goaltending, defense that didn’t surrender second chances and a big helping of opportunism. Of course, poor officiating played its part, but that falls down the list of reasons why the Senators advance while the Habs go home. In short: the Senators won fair and square. As I mentioned in Tuesday’s review, Habs fans now know what Capitals and Penguins fans feel like. Most fans are now realizing this, and it’s not a great feeling.

It is certainly disheartening to have watched the Habs outplay the Senators through the majority of the series, yet only reel off one win for their efforts, but it isn’t the Sens fault or problem that the Canadiens did not capitalize on their chances. They busted their asses, but lacked the size, grit and killer instinct to succeed at playoff time. At some point coach Therrien should have to answer why he chose to give ample minutes to some players who clearly didn’t deserve it, while others who carried the team’s offense sat and watched more than they should have.

This could have, and maybe should have gone differently, but plagued with injuries themselves, the Sens were able to get in to the playoffs, against all odds. As a result they were more than battle tested when they faced off against a Habs team that had lost its way. To the Habs credit, they aren’t using injuries as an excuse, though at this point common sense says there was nothing more that they could do to stop the bleeding, nevermind get a win.

There won’t be any finger pointing today. The Habs gave what they had to give but it just wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. The first period push to save their season was effectively short-circuited by the the time Sens went up 2-0.

While fans streamed out of the Bell Center once the Sens took a 4-1 lead, they forfeited the chance to salute a team that basically jumped the shark in terms of regaining respect, and credibility league-wide after being a laughing stock for the last few years. Shame on them, spoiled, sullen ingrates that they are.

The Habs are a team with a tremendously bright future, and helmed by a strong management group the ship is in the right direction, full steam ahead. Still, it is more than disappointing to see a team that played so well through this shortened season fall apart so absolutely and completely both literally and figuratively.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

All’s Well That Ends Well

Regular season game #48

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien decided that resting key players was not as important as going all out to win the division. He did not rest any of his key players except for Carey Price, feeling that going for second place in the conference was the priority. As has been the case for the most part this year, his decision turned out to be the correct one.

Led by Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher once again, the Canadiens regained a measure of confidence against the Leafs, who had inflicted the season’s worst beatings on the Canadiens. If Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul’s claim that the Leafs were the bigger and tougher team riled the Canadiens (despite the validity to the claim), then we can thank the injury prone big mouth for giving the Canadiens something to prove.

The Canadiens were clearly the better team all night, holding a listless Leafs team to just 17 shots in the entire game, including just one shot in the second period while they built a 3-1 lead. Once the Habs took a 4-1 lead early in the third period, the Leafs did what you’d expect. They tried to batter and pummel the Habs. Referees Wes MacAuley and Marc Joannette had to know that was inevitable; they cut off all antics at the pass, issuing game misconducts to both Frazer McLaren and Clarke MacArthur for things that would have otherwise been let go under different circumstances.

Fans always tell themselves whatever they need to in order to feel good about their team’s chances in a given situation. So if the Leafs and Habs do end up playing each other next week, both sides will have supporting arguments that seem entirely valid in their own minds. If you’re a Leafs fan, you tell yourself that you won the season series 3-2, including a 2-1 season-opening game in enemy territory, and two humiliating beatdowns in which they outscored the Canadiens 11-1. You tell yourself that the bigger Leafs will quickly wear down the smaller Canadiens. If you’re a Habs fan, you say that you won the final game of the year in convincing manner, that there is little connection between head-to-head regular season success and playoff success, that the Canadiens were fundamentally sound for most of the season while the Leafs were not, despite their winning record.

We don’t know who the Habs will play yet, but it has to provide Habs fans with a substantial measure of relief that the Canadiens won their last two games by a combined score of 8-3 when previously to that they were unable to do anything right. They look playoff-ready, which is the most important thing. Now we find out if the Canadiens perceived lack of size will be a problem, or if they will able to dig deeper and buck conventional wisdom.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

The Comforts of Home

Regular season game #47

Tonight’s game against the Jets had two distinct flavors to it. The first 40 minutes saw the Jets’ larger forwards have their way in the Habs’ end, giving the defense fits. Another collapse looked imminent. As has become recent tradition, the Canadiens D seemed too willing to give up odd-man rushes and full-on breakaways. Indeed, it is a concern when callup Jarred Tinordi was the most effective player in the defensive zone.

With a 2-1 lead heading to the third, and with their playoff hopes on life support, the Jets got the news that they had to know was coming. Both the Rangers and Senators won, dashing their playoff hopes for good. Whether the Jets sagged, or the Habs showed some urgency, aided by some powerplays that allowed the Habs to at least temporarily fire up the scoring machine that had worked so well through 40 games, the game tilted heavily in the Habs favor.

With fourth place in the Eastern Conference now the lowest the Habs can finish, if I were Michel Therrien, I would take a pre-emptive wiz on the CBC’s Habs/Leafs parade and make Saturday’s regular season finale as unimportant as I possibly could. I would take the hype right out of the game. The Habs don’t need it. Regardless of the outcome, the Leafs will win the season series and take that advantage to the bank, and it only brings the possibility that some Habs regulars could get further banged up, or hurt altogether. After all, when a team boasts such hockey luminaries as Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, and Mark Fraser, why allow these glorified goons one last opportunity to take cheap shots at the Habs more important players? They’ll likely play very sparingly, or not at all in the playoffs, so any “discipline” that may be doled out by Shanaban would be totally ineffective. In short, Price, Plekanec, Markov, Ryder, Gorges, Prust, Gionta and Bouillon all get to watch the game from the press box while Bulldogs fill the void.

Tonight’s game saw the Habs show more push-back and spark than they have in a couple of weeks. Good news indeed, but the best news – by far – is that Carey Price looked like Carey Price. He made several big stops when the Jets were up 1-0, and could have given the Habs the confidence they needed to forge ahead without the fear of a softy going in behind them. If Price has indeed reasserted himself and found his game once again, it can be nothing but bad news for whoever the Habs face in the first round. But before we get ahead of ourselves, the defensive coverage that the Habs have been displaying lately was not much better tonight. The Coaching staff still has more work to do, starting with giving some tired legs time to recuperate.

There’s one more game to go, but with any luck it will be but a mere formality.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel


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