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Striking Back

Regular season game #3

After splitting their first two home games, the Habs ducked the intense cold of Montreal for the warmer climes of Washington to play the Capitals, who thoroughly dominated Montreal last season. The Habs went 0-4 against Washington and were outscored 13-3 in the four games. Given that the Habs were a dismal team, how would they fare against a Capitals team desperate for their first win?

Well, to put it mildly: the Caps stink this season. What a mess they’ve become. Not to dwell on the opposition, but their coaching carousel has not panned out the way they had hoped. Exploding for four goals in the second period (which is one more goal than they scored all year against the Caps last season), the Habs played a perfect road game, right up until, and including Prust’s bout with the game well in-hand. Another message sent.

Montreal weathered the early storm, avoided getting burned ny penalties, and Markov’s brilliance staked the Habs to a lead that the inept Caps could not hope to overcome. A late goal by Gorges effectively sealed the deal as the home town fans darted for the exits.

And what of young messers Galchenyuk and Gallagher? Credit Coach Therrien for having his finger on the pulse of the game and giving more ice time to the rookies as the lead grew larger and safer, including over a minute of power play time to close out the game.

All told, it was as solid a road win as you can ask for at any point during the season. If there’s anything to nitpick, it would be another poor night at the faceoff circle. The Habs went 25 for 55 for a 45% success rate. They also had twice as many giveaways than takeaways (8 vs 4 respectively). Being on the wrong side of those stats while winning can’t go on forever, especially when the competition gets tougher than it has been through three games.

Two players that need to up their game are Ryan White and David Desharnais. While White was mostly applauded for jumping Tomas Fleischmann on Tuesday, he seemed to cross the fine line that Michel Therrien later alluded to. Lars Eller may have found himself an opening to the roster on Sunday evening. As for Desharnais, it seems teams are no longer surprised by him. He has made some good things happen, but a top line center needs to bring more to the table than he has.

These were two points that I don’t think many were counting on. For all the Caps’ struggles, the Habs had become the tonic for what ailed slumping teams. With Therrien’s new system and culture, playing tougher seems to be giving the team the backbone that it has so badly lacked since 2009. Three games don’t make a season, but it sure looks like the Canadiens aren’t going to be the flaccid team that skulked around the ice under Jacques Martin. That in itself is a giant step forward.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

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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