Sunday, June 25, 2017

What a Wild Year

        It's far too long since the Lions in Winter have roared, both on the ice and on the web; I shall attempt to remedy at least one of those.  I stopped writing for LiW for silly superstitious reasons.  The Habs got off to one of their best starts in franchise history in 2015. I caught the winning fever along with the rest of the Canadiens and started writing for LiW only to see them plummet immediately into the worst slump I've ever seen in any sport ever (outside of the Washington Generals).  So last season I stayed away, as much as I wanted to chime in about the Subban trade.  We saw them off to another amazing start only to begin choking again in the new year.  Were it not for the Heimlich hiring of Claude Julien (not soon enough if you ask me) the Canadiens might not have made the playoffs and certainly weren't sharp once there.  So it wasn't me or my writing after all.  So what was it?  Coaching?  Lord, I hope so.  If that's the case, problem solved, but as abysmal as Therrien was (and he was truly awful) he can't take all the blame.  Terrible giveaways in the defensive zone were not uncommon and were it not for Carey Price being... well, Carey Price you would see how truly awful our backline are for hanging their goaltender out to dry.  Lack of scoring.  Despite the fact that Max Pacioretty can score 30 goals at will in the regular season, nothing to snub your nose at, he's never really shone in the playoffs.  Outside of Radulov's heroics, who as of right now is not on the 2017-18 roster, and a former 30 goalscorer who has lost his way, not entirely innocent from coaching ineptitude, the 2016-17 Canadiens weren't real creative up front.

        But don't panic.  Galchenyuk is only 23 and he's got a 20 goal and a 30 goal season (one of each) under his belt.  He'll mature to be a solid goal scorer (he would have had at least 20 again this season were it not for his injury - 17 in 65 games).  We can wait and add some pieces to the puzzle.  Take our time, add a few more pieces here and there for the right price and be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in a couple of years.  After all, Price has got more than a few solid years left in him (barring injury of course).  At least, that's what we could have said before Subban was traded for Weber.

        Que the eye roll.  Shea Weber is 31 and just a tad slower than he used to be.  Sure, he's the big brute needed to clear out in front of Carey Price and he's tough enough (and then some) to make forwards crashing the net pay a toll for doing so, and P.K. was not.  Simple as that.  All of the eggs were in the Price basket when Halak was traded and the scares of Kreider crashing into Price (on purpose, I don't care what anyone says) and the extended injury that ended his 2015-16 season forced management to either trade him or protect him.  I love Subban.  He has plenty of upside, but he is not a player capable of instilling genuine fear into his opponents.  I know Price still gets run and the instigator rule still allows for it to happen, but at least one player on the Rangers paid dearly for it (albeit in vein.)  No matter whether the trade was a hockey trade or a personality clash (certainly part of the reason in my opinion) it took away 4 years the Canadiens have to build a championship team.  No longer can Bergevin sit back and pick deals here and there to add to his team.  He must now make improvements with conviction as time is of the essence.

        Jonathan Droiun, the much coveted local star from Ste-Agathe, QC (potentially superstar), is a player the Habs very nearly sold the farm for last year; but a 22 year old scoring 20 goals in a season (21 for most of the season) is nothing to snub your nose at.  The Canadiens have added a very talented winger to their roster.  Now you don't get something for nothing and Sergachev was a top prospect for defense.  It's sad to see another blueliner leave, but with the dealing of Subban, Sergachev would not be a major contributor in the closing window Bergevin has created for himself.  Considering the circumstances I'd consider this a win.  It's unfortunate the perceived gap is at centre and Droiun is a winger, a versatile winger but a winger none the less, but the Habs are sitting pretty good.  They're going for it all.  They've lost Subban but they've got Weber, who is, right now, a better defenseman than Subban, and now there's Droiun who, right now, is a better forward than Sergachev is a defenseman.  So far, moving in the right direction right?

     Then they traded Nathan Beaulieu for a 3rd round pick.  Beaulieu didn't have a great year last year.  Neither did Galchenyuk or Gallagher or Shaw, or... Suffice to say he was in good company.  We have seen what he can do.  He is a solid skater who can move the puck with a bit of sandpaper to boot.  Only 24 (he'll be 25 this year) he actually finished with a +8 on the third defensive pairing.  To give up on a former first round draft pick before his 25th birthday after one sub par season is not a win now attitude.  It's a baffling move when you think about it.  Sure, he might have went in the expansion draft for nothing but we lost Emelin in the draft for nothing. Now we've lost 2 defencemen for a 3rd round pick (next to nothing).  Cue the slow clap.  Huge loss on this trade for Bergevin.  No doubt a year with a coach who knows how to win would have done the young defenseman good.  The fact he had any offensive upside under Therrien is remarkable,  I hope we're not kicking ourselves in the butt in a few years ala Ryan McDonagh.

        Then there's Galchenyuk and the rumours surrounding him.  Again, a year with a coach not completely inept when it comes to developing offensive talent will do the boy wonders.  Having coached the likes of Krejci and Bergeron I think the man can share a point or two with Chucky.  Certainly worth another year to give it a try.  At just 23 he's scored 89 goals in the NHL.  That's 0.26 goals/game (Droiun's rate is just under 0.17 and may have benefited from some shifts with Stamkos).  The fans and media (if you consider RDS media) can scream for trades all they want.  It's Bergevin's job to have enough hockey sense not to be influenced by such things when developing a championship team.  I'm just not real confident that he does.  Alex Galchenyuk was flying again last year until his injury.  When he came back he found out his spot had been given to Philip Daneault.  I'm at a loss why.  Daneault played well but he'll have a hard time scoring 20 goals in the NHL and you can forget 30.  Same physical statistics, Daneault might be a better two way player (so teach him to be a solid checking centre) but not nearly the offensive talent as Galchenyuk.  It's those players with the ability to score 30 goals in the NHL that are worth gold.  There's a reason half the league is interested in trading for the man.

        Bergevin traded away Subban for Weber; partly for hockey reasons (bigger, meaner, tougher and currently better) but partly for a personality clash with a sub par coach who is no longer with the team.  He's acquired Shaw who is a lesser version of Gallagher, in my opinion, and takes away minutes from Brendan while taking untimely penalties far too often.  He's acquired the coveted Drouin for a promising defense prospect who probably wouldn't peak in time to help this team, but then lost two of our top 6 defensemen from last year when only one needed to go.  Now he's contemplating trying to trade one of our top offensive players last year (and Galchenyuk 100% was that) and can't sign another one.  By trying to get rid of Galchenyuk he is not fixing his goal scoring problems and now he's got a serious personnel issue on the blue line.

        As it stands right now, our team is not better than it was last year and it wasn't a serious Stanley Cup contender last year.  It is a team that won't defend it's blue line as well (Emelin led the Canadiens in hits last year and was 9th in the league), it no longer has a Subbanesgue puck moving defenseman in Beaulieu, hasn't signed Radulov yet (and I wouldn't bet that they will) and seemingly wants to trade Galchenyuk for Drouin (a lateral trade at best).  I wonder if Mr. Molson is paying attention to how his GM has traded away assets (and continues to do so) for marginal gains (at best).


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Therrien's Individualistic Mistake

Another Habs loss has brought with it a new storm of attention and controversy to this team. The room that was so strong in winning times, is no more immune to division when losses pile up than anyone else, it seems.

Up to this point, I have been giving Therrien and the team, quite honestly, the benefit of the doubt. I believe they are trying and probably performing to the level that their talent allows and finding out just how much losing one key player can hurt in a league with formidable parity.

Last night was a bit of a final straw for me. Certainly with Therrien. Never mind that I watched him coach a team throughout a third period that lacked the lustre a playoff-hungry team should have; what triggered my disdain came post game. Subban had just tripped in the offensive zone losing the puck to a 21-year-old rookie with 18 points, a play that led some seconds later to a rather pretty winning goal for the Avalanche. Michel Therrien, while continuing to delude himself (or trying to delude us) was talking about what he liked about the game, how the Canadiens had played a good game. Except for one "indivialistic" play.


This simply was not true. The team played alright, but this game was a toss up at that point. A team playing 0.200 hockey and hoping for better can't look to 50/50 affairs with other non-playoff teams as good games, not on a multi-game losing streak. It was progress, but not a good game. They let up two leads and yet again failed to score enough to matter.

The team played badly compared to what should be expected by a coach in his position. he was protecting his team.

All that is fair enough, and we take it for what it is, but then Therrien pinches in at the blue line in a vain attempt to save his career in the NHL. Instead of taking blame or laying it in the realm of luck, he lays it squarely at the feet of one player. And this player is not just Lucas Lessio. This player is the team's best player, perhaps its only truly good player at all. Therrien blames Subban for being individualistic.

This to me is selfish to the extreme. He preaches togetherness and team, yet creates discord and division. And this is in front of the press. We can only imagine now what might have been spewed from under the angry brow during a post-game locker-room rant.

For a coach with little else going for him (total lack of creativity, total inability to move away from favourites), this declaration is a final straw. For someone who loves irony, it will be satisfying if the comment that stubborn Michel thought would deflect attention from him would be the one to bring his ultimate demise in Montreal.

On Subban

To comment on Subban's play, I will say this. Very unfortunate, but I agree with the player. He was trying to do the right thing. And Subban is probably the player with the best edgework I have ever witnessed. It was probably fair of him to think he wouldn't fall -- this wasn't Jason Ward.

Furthermore, Subban is definitely the best player on the Canadiens right now, and definitely either the top or top two player in the system for this team and likely to play for this team in the next 5 years. in other words, he is simply indispensable to the team, the owner, the GM, the coach and the other core players.

Presumably, if Therrien doesn't like Subban he would see him traded for someone of equal value. A very unlikely scenario. Tons of cap issues, never mind finding a player of equal value...

Trading a coach though, that can be done in an instant. There are many available instants before the next game. It can't happen too soon now. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Montreal's Post Season Dreams Dry Up in the Desert

Date: 23/01/2016
Opponent: Arizona
Location: Glendale
Loss: 6-2

Habs Goalie: Condon (L)
Opposition Goalie: Domingue (W)

Habs goalscorers: Weise, Gallagher
Opposition goalscorers: Hanzal, Duclair, Richardson, Ekman-Larsson, Connauton, Vermett,

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Buffalo Gives Priceless Montreal A Reality Check

Date: 13/02/2016
Opponent: Buffalo
Location: Buffalo
Loss: 6-4

Habs Goalie: Scrivens (L)
Opposition Goalie: Johnson (W)

Habs goalscorers: Andrighetto (2), Galchenyuk (2)
Opposition goalscorers: Legwand, Kane (2), Gorges, Foligno (2)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Back on Track?

Date: 09/02/2016
Opponent: Tampa Bay
Location: Montreal
Win: 4-2

Habs Goalie: Scrivens (W)
Opposition Goalie: Bishop (L)

Habs goalscorers: Gallagher, Plekanec (2), Smith-Pelly
Opposition goalscorers: Filppula, Hedman

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Curse is Broken

Back from my excursion to Montreal and my record of never seeing a team in the Montreal system, lose live is still standing.  5-1 over the Edmonton Oilers and a 2-1 shoot out win over Carolina.  So what happened?  What changed this weekend?

The all-star game wasn't the rejuvenating boost for the Canadiens that I'd hoped it would be.  Back to back 4-2 losses to Philadelphia and Buffalo were disheartening and I wasn't optimistic going into the weekend.  It seems nothing had changed over the all-star break; not the coach, not the players, not the GM, not the style of play, not the team mentality... nothing.

The Oilers, on the other hand, had seen the return of their best player in Connor McDavid and had responded in kind with a 5-1 win over Columbus and a 7-2 win over Ottawa.  They were hot and the Habs were not.  I was asked before the game for my prediction and my reply was, "My head says 2-1 Edmonton but my heart says 5-1 Montreal."  My friends all laughed it off as we headed for the Bell Centre.  The Bell Centre; the new Cathedral for professional hockey, was truly majestic.  On the way there I was swept away in a sea of red shirts in through the entrance and amidst the hallowed halls of the mecca of hockey in Canada.

I watched stars, past and present, tell us what it meant to them to dawn the CH an heard the fans erupt when the Canadiens stepped onto the ice for their first of a two game set on Superbowl weekend.  I sat in blissful admiration as the goals poured in.  A nice fake by Subban then a quality pass to Plekanec so he could one time it off Gallager's shinpad and into the net for the first goal on the powerplay put Montreal up 1-0 seven and a half minutes into the game.  I knew it was important for Montreal to get the first one and also for the power play to get going.  I also knew that we'd been finding ways to lose lately and that we'd need more.  The Bell Centre faithful knew it too.

We didn't have to wait long.  Eller gobbled up a rebound an had enough poise not to panic and dished it to Fleischmann who was breaking out up the wing.  Eller then skated hard to get himself into a good shooting position.  When the puck was dropped back to him he was calm as he used the time he had and potted it glove side just inside the post and over the left pad.  Having a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission seemed to life the spirits of the crowd.

If we thought the first period was a nice uplift from the hockey we'd be getting over the past two months, boy were we in for a treat in the second.  A good forecheck by Gallagher and Galchenyuk forced an Edmonton turnover.  A pass across the goal mouth by Plekanec was redirected in by an Edmonton defenseman but with Gallagher and Galchenyuk crashing the net, had the pass gotten through, there would have been trouble.  3-0 and the crowd begin to relax. With a "Go Habs!  Go!" chant on the tips of our tongues Gallagher started a breakout about 6 minutes later.  Plekanec took he puck to the left wing and found Subban racing in to join the play.  Pleks returned the favour from the first period and laid the puck over, catching Subban in stride.  A slapper that the goalie got a piece off, but had enough mustard on it to still tuck in just inside the post.  With the Habs up 4-0 the atmosphere was waking up.

We got an early wakeup call as Edmonton scored early in the third, short handed.  It was obvious, with a 4-1 lead that Montreal had begun to play more defensive, just happy with the win but they had just enough in them to make my prediction come through.  Buzzing around the left wing again, he waited until Gilbert identified the space in the slot.  A tape to tape pass from Plekanec and Gilbert did a good job to redirect the puck in to make it 5-1 and send this Habs fan away with a grin that would shamethe Cheshire Cat to shame.

The 5 goals was a real treat to watch but Edmonton's defense is like a wheel of Swiss Cheese only it doesn't go as well with crackers, apples, dry cured meat, and a nice wine.  The impressive part to Montreal's game tonight was how they limited Edmonton's scoring chances.  Edmonton might not be a good team but the kids can score.  12 goals in the previous 2 games and we all should have been genuinely concerned that this could have gotten ugly.  Our entire team played sound defence, back checked hard, and played smart hockey in their own end.  Couple that with some timely saves and Montreal played a very good 1goal performance.

Game 2 saw Montreal play their second matinee game in as many nights against a Carolina that traveled from Winnipeg the night before.  Still giddy from the game prior, for the first time in a long time I actually expected Montreal to win.  Unfortunately my seat wasn't even warm before Carolina made it 1-0.  I'm we were all worried that Saturday afternoon was a flash in the pan and we were back to our losing was.  More importantly my record of never seeing a team in the Montreal system lose, live was in jeopardy.  Thankfully, Captain Max would come to the rescue.  Subban did well to keep the puck in and get it to Markov who, I turn, found a wide open Pacioretty.  That was a goalscorers goal to tie it up; a hard wrister over the right shoulder of Cam Ward.  Ben Scrivens was the benefactor of another solid defensive effort and, thankfully, Andrighetto potted one in the shoot out for the win.

Aside from the treat of a rare two game winning street I gained some insight into my beloved Canadiens and the city that houses them, but perhaps another time.  Tonight will be a true test of the broken curse and a Tampa Bay lightening fresh off a 5-1 loss to Ottawa and heading into Montreal for their second game in as may nights is ripe for the picking.  Fingers crossed that this accursed losing slump is finally over.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A playoff run or a run at the #1 draft pick?

When Montreal lost it's second game in a row to Columbus (5-2) this time at home, my review of the game was scathing.  For the life of me, I couldn't pick 6 players for the dome after that abysmal effort.  To be quite frank, if the Montreal Canadiens who skated that night were all I had to choose from, I don't think I'd bother playing.  I'd probably just take the loss, and save myself the agony of trying to miraculously come up with a win with that lot.  Despite what Therrien says, despite what Pacioretty says, despite what Bergevin says, that is a team that has quit.  It is tough to get motivated to write about a team that can't get motivated to play.  It is tough to write about a team when the GM is betraying you as a fan and with that said I can understand why the players are finding it tough to continue playing under this regime.

I had hoped the all star break would reinvigorate us all.  The beautiful story that was John Scott did that, at least for my writing.  Unfortunately the same can't be said for the play of our beloved Habs.  With a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last night, from what I saw it was more of the same.  I didn't see the whole game though and that's why I didn't put up a game report.  I was actually busy getting the final preparations ready for a trip.  A very important trip.  As a forty year old (almost) Habs fan living in St. John's, Newfoundland I was ecstatic when the farm team came to visit us this year.  I have seen as many games as I can, and despite their record, I have yet to see them lose.  To see De La Rose, Andrighetto, and Carr, to name a few, down here has been a real treat.  They're not the best team, but the novelty of seeing the future of my team in action live, has me blinded to some mediocre play.  Again, they've never lost when I've watched them live so I've always left Mile One Centre with a smile on my face.

Couple the arrival of the baby Habs with the tremendous start the big club had and around the beginning of December I did two things.  I approached the Lions of Winter and asked if I could help get this blog back up and running.  It was always my favourite blog to read and debate on and I hated seeing it inactive for so long.  I felt that a run like the Canadiens were having deserved to be written about on as many forums as possible and so the Lions in Winter was reborn.

I also decided to treat myself.  Having been, for the duration of my membership in Canadien fandom, been a fan from afar, I booked a ticket to Montreal and bought tickets to see the Canadiens this weekend, live.  With the way they were playing I figured we'd be partying in the streets, singing "Ole" until the wee hours of the morning, wondering what awards Subban and Price would take home, and taking about who Montreal matches up better going into the playoffs... and then the arse came out of her (that's a Newfoundland expression that accurately describes Montreal since December 2).

It is in preparation for that trip that I was busy last night and thus won't be doing a blog about the game versus the Flyers.  I'm starting to wonder, though, if perhaps I jinxed the Habs.  In early December I did two things, I started up this blog again and I bought that ticket and since then they have stunk.  Maybe  it has nothing to do with the lack of scoring, the terrible own zone giveaways, or inconsistent, sometimes subpar goaltending.  Perhaps Therrien's lack of creativity is more minor than we think it is.  Bergevin might be a brilliant GM after all.  There's a good chance, looking back on the events that have led up to this point that this is all my fault.  I hope the Montreal locals don't find out about it until after I've come and gone.  I'll surely be lynched if they do.

I do have a plan to help counter this essence of evil I've released on the Canadiens in December.  I will take an extra passenger from Newfoundland and hope that his positive Karma will travel well and fill the Bell Centre upon his arrival.  He would be the newest IceCap, all-star game MVP, John Scott.  John, this past weekend, was the epitome of everything that is right about the game.  With grace and poise he handled a trade that attempted to bury him in the minors.  He eloquently, yet firmly put the NHL executives in their place.  Then proceeded to play the best hockey of his career.  Just his presence might remind the rest of the players everything there is to love about this game.  Remind the players to be thankful of their opportunity in the NHL because it can be fleeting.

If the infectious nature of John Scott's mere presence in the dressing room isn't enough maybe his presence on the bench might be.  The boobirds are out in Montreal and rightfully so.  There's only so much, knowledgeable hockey fans can take before they let you know about it.  If John Scott stepped onto the ice and did anything positive I have no doubt the positive energy would spill into the crowd.  We need that.  The players need to hear it too.  The positive energy that flowed through the blue, white, and red in the first quarter of the season has been sucked dry (either by waking up this blog or purchasing tickets for Superbowl Weekend).  Maybe John Scott could pummel someone at centre ice (not my cup of tea but at this point I'd be willing to try it) or stand in front of the opposition goal for some serious net presence.  On top of that, playing John Scott is actually a line option Michel Therrien hasn't tried yet this season (one of the few).

Regardless, the season, that started off with the whisperings of a Stanley Cup run that might have been, is, for all intents and purposes, over.  Carey Price is hurt and it isn't good.  It's likely not the groin injury we were all led to believe it was.  Word is now it's MCL on his right knee.  The same knee he hurt against the New York Rangers in 2014 (thanks Krieder).  Bergevin seems to be sticking to his guns and his support of Therrien.  It's likely Michel will get another shot at coaching Montreal this fall with a (hopefully) healthy Carey Price.  So forget about the post season this year.  Therrien is nothing without Price in the net and this team has quit.

It's not the end of the world.  I think we're so far out of it, I'm no longer worried about Bergevin making a stupid trade to save the season.  No matter what he does this season is lost. The price for Drouin was obviously too high (for a kid in his second season to quit on his AHL affiliate likely brought his value down lower than Yzerman was prepared to accept).  If we keep losing at this rate we will finish bottom three.  That's okay.  Auston Matthews is that good.  Maybe Bergevin sees the opportunity to draft that elusive top centreman this year.  Maybe he's going to let Therrien take one for the team, have us finish last, then sack him once we get this, potential, offensive juggernaut in our lineup.  Maybe doing the NHL a favour by taking John Scott all but assures the top draft in the "random lottery"  (wink, wink).

As much as they're frustrating the heck out of us they won't be this awful for long.  After all, they're not the Leafs.


On a personal note, I'm not sure I'll get a blog up tomorrow as I'll be prepping for my trip to La Belle Province.  I will have a very different perspective for a blog next week after seeing a game live.