Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bizarro Week: Montreal Canadiens October 29 - November 4

[Montreal Canadiens Week takes a look at the week that was and the week ahead from a subjective standpoint, and is supplemented by the objective analysis following every fifth game]

The week that was

Remember Bizarro Jerry, George and Kramer. They were nice, courteous, they liked everyone, they did things. Bizarre.

Canadiens meet Bizarro Canadiens.

You'll do the opposite of what everyone expects at every turn. You'll end a 4 game winning streak by laying an egg against what up until now was the worst team in the league. You'll make Johan Hedberg look like an NHL goalie. You're captain will speak French. Don Cherry will take your side. You'll score shorthanded.

You'll let the Leafs win in your building. Oh wait, that must be the return to normality...

At the risk of ruining my theme here (it was fun while it lasted). I will go on record as not being the least bit surprised by what happened. The Canadiens, not being a top team yet, were bound to slip against a team who was starting to get it together. I just thought there would be more goals in Atlanta. They have owned the Flyers since the curse of John Leclair was lifted. And, those Leafs games are always a coin toss no matter where they are played.

Taking a look at individual performances, I'd say I'm pleased on the whole:

Carey Price is a capable NHLer, but not even close to being a star (let alone a superstar) yet - entirely normal considering he is only 3 games in. I'd wait till 3 years in with him to pass judgment. Patience.

Saku Koivu had an interesting week. Criticised for his unwillingness to address certain people in their own language (ahem, pot calling kettle black). He came back, played a cracking game against Philly and addressed 21,273 + catwalk denizens en francais. The blemish was a loss against the Leafs. But they know him well, so he can be forgiven for losing to Sundin's Leafs.

Finally Michael Ryder. He can't do anything right. His line's doing well. We're near the top of the East. We're winning. But, alas, Ryder only has 2 goals. But you know Ryder. Goals in bunches, 6 goals in the next 8 games and he's on pace for 30. When I consider that he'll only score in 20 games this year. I'm glad he's thinking about how to improve his play in the other 62 games. Why isn't everyone else??? I would rather win the Cup than have a 40-goal man from Newfoundland anyway.

The standings are looking quite nice these days too. Sitting in the top half is great. Top half of playoff teams. Oh, heady days. Threat teams like Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are tanking it a bit at the moment, so they'll be climbers to watch for. But, apart from Pittsburgh, the teams better than us (Ottawa and Carolina) are already ahead of us. If the Habs can approach each game with a bit more zest, then I think 4th is attainable in the end. I said heady days didn't I?

Anyway, it's 17 down. 79 to go.

Quote of the week
On enjoying your teammates appreciating what you can and can't do:

“The guys had a pretty good laugh there just before it was time for me to shoot. What a bunch of jerks,” said Hamrlik with a smile, shaking his head.

Coming off a week with enough points, but ending on a sour note...

... what might Rejean Houle do?

Play coach and insist that Michael Ryder be replaced by Latendresse on the top line.

... what might Sam Pollock do?

Ask Captain Koivu to use his Finnish language skills for the team this time... to speak to Teemu Selanne.

The week upcoming

Monday night: Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre.

Ah, Buffalo. Last time I said they may or may not be finished as conference lead contenders. I think it's too early to tell. If you remember two years ago they started relatively well, but finished with panache to rocket up the standings. The same could yet happen here. It's fairly clear they are adjusting to losing their two top centres, and that Vanek has not yet adjusted to all the increased attention from defenders.

We are well matched with Buffalo, and we each play about the same way the others would like to. But as Buffalo has lost their last 2 to Ottawa and Florida, we could do ourselves a favour by kicking them while they're down. If the Habs want to cruise into the playoffs instead of fighting tooth and nail, this is a game to win.

Sabres to watch: Jaroslav Spacek and Maxim Afinogenov – Spacek has been putting up points for Buffalo even as Campbell looks to usurp the No. 1 role. Afinogenov in the meantime has been the Sabres' very own Michael Ryder (this scares me, as he is probably not going to finish the season with
half as many points as Jason Pominville).

Thursday night: Boston Bruins at the TD Banknorth Garden.

To Boston and, in my opinion, our best, if not oldest, rivalry. Too bad we're now battling it out at TD Banknorth and Bell instead of the Forum and Garden days. Boston after a rocket start have slowly been coming to earth. Playing the Senators twice in two nights isn't much fun. But as good as the Sens are a contender for top 4 in the conference would have won once. They didn't. The Bruins are neither as good as their start, or as bad as their game against us. I would call them a middle of the pack team, in it right to the last days of the season. Since we are now aspiring for more, they could be inferiors. On the form we showed last week, they are our peers. Even so, the way they are built, they shouldn't beat us if we play our own game.

Bruins to watch: Chuck Kobasew and Tim Thomas – Kobasew is shooting 27.3% with 6 goals. Higgins take note, you too Mike. Thomas's stats are unbelievable again (wonder if the management will ever trust him enough to stop signing other goalies).

Saturday afternoon: Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place.

My goodness. Just when you think Ottawa might slip, they keep rolling. Does it matter who plays goal? who coaches? Ottawa got their taste for the Cup and now they're going to do their best to get their paws on it. The timing for a game against them couldn't be much better from our point of view. Games they should win against Toronto and Washington will put them at 14-1. Built better for the playoffs, the Sens are not an 8-loss kind of team, they're due a few hiccups. I honestly think we'll beat the Sens, it's the most confident I am for all games this week.

Senators to watch: Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher – Alfredsson has been drinking water from the same Swedish spring as Zetterberg and Sundin and is proving again that he Ottawa's main man, Fisher (who we tried to trade for loads of times when he was young) has been playing some great offensive hockey of late.

Overheard on the Habs train

"Hey M. Gagnon. I thought you didn't need a ticket this year..."

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