Monday, December 17, 2007

Koivu Asserts His Position: Montreal Canadiens December 10 - December 16

The week that was
We all knew this was coming. A winning week that is. We would never have called for our captain to be traded for an underachieving 2nd centre with a French name...

Phew. We still have our captain with more points than the second highest point getter on the Sharks and better chemistry with Higgins to boot.

Of course, the trade was no more real than the signing rumours were this summer, but it is the media's penchant for getting on the trade calls for certain players that brings the illusion of accumulated evidence about. Pretty soon, after a critical mass is reached, everyone starts to believe the old adage: "If there's smoke, there must be fire". I suggest a knew one in the case of Koivu trade rumours:

"If Koivu's in a trade rumour, he's gone at least 1 shift without scoring."

I am especially relieved that we did not traed Koivu, because not only is he our best player who plays much better than his statistics sometimes reflect (i.e., this year), he is also the only Canadiens player to top 70 points in near eternity. Personally, I chalk this up to the "minus 20 rule" - that is any player will get 20 less points on the Canadiens than any other team in the league (except Minnesota). This rule comes from our knowledge of how players did before they arrived in Montreal and how they tend to do after they leave. There are some exceptions (Brian Savage) who thrive here, but very few.

If Marleau came to Montreal, he would be a 60-70 point scorer, whereas Koivu would be getting 85-100 with his new team in San Jose. We'd all be a bit upset and wonder how we got such a slow and seemingly unmotivated player in a very big frame after the Finnish Firestarter left.

And, Koivu had quite a week to top off not getting traded. Some wins, some points and some goals. He made Sergei Kostitsyn look like an experienced NHLer at times, Hal Gill like a tall Christian Laflamme and the Bell Centre like home ice for the first time in a while - what more could we ask for.

As for the rest of the Canadiens, good things happened for them too this week. Andrei Markov answered my calls to play better. Kostitsyn, the Andrei, is giving me reason to believe I wasn't misreading his talent all along now that he decided to shoot. Higgins is finding himself again and Kovalev continues to plod along by scoring and leading by example.

Quite significantly, Carey Price also decided to pull his socks up this week and play some seriously good games. It is significant, because this would mark the first time he has won consecutive games in such impressive fashion. The boy is learning and he seems to have passed the first module. As things get harder for him (end of season drawing nearer, media growing more frantic), it will be interesting to see what he can do. In other goaltending news, it was disappointing to see Halak demoted with only a single period of action, but very encouraging to have our number one back in the team.

Apart from all that good stuff, the best news of all was the 5 of 6 points collected by the Habs over the week. Taking a point from the Lightning was good in retrospect, as the comeback did them good. Beating Philadelphia was great as they were ahead in the standings at the time, and any chance to send that team crashing down would be great. And then there was the win in Toronto, which apart from the points is what the hockey season is all about: not having to listen to Leaf fan braying for a whole day.

I would never have guaranteed a god week, but I thought it would come sooner or later. I'm as happy as anyone it was sooner...

Quote of the week
On sinking to new depths on the radio (Wilson):
"Can you hear the crowd? They seem to be chanting Visa, Visa, Visa. Wonder what they have against that?"

Coming off a week where 5 points vaulted the Canadiens back to where they had been before the troubles...

... what might Rejean Houle do?

Take inspiration from the wayward press and look to trade Koivu to California at all costs.

... what might Sam Pollock do?

Meet personally with Jaroslav Halak. Thank him for his profesionalism and patience and tell him to call anytime he needs to know what the situation is.

The week upcoming

After that setup, the Habs should have built a little confidence for the upcoming games. And, the legthy losing spell should be fresh enough that they don't take these next few games for won before they even start playing. And so, with the Canadiens playing well and playing to win, I'd expect better than 4 points for sure this week, which will set them and us up for a nice Christmas break.

Tuesday night: Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre.

Florida may be in 12th, but they're also only 5 points out of 3rd, with a game in hand. Fun in the East this year... What's more, Montreal don't like Florida, and they don't like Jacques Martin. But if the Habs can score, then history will say that we can win. So score we must. A win in this one would be a nice little streak to get the confidence going too.

Panthers to watch: Olli Jokinen and Tomas Vokoun – different goalie, same story in Florida. Vokoun has been bombarded by shots recently, but still manages to pull out the wins. In the meantime, Jokinen outpaces his teammates by a wide margin in all scoring, as usual.

Thursday night: Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center.

Now, Washington is the one team in the East who really do lack the form to compete at the moment. With Ovechkin and Semin, they can score, but Olaf Kolzig is getting on, and their defense is quite a collection. If scoring on Florida was key, not scoring on this defense would be criminal. The key here will be to get Markov on Ovechkin, he who thinks Markov is the best defender in the league.

This game will be at the original "Phone Booth", back when the Habs played at "The Keg". I still don't like the "Phone Booth" for us, feels like lazy naming. How about "The Switchboard" or "The Call Centre"?

Caps to watch: Alexander Ovechkin and Olaf Kolzig – Ovechkin/Markov should be worth the price of admission alone (if you like watching that sort of one-on-one play), and it will be interesting to see Kolzig, young Price's mentor, and what he does and says facing his protege. Hopefully all the lessons have been completed.

Saturday night: Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena.

A Saturday away from home against a team not in the Northeast. What's happening? This game should make for interesting viewing at the very least, since Atlanta's two big stars are nothing if not fun to watch. Plus, Kovalchuk has never said Markov is the best defender in the league...

I think the Habs need at least 3 of the points from this and the Dallas game to give themselves a good springboard into the holiday break.

Thrashers to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk and Mark Recchi – Kovalchuk is the best young goalscorer in the league, and it will also be interesting to see how Recchi does now that he's freed himself of Therrien's maniacal grip. It's telling that Marian Hossa isn't on the list, since last year at this time, it was Hart trophy talk for the Slovak. He is still a major threat, but it just goes to show that we should wait till April to see where the trophies will go (eh Lecavalier?).

Sunday night: Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

All I can say is that I hope the Candiens aren't flying on the airline named for the Stars' building (they named it that way around, right?), unless they want to play this game in their boots. One day to get to Dallas from Florida might be doable, but in my experience they need at least a few days to get any baggage to you.

Anyway, I digress. Quite a tough way for the Habs to end before Xmas, but were they to get 3 of the 4 on the weekend, they would be giving themselves a nice feeling and place in the standings for Xmas. Dallas, who once again has defied their team on paper by actually playing well, will be thinking the same, so where's the OT contract, I'll sign...

Stars to watch: Mike Ribeiro and Sergei Zubov – Ribeiro has been scoring a lot and in bunches, it will be interesting to see how he faces up against his Montreal "Buddies". Zubov is the most underrated defenseman, if not player, in the league - you know it's true because that's the first time you've heard that this year, unlike the Ryan Smyth underrated myth. As an aside, does anyone think Koivu will have a go at Ratboyero? He must be itching to...

News from the Habswagon

Canwest December 16 2007 – The tracks back and cars are full. I got my ticket this mrning, one of the last. With the Canadiens now in 5th place and challenging the conference lead, things are looking up.

"I think this train's going all the way, said one Habs fan wearing #74, 26,000 fanes couldn't be wrong could they?"

[The subjective look at the week that was and the week ahead in Montreal Canadiens Week is supplemented by the objective analysis following every fifth game]

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