Friday, November 30, 2007

Game #25

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Friday November 30th, 2007
Opponent: New Jersey Devils
Venue: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ


Team Stripes


Final Score: 0-4 - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Martin Brodeur (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Zach Parise (3), Brian Gionta



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Game in New Jersey this year (ie. our 1st guaranteed loss)
1st 4 minute 5 - on - 3 against the Habs this season (maybe ever?)



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

Ha. Tonight I am going to try something different as the play of the game is going to an NJ goal. I chose to use a goal against us this time was for 2 different reasons. The first: I just simply couldn't think of a good play. The second: it was the point at which I realized the Habs could not win this game; it made the score 1-0.

Hamrlik made a soft pass along the Devils' blue-line to quite possibly the worst NHL player of all time. Being the worst player made it very difficult for him to receive a pass that most 4 year-olds would have no problem controlling. As Brisebois juggled with the puck Parise came in and took off with the puck on his stick. At this point Breeze-by showed us his great pivoting skills and skating ability by being beat by nearly 10 seconds to the Habs goal. Parise made no mistake beating the best breakaway goalie in the league (well is he or isn't he?) 5-hole. This play killed all of the momentum the Habs had in the first period and essentially ended our chances of snapping a 6 year drought in the swamp (and now Newark).



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Alexei Kovalev

Kovalev was our most exciting player tonight creating all kinds of chances, especially in the first period. There was a great moment in the third where he shared a laugh with Marty; I hope they weren't laughing about our 5 0n 5 play, I was.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
- Showed a lot of strength and speed tonight, but his line failed to make an impact on the scoresheet. Thanks to Kovalev's 'depart canon' this season Kostitsyn and his line are now facing the opposition's best defensive lines (like Dandenault and Smolinski you mean? Ha, no, this was New Jersey, I didn't mean to say their worst offensive line)

Tom Kostopoulos
- If Tom makes it into the dome and he didn't score you know the Habs must have had a bad game, no offence to Tom of course. He played a good gritty game, especially in the offensive zone. One of Montreal's few forwards not to be intimidated by this 'big' team

Alexei Kovalev
- Had his chances to score, but unfortunately we hit the best goalie ever playing against his favorite team to beat in a season that he is being asked to prove himself (why exactly?) on the road. Made New Jersey's defence look like a bunch of regular players - who knows why the rest of our team still thought they were playing against Stevens, Niedermayer and Rafalski

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
- Poor guy. You make one pass to who you may think is a reliable D-man (although come on, he must know) and you get burned, even blamed by Brisebois' biggest supporters over on RDS. I put him in the dome simply for him to get a taste of playing with a reliable partner for once

Mark Streit
- Mark was a rare bright spot on an otherwise dismal looking team. Tonight he skated well and played a responsible game in his own end playing for just under 20 minutes. Had a few good shots, one in particular that gave Brodeur quite a bit of trouble in the first

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
-Players that may have given us a chance to win tonight: Huet, players who didn't: Price. Player who is the leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game: Huet, players who aren't: Price. Carey showed us tonight he is quite simply no Martin Brodeur. He had a chance in the first to keep us in the game on Parise's breakaway, but instead made himself look very easy to beat as he knelt down with his legs under him and with his stick way off the ice. Price just didn't give us a chance to win tonight - a spectacular performance is always required to beat Marty in his own house, so granted most goalies can't give their team that chance. He had a few Theodore-like puck-handling moments which could have easily caused 2 goals early on. Huet, to me, deserved the start on Tuesday in Toronto, which Price almost blew for us, and deserved it again tonight. Cristo surely will be ready to go tomorrow; who wouldn't be after being told to sit for a week after only letting in 2 difficult goals to a surging team.



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Had the team won I am positive that Kovy would get a better assessment than he is now, but that being said it is generally up to him, in part, whether we win or lose. Like the Habs have done in recent years we seem to be depending on one line or even one player to lead the way to the V; that seems to be Alex this year. He played better than he did last Friday, but still not as well as he does on other nights. Something about Friday night games just doesn't sit well with me and it obviously doesn't sit well with the Habs either.

Kovalev's Assessment - Good


Overall Comments

This game started with 3 straight power-plays, which could have been a good thing, but in our case tonight it was a bad thing. If you are awarded this rare gift you MUST capitalize, because if you don't you won't be able to get any more help from the refs in the game, guaranteed. The refs seem to be programmed like a computer game, a game I would never want to play. As soon as one team gets their chances the other team will get theirs. The pre-programmed refs will look for any incident that may look like a penalty and award the other team a PP. Maybe they are told to do this so they don't look to be biased, maybe it is better for Bettman's pocketbook or maybe they are actually just dumber than they look. Tonight the penalty that got things rolling for NJ was the one given to Hamrlik. On the replay it is blatantly obvious that the Devils player fell at the Roman' feet, but that was enough for 2 minutes. The ref sees a Devil on the ice, he doesn't care who, where or how he even got there he just reaches for his whistle. It makes you wonder why you need any experience to ref in the NHL, as long as you understand how to alternate, like most humans do, you would excel at this job.

Another thing that has been bugging me since the lock-out is the high-sticking penalty. I really think that the NHL should sit down and think about this one. What is the penalty for? Is it for raising your stick too high? Well, yes it is, that is why it is called high-sticking. Correct; according to the rule book when your stick is above your shoulder or the cross-bar, whichever is higher (eh Gionta), you have a high-stick. Tonight we got 2 - 4 minute penalties at the same time for 'high-sticking', but wait neither of Chipchura nor Latendresse's sticks were above their shoulders nor the crossbar. So why the penalties? It appears that the call isn't for a high-stick at all, it is in fact a penalty when your stick touches and un-visored face. Basically the penalty is for when an opposing player throws his head back. It doesn't matter how high your stick was, whether you were swinging at someone or simply skating; if your stick touches an un-visored face - 2 minutes. The next best rule in hockey is of course the extra 2 minutes for making someone bleed, while having your stick come in contact with their un-visored face. Sticks to the face seem inevitable as we always seem to get this penalty so I suggest a new strategy. From now on let's practice hitting each other, on the un-visored face, in the cheek or maybe the neck. As long as we stay away from easily cut areas like the brow and nose we should always avoid the extra 2.

This is a game to forget. It was probably always going to be a game that we would lose so let's just move on. We have only won 1 game in Jersey since the '93-'94 season so I can't say I'm surprised by the outcome. Tomorrow is a new day and a different game, it is a chance to make this a good week and start a new month on the right foot. With Nashville coming off a huge win in Ottawa and us coming off a huge loss tonight I like our chances, GHG.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Price Update

For anyone who's inetersted, they're giving away these cool glasses to anyone who gets their comment published on hockeybuzz.com.

They make the goalie you are watching look the spitting image of Patrick Roy.


In his blog entitled: Habs add Insult to Injury in Toronto...Is Carey Price the Best?, a blogger all hopped up on a win over the 14th place Leafs wrote this:

Overtime and a shootout were enough to prove that Carey Price was more than just the MVP in this one. The Leafs were coming off an embarrassing loss against Phoenix. You know they wanted to rebound, shut the media up, and do it against the one team they usually have success against. But Carey Price was also coming off a loss, and you saw him play last night...does he seem like the type of guy who loses straight games? Let me ask you this: When the game was on the line, with Jason Blake taking that last shot, did you even have a shred of doubt Carey would save it? He made 42 saves look as easy as the ones he made in the shootout. All this talk about Patrick Roy is hard to deal with, but the facts remain that they are similar in more ways than they can imagine.

It's not in the attitude, the mannerisms, or even the style. It's the confidence of not even having to put up the best numbers to be the best. Carey Price through nine games this year has a modest 2.71 gaa, and a .916 SA. He has no shutouts. Yet even you Leaf fans must admit you haven't seen anything quite like him since St. Patrick was playing against you in Maple Leaf Gardens. No disrespect to Brodeur, or Kiprusoff, or Luongo, but Price has something about him that makes you feel like he's just not beatable. I'm not trying to blow this out of proportion nine games into his NHL career, but if you think I'm this confident about him, imagine how his teammates feel. Imagine how his opposition feels. Imagine how Cristobal Huet feels, as he is the leading vote-getter among goalies up for All-star honors in the East, yet he knows this kid is better than he'll ever be. I'll leave the conversation on this final note: Patrick Roy's best season in the NHL was his second to last, where he put up a 1.94 gaa, and a .925 SA. The numbers never really mattered with Patrick, what mattered was he always made you feel like you would win, and that's how Carey Price makes you feel.


(Sorry I had to put the whole quote in, as I kept trying to cut but couldn't believe what I was reading)

Can I put this bit again:

It's the confidence of not even having to put up the best numbers to be the best.


Well, how could I argue with that? Good thing Carey was confident Kovalev and Kostitsyn would both score in the shootout when he let in that late goal. I guess he was just having a bit of fun with us all.


I don't want to be too much of a downer. I like Carey Price. I like that he is on our team and not another team. I like that he appears to be confident. I like that he is a whole lot more down to earth than some of the people watching him. I like how he dismisses talk of being the next Patrick Roy without argument. I even like his mask.

But aren't some of us getting just a little carried away (see exhibit A, above)?

If I have to ignore the stats as I've been told, then can't I at least judge whether Price gives the team some unworldly advantage to win. Let's see:

Game 1: Won by a single goal, played very well
Game 2: Lost to the league's best, played well
Game 3: Won in a shootout, played extremely well in the shootout, not as well in the game
Game 4: Lost in a shootout
Game 5: Won a tight game, played very well
Game 6: Won in OT
Game 7: Won, but let in 4 goals. The team gets credit for this win with 7 goals I think
Game 8: Lost in regulation, let in some abnormal goals
Game 9: Won in a shootout

For someone who sounds like they should have their hall of fame waiting period waived, these 9 games don't seem to match the story. In Patrick Roy's time, when we had the arcane tradition of tie games, Carey would be looking at a 4-2-3 record (11 points from 9 games).

So, I'm not going to get too carried away just yet. I will not call for Cristobal Huet to be traded. I am going to sit back, relish the 2 points and look forward to watching Price develop into a reliable NHL goalie.

I won't be able to say I told you so down the road, but I really only care about one thing in hockey: the Habs winning... (the Cup).

Chipchura and the Invisible Ceiling

Kyle Chipchura has been a revelation so far this season for the Canadiens. He has come to Montreal and delivered on exactly what was promised us: intelligence, poise and leadership.

There are still rookie growing pains, but is this the player we will be seeing for years and years to come? Or, will he develop into more once he has 80 games under his belt? 400?


If you listen to Pat Hickey on the Habs Inside/Out Puckcast, then you'd hear that Kyle is a great player, and indeed a revelation. But, alas, Chipchura has a ceiling that will limit his progress through the team and the league. Apparently, he only has third line talent. Sorry Kyle, enjoy the next 20 years doing what you do.

I disagree.

And, I really take issue with people, like Hickey, who want to rush to judgment on players based on a portion of one season in the league.

Let's start at the root of my gripe: Kyle has been unfairly pigeon-holed as a defensive forward.

It's easy to see why. It's what we were told to assuage our fears when he was selected 18th overall in 2004. He was, afterall taken ahead of Wojtek Wolski, who looked like becoming a big scorer in the OHL even then.

So Timmins tell us about his leadership and his all-around play. What do we hear? Future checking line forward, future captain. And we thought, for a first round defensive forward, he'd better be a captain one day... While Timmins never set limits on Chipchura's potential, why did the media?

His next year in junior, he was among league leaders in scoring before his achilles tendon was severed in a practice. The next season, he led his team in scoring despite missing a significant number of games. That year we all got to see him excel in a do-or-die situation for Canada at the WJC as well.

As far as I can tell, Kyle is an intelligent hockey player with exceptional determination and commitment. Although he was labelled early on and did not go triple digits in junior scoring, I see no reason to cap his potential. In fact, he's shown a few times that he can be the type of player that rises to the occasion – a trait you can usually associate with all the great players. I might not lobby to get him on line 1 or 2 just yet, but I don't see why he couldn't be used with Michael Ryder for example to generate some offense as well as his usual responsible play. And I would not be averse to moving him up one day to centre a scoring line. If he succeeded as a checking-line forward in a scoring role, it wouldn't be the first time a line thrived with an intelligent pivot. I don't have to go beyond Canadiens alumni to come up with Brian Skrudland (Richer and Corson), Guy Carbonneau (Courtnall and McPhee) and Craig Conroy (Iginla).

Afterall, hockey intelligence of the type we see in Kyle is something you usually wait 10 years to see in a player (we're still waiting Jumbo Joe) and something that should be encouraged to succeed in all aspects of the game, not reined in before he's even begun.

Luckily there are a couple of defensive guys in charge (with multiple 20 goal seasons) who know what his potential might be...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Game #24

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Tuesday November 27th, 2007
Opponent: Toronto Maple Leafs
Venue: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON


Team Stripes


Final Score: 4-3 (SO) - Win

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Vesa Toskala (L)

Habs goalscorers: Alexei Kovalev (2, 1-SO), Guillaume Latendresse (Andrei Kostitsyn - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Darcy Tucker, Mats Sundin (1, 1-SO)



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Multiple Goal-Game of the year for Kovalev
1st In All-Star Voting - Markov, Huet
1st In PP goals in the NHL - Kovaelev (8)
1st Shootout Goals for Kovalev and Kostitsyn this season



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

This game was quite action-packed with a lot of good plays. For the play of the game I'm going right back to the second period to the goal that made it 1-1 and calmed my concerns about the Habs ever scoring a goal again.

Kovalev was in good control of the puck on the PP at his usual right-wing, half-board position. He saucered a pass to Markov at the left point. Markov faked the shot and slid it right back to the un-marked Kovalev. Having the whole Toronto defence as well as Toskala committed to Markov's shot bought Alex some time. He, however, used none of the extra time given to him as he unloaded a top-corner, far-side, one-timer to put us on the scoreboard.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Alexei Kovalev

2 goals and another in the shootout is most certainly enough for Alex to win the puck. He played a great offensive game tonight. In the past few games it has been his hitting and defensive play which have stood out, today though it was his offence. He now leads all NHL players in Power-Play goals and is keeping his overall goal-scoring pace very steady; now with 12 on the season.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Saku Koivu
- Until the last minute of the game Saku was the player of the game for me despite Kovalev's 2 goals. A play he made that eventually lead to Toronto's tying goal was a single bad play in an otherwise exceptional night. Dominated the play down low in The Leafs end, worked well with both Higgins and Latendresse and then with Ryder in OT

Kyle Chipchura
- I am liking what I have seen from this young rookie so far this year. He has been somewhat overlooked all season (as has Grabovski) with most of the media's attention going towards Price. He seems to be developing into the type of player that could one day win the Selke Trophy. Gee, I wonder how that happened? He was very calm in his own end tonight and amazed me with the number of smart plays he made; plays we don't see our veterans make nearly enough of

Alexei Kovalev
- A force all night in Toronto's end, especially on the PP. His tricks worked well all game on the speed-challenged Leafs defence who are still trying to figure out who Wozniewski is and how on earth he scored an NHL contract (must have the same agent as one of our D-men...)

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
- Markov's play on the first goal was fantastic and it is surely a play that most NHL QBs wouldn't make, come to think of it until this year we had one purpose for the QB - tee-it-up. A very strong game in his own end; it is no surprise that the fans of the league have voted for him more than any other Eastern Conference defenceman in the All-Star voting

Mike Komisarek
- Toronto took 46 shots and that number could have been a lot higher as the Habs blocked 17 more. Of those 17 Mike blocked 6 himself. He remains second on the NHL's shot-block list behind only the great Anton Volchenkov. Used his physical attributes well tonight, but didn't get sucked into going for the hit every time. Markov and Komi did an excellent job limiting Toronto's top-line's amount of scoring chances

Goaltender

Carey Price
- This should have been Huet's game in my mind, but judging by recent history versus Toronto I suppose Price deserved some consideration. He played outstanding tonight making a lot of very solid and timely saves. His positioning and lateral movement were great. Not his best game stickhandling the puck, but no major mistakes to speak of. Once again was very reliable in the shootout as he only conceded one to The Leafs, and of course it was to Habs-Killer #1 - Mats Sundin



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Tonight we got our power-play chances and that meant a chance for Kovalev to go to work. If you were wondering where Souray and Ryder's goals would come from this year on the PP you have to look no further than #27. He has become the dominant player (as I believe he always was; and was the key to Souray's success) of the man-advantage and I am wondering if we'll soon start seeing him out there for the full 2 minutes. He could play 1 minute with Koivu and Higgins and then another with Kostitsyn and Plekanec. His 2 goals tonight were goal-scorers goals and his shootout goal was fantastic. He has been playing as well as he did last year, but surprisingly not too much better. It is amazing how points on the scoresheet can shut the media up. Of course it helps that his PP job has changed from last year. Last season his job was to distract opposing teams and draw 1, 2 even 3 penalty-killers towards him to allow for the big Souray shot. This year his job is a little more glamorous; put the puck in the net.

Kovalev's Assessment - Excellent



Overall Comments

This game really seemed like a must-win for both clubs so the fact that it went to OT should come as no surprise to anyone. The first period was played cautiously by both teams, with neither team making much of an attempt at scoring. Once Toronto scored to make it 1-0 in the 2nd the game changed. It was at that point that Montreal started trying to score and it almost seemed that they scored their first 2 goals at will; they were only separated by 2:18. We were outshot tonight, but I felt that we weren't outplayed. The good thing about having a good goalie, like Price or Huet, is that you can afford to get outshot, you can leave your keeper alone more to face the shots. It is no wonder that a team like Toronto feels like they have to outshoot their opponent just for a chance to win. With their goaltending situation and their inability to find the back of the net their only chance is to just keep the shots coming. Of course you can't confuse the number of shots with the number of quality chances, because tonight we may have been outshot, but we were not out-chanced.

2 things that I didn't like tonight were a couple of the 2-on-1s against us and our play while Toronto had an empty net.

Both the 2-on-1s happened when Brisebois decided to pinch and didn't get back in time. I have no problem with defencemen pinching, if of course a legitimate scoring chance comes out of it. In both cases Brisebois made the wrong play on the pinch as his teammates either didn't see him and weren't expecting him or simply did see him and decided they'd better try their luck instead. Now, I can live with a defenceman getting caught up the ice, as he is generally there in an effort to score, but I can not tolerate when they show absolutely no effort to get back. Both times Patrice coasted back to his own end waiting to see what would come of The Leafs chance. On the first occasion Brisebois wasn't even the 3rd or 4th man back, he was 5th, in fact he waited in the neutral zone for an outlet pass. I can only imagine what he would have done if he got the puck it that instance; dump-it, get hit, fall or maybe even try to get around someone, getting stripped and become the last man back yet again.

The problem I had while Toronto's net was empty was with how Saku got rid of the puck. Koivu had won the puck and was skating up the ice when he decided to dump the puck, but only to centre-ice. In this case there was no legitimate chance of him getting in to Toronto's zone to kill some time so a dump in was the right play. The thing is, though, why give it to Toronto in the neutral zone? The play to make is to take the shot on the empty net. The worst that could happen is it goes for icing and there is a face-off in our end. At that point we have a 50-50 chance of getting the puck and so do Toronto. The way Koivu did it gave Toronto a 100% of getting the puck as he gave it right to them and on top of it we didn't even get a scoring chance. Of course this was the play that lead to the goal that earned Toronto a point and may have saved a couple of jobs, so of course you can see why I am so upset.

You never like to give away a point to a team in your conference, but judging by the Habs recent woes who cares, all that matters is 2 points for us. This week has the potential to be somewhat of a turning point for us. Do we prolong our 'slump' and fall down in the standings or do we have a good week and show that last week was the anomaly. I would have to say that thanks to tonight's result a good week is well within our grasp and it is an opportunity that we should not let goto waste. We still have a ton of games left this season and all that matters is points. It doesn't matter who played well or who didn't, it doesn't matter how many losing streaks we had or how many road games we won. All that matters is points and tonight we can put 2 more in the bank.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The New (My) NHL: Montreal Canadiens November 19-25

[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

Well guys, back to earth, eh?

Not quite yet, but close.

What I think we just saw was a week that will become more and more common as the salary cap era goes on. We saw the 14th place team go on a winning tear and the first place team lose 3 in a row. Our own 3rd (or 4th if you believe in giving free positions to divisions) place team suffered a bit too.

From last week, where there was starting to be some separation in the standings, we have now arrived at a situation where there is 8 points between 2nd and 14th. In Toronto they are flipping out because they are in 14th. From another point of view, they are a team that was going to be fighting for the playoffs, one point out of a spot (24 games in...).


This new parity amongst the teams in the conference also has implications for game preparation, road trip preparation and fatigue levels over the season. If every game is now a battle, is it possible to be in a position to win each one?

Well, I think we saw the answer and it is NO.


But the answer is also that sometimes the other team simply outplays you. They are afterall, trying to. The hardest thing to admit as a sports fan is that your team is inferior to another, or even was inferior that day or night. In Montreal, the media tends to ignore how the other team played and focus entirely on the Canadiens. Win, and the Canadiens played well. lose and they played poorly. On rare occasions, the media sometimes concedes the other team's goalie played well, but never that the other team did.

If the Habs actually looked at their worst in terms a of putting themselves in positions to win, they also benefited from an Islanders team that couldn't get over a hangover of their own. In fact, it helps me to think of games from the opponents' perspective for every game.

For example, we beat the Bruins 7-1. Both sets of fans will look at the game from their own point of view

Habs fan: The Canadiens played an amazing and complete game.

Bruins fan: The Bruins were lazy, lost battles and conceded too many penalties.

In reality, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. For usually, the team that plays better wins and the team that looks lazy loses. But, in the way that different Bruins can make Mike Komisarek look both like a giant or a shortie, opponents energy, desperation, skill and luck shape the way we see our own team.

As such, here's my view on the past week: Montreal played 4 quite similar games. Ottawa are a better team than us, and we need a special effort to beat them. The Islanders dogged their game and made us look good. And, the Sabres played some inspired hockey – probably emerging from some very stern speeches reminding them they went from top to bottom in 6 months time.

I also believe that there are 7 cities each week that go through this same down period, just like there are 7 who go through the up. Montreal may be unique in the number of passionate fans, but is hardly alone in their one-eyed view on home teams.

So, after 2 losses (or 3 in 4, whichever you think looks worse) is there need to panic? NO

The introspective approach to game evaluations is fine in the media, since it has no impact whatsoever on how the team will perform, practice or approach the next game. One can only hope the coaching staff and players can step back and admit their inferiority on a given night. With a realistic evalution, realistic solutions can emerge. Maybe the Koivu/Higgins/Ryder line plays badly against Buffalo, but could still function against Toronto. Maybe Huet doesn't like facing Crosby, but relishes Jagr shots.

Thankfully, I think we have the staff to produce rational and realistic solutions, and to ignore the panic that sets in every 2 games.


On ignoring 20 earlier games in an effort to get your quote in the paper (Guy Lafleur):
"En mon livre, on n'a pas de premiere trio a Montreal. On a quatre quatriemes trios"

"In my opinion we don't have a number one line in Montreal. We have four fourth lines."




Coming off a week that sent the media into a tailspin and bandwagon fans home packing...

... what might Rejean Houle do?

Trade Ryan McDonagh for a winger from out west.




... what might Sam Pollock do?

Talk to Paul Maurice's agent about possible interest in a return to AHL coaching down the road in Hamilton (in the eventuality...).



The week upcoming

If the last week saw the Canadiens get reabsorbed by the front of the peloton, then these next 6 must return at least 3 points for hope of breaking free again next month. A realistic evaluation, assuming no sulks infect the team as a whole, makes the task doable.

Tuesday night: Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

This game is critical. A win allows the team some breathing space both in the standings and from the media. Toronto is not going to be a pushover by any means, they will be fighting for their coach by all accounts. If the Canadiens can find a way to play and impose their own style on these Leafs, then I think it comes up W. After two lessons in how to impose a style, hopefully they learned a thing or two.

Leafs to watch: Mats Sundin and John Ferguson Junior – Sundin is having a great season (which recently doesn't seem to be able to go hand in hand with wins for the Leafs), JFJ will get some air time on the TV and should provide some decent expressions (from relief to despair depending on how things go).


Friday night: New Jersey Devils at the brand new .

Great. The Devils. Just when they decided not to be the worst team in the Atlantic. There are points to be had here, though. As we saw with the Islanders and Flyers, the Atlantic division is not the Northeast. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Our little vacation from the top right corner of the league gives us a good chance to remind the Devils of that.

One commenter on the site got a bit animated when I prognosticated on the Devils games earlier in the year. I rather conservatively said split. He did not agree. I think this game will give us the answer.

Devils to watch: Patrick Elias and John Madden – Elias is underperforming as much as anyone and has been known to enjoy playing the Habs, Madden will be on the ice to test Kovalev et al's commitment to defense.

Saturday night: Nashville Predators at the Bell Centre.

In my opinion, this is the difficult game this week. Nashville have been underrated this year. I did it, everyone did. While they lost Timonen and Kariya, they managed to keep together a very young and effective group of defensemen, and their forwards are taking "no name" effectiveness to new heights. Their November has been great and they'll be coming off a game against an Ottawa team with renewed vigour.

Predators to watch: Radek Bonk and Martin Erat – Bonk has 9 goals already! (10 less than in 2 seasons with the Canadiens) and Erat is the player we thought Bulis could be and would be the leading scorer on the current Canadiens.



Overheard on the Habswagon

Fan 1: What's that stuff you see rolling by in cowboy films?

Fan 1: Oh, that's called tumbleweed.

Fan 1: Right.

(If a foil cup falls over after two consecutive Habs losses, does it make a sound?)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Game #23

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday November 24th, 2007
Opponent: Buffalo Sabres
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC


Team Stripes


Final Score: 0-3 - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Jocelyn Thibault (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Jaroslav Spacek, Thomas Vanek, Jochen Hecht



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Back-To-Back Regulation Losses this season
1st Game in which we've been shutout
1st Time Francis Bouillon has been a healthy scratch this year



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

This wouldn't be too hard if I considered writing about some Buffalo plays, but since I don't there wasn't too much to choose from. There were no goals, no good chances and no real great saves. The play of the game goes to a thunderous bodycheck by Kovalev on Henrik Tallinder knocking him out of the game. When a hit from your sniper is the play of the game (as it was on Monday) you know you didn't have a great game.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Cristobal Huet

Huet didn't have his best game of all time tonight, but he held us in it for long enough, right till the end actually. He gave the Habs a chance to perhaps make something of this game by only letting in 2 of his 34 shots. The bad news for Cristo was that it didn't matter at all. No offence tonight meant it was going to be a battle to even score one goal. No defence meant that Huet would have had to have been at his absolute best just to make a single point a possibility.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Alexei Kovalev
- He was our top forward, showing off all his favorite moves. Had a few decent hits and quite a lot of quality Kovy-puck time in the offensive zone, but he was alone in his effort

Michael Ryder
- Made a few chances for himself and his line, but nothing out of this world. Showed that he has great team spirit with his play on the 3rd line. A lot of top-line players would shutdown when they are demoted (Samsonov), but Ryder kept his head high. The effort was there in a big way tonight, as it has been all season, the puck just isn't going in

Andrei Kostitsyn
- Lead all Habs in shots and like Ryder bounced a bit between lines. Seems to be at his best beside Kovalev and Kovalev seems to be his best beside Koivu. I wonder how long until we see the KKK line? Or maybe it would be better if we just left that one alone. A few good shifts, one of the few Habs showing a sustained effort tonight

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
- He didn't have the best game in the defensive zone making a few mistakes, but then again so did all of his teammates. The good news is none of his resulted in goals; which on most nights isn't enough to get in the dome, but when it is 0-3 to Thibault it becomes a stretch for any of the Habs to get in here. His offensive play was inspiring showing that he could be quite a decent rushing defenceman. Let's not all forget that Josh is still a very young man with his confidence shattered right now - with time and patience we just might have something here

Roman Hamrlik
- Strong play in our own end again tonight. Roman provided his usual mix of steady, calming defensive play along with a few big hits and a little bit of rough play. The PP didn't go great for the Habs tonight, but Hamrlik was decent enough at his point position

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
- Remarkably the Habs were in this game until about the last 2 minutes; that is all thanks to Cristo. He never made any huge, outstanding saves, but I attribute that to his good positioning. The second goal that Buffalo scored was a bit unlucky as Huet was unable to control the rebound. He seems to have taken a step backwards in that area this season which is quite disappointing as that was always one of his main qualities. I would hope that his recent performances, despite the team's results, will earn him a start in Toronto on Tuesday; I think he deserves it.



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Tonight was a tough game for Alex and the Habs. A lot of Kovalev's chances that he had this game were going in for him earlier in the year and that of course made the difference between L and W. He spent enough time on the PP tonight (over 4 minutes) to make something happen, but thinks just didn't click. His physical play has picked up as of late and that is a good thing for us, as long as it doesn't take away from what we need the most - his goals.

Kovalev's Assessment - Good


Overall Comments

If I hear someone tell me that we ran into a hot goalie I will lose it on them. If we didn't score tonight because Thibault was 'hot' then I wonder if we'll ever score a goal again. You can use the goalie excuse when you lose to Brodeur, Luongo or Hasek, but not with Thibault. Jocelyn is not hot by any means, his numbers show that he is not even good, and I think I can say on all of your behalf that he was never a good, reliable goalie. Every team has a goalie and when you're lucky enough you may even have a chance to play their washed-up backup. When that happens you must take advantage of the chance and not squander it. Using the 'we hit a hot goalie' excuse for Thibault would be as though you were saying ' we got burned tonight because they had a guy standing in front of the net'. It just won't fly this year with the Habs, we have to be better than this, we have been better than this. Our offence is to blame here; they must find a way to do better than they did tonight otherwise it will a long season, much longer than last year.

The game never really seemed to get going for the Habs. The only possibility is that they thought they had a fourth period coming to start showing some movement towards the new-found Vezina candidate. This is a game that will hopefully be forgotten quickly as we don't want this result and performance to be the ones we look at in two months time as the answer to 'when did Carbo lose control of them?'.

One thing that did annoy me was that with 7 minutes left and then again 2 minutes later we were put on the PP and Carbo did nothing to change our fate. He just kept status quo, and big surprise, we didn't score. How about pulling Huet with 4, 5 even 6 minutes left to try and get one? This may not be what 99.9% of coaches would do, but maybe they are all wrong. At some point great players and coaches alike have to do something different, they have to offer something we haven't seen before otherwise I think the play becomes to stale. I think it was pretty obvious that we weren't going to score on the 5-on-4 at the end; Buffalo knew it and unfortunately, I think so did we. To me losing 2-0 or 3-0 makes no difference, so I think you have to take every chance to get a goal. If you have a chance for a 2-man PP to make it 2-1 with 3 minutes left why not take it? Tonight Carbo's lack of creativity and his eagerness to use his usual solution of line-juggling made this game hard to watch. Good coaches find ways to make good teams win games and great coaches find ways for average teams to win. If we want the playoffs and the Cup we need Carbo to be great.

This week ended as I feared it would - 1-3 with a measly 2 points. We are 3-5-0 in our last 8 games with all of those losses coming against Buffalo and Ottawa. Our inability to beat certain teams will surely come back to haunt us; to get to the cup we will surely have to get through at least one of Toronto, Buffalo or Ottawa. Tuesday night's game in Toronto now has huge meaning to both teams. Both us and the Leaves are coming off pretty bad little streaks that we both could really use the win. Nothing would be better than getting out of slump, nothing other than getting out of a slump and prolonging Toronto's of course.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Game #22

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Friday November 23rd, 2007
Opponent: Buffalo Sabres
Venue: HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY


Team Stripes


Final Score: 2-4 - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Ryan Miller (W)

Habs goalscorers: Christopher Higgins, Tomas Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Derek Roy, Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek, Dan Paille



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Major Injury Scare of the season - Markov in the 1st
1st Team to lose twice to the Sabres this year
1st Game for Price against the Sabres



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

There weren't many great plays tonight, just a few. There was a spectacular dive from Komi to strip Roy of the puck in the middle of the 3rd. For some unknown reason the ref called this is a penalty. What a brutal call - if you take out the man, but got the puck first that's no penalty, right? Maybe the ref was swayed by Roy faking an injury (he came back on right away). Either way that penalty led to the goal and stole play of the game honours from Mike.

The play goes to Plekanec for quite a nice goal. Kostitsyn hit Pleks in the neutral zone with a quick outlet pass, something that would have been whistled under the old 2-line pass rule, Tomas then blew around his man to get in alone on Miller and finished with a pretty sweet move.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Tomas Plekanec

He scored the goal that gave us life, and had it not been for home-ref advantage the goal that would have given us at least one point. His first period, like the rest of our team, wasn't great, but he came alive in the second. His line was probably our best tonight creating our best chances and getting us half our goals. His defensive zone coverage looked stronger than usual tonight.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
- Good work in the offensive zone and a nice goal. Controlled the puck well behind Miller's net all night creating chances for Kovy and Kostitsyn. His faceoffs weren't great as it continues to be a problem for him, but he won a couple when he had to

Guillaume Latendresse
- You at some point have to feel somewhat sorry for this guy. If you think the pressure that players like Samsonov, Bonk or Ryder have or had on them is or was immense just imagine poor old Gui's situation. Most fans and media alike have pinned their hopes on this homegrown talent, hoping he'll be the next Lafleur when it actually looks like he's going to be the next Gilbert Dionne. I am not shocked, however, at his 4th line status or lack of production considering the junior career he had and the bad experience with the Canadian team. He is probably lucky to even be playing in this league, that being said he is making the most of it and tonight the effort was there. A few good hits and good scoring chances, one of the few forwards who played with passion

Alexei Kovalev
- Another Friday night in Buffalo, another poor result and quite frankly another sub-par game for Alex. Despite him not playing to his usual excellent standards he was one of our best forwards. Followed Plekanec's lead in the offensive zone and managed to create a few decent chances of his own

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
- In the 1st period I was scared. Andrei went down hard and stayed down for awhile. It looked like one of those 2-4 month deals on his shoulder. Luckily for us, the Habs and Markov himself, he seemed fine and played a fantastic game after that. I can't imagine losing a player of his calibre for a prolonged period, it would change our team completely. Great defensive game, was never got caught off guard and played every play within the limits of the rules, cancelled quite a few decent scoring chances

Mark Streit
- Had a good game on the PP, as usual, but also a strong defensive game. Clearly Streit is our 4th defenceman and it is only a matter of time till he sees those kinds of minutes. For the second half of the third he was playing with Markov as Komi was nowhere to be seen; possibly benched. Chipped in with an assist on Higgins' goal and finished even on the +/-

Goaltender

Carey Price
- Made all the routine saves look easy, like he wasn't even trying, it's incredible. Reminds me a bit of Roy in that regard. The problem tonight, and throughout his young career, has been the inability to stop the non-routine, the unpredictable. He played a good enough game to give us a chance to win, but not good enough to steal us the game. He has yet to steal one for us this season. The Habs are the type of team that has so many off-nights (tonight) where our only real chance of winning is goaltending robbery. So far Price isn't this goalie, but he has a long way to go to reach his peak so let's hope that one day he will be. His puck control and passing are excellent for a young keeper, showing that there is obviously more emphasis placed on this aspect at the grass-roots now than ever before. This is such a welcome change from what we are used to in Montreal - goalies who should never, ever, leave their crease (Theodore, Thibault, Aebischer etc.)



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Alex needed a little nudge to get going tonight and it seemed like that came from Plekanec. Once Tomas started moving in the 2nd Alex was quickly on the same page. The Buffalo penalty-killers didn't give him as much time as he may be used to getting from passive box type teams - Toronto, Boston. Because of this his options are limited on the PP, usually taking away our best option - his shot. His play in our own end wasn't great tonight; he looked quite confused when he came out the box, not knowing where to go, that was when Buffalo scored their second goal.

Kovalev's Assessment - Good


Overall Comments

The game started out slow with neither team taking any real chances. What got the game going was the Sabres' first PP; that is when they scored their first. After that the game had some good tempo and I thought the Habs were up to the challenge. Ryan Miller proved tonight that he is more like the goalie we saw the past 2 seasons than the one we have seen throughout the start of this year. That, for us, is pretty bad news; dominant Buffalo keepers have been known to take away a lot of points from the Habs over the years.

Tomorrow will be another big test for us with the second half of the home and home going in Montreal. If we lose then we will have had our worst week so far and it will leave me wondering if this may just be the start of something far worse. If we win then we end the week 2-2; a decent week all things considered. The Sabres have traditionally not been the best of Saturday night teams always having played a home game the night before so this may be where our advantage lies. We all as well what can happen to the Habs on a Saturday in Montreal, it can be electrical, so this one should be quite a battle. Let's just look at like this - we are a good team due for a win, they are a bad team due for a loss.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Game #21

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Wednesday November 21st, 2007
Opponent: New York Islanders
Venue: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY


Team Stripes


Final Score: 4-1 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Rick DiPietro (L)

Habs goalscorers: Steve Begin (2), Christopher Higgins, Tomas Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Mike Comrie



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Assist of the season for Huet (2nd in his career)
1st 2-Goal game for Steve Begin of the year (1st since Feb. 14, 2004)
1st Multiple Point Game for Dandenault this season
1st Road Goal for Higgins this year
1st in Eastern Conference All-Star Voting - Andrei Markov - D-men



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

We were out shot 45-33 tonight which would lead you to believe that we were outplayed and that our goaltending must have been spectacular. Huet did play a very solid game, but of the 44 shots that he saved there weren't many that challenged him. Our defence, like Huet, played a good solid game, but nothing too much to write about. Our offence was quiet, but got the job done.

The play of the game goes to Long Island native Chris Higgins for a superb goal. Higgins burst around and Islander to the outside, on the right, and cut back in towards the net. He floated right across the top of the crease, dropping DiPietro to his stomach, before he lifted it over the keeper for the eventual game-winner.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Steve Begin

Begin has good nights and bad nights, but rarely on either of those does he notch a goal, let alone 2. Tonight he played a very solid defensive game, especially on the PK. He lead all Canadiens forwards in time played on the PK, 4:33 as the Islanders PP was held scoreless - 0 for 7. His offence tonight was an added bonus and a very good example of what can happen when someone from your 3rd or 4th line steps up. He finished with 2 goals and a +2 rating.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Steve Begin
- Made the most of his shots tonight and played a good overall game in their zone. A strong defensive effort and was our grittiest forward

Christopher Higgins
- Finally got one on the road, fitting it was in his old neck of the woods. Looked explosive at times and again had chance after chance. How he isn't a 50 goal scorer I'll never know, I've never seen someone get so many quality chances. 8 goals, however, on the season is quite respectable, he should be able to hit 30

Mathieu Dandenault
- This game was won thanks to the efforts of our 3rd and 4th line. Mat played a very good game and like Begin was very effective on the PK. This was a game where we took penalties, which in turn gave us some PPs of our own. Thanks to the work of Begin, Dandenault, Kovalev and all the other penalty-killers we were able to keep a clean sheet on the PK. Dandy chipped with 2 assists including a great steal right at the start to set up Begin's 1st of the night

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
- Was on the ice for the Islanders goal, but it was more the forwards mistake than his or Komi's. Played a very good transition game tonight and held the puck well in the offensive zone. The PP looked good all night despite just the one goal

Roman Hamrlik
- A very good game for Roman. He played text-book defence tonight and never really made a mistake. Had a great outlet pass to Higgins on his goal for his 9th assist of the year. Finished +2 with over 25 minutes played

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
- It is nice to see a goalie in here who got in because of his own good play, not the poor play of his teammate. He faced a season high 45 shots tonight and came very close to posting his second shutout of the year. The goal he let in can't really be blamed on him as the Islanders turned a 3 on 2 into a 2 on 1 as the D left Cristo out to dry. Huet played a very technically-sound game and I noticed his puckhandling was way better than usual. I attribute this to the fact that he didn't come out to play every single puck, only the safe ones. Tonight was one of those nights where you knew Huet wasn't going to let us lose - you could see the confidence in his movements.



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

A good all around game for Alex tonight. He spent some very effective time on the PK this game showing that icing the puck is a good option, but keeping possession is better. Again tonight we got to see Kovalev throw his weight around with a few decent hits and he also won almost all of his 1 on 1 battles. He was effective on the PP tonight as well. The pass he gave Plekanec for his goal was quite something, it was a cradled one-timer, worth a look.

Kovalev's Assessment - Very Good



Overall Comments

This is what a game between Columbus and Chicago must look like. Seldom do the Habs go into a building with so little atmosphere, usually there is a strong contingent of Canadiens fans. This was the type of game that wasn't driven by the crowd, thus the play looked a little slow. Well, that suits me just fine. We all know that the Bell Centre is the loudest arena in the NHL, but it also seems like, because of our road fans, that when we play on the road we play in front of some other very deafening crowds. I like exciting games, I especially like when the crowd is into it, but to play 82 games like that would be too much for our team. We can consider tonight's game a rest night, a rest from the circus that usually surrounds us, a rest in which we bagged 2 points. The key in these games, and the Habs had this down to a tee tonight, is to be better than your opponent. You don't have to be great, you don't even have to be good, just be better than the team at the other end of the ice. These are games that the Habs must win this season. With every game in places like Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa or Boston, or against any french player, being a big deal we won't get many chances to get the 2 points on a 'night-off.'

We are getting in the habit of not playing 2 bad games in a row and I am liking it. The Flames used this formula to march all the way to the cup final in 2004, but fell short in Game 7. I am not saying that our team is going to the cup, although of course I want them to, I am just saying if we keep this pattern up we should earn a post-season berth, and from there you never know. We just have to take this season 2 games at a time.

A Sort Of Homecoming: New York Islanders Preview

Part of blogging is getting to debate and share with your readers and fellow bloggers. Habs bloggers until now, but I thought it was time to reach out to those blogging Canadiens rivals.

Oft forgotten, oft dismissed. The New York Islanders have been finding ways to win with teams that look Floridesque on paper. Shows what paper tells you.

This game tonight presents the Canadiens a unique proposition for November – a team outside the Northeast. It's new for all us bloggers too, after a few weeks of analysing the fortunes of the Fab Five.


The one thing I do know is that Komisarek and Higgins (hometown Islanders) should get excited for this game and give the Habs the same thing we see from every visiting Quebecer in the league. I could pretend to know more, but the truth is I haven't seen an Islanders game in full, and I would have to rely heavily on paper – which we all know lies about this team. So, instead I choose to accept the generous help of fellow bloggers in New York.

Gary, an informed Islanders blogger and long-time fan (The View from Section 317) provided Lions in Winter a comprehensive long-term assessment for tonight's game:

Greetings from Long Island, and good luck tonight. Hope it is a good, clean game. After dealing with the Rangers, Islander fans always like to have a nice relaxing match afterwards, but unfortunately, the team always seems to have a 'hangover', following a cross-town match. Hopefully, that is not the case tonight.

Once again, with the media writing off the Islanders as a hopeless case, the team has gelled from the moment they stepped on the ice at training camp. Newcomers Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedotenko and Captain Bill Guerin, play like they have been with each other for years. Although Comrie is leading the team with just over a point per game in 17 contests, Josef Vasicek, who spent last year with Carolina and Nashville, is leading the team with 8 goals.

And yes, there are about 13 years and 60 games left in the contract of Rick DiPietro - but it will be fun seeing it all. "DP" as he is called at the Nassau Coliseum, has shown signs of absolute brilliance in the last year and a half, and has shown why he is in the elite class of the NHL netminders. Acting more and more like a 3rd defensemen, he has really taken on the responsibility of leading this team smartly, and keeps a stable presence in between the pipes (except when Manhattan's resident dingbat, Shawn Avery gets under his skin). If he is on his game, watch out.

The unsung heroes are the defensemen. Especially, veteran Brendan Witt. With the new NHL emerging after the lockout, it seemed that the game would pass this defenseman by. However, he has not only thrived, but excelled. His shot blocking, positioning, and innate ability to agitate his opponents without going to the penalty box (ask Jaromir Jagr), have given him the opportunity to log big minutes in critical situations. In addition, the continued solid play of our young boys, Toronto native Chris Campoli, and Montreal native Bruno Gervais, have been a great story in the making. Lastly, the return of Bryan Berard, the former Calder Trophy winner to Long Island, has been a big factor in the re-emergence of the Islander power play.

This team is a extremely close knit, and great group, that will run through fire and brimstone for Head Coach Ted Nolan. As you may have seen during his days in Buffalo, he gets the best out of his players, and is so easy going and relaxed.

I think the key for the Islanders in this matchup, is to stay disciplined, and keep a close eye on these speedy Hab forwards. The Isles need to have the "Fort Neverlose" attitude (what they used to call the Coliseum during the glory years) at home, and establish the offense early. My 'sleeper' is Bill Guerin tonight. He has not scored much lately, and missed a couple of games due to an eye injury, when struck with a puck in a game against New Jersey. He scores in bunches and is due.


As you can tell from my assessment prior to this education from Gary (in my weekly review), I didn't know much about the Islanders. So thanks to Gary for enlightening me, and hopefully some of you (readers).

Despite my dearth of knowledge about all things blue and orange since the 80s, I do know a thing or two about the Canadiens. It is based on that understanding that I'll go as far as saying I think we're coming away with two points tonight. Why?

First of all, this team has made a point of not playing two poor games in a row. The Ottawa game may not have been the worst effort for the viewers, but as a player never leading and losing by two leaves a sour taste. The players who I expect to react and rebound most impressively are Cristobal Huet and Mike Komisarek.

The second factor playing in our favour is the meaning of this game to the Islanders. Coming off a win against the Rangers, they will find it harder to rise to the occasion of a Wednesday night against a team they don't really consider rivals at all (at least not since 1980). We've seen the hangover a few times, most recently against the Sabres, so we know it's real folks. Our hangover in reverse should give us the edge up front.

Thirdly, we have just played a series of games against well coached teams with good goaltending and fast forwards. The Islanders may be on the rise, but they can not claim a top line talent like Sundin, Alfredsson or even Marc Savard.

As I said, expect something from Huet, Komisarek and Higgins who have things to prove in this one. I also think Saku Koivu will be rewarded for his exceptional play tonight with some points, and Michael Ryder may well find some twine to transform his luck. As well, I expect Kovalev to continue his thing.

One thing we shouldn't see is a lot of PP time, if I have Ted Nolan sussed. So Streit , Markov and Hamrlik will have to be happy to make their mark with sound play. Expect them all to play well, but not feature heavily in our post-game reports...

As Gary says: Hope it's a good, clean game.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Montreal Canadiens 5 Game Review (#4)

[Montreal Canadiens 5 Game Review takes a look at the last 5 games from an objective standpoint, with tabulations from Tobalev's game reports]

Date: Wednesday, November 21st, 2007


The last 5

Opponents: Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo, Boston, Ottawa

Record: 2-3-0
Home record: 1-1-0
Away record: 1-2-0

How it happened: L - W - L - W - L

Goals for: 15
Goals against: 18

Conference ranking (Season): 3
Conference ranking (5 games - i.e., 11/10 to 11/18): T10





Stack of pucks

Alex Kovalev (5)

Christopher Higgins, Cristobal Huet (3)










Play of the set
Contender for play of the year...

Plekanec's tour de force against the Leafs:

The play of the game was our third of the night, Kovalev's 9th. Just when everyone thought that the Leafs had found a way to best us yet again, along came our 2nd (1st) line. With just over 6 minutes to go in the third every Habs fan out there who had vowed that we needed an OT-free win was hoping to just get one more, to at least get into OT. Plekanec rounded the net and picked up the puck behind Price from Streit. With incredible speed (a la Modano) he flew up the left wing. He beat 3 Toronto players to the outside and then rounded the net. The whole building was thinking wraparound when at the last minute the puck came into the slot from the short side, there Kovalev didn't waste anytime unloading a one-timer upstairs.

See the play (within the game highlights).



5-game domers

F: Koivu (4/5); Ryder (3/5); Higgins(2/5)

D: Hamrlik (3/5); Komisarek (3/5)

G: Huet (3/5)








Kovalev's 5-game Assessment - Good to very good

Tried soaring to new heights, but couldn't maintain the altitude after a stall on Friday. Steadied the craft to cruise to 20.




Scoring and statistics (Top 5 over 5):

Goalscorers: Kovalev, Markov, Kostitsyn, Latendresse, Komisarek (2)

Point-getters: Kovalev (5); Streit, Markov, Koivu, Ryder (4)

Shooters: Ryder (24); Hamrlik (19); Higgins (16); Markov, Streit (13)

+/-: Hamrlik, Chipchura, Kostopoulos (+1); Ryder (0); Latendresse, Grabovski, Gorges (-1)

GAA: Huet (3.36); Price (3.50)
Save %: Price (.908); Huet (.892)

Least Original Scheduling Week: Montreal Canadiens November 12 - November 18

[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

Leafs, Sabres, Bruins. OK, we've had enough of you guys now. It's getting too close for comfort here... You know it's bad when you're longing to see the Hawks and the Blue Jackets.

Despite it being a rather uninteresting week of rehashing previous previews division rivalries. It did see the Canadiens grab another 4 points. Can't complain about that. The rivals did grab 3 themselves, but we beat the right teams if you thin the standings will stay the way they currently are, only giving up 2 to the last in division Sabres.

If this week provided anything else, it was the continuing emergence of Mike Komisarek. While Hamrlik has been an excellent addition, it is the greatly improved play of the Long Islander, in my opinion, that has turned the defense of this team around vs. last season. Quite apart from his scoring, which I see as a bonus, he has taken very well to his role of top defensive defender on the team. He hits with conviction, blocks shots and complements our best player Andrei Markov perfectly. I hope to see more of this from Mike, and hope that it makes the loss of Beauchemin look laughable over time.


If you all knew Tobalev, you would know how much of an endorsement it is for Komisarek to be in the dome for consecutive games. Let's just say, if we had had a blog the past few years, Komisarek's dome numbers would be closer to Brisebois' than Markov's. This year, he is pressing for No. 1. I'm impressed.

Beating the Leafs in Game 1 this week was great, though there was some disagreement as to whether the spectacle was or not. My question to our anonymous poster: now the week is over: Do you care how that game looked? Of course, you did spend money to see it in person, so the sting is a little more long-lasting with you I suppose...

The Sabres game was a classic unfortunate match-up. The Sabres (a team that is much better than their place in the standings indicates) vs. the Canadiens coming off two highly emotional and competitive games and then a 3-day break. it would have been nice to see more from the Habs, but let's just say a win here would have been quite immpressive.

The win against the Bruins was very impressive indeed, however. Not only did the Habs run rampant in the offensive zone, they also turned their game completely around in only 24 hours. I tell you what is nicest of all: watching Claude Julien's blank expressionless face behind someone else's bench. Phew.

Due to circumstances, this has lapsed to Tuesday. And, teamed with the rare Monday game, I missed one out. As it turned out, it was a good one to miss. Afterall, what more can we say about the team we haven't been able to beat since Cunneyworth's days. If it's any consolation, teams they own in the regular season tend to own them in the postseason. So...

Quote of the week
On the art of understatement:

"Last year was hard on me and I had a long summer to think about it. I knew I had to change my approach and my attitude this season and that’s what I’ve done."




Coming off a week that ended with a rousing period and a suspension...

... what might Rejean Houle do?

Tells the media he knew Michael Ryder would break out of the slump on the third line.




... what might Sam Pollock do?

After contacting Phoenix earlier in the week, he would have traded them Halak for a second round pick. He then claims Bryzgalov off waivers and trades him for Halak straight up.



The week upcoming

The five days left in the week must yield a few points if the team wishes to stay ahead of the pack. A game against someone new might be just the medicine.

Wednesday night: New York Islanders at the Nassau Colisseum.

Finally a team that we can get excited about before we go back to scheduling lunacy. Toronto. If it's points we want this week, then this is the critical game. Sweeps of back-to-back games is a tall order. Beating a middling team like the Islanders is a must. There are reasons to believe we can as well. Firstly, their defense is average to awful. Their system may make up for that, but our forwards will need to challenge these players one on one. Secondly, their forwards, which are arguably less inspiring than their defense. They have been putting together the wins though, so a lethargic start won't help our cause. I see a win here. For Larry??

For crying out loud, this team has vasicek on their opening page. Let's beat the bargain basement Isles...

Isles to watch: Chris Campoli and Ted Nolan – Campoli is thriving this year, despite the poolies calling for Bergeron to do it all (too bad I didn't pick him up), and Nolan is a truly great coach (you only need to look at their record and their roster to see why).


Friday night: Buffalo Sabres at the HSBC Arena.

Second Friday in a row in Buffalo. Can Hamilton just play this one? They're closer...

Sabres to watch: Maxim Afinogenov and Derek Roy – I'm going with Afinogenov again, because how could he get any worse and as for Roy, it's just funny that RDS insist on pronouncing his name Patrick's way.


Saturday night: Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre.

What more can we say about the Sabres. Well, for one thing the only points they got over ten days were against us. They are second to last in the East. We should stop treating them like a good team and take our points. Everybody else does.

That is the one reason it's a shame to have back-to-back games, as it is less likely to catch the team out twice, even if they are as bad as the standings say. I think we can take 3 points here - in fact let's arrange for 3 each, shall we? Lindy?

Sabres to watch: Whoever didn't score the night before. No one is putting massive point streaks together here. This year is starting to make the "Derek Plante scoring champion" days look prolific for the Buffaloes.



Overheard on the Habswagon

Fan 1: "With Kovalev on our team, we have a legitimate superstar."

Fan 2: "Yeah, I love my man Kovy."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Game #20

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Monday November 19th, 2007
Opponent: Ottawa Senators
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC


Team Stripes


Final Score: 2-4 - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Martin Gerber (W)

Habs goalscorers: Guillaume Latendresse, Christopher Higgins
Opposition goalscorers: Patrick Eaves, Chris Neil, Dany Heatley, Chris Kelly



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Number Retired this season - Larry Robinson #19
1st Game vs. Ottawa in Montreal this season
1st Team to beat us 3 times (all in regulation time)



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

This wasn't really a highlight-reel type of game, unless you like the Sens of course. Our passing was pretty bad, our shots and goals came from bad angles and our defence and goaltending was just simply overpowered by a superior opponent.

Tonight I waited 59+ minutes for a play to call the play of the game and it did finally come. Of course I was hoping it would come in the form of a tying goal, but we weren't so lucky. Alfredsson had the puck in our zone and was cutting into the slot with speed. Out of nowhere came Kovalev with one of the best open-ice hits I have seen in years from any Hab. It was a good, clean hit that hopefully sends a message to the Sens, from our best player to theirs, we will fight in every single game against them to get those 2 points.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Alexei Kovalev

Kovalev played a very good game in both ends again tonight. Offensively he had a slew of chances especially in the 3rd that made me think a comeback was possible. His play along the boards and behind the net was inspiring. The Habs didn't lose tonight because of a lack of effort and that could be best seen with Kovalev's charged play.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Alexei Kovalev
- Our best forward tonight ended with one assist on a sloppy looking goal from Gui. One of our few forwards who didn't look out-matched by the likes of Phillips, Redden, Alfredsson etc.

Christopher Higgins
- Scored a goal in the 3rd to give us some hope, but Gerber shut the door after that. Played very well in and around Ottawa's net showing us his early-season form. Got more involved than in the past few games

Saku Koivu
- Had a few great passing plays and looked very determined tonight. On some nights 2 goals would have been enough against Ottawa, on others it just simply won't do. Koivu competed right until the end and seemed like the player most on a mission to get Big Bird a win

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
- Yes he finished -2 tonight, but that is deceiving. Tonight I hate to say it, but, Komisarek didn't have a good game and unfortunately that meant a bad +/- for Markov. Played well in both ends especially when quarter-backing the PP. Ottawa doesn't give the point-man much time, and where lesser defencemen would have had a hard time Markov held his own

Mark Streit
- Mark, like Andrei, looked his most effective tonight on the Power-Play. He demonstrated his exceptional skating skills again tonight with a lot of good breakouts and rushes. Found his way back to the third pairing tonight to give Hamrlik yet another chance to play with the human sieve

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
- Not his best game ever, but better than Friday night against Buffalo. He didn't give us too much of a chance to win tonight, but against a team this strong that were coming off a shutout loss near perfection may not have been enough. His play of late, however, has me worrying a bit. At the beginning of the season he was strong, near unbeatable. With the emergence of Price in the past 2 weeks Huet's game has deteriorated and this isn't the first time this has happened. Cristo seems to strive when he is hailed as the sure-bet #1 keeper. Once the media gets going with the ole' goaltending debate he tends lose his edge. We saw this last year just after Christmas with Aebischer and I fear it is happening again now with Price. Huet is our number one, but how many times must he prove himself? The sooner the people and media figure this out the better his play will be.



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Alex showed a lot of fight tonight. If we can take anything out of this loss it is that our whole team, not just Alex, tried really hard. Kovalev's play all year has been world-class and as long as he keeps this up the Habs have a very good chance to see some success. He won most of his battles in and around the corners, winning the puck countless times. He turned a lot of those 1 on 1 battle victories into decent chances for himself and his linemates. The problem tonight, however, was that these chances just couldn't find the back of the net, but at least they were there.

Kovalev's Assessment - Very Good


Overall Comments

The night started very well with a very fitting tribute to Larry Robinson. The Habs demonstrated yet again what a classy and tasteful organization they are. The way they run their ceremonies, community work or other functions is always done with such class that it makes me very proud to be a Habs fan. Another thing that stands out about our team is the class of our players. Seeing Larry talk tonight and remembering his career I recounted how much of a gentleman he was and obviously still is. He does not stand alone in this field either as you have to look no further than Jean Beliveau, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey and Henri Richard for other prime examples of class in the world of professional sports. I see now that this legacy is being carried on with our current players such as Koivu, Higgins and even Price and I am very happy that this is the direction the organization has chosen to take. I am very thankful to our GMs past and present that we haven't built our teams around players like Bobby Clarke, Eric Lindros or Todd Bertuzzi who in the end get you nothing more than heartache anyway.

The game itself wasn't as high-tempo as our two previous encounters with Ottawa, but was a good game nonetheless. At times we looked very good and seemed to be on the verge of cracking Ottawa, but every time that happened they came back and scored on us. Against most teams and most goalies 38 shots vs. 28 would be enough, the problem of course is their shooters and goaltender have been in a league of their own all season. We still have 5 games left against the Senators and if we ever want to go anywhere this year we must first prove ourselves against them. I believe that our performances and results vs. Ottawa in those 5 games will show the league whether we will be a true contender or not this year. The good news is that winning the cup doesn't necessarily mean beating Ottawa, we can let Toronto do that in the 1st round before we beat them in the 2nd.