Friday, October 30, 2009

Game #13

Habs Come Close to Stealing Some Points

Details


Date: 30/10/09
Opponent: Blackhawks
Location: Chicago

Loss: 2-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Huet (W)

Habs goalscorers: Cammalleri, Moen
Opposition goalscorers: Versteeg, Barker, Sharp



Play of the game


Cammalleri got a good bounce and scored and Moen did well to tuck one in, but neither of those goals screamed 'play of the game' to me. I instead will go with a save that Price made. The save itself was a good one and the timing, too, was crucial. It came in the second period and was at a time that the game could have been put out of reach. Carey made an initial save and then Patrick Kane had the rebound at the side of the net and got at least 2 or 3 whacks at it. Price, however, was up to the test and held strong against the post. He actually managed to keep the puck out with his skate blade as the puck went behind his pad. The Habs went on to tie the game soon after that and I was viewing that save, at the time, as a game-saver.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome



Forwards

Tomas Plekanec

He was fast, he was exciting and he was creative. Tomas may not have scored tonight, but I think that, overall, he was our best forward. He played for over 19 minutes, wasn't on the ice for any 'Hawks goals and did very well on the PK. He did, however, have a very bad night at face-offs as he went 4-10.

Mike Cammalleri
Mike scored a good goal and was a big reason that play was kept alive in the first place. Like the goal-scorer he is the puck was able to find him and it was almost a gimme. That gives him 6 on the year which is about what we would expect from our top sniper. Aside from the goal he was very good on the fore-check and, I thought, played very well with Pleks and Laps. Hopefully this line will flourish, but at the same time I am hoping that Gomez, (suddenly cold) Gionta and (can't buy a break) Kostitsyn will excel too...that is the plan, isn't it?

Max Pacioretty
Max didn't have a stellar game, but I just wasn't that impressed with the rest of our forwards in this one; I simply expect more. I am not sure if he will always merit 50% more ice-time than Latendresse and Chipchura, but tonight he at least earned it. He picked up an assist on Moen's goal, had a few other chances in the offensive zone and made quite a few solid defensive plays. Right now the kid isn't scoring, but it at least it seems that Moen and Metro's work ethics are rubbing on him.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
When you take away the players that had serious problems tonight you are, once again, only left with two defenders. Gorges, again, is one of those as tonight he stayed out of trouble a lot better than the others.He took an unfortunate penalty (unfortunate in that the ref actually called it) and didn't see too much ice (why are Gill and Bergeron both playing more than him?), but I am happy to report that he wasn't on the ice for any goals against. What you get from Josh is low-risk, mistake-free hockey and tonight was another clear example of how effective of a game-plan that can be.

Jaroslav Spacek
Our best offensive and defensive D-man was Spacek tonight. Over the past week or so I think he is playing a lot better and has really started to establish himself as a leader on this team. He got beat a couple of times tonight by quicker forwards, but all in all he played a clean and effective defensive game. He managed to pick up an assist on Cammalleri's goal which was essentially an easy rebound off a very menacing Spacek point shot.

Goaltender

Carey Price
- Game Puck
Until Carey let up the third goal there was no doubt in my mind that he had been our best player. Although at first I was upset with him on that third goal (his stick was up and pads were back behind him, not butterfly'ed), upon reflection I still can't think of anyone who played better. Price was able to stop 33 of 36 shots and many of them were actual good scoring chances. Chicago is a better team than us and played a better game than us and I thought it was our goaltending that even kept us alive at all. He didn't steal us points tonight, but he put us in a very good position to get points that we really had no business getting.


Comments

I think I have the Habs figured out. We aren't a very good team, but we try hard. This, I think, is what has given us our most realistic start since the lockout. By that I mean that we are losing (badly at times) to teams that have more talent and are finding ways to win (sometimes comfortably) against teams with less talent than us. In previous years we could out-play a Detroit, but then show no effort 48 hours later against a Florida. That, I believe, is how we could look so good and yet so bad all in the same week. This team, however, just can't keep up with some teams and it is showing in the results. Like I have always said though: there are more bad teams than there are good, so our style of play should get us into the playoffs.

Chicago didn't really play at their best in this one, but they certainly out-chanced us early. With that came more penalties to us and less to them. That, of course, made it easier for Chicago to go to work and to continue with the quality chances. We were unable (apart for some very brief periods) to establish any sort of sustained attack and that ended up costing us as most of the game ended up being played in our end. Two fortuitous goals towards the end of the second gave us hope, but all it felt like was a chance to get to OT. Good teams will find a way to win and that is precisely what Chicago did tonight. We couldn't do anything about it really, but we are certainly going to have to be better against high-end teams if we want any hope of doing anything at all in those playoffs once we get there.

Martin Getting There

New Habs Lines Spread The Wealth

In his brief time here in Montreal, Jacques Martin has found our best line. On his ten question exam, that was the first problem, the giveaway warm up one.

And while it's a "well done" to Jacques for discovering that putting the 39 goalscorer with duo that combined for goals galore and Cups in the past, it wasn't exactly a headscratcher.

What was and remains a headscratcher was/is finding out how to get some offensive production from his lower lines, most specifically his wingers. The problem of making his team hard to defend against (something which they have proved they are not when facing the better teams in the league).

After 12 regular season games and 8 in the pre-season, Jacques should be starting to get a feel for some of his assets beyond the obvious big three. What he might have noticed by now is that Plekanec is a very good, if temperamental, player. He may have noticed that Andrei Kostitsyn is the only forward from the remaining group who can beat a player one on one and certainly the only one who can stare down a goalie who has set his feet for the save and score. He may have noticed that Latendresse has hands but needs a big brother to push him into the role he seems reluctant to take. And he may have noticed that the rest of the guys deserve credit for their effort, but aren't going to a big part of the solution to the scoring problem in the long-term.


Line changes

Today we have news that good old Jacques is shuffling the deck. And while the Francois Gagnon's of the world will be infuriated that Andrei Kostitsyn appears to be getting rewarded for his lack-lustre production. As always the one-eyed critics miss the point entirely.

This move isn't about rewarding Andrei Kostitsyn in the least. It isn't about the individual players at all. What it is about is the search for the chemical equation that will yield two good offensive lines from a list of 12 possible reagents.

I have to say I am in full agreement. i think the time for rewarding Travis Moen for working hard or rewarding Max Pacioretty for not being a sulky Belarussian has come and gone. Sooner or later, Jacques had to look beyond sending messages to a couple of players and begin sending the message to the league (and us fans) that the Canadiens will be a team to be reckoned with.

The more astute among you will have noticed that these changes actually happened between periods 2 and 3 of the last game when Martin swapped Cammalleri for Kostitsyn straight up. The most astute readers will remember that based on some reason and statistical precedent, this was the first line that we all thought should be trotted out as number 1 (or 2, if you consider centre 1 and winger 1 will now be united).

I'll just refresh the memory as to why we thought it might make sense in the first place:

1) Kostitsyn and Plekanec no longer work well together.

They didn't all last season, they haven't in the first spell this season. Don't ask me why, it's just so. Might as well work on another combo


2) Gomez and Gionta (the unbreakable duo for now) both shoot like crazy.

Their default setting is shoot, even Gomez's passes are often shots. It made less sense, to me anyway, to add another shooting machine to the line. After all, who would be the puck holder, who would challenge the goalie to think that a pass might come instead. Cammalleri was successful on the first line, but looking at his goals, a lot were self-made and many were quick shots that happened to come off. What we have seen against good teams is that they can allow the shots (knowing they'll come) and set their minds to cleaning up the rebounds.


3) Kostitsyn is in all likelihood the second best (if not the best) shooter on the team in terms of accuracy and quality of release.


At the end of the day, this will probably translate to more goals than 15 of the group of 18 forwards. In short, he's a top goal threat. So no matter what his attitude to mucking it up in the corners may be, it is in the interest of the coaches to potentiate this asset. Allowing him his first experimental run with Scott Gomez is a logical step in the experiment to get him firing again.


Almost there

If he's found the way to play Kostitsyn on a scoring line without Plekanec, Jacques still has to figure out which of the young French Canadian duo is the goalscorer.

PLaying Maxim Lapierre on line two is a nice plaudit for the young man, which he deserves after last season, but come April it would be surprising if his name were to be found above that of Guillaume Latendresse when you sort the stats for goals scored.

Max is a lot of things, plucky, committed, competitive, spiny, energetic; but he won't ever be mistaken for a goal-machine. That's not to say that Gui will ever be said machine. However, with Plekanec's smoothe passing and Cammalleri's machine-gunning pucks at the net, the quicker hands should win the day here.

If it's not to be Guillaume, Maxim is still the wrong choice in my books. The place beside the top scorers is more suited to wingers like Pacioretty and D'Agostini, so Lapierre can get back to doing what he actually does well.

And, not to nit pick, but this is only questions 2 and 3 on Martin's exam sheet. There's that whole defence to work out next. Maybe once he gets to it, he'll even realise that Hal Gill is not a defender for every type of opponent and that he should get hold of the ear of his GM to mention that spare money kicking around because he hasn't replaced Markov.



Patience. Again.


Although I'm fairly convinced that some of the reasons I put forward these lines in the first place were right, I would hesitate to say everything falls into place this evening against the Hawks.

Once again, a little bit of patience is required. Both Gomez and Gionta have been good, but will need time to acclimatise to having a puck-carrying and more discerning shooter at their sides. Ditto Plekanec, who will have to adjust a bit to the frantic pace of a Cammalleri shift.

I tell you what though, if this works, then teams like Pittsburgh will have to think twice about trotting out Martin Skoula to defend the line Kostitsyn's on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Game #12

Crosby Show Hard to Watch For Habs Fans

Details


Date: 28/10/09
Opponent: Penguins
Location: Pittsburgh

Loss: 1-6

Habs Goalie: Halak (L), Price
Opposition Goalie: Fleury (W)

Habs goalscorers: Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Crosby (3), Rupp, Goligoski, Kunitz



Play of the game


Chances not converted were the only plays to rival our goal tonight, but alas, it is the goal that prevails. The Habs were on a 5-on-3 (the only time we were capable of really outplaying the Pens) when this all went down. The puck almost came out of the zone, but the man who ended the play, Plekanec, was the one who started it by swiftly holding the puck in at the point. Gomez then had the puck on Fleury's left with Tomas in front and Gionta at the far post. The pass went to Gionta, but it was off. Brian, however, did well to keep the puck in play as he deflected it with his skate into the slot. Plekanec had the puck and a whole lot of net to work with and, predictably, made no mistake.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome



Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
- Game Puck
Pleks scored our only goal tonight, but, on top of that, was also our best forward. He was creative, quick and, unlike most others, never really gave up. I particularly liked when he repeatedly punched Guerin in the face and only wish, for that moment, that I could have been him.

Maxim Lapierre
Max has had a very quiet start to the season and has a lot of work to do to get himself to the 20-goal mark. So, he hasn't been as good as most people hoped (desperately hoped), but he has been OK. Is he a top-6 forward? No. Is he a good winger? Not really, better as a centre, but, he is still trying hard. Tonight his effort was what made him stand-out above his peers. Even though he didn't score I still liked the fact that he shot the puck (led the team with 5) and tried things in the offensive zone.

Kyle Chipchura
It may because he looks much older now, but do you think Chips actually, for the first time in his life, looks like an NHLer? He looks comfortable on the ice, plays his position well and is actually bringing quite a bit to the Habs. I am hoping that he can cement his spot as our #3 man this year, because Metro, although playing very well, is really a 4th-liner at heart. Tonight Kyle was very impressive in the face-off circle 9-3 as he continues to get a bit better each game.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
This wasn't a great game for our defenders, but Hammer, yet again, stood above the rest. Yes, he was on the ice for 4 goals against, but maybe that is because he played nearly half of the game and had to play against the league's best. I saw no major personal flaws and also saw some good movement through the neutral zone and into Pittsburgh's end. If you don't think I am on with this selection feel free to let me know, but please limit your choices to Mara and Gorges as Gill and Bergeron were at their very worst tonight.

Jaroslav Spacek
Spacek's big play of the game was a high-stick (a violent one at that) to the face of Staal. Luckily Jordan was alright so we'll probably never really hear about this one again. Aside from that blunder Jaro, like Hammer was OK. He was also on for 4 goals-against, but the same arguments as above hold true. He was a little slow getting back a few times, but I was happy with his 2 shots which really tested Fleury, so that makes up for it.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Not really the return Carey had hoped for, but 2 goals on 14 shots, believe it or not, is enough to beat out Halak on this night. To be fair to both goalies Pittsburgh is good, really good. The defence let Crosby and company go to work, but that, for me, was to be expected. Neither goalie was actually brutal, but with that many quick-passes, odd-man rushes and wide-open chances what is one really meant to do? Each goalie should get a start this weekend and it will be interesting to see if this latest 'controversy' will spark some better play from either of them, Price in particular.


Comments

I'd like to say that we started strong or maybe that we had a stretch in which we outplayed the Pens, but in reality that was not the case. We kept the game at 0-0 for a while, but on this night we were the worse team for 60 long minutes. There were no major breakdowns to talk about or no real lucky/unlucky bounces, no, it was just all Pittsburgh. They are a better team than we are (probably than we can ever be) and they simply played like that tonight. Losing to them on the road, without Markov, after 4 wins isn't pleasant, but I think we all expected it, didn't we? Too many games against weaker teams may have given the fans, and players alike, some hope, but on each and every play you can see the difference between this team and the Islanders, Leafs or Thrashers of this world. The good news is that we are still on track to meet our goal for the week; 2 points (however the Habs want to get them) over the next 2 games will set us up well for month #2 of the season.

Letting Players Go For Nothing Vs. The Desperate Grab

Because I took some shots at Jack Todd, and I guess Andre Savard, I have found myself in several arguments on the merits and pitfalls of various moves across the years.

While I can't really argue when there's a clear disagreement about the worth of a player, there are places where I think my point of view needs better airing. One area that keeps coming up again and again in arguments (and it's really getting my back up now) is faulting the GM for all the players he lets go for "nothing" – supposedly in contrast to the massive yields he could have reaped in a last minute trade. I have never accepted this line of thinking, nor will I ever, probably.

But in the interest of at least seeming open-minded, I will lay out both sides of the case as I see it.


What is nothing?

"He let the player go for nothing..."

Ah, that old chestnut. Some people would accept it outright, not me. To start with, I think we have to be clear about what we actually mean by nothing. I'll take trade vs. no trade at the deadline to provide the example. Since we have such a convenient recent example in Cristobal Huet, I'll illustrate using his case.

Cristobal Huet was not let go for nothing, not in the immediate sense of the word. Bob Gainey traded him to avoid that eventuality. He was let go for a 2nd round draft pick that eventually became Mathieu Schneider (when combined with another pick) who then became nothing.

The initial trade
What is hardly ever mentioned in this trade is that another team was involved – the Washington Capitals. The Capitals (a team behind the Canadiens in the standings) needed a goalie to sure themselves up for a playoff run. Just like the Canadiens, the Capitals in taking on Huet would be taking on a player who might amount to nothing come July 1st. In fact that is what ended up happening.

So why did the Capitals trade a 2nd round pick for nothing?

Well, they didn't. Did they? What they traded that 2nd round draft pick for was 2 whole months of Huet's services – something which amounted to 13 regular season starts and 7 in the playoffs. They traded for an 11-2 finish to the season and an being an OT goal away from the second round. It's hardly nothing. In fact, it could be argued that the latter portion of the season and the playoffs is when you most want a star player like Huet was that season.


Now, in fairness, when Huet was traded Gainey was not trading away an 11-2 record with league-leading goaltending to be followed by taking Philly to the limit. What Gainey was trading was probably more like 6 or 7 starts as a back-up and an insurance policy against a rookie who might falter or crumble under fatigue (what a radical concept). He traded a back-up option that his coach might actually use, vs. the other young guy who hadn't earned any trust yet. Not, perhaps, 11-2 and playoff heroics; but hardly nothing.

At the time it seemed a lot to give up for a 2nd round pick. In retrospect, it looks like even more.


Speculating on returns

The other trading scenario in this game is the trade unmade – hanging onto a player for 20+ games of service, all in the knowledge that come July that player might leave town.

Here things get even more interesting, because unlike Huet, Recchi and Damphousse who have values attached that we can measure and evaluate after the fact, the hypothetical trade only gets imaginary value. It tends to get very interesting indeed because often what we imagine a GM can get and what he actually can get is separated by quite a gulf.

Here take the oft-cited (frustratingly often now) example of Mark Streit.

In 2006-07, Mark Streit had a breakout season scoring 10 goals and adding 28 assists to float well up the defenceman scoring leaders list for the year. While this misleading statistic made him a hockey pool favourite, those who didn't have wool over their eyes remember that a lot of those points came as a sometimes 1st, sometimes 3rd line forward (several with Koivu as his centre).

The trend continued in 2007-08 as Streit racked up a whopping 62 points. But again at the trade deadline, it was hard to dissect whether he was a forward playing at a good second line clip 58 GP, 43 Pts or whether he was actually an elite offensive defenceman being misused by his coach. Though it was clear he was a good player, I don't think anyone could have predicted the 19 points in 18 games that followed the Huet trade – a period that vaulted him to all-star contender.

So to those who lament losing the 62-point PP wizard for nothing when we could have traded big, I ask first for you to wind back the clock and remember the time spent at forward. Seeing as Mark himself had made it clear his goal was to make his next NHL season one spent on the blueline, what Gainey had on that day was more like a 50-point defenceman with inflated stats thanks to shifts with Koivu. He had value, but a couple of notches below.

So instead of being able to fetch what free agent defender Brian Campbell did, for instance (Steve Bernier and a first rounder), Mark was in a more unproven zone. He probably fell into the league of Brad Stuart 2007-08 (a season removed from being a pretty reliable 30-point D) and Marc-Anre Bergeron (an offensive PP specialist coming off seasons of 35, then 46 points with no time at forward). Neither of these players was had for nothing (it was 2nd/4th and 3rd round picks, respectively), but neither did they return the moon.

Even assuming a generous and slightly deluded GM like Holmgren (who paid a 3rd for Modry that day), I don't think Streit would have fetched Gainey more than a 2nd round pick and a dead-end minor leaguer. Not a really franchise-changing moment lost for the Habs then.


Those last 20 games...

I have already touched on the idea that keeping a player beyond the deadline is not nothing as the infuriating ones imply it is. But there's more here. ot only is that 20+ games, it is also often the most important 20 games of the entire season.

Why? Because as frustrating as it is for fans of teams other than the Red Wings, nobody cares about anything other than Cups. And, as we know playing for the Cup isn't an open invitation, but an honour won by edging out rivals. Therefore, to trade a player, a good player, in the closing stages of the season, while the jockeying for position continues could result in missing an opportunity to luck all the way to a final (like the 2006 Oilers, say).

The 2006 Oilers might well have been on the mind actually when Bob Gainey stared down the barrel of the 2007 playoff race. That year, Sheldon Souray and Craig Rivet were both coming up for free agency and amateur capologists the world over could see that room was not there for both to be signed, not with Markov the priority.

We do know that Gainey had an eye on the future, because the smoke that indicated fire was all there to see. He was talking up his defencemen to any ears that would listen in hopes that he could get some return.

So to trade Rivet or Souray?

My choice would have been Souray, but it appears the GMs who were hearing both names chose Rivet. And like him they did, because that trade now looks like the best Habs deal in years.

Once Rivet goes a few days before the deadline, the question is no longer Rivet or Souray, but just trade Souray or not. At the time, views were mixed. Very much in the hunt for a place in February, Gainey must have wrested with the notion of trading one more of his most valuable players and risk missing the playoffs completely.

In the end, the Canadiens did miss the playoffs – a fact that makes the job of critical naysayers easy now. However, they missed on the very hurdle, on a 2-goal comeback by the Leafs in the final 20 minutes of the Canadiens season.

So you tell me, should Gainey really have given up his main offensive engine (who contributed 5 goals and 12 points over the 18 games post-deadline) when a playoff berth hung in the balance? Would we all really be talking up his-long-term vision then? Or might we, just might we criticise Gainey for giving up on a season where even the Ottawa Senators managed to finally get their playoff act in gear and become the third consecutive Canadian team in the final?

I wonder...


Damned if you do, damned if you don't

I think the reality of being the GM in Montreal is that you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. With exception of that Gorges trade, which we all like now (but not so much back then), it's hard lot to please, these Montrealers.

But even in the uber-critical world of Canadiens fandom, talking about losing players for nothing is a petty game. A game I'd like to see the end of. I hope my case will convince at least a few of you of the same.


Summary of notable trades and non-trades

On a final note, I provide (because I did the research anyway) a list of some UFA dump trades and some stats from people who weren't traded – just for fodder:

UFA dump trades

































































SeasonPlayoffs?From HabsTo Habs
98-99Not closeMark RecchiDainnius Zubrus, 2 conditional picks
98-99Not closeVincent Damphousse1st (2000), 5th (1999)
00-01Not closeEric WeinrichPatrick Traverse
01-028th seedBrian Savage, 3rd (2002)Sergei Berezin
02-03Missed by 6 pointsJeff HackettNiklas Sundstrom, 3rd (2003)
02-03Missed by 6 pointsOleg Petrov4th (2003)
02-03Missed by 6 pointsDoug Gilmour6th (2003)
06-07Missed on last dayCraig RivetJosh Gorges, 1st (2007)
07-081st seedCristobal Huet2nd (2009)



Non-trades








































































PlayerSeasonRegS GPGAPtsPlOff GPGAPts
Alexei Kovalev08-0917118194213
Saku Koivu08-0919510154033
Alex Tanguay08-091769154011
Mark Streit07-08183161911134
Sheldon Souray06-07185712


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rethinking Andrei Kostitsyn

Having a good scan of the Habs universe yesterday brought me to this very salient piece on Francois Gagnon's favourite player, Andrei Kostitsyn.

Take it from me, it's nice as a blogger to find a piece you wanted to write yourself. It gives time back to watch more highlights and read more trade rumours.

Anyway, I thought the piece was very well stated, a good indictment of those who relentlessly malign the young Belarussian. The aim of its writing, would also be as my own:

"The intention of this article is not to absolve Kostitsyn. He is responsible for his play, his attitude and his work ethic. It's simply to encourage a more balanced assessment of all players regardless of their birthplace."

I think this is fair enough, don't you?

I know that Andrei's had a sluggish start to the season relative to some others, but it hasn't been as abysmal as some commentators (Brunet, Gagnon) constantly suggest that it has been.

Gagnon, never missing an opportunity to continue the agenda he set off last spring, seemed to display real elation in his headline as wrote: "Kostitsyn demoted, finally". Brunet, as you know only takes breaks from boosting Guillaume Latendresse to sling insults at the Kostitsyn brothers.

Rather than ask those commentators to find nasty things to say about 1-goal men Latendresse and Pacioretty, I would simply prefer that they back off a little on Kostitsyn, as I think many do. After all, this season is 11 games long and our top remaining goalscorer from last year is only a three-point game away from springing back onto his usual pace.


Jacques Martin's move misread?

Though Gagnon leaped on the practice alignment for his agenda-fitting headline, I think it may just be possible that Jacques Martin's move was blown out of proportion. For one thing, the "demotion" from Plekanec's line where he wasn't clicking anyway only lasted 30 minutes. In the end, Andrei played only a shade less than Latendresse at even strength, and saw a lot more ice than new golden stick Glen Metropolit, which doesn't exactly scream doghouse.

Secondly, Chipchura had been a warrior the game before, a possession centre without a finisher – the demotion for Andrei was also a nice attempt to see if Chips could benefit from some extra talent around.


Patience


As a frequent winner of my hockey pool's October standings, and a very infrequent winner of the April edition, I've learned a lot about patience. The players we rave about today will not be the same group we rave about on the eve of the important games. Nor will the players who are dogging it in our minds now there interminably.

Some patience needs to be exercised in watching and evaluating young Andrei Kostitsyn, before we boo him off the team in a trade we may regret because:

"By all accounts, the Canadiens are short a top six forward. It would be a shame to lose another one."



Apology


Just as a note on something else that the AllHabs article brought up for me. I hadn't really thought about it before, but Rocket at AllHabs puts it very well when he asks just why there hasn't been any sign of apology from the reporters who slandered (and continue to slander) the Kostitsyns as criminals:

"Both Kostitsyn brothers and Roman Hamrlik were the victims of rumours, embellished associations, and shoddy journalism by the Montreal media last season. To date, there has been no public apology for the outrageous accusations made by certain journalists and commentators. Some even continue to defame the three by referencing the false stories."

And to requote myself:

"No one really cared whether they were criminal or not, what will be remembered is that game with frenzied hacks claiming the scoop of the century – and that said scoop implicated the Belarussians. It's propaganda 101, people don't care too much about the facts. Give them a "juicy" (to borrow a term from the man himself) headline and they'll remember that."

Come to think of it, I do think an apology is due. And though I never expect one, perhaps in lieu of one, Gagnon and Brunet in particular could offer some peace for the winger trying to crack a 5.3 shooting percentage slump.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Game #11:

Habs Win 4th in a Row; Another OT Thriller

Details


Date: 26/10/09
Opponent: Islanders
Location: Montreal


Win: 3-2 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Halak (W)
Opposition Goalie: Biron (L)

Habs goalscorers: Spacek, Moen, Hamrlik
Opposition goalscorers: Tambellini (2)



Play of the game


I must tell you one thing; I am certainly not getting tired about writing about OT winners in this section. Tonight the best play, our best goal, once again, came in OT. The play started when Pleks carried the puck up the right-wing. He did well to get by two Islander defenders (one of them being All-Star Mark Streit) with some pretty nifty moves. That created a 2-on-1 situation with his countryman Hamrlik. I was thinking shot and I am sure Biron was too. In fact, the lone defender back thought he made a pass impossible as he conceded the shot by laying on the ice to take away the potential of Hammer receiving the puck. That, however, didn't stop Plekanec, who fooled everyone by saucering a pass up and over the out-stretched defenceman. Hamrlik took the pass well and instantly roofed one up over an over-committed Biron.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome



Forwards

Mike Cammalleri

Mike continued his strong play tonight despite scoring no goals. Don't, however, let that fact fool you as he was once again the top player on his line. He was instrumental in our second goal (which more or less bounced off Moen) as he out-worked the defenceman in the corner to centre the puck. He led the team with 4 shots and almost scored on a couple of them. I noticed some great cuts into the middle tonight which is the mark of a true goal-scorer.

Tomas Plekanec
- Game Puck
Pleks had had a pretty good game by the time that OT was starting that I was already considering 'Game-Puck' status and had pretty much penciled him into the dome. Overall he ended with 3 shots, over 19 minutes of ice-time and was over 50% in the face-off circle. It was, however, that play in OT that sold it to me. Getting around the Islander players with such ease and making such a perfect pass were both world-class plays.

Glen Metropolit
The biggest surprise of the year continues to surprise. His best play tonight was his assist on Spacek's goal. He kept working hard to get free and eventually made a perfect, cross-slot, pass to Spacek who went upstairs on Biron. Tonight marks Glen's third (in only 6 games!) multi-point game of the year and he now is better than point per game. In fact he is 4th on our team in scoring, tied with Gionta; who would have thought!

Defencemen

Jaroslav Spacek
Now some of you will cry foul for this selection because of the giveaway. Yes, Jaro made a horrible play that resulted in the tying goal; there is no excuse for that. Well, to me, that was balanced by his first goal as a Hab; a truly great play. So, if that leaves him at neutral, how was the rest of his game? I think he was pretty good for the rest actually. In all there were 4 shots on net (11 attempted) and a very solid (despite the mistake) 24 minutes. I felt he was in control in our own end (again, forget the mistake for now) and did a very good job at getting things going offensively.

Roman Hamrlik
Like Pleks, Roman had a solid game until OT. He was around for Spacek's goal (but played no major part) and was there for the blunder (but can't be blamed). So, like Jaro, lets look at his game beyond those 2 plays. There was 25 minutes (including almost 5 on the PK), 4 blocked-shots (team-high) and, of course, the OT heroics. If there is one thing that the former 1st overall pick is capable of it is the ability to step his game up to superstar level from time to time. That goal, tonight, was another example of the true worth of our stand-in #1.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
At times Jaro was not quite as solid as he has been over the past week, but at other times he was at his best. He could have had the first goal and got lucky with an early whistle on what could have been another. The second goal, however, was a hard one for him and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt there. So, I would say he had a good to great game. His rebound-control was on, his angles were good, his movement was quick and all of that added up to another win and a very respectable .935 save percentage on the night.


Comments

Montreal didn't take control of this game as well as they had done last week against New York. They outplayed the Islanders early, but were unable to go up by 1. Never, however, was I worried that we would go down in this game as we were playing a pretty solid, mistake-free game. I felt that the chances weren't there as much as they had been in the past few games despite getting 30+ shots. Gomez's line didn't click as well as they have been and Latendresse, Kostitsyn, Pacioretty and D'Agostini all looked average for most of the game. The D, while playing well in their own end also weren't doing much offensively on a consistent basis. All of that added up to a 2-2 tie against one of the league's worst. In OT, however, you could see the confidence and with it came the speed. Speed has won us games this past week and that is again what won it for us tonight. It seems that this year the Habs aren't just being called a fast team, but, for the first time in years, we are playing as one.

Andre Savard?

Jack Todd's Man Made Gainey Look Like The Genius In The First Place

It seems each time I muster up the energy to respond to something Jack Todd is saying it begins something like this: "I remember when I used to like reading Jack Todd..."

I think it's probably time to admit that I must have been wrong and that perhaps it's not Jack Todd that has changed. Perhaps he's always done sensationalism with a hacksaw; perhaps he's always chased the headline while going short on the substance.

I hope not. I hope that my one time favourite Expos-booster was full of sharp and accurate observation. Clearly now he's running low on that.

The reason I bring this up today is because Jack is pulling an easy one – criticising Bob Gainey. Not only that he's criticising Bob while grandstanding Andre Savard, the Canadiens saviour we must have overlooked; the last GM to work here with a plan.

Jack suggests that Gainey's time, despite outward appearances, has been ruled by panic throughout. He suggests that trades, free agent wooing and contract renegotiations were all part of this frantic attempt to keep head above water. In contrast, he puts forward Andre Savard who (in retrospect) did everything with cold and accurate calculation.

But is this really the case? Or is Jack merely playing to an audience he knows will have forgotten the Czerkawski debacle and the Traverse trade as they fret about Game 8 of the season?


When I see wild claims with such questionable basis, it always prompts me to do a bit of investigating. So investigate I did. I thought you might all like to share in the investigation.


Drafting

At one point, Jack takes quite a liberty in exalting M. Savard as he credits him not only with his draft picks from 2000-2003 when he was GM of the team, but then also with the picks he made after he was shown his graceful redundancy package and lingered on in the organization from 2004-2006. Now, I don't want to belittle Savard's drafting in his own time, because it was a massive improvement on the previous regime, but I think we have to settle on whether it is the GM or the assistant GM who should get credit here.

Perhaps it would be different if Todd gave Gainey any due for the picks from 2003-2006 in his piece, but he doesn't:

"When you review Gainey's own draft choices after six years, you can find only one who is anywhere near star status in the NHL"

That's why I'll re-appropriate Gainey's fair dues from 2004 draft to present and credit him with the Mark Streit pick (NHL star), and for restocking the farm.

I think the alternative would be something like crediting Martin Madden with all those picks from 2001-2003, because, after all, he was assistant GM at the time. In building his somewhat shaky case for Savard better than Gainey, it seems Jack Todd employed the favourite technique of all spin-doctors in shifting the black and the white through the gray. I'll try to be fairer.









































































































RankAndre Savard pickYear draftedLevel attainedBob Gainey pickYear draftedLevel attained
1Tomas Plekanec2001Offensive centreMark Streit2004All-star PP QB
2Jaroslav Halak2003NHL goalieCarey Price2005NHL goalie
3Andrei Kostitsyn2003Offensive wingerGuillaume Latendresse2005Offensive winger
4Mike Komisarek2001Average defender, worst NHL teamMikhail Grabovski2004First line centre, worst NHL team
5Chris Higgins2002NHL winger, can he score?Max Pacioretty2006NHL winger, can he score?
6Maxim Lapierre2003Some time 3rd line centreKyle Chipchura2004Some time 3rd line centre
7Alex Perezhogin2001Disgruntled winger, in RussiaSergei Kostitsyn2005Disgruntled winger, may go to Russia
8Ryan O'Byrne2003Borderline NHLerMatt D'Agostini2005Borderline NHLer
9Konstantin Korneev2002Defensive prospect (Russia)PK Subban2007Defensive prospect (Hamilton)
10Corey Locke2003Minor leaguerYannick Weber2007Defensive prospect (Hamilton)


For me that's a push. Though Savard's picks only come from 3 drafts (2 really, if you account for his dismal 2002), he did well to select just about 10 NHLish players. Gainey has had more drafts, but really only 3 drafts (2004-2006) have produced any NHLers so far – simply because those younger than that are still in college or Hamilton.


Trades

I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. If you want a look at the complete list of trades, you'll get a start at GoHabs.com. If you want to fill in any omissions, there's more info at NHL Trade History for you.

Looking down the complete list of trades certainly puts an end to any illusion that Andre Savard might have been the GM this team needed to reconstruct it in the early years of the millennium. Apart from trading for just about every player that Michel Therrien had coached in junior, the only moves he made of any consequence were sideways or backwards. if I was to stretch for a big win, I'd have to hide a smirk and say Future considerations for Joe Juneau or even 4th round pick for Quintal, for such was his record.

Gainey on the other hand, seems to know that to deliver a winning trade one has to take a chance. And in taking chances, at least he has delivered some winners. There was the Alex Kovalev triumph of a trade (unmentioned by Mr. Todd since it didn't fit his argument?), and wins like Garon for Huet and Bonk, 2nd rounder for Lang and the Rivet deal which is a Habs winner (unless you happen to be developing a case against Gainey, in which case it's a push).

Unlike Savard, whose biggest moves involved sideways swaps of Linden and Zubrus for Zednik and Bulis, or Rucinsky and Brunet for Audette and Van Allen; Gainey has dealt in stars. He's brought in players like Kovalev, Tanguay, Gomez and Schneider and at times he's traded stars of his own like Theodore and Ribeiro. While Savard's trades might never look as bad because he was playing around the edges, he certainly never took a good swipe for the fences, and hence never came close to hitting one out of the park. And while he may never have really gone for, Savard did still strike out hard a few times, such as Weinrich for Traverse, Hackett for Sundstrom, Savage and a 3rd for berezin and Asham and a pick for Czerkawski.

Gainey may be the Henry Rodriguez of trading averages, but at least he's shown pop. Andre Savard is the 0.189 hitting Peter Bergeron who's hits meet applause if they clear the second base coach.


Free agent signings

This shouldn't take long.

When Savard was here, bless him, he did once pursue Brett Hull. And maybe he pursued others that we may never know about. But what did he deliver in free agent signings to the might Montreal Canadiens? Why, Yanic Perrault, Doug Gilmour and Randy McKay. Not great, considering the adulation for the draft wizard. You'd almost think he'd set himself a fifteen year plan with that glacial rate of signing and upgrade to the horrible 200o team.

Gainey, as Todd eagerly points out, does have some marks on his record in the free agent arena. However, just as in the realm of trades, the fact that Gainey has taken chances in order to rebuild is a good leg up on Andre Savard. Add to that the fact we now boast Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek in lieu of the old guard and that Gainey just this summer won the lured the prized scorer Cammalleri to Montreal, the Brett Hul debacle gone right.


Contracts

Usually I wouldn't have touched on contracts in this rebuilding piece, because it seems the very minimum requirement of the GM job (i.e., if you can't do this, then what can you do). But since, Jack Todd slings mud at Gainey for some albatrosses he created, I have decided to remind everyone of Andre's own gaffes:

"From the panicky signing of José Theodore to a lucrative three-year deal to the decision to send everyone from Koivu to Komisarek to Kostopoulos and Alex Kova-lev packing, panic has been the rule of the day since Gainey took over.

Where to start? Well how about signing Patrice Brisebois to a 3-year contract extension with a no-trade clause for the highest salary ever paid to a Canadiens player in season?

Not enough?

Andre replicated that stellar form with a lovely 3-year extension to Dykhuis too and an extension to Traverse. Spotting the amateur talent might have been a strength but locking up these three while Francois Beauchemin slips through the cracks wasn't something to brag about. Maybe he's forgiven because there's no limit to the amount of money you could hand out back then. Might be more convincing if he'd made a free agent signing...


The verdict

If you've followed me this far in the piece, I trust I won't find you re-penning Jack Todd's opening words anytime soon:

"When a tall, dignified chap in a well-tailored suit came strolling into the press dining room at the Bell Centre before the Canadiens home opener, it struck me.

There was the best general manager the Canadiens have had since the early years of Serge Savard's reign, before Savard got too caught up in business activities to give the GM job his full attention.

No, I'm not talking about Bob Gainey. I'm referring to André Savard..."

I think if anything is clear after this little examination it is that no matter our current GM's faults and mis-steps, Gainey still trumps Savard. To be fair to Andre, he was a very effective talent spotter (probably still is), but in the other aspects of a GM's job, he was a massive disappointment for fans hoping for rebuilding. Gainey, by contrast has tried a few methods and failed, but he has also had his successes.

This season Gainey must take the slings and arrows as they come, because this new team was all his idea. But let's not mistake decisiveness and committing to a course for panic. I see more panic in resigning 3 underachieving hometown defencemen than I do in the Gomez trade. I'm glad Gainey didn't panic and trade Streit for nothing (aka Berezin) when his contract was coming up. And, quite the opposite of panic, I think Gainey finally does have a plan and is in the midst of putting his pieces together on the stage. Though, a losing streak offers a carrion-picking headline writer more reads, I still much prefer it to be bcked by some substance. Maybe in the future it will be. After all, we have Monday morning's column offering the possibility of a withdrawal with the proviso of 12 more impossible OT comeback wins.

Oh, and as a final note on lazy journalism. Though I'm sure we're all thrilled Glen Metropolit had a good game the day before Jack wrote his piece, the guy doesn't hold a candle to Steve Begin as a steal on the waiver wire (another Gainey era move, btw)...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Game #10:

Habs Do It To New York Again; Cammalleri Completes Comeback

Details


Date: 24/10/09
Opponent: Rangers
Location: Montreal


Win: 5-4 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Halak (W)
Opposition Goalie: Lundqvist (L)

Habs goalscorers: Cammalleri (3), D'Agostini, Bergeron
Opposition goalscorers: Anisimov, Kotalik, Gilroy, Gaborik



Play of the game


I was hoping for this type of finish tonight, but after the end of the first period I wasn't expecting it. The whole game, however, seemed to be leading to what I would eventually call the play of the game. Almost as though Cammalleri knew he was to be the OT hero he also knew there was work to do to get there. So, when we were down 2-4 he went to work and was instrumental in our final 3 goals. The third, and my choice for in here, was the nicest to me. Mike did this one all himself and reacted as though he knew this was an inevitability. Weaving in his own zone as both teams changed Mike was finalizing his plan. He then skated up the right wing and made quick work of any Rangers in the way. The last step was the goal, but he made that look so easy as he placed another perfect shot from his off wing past the keeper. To top it off there was the same look on his face as he had on Thursday: ya, I knew I was going to score then, didn't you?



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome



Forwards

Mike Cammalleri
- Game Puck
What a game from Mike! This game, at last, gives me the proof I needed that he is indeed an elite goal-scorer. In fact his 5 goals all came this week and that means he has 5 in 10, but more impressivly, 5 in his last 4. All 3 goals, and the assist, were due to his hard work and patience and the work of some pretty good teammates. Mike is teaching us that when higher-end talent plays with higher-end effort we, as a team, will always have a chance.

Brian Gionta
Brian, I felt, was one of our best players early on in this game when we were dominating the Rangers. He, along with his linemates, were way too much for New York to handle and that culminated with our first goal - one of the nicest you'll see all year. In the end Brian picked up 2 assists and was, again, very effective offensively.

Matt D'Agostini
Matt played his best game of the season tonight and so did his centre Chipchura. I wasn't the only one to notice either as Martin kept coming back with this duo (with an assortment of wingers) in the latter stages of the game. I really liked his goal (which was essentially scored while we were shorthanded) as the way he stole the puck was amazing, If D'Ags keeps working as hard as he did in this one then we'll be very happy to have him on a lower line and on the PK.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
Tonight I noticed Hamrlik's mistakes, Beregeron's goal (and brutal giveaways), Spacek's inability to get the puck out and Gill's usual play. What I didn't really notice, however, was Gorges on the ice. In fact in the third I stated, after seeing him out for a shift, that I had forgotten he was even playing. In all he played 19 minutes of mistake-free hockey (yes, he was on for Kotalik's goal, but Gill should know better than to chase behind the net, where Josh already was, to leave a man open in the slot) and that is enough for me on this night.

Paul Mara
The other defenceman who stayed out of defensive trouble was Paul Mara. I did notice Paul on the ice (unlike Josh), but what I saw from him was good enough. He was also on for a goal-against, but was really not to blame on the play. He moved the puck pretty well and did a decent job on special-teams. Our D will have to be better than they were, but at least two of them played near their potential.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Halak put us in a bit of a hole, but I think that the last 3 goals have deeper roots in defensive mistakes than in his own (man left alone in slot, impossible to see screen shot and breakaway by superstar). That said, a great goalie would have had the first one and at least one of those 3, so why did I choose him? Well, for one he got us the win, but for another it was the fact that he never slipped up after that 4th goal (he didn't turn this into a 2-7 game - he remained focused). He gave the Habs a serious chance to win by playing a decent 3rd period (albeit only 5 shots against). This wasn't Halak's best effort, but it wasn't his worst either. I think we'll see Price again soon, but I also think that the spot of #1 is still up for debate and, if this season (and last), is any indication Jaro has as good, if not a better, shot at it than Carey.



Comments

Montreal started this game very well, but by the middle of the first period it was all New York. It looked, for a time, that our winning streak would come to a close and that the reality of playing a strong team was setting in. Then, out of nowhere, the Habs went to work to convince us that they too were a good team. To me it was D'Agostini's goal (thanks to Max Lapierre too) that really got the ball rolling. That goal made it 2-3, but we could all sense the life they had. A Gaborik breakaway didn't really steal our momentum away as we just saw that as a slightly bigger challenge to overcome. In fact two more goals would come by the end of the second (Bergeron and Cammalleri - thanks to a beautiful pass from Plekanec) and all of as a sudden it was tied heading into the break. The third period was a more calm affair with neither team going for it too much. Both teams, therefore, were happy to get to OT where each would again try to score. Martin deployed Plekanec and Cammalleri (a very interesting combo that could be the basis of a new second line?) and they performed very well. In the end it was Mike, all by himself, who managed to score quite a goal for the winner.

We have a big week ahead of us which includes 4 games and our first road games after 2 1/2 weeks at home. We play the Islanders, Penguins, Blackhawks and Leafs. My goals for the week, therefore, are 4 points and to not be Toronto's first victim. I doubt Toronto will win before we play them on Saturday so that means a win, at home, against the league's worst is a must.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Game #9:

A Strong Effort and Our First Regulation Win

Details


Date: 22/10/09
Opponent: Islanders
Location: Montreal


Win: 5-1

Habs Goalie: Halak (W)
Opposition Goalie: Biron (L)

Habs goalscorers: Gomez, Bergeron, Pacioretty, Cammalleri, Lapierre
Opposition goalscorers: Bailey



Play of the game


For once I have some choice, so forgive me if this isn't as obvious a choice as we are all used to. With enough pretty goals and not too many big saves or defensive plays I'll at least limit myself to a goal. To me, then, it has to be Cammalleri's goal. This goal, scored on the Power-Play, was a good reminder of what it is like to have a guy that can absolutely rocket it from the right side. The goal itself started when Bergeron made a nice play to keep the puck in and made a pretty nice move to get it to Pleks. Tomas then himself made a nice deke to create a hole to shoot from in the slot. Instead of shooting, however, he made a great pass to Mike who shot the puck with no hesitation at all. The goal marked both Mike and the PP's second of the year - a sign of what's to come?



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome



Forwards

Mike Cammalleri
Mike's line, once again, had a good game, but I felt that, of the three, he stood out the most tonight. That in large part was due to his goal, but there were also some other very good scoring chances (he shot 11 pucks towards the net) to speak of. I must, however, come back to that goal as it gave a true glimpse into the man that Cammalleri is. With us up 3-1 he still had that killer instinct, a goal-scorer's instinct that some players, in that situation, don't have. If you don't believe me consider how hard he shot that puck, how accurate it was, how fast he released it, how much he wanted the puck to come to him and, best of all, the look of ownership on his face after he scored.

Glen Metropolit - Game Puck
Is it really possible that Metropolit was that badly missed during his 6 game absence? When he went down I immediately thought that replacing him was no big deal, but after tonight I may have to rethink that notion. Glen, in a way, dominated the game tonight. He was very effective on the PP and PK, got involved at both ends of the ice like a grinder should and picked up 2 assists. I for one am now very happy that he is healthy again and hopefully he'll keep this type of play up.

Tomas Plekanec
2 more assists tonight give Pleks a whopping 6 on the year. That means he is 1/3 of the way to his total of 19 from last year and, thus, has 72 games to get 13 more. What impressed me tonight, however, wasn't simply the fact that he collected points, but the way in which he did it. Both assists were earned and both will go a long way in convincing us all that he is a tough, hard-nosed, legitimate top-2 centre. Whether he was playing on the PP, at even-strength or on the PK tonight Tomas looked very good and, generally, controlled the play very well.

Defencemen

Jaroslav Spacek
Spacek's best play all night came on the PP when, on 2 seperate occasions, he kept the puck in the Islanders zone. Separated by a few seconds Jaro did what Markov excels at and that is stopping the puck at the blue-line and, thus, keeping the play alive. The second time he did it he put the puck high towards the end-wall glass, but an Islander player (Martinek) stopped the puck and took it down only to loose it in his feet. Luckily for us Gomez was there and quickly found the loose puck and spun around and scored. It was, therefore, a simple play like that that really got the ball rolling tonight. He was also good in his own end, but, to be honest, wasn't really called on to do too much of anything special.

Marc-Andre Bergeron
Tonight marked (no pun intended) a much better game from the Habe newcomer. He was much more involved in the play (luckily we had 6 PPs) and looked more sure of himself in our half of the rink. He scored a goal on a rocket from the point and added an assist on Cammalleri's goal. I know he won't keep up the PPG pace that he has now set for himself, but wouldn't it be nice if he put up half of that? If he can play responsibly in our own end, get 30-40 points and keep our PP dangerous then I think that, after all, he'll be quite a good signing.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Jarolav played a great game tonight, but can't really blame anyone, but himself, for not coming out of that with a shutout. I am not too sure what happened behind the net, it could have been a watery patch of ice, laziness or just a simple mistake. I
hope that this will be an isolated incident, however, as I was always very happy with his puck-handling abilities behind the net. Apart from that one miscue (which thankfully didn't cost the team) he played a very good game. He was always positioned well and, though he never faced too much of a test, managed to stop the other 21 shots. I personally would give him the start on Saturday as I can think of no reason why you wouldn't ride a goalie who is playing at the top of his game and winning you games. Yes the team played well in front of him these past two games and they didn't in front of Price, but then again why change what you don't need to? Carey will get his chance again, but I think Halak, after 3 years of dedicated, complaint-free, play deserves to be considered as more that just a once-in-a-while back-up.


Comments

I am glad that we won this game and am glad we played well for a second straight game, but I hope that us fans, and the team, will just take a deep breath and not get too excited. A shootout win vs. the Thrashers and then a win over one of the league's worst teams 24 hours after their first win of the year isn't exactly the things championships are made of. That said, however, a win is a win and I have seen the Habs lose too many of these types of games over the past few years to not be a little excited.

The big positive from tonight's game really has to be the goals. 5 goals, 5 good goals, is not something to be taken lightly. There was creativity, diversity and a whole lot of effort. If you can bring all 3 of those to the rink on a nightly basis you'll do just fine. Another huge plus was the fact that we put 43 shots on net and attempted another 39. A team that shoots the puck over 80 times is a) going to seriously cut into the other team's time on attack and, thus, their ability to generate a consistent, menacing offence and b) going to score at least a couple of goals.

This win gives us 8 points in 9 games and we now have the chance to play .500 hockey for the first ten games. If our shot differential can be maintained and if our goalies and defence can do their work when shots against are hard to prevent then I think we have the type of offence (thanks to their desire to shoot often and from anywhere) that can win us a few games. The Rangers will be a good test on Saturday, but I think that with a little luck and a whole lot of hard work we'll be up to the task.

Kostitsyn vs. Gainey

Habs Won't Win The Way They've Been Going

Just a day or two ago, wasn't it, that we were full of Sergei's obvious change in attitude as he scored a couple of goals and made AHL defenders look like, well, AHL defenders.

It seems that Sergei was also full of the same bravado that day as (after reading our praise, probably) he took off to whereabouts unknown. The assumption from the Habs and agent was Russia, the reality is that they probably didn't look very hard. So from suspended to reformed hero to suspended to AHL commuter again – quite a drama down on the farm.

As the facts emerge, we may get to know more on the specifics, but know this – this is a standoff between Gainey and Sergei Kostitsyn. It is a wrangle over talent assessment, fairness, expectation, discipline and who's in charge. It didn't begin yesterday, it began a long time ago.


It goes back to 4th line duty, full-period benchings and of course that scandal and demotion that last saw Sergei in the AHL last February.

Sergei's beef, which several people (surprisingly Michel Bergeron among them) see eye to eye with is that the player has been wrongly overlooked. Anyone with a modicum of hockey watching experience can see he brings much more to the table than Greg Stewart, Matt D'Agostini, Kyle Chipchura or Georges Laraque, and probably more than Pacioretty, Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre. To put it succinctly, Sergei believes as do some others that he is the 6th most talented forward in the whole organization. he believes Gainey is cutting off his nose to spite his face.

On the other side, Gainey has a point. Sergei could be more mature, he could be more concentrated and more prompt. In Gainey's version, he must not only be setting an example to others with demands, but also thinking that Sergei could learn something from dominating the lower league and riding some buses again. He must think that this injection of fury could turn to desire and ultimately performance.


But really, setting an example? Who for?

If we read it as a lesson to other players, it's clear enough: Work hard, do what we ask of you and you will play and play well. It's a nice message. Now, I'm all for setting examples of people. but there comes a certain point when you have to ask, just who is Gainey trying to set an example for with Sergei Kostitsyn?

The next players in the depth chart talent-wise aren't learning anything, because they're all on the Habs despite their poor play and poor attention to detail in their work. While the players after Sergei in Hamilton are Ben Maxwell, Ryan White and Brock Trotter. If any one of them sees the NHL light of day in the next 5 years for any reason other than injuries, it would be a surprise.

My take here is that sometimes, at risk of upsetting the lesser lights, sometimes a GM just has to provide a little more care, a little more attention to the talent that matters. Since finding another 131-point OHLer in the 7th round will be hard and teaching those skills to the schleps that are on the farm already is a pipe dream, Gainey's imperative with Sergei needs to be to hold on to what he has, at least he can return his value in a trade.

I tend to agree with Michel Bergeron (twice in a day, I need a long bath...) who says:

Je crois qu’on est un peu trop puritains à Montréal. Les bons petits gars qui restent assis à manger des biscuits secs et à boire leur verre de lait, ce n’est pas toujours ceux qui te font gagner!

I think they're a bit too puritanical in Montreal. Good little boys who go to bed with milk and cookies – it's not always the best way to build a winner.

He's right you know. Imagine, Chelios had been fined instead of traded. Ditto Corson first time around. If Patrick Kane were a Hab, he'd have been traded by now for fear of tarnishing the tradition of the past – a tradition so sacred that it may take 100 years of losing (seemingly) and a new tradition of total mediocrity to overturn.

If anything is clear from this debacle it is that Sergei is not responding to tough love – at least not without tender explanation on the side. He's a prima donna with some primo talents. If Gainey and co. continue to hard ball him, it appears that everyone will lose, most importantly the Habs.

I think it's high time they take stock of this situation and begin to channel a lot more effort into keeping their most talented prospects happy and wanted. If not, well mediocrity for years.


"We should stop drafting Russians..."

Of course, this whole series of events gives wonderful fodder to those who camped themselves under the anti-Kostitsyn flag. It's a popular place to be these days, and it will be interesting to see whether those there now will pretend this never happened just like when they kissed Kovalev's feet in 2007-08. Anyway, arguments on trading them, whether they should play and where are all bordering on fair. But I've seen quite a few nonsensical bits around starting to pop up about how the Habs are wasting their picks when they choose Russians (or former Soviet citizens at least).

I have to be frank, anyone who says we wasted a pick on Sergei Kostitsyn is more than mildly delusional. Sergei was picked 200th overall in the 7th round of the 2005 draft. Usually, one would be lucky to remember the name of a player like that. To have mined 108 NHL games out of that player in 4 seasons since the draft is remarkable.

Not only does this show me that the picks have not been wasted, it shows me that we need to keep drafting Russians (and Belarussians, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Latvians, etc.). They simply offer more value for the pick.

People often wonder aloud how Detroit has managed to maintain their excellence over the past decade and they need not look any further than this same mentality they take into the draft. Whereas the Wings have been as dismal as the worst NHL clubs in picking up North American talent from well-scouted leagues, they have made a living out of taking chances where they know their chances will pay off. Fedorov, Konstantinov and Lidstrom made the first wave of the Wings dynasty tick. All looked like high risk picks to those that have neither the patience nor the whereabouts to develop a European talent into an NHL star. The fact that they have repeated the trick with Zetterberg, Franzen and Datsyuk only further proves the point.

Now that the Swedish scouting game has been blown wide open (see draft, 2009), Russia really represents the richest vein of talent at its most untapped. What's more, as more and more teams shy away from the hassle that a few long distance phone calls and maybe some disappointments after a long tease (instead of a retirement straight out of high school) good Russian talent is slipping further down the rounds. Witness the Canadiens taking the third Russian player in the draft this season at 109th overall. Now, even if he doesn't actually turn out to be the next Ovechkin, you could never convince me he won't be better than Nick Oliver taken 110th overall.


Best case scenarios

For the Habs there really are only two scenarios that work from here on with Sergei:

1) Gainey gets him to calm down long enough (months) to start excelling in the AHL, calls him up and then trades him for similar value

2) Gainey gets him to calm down long enough (days/weeks) to start playing in the AHL so the GM can save face, calls him up and he replaces the blank-firing youngsters we currently carry night-in, night-out on the roster with panache and attitude of his best vintage


I thoroughly hope that it ends up being one of these. As I indicate, both routes require a bit of work for Gainey, which we know is asking a lot in his holiday months of August to June...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Game #8:

Habs Need Extra Time Again to Secure 2 Points

Details


Date: 20/10/09
Opponent: Thrashers
Location: Montreal


Win: 2-1 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Halak (W)
Opposition Goalie: Pavelec (L)

Habs goalscorers: Gionta (1, SO), (Gomez - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Armstrong



Play of the game


After watching 4 pretty slow shootout attempts it was nice to see Gionta do exactly what I have been calling us to do for years; skate in with some speed. With the game-winning puck at his stick he decided to fly in on Pavelec and basically give the kid something he may not have seen much of. Brian was indeed too quick for the keeper as he made one move to his backhand and pretty much just skated by the baffled goalie. The puck was then into the roof of the net and the Habs, thank goodness, finally had their third win.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome



Forwards

Mike Cammalleri
You are going to notice a very similar dome tonight, but I think that you would all agree it is well deserved. Mike was probably the player who stood out the least amongst the big three, but he still had quite a good game. He was always putting himself into the right spots and it seemed that scoring chances would have turned into goals had it not been for the hot play of the young Pavelec. He did pick up an assist and managed a whopping 7 shots on goal.

Brian Gionta - Game Puck
Brian scored a goal that would give us our first 40-minute lead of the year. He then sealed the deal with the shootout winner in (read above) spectacular fashion. Believe it or not Brian also took 7 shots on goal and took another 7 that even didn't reach the net; no wonder he scored.

Scott Gomez
Scott played a very good game in both ends and I actually felt that it was his play without the puck that was his strong suit. On numerous occasions he was able to win the puck from the opposition and create a chance for us. He also ended up scoring on a rocket shot in the shootout which was a nice way for him to end his game.

Defencemen

Jaroslav Spacek
Jaro played quite a bit better on the PP tonight, but still couldn't score a goal. I do, however, believe that it is coming. He is playing really well with Hammer and seems to have developed a certain chemistry with some of our forwards; Gomez in particular. Despite Brunet's call for Bergeron on the top PP unit (in favour of Spacek) I would stick it out with the 40+ point-man despite the presence of the 30-point, until recently unsigned, Quebecois. Jaroalsv led the team with 27+ minutes of ice-time and put a very impressive 4 shots on net.

Roman Hamrlik
Hamrlik was about 2 inches away from winning the game in the dying seconds of OT, but unfortunately rang the puck off of the post after a great pass from Kostitsyn. Aside from that he played a very good game, particularly in the offensive zone. He, like Jaro, took 4 shots as the pair enjoyed quite a bit of time on the PP. It will be interesting to see if his PP ice-time will stay so high if they continue to fail to produce, but I don't for one second actually believe that any of our misfortunes are due to Hamrlik's play. In fact, I believe the opposite - if it weren't for Roman where would this team and offence and PP be...even worse no doubt.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Nothing spectacular tonight, but a whole lot of solid play. Jaro was never really called on to be too big (until the shootout), but he made sure to not let any weak ones in. He gave our team the chance to win and that is all we can
really ask. 1 goal-against on 25 shots (2 in the shootout) against a team with Kovalchuk is quite the performance I think. After having not watched him for a while I was reminded of a few of his strengths tonight and a few of his differences from Price. In particular he moves laterally so well, plays the puck less behind the net than Price and, thus, gets himself into less trouble and I would say, the big one, he looks so focused and alert during any particular moment of the game.


Comments

This wasn't exactly a thriller, but in the end we got precisely what we needed. Yes, it was only a win against Atlanta, but if we can make sure to always beat the bad teams then we should be able to squeak out a playoff spot. That is mostly due to the fact that there are some seriously bad teams (ATL, TOR, NYI, FLA to name a few) that we'll get to play. It will, however, be a struggle to get points if we continue to put up less than 3 goals a game. The biggest problem, and I have touched on this before, is goal-scoring from our 'role' players. Right now they are all playing the role of goat more than defensive-specialist or energy-catalyst. Even a goal from a defenceman wouldn't hurt come to think about it. If the big three have a bad game (especially if they are on the same line together) we can probably forget a win and we may even be looking at a shutout against us. Maybe Markov's absence can make Gainey look for some help in the one area that I really think we need it: (apart from goaltending and defence that is) offence.

Tonight Pavelec was good and we almost couldn't beat him, but I never actually felt in danger in this one. There was no panic on the players' faces, no panic in Halak's play and thus no panic for me at home. All in all it was a confident game from our bunch in which we out-worked, out-chanced and out-played Atlanta. I have, however, said it before and that is - all you have to do is out-score a team to win. The Thrashers came as close as us to out-scoring us and that is a little unsettling. I am ready for Montreal to stop hitting posts, to stop having shots blocked and to stop missing the net; I am ready to see some goals.

Low Marks No More: A New Start For The PP

Remember last season when it took Gainey 4 infuriating months to admit he made a mistake in running a PP without a good shot from the point? It appears he may have learned something.

Tonight will mark the debut of the new Matt Schneider/Mark Streit/Sheldon Souray: Marc-Andre Bergeron, and thanks to a bit of luck he'll be starting in a game that should suit him quite nicely – the Atlanta Thrashers. A team that allows league high shots against, a team that is due for punishment for their thus far lucky balance in save and shot percentage.


In an earlier post, I made it quite clear that Marc-Andre Bergeron is not an adequate replacement when facing 4 months without Markov. Heck, he said it himself:

“I’m sure people know that Andrei Markov is a top defenceman in the NHL and he’s irreplaceable,” Bergeron said Monday after his first practice with the Canadiens. “I’m not here to replace Andrei Markov. I want to be myself and do my best to help the team win.”

However, like MA himself, I do think he can help.

The first area he can help is obviously the PP. Provided we aren't playing in Western Canada, we should count on getting a few of these, and having Bergeron set up on the right point for a shot will help with our options. And while he certainly isn't as muti-talented as markov to come in and run a PP, he does have shot and sense enough to do an adequate imitation of Matt Schneider and Mark Streit.

Begeron



Streit



The second, more underrated impact Marc Andre will bring after his shot will be his ability to play adequate NHL defence against lower line forwards. No, it won't really help lessen the loads of Gorges, Spacek and Hamrlik, but he should at least ensure that Mara and Gill are kept in check. At the very least it means we won't be seeing Gill/Weber or Belle/Mara for tonight.

While I'm not quite as convinced as the player himself that he's not got one dimension to outweigh his others (i.e., offense >> defence) by a long way, I can't argue with his +/- over a career on some, let's face it, pretty awful teams. It stands him in good stead to be a neutral player on this currently awful team.


Finally, Bergeron adds the Marc with a "C" this team needs in the face of that book published by Robert Sirois this week. In fact, Marc-Andre is just about the type of player that good old Bobby Sirois was hoping to see more of the NHL – a more fringe-type player without elite level skill. The type of player, he'd argue would come from English Canada about 98% of the time.

I think this is a good bit of timing for the Habs, because it does help to diffuse the bomb that was their roster make-up in a week that will surely be full of talk about the tables and stats from the hardcover. After all, Gainey has increased his Quebecois francophone quotient by 33% this week, all while demoting an Ontarian and holding another English Canadian with similar skills (Subban) back.


Let's not expect miracles


In adding a 4th/5th defenceman with a good shot like MA Bergeron, the Habs are taking a small step forward. But let's not go into tonight's game expecting any miracles. Marc-Andre wasn't signed by 30 different GMs this summer, and that was not their accidental oversight. And I have to diverge from Bob Sirois here too in thinking that it was purely discrimination based on upbringing.

Those GMs preferred to fill the positions that Bergeron fills just fine with rookies with upside, with veterans that can out-muscle a star or two, with more intriguing options. But like Bouillon and Dandenault before him, he is a player that can ably perform the brief of a lesser used defender, and he also has that shot.

I sort of expect a goal from him tonight, just because it would ignite an interesting debate, and that's what tends to happen in Montreal. but if I had done a preview fr Bergeron coming into the season, I can tell you I'd have put him at 10 goals and 14 assists (mostly rebound creating shots).