Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Week of Dec 21st in Review

Les Canadiens in action for Dec 21st-27th: The week went pretty well for Montreal in terms of wins, albeit they were hardly playing the finest opposition the NHL could offer, or very good hockey for that matter. They're taking part in a 7-game road trip, their longest in seven years and their last road trip ended 0-6-1, so after the Islanders win, they were already doing much better than last time.

Opposition: Atlanta Dec 21st, Carolina Dec. 23rd and Toronto Dec. 26th.

What's been the Canadiens recent story? Their top line, their MVP, highest-apid defencemen and their cheapest defencemen. Oh, and Jaroslav Halak saving the day non-stop.

The return of Andrei Markov: the team's MVP and the reason their scoring has increased by a goal per game on average since his return is a major difference for why Montreal is enjoying a 4-game winning streak right now. Markov just isn't a 25-minute workhouse for the team, his offensive instincts as a defencemen are second to none among nearly all NHL defencemen, he knows when to leave the blue line to rush in on power play goals or make assists and can keep the puck in on a PP like none other. He has 3 goals, 3 assists in his first four games back, for those of you keeping track, that's a 1.5 PPG pace and while that should probably drop off a little, with 42 games remaining in the schedule, a PPG pace would have him at 46 points, which would have him in the general top 20 scorers among NHL defencemen despite missing a huge chunk of the season.

Why Montreal's won since Markov's return:

- Referencing the week before, Markov scored the first two goals against the Islanders last week to give them the game-winner with his first since Halak posted a shutout, then gave them the real psychological edge by scoring the 2nd goal. If you don't think having a defencemen return from lacerated tendons and scoring two goals against an opponent in his first game back doesn't get into the other team's heads, you're kidding yourself. Montreal was outshot, but Markov's offensive prescence sealed the game.

- In Atlanta, Markov maintained the puck prescence and worked the blue line like one of the great PP quarterbacks of the NHL, he took the Plekanec pass to feed Marc-Andre Bergeron perfectly, who sent another laser to the back of the Thrashers net to tie the game. I doubt anyone else could have set up the shot as well as he did, a tied game for OT and the Canadien's usual OT heroics.

- In Carolina, Markov opened the scoring on a perfect feed from Tomas Plekanec with not even a minute and a half passed in the period, giving the team a feel-good moment for the start of the game and offensive confidence, it was all downhill from there in the game for the team, offensive confidence is never to be underestimated, although the team did pretty well on the scoresheet for themselves, especially Glen Metropolit's two goals.

- In Toronto, what more can you say? He fed Cammalleri, who fed Plekanec for the 2nd goal of the game thanks to the brilliant outlet passes only he can manage on almost any given night. His defensive zone coverage was not that strong, but he's still recovering and it's evident, he will get better, than his feed to Andrei Kostitsyn in OT led to his contributing to a pivotal goal for the 4th time in as many games.

Markov's raised the team's offence to a new level with his return as he always does, generally responsible for making a goal happen in each game he plays, if not more than that.

The Plekanec Effect: A 3rd-round pick from 2001, Tomas Plekanec was never figured to make beyond 3rd line, right now he's top 15 in NHL scoring and has 10 points in his last 4 games. His vision is incredible and he has hands to match, he just knows when and where to put a puck on a player's stick to make a goal happen, while his goal-scoring could probably be better, he's added two goals in his last 3 games alone that are as nice as any you might see. His passes won the game in Atlanta by feeding Bergeron for the game-winner, set up the 1st 2nd and 3rd goals in Carolina and then scored the 2nd goal of the Toronto match, making "The Monster" seem quite mortal in the process.

The Reloaded AK46: Andrei Kostitsyn has been panned a few times and by a few I mean on a daily basis on every discussion about the Canadiens in the last 3 years. He was selected 10th in the 2003 entry draft, which saw talents like Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Zach Parise all taken after of him and have all had better seasons than he's had so far. Andrei Kostitsyn arrived as the answer for who will be the next 40-goal scorer in Montreal, he was highly coveted thanks to his play in his time with his country's World Junior Team and with his reflexes, speed and ability to manage the puck, seemed a sure bet. It hasn't gone as well as planned, but it hasn't been as horrible as some say it has been. Andrei Kostitsyn has scored at least 20 goals in each of his last 2 seasons, although he displays the talent for scoring 30, 40 a season with his abilities.

Right now, he's on one of his best career scoring streaks and 2 of his 12 goals so far have been game-winning contributions, nothing less spectacular than the winner in OT with Toronto of course. With Plekanec and Cammalleri, he has found chemistry and his will to play, he can dangle in the offensive zone with the best of them and his backhander on Nicklas Backstrom last week in Minnesota was one of the slickest goals I've seen this season from anyone. Yes he'll need to work hard to get to 30 this season but at his scoring rate right now and the power of the Plekanec/Cammalleri/Kostitsyn line, it doesn't seem impossible, his wrist shot is a howitzer and his slap shot can find the back of the net just as easily, he's enjoying himself on the ice and you can see it when he scores. Andrei is throwing hits that are felt with his great speed and solid 6', 200 pound body while providing traffic in front of the net, his screen of the Atlanta goaltender allowed for the game-tying goal by Bergeron. Sniper meets Power Forward it seems of late.

The Cammalleri Factor: Mike Cammalleri is not known for scoring goals in road games, whether he likes a hometown crowd to boost him, nerves or whatever, he's scored only 4 of his 18 goals on the road this season and he'll likely hit 40 this season, but with about 30-35 of them on home ice, which suits the Canadiens store in the Bell Centre that sells Cammalleri T-shirts and Jerseys just fine. Cammalleri does still offer a potent offensive threat with his speed and ability to control the puck, he's had assists on a number of key goals this season on the road and that can't be undersold. He's a good team man and seems to be helping keep Andrei interested in the game he's playing, his ability to set up Andrei Kostitsyn alone gives reason to keep those two paired up as long as possible. Cammalleri has 4 assists on the road trip so far, but a couple markers would be nice as well.

Bergeron, the Biggest Steal of Free Agency: Marc-Andre Bergeron is a defencemen who doesn't really know how to play defence beyond the basics and sometimes even those elude the PP specialist, but never say he doesn't make up for that in the other team's end. Bergeron is tied for the goal-scoring lead amongst defencemen with 9 goals and he has 19 points total after missing training camp, pre-season and the first 7 games of Montreal's season. He's scored 4 game-winning goals and his 8th goal of the season directly led to him getting his 9th goal to win the Atlanta game. Simply speaking, he has a laser and knows how to put in the net, playing 4th-line winger and starting the first power play unit with Markov creates one of the most effective one-two punches in the NHL from the blue line, Markov can hit the net from close in on rushing plays, or feed Bergeron for one of his one-time blasts. Montreal has the No. 1 power play in the NHL thanks to that pair and it's easy to see why when they work the back end.

Jaroslav Halak, Starting Goalie?: The goalie debate has raged for years in Montreal, nothing solid since Patrick Roy left town, save Jose Theodore's incredible 2001-2002 season when he won Hart and Vezina, mostly heartbreak. Right now, Jaroslav Halak is playing at his absolute best, he has stopped endless 180 of 186 shots directed on his net, a .968 save percentage that makes just about any other NHL goaltender look bad. Granted, he's not facing the Penguins, Capitals or Blackhawks in these games but that's still a lot of pucks to stop and some of them have been excellent scoring chances he has denied his opposition. Great games for him and he's proving his skill and ability to maintain his team in a game despite all odds.

I don't see Price doing any better than Halak has done in his last 4 games, even at his best, maybe stopping one more goal than Halak perhaps, but four shutouts in the way the team gives the opposition free reign in their own zone? Not likely at all, those allowed goals were nigh-impossible for any goaltender. Halak still gives me fits, I hear the side posts bang too often when he covers against a shot and a few too many rebounds pop loose that have inflated his shot totals and save %. Granted, his rebound control has improved, but a junkyard dog like Mike Knuble, Tomas Holmstrom or similar make their bread and butter on collecting on pucks like that and jamming them in the nets. This road trip is a testament to Halak's skill, he can take the 40+ shot bombardments and keep his team in games while making key saves, but his record against contenders still gives me pause. No convincing wins over a Top 10 NHL team this season and that's a sticky issue, better than he appeared or will better teams home in on the weak spots, collect the rebounds or send that puck in between Halak and the post for a goal?

The 4-game winning streak is clearly in his back pocket and probably earns him this month's Molson Cup for Player of the Month, but Montreal's not facing a top NHL team until January 3rd, Buffalo once more and Halak has but one last chance to purge his demons with that team probably before Jacques Martin decides not to play him against them anymore, if he even sends him out to play them this time. On the 5th, it will be the Washington Capitals and possibly another chance for Jaro to collect some glory against Contenders but again. He will need to be in nets and help form a convincing win to set his status as a team-saver against any opposition in the NHL, right now he's collecting wins for Montreal over weaker teams they should be beating which I am thankful for but I'm not yet sold on him 100%. He's put on same game-saving performances of course, but Andrei Markov playing in November would likely have put Price up 2-4 wins in the column from the games the team just couldn't score any goals in at the same time.

Notable Assistants To the 4-game Streak: Josh Gorges has been his usual warrior self on the Blue Line as has Jaroslav Spacek, Scott Gomez has finally discovered some of his old form, while Sergei Kostitsyn fills in as a great penalty killer when it is asked of him. Travis Moen and Glen Metropolit are stalwart members of the checking lines that always do whatever is needed of them, while Max Pacioretty is continiously frustrated by an inability to hit the net, but tries regardless.

Thoughts going forward: The team has much to cheer about this week for extending themselves to a 4-game streak on the road, but considering how the week could have gone without Halak and Markov in the lineup, it likely would have been much, much worse. Hard work in practice and the rumoured return of both Roman Hamrlik and Brian Gionta to the lineup for Monday's game against the Senators will likely lead to big boosts both offensively and defensively, which will be welcome, Gionta's leadership and offensive skills and Hamrlik's steady hand on the blue line could lead Montreal to their best winning streak of the season really.

The Senators are hardly threatening missing both Captain Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, two of their best players but the way Montreal is playing I wouldn't bet against them either, Florida and Tampa have their own troubles for Montreal later on in the week, as Florida has always been a tricky team for Montreal to beat, while Tampa's Francophone crowd of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Tanguay generally raise their game against Montreal, Steven Stamkos exchanged his sophomore jinx for a rookie jinx apparently with 22 goals this season while Antero Nittymaki is playing a lot better than most of the players against him would prefer. On Sunday, Buffalo and possibly Halak's last chance to prove he can beat the surprising Sabres who finished out of playoff contention last season, although taking Ryan Miller for more than 2 goals this season is a dicey proposal at best so team defence and coordinated offence to break him will require one of Montreal's best games of the season likely.

Eight points are possible, but much depends on Jaroslav Halak, the impact of a returned Hamrlik and Gionta, while the top scoring lines keeps up their pace and above all, Andrei Markov's continual improvement in each game he plays. Tough week, weaker teams but weaker teams that somehow give Montreal much more trouble than they should.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

For Your Consideration

Life has been hectic during the Holidays and will likely only be moreso when I move next month so I'll be posting fewer game reports, but a week-in-review for the Canadiens, Capitals and Blackhawks each Sunday will be put up instead and other postings during the week about thoughts I'm having regarding hockey, this week, I'll work to shelve the Price V Halak debate by showing what issue the team is up against.

Goal Scoring:

When it comes to the goalies, we can all throw the numbers around as much as we like and I'm sure there's enough numbers to make either goalie seem like the Legit, No. 1 man for the next ten years in Montreal but I'm considering this.

It's a team game and the team has let down the goalies a lot more than the goalies have let down the team, considering the amount of 1-goal losses this team suffered when either goalie needed to manage a shutout or 1.00 GAA to get the win. Right now, let's examine Montreal's ability to fill the net with some rubber and in front of which netminders they did it.

By the Numbers in Team Scoring and Goals Against:

October: discounting the OT shootout winning goals, the team was at 2.5 goals per game, while allowing 3.21 goals against them, not a happy number and a serious strike against the offence when the GA was that high.

Goals Scored, Goals Against with Carey Price in October: 14 Goals scored, 24 goals against. 2 wins in 7 games, pulled in Vancouver after 6 goals against and put in the final period of the Montreal-Pittsburgh match when 2 more goals were scored, so if you count that as his missing period from the Vancouver pull, the team scored a flat 2.00 Goals Per Game (GPG) in front of him with 3.43 GA. That's a mountain for any goalie when you're giving up 1.43 GA on average in a month.

Goals Scored, Goals Against with Jaroslav Halak in October: 22 goals scored, 20 goals scored against, 5 wins in 7 games, was in nets for the final goal in Vancouver but was pulled after 4 goals against in Pittsburgh. Balancing the numbers, counting his 3rd period in Vancouver and his missing period from Pittsburgh, the team scored 3.14 GPG with him in nets and 2.86 GA. Not hard for a goalie to build a winning record if the team is scoring more than they're being scored on.

What it Shows: Evidently, Price would had to have been absolutely heroic to turn some of his games into wins with 14 goals scored over 7 games, especially since 10 of those goals came from 3 games alone! That's a scoring problem, not a goalie problem especially with his theft in Toronto and Buffalo. Jaroslav Halak enjoyed an average of

November: It got worse in scoring, 2.16 goals per game for Montreal, but the numbers against went down, 2.41 Goals against them for the month, thanks to some nifty netminding by Carey Price, that number could have been a couple tenths higher alone if not for his magic in Nashville.

Goals Scored, Goals Against with Carey Price in November: 23 goals scored, 29 goals against, 5 wins in 11 games played, with a rate of 2.09 GPG, with 2.63 GA. His best stretch came from his 53-save performance in Nashville that he built on, exhaustion caught up with him by the end of the month though. Still, the opposition was outscoring his team, not as bad as last month but almost every point collected in his starts was due to his heroics in nets.

Goals Scored, Goals Against with Jaroslav Halak in November: One lonely start, 1 loss, 0.00 GPG with 1.00 GA for the Calgary start, other than that, riding the pine as it were. Calgary wasn't his fault, but it certainly blew a hole in the "Team plays more confidently in front of Halak" argument.

December: Montreal is scoring 2.77 Goals per game, and if you call the Centennial Game the "Turning Point" of sorts, we're at 3.09 Goals per game which is a winning goal-scoring number in today's NHL. Montreal is averaging 2.29 Goals against this month, Post-Centennial? An impressive 1.92, which means we are scoring on average more than a goal than our opponents are per game in the last 12 games, thanks to recent offensive outbursts by a certain gentlemen called Tomas Plekanec to create an elite scoring line.

Carey Price, Goals Scored, Goals Against in December: 19 goals scored, 18 goals against, 3 wins in eight games played. That's an improvement in GPG, with 2.38 GPG with 2.25 GA. He didn't have that good a night against Toronto, but like Jaro against Calgary, the team was shut out so they were no help to anything. He had a flat 1.00 GAA for 3 straight games, then ran into some glove trouble, which shook him up a little in Pittsburgh, leading to the last 4 losses of the month. Albeit, 15 goals scored were in 4 of his eight starts and that's , 3 goals left over to win 4 games, statistically impossible. He wasn't that good following the Pittsburgh game flubbing Dupuis's shot for the GWG, but the team didn't exactly have a barn-burner of goal-scoring against Toronto, Minnesota or New Jersey either.

Carey's "Turning Point" Numbers: 19 goals scored, 15 goals against, 3 wins in 7 games played. GPG improves to 2.71 and GA goes to 2.14. Winning record for GPG to GA and a couple of games do fall on his shoulders, but again, 1 goal in each the Minnesota and New Jersey games do not help matters, not saying he didn't make mistakes but again, scoring is key to wins.

Jaroslav Halak, Goals Scored, Goals Against in December: 14 goals scored, 14 goals against in 5 games played, 2.8 GPG with an identical 2.8 GA for the month. However, his Save % over his last three games is an astonishing .970, with 133 saves on 137 shots against with a 1.33 GAA!

Jaro's "Turning Point" Numbers: Fantastic, 12 goals scored, 8 goals against in 4 games, an exact 3 GPG with a flat 2.00 GAA, that is a winning record by far, he's entered the benefit of the Habs discovering their scoring and the return of Andrei Markov while playing his best games.

Basic Fact: Goalies have been left hung out to dry too often by this team, but the rise in scoring will mean more wins for either goalie, whether playing to their best or not as goalies can't always be at their best, but teams scoring 3 goals a game at least? That means there's a lot more wiggle room for goalies to get wins and not be worn out from having to save the tame with a 2.00 GAA or less.

Myth to Dispel: "The team plays more confidently in front of Halak", they were shut out against Calgary at home, then were beaten twice by the Buffalo Sabres with Halak in nets, a lax performance in the first game but Halak did not play well and the second game really ended no better. The Dec. 21st win over the Thrashers was a result of Halak's brilliance and Plekanec's Heroics, not a confident team really, the Dec. 19th Islanders win could have gone the other way as well if not for the return of Andrei Markov. That's 5 games where the team didn't seem to display much confidence in the goalie they apparently are so confident in. 5 games of his 14 starts this season, just over one-third, where the team played without confidence in their netminder.

Regarding Carey Price: Price is still just 22 years old, he has 50 career wins faster than Patrick Roy did in his youth when Roy had a far superior defensive corps to protect him. He has been brilliant this season in key games and while he has struggled, he played basically the entire month of November when the team was barely managing 2 GPG on average and kept the team's head above water, but he still wasn't ready for a grinding pace like that. Price is young and needs breaks to keep that mental focus that lets him play like he did in Nashville or his game-theft work in Buffalo, Toronto or Phoenix. He's stolen key games, OT points and kept the team alive through tough times. The team hasn't thanked him in return nearly enough by having many games where they overcame his mistakes in nets to seal the deal and earn a regulation win. His 9 wins came because he was brilliant in nets and his OT losses? Much the same case, his losses came from some bad performances but also a team that has rarely found the net in front of him. The team scored 56 goals in his 26 appearances this season so on average, 2.15 goals scored with him in nets this season, while he posts a 2.75 GAA. For the record, Patrick Roy's career GAA was 2.78 in Montreal, Jacques Plante was 2.23 and Ken Dryden's was 2.24, so really, are we expecting Price to be better than those guys in his 3rd career year when he doesn't have a Dynasty team in front of him like Dryden and Plante or in Roy's case, some Selke and Norris winners?

Price needs some glove-side work, although someone's number crunching showed that it's not in fact that weak and plenty of goalies let in glove-side goals more than anywhere else, Henrik Lundqvist is a notoriously weak glove for an elite goalie for example. Price's main roadblock it's more his mental focus that needs adjustment, he is highly athletic and his 6'3" frame gives him advantages, but while he rarely collapses after a bad goal these days in the same game, he tends to take that bad goal around with him from start to start when it does happen. He's corrected one issue by not letting the bad goal really interfere with the game he's playing at the time, but he needs to purge that goal from his mind altogether for his next game and the game after that if he wants to be a top goalie. He plays the puck well and while he's a bit reckless with it, he'll learn with time when not to play the puck and honestly, the way the team handles the puck in their own end sometime, can you really fault Price for wanting to manage the puck himself? Granted he needs better judgement, but that comes with time and above all, he needs to stay mentally sharp against everything, that will come but right now, it's risky putting him in for more than 5 games in a row, especially if a softie goes by him in game 2.

Regarding Jaroslav Halak: Yes he's been good this season, he was good last season and the whenever he was used the season before that. However, he's not faced the No. 1 job in name, only in duty from time to time. Being the Starting goaltender in Montreal is the most stressful and hardest position in the NHL and it has crushed many a goalie long before Halak ever heard his draft number called. Halak however showed weakness last season when he played long stretches of starts, much like Carey Price has as well. They're young goalies so they find it difficult to maintain that mental focus a goaltender needs over long periods and both of them can only get it from getting many consecutive starts in a row. However Halak has not outdone Price when the two of them have a lot of starts, both decline the same amount over time I find. Halak's also had the advantage of padding his record on weaker teams this season compared to a lot of the teams Price has had to face and Halak's not done that well against Contender teams, so it's hard to say Halak could be No. 1 when he hasn't really beaten a contender team by himself yet, save maybe Atlanta. Jaro is at 2.57 GAA this season, better than Price but I don't see how he could have saved a few games that Price lost in to be honest, even as well as he's playing now, Price was just as good if not better in November and his 3-game streak in December was no accident on his part. The team scored 36 goals in his 15 games, 2.4 GPG average and with a .17 difference, it's easy to see why he's a bit ahead of the standings, easier teams to beat, a team with scoring troubles will score more often and be scored against less.

Halak's rebound control and ability to play the puck is not something you'd say he has on equal with elite goaltenders, he is certainly a battling goalie who hates to let the puck in the net when he's 'on', but those rebounds are a problem and too often, I hear the goalpost ring when he's in nets. These are things that can be corrected with time of course, much as Price is facing his own issues, but Halak does have his weak points, his playing the puck isn't reckless like Price's at times, it's just not good, Price can generally put the puck where he wants it, Halak seems to have trouble with the initial handling of it. Price gives up rebounds of course, but so does Halak and in front of just about everyone, which is partly why I suspect he's not done well against the better teams, stronger teams know how to take advantage of the boune, the rebounding puck better than weaker teams and it leads to more goals. Halak obviously deserve more puck-clearing assistance from his teamamtes but Halak's rebounds have inflated the shot count against him in his last 3 starts I find, more than he stopped 40+ top quality shots. His style as a battling goalie has him fighting against those rebounds, but I find he should work to make sure they just don't rebound as often. The goalpost ringing, I'm not sure if it is a bias of mine, but it just seems we hear those posts ringing more with Halak than Price, does he cover the space between himself and the post not as well as Price, or is it just he doesn't give the opposition anything but the posts and himself to shoot at? I don't think he's that good at positioning myself to force that kind of shooting and no goalie really likes to offer the inside of a goalpost, since the bounce can go against them. I suspect it is partly that he needs to work on his positioning, because better scorers will find a way between him and the post to score that goal rather than be hounded by a ringing goal post.

For Consideration:

In October, A 3 GPG minimum would've meant as many as four more overtimes rather than regulation losses and possibly as much as 4-8 more points, but let's say 6 going on the team's OT Record.

In November, 3 GPG for the month would have meant at least 2 more overtimes and two other wins from Nashville and Detroit alone, plus with the team's OT record, at least one of those OTs would've been ours, adding 3 points from that and another 3 points from the Nashville game and the win point from the Detroit game that went to shootout, 6 extra points.

What 3 GPG would have meant for the season: 12 points to add to the current 39, Montreal would be at 51 points in the League. A winning record, secure place in the Conference, that's what a proper goal-scoring average does, it prevents it from being all about which goalie is white-hot this week to keep us in games we should be losing because we can't find the opposing team's twine.

Right now, we have the tools for 3 Goals per game and should enjoy that while we can, Gionta's return can up that average further, an average like that is what got the Capitals to the top 4 of the Conference. We have an elite scoring line, an All-Star Defencemen, a PP specialist in Bergeron and a shiny new toy in Benoit Pouliot with the Triple-M line always being a scoring threat in a pinch, with two solid young goalies in nets, we can ride that 3 GPG average to a Playoff spot and maybe the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs.

Definition of a Good Team: Good teams play well enough to give each other a break, goalies will post 50-save performances to deliver a game, then forwards score 6 goals in a game to overcome failures that led to 4 goals against the goalie by the defence. Or the forwards kick in two goals to create a padded 5-2 win when the goalie allows two soft goals in the third and the team needs insurance, or the defence and goalie just play heroically as the forwards are frustrated by a hot goalie on the other end. Everyone has to help everyone else out, it's hard for a team to have confidence in a goalie that allows a soft goal now and then, but how hard it is for a goalie to hold themselves in a tight mental focus to maintain to a strict 1.00 or 2.00 GAA when they have no confidence the forwards can score better than 2 goals per game on average or the defence to leave them hanging helplessly for 2 goals against them? It's got to be a team game at the end of the day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Montreal-Atlanta, Not much Time to Talk...

I'll just say a few thoughts on the evening in bullet points, I'm moving most of my stuff to Brantford, Ontario tommorow and have to be up early.

- Andrei Kostitsyn played a great game offensively, two goals and both of them well executed.

- AK46/Pleks/Cammy need a solid defensive pair on the back end when they're out, Cammy and AK46 are not good defensively and each of the last 4 games, simple failed coverage has converted into an easy goal for the other side.

- Heartbreaking shorthanded chance for Sergei Kostitsyn, he nearly had it but couldn't get any lift on the puck by the time Hedberg went down.

- Spacek is hurting, he took two bad penalties tonight trying to keep up with the play but failed and that's how they came about, he's been battling injuries this season to stay in the lineup to be a good soldier, but it's hurting his ability at the same time along with the team.

- Laraque has to go, a 4-minute player is useless on a team that has to be able to give 100% to win their hockey games and rely on everyone to be ready to play through all 3 periods, there has to be someone with decent fighting skills and some skating ability Montreal can pick up if an enforcer is needed.

- Failed defensive efforts have at last count, cost Carey Price about 3 shutouts this season, he has been so brilliant, so often in the last series of games but even he can't put himself in the position to save every goal and the team has to give him better protection and keep the puck under control in their own end much more often.

- No playoffs if the team keeps having an invisible period each game, Andrei Kostitsyn gave hope to the 2nd period by himself really, but he would've needed a hat trick to save the game. 100% effort is the only way to win from this point on.

- Brian Gionta must come back, he was a leading figure in all the games he played before he was injured and provided the spark that had the team come back for some key games. He's sorely missed.

- Price can deliver a playoff spot but as I said above, he needs more help than he's gotten in the past, rebounds must be cleared more efficiently, screens must be broken up, net traffic is to be cleared, he'll stop nearly anything thrown at him but the team has to get better at cycling the puck through their zone.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Montreal-Pittsburgh, or why NHL Officiating has to Change...

I'm trying to cool down from my anger over the blown call on a Scott Gomez goal, but more on that later. Not going to get as detailed, the action's not as fresh in my mind tonight and I'll be more brief than usual.

Pittsburgh visited Montreal for their first visit to the Bell Centre this season, the Stanley Cup Champions had defeated Montreal 6-1, then 3-1 in their last two engagements, thanks to the weak play of Montreal against contender teams in October and the half-AHL lineup in the 2nd match. Montreal had a full D-group besides Markov/Mara and their forwards were at a much better level than previously.

The Roster:
Jacques Martin decided to mix things up, while Pleks/Cammy/AK46 and Max-Pac/Moen/Metro stuck together, Lapierre joined the Gomez/Sk74 line to start the game, while D'Agostini, Laraque and Pyatt formed the fourth line. Hamrlik/Spacek, O'Byrne/Bergeron and Gorges/Gill formed the defensive pairs, Price had the start in nets.

The Opponent: The Penguins are probably the strongest team in the East, thanks to their centre line composed of Crosby/Malkin/Staal, with a defensive lineup of Letang, Orpik and Gonchar, plus goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. I've stated before, I really, really don't like the Penguins these days with how much time they spent sucking only to be rewarded with the top draft picks.

The First Period: A fair exchange of action really, both teams took their chances but nothing came through until just after 6 and a half minutes of action. A defensive breakdown by Montreal's first line of Pleks/Cammy/AK46 in their own end (seems to happen once a game that these guys are screwing up on a scoring chance by the other team) led to a Bill Guerin pass going to Sergei Gonchar to slip a goal in past Price. Penguins up 1-0.

Hits were exchanged, some things could have been called but they weren't, referees seemed to be in favour of a wide-open game. Shots were 11-7 Pittsburgh to end the first period, not a bad exchange really.

The Second Period: The first penalty went to Montreal's Max Pacioretty on holding, a fair call against Montreal, albeit there would be few of those, the nigh-invulnerable Montreal penalty killing unit would go to work once more and stonewall a rather ugly Penguins Power play, how can a team with Gonchar, Crosby and Malkin have such a crappy one anyway?

Penguins forward Mike Rupp would get caught on a boarding penalty with about eight minutes gone in the period, Montreal would get a chance to bring the score even but failed on the attempt, an aggressive Penguins penalty kill unit denied them any opportunities.

Josh Gorges would be called next on a holding penalty just about a minute in to their power play, a Jordan Staal breakaway during the PP would nearly become a scoring chance, although upon review of the play I fail to see how Gorges could have been called for Holding. 1:10 of 4-on-4 action than a brief Penguins Power play. Montreal's penalty killers would again have to be sharp, especially since Gorges had formed a very strong pairing with Gill on previous PK units. A scrum around the net quickly following a Malkin shot that Price would stop resulted in Malkin and Plekanec both leaving the ice, Malkin for high sticking and Plekanec for roughing, but the game remained 4-on-4.

Nine seconds after the PK had expired, a Matt D'Agostini wrist shot that would deflect slightly off a Penguins defencemen would find the back of the net, it was D'Agostini's 2nd of the season on one of the best plays he'd managed all season, Montreal tied with Pittsburgh 1-1.

Ruslan Fedotenko after dislodging his own net on a play would be cited for delay of game, Montreal's power play unit came together once more to take the lead. A smart in-zone play by Bergeron would pass to Cammalleri, who would feed Hamrlik, Andrei Kostitsyn screened Fleury to allow Hamrlik a perfect slap shot to make the game 2-1 for Montreal.

A defensive breakdown later in the game would see Sergei Kostitsyn not commit to a shot block, which allowed a flying Sergei Gonchar slapshot to be deflected in flight by Pens forward Matt Cooke to tie the game 2-2, this would lead to him being benched in the 3rd period, as was Laraque.

Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 15-8 over the period, for a total 26-15 shot advantage.

The Third Period: Talk about a lousy start, 1:40 in, Ryan O'Byrne served the first of his two "Playing my Position" penalties that he would take, Montreal's PK unit would again have to work hard and tire themselves out while the Penguins, despite having a massively talented squad, ran a rather poor PP unit compared to what they should manage.

Just about two and a half minutes later, Hal Gill would collect a tripping penalty, the long minutes of the night and his PK time wearing him down so a reaching move to poke-check would fail and he'd be in the box. Montreal again had to overplay their better players to keep the score even, Carey Price would make several key stops, as he had all game.

Ryan O'Byrne would then collect another phantom penalty at just about 10 minutes in to the period, another power play for Pittsburgh, brilliance by Price and shot-blocking by the PK unit would keep the score even, but trying to contain the Pittsburgh offence and the multiple power plays had a wearing effect on Montreal, especially Jaroslav Spacek whose knee was definitely not 100% for the match after injuring it in Ottawa.

The Penguins would gain the lead off a Pascal Dupuis shot with just less than 7 minutes to go in the period, the shot would slightly deflect on Hamrlik's waving stick, then Price would fumble on his glove hand, but considering the number of game-saving stops he had previously made, I and any rational fan let it go, he was heroic for nearly the entire night.

Montreal would take back the offensive with an intent to draw the game even and without any more power plays for Pittsburgh hampering them. With 5:40 remaining in the period, Montreal would apparently score a goal and this is what drove me nuts. The puck was in play, Fleury did not have any kind of hold on the puck with any part of his body, Scott Gomez tapped the puck in and the game would appear tied. Then there was a problem that has vexed Montreal for some time.

For those of you who have a less than flattering opinion of Kerry Fraser, Chris Lee is his protege it seems, but he focuses all his efforts on making sure Montreal doesn't win hockey games. Montreal's favourite referee initially called it a goal if you check the highlight footage and go 1:38 in, you can watch Montreal being robbed of a game-tying goal. Lee moved in and started to signal a goal, then stopped, blew his whistle under everyone's favourite rule "Intent to Blow" that means the referee can cancel a goal by saying he meant to blew the whistle earlier than he did and no video review to see if the puck crossed the goal line before the whistle was blown. Part of the bush-league referee nonsense the NHL still has to fix.

Montreal was denied a goal and failed to convert on any of their remaining time including when they pulled Price but the aggressive play of Pittsburgh against a tired Canadiens team resulted in no close chances, although Referee Chris Lee managed a nice screw you moment where he called Pittsburgh for a penalty after ignoring multiple infractions with 3 seconds remaining on the clock.

Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 41-21 total, thanks to their power play advantage and the fact that they field a much better team, Montreal is still missing key forward Gionta, Top D-man Markov and Spacek was playing hurt. Price was heroic but he made a mistake against a top team that you can't make mistakes around if your team is on a lower level than theirs is.

It's a hard time to beat the Penguins if you aren't at your best and again, to hell with this team for being smug about their success after being failures for most of the team's entire history, then cover it up with an Aw Shucks attitude about how successful they are. Give any team the No. overall 1 pick twice and the No. 2 overall pick twice and see how they do, the League is now on a system of rewarding intentional failure and too many teams are finding ways to exploit it to build up a contender without having to do any hard work.

The Offence: A surprising night from Matt D'Agostini, he finally got his second goal and made some good offensive plays. A disappointing night from Sergei Kostitsyn, who had been emerging as a more two-way player than his brother Andrei, but held back from blocking a key Gonchar shot that tied the game for Pittsburgh, I don't recall seeing him in the 3rd period. Scott Gomez should have had his 5th goal of the season, but he was robbed of it, but he was strong all night long. Max Lapierre had a strong showing and helped set up what would have been Montreal's 3rd goal, he's certainly got a lot more jump in his step since Latendresse was booted.

Mike Cammalleri missed on two golden chances, but the 17-goal man for Montreal can't be the saviour every night, albeit had he completed them, game might have gone a whole other way. Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn had good offensive drives, Kostitsyn's best scoring chance was blocked by a quick Pittsburgh defencemen, but he was good at shooting the puck on net for Montreal.

Travis Moen, Glen Metropolit and Max Pacioretty, they were work horses as usual and nearly cashed in on several opportunities, but failed to deliver, but did a great job of preventing general offence by the Penguins.

George Laraque and Tom Pyatt, didn't see much of Pyatt beyond 4th-line and penalty kill, but he was pretty good on the Pk and Laraque served a whole of 4 minutes ice time, why he was even in on a Pittsburgh game I have no idea, he needs to go and someone should take his place, hopefully upon Gionta's return we can ease him out of the lineup and then send him to a team looking for a goon.

Defence: Spacek had a lot of giveaways, but I give him credit for suiting up with a hurting knee and doing what he could against a tough Penguins team, Hamrlik was heroic but he couldn't be everywhere at once, he is a shot-blocking machine and played great in his own end, plus he scored the Canadien's 2nd goal with a sharp slapshot that hit the net dead on.

Gorges and Gill do their best as always, but I think Gill's minutes were overdone, the way he was dogging it in the game at times and that tripping penalty he drew when he was falling, 22 minutes TOI is way too much for a guy who's meant be 3rd-pair, O'Byrne should have been eating up at least five of his minutes tonight, especially at even strength.

Bergeron and O'Byrne had a good night, O'Byrne was guilty on perhaps one of his two penalties, but the second was clearly a lousy call and kept him out of action and helping keep the game tighter and give Montreal more of a rest. Bergeron's play in the Hamrlik goal was perfectly executed, he's going to be fearsome once he pairs with Markov in PP situations.

Goaltending: Carey Price simply can't make a mistake it seems if the team is going to win the way it's going against Top teams. the team is too often worn down by tough penalties that force their top players to tire themselves out on PK shifts, limiting offence especially by the 3rd and the defence is even more hampered. He made a mistake on the Dupuis goal but prevented about eight other goals at least on the night, he's an elite goaltender that could mean the difference between playoffs and no playoffs, but I don't see how Montreal can get there when they're the 2nd most penalized team in the league for no good reason and Price has to stand on his head to deliver wins because the team has trouble setting up a transition game because they're so tired from PK work. It makes me crazy the way he overplays the puck at times, but at the same time the way the D is nearly burnt out by the last half of the 3rd period, I can hardly blame him for wanting to manage the puck a bit himself, he's definitely one of the better goalies out there for handling it.

Thoughts: I don't know what it is, has the NHL instructed the on-ice Officials to keep Montreal down and work aganst Canadian teams in general to make sure they don't take up space in the playoffs? Are there that many referees from outside of Quebec that never forgave the Canadiens for their unbelievable Dynasty of the 1970s? Is anti-Quebec bigotry that prevalent that referees from other parts of the country just want to take Montreal down a bit because they hate Quebec? I don't know, it all seems outlandish but it's a bit crazy when Montreal is 2nd in penalties taken considering we're not packing any dirty shot characters like Cooke, Rupp, Lucic or Pronger, yet the penalties pile up all the time. Montreal was outplayed this game, but take away three undeserved Pittsburgh power plays and the shots advantage would not have been what it was and Montreal might have won this thing. They weren't that good and Montreal was still fighting hard, but with a foot in quicksand.

Atlanta comes this weekend and I believe Montreal can drop them come out of the week with six points in eight and keep working towards that Playoff spot while Markov mends for next month's return.

Again, screw Pittsburgh for failing their way to victory as a hockey club.

Note: Due to my moving to Brantford next month and doing an initial move this month to get myself set up, my game reports may be abridged, Hawks and Capitals reports will be less frequent and other details may be left out, as things are getting hectic around here for me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Montreal Visits Ottawa, Refs have bets on Ottawa

I normally don't criticize officiating too much, but tonight was a pretty sad event.

Montreal had lost their first game of the six they will take against their division rival Ottawa this season, but this is a new century for the Habs team and a much more competitive, coordinated squad than the one that Ottawa faced in October.

The Roster: Some juggling involved, Matt D'Agostini was scratched, Tom Pyatt and Ryan White were back in to the lineup and Bergeron took over on Defence, with the upper-body injury to Mara. To start the match, Pyatt would take D'Agostini's place on the 2nd line with Gomez and SK74, White would suit up with Lapierre/Laraque to start the match, but that wouldn't last, but more later. Jaroslav Halak would get the call to start in nets, allowing Price, who had started in nets so often you sometimes wondered who the guy sitting on the end of the bench was.

The Opponent: Ottawa was having a better season than Montreal so far and hold two games in hand against Montreal although tonight's win would draw the team even in points if Montreal won. However, they had a scoring defiency in their elite players, high-flying Jason Spezza has only 3 goals this season, Alex Kovalev has 4, Cheechoo 3 as well. Mike Fischer had been putting up impressive numbers compared to last season, but he's been a lone bright spot. Ottawa backup goalie Brian Elliot had not been dominant as a goalie and Ottawa's D has been questionable for years. Factor in only 1 win in their last five games, the Senators looked good for a team to pounce on.

The First Period: Montreal would continue their trend of being outshot in the first period, which would have been trouble had Jaroslav Halak not shaken off the rust.

A period that would be dominated by Ottawa's offence, no penalties were drawn by either side in the game, Montreal would have few offensive chances, while Halak kept the Senators off the score sheet with some good saves, albeit his rebound control continues to be frustating at times.

Late in the 3rd, a Tomas Plekanec play that would see him steal the puck and race through the neutral zone, a deft play that would force Ottawa netminder to commit to him, then a quick saucer pass to Mike Cammalleri to slip a puck in and put Montreal up 1-0.

Jaroslav Spacek would take a puck off the side of his knee and left the ice limping, he would not return to the game. Ryan White also had to leave the game, apparently a miscommunication between the Canadiens organization and the League about bringing White up and putting him back on the Montreal roster, seems someone screwed up down the line. Montreal would be at 16 skaters to start the 2nd period.

The period would end 1-0, Montreal would be outshot 13-5 by the Senators during the first period.

The Second Period: The start of the officiating showing that they had money on Ottawa winning the game.

Mike Fisher would collect a goal, after blown defensive coverage in front of the Montreal net left him open with a sprawling Jaroslav Halak in front of him to lift the puck high and tie the match. Ottawa would soon get many chances to take the lead in the match.

George Laraque would get caught on the first penalty and it was a fair call, Laraque was an idiot and he was trying to give Kovalev a bear hug apparently on the play. Montreal's penalty kill unit went to work once more, Halak would make the right stops and Montreal would limit their opportunities.

Four minutes later, Travis Moen would violate the little-known Wearing the Montreal Canadiens Sweater Rule, which has been a common penalty for Montreal to take this season. A key penalty kill member was off the ice, but Montreal's PK unit, working with Jaroslav Halak would deny any glory to the Ottawa PP unit, including a heroic unit during the Moen penalty that held for over a minute with no change. Moen would be slipped the puck when he got out of the box and would make a breakaway attempt, but chasing Ottawa Ds would tackle him down in front of the net, which looked like an interference penalty from where I sat.

After several ignored infractions by the Senators, Ottawa's Erik Carlsson would be cited for an interference penalty, giving Montreal their first power play of the game. With a pass from Roman Hamrlik, Marc-Andre Bergeron would release another one of his lasers from the point, an Ottawa stick would deflect the puck down to knuckle through the Ottawa goalie's 5-hole, Tomas Plekanec would also collect an assist on the play, his 2nd on the night. Montreal takes a 2-1 lead in the game.

Not long after the goal, Hal Gill would get caught on a tripping penalty, another key Montreal penalty killer off the ice, but Montreal would not give an inch. Saves by Halak, shot-blocks and keeping the shots to the outside, Ottawa's PP unit continued to be rather unimpressive for the most part.

Ryan O'Byrne would get caught next, because as he discovered, backchecking and playing your position is also a penalty when you play for Montreal, but another strong penalty kill and strong saves by Jaroslav Halak would keep the score 2-1 for Montreal while the clock winded down on the period, leaving about 25 seconds left in the O'Byrne penalty for the start of the 3rd period. Montreal would have 13 shots this period, but Ottawa now held a 31-18 shot advantage.

The Third Period:

Ottawa came out with a power play, but it ended quickly and Montreal didn't allow any chances as back-and-forth offence continued.

More Ottawa infractions that went unnoticed, but Bergeron and Gill were caught about five minutes apart one apparent penalties that were questionable at best, Montreal's penalty killers had to go to work once more, again missing one of their best PK men in Gill on his 2nd penalty on the night, but the hard work of the PK unit and Halak eliminated both chances for Ottawa.

Former Hab Alex Kovalev, near toward the end of the Gill penalty would get caught for a slashing penalty on Bergeron's stick, but Montreal was held off during their power play after brief 4-on-4 action and would collect no goal.

Max Pacioretty would then get caught for a tripping penalty, again after Ottawa penalties were ignored, which would lead to one last Ottawa power play, a heroic PK unit would do all they needed and Jaroslav Halak would do all he needed to do.

A foolish, boneheaded Too Many Men penalty would sink Ottawa's hopes of closing the gap, with six Ottawa skaters clearly on the ice and the goalie in nets with just less than 3 minutes left. Montreal would take their third power play of the game and seal the deal.

A Marc-Andre Bergeron end-to-end rush which produced a shot and rebound off of Ottawa goalie Elliott, Andrei Kostitsyn would pounce on it and put it in the back of the net to give Montreal a 3-1 lead. Tomas Plekanec would get his 3rd assist of the night and restore himself to point-per-game numbers for his season.

Just over a minute later, an aggressive Scott Gomez forecheck would give him the puck and after a weak shot bounced off the goalpost, Gomez would force his way in to tap in an empty-net goal as Ottawa had pulled their goalie for a 6th attacker with a minute and a half left.

Montreal would pick up their 3rd straight win, after being outshot 47-26 over three periods, however quality of the shots ruled the day and superb penalty killing and goaltending lifted Montreal over a division rival for two key points in the standings.

The Offence: Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn continue to be Montreal's best line, offensive creativity, speed and smooth stickhandling that challenges any line that goes up against them. 27 goals so far between the three with 17 by Cammalleri, but you can tell a lot more are going to be generated pretty soon.

Gomez/Pyatt/Sergei Kostitsyn, didn't last long as Max Pacioretty would earn a promotion later on so the line could generate more offence, but Sergei's great moves in the offensive zone, in additional to his penalty killing abilities make for a great player, Gomez showed much more commitment than he has in previous games without his buddy Gionta in the lineup, his hard work gave him that EN goal. Pyatt's okay, but I get the feeling he's better off on the farm for development.

Metropolit/Moen/Pacioretty, they will bring the playoffs as I've said before, they haven't scored in the last two games, but they've looked pretty close to scoring and you can't say they've allowed even half the number of the scoring chances they generate. Metropolit defines being an MVP for his pay grade, creativity, faceoff skills and a relentless attitude that puts games in Montreal's hands because nothing happens on his shift unless he lets it happen.

Lapierre/Laraque/White, this didn't last long, Laraque rode the bench in the 3rd period, White had to leave the game, which meant Lapierre would be rotated through the other three lines through the course of the 3rd period and really denied Lapierre any chance to generate anything. He's having to work his way up into Martin's good graces after a sad effort through his first 25 games or so, he'll have to keep working hard but tonight sort of worked against him for having a regular line.

Defence: Is it possible to say too much about these guys? They're heroes as always.

Spacek did an admirable job as long as he was in the game as per usual, I really hope he comes out of his latest injury pretty quickly and it's not serious, he and Hamrlik have been such a great top pair while Markov is out.

Hamrlik had 28:11 of ice time, after putting in just short of 24 minutes the night before, not bad for the 35 year old former first overall pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he's playing some of the best hockey of his career with smart defensive hockey and good stick handling, he does all the team needs him to do and never complains. A team player in every sense of the word, elevating himself when he has to, filling in while Markov is gone to form a solid Top D-Man for his team.

Ryan O'Byrne is continuing to be an impressive defensive defencemen, coming back from a disasterous partial season in Montreal last season, he has made smart plays, used his body well and helped cover his goaltender, his contributions to a shorthanded rush during the game nearly gave Montreal a shorthanded goal, as he nearly almost got one against Pittsburgh a few nights ago. He and Bergeron played a solid amount of time together, although since defensive assignments were moved around and many pairings occured for all situations, solid work for him and Bergeron even out of their usual assignments. Bergeron had another goal and set up the rebound that allowed AK46 to get his 4th of the season, for 750,000$ this season and 7 goals, I'd say he was a pretty good late addition to the team.

Josh Gorges and Hal Gill continue to be that pair I favour for hard work, they cover their goalie and make smart, safe defensive plays for the most part, provide shot blocks and do what is needed to keep the defensive end of Montreal's game solid. Team men and good guys all around.

Goaltending: A good comeback game for Halak after an ugly loss in Buffalo, he shook off the rust and delivered one of those big games he's capable of putting up when he has to and the team needs it. The only goal against him was not his fault and I doubt Price on his best net would have prevented it, nothing to be ashamed of, everything to be proud of. Halak continues to be one of the best backup goalies in the NHL, in terms of salary cap and ability.

Three Stars

1. Jaroslav Spacek, a 45-save evening? What more do you want from the guy? Great performance for a goalie who's barely seen action since the middle of November.

2. Tomas Plekanec, he set up the Cammalleri goal and was instrumental in the cycles that set up the Bergeron and Kostitsyn goals, he continues to be the best centre in Montreal, over 6 minutes of PK time speaks to his strength at that position.

3. Roman Hamrlik, he sets up the Bergeron goal and plays an inhuman number of minutes for a Defencemen in Montreal whose name is not Markov. A career year for an aging defencemen who will pass over 1200 GP in January.


Three wins in a row. Three regulation wins, three wins where Montreal outscored the opposition 5-1, 3-1 and 4-1, they scored twelve goals and only allowed three, Cammalleri scored five times and now has 17 goals this season. I'd say Montreal took the Centennial game to heart based on their current play, they don't give up, their forwards strike with lethal precision these days when scoring chances occur and defensively, the PK unit and goaltending has been a black hole for teams going against it with the man advantage.

That's the start of a good December and a consistent winning record that will help Montreal get in playoff position for April, any ground gained now while Markov is out is one less game we must hope Markov can help deliver later when the MVP Defencemen returns.

Andrei Kostitsyn has two goals in his last two games, which could indicate with the net prescence he has shown in his last two matches that many more could come from the gifted sniper who's had a hard time finding the net this season. His linemates Plekanec and Cammalleri seem to be the right fit for the young Belarusian forward.

Halak showed he doesn't take long to throw off the rust and played a strong game, he'll be a key backup for Price in a month of 17 games for the team, I imagine he'll have 3-4 more games this month depending upon Price's play and the schedule. He's good enough for it and is probably good enough to be a starting man in half the NHL, but that will come later for the Slovak netminder, he'll need the practice to first cover his National Team at the Olympics in February.

Montreal faces Pittsburgh on Thursday, so they can only hope Spacek is ready for that match, otherwise it will be a much more difficult time of things with Mara already out with an upper-body injury, a body will have to be called up from the farm likely. Pittsburgh caught a rather uncoordinated Canadiens squad when they pounded them 6-1, then later 3-1 when Montreal was composed of half an AHL team on their second straight game and still stood up to them remarkably well. This time, five of Montreal's top 6 forwards will be ready to go, the Metropolit/Moen/Pacioretty line will shut down Pittsburgh offence, while Hal Gill and Josh Gorges will give the Penguins Deja Vu of their own Scuderi/Gill line from the Playoffs last season. It's a winnable game for Montreal with their current work ethic, special teams work and available players, the Penguins are a tough team with way too much talent they picked up from being bottom-feeders, but I think Montreal as they are right now has a good chance to extend the streak to four games.

Ex-Habs Recognition:

- Saku Koivu assisted on the 2nd Anaheim goal of the game against the Dallas Stars and the first goal on the 2nd game of rookie call-up Dan Sexton's NHL career. Koivu would later mark the OT winner for Anaheim for his 4th goal of the season.
- Alex Kovalev was held without a point against his former club Montreal, one of those nights he decided not to work.
- Former dimunitive D-man Francis Boullion assisted on the 2nd goal of the Nashville-Vancouver game, setting up the second of Martin Erat's hat trick.

Juniors Habs Recognition:

Nothing much from the kids, the week's generally quiet for days at a time for prospects.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Flyers at Canadiens, Or how to ruin a Goalie's Save %

This was the first game of the season between these two long-time rivals, Philidelphia is a far more skilled team than they were when they hacked, slashed and punched their way to two Stanley Cups in the 1970s, but they are still the Broad Street Bullies.

The Roster: Jacques Martin decided a winning combination is one you stick with, the roster remained the same from the Boston game, AK46/Cammalleri/Plekanec retained their line, SK74/Gomez/D'Agostini took the 2nd line duties, Pacioretty/Moen/Metropolit formed the team's best checking line seen in a while, Laraque/Lapierre/Bergeron suited up to provide 4th-line energy.

Hamrlik/Spacek remain proving you should never mess with a good thing, O'Byrne/Mara and Gorges/Gill provided defensive pairings, Carey Price got another start in net for his brilliant work in the Bruins match.

The Opponent: The Flyers are a much more skilled team than the one Montreal sent packing in the 1970s, forwards like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell and Daniel Briere provided a very solid, skilled front and a defence led by Chris Pronger, the dirtiest defencemen in the NHL but with Norris trophy skills means not only could the Flyers fight, they score as well. A very big team on average, the only weak link one might argue is the fragility of Daniel Briere, but he was healthy for tonight's match. Peter Laviolette had just taken over from recently fired Head Coach John Stevens, but his first game as the Flyers head coach did not go well, in an 8-2 shelling at home by the high-flying Washington Capitals, who fall upon any team with a defensive issue like jackals on a wounded animal. The only way they had to go was up, Brian Boucher, a French-Canadian goalie would get the start ahead of usual starter Ray Emery who allowed five goals in the Capitals game, possibly also chosen because French Canadian goalies love to turn up their game when playing in Montreal.

The First Period:

Not the most pulse-pounding period by a long shot, not even half the excitement of the Boston-Montreal game, both teams worked hard to limit the other from taking shots on their goalies. Shots were blocked, shooting lanes cut off, the Flyers kept Montreal from working in close to the goalie.

2:46 into the period, Georges Laraque would drop the gloves for a rather predictable fight with Flyers tough guy Riley Cote, Laraque would land a number of his lefts that have been known to be devasatating, but Cote managed to wrestle Laraque to the ground, neither came out seemingly any worse for wear but no more fights occured after this bout.

A mishandling of the puck at the Flyers blue-line led to a Daniel Briere breakaway, O'Byrne and Mara pumped their legs to try and catch Briere, but he's a very fast skater but the two big men were no match for his speed really. O'Byrne would be hanging on to Briere and would draw a whistle, but Briere as he was going down managed to lift the puck up over Price's left pad and glove hand to bring the score to 1-0 Flyers with 12:32 left in the period. Price wasn't that good, but he didn't let it get to him either noting his reactions later in the game.

Briere would get caught on a high-sticking minor about halfway through the period, but an aggressive Flyers penalty kill and a lack of good cycling in the offensive zone failed to produce any good chances.

Gill and Gorges kept to their role from the Boston game through the period, the personal guards of Carey Price who kept people out of his face and prevented any pucks from reaching his goal crease. I love seeing them play together, they form a good natural pair.

Ryan O'Byrne would be caught on a weak interference call which led to a Flyers power play, Montreal effectively killed it off and the period would end on a rather dull note offensively, four shots by Philidelphia, an ugly 1 by Montreal, shot blocking and defensive work on both ends would keep the shot count low, but Montreal had little energy and offensive pressure in the whole period, the Flyers had a 1-0 lead and the Montreal team that took Boston 5-1 was nowhere to be seen.

The Second Period:

Montreal came out with a lot more jump in their step, they knew they had the advantage in speed and the Flyers had not been so overly impressive that the Canadiens squad considered themselves in an unwinnable game with the Flyers on a thin 1-0 lead.

Carey Price's overly enthusiastic moves to clear the puck this game have led to some problems here and there, while he's probably one of the better goalies in the NHL for stickhandling, being overly aggressive with the goalie's paddle stick has caused him trouble. It would crop up this game as well, a clearing attempt by him off the glass would lead to a delay of game penalty, served by Matt D'Agostini. Montreal's PK unit would again go to work and kill it off with good efficency, Hal Gill is just a natural penalty killer and Gorges is a great partner for him.

At one point, in a tangled play around the net, Price would lose his stick, Gorges after going into a shot-block to help cover the net, would immediately hand his stick to Price until he could retrieve Price's stick for him and then they quickly switched the sticks, the two kids from B.C. are good friends and it's good to see Gorges dedication to his netminder and their teamwork, it's an encouraging sign.

After 6:20 in the match, a quick behind-the-net pass by Tomas Plekanec would find Andrei Kostitsyn in front of the net, he caught enough of the puck to lift it and put it past the Flyers goalie to tie the match, it is only Kostitsyn's 3rd of the season but based on his aggressive play lately, you can feel his offensive output will be ramping up soon, Montreal tied on their 3rd shot of the game, Roman Hamrlik got an assist as well.

Paul Mara had left the first period due to an upper-body injury, which saw Marc-Andre Bergeron shift back to defence in the 2nd paired with Ryan O'Byrne for the rest of the match, which saw Mike Cammalleri serve double shifts by playing on the 4th line, which he seemed to enjoy because it gave him his 16th goal of the season.

During a battle along the boards in the Canadiens zone, Georges Laraque would pop the puck loose, which would be collected by Lapierre and the second goal took shape. Mad Max took off with Cammalleri on his wing into the Flyers zone with the great speed that Lapierre has exhibited in the past when he creates scoring opportunities. A Flyers defencemen would drop to the ice to block Lapierre's path, but he dangled around to pass to Cammalleri, who would roof the puck and give Montreal a 2-1 lead with just less than 6 minutes remaining in the period. Laraque would get an assist on the play as well, his 100th for his NHL career.

The period would end with Montreal being outshot a total of 13-7 over two periods, a very low-shooting game, but both teams had been very quick to prevent shots against their goalies.

The Third Period:

Montreal was enjoying a 2-1 lead to start the period and would continue more offensive pressure to try and collect an insurance goal, but none would come easily.

A Chris Pronger penalty would create a new power play opportunity for Montreal after several ignored penalties by the Flyers, but Montreal would fail to convert on the chance at first and then a minute later, Montreal would be trapped with a Too Many Men penalty, which saw a minute of four-on-four, then a brief Flyers penalty. Both situations did not result in much offence, Montreal's penalty kill remained perfect.

A Matt Carle holding the stick penalty after an offensive jam in front of the Flyers net would result in a Montreal power play after a scramble nearly created a garbage goal for Montreal, but as the jam revealed, the net was already off it's moorings and the goal would not have counted.

This time, it would take Montreal a mere 25 seconds to collect their power play goal, a good cycle by Plekanec to Hamrlik, who fed Bergeron for a one-time shot that would bank off the left post into the net would give Montreal a 3-1 lead and insurance on their lead, it was Bergeron's 6th of the season and his 3rd on the power play.

Aggressive play by both sides continued, although Montreal's defence did seem a bit fatigued as they usually do by the end of the 3rd period, a late penalty by the generally heroic Josh Gorges gave the Flyers a 6-on-4 advantage, but strong work by the rest of the Montreal penalty killers and a few good saves by Carey Price would keep it a 3-1 game, a clearing attempt by Hal Gill would nearly see him get a EN goal, but no luck and the game ended 3-1.

Montreal would win with a mere 13 shots on net, three would go in, the Flyers had a total of 15 for the game and only two in the third period, thanks to strong shot blocking efforts by the Montreal defence and hard work to prevent any scoring chances. Carey Price would have a .933 save %, while Brian Boucher would have a .769%, talk about one night killing your numbers.

The Offence:

Hardly impressive in sustained pressure they weren't exactly a machine-gun offence in the first, or even the 2nd or 3rd periods, but they were accurate. Andrei Kostitsyn caught the puck while it was on it's side in front of the net to roof it in, Lapierre's set-up would give Cammalleri a perfect shot he didn't waste and Bergeron just fires off lasers when you give him an opportunity.

the Plekanec/AK46/Cammalleri line continues to be the best Montreal has, great speed and puck control that create quality chances in front of the net.

The Gomez/SK74/D'Agostini line seemed less effective, but Sergei's ankle seemed to be slowing him down a bit, slowing the overall tempo of the fast offensive line they are supposed to be and D'Agostini's trouble handling the puck at times makes for trouble. Gomez's terrible giveaway at the blue line at one point might have changed the game for the Flyers, but the great efforts of the defence covered the error and Gomez had a fair game aside from that part.

Metropolit/Moen/Pacioretty continue to be the team's best checking line all year long, they create some offensive chances and stifle two or three times as many by the other team each night, aggressive checking, faceoff wins by Metropolit and great effort make them a nice line to see on the ice, you know they won't chip in many goals, but you know they'll make sure goals don't happen against the team either.

Lapierre/Laraque/Bergeron-Cammalleri had a fair night, Laraque's good board play provided Lapierre to create one of his best offensive plays of the season since he set up D'Agostini's goal in the New York Rangers game in October, Bergeron was a good guy until he had to go back to playing D, Cammalleri's execution on Lapierre's chance was picture-perfect.

The Defence:

Toronto's supposedly got a great defence, right? Wrong, the best defence in Eastern Canada belongs to Montreal right now. Roman Hamrlik blocked ten shots tonight, and you probably complain when you bump your head. Jaroslav Spacek was his very able partner, Hamrlik would collect two assists on the night as well, earning First Star honours for his neverending work on defence.

Ryan O'Byrne and Paul Mara's giveaway and failure to stop Briere would lead to the Flyer's single goal, but O'Byrne would make up for it the rest of the game with solid play the rest of the night, checking effectively and giving good control along the boards in Montreal's end. Bergeron would fill in as able partner for him, he's shaking off most of the defensive troubles that plagued Montreal when he started off.

Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, Carey Price's doormen, bodyguards and clean-up crew. They keep his crease clean of opposing bodies or use their bodies to block shots, provide great PK work and do whatever is needed of them, including helping create a couple of offensive chances on the evening. Utility defensive defencemen who do what is required of them when asked, Price will have a great year in nets with this pair covering him.

Goaltending: Price allowed a preventable goal on Briere, it wasn't that high-speed and I've seen Price catch much better shots than that with his glove. The key though? He shut the door after that, Price too easily collapsed after a bad goal last season and would allow 2-3 more bad goals, this season he's been much better on recovery and remaining resolute in nets, preventing any further goals and helping his team pick up the win. Good game, he could have had a shutout, but he's a young goalie and he's learned a very important lesson, it's not about how the last goal happened, it's about making sure the next one doesn't happen.

Three Stars:

1. Roman Hamrlik, 10 blocked shots, 2 assists, he directly set up the Bergeron insurance goal and was a solid man all night long, you can't help but love this solid defencemen who's playing some of his best hockey in years and earning every cent of his contract who so many (including myself at one point) said he was well overpaid for his role. I'm gladly eating my words on his renaissance season in this late point of his 1,186 game career.

2. Andrei Kostitsyn, handled a spinning puck to get his 3rd of the season while going to the front of the net ready for that Plekanec pass, his offensive outbursts were great all night long, you can just feel more is coming from the kid.

3. Maxim Lapierre, a good offensive outburst from him created the 2-1 lead, he's been too quiet this season and hasn't used his good stickhandling and speed the way he should be to create these chances that just aren't expected from this 4th-line centre. Hopefully like AK46, this is a confidence booster for him.


Yes this was beating a team that had just lost 8-2 to Washington on Saturday, yes their new coach is less than five days on the job, but the Flyers are a bullying team that analysts said the small stature of Montreal wouldn't be able to handle and would get pushed around too much. Montreal took the Flyers on and used their speed to beat them after a lax 1st period and executed on strong scoring chances. Andrei Kostitsyn got a good goal and Lapierre set up Cammalleri's, these were two guys in AK and Lapierre that needed to do these kinds of things to fire them up more and get them more competitive. Price allowed a bad goal, but shut the door on everyone else and the defence was strong, especially in the third period when they limited the Flyers to a mere two shots. Gill and Gorges, again, I love what they do for Price, they do all that has to be done to guard Price and prevent him from being overwhelmed in nets or caught on goals he can't possibly stop.

Montreal is now at 30 points and is one point out of the top half of the Conference since Tampa has a game in hand over them. With Gionta returning later this month and Markov next the team simply needs to hold at .500 or just over it for now and with their newfound work ethic and better defensive work, it seems quite possible.

Washington-Tampa Bay:

Didn't see it, but is anyone really surprised that Ovechkin picks up two goals on his return to get him back within 1 goal of the League leader in Gaborik? Props to Eric Fehr for his 8th of the season, between Laich, Fleischmann, Stecekel and Fehr, the Capitals have some very good plugging forwards along with their elite scorers like Semin, Ovechkin and Backstrom. Tip of the hat to rookie netminder Semyon Varlamov as well for his 3rd career NHL shutout in 22 total NHL Games.

Ex-Habs Recognition:

Nothing notable from recent Habs Members on the night, same for the Junior Habs.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Capitals/Blackhawks Report with Extras

While Montreal had a well-earned rest after back-to-back games, there was no rest for the Blackhawks, who were coming off a biting 4-1 loss to Nashville that was sealed in the last 2:03 of the game and the Capitals were set to face the Flyers, with new coach Jack Laviolette, but were without the services of suspended superstar Alex Ovechkin.


I missed the game, I was busy watching the Chicago-Pittsburgh game, but I have to say, the Capitals once again, missing the prescence of outstanding star player Alex Ovechkin found a way to exploit a disoriented Flyers squad, from what I managed to pick up later on...

1st Period:Tomas Fleischmann collected his 9th goal of the season off a Brendan Morrison centering pass 57 seconds into the game, Fleischmann despite missing training camp, pre-season and the team's first eleven games has taken off quite impressively thus far this season 1-o Capitals.

Mika Pyorola brought it even for the Flyers just over eleven minutes later and it was entirely possible a see-saw battle between these two teams would erupt, as they often have for the rival squads, 1-1 score.

Daniel Carcillo doomed his Flyers team however when he would sucker-punch Washington's Matt Bradley, collecting a cross-checking, instigator and five-minute fighting major adding up to 9 minutes of power-play time for Washington, with a Game misconduct attached.

Mike Richards would set up a 2-on-1 with Jeff Carter during the long Flyers penalty kill, but netminder Theodore stopped Carter's shot off of Richards feed, denying the Flyers a lead and any momentum from an extremely dangerous penalty kill unit that was renowned for shorthanded goals last season.

Washington would score 20 seconds apart after 4:36 of PP time had passed, another goal by Fleischmann than a quick wrist shot by Blue-line sniper Mike Green off of a Nicklas Backstrom feed gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead to end the first period, outshooting the Flyers 14-13 during the stretch.

2nd Period:

There was still 1:06 of PP time left for Washington to start the frame and they scored even faster than the first period with only 36 seconds to go, Brooks Laich tapped in his 10th of the season, thanks to the playmaking work of Mike Green and Backstrom, 4-1 Capitals.

The offensive pressure would relent, with Capitals call-up D-man Karl Alzner taking a penalty giving the Flyers their first power play of the match, but would result in nothing as Theodore kept the Flyers without a goal during the Washington penalty.

Alzner would jump out of the penalty box to take the puck for a quick pass to Chris Clark, Captain of the Capitals team, he would loose a wrister to deliver the 5th goal of the game for Washington, chasing Ray Emery from the net, after 5 goals on 17 shots.

Nicklas Backstrom would work off of a Jurcina slapshot rebound to bring it to 6-1 Capitals, spoiling any hopes of Flyers backup goalie Brian Boucher closing the door on a relentless Capitals offence.

Backstrom would set up Mike Green once more for his 2nd goal of the game off another one of his sharp wristers, Green has had a rather slow start goal-scoring wise, with only 5 goals in his first 28 games compared to the 31 he scored last season, he still leads all defencemen in points, up to 30 thanks to his 4-point night. The Flyers were outshot 25-21 over 2 periods, but the real story was the scoreboard on that count.

3rd Period: The Flyers would try to storm back offensively, with a 15-5 shot advantage for the period, but would produce a single goal by Scott Hartnell, whose own slashing penalty later on neutralized the slight dig into the Capitals lead by allowing for another Capitals goal.

Scott Hartnell would feed off a behind-the-net pass to beat Theodore in a late effort for some minor personal glory and something for the Flyers to take off the night as they shrunk the lead to 7-2 for the Capitals. Hartnell's glory would be short-lived as he would later be caught for a slashing penalty.

David Steckel, who finally produced his first goal of the season would restore the 6-goal lead on tne ensuing Power play, he would feed off a well-placed Mike Green pass to make the final score 8-2. The Flyers would end up with the shooting advantage of 36-30, but Theodore would make 34 stops, the Flyers two netminders a mere 22.

Strutting their stuff: Nicklas Backstrom would have a goal and 4 assists on the night, Mike Green would have 2 goals, 2 assists, the premiere playmaker Backstrom and star defencemen Green would both score their 25th assist of the season together on the Steckel goal. Tomas Fleischmann would have a 2 goal night, the team is 2-0 for Alex Ovechin's 2-game suspension in an offensive flurry that saw 14 goals over two games.


'Wow' would be the most accurate way of describing the match, The youngest team and most talent-laden team in the Western Conference engaged the most talented team in the Eastern Conference. Sidney Crosby was out of the match with a groin injury, but thanks to the Penguins glut of top centres, Jordan Staal took the 2nd line duties while Malkin took over the top line and neither and scarcely missed a beat, the Penguins depth down the middle has got to make you hate them at times.

Marian Hossa was facing his 2008 team, who he lost the Stanley Cup with in the 2008 Finals, lost it to them when he switched to the Red Wings for the 2009 Cup Finals and finally decided to stick with a team in the Chicago Blackhawks for the next 12 years in his massive new contract. The crowd was quite vocal in booing the high-scoring forward they felt had abandoned them and gone shopping for a Cup. Antti Niemi recieved the start in nets, the 26-year old is 5-1-1 this season, which begs the question of besides Christobal Huet's salary, why doesn't the Journeymen goalie start more often? Marc-Andre Fleury, a likely candidate for the Canadian Olympic Team took to goal crease for Pittsburgh, he's become quite the thief when it comes to scoring on him in the last two years after having a rough start following his 1st overall selection in the impossibly talent-laden 2003 Entry Draft.

The First Period: The only goal to be scored in this stretch would come from a 4-on-4 section of the game when after Pens D-Man Brooks Orpik was holding, then Duncan Keith was cited less than 30 seconds later for intereference. The period would spawn a disagreement that would last the match between Pens forward Matt Cooke and Hawks defencemen Duncan Keith, as Keith's blindside hit on Cooke that spawned the interference penalty came from Cooke running him in his own end, which did not draw a penalty but Keith felt a need to push back against the hard-checking forward.

Patrick Kane would steal the puck along the boards and take off with the blinding speed that has defined the young forward's career and his justification to be drafted first overall in 2007, he would bring it in the Penguins zone and hold it until he could feed it to teammate Brian Campbell, who would rip a shot off of Fleury that produced a big rebound, just in time for the slick reflexes of Hossa to catch the flying puck, bring it down to the ice and slip it by Fleury, 1-0 Blackhawks.

A tustle between Penguins grinder Mike Rupp and Hawks grinder Ben Eager would cost the Penguins, as Rupp was assessed a double-minor for roughing while Eager served a single, but no score on either side during the match thanks to impressive goaltending and strong defence. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook never seemed to come off the ice, keeping both the Malkin and Staal lines in check as often as they could. The Hawks would take an 11-9 shots advantage over the period.

The Second Period:

Scoreless, but not for lack of trying. The Penguins wanted to tie the game up and take the lead, but solid goaltending from Niemi and a very coordinated, mobile defence by Chicago kept the rebounds away from Niemi or blocked shots and disrupted the top Penguins lines.

Pittsburgh would outshoot the Blackhawks 17-6 over the period, but the Blackhawks few scoring chances required the sharp wits of goaltender Fleury, speed kills in the NHL and the Blackhawks are known for punishing any team that can't keep their forwards contained. The shots were now 26-17 Pittsburgh, but Chicago still held the lone marker. Duncan Keith would play over 20 minutes by the end of the period, his partner Brent Seabrook was less than thirty seconds short of putting in 20 minutes himself. This is all after playing the night before as well, these two young men should be Olympic starters, without question for Team Canada.

The Third Period:

The Blackhawks wanted to seal the deal and get an insurance goal but it never came, tight saves by Marc-Andre Fleury and good defensive work to keep the Blackhawks shooters from setting up in the offensive zone kept Chicago from cashing in on any rebounds or golden chances.

The Pittsburgh Penguins came close to solving Niemi several more times, but it took Fleury sitting on the bench with the sixth man with 1:32 left in the game for a goal to finally get by the Finnish netminder. A faceoff win by Malkin, a pick-up by Gonchar, a feed to Malkin who would rip off a slapshot from the point, the shot was blocked only to have the rebound float right to an open Jordan Staal, whose quick reflexes would put the puck past a sprawling Niemi to tie the game. Chicago would outshoot Pittsburgh 11-6 over the period, the Penguins would still lead with a 32-28 total shot advantage.

Duncan Keith would have played just about 30 minutes of game time to this point, after playing just over 26 minutes the night before, talk about earning your new contract!

Overtime: Chicago would lock down Pittsburgh in the extra frame, using their strong defensive corps to keep them contained until a breakout play by Kris Versteeg would end things.

Kris Versteeg, thanks to the lockdown efforts of the Chicago Defence would take the puck into the Penguins zone and feed a pass to Brian Campbell, who would shoot twice, his first effort blocked and then a weak second puck would hit Fleury, Versteeg would crash into the crease and push the puck into the goal, delivering the game-winning goal, ending the Penguins 6-0 Overtime winning streak, handing Pittsburgh their first overtime loss of the season at home.

Key Players:

Pittsburgh: Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin would be in place for many offensive chances and would set up the game-tying goal that allowed Pittsburgh to leave with an overtime point. Brooks Orpik, Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Mark Eaton would work very hard to contain a very quick Chicago offence.

Chicago: Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook would play a combined total of 59 minutes, 39 seconds over 62 minutes and 38 seconds of game time, a fantastic performance by two elite defencemen that seem at this point, destined to form a pairing on the Canadian Olympic Hockey Team. Marian Hossa would be the only Blackhawk to score on the Penguins during regulation time on a slick rebound goal and would continue to harry his old team all night long alongside linemates Joanathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. Patrick Kane would make the offensive zone moves that made the Hossa goal possible, while Versteeg's improving play of late made the OT winner possible, Brian Campbell would assist on both Blackhawks goals.

Thoughts: We could do a whole hell of a lot worse than to have a 7-game Stanley Cup Final occur between these incredible teams, as much as I may dislike them for their failures delivering them their drafting success, you can't argue with how well they play on the ice. This is a preview of the Stanley Cup Final, you heard it here first.

Granted of course, the Canadiens don't go on another 1993-esque Miracle Run with Carey Price channeling Plante, Dryden and Roy the whole time ;)
Ex-Habs Recognition:

- Bruin Steve Begin would drop Jamal Mayers in a fight during a losing battle for the Maple Leafs in a 7-2 drubbing by the Beantown boys.
- Maple Leaf Mike Komisarek would attempt to put out Zdeno Chara's right eye with a dangerous high-sticking that went unnoticed by a very oblivious ref, a four-minute double minor towards Toronto during that point in the game might have seen the score jump even further. Komisarek just isn't the same since he had his ass handed to him by Milan Lucic last season in Montreal.
- Ranger Chris Higgins would score his 3rd goal of the season off a Gaborik feed, which is pretty sad considering he registered 3 20+ goal seasons for his first three years with Montreal.
- Lightning member Alex Tanguay would assist on Rookie defencemen Victor Hedman's first NHL goal.
- Senator Alex Kovalev would assist on a Jesse Winchester goal with 46 seconds left in regulation time to bring the score up 2-3 against the Phoenix Coyotes, but the team failed to tie the game in the remaining time.

Junior Habs Recognition:

- Tougher night for the Hamilton Bulldogs, a 6-5 overtime loss to the Toronto Marlies (Baby Leafs), P.K. Subban would collect one assist in the game. as would Mathieu Carle, two of Montreal's better defensive prospects. Dimunitive centre David Desharnis would score a goal and assist, but given his 5'6" stature and Montreal's lack of size in the forward corps, he'll likely be a career AHLer or moved to another team in a trade deal rather than serve as a Canadien over the next several years.
- Swediesh Centre Andreas Engqvist, who was signed to a contract with Montreal after recieving a development camp invite over the summer and impressing the Habs scouting department is getting back to scoring, with 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 5 matches in the Swedish Elite League after several prolonged dry spells.
- Mac Bennett has scored goals in 2 consecutive games with his USHL Cedar Rapids Roughriders now, after a slow start when returning from participating in the World Junior A Championship with Team USA.
- Finnish centre Joonas Nattinen, a 6'2" member of the very impressive 2009 Draft class Montreal selected has 4 goals and 2 assists in his last 4 Finnish Junior League matches. He has served a lot of time in the higher Finnish Elite League this season with only 3 assists in 16 games this season, but he has his 9 points in his 7 Junior League games. At 18 and a 3rd-round pick, it would seem harsh to expect him to play at the highest level of hockey in his country at such a young age, he is a long-term prospect and would probably be better off playing in the Junior team he has been moved up and down to this season. Interesting note, he likes to pattern himself after one of the last great Habs to play for Montreal in the last decade, Saku Koivu.

The "Go to Hell you Leprachaun" Note:

Apparently the League is talking about changing the names of notable player trophies to that of NHL greats and away from the historic names like the Art Ross, Hart, Calder and Norris trophies. This has the stink of Gary Bettman all over it, he's thinking of new ways to corrupt the game to sell it to a bunch of Southern US markets who only actually get out of their seats during a game when a fight breaks out. Phoenix can't even fill the arena out unless tickets are 25$ each, most of the Southern US market has to to give out free food and beer coupons with their tickets to get people to come to the games.

The talk about changing the names to honour the players is stupid. The players are honoured with personal trophies when they win a coveted trophy like the Art Ross, or have their names forever inscribed on the Conn Smythe Playoff Trophy when it is collected. The people whose names are on the trophies have the trophies named after them because they helped found the game, grow the game and decided to institute the trophies to recognize the greatness of the athletes they fostered that founded the greatest sport in history.

The greatest players are inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, do they really need more honours than they already recieve? If the league needs to correct anything, it's to change names of the Divisions to something a little more interesting than "Northeast, Southeast, Northwest" and so on.

Here's an easy way to do it if you want to make this about recognizing the past greats in the NHL.

Atlantic Divison - Lemieux Division.
Northeast Division - Beliveau Division
Southeast Division - Orr Division
Northwest Division - Gretzky Division
Pacific Division - Hull Division
Central Division - Howe Division

Eastern Conference - Wales Conference, as in the Prince of Wales Trophy which is awarded to the winner of the Eastern Conference Final in the Playoffs.
Western Conference - Campbell Conference, as in the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy which like the Prince of Wales Trophy, is awarded to the Western Conference Finals winner in playoffs.

Sounds a hell of a lot better for sure.