Saturday, October 31, 2009

leafs vs.Habs - Scary Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-I wonder what you could build with Gomez' seven million bucks? I'm guessing something better than a hockey player with two goals in thirteen games. On the other hand, he played a fabulous PK shift early on.

-Non-hocky fan spouse just made a great point: Martin looks like The Penguin from the Batman movies.

-The Truculent Twins aren't helping much on the leafs back-end, are they?

-Poor Carey Price. He dropped an F-bomb on TV last night about the number of goals going in on him off defencemen's skates. Then Halak is in when Hammer kicks one in the leafs net. Then it evens out when the tying goal goes off Spacek's skate. Ugh.

-A curse on the head of every fan singing "goodbye" with four minutes to go. What's the matter with people? Has no one ever heard of hubris?

-The goalies have had no chance on ninety percent of the goals against them. This is not a very good hockey team.

-Thank God the midgets can put the puck in the net when there's no one else out there with them.

Notes on the second:

-Still blinking at Gill in the jammies. That's a hell of a lot of stripes. Gionta, on the other hand, looks like he's seriously wearing his jammies.

-I hate Bergeron. Really, really hate him. The way you hate twenty-nine rainy days in a row, followed by snow on the thirtieth.

-Spacek owes Metropolit one for that rotten suicide pass up the middle with the traitor bearing down.

-Is this the third game in a row in which the Habs have taken a delay-of-game penalty? This sucks. Worst penalty in hockey.

-leaf/Habs games are just something to be endured, not enjoyed. They're like your drunken great-aunt's costume birthday party.

-I think Chipchura is redeeming himself as a first-rounder at the moment. I like him. Pacioretty's coming to life too. I can hear Trevor Timmins' sigh of relief from here.

-Latendresse is as frustrating as telemarketers at suppertime. And just when you're about to hang up on him, he sells you a goal.

-When the leafs are wheeling around your zone with impunity, it's a safe bet that you're not that great a hockey team.

-In honour of the day, Andrei Kostitsyn is playing the role of The Undead.

Notes on the first:

-Happy birthday to our favourite little turtlenecked monster. Hope Bob gifts him with a nice contract.

-Habs are dressed like a chain-gang for Halloween. If they pull off two points tonight, the coach doesn't make them break rocks tomorrow.

-Speaking of the jailbird unis, it looks like back we're in the days of rabbit-ears, when the horizontal hold was acting up.

-The booing of the traitor is exceedingly pleasant to hear. Could stand to be louder, though. Best new nickname for him I've heard: Comicsarek.

-Is it just me, or do an inordinate number of shots deflect off Gorges in particular on his own goalie? He could be nicknamed Pinball.

-There's shooting and there's shooting smart. Kostitsyn is a bit boggled about the difference, I think.

-The reason why concussions will continue to rise in the NHL is because hits like Beauchemin on Gionta are allowed to go unpenalized.

-I'm starting a petition: We, the undersigned, hereby request Marc-Andre Bergeron to refrain from playing defence for the Montreal Canadiens from this point forward. A bullet from the point is no longer qualification enough to be absolved from scaring the crap out of his own team's goalies and/or fans on a shift-by-shift basis.

-Honestly, watching Bergeron's brand of "defence" makes me wonder again what was wrong with Dandenault as a desperation measure?

-Halak's bailing them out tonight. Both he and Price are doing their jobs. Now the rest of the Pajama Squad have to do theirs.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Habs vs. Hawks - Lucky Thirteen

Notes on the third:

-Every once in a while, just when I hate him most, Gill makes a nice play. He must be Catholic because he's always getting temporary absolution.

-Okay, let me get this straight. Stopping the man WITH the puck is now interference? The defencemen, in the New NHL are supposed to politely step aside and let the man go in order to avoid a penalty? Ah. I see. In that case, I hate the New NHL.

-Mara's got the Playoff Facial Pelt going remarkably early, and optimistically, in the season.

-Senator Demers will push bills through the Senate faster than Spacek skates.

-I've seen balloons sharper than Latendresse. The kid, if he's going to develop at all, should be a little farther along by now.

-Delay of game for shooting the puck out is the worst, stupidest penalty in hockey. May whoever voted for that one have a rotten case of the piles.

-I know Kostitsyn's traditionally a slow starter, but I'm starting to think he's a bigger bust than the one of Beethoven. Brutal blown coverage on Kane for the winning goal.

-Do you think Martin ever speaks to Gainey as a former GM, as in, "Bob, we have to ditch this guy?"

-I really feel for Price. He gave his teammates every chance, and they gave him nothing. Again.

-I guess we're getting a feel for what this team is all about now. I think they're a hardworking bunch, filled with heart, but with basically mediocre talent. Only four forwards and none of the D are legitimate scoring threats. That's not good enough. Points for trying though.

Notes on the second:

-Who the hell is buying tickets to the make-believe story about last year's Habs winning a mythical Cup? Might as well spend the money on the Lord of the Rings box set if you're looking for fantasy. It's more expensive, but not nearly as bitter.

-Habs need a better plan of attack than "cross blueline, shoot, give up puck, return to own zone." Coach...drawing board...stat!

-Whenever the Habs break out, the Hawks D is after them like a swarm of killer bees.

-I don't know if I dislike Gill or Gomez more. Gomez, I think, because he smirks. Gill just sucks.

-The good thing about this game is we get to scout the 'Hawks and see who we'd like to have in their upcoming cap-induced firesale.

-This is like watching the Czech Republic in the World Championships. I hope Pleks and Hammer do well, and don't worry much about the outcome. It's easier if you don't worry.

-Cammalleri gets lots of goals because he doesn't make mistakes on the garbage. Lapierre's rearend should have had an assist on that for sticking to Huet's face.

-Travis Moen is worth his weight in gold. I wish there were six of him and Metropolit on the bottom two lines.

Notes on the first:

-Jacques the Knife looks more like Jacques the Civil Servant tonight. Hard to imagine him swearing.

-Honestly, can Pacioretty take target shooting lessons? He's like the sniper who was supposed to take Hitler out.

-Nice stretch pass by Price. Sometimes I wonder if he couldn't just convert to centre and solve a bunch of problems.

-Habs could take a lesson in expedient zone clearances from the 'Hawks D. They just rifle that thing out on the PK.

-You can't blow extended PPs like that and still expect to win games. I guess the good news is the team is better even strength this year, right?

-One thing Andrei Kostitsyn isn't getting much credit for this year is his improved committment to backchecking. I've seen him get back to make some nice plays this year.

-Get your Moen runnin'...get out on the PK...looking for adventure...

-Can Bergeron never take a regular shift on D again? I know I asked that last game, but seriously, Weber was NOT worse.

-Favourite sequence of the period: Campbell pulls the Savardian Spinerama down the right wing, only to be met by the Robinson Wrecker from Pacioretty. Nice way to remember the Big Three.

-Price looked smart and confident in that period. Here's hoping he still looks like that in forty minutes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Habs vs. Pens: Swine Flu Edition

Notes on the third:


-Habs defence is just not up to Crosby. Maybe with Markov. But without...

-Pleks! Gotta love that guy. If anyone debates he was the Habs' best player tonight, he's just here for an argument. No, he's not. He is! He's not! I can't argue anymore, unless you pay! I did pay! No, you didn't.

-Price on Friday? Just guessing.

-6 and 6 on the year without Markov. Should we be worried or excited? I'm going with nonchalant. You can't win 'em all.

Notes on the second:

-Jeez, RDS! Do you have to ask Crosby about his *first* goal?! He's only got the one. Or he did, when they interviewed him. Did Lavoie know something we don't? Mom always said hockey was fixed.

-Speaking of Sid, I wonder if he's lost it yet? What?! I meant his Cup ring, of course.

-Gill's the opposite of an object in your side-mirror: Smaller than he appears.

-Except for the PP magic of Jeff Tambellini, the PK seems to have picked it up quite a bit.

-Bergeron out against Crosby is like a six-year-old who likes fire given a lighter and a dry house.

-And, speaking of MAB, can we NOT have him playing a regular shift? When he's out there on D, it's like his partner is the two-legged guy in a three-legged race.

-I hope at least one of those hats had lice in it. Itch, Sid, itch.

-Plekanec: Could I buy a linemate, Pat?

Notes on the first:

-Energetic start. But you get the feeling the Pens are just waiting.

-You have to give Crosby credit. Two years ago he couldn't win a faceoff to save his life. He consulted every guy who's good at them, and now he's over 55%.

-Four-letter word I'm yelling at the TV? GILL!

-Lats: The Most Interesting Man In the World.

-Reason 417 why I like Travis Moen: Under pressure, he lifted the puck neatly out of the zone. That would NOT have happened last year.

-Andrei Kostitsyn has a lot of potential for a lot of things, but passing on the fly isn't among them. He passes like he's ditching Sergei's stash.

-They just can't get away with poking at the puck instead of hitting people in their own zone. The Pens are better pokers.

-The RDS feed is confusing me. It looks like the officials are extra Penguins.

-Glen Metropolit has seven NHL teams on his resume. Were the other six GMs blind? The guy has a golden heart, iron will and backbone of steel. He's a bloody open-pit mine on two skates.

-No offense to Gomez fans, but I wish Gainey could have traded that package for Jordan Staal instead.

-Chipchura's like the guy who knows his platoon will be blown to hell, so he puts his head down and charges, then is shocked to see he's made it across the field.

-All in all, not a bad period. But they're going to have to shove one past Fleury somehow, and soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Making the Case For Plekanec

There are a lot of very good reasons why an NHL general manager would prefer to negotiate contracts after the season is over. Contract talks during the season can be distracting for the player involved. They can also create divisions in the room if one player is settling a contract while others are still wondering about their own futures. Then there's the effect on the player's performance. Some players work harder when next year's money is at stake. Others might look like they deserve a new deal for half a season, then collapse and show another side of their play later in the year. I've never really had a big problem with Bob Gainey's decision to (mostly) negotiate player contracts at season's end, because I could understand his reasons.

However, with all due respect to Gainey, none of those reasons apply to Tomas Plekanec. He is the type of player more likely to be distracted if he feels management isn't confident in him, and if his future isn't secure. In the case of the other players in the room, everyone of distinction on the team, with the exceptions of newcomers and pending UFAs Paul Mara and Glen Metropolit, is signed long-term already. And effort has never been Plekanec's issue. He's one of the hardest-working players on the team and has been since his rookie season. Even when he struggled to put numbers up last year (although, 20 goals isn't too shabby for an off-year) he worked hard defensively and on the PK.

Of course, it's a bit early to say Plekanec is back from last year's rough season. But after eleven games, he's maintaining nearly a point-per-game pace with the same great speed and smarts he's always had and a little added sandpaper he hasn't. He's doing all this with no stability on his wings or much help from the mixed bag of linemates with which he's played so far this year. The biggest difference between Plekanec's game last year and his improvement this year is confidence. Instead of peeling off when he crosses the opposing blueline, he's making a move and cutting to the net. That's confidence. Instead of dumping the puck in, he's carrying it and making slick passes to his linemates. That's confidence too. So is his willingness to knock people down on the boards and behind the net to make sure he comes out with the puck.

It's in Bob Gainey's and the Canadiens' best interest to keep Plekanec and to keep him producing with confidence. Most of the budget for forwards is tied up for the foreseeable future, barring a trade, with Gionta, Gomez, Cammalleri and Kostitsyn accounting for more than 21-million dollars between them. Add in the 14.5 of the top-three defencemen and there's not a whole lot of space left to give many raises or buy any premium free agents to fill empty slots.

Second-line centres who produce sixty or more points a season, are strong on faceoffs and can play well defensively and on special teams don't grow on trees and when you find one, it's costly to obtain him. A trade for one would require a combination of picks, good prospects and roster players, and a nice salary payout. Signing one as a free agent would cost in the four-million dollar per annum range. And that's assuming there's a suitable player available with whom a team is willing to part, or who's willing to sign in Montreal. It's also assuming any replacement for Plekanec would fit in personality-wise on a team that's coming together pretty nicely right now. Looking within the organization itself, we see Ben Maxwell and David Desharnais showing some flashes of ability, but hoping either one of them can step into the second-line slot and produce solid numbers next season is a pipe dream. In short, finding another centre to fill Plekanec's slot will be either costly in terms of assets, expensive or both. IF there's one to be found at all. You're just not going to find a player who does all Plekanec does for less.

In Plekanec, Gainey has a young, homegrown player who's developed far beyond original expectations and seems happy to play in Montreal. He's liked by his teammates and isn't the kind of player who'll end up featuring in salacious rumours or turning up drunk in internet photos. His on-ice play is solid in all zones, he's offensively creative, defensively responsible and he works hard every game and every practice. He's the kind of player people can respect. Best of all, he's already a Hab. All Gainey has to do to ensure the relationship continues is make an exception to his off-season negotiation philosophy and make Plekanec a reasonable three-or-four year extension when the window for doing so opens in January.

The benefits of signing him are many. Plekanec would be rewarded for his hard work, dedication and on-ice results, and feel wanted and respected by the team. He said last summer when his arbitration date loomed that he wanted to be paid well, of course, but that it was more important to him to feel respected. A contract extension would be a sign of good faith on Gainey's part, and a boost to the player's confidence. It's also an opportunity for the GM to retain a valuable asset by making Plekanec an honest offer, before his numbers and his value climb out of the reach of a cap-strapped team like Montreal.

The only inherent risk in extending Plekanec in January is that his play could drop off after he signs and it'll turn out he isn't worth the money. I think that's a risk Gainey has to take. Sometimes you have to weigh the options and gamble a bit, and considering the individual involved, there's a better-than-even chance Plekanec will flourish, not regress, with a new deal. The odds are much, much greater that Gainey will end up getting burned by trying to find someone else to take Pleks' place. And, considering the price the GM is paying for a guy like Gomez, it seems he's not adverse to the odd gamble.

What it comes down to is the Habs need Plekanec more than Plekanec needs the Habs. He wants respect and security and I think he's done enough for the team to merit that before it's too late. Git 'er done, Bob.

Isles vs. Habs: Game 11

Notes on the third and OT:

-Seems someone on the Habs' bench has trouble counting. Or maybe The Knife has an extra digit somewhere?

-Travis Moen is the guy you go to when your car ain't runnin' and you need a guy with duct tape and a can of grease.

-Benoit Brunet seems to be on a very intimate, first-name basis with Latendresse. Could it be love?

-You have to admit, it was very sporting of the Habs to give the Isles every possible chance to get back into this.

-Pleky end-to-end! Sign him up, Bob. NOW!

Notes on the second:

-It's going to be interesting to see if the Habs can continue to play their game when they don't have last change on the road. It'll be harder for the first line then.

-Chipchura looks like he stuck his finger in a light socket and got shocked back into being an NHL hockey player. CLEAR!

-One thing I like about Jacques the Knife? He's not ragging on the refs and rolling his eyes on every penalty call. Sorry, Carbo, but that just cost you more trouble.

-Hamrlik's hidden talent: He's the best Hab at bouncing the puck nonchalantly off his stick to the linesman.

-I think Bergeron's fairy godfather is Doug Harvey, and he's suddenly occupying his protege's headspace. Where the hell did MAB learn to play decent D in the last two days? The play on the odd man rush during the 4-on-4 was lovely.

-This just in: Price isn't playing until Halloween, when he gets to debut the Grim Reaper mask against the leafs.

-If Cammalleri was four inches taller, he'd be a typhoon on skates. As it stands, he's still a pretty darn destructive nor'easter.

-Can't keep taking penalties and not drawing any. Islanders ARE still an NHL team, despite their record.

Notes on the first:

-Andrei Kostitsyn might be having a slow start, but he does that every year. The difference this season is he looks happy. I think Sergei's absence means he actually has to interact with other people on the team.

-I heard Plekanec is willing to sign for three years, 3.75 per season, a no-trade clause and a couple of NHL-calibre wingers. But if Gainey counters with just the wingers, he'll take it.

-Least favourite NHL habit: The dangling mouthpiece. That's just gross.

-I saw Latendresse almost beat out an icing. As Ovechkin would say, "SWEA TA GAHD!"

-Why have so many teams given up on Glen Metropolit? He's like the butter on your toast or the syrup on your ice cream.

-After the playoffs two years ago, it pleases me to see Martin Biron suffer.

-Nice pinch by Spacek. He's playing about 130% better than he did against the Rags.

-Jaro wants to play the Pens.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Ladies and gentlemen, we've got ourselves a hockey team. I had the great pleasure of attending last night's beauty of a game between the Habs and the Rangers, and I learned a few things about this edition of the Canadiens.

First of all, they don't quit. Down two goals twice to a pretty good Rangers team, it would have been understandable if the boys had been discouraged and let up long enough to allow that back-breaking goal that would have put them in a three-goal hole. Last year they would have done exactly that, without a doubt. This season's different though. They didn't give in to self pity, and kept doggedly pushing back at the Ranger defence until it cracked and the Habs were back in it. It won't happen like that every night, but if a team works with as much determination and self-confidence as the Canadiens did in that game, it will win more often than it loses.

I learned the team is able to fix its mistakes mid-game in a way it couldn't last year. After a disorganized, sloppy first period with big problems clearing their zone and some pretty awful defensive gaffes, they came out and played a much quicker, tighter second period and a solid, shut-down third. The ability to do that shows intelligence and a reluctance to give into panic. It's also a sign of good coaching.

I also saw a team with an honest-to-goodness gamebreaker in Mike Cammalleri. The man is tiny in stature, but boy, he can change the direction of a game when he puts his mind to it. How long has it been since the Canadiens had a guy like that? Koivu tried like hell, but he wasn't the dominant offensive force Cammalleri can be. Kovalev had the talent but rarely ever turned it on and took the game over like that. When Cammalleri took the puck in OT and beat the four Rangers on the ice by himself, stickhandled it off the boards and then fired that lazer over Lundqvist, he showed us something we've needed to see for a long time. The Habs have a star again.

And I saw a group that's out there to back each other up. When Halak gave up the fourth goal last night...the one that could have been the killing blow...after the team had clawed back to within one, Hal Gill skated back and had a word with Halak and gave him a little tap on the pads. Halak didn't allow another goal after that. And the players were talking to each other, on the bench and on the ice. There's a lot of positive energy and good communication happening with this group. They seem to honestly like each other.

There are good things happening with the Canadiens after ten games. This is not to say, by any stretch, that they're out of the woods yet. They're still playing with a defence that's very suspect at times with the absence of Andrei Markov. Gorges, Mara and Hamrlik are playing their hearts out and although Spacek and Gill didn't have their best games last night, they're trying hard. Bergeron is either still very rusty, or the stories about his wretched own-zone play are all true. (But wow! His point shot is Souray-esque.) There are going to be nights when that D can't hold the fort against a dominant offence and the Habs will get killed. There will be games when Cammalleri gets stifled and nobody else is able to put the team on his back like that.

But after last night, I have hope that the bad nights, and there will be bad nights, won't outnumber the good. I have hope the players will be able to keep their heads above water until Markov returns, which will mean adding a number-one defenceman to a team that's already been baptized by fire and learned to stand on its own. And best of all, I have hope this team will be fun to watch again. Last night was dramatic, scary, exciting and, overall, just a cracking good time. When I left the Bell Centre, I was part of a thrilled crowd, every one of whom felt they got their money's worth. There's nothing as much fun as a winning Habs team, and now I remember why.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Bob's Room

The Scene: A sixth-floor corner office at the Bell Centre
(an angry Sergei Kostitsyn waits with his agent, Don Meehan)

Sergei: Where is this Bob? I wait ten minutes already. My bottom is start to hurt.
Meehan: Listen, kid, if you want out of Hamilton, you're going to have to play by the boss's rules here.
Sergei: Hemilton stink! I not stink. Why he does send me there?
Meehan: Sergei, we've been over this. Mr.Gainey is all about work ethic. He doesn't care as much about flashy play if you're not working hard. He's just making a point, and if you listen to the coach, you'll be back in the NHL in two weeks, max.
Sergei: Bah! Max! He is not more better than me. He steenk. No goals for him, and me in Hemilton instead of him.
Meehan: Did you miss everything else I said there? Just listen to the coach and Mr.Gainey will call you back to the NHL.
Sergei: Mantreal. Ptuh. I spit on Mantreal. I pley in Pittsburgh and win Cup with great Malkin.
Lots of maney there. You like maney, right Donnie?
Meehan: (clears throat, shifting uncomfortably) Well, we're not here to talk about me. This is about you, and you're going to have to be a bit more agreeable if this is going to go well.
Sergei: I em agree. I agree pley in NHL. I ken pley here. I show it already and now I em needing maney. The benk want my pey for nice wheels, but it too small maney in Hemilton. My friends want the friendship maney. I not carpool with Darche!
Meehan: Sergei, do I want to know what "friendship money" is? Oh, never mind, he's coming.

(Door whispers open and a grim-faced Gainey enters. He walks around his desk without acknowledging the two sitting in front of it. He takes his seat.)

Gainey: (steeples fingers, fixes a steely eye on the kid slumping sullenly across from him) So, Sergei, how are you doing?
Sergei: I em engry. I em in Hemilton, not Mantreal. I pley in NHL, or I go home.
Gainey: That's interesting, Sergei. Why do you think you should be in the NHL?
Sergei: You tell him, Donnie.
Gainey: No, actually, you tell me, Sergei. Why should you be here?
Sergei: You sey I pley in Mantreal. Then you sey Hemilton. I need the maney. No maney in Hemilton. And Hemilton shameful. A men to be in the NHL, then sent away, is embarrassed.
Gainey: Well, the deal is, we give you money and a spot in the NHL and you give us hard work and your best hockey on the ice. You also give us respectful behaviour off the ice. That's how it works in Montreal. Do you think you've given us your best?
Sergei: Well...uh...I...
Meehan: (interrupting) Bob, Bob, Bob...this kid barely speaks English. I'm not sure he understands what you're telling him. We both know your team is desperate for a second-line winger, and we both know Sergei's the best prospect in your organization to fill that slot. You need him. So, let's allow this to blow over, and we'll talk about how we'll spin it to the press.
Gainey: Oh, I think Sergei understands perfectly well what I'm saying. He thinks he can mail it in and still have the perks of an NHL job, either here or somewhere else. He believes he holds all the cards and we're so desperate for his services that we'll accept his behaviour without consequences. Well, think again, kid.

(Gainey rises slowly from behind the desk, shrugs off his nicely-tailored jacket, loosens his tie and resumes his seat, elbow on the desk.)

Here's how I see it. I believe in second chances, but you're pushing your luck. And let me make it clear, you do things my way or you rot in Hemil...Hamilton. I'm not too worried about whether you take my money or someone else does. I know your fine agent here gets diddly squat if you play with the Bulldogs, or in Russia, so he's probably not thrilled with you at the moment either. I haven't decided whether to give you another shot. That's up to you, so put 'er here.

(Gainey flexes his arm on the desktop)

Sergei: I em not knowing what you want. You...arm-fight me?
Gainey: Yup. You beat me, you get the trade you want. I beat you, you shut your spoiled mouth and go back to Hamilton until I'm good and ready to call you back.
Sergei: (aside to Meehan) Donnie, is this Bob allow to do this to me?
Meehan: I think it's in your best interest to listen to the man, Sergei.
Sergei: I em not want to hurt old men.
Gainey: (staring implacably) I'll be okay, now let's get on with it.

(Sergei straightens, looks uncertainly at Meehan, then slowly plants his elbow on the desk. The two grip hands and begin to push.)

Two minutes later:

Gainey: Are you okay, Sergei? Sometimes I get a bit carried away.
Sergei: (grimacing and rubbing his wrist) I em okay. Now what heppens?
Gainey: You go on the roadtrip with the Bulldogs tomorrow. You stop talking to the press, and you don't go to the toilet without Guy Boucher's permission. You do that for two weeks and we'll talk again.
Sergei: I em be traded?
Gainey: I'll let you know. Two weeks. You want an NHL job, you do your part and don't worry about mine.
Sergei: Okay Bob. Two weeks.

(Sergei and Meehan quietly leave the office)

Gainey: Jeez, some people's kids.

(Phone rings)

Gainey: Hello? Oh, hi Peter. Really? You're interested in Sergei Kostitsyn? Hmm. Well, I know you need some scoring and you can't afford to really take much of a cap hit. The kid could be a steal for you when Savard gets back. Okay, I'll do it for the leafs first pick. Those guys won't be in the basement for long, Burkie says so. (catches breath) Yeah, sorry...didn't mean to make you choke. Seriously, I'll do it for your pick. You get the help now, plus you keep the lottery pick from the leafs. Deal? Okay. Just a word of advice though? Let him stew in Hamilton for a couple weeks before we announce this. He'll be busy learning a lesson.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thrashers vs. Habs - Gotta Win

Notes on OT and SO:

-Have these guys not heard of the Shooter Tutor? Apparently not, since none of them seem to have a clue where the net might be.

-What a piece of shit hit Kozlov executed on Gomez.

-The Habs have no luck at all. None. Hot goalies against the Habs are NOT a myth.

-Cammalleri on the shootout...not so much.

-Gomez! Gionta! A win! Thank the lord.

Notes on the third:

-32 games without a goal for Pacioretty. Does Gainey need a letter from God to send him to Hamilton?

-Gill's now inherited my Most Hated Hab title. It's been vacant since David Aebischer.

-Bergeron should not be in the game in the third. He's hurt and he's playing stupid.

-Speaking of them, Bergeron and Gill should, under any circumstances, be on the ice together. It's like putting Breezer and a Tim Horton's pee wee out there.

-McGuire's left off blowing Komisarek long enough to blow Kane. Once you go black, Pierre...

-Habs couldn't score on a 6-on-0 on an empty net.

Notes on the second:

-Habs fire more blanks than a guy with a vasectomy.

-Watching TSN tonight, despite McGuire. Speaking of which: McGuire's first Homoerotic Comment of the Game (HCOG) so far is "Cammalleri in the neutral zone, not hard enough."

-I hate how the Habs' backup goalie is always pushed off to the side instead of sitting with the rest of the team.

-Kostitsyn can backcheck like Carbo when he tries. Wait...did I say that?

-Maybe Chipchura should have been a second baseman. That was a nice catch over his head to help clear the zone.

-Dear Santa, I know it's early to ask, but could we have a left winger for Tomas Plekanec? We've been really good, we promise.

-I liked Spacek on Kovalchuk. The kid is awesome, but the wily vet knows what he's doing.

-Colby Armstrong is a dangerous little shit, and if the NHL doesn't censure him for that around-the-net crap he pulls, it might as well call hockey players gladiators.

-Gomez is as precise as a compass on his passes tonight. It's the best I've seen him as a Hab.

-Travis Moen is as singleminded as a two-year-old begging for cookies when he's headed for the net. Too bad he doesn't have better hands.

-Could Lats, D'Agostini and Chipchura have found some chemistry together on the Last Chance Line?

-It worries me that these guys just can't score, no matter how much they dominate. Hoping the third doesn't become the new second here.

Notes on the first:

-I still can't decide if it's a measure of the Thrashers' improvement or the Habs' desperation that they kind of MUST beat Atlanta tonight.

-If Hal Gill was Ryan O'Byrne, he wouldn't be playing.

-Habs need to have slightly more ambition with the puck than just "get it out." It's like the kid who thinks 51% will get him into university.

-Kovalchuk is an absolute beast. The only thing he doesn't do is growl.

-It's official. Those two early posts make Gomez The More Expensive Higgins.

-Lots of Czechs on the ice tonight. I wonder if Hammer, Spacek and Pleks are trash-talking the kid goalie in his mother tongue?

-Anybody else think the training camp plan of Martin to have the D jump up into the offence seems really, really unrealistic at this point?

-I'm guessing if this is turns out to be a goalie duel, the Czech versus the Slovak is as big as Billy the Kid versus Pat Garrett in their minds.

-Latendresse sucks harder than a teenager with his first girlfriend this season. The game's going to have a hickey.

-Bergeron said today he's not trying to be Andrei Markov. Hamrlik should take that to heart himself. He's doing great, but trying to be a little too Markov on the PP.

-Still haven't seen the allegedly terrifying shot by Bergeron. Do we have to wait until Halloween?

-D'Agostini looks like he finally got around to reading Newton's first law.

-I wonder what it will take for Gainey to re-sign Plekanec before he ends up on a division rival? Sometimes his somnambulism kills me.

-Gionta's like the food they send to space with astronauts: compact, but lots of nutrition. The man can shoot!

-Biggest problem with Pacioretty is he can't hit the net. If he recalibrates the scope, he'll be fine.

-Anyone notice when the Habs goalie has two choices of defencemen to whom to pass, he almost always picks Gorges? Interesting.

-Halak looks solid. He's going to have to keep it up, because this team isn't exactly Les Glorieux anymore.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fish Or Cut Bait

When I was a kid, maybe twelve or so, I wrote a letter to Bob Gainey. I was in the midst of the first blush of Habs addiction at the time, and in the year before Patrick Roy arrived on the scene, my favourite player was the team's captain. I liked the way he skated so tirelessly, and the look in his eye when he focussed on the job at hand. I loved the way he could outmanouver the best players in the game, even if he didn't often put the puck in the net himself. He was a champion and it showed. I don't know what I wrote, but I'm sure I told him all that, along with promises of eternal devotion or other childish sentiment. I probably would never have remembered writing that letter though, if I hadn't recently come across the card he sent in response to it.

It was just a team-issued postcard featuring a full-body shot of a smiling Gainey in uniform, bent over his stick against a stark white background. But he made the card special because he took the time to personalize it. "Best wishes and thanks for your support, Bob Gainey." It took him maybe twenty seconds to write that for me, but when I found the card again, all these years later, the joy I felt at receiving it came back to me. I remembered holding it up to the light to confirm that, yes, Bob Gainey really did sign it with his own pen. Now, when I think about the thousands and thousands of letters the captain of the Canadiens must have received, I have a better understanding of how that twenty seconds of his time must have been multiplied many, many times. I think about the respect he felt for his young fans that compelled him to write a personal message in response to all those letters.

I have always been a big Bob Gainey fan. I was thrilled when he returned to the team as GM. I thought, if anyone could do it...return a once-proud institution to respectability would be him. He's patient, knowledgeable and very, very smart. But now I'm wondering if anyone can make the Montreal Canadiens a good team again?

Gainey's had six years to do something good in Montreal. The first thing he had to tackle was the paucity of prospects in the system, and that depended on solid drafting. There's no doubt Trevor Timmins has done well in finding some solid NHL players. But, whether because of a consistent middle-of-the-pack draft position or a basic failure to recognize a stud in the making, he's failed to find a real franchise player. The team has needed a solid number-one centre for twenty years and "best player available" strategy or not, it's irresponsible for Timmins, and therefore Gainey, to have neglected to draft one.

The second thing Gainey had to do well to turn the franchise around was manage his assets properly. That means getting maximum value for all his players, whether in signing them to contracts, trading them or deliberately letting them go. Asset management has turned out to be disappointing as well. Endless stories of chasing free agents with offers of huge cash were frustrating at the time and a source of relief that they didn't happen in hindsight. Valuable free agents have left the team for nothing, in the midst of stories about lack of communication. Trades have been of the very minor variety for the most part, with the positive exceptions of the Rivet and Kovalev ones and the opposite assessment of those involving Ribeiro and Higgins. And the contracts to which players like Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri and Mathieu Dandenault, Francis Bouillon, Roman Hamrlik and Jose Theodore before them were signed were overly generous. At the same time, nickel-and-diming players like Mark Streit and Michael Ryder meant losing them for nothing.

This is not a wholesale condemnation of Gainey's tenure as GM. Not by a mile. As I calculate the errors Gainey has made, I'm aware that he's making decisions based on the facts before him at the moment. I know he's facing big problems in Montreal, with the well-documented handicaps of provincial taxes, cold winters, rabid media and fan pressure and the stink of losing that's attached itself to the team in the last fifteen years of futility hindering his ability to attract good players without seriously overpaying them. Gainey has had to gamble to make the team better, and unfortunately, not every gamble ends in a win. I'm sure he didn't expect Guillaume Latendresse to still be struggling to find himself, Andrei Kostitsyn to be so ineffective after he looked like he might have finally figured out NHL hockey, and Carey Price to have such difficulties with consistency. He probably didn't expect Ribeiro and Streit to develop into the players they've become either. He definitely didn't expect last year's team, built to be an improvement on the previous year's conference leader, to be gutted by injury the way it was.

Gainey has had a lot of issues to deal with, but when it comes right down to it, the question we must ask is whether the team he's built is better than the one he inherited? Secondary to that is whether there's a chance in the immediate future to see the team become a winner? I think the answers right at this moment are "barely" and "no," respectively. That may change. The team may suddenly start clicking and get its act together. The players Gainey's assembled are better than they were six years ago, even if the results are not. But I don't know how much time Gainey has left to hope a turnaround happens. Considering the fact that the new owners have paid nearly six hundred million dollars for the team, you can imagine their patience with mediocrity will be very short. There's no saying whether this rotten start to the season will be enough to turn the tide against Gainey, but the total restructuring this summer put him on probation. A craptacular season isn't going to win him any fans.

The thing is, if Gainey's going, I'd rather he go sooner than later. As much as I'd hate his tenure to end in failure, if he stays, he's got some big problems to deal with. And I'm not confident he'll be able to make the best decisions about a possible trade of Sergei Kostitsyn, the loss of Tomas Plekanec after this one-year deal expires, and a terrible cap crunch that will likely require a deft shift of Roman Hamrlik's contract. I admire Bob Gainey and I think he doesn't need any more headaches, self-inflicted or not.

And that leaves the biggest question of all. Who can do a better job than Gainey of resurrecting the Montreal Canadiens? If the former captain, who took the time and care to send every child who wrote him a letter a personal note because he respected them as fans, can't do it...can anyone?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sens vs. Habs - Kovy's Return

Notes on the third:

-Is it going to be like this all year? Playing well, but not quite well enough?

-Oh well, at least there's Battle of the Blades tomorrow.

-Poor Gionta. He just bounces off people. Why are the biggest hearts so often in the smallest bodies?

-Speaking of which, I wonder if the Habs ever ask the oldtimers to come teach some real tricks of the trade to the modern guys? I bet Henri Richard could teach Gionta and Cammalleri how to beat some of the bigger players they face.

-Any chance Martin could tell Moen there's a cow a-needin' milkin' in front of the net?

-D'Agostini showed signs of life. Admittedly as much as a coma victim blinking twice for yes, but still. Baby steps.

-So far, Gainey's chemistry experiment is not winning him an invite to the national exhibition. The clock has to be ticking on his tenure as GM by now.

-I think Martin's discovered Carbo's Line-O-Matic in a closet in the coach's room. This is not a good thing. It's like a kid finding a coke can full of oil.

-Five in a row. I hope Timmins is spending a lot of time at Taylor Hall's games.

-This team is no fun. At all.

Notes on the second:

-Hamrlik is earning his money since he got his sea legs under him.

-The guys on the bench look either really intense or really constipated. Hey! Maybe that's where all the goals went!

-Habs fans cheering an assist on a 5-on-3 AGAINST their own team really deserve what they get.

-They're going to have to start doing IQ tests as part of their pre-draft screening. How smart do you have to be to understand and execute the command "Go to the net?" Yeah, I'm talking to you, Lats.

-Plekanec is rocking the faceoff circle this year. He's turning into such a reliable player.

-You can add Michalek to the list of really good players out of the first round from 2003. Sigh.

-Does whatever substance Hal Gill is made of shatter on contact?

-If the Habs' first trio were a children's book, they'd be "The Little Line That Almost Could." Unfortunately, they wouldn't quite get to the summit of the hill before the train started rolling backwards and the children would get no toys. Even more unfortunately, they're lugging eighteen million dollars' worth of toys between them.

-The PPs will make the difference in this game. Habs got nothing on a two-man advantage, while the Sens capitalized.

-One positive: Habs didn't let down in the second as has been their wont this season.

-If I trusted Price more, I might brace for a comeback. As it stands, I'll flip my Centennial loonie.

Notes on the first:

-I wondered if I'd boo or cheer Kovalev, but I really can't decide because I feel nothing for him. I don't care where he is or what he does, so I'd probably not care enough to boo OR cheer him. Tonight he's just another ex-Hab with something to prove. It *is* annoying to see Montreal fans continue to fawn over him though.

-Speaking of the Centennial Sacrifices, Carbo looks pretty relaxed on HNIC. He's trying to be very diplomatic, but he couldn't resist the bit about Kovalev not listening in team meetings.

-Unbelievable the entire country except Quebec is getting the lousy leafs game. Oh well, if the Habs suck badly it could be good for comic relief.

-Gionta for captain: He's the only guy to tap the flag-waving kids on the way out of the gate.

-Nice they can still bring guys like Beliveau and the Pocket Rocket out for special presentations. I wonder who they'll call in twenty years? Mathieu Dandenault?

-This team couldn't score with a crisp hundred in a crackhouse. How many excellent chances did they fail to cash in that period?

-Kostitsyn shoots less than a Quaker.

-I don't trust Price. The team is much, much better in their own zone in the last couple of games but there's always a feeling that every little mistake will end up in the net. A goal on three lousy shots isn't good enough, kid.

-Max Pacioretty isn't even a reasonable hand-drawn facsimile of an NHL power forward. Ugh.

-First thing I've liked about Hal Gill so far: his bodily removing a dangling Alfredsson from the Habs zone.

-I thought Laraque didn't play terribly in that period.

-Finally! Cammalleri. Now, do that thirty-nine or so more times and we're looking good.

-Excellent, dominating first period for the Habs. Let's see if the Curse of the Second strikes again tonight.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Je Suis...

There he stood on the sidelines, nattily dressed and neatly combed. The stoic, wounded General, expressionless as they handed him the mic to introduce himself to the adoring faithful. But the people on their feet in the crowd would have none of his stone-faced professionalism. The volume of their cheering swelled in great undulating waves, washing over the quiet man whose absence on the ice is sorely felt by teammates and fans alike. As the blanket of sound enveloped him, the mask cracked and his reluctant smile blossomed into a beaming acknowledgement that Andrei Markov has become a beloved son of Montreal. That was my favourite moment of the season so far...the one that made me a six-game stretch that's already featured too many explanations and too few points. It was a moment of what might be, unapologetically emotional and warm. The people in the stands offered their support and their hearts to the man on the big screen, and he accepted with the particular pleasure born of true appreciation.

There could be so many more of these moments, if the players on the ice can only get it together. The fans are standing there with their hopes and their hearts in their hands, offering this team the best support and most ardent devotion known in hockey. There are some encouraging signs the players will end up deserving that offering, but those signs must be seeds of something that will take root and flourish. Otherwise, they'll be just tiny grains of pleasure in a barren field of futility.

Among the seeds of strength I've seen so far are improved play on the PK, more involvement by Andrei Kostitsyn and the elevated defensive play of Josh Gorges and Roman Hamrlik in the absence of Markov. I like what Mike Cammalleri is saying too. He's not making excuses or panicking for failing to score in six games, and he makes you believe him when he calmly says he will score many, many goals as a Hab. Paul Mara is emerging as quietly reliable in his own end. And best of all is the resurgence of Tomas Plekanec. If Gainey were smart, he'd sign Pleks to an extension NOW. More on that later, but I can promise letting him go into the summer without a contract will be a huge mistake.

On the flip side, I really don't like Scott Gomez. I see a guy with a lot of swagger and very little to back it up so far. He's being roundly outplayed by Plekanec, and the sardonic grin and cheeky comments while putting up few points remind me of a more expensive Chris Higgins. Hal Gill's not doing anything for me, either. He's obviously being overused because of the injuries on D, but boy, is he ever slow! And he doesn't do much with that giant frame of his. Latendresse and Lapierre seem to have lost the uncanny chemistry they had last year, perhaps because the latter played over his head and produced a career season he's not able to match again.

The point is, there are good things, but there's a great deal of work to be done before this team can be considered a playoff team. Right now, things can go either way and there are some really big obstacles to overcome. I think the team has the character to do it. Whether it has the ability is another issue.

Maybe the best we can hope for this year is a collection of shining, outstanding moments. Whether the team can build on them and turn moments into games or not, we should recognize them and smile when we can. It beats crying.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Take It Off!

Hockey fans are hypocrites. Maybe not all of them, and maybe not you, but a LOT of them are definitely hypocrites.

Georges Laraque is in trouble this week for appearing in a TV ad for an alcoholic, caffeinated drink that walks the line between what league policy allows an NHLer to endorse and what it doesn't. That's fine, and the league should examine the ad to make sure it doesn't violate its rules. (The idea of a hockey player a lot of kids admire promoting energy drinks many health professionals say are harmful to their health is another issue altogether.) But the other trouble Laraque finds himself in is with women's groups who say the nearly-naked women who appear in the ad, playing road hockey with Laraque, are being exploited.

It doesn't surprise me that women's-rights advocates look askance at yet another ad aimed at young men that uses scantily-clad females to grab some attention. What does surprise me, though, is the number of hockey fans who slam that point of view because they like looking at women's butt cheeks hanging out of their tiny shorts. They like closeups of large boobs and they like long hair and longer legs. I've got no problem with people liking the images, but that doesn't mean the women who oppose them shouldn't have a differing opinion, just as legitimate as the one of the people who enjoy Laraque's ad.

That, however, isn't what makes hockey fans hypocrites. What makes them hypocrites is the reaction ESPN magazine got for its images of hockey players in this week's Body issue. Zdeno Chara and a trio of Oilers, including ex-Hab Sheldon Souray, pose in the altogether...tastefully, and even humourously the issue. The almost universal opinion of hockey fans, however, is that the images are repulsive, in bad taste and generally disgusting. A lot of fans aren't hiding feelings of homophobia when they talk about the pictures being "gay." This is what I don't get.

Why is it acceptable to admire the mostly-naked women in Laraque's commercial, but not acceptable to see hockey players showing their bodies? I admit, Chara's ugly mug doesn't do much for the otherwise artistic shot of him in the ESPN magazine. But the picture isn't disgusting or threatening. And the shot of the Oiler guys is whimsical and entertaining. It's not exactly gay porn.

I'm not saying all hockey fans are hypocrites in this way. Or that you're one of them. But if you enjoy the women in Georges Laraque's Octane ad, while you think Chara's picture is horrible, you might want to ask yourself why that's so.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Down the Stretch

There are lots of factors that determine a team's performance in the NHL. The amount of skill you have in your lineup is, of course, number one. But then there are the forces that work on that, like tide on rock. Forces like scheduling, injuries, chemistry, coaching and work ethic. This season adds still another major factor to the mix along with all the usual stuff, though.

The Vancouver Olympics could conceivably make or break the Canadiens' season this year. The NHL schedule is compressed into two pieces; a long grind before the Olympic break, then two weeks off, then a crazy sprint to the finish over the last quarter of the season. Success in this Olympic year will hinge on two factors. The team that emerges the most rested and the healthiest from the break is going to have a good chance to make a strong run down the stretch. And, a must for any team making that push is competitive play within its own division.

The first issue could be a problem for the Habs. Looking at the rosters of the teams in the Northeast, the Canadiens have the most guaranteed Olympians of them all. Gomez, Kostitsyn, Plekanec, Hamrlik, Spacek and Halak give the Habs six regulars all but guaranteed to be heading to Vancouver. Markov would be a lock too, if he were healthy. In contrast, divisional rival Buffalo is likely to be sending only Ryan Miller to the Games, with a possibility of Derek Roy cracking a strong Team Canada lineup. The Senators have Daniel Alfredsson if he's healthy, Michalek and Volchenkov as the likeliest candidates for the Olympics, with a chance Kovalev and Spezza could make teams Russia and Canada respectively. The leafs will send Grabovski, Kessel, Kaberle and Komisarek to the Games. (Although we hope it won't matter by then.) And the Bruins will send Krejci, Chara and Thomas, with an outside possibility Lucic might make Team Canada.

It's nice to have national pride and all, but six regulars spending their whole mid-winter break risking injury in a passionate, nationalistic tournament aren't getting a whole lot of R&R for the playoff push. The sheer number of important players in the Habs' lineup who are going for the gold in Vancouver will hurt when you look at the lineups of their division rivals. The upside, if there is one to be found in Markov's injury, is that he'll have an extra two weeks to recover and come back to the Canadiens healthy and rested.

So, if everyone comes back intact from the Olympics and manage to find a second wind as they finish out the NHL season, the other big factor that will play into how the Northeast looks after 82 games is the way teams play within the division. The Habs and Senators have the fewest games remaining after the break, with 19 apiece. The Sens play 26% of their post-Olympic games against division opponents. The Habs, in contrast, have 37% of their remaining games against Northeast rivals. Only the leafs, with 38% of their final 21 games within the division, depend more on performing well against the Northeast.

So far, so good for the Canadiens, who've won both of their intra-division games so far. They're going to have to keep that up if they're going to snag a playoff spot this year. The Olympic break makes winning against your own division more important than usual. It's the x-factor in a season that's already got a lot of them in Montreal.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bracing For Badness

I thought I'd be rational today and conduct an exercise in positivity by listing the reasons why the Habs aren't that bad. Unfortunately, I could come up with only six, and who makes a list of six things? Even more unfortunately, it was very, very easy to come up with ten reasons why they are that bad. I laughed at the leafs last night, but the Habs are only two desperation OT goals better than them. Now, I'm well aware of the fact that it's only five games into the season and there's a lot of hockey to be played. I also know the wholesale replacement of half of last season's roster as well as the coaching staff requires patience and time to work. I fear, however, that the hockey remaining to be played will be bad hockey and the new players will not come together in success. In fact, I think the very term "success" in the case of the Habs is actually a new word coined from the phrase "sucks to excess." Here's why:

10. The fourth line. Sure, Glen Metropolit is reliable, but when you're icing players like Georges Laraque and Greg Stewart, you can't play them more than five or six minutes of the game without risking their costly errors. That severely limits the team's depth when there's an injury or when the coach needs to mix things up.

9. The defence. The D is struggling now without Markov and O'Byrne, obviously. But the fact is, the team will have to soldier on without them and the remaining defence is not pretty. They're slow and not physical. Spacek is the only one with decent offensive numbers in recent memory, and he's yet to find that touch in Montreal. They're trying, but trying isn't going to give them abilities they don't have.

8. Injuries. Last season was lost largely because every single important player lost time with a significant injury. We're starting early on the same trend this year. If Hamrlik, who was hurt late in the third last night, can't play Thursday, we're going to see yet another Bulldog in the lineup. The Bulldogs are not going to win too many games in the NHL.

7. Gomez. The man is not a first-line centre. He's a great playmaker and can put up a ton of assists, but he doesn't score goals and has been dining out on that one spectacular season in Jersey for years now. Gomez would be a great second-line player, if he wasn't being outplayed by Tomas Plekanec. I hated the trade to get him, I hate his contract and so far I'm unimpressed with what he's doing on the ice.

6. The Kostitsyns. These guys were pencilled into two of the top-six forward positions before training camp began. Now we've seen Sergei demoted with attitude issues and Andrei nailed to the bench for the entire third period last night. That leaves only four top-six forwards, and that's not going to cut it.

5. Special teams. Both the PP and the PK are near the bottom of the league. The powerplay is hurting without Markov, in its limited appearances (thanks, refs!). The penalty kill is atrocious. Special teams win and lose games, and right now, they aren't winning any for the Habs.

4. The rookies. Pacioretty and Stewart aren't ready for the NHL. Weber is adequate for a low-minutes role and Chipchura and D'Agostini are visible only because they're wearing red. None of these kids is either ready or able to make enough impact to lift the Habs from bad to good.

3. The coach. Martin says he has a system, but if that system includes singling out players for punishment like he did by benching Kostitsyn for the entire third period after the latter made a bad pass, I don't like the system. The team needed a goal and with two minutes to go, Martin played Georges Laraque and Hal Gill instead of putting Kostitsyn out there. I know he was trying to make a point about responsible play, but in his stubbornness he didn't give the team its best chance to win. That's fine in Florida, but it's not going to cut it in Montreal. Maybe Kostitsyn wouldn't have scored either, but Martin knew bloody well Laraque didn't have a hope in hell. It's not the first questionable decision we've seen from him either.

2. Goaltending. Carey Price has yet to show any kind of consistency and seems to have returned to his habit of giving up one bad goal per game. Jaro Halak doesn't get into a groove unless he plays three or four games in a row, which won't happen for him as long as Price is healthy. The biggest issue with goaltending, though, is how much the team relies on it being unreasonable expectation under any circumstances. Price stole the only two wins this team has to its name this season. Just imagine: without him stopping forty-plus shots in those games, the Habs would be tied with the leafs for last.

And the number one reason why we should be bracing for a really bad season and the ridicule that comes along with it is:

1. Offence. The Habs can't score. Brian Gionta can, but the rest of them? Ugh. Gainey has spent thirteen million dollars for two players with one goal between them in five games. For that money, they could afford Ovechkin. Tomas Plekanec is busting his butt every night and has nobody to convert his plays. There's no offence coming from the blue line and Max Lapierre is proving he's a very good fourth-line centre with not much in the way of a scoring touch either, which makes the third line pretty much impotent as well.

Honourable mention: Effort. Except for the anomoly of the Vancouver game, which might be excused because of travel, changing time zones and a tough game in Calgary the night before, not to mention the Canucks' desperation to win a game, the Habs have been trying. They're not mailing it in for the most part. They're showing up ready to give it their best shot, and they're still coming up short. That's one of the scariest things of all. At least last year we could say, if they only played the way they can they'd be winning more. This year we can't say that because they actually are playing hard. It's the winning that seems to be tough for them.

So, there we are. Five games haven't given me much to be excited about and I don't see any of it changing overnight. Still, being a Habs fan to the core, I'll accept the reality and brace for some pretty bad hockey while irrationally hoping things will turn around when Markov comes back. The team has six games at home now to try and improve. We'll see if any of the items on this list can be removed by then. For all our sakes, I hope so. This is much too early to know your team isn't very good.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Habs vs. Oilers - Game 5

Notes on the third:

-Kudos to CBC trying to find something good about the Habs. Focussing on Gionta's energy and Price's movement in the slot.

-How cruel is it that they keep pointing out Gill being the second-tallest player in the league behind Chara? Yeah. Like those guys are even close to comparable.

-There are twelve minutes to go. But it's 1:30 in the morning here and I'm NOT expecting miracles. Call me Ishmael. Good night.

Notes on the second:

-Stone stoned.

-Chipchura is churning like the screw of an ocean liner. He was behind the net with no one bothering him and he was still stickhandling.

-How many millions is Gainey paying for this bunch again? Gomez' salary alone is enough to make me weep. Looking at Gainey in the pressbox, he resembles a cadaver. We're sure he's still on this side of the sod, right?

-Max Pac is passing to hinself, since there's no point in passing to anyone on his line. Good try, though.

-I think whomever they ask to be Captain should decline. Nobody needs the crap being the captain of this team would involve.

-How does Martin restrain himself from smacking some of them in the back of the head? I think that should be a qualification for coach of the year.

-This team can't score and the defence is terrible. They're a bad team. We are in for a very long season.

-Hey! On the bright side, maybe Taylor Hall won't go to the Bs after all.

-HNIC calling Markov "Alexei Markov." I can't believe how little respect the General gets. Can you imagine them saying "Ned Lidstrom" or "Andre Ovechkin?" I didn't think so.

-I love Gionta. I wish the team had ten more of him, short or not.

Notes on the first:

-Off the topic of this game, but I hope Taylor Hall enjoys Boston because Burkie's going to hand him to the Bs when Toronto tanks this year. Wow. Was that game wretched or what? I don't understand how any intelligent hockey person could say the leafs will make the playoffs this year. But they did rave about it. Poor McGuru. He must be vomiting all that stuff he's swallowed by now.

-CBC saying the Habs should be testy tonight. Testy. Testicular. Tested. Any relation, I wonder?

-God, I'm tired of road games.

-I wonder if any of Price's family drove to Edmonton in hopes of a more inspiring performance from their boy?

-Martin isn't Carbo. This year's edition of the Golden Boy, Max Pacioretty, is on the fourth line with Chips and BGL again.

-I love that you can't tell who's got the penalty by the crowd's reaction in Edmonton. They booed the Oil's PP.

-They killed a couple of penalties! Is that a miracle? Or just the exception that proves the rule?

-Well, at least AK is shooting. I guess if you point the shotgun at the sky and fire it often enough a duck will fall eventually.

-New picture of "underrated" on Wiki is Josh Gorges on a 2-on-1.

-"Jim" Carey Price is living up to his namesake, except not as memorable. High glove doesn't cut it in the NHL. And definitely not in the last minute. There's your softie of the game.

-A tentative period ending with the typical Price backbreaker. I like Carey, but he's not going to steal a whole lot of games, and this team needs steals. I hope he makes me eat these words in the third.

Sign 'Em, Bob-O

If there's anything this young season has taught us...or, I should say, reinforced in's that Andrei Markov is the lynchpin that holds the Montreal Canadiens together. The hub of the wheel. The corner stone, if you will. Okay, that about exhausts my store of engineering analogies. But, you get what I mean, right? Without Markov, the team is going nowhere fast.

I know the critics say if a team has to rely on one player that much, it means the team isn't really very good in the first place. It is, after all, a team game. But the critics are wrong. Would the Washington Capitals be considered a contender this year if Ovechkin went down for half the season in the first game? Or the Wings of the last several seasons without Lidstrom? No, they wouldn't. And Andrei Markov is the Ovechkin and the Lidstrom of the Canadiens. His veteran presence, ice time, ability on special teams, points production, initiation of the transition game and cool poise on the back end combine to make him an elite player; the only one the Habs have. His absence leaves a void nobody else in the organization can fill.

The reality of this year is the Canadiens will have to do their best to keep their grip on a playoff spot and hope to hell they can make a big push when Markov returns. Basic survival is what it comes down to now. We're all hoping the team can pull together well enough to cover the gaping hole Markov has left in the lineup, without any expectation that anyone can actually fill it. It's like hauling a tarp over the broken picture window in the front of your house until the glass arrives, and hoping it shows up before the Hurricanes, Lightning or Avalanche hit.

So while we fans are crossing our fingers and holding our collective breath every game, Markov is back in Montreal recovering. Quickly, if there's really a hockey god. At the same time, Bob Gainey's busy period of trading, drafting and signing has trickled down to the everyday maintenance of the team and annual sorting-out of Slavic enigmas. With the nice, crisp fall weather putting a spring in their steps (or, at least the step of the one NOT on crutches) it's a great time for the two of them to go for lunch. Maybe they could invite Markov's agent and Habs capologist Julien BriseBois along too, if they're not busy. While they're sampling a nice Chardonnay over their risottos and ravioli in truffle olive oil, perhaps Bob could casually mention something like, "So, Andrei, how would you like to finish your career in Montreal?" And maybe Andrei, while nodding approval to the sommelier, could ask Gainey what, exactly, he's got in mind. Perhaps, over espressos and a little tiramisu, Gainey could come around to the point that the Habs need Markov and are likely to continue needing him for the remaining six or seven elite-level years he has remaining in the NHL. With any luck, they could maybe draw up a little binding contract on the back of the dessert menu and have BriseBois run back to the office to type it up for the General's signature.

Because, seriously, what's Gainey waiting for? The "playing without Markov" experiment has been conducted several times in the last couple of seasons and the results are always brutally the same. Markov is the Habs' only all-star and you just don't see teams letting their all-stars go to free agency unless said star has no interest in returning. From the Canadiens' side, all the questions about whether Markov would be as good without Souray pounding in his feeds, whether he's big enough to take on the best opposition players on every shift and whether he can continue to improve have been answered extremely positively. On Markov's side, he loves Montreal and has already taken a discount contract to remain in the city. The time is right to sign him to a long-term extension. Waiting until next year when his deal is about to expire creates a boatload of unnecessary public speculation around whether the team will let Markov go to free agency. And it's disrespectful to a player who has been very, very good for the Canadiens. It's not a case like those of recent years, in which Gainey didn't want to commit to players who might not fit in with the team's plans. Any team would be thrilled to have Markov and the Canadiens are lucky enough to hold his rights. For now.

Of course, there are no guarantees with any player on a six-year deal. In Markov's case, there will be some questions about his potential full recovery from this very serious injury. Whether he'll be the same skater when he comes back topping the list. But if there's any player Gainey needs to gamble on, it's Andrei Markov.

So, Bob, call Andrei. See what he's doing for lunch. And while you're at it, see if Tomas Plekanec and his agent would like to join you too. Your team could use a bounce-back legitimate second-line centre for the next three seasons, especially if he continues to outplay the expensive Scott Gomez. But, maybe that's another lunch for another day. Just don't leave it too long. A good builder doesn't leave his foreman open to offers from the company across town unless he's ready to see him working for the competition.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Numbers Game

I'm not good at math. I'm not exactly bad at it either. I just have to work hard to figure out the answers, and then I'm never quite sure I'm right. But I thought there was something wrong with the equation I kept hearing all summer, and I'm starting to think my mediocre math is making sense now. Every story about the retooled Habs carried the same stat: eleven players departing the team, replaced by seven newcomers. Hmmm, I thought. Eleven take away seven leaves four. Four slots without a returning player or comparable NHL replacement. 11-7=x, where x is a rookie call-up who's either not good enough for the NHL or not ready to play there but there's nobody better to take his place.

Max Pacioretty isn't ready. There are some doubts about what kind of contribution Matt D'Agostini can make as a regular. Sergei Kostitsyn is in limbo. Greg Stewart isn't good enough for the NHL, and the jury's still out on Kyle Chipchura. I won't mention the defence because it would have been pretty good with Markov and O'Byrne. Yannick Weber is doing his best, but...well...a little more time in Hamilton wouldn't hurt him.

All summer we've been comparing the outgoing players with the newcomers in the top roles. Is Gomez an upgrade on Koivu, we asked? How does Gionta compare to Kovalev? Or Cammalleri to Tanguay? Who'd take Robert Lang's role? What we didn't think about that much was the supporting cast. We should've been asking whether Stewart was better than Dandenault as a fourth-liner. Or whether Pacioretty is ready to be an upgrade on, or even as good as, Chris Higgins. Or if Max Lapierre is really a better third-line centre than Lang.

The answers to the questions we should have been asking are the ones we're starting to get an inkling about now. It turns out Gomez is okay as a replacement for Koivu. Gionta has more heart than Kovalev ever dreamed of having, as well as an ability to put the puck in the net. Cammalleri is a good replacement for Tanguay. But the assumptions we made about the team's supporting cast, i.e. its being good enough to endure wholesale change without incident, may have been a little too ambitious.

We saw in the Calgary game how the first lines matched up pretty well. It was the fourth lines that didn't compare, and when you're facing a good team with a reliable fourth line, and when you don't have one yourself, you're going to lose games.

The Habs are still missing a solid winger for the second line after Higgins' departure. The defence is effectively crippled. You can look at those problems and say the D will improve in a few months when the injured guys come back, and there's lots of time for a kid like D'Agostini or Pacioretty to pick it up, or for the prodigal Kostitsyn to return to the second line. But there's little to be optimistic about on the fourth line. Stewart's not good enough and if Laraque had a skating contest with a block of cement he'd be hard-pressed to win. That line cost the team a hard-fought game in Calgary; the kind of effort you hate to see get wasted because of useless bottom-tier players. The Tom Kostopoulos' (Kostopouli?) and Mathieu Dandenaults of the world might not win you many games, but they're able to fulfill a basic fourth-line role very well, and won't cost you games either. I don't think they were part of the problem in Montreal last year, and their dismissal along with everyone else who was shown the door last summer might have been a little bit premature.

The focus this year has been on the departure of last season's top players. Won't it be ironic if the difference is a shortage of skill in the supporting cast? I can't even begin to calculate that.

Chip Chidin' Away

I said I wasn't going to watch last night because it was on too late. But then, as usual, I convinced myself I'd watch the first ten minutes, just to get a feel for the way the Habs came out against a top-flight opponent. That turned into the whole of the first two periods. I did have to give in to common sense and go to bed by the beginning of the third, but I'd seen what I needed to see by then.

It was a gutsy, fun game by our guys. I think I'm right in my first impression that Max Pacioretty isn't ready for the NHL, but I have hope he'll either adapt quickly or go back to Hamilton where he belongs. I think Greg Stewart isn't long for the NHL. He reminds me of Garth Murray (remember him?!)...lots of heart, willing to drop 'em, but little to no actual skill. The D is what it is...a spare tire job until Andrei Markov and Ryan O'Byrne come back with the snows and chains. Pleky's reborn and was a force to be reckoned with most of the game. Even Andrei Kostitsyn looked interested. I was proud of the way the team played.

But, I wish people would lay off Kyle Chipchura. Seriously.

I wrote earlier this fall that he's one of the players, O'Byrne being another, who's likely on his last chance with the Canadiens. If they don't make it this year, they'll either be career minor-leaguers or playing for another team next year. Put up or shut up. Or, as my grandfather used to say, be good or be gone. I still believe Chips is on his last chance. But, come on, he's not going to prove much in one game. Not when he's not played since last April because of shoulder surgery. Not when he's missed all of training camp and has had zero chance to get his timing back. And certainly not when he's stuck playing with Georges "Five Minutes" Laraque and a Greg Stewart whose game was memorable only in its awfulness.

I actually liked what I saw from Chipchura, all things considered. I think his skating was better than it's been at the NHL level. I thought he played the body well and he acquitted himself admirably in his fight. I think he'll be fine, and I hope Jacques Martin is inclined to overlook the misleading -3 on Chipchura's record. Give the man twenty games with a couple of hardworking, decent linemates like Metropolit (can he play wing?) and perhaps Matt D'Agostini, and then pass judgement on him. One game is not going to prove much either way, and Habs fans who are calling for the former number-one pick to be demoted or traded aren't very far-seeing.

I'll be rooting for him tonight. In the fast-paced world of passing judgement, fans don't have much patience with imperfections, and I fear coaches aren't much more lenient. I want him to make it, and I saw enough from him last night to think he will if he's given half a chance.

So I'll be cheering, but I won't be watching. It's too late. Really, I mean it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

See Ya Tomorrow...or Saturday

Sorry, readers, no game summaries tonight. I'll get to watch ten minutes before I MUST go to bed or risk a coma from sleep deprivation. Definitely none tomorrow. I'll be back with those on Saturday night. Cheers, and thanks for checking in.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Prelude To a Trade?

It seems Kostitsyn the Younger is now willing to take his medicine and report to the Bulldogs. After several days of being AWOL and stubborn about it, it makes you wonder what or who finally got through to him. RDS was reporting earlier today that Sergei had delivered an ultimatum to the Canadiens: he'd either be traded this week or defect to the KHL. He gave an interview to a Russian journalist last week claiming bafflement about the reasons for his demotion and disillusionment with the Canadiens.

So, what happened in the meantime to change his mind? Maybe it was his agent. Don Meehan would presumably miss out on any kind of percentage from a questionably legal KHL contract, so maybe he tried to talk sense to the kid. Maybe it was the KHL. Perhaps the Russian league is actually honouring its agreement not to poach players currently under NHL contracts, and they told Sergei he's got no job there. Maybe his brother did it. Perhaps Andrei reminded Sergei about the fact that he paid his dues in Hamilton for a good long time and got rewarded with a nice contract in the NHL. It could have been his parents or Bob Gainey. Maybe one of the authority figures in his life got through to him and made him realize he's got a bright future ahead, if he accepts the roadblocks now. Or maybe he did a little soul searching and realized he's at least partially responsible for the fix in which he now finds himself and it's up to him to own up to that and apologize by reporting to Hamilton.

Maybe it's any one or a combination of those things. Or maybe it's as simple as Gainey telling Kostitsyn that he doesn't get the trade he wants unless he proves he's not a complete idiot first by reporting to Hamilton. No NHL GM is going to offer much for a guy who's a problem child. If Sergei's reputation is that of a guy who won't tow the line or listen to a respected coach like Jacques Martin, and if he appears to be willing to threaten a team with defection when he doesn't get his way, his value is pretty much next to nothing. If, however, he goes to Hamilton and appears chastened, while putting up some good numbers in the AHL, his value goes up and Gainey might get something decent for him. I think this scenario is the most likely.

I'd like to believe that Sergei Kostitsyn has learned a valuable lesson about entitlement and responsiblity. I'd like to think he's apologetic and ready to come back into the fold with a better attitude and the determination to prove himself. But I don't believe it. I think Gainey, Meehan and Kostitsyn have struck a deal to have Sergei report, play enough games to up his value and have Gainey quietly ship him out of Montreal. Not that I think Sergei has cut ties with the Habs, as much as I think Gainey has mentally cut ties with him. Bob's not the kind of guy to take disloyalty lightly, and this is the epitome of disloyalty in the NHL.

We'll see how it plays out, but I have a strong feeling this is the first line in the last chapter of Sergei Kostitsyn's story as a Hab. And it's too bad. I like his talent, and now that Max Pacioretty is proving that he's not ready for the NHL yet, he could be helpful. Just not at the cost of giving in to a childish tantrum.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Curse

Okay, hockey gods, we give. Uncle. There, we said it. Whatever cosmic balance needed to be achieved by wrecking the navel-gazing, misty-eyed nostalgia of the cursed Centennial season, consider it achieved. And, make no mistake, there is a curse at work here.

From the beginning of the actual hundredth year of the Habs last December, we've seen one unmitigated disaster after another. Coach fired? Check. Player scandals and innuendo of more? Check. Injuries of the long-term and freakish variety to every important player on the roster? Yup. Complete loss of confidence among key youth including the goaltender? Uh huh. Team implosion to the point of barely making the playoffs? Had it. Ignominous elimination at the hands of most hated playoff rival? Did it. Sale of the team in the midst of free-agent season? Done. Gutting of the roster, including the jettisoning of Saku Koivu? Happened.

Now, here we are at the tender beginning of a fresh new season. The new players seem to enjoy each other's company and the new coach appears capable and in control. But already the curse is at work, eating the delicate shoots of hope before they can flower, like locusts in a corn field. First Sergei Kostitsyn defects. Then the General is lost for two-thirds of the year. Now Ryan O'Byrne, who was just beginning to show he's finally reaching his potential as a pro, is gone for six weeks with a leg injury. And Glen Metropolit, who gives his heart on every shift and is an ace on the PK, is hurt too. Not to mention the rash of injuries plaguing the Bulldogs' roster in Hamilton. It all begs the question, What next? Will Carey Price, who seems to have found his game again, go down next? Or will it be Brian Gionta, who's sparking the team every night and playing with heart bigger than he is? Will it emerge that Bob Gainey's keeping an underaged harem in his downtown condo? I don't think we can stand waiting for the other shoe to drop for the rest of the season.

So, hockey gods, we give. The question is, what more do we have to do to break the curse? In all the stories, there's a solution. We've already sacrificed pride and ambition on the altar of last year's playoffs. We've said goodbye to players we've loved. We've come to terms with change and just found hope again, only for it to start falling apart right from the get-go. Isn't that enough? Or do we have to play out the entire ill-fated year before things turn around? Unfortunately, I fear we do. That's the way the stories go, too. Trials by fire. Proof through adversity. And that means December 5 can't come fast enough.

In the end, although we feel it keenly, it isn't up to us. We can only stand by and wring our hands and agonize every time something new goes wrong. Breaking the curse is in the hands and the actions of the people most affected by it: the players themselves. I think they're showing a togetherness so far that we didn't ever see last season. And there's a dash of determination to dig themselves out of holes that's refreshing and new. Maybe those are the lessons the futility of the Centennial season was meant to teach them, and us. If it's a matter of being tested, we surely will be by the time the cursed year ends in December. But I think there are signs that the team that's being forged in a furnace of adversity now will be stronger for the experience when it comes out the other side of this.

If not, maybe we should look into finding an uncursed rugby team to root for.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Habs vs. Sabres - Game Two

Notes on OT:

-Gionta! Another guy on pace for 82 this year. I'm loving him and I'm loving this team.

-Habs' record of spoiling home openers this year: 2-0.

-Price is back.

Notes on the third:

-I think when Markov went home, he took the PP with him.

-Poor Plekanec. He just can't get rid of the anchor that is Andrei Kostitsyn. If Martin sees what I see, Gionta and Cammalleri would be playing with Pleks.

-Latendresse is like tonsils. You have them, but you don't know why, and you don't die if they're cut out.

-If O'Byrne is out for any length of time, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Dandenault return on a one-year, minimal deal.

-THIS is why Moen was invisible in the pre-season. If a guy played like this in the pre-season, he'd be dead by the time the real thing started.

-Seems like Lats and Lappy have lost that lovin' feelin'.

-Considering the fact that this group of players met three weeks ago and have been dealt a possibly fatal blow to the roster as soon as the season started, you have to like their character.

Notes on the second:

-Has it crossed anyone else's mind to wonder if Taylor Hall is really as good as they say he is? And whether he could be ready to play in the NHL next year?

-At least they've got each other's backs so far this season, which is more than we could say last year when Gorges was twitching on the ice all alone.

-One thing that'll help fill the gap Markov's left is Price. If he's confident and handling the puck well, he can be a big asset to the D. I've seen him make a couple of nice passes tonight.

-I'm officially launching the EPN (Extend Plekanec NOW) Campaign. Do you hear that, Bob? Don't let another one go for nothing. Every time I see a Hab in rapid forward motion, it turns out to be #14.

-The Curse of the Centennial continues. Markov, now O'Byrne and Metro. At this rate, we'll have the Cincinnati Cyclones playing by December 4.

-Any chance Latendresse, Pacioretty and Kostitsyn have been watching Moen out there? Because THAT'S how you use your body to win games. Dude's on pace for 82 goals.

-If Spacek was the Sabres' best D last year, I'm starting to not be surprised they missed the playoffs. Unless it's all just nerves at playing his former team.

-Kostitsyn. Getzlaf. If I could have one do-over in the last decade, that'd be it.

-Martin's going to stroke out at the next call against the Habs. He's getting progressively more twitchy as this one's gone on.

-The Habs are alive. I'll take that much for now.

Notes on the first:

-First game without the General and so far the troops are considering full retreat.

-Habs had the push-back of a boiled noodle for most of that period.

-Hamrlik will be better when he scrapes the rust off, right? I've got an SOS he can borrow.

-I thought Hal Gill was supposed to be a great PK guy. So far, with three PP goals against in four periods, I'm not feeling it.

-Watching O'Byrne and Gorges together is like watching a pair of teenaged sailors on their first shore leave at the whorehouse: nervous, uncertain and in too much of a hurry.

-Gorges in Markov's spot on the PP didn't look like a guy who's scored a grand total of six NHL goals.

-Wow...who knew tofu has magical properties that improve your ability to play hockey? Laraque actually looks like he deserves an NHL job.

-Amazing what a shot of confidence can do for you. Pleks has his mojo back and he's going to make Gainey regret the one-year contract.

-Gionta shoots more than Bonnie and Clyde. Thankfully.

-Price is holding them in again. 12-5 shots on goal in Buffalo's favour doesn't have everything to do with missing Markov. Time for the first line to do something.

-Speaking of which, so far I'm not loving Gomez. Usually when I say that in the first, the guy scores in the second. Here's hoping the trend continues.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bloody Hell

What the hell is WITH the ACC anyway? That place is cursed. Andrei Markov played his last game there and ended up missing the rest of last season and the playoffs. He comes back healthy this year and, once again, in that accursed building, ends up with a freak injury that's going to cost the Habs his services until Christmas, if they're lucky.

I have to admit, my first instinct is to panic and assume the team is going directly into the toilet because of this. The Habs' record in recent years when Markov's been out has been pretty much the opposite of good. So I'm trying to talk myself down by remembering that this isn't last year's team. This is an entirely new group of players, with a better outlook on life and the game. And Jaroslav Spacek is used to filling the number-one role, as he did in Buffalo. That's better than last year, when nobody was able to even temporarily do Markov's job. It could have been worse, too, for the team and for Markov. Two to three months could easily have been a year or a career. So, this is what I'm telling myself as my heart resides somewhere around my shoes at the moment.

They say a team can only succeed if it passes through the fire of adversity first. I'd call this adversity, of the first degree. And if this fledgling team can survive this and even manage to win without Markov, it'll be stronger for it in the end. If it doesn't win without him, we can say at least he'll be back in time to help fix the damage. So, it's really, really bad news. But it's not the worst. There's always something worse.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Habs vs. Leafs Season Opener

Notes on OT:

-Happy birthday, coach.

Notes on the third:

-The Franchise is earning his money. That was a very, very nice first start for him.

-Max Pac: Not ready for first-line duties.

-If this game was a drinking game, and one of the rules was "drink when the Habs complete a pass" we'd be totally sober now.

-Is it a good sign that the fourth line was the Habs' most impressive tonight?

-How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. I hate thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, you douche. You know who you are.

-The fourth line rocks my world.

-Good night Habs. Markov looks badly hurt. And we know what happens when that happens.

-Well, it was an okay start for a bunch of guys who never met until last month, but I'm hoping for more for the rest of the year.

-I hate the leafs.

Notes on the second:

-I'd like to humbly apologize to Alex Kovalev. It wasn't him that messed up Pleks last year. It was Andrei Kostitsyn, and he's doing it again.

-Among the things not different from last season: The Habs still can't win the puck on the boards. Also, long, crappy, low-percentage passes that turn into giveaways.

-It kills me to say it, but the Stalberg kid's good. He'll be a pain in our collective asses for years to come.

-You know what this reminds me of? When everyone in the office goes on a course, about, say, how to answer the phone. For the first week after, everyone is extremely polite every time there's a call. But after a month, it's all "Yeah? Just a second." Sooner or later, one of these teams is going to revert to its natural instincts, which can only be good for us.

-Travis...still Moening in delight...just an assist away from the Howe Trick

-Now that I think about it, Jacques the Knife isn't ALL mobster in his appearance. He actually looks like the lovechild of Tony Soprano and Napoleon.

-Can someone tell Mara it's 2009? The pre-lockout rules were four years ago.

-I really don't like the way Hal Gill allowed Lee Stempniak to ride him off the puck. Who's the giant here, man?

-Paging Scott Gomez! You're needed on the Habs' first line.

-O'Byrne's busy during the second intermission, getting fitted for a large truck licence plate.

-Can I hate the traitor more? Yeah, it grows every time he unnecessarily bangs a harmless opponent like Pleks or Metro...just to prove he fits in on Burkie's team.

-I hope the Knife is ripping them all a new one for the third, because the one they had is suspiciously like last year's.

Notes on the first:

-I really hate to overuse the word "douche," but looking at Kessel's grinning mug during the player intros made me say it three times.

-Gio's doing the ceremonial faceoffs? Way to hide your choice of captain, Jacques.

-Speaking of which, Jacques the Knife, the birthday boy, is looking very mobsteriffic tonight. And I thought no one would top Carbo's sartorial excellence.

-The "puck posession" game so far looks like the Habs have mixed up "puck" with "demonic" and are doing their damnedest to get rid of it.

-Laraque looks like his back is not long for the NHL. Hope there are no carnivores around, or they'll soon separate him from the herd.

-Gionta is like a fart in a skillet...insubstantial, yet bouncing everywhere.

-Travis! I'm Moening in ecstasy. (Yeah, yeah, I know it was a draw at best, but I've been waiting to say that for two months now.)

-Lats hit someone AFTER the preseason. Twice. It's a season-opening miracle.

-Not loving the Mara/Gill combo on D. Scarily reminiscent of Dandoullion.

-Price must be asking himself what the hell the difference is from last year? All the BS about reducing shots on goal results in a 14-7 differential for the leafs. Perfect.

-If Judaserek has thirty pieces of silver on the table to buy a win tonight, I hope he hangs himself before it's over. He actually said the phrase "leaf nation" on TSN. Nothing like embracing the Culture of Delusion, is there, you traitor?

-So, Burke's handing out 8-page pamphlets to explain the history of the leafs to the new players. In an effort to show off his law-school education, he's borrowed the title from T.S.Eliot: The Wasteland. Also interesting that you can tell the leaf history in 8 pages, while the Habs' is recounted in actual books.

Overture, Curtains, Lights, This Is It...

The Habs, at this moment, are better off than they were last year. They've successfully emerged from the pre-season festivities relatively unscathed, as compared to last year, when they limped up to the starting line. But I'm a little nervous about tonight's opener.

The leafs have an easy job. They just have to come out and pound people. That's all their boss is asking of them. The Habs have it a little tougher. They have to be fast, exciting and disciplined. They have to put up some points and even though everyone says they don't expect anything from this year's team...they really do. We expect our Habs to win. Especially in TO. And we expect our goalie to play like a brick wall, and our forwards to score on every PP. That's why I've got some butterflies. I know it'll take twenty games or so before we have an idea what the real team looks like...but I'm hoping they scrape out a win against the leafs anyway.

Regardless of what happens tonight, though, I'm glad the real thing is starting. And I'm glad all the rhetoric of training camp is behind us. Which reminds me, here are the top ten words or phrases from camp I never want to hear again for the rest of the year:

10. "Tough to play against."

9. "Bonding."

8. "Jelling."

7. "Leaders will emerge."

6. "Guys are getting along great."

5. "A guy doesn't need a "C" on his chest."

4. "It'll take some time."

3. "Learning a new system."

2. "Finding our roles."

and the number one thing I'm glad we don't have to hear again:

1. "Teen Ranch."

So, here we go, boys and girls. Off to the 101st season. Check back in the first intermission for notes on the period. Wheeeeee!!!