Things are pretty grim in Habsland these days. A playoff berth is looking as hard to secure as a spot on the next shuttle to the International Space Station, with the win-one, lose-one ride the team's been on all year. Last night was one of only two great games the Canadiens have played all year, the other being the Centennial game against the Bruins. They played hard, they skated, they were disciplined, they buried their chances and got the timely goaltending they needed in their own end. It's enough to make a Habs fan hope. So, this is a good time to look at the positives in the middle of this turbulent season. For those of you who've forgotten to smile while watching the Habs, here are ten things to make you remember how:
10. The Bulldogs. If you can't stand watching the Debacle On Ice that is the big team on a lot of nights, catch the 'Dogs online or at Copps. Now, THIS is a fun team to watch. They're not the most talented team in the AHL, but Guy Boucher has them playing solid, tight hockey. It's entertaining to watch them right now, but it's also good that players in Hamilton are learning how to win in a winning culture, so any of them who ever do play in Montreal will bring good attitudes and habits with them. And it's excellent to see Boucher working out his apprenticeship successfully, because I think he'll end up being a very good NHL coach someday soon, hopefully in Montreal.
9. Tomas Plekanec. The rebound year continues for Pleks. The big question facing him after his hot start was whether he'd be able to maintain the PPG pace through the dog days of the season. After his brief slump following Andrei Kostitsyn's injury, he's recovered and is again putting up the points, killing penalties and working like a Trojan on every shift. He's fun to watch, is perfectly capable of centering one of the top lines for the next five or six years, and Gainey wants to keep him.
8. Special teams. The powerplay is second overall in the league, and the penalty kill is seventh. There aren't many things the Habs don't have to improve, but special teams are among the bright spots.
7. Jean Beliveau. Seeing Le Gros Bill sitting there behind the Canadiens' bench every night gives me a reason to smile. Knowing he's recovering well from his stroke and will soon be back on his feet is uplifting to the fans. Hopefully it'll boost the team too.
6. The top six. When, or if, everyone in that group is healthy, those are two dangerous scoring lines. Gionta and Cammalleri might be small, but Andrei Kostitsyn and Pouliot are not, and they make a huge difference. If Plekanec can be retained, that top six going into next season can do some damage. We just haven't seen it so far because of the injuries to one or more of them all the time. With any luck, they'll stay healthier next year.
5. Andrei Markov. Even playing less than his best, Markov is such a good player. His offensive skills are a joy to watch. And his recovery from that injury should have every Habs fan breathing a sigh of relief. It could have turned out much worse, if that cut had permanently damaged his ability to skate.
4. Goaltending. Debate about who should start on any given night aside, the Habs are blessed at this position. They have three good young goalies in Price, Halak and Desjardins down in Hamilton. If Price struggles, Halak can pick up the slack. If Halak drops the ball, Price can step in. If anyone gets hurt, Desjardins gets a shot. It's a great, great problem to have. Since both NHL goalies are RFA this summer and the trade market for netminders very weak generally, it's conceivable they both can be retained. This would be a good thing.
3. PK Subban. The Habs have a lot of hardworking prospects like Ryan White and Tom Pyatt. They don't have many with star power, but Subban is definitely at the top of the list. He's having a fantastic rookie season in Hamilton, including locking down the win for his side in the AHL All-Star Game. His offensive numbers look good, he's near the top of the league in plus/minus and he oozes enthusiasm and good will. The best part is the team is doing the right thing by letting him learn the pro game with a good minor league coach before bringing him to Montreal.
2. The Eastern Conference. If the Habs were going to have a desperately inconsistent season, this was the year to do it. Ordinarily, they'd be so far out of a playoff spot with this record that they'd be booking tee times already. But this season there are enough teams having similar seasons to give the Habs a chance to make it, even at this late date. The clock is ticking, but the alarm hasn't gone off yet.
And, the number one thing we can smile about during these uncertain days in Habdom:
1. Benoit Pouliot. I love this trade. Guillaume Latendresse is making the fans in Minnesota happy. Good for him. He was never, ever going to do what he's doing there in Montreal. For all his whining to the contrary, he had chances and couldn't put it together consistently. His failure to do so left a gaping hole on the top lines in Montreal. Pouliot fills that hole beautifully. He's got the size, speed and skills to really be a factor every night, and he's successfully doing that for his new team. It's so rare to take a reclamation project like that and see it work out beyond everyone's biggest hopes, so if Pouliot can keep it up, this will be a huge success for Bob Gainey. And the guy is only 23, so we can expect him to be an important factor in whatever rebuild the team will have to go through in the next couple of yers. Of course, consistency is still a question for him, but if he finds it, he'll be a building block for the future.
So there you go. Some people think the atmosphere around the blog has been a little too heavy on the doom and gloom lately, so now you have ten reasons to smile at your Canadiens. At least for today.