Thursday, December 31, 2009

Habs vs. Panthers - I Wanna Go Home Edition

No notes on the rest...New Year's party guests have arrived. Go Habs Go!

Notes on the first:

-O'Byrne had a really nice takeout there. He stayed with his man with good speed, then squashed him.

-Is it the new HD TV, or are the Habs a LOT faster than they were in the first half?

-Amazing what a fully healthy D-corps can do for a team. It's like a different bunch in their own end...for the most part.

-Gorges is at risk of an indecent exposure charge after Ballard denuded him like that. Halak should probably have bailed him out though.

-Gomez earned at least an eighth of his salary by keeping the puck in traffic like that on the Gill goal. That was a thing of beauty, as was the O'Byrne save at the line on the same play.

-If the Habs had to pay mileage for the distance Plekanec skates every game, they'd find it's cheaper to pay him the five million a year.

-Horton heard a in, who's supposed to be playing back on that breakaway?

-All in all, not a bad period. But I suspect playing last night and at the end of the seven-game road trip will soon start to show.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Habs vs. Bolts - Sucky Christmas Road Trip Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-I love how Gionta likes to take on the biggest possible guy on the other team. First Chara, now Hedman. The size differential is both laughable and laudable.

-Price is a good goalie, but as far as I know he doesn't have x-ray vision. Too bad his D doesn't remember that.

-The powerplay must be rusty since the Ottawa shutout. The first unit looks as effective as a stone sponge.

-How can a team give up nothing through two, and then fall on its ass in the third like that? It's like two different teams.

-Plekanec is so worth five million bucks.

-Our jilted guys are better than their jilted guys.

Notes on the second:

-Smith is pulling a Leclaire here. I don't like this. Goalie battles scare me.

-Habs are fanning more than an old maid sharing a taxi with Brad Pitt.

-I don't have a metaphor for how bad Gill is with the puck. He *is* the metaphor for other bad things. For example, a liverwurst and jelly sandwich is as bad as Gill handling the puck.

-Anyone else get the feeling D'Agostini is getting a shot with some better linemates to prove something before he gets traded?

-It's so good to watch Andrei Kostitsyn using his size. There's so little of it on the team that when a guy has it and actually uses it, it's a treat.

-Gionta picks up the garbage better than the Glad man.

-Cammalleri is slumping. He's fighting the puck every time he has it.

-Stamkos looks like Gretzky's kid. Literally. It's the nose, I think.

-Boy, they like giving everyone heart attacks with two seconds left in the period, don't they?

-So, this is what an almost-healthy team looks like. If they were capitalizing on some of these chances, they'd be pretty impressive.

Notes on the first:

-The second half is off to a resounding start. Now, if only they could score.

-Price looks like he's ready. I just hope he doesn't cough up a soft one to put the team in the hole.

-I guess it's good Lecavalier and St.Louis got left off the Canadian Olympic team. Now that guy who wrote the book about how Quebec-born players are hard done by can write a sequel. At least one Quebecer will benefit from this. And I'm sorry Hammer and Spacek didn't get picked, but a pair of 35-year-old Ds could probably use some R&R during the break.

-I hate all the passing backwards. It's okay once in a while, if you're desperate or can see a better play by regrouping. But doing it all the time is NOT a good sign.

-No penalty call on the upending of D'Agostini early in the period makes me think there really is a reffing problem when it comes to the Habs.

-Lapierre is sucking harder than a six-year-old on a jawbreaker.

-Cammalleri has to stop trying to carry the puck into the offensive zone by himself. It's not his strength.

-Plekanec sees moving objects more clearly than the Hubble telescope.

-D'Agostini looks like he's had a jolt from the paddles. It's the most noticable he's been in a while. Metro has that effect on people.

-Watching O'Byrne and Gill try to pass the puck between them is like watching Helen Keller whisper to Beethoven.

-Habs really need to score first. It's that kind of game.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Boy, has the first half of this season flown by or what? It seems like just yesterday morning our brand new band of brothers took the ice for the opening game against the leafs. And just yesterday lunch time that Andrei Markov took Carey Price's skate in the foot and left us wondering whether our playoff hopes were sunk in the very first game.

It's been a pretty rough go ever since, although not completely without entertainment value. On the positive, fun side, we had that nice OT streak in which the Habs looked like they were living back in the spring of '93 for a while. The emergence of Tomas Plekanec as a true first-line player has been a pleasure to watch. Roman Hamrlik and Jaro Spacek have done yeoman's duties in filling in for Markov, and the special teams have been reliable and entertaining. The goaltending has been a strength for the most part, with both young keepers holding up their end of the bargain every night.

On the negative side, the team at one point iced six Bulldogs because of injury. Six. That's not a good thing, when you're playing against NHL teams who are not icing any Bulldogs at all. Ryan White and Tom Pyatt played their guts out, but they are not Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. The severe lack of NHL-calibre talent for much of the first half has undoubtedly helped keep the Habs in the lower part of the playoff picture so far.

There's also a serious issue with The System; that being that it's not working. A good system keeps the puck to the outside in the defensive zone, limits shots and time in your own end, and uses short, sharp passes to initiate offence. The Canadiens are doing pretty much the opposite of that. They're allowing the opposition to crash the crease, they're giving up forty-plus shots most nights while having difficulty clearing their zone. And their breakouts are marred by giveaways and poorly-thought-out chips up the boards. I'm not sure if the players aren't understanding what Jacques Martin is saying to them, or if they're not capable of executing the instruction successfully. I suspect it might be a bit of both, but in the end it comes down in large part to trying to find some chemistry on a completely rebuilt team that has yet to play together because of the number of injuries.

So, at the halfway point, despite everything, the Habs have managed to keep themselves in playoff contention. I consider that a minor miracle, especially because the Canadiens have been helped in no small part by most of the rest of the Eastern Conference sucking the big one right along with them. Now though, facing the second half, it's time for the Canadiens to turn it up a notch. As Mike Cammalleri said, it's time to go from being decent to being good.

They're so close too. Right now, there's more working than not working. The PP is tops in the league with Markov's return. The PK is eighth. The first line is scoring every night for the most part. Now, with the arrival of Pouliot and the return of Gionta, the Gomez line can be a legitimate threat as well. The Metropolit line is pretty good defensively, and able to cycle the puck in the other team's zone long enough to bang in a goal or two. A fourth line of Lapierre, Sergei Kostitsyn and Bergeron could provide some timely offence once in a while as well. On defence, Markov has improved the transition game immeasurably. When Hamrlik returns, hopefully in the next game or two, we'll start to see the more defensively weak blueliners get less ice, or, in the case of Bergeron, move up to the fourth line. If Markov, Gorges, Spacek and Hamrlik are getting the majority of the defensive minutes, while Gill gets most of his on the PK and O'Byrne and Mara play ten to fifteen minutes against the least scary opponents, there will be an improvement on D.

I can see something good happening with this team. If injuries don't continue to haunt them and if they apply the work ethic that kept them at .500 when they probably shouldn't have been, they can win more than they lose in the second half. I say work ethic because I didn't like what I saw against Ottawa. They got out to a fast start, then seemed to sleepwalk a bit, letting Ottawa get to every loose puck first, and making lazy, ill-planned clearing passes in their own zone. You don't draw penalties and let your #1 PP work by never challenging the other team. This is a team that has the ability to win games, but only if everyone pulls together and don't slack off when they get a lead.

When Markov went down a brief forty-one games ago, I thought for sure the Canadiens would be long out of the playoff picture by now. That they're not is testament to an improvement in talent over last year, and a better attitude in the room. Now, with the troops returning from injury, they have a chance to take that talent and attitude and really make something good out of it. This team has the tools to be a playoff team. Tomorrow marks the first night in which they get to prove it. There can't be anymore five-game losing streaks. The team needs to win two for every one it loses, and it must start doing it now because the second half will go even more quickly than the first.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

(with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Bell

the ghosts were free-wheeling, and weaving their spell;

From Rocket to Boom-Boom, to Harvey to Toe,

the puck smacked and flew in the rink's ghostly glow;

In one net the Gumper, at the other end Plante;

While fans roared their approval, a phantom descant;

And Dick in his civvies still perched on the bench;

Had just finished dressing down Newsy in French,

When out on the ice there arose such a clatter,

Turned out it was Fergie, as mad as a hatter

Tom Johnson had taken him down with a slash,

But Red Storey jumped in with a laugh in a flash.

The dim light shone dull on the banners above

while the players encouraged with slapping of glove,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But Howie Morenz, still in brown leather gear.

With a little old partner, so lively and quick,

I knew 'twas Aurele by the cut of his stick.

More rapid than eagles these heroes they came,

And Dick whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Rocket! now, Georges! now, Odie, Lalonde!

On, Boomer! on Phantom! on, Hall and Laronde!

To the top of the crease! To the back of the net!

I heard him cry "Go, boys, we're not finished yet!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So back down the ice those bold spirits they flew,

With the puck on their sticks, and the crowd roaring too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard down below

"Wrap it up soon, just an hour to go."

As I gazed down the rink, and was turning around,

Down the wing the great Rocket came with a bound.

He was dressed all in red, from his shirt to his socks,

And he fake-passed to Fergie, just out of the box;

A pair of defencemen he'd flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler still hauling his pack.

His eyes -- how they burned! His teeth, they did clench!

While cries of encouragement roared from the bench!

He drew his stick back as he wound up to shoot,

To the net the puck traced its unstoppable route

A moment of silence, as rubber hit twine

Then the cheers of the faithful and praise from his line;

He had a broad smile and a quick little wink,

For a fan who grinned back; an ephemeral link.

He was glowing and proud; a right magnetic sight,

And I shouted out loud in a burst of delight;

A flash of his teeth and a nod of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And gathered his teammates; then turned with a jerk,

And as the dim glowing ghostlight started to fade,

I saw no mark left of the game they had played;

The Rocket was going, the rest were no more

All was as quiet as it had been before.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he melted from sight,

"We'll bring the Cup back. It'll all be alright."

Habs vs. 'Canes - Break the Curse Edition

Notes on the third:

-Jacques Demers is getting fatter than Santa Claus. know they both wear the turtleneck, right?

-Eric Staal is proof that having one big, superstar centre and nothing else will NOT make a team win.

-Hate to nitpick in a win like this, but O'Byrne is softer than kittens on the boards. For a big guy, he doesn't really make a regular impact.

-Pouliot was more visible than Gui was in most games this year. I'll take that as a good sign.

-So, Jaro's still burning hot. Does that mean he goes Boxing Day too? It's only that it's Jaro doing this that there's a question there.

-Thanks, Habs, for the nice present. Merry Christmas to you all, even Laraque.

Notes on the second:

-Andrei Markov is like a little piece of Christmas every night. He was NOT letting Whitney off the boards with the puck.

-Pleks has been getting a lot of guys kicked out of the faceoff circle lately. I think he's subtly cheating.

-What the hell does Martin have on his tie? It looks like something his kids gave him for Father's Day.

-Hamrlik is so, so much better than Gill on D. I wonder if we'll ever see the full D-corps as Gainey meant it to be?

-Halak splits like a banana.

-First line's getting cuter than Shirley Temple now. When that happens, they're just as potent as a Shirley Temple too.

-If Metropolit was going to be a late bloomer, I'm glad the Habs got him later rather than sooner. Hope he gets the hatty in the third.

-Very nice period. Curse? What curse?

Notes on the first:

-Was that the fastest first goal they scored all year? The PP is back to the days of Souray/Markov/Kovalev. I love this.

-Andrei Kostitsyn reminds me of Dorian Gray. There's a painting of a very, very bad hockey player in an attic somewhere while he's looking like a Super Draft first rounder.

-Do the people who want to trade Pleks still doubt he makes the players around him better? I'm thinking Sergei Kostitsyn's not.

-Speaking of whom, I've heard the myth of spontaneous combustion before, but as I watch Plekanec play, I think I'm seeing it happen.

-I like that in the comfort of a three-goal lead we have the luxury to feel a bit bad it was TK in the box for the 'Canes on that fourth goal.

-Pouliot didn't look bad. We'll have to see if it's first-game excitement or if he's actually planning to fulfill his promise at last.

-Glen Metropolit is like biting into a really great caramel when you thought you were getting one of those crappy coconut cremes.

-Is it too early to get cocky?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Whatever It Takes

I saw Tomas Plekanec meet a personal goal last night, and I saw him fiercly acknowledge it to himself. A lot of people might have thought the excitement he showed at the winning goal in Atlanta was because of its dramatic nature, happening in OT the way it did, and on such a beautiful play by Plekanec himself. But beneath his genuine pleasure at the two points for the team, there had to be a special bit of satisfaction for him on an individual level. The assist on Bergeron's winner was Plekanec's fourth point of the night, the first time this season he's accomplished the feat. But more important to him, I believe, was the fact that it was his fortieth point on the year. He has now officially eclipsed and effectively erased the disaster that was his last season. His forty points in 38 games has put to rest the lousy 39 in 80 he posted last year.

I have always had a great admiration for Plekanec. I liked him from the time the Canadiens drafted him, and his skillset is the kind I most appreciate in a player. I enjoy watching a guy who works hard, is fast, can play both ends of the ice effectively and never, ever quits. That's what I see in Plekanec. Even better, though, is the new mental resolve he's exhibiting this year. A lot of players would have gone home depressed after last season's abysmal showing. Most would not have come back with the completely overhauled attitude Plekanec has now. He's still using all the skills he's always had, but he correctly identified his lack of confidence last year and has somehow found in himself an ability to fix the problem.

As a result, we're seeing Pleks come into his prime...which is just about right for a player who turned 27 in October. He's playing with confidence this year, and then some. Not only is he sixth in NHL scoring overall, he's second in the league in assists, behind Joe Thornton. He's also a key cog in the PK machine that suddenly finds itself seventh in the league, playing the most time shorthanded of any other forward. It's conceivable he'll be at least nominated for the Selke trophy if he keeps this up.

So, the question is, what does Gainey do about him and his expiring contract? The Habs' GM finds himself painted into a rather uncomfortable salary-capped corner, keeping company with the wickedly overpaid Scott Gomez. He had the opportunity last summer to ink Plekanec for more years, at a bargain, but he didn't trust the player to rebound. Instead, he decided to take the safe route and give the guy one year to prove himself. When you look at the facts, it was the sensible thing to do. Plekanec had had one strong season, followed by a really crappy one. He was so obviously distraught by his poor showing, not many people would have expected him to completely turn it around the way he has.

In this case, the safe route didn't take into account the mental strength of a player with a lot to prove to himself, or the blossoming skills that would benefit from being set loose from the Kovalanchor. The safe route also didn't give a hint that Plekanec would roundly outplay Gomez as the team's top centre, making the latter redundant. So now Plekanec is going to cost more to re-sign this year. His performance is stellar, and with Gomez' contract skewing the salary structure on the team, the agents will be circling.

Gainey has three choices now. He signs Plekanec when the contract negotiation period opens in January. He signs Plekanec when the season ends and he can see how the rest of the year plays out. Or he lets Plekanec go, either through trade or free agency.

The obvious problem with signing him is the cost, now that his numbers are still strong halfway through the year. At this point, even if his production dropped by half for the rest of the season, he'd still end with good stats. Since waiting won't really affect the outcome of his season in terms of negotiating power all that much, I think it would be a show of good faith for Gainey to start negotiating in January. The GM didn't have confidence in Plekanec last summer, but sometimes you have to take a chance, and Plekanec is a great candidate on which to take a leap of faith.

Trading Plekanec could bring a very nice return. The problem is, would the return be enough to both replace him *and* improve the team? In order to do so, a trade would have to bring the Habs a top centre who can kill penalties, has speed and a great work ethic...PLUS another player that would help fill one of the team's other needs. This is the problem. Just finding the type of player able to replace Plekanec is tough enough. Getting a second significant asset that will help the Habs move forward would be near impossible.

Similarly, letting Plekanec walk as a free agent is problematic because it would effectively leave the team without a top centre. Gomez isn't even worth discussing as an alternative. So, if the Habs let Plekanec go, Gainey will have to hit the market himself to find another centre. Looking at the possible candidates, the selection isn't going to be great. Patrick Marleau is set to become an UFA, but his price will be even greater than Plekanec's. There's Olli Jokinen, who's four years older than Pleks and doesn't have the numbers he's got. Marc Savard is off the market already. And I'm pretty sure bringing in a guy like Antoine Vermette, Matthew Lombardi or Jeff Halpern would be considered a downgrade. So, if Pleks walks in July, there's not much else out there for the Habs to put in his place.

I think Gainey needs to take care of Plekanec sooner, rather than later. A lot of people will argue he's only playing for a contract and will fall off after this season. Some players would do that, but not Plekanec. He never has given anything less than the best he could and he never quits working. In last year's contract season, he was his own harshest critic. Others argue that Plekanec hasn't done much in the playoffs. I'd argue that he hasn't had much of a chance. The Habs have only made three playoff appearances in his time with the team. If you consider last year a complete write-off for the entire franchise, the best chance Plekanec has had to show his stuff in the playoffs was in 2008. That year, he collected nine points in twelve games, getting better as the doomed Flyers' series went on. He and Saku Koivu were the only two effective forwards by the end of that series, and Plekanec scored in each of the last three games. I'd like to see this year's Plekanec in the post-season.

So the questions then become how long, how much and how? If Plekanec continues with the type of play he's showing so far this year, he's going to be worth in the five million dollar range. He's also just 27, so a long-term investment in him, say 5-7 years, is reasonable. The longer the better, in some ways, as a long contract can be front-loaded to offset the cap hit. As for's possible to scrape up some money by somehow getting rid of Georges Laraque. I expect Paul Mara won't be back next year either, which clears up about three million dollars. Adding some of that to Plekanec's current 2.75 will put the Habs in the ballpark. Then, though, there's the concern about re-signing a heart and soul guy like Metropolit and the goalies. If all the savings go to Plekanec, there won't be a whole lot left for those other contracts.

In the end, it's going to have to come down to Gomez or Plekanec. Or Gomez or Halak. Or Gomez or Price. Gomez is going to cost the team a more valuable player one way or another, unless Gainey gets rid of Gomez. So, signing Plekanec while still finding a way to improve this team is going to mean dumping Gomez...even if it's "loaning" him to the KHL or dumping his salary in Hamilton.

Watching Plekanec throw off last season's disappointment in his personal moment of triumph last night told me what I need to know. If he's not a Hab next October, this won't be a team worth watching. Do whatever it takes, Bob.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Habs vs. Thrashers - Need the Two Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-Starting the fourth line in the third period of a close game against a team that's been outplaying you might not have been the swiftest of coaching decisions, there, Jacques.

-Way to go Gorges. I think he's up to about nine goals against directly caused by him knocking down or falling on his own goalie.

-It looks like Hedberg's got Spongebob on his mask.

-Metro versus the entire Thrashers PP was like watching one of those war movies where the guy in the pillbox holds off half the German army.

-Watching this team is so bloody frustrating. It's a never-ending loop of giveaway/penalty/giveaway/failed rush/giveaway/failure to clear. It's enough to make you stomach sick. Oushot 48-22 in regulation by the Thrashers is humiliating and disgraceful.

-Christmas has come early for Marc-Andre Bergeron. He'll thrive on the PP with Markov dishing up goals like that. I hope he's not badly hurt. Same for Mara and Moen. When will the stinkin' injuries ever stop?

-And speaking of presents for MAB, how about Pleks with the Czech sausage? What a night for him!

-I think it's safe to say Halak stole that one?

-The Habs really, really needed the two points.

Notes on the second:

-Spacek looks really tired. His body language is saying, "Come on, will someone race back for the puck and help me out here? I'm old!"

-Plekanec has a beautiful shot when he chooses not to pass instead.

-Andrei Kostitsyn traditionally wakes from his long winter's nap in December. I wonder why we forget that every year and make up trade rumours instead of just waiting for him?

-Gomez can certainly burn through the neutral zone with the puck. He's got jets. Costs as much as one too.

-Well, apparently while I wasn't looking, the Habs have quietly crept into eighth in the league on the PP, with a 21.8% success rate. They're also seventh in the league on the PK, at 84%.

-It'd be nice to win a draw once in a while.

-The Habs' D trying to contain Afinogenov's speed is like trying to hold up a brick with a soggy paper towel.

-Halak is not only standing on his head, he's breakdancing on it. His craptacular team is on pace for giving up 54 shots.

-If the Habs don't smarten up in the third period, they're going to see the Thrashers come back to take these two points.

Notes on the first:

-The Habs breakout is still terrible, even with Markov. It's like watching a dumb kid doing calculus.

-I wonder how they calculate faceoff wins/losses on the ones that just sort of lie there with nobody in control?

-Bogosian is going to be a really good defenceman. Too bad Habs' first-rounders don't turn out like that.

-The best thing about Gionta's return will be the banishment of Lapierre forever to the fourth line and Laraque to the veggie buffet in the press gallery.

-Wasn't it Valabik who Crosby nailed in the 'nads repeatedly while the guy's back was turned and he was fighting someone else? That was so classy!

-Habs look as stalled as the Chunnel train tonight.

-Well, it seems our guys are well on their way to being outshot and overly penalized again. I wonder why Halak actually wants to play MORE of these games?

-Welcome to the Habs' PP: Land of a thousand passes.

-How many times has Andrei Kostitsyn fanned on a perfect setup? I'm thinking more than twelve and slightly less than infinity.

-I think Markov's shot is heavier than it used to be before he got hurt. Must be all that rehab time in the weight room. Or my imagination.

-Nothing worse than a goal with less than a minute to go. But when the shots are 18-3, it's just a matter of time. Not much Halak could do when the puck was kicked in like that.

-There'd better be some life in the Habs next period, or this is going to be a very ugly game. We can add it to the collection.

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Imagine you have two really nice new cars. Let's say one's a Cadillac Escalade and the other is a slick little BMW convertible. You want to drive them both, but of course you can only run one at a time. What would you do? If it was me, I'd alternate them. The Caddy in bad weather, the Beamer when it's nice out. Or maybe the convertible during the day and the SUV at night. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be leaving one of them to seize up in the garage.

You see where I'm going with this, right? Carey Price and Jaro Halak are like those new cars. They're both young, talented goalies who want to be in the net every night. The problem is, only one can go at a time and the organization has decided it will treat one of them like a Cadillac and the other like Jughead's jalopy.

When you compare the two, you often hear Price has "more talent" and that he's a "thoroughbred." But when you compare their numbers, there's not a lot of difference between them. Both goalies have posted some very nice, high-save performances this season and both of them have stolen games. Both have also allowed some stinkers. When you look at their history with the team, Price has had some ups and downs in terms of his consistency. Halak has never really had a sustained down period, but he also doesn't get enough starts to have one unless the other goalie is hurt.

I think it all comes down to draft position. The Canadiens invested their best pick in a long, long time in Price and they really need him to be worth it. You can't have a chance to choose a potential franchise player and blow it without setting your team back a decade. That's why Price gets the kid-glove treatment and chance after chance to play while Halak warms the bench. On the other end of the bench, the fact that Halak's played in the NHL at all is a minor miracle, considering his ninth-round draft selection. The fact that he has respectable numbers and finds a way to win games is just a bonus for the Habs. The future and reputation of the franchise doesn't ride on how well a ninth-rounder develops, so Halak isn't as important as Price.

That's such a foolish way to handle the goalie situation in Montreal, though. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having two talented goalies, both under 25 and both capable of winning games for the team. In fact, there are several strong arguments to be made for a more balanced tandem in nets. The fatigue factor is one of them. We see goalies like Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur put up great regular seasons playing seventy-plus games, then fade in the playoffs. Risk of injury is another. Butterfly goalies are prone to injuries of the joints, as we saw with Price last season. Less playing time helps keep both goalies healthier. Keeping both keepers sharp with a balanced playing schedule also means they're at the top of their games if the other guy gets hurt or starts really struggling. Consistency isn't the strong suit of most young goalies, so having both ready to go is an advantage for the team.

Halak has told Bob Gainey he wants to play more. I don't blame him. He's proven several times in the last four years that he deserves at least the chance to get more ice. It won't hurt the team to give him a few extra starts. I can understand the temptation to keep Price in net when he's on a hot streak, but Price hasn't been super hot for the last several games, and still Halak sat until Saturday. Trading Halak won't bring the team more than he's worth to it right now, and still leaves the problem of filling the spot behind Price. I'd even argue that the Canadiens need a guy like Halak who's capable of stepping into the starter's role because Price himself isn't established as a number-one goalie yet. It's in the team's best interest to keep Halak happy, and the way to do that is to give him more work.

I'm glad to see Saturday's shutout rewarded with another start for Halak tonight. He's earned it. But what if he plays extremely well again? That's when the problems start. If Price had shut out the Islanders and played well against Atlanta, there'd be no question of continuing with him. If Halak does well, though, we're suddenly looking at a "goalie controversy." This is when Habs fans start dividing into "Price" and "Halak" camps and dumping on the other goalie. Sure, they say, Halak got a shutout, but it was only against the Islanders. Or, Price would have been sure to allow a blooper goal like he does every game. To me, that's akin to saying the beamer corners really well, but it'll never have the power of the caddy.

You can have two cool cars without disliking one for not being the other. You can also have two good young goalies to help each other and push each other to be better. It's not being disloyal to Price if you admit Halak's good too and deserves a few more starts. It's not dumping on Halak to say Price is really talented and can get the job done on any given night. I'm rooting for both of them because the Canadiens need to win games. They need to use every advantage available to them to rack up as many points as possible, and I think having two strong young goalies is an advantage.

Now, if only Gainey and Martin would see it that way before Halak hits the open road out of Montreal and leaves Price alone to drive the team into the future.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Habs vs. Isles - Blizzard On Broadway Edition

Notes on the third:

-How much nicer would the fourth line be with Ryan White on it instead of Georges Laraque? It'd be like getting the iPod Touch in your stocking, instead of coal.

-Moulson is making Mara look drunk all night. Good thing the Habs have Halak as DD.

-Do they dare play Markov in Toronto on Boxing Day? If they paid him according to his worth to the team, he'd have to have a Brinks truck taking his salary to the bank.

-Nice to see Muller on the bench wearing his intense captain face.

-Biggest difference between this year and last year: when Gorges got nailed last year, nobody even helped him up. This year when he got hit after the whistle, four Habs immediately went after the culprit. This ship might be going down, but they're going down together.

-Watching the Habs break out of their zone is like watching a failed game of Connect Four.

-Wow, it's nice to look forward to power plays again.

-That wretched Biron has had Plekanec's number since the '08 playoffs.

-Halak can really shut it down when he's hot. It's nice to see a great effort unmarred by a stupid fluke goal.

-Nice win. The team really, really needed that. Now they need another one on Monday.

Notes on the second:

-Watching the Markov out there again gave me the same kind of choked, happy feeling I get watching the last scene of "It's A Wonderful Life."

-Plekanec has decided to join the stupid patrol with the rest of his mates who take dumbass penalties.

-Halak's playing like he knows there are scouts in the building. I don't want him traded though. They wouldn't get what he's worth.

-I fear Pax is going to be a tougher, smarter Higgins. He's already showing a devastating lack of finish.

-RDS showed Markov checking his stick blade after the second goal. He looked exactly like a gunfighter in the Old West, blowing the smoke off his pistol.

-From behind, Jacques Martin's ears look like the handles on a suger bowl.

-Without Markov and Halak, this game is a scoreless tie. The rest of them need to pick it up.

This Contest Thingy

Well, what do you know? I had an email from a reader this morning to inform me our little blog is doing okay in that "pick-a-blog" contest I told you about a few weeks ago. Apparently, it's still going on. Who knew?

Anyway, the guy who emailed me thought I should post the link for everyone else, so here you go: contest

If you go there to vote, don't forget to give a nod to all the blogs you really like. I already voted for Four Habs Fans because I figure I'd miss them the most if they weren't there.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On With the Show, This Is It

Imagine you went to a movie and the hero...let's say Harrison Ford...takes a bullet in the first minute of the show. He's not dead, but it's a close thing, and it forces the amusing and loveable, although not nearly so heroic, sidekicks...let's call 'em Brendan Fraser and Meg handle the stunts for the first hour. Meg and Brendan would bumble their way through some sticky situations, maybe even steal a laugh or two. All the time the bad guys would be coming closer, though, gaining strength because Meg and Brendan just don't have the skills and the chutzpah to take the baddies down. Beyond all the bumbling and joking is a serious situation and you know Harrison Ford is going to have to recover from the bullet wound and save the world.

If you went to that movie, you'd know what's going to happen next, right? Brendan and Meg would be captured and waiting to die. The world would have less than twenty-four hours before Armageddon. That's when Harrison would make his dramatic return to action. He'd rise from his sickbed, find his pistol under the mattress and say something like, "Okay, you tried bullets. Now let's see what you bastards have *really* got." The next thing we'd know, he'd be creeping through an air duct and dropping down on the heads of the guards. He'd disable the nuclear war heads the bad guys are about to launch, punch a bunch of the creeps and shoot their leader. Then he'd steal Meg from Brendan and ride off into the sunset, saying something like, "Next time, you can take your own bullet, sweetheart?"

So, what's this all about, you ask? Well, it means the Habs are going to win the Cup this year, of course. You heard it here first. Andrei Markov went down in the first game...disaster! He was supposed to be out until after the Olympics...doomed! The team he left behind made a plucky effort to stay close to .500 without him, but injuries and fatigue began to take their toll and the other players just couldn't maintain the pace. Now Markov's set to make a miraculous time for his birthday no less, and how Hollywood is that?...months ahead of schedule. And if there's one thing this team needs, it's a holiday miracle.

Things are looking bad right now, I'll admit, but all is not lost. Not yet. There's still time. The standings are so close, a five or six game winning streak could change the picture entirely. And with a road trip of games the team can win with a little help from an All Star, Markov's return gives them hope...and a chance. I was talking to a guy behind the scenes with the team yesterday, and he said everyone in the trainers' room is astonished at the speed of Markov's recovery. It's got to be inspirational for his teammates.

Of course, Markov has been out a long time. The difference he makes at first might be mostly in the morale department, but that's something. It's a ray of hope for a team that was looking ahead at a pretty bleak path. And wherever his level of play is at first, we know he'll get better and better. The other players will have to help out with their best efforts in support of Markov in the beginning, and let him get his game back. The hero has returned in time to save the world, but he's just one guy.

Then again, so is Harrison Ford.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wild vs. Habs - Stop the Bleeding Edition

Notes on the third:

-Gomez responds as well to being hit as a poodle.

-What I don't understand is why, if New Jersey has learned so much from Montreal, guys like Gomez and Gionta can't bring that back to Montreal *from* New Jersey. Do they not recognize what the Devils do right and the Habs do wrong?

-The first line generates more chances than a drunk girl playing spin the bottle.

-The booing is ridiculous. These guys aren't dogging it. They're just not good enough, and that's not their fault.

-Why is Martin drawing plays when they're down two goals with a minute to go? Is it to make him look good on TV? Because, if that's so, someone should tell him his ears have already destroyed that possibility.

-Good for Gui. He doesn't have to cough up the money he had on the table for the win.

-Our team just sucks like a jet engine.

Notes on the second:

-It must be cold in the corridors at the Bell Centre, when you can tell that Guillaume Latendresse's nipples point downward during his RDS interview.

-Cammalleri's feeling a bit desperate, I think. He scores most of his goals about twenty feet from the net, but he's shooting from fifty feet out now.

-I understood the point Ghandi was making with the hunger strike. And the point Sinead O'Connor made when she shaved her head. But I don't get the point of Georges Laraque in an NHL lineup. I'm pretty sure it's not as meaningful as the other two.

-I wonder if Santa will bring the Habs a powerplay before the end of the year?

-You know what? At this moment Andrei Kostitsyn is playing better than Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Zach Parise and Ryan Getzlaf. So maybe the 2003 draft wasn't a bust after all.

-Among legends I've heard about are the Loch Ness Monster, vampires and the Habs' team speed.

-The Habs never getting the man advantage pretty much makes Bergeron a eunuch.

-Oh my God! A closeup of Koivu on the bench made me realize he's actually the love child of his brother and Mike Komisarek.

-Pacioretty seems to have quieted down a bit. He was more visible in the last few games.

-Habs often have a big second period. Sometimes a big first. Not often a big third, but control was in their favour in the latter half of the second, so I hope it continues, and translates into...let's see...three! goals in the final period.

Notes on the first:

-Just when I was cursing Hal Gill for being a gigantic traffic cone on the Wild goal, Gomez and Kostitsyn teamed up for that beauty for the Habs.

-Jaro Spacek was Buffalo's number-one D last year. Buffalo missed the playoffs. Not a promising fact for tonight.

-It's kind of funny listening to the crowd boo Gui, ten minutes after TSN was raving about what a fan favourite he was in Montreal.

-Speaking of whom, I wonder why he seems so very bitter? It's not like he wasn't given lots of chances to make a mark for the Habs.

-Maybe Gomez needs to talk to his linemates more. (If he can figure out who'll they'll be from game to game.) He seems to want to pass to someone who's not there.

-Price looks shakier than Santa's belly so far. Not that his "defence" is helping much.

-My favourite name in hockey: Cal Clutterbuck.

-Taking tons of penalties are like those Christmas furniture sales. You don't pay for thirteen months, but then the collection agent is at your door.

-Gomez is a great passer, but in terms of overall play, he's to a guy like Ovechkin what chicken broth is to five-alarm chile. I don't get excited by him.

-I don't feel positive about this, but I could be wrong.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Few Queries

Thirty-five games into the season, and the Habs look like they're heading farther south than the Winnipeg Jets. The losses are piling up, one more heartbreaking than the last. And the injuries are like a game of Whack-A-Mole; the minute you think you've smacked one into submission, another one pops up. Losing Hamrlik, if he is lost, will be devastating, especially if Martin wasn't lying when he said Markov is "many games" away. It has me wondering about a few things, so I thought I'd throw out a few multiple-choice queries.

1. The team needs secondary scoring desperately. Who's the solution on the Gomez/Sergei Kostitsyn line until Brian Gionta returns?
a) Matt D'Agostini
b) Max Pacioretty
c) Benoit Pouliot
d) Baby Jesus

2. Why can't Mike Cammalleri score on the road?
a) he's a victim of effective line-matching
b) the team is on the PK more at home, so he's better rested there
c) his emotional response is higher in front of the home crowd
d) the other team's trainers are putting Ex-Lax in his water bottle

3. If Jaro Halak is traded, what would you like to see Gainey get in return?
a) Jeff Carter
b) Claude Giroux
c) Alexander Frolov
d) the second-round pick Gainey will probably end up with

4. The most heartbreaking loss this season so far has been:
a) the Washington game, where they gave up the tying goal with 11 seconds left
b) the New Jersey game, where they gave up the winning goal with two minutes left
c) the Buffalo game, where they gave up the winning goal on a 5-on-3 with five minutes to go, after a game full of stupid penalties
d) whichever loss is the most recent, until the next one hurts worse

5. Most of us agree Scott Gomez' contract is outrageously bad. But, contract aside, how do you feel Gomez is performing in his role as a top-two centre?
a) adequate; comparable to other players in his position
b) nowhere near a number one, but okay for a number two
c) not even close to being a top-two centre on a contending team
d) forget the contract? How can you forget that contract?

6. What kind of deal does Tomas Plekanec deserve?
a) He's a number-one centre, so 7-8 years at 5-6 million per
b) He's an excellent two-way player, so 4-6 years at 4-5 million per
c) He's a good player who's overachieving in a contract year, so 3-4 years at 2.5-4 per
d) He deserves a contract, but not with the Habs

7. Why are the Habs taking so many penalties?
a) their depleted lineup is consistently overwhelmed by the opposition's forecheck, forcing them into desperation defence
b) the refs have it in for them
c) they try to compensate for lazy play by using their sticks
d) they're too stupid for words

8. Conversely, why do the Habs draw so few penalties?
a) they're stuck in their own zone because they have no breakout, and it's hard to draw penalties when you're on defence all the time
b) the refs have it in for them
c) they're not using their speed to attack the opposing zone and force the other team to foul them
d) there's an elaborate league conspiracy to deny the Montreal PP a chance to really shine

9. What do you think of Jacques Martin's "System?"
a) It's not working because the defence isn't good enough in transition to effectively move the puck up the ice
b) It's not working because the forwards can't complete a pass and are weak on the forecheck
c) It can't work because the team spends half its time in the box
d) The problem is not the System. The System was created on the sixth day and passed to us by the Hand of God.

10. What piece do the Canadiens need most, if they're to improve?
a) a big, physical centre with skills
b) a big, sniping winger to play with Gomez
c) a tough, mobile defenceman
d) the ghost of Maurice Richard

11. If the Habs finish in a lottery position, who will Bob Gainey draft?
a) Taylor Hall
b) Tyler Seguin
c) Kirill Kabanov
d) a big college defenceman from Minnesota, who has at some point held the title of Mr.Hockey

12. What would be the worst finish possible this year?
a) the Habs finish last, but lose the lottery for first-overall to the leafs/Bruins
b) the Habs finish last, win the lotery for first-overall and pick the one guy in the top five of the draft who ends up becoming a bust
c) the Habs finish ninth, one point behind the eighth-place leafs
d) the Habs squeak into the playoffs and get swept by the Caps, with Ovechkin taking Price apart cell by cell

Habs vs. Devils - Just Score A Goal Edition

Notes on the third:

-On reflection, I think that goal was the stupidest goal I've seen in a very long time. I think the last one Price allowed like that was the one that hit the glass, then hit him in the back of the head to fall into the net. Man, that guy's unlucky!

-RDS guys talking about the return of Latendresse tomorrow sound like the boys in "Stand By Me" when they discovered Playboy and beers.

-Hey Martin! Two minutes for lookin' so good!

-Halak looks really bored and disillusioned on the bench. I want to keep him, but he's not happy.

-After fifteen minutes of a tied third, you can see the Devils change their game plan to "wait for a mistake and if we don't get one, go to OT for the point." That sucks.

-Well, that was to be expected, I guess. I hate it when they tease enough to make us think they'll pick up a point, then...they don't.

Notes on the second:

-I wonder how good Brodeur would have been if his D hadn't blocked twenty shots a night for fifteen years?

-I wish some of the ex-players of other teams would haunt their former mates the way ex-Habs do. It's Gomez, ghost of Devils past!

-Plekanec is playing some smart hockey tonight. He looks like he's sick of Brodeur too.

-Pacioretty takes more hits than a pinata. I wonder if he's filled with candy?

-Price just isn't a shutout goalie. That's two he's scored on himself in the last week by trying to play pucks going over his head.

-Is there no end to the injuries? If Hamrlik is out for any length of time, they might as well bring Breezer back.

-Lemaire is NOT aging well. He looks like Hannibal Lecter. Maybe the Devils play that style because they're afraid he'll eat them if they don't.

-Earlier today I just wanted a goal. Now I want the win. Go get 'em, boys!

Notes on the first:

-Didn't see it. I was at a Christmas concert, but thank you Travis Moen, for granting my holiday wish.

-Seems they still can't stay out of the bloody penalty box.

My Holiday Wish

I'm not hoping for a Stanley Cup this year. Okay, well, I am hoping for a Cup, but in the way that you hope to win the lottery or that there will be a comprehensive global carbon reduction strategy emerging from Copenhagen. I'm not hoping the Habs finish first or even that they win this game tonight, although that would be nice.

All I'm really hoping and wishing is, when I come home from the Christmas concert I must attend for the first two periods tonight, the Habs will have scored a goal. Just one goal. That's it.

I think it's not too much to ask that the team to which I've devoted years of loyalty, time and emotion score one lousy goal to avoid being humiliated yet again at the hands of that wretched Martin Brodeur. I don't know if I can stand seeing him set another career milestone against the Habs. I just hate that guy.

So, come on, Habs. Throw a fan a bone and score a goal tonight. It's not a very big present, but it would mean a lot.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Uncommon Sense

I just watched TSN reporting that Jaro Halak has asked to be traded. The network then proceeded to show a clip of Halak saying yes, he'd like to play more. But he likes Montreal and supports the team because the team winning is more important than who gets the start in the net. Sure, he said, he'd welcome the chance to play more, even if it meant playing more in another city. But he reminded everyone that Gainey makes those decisions, not an RFA goalie, and hell do what he's told. I can understand his desire to prove himself in a bigger role. He's earned a shot.

So, from that TSN gets that Halak has asked to be traded? Okay. I guess it's TSN's version of "the truth." Not surprising, when it comes to the Habs. This is the network that can't show any player highlight unless he's scoring against the Habs, or, in the case of a goalie, stoning the Habs. All Habs-based video shows a Canadien being stymied by Toskala, or, in the case of Price, allowing a Kessel goal or three.

I've already read comments from a bunch of Habs fans, dumping on Halak for his lack of team spirit and his alleged stated desire to bolt Montreal. He's getting cursed for reducing his trade value by letting the rest of the league know he's given Gainey a formal trade request.

I've seen the same video TSN is using to deduce Halak wants out. I don't quite come to the same conclusion, though. I hope, if Gainey *is* planning to move Halak, that the Canadiens get a solid return for him; something more useful than Halak himself is to the team right now. If that's not in the cards at this time, I feel confident Halak will suck it up and shut his mouth for the sake of the team, as he's been doing for the last two seasons.

There's no ultimatum here, and I'd like to see Canadiens fans collectively take a minute to listen to what he actually said before crapping on him.

Monday, December 14, 2009

If You're NOT Mad At the Habs Right Now, Don't Read This

I'm thinking of taking a little holiday away from the Habs over the next couple of weeks, because of illness and fatigue. Basically, I'm sick and tired of watching the same crap, game in and game out.

I've had it. I've been trying my damnedest to be tolerant of this team, to try to find something enjoyable about it and have hope things will get better. It started out with the inevitable 20-game waiting period. We have to wait for this new team to come together, we said. Then there were the injuries. We have to wait for the hurt guys to come back, we said. Well, we can't wait anymore. Thirty-four games into the season is more than a third of the year, and the Habs are not getting any better. Most of the hurt guys are back, and the problems are still so massive, you wonder how Brian Gionta or Andrei Markov can possibly be enough to fix them.

This team has one scoring line. Kudos to Plekanec and Cammalleri who've been bringing it all season, especially Plekanec who's spending half his icetime killing off the stupid penalties taken by his teammates. If there's any justice, he should be a Selke candidate this year. Props as well to Spacek and Hamrlik, Price and Halak, for doing the best they can to stop the bleeding every night. Andrei Kostitsyn gets a pass for coming to life this month.

Now for the rest of them.

Ryan O'Byrne. What the hell is he doing out there? He started out with a great camp and immediately got hurt. When he came back he picked it up again. In the last ten games, though, he's taking himself out of the play to make pointless hits, and he's handling the puck like it's a vial of nitroglycerin. Crappy chips up the boards, intercepted by everyone, every time. Honestly, if Georges Laraque played for someone else (we can only dream), HE could stop one of O'Byrne's clearing attempts. And the stupid penalties O'Byrne's been taking are enough to make you wish you had an extra defenceman, just to be able to bench him.

Josh Gorges. He's doing his best, but he's not big enough to be a shutdown D and not offensive enough to be a two-way guy. And how many times does he have to fall on Carey Price before Price goes down with an injury? Honestly, Gorges falls at Price's feet more than the cowgirls at the Calgary Stampede.

Hal Gill. The big battleship is a good bottom-pairing D in a stay-at-home, PK role. But he has a turning radius of about a kilometre and the mobility of a cement truck. His outlet passing is as effective as an inside-out umbrella. When the team is relying on him to play a bigger role, it doesn't work.

MAB. If he was on a bomber crew in WWII, he'd be the tail gunner. That's what he does. He shoots. He can't fly the plane. He can't navigate. Unfortunately, the Canadiens need a fighter pilot who can dogfight AND fire his own guns.

Matt D'Agostini. The kid was what? A sixth-rounder? It's a festivus miracle that he's even skating on NHL ice without a shovel in his hands, when you consider how few guys taken that low actually make it. When he first came up, he was a feel-good story, popping in the goals with his hot shot and talking about how going to the net made all the difference in his game. Unfortunately, that wore off quickly, and now D'Ags is a feel-bad story. I feel bad every time I see him give the puck away, or turn away from a check.

Georges Laraque. Just...ugh. People will say other teams behave themselves more when Laraque is out there. That's the single argument in favour of his holding an NHL job, and I'm not buying it. Laraque can't skate, he can't score, he takes stupid penalties, he's been losing fights against non-heavyweights and he's become a caricature off the ice. All this for the low, low price of 1.5 million bucks a year.

And speaking of gigantic wastes of money...

Scott Gomez. I hated the trade. HATED it. Gomez is a shifty number-two centre with speed who'll put up lots of assists if he's paired with a goalscorer or two. That is NOT good enough to be worth the outrageous salary he makes. But, salary aside, he's not producing like a top-line centre must produce if a team is going to win. The arguments in his defence include the fact that his linemates have been kids and pluggers since Gionta got hurt. Well, Scotty, welcome to Tomas Plekanec's world. Until Gomez got hurt, Plekanec was skating with friggin' Lapierre and Latendresse half the time, and STILL managed to put up the points. Gomez has four goals and twelve assists in 29 games. Not even close to being good enough. He's also sarcastic and reluctant with the media and gives every appearance of not really wanting to be in Montreal.

Maxim Lapierre. What a difference a year makes, in a really crappy way. Last year he was flying around the ice, agitating and popping in seriously timely goals. He killed penalties like Chuck Norris too. This year he's rarely seen on the PK, does more pointless yapping than agitating and appears to have packed his scoring touch in Guillaume Latendresse's lunch bag. This guy is a year and a half removed from Hamilton. How quickly he's forgotten the ten-hour bus rides.

Sergei Kostitsyn. Didn't he used to be able to score? If this new Sergei is playing the way Martin wants him to play, I don't like that way. Sure, he's not taking the stupid penalties he took regularly last year, and he's more aware of the concept of backchecking. But he's completely lost his ability to finish. He's like a nervous virgin in the O-zone.

Travis Moen. Can't complain too much. He's not contributing to the general stupidity, and he's doing what he's paid to do...hit, play the PK and generally shut down the opposition's attack. If that exciting little show of early-season offence got us all worked up, that's not his fault.

Glen Metropolit. I love the guy. Really. But the downside of his game is Steve Begin-ish. Remember when Begin cost the Habs the playoffs with his dumbass double minor with three minutes to go against the leafs three years ago? That's what Metro's been in the last two games.

Tom Pyatt. After a a quick start, he's fallen into obscurity. I like Ryan White better, but neither of them is putting this team over the top anytime this century.

Perry Pearn. I don't know him, or very much about him. But I hate him anyway. It seems to me his major qualification for the job is being Jacques Martin's buddy. He's supposed to be running the PP, like he was in New York last year. New York, where the PP ended the season 29th in the league. Yay, let's bring him to Montreal!

Jacques Martin. I hate The System. There. I said it. Whatever the hell Martin is teaching them is NOT working. If you can tell the difference between what Carbo had them doing last year and what Martin has them doing this year, you probably qualify for a PhD in Hockey Analysis. Hemmed in their own zone for half the game? Yup. No transition game to speak of? Uh huh. One-man forecheck? Check. Weak on the boards? You bet! Either this "new" team is as dense as the "old" one when it comes to processing simple instructions like "go to the net," and "shoot the puck," and "keep your sticks down," or the system does not suit them for some reason. It's Martin's responsibility to adjust the system to minimize his team's weaknesses, and he's not doing it. Or, if he's to be absolved from responsibility, we must believe the players are completely without talent and/or brains and/or interest in winning.

I'm getting a new LCD TV for Christmas, and I'm thinking of sending it back. I don't really want to see this season fizzle away in all its high-def glory. And, with the freakin' leafs two points back, you can hear the fizzle all the way in the basement where the Habs are heading if they don't smarten up. Even the idea of a true-blue star draft pick leaves me disconsolate. I want playoffs! And I want GOOD playoffs! And I already know we're most likely looking at another eighth-place squeak and first-round dispatching...if we're LUCKY.

Ugh. I can't watch the "dump it in, chase it in, chase it out, watch the other team cycle in your zone, chip it to the blueline, get it blocked, watch the other team cycle, chip it to centre directly to an opponent, back up into your zone, watch the other team cycle, take a penalty" routine for another sixty minutes. Wake up, you boneheads!

I have to go look at the NHL stats now. Seeing Pleks and Cammy in the top thirty is the only thing giving me any comfort at all right now. And it's the kind of comfort you get from hugging a stuffed animal after your dog dies.

Sabres vs. Habs - Remember When Buffalo Was Bad? Edition

Notes on the third:

-Is Markov really this vital to the team's success? Because I don't see another Markov in the system.

-I wonder how many points Pleks has, lifetime, against the Sabres? I have a feeling it's impressive.

-Spatch is a fattie, but he uses his extra padding to block shots, so it's all good.

-Gomez is not worth eight million bucks a year. He's worth four million and a box of Pot of Gold.

-The first line is a first line. The second is a third, the third is a third and the fourth is a first. In the AHL.

-D'Agostini is on the swift shuttle out of Montreal if he doesn't pick it up. When your only appearance on TV in the third period of a close game is sitting out a double-minor for someone else, it's not a good thing.

-I can't take anymore of these ridiculous penalties. I just can't. I feel like I've been emotionally beaten.

Notes on the second:

-OB dances a very nice foxtrot. He's a classic kind of guy.

-It turns out I may have inadvertently hated Hal Gill because he was quietly playing hurt. I apologize. With a working foot, he's a fine D-zone guy.

-If Halak's traded now, it'll be a mistake. Price, and the Habs, need a goalie who can steal a game every night. And Price can't rob that much on his own without getting caught. Not yet, anyway.

-Are the Habs this stupid or this violent? The number of penalties they're getting has to be either one or the other. Somehow, I'm not buying violent.

-Anyone who thought Sergei Kostitsyn has more upside than his brother is dead wrong. Andrei starts slow, but when he's can see why he was a first-rounder in the Super Draft.

-Spacek shoots hard, but he's got the accuracy of a duck hunter with cataracts.

-In iambic pentameter: The team that scores the shorty wins the game.

-I don't know about the rest of you, but watching the Habs get overpenalized and outshot game after game doesn't have the same cachet as watching The Grinch for the thousandth time.

Notes on the first:

-Wow, Miller's getting Brodeur-like in his numbers against the Habs. That's one torch we *didn't* need to see passed, unless it happened to catch their hair on fire in the passing.

-Can we send a spy to Lindy Ruff's practices? Because somehow, they're learning how to complete a sequence of passes to guys on their own team. The Habs could use some tips.

-If you put a little curly hat on Martin, he'd be Albino Smurf.

-I know they're saying Markov has "mobility issues," but yes, Andrei, we can hear you now. And we need you.

-Watching the Habs in their own zone is like having "relations" after your 25th wedding anniversary. It's so predictable, you can call the moves before they happen.

-Hammer and Spacek might not be young. And they might not be speedy. But boy, they're smart. And sometimes, smart is enough.

-If anyone scores even-strength for the Habs tonight, it's going to be someone on the Pax/Metro/Moen line. Those are the only guys who throw enough chaos out there to bother the Sabres defence.

-Booing Rivet in Montreal is like booing Braveheart in Edinburgh because he happened to spend some time in England.

-Kostitsyn has a shot like the space shuttle. Out of sight as soon as it leaves the ground.

-That period would have been a wash except for the PP. They have to pick it up in the second because the Sabres have a gear they haven't shown yet tonight.

Handle With Care

I wonder if the Canadiens' media gatekeepers have ever heard of the Travelling Wilburys? Remember them? The super-folk group of all-stars Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne got together for a few years in the '80s and produced a couple of hit tunes. The biggest single they produced was "Handle With Care." I heard it on the radio the other day, and a line in it reminded me strongly of Mike Cammalleri. It goes "...overexposed, commercialized. Handle me with care."

Cammalleri is a treasure for the Habs. He's the team's only proven sniper. He's quick and lethal and sturdy for his size. He's also a journalist's dream because he's well-spoken, thoughtful and original in his comments. That's the problem. He's SO well-spoken, reporters gravitate to him more than to any other player. They know he's always good for a really great quote and he never turns anyone away. He's available after every game and practice, no matter how the team has performed.

As a result, Cammalleri is in danger of becoming the new Chris Higgins. I don't know about you, but I found it incredibly annoying to listen to Higgins, night after night, tell us how the team failed to show up. Or how the passion just wasn't there, or how the team needed to play better in its own end. Ugh. It wasn't his fault though. It was only because he was well-spoken and had a rapport with the journalists, and because he made himself available when others wouldn't. Like Cammalleri's doing now.

Cammalleri will get more leeway though, because he manages to say the same things in new and interesting ways, and because he's better than Higgins on the ice. But even so, if he's always the guy who has to explain poor play on behalf of the team, he's going to become tired and overused. Overexposed, commercialized...if you will.

So, as much as I enjoy listening to Cammalleri, I think the gatekeepers have to send other players out to face the music once in a while. Let Gomez earn his millions by taking some accountability on his shoulders for a change. Or let Hal Gill enlighten the waiting hordes. Cammalleri needs a break sometimes, or he'll not only become overexposed...he'll become associated with explaining losses, and Chris Higgins can tell him how well that's received in Montreal.

Cammalleri is a real joy to listen to, but the Habs have to remember to handle him with care. Unless, of course, he's explaining wins. Then he can talk all he wants!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Habs vs. Thrashers - Yaaawwwn Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-Pax is a great young prospect, but the penalties he's taking are going to land him in the coach's dog house. And so far, the coach's dog house has proven to have a trap door leading directly out of town.

-Does Atlanta have *anything* of their own? The goal song is Boston's, the PP jingle is Ottawa's and the PK one is from Toronto.

-The number of PKs is in inverse proportion to the number of shots taken by the Habs. Funny how that works.

-If the Centennial curse has indeed been lifted, it seems to have settled neatly over the head of Sergei Kostitsyn. How could he miss that breakaway?

-It's bad when you feel mild surprise every time a Hab comes off the boards in possession of the puck.

-Was anyone else hoping Markov would come out for the third?

-Discipline: Not their forte. But this is! Can they EVER get more than a game over .500 this year?

Notes on the second:

-How immature is it that when Pierre Houde says "Antropoof," I laugh every time?

-Sergei needs to get the shooter tutor out of the basement. Gomez is wasted on him tonight.

-How many Atlanta rink employees does it take to change a pane of glass? Nineteen, because they're unionized and they're only required to work six minutes a night, with a coffee break to mix it up.

-It's almost fun watching the PK, if you don't understand it's just a matter of time. It's like Ovechkin riding the golf cart under the closing garage door. Sometimes you keep your head, sometimes you don't.

-Like Santa Claus, Andrei Kostitsyn tends to give his best gifts in December.

-Plekanec is like a Transformer. Offensive dynamo one minute, devastating PKer the next. If he keeps this up, he should be a Selke candidate.

-Anyone else think the the new "Canada cheer" is the stupidest thing since Tie Domi?

-Price was hotter than the top of a bald bedouin's head until the first one beat him. He looked a bit rattled after that.

-I had a feeling the boring first would lull the Habs asleep. Now, the second has become their typically drowsy first.

-Laraque's as useless as a dildo in a convent.

-Thrashers pushed and the Habs bent over in that period. They're going to have to straighten their spines if they want a point in this one.

Hey, I didn't know so many of you were actually reading these. Thanks! So, without further ado:

Notes on the first:

-You could make a good hagis out of Metropolit. He's all heart, brains and guts.

-Laraque is like an aging starlet. He can't screw around like he used to, and his body can no longer guarantee him a job.

-And the winner of the one-pass-too-many sweepstakes: Sergei Kostitsyn.

-PING! Price is going to have to start thanking his posts, a la Roy.

-The arena in Atlanta is as lively as Hoedown Night at the rest home. And their "siren" sounds like a hotel room clock radio.

-Habs look a little bit bored. I don't like that. The Thrashers are used to playing in an energy-draining building. Habs are going to have to fight it like Dorothy in the poppy field.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Hi all...

Just a quick note. Period-by-period notes will probably end soon. It's taking some time to write them and they don't seem to be terribly interesting for the readers. It's one of those experiments that haven't worked all that well. Time to move on to something new, probably! For those of you who read them, thanks!

At Their Discretion

NHL officiating is in trouble. Teams and fans around the league are complaining about inconsistencies; missed calls on important plays like the one on the Scott Gomez goal last night, or phantom calls like a four-minute minor on Ian White of the leafs on a high stick administered by the victim's own teammate earlier in the season. That's not new. Teams and fans have been complaining about the reffing since the first organized game a hundred and fifty years ago.

These days though, there seem to be more and bigger problems with officiating than ever. I suspect there are a couple of different reasons for that perception. First, video replay leaves little room for human error. Every mistake an official makes is blown up in super-slow motion from eight different camera angles. People make mistakes, but those mistakes are magnified when they're available to be watched and re-watched at the critic's leisure. Fifty years ago, Red Storey used to just take the puck and drop it at centre. End of controversy. It's different now.

Second, parity in the league has teams fighting for every point. When an official blows a call that costs in the standings, it's exaggerated by the fans because it could end up meaning a team makes the playoffs or does not.

But, the biggest reason why I think it appears there are more officiating errors than ever is because that perception is true. The major factor at play here is the two-referee system, which requires more officials to be performing at a high level than there were ten years ago. This is complicated by the retirements of several high-profile veteran refs, and further complicated by the system's relegation of the linesmen to mere observers.

I just finished reading Ray Scapinello's biography, "Between the Lines." The long-time linesman worked in both the one-ref and two-ref systems and is a pretty good judge of how things changed with the introduction of the extra zebra. Here's what he writes:

"Since the institution of the two-referee system in 2000, the linesmen's ability to help out with certain calls has been limited; the idea being that just as the refs do their jobs, the linesmen should focus on theirs. The intent is to make for more ice coverage, to cover obstruction more closely while having an extra set of eyes for the gnarly stuff behind the play. Now linesmen can only call major penalties and bench minors. They used to be able to assist on minors or if blood was drawn. Now, hypothetically, if a linesman sees someone spear a guy in the back of the leg, and the ref misses it, the linesman can't call it. Even if the guy who gets speared turns around, drops the gloves and beats up the spearing perpetrator, the linesman still can't mention the spear. If the guy who did the spearing turtles, his team might end up with a five-minutes power play. The coach might say 'Scampy, you saw that. You saw the spear.' Yeah, I did, but there's not a damn thing I can do about it."

When a green ref is working a game and blows a call, it would help to have the input of more veteran linesmen. But that's not allowed now. Scapinello also describes the other inherent problem with the two-ref system, which he believes leads to a lot of the confusion and perception of inconsistency on the ice:

"(Under the old system) teams knew what was going to be called. Whether it was good, bad or indifferent, they knew Ron Wicks was going to call a game this way; Bill McCreary was going to call a game that way. With two officials, it's a couple of different personalities. The way I look at a hook, and you look at a hook, it may be one or not. You call it down in your end, but if it happens down in my end there's a good chance I won't call it because I don't think it's a hook. The players get confused."

All this is going to be further complicated with the anticipated influx of even more rookie refs this year and next. Last season, veterans Rob Shick and Don Koharski retired. When this year ends, Kerry Fraser, Dan Marouelli and Bill McCreary will be joining them. Those five guys are all thousand-plus NHL game referees, and that experience will be sorely missed. (Even if some Habs fans hate Fraser, he's better than some of the greenhorns.) The three retiring this year are working a reduced schedule, while spending the extra time mentoring young refs. None of them will be working the playoffs. Former NHL officiating boss Stephen Walkom says he's back on the ice this year because he missed the excitement of the game. While that may be true to a degree, I'd say there's a better than even chance he's been asked to come out of retirement because the NHL knows it's got a serious shortage of experienced refs this year. That's why guys like Chris Lee continue to get work. They might be bad, but they're better than some of the alternatives. When it comes down to it, the NHL officiating department are beggars who can't be all that choosy.

So, the question is, considering the obvious issues with the two-ref system and the shortage of qualified refs, how can the NHL make things better? There are a few things the league can do, I think.

First, give the linesmen back the power to make a call a young ref might miss if he's out of position. Many times, a veteran linesman can save a team and a ref from a big mistake if anyone is allowed to ask him.

Second, eliminate the "intent to blow the whistle" rule. He either blows the whistle or he does not. Refereeing is subject to human error. Let part of that include a ref not managing to blow the whistle as quickly as the idea crosses his mind. He's human. He didn't get a chance to blow the whistle. Goal counts. Or, he lost sight of the puck, he blew the whistle, goal doesn't count. It's pretty simple. Allowing a ref to backtrack by saying he "meant" to blow the whistle adds a completely ridiculous degree of discretion to the game.

Third, institute a challenge system. Each team would get one chance to challenge a call during a game. There may be many nights when a challenge is never used. But in games like the one against the Penguins last night, a coach should have the opportunity to have the play reviewed. If the replay shows the coach is right, the decision is reversed, if not, the faceoff comes back into his team's end.

Finally, the league needs to work harder at developing good officials. The game is one of speed and inevitable mistakes, but refereeing requires talent, just like being a top player does. The problem is, many talented young officials quit because they don't get the encouragement they need to continue in the face of on-ice abuse and fan aggression. There are signs the NHL is working to address the development of quality officials. Terry Gregson has taken over for Walkom at the league office, and he's already recognized the issue.

"We need to work more with Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to get the word out that officiating is a great way to stay involved in the game," he said after his appointment in September. "If you talk to former junior and college players, they often say, 'Gee, I never thought about that.' So, we want to reach out. We want to get people to talk about officiating and the positions that are available.

"Now not everyone will make a career of it, but we can't use a four-man system in the AHL and juniors now because we need more officials. It is an integral part of our game.

"I would like to see 15- and 16-year-old kids try it in practice and see if they like it. We have people looking for that kind of potential."

It's a good first step, but the NHL needs to be proactive on some other solutions to refereeing controversies as well. When you're dealing with people, there will always be mistakes made. But technology exists to keep those mistakes to the very minimum possible. Combining the best people with the best off-ice tools available will improve officiating. The league just needs to decide to do so and take the steps to make it happen, because right now, it's not nearly good enough.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pens vs. Habs - The Someone Stop Crosby Edition

Notes on the third:

-D'Agostini RDS interview: Have to get the puck behind their D and play as much in their end as we can. Hmm. Do they really have to have media training to say that?

-I was just wondering where O'Byrne was all night when he took that holding penalty. But, it's good to not notice your Ds, right...?

-I'm so glad to see the CH back at centre ice. May that Centennial logo be damned to the hell from whence it sprung.

-Crosby is like a national flag. It must never, ever be allowed to touch the ground without a reprimand.

-Did you SEE the Pens hacking at Spacek's knee in the crease? This is why injuries are kept under wraps.

-My lord, for large chunks of that period it was like watching priests versus altar boys.

-Price. Why? Why, after all the major league stops, why? Okay. Breathe. He stopped shots that should have been sure goals. But "stealing" means stopping the easy ones too. This is why Price will never be a shutout goalie.

-If I was a Make-A-Wish kid, my wish would be to kick Crosby in the nuts. I hate that guy.

-Hope for a win in Atlanta. This is getting serious.

Notes on the second:

-Seriously, they need to do nothing but practice passing the puck from the D to the rushing forwards. Over and over again until they get it. If rats can find the cheese in the lab maze, the Habs can do this.

-I spoke too soon on D'Agostini. Nice to see him use the shot like it should be used. Maybe he'd benefit to play on Metro's wing a little more. Whatever he does though, he's got to harness it more consistently. Patient Bob doesn't seem to be very patient this year.

-Hammer time! Duh-duh-duh-duh-da-duh-da-duh. I have no problem resurrecting 1986 in some cases.

-With Price, you just have to forget the bad goals and realize most goalies would have allowed goals on the tough shots Price stopped and stopped the sucky ones, so it would have turned out the same anyway.

-Well, it's very nice to see the Habs, depleted though they are, hanging with the champs. If this goes to OT, anything can happen.

Notes on the first:

-I notice Mathieu Dandenault has caught on with the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL, playing in a forward/D hybrid role. I hope it leads to a new NHL gig for him.

-Dressing room footage on RDS: Spacek and MAB look like Jack Sprat and his wife.

-The zone clearances have to get a LOT better. The Pens know it's coming up the boards and they play it that way.

-Hal Gill's been playing some good defensive hockey since his foot got better. But man, he's still got the turning radius of a battleship. Now that he's in Canada, will the USS Hal Gill be rechristened HMCS Hal Gill?

-Does Gonchar really need to be sitting there, laughing out loud after he scores? I hope the Habs make him eat it.

-I know it's tempting to sit back and watch the champs play with the puck, but someone's got to watch the back door and keep the robbers out.

-Ugh. Price in the Grim Reaper mask. I don't like that thing. I looks like something a sixteen-year-old would have painted on the gas tank of his Honda CR85R

-Spacek appears to be hurting. His backwards mobility is severely compromised at this point.

-D'Agostini could soon be the next guy playing himself off the team unless he does something useful soon.

-Well, it looks like the "shocked to be in a hockey game" twenty minutes to start every game has been cut to ten. They ended the period well, but wow! They have to find some finish!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

If the Fans Were In Charge

The Scene: Brian Lawton's office on a balmy December afternoon

Phone rings shrilly, interrupting Lawton's in-office putting practice

Lawton:(impatiently) Yeah? Lawton here.
Bob Gainey: Hello, Brian, it's Bob. Am I interrupting anything?
Lawton: Ah, no, no. This is a surprise, Bob. After last year's misunderstanding...
Gainey: Never mind all that. Listen, I've got a deal for you. You need to unload Lecavalier's contract, right? Well, I'm shopping. Our lineup could use a big, skilled, French centre. What's his asking price?
Lawton: Wow, Bob. You're asking me to trade our franchise guy, just after we signed him to a lifetime deal? That's a tall order.
Gainey: Give me a break, Lawton. You were ready to dump him last year. Now you have to worry about how you're going to sign Stamkos and Hedman long-term. What's Lecavalier's price?
Lawton: (sighs) Okay. Listen. If he goes, we're going to need a centre to replace him. And I have to make this look good to the fans, so I'll need a hot prospect, a couple high picks and a roster guy.
Gainey: I'll send you Gomez...
Lawton: No way! If I take that contract AND dump Vinnie, I'll be skewered. Give me Plekanec. I'll want a guy who works with him too. Kostitsyn, I think. Two firsts and Subban. There you go. That's what it'll cost.
Gainey: So, Plekanec, Kostitsyn, Subban and a couple of firsts for Lecavalier?
Lawton: Yeah. I know it's steep, but...
Gainey:(hastily) No, no! I'm faxing the papers over now. Let's get this done by Christmas. The fans will be so excited!
Lawton: Well Bob, in good conscience...and because you'll find out anyway...I have to tell you Vinnie's got some health issues. And his numbers are...well, his numbers could help you teach kids how to subtract.
Gainey: I don't care, Brian. I need that guy. He's gonna save our team.

The scene: Stan Bowman's office. Phone rings. Bowman is busy getting sized for a Cup ring, just in case. Machine kicks in.

Gainey: Hello, Stan? Stan? Are you there? Pick up, Stan. Oh, okay. You're probably at the jeweller's again. Listen, it's Bob Gainey. I know you're hurting with the cap situation right now, and our group could really use a guy like Sharpe. I'm ready to offer you Sergei Kostitsyn and Jaroslav Halak for him. I'll throw in a second too, if that's what it takes. Call me. Oh, and if you can't part with Sharpe, we'll take Seabrook instead. Say hi to your dad for me.

The Scene: Randy Sexton's office. Sexton reaches around hot ice girl on the desk and answers phone on the first ring.

Sexton: Hello, Sexton here. (panting)
Gainey: Randy, hi. It's Bob Gainey. Have I caught you in the middle of something?
Sexton: Middle of...oh, ah, no, no, not at all. (giggles nervously)
Gainey: Um, okay. Look, I heard Horton's available. I'm prepared to offer you guys Matt D'Agostini, Josh Gorges and a second for him.
Sexton: You're kidding right? Horton might not be putting up the hottest numbers ever, but he's a first-rounder. A budding power forward. Kid averages twenty-seven goals a season and he's only 24. I'm looking for a replacement centre with size, a good prospect and a first for him. If you're willing to part with Plekanec, Subban and a first, we can continue this conversation.

Awkward pause

Gainey: Yeah, well...that's not possible. What's wrong with D'Agostini? He's got some size and really good wheels. He's a sniper too. He just needs an opportunity to play top-six minutes to really come into his own. And you won't find a steadier D than Gorges. He's not the biggest guy, but he's smart.
Sexton: Well, Bob, ah...honestly, if they're so great, why are you moving them?
Gainey: What are you trying to say, Randy? The fans told me these guys are worth Horton. Are you saying our fans don't have a clue? That they have a better chance of piloting the space shuttle than they do of making an intelligent NHL trade? I'm offended, I have to say. This conversation is over.
Sexton: Wait, Bob! Don't go away mad. You...
Gainey: Talk to the hand, Randy. Talk to the hand. My other line's ringing. Maybe it's Burkie. Now, there's a guy who knows the value of good young players. (hangs up)

Back in Gainey's office:

A knock on the door

Gainey: Who is it?
Pierre Boivin: It's me, PB.
Gainey: Oh, come on in, P.

Boivin walks slowly to a chair

Gainey: Gee, you don't look so good, Pierre. Anything the matter?
Boivin: There's no easy way to say this, Bob, so I'll just come out with it. Bob, the fans are letting you go. They say your drafting isn't up to par, you let Kovalev walk despite their petition to keep him, they hate the Gomez trade and they're still mad about Ribeiro. They also think you spend half your time asleep and the other half getting abused by Glen Sather. I'm so sorry, Bob.

Silence descends. After a few minutes:

Boivin: Bob, say something, please.
Gainey: So, who's taking my place?
Boivin: The fans have requested Pierre McGuire. I'm sorry.
Gainey:(breaking into hysterical laughter) Pierre...ha ha ha...McGuire?? Ha, ha, ha! You're kidding, right? I can't wait to see what happens when he falls out of love with his players. Thanks, Pierre. I can smile again. Now, I'll just get my stuff...

Habs vs. Sens - Jaro's Redemption Edition

Notes on the third:

-Lots of space on the Habs bench. It's like Star Trek after the red shirts have been picked off.

-Pax is developing such a nice patience with the puck.

-Jaro is sucking up pucks like a plecostomus sucks up the crap from your fish tank.

-Way to go Habs. Three in a row. Let's make it four.

Notes on the second:

-If Laraque is still on this team in two months, it's not making the playoffs. He's a more useless waste of money than the time the government spent twenty million giving Canadians free flags.

-Habs are now getting penalties for wearing white after Labour Day, apparently.

-The lack of Habs PPs is starting to make me think Tocchet's got money on this one.

-I've ragged on MAB's defensive abilities (or lack thereof) often, but I think if he can find a Streit-like niche on the fourth line and on the PP, the team will be better for his presence. D'iberville didn't have such good cannon.

-OB's getting much, much better at punishing people trying to steal his blueline. He's Pat Garrett to the opposition's Billy the Kid.

-Shots 31 to 16? Either the Habs are the most efficient team in the league on shooting percentage, or the shot-counters are dumbing them down to make them look like heroes.

-The Canadiens operate under adversity with the aplomb of Job. Here's hoping they can carry it on, down two men, for another twenty.

Notes on the first:

-Well, the habitual period of suckitude at the beginning of the game seems to be getting shorter. That's a good sign.

-If Kovy *really* loved the Habs, he'd stop trying to score against them.

-For those who say Gainey didn't address the D issues, just imagine the team with Markov gone and no Spacek? Yeah. Last April comes to mind like the last scene in "Misery."

-Hey Sergei! Spezza doesn't need the help!

-Not hard to tell it's Ottawa, when you can't distinguish who's got the puck by the sound of the crowd.

-Wow, Gomez burns through centre like the Octomom through her fifteen minutes of fame. Too bad he ALWAYS peels off to the wing after he crosses the line though.

-RDS on the bench with Perry Pearn. So *that's* what he looks like.

-If Metro's not careful, he'll put himself out of the running for the team's "unsung hero" award. He's getting a little too "sung" these days, for good reason.

-Pleks and Cammy go together like ham and cheese. Obviously, Cammy's the cheese.

-There has to be a balance between Jaro and Carey that will keep them both happy. Jaro, with semi-regular work is a fine backup I'd like to keep.

-Nice first, relative to how firsts have been going lately. Let's hope last night's game doesn't start to tell on the legs in the next twenty.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Flyers vs. Habs - Back to Business Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-AKostitysn's shot should be noted in the long-gun registry.

-Good to see the refs don't just suck against the Habs. The Pronger trip on Cammalleri was weak, at best.

-Gomez has an uncomfortable habit of passing back to his D-men from the neutral zone. These guys aren't expecting that much creativity.

-You have to give MAB credit. When the D takes injuries, he manages to step up. And his shot could be used to sight a rifle.

-The Flyers look like they're feeling sorry for themselves. I hope they're sorry for the next fifty games or so.

-It seems the Centennial-party hangover is actually a GOOD thing. If I'm still feeling it, why shouldn't they?

Notes on the second:

-Note to Carey: Stop pretending you're a D. You're not that good at handling the puck, you showoff.

-Pleks channelling Gretzky in the office behind the net, and AK playing the role of Kurri. Bravo! Encore!

-Sergei Kostitsyn can handle the puck like Faberge handled eggs.

-Pacioretty's gonna be a player. He's getting smarter every game.

-On now at the Bell Centre: Buy one puck, get two for free. It's a Canadiens giveaway special!

-Lapierre passed on a 2-on-1. It's a Christmas miracle. It comes to pass...and a goal is born.

-Uncle Bob gave us our present early. It was a slightly-used Cammelleri, and we loved it.

-MAB was crumpled like a paper doll at least twice in that period. He's got to be hurting.

-Very nice period. Now the challenge of not playing shut-down in the third. Remember how well that worked against the Caps, guys?

Notes on the first:

-Ugh. I hate staged fights. Laraque's not even landing on top anymore. It's like watching an aging Sandra Bullock playing a twenty-something on the big screen.

-Flyers look like they're training for the Olympics in cycling.

-Metro's got the moves! He's slicker than a mountain road in January.

-Well, the number 20 thing isn't working out so well for O'Byrne so far. How the hell can a guy who's a full foot taller than Briere fail to control that little weasel? What a crappy goal to give up.

-Habs' O looks like it's got a Centennial-party hangover.

-Flyers look like they've lost a ton of games lately, and this game is still Montreal's for the taking. They can't afford to let the Bullies get confidence in the second, though.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Oh, What a Night!

Today I went to the grocery store and in the lineup ahead of me were two guys; one wearing a Habs jacket, the other a Bruins cap. They eyed each other a couple of times, then sheepishly nodded, smiled and started to talk about the Centennial game. The funny thing was, they never talked about who won or lost at all. They were enthusing about the ceremony and the night itself. "Did you see the crowd when Roy skated out?" "Did you see Dryden take shots?" "It was pretty cool when Savard, Robinson and Lapointe were all out there together." "Good old Knuckles." "How about Naslund? He burned our team so often!"

The night was perfect because it wasn't just about the Habs. It was about hockey and how the game has survived the trials and tribulations of decades to become the national passion it is now. Watching the men who helped build the game and make us love it was appealing to all fans, whether they love or hate the Canadiens on ordinary nights. It reminded me of the famous Christmas Eve truce in the WWI trenches when peace between warring factions held sway for one special evening.

There were so many perfect moments, but the ones that stood out for me included:

-Eddy Palchak coming out with the bucket of pucks as though he did it yesterday.

-Patrick Roy leading the team out, then the moment of shock when the crowd realized who it was, followed by the massive standing ovation.

-Roy's CBC interview, in which he told Ron McLean he had to squeeze his older face into the mask.

-Butch Bouchard and Elmer Lach clutching each other's hands as the crowd's cheering swelled to a crescendo.

-The O'Byrne gesture, removing his sweater just as the Bouchard banner hit the rafters.

-Cammalleri, Metropolit and two or three others hanging out in the tunnel from the dressing room in shorts and t-shirts, watching the video highlight tributes.

-The team picture. (I HAVE to get a copy of that!)

-Jaro Halak waiting by the gate until Patrick Roy came by, then waylaying him for a quick word.

-Mike Cammalleri riding the wave of emotion during the ovation after his hat-trick goal, and just mouthing, "Wow."

-Metropolit's joy after scoring for his favourite team on its most special night.

-The gesture at the end, when all the players gathered at centre ice and acknowledged the fans.

It was a perfect night. For the Habs, for hockey and for us.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Habs!

If you're lucky enough to live to be a hundred, you get a letter from the Queen. That's because a lot can happen in a hundred years and not everyone makes it. Generations rise and fall. Wars, depressions, technology, discoveries and dynasties come and go. Glory is transient, and anything that lasts a century deserves respect and admiration.

So, today is a day of celebration. The Montreal Canadiens were born in war and survived the Great Depression. They've seen owners come and go, and they've broken in five different arenas. They've entrenched the goalie mask, the butterfly and the two-minute-or-less minor penalty in the modern game. They've lived through the Spanish Flu and succumbed to TB. They changed logos, uniforms and players, and nearly folded at least twice. But, as happens over the course of a century, what started as an idea has became an institution.

The Canadiens are more than a hockey team. They are the inspiration for art, poetry and music. They are organic. The team exalted Maurice Richard, who inspired Roch Carrier, whose story became part of the childhood of millions of Canadian children and provided the backdrop for Canada's five-dollar bill. The team made Jean Beliveau a hero and he, in turn, used his celebrity to change thousands of lives through his charitable work and goodwill gestures.

They are in the hearts of leaders, professionals, children and bums. They unite people all over the world who speak the language of hockey and they symbolize a culture. They ignite collectors, inspire dreamers and animate memories.

The Canadiens have been called a religion, and a part of the fabric of Canada. They are indeed those things to some people. For others, they are a great passion and an eternal hope. Shakespeare said all the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. In Montreal, the Canadiens are the stage. The players move on and off, but the team remains. We might love the players, but the sweater is what matters.

So, happy Centennial, Montreal Canadiens. Thanks for everything. It's been a hell of a hundred years, and if the next hundred are half as good, it'll still be worthy of celebration.

Get our your pen, Your Highness. You've got a birthday letter to write.