Sunday, January 30, 2011

All Stars

Well, if there's one thing we learned from the All-Star weekend, it's that when All-Star defencemen stop playing defence, the result is scarily similar to a regular Montreal Canadiens game. The number of opponents sailing unmolested into Carey Price's crease and the reluctance of the Ds to move them out of there was familiar stuff for the Habs goalie. On the forward side, the desire to pass instead of shoot by the majority of guys in the NHL's prepackaged version of shinny must mean the Habs are really a bunch of All Stars in disguise.

At the end of All-Star weekend, we can be proud that both Carey Price and P.K.Subban acquitted themselves well. They were gracious in interviews, skilled...and, in Subban's case, funny and endearing...on the ice and seemed to be having fun in the company of the best players in the game. (Or at least the ones without concussions, family concerns or other reasons for skipping the love-in.) Neither player got hurt and Price's workload hopefully wasn't great enough to have much effect on his real games this week.

As for the weekend itself, it, as usual, left something to be desired. While there were certainly highlights, like Subban donning Skinner's sweater, Chara's amazing slapper, Sedin's brilliant accuracy and goalie races(!), the one moment that will stand out for many fans was one that made us squirm. Anything that makes a Habs fan feel sorry for a leaf is not a good thing, and that's what happened when we watched Phil Kessel get picked last in the draft. There had to be a better way to do that, whether by drawing the names out of a hat or, if they really wanted to play pond hockey, by throwing the sticks in a pile and picking them randomly. There was nothing enjoyable for fans in watching a man be embarrassed before his peers at an event that was supposed to be honouring him.

Other little things, like the wires all over the ice, the malfunctioning radar gun and the failure to give players a clear signal when to start their skills events, weren't as serious, but contributed to making the super skills feel a bit disjointed and amateurish.

The biggest problem with this year's edition of the All-Star game, however, is that it was part of a mildly disturbing trend toward creating a hockey myth that doesn't really exist beyond the imaginations of NHL marketers. The idea of young players spending all their spare time playing hockey on a frozen outdoor surface, with every kid on the street entering and leaving the game according to various supper times, is a lovely story. It was true once. The generation of players in the NHL now, however, really never lived that. They were taken to scheduled practices by their parents or neighbours, and they played in scheduled games in intertown tournaments. They grew up in suburbs, with postage-stamp backyards not big enough for a rink, and the ponds didn't freeze until sometime after Christmas and thawed again by March.

The true stories behind these All-Stars are, for the most part, boring. Sure, there are exceptions, like Martin St.Louis' tale of perserverance in the face of naysayers, and Tim Thomas' roundabout route to the NHL. Those stories, though, are about overcoming great personal barriers. They're not about the shared national myth we're being told they're reliving at events like the "pond hockey" All-Star game.

The NHL's desire to play outdoors at the Heritage and Classic games, and to have All-Star captains choose their teams, comes from a plan to steal our fathers' hockey history and sell it back to us in a slick, sentimental package that's meant to convince us NHL players have the same story as we do. They didn't, for the most part, live that story, and neither did we.

This re-branding of the hockey dream doesn't really hurt anyone, of course. It's just a bit off-putting to know that the warm and fuzzy recreations of the game's roots the league is feeding us are really designed to sell us something.

It's good to have the festival of non-contact hockey over with for another year. The Canadiens will hit the ice again this week as the stretch drive draws closer. There will be defensive breakdowns that leave Carey Price hanging, and there will be one too many passes on 2-on-1s, just like the ones that happened in his twenty minutes of All-Star play. It doesn't matter though, because the games, despite their imperfections, will mean something. The players will be trying their asses off to win, and that, NHL, is what hockey is really all about. That's what fans want. The honesty of effort, sweat and giving it all for your team is the real story of hockey. It'll be good to see it again.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Habs Notebook: All Star Edition

A few thoughts as we stare down a weekend without real hockey:

-P.K.Subban's attendance at the festivities in Raleigh could have a beneficial effect on his reputation around the league. He'll get a chance to show off his skills in a setting where showing off is welcome, but, more importantly, he'll have the opportunity to share ice in a casual setting with some of the guys who've been critical of him. Perhaps if someone like Mike Richards sees Subban up close, without the blinders of competition limiting his view of the kid, he'll realize Subban is not an ass; he's just an enthusiastic rookie.

-It's unfortunate that Carey Price has to give up a week of R&R to take part in the All-Star weekend. As one of the busiest goalies in the league, and his team's most valuable player, he really could have used the time off. The really unfortunate side effect for fans is that we now will get suckered into watching the "draft" by the all-star team captains, just to see who picks Price and when.

-Most real fans deplore the All-Star game because it's not real hockey and it adds to the workload of the league's best players. There are a couple of side benefits for the players, though. For one thing, south of the border, where hockey is often the fifth or sixth most popular sport, it's a rare occurrence for even star players to get the spotlight all to themselves. The red-carpet treatment is a nice perque in exchange for giving up their weekend to glorify the league. This kind of event also gives the players who will one day be the movers and shakers behind the scenes a chance to make contacts and develop relationships that will serve them well when their playing days are over. Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake were once the guys who networked at All-Star weekends. So were Joe Nieuwendyk and Steve Yzerman. In the insular world of hockey, where it's not what you know, but who you know, those connections can be important.

-Even if you're not a Sidney Crosby fan, you have to be appalled that the reason he's not at the All-Star game is because he's dealing with a concussion...and even more appalled that there seems to be so little reaction to that by the NHL brass. In a time when head injuries are forcing players out of the game, it was irresponsible and stupid for the Penguins to allow Crosby back on the ice after the original head shot from David Steckel. It was negligent of the league not to make an example of Steckel in this situation. Crosby, love him or hate him, is the face of the NHL and probably the best all-round player in the world. If he can be hit in the head and knocked out of the game with relative impunity, what chance does the average player have? Crosby's injury gave the league an opportunity to act decisively on the matter of head shots and it failed miserably. Colin Campbell's ineffective and unpredictable meting out of justice is doing nothing to help stem a problem that's destroying some fine hockey players.

-This week on the run-up to the All-Star game, Kirk Muller was in the news because some of the Montreal media have clued into the fact that some other team will probably hire him as a head coach this summer. The only surprise there is that it's taken so long for that realization to surface. Muller had a big role in preparing the team for last year's playoff run, which didn't go unnoticed by GMs around the league. He's a serious competitor who doesn't see himself in an assistant's role for much longer. And he knows as long as Pierre Boivin is running the show, anybody in line for the Canadiens head coaching position must speak French. The only thing that could make a difference to Muller's decision to depart, should he, as expected, get coaching offers this summer, is Geoff Molson's arrival as club president. Molson is young, a Habs fan as well as an owner, and an astute businessman who's more likely to choose the right man as coach, rather than base his choice on language. If he can give Muller reason to believe he will succeed Martin behind the Habs bench, Kirk might be patient and stay. Otherwise, he's gone and the Habs will be poorer for it.

-At the All-Star break, the Canadiens are ten points better than they were at the same time last year. A lot of people are getting really excited about that because it must mean the team is better than it was then, right? As it turns out, the Habs' 59 points in 50 games is actually on par with their performance for each of the last five years, barring last season. The team was lucky last year that the rest of the Eastern Conference also performed poorly, and the Canadiens were able to scrape into eighth with a low 88 points. This season, even though the Habs are putting up more points, so is the rest of the conference. After an anomoly last year, things have returned to normal in the East which means the Habs are still fighting for a playoff spot. The Canadiens will likely need about 35 points in the remaining 32 games to secure a berth in the postseason as a low seed. They'll probably need 40-44 to catch the Bruins for the division.

-After the All-Star break, the next big item on Pierre Gauthier's agenda is the trade deadline. If the Canadiens are on track for a playoff position, he's got to decide whether to spend the money he's got because of Andrei Markov's injury and become an asset buyer. It's likely Gauthier won't be interested in a rental player. If he does move at the deadline, it will be for someone whom he can likely re-sign and who fits a pretty stringent list of criteria including youth, cap number, character and skillset. If there's nobody Gauthier can get to add to the team beyond this spring, he won't likely make a big move just to fund a playoff run that may or may not get out of the first round.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Aftermath: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Forrest Gump's mama wasn't wrong when she told her boy stupid is as stupid does. If she had felt the need to illustrate that statement, she could have shown him the latter half of the first period of last night's Habs vs.Flyers game. As has become typical when these two teams meet, play started out fairly evenly, until the Canadiens took three stupid penalties in succession, gave up two goals on a couple of 5-on-3s and gave up the ghost shortly after.

The pattern is clear. The explanation for it isn't. The easy answer is the Flyers are just simply a better team. They have three lines of scoring depth and a dirty, hardworking fourth line. They have two solid defensive veterans in Pronger and Timonen and a couple of young blueline studs in Coburn and Carle. Their goalie's rarely threatened because the forwards have the puck all the time, so all he has to do is be decent, which he is.

That's the easy answer. Rarely, however, is anything as simple as the easy answer. The Canadiens, after all, shut out that same Flyers team in their first meeting of the season. The Canucks, too, are probably a better team than the Habs overall, but they got the same result. In both cases, the Canadiens prevailed because they worked like dogs. Everybody skated, everybody tried. They got great goaltending, they scored powerplay goals and they scored first. That's the formula the Canadiens need to follow if they're going to win against better teams.

What we saw last night was the Habs succumbing to laziness; Kryptonite to a game plan that requires outworking the other team. The simplest, and probably most effective, way to tell which team is skating harder is to look at who gets to loose pucks first. Last night, most of the time, it was the team wearing eye-scalding orange. That meant the Canadiens were trying to catch up and take the puck off a team that's very good at holding onto it. Those lazy, stupid penalties were the result of all that skating from behind. Going down two PP goals was pretty much game over for the Canadiens.

It's tempting to get frustrated after a game like that because it seems to underline the Habs' weaknesses and prove they're not a contender for the Cup. While we know they can beat the Flyers, we also know it's not likely the Canadiens would prevail in a best-of-seven series unless they can consistently outskate, outwork and outgoal them. So while we may be frustrated, we can hope Pierre Gauthier sees a game like this as a measuring stick as he tries to address some of his team's needs.

The comparison between the Habs and the Flyers is most glaring at the centre position. Jeff Carter is big, strong, crashes the net and scores a lot of goals. Mike Richards is tough, strong and crashes the net. Daniel Briere is crafty and fast and is well able to score. In comparison, Tomas Plekanec matches up well with Briere. After that, the Habs are weak. Lars Eller is a big boy, and he showed some jam against the Flyers. He's just a kid, though, and needs seasoning before he's playing a bigger role on offence. David Desharnais is gritty and goes to the net, but he's small. Scott Gomez is expensive and too often a liability.

Looking at that comparison, it's clear Gomez has to go. His ill-advised penalties cost the Habs in the playoffs last year and continue to do so. His production is dropping as well. He put up fewer than sixty points in the last two seasons, and is on pace for less than fifty this year. A team in a cap world simply cannot have more than seven-million dollars worth of salary tied up in a single player who puts up only fifty points.

The chief argument in Gomez' favour is that he's one of the few Canadiens who can take the puck through the neutral zone at speed. The problem is, when he gets where he's going, he does nothing with it. It happens so often that you have to wonder what's the point? Look at him next to Jeff Carter: Carter's younger, bigger and is on pace for 35 goals. Right there you see one of the major differences between Montreal and Philly. The Canadiens need a centreman who can score goals and really lead the first line. Plekanec is a great two-way man, but his split focus means his offence probably isn't as potent as it could be. There are rumours Gauthier is after Jason Arnott, but that's a temporary fix and possibly not even a fix at all. Brad Richards will be UFA this summer, but chances are good the Stars will re-sign him because there's no better centre coming onto the market. Louis Leblanc might be a guy who can compete against teams like the Flyers, but he's likely two or three years away in his development. It's possible to send an offer to an RFA centre like T.J.Oshie or Brandon Dubinsky. That, however would open the Habs to relaliatory offers on guys like Max Pacioretty and Benoit Pouliot.

The weakness at centre must be addressed, and if it can't happen through free agency, reasonable trade or from within the organization, then Gauthier must get rid of Gomez and bolster the centres he's got with better wingers instead. He'll need Gomez' cap money to do that. Either way, Gomez is not bringing enough to the team for what he costs, and must go if the Canadiens are to improve right now.

The other potential reality we might have to accept is that this edition of the team was never meant to win a Cup. We have to consider that Bob Gainey brought in the free agents he did two years ago in order to keep the team respectably competitive as it waits for the players who are the real hope of the future to develop. Subban, Pacioretty and Price are all players who could be a big part of a contender in the next five years. Josh Gorges and Tomas Plekanec will be valuable veterans. Pouliot, Weber and Eller are young enough to develop into important pieces of the puzzle. Then there are the unknowns; the guys who will make the difference between more "almost" years and real contending seasons: Leblanc, Danny Kristo, Aaron Palushaj, Jarred Tinordi. If those guys come through, along with whomever the team picks this year and next, the Habs will be better ready to meet teams like the Flyers.

In the meantime, the Habs are what they are: a better-than-average team with a depleted defence and weakness up the middle. If Gauthier can find a way to address that weakness on the top line by using Gomez' money to strengthen the forward corps, the Canadiens might compete sooner rather than later. If he doesn't, the team won't improve until the new wave of players arrives. That means we'll have to put up with games against good teams, when our guys aren't outworking their opponents. When that happens, we'll get outcomes like last night's, because, as Mrs.Gump said, stupid is as stupid does. And taking it easy against a team like Philly is pretty stupid.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Habs vs. Flyers - Vacation Eve Edition

Notes on the third:

-This stinks. I'm going to bed.

Notes on the second:

-Measuring hope for a comeback in this is akin to measuring the distance between the hull of the Titanic and the iceberg.

-The 2003 draft looks the worst against Philly. Jeff Carter or Andrei Kostitsyn? Hmmm...who to pick?

-Excellent! Habs are even letting the Flyer goon in on the action.

-I hate seeing proof that the Canadiens aren't going to win the Cup again this year. Seeing it dressed in orange makes it worse.

-If Desharnais can score against the Flyers, he can score against anybody. Hope the Habs keep him.

-Laugh of the night: Gill congratulating DD. Looked like he had to kneel to pat the rookie on the head.

-Man, the Habs are just getting owned here, and I'm not betting it's because their minds are already on vacation. This is uglier than blasted Britney Spears with that snake around her neck.

-Oh, hey! Two minutes to go in the second, and Pacioretty just showed up! Good for him.

-When you're down to Gionta shooting from the point, it's not going well.

-To watch the third or not? That is the question. Being something of a masochist, and knowing there are no games for a week, I'll probably stay for the whole scourging.

Notes on the first:

-When you're *expecting* to get bitch-slapped, you can brace yourself for it.

-Why is it that whatever they're calling the Spectrum these days seems to have chicken wire instead of glass behind the benches? It feels like they should be singing "Rawhide" while drunk patrons chuck beer bottles at them.

-Oh, Wiz! You can't pass blind in front of the net like that! Sammy Davis would have made a better pass.

-Hey! It's a replay of the playoffs. Even start, then idiot Gomez takes an idiot penalty. Fortunately, this time an equally idiotic Flyer goes too.

-Awesome Spectrum crowd booing Subban. They have to be the nastiest fans in the league. I hope P.K. buries at least one goal and two Flyers before the night is over.

-Plekanec wants a goal badly. He secretly loathes these guys like the Queen loathes commoners.

-I don't know if I'm the only one who would dearly love to butt-end Mike Richards in the mouth. Just to stop the sneer, if nothing else.

-Weber's getting better with each game. He nailed Shelley a good one there.

-Yup. It's the playoffs all over again. Dumbass penalties, and OH, surprise! Flyers score on a 5-on-3. Twice.

-It'd be nice if our team would EVER win a crucial faceoff.

-I was wrong. Expecting to get bitch-slapped doesn't make it any easier.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jacques Martin's Secret Notes

I bet you've probably been wondering what Jacques Martin is actually looking at when he pulls that folded sheet of paper from the inside pocket of his jacket during games. We'll probably never really find out, and if we did, it'd probably be boring. That leaves us free to imagine the top ten most likely things contained in Martin's secret notes. Here's a guess:

10. When in doubt, Moen to the first line.

9. Muller Muller bo buller, banana fana fo fuller, fee fi mo muller, Muller!

8. Solid suit, striped shirt, solid tie. Striped suit, solid shirt, patterned tie.

7. Bench Subban Eller.

6. We're losing tonight, but at least I'm out of Ottawa.

5. Ohm.

4. I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

3. To Do: Pick up gel, return call from Battle of the Blades, make quiche, convince Melnyk Pierre McGuire would be a great GM, Russian lesson

2. I'm on a horse.

And the number one item in Jacques Martin's secret notes:

1. Roses are red and violets are blue. I might be dull, but I'm richer than you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Aftermath: Political Correctness

Last night's game was kind of like watching a bunch of Grade Sixes on Remembrance Day. They know it's a solemn occasion, but they have absolutely no concept of war or what those guys in the uniforms are really all about. Their air is respectful, with no real idea of why that's so.

Four guys in last night's lineup...Price, Plekanec, Kostitsyn and Hamrlik...were captained by Saku Koivu in Montreal. The rest of the players knew Koivu's return was special to the fans, but had no personal involvement in the emotion surrounding it. Yet, they didn't want to shrug and say, "Who cares?" So they ended up coming out to their home fans' cheers for an opponent and looked like they weren't quite sure how to proceed from there.

Neither did Koivu, whose three minors were the product of some screwed up emotion, combined with bad officiating. I don't usually crap on the refs because they do have a hard job, and things tend to even out in the end most of the time. Last night's calls, though, were particularly brutal, on both sides. The worst was the holding call in the first on Max Pacioretty, when all he did was lift his arm over the Ducks player to get around him. The goal Anaheim scored on that PP made the difference. The third call on Koivu, the one that allowed the Habs to pull Price and tie the game up on the PP with 17 seconds to go, was also pretty weak.

Pacioretty, despite the penalty, was a real force last night. He's discovered he's a big man and if he goes to the net, he will score a lot of those dirty goals like the two he popped against the Ducks. Since his call up from Hamilton, he's blossomed into the first-round talent he was supposed to be. It'd be interesting to see him on a line with Desharnais, who could find him with uncanny accuracy in Hamilton. Scott Gomez is too inconsistent and unpredictable for a kid to read. Also, Desharnais makes fewer incomprehensible decisions than Gomez does.

It may be time for the Goat to bring in another defenceman. Roman Hamrlik is doing a good job holding the fort with all the injuries, but he and Jaro Spacek really show their age in those back-to-back games. Hammer looked tired and he was reaching with his stick more than skating. As a result, he played some pretty soft D. As the season moves toward crunch time, defensive help for those guys could make the difference between playoffs or not.

It's too bad last night's emotional jag had to end with the lousy shootout. Sometimes there are games that should really end in a tie, and that was one of them. Saku Koivu's team got the two points, though, and a strange night ended with some money changing hands in the Ducks' room and a smiling former captain. Looking back, it's a good thing Remembrance Day only comes once a year.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ducks vs. Habs - Koivu Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-Gionta has missed more chances than Gill gets in a year.

-Subban looks afraid to shoot.

-If that was a hook on Pouliot, then Martin's a snappy dresser. Reffing is really terrible tongiht.

-I used to get excited when I saw Gomez with a clear path to the net. I've learned.

-I miss Gorges. Markov too, but I don't really remember him very well. The old Ds are really hurting in the second half of back-to-backs.

-Unfreakingbelievable. Darche with the tip and Pax with the unreal tying goal.

-Shots 23-5. Just unreal.

-Damn shootout. Hate the thing because none of the Habs can score on it.

Notes on the second:

-Now that the emotion is over, the Habs have to get down to winning this.

-Poor Pierre Houde sounds like he's got a mouthful of tacks when he tries to say Wisniewski's shot got blocked by Visnovsky.

-Some very terrible d-zone play going on in the Habs' end. They look like half the team is on tape delay.

-Pacioretty's last two goals have gone in with less room than Rita McNeil leaves in an airplane seat.

-Just discovered RDS is nearly a full minute behind CBC. How the hell does that happen?

-That puck bouncing in the air like that would have gone in on Price last year.

-Lots of rookie mistakes lead to the Ducks second goal. Martin must be wishing he could afford to bench somebody.

-Gomez must have expended all his weekly effort last night.

-Pleks could have picked a better time for a totally brain dead penalty.

-Another horrible effort on D by Hamrlik, and another terrible goal with less than 20 seconds to go. Sometimes I want to smack this team.

Notes on the first:

-I think it'd suck to come back as a Duck.

-Lapierre must be so rotted tonight that his return is nothing in comparison with Koivu's.

-Nice hand for Koivu, but a little stragne the team didn't officially acknowledge his return.

-Hiller's mask makes him look like an unscary Darth Vader.

-There's a candidate for the most ridiculous call of the year: Ducks hold P.K.'s stick until he's forced to yank it back. The kickback swings up and hits a Duck and Subban gets the call.

-Wiz looking good on the PK

-Candidate number two for most ridiculous call of the year: Pax for holding, while trying to get around a guy. Unreal. And, of course, Hamrlik scores for the Ducks.

-Nervous period. Habs need to get it together for the second.

On Saku

Long-ago stranger in a frozen land,
Untested, fresh and brilliant, living dreams
Of heroes and of glory and of stars.
Then touched in youth by Fate's capricious hand,
He learned by heart the cruelty of Her schemes,
His dignity untarnished by his scars.

On blackest nights a steadfast, glowing spark,
Though burdened by defeat and shrill demand
With sweat of brow and beat of heart he fought
To nurture hope when all around was dark.
Unbowed in times when others failed to stand
He earned a love that can't be cheaply bought.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Habs vs.Sens - Bulldogs Edition

Notes on the third:

-Habs killed that 5-on-3 like the Devils killed hockey in the '90s.

-Kostitsyn picking up the garbage. One must think, if he couldn't play hockey, he would, in fact, be a garbageman.

-Actually had a moment of worry about Neil's eye. Then thought he's an idiot for not wearing a visor.

-Price is just playing for his stats now.

-Close-up of Murray in the press box on his blackberry. Is he texting Clouston to turn in his keys after the game?

-Moen gets smashed, and White avenges his teammate with moderate success.

-P.K. with the bomb. Hope everyone is happy he didn't celebrate the Habs' seventh goal.

-A good result, and the big lead allowed Martin to roll his lines. Hopefully they're ready for Habs West tomorrow.

Notes on the second:

-Uh penalties in the first. Chris Lee is going to start getting antsy to earn his money soon.

-Now THAT'S what Gomez is paid to do, and a great finish by the Captain.

-Engqvist came so close to his first NHL goal, he'll be mentally kicking himself all night. "Engqvist" is hard to type.

-First PP, and there's Pax, right back where he got killed last game. Brave man rewarded with soft goal.

-It's scary when Price gets a big lead and then gets adventurous with the puck.

-Speaking of adventurous, P.K.'s gonna hear it from Jacques the Knife for passing out in front of his own net.

-PLEKS! That breakaway was sweeter than Mary Poppins.

-DD must be so excited to play on a PP of this quality. Bet he feels like he's dreaming.

-The second game in a row Gill's the second guy to go to put the Habs down two men. Not good.

-If Plekanec was dying, the last thing he'd do would be knock the puck to safety on a PK.

Notes on the first:

-Pouliot seems none the worse for wear...and a great pass by Darche.

-Engqvist's first NHL shift's not much to write home about. He and White look a bit like Babes in Toyland.

-Plekanec's shot is not so much a cannon as a rifle. In the end, though, they both kill.

-Pacioretty is tough as possum meat.

-Is there a pass Plekanec can't make? Amazing. And is there anyone who can finish them? Equally amazing.

-One defensive breakdown, and, of course, the Neil/Kelly combo is all over it.

-Moen's playing softer than plush.

-Eller's looking good with Plekanec. But then, who doesn't?

-Major defensive troubles in the last half of that period will have to be fixed, pronto, for the second.

Feelings...Whoa, Whoa, Whoa...Feelings

Not long ago, I spoke with an old friend of Jacques Martin's. Ron Davidson has known Martin for a long time, and he coaches alongside him at Martin's summer hockey clinic every year. If anyone knows about why Martin does the things he does, it's him.

In the course of our conversation, Davidson mentioned how much the Canadiens' coach loves working with young players, and how Martin thinks teaching is one of the best parts of his job. That was a bit hard to reconcile with the benchings of guys like Ryan O'Byrne and Sergei Kostitsyn, but listening to the logic behind those moves as understood by Davidson, it made some sense. He said Martin tries to make the players understand what he wants, but if they're not getting it they can't be allowed to hurt the team in game situations. The coach, apparently, believes a player who made a mistake deserves a chance to make up for it, but only if he's mentally strong enough to put the first mistake out of his head. Some players get nervous and dwell and just feel more pressure if they're sent out again right away.

Okay. Fine. I'll buy that maybe P.K.Subban is able to instantly move on after a mistake and make up for it on the next shift, while Ryan O'Byrne gets down on himself and makes another mistake. It's harder to understand why Martin never shows any emotion behind the bench.

I asked Davidson why that is. Why does Martin always look like a big-eared automaton, whether the team is up four goals or going into OT after blowing a four-goal lead? Why does he never react, no matter how stupid the penalty call that puts his team in a hole, or how vicious the foul that puts one of his players out of action? Why does he just stand there during timeouts, staring at the clock while Kirk Muller huddles around the white board with the team, drawing up the play?

The answer, according the Martin's buddy, is that the coach is too emotional. Davidson says Martin wants to win very, very badly. In Ottawa, during timeouts, he would attempt to communicate his plan but would be so nervous he found it difficult to make himself understood. He learned from that experience that it's better for him to let the assistant coach talk during those situations. As for yelling at the refs or his players, that's just not his style.

I understood Martin a little bit better after having spoken with Davidson. But I can't help wishing he'd let some of the deep passion for winning his friend says he feels show sometimes. When a ref lets a blatant foul against the Habs go, then calls a borderline penalty to put the Canadiens down a man, I wish Martin would let him have it. Not all the time...lord knows we don't need another Carbo, whining after every call...but when something really egregious happens, it'd be nice for the coach to let the ref know he screwed up. It probably wouldn't really work to make the officials think twice about calling another penalty against the Canadiens, but Martin should do it for the sake of his team. If the coach blew up at a ref at a time when the team feels particularly wronged, it would let the players know the coach has their backs and maybe inspire some righteous push-back on the bench.

Martin should also show a little more feeling when answering reporters' questions designed to stir up controversy. This week, for example, a journalist asked Martin about P.K.Subban's celebration of his OT goal against the Flames. Martin said something benign about Subban "learning to be a pro" and having "talked to him about it." The implication was that Martin wasn't really thrilled with the kid's exuberance and thought Subban should have toned it down. That's just the kind of fuel that builds the fire in the bellies of the "Subban's too cocky" crowd. What Martin should have said was "This kid just scored a huge overtime goal to give us two really important points. He was thrilled, and so was I. He can celebrate however he wants to in that case." His wishy-washy answer, while probably designed to defuse emotion around the Subban debate, came across as a lack of support for the young player.

Sometimes, a calm presence is exactly what a team needs behind the bench. It keeps a team from panic when things are going wrong. It's not always the best thing, though. There are occasions when players need to feel like their coach is standing up for them, because, sometimes, players will go the extra mile for a guy they think has their backs.

When Ron Wilson got fined for breaching the salary cap after he offered his players money for a win over the Sharks, there was a sense of disapproval from players around the league. A couple of them tweeted that players love it when a coach does that, because he makes himself part of the team. The leafs went out hard that night because, for that night, Wilson was one of their own, on the same level.

That said, it's probably not a great idea for a head coach to be too collegial with his players. If he is, he won't be taken seriously when it's time to be a hardass and he'll lose the respect of the room. On the other hand, he can lose the players just as easily by keeping himself apart from them at all times.

Jacques Martin gets a lot of flack for his boring System, which, while I have to agree is often sleep-inducing, I must admit is also probably responsible for allowing the team to compete despite major injury problems. He gets just as must grief for coming across as an emotionless drone. His friend, Ron Davidson, says that's not the case at all. He says the Martin he knows is a driven and passionate competitor. If that's true, it would be really nice if he'd let it show once in a while.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Aftermath: Man Down

Scott Gomez is getting credit today for his willingness to stand up and take the blame for his stupid, thoughtless penalty with less than a minute to go against the Sabres last night; a penalty that possibly cost his team the second point in a desperate war of attrition. Certainly, Gomez was right to admit he made a costly mistake. He was wrong, however, to have made the mistake in the first place. Gomez is a veteran and a team leader. He spent the game watching teammates fall around him, and he witnessed the gutsy response of the guys left standing. It was his job to keep a lid on his temper and suck it up when annoying little Nathan Gerbe tried to goad him into doing exactly what he did.

Witness the difference between Gomez' response to adversity versus that of the captain. Brian Gionta, saved from being the smallest guy on the ice by virtue of sharing it with David Desharnais and Gerbe, went into the corner with huge Paul Gaustad with the game on the line. He battled cleanly and used his body to come up with the puck while Gaustad tried to separate his head from his neck. Or consider, if you will, the reaction of rookie Lars Eller when he was getting mauled (with no call) by gigantic Tyler Myers. Eller got knocked down three times, and kept coming back to fight for the puck...without cross-checking Myers in the head.

Gionta displayed leadership and grit. Eller showed determination and patience. They both put the team, and its Herculean effort to salvage at least a point in a disasterous game, first. Gomez put himself ahead of the team in a hotheaded moment we see from him too often. A guy in his position has to be better than that.

We can't say what Gomez really feels when he considers the impact his dumb decision had on his team, but one can imagine there's got to be some guilt and regret underneath his usual sardonic expression. It must be tough for him to look at Carey Price, who did everything he could to give his team the chance for two points, or P.K. Subban, who was everywhere trying to defend the lead and hurt himself in the process. It has to be hard to meet Tomas Plekanec's eye, knowing Pleks brilliantly killed the first half of the penalty to get the team to OT, without feeling some kind of remorse that goes a bit deeper than mere words.

Gomez is going to have to be better in the coming days, with serious injuries piling up for an already hurting Habs squad. Max Pacioretty, who had given Gomez' line a reason to live, looked like he'd possibly broken some ribs when he hobbled off the ice. If he's gone for any length of time, the second line risks returning to its early-season state of complete dormancy. That can't happen. The Canadiens have fought valiantly through the loss of their top offensive defenceman and their best shutdown guy, and still managed to keep pace in the playoff race. They can't be allowed to slip into obscurity now, just because Scott Gomez can't get his head out of his own back passage long enough to play some inspired hockey.

The All-Star break is coming up, which is a godsend for the walking wounded. If, as early reports indicate, Mike Cammalleri's shoulder is separated, he'll miss at least two weeks. Fortunately, one of those weeks is the week the Canadiens have off. The extra week will help limit the number of games Pacioretty and/or Jeff Halpern miss as well. It'll also help relieve the swelling and bruises most of the remaining defencemen have from blocking all those shots.

With any good luck at all, the team will be as close to whole as it can be this year following the All-Star week. So, Gomez doesn't even have to work hard for the whole remainder of the season. All he has to do is raise his effort and production enough to help carry the load of the missing guys for five or six games. If he can do that, it will go some distance in apologizing for his stupid behaviour last night. Everyone makes mistakes, and it's good to own up to them, but words mean little if they're not followed up by actions. Scott Gomez has talked the talk. Let's see if guilt can drive him to play better hockey, where money and reponsibility have not.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Habs vs.Sabres - Back To Back Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-At this point, you have to think they're playing for OT and hoping for the best.

-Gerbe's really throwing his scant weight around. If he keeps it up, the Habs'll have to send Desharnais after him.

-Kostitsyn seems to have rejoined the ranks of the brain dead.

-Best moment of the period, halfway through, is Price thanking Subban for saving a the play went on.

-Bulldogs are winning 7-0. They're all auditioning for jobs.

-I think Eller has a case for assault against Myers.

-Gionta is worth twenty of Scott Gomez, no matter what their paychecks say.

-I guess Pominville will get skewered for the way he celebrated that OT goal, right? Riiiigggghhht.

Notes on the second:

-The image of Pacioretty getting carried out on a stretcher is sickening. Something is obviously very, very wrong.

-Thank all good things that P.K. is back.

-There's enough room on the bench for Spacek to bring in his keg.

-Halpern's back. The walking wounded.

-Pierre McGuire's Homoerotic Comment of the Period: "Mathieu Darche does so many good things for Jacques Martin. So, so many."

-Spacek has to be the most panicky D on the ice.

-The thing I hate most about Gomez is his passing backwards. The Ds work so hard to move the puck up, then he can't find a path he likes, so he passes it back into his own zone and makes them do it all over again.

-All tied up, despite the refs, the injuries and the tired legs. I can hope for a heroic third, right?

Notes on the first:

-Well, I'd never pegged Craig Rivet as an asshole before, but I guess looking at life after hockey from close up can make a guy cranky.

-Gord Miller calls: "Moen with the puck in his feet." Better there than in his hands, Gord.

-Oh crap! Cammalleri hit the boards hard there.

-Oh my God! Now Pacioretty? What the hell is going on here?! This is why people are afraid to go to the front of the net.

-Graham Rynbend is getting more ice than anyone else on the team.

-DD with the gorgeous tip. What a great little player he is.

-Idiot, Wizzer! You can't act dumber than Kaleta!

-Price made an excellent first save, but AK saved the rebound. That's not something you write everyday.

-Gionta nearly gave the bench a heart attack when he winced on contact with the puck. No more wincing!

-And just as I say that, Subban's down. What the hell is going on here?

Aftermath: Two Points

Whatever else people will say about the Montreal Canadiens this year, nobody will deny they give their fans a great cardio workout. No matter what the lead they hold or the deficit they face, the Habs have turned the art of the one-goal game into a science.

The team lulled many fans, and likely the players too, into a false sense of security with the four-goal lead last night. Michael Cammalleri was out to prove something against his old team for choosing Bouwmeester over him, and his line with Plekanec and Lars Eller was flying. Alex Auld looked steady for the first little while, despite a couple of goal-post close calls. Andrei Kostitsyn continued to shoot puck, score goal. Everything was well in hand as the Habs scored goal after goal. Then the roof fell in.

Seemingly stunned by the unprecedented lead, the Canadiens began to get a little bit too fancy and take a few risks they don't normally take. Cute behind-the-back passes and soft chips out of the zone meant turnovers mounted and the Flames began to pressure the Habs' zone. When that happened, the depleted D started running around and making panicky clearing attempts. Twice, the Flames scored while Habs defencemen were diving at the puck and taking themselves out of position while leaving the men they were supposed to be covering open.

In the end, the wicked shot off the stick of P.K.Subban to win the game was the only thing that mattered. You know why? The NHL regular season, as my good hockey-watching buddy maintains, is a house league. The only important goal during the season is to rack up enough points to make the playoffs. Despite all the heart attacks, the Canadiens are 6-1-1 in their last eight games. That's, if you're counting, 13 out of a possible 16 points.

Sure, the wins aren't pretty, or easy on the heart. Too many games are going to OT, there are too many defensive breakdowns and the Habs score too few goals. They also tend to choke at important times, like the end of periods when they give up backbreaking goals more often than Elizabeth Taylor changed husbands. Still, they're wins.

For those inclined to criticize the nature of those wins, consider this: the Canadiens are without their best offensive defenceman and their best defensive defenceman. What other team could survive that kind of depletion and still find a way to win? Imagine the Pens without Letang and Martin. Or the Wings without Lidstrom and Kronwall. Markov and Gorges are to the Habs what those players are to their teams. So, if the Canadiens can keep winning despite that, it's not for us to pick those wins apart.

That said, P.K.Subban is learning on the job like a WWII bomber pilot. He's getting better and better every night, and played nearly 28 minutes against the Flames. His mistakes are still glaring, but they're not as frequent as they were, and his OT goal last night, with its accompanying exuberant celebration (don't ever change, kid!) made a heart-attack game a heart-warming one.

Subban's not alone. Eller, Max Pacioretty and Yannick Weber are learning as they go as well, and this experience in the long grind of the regular season will benefit them if they're able to keep winning enough games to make it to the real show in the spring. That, in the end, is all that matters.

We may wish the Habs scored more goals, or boasted a tighter defence or had a more adventurous coach. They don't. Yet, they still find a way to do the only thing that matters: win enough games to stay in the playoff race. As long as they manage to to that, we can all just keep the paddles charged and cheer for them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Flames vs.Habs - Bad Blood Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-Why do I get the feeling this is going to be a loooong twenty minutes?

-Pacioretty is having a really tough time winning the puck off the boards tonight. He needs to be reminded he is not a small landholder in this game.

-Great. Flames one step closer to proving the Habs are a very fragile team.

-Spoke too soon. They've now proven it. And the backup gets yanked.

-And, what the hell was Cammalleri doing directing traffic while his team was busy giving up the zone for the tying goal?

-Note to Subban: Do NOT give the puck to Gill to carry out of the zone.

-Is Martin talking to the team, or himself back there? Tonight's tie selection looks like a test pattern.

-Gomez makes the play of the night, and Subban with the glorious shot to win it, despite all odds.

-And Team Inscrutable finds yet another way to throw two points into the ashes and then dig them out without getting burned. This act should be in Cirque du Soleil.

-In the end, all that matters is the two points.

Notes on the second:

-It's not fair to get a goalie interference penalty when you're so small a brisk wind would blow you into the crease.

-Eller, it's great to go the net. Just remember to leave the net in place.

-AK wired that. Let's hope it's a hot streak and not just a warm front.

-And now Halpern's in on the action. Kind of feel bad it went off Newfoundlander Adam Pardy's stick, but not really.

-Buh bye, Kipper. See you at the Classic.

-Habs' D is still a bit porous.

-Two guys behind Hammer on the Flames first goal is a good example of the previous Note.

-Cammalleri is having one of his best games of the year. Any chance there's some dough on the board tonight? Shhh...don't tell the league!

-Eller could have cooked a candlelight dinner and proposed before shooting.

-Oh no. Another Flames goal. And we're now back in our Habs comfort zone, wherein our team gives us all heart attacks while defending a precarious one-goal lead for the last six minutes of the game.

-Subban is playing some very, very fine defence today.

-Pacioretty will never have a better chance. The young guys are in the right place, but the timing's not...quite...there.

-This is the Habs' game to lose in the third. My fear is they'll find a way to do it.

Notes on the first:

-Still can't like the Flames. I've hated 'em since 1989.

-Way to go, Eller! Great to see a kid who tries so hard pop one.

-The Habs' D looks a little bit loose, kind of like a bum's teeth.

-Cammy with the rocket. It once was lost, and now is found.

-Gill with the cotton up his nose looks like the bad kid on the playground.

-Hello? Wiz? Forechecking means the other guy is going to fight you for the puck. Wise up!

-Crap! If that last chance had been against the Habs it would have gone in.

A Breakthrough

Fans had a lot of questions after Saturday's game against the Rangers. For example, where did that PP come from? And, what the hell happened in the third? Over coffee Sunday morning, though, just about everyone wondered what Jacques Martin said to get Andrei Kostitsyn back on track. It's public knowledge the kindly old coach called the talented-but-inconsistent galoot into his office for a private heart-to-heart last week. Kostitsyn came out against the Rangers with his best effort in weeks, didn't take any dumb penalties and scored the game-winner. When asked afterwards what had happened in that meeting, Martin just smiled his Mona Lisa smile and said that was between Kostitsyn and himself.

Not quite, Jacques.

The Scene: Jacques Martin's office, Brossard training complex.

Andrei Kostitsyn: Coach? You want me?
Kirk Muller: Hi Andrei. Coach'll be here in a minute. Come in and have a seat.

A couple of minutes of awkward silence ensue.

Muller: So, Andrei, how're you feeling?
Kostitsyn: Feel good.
Muller: Good. Good. Oh, hey, Andrei, check out the new pocket watch I got. These things are really making a comeback.
Kostitsyn: Nice. Patek?
Muller: Yeah! Good eye. Look at the weight of this thing.

Swings watch

Muller: Andrei, you look kind of sleepy. Are you feeling sleepy? Your eyes are getting heavy. Listen to my voice, Andrei.
Kostitsyn: I am listened.
Muller: Okay Andrei. Here's what you need to do. Skate hard every time you're on the ice. Got that?
Kostitsyn: Skate...hard.
Muller: You have a hell of a shot. Shoot the puck every chance you get.
Kostitsyn: Shoot puck.
Muller: If you do both of those things, you will score a lot of goals.
Kostitsyn: Score goals.
Muller: Here comes Jacques. You will listen to him and answer his questions now.

Martin enters.

Martin: Kirky. Andrei. Thanks for coming. Now, Andrei, we really need to get a couple of things clear here. You haven't scored in a month. What do you think you need to do better out there?
Kostitsyn: Skate...hard.
Martin: Well, that's a great start for sure. That's not enough, though. You really need to...
Kostitsyn: Shoot puck.
Martin: Yeah. And...
Kostitsyn: Score goals.
Martin: That would be nice. About the bad penalties you've been taking. I've watched the tapes and you've taken those when you stop skating. You need to really...
Kostitsyn: Skate hard.
Martin: Ah...yes. That's what I was going to say. Well, that's about it, really.

Glances at Muller

Martin: (aside to Muller) Ah, Kirky? Did you do the watch thing before I got here?

Muller nods sheepishly

Martin: Andrei, when you score goals, you will be happier than you ever were in your life. You will yell like Tarzan.
Kostitsyn: Score goals. Happy.
Martin: Now, cluck like a chicken.
Kostitsyn: Squawwwwwk.
Muller: Hell, Jacques. Why do you always make them do that? It's so cliche.
Martin: Yeah, but it's funny. Go ahead and snap him out of it now.
Muller: Okay, Andrei. When I snap my fingers, you will wake up refreshed and ready to skate hard and score goals. You will be happy.(Martin mumbles something) You have never met anybody called Pasquale. Oh, and lay off the cologne. You smell like an explosion in an Old Spice factory. Now, wake up.

Kostitsyn blinks and looks at Martin

Kostitsyn: Coach. You want talk to me?
Martin: No, Andrei. Everything's fine. Go out and have a great game tonight.
Kostitsyn: (looking more bemused than usual) Okay, Coach. (leaves)
Martin: Well, do you think he got the message?
Muller: We'll see how he does tomorrow night. But, yes, I think he absorbed some of it.
Martin: You're a gem, Kirky. If you could only speak French...Oh well, we won't talk about that.
Muller: Ha ha. Not funny. I'd better get out for practice. Somebody's got to make a game plan around here. (leaves)

In the room next door, Perry Pearn drops the glass he had pressed against the wall to listen

Pearn: Skate...hard. Shoot puck. Score goals. Happy.

The Scene: Saturday night, post game. Reporters crowd around Kostitsyn's stall.

Reporter: Andrei, you had quite a game tonight. What did you do differently?
Kostitsyn: Skate hard.
Reporter: How did the goal happen?
Kostitsyn: Shoot puck. Score goal.
Reporter: You looked happier than we've ever seen you after that goal. Was it a relief to score after so long?
Kostitsyn: Always happy when score goals.

Muller and Martin listen from the coach's office

Martin: Well, I think that worked out well, Kirky. We'll have to see what you can do with Gomez.
Muller: No problem, Jacques. Oh, and Jacques?
Martin: Yes?
Muller: "Sasquatch"
Martin: You're my daddy, Kirk.
Muller: Thaaaat's right. Good job, Jacques.

Perry Pearn, alone in his office, stares blankly at the wall.

Pearn: Skate...hard. Shoot puck. Score goals. Happy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rags vs. Habs - Deja Vu Edition

Notes on the third:

-I wonder if Muller ever gets an NHL head coaching job, if he'll hire Carbo as an assistant?

-Subban is really showing a newfound patience on D.

-Does Price have something against covering the puck?

-The Habs got a little complacent in the second and they look like they weren't quite prepared for the Rags to push in the third. Time to wake up now.

-Martin's tie of choice tonight looks like it's covered in cartoon sperm.

-Non-hockey-watching spouse asks whether Gill's sticks cost more because they're twice as long as anyone else's. Good question.

-The last ten minutes of this period have been an exercise in collapse.

-GILL! What the hell? A penalty with a minute to go.

-Price saves the night after his team tried to blow it. I had a minor heart attack.

Notes on the second:

-How does CBC miss the first fifteen seconds of the period?

-The Habs must lead the league in stupid DOG penalties. Good thing Staal stalled on the open net.

-Spacek and Weber are a scarier pair than Freddy and Jason.

-Nice to see someone other than the Habs can't count.

-Funny close-up of Cammalleri punching his stick when it doesn't do what he wants.

-Price must have been getting bored with less than ten shots, so he decided to give the puck away and make things more exciting.

-The PP is looking like it did circa 2008, with Markov and Souray on the points. Damn you, Lundqvist.

-The Captain's chipper than plywood tonight.

-No late goals again. If not for Lundqvist, the Habs would be up by five.

Notes on the first:

-I should probably be feeling more excited to see Cammalleri back in the lineup.

-There are too many officials on the ice. They affect the outcome of games by getting in the way all the time.

-Gio's made two egregious giveaways less than three minutes in.

-Lundqvist is smart to redirect the rebound off the back boards. Those end up in the net at the Bell Centre a lot.

-What the hell was Weber doing on the Ranger goal? Looked like he was fishing. He and Spacek were both guilty of chasing the puck and not stopping the man.

-Hammer time! And Super Darche with yet another great screen.

-Subban was Markovian on that pass to Plekanec.

-That's the happiest I've ever seen Andrei Kostitsyn. The shot was harder than Tortorella's heart.

-Moen wins by virtue of the takedown on Newbury.

-The reffing is awful. Kostitsyn was thrown to the ice at the end there and no call.

-Good on them to keep the puck out of their own net with a minute to go this time around. It'd be nice to see two more period like that one.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Catching Up With Mike McPhee

When Habs fans think about the 1986 Cup win, certain indelible images come immediately to mind, like an involuntary slide show. There's Patrick Roy in his plain white mask, long neck stretching and twitching. There's Claude Lemieux, running with his hands up after scoring the OT winner in Game Seven against Hartford. There's Bob Gainey, sweating and grinning, with the Cup held upright in his hands. Then there's Mike McPhee.

McPhee will never be mentioned among the heroes of that Cup win the way Roy or Lemieux are. He wasn't a captain or one of the future Hall-of-Famers in that lineup. So, when we think of Mike McPhee that year, we remember one thing. In our minds, he picks up the puck at centre and cuts for the right wing on a two-on-one. He fakes a shot, then lets fly a perfect pass right onto the tape of Brian Skrudland for the fastest OT goal in playoff history. Nine seconds into Game Two against Calgary in the Finals, Mike McPhee, glorious mustache and all, fell as the puck went into the net and the rest of the team piled on top of him.

It's descriptive of the kind of player he was that when McPhee recounts highlights of his NHL career now, it's not a great goal or individual play that makes the top of the list. It's that assist. He was always about helping the team however he could.

"The moment I remember most in my career was the second game in Calgary," he reminisces. "We had lost Game One, and went to overtime in Game Two. We ended up scoring 9 seconds into overtime. Skrudland's nine-second goal. That was huge. I assisted on the goal, so it was a big goal for both of us. I can remember when we were up 3 games to 1, going into that fifth game, I think I didn't sleep much that night. I hoisted the Stanley Cup a few times in my dreams, so it was pretty exciting to be there and know we could win it. The rest of the summer was a blur. A lot of partying and a lot of fun."

As McPhee will tell you, he was never an offensive dynamo on the ice. Yet, fans remember him well because he was the epitome of the hard-working support guy every team needs to have if it hopes to win. You might say he was a star in the world of grinders. He thinks that's why fans still remember him.

"I didn't do anything great, but I did a lot of things well. I tried to put 100% effort into every game, and I think fans appreciate that," he states. "Also, I tried to speak French while I was there. I took French in junior high and high school. My dad was actually a French teacher for a little while, so I had a little bit of a background, but I made that effort. I think the people in Montreal appreciated that. And the other thing was longevity. I played nine years or more with the Canadiens. It's funny because they invited the top sixty players in terms of games played to the 100th anniversary. For fun I went on the website, I googled a list sorted by games played, and I was 41st in terms of games played for the Canadiens. That kind of blew me away a little bit."

All careers run their course eventually, even for the greatest workhorses. After nine years as a Hab, the Canadiens traded McPhee to Minnesota. Even under those circumstances, McPhee says the organization treated him well.

"It was the right time for me. I didn't ask to be traded, but we had lost two years in a row to Boston in the first round," he recalls. "I'm a left winger and we had about five younger left wingers on the team...Shayne Corson, Brent Gilchrist, Gilbert Dionne had just had a big year, John LeClair was there...then there was me, the oldest of the lot, so I guess I could see the writing on the wall. Credit to the organization, though, Serge Savard came to me and said, "We're gonna trade ya, we have to make some changes. Where do want to go? You've given us nine or ten good years, so we'll try to send you to a team where you want to go." I didn't want to get traded, but I knew it was probably best for the team and for me. I told him, number one, I'd like to play in the States for the experience and, number two, I want to go to a team that needs left wingers. I was treated very well at the end."

McPhee's career lasted another two years with Minnesota/Dallas, until bad knees forced him to retire. After hockey, he returned to school to get an MBA, and now he's working in Halifax as an investment advisor at National Bank Financial.

"I have my own client base. I'm growing something. I can be an entrepreneur. I have flexibility," he reveals. "If I want to go away on vacation next week, I just go. I tell my assistant and she takes my calls. It's exciting because you're building something. You're taking care of your clients and you're helping someone. It's a really exciting business."

He says playing for the Canadiens gave him the base he needed to get into the financial planning business.

"I always say the best training for this type of business was playing in Montreal. In Montreal there's so much adversity with fans and media. You win a couple of games, you're on top of the world. You lose a couple and you're a bum. There's obviously a little bit of volatility in the stock markets. The ups and downs in Montreal are helping me out in the ups and downs of this business," he laughs.

Still, even though he's out of the hockey world himself, he's not forgotten the game to which he devoted so much of his life. He says he grew up a Boston fan in Cape Breton, but when he got drafted by Montreal he became a Canadiens' supporter for life.

"I go up five or six times a year. They treat us pretty well," he smiles. "I keep in touch with Bob Gainey through email, and when I go up there we get together. Russ Courtnall I keep in touch with, and I talked to Brian Skrudland on the weekend. There are some guys I hadn't seen since...I have to do the math...20 years or more. Guys like Rick Green. Then I saw Rick Green last year, Mike Keane, Lyle Odelein. They were all up for the 100th anniversary. It's as if you played the year before. It comes right back. I think being on a winning team, you have something that ties you together, so it's easy to go back to those days."

McPhee says he doesn't watch a whole lot of games today, but he does see some big changes between his kind of hockey and the modern game. Some are positive, like the crack-down on hooking and other stick fouls which he says "wouldn't have been great for me." Other changes are not so great, like the attitudes of some of the younger players.

"It applies to society in general," he attests. "When I came up to Montreal, I sat next to Larry Robinson for five or six years and I had so much respect for him, I always wanted to call him Mr.Robinson. I found even throughout my career, the young rookies who were coming in, especially as they were being paid more and more, they didn' t have that. That's true in society too. There's less respect for your elders. That's a big pet peeve of mine. I don't like to see that. Especially a kid, a hockey kid, who doesn't respect authority or their parents. I don't have any time for that."

So, what does he think of the accusations to that effect thrown at the Canadiens' P.K.Subban recently?

"I don't see it with him," he says. "I think he's got some maturing to do, but I think he just wants to win. I talked to Jacques Martin last summer at a golf tournament, and he said he can deal with that. P.K.'s young and he's going to make mistakes. Even last year in the playoffs when he saw his team was down he tried to do things himself and he got himself into trouble. That's experience. He'll hit anybody, whether it's Crosby or whoever. He'll play the same way against everybody, which is good. From what I see, he's a very skilled player, he's well-spoken. Whether it's jealousy or whatever, I just see him out there playing as hard as he can, that's all."

Hard work is one thing Mike McPhee recognizes. When other names of other players come up these days, like Patrick Roy or Guy Lafleur, there are many opinions about their legacies and different fans remember them in different ways. There's no waffling about McPhee. He knew his job and he did it well every night.

"I'm most proud of having done my best," he says. "I tell my kids, everybody's got different potential. I was never going to be a 50-goal scorer. It was not going to happen. But as long as you take the talent you're given, and do the best you can with it, that's all anyone can ask. I think I maximized that, and that's probably the thing I'm most proud of."

That's what he's bringing to the business world now, and it's how he's happy to be remembered as a hockey player...even if the mustache he sported while falling under a jubilant pile of teammates 25 years ago this spring is long gone.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Aftermath: Attention, Class

Last night's game against the Pens was one for learning lessons. Carey Price learned NHL players are overly sensitive and have their tender feelings hurt easily, and, if you're playing a sooky team twice in a week, it's probably not a good idea to ham it up after beating them the first time. Price made his victorious arms-folded statment after winning the shootout last week. Most sensible people thought Price was just having some fun after the tension of facing all those breakaways; no harm done. The Pens, however, didn't like it and gloried in piling in the goals on a sub-par Price last night. Lesson: don't rub it in, Carey, or it will come back to bite you in the ass.

Benoit Pouliot learned the difference between hero and goat in the NHL is similar to the difference between taupe and beige. Less than 24 hours after a brilliant first-star performance against the Rangers, including potting the winning goal, he took three stupid minors last night. The Pens scored on two of them. It's all part of the development of a young player, but it's frustrating to watch. Lesson: keep your stick on the ice, kid, and don't stop skating.

David Desharnais learned dreams do come true. The 24-year-old rookie scored his first NHL goal on a lovely tip from the slip, and he just glowed with happiness afterwards. It was the highlight moment of a forgettable game. Lesson: hard work and belief in oneself can overcome physical barriers to achieving ones goal.

Jacques Martin learned a team playing his way, that doesn't score many goals, can't take a half dozen lazy, thoughtless penalties or have sub-par goaltending. The result will be what happened last night. Martin has learned this lesson before and it didn't stick, so those of us hoping he'll change "The System" to allow more aggression by the forwards are probably hoping in vain. You can't really blame him. If Spacek and Gill struggle NOW, imagine how they'd suffer if the forwards were busy forechecking and giving up odd-man rushes instead of dropping back to help out? The sad truth is Martin isn't stupid...he just doesn't have the horses on defence to allow a more open game. Certainly, he'd like to see his forwards score more, but the trade-off on defence would be too costly. As a result, the Habs have to play disciplined hockey and they need stellar goaltending to succeed. When they don't get those, they tend to suck. Lesson: when your team is limited, you do what you have to do and try to ignore the criticism even when it bombs on you.

The whole team learned there's very little separating a playoff team from early golfers. The league is all about parity, which means the slightest advantage, like playing the night before and travelling late while the other team rests, can make a big difference. The lesson here should be when they're the one with the slight advantage, they have to take advantage of it. There will be games like last night when things just aren't working. When conditions are better, they can't give wins away. Lesson: no excuses for losing really matter...just the results.

And we fans (or at least some of us) learned Marc-Andre Fleury is kind of a tool. Here's a guy who's waiting for the clock to run out on a blowout, and chooses to mock Price and the Habs by throwing Price's gesture back at him. Price reacted to an emotional shootout win on the spur of the moment. Fleury waited and planned to make fun of the team he just beat. That was petty of him. It was also stupid, bordering on embarrassing, considering it was the first time he managed to beat the Habs since getting eliminated by them last playoffs. Not to mention, unoriginal. Lesson: Crosby's not the only sook on the Pens.

In the end, that was a game to file away under "sucked" and move on. The pressure's on to come back strong against the Rangers on Saturday because if there's one thing we and the Habs have learned in the last few years, it's that nothing matters except securing a playoff spot. To do that, a team has to be consistent, and that means learning not to fall into bad habits after a game like last night. That's the most important lesson of all.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pens vs.Habs - Oh, Sid's Aching Head Edition

Notes on the third:

-Really? That's a penalty on Pouliot? I thought the refs were only supposed to give freebies to the Pens if Sid's in the lineup.

-I guess the story of this game will be the sucky PK and Price's lack of concentration. Ugh.

-When you have a depleted team, these sorts of soft-head plays can't happen.

-Pouliot AGAIN??? Come on! Salt in the wound was the goal he scored at the same time he got called. This is unreal.

-Subban floats like a bee, stings like a butterfly.

-Penalties to the right of them, penalties to the left of them...

-Price is awful. He made a couple of nice saves, but he gave up too many softies to keep this team in it. Brutal.

Notes on the second:

-There's not a person in the Bell not smiling to see Desharnais' first NHL goal. The look on his face on the bench was incandescent.

-Ugh. Another unstoppable bullet for the Pens. Wish the Habs had a few shots like that.

-Spacek is looking like an old guy playing his fifth period of hockey in 24 hours, after a long, painful trip home.

-I always want the Habs to win, but especially tonight because the Pens are rubbing in every goal they score in retaliation for Price's "gesture" last time they played. If the Habs pull this off, I hope Price does a friggin' rain dance in the crease.

-Staal's mother needs to call and tell him to get a haircut. The hippy thing isn't working for him.

-WHY do I get excited when Pyatt's in the clear? It's cruel.

-Not a good penalty to take, Wiz.

-This pace is going to make Hammer and Spatch stroke out.

-It's not a good sign that Desharnais is better physically than Kostitsyn.

-How can a guy who looks as much like The Count not be able to count to five?

-And the lousy too many men penalty gives Carey an opportunity to blow it on YET another last minute goal. He was awful on that. It didn't help that Spacek gave it directly to Staal, but Price simply blew it. Sigh.

-It's pushing their luck to try and win another game coming from behind, and in recent years the Habs haven't had that much luck.

Notes on the first:

-In the Canadiens' case, it shouldn't be called a power play. It should be "Two minutes with the extra ineffectual guy."

-Something's wrong with Pleks. He hasn't been the same in the last ten games.

-Ugh. Another ineffectual PP.

-Price just blew that Goligoski shot. He saw it all the way, but just missed.

-Spoke too soon on Pleks. That line with Pouliot and Darche is going great guns.

-The funny thing is if Martin dumped Plekanec down to the third line last night to punish his lacklustre play, Pleks has turned the tables by making the third line into the first.

-Did they start with Eller, AK and DD? That's the Wizard of Oz line. Eller's got the heart, DD's got the noive and they're going to see the Wizard to get AK a brain.

-Price is making some nice saves overall.

-Not a bad period. Good thing they got the quick push back.

Aftermath: True Grit

Will the real Benoit Pouliot please stand up? Then, can he please put on a pair of skates, hit the ice and finish the season with 25 goals? Because if last night's Benoit Pouliot; the one we saw beating out a crucial icing late in the third of a one-goal game, crashing the net on the first goal and wiring a shot high over Lundqvist's shoulder for the winner; the one we saw staying on his feet nearly all game (for a change), is the real Pouliot, then that guy should have no trouble getting 25. That guy is using his size and reach to great advantage, and he's got speed and a nice shot. We saw that guy briefly last year after his trade to Montreal from Minnesota. Then he got hurt and vanished for the rest of the year. This is a player whose head is the biggest part of his game. Without absolute confidence in himself, he can do nothing. With it, he can be a difference-maker for a team that needs all of those it can get.

It seems playing with Tomas Plekanec gives him the kind of confidence he needs to thrive. That's no surprise, as every winger on the team plays better with Plekanec. Pouliot, though, outshone his centre last night. It's a shame he'll get moved back to the third line when Cammalleri returns from illness. Then again, the way Pouliot's playing matter which line he's on...might be an indication that he's finally emerging into a player who makes others better, instead of one who needs others to make him look good. If he's becoming that kind of player, it's going to go a long way toward solidifying the team's top-six options on the wing.

Also emerging in a top-six role is Max Pacioretty. He was skating hard all night, and he offers a nice complement to Gionta's lack of size and Gomez' lack of hard physical play. His time in Hamilton really helped him grasp the essentials of the pro game. It was kind of annoying, actually, listening to all the announcers talk last night about Ryan McDonagh, former Habs first-rounder, finally cracking an NHL lineup. They failed to mention that Pacioretty was taken in the first round in the same draft, and played a better game.

Sometimes a guy like Pouliot needs confidence to excel. A guy like Pacioretty might just need time. For Jaroslav Spacek, though, it seems all he needed was to be allowed to play his own position. Since he came to Montreal, he's been on the right side with Hamrlik on the left. It's the first time in his career he's played that side, and it's likely at least part of the reason why his offense has dropped off. Last week, after he shifted back to the left side with Yannick Weber on his right, he played a more solid game. When told he'd be back with Hamrlik when Weber got scratched, Spacek sighed and said, "Well, it was good while it lasted." It was good to see him play with more confidence, and fewer brain freezes. It's another reason to keep Picard out of the lineup in favour of Weber. The difference between the two bottom-pair defencemen isn't that great, but the benefit the team gets from a more comfortable Spacek is noticable.

Alex Auld has to get a lot of credit for last night's win too. It's not easy to get one game out of every nine or ten, then be expected to carry a team that can't score. Auld did a fantastic job and proved his teammates can have confidence in him. That's good, as he'll probably be seeing more work in the second half with Price getting no All-Star break to rest up.

And Mathieu Darche...he of the 500 AHL games...should get a tip of the hat too. On a team like the Canadiens, with a lot of highly-skilled forwards, there can sometimes be too much fancy play and too much time spent on the perimeter. The slicksters forget there's a price to pay for goals in the NHL and "pretty" doesn't cover it. A guy like Darche, with his straightforward chase-the-puck, crash-the-net style reminds the rest of them of the value of simplicity and hard work. That's an intangible that can't be overlooked in the small space between wins and losses.

The wounded Habs aren't going to blow anybody out of the rink this year. They don't have the horsepower from the D to launch an aggressive attack, and the short leash the forwards have under Martin's system means they don't spend enough time in the offensive zone to do great amounts of damage. Their wins will come from tight defence, solid goaltending and the occasional completion of a first-chance scoring opportunity with a scattered donkey, luck goal thrown in. The formula won't be successful every night, but it might be enough to get them into the playoffs.

While they struggle to hold the fort in the post-season race, though, it's nice to see pleasant surprises like the emergence of Benoit Pouliot and Max Pacioretty. Maybe, if the trend continues, those guys will be the difference between playoffs or not.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Habs vs.Rags - Inner Body Injury Edition

Notes on the third:

-Gill's getting robbed here. This is elder abuse.

-Pouliot and Plekanec seem to be getting something going. Interesting.

-I hope McDonagh is responsible for a huge giveaway for the winner, just to shut up the "I told you so-ers."

-Pouliot has that over-the-shoulder sneak shot off the left boards down to a science. Fantastic!

-Oh man...I nearly had a stroke just watching Spacek hustle back to beat the icing against Gaborik.

-Gionta saves P.K.'s spinning ass with the huge bodycheck. So many things happening in this game that you never get to write very often.

-Gill covers more territory than the British Empire when he lies down.

-There are four-and-a-half minutes to go. I'm wondering how I'll be feeling in five.

-They don't win easily...but somehow, they win. Wow. Darche, Pouliot and Spacek were excellent.

-Hope the boys get home on time.

Notes on the second:

-Habs PP is effective as a training bra on Dolly Parton.

-Hey! Gomez made an aggressive offensive play and got off a good shot!

-Spacek plays so much better on his natural side. How could they have been playing him on the wrong side for so long?

-Gill's slower than erosion.

-It's so annoying to hear the announcers call Weber "Veber." I know it's proper Swiss-Geramn pronunciation, but the man himself has said he prefers "Weber."

-Habs goal was the result of a good forecheck, nice passing, and the first time all year that Spacek held the puck instead of shooting into a defender's shins.

-Funny to see Spatch on the bench, laughing when they announce him as the goalscorer.

-Habs can win this, but they need more of the last five minutes of the second and less of the first five.

Notes on the first:

-I had to turn over to RDS because McGuire's man-love for McDonagh is too romantic for me.

-Subban and Gill are getting torched worse than Joan of Arc out there.

-Habs down 1-0? No problem. They can still spot Lundqvist four more and win.

-This is the kind of game where Maxim Lapierre would make a big difference. NOT!

-Gill is such a large mammal, you'd think he could hammer a shot like that more often.

-Eller's not helping his case to stick in the lineup here.

-And, of course, Boston's winning again. I hate the Sens.

-I really wish the league would allow teams to dress a specialist. I'd love to have Gill next year, but only for the PK.

-You know what? Auld does a good job for someone who sees less ice than a Brazilian peasant.

-Habs are making the Rags look like the Flyers here, although the hit counters are generous and giving the teams five apiece. Wouldn't that be a cool job? The guy who gets to count hits in NHL games? Anyway...

-Subban gets caught for retaliation when the blind refs don't see the original hold. Funny how they only see the second hit.

-Saved by the buzzer at the end. Habs had better find more in the second, or they're going to be facing the blizzard tonight depressed.

Another Ten Reasons Why You Know You're A Habs Fan

I've already given you ten reasons and ten more reasons why you know you're a Habs fan. Here now are this year's top ten:

10. Before you entertain, you check the schedule for a Saturday when the Habs are off.

9. You own both number 17 and number 22 vintage Benoit Brunet sweaters and you don't care who knows it.

8. You've tattooed a CH somewhere on your body, often where it's in full display even while you're dressed in formal wear.

7. You sometimes wonder what Kjell Dahlin and Steve Penney are up to these days.

6. You remained dry-eyed through your grandfather's funeral because you're a stoic man's man, but you had "something in your eye" when the Habs eliminated the Caps last spring.

5. You keep your autographed Jean Beliveau photo with the wedding pictures and baby books so you can save it quickly in case of fire.

4. You're pretty sure David Desharnais' autograph will be worth something someday.

3. You just know you could get more out of Andrei Kostitsyn than Jacques Martin does. And if you couldn't, you know you could get a great deal for him.

2. You haven't gone to church in the last ten years, but nine months ago you crawled up the 99 steps of St.Joseph's Oratory on your knees, hoping Brother Andre would help the Habs in the playoffs.

And the number-one reason why you know you're a Habs fan this year:

1. The fluctuation in your mood between "tank for a pick" and "we could win it all" probably requires medication.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Lord Sayeth Unto Jacques

The Scene: A cozy master suite in a certain Montreal condo. A man is sleeping deeply

Jacques Martin: (mumbling in his sleep) Come on, Darchie. You can do it. You're a PP genius Darchie...yeah, baby...

A Voice speaks in the darkness: Jacques! Jacques, hear My voice!
Martin: Hmm? Wha?
Voice: Jacques! It is I, the Lord God. Listen to Me!
Martin: (groggily surfacing to awareness) Skillsie, I don't know what you're trying to prove, but it's not funny.
Voice: (Sighs) Jacques, it is not Harold Priestley Gill. It is I, the Creator, the All-Powerful One. Listen up, Jacques. I did not give you those ears just for show.
Martin: (fully awake now) Lord? Is that really You? But I'm not dressed or anything.
Voice: (impatiently) Yes, yes. I am not concerned about your attire. Those ties would not help matters anyway. I am here with a message for you, so listen carefully.
Martin: Anything, Lord. I'm ready.
Voice: Jacques, have I not given you your dream job?
Martin: Well, yes...
Voice: Don't interrupt Me! These are rhetorical questions to make you think! Sheesh. Now...Have I not given you solid support in Kirk Muller? Have I not granted your team strong leadership and experience?


Voice: You can answer now.
Martin: Oh, uh, sorry, Lord. Yes, all of those things are true, and I'm very, very grateful.
Voice: Of course you are. Who wouldn't be grateful? I have a problem, however.
Martin: What is it Lord?
Voice: Jacques, I have given your team youth, skill and enthusiasm. You have taken that youth, skill and enthusiasm and tried to stifle it. You have exiled My son, Lars Eller, in favour of My hardworking, but completely stone-handed servant, Tom Pyatt. You have sowed the seed of doubt in the mind of My beloved one, Pernell Karl Subban. I have created him with a great mix of speed, puck skill and brash enthusiasm, and packaged it all in a strong body that can do some damage on the ice. All he needs is time to gain the experience that will turn him into a star defenceman in the NHL. I have done My part in making him. You, however, are not doing yours.
Martin: Well, Lord, the kids are great and everything, but...
Voice: I SAID do not interrupt Me. I'm not finished. My message to you, Jacques is this: Be not afraid.
Martin: Afraid of what, Lord?
Voice: (in an aside) Whatever happened to prophets who could read between the lines? No wonder I don't bother appearing to these people anymore. (to Martin) Jacques, you are fearful of losing the job I have so graciously bestowed upon you. You are choosing to play it safe and make all of My talent hang back on defence all the time. Look, Jacques, defence is important, I'll grant you that, but it's not everything. My sons need their offensive freedom as well. You have to find a balance and let them go. Your team needs goals, and I have given you the tools. You have to release your fear of getting turfed and use them.
Martin: But Lord, I need to protect Carey Price. We need to keep goals against down.
Voice: Oh, ye of little faith! My son Carey can handle himself. He needs goal support! Listen, Jacques, before it's too late. Your team is playing boring, hermetical hockey, and that is not why I created it in the first place.
Martin: Okay, Lord. I'll try.
Voice: "Try" isn't good enough, Jacques. You'll speak with Kirk Muller today, and have him draw up a new game plan; one that focuses on speed and forward motion. Shot blocking is fine in its place, but it is not the most important stat in hockey.
Martin: Yes, Lord. I'll speak to Kirky first thing in the morning.
Voice: Good, Jacques. I, the Lord God, am pleased with your willingness to serve Me and My chosen hockey team. Oh, and I want to see My Subban and Eller on the ice, not in the pressbox from now on.
Martin: Yes, Lord.
Voice: And I would like My son, P.K., to have music privileges in the room for the rest of the month. And a room of his own on the road.
Martin: Really? Okay, um...whatever you say, Lord.
Voice: I will leave you now, Jacques. Remember, be not afraid. And don't forget, speed kills.
Martin: Thank you, Lord. Um...can I ask one small favour?
Voice: What is it, Jacques?
Martin: I always wanted to hear the Bell Centre crowd chant my name like they used to do for Carbo. Can you make it happen?
Voice: Jacques, I am the Creator. I can make anything happen. I was behind the 1971 playoff run, after all. You, however, are asking for a bit of a miracle. I'll see what I can do. No promises.
Martin: Thanks again, Lord.
Voice: Good night, Jacques. Sleep well.

Martin shakes his head in wonder and lies in bed pondering the Word of the Lord in his heart. Outside, two black-clad forms clamber down the condominium's fire escape.

Lars Eller: Oh man, can I laugh now?
P.K.Subban: Sshhh...not until we're in the car.
Eller: How come you didn't ask for me to get my own room too?
Subban: Listen, I couldn't push it too hard. It's enough if you get sprung from the pressbox.
Eller: Okay. You know, you really made God sound like a tool.
Subban: Well, I had to speak a language coach would understand, didn't I?
Eller: Can we do this again sometime?
Subban: We'll see how it goes. We'd better get some sleep now, though. Looks like we're both playing tomorrow.

Players laugh and high-five as they reach the car parked around the corner.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Aftermath: WOOOOOO!!

Okay, I know the hockey gods are stingy and ruthless, but I still can't help laughing my ass off, even though gloating will probably come back to haunt me. Then again, perhaps this game was just cosmic payback that's been owing for a while.

I remember back in the early '80s when I, the only hockey fan in the house, used to sneak the radio on just loud enough to catch the Habs games after everyone else had gone to bed. The signal came from Montreal, via an Antigonish relay tower, so it wasn't very stable. Still, I listened to every single Habs game. There was one night, maybe in 1988 or '89, when the Habs were playing the Bruins. Habs were up 2-0, with about 1:30 to go. Just when I was thinking it was all safely in hand, the Bs scored two in about thirty seconds to tie with a minute left. Then, to stick a blazing poker in the wound, they scored the winner with about five seconds left. Less than two minutes between victory and ignominous, horrifying defeat, and the Habs got totally screwed.

As a friend of mine said last night, the hockey gods must be women, because they never forget. We both remembered that horrible Habs collapse from the '80s, and we figure last night was the long-awaited fateful retribution.

The Canadiens, overall, didn't play a bad game, but their inherent inability to score was apparent once again. They had a lot of chances, and sure, Thomas is a good goalie, but normal players would have buried one or two of those. The fact the Canadiens can't finish is a serious concern Gauthier needs to think about.

On the other hand, Carey Price was brilliant for the Habs. The two goals he allowed were the direct result of bad passes by the patchwork defence and heads-up-ass play by the alleged support network. Price handled the puck like a Faberge egg, and he stopped it like caulking. The kid is the real deal, and I'm no longer whining about not drafting Kopitar.

That said, it'd be nice if someone the Canadiens drafted would turn out to be a natural scorer. Is there even such a thing anymore? Everyone stresses defence so strongly, can a player just be a goalscorer? Considering the elemental nature of defence league wide, does anyone develop a player who's just a pure scorer? Cammalleri seems to be one, but he only works if the people on the ice with him play a deeper style of game that can benefit his one-dimensional focus. Gionta can score, but he's so small, it's tough for him to be in the middle of things. Maybe it's Myax "Bruins Killer" Patcheretty. The kid said last night that was the biggest goal he ever scored in his life. I agree, but hope there's more in the tank than that one.

Overall, the Habs tried to stay with the system, but they can't really do it with the deeply weakened D. When you have Wisniewski and Picard paired up, mistakes are inevitable. There's a reason why the latter has never been able to crack an NHL top six, and the former gets crap for being a one-dimensional offensive player.

The top line, the team's usual stalwart on offence, is struggling. Cammalleri is not firing like he used to, and AK is starring in the role of Fallout Boy. Pleks normally keeps those guys in line, but he's having a rough patch too, taking dumb penalties and making ill-advised decisions. I don't remember the last PK breakaway he had, which used to be one a game, at least.

On the other hand, Gomez seems to have extracted his head from his back passage. He's no longer cutting left on every rush and dumping the puck behind the net. He was actually using his speed to create last night. Unfortunately, most of his teammates don't keep up with him, so he often found himself alone in the O-zone. That will change, though, if the other guys know they can trust him to hold onto the puck long enough for them to get into position.

Lots of times, a team can play good hockey and get nothing out of it. Last night, though, the Habs kept trying hard and they were rewarded. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes...rarely...a team deserves to come back and win after falling early. The Canadiens needed that win, and they willed it to happen, which is impressive.

The side effect, for we fans, is Claude Julien had to...once again...take the walk of shame across Bell Centre ice at the end of the game. Knowing he's going to rip his team a collective new one tomorrow was very, very pleasant. Sometimes, you have to risk the wrath of the hockey gods and gloat in the aftermath of a glorious comeback win.

I'm gloating. I, and my team, may pay later, but for now the gloating feels SO good!

Bs vs. Habs - Dogfight Edition

Notes on the third and OT:

-Cammy's gone too. Never a good thing to lose a guy who can flip tires like he can.

-Desharnais! Great play on the PK.

-Price is handling the puck like a precious orchid. Just lovely, lovely moves.

-The Darche goal should have counted. Thomas knocked it in his own net.

-Gomez came to play tonight. So he's now earned about 1/124th of his salary.

-Well, Darche was determined to get a goal tonight, even if it was the biggest donkey goal of the year. Then they give it to Gomez.

-Okay, Martin. The pulling the goalie thing FINALLY worked. I'll give you that tonight. Gio!

-Holy crap! Myax Patcheretty with the winner. I can't believe this.

Notes on the second:

-Scary post to start the period. Picard is SO not an NHL regular if you can avoid it.

-Plekanec is off. The number of penalties he's taking isn't normal.

-And the Bs goal shows exactly why Picard is not an NHL D. Brutal clear, with all the time in the world to make the play.

-Kostitsyn will be traded because of his inconsistency. It's a shame because when he tries, he's great.

-Wizniewski is falling into the same trap he got out of in Long Island. With injuries, he's playing top minutes and he can't handle them.

-Seems Pacioretty is taking over Pouliot's falling on ass duties.

-Until the Canadiens can ice a team that doesn't feature Mathieu Darche on the PP, they will never win anything.

-Bergeron once again killing the Habs. The French Curse.

-This is probably too big a hole for the Habs to crawl out of now. Thomas is good and the popgun offence is just going to pop into his crest for the third. Sigh.

Notes on the first:

-Nervous for this one. HUGE game.

-Speed will be the difference tonight, but it feels a little tentative early.

-Healy thinks Price's positioning is "exquisite." I didn't know he knew any three-syllable words.

-It'd be helpful if any of the remaining defence could hold the puck at the blue line.

-Price is sharper than an old maid's tongue.

-Hal Gill is a perfect example of the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. He's possibly the best PK man in the NHL, and he has the worst breakout pass in the league.

-You have to love the captain going after the biggest dog in the pound.

-It's not a good sign that the closeup of Hammer rushing the puck shows him blowing like Usain Bolt in the last ten meters.

-Now, that was a real hockey fight. Moen and McQuaid just blew a fuse and went to town.

-Nice period, but it's soooo hard for the Habs to score.