Sunday, September 30, 2007

Good, Bad, And Not Too Much Ugly Versus Sens

There are three ways to see things, in occurance with the Canadiens final pre-season matchup against the Senators. I employ the word "see" with journalistic liberty as I didn't get to actually take in the game on televison or online. Catching tonight's contest on radio makes for an odd way to assess performances.

So speaking in general terms, tonights 5-4 OT loss to what is supposed to be the strongest team in the Eastern Conference is hardly the worst way to end the preseason schedule. Outshooting them 39-22 is a bonus considering three key elements left aside by Montreal, Koivu, Kovalev, and Markov.

In all regards, it appears that the Habs were beaten by Daniel Alfredsson's hat trick. Perhaps not being able to match up lines, and present the scoring threats that are Koivu and Kovalev, allowed coach Carbonneau to test different players against the most solid of lineups.

I gets harder and harder to get what Guy's thinking at times - more on that later.

The goaltending duo of Huet and Price faced 22 shots and allowed 5 goals, which is troublesome at first glance. Maybe the quality of the shots says more than the quantity here.

Carbonneau initially stated that the goalies used in the final games would start the season with the team, and Halak was expected to be given the nod for the backup role tonight. Low and behold, surprise of surprises, the coach seems to have changed his mind on Price, and the earlier statements concerning where he would begin the season.

Given that Price has gently outplayed Halak and has been dressed for the final two tilts does this mean he's won the job? It looks so to me.

Of the players who needed to perform well tonight in order to stick with the team, Mihkail Grabovski has finally hit the scoresheet with a pair of assists. He seems to have found cohesion with Andrei Kostitsyn, and Kovalev, and by all accounts when the trio is paired together ( wait...can't pair a trio together, but it's getting late!) sparks tends to fly. It seems that they will be given time.

If there's a battle at center between Maxim Lapierre, Kyle Chipchura and Grabovski to make the team, then Max was one upped tonight. He received less than 10 minutes of ice tonight - the lowest of any Habs player. Not a sign I like. It does not look good for him. Maybe Max just looks too much like Carbonneau in smartass grin mode?

Andrei Kostitsyn, with a goal and an assist will be getting much love from the Bell Centre faithful this season.

Three of the Habs four goals were scored from the blueline. Interesting that they have firepower there still beyond The Lost One. It could however be too early to draw conclusions.
Back to the shots on goal stat in coalition to the outcome - wasn't it the Canadiens who were winning games while being outplayed like this about a year ago? Odd, isn't it?

Perhaps the loss of The Player They Let Get Away will actually help tighten up the teams defense. Hell if they can hold the Senators to a decent amount of shots, they should fare even better against other opponants.

That might begin right of the faceoff circle. Checking the game line, I noticed that four centers took a total 56 of the 60 faceoffs in the game. Grabovski won 75%, Smolinski 59%, Chipchura 53%, and Plekanec 44%. Begin, Ryder, and Kostopoulos were a combined 1 for 4 on others. Too bad there isn't a puck possession stat to give creedence to the notion that winning faceoffs eventually renders more shots on goal. Of course this is obvious in offensive zone faceoffs, but one can draw their own conclusions here.

I like it that both Grabovski and Smolinksi held an upper hand, while Chipchura was more than accountable it that department. Koivu's usual 50% at best will of course temper this stat somewhat in real games.

Having mentioned three goals from the backline being a good thing, add in 19 shots on goal as well - almost half the team's total. The Canadiens dressed seven defenseman, sitting out only Markov and O'Byrne, whose Hamilton fate seems sealed unfortunately. Streit and Dandeneault were again taking shifts at forward, which is an asset Carbonneau needs to make use of any further.

I'm not sure where anyone else sits on the issue, but I'd rather see the likes of Begin, Lapierre and Latendresse taking a unified regular spin than spotting a spare defensema so he doesn't get cold. These are players than could have been the difference tonight.

Carbonneau ruffled the feathers of an entire city and a nation of fans recently in stating that Patrice Brisebois will be paired with Roman Hamrlik to start the season. Despite the idea that the duo makes practical sense in and of itself, the notion of Brisebois having even made the team is idiotic at it's simplest.

Does this annointing of Brisebois not come at the consequence of hampering the furthering of Gorges and O'Byrne?

What does playing and proping up Brisebois in such a manner actually give the team?

Wasn't Brisebois the most obvious goat of a goal tonight on the game's first marked? A trickling of boos were heard and it will get loader in proportion to his goofs this season.

Too bad the Habs gift shop don't sell a Breezer voodoo doll with a pin already inserted in the back. The item would be out of stock on a nightly basis.

It will be interesting to see how patient Carboneau remains with him. The coach was burnt badly by being too patient with Aebischer last season, a player who resembles Brisebois in cluelessness smirk and disinterest. Hopefully he catches on quicker this season.

Speaking of the coach, he has to do something to get me back into his corner again. I'm finding my faith in him slipping away some, and I feel I am starting the envision his end. I don't feel good about it either. Things I don't feel comfortable with are adding up and I'm wishing that wins adding up makes it disapear.

I'd respect certain things he's doing a whole lot more if proven wrong.

As for the final round of cuts, I get that O'Byrne will be sent down, a statement will be made, or attempted, with Lapierre, and Dandeneault will waiving goodbye, for now.

The jury will be watching Grabovski and Chipchura closely upon Max's Bulldog rebirth.

All things told, a fairly solid final outing without much overall on the line. The missing elements will return to bolster what ought to be an entertaining and competitive team come Wednesday.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Make It Or Break It Time

As the Canadiens prepare to meet the Ottawa Senators in tonight's final exhibition contest, it will be do or die time for several hopefuls attempting to make the 2007-08 Habs squad.

For certain players on the way up in the organization, it is unlikely that this game represents their last chance. For other players clinging to roles on the team, tonight's game could spell their final shot.

Of course, Canadiens management will have keen eyes set upon all players assumed to be on the bubble in this contest. Fates will be decided whether a particular player is playing tonight or not.

Having the Stanley Cup finalist Senators as an opponant represents a test of the highest order.

This game really ought to separate the men from the boys!

It will help the team determine how many plane tickets it needs to Hamilton.

I see the course of ten possible career paths being altered after this game. The players involved are:

Carey Price
Ryan O'Byrne
Mikhail Grabovski
Kyle Chipchura
Jaroslav Halak
Mathieu Dandeneault
Francis Bouillon
Patrice Brisebois
Garth Murray
Maxim Lapierre

Before analyzing each possible player scenario, let me just state that defenseman Josh Gorges is not amongst this group as he is a player the Canadiens KNOW will not clear waivers. He has performed adequately enough to be considered among the bets to remain with the big team.

In goal:

Differing quotes from coach Carbonneau and GM Gainey have so far conflicted in regards to Carey Price having an honest shot at making the team. So far, Price has done little to place himself off the squad, while Halak has been hot and cold in his outings. With Huet starting the Sens game, and Halak being given the third period of tonight's game, all I can foresee is that a brutal outing by Halak could give Price the upper hand.

This assessment is as difficult as reading minds.

On defense:

No one talks of upside in regards to Bouillon, Dandeneault, and Brisebois - they are all talents who have peaked in what they can offer to the Canadiens this season. All three will be facing the Senators tonight, with Cube and Dandy as a third pair, while Brisebois gets a solid partner in Roman Hamrlik.

Given that Ryan O'Byrne, the player pushing them, is not playing tonight, the three will possibly be putting their jobs on the line in this game. The Senators are so far seen as the measuring stick in the Northeast division, and these three blueliners must give it all for a good showing to remain with the big club. Should either of the three perform less than satisfactory, their games will be compared against O'Byrne's outing versus the Bruins on Thursday.

The evaluation of O'Byrne in that game was both good and bad. Should veterans duplicate his rookie errors, the waiver wire will become their 24 home shortly.


Four forwards, all bringing a different games from one another are in a battle for two spots on the team. Those slots are seemingly filled by two players whom Habs management know their possible contribution - Maxim Lapierre and Garth Murray. Three of these players are tagged as fourth liners.

Mikhail Grabovski is the wild card. Blessed with the kind of speed that turns defensemen onto their heels, Grabovski is as fast as they come. His challenge at present is proving that he can do more than simply create scoring chances, he must begin to convert them. Grabovski has wowed all concerned without notching a single point in five exhibition games. Grabovski is not a fourth line candidate by any means.

It's put up or shut up time for him tonight.

Kyle Chipchura has too many personal qualities and attributes to suggest he will never make the NHL. His future status is a given, but it is up to the Canadiens to determine whether that time is now, soon, or next season. Chipchura has shown he is capable at present against watered down training camp lineups, but has yet to face the real deal. He seems to be a compatible linemate for many, being he plays a safe game both ways. Don't be surprised if he is the one causing the cards to be shuffled.

Unfortunately, his fate might be dependant upon other's mistakes.

Garth Murray has done little to deserve still being in camp other than personifying a utility forward with fists. HIs defensive game offers variables, as in the past, he has shown effectiveness on both the wing and at center. He'll drop them gloves without striking much fear, and his best contribution hardly makes the Canadiens any tougher. He should have to exceed himself to avoid Hamilton.

He'll stick around only if three of the four forward candidates disappoint greatly.

Maxim Lapierre has been a camp disappointment, which comes as a surprise. Usually wiley and wired, he's been rather tame throughout exhibition games and he has a role on the team to lose. I don't see it happening, as he was a big game player when things were on the line in Montreal, as well as Hamilton last season.

He'll get in some faces tonight and be a factor. Bet on it!

Overall, of the ten bubble players, five and possibly six could start the season wearing the CH.

I don't see Dandeneault, Grabovski, and Murray making the final cut.

Flip a coin over Price and Halak. I know my choice rests with the future being now.

I'd put Brisebois out to pasture watching tonight's game blindfolded.

I am willing to let Bouillon and O'Byrne decide that last spot on D tonight.

For the final tally, we'll just have to wait it out until the final cuts.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Habs Players Weigh In On Downie Hit

(Robert L Note: Quotes and discussion are from Le Journal De Montreal. The opinions spoken out here are all mine.)

Philadelphia Flyers rookie Steve Downie made no friends among NHL players with a violent check delivered to a vulnerably positioned Dean McAmmond of the Ottawa Senators in an exhibition game earlier in the week.

I have always been of the opinion that as long as a proper deterrant is not in place, such incidents will continue to proliferate the game. Sadly, the league remains quite spineless when it comes to such things. After blowing the opportunity to instate more severe penalties in light of the Todd Bertuzzi mess a few years back, certain players might feel as though they have a free reign on committing such stupidities.

Bertuzzi will earn $4,000,000 this year, while Steve Moore, still deals with the after effects, trying to make it through his day.

Justice was never served, and players have taken advantage of it, hardly fearing any repercussions. The Chris Simon and Cam Janssen incidents from last season testify that nothing much will change until the league gets serious about banning player for seasons and careers in order to bring back a semblance of respect to the game.

The subject was brought up to Canadiens and upon being asked they unanimously condemned the gesture by Downie, who was a catalyst of previous incidents while playing in the OHL. If you recall, he was involved in an intiation razing of team rookies and was fined and suspended by the league.

"He has shown the type of individual he is", Chris Higgins said testerday morning.

"His intentions were clear when you watch the replay of the incident. He jumps in the air to hit McAmmond. He was going for the big hit."

Mike Komisarek compared the hit to a football tackle and likened Downie to a defensive tackle in full flight lunging over linesman to bring down a running back.

"There's no place for such things in hockey. It's unacceptable."

Bryan Smolinski said that he feared for McAmmond's health, knowing he had suffered a previous concussion just months before. McAmmond was knocked out of the playoffs after receiving a blow to the head from Chris Pronger in the third game of the finals. Pronger was given a one game suspension.

"I thought he was dead, seeing him lay motionless on the ice", said the veteran forward. "You could see that he was really in distress. Hits are a part of hockey, but this one was particularly viscious. It's always difficult to watch a player be hit this way."

Fortunately, most players have more respect for their opponants than Downie has.

"During last years playoffs, Corey Perry of the Ducks, could have levelled me a good one", said Smolinski, who was a member of the Canucks at the time.

"I was in a vulnerable position, but instead of delivering a hit that could have seriously injured me, he just settled for taking me out of the play. I thanked him afterwards."

Higgins doesn't go easy on Downie, saying that "he is preventing McAmmond from earning a living now."

"He has to be one strange person to do what he did. Players have to respect each other more than this."

Unfortunately, those accusing Downie of the worst of crimes are often less heavy handed when deciding his fate in regards to fines and suspensions.

Smolinski doesn't agree with the notion that Downie should be suspended for the duration of McAmmond's injury.

I have always be a proponant of such an idea. I think it makes for the perfect suitable deterrant that would make every player think twice before such incidents happen.

"We can't do that", Smolinski simply states.

Komisarek shares a different take on it.

"Recently, it was brought to our attention that the size of shoulder pads and elbow pads could be reduced. We were also advised that officials will be paying greater attention to hits aimed at the head."

The question always remains whether the NHL and its players can react before it's too late?

Spelling Higgins With An "A"

The quote below is from a player, whose leadership has been exemplary since becoming a Montreal Canadien.

"The goal here every year is to win the Stanley Cup. When you play in Montreal, the fans expect to win and everyone player on this team should expect to win the Stanley Cup every year! Don't even bother to come out if you do not feel you can win the Cup!"

Those words of course, are from Chris Higgins, who coach Guy Carbonneau has named as an assistant captain for the 2007-08 season. They were spoken in an interview with McKeen's Hockey, a little over one year ago.

Oddly, Higgins words sound much more reassuring to me than what captain Koivu was misquoted as saying over the summer in regards to the Habs chances - but that's another matter best left in an article about media.

Higgins is a wise choice for the Canadiens assistant captaincy, annointing a player whom many foresee as a future team captain. It is smart as it also gives the team's youth core a strong and resillliant voice among veterans.

As a player who has graduated every level of the game quickly, Higgins is a well rounded player and grounded between the ears. Leadership has always been his calling card.

"Every time I have moved up in hockey there has not been much of an adjustment period" admits the Smithtown, NwYork native.

"I feel that I adapt well to the next level and playing a solid two way game helps me in that regard. I don't rely just on scoring or just on defence. I try to be versatile and I think that helps make the transition easier".

The choice of Higgins as assistant could also have to do with how badly he seems to want to be a leader, without ever coming directly out and saying so.

"I want to be a dynamic player, one who makes big plays" states a confident Higgins. "However I don't think my role changed that much with the team's transactions ( in 2005-06 ), the team still looks to me to play an all around solid game and being on the top line will require me to produce more offensively. I worked hard in the off season and hope I can meet the expectations of this team".

Some might feel that being tagged with an "A" on the jersey is a simple, unmeaningful nod given to appease egotistical veterans looking for stature on a team. Often it can be, and there are examples of it within the Habs own organization for years.

However, when a youngster such as Higgins is branded with a letter, the move takes on several deeper interpretations.

In this case, the Canadiens brass is suggesting Higgins as an example that should be followed. He is but a fourth year player, but yet thinks and speaks with a veteran's tone.

Higgins, despite his age, is prototypical Montreal Canadien in spirit. It could have much to do with his upbringing, having grown up in a New York state Habs household.

"My dad was a fanatical Canadiens fan", he has said, "he can tell you all the rosters and leading scorers going back to the seventies".

Watching Higgins develop, I have seen flashbacks of many great Habs in the game he brings. None of these images remind me of one particular player, but rather a composite of several who wore the CH on their hearts. It is as if someone created him by placing the conjured souls of Habs warriors the likes of Skrudland, McPhee, Lemieux, Carbonneau, Larose, Backstrom, and current Habs captain Koivu into a type of spiritual blender, to be mixed and mushed into a complete whole.

Though Higgins is not a Quebecois, nor is he a Canadian, he is about as born and bred 100% Habitants as a non resident can be.

In pride, he does remind me some of Henri Richard, a player who did a great many things for a team, while not neccessarily defining greatness in any single aspect.

Over the course of the past season, Higgins battled through two major injuries. At the onset of 2006-07, he jetted out of the gate scoring 8 goals and 5 assists in his first thirteen games. He tallied key markers in all facets of the game - even strength, shorthanded, and on the powerplay. Estimations of his projected season totals were running wild when injuries hit.

He missed a prime chunk of the season with a leg injury, and the Habs eagerly awaited his return as his loss left a hole in the lineup that was spiritually difficult to fill. When Higgins returned, it would be to a team he likely didn't recognize as the one he'd last played with in mid November.

The Canadiens were enduring a tailspin brought on by several external happenings and his leadership was desperately craved.

Higgins notched a pair of goals in his return, but after a week of play seemed hesitant and very much unlike his usual self. On less visible nights, he was questioned about his being out of sync due to his previous injury.

The player let it be known that it was not the case, stating loud and clear for all to hear that the injury had been properly rehabed and completely healed. He blamed his hesitance on issues dealing with his own play.

Taking the easy way out, was not an excuse.

During the summer of 2007, it was revealed that what was bothering Higgins was in fact a shoulder injury suffered during the stretch drive. Still, he tallied 14 goals after returning from the initial injury.

As the Habs playoff chances were slipping, Higgins did not want to be on the outside looking in. Despite the fact that his contract was up for renewal as a RFA, he battled while hurt for the benefit of the team.

Perhaps playing alongside the aforementioned Koivu taught him lessons in playing with pain, through perseverance.

Higgins did not not regain the top line status he enjoyed earlier in the season, but still set his sights on helping the team.

"Saku has a great ability to make everyone feel welcome and be a valuable contributor to this hockey club no matter what your role" says Higgins.

"On the ice he is always teaching, giving us little tips on where he wants us to be and where to be on the ice when he has the puck, it makes a big difference because chemistry goes a long way".
This statement from Higgins is from the same McKeen piece, prior to what he endured during the past season.

One can assume he has been placed in a leadership role, for as much as what he has understood before living through it.

Even in hindsight, the leaders perspective has been in place between his ears long before last season's trials.

His approach to how he plays the game, makes him a valuable commodity in any role, no matter what injuries enabled him to offer in the past. His leadership lends to him thinking alongside with a coaches point od view.

"Coach Carbonneau understands that a great deal of this game is mental".

"Positioning and discipline go a long way in his eyes, he had skills but was not a dynamic scorer (when Carbonneau played), however there is a reason he was successful because he understood the game and had tremendous hockey sense", related Higgins.

Higgins could not have known that Carbonneau was an offensive dynamo in junior, who tailored his game upon being assigned a role by the Canadiens in the early 1980's.

"He is trying to translate that to us, he understands that players have different skill sets but there is a basic understanding of the game and he is trying to teach that to us".

For demonstrating a willingness to comply to team goals, and the selflessness that often goes along with achieving them, Higgins is an ideal bridge between management and players. GM Gainey and coach Carbonneau have obviously placed value in his views and work ethic.

His dedication to team pursuits has been recognized by the team in naming him an assisstant captain.

As many have often remarked, I see the Canadiens grooming a future team captain.

And his initials are CH!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Will Habs D Vets Suffer Rhino Burn?

Warning to the veteran defenders of the Habs blueline, you are about to be bumped!

Ryan O'Byrne, who I like to call "Rhino Burn", due to his size and fierceness, is about to steal someone's job in Montreal and Mathieu Dandeneault, Francis Bouillon, and the barely pencilled in Patrice Brisebois will be in for a season long dogfight for slim pickings of ice time - should they hang on that long.

The Canadiens blue line corps in order, consists of Markov, Komisarek, Hamrlik, Streit, Gorges, and Cube and Dandy along with O'Byrne battling it out for the sixth spot.

Nine defenseman for six slots is a problem every coach and GM wish they had.

I see Rhino Burn thick in the mix for reasons that make nothing but common sense to me. Here are some:

He's huge and mean. At 6' 5", he's a specimen of fear.

He brings an element that only one other Habs rearguard, Komisarek, offers. Most teams like at least four D-men of size. We have two!

He possesses an upside that Bouillon and Dandeneault no longer have. The Habs know that Cube and Dandy at their best will not make the Canadiens a better team. Brisebois - forget it!

O'Byrne's continued development depends on being challenged by bigger and quicker NHL talents.

He's proved his worth with Hamilton last season, getting stronger as the playoffs progressed.

In defense of Bouillon and Dandeneault being surpassed by both Gorges and Rhino, let's examine what each of the players bring to the team.

Bouillon is a tough and likeable rock, albeit vertically challenged for today's game. He can drop 'em and sock 'em while standing tall ( ! ) for the team, but he is not going to strike fear into many opponants. However, if he played 82 games against Darcy Tucker, he'd be on a Quebec postage stamp. On a team with depth on defense, he is a spare part at best. There are several good aspects to his game, but none make him rise above the pack. He was once waivered by the Habs, spent the weekend in Nashville and returned before anyone noticed he was missing. Where Bouillon was once a candidate for slivers of PP minutes, he has lost that perk to Streit.

Dandeneault, has never been speedy, and yet he seems to have slown. He was once rather effective clearing his zone, but now seems to panic some when clear alleys do not present themselves. Dandy has average size for a defenseman and still gets outpowered along the boards and in corners. He has great experience, being on Cup winners in Detroit, where he was a role player in their scheme of things. The Habs aren't the 1998 Red Wings. One bonus of Dandeneault's game was that he could sub at forward, thus allowing the team to dress 7 defenseman without compromising the state of its fourth line. Streit has robbed Dandy of this also. As an insurance policy as a seventh or eighth blueliner, the cheaper variable would be Brisebois.

Gorges has surpassed both players in the Habs esteem. He is also younger than Rhino. He will need some time to adjust to the Habs way of doing things. Already he has shown good passing skills and seems more composed in traffic than the others. Gorges will rarely be flashy in a city that loves its spice, but he has a background of being quietly effective while going unoticed for good reasons.

The Canadiens will start the season with eigth defenseman, meaning there will be one casualty after the weekend is out.

Gorges won't be cut as he would not clear waivers to the AHL.

Bouillon has been there and back, and it's doubtful he would draw interest despite how much Habs fan enjoy his combativeness.

Dandeneault is a declining asset who carries the largest salary of the three. Should Gainey not find a taker for him on the trade market, the option is to give him away by waiver.

The bottom line is that the Canadiens have strong prospects at the position for years to come. The plan would be the gratuate them in order or at least give them trial NHL runs to see what each are made of.

It is O'Byrne's turn now, simply because of what is coming in after him in highly touted players.
The wild card on defense remains Alexei Yemelin, who unwisely chose to play an extra season in Russia. Had he been at camp, reports are he was an automatic top six had he dotted the contract line.

With Yemelin still a possibility for next season, finding out what O'Byrne is made of becomes a priority now. Next season the Habs will give focus to the likes of Valentenko and Carle, soon to be followed by Fischer, McDonagh, and Subban.

What are they going to do with all this talent in about three or four years?

Today's bubble players will be a memory then and Komisarek will be staring down a long term deal. Markov and Hamrlik, should he still remain, would be going into their option years.

What this all means is that the evaluation process is a constant. The only difference now is that the stakes aren't as high as they will be then.

Sweating losing a Bouillon or Dandeneault, if Gainey is on target, will be looked back on with hindsight laughter by that time.

If the Canadiens want to play bigger, Rhino is a good starting point.

If the team wants to improve while building young and fresh, promoting O'Byrne makes a ton of sense.

The Canadiens can't keep speaking of the future in one corner of their mouth, and whisper that's not quite ready out the other corner.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

If You Build It, They Will Come

In a recent article posted at Habs World entitled "Ils Ne Vienne Et Ils Ne Viendront Pas", writer Louis Garon makes some excellent points as to why french speaking free agents are turned off from coming to Montreal.

Garon states that factors such as the media and the inherant pressure of playing in a city where hockey is religion tend to be negatives when it comes to french speaking players choosing destinations to further their careers.

There is no discussion in the article on whether free agents other than french speaking ones have similar issues.

Using the fervor surrounding the non signing of Daniel Briere, and the questions stirred in the aftermath, Garon points that no player would want to parachute themselves into an environment where every detail of their game is scrutinized by a competitive and frenzied media.

Balancing out Garon's point, is the mention that the players often view Montreal as a middling team and not one ready to aspire to the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, not much is made of this aspect in the piece.

Garon is always a studied read, and his posts make solid points and statements, but I can only meet him half way on this one.

Titling the piece (in translation) "They Have Not Come, Nor Will They Be Coming" in regards to free agents is somewhat short sighted, inconclusive, and selective.

I believe there are also external factors that prevent players from signing on Montreal's dotted line and they are varied and different as the players who pass on the team. The media is but one small consideration among many other reasons as to why players are slipping through the Canadiens grip. To blame one thing in particular, is unfair to the truth.

For one player, it might be the high taxes, for another it might be language or school issues that they are not informed upon. Sometimes it is pure player compatability. Team chemistry fit could play into it as well.

If one uses Briere as a yardstick, there could be many reasons why he changed course at the last second and headed to Philadelphia. One could be friends already playing for the Flyers. Another could be the front loaded contract offered him.

Perhaps the thought of being the Habs focal point made him queasy. Given the media tendencies, that could be the notion that tipped the scales in his case.

For certain, the media can be hard to bare for some players, but if a players needs to question his own character in asking himself whether he can withstand the pressure and hoopla of Montreal, I already don't want him on my team.

In my mind I saw Briere as the second coming (going) of Pierre Turgeon to Montreal. A player who, in a year's time, would ask out after being unable to cope.

It takes a player of strong character to come to Montreal, before it is a contender, and battle to build something of sustenance. Briere wasn't that guy.

Notice how Bryan Smolinski, Roman Hamrlik, and Tom Kostopoulos all signed without blinking.
You're thinking they're not in Briere's calibre, right?

Perhaps Briere is not in their ballpark balls wise either!

It take guts to play in Montreal. It takes a player who has the mind to separate the nonsense from what he has left on the ice after games. It takes a player who's sure of himself.

A player such as Guillaume Latendresse has shown, at 19 years old no less, that he has the cranium and gonads to survive the pressure. Others are not made up of the same things.

There are pros and cons to playing in Montreal, just like any other city.

I don't question what transpired for a guy to choose Philly over the Habs. I wonder why Kariya signs in St. Louis and Jovanovski in Phoenix - those are head scratchers, my friends.

For a player wanting an extreme hockey experience - what better place than Montreal?

One thing that hurt the Habs more than any french media meddling was the Samsonov fiasco of one year ago. The Canadiens refusal to coddle the spoiled and testically challenged Russian might have left some players with a bitter taste on their tongues from imagining themselves in that position.

But that can also be a good thing - If you don't have it you can't bring it, I say!

Do Briere and Samsonov have similar playing traits? No, not a chance, right?

In the past few years, as the Canadiens have become a stronger team, a parallel number of inquiries have spoken with Montreal at free agent time. Each season the names get more and more interesting.

As the team gets better, an improved quality of player, proportionate to Montreal chances, will begin knocking at the door. Players seeking to win Stanley Cups will want to be along for the ride, it's only natural.

Possibly even french speaking players even!

If the Canadiens have the cap room at the time, and are seemingly a player or two away, things will heat up their early July days.

It's the old motto - If you build it, they will come!

Now if we happen to land a pair of french speaking superstars one July in the not too distant future, does that mean the perception of the french media eating their own has simply vanished and become a non - factor?

I doubt it.

It will mean that winners are ready for us and we for them.

Now build it!

All 9 'Dog Bound Habs Clear Waivers

According to a report posted on the RDS site just shortly after noon today, none of the 9 Hamilton Bulldog bound Canadiens prospects were claimed on waivers.

For Yann Danis, Andrew Archer, Mathieu Biron, Jean-Philippe Cote, Jamie Rivers, Jonathan Ferland, Corey Locke, Duncan Milroy and Cory Urquhart it can be both interpreted as good or bad news.

Of course for the Canadiens, this can only be interpreted as a good thing.

The news means neither that the players are unwanted, or that Bob Gainey has assessed these talents for what they are. As all 29 other teams are in the process of trimming their rosters, it goes against the grain that they would add players at this stage.

One poster at Habs Inside Out predicted the likely critcism aimed at Gainey either way.

"If these guys got picked up on waivers, then Gainey gets crucified. If they don't get picked up, well it just proves that our prospects suck!"

What is encouraging about these players making it into Bulldogs jerseys is that it raises the level of inner competition within the Hamilton ranks. Players on the bubble now deem they could still have a slight shot, while the younger players learning alongside them benefit from the experience.

The good news all around is that the core of the championship Bulldogs sqaud remains intact for another run at the Calder Cup.

Adding to the positive take is that there is a solid and strong lineup in place that should show every player in their best light. Should Gainey field inquiries about these players, their values are raised a notch.

When teams do come calling for the likes of Danis, Milroy, Cote, or Locke, they will be more desperate than they would have been today.

A GM has an easier smile when trading from a position of strength, and that is the chair Gainey will find himself sitting in when the cell rings.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Waivered Players Place Gainey In A Catch - 22

The axe has fallen on the chances of 29 Montreal Canadiens hopefuls as GM Bob Gainey announced departures for Hamilton earlier today. Twenty seven players will be reporting to the AHL club while 2 more are being returned to junior.

Among the players backing their bags were training camp surprises Matt D'Agnostini and Sergei Kostitsyn. Both performed above standard and it was expected by many that they would remain with the club at least until the closing of camp.

Of the remaining demotions, perhaps Janni Lahti, who signed an NHL contract with Montreal after fielding several offers, comes as a bit of a surprise. Thomas Beauregard, who scored 71 goals as an overaged junior last season may also be disappointed some after exceeding expectations in camp.

Nine players from the group that was sent down must clear 48 hour waivers to end up in Hamilton and they included goaltender Yann Danis, defensemen Mathieu Biron, Andrew Archer, Jamie Rivers, and J.P. Cote, and forwards Corey Locke, Duncan Milroy, Jonathan Ferland, and Cory Urquhart.

Those same players clearing waivers, would also have to clear them once again if recalled by the Canadiens at any point during the season.

In recent years the Canadiens lost defensemen Francois Beauchemin and Ron Hainsey on the waiver recall wire, and it can be expected that the Habs may suffer up to four more losses from this curent bunch.

For starters, Yann Danis ought to be goners. The Los Angeles Kings have questions in goal and Danis has shown he is solid enough to be an NHL'er.

Corey Locke, Duncan Milroy, and J.P. Cote are also succeptible to being snapped up. Locke, who was the AHL's playoff scoring leader could find a home in as many as 10 cities. His salary makes him worth the risk as well.

Don't be surprised if the Ottawa Senators make a pitch for Locke. The Sens farm system has gotten rather thin in recent years. Ditto for the Leafs, who in truth, has rarely even had a system.

Other teams with thinning areas such as Phoenix and Columbus would love to get something for nothing also.

Fans of course, will question certain moves and motives by the team in the decisions made today.

"Why couldn't Gainey trade some of these guys", they will chant!

In many of the scenarios regarding players sent down, the hands of GM Gainey are tied. He's coming under some unfair criticism for not dealing these assets away before losing them for nothing.

It's always easy to criticize but one should understand what Gainey is up against when talking trade for some of the players.

When Sam Pollock was pulling rabbits out of hats three decades back, the draft was not limited to seven rounds as it is now. There were plenty of late round picks to barter off with less risk.

Today's 6th and 7th rounders serve to fill out AHL rosters and are more in need than before.

Another issue is that teams who finished below Montreal last season, ranked 1 to 11 in waiver pickup order would just as soon use the waiverline to pluck the player for nothing. With every NHL team about to place players on waivers in order to send them down, the Canadiens players are not a rare commodity - so why trade for them. Teams that finished ahead of Montreal, are generally just as well stocked and have little need for these wayward Hab hopefuls.

They in turn have their own players they are trying to avoid exposing and should they pick a player on waivers it just mean they have another they cannot protect under roster limits.

Ask yourself what those teams would be willing to offer Montreal for any of the players sent to Hamilton.

The correct answer is sweet nothing!

How can Gainey bargain without leverage?

Five Camp Hopefuls Should Avoid The Cut

Today the Canadiens will announce a large group of cuts for players whose hopes are now Hamilton bound. What will remain of the players in camp for the final two exhibition games, are prospects that the Habs organization, and coach Guy Carbonneau, feel have a shot at starting the season in Montreal.

For those players, the questions surrounding whether they stick with the team or not, have everything to do to with the quality of contributions they can offer the Canadiens this season if they are in fact NHL ready. Determining whether they stick in the final tally will speak for their progress, as well as their ability to adapt to a more involved game with bigger consequences.

As I am writing this in wee hours of Monday morning there is a good chance that cuts have been announced by the time you read this.

From what I've seen and read of the Canadiens camp and games so far, I see but five players able to complement the Habs destination this season. Considering that the team could ice a full roster without a single Hamilton promotion, this number is consistant with the players ages and developemnt within the organization so far.

Maxim Lapierre and Andrei Kostitsyn are not in the equation - they are Montreal Canadiens in every way.

In a previous post, I stated that goaltender Carey Price would start the year in Montreal, but it does not seem to be in the cards. I still firmly believe that the team would be better off with Price in tandem with Huet. The Habs brass has other ideas, and the cautiousness is understandable in regards to the gem they are dealing with. I've no qualms with the notion that an abundance of AHL playing time can only help the future star.

It will be an interesting file to watch unfold!

Other than Price, there are four other hopefuls I feel are NHL ready, though their futures quite obviously do not fit into the Canadiens present circumstances.

Corey Locke, Duncan Milroy, J.P. Cote and Yann Danis have each progressed professionally to the point where they are surely good enough to be NHL players - just not in Montreal at present. As they are not in the Canadiens current plans, the team must act quickly to determine their fate and gain a return on their values.

I like what all four have to offer, but there are only so many seats on the bus.

After eliminating those five names from the group, the Habs brass will be staring down five more players that have been bright lights in the teams first five exhibition games.

Those players include Matt D' Agnostini, this camps biggest revelation, and Sergei Kostitsyn, a slick and multi skilled talent who has shown an uncanny ability to find the net and adapt to his surroundings better than any other hopeful.

Rounding out the group are speedball Mikhail Grabovski, the well rounded and groomed Kyle Chipchura, and rugged defenseman Ryan O'Byrne.

The reason these five players will stick around the longest have to do with the options they present to the team and it's current needs.

O' Byrne is a lanky but rugged rearguard whose size is an element currently in short supply on the Habs blueline. His addition is only a matter of time, as he is a projected talent still in need of grooming. The Canadiens must decide between which destination can offer him the quickest progression. He would garner large chunks of AHL ice time in Hamilton as opposed to seeing perhaps 35 NHL games with Montreal should he make the cut. This decision will have much to do with whether they deem he can offer the Canadiens more than Mathieu Dandeneault and Josh Gorges at this point.

Grabovski is an offensive catalyst, whose speed is blurry enough to make oppositions coil. Trouble is, he lacks a great deal of finish on plays and shows compatibility with only a few of the Canadiens regulars - namely the elder Kostitsyn and Alex Kovalev. His lack of adaptability to other players may tag him as a player who needs a step back before stepping up for good.

Sergei Kostitsyn brings the same cards as Grabovski to the table along with more versatility. While being speedy, he also shows a knack for multiple usage. His hunger has been commended as he is an able passer and shooter, whose instincts into defensive areas are also apparent. He has also been compatible with only a select few from the Habs lineup, but has the tools of a sparkplug who can contribute from any line.

Matt D'Agnostini has darkhorse written all over him. The game which he brought to the Hamilton Bulldogs last season has been a highlight of the Habs camp so far. He continues to be the right guy in the right place at the right time, making him extremely hard to ignore. It will be his play away from the puck that tells his fate. While lacking in size, he has shown fearlessness in traffic. His fate may eventually be tied to what the Canadiens foresee in the case of impending free agent Michael Ryder. He has done everything possible to make the 2007-08 Habs, but patience might be a virtue he seeks. With dedication and hard work, an NHL stint isn't out of the question for D'Agnostini this season.

Kyle Chipchura is the closest of all Habs prospects as he is slotted to fill a particular defensive role on the team. Groomed in a Carbonneau and Gainey mold, many speak of the maturity in which he brings to his game. The Canadiens have a spot for him and it is up to the player to show he is ready. His positional awareness and the success he has had in camp so far tell that he must be measued against higher standards of play to gauge his progression. Count on him being in the Canadiens lineup in the first game against Carolina.

Much can change in the Canadiens next two exhibition games. Given what has been seen of the five players spoken about above, the Habs ought to give them every opportunity to play their cards in the coming days.

It will be an interesting week ahead.

Habs 100 Trivia Question Update

There are exactly 10 days remaining in the Habs 100 Trivia Question Primer contest to name bragging rights for the Canadiens most knowledgable fan.

So far I have sorted through dozens of entries and I have been quite surprised by what I am reading.

Hab fans sure know their stuff!

Not one single entry came back with less than 75 correct answers! Considering that I sought to make these questions difficult to Google, this is testament to how well versed Habs fans are in the facts and and details of their favorite teams history.

Up until last Friday night, I had read and scored 37 readers answers, and so far three entries have pulled away from the pack. After going through the first 5 or 6 replies, it quickly became apparent which answers were stumping fans accross the board.

In fact, there was one question (#36) worth 6 points for three names, that only one entrant nailed.

Samuel Desjardins, wherever you are - stand up and take a bow!

If you think you know your Habs and have what it takes to answer these questions, give it a shot in the remaining days.

Who knows, you could find yourself with bragging rights as the Habs Trivia Expert!

For now, here are how the top 10 entries stack up.

Manon Patry: 263 points - 91 correct answers
Eddy Sauvestre: 246 points - 84.5 correct answers
J.T.: 242 points - 80 correct answers
Samuel Desjardins: 241 points - 78 correct answers
Martin St-Pierre: 240 points - 78 correct answers
Donah Duplesie: 240 points - 77 correct answers
Armand Content: 240 points - 77 corrects answers
Babe Wheeler: 240 points - 77 correct answers
Arnold Levy: 239 points - 77 correct answers
P.X. Olivier: 239 points - 76 correct answers

If you have submitted an entry in the last few days, check back on October 3. These are not the final totals.

If you are interested in submitting, send your answers to me at realitycheck-time @ I will be e-mail all entrants scores once the contest wraps up.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Limited Solutions For Canadiens PP Woes

So the Canadiens number one ranked power play of last season has gone south.

Make that west!

It's not difficult to see that the Habs 2 for 33 PP stinks so far without the focal point that was Sheldon Souray's blistering drives.

Seeing this futility almost makes me re-evaluate the teams hopes.

What made the team so successful in this area last season wasn't Souray's shot in its entirety - it was the mere threat of it.

At one point in the early going of 2006-07, and carrying over from the previous season, there was a statistic that summed up the Canadiens powerplay better than the standard conversion ratio. It was that Souray had been on the ice for something like 30 consecutive powerplay goals.
The Souray threat was key element in the Habs overall success, much more than many were willing to admit.

Between Andrei Markov and Alex Kovalev, slick passers both, Souray had an option to each side if stuck. Furthermore, either side had Souray as an option. It was almost perfect!

What this threat did to teams defending a man down was force them to choose an option. They could attempt to knot up Souray and play him close, exposing themselves down low, or they could chance it and suffer the consequences.

Each option was a roll of the dice on a given night and was the prime reason the Canadiens were so successful in this department.

The Canadiens seem at a loss presently to replace the booming shot element missing from their attack.

The big problem now is that there is no one on the current Habs lineup that can inspire the same respect and fear when raising the stick to the sky when winding up.

It is as if the Habs have replaced a shotgun blast with a bunch of boy scouts with rubber bands! No one is shaking in fear!

In going 2 for 33 in 5 exhibition games, the Habs are converting at a rate of 6%, compared to last year when they were around the 20% range.

Point blank - if the Canadiens can't come up with a solition for this, they will be easy patsies for even the leagues weaker teams considering their 5 on 5 strength is equally dismal.

Are there any inner solutions to fill the point void?

None that I see at present.

The best shooters on the team ply their trade from close in. Michael Ryder's quickness and accuracy are dependant upon his freedom in the slot. Kovalev's deceptiveness in shooting from the right side has all to do with moving defenders to the middle with a point pass option and opening an alleyway to the net.

Could Ryder or Kovalev play the point?

In both cases, the shot is there. In both cases, the ability to read defenders is not. Next?

Next is no one. Chris Higgins and Saku Koivu have power play roles that require them to buzz the net and cycle the puck in converting opportunities. Forwards such as Kostitsyn and Plekanec are puck movers, plain and simple, and are not attuned to any other type of specialty given their respective games.

Of the remaining forwards or defenseman, none are suited to man the point and command it with any presence.

The Canadiens must find a way to work their power play with the cards they have been dealt.

There are three types of setups on the PP that work and Montreal is ill equiped in these options.

The first is the previously explained booming shot focal point.

The second is having an immovable object in front of the net. A player big enough to withstand an onslaught of hacks while being large enough to screen a goaltender and still convert what comes his way in scoring chances. Think Dany Heatley, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tim Kerr, Dave Andreychuk, and Phil Esposito - with players talented enough to feed them in tight traffic.

The last option is a group of five pinpoint puck movers, lightning fast and accurate enough to auger dizzied defenders into the ice.

Option one signed with Edmonton.

Option two is an equally rare breed. Two of the Habs larger forwrds able to fill such a role are Bryan Smolinski and Guillaume Latendresse. Neither are experienced in the role.

Option three offers the Canadiens something to work with. Skilled puck movers and an equal number of triggermen are all that we have to go with in the absense of a blue line threat.

So where does that leave the popgun Habs?

It leaves them throwing all of their assets into the third idea, which is akin to putting all one's eggs into one basket.

Beyond putting your most skilled passers out there with a triggerman or two, all the Canadiens can offer as an extension to this idea is to add a fourth forward, a defensively responsible one, to man the blue line and hope he isn't screwed over by tight coverage.

Otherwise it's back to working a set of standard plays to perfection within a semi capable group of able puck movers.

The trouble is, teams have the Canadiens sized up well when defending against what they can throw at teams.

When I coached, my approach to killing penalties went something like this.

I drilled it into players heads that they were not playing 4 against 5, and convinced them until they saw it my way. Yes, there were 5 opposing players, but we still had 4 skaters and a goalie.

The oppositions extra man was in essense, at the far end of the rink tending goal where there was no threat.

The two forwards took care of the point should the puck be there, the defense nulified the wings.

If this smothering was persistant and forcefull enough, the puck would be battled for much more than it would be moved. The fifth forward was positioned in the slot for a shot that would either not be coming, or he would need to remove himself from a dangerous area in order to gather a pass that would keep play moving, thus eliminating himself as a threat in front of the net.

Should shots make their way through this web, I instructed my goalie to play up close and tight to the loose player high in the slot. If that player was solely intent on screening the goalie, the task became easier.

There was no box or square, small or wide to speak of. I positioned players in the form of a diamond - that is three curved base points with the top point being the puck pursuant.

It took extremely swift and talented players to beat this blanket - guys named Crosby, Thornton, Iginla, and Lecavalier, that we don't have.

From what I've witnessed so far, from last season's second PP unit to this season's effectives, this is how teams will be shutting down the Canadiens.

The glimmer of hope is that the Habs have a batch of talented forwards, pimpled and whiskerless, ready and eager to learn from trials and tribulations.

Even on paper it looks as though it won't be good enough for a good while.

Trotting through my head are thoughts of reaquiring Souray at a kings ransom, hoping he waves a no trade clause as an unhappy Oiler.

Yeah, yeah - dream on I hear my conscience say!

Going over the Habs options for power play proficiency, solitions are thinner even in dreams.

Adding all this up, I'm thinking the only person that can alter this predicament is named Bob Gainey.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Darkhorse D'Agnostini Turning Heads

With quotes from Habs Inside Out, dated 21/09/07

"A star is born" was the quote from Habs grinder Steve Begin as the doors swung open to reporters following the Canadiens 3-2 exhibition win over the Islanders Friday night.

D' Agnostini, for the record, potted two goals including the game winner in overtime.

As a Hamilton Bulldog rookie last season, D'Agnostini quickly showed a knack for such timely goals, and it appears the trend has continued throughout the Canadiens training camp. In scrimmages during red and white games, he was a regular on the scoresheet. Against Pittsburgh Monday night, he hardly looked out of place.

If he was the name on some lips through the early part of camp, he is now the name on everybody's lips right now.

Fellow blogger Matt Macaskill ( Habs World, Current Habs, and Drive to 25 ) was the first person to bring attention to D'Agnostini at last year's rookie camp, and has been high on him ever since.

During a spell last season when D'Agnostini was injured, the Bulldogs promptly slumped and rose with his return.

After the Islander game, Habs coach Guy Carbonneau set the bar high for D'Agnostini, while complementing him with Hall Of Famer comparison.

"To make the NHL, D'Agostini "has to be involved. His timing is good. His shot is NHL calibre. What he has to work on is when he doesn't have the puck. He has to be strong on the wall, a reliable player who can push people away."

Carbonneau repeated that D'Agostini reminds him of Michel Goulet, a player who "you don't notice until the red light goes on." The rookie, he said, has "a nose for the net and a good shot."

After the game, D'Agostini credited linemate Guillaume Latendresse for setting up his two goals and modestly allowed "I was in the right place at the right time."

D' Agnostini has been a perenial 20 goal scorer in junior and the AHL, but it sounds as though he could be the kind of special player who can slip through the cracks. Should his NHL game be complete enough to justify a trial stint at the NHL level, he might just be a player who eases the worries of Habs fans fearing the loss of Michael Ryder to unrestricted free agency.

He might also be the player who makes a value such as Ryder expendable, with a return value before he's lost for no return.

Not that I'm on the bandwagon of supporters for Ryder's exit, it's just that Ryder will soon be able to thank impending free agency for over renumerating his one dimensional talent. If that is to be the case, I'd rather it be elsewhere, with the Canadiens shelving out the mega bucks for more complete players.

This might be where a player of D' Agnostini's stripe comes in. If he can contribute the same element as Ryder at a cheaper cost, why not give him a full shot?

In the early season, what is there to lose?

Curious to D' Agnostini's fate with the Habs, is that he has rarely been a top line player at previous levels. This might add some balance to the questions concerning him. Does it have to do with size over anything else? Are there other concerns?

I wish I had those answers!

For now, the Canadiens might be well served to play this kid in all rmaining exhibition games in order to sense exactly who they are dealing with. Throw him daringly into a prime time role and gauge his compatability and completeness.

If we have a keeper here - isn't it better to know sooner than later?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Comparing Past And Present Habs

When one operates a hockey blog, inspiration for posts can come from just about anywhere!

I was thinking about this one comedian whose name escapes me, who did a schtick on doctor patient relationships. Mimicing a phychiatrist and a mental patient, the comic went about his routine invoving ink blots and word association, with the answers, of course, revealing details of the patients psyche.

When shown the ink blots the patient is asked to describe the first thing that comes to mind.
Usually in movies, the answers always involve sex. In one movie I recall, after seeing a dozen different blots that reminded him of sexual positions or perversions, the exasperated shrink asks the patient, "Is that all you can think about - sex!" To which the patient shoots back, "Whaddaya want me to think about? You keep showing me all these dirty pictures!"

With association, the psychiatrist tells the patient a word, and the patient replies the first thought that enters his mind.

For example, a patient hearing the word "black", will say "white" if he is a contrarian, a very normal human response. Another patient hearing the word "sky" could say "rain" or "sunshine", and on it goes until a patern of thought is revealed.

So with the Canadiens in mind, I thought I would play this game of association with players names. I placed the names of 25 current Habs players, rookies included and pulled them from a hat. The hitch was, I could not use simply a word to describe them, I would have to associate them to a former Habs player.

Often, the first thought coming to mind didn't really add up, but I wanted to be honest with my answers and analyze them afterwards.

After doing this, I called up a fellow Habs fan and asked him to play along. I described the idea I had in mind and asked if would be willing to associate current players to those of the past.

He refused!


On the grounds, he stated, that today's players "simply just can't compare".

I understood his point of view, but gamely offered that he was in fact missing the point. After some going back and forth, he offered to partake in the word association idea that I originally introduced to him as an explanation of what I was attempting to do with this post, provided I name the player that I likened today's Habs to.

He agreed and I settled for that, knowing his opinions on current Canadiens players were hardly uniform takes. He reads no internet news or print media, and he watches games in french, without understanding the language. To top it off, he works in an environment where hockey is hardly discussed.

In short, his opinions would be quite pure and uncorrupted.

I decided that his take would be interesting, and that they may add something to the post that I could never achieve. My only restrictions on his answers were that they be his initial thoughts - brief, phrase-like, and to the point. He added his impressions to my player choices on some.
I suppose after all this, it is more for others to judge, than it is for me to analyze. I placed my friends comments on each player in parentheses after my first thoughts and the inclination that brought them. I stopped at 20 names, as answers were either becoming ridiculous, redundant, or painfully irrelevant.

So here it goes, for what it's worth!

Alex Kovalev - Pierre Larouche: Funny I would yank this name first! Talented, charismatic, and enigmatic are traits I guess both these stars shared. Both could tantalize, disappoint, and frustrate fans all on one shift! ( Magic - My friend qualified Kovalev as a magician replaying the same tricks.)

Janne Lahti - Petr Svoboda: Not much of an evalution here, seeing as I've watched him play only one game. He looked like a lost little boy on closeups. I imagine he reminded me of Svoboda as a boy amongst men. One game can't leave much more of an impression than that. ( Buddy was stumped as he missed Monday night's game.)

Maxim Lapierre - Mario Tremblay: Plays with the same shit eating grin as le Bleuet Bionique did in his heyday. Stirs it up and acts the innocent part without shying away. Has a smile that annoys rivals to no end. Do not confuse the love of the player with the hatred for the coach! ( A shitster full of pranks.)

Saku Koivu - Mats Naslund: Small European with heart and guts to spare. Koivu is definitely more courageous, having faced the possibility of death in the prime of his career. ( Soul. Injury prone. Has not been the same player since the injury in his second year.)

Michael Ryder - Steve Shutt: Snipers both, Ryder unfortunately is more visable than Shutt was. The two players play like cat burglers, only Ryder gets arrested! ( Dimwit. Stunned and perplexed look on his face, even after scoring a goal. Too slow to be Shutt.)

Roman Hamrlik - Vladimir Malakhov: A one game take that is hardly fair. Just the first name that popped into my head. Likely totally inaccurate. ( Olympics. Wasn't the "Roman Hammer Lick" some kinda medievial emperor sport!)

Andrei Markov - Serge Savard: Subtle, precise and underappreciated until missing. Not much more to add here, just my initial response. ( Mr. Bean. Could also be a woman in drag with those lips on a high cheekbone face.)

Chris Higgins - Claude Lemieux: Minus the theatrics and vulgarities, Higgins brings a similar intensity. Has the tendency for big goals in big games. ( Pug. Has the wide nose of a tenacious dog.)

Tomas Plekanec - Guy Carbonneau / Jacques Lemaire: I was divided here. Pleks plays two roles at a time. He's positional and sly. Sly enough to make opposition players pay for their mistakes. Give him two brilliant wingers and his stats will catapult to more stratospheric heights. ( Shadow. You only realize what he's done, after he has done it.)

Mike Komisarek - Craig Ludwig: Feared but rarely a focal point. Not as ugly or as Ludwig, nor as angled and awkward, Komi is as punishing a player should a rival be suddenly distracted. Both players make daring forwards pay the price. ( Crash. A bull in a china shop.)

Carey Price - Doug Wickenheiser: I blinked here. I too easily could have obviously said Dryden or Roy. I`m not comparing the players or persons involved here. As a longtime fan, I gather that expectations were the inclination behind spitting out Wickenheiser's name. I can't read anything else into this - and don't you! ( Snake oil. I've heard some rumblings about this guy that are too good to be true. What's the deal?)

Ryan O'Byrne - Gilles Lupien / Robert Picard: Tall awkward defenseman with a ton of upside. (Who?)

Mark Streit - Jimmy Roberts: A previous blogpost comparing both made this one too simple. Each player had value in more than one position. Beyond that, for now, I cannot expand on Streit's upside. (French painter. Skinny moustache, sheepish grin.)

Andrei Kostitsyn - Pete Mahovlich / Bobby Smith: Alternately great passers and puck eaters. I've seen both former stars earn boos hanging onto to pucks too long. Ironically, like Kostitsyn, when a goal scoring opportunity finally arises, it is then that they contrarily opt to pass. ( Smooth. Looks very sleek from the bits seen late last year.)

Guillaume Latendresse - Frank Mahovlich: Seemingly slow and deceptive. Becomes impassioned when purpose presents itself. ( A workbench on skates.)

Bryan Smolinski - I drew a blanc here! ( Was he that bald headed Senator?)

Kyle Chipchura - Bob Gainey: A one game assessment. Positional and composed on the ice. ( Who?)

Patrice Brisebois - Patrice Brisebois / Terry Harper: As a lark, first thing to come to mind is he is already, due to injury, reminding me of his former self. At one time he was under valued just as Harper was. That was long ago. (Fuck, is he back! )

Steve Begin - Brian Skrudland: A martyr for the team, willing to throw his smile in front of a shot if it helps win a game. Limited skill wise, but with unlimited dedication. (Warrior. Without consequence to grand outcome of things.)

Cristobal Huet - Ken Dryden: Big, calm, and composed. The two goalies that came from nowhere to win starters jobs from heralded goalies. ( Big. Boring. One quotable, the other silent. )

There you have it. My initial answers are hardly in sync with how I have generally assessed certain players over time. Some of my own intuitions actually surprised me.

In truth, all of these players cannot compare until their names are etched on Stanley Cups.

As young and unacomplished as most of these names are - only time will tell.

Now Doctor, the Habs are 1-2 in exhibition, where's that straightjacket?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Relax, It's Meaningless

Yes, last nights effort against the Penguins wasn't pretty, but a little perspective - please.

Many looked at the game lineups and figured rightly that one half of the Habs team could easily do away with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. I'm guilty of thinking it myself, based on what went down the night before.

But this is why there is pre-season folks. It's all about ironing out wrinkles and getting synchronicity and cohesion reaquianted with talent. My father once told me "Patience is a virtue!" Or was that my mother saying patience is a virgin - I forget.

In all regards, taken for what it was, the 5-2 loss to the baby Penguins had enough ugly for a dozen Betty's. More than half of the players disguised as Habs last night just didn't bring their A games and on first glance the overall impression was anything but reassuring.

I thought it best to let this one simmer a bit overnight before committing my thoughts here and after letting everything merinade a few hours what I witnessed doesn't feel so harsh.

After allowing panic to crash head on with perspective, realizing that it was only the first game for most of these players lightens the blow despite the quality of the opposition.

There was a considerable amount of inexperience on the ice.

Jaroslav Halak's alarm clock went off late.

Given these facts, many players hit the ice with unrecognizable mates at their side and were asked to come from behind 2-0 in a game against a lineup of players hardly any of them knew.

With that in mind, a fair assessment of much of what occured, might not even be fair. In truth certain bleu, blanc, rouges didn't belong on the ice with the bigger boys.

Not to split hairs here, but why do the Habs feel it necessary to give Francis Lemieux a shot at the team when he's yet to achieve top 2 line status in Hamilton?

Despite the loss, I saw good things in the performances of Carey Price and Ryan O'Byrne.

Price had little help from his friends and I'mmore interested in seeing how he bounces back than I am in analyzing what happened here.

O'Byrne ( Rhino Burn!) needs work on timing his hits. Hitting NHL'ers cannot be learned at the AHL level, His will be an interesting case to follow.

Matt D'Agnostini will be a good one. Another year in Hamilton, in a prime role, will help him become the complete player Montreal needs him to be. I see another Higgins in this boy. He gets his mug smushed and has a compass in his eye. He'll be a fan favorite soon enough.

Battlers Bryan Smolinski and Steve Begin showed up. Begin, throwing himself out to block shots in a pre-season PK, is who the man is. Smolinski will get more accustomed to the team once he has regular linemates.

Guillaume Latendresse showed a flare of temperment, which is good.

Captain K had a sprinkling of good shifts.

Maxim Lapierre was bristling with energy at times.The Max Factor is ready to go.

The jury takes a recess on Roman Hamrlik for now.

Francis Bouillon and Mathieu Dandeneault need some time as well.

Michael Ryder needs to understand that every shift and every play has a consequence. I fear he is setting himself up to be the Habs whipping boy this season if he doesn't start rounding into form soon enough. Just as Kovalev's every flaw was exposed last season, Ryder will be wearing the shackles of Habs fans wrath if he doesn't find a more complete game soon.

Good or bad, not much more made any lasting impressions on me.

What I took from the debacle, was that if you add the glimmering better elements of last night's game to the sure things in Monday's lineup, a team as a whole emerges.

The players who spent the evening playing leapfrog with unicorns were hardly representative of an intact Habs squad.

So there is really no need to panic for now. It's not as if this was the last pre-season test. We will all have a better idea where the Habs are in a week or so.

The problem as I see, is there's too many bodies in camp to sort out at present. Each player's limits has an impact on the play of the next guy.

What I found sadly missing this season was the rookie tournaments they had the last two years. The idea has been put aside for now, in part because the Leafs and Sens do not have enough prospects to line up against the Habs. Maybe next year the Riccoh Cup ( is that the correct spelling? ) will return.

For now, after some 15 or 20 cuts, the real stuff will begin.

So don't sweat it folks - chill - this was far from the real deal!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Habs Should Imitate Senators

Habs GM Bob Gainey and the Montreal Canadiens have a long standing policy of not negotiating contracts in mid-season. Since 2003, Gainey has deviated from this only once, in order to extend captain Saku Koivu conract for 4 seasons.

It is a policy that many more than I do not agree with.

The thinking behind the bannishment of mid-season extension talk is the distraction to players current seasons and its inherrant loss of focus to team goals.

Fair enough, in certain cases, but once a deal is signed - or not - doesn't the focus fall backon tasks at hand.

Last season, the Senators shackled Chris Phillips for 4 years at a surprisingly fair price, and just did the same for Mike Fischer yesterday.

The words "surprisingly fair price" are annomalities rarely heard during contract announcements. Usually it's "they paid him how much?"

It would have been nice to settle with Sheldon Souray last season at a "surprisingly fair price", just as it will be / could have been with Michael Ryder, the Habs only proven sniper.

The policy is out of sync with today's free agency realities. With players able to reach unrestricted status at about the same time as their prime years kick in, it is a logical step for the Canadiens to forego of it and become a whole lot more proactive with its youth stars.

This means Michael Ryder right now, and Higgins and Komisarek next season prior to their current bargain deals expiring.

The abandoning of the "no talk" stand would also help the team better assess where a player's head is at in terms of whether he wishes to resign at the contracts end or fly off free as a bird with no droppings.

The Habs miss what Souray could have brought them at present and Gainey has incurred hindsight criticism for not acting in what I feel were the Canadiens best long term interests in the matter. Had they began discussing matters with Souray and his agent, the current eventuality would have been avoided.

On one hand, the Canadiens may have aquired a roster player that would be dressing tonight, or a draft pick that could be in Montreal down the road.

On the other hand, Souray could have had two power play goals against the Penguins last night, given all the opportunities.

Instead, the no negotiations stand have left Montreal with nothing but a void to fill.

It strikes me funny to be looking to Ottawa to suggest how the Habs should do things, but right is right.

While I'm on the subject of other team backyards, have you heard that both of the Ontario team's Swedish captains, Sundin and Alfredsson are levying to bring free agent Peter Forsberg into their respective folds.

I cannot envision either jersey suiting Forsberg too well. They'd look like Nashville's did all over him, in their mustard and snot shades of yuck.

Gainey should put on his devil's horns and do to others what others have done to the Habs here and negotiate with Forsberg. The player, if healthy could still lend a hand to the Habs at the right price. I believe Forsberg would come at a discounted rate, otherwise both the capped out Sens and Leafs wouldn't be in the running.

Having Gainey throw his hat into the ring, upping the offer to Forsberg, would do well to keep him away from a rival team. The worst it could do is strangle their finances by making him more expensive than he is currently worth.

Gainey could be doing it silently as off now.

I had to laugh at the recent quote from the braintrust (loosely used). Something about the Leafs and the Stanley Cup this season in the same sentence. The tired rhetoric is still being sold in Toronto. I almost feel sorry for their...oh, nevermind!

The Leafs could win the Stanley Cup, anything can happen!

Right after they raise the Titanic and find the band still playing!


Check out Matt Macaskill's spanking new "Drive For 25" site. Matt is a longtime writer and great contributor for Habs World and his new blog is one to keep and eye on.

Wecome Back Habs, Kovalev!

Yesterday started out as a good one for me. I finished a 12 hour shift at 7 in the morning and walked outside to relative sunshine and warmth. Not only had the day been anticipated and calendar circled for some time for hockey reasons, but it's anticipation gathered extra steam about two weeks ago with the announcement that my rock 'n' roll buddah was about to tour again, with tickets going on sale September 17.

So after bagging a pair of tickets to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Ottawa on October 14, what could possibly make this day better? My daughter making travel team after potting 5 goals in an exhibition scrimmage?

A Canadiens win in their first preseason game would cap it off nicely!

In town for the occasion, are the Penguins, Sidney Crosby show, and Angelo Esposito sideshow in tow!

The starting lineup for the good guys was announced by late Sunday night and includes Mikhail Grabovski, Alex Kovalev, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec, Sergei Kostitsyn, Jonathan Ferland, Kyle Chipchura, Tom Kostopoulos, Janne Lathi, Duncan Milroy, Corey Locke, Garth Murray, Andrei Markov, Mike Komisarek, Mark Streit, Andrew Archer, Josh Gorges, Mathieu Carle, Cristobal Huet and Yann Danis.

We'll have to wait for Lapierre and Latendresse in tomorrow's game.

With my eyes dimly open from three two hour plus sleep shifts, I set a hazy gaze for RDS, primed to watch the likes of the Kostitsyn brothers, Chipchura, Carle and Lahti in particular. I also looked for a spark from Milroy, Archer, and Locke, who have been given one more attempt at latching onto to the big leagues before Gainey begins to make call assessing their worth.
For a first game, this was one impassioned and thrilling debut.

The players played as though it were more than just a few roster spots on the line. It was as though much more were at stake or there was something to prove.

Like Alex Kovalev, for instance, playing for keeps.

One game hardly constitutes a ressurrection, but the look in his eyes was encouraging.

Two other standouts, were Markov and Komisarek, whose play this season will go a long way in determining the Habs faith.

Montreal dressed 10 rookies while the Penguins were missing only the likes of Roberts, Whitney, and Malkin. The fact that Montreal were even able to match up despite the edge in experience is a great and telling sign.

Several of the players looking to make the team had very good showings, but none better than Kyle Chipchura. As previously reported, I think the Canadiens have a special player here. While he did commit a boob or two, he played a strong game. It's easy to see why the organization is so high on him. There's a spot for him in Montreal and it looks after last night that it is his to lose.

Chipchura is not blessed with blinding speed, but does have the intsincts and smarts of a defensive specialist in the Gainey and Carbo mold. He knows his positioning to a fault, places the puck intelligently when clearing, and pursues the puck with zeal. He killed off penalties all game and came close to notching a goal. He received an appreciation hand from the crowd on his way back to the bench.

It took awhile for the game to gather some juice and after both Carle and Archer went down to injury, the game gathered pace.

In that, there was the silver lining of seeing just how well, not only Mark Streit, but Josh Gorges played under pressure. Gorges was a discovery last night, thriving when overworked. Being used in every sense, he showed an uncanny ability to win the board battles and clear the net.

Streit was a pillar on this night as well. Against the speedy Penguins, Streit surely wanted to show coach Carbonneau where his preference for playing was. At this point, Streit is a more flexible option on the backline that either Bouillon or Dandeneault.

The Habs backline looks to have more depth than initially given. The pressure will be on Bouillon, Dandeneault and Brisebois to match these performances.

Up front, both Corey Locke and Mikhail Grabovski demonstrated skill and had decent moments. locke let fire a pair of blasts, one good for the second goal. He looks intent on seizing his final shot a the team. Grabovski reminds me of none other than Russ Courtnall - a gazelle often too fast for his own puck.

Grabovski oozes talent and skill, but lacks some finish and size to make his anything more than a one dimension player for now. He produces sparks with no result and needs to look around himself more to assess option and open ice. You hate to tell a guy of his stripe to slow down so others on his line can play with him, make better use of him. But that is where I feel he is at and this is the teaching he needs to adapt. If he manages to learn this, he will be a treat.

Other rookies were a little less consistant, and the performances varied from player. Janne Lathi had seconds of great coherence with Kovalev, but not much else to make anyone rave and shout.

Duncan Milroy has the tools to be an NHL'er right now, if not in Montreal. Despite his fringe nature, he does have a good portion of the tools required to be a regular. Milroy's effort never wanes, the hits are there, and the grinding nose to the glass effort never wanes. Unfortunately for Milroy in Montreal, he might just be another number ready to be outnumbered.

Oddly, I see him as a prototypical Bruin coming back to haunt the Habs. I'm not sure why I sense the deja vu!

Jonathan Ferland took a nonsense penalty in the first period that propably bought him a one-way back to Hamilton. He does have that needed rugged edge, some speed, but it will be hard for him to outshine anyone on his fourth strike.

Sergei Kostitsyn dittoed Lahti's night. He showed flashes of a bigger game countered with moments of being absolutely looking lost. One one PP, he was set up in the corner, stood there mostly and watched. Despite the lost look, it is undeniable the talent he has. He will crack the shell at some point. What he's going through is often what occurs to go-to guys when moving up to a higher level. He's dealing with less puck time, and movement and adjusting his position are his next lessons. The Habs know exactly where he can gather this information.

As for the Habs regulars, it was the Andrei Kostitsyn and Kovalev show for the most part. Makes me wonder what would occur should the elder K ever be made into a centerman, he seemed such a suitable foil for Kovalev. Finding such compatibility for Kovalev is about as rare as stepping in Pope shit. Hopefully the duo lasts.

The newly aquired Tom Kostopoulos made a good pair with Chipchura on the penalty kill. He'll be a handy player to have around against grittier team. I just worry he's a Mike Johnson clone with no bite behind the bite.

Both Cristobal Huet and Yann Danis played well. Huet was faultless but neither was tested to extremes. Huet did show that he is still the Habs numero uno in nets, so I'm almost ready to call off the goalie battle for now.

Tomas Plekanec was true to his reputation on the penalty kill, but otherwise out of sync in a game with unrolling lines. No worries, he'll get his groove.

The surprising intentisity of this game had much to do with the fact that the Habs and Penguins are rapidly carving up a deep and rabid hate for each other. What with Crosby's whiner and faker tactics on high to get everybody going, sparks didn't take long to start flying. Add in Ruutu's behind the back acts and Armstrong's gutless tactics and you have a rivalry ready to escalate into war proportions should these teams ever set foot on the same Conference Final ice.
That day might not be so far away, folks.

I took great pleasure in watching Komisarek give it good to Crosby over and over. It's a great game when he and Markov are holding up the Habs end against the best player in the game.
All that was missing tonight was Max Lapierre's gunpowder!

Tonight's rematch should be a fitting sequel.

On a Penguins related sidenote, many Habs fans were fearing that Angelo Esposito would re-enact the Denis Savard homecoming of 1980 and make Bob Gainey look like a patsy of a GM.
Didn't happen. Wasn't even close!

No arguments will be ignited in his name anytime soon. I had to squint to believe my eyes that Esposito was so nothing - not even worthy of an adjective yet!

The stage is well set for tonight. Can the game live up to billing in pre-season.

"I can handle more of this", said the starved man to the soup!