Friday, November 30, 2007

Putting The Canadiens Media Circus Into Perspective

Robert L Note: Over the years, Hall Of Fame journalist Bertrand Raymond has written some incredibly insightful pieces. Everytime I transcribe one of his more potent ones, I feel saddened that he is not read by English Canada. For those unfamiliar with Raymond's work, suffice to say that he is by far the most credible and studious of journalists in charge of covering the Canadiens. He is revered in much the same way as Red Fisher, not so much for his longevity, but for his sound ability to place things into a proper and sensible perspective.

In this piece run earlier this week, Raymond turns the focus onto the media from which he has long been employed. This article is in a sence a reaction to comments made earlier in the week by former Habs coach Jacques Lemaire about the media circus surrounding the Canadiens and how it affects a coach's daily state of mind. What Raymond's words suggest, is that Canadiens fans as a whole ought to be more discriminating in listening to what they are hearing from the media, given that the majority of it is speculative.

The article made me think about what it is I do here, with this blog. The points made by Raymond about accountability and credibility raise some pretty solid questions. I quickly understood that what I do isn't all that disimilar than those media of which he speaks. I offer an opinion (I attempt to offer more balance to it), present news and views, and then allow readers to form their opinions.

The best compliments I have received are from readers who suggest I made them think, perhaps even learning some things in a historical context. I've had some complaints, mainly when my articles have been hijacked to fan board chat rooms. I've had my credibility questioned - funny, in an odd kind of way - and I have rarely sought to defend it, as I truly did not know I had any cred! I'm simply one more Habs fan, amongst a throng, voicing my opinion's and feelings. The difference between a reader and myself, other than some minimal coaching work, is that I have set up a blog as my forum for discussion.

Still, Raymond's piece is essential reading for no other reason than, as Habs fans, we all must deal with the media onslought that whacks things out of proportion on a daily basis. I hope you enjoy reading it, and that it does make you think about the warped realities involved in being a Habs faithful follower.

Here is Raymond's piece:

For those of you caught up in the daily goings on of the Montreal Canadiens, what is your prefered level of media coverage?

Would it be the more civilized and down to earth level of years past, one still complained about recently bu Jacques Lemaire, or would it be the current one in which Guillaume Latendresse is thrust onto the front pages of Le Journal De Montreal and becomes the fodder for ten straight hours of talk radio at CKAC for the incredible alteration to his life that is a promotion to the first line?

In light of Lemaire's declarations, and following Guy Carbonneau's decision to bump Latendresse up a few notches, we have been given some clear examples to show the difference between what went on then and the outrageous circus of today.

If Lemaire found it too much during the 18 months he spent while being a sly and intelligent strategist behind the Habs bench then, he'd lose it on a daily basis these days.

Hockey analysts grow like dandelions in the Montreal media. It is insane how many people are employed to cover the Canadiens.

Among them, there are former coaches and career journalists. Some are relatively well known, while others aren't known at all, but they will lead you to believe that they know absolutely everything there is to know about what goes on within the team.

Just as in Lemaire's era, everyone critiques Carbonneau's moves while offering what they would have done in his place.

It would be insightful for everyone to know that 75% of the media representatives who analyse and pronounce themselves on the Habs every breath are never at practice, never speak directly with the players, and of course never make it inside the Canadiens dressing room. What's more is that the majority of them are never even seen in the press box.

I'm not pointing to anyone in particular.Allow me only to say that if coverage of the Canadiens seems disproportionate at certain times, much of it has to with the fact that the quality does not equal the quantity.

The beat writers are on the job everyday. They scramble for stories and news, and talk with the players and coaching staff. They examine the smallest of details looking for fresh ways to present different stories.

After all, they do not know all that goes on with the teams as the Canadiens do their best to make them work for their pieces.

What is oddly striking, is that those who are never there claim to know as much as those who practically live and travel with the team.

Lemaire made some good points. It is not the writers questioning the coaches daily who blow things out of proportion. It is the ones who are never seen that ramble on about everything and nothing at once.

Lemaire admits that none of it was fun. He asks whether Carbonneau is actually enjoying the life as well.

Of course Carbonneau is - no one tires of coaching the Canadiens after one season. It is a job one seeks to hold onto for as long as possible.

Go and ask Jean Perron, or Jacques Demers, or Mario Tremblay, or Alain Vigneault, or Michel Therrien and Claude Julien what they initially felt upon being told they were out of a job. Ask them how much time it took them to get over it.

One day Carbonneau will pass through the same ringer, and there will numerous candidates in his wake wishing they get the call.

That in a nutshell, is the Canadiens. Lemaire who coached them for the last time 22 seasons ago, is still visibly marked by the experience. He would have wished for the best of both worlds: coach the team of his dreams and then leave for home without having to explain his decisions.

Trouble is, it just doesn't work that way.

Lemaire is from the breed of those true Habs to which he gave everything he had to the team. In his case moreso than others, having coached them after helping them win on the ice.

Career Canadiens such as him never forget what the team has represented for them in their lifetimes. Whether traded as players, or fired as coaches, they remain profoundly attached to the team.

What else would explain why Guy Lafleur speaks out so frank and candidly about the organization? It is because he suffers from not seeing the team win any longer and because he would suffer even more with the benefit of some avenue for expressing such thoughts.

There are numerous Canadiens oldertimers who presently do not enjoy what they currently see happening on the ice. It agitates them to see a jersey once so proudly worn by them. worn with less conviction today. Lafleur is the only one able to vent publicly.

Surely the Canadiens brass won't appreciate Lafleur's one line zingers being that he is a paid ambassador for the team - but what can they do?

In Montreal, the words from a legend will always carry more weight amongst the public opinion than those of the team owner or president.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Grounded Kovalev Ready To Orbit

(Robert L Note: I was quite hard on Alex Kovalev last season. He had a brutal season and I was merciless towards him. While no one ever doubted his abundance of talent, it was his committment that was most often questioned. Luckily for Canadiens fans, Kovalev was a proud man, and Habs GM Gainey had enough faith in him not to buckle when cries for his trading mounted. Signs of a refocused Kovalev are apparent in the team's good start this year. He has been consistently one of the team's better players, and the game he played Tuesday against the Leafs might have been one of his best as a Canadien. He has earned the renewed fans respect. The piece below is transcribed from two articles in Le Journal De Montreal over the last few days.)

Since the start of the season, Alex Kovalev has been unrecognizable. He has regularly offered solid performances, whereas last season he was regulary tuned out.

His harshest critics had a field day, but Kovalev has shown himself to be a proud athlete and grabbed the bull by the horns. This season, he has earned every dime of his paycheque. In tandem with countrymen Andrei Markov, he is the key cog on the Canadiens power play unit.

On Tuesday, Kovalev was again at his best, scoring two powerplay goals against Toronto in addition to notching a shootout goal.

With his 12 goals, eight of them with the man advantage, Kovalev is on pace to enjoy his most prosperous season with the Habs. Last season Kovalev scored his 12th goal January 18th, before finished out the year with a rather timid 18 goals.

If Kovalev can conserve the current pace set so far, he'll reach the 40 goal plateau for only the second time in his career. He scored 44 with the Penguins in 2000-01.

In addition to having scored more often, Kovalev has also been accuarate, netting his 12 goals on only 53 shots, for a 22.6 % ratio - not far from league leader Mike Ribeiro of Dallas with 9 in 36.

"Every year, I think in terms of scoring 30 goals", Kovalev admitted recently, "but to get there we have to be scoring more at even strength, which we haven't been doing enough. I'm happy to have 12, but I'd like to have scored more in 5 on 5 situations."

The Canadiens have only scored 35 times at even strength, which places them near the bottom in the NHL.

"We have to correct that part of our game because teams who play a more disciplined game will beat us."

"The Devils, our next opponant, are like that. They are a very disciplined team and we will have to score goals at even strength if we hope to beat them. It would help us win games easier instead of always winning by one goal."

"If we want to be a better team team, that is where we have to start. We're blowing too many chances 5 on 5, myself included."

On the powerplay, Kovalev is noticing he is being keyed on more and more, as he sometimes becomes the unit's focal point on the right boards.

"It's true that they are doing that, but I can make adjustments as well", he says with a sly grin.

In speaking with the Montreal press, Kovalev has appeared much more at ease. He seems more comfortable and seems to be enjoying the media once again.

It surely has to do with the fact that last season, when reporters grouped around him, controversy was the main reason. This season, it is his performances that are gathering scrums.
He admitted recently, that this past summer was a very difficult time for him.

"Nothing worked out last season. I had to take a good look in the mirror and do some talking to myself. I had some very positive discussions with Bob Gainey, and they helped alot."

"I could have thrown in the towel and asked for a trade, but that's not the way I am. I'm not a quitter when things aren't going well. I knew I'd be able to bounce back."

Statements made to the Russian press created much of Kovalev's own controversy and at season's end, when he was not chosen to play in the World Championships, he took it like a slap in the face. It added insult to injury that the tournament was being held in Moscow, and that Kovalev had captained the same team just one year earlier.

"Of course it was hard to accept, but I had had a bad season and that was what the people choosing the team took note of."

"I will have more rough spots in my career, but I know that I can overcome them. I'm 34 and I refuse to think that my best years are already behind me."

During the summer, Kovalev work hardest on leg strength and speed, and the changes have been noticable so far this season.

It is no stretch to claim that Kovalev is one unique and rare breed of hockey player. He is by no means a marginal personality and he is every bit as interesting off the ice.

In the latest edition of "Canadiens Magazine", Kovalev was pictured with his 1971 Cessna airplane. reporter Manny Almela's piece is irrisitably good, especially when Kovalev admits that after his retirement from hockey, his goal is to fly into orbit.

"I have contacts in Russia who are able to help me to realize it", Kovalev states in the long interview.

The city of Montreal once had own "Spaceman", in the form of one time Expo's pitcher Bill Lee. Perhaps it's time to hand the moniker over to Spaceman Kovalev!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Habs Goalie One Game Wonders

Here's a little deviation for the goaltender series I have been running this past month. It has to do with 20 men who have tended goal for the Canadiens. (Notice I did not say goaltenders - 4 were defensemen and one played forward.)

Not all Canadiens goalies were destined for greatness, or even careers of any length for that matter. While names such as Vezina, Plante, Dryden and Roy have captured the imaginations of generations of hockey fans, other names slip beyond the simply trivial into the category of statistical footnotes.

For most of the 20 goalies listed below, the one game they participated in with the Canadiens is likely one they will recall for their entire lives.

Their varied appearances between the posts fall into several different categories.

In the early days of the game, teams largely carried but one goaltender. This practice ended in the beginning of the 1960's. For a time being, the goalies served their own penalties themselves.

Imagine a team killing two minutes off, with a defenseman in nets!

In the Canadiens case, four such defenseman and a forward were offered as meat to opposing powerplays.

There are unfortunately no pictures of these brave souls in goal, and I always wondered whether defensemen were allowed to strap on pads or wear gloves during the brief stints.

Imagine the sight of goaltenders in full gear, tripping out of the penalty box, racing back to the net in mid powerplay!

Since teams back then carried no backups, emergency callups of the nearest goalie in the organization were often required, without much notice. This was simplified if a team were playing at home. Should they be on the road, a goalie would need to be loaned for such an occasion.

During a certain time in the 1930's and '40's, the NHL required teams to have one so termed "practice goalie" in attendance in the event that one of the two team goalies would go down to injury. Don Aiken, who was paged down from the stands of the Boston Gardens to tend goal for the Canadiens on March 13, 1958 is one such occurance of rent-a-goalie madness. His tale of the game is one of excitement blended with sheer nervousness.

Roy Worters, then of the New York Americans, is by far the most well known name amongst these netminders. The future Hall Of Famer lived up to his reputation and got the win for the Canadiens. Others may not have tried as hard in gaining two points for the competition. It is reputed that certain goaltenders were advised to stink the joint out if they wanted promotion within their respective organizations more quickly.

One such goalie was Claude Pronovost from the Canadiens organization. He was loaned to the Boston Bruins for a game against the Canadiens, and promptly shut them out. Montreal weren't exactly pleased and left him toiling in the minors another three seasons before calling him up for a pair of games.

For most minor leaguers, subs, practice goalies, and standby's, finally getting that long awaited opportunity to shine would be a dream come true. In October of 1963, that opportunity presented itself to Jean-Guy Morrisette, who was on the bench when Habs starter Gump Worsley went down to injury. Morrisette played over the game's last half, and his nervousness showed. While he didn't win the contest, he was tagged to appear in more upcoming games, Unfortunately, the very next day in practice, he took a shot to the face that resulted in a broken cheekbone. The smallish Morrisette was out for the season.

Regardless of the outcome of their individual games, 10 of the 19 goalies presented here were called up for cups of coffee. Five survived to play again, elsewhere.

Tomas Vokoun, was brutal in relief of Patrick Roy against the Flyers in Febuary of 1997. He was fortunate to play in an era where getting another shot was easier. He's made the most of his chance in becoming a steady starter with Nashville and was traded this past summer to the Florida Panthers.

Vincent Riendeau also recovered well from an unauspiscious debut. He became a quality goalie with the Red Wings and Blues organizations after leaving Montreal.

Abbie Cox was already a seasoned journeyman when he got the call to Montreal, and he played ramdom contests in the bigs both before and after it.

Randy Exelby, who played all of 3 minutes of shutout hockey for the Canadiens, was just another goalie who had the misfortune of being a Canadiens while Patrick Roy was rewritting history. He didn't even get to finish his coffee before he was off to Edmonton, just in time for cream and sugar as Grant Fuhr's backup for a short spell.

The 20 One Game Wonders are:

1909-10 M. Larochelle* (thrown out of Canadiens first ever game for disputing a goal, never to return.)

1913-14 Ernie Dubeau** ( 2 minutes played, no other details available ) Replaced penalized Georges Vezina.

1922-23 Sprague Cleghorn** ( 2 minutes played, 0 goals against ) Replaced penalized Georges Vezina in 4-2 loss to Ottawa, Febuary 1, 1923.

1929-30 Roy Worters ( a win, full game played, 2 goals against ) Loaned by the New York Americans to replace injured George Hainsworth, Febuary 27.

1929-30 Mickey Murray* ( a loss, full game played, 4 goals against ) Recalled from the Providence Reds (Can-Am) to replace injured George Hainsworth, Febuary 25

1931-32 Albert Leduc** ( 2 minutes played, 1 goal against ) Replaced penalized George Hainsworth, December 2.

1935-36 Abbie Cox ( a tie, 70 minutes played, 1 goal against ) Loaned by the Springfield Indians (Can-Am) to replace injured Wilf Cude, Febuary 13.

1937-38 Paul Gauthier* ( a tie. 70 minutes played, 2 goals against ) Loaned by the New Haven Eagles (AHL) to replace injured Wilf Cude, January 13.

1939-40 Charlie Sands** ( no decision, 25 minutes played, 5 goals against ) Replaced injured Wilf Cude in a 10-1 loss to Chicago, Febuary 22.

1949-50 Ken Reardon*** ( no decision, minutes not know, goals against not know) Replaced injured Bill Durnan in game against the Rangers on October 14.

1952-53 Hal Murphy* ( a win, full game played, 4 goals against ) Promoted from the Montréal Royals to replace injured Gerry McNeil, November 8.

1954-55 Andre Binette* ( a win, full game, 4 goals against ) Promoted from the Montréal Royals (QHL) to replace injured Jacques Plante, November 11, 1954.

1957-58 Len Broderick* ( a win, full game, 2 goals against ) Loaned by the Toronto Malboros (OHA) as an emergency replacement for Jacques Plante, October 30.

1957-58 Don Aiken* ( a loss, 34 minutes played, 6 goals against ) Boston Bruins practice goaltender. Loaned to replace injured Jacques Plante, March 13.

1958-59 Claude Cyr* ( no decision, 20 minutes played, 1 goal against ) Promoted from the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens (EOHL) to replace injured Claude Pronovost, March 19.

1963-64 Jean-Guy Morrisette* ( a loss, 36 minutes played, 4 goals against ) Replaced injured Gump Worsley in 2nd period, October 30. Injured next day in practice.

1987-88 Vincent Riendeau ( no decision, 36 minutes played, 5 goals against, 22 shots ) October 28, Calgary Flames

1988-89 Randy Exelby ( 3 minutes played, 0 goals against, 1 shot ) Came off the bench during a Patrick Roy bathroom break, January 27, Buffalo Sabres

1996-97 Tomas Vokoun ( no decision, 20 minutes played, 4 goals against, 14 shots ) February 6, Philadelphia Flyers

2001-02 Olivier Michaud* ( no decision, 18 minutes played, 0 goals against, 14 shots ) October 30, Edmonton Oilers, at 18 years, 46 days old, became the youngest goalie to enter a game in Canadiens history, and second youngest in NHL history.

*Played in only the one career game in goal.
** Defenseman substituted for goaltender penalty / injury.
*** Forward substituted for goaltender injury.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Price Too Much For Leafs

To quote former Habs coach Jacques Demers on RDS about Carey Price after this win, "I have never seen a goalie with this much talent, have such coolness and composure at the age of 20!"

No kidding Jack...the kid reminds of Tuuku Rask!

Joking aside, tonight Carey Price very adequately lived up to every superlative that has ever been claimed for him.

And this game lived up to it's billing in every way as well.

Both teams played decently well head to head. The Leafs as usual, outshot the Canadiens.

Tucker was a pest, while Kovalev was at his best. Montreal's powerplay was on. Wade Belak did something dumb. Latendressse took advantage of his promotion to the top line. Mats Sundin almost played Hab killer again.

The usual, sprinkled with the usual strangeness.

The officials missed calls, virtual muggings at times on both sides, and let the teams play. I often like the idea of letting wide open games unfold, but as the Canadiens have the league's best PP, you can understand why I might grumble some, as this letting things go method surely hurts the team with the best PP more.

The zamboni driver might be fired before John ferguson Jr. Either that or he is getting paid under the table by Master Card. It's unthinkable that he has to pass the mat four times over the ice before both teams are satisfied. File that scene under things you might never see again.

The duo of Roman Hamrlik and Patrice Brisebois looked more like Abbott and Costello for two periods.

Chad Kilger, still one of my favorite players (A Cornwallite and former Hab) when he puts it together, looked like vintage Eric Lindros on one rush. Happy Birthday Chad - but your team still bites it!

Paul Maurice looks like Michael Douglas in "Falling Down", right before he losses his marbles.

Enough of the strange, many Habs did good things worth mentioning tonight, starting with Price.
Ridiculous claim time for Price? The Habs goalie of the future has arrived. His time is right now, and I'll say it like this - the Canadiens have two number one goalies. The younger one has a better winning percentage. Should the trend continue until playoff time - who is the starter for Game One?

Another proclamation in the high hopes department. Everytime I watch Kyle Chipchura play, I raise the bar on his upside. This kid is solid, smart, poised, and aware on the ice. One day, he'll score 20 goals and be one of the best shutdown centers in the league.

Latendresse didn't look out of place with Higgins and Koivu - far from it. Kudos to him for not giving up on play that only he and a referee knew wasn't dead. He was exactly where a player of size should be in a scrum, and he was justly rewarded.

Speaking of young players of size....

( Interupting the writing of this post game report, was an RDS feature on Habs first round pick Max Pacioretty. For those who didn't tune into RDS after the game, Max was lauded by his Michigan state coach Red Berenson, as well as Habs scout Trevor Timmins, who was on hand in Michigan to catch some games. Old Red seemed thrilled with Max's play, adding that he has 12 points in his last 10 games. He was compared favoratively to a Ryan Smyth or Eric Cole type. Berenson noted that Pacioretty is getting the ice time of a veteran, which is unheard of for a rookie in the University ranks. Max is surprisingly playing on both the PP and PK unit's. Timmins noted that Pacioretty is precisely the type of player a team cannot trade for, as no one gives up on such physical specimens whose games include a scoring touch combined with size. The report concluded by agreeing that Pacioretty is so far ahead of his expected progression, that it is highly doubtful thhat he will be left to complete his four year stage at Michigan Tech.)

I had to share this. Back to the game now.

The second coming of Alex Kovalev continues. He is to Leafs fans what Sundin is to us. Give him five square feet of open ice, a distracted defender, a puck and a split second, and he'll point that little black blur up high before a goalie wonders what blew by him. I declare his questionability and his purgatory over for now. All heap praise on Alex.

How about that Kostitsyn shuffle in the shootout? A dandy move and highlight reel worthy.

On the downside of things, I can't say the same for Plekanec's effort - in both the shootout and the game as a whole. It might look as though Plekanec has turned into a streaky player, but I believe he is just adjusting to being keyed on a whole lot more. No fears that he won't eventually adjust to it.

Before Patrice Brisebois sneaks towards the net, he might want to run it by a winger to cover his ass. He did a lame brain move, scooting into the slot without so much as a look at Higgins who would be the guy to cover him. Higgins was still alert enough to make it down ice and break up a two on one a whole six feet from Price. Back at the bench, Carbonneau looked like he wanted to say "If I need to explain where the goof was to a 15 year veteran, I might as well slap you with this clipboard!"

His partner Roman Hamrlik played his worst game as a Hab. If this side of him only comes out every 22 games, I'll stop beating on him now.

Andrei Markov, had his rough spots tonight as well, but how many other D - men can zing a pass as crisply and on tape like the setup on the first Kovalev goal. Goalies pull groins on such precise plays.

Why were Koivu, Begin, and Smolinski out against the Sundin line with less than a minute to go?

Smolinski might be the next Habs player to garned the hot lights of inscrutible critics. He's simply not bringing consistency to his shifts or any part of his game.

Mike Komisarek loves playing the Leafs almost as much as Price and Kovalev appear to.
Finally, much as I regale in these division battles, can't we start facing opponants other than Toronto, Buffalo, Boston, Ottawa, and Carolina. The NHL shuffles it's schedule like a cheating card player stacks a deck.

It gets hard to truly size up the Habs against the rest of the league when they haven't played them yet. Watching teams adjust to the Canadiens one game at a time has been educational and dull.

What I'm curious about for now, is whether the Canadiens make this win a springboard for a winning streak, or whether they continue to wallow in the mire of mediocrety.

Habs Set To Enter The Leafs Twilight Zone

The 2007-08 season fourth installement of the Canadiens / Maple Leafs rivalry should be a fun game to watch, considering all the perspectives of doom attached to the game.

The Habs are coming off consecutive losses to Buffalo and the faithfull are grumbling about certain players taking a foot of the gas pedal. Things are much bleaker in Toronto's case, where the Leafs have skid without a screech into 14th place in the Eastern conference.

In both of hockey's fishbowls, there are many things on line tonight for whichever team losses.
Montreal might see a demotion or two, and possibly a trade, if things don't shake up soon.

However, the team is still positioned near the top, and many Montreal fans are simple panicking like only Habs fans can. It still looks quite clear in their aquarium.

In Leaf land, the jobs of GM and coach are on a death watch. Should they lose again, the team might see itself sucking the algae of the tank's bottom, spelling curtains for the Ferguson reign in Toronto.

Speculation has been running rampant about the consequences headed the GM's way and that is the scenario captivating fans of the bleu, blanc, bleu for this contest. Leafs supporters with long term vision might actually be cheering for a Habs blowout in this one, for no other reason than to put the GM out of their misery.

For fans of the bleu, blanc, rouge, they will be keeping a keen eye on how Guillaume Latendresse does on the top line, where he found the majority of his success last season. How Michael Ryder fares on the fourth line will also be followed closely.

While both wingers have struggled at times this season (Okay, I gauge the understatement), they each have earned the direction in which they are headed in regards to line standing.

There isn't much I can add to what I've already said about Ryder's woes, only to reiterate that I believe him to have become a figured out player by most oppositions and their defenders.

Latendresse, on the other hand, is likely a more multi - dimensional option. His size, reach, and strength ought to create room and opportunity for Koivu and Higgins in a way that Ryder's play could not.

For certain, Latendresse knows what is being offered to him, and is taking his shot seriously.

"The longevity of this experience is up to me," Latendresse said. "If I work hard, if I bring something to that line, if we get scoring chances, that's where the longevity is coming from. If I don't work hard, if I'm lazy and everybody's playing better than me, I'm not staying on the first line."

One more thing to watch tonight will be the play of Carey Price, who helped the Habs vanquish the Leafs last time they were in Toronto. The fact is something the Canadiens can build on for this matchup.

I expect this game to be a rough one, as the Leafs rarely (against the Habs anyways) go down without a fight.

Expect Leafs pest Darcy Tucker to be a his stupidest tonight, followed closely by guys like McCabe and Belak, who rarely need a reason to get dumb.

As usual, even when strange circumstances don't mingle, twilight zone type weirdness tends to encompass all meetings between the long time rivals. I am expecting some form of unforeseen sparks to enliven the occasion beyond the usual brutal officiating, odd bounces, and unsing heroes that arise from these exercises in tension.

By practice, I now stay off the recliner, keep my bottle of beer more than an arm's length away, let the cat outdoors, and position the remote safely beyong flinging distance up top the wall unit.
Here's hoping the Habs learn their lessons as well and don't get outshot 28 - 3 in the first period.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

No Drastic Remedy Needed For Habs Recent Woes

How convenient that a company Christmas party ( the better half's) came along so timely to prevent me from having to watch Saturday's Habs undoing at the hands of the Sabres?

I think they call it a silver lining!

While I was busy getting stuffed with delicious carvings, I hear the Canadiens themselves were imitating turkeys, so my tape of the game has remained for the most part unwatched. By all accounts, the game was a copy of Friday's loss - only worse.

Before slapping in the tape for all I could stand of 20 minutes of hockey, I was tuned into the talk shows quite by accident and got to hear the overwhelming disapproval of the radio critics. Such is the benefit of jumping onto the RIDE program's free shuttle lift home. Our driver, himself a Habs fan, had just caught the game on the van's radio, and I walked into an onslaught of overeaction from one of the bandwagon sceptics that are growing with each game.

That would be the anti - silver lining!

So I got to hear the usual trade Ryder, bench Latendresse, dismantle the lines, and make some AHL callups reaction. The usual mantra of confounded naysayers who believe all solutions to the team's woes are as simple as their suggestions.

Ever wonder why out of work coaches acting as commentators are out of work?

Despite the Habs recent slide into ugly hockey, there are several truths that get gleemed over way too matter of factly by critics of the Canadiens recent play. In my own criticism of the team, in fairness, I've decided to take such facts into account in order to properly assess what is going on.

First, consider the opponant. The Sabres may have been in 14th place and underestimated as such, but they are a sound hockey team coached by one of the best. Through the years, Lindy Ruff coached teams have always had a knack for finding ways to beat the Habs. Buffalo are surging right now, coming together after a slow start. Not to forgive Montreal, but I gather they will not be caught off guard by the Sabres again.

Secondly, this young bunch of Habs, learning hard lessons and gaining in experience as they go, may just have been a little bit pooped out after playing six games in nine days. Yes, all teams have such schedule roadbumbs, and I assume it isn't any easier for those teams. The more experienced teams might smoothen their way through such parts of the season better, but a younger team might need to learn how to first.

Third, it is not by dismantling what's been in place and has been working that a team will find itself quicker. Reinventing the wheel, if you wish, is a last resort, and the team is hardly in a panic position yet. A return to the basic things that have worked is a better approach. A coach might tinker slightly, switching a pair of players around, but usually it is a return to good habits that make a difference. Insisting on a back to basics work ethic, and building upon the things that have gotten the team where it most recently was before this lost weekend, is the remedy for now.

I might feel differently if we were speaking of 5 game losing streak.

The key of course, is work, effort, and dedication. If these elements are not present and seen in the players eyes, starting in practice, only then does bigger trouble loom.

Invoking what I've just stated, to explain the Habs first roadbumps, may seem like making excuses for the players. One must understand that there is a big distinction between an excuse, and what could be a sound reason.

I believe that excuses are what occurs when these flat stretches go on too long and players start employing them for their benefit themselves.

Coaches will guard against this, while protecting their players publicly. Don't think for a minute that what Guy Carbonneau says to the media is the same spiel he delivers to his players in the video room.

For now, Carbonneau will go over the recipe that has so far worked, before considering a new mix of ingredients. Coaches on the sidelines will clammer and holler for such things as breaking up lines, and benching the seemingly non - committed. The coach behind the bench, conversely, has been through every step of why the team has arrived at the line setups currently employed and knows much better why what has worked has stopped working, and why what has worked before should continue to again.

Just as teams should never get too high on themselves when winning, they should also not get too down when slipping.

Former Canadiens coach Jacques Lemaire recently weighed in on what throngs of second guessers can do to a coach's psyche. He made alot of sense. I doubt, though, that Carbonneau feels compelled to cater to anything the sideline generals have so far suggested.

And truthfully, who really knows this team better than Carbonneau and Gainey right now?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Habs Fall On Buffalo's Sword

There's an old Roger Miller song called "You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd" that was a bit of a novelty hit in 1966. It's not something that you'd want to seek out via Google or Kazaa - it's a total cringer!

Near the end of the song, as it fades out, Miller rhymes out the title line and the song ends with a bleeped out slang that most radio stations wisely cut out in the day.

The line might be pertinant to last night Habs / Sabres tilt.

The answer as to why one cannot roller skate in a buffalo herd, is that you might slip and fall on a buffalo tird.

The reference to excrement would be my analogy for that dubious third period call on Mike Komisarek for tripping, that led to the Sabres winning goal.

What I don't get, and what angered me about the call, is why the same play 100 feet down ice is permitted, while it is called a penalty on the perimeter of the Canadiens blueline.

Komisarek dove to slash the puck away from Derek Roy, clearly touching the puck first before the Sabres player was upended. By the book, this should not be called tripping....but it was.

Had Komisarek made the same move on a Sabres player on a breakaway, no call would have been made.

"I didn't see anything wrong with the play," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said after the game. "He wasn't trying to trip him, he was trying to push the puck out of our zone. What happened after doesn't really matter. That's a hockey play."

In the end, I despise seeing such things happen, where games are seemingly decided by an official's take on an infraction. This double standard leaves a bitter taste, especially when other calls ghostly vanish into oblivion game in, game out.

To be honest though, this was not where Montreal lost the game - not even close!
The trouble started back in the first period, when the Canadiens played flatfoot hockey and let the Sabres beat them to every loose puck.

The Canadiens finally woke up once Buffalo had a 2-0 lead, and slow starts such as this on the road is asking for trouble.

Now maybe it is just me, but the Habs seem to be developing a problem with taking teams below them in the standings somewhat lightly. There seems to be a trend of not coming out all guns firing against certain opponants. Being that the Canadiens are a team in full progression, seizing and learning lessons as they grow, this could be forgiven and filed under growing pains.

But this lesson should have been grasped last time they departed Buffalo with their tails dragging between their legs. Heck, it was all of one week ago.

As an inter - conference rival, our boys should know the Sabres tendencies inside out. The teams are in fact quite similar as Buffalo is not a team of great size, but one who utilizes it's speed to it's advantage.

Last night they beat Montreal to the puck constantly in the game's first 25 minutes. For that stretch, the Habs were so hesitant and cement footed, one would be baffled to wonder how their recordis what it is. They looked like a cellar dwelling team, unprepared to face the opposition.

Canadiens goalie Carey Price even noted it in his post game comments, while not shying away from the truth.

"We could have played better," Price said. "They got to loose pucks better than we did."

Once the Canadiens got their act together and tied the game, it was too late. One call tipped the scales in the end.

Only three Habs impressed me tonight - Higgins, Plekanec, and Latendresse. The D didn't hit much and the forecheck for most of the game was non - existant.

Tonight Montreal gets to repent their sins against these same Sabres. The good news is that the Habs bounce back well from losses.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Vinny Will Be A Hab One Day

Looking into the future - it's free agent season, July 1, 2009-10, your name is Vincent Lecavalier, and as many as five teams are willing to pay you the maximum salary under cap rules - give or take a dime, that will be 11 million dollars per season.

Roughly 20% of a team's payroll as it would stand now. Likely more then.

If you were him, in two years time, where would you wish to play?

Likely not Tampa.

Lacavalier's current team would then still be paying the contracts of Martin St. Louis (4M) and Brad Richards (7.8 M) until both expire after the 2010-11 season.

Between this season, and the 2009-10 season, Tampa will need to deal with a whopping 19 UFA and RFA scenario's, including those of defenseman Dan Boyle (3.625M) and Filip Kuba (3M).

With no less than thirteen of these cases needing to be dealt with next season, the Lightening are painted into a corner. As only five players are signed beyond 2009-10, with none of them being goalies, the team will need to spread a its money thinly. Possible raises to Boyle and Kuba are unlikely, unless Tampa feels it can remain competitive by paying 15 roster players, including its top defenseman and goaltenders no more than $900,000 per season.

What kind of future can Tampa Bay offer the game's current best player when this day comes.

Pardon the obvious pun, but in 2009 Lecavalier will bolt the Lightening for more electric pastures!

Bet your house, your wife's fidelity, and your kid's college savings on it - it's that safe a deal!

Now the Montreal Canadiens will play into this long before it happens - even if you do not hear about it.

Tampa GM Jay Feaster is no stoolie and he will play every available card leading up to that day when Vinny is free to choose his destiny. Feaster has gone on record as saying he will not go down as the GM who becomes known as the person who traded Lecavalier away.

Fair enough for now, but when his job is compromised based on what returns he receives for Lecavalier before that date is concerned, he'll be singing a different tune.

And it might as well be "Can't Buy Me Love!"

The Canadiens will either be Lecavalier's destination or his negotatition leverage. Seeing as all bidders might then be willing to offer him the max under cap rules, Habs included, leverage might well become a non issue.

The Canadiens will not be topped in offering him top dollar and the then 29 year old will choose based on the longevity of the offers.

Seeing as how the Habs were publicly scoured for not landing Daniel Briere, middleweight that he is, not landing Lecavalier, a heavyweight, with a home run offer may garner the organization eternal heat.

The order will come down from Gillett to Boivin to Gainey - let Lecavalier write and sign his own check - for better or worse.

And I'd agree with it.

There was a precedence of the like in Canadiens history, involving a player of similar great promise for whom the Habs opened the cash vaults to.

Not coincidently, Lecavalier wears his number and has played him in a movie.

Many might suggest that Lecavalier would not want the pressure of having to perform nightly under Montreal's glaring spotlight and magnifying press.

My answer to that is that he might appreciate having less weight on his shoulders come that time. At present in Tampa Bay, he is usually the one unique factor in his team's wins. The enormous pressure in having to exceed himself nightly for the Lightening to win, playing close to 30 minutes a game, will surely hamper his career longevity. A change of scenery to a team on which his is not the sole gunner might be a welcome breath of fresh air.

In Montreal, Lecavalier would be at home, nearer to family, friends, and roots. Of course he would be in high demand, but he still would find a certain sense of peace from within knowing the entire weight of a team is not upon him.

Considering the Canadiens could well be approacing contender status by the time Lecavalier would arrive, it could all add up to marriage made in heaven for all concerned.

Lecavalier, the Habs, and some Stanley Cups!

I can see it now.

Habs Report Cards Are In

Things are looking up!

It is just past the one quarter mark of the season, and since my kids just came home with their report cards, I thought it a fitting time to give the Canadiens their respective grades.

Other than the individual player's marks, team aspects will also be given a going over.

At the beginning of the season, I had three burning questions about the Canadiens - all in the grand scheme of team concept and chemistry - that I felt would need to be answered positively in order for the Habs to have a successful season.

So far, so good - 2 out of 3 ain't bad!

The first - could the Canadiens adequately replace Sheldon Souray's prowess on the power play?


The second - would Alex Kovalev bounce back from a season in hell and show up determined to prove he was a committed player?


Last - could the Canadiens as a whole become a sturdier team in 5 on 5 play?


First up, I'll tackle some area's of team play.


Still the Habs most assured weapon. They have surprised and confounded many experts in continuing to have the leagues best PP. It is starting to look as though the Canadiens prowess here helped give Souray a career year, and not the other way around. A+


Could be much better. The Canadiens were 12th last time I checked, and should aim for the top 10 to be considered solid and dependable. Growing pains from breaking in new tandems in this role should be over soon. This aspect of the team's game is offset by the fact that they are taking less penalties. B

5 ON 5 PLAY:

A sore spot still. It has improved gently over last season, but with the tendencies of certain players in place, it is unlikely to improve beyond the break even point. Unless the team chooses to go with a smothering trap system, this is how it will be for awhile. B-


I feel Carbonneau has become a wiser coach with every lesson learned. He is not as stubborn as he was last season and seems more willing to understand things in a different light this year. More flexible and open minded, but no less unforgiving, he seems to have been able to convey certain messages more clearly in his second year. His constant preaching of discipline has paid off by consequence of a better behind the bench behavior. Perhaps some of his assuredness has translated into the team panicking less - disregarding when the opponant is Toronto or Ottawa! B+

Now, for the players in numerical order.

6 Tom Kostopoulos:

Any player earning a nickname based on work ethic a whole ten games into the season has to be doing a lot of things right. "Tom The Bomb Nonstopoulos" is all about work, work, work. His efforts rarely translate onto the scoresheet, but his his 2 shorthanded goals have been big ones. Every team that wins, does so with a few players willing to do anything to win, including dropping the gloves with players who can pound you a new face. This guy's guts is inspiring. B

8 Mike Komisarek:

Coming into his own. When a player starts earning comparisons to Scott Stevens, it can only be the start of a good thing. Komisarek is learning his various roles with zeal and enthusiasm. Among the league leaders in both hits and blocked shots, big Mike is carving himself a reputation that is making opposing forwards shrink and think twice when crossing the blueline or hangong around the net. Popping in a key goal or two, makes him unpredictable in all the right ways. A-

11 Saku Koivu:

The soul of the team. Koivu is on pace for standard yearly numbers while still being suspect to short slumps. The weights he carries are large, team orientated ones. Beyond his leadership duties, he must score, shut down top lines, play both PP and some PK, and then answer for it all - nightly. Fans are always expecting more from him, without recognizing that he is giving it most nights. If one were to judge his first 21 games by the amount of scoring chances his wingers have gotten, perhaps the asinine criticism of him not being a capable top line center would cease. Saku always gives what he has. B+

14 Tomas Plekanec:

Blooming as he should be. Plekanec is coming into his own as a center and has adapted better to his wingers game's this season. He can at times be the Habs best, if unheralded, two way player. If not this season, next season he will be a point per game player. B+

20 Bryan Smolinski:

The jury is still out on this one. He has shown flashes of being a well rounded player, but it is countered with nights where he is just way off. While his inconsistency might have to do with the given opponant in a game, I still cannot put my finger on one glowing positive attribute of his game. Sometimes his size is used effectively - in other games he plays small. One night he'll rule on faceoff's - on another he's all zero's. Perhaps this frustrating guesswork is why he has been traded and moved so often. C+

21 Chris Higgins:

Might well be the hardest working Hab in the first 21 games. In the attacking zone, Higgins has gotten more creative than before, at the detriment of using his linemates just a touch less. By far the Canadiens most prolific shooter, he is unfortunately it's most unluckiest. Playing hurt and never sparing any effort, Higgins has worn the "A" on his sweater with the seriousness of a veteran. A-

22 Steve Begin:

Reminds me of Bruce Willis in the Die Hard flicks. Begin is a sparkplug pest that 29 other teams would love to have. He is the soul of a Habs fourth line that has given many opposing teams fits. Plays the shitster's role with love-it-to-death grin. B

25 Mathieu Dandeneault:

Plaudits to him for taking on an unsung role and performing admirably well at times. While Dandeneault can be inspired to imitate the headfirstness of Begin and Kostopoulos, he does have shortcomings in the role in area's he can hardly be faulted for. While he usually gives it all he's got, this is one roster spot where the Habs need improving. B-

26 Josh Gorges:

Tough to assess a player who has seen only a limited role. There are circumstances which have made Gorges a nervous fringe player on this team that are beyond his control. Gorges' play has often been a result of who he is playing against. He has had some moments where he looks assured, and others where panic obviously sets in. The thing to remember in his case in his age and upside. C+

27 Alex Kovalev:

Rejuvenated is the only applicable word to describe what I feel has gone on in his case. Alex has played like a hurt man wishing for vindication. Obviously, some off season soul searching went on, because he reming me nothing off last season's calamity. He's been the Habs gamebreaker this season, and has shown committment in areas where he's not usually found. Throwing checks behind his own net is one thing that has impressed me. Bouncing back from off games is another. The past is now behind him - kudos. A-

28 Kyle Chipchura:

There's a smart head on this boy's shoulders. Chipchura is a winner because he makes the most of the tools he's been given and directs that energy towards team goals. As experience plays into his game, he will only round out better. Makes the expected rookie mistakes, but considering the tasks he's been handed, he has performed surprisingly well. He will become a defensive standout - one day worthy of a Selke Trophy nomination. B

31 Carey Price:

The future backbone of the team. Has unspectacularly gained points in six of seven starts, and one can't ask for better. His calm has had an effect on the team and he seems to carry with him an aura that few goalies have. His composure may find him in the starter's role more often than previously expected. Par for a goalie that has so far tended to overachieve. A-

32 Mark Streit:

Not the revelation he was as a forward last season. Streit has had his difficulties in even strength play. While his skills reveal good offensive traits, such as strong breakout passes when not pressured, his physical one on one game leaves alot to be desired - his plus/minus stat in that area mirrors the team's soft spot. His PP work would give him an A mark but overall this is another area where the Canadiens need improvement. C+

39 Cristobal Huet:

Does one rate Huet based on past dominance or by current scenario predicaments? It begs the question - considering his play has become a roll of the dice of late. While appearing in two thirds of the Habs games, he has but 2 more wins than backup Price. I believe a contract extension would ease his worries of not being in the team's future plans. So far, he has played as though he can feel the hot breath of Price breathing down his neck. Huet's coolness needn't be toying with in this manner - and to the team's detriment. So far, I rate Huet just a tad sub par. B+

44: Roman Hamrlik:

Who knew? Hamrlik has been a revelation to Canadiens fans, for his steadiness and reliable play. He is the number one reason why the Canadiens are a more settled team and why it has become harder for opponants to assess them. Hamrlik does little with grand brush strokes, yet he has brought a calm, effective, and purposeful cleanliness to the Habs backline. It seems the less one notices him, the better he has played, and that is the way it should be with such a low risk defender. If one counts the times Hamrlik has ventured into offensive gambles, one can add up an equal amount of well timed offensive executions that have led to goals. Worth every buck. A

46: Andrei Kostitsyn:

Like gravy through a grandmother, this player is a sure thing. As is the case with many a Russian export, his development is matter of patience and time. Play him and allow him to become accustomed and familiar in his role and the dividends will follow. Alongside Kovalev and Plekanec, as they become familiar with his offensive tendencies, what Kostitsyn is all about will one day soon be marvelled at. He is currently being taught and groomed in the finer details of two way play and physical committment. Once his studies are done, and he has learned to read his linemates quicker, what Kostitsyn will bring will be a thing of beauty. B

51: Francis Bouilllon:

Cube is a solid and adequate fifth or sixth defender at best. He is having a better season than last due to the absense of a nagging injury. The question in Bouillon's case is - can he ever be more than what he currently is. He offers his best every night. B

54: Mikhail Grabovski:

Like Gorges - how do you rate a part time player? He has yet to show me a single facet of his game, beyond bursting speed, that testifies why he is an NHL'er at present. Comparatively, Maxim Lapierre would have made more of furthered NHL grooming than Grabovski, who seems to require more AHL seasoning. His switch of numbers, from 59 to 54, may be the most precise analogy for his closeness to being a big league regular. His talents suggest Afinogenov, but his game reeks of Samsonov. C-

71: Patrice Brisebois:

Give the old guy his merit - he hasn't been as cancerous as fans feared. In moments, he has been equal to his best days, while minimizing his lapses. When giving credit to Brisebois, much of that credit must be shared with Hamrlik. B-

73: Michael Ryder:

Has been working a whole lot harder to achieve a whole lot less. Ryder is just a one horse pony that has been figured out by opposing defenseman. With few tricks up his sleeve, and little to build his game upon, Ryder's days in Montreal are numbered. C+

79 Andrei Markov:

The Habs highest salaried player ever has delivered. His offensive stats speak his worth to the team's PP unit and his minutes played per game reflect his all around contribution. His plus/minus stat ( -3 ) is somewhat a concern. I feel the team, it's PP and PK units included, as well as Markov's effectiveness, would all be better served if he were teamed with Hamrlik steady. By season's end, he might punch in with numbers resembling Souray's totals last season. Unless the Canadiens become a more solid team 5 on 5, I wouldn't qualify Markov's numbers and minutes as a complete success unless the Habs are playoff bound. A

84 Guillaume Latendresse:

A slow and deceptive start. The most criticized Hab has made progress between game 1 and 21. Latendresse receives the same arrows as big players such as Frank and Pete Mahovlich once did - in that he appears slow moving. It is in the player's hesitancy that such rages swell. I see Latendresse coming along as a 20 year old should be - all in small learning steps. Being that he is a player who is honestly conscious of when he fails, fans ought to cut him slack as he progresses. Still the Habs best prospect for a power forward. B-

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"God sure liked me that day" - Claude Ruel

Transcribed from Bertrand Raymond's Le Journal de Montreal column, November 20, 2007

Former Canadiens coach, scout, and man for all purposes Claude Ruel was absent from the Bell Centre Monday night, when one of his most gifted students witness the raising of his sweater to the rafters.

His name on the guest list but his health fragile, he preferred to remain home, glued to the televison when he heard the celebrated Robinson thank him for having supported him so well.

"I tire easily these days", Ruel explained, "I must avoid stressful situations."

Robinson was part of a group known in the day as "Piton's boys." It was he who spend the summer months grooming them into players, as he's done also after practices during the season.
"Skate, skate, skate", the round bellied teacher would endlessly holler. And skate alot they did - until their tongues were dragging - but Ruel made them all better players.

"I'm happy for Larry, for worked extremely hard to become the type of athlete he is", says Ruel. "You could place all your confidence in him at any time and in any situation."

Ruel recall one particular night on Long Island, when he asked Robinson to play right wing along side Gainey and Jarvis, to help counter the explosive Trottier, Bossy, and Gillies line.

"He played an awesome game and we won 3-1. He was always a player who wanted to do more. A coach is priveledged to have players of his stripe."

Robinson was drafted in 1971, when the NHL was a 14 team league. He was taken in the second round, 20th overall. That year, the Canadiens had three first round picks, and used them to select Guy Lafleur (1), Chuck Arnason (7), and Murray Wilson (11).

When Ruel presented the list from his scouting reports to Sam Pollock before the draft, he made a point to mention a player whom he felt worthy of choosing in the top 20. He asked Pollock permission to run the risk in his case.

"It's you who is in charge", the GM replied.

"Okay, then I'm going for it", said Ruel.

"I can say today, that I am the one who discovered Larry", Ruel confirmed. I was at a game between Kitchener Rangers and Toronto Marlies, I watched this big fellow who skated well and who played a hell of a game, offensively and defensively."

Ruel admits sweating bullets at the draft table that day, for fear Robinson would be scooped up by another organization.

"When Buffalo chose Craig Ramsay 19th, it was as if a ton of weight came off my shoulders. We all have our own faith. "God sure liked me that day!"

However, there were many who were baffled by Ruel's take on Robinson.

"I make no hesitation in saying that I was putting alot on the line for him. The same goes for Dryden and Gainey."

Two years later, with the Canadiens 8th choice overall, Pollock asked Ruel who he had his eyes on.

"There's this kid I've seen in Peterborough..."

For Pollock and several of the Canadiens scouts, Gainey was a complete unknown.

"Sam looked at me with a crooked smile - as if to say "Are you smashed?", recounts Ruel.

Ruel firmly believes these players for whom he battled for became greats because of the sizes of their hearts.

"Larry was exactly the same as Serge Savard", Ruel pointed out, "When you told them what was expected of them, you had no worries. You knew you were going to get it."

Ruel emphasizes that what makes the player, as in Robinson's case, has much to do with the man he is off ice.

"I didn't hang with players when work was done. I've no way of knowing what they are like away from the game, but I am convinced that Larry was a great father. The guy always had a good head on his shoulders."

Being invited to the ceremonies profoundly touched Ruel. Away from the game, and in quiet retreat, the 69 year old retiree is quite happy to realize he has not been forgotten.

"I'm happy he remembered me", Ruel said, his voice failing him slightly, "I gather it has all to do with the amount of time we spent together.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if this man, who has devoted his life's work to his "boys", shed a few tears Monday night.

Jacques Plante 1952 - 1963

It is debatable whether Jacques Plante is the best goalie of all time, but there is little doubt that he is the most important. Plante will always be known as the man who introduced the art of modern goaltending to the NHL and whose influence is seen every night a game is played.

"Jake the Snake" was born in Shawinigan Falls, Quebec, and from the time he started playing, his destiny was to play for the Montreal Canadiens.

After a four-year apprenticeship with the Montreal Royals in Quebec Senior Hockey League and two years with the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL, Plante quickly emerged as Montreal's goalie of the future. He played a few games for the Habs from 1952 to 1954, but starting in 1956 he began an incredible run of five consecutive Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy wins - records unlikely to be equaled.

Throughout his career he suffered from asthma attacks, and after missing 13 games due to a sinus operation, Plante began wearing a mask in practices in 1956. Habs coach Toe Blake endorsed the move, albeit cautiously, because it kept his goalie healthy and happy. Still he warned Plante that the mask wasn't permitted during games.

It was during a game against New York, on the night of November 2, 1959, when Plante was badly hurt while being hit in the face by a shot. The Rangers Andy Bathgate, in the opinion of many, seemed to aim straight for Plante's face.

Off Plante went to the dressing room for stitches. When he returned, he was wearing a mask.

Coach Blake was livid, but as he had no other goalie to call upon, Plante refused to return unless he kept the mask on. Blake agreed on condition that Plante discard the mask when the cut had healed. In the ensuing days Plante refused, and as the team continued to win, Blake became less obstinate. The Montreal record stretched into an 18-game unbeaten streak with Plante protected and the mask was in the NHL for good.

Plante was a pioneer of the style of play for goaltenders as well. While there had been other goalies before him who periodically came out of their crease to play the puck, he was the first to skate in behind the net to stop the puck for his defensemen. He also was the first to raise his arm as an alert to an icing call. He perfected a stand-up style of goaltending that emphasized positional play, cutting down the angles and staying square to the shooter. Plante's book, "The Art of Goaltending", was the first of its kind and solidified his place in the game as not just a great stopper but a man who truly understood the game and wanted to have an influence on how it would be played in the future.

Plante retired in 1965 after playing two seasons with the Rangers, but he was lured out of retirement by the St. Louis Blues and the prospect of sharing the goaltending with the great Glenn Hall.

Together Plante and Hall took the Blues to two Stanley Cup finals, and in 1969 Plante shared the Vezina Trophy with him, at the ripe old age of 40. He later played with Toronto and Boston and one final season with the Edmonton Oilers in the WHA before becoming a scout and goalie coach in St. Louis. In 1962 he was the last goalie to win the Hart Trophy until Dominik Hasek in 1997, and still ranks among the career leaders in games played and shutouts. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.

Also read Jacques Plante One On One and Jacques Plante And The Legend Of The Mask