News for Monday, December 17th

Jack Todd has a laugh at the expense of fickle Montreal Canadiens fans, who - in their defense - have been put through an up-and-down season that has toyed with their emotions and left their heads spinning. The average Montreal fan doesn't know whether Carbo is an idiot or a genius, whether Saku sucks or rules, or, at this point, whether that bump on his own arm is his ass or his elbow. It's been that confusing: first the Habs shoot out of the gate to as high as 4th overall, then they cut the engines and free-fall to the fringe of the playoff picture. Jack Todd, long my favourite sportswriter for his voice, wit, and frequent allusions to Modernist poets, advises Canadiens fans not to expect their wild ride to end anytime soon.

A nice profile of and interview with Jimmy Bonneau, the would-be Habs policeman, presently waiting in the wings in Hamilton. There are those who are feeling a need for just such a presence on the Habs' bench, especially after comments by Paul Maurice on Saturday. More on that later.

Dave Stubbs talks to Saku Koivu about ending his goal-scoring drought, the team's (still nascent) turnaround, and his new linemate, Sergei Kostitsyn. In short, Saku says it's nice to get the monkey off his back, but that the win is more important than the individual acheivement, and credits the entire team for a stronger effort in recent games. On the subject of Sergei K., Koivu pays big compliments: "'rare vision ... huge potential,'" and - taking a page from recent comments by Jean Beliveau - stresses the importance of Habs' veterans helping the young winger adjust to the NHL. Also of note in the article is Coach Carbo's spirited defense of his captain, which might help defuse recent rumours of a strained relationship between the two.

Unsurprisingly, Jaroslav Halak has been reassigned to Hamilton of the AHL, following the return of Cristobal Huet from injury. Halak played just one period for the Habs, in relief of Carey Price, allowing one goal on six shots in a Dec. 8th game that was already out of reach for Les Boys.

In La Presse, Francois Gagnon quotes Coach Carbo on the team's present - if tenuous - place among the top teams in their conference: "'We must be doing something right'". Gagnon agrees, and notes a major improvement over last season in the Habs' play at even strength. See the article for the complete breakdown, but here's a taste: last year the Habs' skaters finished a combined -170; this year, they are -15 ... not ideal, but a major upgrade. My francais is far from parfait, but Gagnon may also assert that Carey Price has played himself into the number one goaltending spot. Depends on how you translate "a su assumer", but one thing I do know, when you "assumer" you make an ass out of you and mer.

Also in La Presse, Pierre Ladouceur has a thorough evaluation of the week that was for Habs, going line by line and defense-pairing by defense-pairing. Ladouceur comments that the Habs recent skid had folks grumbling that the Canadiens had two third lines and two fourth lines, or even (to Guy Lafleur) four fourth lines; now, he says, after picking up five of a possible six points last week, it might be more fair to speak of two first and two third lines. Ladouceur rates the Koivu-Higgins-Whoever line as the Canadiens best, for its offensive and defensive work this week, with the Plecanek-Kovalev-A. Kostitsyn line close behind. He lauds the defensive work of Streit, Lapierre, and Dandeneault, who effectively shut down the Sundin line on Saturday night. He further appreciates the consistent effort of Tom Kostopoulos and particularly Kyle Chipchura, who has improved his faceoff score to 55%.

Worth a read: Lions in Winter has a game report here, and Eyes on the Prize has one here. Eyes on the Prize notes how family has played a role in the Habs' recent success: Andrei Kostitsyn helping little brother Sergei adjust, and Saku Koivu raising his game on Saturday with his mom and dad in attendance.

For intelligent discussion of all things Habs, you can always count on alt.canadiens, which presently features long-running discussions on Saku Koivu's recent play and possible discontentment, as well as the eerie similarities between this year and last. Alt.canadiens has the best analysis - and especially meta-analysis - of the Habs available, if you ask me. In the links above, find searching philosophical inquiry into the meaning of such commonly used terms as "production", "streaky", and "consistency".

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