News for Saturday, December 22nd

Further reaction to Guillaume Latendresse's two-goal response on Thursday to being benched on Tuesday, as Stephanie Myles talks to the young Habs forward. He says he was well-over his frustration when game time rolled around, and hit the ice with his "head in the right place." Coach Carbonneau wanted him to work without the puck, and head to the net whenever possible, both of which missions were accomplished. Latendresse was on a line with Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Dandeneault (though one of his goals was a power-play gift from Saku Koivu) and in this article he sounds very pleased with the trio's chemistry - though he must surely be wondering how long his coach, the league's most active and inscrutable line-juggler - will keep it together.

The same article quotes a frustrated Carbo on the extreme scrutiny even his most minor moves receives: "When I was in Dallas, nobody talked about who played and didn't play". Is he serious? Is the former captain of the Canadiens - who was traded to St. Louis after igniting a controversy literally with a flick of his finger - actually surprised at the attention the team gets from the press? When he was in Dallas he must have picked up the habit of "joshin'".

Also in the Gazette, Red Fisher pronounces the Habs' goaltending controversy DOA. Huet, he says, is still the man. As we well know, of course, this controversy is never dead proper, but would more appropriately be considered "undead", soon to arise from a short period of inanimation to once again stalk the living. Fisher's case: Huet has been brilliant for the Habs since stealing the job from Jose Theodore, the Habs would have made the playoffs if not for Huet's injury last year, Price hasn't enough to take the job away, and Huet was great the other night against the Capitals. Mostly true, except for the part about the Habs making the playoffs last year: Jaroslav Halak stepped up very well last year after Huet was hurt, meaning the goaltending wasn't a factor. Actually, Huet's early return, in the final game of the regular season, did the Habs' playoff hopes no good at all: he was a big part of the nightmarish collapse against the Maple Leafs that officially eliminated the team.

The Sporting News previews tonight's game in Atlanta, where the Habs will take on the Thrashers. The Thrashers are on a bit of a roll, with wins in their last two games, including an impressive 3-2 victory over the born-again Ottawa Senators. Number one goalie Kari Lehtonen is 4-2-0 with a 2.87 GAA since returning from an injury, and his presence makes this Atlanta team much better. Of course, their most important player remains Ilya Kovalchuk, who leads the NHL with 28 goals - 4 in his last 3 games - and is the NHL's best bet to become the newest member of the elite 50 in 50 club. New guy Mark Recchi has profited from a change in scenery, picking up 5 points in his first 5 games with Atlanta. The Habs also have played well lately - well, they've won lately - and the big reasons are Alexei Kovalev (7 points in his last 6), Saku Koivu (points in his last 3 games) and the goaltending duo of Carey Price and Cristobal Huet. The not quite un-sung hero of the team remains Mike Komisarek, who plays big minutes in a crucial role.

Like to day-dream about the Habs acquiring a player who could replace Stephane Richer and Mats Naslund as the answer to a Habs trivia question? A player who could challenge for the scoring title, electrify the audience, and lead the team to the Stanley Cup? So does Jack Todd. Read this piece and fantasize away.

Fancois Gagnon focusses on Michael Ryder in this piece from La Presse. A likely scratch again tonight - unless, Gagnon jokes, another member of the team hurt himself getting out of bed today - Ryder is rapidly becoming a press-box regular. Mired in a season-long slump, he remains stuck at just 3 goals and 10 points. Despite his troubles, he says all the right things to Gagnon: he still wants to be part of the team, understands the decision not to play him, and wants to turn things around. Gagnon quotes him as saying that he does not intend to ask for a trade, and that he respects the decision to stick with a different line-up as long as the team is winning. The situation for Ryder is bad and getting worse: he's been replaced by Sergei Kostitsyn on the top line, and Gagnon notes that Kos Jr. has been able to spark his line-mates (<>). On the power-play, Guillaume Latendresse has taken his spot, and has produced. As Gagnon says, Ryder is likely to stay off the ice until someone gets hurt, or quits working.

Elsewhere in La Presse, M. Gagnon gets Alex Kovalev's opinion on who the best players in the NHL are. His answer: Ilya Kovalchuk (whom he compares to Tiger Woods!) and Alex Ovechkin. Kovalev says that Russian players don't get the recognition they deserve until their team actually wins a championship. Gagnon also speaks to Andrei Markov about the possibility of best-pal Alex Ovechkin someday joining the Habs, and actually manages to tick the usually robotic defenseman off: «Pourquoi me poser une question comme celle-là?» Markov says ("Why would you ask me a question like that?"). «Vous savez que ça n'arrivera jamais» ("You know it'll never happen"). Markov also asks the reporter why he thinks Ovechkin would want to sign with a team where he'll lose half of his money in taxes: um, I don't know, Andrei ... because you did?
For still more Ovechkin dreaming, see Marc de Foy's article in le Journal de Montreal, ici.

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