Pat Hickey talks to the Habs to see what's been going right for them of late, and Chris Higgins says it's about taking a break, both from hockey-mad Montreal, and from hockey itself. With a lengthy road-trip sandwiching the Christmas hiatus, the Habs haven't had to deal with the pressures of being the Canadiens in Montreal, a situation in which Higgins says you get "consumed". And being away from the rink, he adds, "reminds you how lucky you are to be playing". Geez, you'd think the paychecks and the girls would be a pretty fair reminder, wouldn't you? Without saying it directly, I think what Higgins is singing is the old "it's hard to play in Montreal" song.
Fighting is Stupid, Example 5,125,341: Ryan O'Byrne will miss six weeks with a broken thumb sustained in a pointless fight near the end of a 5-1 game. O'Byrne was playing 14:00 a game and starting to look very comfortable in the NHL. He brought much needed size to the Habs blueline and laid out a couple of powerful hits in the same game. Now, because hockey is the only sport bush-league enough to tolerate fighting, we will see Patrice Brisebois in a Habs uniform before we see O'Byrne in one again. That makes me want to punch something ... but I'm an adult who can control his own anger. Is hockey really that much tougher than rugby or football? Really?
At the Carolina News & Observer, Luke DeCock has the most realistic-looking list of players most likely soon to be traded ... and yes, Michael Ryder's name is on it. Any goals he has over the rest of the year have nothing to do with it: he's a UFA at the end of the year, he won't come back to Montreal unless the Habs substantially overbid for him, and no single player is worth the kind of money Ryder is likely to receive, assuming he finds his scoring touch again. If he'd been a free agent before this year, he probably could have gotten six million dollars per from any number of desperate GMs. His value is down after disappearing for the better part of the year, but he'll still get five million, and that's just too much.
In a move that will surprise no Canadiens fan, Sergei Samsonov has been waived by the Chicago Blackhawks. After trading Mike Ribeiro for basically nothing, his signing is the worst move Bob Gainey has made as Habs GM. What on earth ever happened to this guy? It's absolutely mystifying. After a promising beginning, his career sputtered and has finally, I think, crashed. Will he play again in the NHL? Not likely.
In La Presse, Marc Antoine Godin atrributes the Habs recent success to the "Kostitsyn Effect". He notes that in the 8 games since Sergie was recalled from Hamilton, the Habs have gone 5-2-1, and have averaged 3.5 goals per game, up from the 2.8 they were scoring before. While the younger Kostitysn has a respectable 5 points in his first 8 NHL games, he is obviously not directly responsible for the improved offense. As Godin notes, it's the way his presence allows Carbonneau to set his lines that is really making the difference, enabling the Habs to ice three effective offensive lines for the first time this season. Lacking any true superstars, it was Carbo's intention in training camp to have a three-line attack, but the struggles of Michael Ryder and Bryan Smolinksi meant that it never really happened. Now, with Sergei on the top line, Saku Koivu has come to life, with 2 goals and nine points in the 8 games he's played. Also profiting is new first-line winger Guillaume Latendresse who, with four goals since joining Koivu and Kostitsyn, suddenly looks like the power forward the Habs have needed since 1979. With the opposition being forced to check two lines, the dependable Plecanek, Kovalev, A. Kostitsyn line has had a little extra room to breathe, and has upped its own production: Andrei Kostitsyn has scored a point per game since his brother joined him in Montreal. Finally, the newly formed third line features two of the team's best players - Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder. Ryder's been in a funk, yes, but with a goal the other night, he may be breaking out of it, and if he does, the Habs three-line attack could become very potent indeed.