Thursday, March 6th, 2008

How Do You Like Your Chances Now, Saku?

This Ottawa Citizen piece reminds us how Saku Koivu caused some controversy in the off-season by saying that the Habs weren't ready to contend; wonder how he's feeling now? The author says the Canadiens have all the right pieces to make a run - providing their untested goaltending holds up. If Price falters, he adds, Bob Gainey will get roasted (the French press already have the oven warmed up).

Habs Grit Their Teeth Over Officiating

Preparing to face the Coyotes tonight in Phoenix, the Canadiens had a day off before running through some drills with the coaches yesterday. Guy Carbonneau speaks to Pat Hickey here, discussing, among other things, his decision to go back to Carey Price in net after a bad game, and the team's frustration with the refereeing in San Jose the other night. Carey Price was literally bowled over by Patrick Marleau before one of San Jose's goals, and there were numerous phantom calls to go with a large number of missed calls. (All of which would be bearable if referees actually looked like this.)

It was indeed a badly-run game, but not unusually so, it must be said. The officiating in the NHL has been terrible since the beginning of the so-called "crackdown" on obstruction. It's not the focus on eliminating interference that's a problem; indeed, as most will admit, the automatic calls on hooking and holding have opened up the game, and the players have been much freer to strut their stuff, making it a more entertaining, more skill-based game. No, the "crackdown" has been a success in terms of eliminating the ugly stuff that used to clot the lanes, but it's had the unfortunate side effects of distracting officials from other fouls, while also making them less likely to call them.

Most of the refs in the NHL are still fairly old-school, and their philosophy is that they, the refs, "shouldn't affect the outcome" of the game. Now, obviously, a referee who avoids calling something, for whatever reason, is very clearly still "affecting" its outcome, but they don't see it that way. It is precisely that attitude that led to the constant hooking and holding that dominated the game from the mid-nineties until the recent past, and it is precisely that attitude that is to blame for the difficulty the NHL has had in trying to eliminate interference from the game.

Having been compelled - with the threat of demotion - to call even the slightest hint of a hook, the NHL refs have compensated by being more reluctant to call other types of penalties (checking from behind, double minors) if they think it's a borderline foul. Hence the growing irritation around the league from coaches, GMs, and players when referees blow calls.


Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Dodging Bullets

When the trade deadline went by, many of us were a little disappointed that Bob Gainey and the Canadiens didn't pick up a big-name player to round out their attack. Never mind that most of us know, rationally, that with the third-best offense and one of the best records in the league, the Habs weren't really in the biggest need of a Marian Hossa: psychologically, we all just want the boost of seeing a star player in a Habs uniform. It's been too long.

We go through the same thing every summer during the free agent period: we hope against hope that Uncle Bob will bring home a shiny, new fifty-goal scorer for us to admire, but it just never seems to happen. And we sulk. But why? Do we want a good team, or a flashy roster? Both, I guess. But maybe we need to remember how dicey the free-agent thing is. Remember last summer? Most of the signings last year have been disappointments, including:
  • Bill Guerin, Islanders, 2 years/9 million, 37 points.
  • Paul Kariya, Predators, 3 years/18 million, 52 points
  • Jason Blake, Leafs, 5 years/20 million, 12 goals, 40 points
  • Ryan Smyth, Avalanche, 5 years/31.5 million, 45 games, 33 points
  • Kimmo Timonen, Flyers, 6 years/39 million, 36 points, -3
  • Scott Gomez, Rangers, 7 years/51 million, 14 goals
  • Daniel Briere, Flyers, 8 years/52 million, 57 points, -23
  • Chris Drury, Rangers, 5 years/35.25 million, 48 points, -5
  • Sheldon Souray, Edmonton, 5 years/27 million, 26 games, 3 goals
The production of most of these guys is just embarrassing in relation to what their agents extorted from GM's around the league. Think back to how badly the fans and media wanted Briere to sign in Montreal: now imagine being saddled with that contract! We should all be thanking Uncle Bob for not biting on that one, not to mention for his decision to walk away from Sheldon "Payday" Souray, who was still welcome on the Habs at a handsome salary despite his chronic shoulder problems, better known to Gainey and the Habs than to anyone else. But because of his greed, he's spent this season freezing in Edmonton, a stranger amongst his teammates, waiting alone for his shoulder to heal and being regarded as a bust by fans who have no connection to him. I can't say I have any sympathy.


Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

What's The Deal With Bob Gainey?

Funny piece in the Sun chain on "the lighter side of sports", featuring quips about recent events in the sporting world. French McFarlane has this one:
"You have to wonder who was advising Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey when he sent Cristobal Huet to Washington for a second-round draft pick -- Amy Winehouse or Gary Busey?"

Catching Up With Turner Stevenson
I've been wondering what became of Turner Stevenson since his retirement two years ago. The Prince George Citizen talks to the former Canadiens bruiser and finds him contemplating a coaching career.

I Think We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

It wasn't Carey Price's night: for three heroic games, the Habs were Stanley Cup contenders, Carey Price was the second coming of Ken Dryden, and Bob Gainey was a genius of epic proportions. Now it's like we've woken up after a wild party, with the cold light of day ordering us out of bed, next to a Coyote Ugly. Give the Habs credit for trying, they scored plenty of goals against Evgeni Nabokov, but Price let in soft goals early, late, and often. A series of weak ones left the Canadiens with no chance of winning.

It's just one game, and there are bound to others like it as Price continues to adjust to the difficulty of the NHL game, but it was still disconcerting to see the Habs drop a game they had every right to win thanks to sub-par netminding. Bob Gainey was, no doubt, expecting some of these when he anointed Price the Habs new number one goalie, but even he was probably shaking his head at Jody Shelly's embarrassing 1st goal of the season.

Is it a big deal? No. But the amount of attention that Price's first really bad game will get in Montreal is just another reminder of how hard it can be to play for the Canadiens. Luckily, Price seems to have exactly the right attitude - calm, bordering on comatose - to deal with all the craziness.

The Gazette largely soft-pedals Price's bad game: quoting Coach Carbonneau, Pat Hickey writes that while Price's game wasn't "memorable", he "didn't get much help" either. Carbo says, "We were getting beaten one-on-one," and chalks the loss up to bad defence. Carbo's a team guy for deflecting criticism from Price ... and so too is Hickey, I suppose!

Hickey also reports on the rejuvenation of Craig Rivet, who went to San Jose last winter in a trade that "benefitted both teams". Nice to see things going well for Rivet, who was always a favourite of mine. He was always a class act, from the days when I'd watch him play for the Baby Habs in Fredericton, right to the end. He needed the change of scene, as he himself admits, and truthfully the team had to move on too: he was a veteran journeyman on a squad that was being transformed by youth. He's fit in great in San Jose, where he's a steadying influence, and at the same time, Josh Gorges, acquired from the Sharks in the Rivet trade, has developed nicely into the Habs regular 6th d-man. Even better for the Habs is the promising player they picked up with the 1st round pick San Jose also traded: Max Pacioretty.


Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Canadiens Jet to Meet Sharks
Apologies for the tortured showtune pun, there just aren't nearly enough Broadway references available in sports-talk for me to pass any up. Once upon a time you could count on three or four good Jets vs Sharks jokes per season, but then the NHL left Winnipeg, sadly. Anyway. The Canadiens might be in tough against the Sharks tonight. The Vallejo Times Herald notes that San Jose heads into tonight's match on a five-game winning streak, and that the Sharks seem to have found their true form after an inconsistent season. Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau have jolted back to life, Evgeni Nabokov remains solid as ever, and trade-deadline acquisition Brian Campbell adds the miss
ing link the San Jose offense needed to get going.

USA Today marks the beginning of a Canadiens four-game road trip, trumpeting the reborn Habs and their 3rd-best in the NHL offense: the Habs have averaged 3.11 goals per game. They'll need all that firepower against San Jose, which boasts the NHL's 2nd-best defense, and one of the NHL's best goalies. The Habs have outscored their opponents 13-4 in their past three games, but look for this one to be a tighter-checking game: the Habs like to keep it simple on the road, where they are the NHL's best team, and the Sharks have an aversion to offense. Factor in the recent hotness of Carey Price and Evgeni Nabokov, and you've got all the makings of a defensive struggle in a chess-match wrapped in a goaltenders' duel. Which means we'll probably get the exact opposite of what we expect, right? Curry Stat: the last game between the Habs and the Sharks in San Jose was exactly four years ago, on March 3rd, 2004.

Best shot blocker in the NHL: Mike Komisarek? That's what this unnamed NHL executive told the Sporting News. Elsewhere on the same site, the same Habs defenseman is projected as a future Team USA captain, and we can only hope that he's around long enough to be considered for the same role on the Canadiens, after Saku Koivu hangs them up.

Afternoon Update

Kind of the same old story, but if you just can't get enough of reading about Canadiens GM Bob Gainey and his ballsy decision to hand the wheel to rookie phenom Carey Price, then CBC Sports has a pretty good story about it. Some new comments from coach Guy Carbonneau and captain Saku Koivu on the subject, and also a word or two from the Habs new back-up, Jaro Halak.

What? You need even more? Okay, here's senior The Hockey News writer Ken Campbell's two cents. This is actually a really good article: he reads Bob Gainey's mind a little bit and says the Huet deal has less to do with confidence in Price than it does with a lack of confidence in Huet. Campbell says that Gainey clearly believes that Huet will stumble in the playoffs, and therefore feels he has nothing to lose in rolling the dice with Price. Well, if that's what Gainey was thinking, I believe he is wrong, for what that's worth. Huet is the Rodney Dangerfield of NHL goalies: he'll need a Cup and Conn Smythe before he gets any respect out there.

Guy Carbonneau: coach of the year? Hockey.com says so, and why not? You'll be reading a lot more articles like this one if the Habs keep up their winning ways. Cynical fans know that the Adams award is often given to a coach just because his team turned things around, even if it's clear that the coach had little to do with the turn-around, but unlike last year's winner Alain Vigneault - who had a lot of help from Roberto Luongo, or last year's runner-up Michel Therrien - um, Crosby? Malkin? - Carbonneau has actually been a major factor in his team's renascence. He has devised an innovative and unique team system (the "hybrid-trap") that the team has bought into and learned to play to great effect. He has evolved from throwing tantrums at refs and getting into confrontations with his stars into a patient bench boss who knows how to manage his players. In short, he has done a truly good job, and deserves a lot of credit, maybe even the Adams.

Morning Papers

Return of the Todd! Jack is back after a surprisingly brief retirement, apparently compelled to resurface in the sports pages to defend Bob Gainey from the bleating of critics, who were openly critical of his failure to land an "impact" player, or of the Huet trade, or both. Todd praises not only Gainey's decisions, but his very decisiveness, his calm, his deportment, his commitment to the city, his assurance ... I was expecting him to start talking about what a snappy dresser Gainey is by the end! Anyway, Gainey deserves any kudos anyone wants to give him, and it's great to have Jack Todd back writing about the Montreal Canadiens.

A couple of pieces on Carey Price in the Gazette. One recounts the whirlwind of his last fourteen months: between the WJC, the Calder Cup, and his ascension to Montreal's #1 goalie, it's like he's living in a highlight reel. Then there's Dave Stubbs's interview piece, wherein he talks to Price about becoming the man at an age where most guys aren't close to being a man, and about his friendship with Cristobal Huet. A good read, which is nothing at all unusal for a Dave Stubbs piece!

Dear God. Those Toronto fans still think the Leafs are going to the playoffs. Read here as Mike Zeisberger of The Sun says what most Torontonians will only quietly think when completely alone. It's true that the Leafs have won 5 of their last 6 or something, but that's all just part of their usual late-season surge to just-below playoff contention. It's how they always do it. It's how they've managed to miss the playoffs three years running without even getting a decent draft pick out of it. It's how they roll.

The Habs are still technically in first place in the highly complex Eastern conference playoff race, but they've got company from the Penguins, who beat the Devils yesterday to equal the Canadiens with 81 points. The Habs have the game in hand, though. It's still anybody's race, however, with the Canadiens, Penguins, Devils, and Senators all in the hunt ... not to mention the surging Boston Bruins.


Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Rumours of Rumours
Bruce Garrioch at the Toronto Sun serves up a boatload of post-deadline scuttlebutt. It may or may not be true, but either way it's fun. Items of note: Huet had the Caps at hello, they'll re-sign him this summer and cut ties with Kolzig; Alex Tanguay was willing to go to Montreal, but Daryll Sutter wanted more than Gainey would offer; Hossa is a good bet to sign with the Bruins this summer, being best pals with Zdeno Chara, so it's lucky Montreal didn't spend a lot to rent him; and finally, the Habs called Chicago to inquire about Martin Havlat, apparently out of a desire to hook him up with Marian Hossa on an all-new top line. Now that's juicy.

Future is Now?
It's a little jar
ring to see Carey Price on the cover of The Hockey News's Future Watch issue, ranked as the number one prospect in hockey. Jarring, I say, because last time I checked, Carey Price was not a prospect at all, but was in fact the Montreal Canadiens' starting goalie! That must mean that the future ... has arrived. I look forward to enjoying Canadiens games on my Holodeck, eating nutritional capsules, using the Force, and flying to work with my jet-pack on my back. If Price's recent play is any indication, the future rocks.

ESPN: Predictions Redux
8:05pm (E
In an article that looks at this season's unexpected events, ESPN online heralds the Canadiens' number-one status with wonderment, saying, "
Before the season, if you had said the Montreal Canadiens were the best team in the Eastern Conference, most people would have called you crazy." Most people, including ESPN, it hardly needs to be added. They go on to add that Carey Price is "making Bob Gainey look like a genius for trading away Cristobal Huet."

Wicked Sticks of the East
6:45pm (EST)

The Montreal Canadiens became the top team in the Eastern Conference (for however long it lasts) the hard way: they took it away from the team that had it. An impressive feat for a team that was largely written off before the season got underway, even more impressive considering that the game that earned them their current heady status came against nemesis Marty Brodeur and his New Jersey Devils.

So how have they done it? Mike Boone of Habs Inside Out is right on the money: "Here's my one-word explanation: Youth ... In a salary cap league where you can't throw money at your mistakes, scouting and player development are the keys to success. Chapeau to Trevor Timmins and his staff. And bravo to Bob Gainey, who has doggedly stuck to a team-building plan that is ahead of schedule." Well said.

It is indeed all about the young players: the Habs would be nowhere without them. But the guy who coached a lot of them in Hamilton - Don Lever - should also come in for some praise. Just look at how a little time with the Bulldogs has turned around the season of Mikhail Grabovski, or at how easily Ryan O'Byrne has made the transition to the NHL.

And while we're praising coaches, how about a little love for Guy Carbonneau? The much-maligned (online at least) Montreal coach, ridiculed for juggling his lines and goaltenders, has moulded this raw collection of hockey prospects into fledgling contenders. He's learned patience with the refs and has proven that's he's open-minded enough to admit when he was wrong and learn from his mistakes. He's a smart guy, a scholar of the game, and the NHL's best new coach.

Sunshine & Rainbows

It's all coming up roses at the Gazette. Red Fisher is happy to be wrong about predicting that the Canadiens would squeak into the playoffs at number seven, which was a wildly optimistic prediction when it was made last fall. As he points out, the Habs have been successful because all the pre-season question marks - goaltending, development of the young players, the fate of the power-play after Souray, Kovalev, Carbonneau's maturation as a coach - have all had positive answers. Everything has broken their way this year, a run of good luck they've earned after a decade of futility. Elsewhere in the Gazette, Pat Hickey reports on the game, singling out Carey Price as the hero (with an assist from the ever-more dangerous Andrei Kostitsyn), while Kevin Mio talks to Josh Gorges (aka Mike Boone's Man) about solidifying his place on the team's top six defencemen.


Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Oh, Please

Not blogging today, because I'm retiling the bathroom, but I had to post up this stupid idea from TSN's Darren Dreger: he writes that Bob Gainey is in the running to take over the Leafs. Does he just make this crap up, or what? Just as all of Gainey's drafting and planning is coming to fruition, following the retirement of his jersey, and going into the year of the Canadiens' 100th anniversary, all of a sudden he's going to jump ship and go manage the Leafs? What a brilliant rumour this is. So that's what happens when you live at the centre of the universe too long, eh?


Friday, February 29th, 2008

Youth Movement

Interesting report on the Montreal Canadiens youth movement in the Gazette today: Herb Zurkowsky notes that Bryan Smolinski, Patrice Brisebois, and Tom Kostopoulos have become press-box regulars. All three were free-agent signings last summer, and it's worth wondering at this point what Bob Gainey was thinking when he signed them, given his apparent determination to focus on youth. The Brisebois signing remains the most puzzling, as the Habs have eight other defensemen on the team, but the it's the Smolinski deal that is most regrettable. Nothing against Smolinski: he is a fine veteran capable of filling a certain role very effectively. It's just that there's no place for his role on this team, as he himself says, and the Habs are using two million dollars of precious cap-space to pay him.

There is, in fact, a real log-jam developing. Not only is there no room, at the present time, on the bench for Smolinski, Kostopoulos, Brisebois, or Dandeneault, but the Habs also have some skilled young players who have developed well in Hamilton: Chipchura, Locke, D'Agostini, Valentenko.
Then there are still more blue-chip prospects like Max Pacioretty, Ryan McDonagh, Alexei Emelin, and perhaps David Fischer, whose play has improved significantly in his sophomore year. The Habs, basically, have one of the best pools of young talent to draw from, as most observers agree.

Odds and Ends
Hartley Miller says the reason Bob Gainey traded Cristobal Huet is that he is simply not interested in competing this year, and is willing to sacrifice winning a round or two in favour of jump-starting Carey Price's career as a #1 goalie. Well, that's the only sensible explanation I've heard: it actually never crossed my mind that Bob would deliberately avoid making a run for the Cup. Obviously, such a run had little chance for success, even with Huet, but I figure you always should at least try if the opportunity is there. Roll the dice; why not? I guess Bob isn't a gambling man.

Look out for Steve Bernier when the Canadiens play the Sabres tonight. He made a big splash in his first game with Buffalo, scoring two goals, and you know those French guys always seem to channel Lafleur whenever they play Montreal. Impressively, Darcy Regier managed to get Bernier and a first rounder from San Jose in exchange for Brian Campbell, a UFA rental player. Now, obviously Regier has powerful Jedi mind powers, but still, you have to wonder if Bob Gainey couldn't have persuaded the Sharks to give him Bernier in exchange for Mark Streit, straight up?

The Canadiens can take over first-place tonight if they can beat the suddenly-hot Buffalo Sabres, after Ottawa lost yet another game last night, this time against the struggling Philadelphia Flyers. What the hell has been wrong with that team since December? They can't do anything at all. I hope Montreal can come through tonight: it'll be their third crack at first place, a spot they have failed to own yet, though they did share it for a day or two with the Sens and the Devils.

Canada's most famous Leap Year birthday boy? Montreal Canadiens great Henri "Pocket Rocket" Richard, who has his 18th birthday today. If you see him around Montreal today, you can legally buy him a drink.


Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Jennifer Hedger Almost Makes TSN Bearable
With the Habs on an off-night, I found my mind wandering somewhat, and this is where it ended up as I watched Sportscentre. I found this article, reprinted from a Globe and Mail interview, which some neo-feminist at Canadian Driver has branded "embarrassing": well, I find it quaint and charming, m'self. So what if she's a bad driver who likes to get around in her BMW in stillettos?

Hossa Goes Down

Just barely halfway through his first game in a Pens jersey, Marian Hossa has to leave with an MCL strain. Look for him to be out about six weeks. Can you imagine how you'd feel if Bob Gainey had shelled out a lot for Hossa only to have him bang up his knee on practically his first shift? Yikes. The good news for Pittsburgh is, obviously, that they picked up Hossa for the playoffs, not the regular season, and they'll have him back in plenty of time for the Stanley Cup run.

Buffalo Soldier

The big winner GMs on deadline day were clearly Brett Hull and Don Waddell. Hull managed to pick up number one centre Brad Richards from Tampa Bay in exchange for Dallas's back-up goalie. What a friggin' steal. Yeah, yeah, I know, Mike Smith has a lot of "potential". Whatever. Brad Richards has a lot of "superstar in his prime". Waddell, for his part, managed to parlay Marian Hossa - a UFA after this season - into Angelo Esposito, Colby Armstong, Erik Christenson, and a #1 pick. That's a great return.

As we all know, our own esteemed GM, Canadiens great Bob Gainey acquired no-one at the trade deadline while giving away his number one goalie. *head scratch*
Don't get me wrong. I love Gainey, and don't agree with those who say he must have retired his brain along with his number the other night: In Bob We Trust, and all that. But it's two days after the Huet trade, and I'm still very much, like, "WTF?"

I'm not saying Gainey had to work a miracle, though I am envious that Hull and Waddell were able to do so for their own teams. But at the very least, I would like to think that Bob could have done as well as Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, whose unheralded deadline deal might go down as the shrewdest made this year. Regier traded soon-to-UFA Brian Campbell, a star defenceman, because they couldn't chance watching him walk away this summer, as they had to do with Daniel Briere and Chris Drury last season. But this wasn't a sell-off trade, by any stretch. Somehow, Regier managed to get San Jose to cough up not merely a number one pick, but also emerging forward Steve Bernier. In a sign of things to come, the Sabres responded to the deadline deal with an 8-4 win in their next game against Nashville, with Bernier scoring on his first two shots as a Sabre. Now that's the way to win a trade! Meanwhile, Gainey traded the best goalie dealt on deadline day, and came up with a 2nd round pick. Not exactly Brad Richards, is it?

Huet Meets the Press

The Washington Post covers the introduction of former Montreal Canadien Cristobal Huet (and some guy named Sergei Fedorov) to a throng of Washington's hockey writers and analysts. No, seriously, I heard some reporters actually showed up. Poor Huet: he gets dumped by Montreal, a team he clearly loves, and finds himself smack in an NHL backwater and stuck in yet another instant goaltending controversy. Will it be Huet, Kolzig, or Johnson tomorrow? Stay tuned.

On a related note, isn't it just the biggest joke in the world that Washington gets to have a hockey team? No-one has ever supported it. It has always stunk. And yet there they are, taking up valuable real estate and squandering some of the best talent in the NHL - poor Ovechkin - by keeping him hidden in a building where it is certain he will never be seen and thus truly appreciated. And now they have our goalie too.

Musical Goalies

Further fallout from the Canadiens' goalie moves: Cedric Desjardins has been promoted from Cincinnati of the ECHL to Hamilton, replacing Jaroslav Halak, who has been promoted to Montreal to replace Cristobal Huet, who was traded, of course, to Washington. But Desjardins won't as you might think, be backing-up incumbent Bulldogs' goalie Yan Danis: instead, he's likely to get the majority of the starts down the stretch. Apparently, Gainey regards Desjardins as a better prospect than the 27 year-old Danis. Rollie Melanson, long the goalie coach of the Montreal Canadiens, believes in Danis, but apparently he's not going to get a shot with the Habs.

Goalie Controversy Redux

Jaroslav Halak isn't taking his back-up goalie status for granted, and hey, why should he? The goaltending situation in Montreal is officially insane, and absolutely anything wouldn't surprise. That said, the Habs were determined enough to make Price their starter that (a) they cut Halak instead of Price in training camp, despite the fact that Halak played better, and (b) they traded Huet for the sole purpose of clearing the deck for Price. Management really believes in Price, and it'll take a fair amount for Halak to even begin changing their minds.

Soccer Won't Have Gillett to Kick Around

The Irish-Independent has a story on the disintegrating business partnership between the Dallas Stars' owner Tom Hicks and Canadiens' George Gillett, as they apparently prepare to divest themselves of the Liverpool football club they proudly purchased a couple of years ago. I had been worried that the Liverpool fiasco could cause financial problems or general instability for the Habs, but that doesn't seem to be the way it's trending.

Ghosts of the Living

You'll be reading a lot of stories like this one in coming days, a comparison of the situation of Carey Price today with those of Canadiens' greats Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden in '86 and '71. Montreal GM Bob Gainey's Hail Mary passing-of-the-torch to Carey Price calls to mind the accomplishments of previous rookie goaltenders, like Roy and Dryden, each of whom won the cup in their first year with the big club.

The connections could inspire a certain amount of mystical hope in long-suffering fans, but obviously such hope would be pure superstition. The achievements of Dryden and Roy were not magical: both turned out to be Hall of Fame goalies. To hope that Price can do the same as those two is to hope that he has similar ability, and needless to say, that is probably too much to hope. It is interesting to note, too, that neither Dryden nor Roy came into the NHL with anything like the hype that Price has had, and in fact, both were somewhat unheralded as rookies. Actually, Price has more in common with another Canadiens rookie goalie who, like Price, was a junior star, WJC star, and super-hyped prospect: namely, Jose Theodore, to whom the same Roy/Dryden comparisons were made when he was thrown into the playoffs as a rookie. Obviously, that didn't turn out as well.

The comparisons are obviously ridiculous anyway. How Price fares for the rest of the season and during the playoffs - assuming the Habs make it - has nothing to do with how Roy and Dryden performed twenty or thirty years ago. But I guess it's something to write about.


Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

More on Huet

Bob Mckenzie has his say on the Huet thing: he thinks it's just Bob being Bob, but that the Habs GM will "take a lot of heat", especially if Price falters. He also attributes the Hossa deal with Pittsburgh to ownership rather than management: he says it must have been Mario himself pulling the strings on this one, because there's no way Shero would set up a deal like that and pay that kind of price. Most people - not Mario, obviously - would probably agree that a winger is not what Pittsburgh really needed anyhow: how about a really good goalie? or a serious defenceman? Brian Campbell or Adam Foote would have been much better - and cheaper - acquisitions, IMO.

Tough Times in Bytown

John Paddock has been fired by the Ottawa Senators. It's fairly unjust, but I guess, as the old saying goes, you can't fire all the players. Especially after the trade deadline.

Huet Trade

I'm not the only one unhappy with the trade of Cristobal Huet: in an unsurprising turn of events, Olaf Kolzig has gone public with his own complaints about the Capitals' roster moves. Kolzig says, essentially, that his town isn't big enough for himself and another "world-class goaltender", and he doesn't like the message it sends. He goes as far as to suggest he might just take his goalie stick and stay home next year.

I might do the same! After cheering for the Montreal Canadiens my entire life, and spending the better part of the past decade somewhat depressed by their chronic suckiness, I actually allowed myself to get excited about this year's deadline. It was fun to think about them picking up a real scoring threat, even if I didn't particularly want them to pull the trigger. But to have them go into the trade-waters looking for firepower, and come out with significantly less than they had when they went in ... that's disappointing. Bob's defense of the whole thing fails to persuade me.

Michael Farber has a beautifully written critique of the whole Huet fiasco at SI.com. He says everything that I have thought about the trade, but says it much better than I could. No matter how hard I try, all I can seem to come up with is, "$!#!$!, what a stupid %!$#!-ing move!". As angry as I am, though, I wouldn't go so far as to call Bob the Village Idiot, as the Bleacher Report does.

Morning Papers


Big win for the Habs last night, 5-1 over Atlanta. HIO's Dave Stubbs says the Habs "had their way" with the Thrashers, and indeed they handled Atlanta as roughly as an Irish newlywed. Stubbs notes that it was players rumoured to be on the trading block - Higgins, Lapierre, Ryder, Koivu - who stepped it up big in this one, and he's right. Higgins now has 21 goals, despite his supposed lack of hands, and if Ryder keeps up his recent play, then it will turn out that there was no need to trade for a scoring winger.

Pat Hickey focuses on the "Post-Huet Era" angle, viewing the game as the first Carey Price has played as an undisputed NHL number one: judging by the results, Price is willing and able to face the challenge. You get the feeling that the Habs are a tight-knit bunch, which is a real team positive, and this feeling is reinforced by Price's comment that the departure of Huet feels like "losing a big brother". It always seemed that Huet was never threatened by Price, and in fact he always looked pumped when Price would turn in a good game. Price says that Huet "took me under his wing", and left the team a supportive note in the dressing room. All in all, a classy guy who I'm sure is wished well by all Habs fans. And the more I read about the vibe in the Habs' room, the happier I am that they didn't make any major changes.

For another perspective on the state of the Habs post-deadline, check out Red Fisher's excellent and sobering analysis of the Huet trade. He states - and I agree because it is so baldly obvious - that Gainey made a mistake in letting Huet go. There simply wasn't any need; what exactly is this trade meant to accomplish? If you want to go with Price as your number one, then just do it. If you want to commit to youth and free up cap space next year, then play Price, sit Huet, and don't sign him in the summer. But why let him go now? They must have serious plans for that late 2nd round pick - in 2009! - that they got for him, I don't know. Price is just 20 years old, and he's playing for a team that has the potential to make some noise down the stretch. If he falls flat on his face, and the veteran Huet is not there to step in, Bob will have some 'splaining to do ... and I doubt he'll have any answers.

Fisher also give props to Toronto captain Mats Sundin for sticking to his principles and refusing to accept a trade, purely out of loyalty to his team and out of disdain for the rental player concept. There are many Leafs fan, Fisher says, who are angry with Sundin for not letting the team trade him for desperately-needed prospects. That's probably true, but you know there are also thousands of fans who admire his stand and are glad he's sticking around. I'm one, and I hate the Leafs!

The Globe and Mail's Tim Wharnsby counts the Habs as Trade Deadline Losers, and he's right but for the wrong reasons. He says Gainey teased fans by talking openly about adding an impact player, and set the team and city up for a big disappointment. In fact, all Gainey ever said was that if he could add an impact player at the right price, he would, and what GM wouldn't say the exact same thing. I mean, I'll say right now that if I can ever sleep with Scarlett Johansson, I will, but I'm hardly setting myself up for disappointment with that one. No, the Habs lose on the trade front in the simplest way possible: by subtraction. Huet is a big loss, the return is essentially nil, and it was completely unnecessary.

Terry Jones, out in Calgary I think, writes this morning that "fans are livid" with Bob Gainey for trading Huet and missing out on Huet. I don't really think that's accurate at all. I mean, I'm a little pissed about the Huet thing, but I couldn't care less about Hossa.

Habs fans might be wondering what was going on in Gainey's head yesterday, but not Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. He hails the Huet trade as another manifestation of Gainey's guts, vision, and "greatness". This is essentially an envy piece written by a guy who looks at a rival team being run well by a competent and confident leader, then looks at his own team, being driven into the ground by a committee of losers, bean-counters, and fools, and can barely find the will to go on living. The fact that his team is the Leafs and the rival team is the Habs makes this a lovely read. I actually even felt a little better about the Huet trade after reading it, for no rational reason at all.


No News is Good News
Well, the deadline came and went with very little to report. All the hype and effort put into it by the networks winds up looking a little embarrassing, but they should be used to that. Habs fans, by and large, are massively exercised by the failure of Bob Gainey to acquire the "impact player" he was after, but I can't say that I'm all that disappointed.

Marian Hossa, who winds going to Pittsburgh for an impressive ransom, is not what the Habs need, as I've felt all along. He's a slick playmaker, and Montreal is full of players like that. The Habs needed a pure goal-scorer, and there wasn't really one out there to trade for. Hossa would have been a compromise, and what's the point in compromising? Factor in that Hossa is a UFA, and the deal is untenable. Either he walks away in the summer and the players you traded for him are gone, or you sign him for 10 million plus and really wreck your salary structure. This season, there is not much separating Hossa and Kovalev: so if you pay Hossa 10 million next year, what do you then pay Kovalev the next year?

Finally, judging by what the Pens coughed up, it would've taken something like Pacioretty, Higgins, and Grabovsky. Anyone out there want to pay that price? Well, Bob didn't. End of story.
This is a great young team with a lot of chemistry; it'll be interesting to see what they can do with each other ... and without Cristobal Huet!

Huet to Washington?!
Didn't see that one coming. Why would they do that? For a 2nd round pick, very curious. Why not keep him around for insurance? Habs fans are in a frenzy: they've crashed the HIO site.

Hossa Thing Heats Up
It's on the tube at TSN, and online just about everywhere, that Gainey has outbid Ottawa for Marian Hossa. Reports are its Michael Ryder, Mikhail Grabovski, and Maxim Lapierre. Habs Inside Out reports that Grabovski has just been recalled, so something is definitely up with him. If this is the trade, I don't like it.

Bob McKenzie says ...

Bob McKenzie says that it's down to Ottawa and Montreal in the Hossa auction
, with Ottawa dangling Antoine Vermette, and Montreal offering Higgins or a collection of prospects. NOOO!!

Deadline Day
Interesting moves out of Tampa Bay. They've traded Vaclav Prospal (to Philly, who pick up yet another scoring threat), but re-signed Dan Boyle to a six-year deal. Boyle gets 40 million in total, and between 6 and 7 million per year, which seems like a lot for him, which is my polite way of saying that the Lightning absolutely hosed themselves on this deal. WTF was that lockout for? Bob might as well trade Mark Streit now, because it's starting to look like he could get more this summer than Andrei Markov did last year.

We'll know by three o'clock what the Habs will look like for the balance of the season. I've been going back and forth about whether or not Bob Gainey should even make a deal, so this feels a bit like Groundhog Day today: I woke up, saw my shadow, and decided I'd rather see the team stay intact. Forget Hossa, Jokinen, or Tanguay. I think I actually had a bad dream about Chris Higgins giving an emotional press conference and putting on a Panthers jersey, so maybe I need to detox a bit?


Monday, February 25th


Pat Hickey says the Habs are definitely on the hunt for Marian Hossa, and are probably shopping Michael Ryder, who certainly sounds as though he won't be surprised to get moved. The stumbling block in acquiring Hossa is said to be the high asking-price, which apparently stands at an established young player, a prospect, and a pick. Translation? Higgins/Kostitsyn, Grabovski/Halak, and this year's first-rounder. Is that too much for Hossa? Not at all. Is it too much for a rental of Hossa? You bet your sweet ass it is. Don't do it, Bob!

As for the Ryder mess, I can say that I definitely know two things about it: one, the Habs will trade Ryder if they can, and two, they'll lose that trade, big-time. Ryder is a future 40 and 50 goal scorer. He's had the kind of freaky-bad year that defies reason, but it's not indicative of his true ability, because anyone who's watched him knows the guy is a pure goal scorer. The Habs are considering trading Higgins and his 20 goals, plus a prospect and a pick for a 40 goal scorer, while at the same time considering trading Ryder? Looks to me like they come out short 10 goals on that deal.

Full disclosure? I am not a Hossa fan. He's never had to be the go-to guy, which the Habs would want him to be, and he's never done it in the playoffs, which is when they want him to do it.

Picture Worth a Thousand Words

Marian Hossa over the CH, a little foreshadowing, perhaps?

Leafs Rising

Leafs 5, Senators 0 ... welcome to Bizarro World. Take away October, and the Senators are struggling for a playoff spot. There's plenty of time for them to turn it around, but right now that trade isn't looking too good, is it? I guess the team is pretty happy that Sundin is sticking around. I know I am: Sundin + late-season spoiler's-luck = a late-season surge and a mediocre draft pick. Go Leafs Go! All the way to ninth place, please.


TSN is reporting that the Habs new practice rink - under construction - suddenly collapsed this afternoon. Perhaps it was designed by the Habs goaltending coach?

The Peter Forsberg saga is at an end: he signed today with the Avalanche, leaving other would-be contenders disappointed ... and doubtless a little confused. The Avs also activated Joe Sakic off the IR, and all of a sudden, without making a trade, look very much like a playoff force.

And Alex Tanguay won't be coming to Montreal, which will make you happy or sad, depending upon your opinion of Tanguay. I was never all that interested, just becausehe doesn't seem like the right player for the Habs right now - another slick winger - but others feel differently. Reporters have speculated on that supposed "deal" for months, but there may never have been anything to it. Rumour-meister Spector, of Fox Sports, has said all along that Tanguay would have refused a trade to Montreal anyway, being unwilling to subject himself to the madness of the Montreal media. If that's accurate - and I trust Lyle - then would Montreal really want a wussy player like that anyway?


News for Sunday, February 24th

More Trade Stuff

The Fourth Period says that Don Waddell, having given up on resigning Marian Hossa, is ready to deal, and that Montreal is still highly interested. The story is unsourced, so take it as thou wilt, but they say that Atlanta is interested in Chris Higgins, Kyle Chipchura, and Mikhail Grabovski. I'm assuming that's not as a package, or it's just insane. The same site claims that Alex Tanguay would accept a trade to Montreal, directly contradicting Spector's Hockey, which has consistently reported that Tanguay would refuse to play in Montreal. Finally, they report that Brad Richards did not include Montreal on the list of teams he would deign to play for should it please His Grace to waive his no trade clause, so we'll have to continue to live without his 70 points a year. Geez, that really sucks, because I can't think of a better way to spend 7.8 million bucks, can you?


Trade Deadline Blues
Rumours, rumours, rumours. Marian Hossa continues to live with the angst of not knowing where he'll be living next week. He's been most frequently tied to talks between Atlanta and Montreal, and there have even been sightings of him buying air tickets to Montreal, or of his gloves being delivered to the Bell Centre. Other rumours have Montreal involved in discussions for Mats Sundin, Olli Jokinen, and Brad Richards.

Most of these rumours are based on journalistic hypotheses about what Montreal "needs" or "wants", and have been bolstered by a selective quoting of Bob Gainey at the GM meetings, when he said that he was interested in adding an "impact player". He also said that nothing was really percolating and that the Habs weren't going to deviate from their long-term goals, but those unsexy parts of the discussion have been excised from the record.

Montreal fans seem ambivalent on the idea of trades, probably because their team is so inconsistent. When the Habs storm back from 5-0 to defeat the Rangers 6-5, the entire squad is understandably untouchable; but when the same bunch of guys soil themselves in a 3-0 stinker against the less than mighty Blue Jackets, we're all ready to chip in for the air fare.

Or maybe it's the trade options that are failing to excite fans. Hossa is a good player, but Montreal fans are smart enough to know that he's not quite the right fit for the Habs, who need size and pure goalscoring at centre, not another slick winger. Then there's Richards, certainly over-priced and possibly over-rated, having collected most of his points playing on one of the best lines in the NHL.

Basically, Canadiens fans aren't interested in anything but a serious blockbuster. They'll get excited if Gainey can land Lecavalier, and otherwise, it's all pretty much "meh". As for me, I'm perfectly content to stick with the status quo this year, and see what another summer's seasoning can do for guys like Higgins, the Kostitsyns, Komisarek, and Price. It's about one year too early for a "win now" type of trade, IMO.


Columbus 3 - Habs 0
What a boring, boring game. The Columbus Blue Jackets applied the patented Hitchcock sleeper-hold to the Habs offense last night, and - thanks in large part to a third straight brutal showing by a Canadiens netminder - came away with a 3-0 victory.

There were so very, very few interesting or entertaining things in this one: there was the lone Columbus fan celebrating each of the Jackets' goals, that was sort of amusing, and I did get something out of scrutinizing Ken Hitchcock's eerie, unblinking gaze, though it wasn't pleasant. At the end of the game, I was filled with the desire to ask for my money back, even though I watched the game from my home and didn't actually pay for it. It was just that sort of experience, I guess.

Searching earnestly for anything resembling an "angle" on this lifeless, listless "game", the Gazette's Dave Stubbs settles on the disappointment everyone feels that the Canadiens couldn't "win it for Bob", as Carbonneau puts it. While it is somewhat ironic that the Habs were outworked on Bob Gainey Night, it's actually hard to fault them too harshly. You want some irony, just be glad it wasn't Ken Dryden Night!


News for Saturday, February 23rd

Do you feel lucky, punk? You probably do if you're name is Tom Kostopoulous, and that's because you just found out that the police have dropped the charges against you. As everyone will recall, Tommy K got in the faces of some of Tampa's Finest a couple of weeks back. He thought he was coming to the defence of teammate Ryan O'Byrne, but it turns out he was aiding and abetting the rookie in an act of Grand Theft. Tommy gets off scott-free now, perhaps as a result of a nice letter of apology he wrote to the officers in question. Maybe he should write one for O'Byrne, who has yet to hear what his fate will be, and - having committed a felony - faces much stiffer possible consequences, such as the effective end of his NHL career.

The Habs have scored so many goals this season they may be forgetting their defensive roots. Though most famous for the "firewagon" dynasties of the 40s, 50s, and 70s, the true hallmark of the great Canadiens teams has always been excellent team D, bolstered by sharp goaltending. For the first time in a decade, the Habs have a team that can put the puck in the net: they currently stand third overall in offense, and have more 40 point players than both the Red Wings and Senators. But in the last few games, all that offense has been at the expense of attention to detail in their own end: they've allowed ten goals in their last two, and thirteen in their last three, with neither goalie playing what you would call well. Cristobal Huet has been especially un-good: 1-3-0, 4.50, and .859 in his last four games (OUCH!).

As the Canadiens prepare to honour the great Bob Gainey by retiring his number 23 tonight, the Gazette runs this great retrospective of Gainey's career, by Red Fisher. Vivid anecdotes of Gainey playing through pain and driving his oppnents nuts, laced with modest quotes from the man of the hour himself, combine to make this article a fitting and informative tribute.

James Duthie, a funny guy, talks about his hatred of the Habs growing up, and how the present crew of Canadiens have turned that around with their determination, flair, and sheer likability. So they really are a lovable bunch of guys - Komisarek, Koivu, Price, Ryder - I thought it was just me.

According to The Hockey News, a trade of Koivu for Jokinen is a logical possibile swap that would benefit most teams. Well, clearly Ken Campbell, the author, is no Habs fan: if he were, he'd never suggest trading Captain Koivu, a player most of us have come to love with the ferocious loyalty that can only be inspired by watching the captain of your favourite team nearly die or get blinded while trying to win the cup for you (it feels like it's for you, anyhow). That said, he makes a persuasive case that Jokinen, a big centre able to take more of a beating, is more the kind of player the Habs need up front, whereas Koivu might make a better fit in Florida, which is in need of leadership and playmaking and where there is significant friction between Jokinen and head coach Jacques Martin. Campbell has it all figured out: after they trade Koivu, Halak, and a prospect/pick for Jokinen, they swap Ryder to Calgary for Tanguay, and all of a sudden the Habs have two top lines that match up with any other top two lines in the East. Well, that's great in theory. But here's the thing: the Habs already have two top lines that match up with any others in the East. In fact, the Habs have the most balanced offense in the NHL and the third best offense overall. I don't think Jokinen and Tanguay would exactly be a downgrade, but it's hard to see how they would improve anything, either. And besides, I can't imagine the Habs trading Koivu ... if they want to swap centers, I'd even rather see them trade Plekanec for Jokinen (and I think Florida would jump at that one).

Here's the preview of tonight's match against the Jackets. Look carefully at the "Who's Hot" list for the Habs, and try not to fall off your chair when you see the name Michael Ryder. Just in time for the playoffs! Call off those trade talks, Bob, and sharpen your contract pencil! The Habs will want to watch out for Rick Nash, who has five points in his last four, but luckily it seems that Columbus's goalies have been just as bad as the Canadiens of late.


Do You Believe?

It's hard not to after a game like that! Have you ever seen anything like it? It even impressed the biased air-heads who drag their knuckles on the floors of the Toronto Sports Network. Even Don Cherry might have tuned into the overtime ... you know, after Sportsnet had finished airing the titanic Leafs-Blue Jackets clash that was on at the same time.

There was so much to love about this one. Michael Ryder coming to life to spark the comeback. Kovalev chipping in a pair to even the score. Saku Koivu with the clutch shoot-out victory. The Komisaurus Rex on a rampage, taking names and kicking ass, as Brandon Dubinsky discovered, to his deep dismay, one assumes. Wanna watch Dubinsky hang for dear life again? Thought so. And read this: the account of the game is even more satisfying from the enemy perspective.

So now what for Bob Gainey? Word is he's been doing some serious shopping at the GM meetings, looking to add an 'impact player', most likely a high-scoring winger to fill out the Koivu line. If Michael Ryder has returned - and it sure looked like it last night - isn't he that player? Do the Habs really want to trade a guy like O'Byrne, or Higgins, or Grabovski, to pick up Hossa for a few months? I don't know. Character-wise, you have to like a guy like Ryder, and we already know he can score, no matter what happened this year. One thing's for sure, if the Habs trade Ryder, they'll be getting Leclaired by him for years to come. He'd score 50 with the right line-mates.


Predict this, TSN

Hahaha, first place, baby!! Yeah!!! Suck on that, pre-season prognosticating putzes! Remember those clowns on TSN? "The acquisitions of Blake and Toskala make the Leafs a force to be reckoned with. As for the Habs, I can't see them finishing higher than 14th. Blah blah." HAHAHAHAHA what a bunch of fools. Of course, the Toronto Sports Network was not alone in its estimation. Goes to show you what a suckers game predictions are.

So why have the Habs been so much better than everyone expected? Consistency is one possible reason. The Habs have avoided lengthy losing streaks, even if they haven't had any really impressive winning streaks either. The Senators and Flyers, on the other hand, have been all over the map.


Save the Leafs!

I can't believe I'm writing this, but it's time the Leafs turned things around a little bit! After last night's pathetic and embarrassing showing against the Islanders, the Leafs are officially the worst team in the East, and have sunk perilously close to last overall, currently just four points up on Los Angeles. It stopped being enjoyable weeks ago, and has indeed turned a bit stressful, as it's beginning to appear as though the Leafs have a very good shot at landing the first overall pick in an excellent draft this year.

What we want is for the Leafs to finish, like, 10th in the East, just far enough out to suck for Leafs' fans, but not so far out that they land future superstar Steve Stamkos. If they get him or anyone like him, we'll never hear the end of it.

The Leafs are only five points back of 10th place Washington, so with a little hard work and discipline and a positive attitude, the Leafs should easily be able to pull themselves from ruin this season; if they catch a few breaks, they could even be able to rise to near-mediocrity! Then they'd get a mid-level, crap-shoot type pick, and be able to perpetuate the state of nothingness they've been perfecting for the past forty years. And so I say, without irony and for the first time in my life ... Go Leafs Go!


Okay Everyone, Back on the Bandwagon!

A narrow 2-1 win over the mighty (haha) Florida Panthers has Habs fans in a good mood for the first time in over a week. And because the winning goaltender was not Cristobal Huet, but rookie Carey Price, we're probably going to need a bigger bandwagon.

Price played his first good game in about two months and got the win. In return, a sizable contingent of the fan-base is again clamouring for the exile of Cristobal Huet and the permanent installation of Price as the number one goalie. Even the Gazette's Pat Hickey is on board: in an article called Price Back on Track, he says that Price is the "logical choice" as starter, citing last night's win and Huet's recent "struggling" in net.

Well, hold the phone, there. Huet hasn't played his best in the last week or so, that's true, but the fact is, the entire team has been sucking eggs. Huet didn't lose those games to the Leafs and the Sens or the Lightning by himself, that's for sure: there has been a general lack of hustle, an absence of desire, the scoring has dried up, and the special teams have gone south. There isn't a goalie in the NHL who was going to win those games, given the way the team played.

And now, because the Habs managed to BARELY defeat a fairly unimpressive foe in an incredibly lackluster match, people want to hand the most important position on the team over to a rookie? Price hasn't exactly had the easiest adjustment to the NHL, lest we forget. Giving him the job to lose is, IMO, far too much pressure, especially if the team is going to be putting in the kind of effort they demonstrated in Florida this week, i.e., a very weak one.

So yes, the Habs emerged victorious, but it was hardly the heroic comeback the Gazette paints it to be. A more accurate account of the game can be found in the Florida Sun Sentinel, which notes that it took a questionable penalty, overtime, a lucky bounce, and eight missing Panthers regulars for the Habs to beat them by a single goal. But forget all that: Price rules!!!

Well, in other news, check out this St. John's Telegram story about Michael Ryder. The same old Ryder story, but from a hometown perspective, which is cool. I love the title: Ryder in the Storm. The author credits Ryder for working hard during his difficult year - he's put in a good effort in practices, apparently - and for dealing with the situation maturely and professionally, rather than whining and crying and generally pulling a Samsonov. That's all true, but I still can't believe the year that guy has had: 8 goals? Carbonneau left him on the top line forever before cutting his ice-time, so it's not just that. How does a guy lose his touch like that? You know he'll rebound; if he goes to San Jose, he could score about a hundred goals playing with Thornton.

Even the LA Times has heard about the O'Byrne Purse Snatching Incident. Wow, so that's what it takes to get them to write about hockey.

Watch out for those damn Maple Leafs. No, I don't mean in the playoff race that Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe, and Mats Sundin still think the Leafs are involved in, I mean in the race to the bottom of the standings and the top of the draft. Toronto media are beginning to openly advocate that the Leafs tank it for the rest of the season in order to have the best shot at landing Steve Stamkos. Don't think they're above it, either, because they're not. You'll know it's on as soon as the bodies start flying out of there, which should be in about a week.


Guilty as Charged: Lightning 3 - Habs 2

If there were any justice in the hockey world, the Habs would be arrested for grand larceny after posing as an NHL team last night. Of course, if you want to arrest the Habs these days, you have to get in line.

HIO reports that CKAC says that Ryan O'Byrne's purse-snatching victim has decided not to press charges, but this hasn't been confirmed. I imagine it will be confirmed soon enough, however: most multi-million dollar organizations have the kind of lawyers who specialize in making things like this go away. It will involve a meeting with the woman, a sincere apology, an explanation of the trouble a conviction would cause poor Ryan and his girlfriend what's-her-name, and the leaving of some money on a table. Poof! Justice, rich-people style! Unfair, you say? Well, that's because you're a little person, and you don't really matter anyway.

As for the game, there isn't much to say besides that would-be contenders Montreal dropped a listless match against the worst team in the East. They stunk the place out, managing just 21 shots, getting outshot 17-5 in the third period when they were supposedly pressing for the equalizer. Make no mistake, Tampa Bay is a crappy team: but the Habs made them look pretty good last night. Consolation? The Habs looked marginally better than they did last Thursday, when they were creamed by the second worst team in the East. After losing back to back games against division rivals in embarrassing matches, you would think the Habs would be looking to reassert themselves, but no. I'm not saying the Habs were hungover for this game, but I am saying I hope they were.

The Lightning were certainly glad to see the distracted and disinterested Habs in their house. It was just what Vaclav Prospal needed to break his slump, which he did in fine fashion, scoring two goals and dominating the - admittedly quite submissive - Habs. The curse of the French Guys continued as well, as Vincent Lecavalier notched two assists, while Michelle Ouellet scored a first period goal.

Prospal probably crossed the line by dissing his coach in the post-game interview: upset at being demoted by coach Tortorella, Prospal was happy to be back on the first line, and after scoring the winner he called the game "the most satisfying" of his career, and added that he felt like he'd "shoved it up somebody's ass". Well, the article here says "backside", but somehow I doubt he used that word. Anyway, Prospal refused to say precisely whose ass he'd violated, but it seems clear that he meant Tortorella, who laughed the whole thing off. "I'm not here to be the happy man and make everybody happy," he said. Oh, don't worry John: you're not.


Message Received

With the roll the Habs put together after Christmas, there was increasing talk about the possibility of the squad catching the Ottawa Senators: they were just three points away going into last night's game in Ottawa, with the possibility of moving within one. After last night, however, it is clear that any statistical resemblance between the two teams was purely coincidental and not in any way reflective of the true qualitative differences between their rosters, their abilities, and even - sorry, I'm not happy today - their value as human beings.

Cristobal Huet was truly bad, allowing three goals on four shots before getting pulled. When he left the game, before it was even five minutes old, it was already over, in the practical sense. Does he want a trade or something? Curry Stat: the Gazette notes that Huet is now 0-2 in Hockey Day in Canada games against Ottawa, having surrendered 9 goals in under 30 minutes of playing time in the games this year and last.

Of course, it has been a team effort, in all fairness: the Habs have lost those games by a combined scored of 14-4. Carey Price was nearly as shaky as Huet in relief, allowing the last three goals without being heavily tested. And the Canadiens never really looked dangerous at all, despite hitting something like five or six goalposts. This game was all Ottawa, and their top line did all the damage: a hat-trick and a six-point night for Spezza, four points for Heatley and five for Alfredsson. The Senators, it seems, wanted to send the Canadiens a message about what a real top-tier NHL team looks like, and you have to think the message was received. Big time. In fact, they'll probably be picking the pieces of that message out of their backsides with tweezers for weeks.


Friday, February 8th: That loud, whining sound ...

... is the sound of a million fans jumping off the bandwagon. Though it's just one game, Thursday's loss to the hated Maple Leafs has Habs' fans in a foul mood from coast to coast. From the volume of the complaints, you'd think it was the Habs who were next to last in the East, and the Leafs who were challenging Ottawa for first. Many fans are openly excoriating head coach Guy Carbonneau for his incompetence, despite the Habs' dream-like season. That's the biz, I guess. It certainly sucks to lose to the Leafs, especially when idiot former-Hab Darcy Tucker scores, but it really is just one game, people.

Tsn.ca reports that Roman Hamrlik will miss a third straight game with the flu. The flu! Three games? What's he got, the Bubonic Flu? The article also notes that the Habs' play has dipped in the last three games, during which they've surrendered 12 goals, losing twice and winning ugly in the other game against a battered and undermanned Senators' team. Coach Carbonneau says some players - he means Koivu, Higgins, and Ryder - have been trying so hard to break out of scoring droughts, they're forgetting their defensive assignments. Carbo will reunite those three players in another attempt to reignite their dormant chemistry. If they can start playing as well as they did last year, without disrupting the production of Kovalev, Plecanek, and Kostitsyn, the Habs would have arguably the best top-two lines in hockey.

Michael Ryder says he's in a "catch-22" position, benched for not scoring goals, unable to score goals because he's benched. Ryder has handled a very frustrating situation with class and grace, not whining, complaining, or in any way reminding anyone of Sergei Samsonov. He'll bounce back from this, but unfortunately, it won't be with the Habs.

Canadian Press finds Chris Higgins upset with himself for not scoring. He's got 4 points in his last 15 games, and was bounced from line to line against the Leafs on Thursday.

Spector of Fox Sports reports on recent rumours that Michael Ryder could be traded for Marian Hossa or Alex Tanguay, and says that while the trading of Ryder is a virtual certainty, it is obviously insane to hope that he would fetch such a high return. A more likely scenario, he says, would see the Habs pick up a defensive centre with face-off skills. Exciting. Why would the Habs even bother making such a sideways deal? Might as well just hang on to Ryder for the balance of the season, in case he comes in handy during the playoff drive.

The Canadiens have managed to sign one of the best players in the American university system, picking up Brock Trotter, who has decided to leave the University of Denver under decidedly murky circumstances. It's "a private matter between the player and the coach," according to Trevor Timmins. Trotter will join Hamilton.

Would you trade Chris Higgins, a "prospect", and a 2008 first rounder for soon to be UFA Marian Hossa? I doubt Bob Gainey would either, but the Ottawa Sun says that's what the deal would be. Now, I would love to see the Habs get Hossa, but he's not the kind of player - a true number-one centre - they really need. If they're going to break the bank, it has to be on a Sundin-type player, and there aren't any of those available.


News for Tuesday, February 5th

Roman Hamrlik won't play tonight against the Sens. He's got the flu, allowing Patrice Brisebois to step in and take his place. Carey Price has rejoined the Habs, and may start against the Leafs on Thursday, according to Coach Carbonneau, who says "if we called him up, obviously it's so he can play." Price is 3-0 against the Leafs this year, but then again, who isn't?

Alexei Kovalev says his elbow to the face of Ryan Hollweg wasn't dirty: the problem, according to the sniper, is that Hollweg is just too short. Kovalev tried to hit him with his shoulder, you see, but to his surprise, the shrimpy Hollweg only comes up to Kovy's elbow. When reporters expressed some doubt at Kovalev's blaming the incident on Hollweg's height-impairment, the winger shrugged, broke into a chorus of Randy Newman;s "Short People Got No Reason to Live", and tap-danced down the hall.

The Habs can pull within one point of the formerly invincible Senators with a win tonight. The Sens are missing key players Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, but are 3-0 against the Habs this year.

The Habs will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to the Rangers, which saw them blow a three goal lead. Some have blamed Koivu's momentum-changing penalty, others have cited a lack of team toughness (an old refrain), but the real culprit would appear to have been fatigue: it was the Habs third game in four nights, and like most teams they have fared poorly in such situations all season long. They have only lost back-to-back in regulation once this year, so look for a strong outing.


News for Monday, February 5th

Red Fisher says the Habs "simply stopped skating" yesterday, pinning that as the cause of the team's collapse from a 3-0 lead to a 5-3 defeat. Well, it was the Habs' third game in four days, so I wouldn't say they so much stopped skating as they started skating slower. They looked quite exhausted, if you ask me. If Fisher is a little hard on the Habs for their effort, he's right on when it comes to the moron Bell Centre fans who started singing that "olay, olay" song in the second period last night: that song is a jinx, and it sucks anyway. In any event, you don't start razzing another team about the game being done when more than half of the match is left to play! (Unless it's Boston.) Fisher is too kind in calling Scott Gomez the "best skater on the ice", because Gomez has done nothing but reveal himself for the overrated chihuahua on skates that he is this year, ever since signing that laughable deal with the Rangers. He and fellow new Ranger Chris Drury are two of the most over-compensated players of all time, in my humble opinion. Fisher concurs with Glen Sather when he calls out the refereeing, and I'd have to agree. Lately, every game I watch, it's like one ref is Forrest Gump and the other is his box of chocolates, except somehow I always know what I'm going to get.

Pat Hickey quotes the players, blaming themselves and doing the mea culpa thing. Well, Chris Higgins does, anyway; there's a guy who really takes a loss hard, right there. He agrees with Fisher that the Habs stopped skating. Hickey implicitly blames Saku Koivu, whose cheesy hooking penalty in the second was the beginning of the Ranger's comeback. Koivu does take too many of those stick calls, and seems surprised every time, but the Rangers didn't score all five goals on that power play, Pat. It was still 3-1 when Koivu got out, and the Habs couldn't hold the fort. Hickey suggests that Cristobal Huet - who has started twelve in a row - could use some back-up. He's allowed11 goals in his last three games. For my part, I'm with Coach Carbo, who blames the loss on ... the Rangers. They notched the game up when the depleted Habs began dragging their overworked feet late in the second. You can't win 'em all.


News for Sunday, February 3rd

The Islanders were no match for the mighty Montreal Canadiens yesterday. Wow, when did the Habs turn "mighty", anyway? They're in the midst of their hottest stretch of play since ... since ... I'll google it later, but the point is, they're on fire, much to the delight of long-suffering fans, who must feel as though they've time-warped back to 1993.

Red Fisher dissects the game here
, showing some sympathy for the slumping Isles, who despite their recent troubles remain just one spot out of the playoffs - with a game in hand on their nearest rivals, the Rangers. He also notes that Alex Kovalev surpassed his final point totals last year (he had 47) in just his 52nd game of this season. More impressive, perhaps, is the 32 point swing in his +/- from last year, from -19 then to +13 now. With 30 games to go, this should wind up as one of Kovy's best seasons ever.

For more reaction to the game, here is Pat Hickey's take: chalk this one up to a poor showing by the Isles, superb penalty-killing by the Habs, and - once again - the leadership of Kovalev. Kovy's been getting so much praise this year; I sure hope it doesn't go to his head. *HAHAHA* Just kidding. Actually, Kovalev is the kind of player who thrives on ego-stroking and praise, and he's learning this year that there is no better place for a player who wants appreciation than Montreal ... when you're playing well. He's loving it.

You can get the New York state-of-mind on the game from NY Newsday, which writes admiringly of Montreal deadly and opportunistic power-play, and suddenly improved penalty kill. The New Yorkers, however, hold that this was one the Isles should've had, citing missed scoring chances, including two first period goal-posts. Ted Nolan agrees. Well, I don't! The Habs had the Isles right where they wanted them all night.

And with an Ottawa loss last night - to the Leafs, ouch - Montreal is now three points out of first place. Believe, my brothers and sisters, believe. A win today, and Montreal goes into Tuesday's game with 1st place on the line.

Speaking of today's game, it will be a rather difficult one for the Habs. It's their third game in four days, an exhausting situation, and one in which they've been unsuccessful the last five times they've been in it. Also, the game is against the Rangers, a team that gives the Habs a surprising amount of trouble: they've lost five of their last six against Jagr and company. Not surpisingly, then, the bookies are picking New York.


News for Saturday, February 2nd

SI.com notes the special occasion: "The Kostitsyn brothers both scored in the Canadiens 5-4 overtime loss to Washington on Thursday night, becoming the first siblings to score a goal in the same game for Montreal since Frank and Pete Mahovolich did it on April 14, 1974 against the New York Rangers in the playoffs." Can the Kostitsyns become as good as the Mahovolich brothers? Hey, they might become better!

What the hell is wrong with Carey Price? Last year he tore the AHL a new one, dominating its shooters while helping the Bulldogs win the Calder. Then he made the Montreal Canadiens at age 19, beating out the more experienced Jaro Halak, and started the NHL season off on a roll. Lots of fans - not the smarter ones, it must be said - wanted him to be made the numero uno in October. And now? Sent down by the Habs to keep off the rust and recover his form after his play trailed off, he's sputtered in Hamilton, going 4-4 with a 3.29 GAA and .878 save percentage. Time for Bob to start tucking away cash for Huet's payday this summer, I'd say.

Newsday New York has Isles coach Ted Nolan promising a better effort on the part of his team against the Canadiens this afternoon. The Isles are just 1-4-1 in their last six and haven't looked good doing it. They've lost six straight at home and are eager to get into the Bell Centre, where the Habs are not often at their best. They'd better be watching out today: I don't like these weird, matinee games against struggling teams ... the Habs never seem motivated for them. With any luck, though, the Habs will want to rebound after getting arse-raped by Alex Ovechkin the other night.

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy: Cristobal Huet is the NHL's third star for January. He was hot, going 8-2-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average. Another article discusses what could be his finest season yet, looking back to the beginning of the year, when fans wanted Price to be the starter (an opinion Chris Higgins calls "unbelievable"), and moving to the present, in which Huet has started 15 of the team's last 16 games and dominated the league. Some great quotes in this piece, and also in this one, which speculates on the big raise the 32-year old goalie is in for this summer.

The Sporting News discusses the ever-murky playoff picture, noting that Montreal is turning up the heat on Ottawa, who are no longer a sure-thing for first-place in the East, especially with their recent spate of injuries. Montreal is firing on all cylinders (thanks, according to the article, to the roster-work of Bob Gainey) while Ottawa is stumbling: today, a Sens loss and a Habs win would put Les Boys just three points back. Well, Ottawa's troubles are not surprising, given their bad luck lately, and not troubling ... all good teams seem to go through a mid-season dry spell. They'll be back as soon as Heatley and Alfie are healthy. As for the Habs, they've been very good, and very consistent, but they face the emerging team's perpetual challenge: developing the winning attitude and belief that will get them through the tough spots.