1/23/2008

News for Wednesday, January 23rd

Wow, that was some game last night. When was the last time Montreal scored eight goals? I actually have no idea! I won't remember this one either: I make a habit of toasting every Canadiens goal by finishing my drink, so the final two goals last night are pretty hazy for me, understandably enough. Luckily, there is plenty of news to fill in all those nasty little holes in my memory.

The headline writers had fun with the Habs' 8-2 keelhauling of the Bruins : the Gazette calls it "Another Boston Massacre", the Globe says "Montreal Shows No Mercy", while the Boston Herald says (my favourite) "Not Big, Just Bad".

The Gazette story covers the basics, noting that the Habs have won nine in a row against Boston, including six in a row this year. The Habs are brutal at home, just 9-8-5 for the year, and one shudders to think what their home record would look like without the three wins they've enjoyed against Boston there. It's hard to believe that a team as fast and skilled as the Habs are so bad on home ice; luckily, they've dominated on the road, but if they make the playoffs they're going to need to be able to rely on a home-ice advantage. Further notes: the Habs entered the game -5 for the year, and left it at +1, quite a turnaround from last year (-29); despite the six even-strength goals, some Habs - Michael Ryder for one - managed to go -1 on the night; and the Curry Stat du Jour, all Canadiens whose names begin with "K" got a point last night!

The Globe piece praises the work of Andrei Kostitsyn, who continues to get better as the season progresses: two goals and an assist last night, with one of his markers coming off a beautiful pass from little brother Sergei. With top-notch skills, a solid work ethic, and willingness to pay the price, Kostitsyn is the total package. How good can he get? I don't know, but it'll be interesting to find out. Oh, and speaking of brother Sergei, in addition to picking up an assist, he also notched his first NHL fight, a spirited if brief tilt with Chuck Kobasew, and handled himself alright.

The Boston Herald is not amused, and even a little baffled. It does indeed make no sense that the Bruins can sweep back-to-back games against the Rangers, and then absolutely mess their pants against a Canadiens team that is not quite a powerhouse. Claude Julien tries to keep positive: “There’s no doubt we want to play a lot better against this team,” he said. “But I don’t think it should tarnish the effort we’ve had against other teams." Sorry Claude, but your team's game soiled not merely its effort against other teams, but the name of the club, the legacy of Bobby Orr, and the reputation of the entire state of Massachusetts. Notes: all but three Bruins were a minus last night, led by Shane Hnidy, who went -4; the Bruins were scored on before the game was 14 seconds long, and allowed the fourth Montreal goal with a second left in the period; the eight goals allowed are the most the Bruins have allowed all season.

Idiot Watch: another language flap is brewing in Montreal, after a Journal de Montreal reporter posing as an Anglophone managed to get hired by 15 businesses over the holidays. Now, she was turned down by 85 others, but that isn't enough to keep the language creeps in Quebec from expressing their shock and horror at the idea that an Anglophone might actually be able to score a job at Tim Hortons. After all, next thing you know, Anglophones will want the right to vote and get married! Why is this relevant to the Habs? Well, it's just that some free agent hockey players might not want to come play in a fascist, crypto-racist city that despises them for speaking the wrong language. Jerks like that Journal reporter and her bosses are the reason Brendan Shanahan is playing in New York, and that hurts.

Well, enjoy that frisson you get when the Habs play the Bruins while you can; the Devils are up next, and as you well know, they are to the Habs as the Habs are to the Bruins. There remains a chance that Martin Brodeur will be unavailable, however, as he tends to family matters, so perhaps that's our chance to turn things around against the only professional sports team creepy enough to name themselves after Satan.

1/22/2008

News for Tuesday, January 22nd

Most of today's news concerns the regime-change underway in Toronto, as the Leafs replace the much maligned JFJ with ... Cliff Fletcher? It's always 'back to the future' with the Leafs, isn't it? I'm expecting Fletcher's first move will be to attempt to fire head coach Pat Burns. When that doesn't work, he'll get to work trying to trade Mats Sundin, most likely for Wendel Clark. Joking aside - and it's not easy - it would look good on most Habs' fans to take the quiet, sympathetic approach here, perhaps remembering how classy and helpful all those Leaf fans were to us during the years that Rejean Houle laboriously set-to the task of dismantling our own team. What's that? They all acted like taunting assholes back then? Oh, that's right ... well, f**k them, then.

Yahoo Sports has the Habs at 8th in the power-rankings, exactly where they've been for three straight weeks. The rankings are interesting, but it would be most accurate to say that the Habs currently should rank about third, tied with 24 other teams, behind Ottawa and Detroit and ahead of Toronto, Washington, and Tampa.

Not tired of the Alex Tanguay rumours yet? Me neither. The Calgary Herald reports that at practice this morning, Darryl Sutter was seen having a long chat with Tanguay's agent, Bob Sauve. The article quotes the increasingly testy Tanguay responding to being asked yet again about a possible trade: "That's a stupid question. I'm not answering that." See also Spector for the latest on possible trades around the NHL.

The Habs take on the Bruins tonight, attempting to maintain their strange dominance over their original six rival. The Habs have not lost to the Bruins in approximately fifty years. The Boston Herald reports that in an attempt to change their karma against the Habs, the B's will go with back-up goalie Alex Auld instead of number-one Tim Thomas. It might work, who knows? You can't lose 'em all.

Heads up: Alex Kovalev says he can be even better than he has been in this Gazette article. And coach Carbo is reuniting the former top line of Higgins, Koivu, and Ryder, in an attempt to snap the slump all three find themselves in. I approve; I just hope that he keeps them together longer than a shift or two. It's not such good news for Sergei Kostitsyn, who now finds himself on a rather ugly line with Steve Begin and Brian Smolinski. What is that all about?

And Mathieu Dandeneault is hopping mad about being the scratch against the Bruins tonight. How mad? Craig Rivet-last-January mad. Is he demanding a trade? Nooooo, no, not at all ... today. He'll "reevaluate" later. Wow, somebody thinks pretty highly of himself!

1/21/2008

News for Monday, January 21st

The Edmonton Sun says that Alex Tanguay has not waived his no-trade clause, and has not asked for or been asked about a trade. But the article has Tanguay saying some interesting things: it sounds like he believes the Flames would like to trade him, and it also sounds like he wouldn't mind, if only because he'd like to return to filling a more offensive role. But apart from Tanguay's ethnic appeal, is he really the kind of player the Habs need? A smallish playmaker prone to scoring droughts? Tanguay is also overpaid for what he brings, which is around 25 goals and 7o points. We all know the Habs are dying for a French-Canadian superstar, but Tanguay only fits half of that bill, and unfortunately, it's not the superstar part. I'd rather resign Ryder.

Oh, and one more thing: "The media are so tough on the French guys here. If you think Toronto is bad, if you think Calgary is bad, for a French guy coming to Montreal? I don't think it gets any worse." Attention French Media, that's what Alex Tanguay thinks of you.

For years, Habs fans have cried that the team needs more muscle. Mike Komisarek has been doing as much as he can to provide it, and it's not premature now to say that the big guy has become one of the NHL's elite blueliners. An imposing physical presence, Komisarek hasn't been shy about throwing all that weight around, ranking second in the NHL in hits, first among defencemen. He also leads the league in blocked shots, a definite indicator of dedication and toughness. He fights too, if you care about that, and plays a solid defensive game; he's particularly adept at using his long reach to swat the puck away from streaking opponents, preventing breakaways and stopping two-on-ones. Bob Gainey is going to have to open the bank for this guy, and soon: he's a UFA after next season.

The story over in Liverpool has been getting odder. Turns out Gillett and Hicks aren't actively trying to sell their interest in the FC; Dubai International Capital (outbid by the owners of the Stars and the Habs last year) is planning a "rescue bid", as Hicks tries to refinance his share of the team. He's being crunched by the emerging credit-mess in the US economy.

La Presse has a story that suggests that, in the 11 games since Christmas or so, the Canadiens have found their true identity, which is as a defense-first club that capitalizes on mistakes with a balanced attack from four different lines. They've outscored and outshot their opponents in those games, and generally become better at playing the system Carbo has preached since taking over as coach, but only time will tell if the Canadiens have truly arrived, or if this is another step in the learning process. I'm not completely sold on their defensive abilities: Cristobal Huet had to make several miraculous saves to keep it close against the Pens the other day, facing far tougher scoring chances than Dany Sabourin, who technically was the busier goalie of the night. And the Habs were unable to shut the Crosby-less Pens down in the third, getting outshot 11-5 in the final frame. Expect growing pains to continue, but two years down the road, things look good, if the core of the team's youth - Komisarek, Plecanek, the Kostitsyns, Higgins, Chipchura, Lapierre, Latendresse, Price - stays together.

Another optimistic piece in La Presse says that the other NHL teams are passing the word: the Habs are for real, and if you want to beat them, you have to stop the Plecanek line and the power-play. It's a good read and an honest assessment of the Habs' current strengths ... and weaknesses: the Koivu line is dead in the water, as it notes. Still the #1 line on paper, it is obviously the #2 line in any meaningful sense - production, ice-time, power-play time - and could soon become the de facto 3rd line. In the past dozen games, the trio of Lapierre, Ryder, and Latendresse has outscored Koivu, Higgins, and Kostitsyn. That's not acceptable.

1/20/2008

News for Sunday, January 20th

So the Canadiens got their national exposure on CBC last night ... and responded by being shut-out at home against a Penguins team that played its back-up goalie and didn't have Sidney Crosby. It was quite a boring game. The CBC was in a panic without Crosby there; they hastily rewrote all their scripts, substituting the name Malkin for Crosby's, even if it seemed a little weird to hear Malkin being discusseed as one of the "best players in the world". Between the 2nd and 3rd period, Elliot Friedman interviewed a confused Roman Hamrlik, asking idiotic questions like "What's it like to play against Evgeni Malkin? Is it hard to defend against such a special player?". Hamrlik was remarkably polite about being interviewed about an opposing player, which would have been acceptable if it had been Crosby, and didn't poke him in his squinty little eyes. Even Hughson and Millen, who are pretty good at what they do, resorted to raving about Malkin without much reason. With the score 1-0 late in the game, Hughson referred to the game as Malkin's "coming out party", after his playing a slightly above-average game and scoring zero points. When Malkin got an easy empty-netter, they all but stood and applauded his brilliance. Come on! I have concluded that HNIC can do nothing right.

Herb Zurkowsky reports on the game as a notice to the rest of the league that the Penguins are not just a one-man army. Well, no, as the CBC reminded us over and over last night, they are a TWO man army! How could we ever overlook the immortal Evgeni Malkin? Anyway, this was Pittsburgh's first win in Montreal in a couple of years, and their first ever win without Crosby. Give some of the credit to Laraque, who played a disciplined, effective game, barely noticing tiny Mark Streit attempting to check him as he set up the winning goal. I bet if you're George Laraque, when Mark Streit talks it sounds really high and squeaky.

Red Fisher gets it right
: the Pens owe the win to Dany Sabourin, who stole the two points.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is justifiably proud of the effort of its team, which played not only without Crosby and with its third-string goalie, but also found itself down two forwards after Colby Armstrong and Adam Hall both had to leave the game. On paper, that sounds pretty embarrassing for the Habs, but it wasn't as bad as all that. First of all, Sabourin played very well. Second, the Penguins were pretty effectively shut-down, for the most part. Third, Armstrong and Hall weren't going to make a difference anyway. In truth, the Habs deserved this one, and the Pens got pretty lucky.

And the Habs are aware that this was a game they should have had. Chris Higgins says they were "missing that little something", by which I presume he means the back of the net. He adds that "when we're not scoring, we try to be a little too cute," and while he echoes the sentiments of most of the media and fans, I'm not sure I agree. The Habs' game is to set-up pretty goals: when it works, no-one complains that they pass too much. When they get shut-out, it becomes a little frustrating to see them dish the puck, but as soon as it goes in off one of those plays, all is forgiven.

1/19/2008

News for Saturday, January 19th

The good news about tonight's game against the Penguins is this: no Sidney Crosby. The bad news? No Sidney Crosby! It's nice for the Habs not to have to face the league's most dangerous player, but at the same time it's always fun to watch him play. The Pens are still a potent team without Crosby, so hopefully his absence doesn't make them cocky. Questions: will Brisebois and Begin be in the line-up?

George Gillett is selling off his interest in Liverpool soccer club. He's been a decent owner for the Habs, so I'm hoping he sticks around here.

The Globe and Mail applauds the CBC for its decision to show the Habs nationally this week, instead of its usual serving of Leaf. The injury to Crosby is unfortunate for them, as it will definitely hurt their ratings, and I can't say I'm sorry for them.

When it comes to French-Canadian players and the Montreal Canadiens, the rumors just will not stop. The Winnipeg Sun says that "Canadiens assistant general manager Pierre Gauthier has been following the Flames like a bad smell", trying to arrange a trade for Alex Tanguay. I continue to feel that Tanguay, a slick, play-making winger, is a bad fit on a team full of exactly that kind of player. What the Habs need is a goal scorer, which, bafflingly, is exactly what they are rumored to be offering in return for Tanguay (Alex Kovalev or Michael Ryder, depending on whom you listen to). Let's hope this never happens. Spector of Fox Sports, dismisses the idea as "more fantasy than fact", for what that's worth.

La Presse heaps praise on Andrei Kostitsyn, who is certainly deserving. Since Christmas he's been the Canadiens most consistent scorer, and has earned the confidence of Guy Carbonneau. The article notes that Kostitsyn's emergence has coincided with the call-up of his brother, Sergei, who - while not putting up the kind of points his brother has - has played excellent hockey and has many fans excited over his future.

Also in La Presse, Cristobal Huet's rare shoot-out victory is lauded. Huet absolutely blew the play that led to Atlanta's tying goal; it was one of the worst give-aways I've ever seen, especially in the context of its leading directly to a late, game-tying goal. It looked like a choke, and when it went to a shoot-out, I don't think there was a Hab fan alive who thought the Habs were going to take it. We were surprised, but his teammates, it seems, were not. "We never doubted Cristobal," the article quotes Mike Komisarek. Haha, yeah right! Even his mother was doubting him on that one.




1/15/2008

News for Tuesday, January 15th

Despite an ugly loss to the Rangers the other night - Cristobal Huet's first loss in regulation since December 20th - the bookies still like the Habs against the Islanders. This article notes that Chris Higgins, who hasn't scored much lately with just 2 goals in his last 13 - has a chance to break out against his hometown club, against whom he's had great success, with seven goals in eight games.

The Peoria sports world is looking forward to seeing Carey Price battle Hannu Toivonen in an AHL tilt tomorrow, as the Bulldogs arrive to face the Rivermen. The writer bills it as a contest between up and coming future netminding stars, but Canadiens fans will be keeping an eye on it more to see if Carey Price can rediscover the form that got him into the NHL last fall. His play has gradually eroded over the course of the season. In his last game, he was roughed up for 6 goals on just 13 shots by the Rochester Americans.

Globe and Mail sports-media watcher William Houston voices a sentiment that will gratify many a Hab fan in an article called "Time For Hockey Night to Trade the Leafs". Houston suggests that HNIC should probably be featuring first-overall Ottawa and 5th-place Montreal instead of cellar-dwelling Toronto. His numbers suggest that the CBC's usual defense of its programming - that the Leafs get far higher ratings than any other team - is certainly exaggerated, and probably a self-fulfilling prophecy. The other night, with Toronto out of the conference, the Ottawa game on HNIC drew over 900,000 viewers, only about 200,000 less than Toronto's average: that despite the fact that the Senators get no promotion from HNIC, and that their game was up against two major NFL playoff games on CTV. He provides no numbers for Montreal games, but I find it hard to believe that the Habs would draw fewer viewers than the Sens, so their ratings would have to be nearly equal to the Leafs. If the Leafs have higher TV numbers, it's not by much, and it's probably only because they've been so heavily showcased by the publicly funded CBC for decades. That's no reason to make an entire nation suffer Bob Cole, Harry Neale, Don Cherry, and the rest of the Leafs Praise-Chorus every week, is it? Well, I'm over it: I have RDS, I can understand French, and I and many other Canadiens fans have lost the HNIC habit.

Owner George Gillett is having some cash problems, according to this Ottawa Citizen piece, that may force him to sell off his interest in the Liverpool FC. Now, I'm sure my idea of money-problems is not the same as Gillett's idea, but this is interesting news. Not sure what it might mean for the Habs, but I'll see if I can dig anything else up.

Pat Hickey sets up the Habs-Isles game here. He talks with Chris Higgins, who notes that playing at home means providing tickets for more than 30 people, so that he is essentially playing those games "for free". Higgins isn't concerned about his drop in production lately: he says it's due to playing a different role on a different line, helping "shut down the other team's" stars on a checking line with Lapierre and Ryder. Higgins and Ryder are our checking line? Weren't they our first line last year? How the Habs win games is beyond me sometimes. Hickey says Huet will start, despite getting mercy-pulled against the Rangers, and (drum-roll) Patrice Brisebois is "questionable" for the game with an ankle injury.

The New York Times, no less, has a feature on hometown boys Mike Komisarek and Chris Higgins. Really good read. I scanned it for any hint of them talking about maybe wanting to play in New York - or anywhere but Montreal - in the future, but didn't see anything. These are two guys I want to see in Montreal for life.

In La Presse, Francois Gagnon reports on Chris Higgins's problems scoring, and also on his suggestion that it's due to a change in his assignment. Gagnon has Coach Carbo denying that Higgins is playing a "checking" role: "il a encore la t√Ęche de marquer des buts". Carbo goes on to say - I'm translating - that Higgins is best when he uses his speed and forces the other teams to make mistakes, and less effective when he tries to handle the puck too much or make fancy moves. Gagnon reports that Brisebois is definitely out, to be replaced on D by Streit, who will in turn be replaced by Tom Kostopoulos (to the disappointment of fans who would prefer to see what Corey Locke, a scorer at every level he's played in, can do). Kostopoulos will provided some toughness against an Isles team that tends to goon it up when things aren't going their way.

La Presse also runs this hopeful article, suggesting (once again) that Jose Theodore is finding his game again for the Avalanche.

1/03/2008

News for Thursday, January 3rd: Brisebois sits, the importance of home wins, Kovalev reborn, return of Koivu, Higgins wants the Cup.

Patrice Brisebois is healthy and ready to return to action ... but he won't. Not yet, at least. Pat Hickey quotes Guy Carbonneau: "He's ready, but he's only had one full practice with the team and I think we'll wait," which translates to, "The team is playing great and I don't feel like getting lynched by fans for playing Brisebois instead of Gorges." The return of Steve Begin and Brian Smolinski is also on the horizon, an event that will be an especial hurdle for Carbo: does he let the veterans continue to sit, or does he sit out the rookies who've replaced them, Maxim Lapierre and Sergei Kostitsyn? If there's any debate, it's purely a question of locker-room dynamics: Lapierre and especially Kostitsyn have won those jobs by any objective measure.

The Sports Network - not to be confused with TSN, I think - has a good game set-up here. The Lightning come into tonight's match on a five-game losing streak, and remain the NHL's worst road team. They are also officially the worst team in the Eastern Conference, after dropping their last game against Toronto, a 4-3 shoot-out defeat. Of course, if you're a bad road team, a visit to Montreal might be just what the doctor ordered. Dominant on the road, the Canadiens have floundered at home all year, a trend they'd better reverse if they want to make the playoffs. Tampa's last road win came - yes - in Montreal on Dec. 11th in a shoot-out, another area in which the Habs fail to excel. The surest bet in the world? That the Habs will lose in a shoot-out on home ice in a game in which they trailed after the first or second periods.

This CP article notes that the Habs are eager to turn the page on 2007 and have resolved to play better at home. Coach Carbo observes some positive signs: the Canadiens had their first successful Christmas road trip since 1998, going 3-1-2 on a long trip that featured an unusual amount of travel. Another point from the article: Vincent Lecavalier is the NHL's leading scorer, but if the Bolts don't pick things up he could become the first player to win that honour while playing on a last-place team since Chicago's Max Bentley in 1947.

It's official: Sergei Samsonov has been sent to the minors. Read the sad story here.

TSN runs this excellent story on the resurgence of winger Alex Kovalev. As the article says, "No Canadien has worked and produced as consistently" as Kovalev, a statement that manages to be both true and unbelievable. If the NHL has a comeback player of the year award, the article says, Kovalev would win it, and I agree. In a surreal moment the other night, Habs fans watched on TV as Alex Kovalev took the ice - wearing the "C", in the absence of the ailing Saku Koivu. As Carbo observes, "he deserved it". Habs fans are ecstatic over the production of Alex Kovalev this year, and he must be feeling the love. Some fans have joked that Kovalev must not realize his contract isn't up until next season, but the truth is that the winger was disappointed in his own season, which culminated in his failure to be invited to join the Russian team for the World Championships (you can bet they'd invite him this year, if they get the chance). He had a meeting with Carbo and Gainey at the end of the year, to clear the air and establish expectations, and he followed through by showing up in great shape and putting forth a consistently excellent effort up to this point. He's a treat to watch.

The St. Petersburg Times out of Tampa takes a dire tone in addressing the situation of the Lightning: "
If Tampa Bay is to make the playoffs for the fifth straight season, forwards Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards and Vinny Prospal must carry their stars on their sleeves", it intones, noting that the Bolts' scoring stars have largely disappeared during the team's current five-game winless skid. Judging by this article, look for Tampa Bay to go back to basics, dump the puck, crash the net, and try for an "ugly goal". They've been guilty lately of trying to get too fancy with the puck, apparently.

Many excellent articles in La Presse, si tu es bilingue. If not, I'll give you the gist here. Francois Gagnon notes the return of Saku Koivu after missing a game with the flu; he'll again skate with Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn. Gagnon also touches on the healthy scratch of Patrice Brisebois, just returned from the DL, and for the first time I can recall, a La Presse writer agrees with the decision to play an English player (Gorges) over a Quebecois (Brisebois). Now that's news!

Gagnon also finds Chris Higgins in an optimistic mood: the young winger wants nothing less than the Stanley Cup, and thinks the Habs can compete for it. Higgins cites the team's 4th place standing in the East, it's balanced three-line attack, #1 power-play, solid defencemen, and top-notch goaltending as reasons for his confidence, and when he puts it like that, you sure do feel like jumping on the bandwagon. Of course, watch the game tonight for a few minutes, and we'll most likely be cured, won't we? Before the Habs challenge for anyone's cup, much less Lord Stanley's, they'll want to address their poor home record, lousy penalty kill, inability to come back from any kind of a deficit, and tendency to blow leads.

Richard Labbe has this take on the Habs terrible home play. He looks at the two most popular theories on the Habs struggles at the Bell Centre - pressure from fans and the media - and finds them wanting. Worth a read. Though Labbe says he doesn't believe that Montreal fans or media are any harder to deal with than those in Toronto or New York, I think he's being disingenuous. Fans and reporters don't follow Rangers to the grocery. And Toronto is a city that is practically designed for anonymity: there's no downtown! The truth is, the fans and media in Montreal more passionate and more vocal than any other hockey fans, and it does make a difference.

La Presse also offers a thought for poor Corey Locke, who had waited three years to make his NHL debut, and was bitterly disappointed in New York when his hockey gear was lost by the airline. He didn't play and has since been sent back to Hamilton of the AHL. Hopefully he gets his chance soon.

Back after the game for some instant analysis. Go Habs!

1/02/2008

News for Wednesday, January 2nd: Montreal Winter Classic?, Locke back in Hamilton, Hickey's State of the Union

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the second staging of the NHL Winter Classic, played outdoors in front of over 70,000 fans in Buffalo, New York. It was a dramatic shoot-out win, and in a lucky stroke for the NHL, which had the game carried on NBC in the US, the winning goal came off the stick of Sidney Crosby, the NHL's anointed poster boy. By all accounts, the game was exciting and successful, so much so that we may see more than one Winter Classic next year, with the Globe and Mail identifying the Montreal Canadiens as just one of several teams interested in hosting their own outdoor game next year.

Can't win for losing: after missing out on a chance to make his NHL debut when his hockey bag was lost by an airline, Corey Locke has been reassigned to Hamilton of the AHL. He was to have filled in for flu-stricken captain Saku Koivu in New York the other night. Apparently he's better.

Although it barely mentions the Montreal Canadiens (a passing reference while relaying how the Leafs once again failed to make the playoffs last year) you might want to check out this hockey year in review from the National Post. A few interesting highlights worth redigesting.

Pat Hickey has a New Year's look at the Habs and where they stand. He begins by heaping praise on winger Alexei Kovalev, the eternal enigma who this year has provided surprising consistency, hard work, and offensive production. He already has 16 goals, just 2 fewer than he scored all last year. Moreover, as Hickey notes, he has served as a mentor and role model for the Habs' young team (half the starting squad is 25 or younger), especially the young, offensively-gifted Europeans: Markov, Plecanek, the Kostitsyns. Hickey observes that the Habs have exceeded expectations by landing themsleves in 4th place in the East, with 45 points after 39 games. On the other hand, he cautions, at this point last year the Habs had 51 points, before self-destructing to eventually miss the playoffs. Saku Koivu has the flu at the moment, by the way: deja vu, anyone? Anyway, read the rest of the article for well-deserved praise of Andrei Kostitsyn, Mike Komisarek, Chris Higgins, and the Canadiens' road record. Now if they could just start winning at home ...

1/01/2008

News for Tuesday, January 1st: Shanahan Warbucks, Ryder rumour, UFAs don't like Montreal, Ryan McDonagh, Winter Classic, Bulldogs win.

Not a lot of news to gather on New Year's Day, so I'm including a few off-topic bits, like this one: the New York Observer reports that the day after Brendan Shanahan scored the OT winner against Montreal (i.e., yesterday), he closed the deal on a 13.5 MILLION dollar Park Avenue condo. Okay, I know hockey salaries are insane, but has it actually reached the point where players are buying Park Avenue condos that cost in the double-digit millions of dollars?

In the Hockey News, Lyle Richardson (aka Spector) suggests that the New York Rangers might be interested in getting Michael Ryder from the Canadiens. The Rangers don't score a lot of goals, despite having big-name players like Shanahan, Jagr, Gomez, and Drury - and despite scoring four on the Habs the other night! - and could certainly use some added fire-power, though lack of offense is precisely the reason the Canadiens want to get rid of him.

On Fox Sports, and now writing as Spector, the same Mr. Richardson makes his 2008 predictions. Among them are the possible trading of Ryder, a lack of "blockbuster" trades on the horizon, and an increase in the salary cap. The Canadiens, he says, will have tons of cap space, but will "once again be unable to entice the top UFA players." He doesn't say why, but I assume it's the usual combination of taxes, cold weather, French language laws, tough fans, and constant media scrutiny. Richardson also predicts that Cristobal Huet won't be traded, even though Bob Gainey likes Carey Price, and that's a prediction I hope is accurate. There could never be a really good reason to trade a goalie who leads the league in save percentage, as far as I'm concerned. The question then becomes this: will the Canadiens resign the soon-to-be UFA to a contract extension before he hits the open market?

Sergei Samsonov cleared waivers last night and will be assigned to the Rockford Ice Hogs of the AHL, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The Hawks could then try calling him up to see if anyone wants him on reentry waivers, but they will probably put out feelers to other teams to ensure interest before making that move. I'm betting they find that few teams will bite. The Hawks are the second team that Samsonov has failed to catch on with - the first being the Habs, of course - and his attitude hasn't helped, which makes it hard to feel sorry for him, as we perhaps should. When he was with the Canadiens, he pinned the blame for his lack of performance on everyone but himself, and complained loudly to anyone who would listen that he'd made a mistake coming to Montreal. I wonder whose fault it is now? Coach Denis Savard calls this a "business decision," meaning, I surmise, that the Hawks made the "decision" to give Samsonov the "business".

Yahoo! Sports has their weekly power rankings, where you will find the Canadiens ranked 7th, up from 12th last time. They've bounced around the rankings this year, which in the age of "manufactured parity" (Bob McKenzie's term) must be difficult to compile. Seems like just about every team in the NHL is over .500, thanks to the extra point awarded for an OT or shoot-out win. In fact, the term ".500" no longer really means anything: it is still being used as though an OT loss is a tie, when it is, in fact, clearly a loss. With a record of 19-13-7, the Montreal Canadiens are said to be six games over .500, when in fact they've lost one more game than they've won. This mighty accomplishment has them, amazingly, at 4th place in the Eastern conference. It even puts them slightly ahead of the New York Rangers, who've won one more and lost one fewer games than the Habs. Yahoo also throws in some New Year's resolutions for each team, and the Habs' is to "Start attracting talent again because it's a lot harder to recruit top free-agents to this passionate hockey hotbed than most think." Yeah, that'd be nice.

Ryan McDonagh seems to be coming along nicely: Twin Cities.com notes his thus-far successful freshman year: 3 goals, six assists, +8 in 18 games.

La Presse has nothing new, but you could read this report on today's outdoor game, the NHL Winter Classic, to be played in Buffalo in front of - wow - 74,000 fans.

The Bulldogs shut out Grand Rapids last night, 1-0. Jaroslav Halak made 22 saves for the shutout, while Janne Lahti picked up the goal. With a record 11-14-6, the Dogs are 5th in their division, and not looking good to repeat last year's championship, to say the least. Their loss is the Habs' gain: Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plecanek, Kyle Chipchura, Maxim Lapierre, Ryan O'Byrne, and Carey Price all spent a significant amount of time with the farm team last year.