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.

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