Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thoughts and Musings

The Canadiens are currently in a freefall.

It's not panic time yet, but the team needs to get back to the things that brought them success early in the season.

Losing three games in eight days against a divisional rival is tough to swallow. Buffalo is back into the thick of the Eastern conference race thanks to their four-game winning streak, three of which came against the Habs.

This is a Sabres team that is a skeleton of the one that dominated the NHL last year on the way to the President's Trophy. Daniel Briere and Chris Drury are gone. Teppo Numminen is still out with his heart problem. Thankfully, we won't see them again for quite some time and the Canadiens should be happy about it.

The Habs still have a respectable record (12-8-1-2).

Their record against the Sabres is now 2-3.

Against the Sens, they're 0-3.

So six of their eight regulation losses have come against two teams.

Fast, skilled teams. Teams the Canadiens are supposed to match up well against. This simply hasn't been the case. In fact, the Habs were thoroughly outclassed in both recent games against the Sabres. They can bitch all they want about the call against Mike Komisarek on Friday night, but the fact is that Saku Koivu interfered with Ryan Miller on an earlier goal, this is the way these things go. If you're playing the game in such a way that a single penalty call turns the game against you, you're doing something wrong.

It's extremely disheartening to see early chances with no goals to show for them. That's exactly what happened at the Bell Centre tonight. The Habs, like their fans, get down on themselves when they can't get an early lead.

Good teams overcome these things and find ways to put the puck in the net. Brian Campbell's Sabres are starting to look like one of those teams. The score would have been much more lopsided had it not been for Cristobal Huet's heroics.

Campbell logged 27:49 of ice time, was a +2 on the night, and got an assist and blocked seven Canadiens shots. He quarterbacks his teams offense while paying the price in his own zone.

Alex Kovalev had five hits and two shots on goal. This is a problem. You don't want your best offensive player getting more hits than chances.

We could discuss stats ad nauseum, but the key thig is, the Habs are too reliant on their special teams. There's bound to be ups and downs in any given season, but the key thing is to adapt and continue to find ways to score goals and win games.

When a game ends, wipe it from your mind and move on.

On to Toronto for a HUGE game on Tuesday.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Gamenight in Buffalo

Habs in Buffalo tonight, exactly one week after getting tossed around in a 4-1 loss in the same building. The Sabres seem to be finding their stride after a slow start to their season. Ryan Miller is starting to look like the dominant goaltender that emerged last year. In his last seven games, Miller has posted a GAA of 1.86, and has gone 3-4-0.

The Canadiens possess the best road record in the Eastern Conference (7-3-1).

The Sabres are at 8-10-1, having played only 19 games, the Habs have played 21. They're (6-4-0) at home.

This home-and-home date represents the 4th and 5th meetings between the two teams already this year. The home team has won the first three, with the Habs getting two wins at the Bell Centre.

Derek Roy has 9 points in 8 games in his career against the Canadiens.

Trade rumours are stupid. They never seem to actually come true. Patrick Marleau? Shawn Horcoff? Why would anyone want to move those guys? Who could the Habs give up to get guys like them? They need a winger, not a centre.

Well, they could use Lecavalier or Thornton, but I don't think those guys are available.

Interesting to see that the Leafs had a chance to pick up Lecavalier back in 2001 when he fell out with coach John Tortorella. In typical Leafs fashion, they opted out of the deal, undoubtedly going for a more "right now" solution.

If Carey Price gets the win tonight, he'll be 6-1-1. Hard to argue with that kind of success.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gamenight in Uniondale

The Islanders, one of the the snooze-inducing teams in the New York area, are playing very boring but effective hockey. Rick DiPietro has been a force in goal and he continues to be one of the best puck-handlers at his position. He's 4-5 with a 2.34 GAA in his career against the Canadiens.

Josef Vasicek is leading them with 8 goals, Mike Comrie is tops with 17 points. Ted Nolan is a hell of a coach, and has been getting a good effort from his team all year long. He knows how to maximize his players potential.

The Habs have had difficulty picking up wins at Nassau Coliseum since 1998. In 17 games since Jan. 8 of that year, they're 4-12 with one tie.

Cristobal Huet looks to bounce back tonight after losing three games in a row. He's been jittery at times and has not received the support he needs from his teammates in the defensive zone over that span.

Count me among those who would rather see Carey Price in net. The Canadiens just seem to absorb the poise and confidence he plays with. When he's out there, the entire team seems more relaxed.

Price is 5-1-1. (5-2)

Huet is 6-5-2. (6-7)

It's starting to become more and more clear that it's not a question of if Price steals the starting job, but rather when. The numbers that really matter are wins and losses. Price's stats are skewed by having given up meaningless goals when games were already out of reach. He has also given up some soft goals. This happens to the best goaltenders, but some of the goals do leave you scratching your head.

It seems pretty clear that Price gives the Habs a better chance to win, and he's a workhorse, having proved that point by playing in over 82 games at various levels over the course of last season.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Big Night

The Canadiens came out strong, played well and lost. This is the third game in a row now where they haven't gotten strong goaltending. It wasn't necessarily bad goaltending, but not good enough either. It seems the Habs need spectacular goaltending to win games.

The team defense, or lack thereof, was something that was mentioned ad nauseam by players and coaches after the game. For the second game in a row, the Habs played a run and gun, back and forth game. The difference is, as Chris Higgins pointed out, the Senators are just too skilled and strong to play that game against. They need to tighten it up.

Every game is huge for this team, with two more big road games coming up in Long Island and then on to Buffalo. They need four points.


Larry Robinson was one of the best to ever patrol the Habs blue line. Number 19 was eloquent and humble in his speech to the fans at the Bell Centre and at home.

Lou Lamoriello, who was briefly booed in his introduction, (because he fired Claude Julien?) spoke well and introduced his good friend to the fans, who were their typical noisy and jubilant selves during the pre-game ceremony.

When he was asked about what was his greatest memory of his 20 season career he replied, "That would be like eating a can of beans and trying to pick out which one gave you gas."

It was a moving ceremony, one I was lucky enough to enjoy with several members of the media all of whom were impressed by the events. The Canadiens know how to honour the franchise's greats.

The Senators are a classy bunch as well, and Robinson mentioned how honoured he was that their entire team was on the bench and ice for the entire ceremony. They remind me of the Red Wings team a few years back, a year after they were ousted from the playoffs early after setting a record for points in a season and winning the Presidents Trophy. They played like a team afire and went on to win the Cup that year.

The good news is, the Canadiens once again proved they can make a game of it against the Sens.

The bad news is, they've picked up exactly 0 points in 3 games against their divisional rivals so far this year.

Five more to go.

Gamenight: Ottawa & #19 Finally Retired

Tonight was one of those games i circled on my Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar at the start of season. Actually I'm lying, it's a Hello Kitty calendar i stole from my little sister, but the fact is, this date was circled.

The best team in the NHL right now is in town. The Sens own a 15-3-0 record. Daniel Alfredsson is scary good. 15 goals, 25 points. Dany Heatley has the most assists on the team, with 13. They're coming off a 3-0 loss against mighty Toronto, so you know they're going to be hungry. This is their first visit to the Bell Centre this year, the Habs lost both meetings in Ottawa so far this season, but both games were close.

Cristobal Huet is in goal after the Habs got back-to-back weak performances for the first time this year on Friday and Saturday, with both their goaltenders having difficulty.

Larry Robinson, who patrolled the Habs' blue line for 17 of his 20 NHL seasons, is finally being honoured by his team for his unbelievable contribution to the teams of the 70s. Robinson won 6 Stanley Cups. One Conn Smythe Trophy. Two Norris trophies. 958 points.

I never had the pleasure of seeing him play live. I've seen the highlights of big, dominant d-man who left it all on the ice every night out there. Here's a link of "Big Bird" absolutely levelling Gary Dornhoffer. Wow.

This guy scored, hit and won.

This is one of those jersey retirements that fans and media have been calling for since his retirement. One of the best defenseman of all time. I get to talk to him at the first intermission!!

Here's the Legends of Hockey piece on Robinson.