Friday, February 1, 2008

What a Show

Cristobal Huet was named the NHL's third star of the month of January. He had a hell of a month and is well deserving of the honour. All anyone wanted to talk about today was the NHL's first star of the month, Alexander Ovechkin.

I think I can honestly say that he is the best player I have ever seen. Sidney Crosby is terrific and his playmaking skills are incomparable but he's not the physical presence that Ovechkin is and I'm beginning to think that Crosby will spend a lot more time on the injured list than the Penguins would like him to. Ovechkin has also gotten it done with a less than stellar supporting cast (at least in comparison to Crosby's) for the most part.

Too bad he's going to waste away for the next 13 years in a half empty arena in front of fans who don't truly appreciate him. My apologies to all hockey heads in the Beltway area but this guy should be playing in Canada or at least in a strong market like Minnesota, Buffalo or New York.

Doesn't look like the contract has lessened his edge or competive desire if last night's performance was any indication. Ovechkin was crushed by Francis Bouillon with a hit that broke his nose, when asked about Ovechkin's reaction Bouillon said,

"I thought I really hit him hard but when he got up, he came over to me smiling and asked me to do it again because he liked it. Instead of knocking him out of the game, I may have given him extra motivation."


That's the kind of hockey player I like. He's like the polar opposite of your stereotypical soft player with no heart. He plays a real North American game and he's tough as nails. The Capitals don't strike me as a playoff team right now but Ovechkin will get them there at some point and it's going to very exciting to see him crank it up a notch.

This afternoon, still had a headline about Ovechkin's big night. It's always somewhat remarkable to see an NHL headline on their front page, usually dominated by anything but.

Lost in the Ovechkin hype are the Kostitsyns, particularly Sergei, who both had big nights. The Habs line of Lapierre, Latendresse and Sergei looks like a keeper, although I wouldn't object to the kid taking Michael Ryder's spot on the the Koivu line. Ryder's struggles have reached the point of no return. He has nothing working for him at the moment. It's baffling given what's at stake for him professionally. If he had put together another 30 goal season, he could have cashed in to the tune of $20 million for 5 years, although most likely not from Bob Gainey, who has never really been sold on Ryder. He certainly looks good for not signing him to a long term deal at any point.

Two huge games this weekend for the Habs, both the Islanders and Rangers rested their superstar goaltenders last night in preparation for the two matinees, so DiPietro and Lundqvist should both be fresh, although the Islanders did arrive here last night, so they may hit the town hard tonight and be a few steps slow early tomorrow. Look for them at Buona Notte if you can get in.


Francois Gagnon of La Presse on Ovechkin's big night

Pierre Durocher on Carey Price's AHL odyssey's weekend preview

Chris Aung-Thwin of with a where are they now? piece

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gameday in Washington

The Canadiens strut into the Nation's capital tonight on the heels of George W Bush' s final State of the Union address. It will be a hard act to follow as Bush's theatrics garnered as much applause from the sheep in the audience as Alex Kovalev does when he scores one at the Bell Centre. The difference is that Kovalev seems to be playing arguably the best hockey of his career and Bush's approval rating is at a record low. Kovalev also has a way sweeter hairdo.

Tonight's game is the last between Ovechkin and co. and the Habs. There's some extra motivation for both teams after Viktor Kozlov called out the Canadiens for trying to "run up the score" late in Tuesday night's 4-0 game.

Running up the score is a contentious issue in sports and sometimes it's difficult to tell what exactly qualifies. The New England Patriots have been running up the score for the entire NFL season and the speculation has been that they've been doing it because the rest of the league basically called them a bunch of cheaters on the heels of the "spygate" scandal.

Bill Simmons of had a great piece on the Pats earlier this year, read it here.

Is it unreasonable to think that the Canadiens are feeling a similar burn and lack of respect from the rest of the league? After being picked by most experts to basically compete for a high pick in next year's draft, do they not have a legitimate reason to rub it in the faces of their opponents?

If the Capitals want to keep taking penalties late in a game in order to stop scoring chances, the Canadiens have every right to pour it on and try to get their power play back into the number one slot in the league.

Anyone that starts talking about running up the score needs to take a long hard look at themselves and what exactly they're saying about their team. It's embarrassing for a pro athlete to say anything of the sort. You're calling out your opponent for not taking it easy on you late in a game? Should the Habs have taken their foot of the gas and perhaps allowed the Caps to score a late goal and gather some momentum heading into tonight's game?

It's madness.

Cristobal Huet makes his tenth straight start, The Habs look to win their fourth in a row and further separate themselves from the pack in the still very tight Eastern Conference. If the Habs do pick up the win, it will be their tenth in a row on Thursday night this year. They have only lost on Thursday night once all season and it was all the way back in October.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Happy Days

All of a sudden, the Bell Centre is a really fun place to be on gamenights.

The Habs seem to have put their home woes behind them with consecutive monster performances on their home ice. The fans were out in full force tonight and they serenaded Alex Kovalev and his team throughout the game.

Those weren't boos you heard during the Habs 2nd period power plays, they were cries of "shoot!". Ever notice how they never score when they respond to those demands?

Alex Kovalev looked like a man playing with boys. Whoa. That sounds kind of weird and sexual. There was nothing weird or sexual about it, he just skated and stickhandled circles around the Caps all night long. He showed Alexander Ovechkin a thing or two in the process.

Tomas Plekanec continues to look like a bona-fide first line NHL centre and the Flying Kostitsyn brothers continue to amaze.

Cristobal Huet played his best game of the year and if it was any indication, the Sens need to watch their backs. When he's on, he's virtually impossible to beat. It takes a few lucky bounces, but that what good goaltenders get.

It's too early to know what the prognosis is for Daniel Alfredsson, but the Sens lost their captain to injury in a win over the Islanders and if he joins Dany Heatley on the sidelines, they may have some difficulty holding on to the Northeast division lead.

The Leafs lost to the St. Louis Blues and moaned about the officiating after the game. There were 17 scouts from 15 NHL teams in attendance, looking for signs of life from a Toronto team that seems to be dead in the water and looking to sell of pieces.

It was absolutely electric in the Bell Centre tonight, one of those games that makes me pinch myself when I think about the position I'm in.

Alex Kovalev was, as Pierre McGuire might say, smiling like a Cheshire Cat in the Habs room after the game. When quizzed about his possible broken finger he stated, "It might be broken but I still have four fingers left."

He spoke also of how much fun he's having out there and you can tell. He looks like he's ten years younger than he is and it's been a real pleasure to watch him in action all year long. He is without any doubt at all, the MVP of this team, definitely the comeback player of the year and deserves Hart trophy consideration.

After a Brief Layoff...

I, Like the Montreal Canadiens, am back to work. Looking forward to getting back to business at the Bell Centre where the Habs look to improve on their league-worst home record. With 33 games to go in the regular season, the Canadiens have 60 points.

Of the 33 games remaining, 19 will be played at the Bell Centre. It's time to correct the problems at home once and for all. The Canadiens need roughly 17 wins to assure themselves of a spot in the postseason. If they play the way they've played the last few seasons at home, there shouldn't be a problem.

The Canadiens have 7 players with 30 or more points. The only other teams that can make the same boast are Detroit, Carolina and Philadelphia. It's a stat that speaks to the overall depth of the team as well as the effectiveness of Carbo's rolling four lines.

Mathieu Dandenault seems to have become the odd man out with his -10 rating, the worst on the team. It must be frustrating for a veteran like him to swallow his pride and watch games from the pressbox but he needs to suck it up and put the team first. Chances are he'll be back in the lineup before long and how can he argue with the success the team is having right now?

You don't want to change a winning formula. If the Canadiens fail to win tonight and Cristobal Huet has difficulty, then I would like to see Jaroslav Halak on Saturday afternoon against the Islanders. Huet makes his ninth consecutive start tonight and is expected to play on Thursday and again on Saturday. That would be 11 straight starts, which would mark a career high for the French netminder.

Here's a little game preview: It's the third meeting of the year for the Habs and Caps. The teams split the first two games so far with the home team losing each time, the Habs loss came in OT after Carey Price gave up a few softies shortly before his reassignment to Hamilton.

Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec have led the charge for the Habs with 4 points in those two games. The Caps exciting young defenceman Mike Green led the Caps with four points of his own in those two games, Alexander Ovechkin and rookie sensation Nicklas Backstrom have three points apiece.

It's a showdown of two of the league's hottest teams, the Habs are 7-2-1 in their last ten and Washington is 7-3-0 over the same span.

I expect the Canadiens to get the win unless they have problems in goal. The other factor for the Habs is scoring first. Le Tricolore is 21-2-6 when they get on the board before their opponent. Washington has had more difficulty in the same circumstances, going 14-7-0.

The Ottawa Senators are in Uniondale to face the Islanders. They have a six-point lead over the Habs but Montreal holds a game in hand.