Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gainey Night

Tonight Bob Gainey's number 23 will be raised to the Bell Centre rafters where it belongs. He is considered the greatest defensive forward of all time and won the Selke trophy the first four years it was awarded. He won the Stanley Cup five times.

The Canadiens certainly know how to have a ceremony and I expect this one to meet the high standard set in the past.

I'm also hoping the buffet is something good. Like maybe burgers n' tater tots. These are the things I think about.

Looking forwawrd to seeing Rick Nash in action tonight, he's a hell of a scorer. I think he could be a consistent 50 goal guy if he had the right linemates. Unfortunately, Columbus' bad draft record and bad luck with injuries has put them in a bad spot. They are on the cusp of contention and actually have a shot at their first ever playoff berth. Tonight's game is huge for them.

It will be interesting to see how the teams will respond to the long ceremony prior to the game. They don't see this type if thing in Columbus very often.

Gainey is a really funny guy and has dealt with more tragedy in his life than anyone should. It will certainly be interesting what develops on the trade front in the coming days.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Game 62: Malkin & Co

Evgeni Malkin stepped his game up to a new level when Sidney Crosby went down with a high-ankle sprain. He has 27 points in his last 14 games and leads the NHL in scoring with 79 points. He has five points in three games against the Habs this year. His speed, vision and great shot make him one of the top talents in the league right now and certainly the guy who the Habs need to contain if they want to get the win.

Ty Conklin, the guy who was in net for Edmonton at the Outdoor Classic a few years back, has emerged as the Penguins starting goaltender and leads the NHL with a .932 save percentage.

The Canadiens have matched a season high by winning their fourth straight game. They remain tied with Ottawa and New Jersey with 75 points, though the Sens still hold a game in hand.

Trying to make sense of Tuesday night's magic has been difficult. Jay Onrait of TSN called it the greatest game Habs fans under the age of 30 had ever seen. It was the most amazing game I have ever seen and I was lucky enough to experience it firsthand. It said so much about what this team is all about. They are a resilient bunch who go to war for each other. Say what you will about their lack of a tough guy, Steve Begin is out there punishing opposing players. Mike Komisarek is the scariest blueliner in the Eastern Conference. He has the ability to take over a game. Andrei Markov is among the best, if not the best passing defenceman in the NHL. Alex Kovalev is on another level. He explodes past opposing defenders seemingly at will and his one-timers are scary. He kills penalties, lays guys out with hard hits and is a true leader on this team.

All the talk of trades, Sundin, Hossa et al provide interesting fodder for debate but this team has chemistry. I would be reluctant to make a major lineup change, especially after Tuesday. On the other hand, it's not every day you get the chance to add a guy like Sundin or Hossa. I'm just less enthusiastic about a Tanguay or Havlat and don't really see those as positives.


Le Journal: Carbo is Thinking About the Cup

TSN's Jay Onrait on Tuesday

La Presse says Hossa deal all but done

Edmonton Journal: Lowe is After Hossa

Le Journal: Hockey Madness has Officially Set In

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Best Night Ever

Sometimes, something happens that makes your average former-fan turned Canadiens reporter into a believer. Last night was so insane that I jumped out of my seat in the press box for the first time since Alex Kovalev scored an overtime winner in the preseason against Pittsburgh. I'm supposed to be a reserved professional up there but last night's game was too much.

Michael Ryder of all people kept the Habs in it long enough for the rest of the tem to catch up. Mike Komisarek looked like a bull at the rodeo waiting to get out of the box late in the second period. When he did, he punished several Rangers and got penalized again. It was one of those good penalties you hear about sometimes. The team got an inspired effort from Cristobal Huet and Kovy sealed the deal when he tied it on a late third-period power-play.

People are freaking out. The Habs have had some huge wins this year but this one was something else entirely. The Bell Centre was as loud as I've heard it in my professional career or my time as a mere fan. "La Foule" never gave up on their team, although a chant of "Hossa, Hossa." did start when it was 5-0.

This is the only city in the NHL that cheers a faceoff win with 19 seconds left.

Komisarek said his ears were still ringing after the game. He also said there is no doubt that the Canadiens have the best fans in the NHL.

I agree. Sometimes, I miss being one of them. Hopefully I can get away with some unprofessional fan-like activity when circumstances dictate.

Penguins demain soir, hard act to follow.....

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Game 60: Watch out Eastern Conference

It's in the books. The Canadiens oppressed the Philadelphia Flyers tonight in a game that proved several things. First, the Habs are now 10-1-1 against the Flyers since the lockout. Post lockout hockey and the post-lockout rule changes do not favour the Bullies when they face the speedy Habs. The Canadiens scored early and backed it up by making a statement and sweeping the season series against Philly for the first time since 1976-77, outscoring them 15-6 in the process.

I had a lot of confidence in the Habs going into this weekend, citing the fact that they matched up well with the Flyers and had turned a corner in winning a game against a Florida Panthers team that played a more complete game on Wednesday night but still lost. The Habs really stepped it up. They played fantastic team defense and Francis Bouillon in particular was brilliant in bothe weekend games.

The play where Bouillon did his Bobby Orr impersonation and went end-to-end, finally roofing it with 1.2 seconds left sums up this Flyers team perfectly. Instead of playing some D, Jim Vandermeer decided to go to the corner and attempt to get Josh Gorges to drop the gloves, easily creating a 2 on 1 break. Bouillon even looked back in astonishment before scoring. Carey Price saw the play all the way and yelled at Gorges not to drop the gloves, "wait! wait!" he cried, and Gorges just pointed at the other end and skated away when the puck was in the net. Bouillon's first goal in almost a year.

Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder scored at a time a time when both of their futures on this team look uncertain. Ryder is the one between the two who may be gone come Feb 26.

All of a sudden the Canadiens have a calm goaltender who has taken the helm of this team since being recalled from Hamilton. Before his demotion earlier this year, Price had ups and downs, but since being recalled from Hamilton he has been a force between the pipes for the Canadiens, who are tied for first place in the Eastern Conference, although the Sens hold a game in hand.

It's the first time the Canadiens have been in such a postion in a long long time. As the playoff races heat up, the Habs are hot and the Flyers are in a freefall. So are the Sens. It's time to start thinking about playoff matchups and if a deadline deal can improve this team going forward without sacrificing too much.