Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Out for a few days...

My wife is having a baby. I won't be a-tweetin' for a the next few games.

Go Habs Go.

Trading Halak...

It's no secret that Gainey has been looking for a move to get Halak a new jersey. Halak is a very capable goalie, and there are teams who need competent goaltending. The problem for Gainey is moving a goalie who hasn't played much, and even when he does, his style looks a little wild and out of control.

Halak's loss to Buffalo on Monday certainly didn't help things. Halak looked rusty, a bit shaky, and a bit slower than his usual self. GMs are going to be looking at Halak as starter: is Halak a starting goaltender? Is he gonna win playoff games? Is he going to make that 1 or 2 'big save' to let the team prevail? That's a really tough call.

Halak loves to rebound the puck. He has a lot of trouble corralling any rebounds, and he knows his game is to make the stops until the defence can clear it. He can make 3 saves in a row no problem - on a good day - because he knows where the puck is going. It gives him a great save percentage, but it can be very tough on a team to live with. Night after night the defence has to be on the ball to help out their goalie, and opposing coaches are gonna send out the command: crash the net!!

Championship goalies need to be able to help control the pace of a game. In a 'Big Game' situation, momentum can be everything - so when the opposition is pressing for the tying goal, top goalies like Miller, Ward, Luongo and Brodeur help control the play, and the puck.

So Halak is not currently a no. 1 goalie - so any smart GM is looking at him as a tandem starter. That hurts his trade value - GMs won't see a Stanley Cup in Halak's glove hand. But that's not to say Halak can't become an awesome goalie - I think he's really good. He certainly is entertaining. And maybe with a full work load he can develop into a top tier goalie, a surprise winner. Varlamov? Steve Mason last year? There are always goalies popping out of the woodwork. And Halak can certainly become "that guy".

I hope Halak gets some more play time in December to boost his trade value, and I hope he goes to a team that really needs a goalie: Tampa Bay, Columbus, not so much Philly, maybe LA... And I will miss his antics and Halak Attacks! But the fair thing to do with him is to send him to a team that will play him, because he certainly is good enough to warrant a shot.

The Canadiens will be lucky as long as they can keep him. Excellent team player and fun to watch.

There is some great Halak discussion going on here: check it out and add your thoughts

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2 tough losses

The Canadiens have had a tough end to the week, with 2 losses that could have gone either way.

They lost to Pittsburgh in regulation 3-2, in a game where they played great. That was one awesome hockey game. Price out-played Fleury, and despite a shaky first period, the Habs talent got down to work and really made a game of it. They shut down the opposing stars, and played smart to score their goals. In the end, it was decided by a fluke tip shot that bounced of Price's head, and a quick whistle by the referee. It was a frustrating loss: 1) Price certainly didn't deserve a flukey goal against - those usually happen when a goalie is not having a good game; but Price was on fire. 2) It seems that whistles are all too slow against Pittsburgh, and all to quick for them. I notice this in any game they play, not just against the Habs. Its annoying, because it seems the refs are giving the super-stars the benefit of the doubt, which makes everyone else on the Pittsburgh team think they're super stars - we're all super stars with the ref's help.

If there was such a thing as a good loss, this was it, and I really enjoyed that game. Despite the frustrating outcome.

The game against Atlanta... are we done playing Atlanta yet? I'm sick of seeing these guys. They seem to make for fairly even games, OT and shootouts and all, but come on. Maybe this is what relegation looks like: playing the same crap team over and over again. Forget that idea of a 2-tier NHL! Anyhow, this one seemed to be going well for the Canadiens - scored first, Andre Kostitsyn continuing his hot streak; I really like the Laps/Gomez/Sergei line - Sergei is gonna start putting in them Gomez passes, you'll see. Price was once again playing a great game. I saw him make at least 2 incredible saves -- and yet we walk away with a loss. But a helpful point, I suppose.

The point I am trying to make is I like the way the team is headed - they seems to be figuring out how to play with eachother, and they seem to have stopped looking to Gomez and Gionta (of course, he's hurt) to do everything. Max Pacioretty has absolutely come to life, and Andrei is starting to score his goals -- Jacques seems to have found good line combinations. Gorges and O'Byrne are really playing tough back on defence, and Hammrlik is doing a pretty good job of shutdown defenceman. Price is playing his best hockey I have seen in a while, no doubt about it.

So 2 annoying losses; but nothing to lose heart over. I hope Jacques keeps them focused, helps tweak the problems and identify the mistakes (useless penalties) and can keep this team firing on at least 3 of their 4 cylinders :)

Winning would be nice too.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Montreal Canadiens!

Despite the current mess the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in, I will not let it spoil their birthday. Boston can tap dance around them tonight and score 250 goals, and I won't care. I'll be too wasted. No, just kidding. But this team hasn't been easy to cheer for for the last 15 years - and yet I'm still here. Why?

Because I have some great memories of this team, from when I was just a kid, and even now. I was born in 1976 - so I didn't see a lot of Guy Lafleur or Bob Gainey. I do remember Steve Penny. Anyhow, I'll outline my favorite memories of the team, and Toast the Team with the Most NHL Championships.

French TV, English Radio
My first memory of watching Canadiens games was hanging out in the basement where the TV was, and my dad turning on the game. (We lived in Ottawa). The nights where we could only get the game in french, my dad would get his AM radio and sit there adjusting the rabbit ears to pick up the game in english. The ads on TV would be french car commercials, but I'd be listening to some local bum selling carpets. Surprisingly, the game was in sync!

I used to drive my dad nuts by constantly asking who had the puck and where it went. "Who has the puck now, dad? Who has the puck now, dad?" He eventually got fed up and told me to watch the players, not the little black spec that would disappear behind the boards all the time. Then I shut up.

Why Doesn't Everyone Like The Canadiens?
Well, I think everyone kinda did. But most kids my age were all about Gretzky and the Oilers. Trading hockey cards and comparing stats. I couldn't understand why every kid wasn't a Canadiens fan. Didn't they know they were the best? Who cares about individual stats... the Canadiens won hockey games. Most if the time.

1986 Stanley Cup
I was 9. I remember watching the Habs getting knocked out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins - or beating Boston, then losing to some other shmuck team. "Oh well, not this year," my dad would say. But in 1986, we went all the way to the finals! We won! Patrick Roy was the best! I think Mats Naslund was my favourite player, besides the goalie. And yet still all the kids were talking about Gretzky... What's wrong with these people? I was young and didn't really understand the significance... I honestly thought that it was a fluke Montreal hadn't won in the last few years, and they were just back to normal.

1989 Loss to Calgary
I was 12, and a little wiser in the ways of this NHL thing. Although my favourite Habs player of all time, Larry Robinson, was still on the team, I saw that the Montreal Canadiens were not the dominant force I was lead to believe. Turns out other teams in the NHL wanted to win the Stanley Cup as well. My fondest memory of this finals was a picture in the Ottawa Citizen of Larry Robinson standing over a live chicken wearing a scarf someone had thrown on the ice. I think it was the finals. Anyhow, I had that picture for years. I was not too disappointed when they lost. I thought they played really well, and the Habs would be back in the finals sometime soon. After all, they were in the playoffs every year...

1990 - Larry Goes to the Kings
I remember asking my dad why this happened. It was a rude awakening to the politics of the game. Essentially the Habs organisation didn't want to pay him the same as LA (as I remember) and didn't want to give him the ice-time. So off he went. I was pretty sad; but its not like I ever saw him play in LA - only a couple games before he retired. I, of course, thought the Canadiens should pay him whatever he liked :)

1993 Cup Win
Obviously my strongest memory of the team. I was really busy with after school commitments - it had me getting home really late, and as a result I missed most of the games. I was always delighted when I got home and the game was still on - in over time - Oh, how nice, they waited for me. I'd go get my lucky ball-cap, and sit down to watch. The the Habs would score, and win the game! See? Easy! It sure was exciting. The games I was able to watch in full I had to watch in another room. I couldn't listen to anyone else's comments about the game: couldn't deal with my mom and dad's stress levels, as I had elevated levels of my own :) Desjardins, LeClair, Carbo, Muller, Keen and of course the King in net... It was just a great time to be a Habs fan. They took on that might Gretzky fellow, that everyone seemed to love, and squished him. (I knew he was nothing special compared to the Habs.) They won with hard work, passion, a lot of luck, and a cool confidence and determination. When they lost, its because they were playing lazy. When they won, its because they were playing tough and as a team. Eventually you knew that puck was gonna go in...

I never understood why they gutted the team after this win. Desjardins and LeClair to Philly. Carbo gone, Roy & Keane gone, Muller gone. Some kid named Koivu who was hurt a lot. The game was changing, and the owners were cleaning house. They got cheap. And we never recovered.

Mark Recchi
I loved this guy for the Habs. I would only be able to watch the games in french when I was in central Ontario for University, and all I remember was the announcer saying the name "Recchi" over and over again. He played offence - he was in the corners, he was in front of the net, he was shooting, he was passing to Koivu, he was playing defence, he was blocking shots, he was saving goals, he was serving hotdogs, honestly, this guy did everything. It made the loss of LeClair and Desjardins not sting so much. He was an iron man, never getting hurt and always giving his all. Where he'll fit in my list of all time favourite hockey players I dunno, but he certainly is my favourite active players. It was the first time I was really mad at a hockey trade, when we went him away for Danius Zubrus.

2002 playoffs - in Costa Rica!
I got married in April 2002. Habs hadn't been in the playoffs for a while, but Jose Theodore was on fire. They finally got in, and were playing, who else, the Boston Bruins. And I had my honeymoon in Costa Rica. I was happy to be married, but I was disappointed to miss the games. I figured it would all be over when I got back. There I was in the hotel room in Costa Rica, when flipping through the channels I saw we got ESPN. And they were covering the Habs/Bruins series. I told my wife it was a sign -- and she let me watch every game, never once giving me crap about it. I would freak out that they were winning and beating the no.1 Boston Bruins etc... and she would wake up from her snooze, smile politely, then like a sleeping cat go back to sleep. I had iguanas and monkeys and palm trees outside, an Ocean like bathwater, and I was happiest watching those playoff games. (when not doing honeymoon stuff - I'm not that bloody crazy).

2007/2008 Habs
I had written the team off this year. "Rookies and Russians" I called them - gonna hang out in the basement for a while and get some good draft picks. Carbo as coach was pretty cool, but Julien didn't really deserve the boot he got. Then all of a sudden the Habs were winning. Sourray's point shots were amazing - but he was gone. How could they recover? But they managed to recover from Sourray leaving and find Mark Streit - and Kovalev. All these kids were rockin; Pleks and Kositsyn; scoring goals and winning games. It was the most exciting regular season I have ever remembered. It was littered with come-back victories and short handed goals. The team was playing a system, everyone was on the same page, and the work ethic had them all rockin. It was amazing! The playoffs sucked and knocked me back to earth, of course. I had reserved hopes for the 2008/2009 season. But this season will always hold a special place in my heart.

(It also feeds the bitterness I have now, when the team continues to under-perform. I know you guys are better than this! I have F$#@king seen it!! Anyhow.)

So that's it. If you read this far, I thank you for sharing my memories with me.

And a toast to The Montreal Canadiens. For a while at least, and at times even now, you remind me what it takes, and what it feels like, to be a Champion. Happy 100th.

Sums it up nicely

This is a great article by Mike Boone ...About Last Night (Sabres win 6-2).

It pretty much sums up what I have been seeing all year -- and what I keep waiting for the Habs to break out of. This disorganized, predictable, sluggish play that a pee-wee coach with a wiki page on How To Coach Hockey could break down.

I keep waiting for the Habs to find a way to use all that talent, young and free agent, and start really playing dangerous. But its not happening. And it won't happen. Not this year.

None of the players have confidence in each other, except Gomez and Gionta, who only pass to one-another. As a result, wingers get caught out of position; head man passes don't happen; no one takes any risks, and the players don't know when to back each other up in the corners, and when to get into open space for a pass.

We aren't in year 7 of a 5-year rebuilding plan. We are in year ZERO of a new 4-yr plan. Except for Gomez, who we are stuck with forever, because there is no way a GM is gonna make the same mistake a second time. Gainey was hoping a change of scenery and old teammates would ignite Gomez into the $7M player he should be. It hasn't.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

There are bad days, and Bad Days

It's been a pretty grumpy day for me. The loss last night has me contemplating why I bother being such a die hard fan of the Montreal Canadiens. Then I learn that Jay Leach was yoinked off re-entry waivers, and is no longer with the franchise (which is too bad, because I thought he was a good depth player. Turns out the sharks did too. Oh well, he's a journeyman...)

Then I could have been Kyle Chipchura- traded to Anaheim for a fourh round pick in 2011. That is really just an insult. I know Chips wasn't exactly lighting it up- but geez man, I wonder if Anaheim got future considerations also. This is Gainey saying: get this -10 player off my team, we'll take anything!

Yesterday's loss was a mess. Gomez comes back, and rather then elevating the team's play, drags it down. Pleks, Cami were non existant, unlike their last 5 games where they played inspired. Maybe they were tired. Ok. Too bad you have 60 more games to play. Price was playing like a rattled bag of bones.

So much for giving Pleks first line duty to reward his stellar play. So much for giving Gomez a break so he could come back roaring and find his groove. So much for Price having a competitive atitude and becoming an all-star goalie. Last night was a complete regression to ... I dunno, not even the preseason was that bad.

Gainey was so pissed he jettisonned Chipchura into space. (although he was probably traded just before the game, which contributed to his benching.)

Why can't this team put back-to-back solid efforts together? Why can't this team play 40 minutes of hockey, let alone 60! And why the Hell am I still waiting for something to happen with this bunch of misfits?