Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 11/02/10 at 10:53 PM ET
Tuesday evening was not kind to the Montreal Canadiens, who were outplayed and outhustled by an enthusiastic Blue Jackets team. Carey Price was the difference for the Habs – he made too many outstanding saves to count. Benoit Pouliot was probably the closest to scoring for the Habs, with a good chance halfway through the third. The Montreal power play continued to falter despite the return of Andrei Markov, and it is very quickly becoming a significant issue. Mathieu Garon was great, scoring the shutout for Columbus in their 3-0 win.
The biggest surprise of the evening? The play of Jaroslav Spacek, or rather the fact that he played at all. Coach Jacques Martin had hinted that Spacek would be out, a rumour considered confirmed by Alex Picard, who spoke to reporters about how excited he was to be playing with Andrei Markov (a player he’d never been paired with before, as Markov had been out with a knee injury). However, coach Martin apparently had a change of heart and dressed Spaced, who promptly took a penalty early on
that resulted in a Columbus power play goal
and gave Columbus an unnecessary power play (Columbus scored about five minutes later, on a power play due to a Benoit Pouliot penalty. Credit to dwgs for noticing the error). Spacek also did his best to score on Carey Price early in the game, in a painful miscue, but Price managed to make a toe save involving reflexes beyond the imagination of most, this author definitely included.
Definite problems on defence
This has to be a concern for management. Spacek is signed for another season, and with a salary close to $4 million a year he is eating up a considerable chunk of salary cap space. When the potential of Yanick Weber in Hamilton is factored in (he is off to a great start) and the customary press box seat of Ryan O’Byrne, one must wonder whether Spacek really hasn’t become Janne Niinimaa v. 2.0. He doesn’t contribute offensively, he is an Achilles heel defensively, and he is clearly losing speed as he ages. Quite simply, he is a piece of the puzzle on defence that does not fit.
Heading into this season, many Habs fans saw Roman Hamrlik and his monstrous $5 million contract as the albatross in Montreal. That has now clearly become Jarosav Spacek. These contracts are Czechs written by former GM Bob Gainey; unfortunately for GM Pierre Gauthier, he’s stuck with them. It would take a miracle for the Canadiens to be able to trade either at this point. That said, the Maple Leafs were able to move Jason Blake and his contract last season, so perhaps a trade is possible if the Habs include a prospect or draft pick to sweeten the pot. However, given the effectiveness of both players and their contract amounts, I find it hard to believe the Canadiens would be able to find an interested party.
The power play that doesn’t score
Which brings me to the power play. It’s not working. Sure, forwards such as Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta are doing nothing. But they are getting chances. The real problem seems to be execution and management on the back end. If the Canadiens had some room to play with, Marc Andre Bergeron is a free agent and has made it known he’d love to sign back in Montreal. Quite simply, which Spacek and Hamrlik taking up close to $9 million in cap space, along with $2 million in Alex Picard and Ryan O’Byrne sitting in the press box, there is no room at the inn. If the Habs had the freedom to sign Bergeron, his cannon of a shot would drastically improve an anemic offence from the blue line, and likely boost the power play back to a competitive level.
If an addition on defence isn’t’ possible, and as I said it seems unlikely, then Jacques Martin has to consider other options. Why not try a forward such as Tomas Plekanec or Jeff Halpern on the point for the power play? Both are defensively responsible, good passers, and possess decent shots. Surely it can’t hurt at this point. Would a forward on the point alter the power play’s dynamic? Undoubtedly – and that would be a good thing. The Habs still sport a decent record at 7-4-1, but that won’t last for long without changes. Markov has come back and the offence has continued to lag. Carey Price has been solid - he is not the problem.
They rolled over against Florida on Saturday. They didn’t show up against Columbus on Tuesday. It’s time for Jacques Martin to rock the boat and make some serious changes.
We’ll see what happens Friday in Buffalo.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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