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Questions follow busy Canadiens weekend

A great effort Friday night by the newly christened PhD line (Mathieu Darche and Jeff Halpern both have university degrees) resulted in two goals for Benoit Pouliot and a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, who still have yet to win a game in Buffalo this season.

Saturday night, however, an expectedly tired Canadiens club put in a shoddy effort for two periods, and lost 3-2 to the visiting Ottawa Senators. Brian Elliott was good in net for Ottawa, but Alex Kovalev was better up the ice, scoring two goals and tallying an assist against his former club. L’Artiste was, of course, first star on the night.

Two positives from this weekend: a goal by Brian Gionta, who had not scored in eight games, and the play of Pouliot-Halpern-Darche, which has helped keep the Canadiens competitive as their second line and power play has struggled.

While the Habs have looked fairly good in this young season, a few problems are obvious. Firstly, the defence: it’s far too slow.

As I’ve stated before in this blog, Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek are past their prime. Hal Gill is also slow, but he serves a purpose on the penalty kill and makes the odd great take out in front of the Habs net. Think Hamrlik and Spacek are going to suddenly get back to form? I doubt it. That’s like thinking your 1988 Chrysler Sundance is suddenly going to stop seizing up in the winter. Old cars don’t get faster, and neither do old defencemen. They reinvent their game or they become obsolete. And Hamrlik and Spacek keep making the same mistakes. Pierre Gauthier needs to address this issue, and soon, as I don’t expect it’s going to get any better.

The good news is that Spacek and Hamrlik were a smaller part of last year’s playoff run than many other players. Spacek missed much of it due to an inner-ear problem; Hamrlik, at times, was almost a healthy scratch. So who can step in?

Two obvious answers, that both address the power play as well. The first is Marc-Andre Bergeron, last year’s cannonading point man on the power play. The second is Yanick Weber, the young Swiss defenceman who is having another solid campaign in Hamilton. Both possess great shots, and Weber has a bit of speed. But will either really make the Canadiens defence that much stronger? Should Weber be called up, he needs to play. A player of his age and talent can’t ride the pine and be expected to develop.

Kevin Bieksa has been rumoured as a possible acquisition target. He’s a physical defenceman who has earned a reputation as a solid defender in his years with the Canucks. He’s also got a decent shot that would help the power play. But the Canucks will likely want a decent prospect in return, and that doesn’t seem like something Gauthier is likely to part with.

The answer may be a bit of a and b, b as in O’Byrne. Ryan O’Byrne continues to sit, game after game, in the press box, and he’s a big body that is faster than Hamrlik or Spacek. Providing the Habs could bounce one of the two Czechs in a trade, O’Byrne could slot in as a sixth defenceman while Bergeron or Weber dresses as a seventh to help the dwindling power play. It’s an idea that has worked for the Habs in the past – Guy Carbonneau was very fond of dressing seven defencemen three seasons ago, including another Swiss draft pick named Mark Streit.

I’m not saying any of these options is a cure, but one thing is for sure: the Canadiens defence is slow, and it lacks creativity. Now it’s up to Pierre Gauthier to make the necessary change.

The Power Play

I’ve written a lot about the power play. Quite simply, it’s dreadful. With a decent power play the Canadiens could have won Saturday, and perhaps earlier in the week as well. Continuously going 0 for everything is starting to hurt morale and chances. The Habs need a point shot and they need it now. Bergeron, Weber, Bieksa – someone. Perhaps Mathieu Schneider wants to give it another crack? I’ve suggested a forward on the point before, but Martin doesn’t seem to want to try it.

The Habs also need a big body to plant in front of the opposition’s net. Benoit Pouliot has been doing more of it lately, but he is too skilled to be the player that stands in front and blocks the goalie. That would fall to a big, tough veteran, perhaps an Owen Nolan or a Bill Guerin? Both are available, and both desperately want to play. But so far, no indication the Habs are considering either.

What to do with Lapierre?

This one has been brought up more than once by friends who are Canadiens fans in this young season. When the Habs dealt Guillaume Latendresse last year, Pierre McGuire noted that the team felt it could only keep one or the other, because bad habits were rubbing off between the two buddies. They stuck with Lapierre, who management apparently felt had a lot of potential as a defensive forward and third line checker.

We’re 13 games in, and Lapierre has a goal and an assist. Is he delivering big hits? Not really. So far, the biggest have been coming from Mathieu Darche and Benoit Pouliot. In fact, Lapierre has been relegated to the fourth line, and is spending a lot less time on the penalty kill.

So what should the Habs do? Again, I have to believe a Nolan or Guerin would contribute MUCH more at this point than Lapierre does. He seems redundant with Darche, Travis Moen and Dustin Boyd on the team. Yes, he’s French, and yes he’s popular, but so was Latendresse, and he was shipped out of town. Has Max Lapierre run out of chances? His impact game to game certainly seems to be waning.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Montreal Canadiens, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: benoit+pouliot, jaroslav+spacek, marc-andre+bergeron, roman+hamrlik, ryan+o'byrne, yanick+weber

Comments

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My Sundance lives for the winter! Biggest problem with Bergeron is he almost useless 5 on 5. Bieksa is a PERFECT player for this team and Gauthier should wise up and ship out a prospect for this guy. This team is not building for the future, they are trying to win NOW. 6.4% and they should just shoot the coach responsible for this PP and I have said before this team needs BOTH Guerin and Nolan. Big bodies that can do damage.

Posted by BlackXinu on 11/07/10 at 11:18 PM ET

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MAB is more than useless 5x5; he’s downright detrimental.  And while some may choose to remember the booming shot on the PP, I’ll remember the countless shorthanded opportunties allowed because MAB misplayed a puck at the blue line or made a poor decsion.  Do not want.

It’s time to give Weber and O’Byrne a chance.  As for Spacek and Hamrlik, good luck.  No other team will want these two; especially given what they’re being paid.

It may also be time to take Bob Gainey to task for some of the moves he made (Gomez trade, overpaying for FA’s) that have set this team back and given them very little cap flexibility.  Last year’s playoff run was amazing, but as time goes on I think we’ll see more and more that this was a case of a team getting hot at the right time and riding a superstar performance.

Posted by Habs fan in Nashville on 11/08/10 at 10:15 AM ET

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Bieksa is an interesting option, but Salary would need to move out of Montreal for that to happen. If you could move a guy like Lapierre, Montreal would have enough cap space to take Bieksa’s hit for the rest of the year. Lapierre and a pick for Bieksa. Then you hope that things start looking up on the PP.

Or, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, give one of the young guys in Hamilton a chance. Things can’t get worse, right?

Posted by Briney on 11/08/10 at 12:17 PM ET

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MAB is horrible 5x5, but many teams have an enforcer or designated goon - why can’t the Habs have a designated PP point-man?

I agree regarding Gainey, some of his moves are starting to prove to be ill-planned. Spacek and Hamrlik have aged considerably. That said, I question the current usage of Eller and O’Byrne. These guys are still pretty young. Why aren’t they playing in the AHL - or somewhere else, in the case of O’Byrne?

Bieksa would look very good in Montreal, but as Briney mentioned, the Habs would have to move some salary. The waiving of Dustin Boyd could be the start of shipping salary out, but I have to believe a minor move, like signing Bergeron or, say, Owen Nolan, would precede a bigger move such as a trade for Bieksa. A Nolan (or Guerin) addition would make a lot of sense, for the PP And for depth. Let’s see what Gauthier has up his sleeve.

Posted by The Upper Canadien from Toronto on 11/08/10 at 09:22 PM ET

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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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