by SENShobo on 09/24/08 at 02:51 PM ET
Always a fan of predictions (since what else can you do, or would you want to do, at this point in the season), I happily stumbled upon a very targeted one for this season.
The stab in the dark? That the Ottawa Senators will finish the upcoming season ahead of the Montreal Canadiens. Whether or not this is a series of jabs at the Habs, or a rose-coloured lens on the Sens, I cannot be entirely sure.
Yet, somehow, I can’t stop wondering whether or not he may be onto something.
Ian Mendes’ predictions on Sportsnet are admittedly a collection of longshots that have not panned out too successfully over the years, but it is hard to argue against his logic this season.
after watching the Senators last season, I can’t help but think the 2008-09 Montreal Canadiens could be headed down the same path. In fact, every Canadian team that has been tabbed as the “favourite” in the past 15 years has come up short, due in large part to the media pressure placed on the teams. Think of the Vancouver teams of the early part of this decade. Or Pat Quinn’s Maple Leafs. Or the Flames the year after they went to the Stanley Cup. They all did well in their first breakout season as an underdog, much like the Habs last season. But once the expectations were raised and the word “Stanley Cup” entered the equation, they all hit a plateau.
The Senators came flying into training camp last season as the undisputed favorites, having just advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. But quicker than you could say, “Ray Emery drives a white Hummer” - the season slipped away.
The Habs were media darlings in Montreal last season - but that was because nobody expected them to do well. Like the Senators of the 2007 Stanley Cup run, they were lovable underdogs and everyone enjoyed the ride.
Interesting notion, but could it really be true? There were very few roster changes between Ottawa’s Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and the disastrous season that followed. Most critically, some would say that Emery’s goaltending and off-ice behaviour was the severe downfall of the team, but how long has it been since a rookie goaltender has lead his team to victory?
Last season, you would be hard pressed to say that Osgood wasn’t one of the most experienced goaltenders in the playoffs, and Fleury had three seasons under his belt, with Osgood and the Wings outplaying the Penguins to win the Cup. Before that, the Sens’ Emery was the ‘rookie’ in the finals, with 107 NHL regular season and playoff games worth of experience, and once again the youngster fails to save his team. You would think that the best example would be Cam Ward helping Carolina to the Cup the year prior, but it was Gerber who carried the team to 38 wins in 60 regular season games. Never again have the Canes made the playoffs, and only this season did Ward’s Sv% break through the psychological barrier, reaching .907 after languishing at .897 the season before, and a low of .882 during his regular season appearances the year they won the Cup.
To carry them this season, the Habs have Price, whose skill is a toss-up between the highly respected regular season .920 and playoff .901 Sv%s he put up, and the fact that he has only 52 NHL regular season and playoff games worth of experience, only a single second round win in last year’s playoffs, and that he split duties with Huet, who appeared in 39 games for the Canadiens, posting a .916 Sv%, no doubt a confidence builder and a source of learning for Price. This season, Huet is replaced with Denis, whose Sv% and games played have been dropping steadily for the past four seasons, to a low of .859 in 10 games last season. For a switch, they could go with Halak, who for all his potential only has 24 NHL regular season and playoff games worth of experience.
Next, you can count on the Montreal media to pour on heaps of pressure, as the Canadiens will surely feel the itch to win the Cup in their 100th season in the League. Last year the Senators’ blistering start lead to them being compared to a legendary Habs squad, and look how they fared. Imagine the irony should that comparison fall to the Habs themselves, and the result remain unchanged. Come playoff time, only 3 of the currently listed 8 Habs defencemen will be under 30 years old, while at forward they might find themselves leaning on Koivu (34), Kovalev (36), and Lang (38), barring breakout youngsters or earth-shattering trades.
Of course, I cannot predict the future, nor can Ian Mendes. But we can both ponder, and both point to the past and to the signs that things may not be so cheery for the Habs. Just as the Senators have been rising through various predictions of the final Eastern Conference standings over the summer, it may come to pass that the pressure and realities surrounding the Canadiens this season may begin to see them falter. But, lest I face a horde of Habs fans’ flak, I will simply say that they have the potential and the ability to learn from other teams’ misfortunes, to lead them to their ultimate goal, and should the Canadiens be the last Canadian team left next spring, I will indeed be cheering them on.
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