Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

Habs at the break

Travel has gotten in the way of writing the past two weeks, but the Canadiens are looking good. If things hold, they've got a shot at the conference title, and given that Carey Price is the key cog in the wheel, that may actually come to pass. Price has been lights out, playing some of the best hockey of his life. He singlehandedly kept the Canadiens in their game against the Predators last week, and has come through on many occasions, keeping the Habs in many games they had no business being in. 

His most impressive displays have most often come early in games, as the Habs battle a starting issue. Time after time, the Canadiens give up the first goal, despite different strategies employed to get ready for games. Michel Therrien has commented that it is an issue they are dealing with, but one can't help but wonder why the team can't get a handle on it. Would more veterans in the dressing room help conquer the issue?

PK Subban and Andrei Markov are having great years on the backend, and Max Pacioretty has been a force up front. Alex Galchenyuk is coming into his own, Brendan Gallagher is turning into an irreplaceable sparkplug, and Tomas Plekanec is having his best season since he played with Alex Kovalev. The Habs could still use a top-six forward to fill out the right wing, and another solid number two/three defenceman would help solidify the defence. That said, the Canadiens roster is more rounded out than it has been in a decade, and the Habs look like a solid team heading into the home stretch. 

Which begs the question, who might Marc Bergevin look to add before the trade deadline? Two names I would focus on: 1) Ryan O'Reilly - a talented, two-way centre to complete the top six, and 2) Cody Franson - a defenceman the Habs targeted in the off-season and who may once again be available. Add either of them, or a player like them, and it would go a long way towards making the Canadiens a serious contender heading into the spring. 

We shall see if Bergevin acts, or if he sticks with his roster, but the last 30+ games should be very engaging for Habs fans. It will be a fight to the finish, and happily, Montreal is in it. 

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The Habs thus far, and looking forward

Well, no one can say that the Montreal Canadiens didn't start 2015 off on the right foot. Back-to-back wins over the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins solidified Montreal in the top spot in the East, led by the goaltending of Carey Price in both games. The Habs have won five straight, and while many of the numbers may not be in their favour (they continue to have trouble in the first, last night aside), the Habs are playing a solid game at the halfway mark of the season. Other teams may be outchancing and outshooting them, but the quality of the shots, and what Carey Price does with the rebounds, suggests the Canadiens will be fine. They won't finish the season with 114 points, or even 110 (I don't think), but barring catastrophic injuries, they'll be in the top five in the East and on solid ground come playoff time.

A few big changes of late for the Habs: 1) Nathan Beaulieu - Beaulieu is starting to get significant minutes, and his play dictates that he'll get more. He's a smooth first pass out of the zone, his defensive coverage is sound, and he's got speed. Beaulieu has earned Michel Therrien's trust, and he's here to stay. 2) Alex Galchenyuk - Galchenyuk has been lights out since taking over as the first-line centre, and along with Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty, they form a very threatening offensive line. The Habs have won 9 of 10 games (by my quick count this morning) since Galchenyuk made the move permanently, and each player has been more than a point a game since. He may still have some growing pains, and he's occasionally out of position defensively, but Galchenyuk is a gamebreaker, and perhaps the best home-grown natural offensive talent the Canadiens have had since Stephane Richer. 3) Carey Price - Price has upped his game from solid to superstar level, allowing just 12 goals in his last 9 starts. Those are hart-trophy level numbers. If he can keep it up, the Canadiens can battle Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay for the conference title. Jiri Sekac - This kid is the real deal. Not only is he producing at a clip of about .5 pts/game, keeping in mind the first few games he played very few minutes (and zero quality), but he's a complete player. He backchecks, hits, and skates hard. He's also got a fantastic backhand. Sekac is growing into a very solid NHLer.

Not really a change, but worth noting: PK Subban is playing the best defensive hockey of his career, and on pace for a career high in points. Montreal clearly has a perennial Norris contender locked up for a very long time. 

The Habs have a few days off to rest and reflect on a very successful roadtrip. Marc Bergevin is likely still working to acquire one more impact forward, as another top-six winger or centre would certainly go towards solidifying the Habs as a genuine Cup contender. That said, while the media may still be gun shy, going with the "it's all Price" story, it's not. So I'll go out on a limb: the Habs are real contenders, and they'll continue to be for the rest of the year. Marc Bergevin has built one heck of a team. 

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Habs look to get back on track versus Ottawa

The Canadiens disappointed fans in attendance on Thursday, dropping Saku Koivu night to the Anaheim Ducks 2-1, ending their short winning streak and sending back to the drawing board. Koivu was feted for his contributions to Montreal, on the ice and off, in a 35 minute ceremony that included multiple standing ovations. The Habs played reasonably well, tying the game late before giving up a power play goal, but Anaheim did dominate at times, and they certainly had the physical edge. Max Pacioretty was taken out of the game in the 3rd period by a hard hit in Anaheim's end, and is day-to-day with an upper body injury. Given that he is often seen as Montreal's toughest forward, it is no surprises that the Habs ended up losing to the much larger Ducks.

Perhaps more worrisome than the injury is the fact that as Pacioretty lay on the ground, what seemed like an eternity went by before PK Subban came in to defend his teammate. This sort of behaviour plagued the Canadiens for a few years, and it appeared they were well past it, but perhaps they need to revisit their intimidation-factor on the ice. 

The Habs will face the Sens in Montreal tonight sans Dustin Tokarski, who has been sent to Hamilton on a two-game conditioning stint. Joey MacDonald will back up Carey Price, who looks to get the Habs back on track against Ottawa. Alex Galchenyuk will again centre the first line, and David Desharnais may appear on the wing, as Michel Therrien continues to experiment with various combinations up front. Montreal is in the midst of one of its quietest schedule-periods of the year, with only four games in the next 12 games, making tonight's two points important if they want to prevent their conferene rivals from leapfrogging them in the standings. Puck drop is at 7 pm. Enjoy. 

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Victorious Habs with a rare Saturday off

The Canadiens played with fire Friday, as they were badly outplayed by the LA Kings, yet skated away with a 6-2 vicotry. Carey Price was sensational, making 44 saves, his most at home since 2010, and Jiri Sekac led the way for Montreal, scoring 2 goals, while PK Subban added a goal and an assist. The Canadiens powerplay scored multiple goals, which is a good sign, as it has been a hindrance much of the year, and Sekac is showing serious chemistry with Sven Andrighetto, who recorded a point for the third straight game, which are of course the first three of his career. Andrighetto has been especially impressive, showcasing good, crisp passes, a great shot, and marvelous hockey sense. The Habs appear to have a strong winger for the future, and it looks very much like he can contribute now.

In another bright spot, Tom Gilbert had one of his strongest games as a Hab, making good outlet passes while appearing better defensively than he has of late. Nathan Beaulieu also looked sharp in the few minutes he played, showcasing his speed and hockey sense. Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty cotinue to develop chemistry on Michel Therrien's first line, and barring a large change of course, I suspect Galchenyuk is there to stay.

The Canadiens are now off until Tuesday, allowing Price some time to rest after a busy stretch of hockey. The Habs sit fourth in the East with 40 points, a far cry off their hot start, but they should feel good after wins against Vancouver and LA. Lars Eller continues to sit on the IR, and Bryan Allen continues to miss time with an illness, perhaps of the mump variety. It's clear that Montreal could still use another top six winger, but with Andrighetto putting on a show thus far, and Jiri Sekac getting stronger game after game, perhaps they've found him and just don't know it yet. 

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Habs go down to Hawks, lose Eller

It was a frustrating night for the Montreal Canadiens. Predictably, they gave up the first goal in Chicago on Friday but, perhaps unpredictably, they fought back, took the lead, dominated the game at times, and hit a post with 4 minutes to go.

However, it was all for nought, as a goal with 27 seconds left gave the Blackhawks a 4-3 win over the Habs. As well, the Canadiens lost the very consistent Lars Eller in the process. All in all, it was not a good night for the Habs.

After the game, the Habs announced Eller was out, and called up Sven Andrighetto from Hamilton. Andrighetto may be the Habs best offensive talent in Hamilton; that said, don't be surprised if Drayson Bowman slots into Eller's spot tonight, as he an play centre. However, it would be fun to see what Andrighetto can do, as he possesses strong speed and soft hands. 

The Canadiens head into Dallas tonight, to play another team on a losing streak. Battle of the losers. At least someone has to win. Look for Dustin Tokarski in net.. 

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A sad day to be a hockey fan

Merci, M. Beliveau. We are forever in your debt.

The world is a better place for having had you, but our hearts of heavy. 

Bonne nuit, Le Gros Bill.

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The Habs thus far

16-6-1. Not a bad start for Les Canadiens, as they sit atop the NHL the last week of November. However, while the record looks good, Carey Price has been solid, and various players have performed extremely well, most of those losses have been blowouts. While a loss is a loss, one has to wonder why a team can win a string of games handily, only to blow-up randomly on other nights. Is it coaching? is it the schedule? My theory is that it is likely a scheduling issue - for example, the Habs dropped Sunday's game 5-0 after a string of 5 games over 8 nights. That said, it's an odd development for a team that last season was so consistent. It will be interesting to see whether it continues as the season progresses.

As for individual players, Price, Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Dale Weise have performed extremely well, while Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk, Jiri Sekac, and Manny Malholtra have looked good as well. PK Subban has looked mediorcre on many nights, as has PA Parenteau, while David Desharnais has been invisible at times. Michel Therrien's propensity to continue trotting Desharnais out with Pacioretty, rather than giving another centre, such as Eller, a chance on the top line is perplexing. GM Marc Bergevin's pattern has been to get rid of players Therrien won't stop using in favour of others (see Bourque, Rene), so it wouldn't surprise me to see Desharnais shipped out unless he shapes up.

Montreal has a few days off to rest up prior to Friday's game against Buffalo. It should be a good rest for their aged defence, who, with the acquisition of Bryan Allen, boasted an average age of 33 last week. Look for Price to be back in net after Dustin Tokarski faced the Rangers on Sunday. 

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Habs deal Rene Bourque to Anaheim for Bryan Allen

The Bourque glory lasted for about ten games, and it is long gone. Bourque heads to the Ducks for veteran defenceman Bryan Allen. GM Marc Bergevin continues to (intriguingly) stockpile veteran defencemen. Could another move be in the offing?

The Habs take on the Blues, and New Brunswick native Jake Allen, tonight.

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Canadiens cruise to 6-3 win, Weise with 2

The Montreal Canadiens kept ahold of first place in the NHL, and Dale Weise kept up his scoring ways, as the Habs downed Philadelphia 6-3 in Montreal on Saturday night. Lars Eller did not score the winning goal for the first time in a week - but not to worry, Dale Weise picked up the slack, along with Alex Galchenyuk (3 assists), PA Parenteau (2 goals), and newcomer Sergei Gonchar, who netted 2 assists himself, the second being his 800th career NHL point.

Carey Price was spectacular at times, keeping the Habs ahead as the Flyers stormed back to within a goal early in the third. PK Subban had his best game in a while, scoring a goal and playing solid defence, especially as the Flyers clawed back, led by Braydon Schenn.

PA Parenteau hasn't scored a lot for Montreal, but he seems to have a knack for scoring big goals, be they last night or in shootouts. He's a nice addition given the hole that was never filled by Danny Briere.

Montreal has little time to rest, as they face the Wings in Detroit on Sunday night. This should be a great original-six matchup, as Detroit looks for revenge against the Habs, who took the first meeting of the season just a few weeks ago. Look for Dustin Tokarski in net for Montreal, and perhaps Nathan Beaulieu to play a more central role as the Canadiens try to figure out where he fits after the Gonchar acquisition. 

I dsagree with Rogers vehemently - it isn't a tradition of any sort - but enjoy "Hometown" hockey tonight. Should be a good game. 

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Habs trade Travis Moen for Sergei Gonchar

What a 48 hours. Rene Bourque, gone. Travis Moen, gone. Sergei Gonchar acquired. Power play improved.

In Bergevin we trust. 

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About The Upper Canadien

The Upper Canadien is your one stop shop for all things Montreal Canadiens. Since the summer of 2010, I've been providing Habs related news, notes, and most importantly, opinions. As a blogger, I don't believe it's my job to report the news, it's my privilege to comment on it. You may disagree with what I suggest. In fact, you most likely will. But that's the great part about blogging: it spurs opinion, comment and engages all involved. I've really enjoyed all the debate and commentary from readers thus far and I encourage everyone to respond with ideas on lineups, trades, logos, sweaters, mascots, whatever. The Upper Canadien is a conversation for all hockey fanatics.

I've come to Kukla's Korner with four years of campus radio and three years of sportswriting from my time at Mount Allison University on Canada's East coast. Not only do I not have any professional journalistic training, after five years in the corporate world, I've spent much of the past two years completing an MBA. Business by day, hockey by night, I'm a Canadiens fan through and through. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do writing.

Questions or comments? theuppercanadien@kuklaskorner.com


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