Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

The last one is always the hardest…

...or is it? Is it possible the Habs will have a harder time, and win, than they did Sunday night? Ottawa led 1-0 until there were 5 minutes left, when Dale Weise tied it up, and of course Weise then won it in overtime. However, along the way, the Habs were vastly outhit, and faced the best defensive performance I've seen against them in the playoffs since the late 80's, when a fellow named Ray Bourque used to give Canadiens fans fits. Erik Karlsson did everything he could on Sunday to push his team to victory, and still the Habs found a way to win. So if they win a fourth game against Ottawa, be it Wednesday or otherwise, will it really be the hardest win of the series? 

Sunday was an interesting lesson in analysis for a hockey fan, for the Habs were destroyed physically, with thundering hits from start to finish. Yet, the Habs still won, and controleld large swaths of the game. How is that possible? I've always seen hitting as overrated. It can change momentum, absolutely, but constant hitting is just a sign that a team doesn't have the puck. You can't hit if you're trying to make a play. I'm never too concerned with the hitting aspect of a game. I'd much rather my team control shots and possession. That's much more likely to lead to a win.

So what will happen Wednesday? I can tell you this: the Habs don't want a game 5. They want to rest, regroup, and get ready to move forward. So they'll do everything they can to finish things on Wednedsay evening. Which Senators team will show up? The physical behemoths, or the skill driven team that had the NHL's best record down the stretch? Will the Burglar be back in net, or will his helper be between the pipes again? Some were blaming Anderson for giving up a weak goal in overtime, to which I say come on: any game where a goalie faces 50 shots and lets in 2 is a good performance in my books. 

Wednesday should be agood tilt, and these Sens won't go down without a fight. That said, I expect the Canadiens to come out quite motivated. I suspect this one will be over in four. 

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Bring on game two

Travel gets in the way, but a quick note on Habs-Sens: game one was fantastic, PK got the penalty he deserved, and nothing else should come of it. Dave Cameron should have been fined, but that's up to the NHL. Will there be fireworks tonight? Probably.

So bring on game two. I'm looking for Max Pacioretty to play, and for the Habs to come out on fire. Mark Stone will play too, because he seems to be fine - and I'm genuinely happy about that. I don't want to see anyone hurt. Jeff Petry was the Habs best defenceman in game one - does he continue the trend in game two? Does PK Subban come out a' blazing? Does Andrei Markov score on his own net again? (probably not for that last one). 

Will the Habs get the Burglar, or will Grimace make another appearance?

The Habs try to go up 2-0. Puck drop at 7.

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Habs-Sens Redux, Awards

3 more sleeps. That's all there is between now and game one of the Senators and the Canadiens, a rematch that needed to happen in a rivalry that can, and will, be so much more. The Canadiens have their 5 game loss to Ottawa fresh in their minds, and will be looking for revenge against an upstart Senators team that was, without question, the hottest team over the past two months of the season.

So who will win? I break it down this way: the Canadiens have the advantage in net, with Carey Price the better goalie. The Canadiens have a much deeper defence, with the addition of Jeff Petry adding a necessary mix of skill and speed to the second pairing. As for up front, it's much more even, though injuries to Milan Michalek and Max Pacioretty could play a part. However, the Senators rookie tandem of Hoffman and Stone has been electric. I'll give the Sens a slight edge here.

Behind the bench, Dave Cameron has done a masterful job with Ottawa, while Michel Therrien guided the Habs to their first 50 win season in 25 years. Given Cameron's recent success, I'll call this even, though Therrien surely learned a few things during his loss to Ottawa two playoffs ago.

I'm going with Montreal in 7. Perhaps it will end sooner, but I have a feeling that, while the Sens still have momentum, the Habs will stop it. Carey Price will be on his game, and PK Subban will take over the Canadiens' end. Those two factors, along with the physicality of Montreal's fourth line and defence, will see the Habs come out on top.

It's going to be a lot of fun to watch. 

Awards season

I'm not a big awards guy, but here are the Habs I believe deserve a nomination in the top three, if not the award in question: 

Carey Price: Vezina, Hart Trophy - Price was phenomenal this season. I can say no more. He's the surefire Vezina winner, and as far as I'm concerned, a lock for the Hart. He deserves it, too.

PK Subban: He should be a finalist for the Norris, and I believe he should win it. He is vastly superior to when he won the Norris 3 seasons ago, both offensively and defensively. He led NHL defencemen in even-strength points. He can take over a game in one play. Erik Karlsson is great, but he's not as complete a player. Shea Weber is a great defenceman, but he's not Subban. Subban should be your Norris winner.

Tomas Plekanec: Plekanec has long deserved a Selke nomination, and I hope he gets it this year. Some suggest Pacioretty will get one as he led the league in +/- for forwards, but Plekanec gets the tough minutes against top lines, and anchors the PK up front. He won't win it, but he deserves to be a finalist.

Michel Therrien: Sure, I quesitons his decisions sometimes, if not often. And sure, the Habs have Price. But the Canadiens won 50 games. With a roster some thought would struggle to make the playoffs. That's impressive, and for it Therrien deserves a Jack Adams nomination. 

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Habs ready for game 82

Carey Price will llead the Habs onto the ice tomorrow as they go for win number fifty on the year, and look to wrap up the Atlantic Divison title. A bit of a surprise, given Price played Thursday and most expected he would rest Saturday against the Maple Leafs, who have called up enforcer Colton Orr for their last game of the season. Are the Habs concerned that Price could get injured, as Andrei Markov did against Toronto in a final game years ago? They don't seem to be, and they genuinely seem focused on besting Tampa Bay for the division. 

With the playoffs looming, many are talking about who the Habs would prefer to play first round. I can tell you who they don't want to play: Ottawa. The Habs have lost 9 of their past 15 games against Ottawa, including their 5 game playoff series two seasons ago. Pittsburgh could be a good match for the Habs, depending on the play of Marc-Andre Fleury. As for Boston, if they manage to sneak in, they're always a strong adversary. Bottom line: There is no easy road through round one.

That said, the Habs have Price, and that gives them a chance against anyone. That aside, there's one more game to play. Let's see what they've got, and whether they can become the first Habs team to win 50 games since 1989. 

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Habs fall to Caps

Well, the Habs blew the lead, came back to tie it, and lost it in a shootout, 5-4 to the Caps. Jeff Petry had his best game as a Hab, Carey Price had, arguably, his worst of the year, Max Pacioretty disappeared, and Devante Smith-Pelly is invisible. The Canadiens are an eclectic group of late, a group that have won 6 of 10 since the trade deadline.

Who looked good? Well, Petry may have been the Habs best skater, and Lars Eller played very motivated hockey. The Canadiens actually outplayed the Caps much of the game at even strength - the first period may have been their best of the year - but they took too many penalties, and they let Ovechkin have too much ice as the game went on.

No rest for the Habs, as they face New Jersey tomorrow, in a game they must win if they want to win their division. As of now, a first round date with the Penguins is on tap. Wouldn't that be fun to watch? 

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Canadiens rolling again

It's March 22nd. There are ten games left in the regular season. Carey Price entered the week with a GAA hovering a shade above 1.90. It is now 1.86.

Carey Price lowered his GAA 4 points. In the last weeks of the season. Having started 59 games. This guy is something else.

As Price goes, so go the Canadiens. They recorded their second shutout in a row, beating the San Jose Sharks Saturday night in Montreal. PA Parenteau recorded another point, and seems to be on his way back to rediscovering his scoring self afte rmonths of concussion recovery. Tomas Plekanec may be playing the best hockey of his career. PK Subban may be on his way to a second Norris Trophy. Greg Pateryn - yes, Greg Pateryn - is quickly establishing himself as one of the Canadiens most reliable defensive defencemen. There was a swoon, but once again, everything is coming up roses.

The next week sees the Canadiens face Nashville, Winnipeg and Florida. A date with Tampa Bay is on the horizon. The Habs will be looking to prove they can beat one of their competitors for first in the East.

What an end run to the season thus far. The Canadiens in first. Carey Price on his way to, perhaps, one of the best statistical goaltending seasons in history.

Sometimes, it is really fun being a fan. This is one of those times. 

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Grading the Habs deadline

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Montreal Canadiens are a better team than they were on Sunday. As far as I'm concerned, that's the most important aspect of the deadline when a team is in playoff contention. However, the other important factor is, of course, what the team gave up to acquire assets. A quick recap:

  • The Habs started the day early, sending a 2nd round pick, and a conditional pick (which could become a 3rd depending on playoff results) to Edmonton for Jeff Petry. Petry was one of the most sought after defencemen at the deadline, known for his smooth skating, strong shot, and defensive positioning. Petry gives the Habs just what they needed on the back end, and was a solid pick up by GM Marc Bergevin at a reasonable price.
  • Bergevin stayed busy, sending a 2016 5th round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for versatile forward Brian Flynn. Flynn gives the Habs speed on the third and fourth line, and he's strong on faceoffs. He should provde valuable depth and character heading into the playoffs.
  • Bergevin's final move of the day was sending a 7th round pick and physically-inclined prospect Jack Nevins, again to Buffalo, for Montreal native Torrey Mitchell. Mitchell is another gritty third or fourth liner, who is a solid penalty killer and has playoff experience. He's also a local son, who was very excited to become a Hab. A solid depth pick up at a very reasonable price.

All in all, the Canadiens had a solid day, as trader Marc added valuable depth pieces for the impending playoffs. What Bergevin did not do is add a proven top-six scorer - many believe he was close, and added Flynn and Mitchell anticipating another move of multiple players - but he addressed the Canadiens primary need, which was a top four defenceman. If I am assigning a grade, I would give the Habs a B+, below the A level because of the inability to add a scorer, but a job very well done nonetheless.

All that said, the Canadiens are a better team than they were to start the week, and they didn't have to part with much. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a solid deadline.

The Habs are in Anaheim tomorrow. Let's see what the new additions can do. 

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Everyone’s talking’ ‘bout…

Trades, trades, trades. Understandably. So far, M. Bergevin has been very quiet. Perhaps he's got an ace up his sleeve? Until we find out, a link below to a fascinating chart I was forwarded earlier today, built by Matthew Brown at the University of Toronto, which represents the offensive chemistry of all the plays currently on the Habs. I encourage you to take a look - it's a great piece of work. Enjoy.

 

http://iguana.cs.toronto.edu

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Bergevin gets Therrien his man in Sekac-Smith-Pelly swap

Today's Jiri Sekac - Devante Smith-Pelly swap was not the blockbuster Montreal fans may have been looking for, but it was a sign that Marc Bergevin is looking to toughen up his team ahead of the playoffs. Smith-Pelley, a former second round pick, may not have the flashy skills that Sekac has displayed, but he has the grit Bergevin was looking to buffer his bottom two lines with, and provides coach Michel Therrien with a player he will, for lack of a better explanation, use.

You see, Therrien never seemed to find a place for Sekac, who bounced from line to line, never sure of his place or what was expected of him. Sekac looked good at times, occasionally great, but the fact is he never really got a shot. Should he end up on a top two line in Anaheim, he may thrive. However, what the Habs got in Smith-Pelly is much the same - a player who was being used in a variety of roles, many of which he would argue were not suited to his talent. As anyone who has worked in an office with ambiguous instruction knows, figuring out your place on a team can be a very difficult thing to do if you aren't being given guidance. 

On the surface, I view this as a good deal for both teams - skill for sandpaper, and each team needed that element. Who knows where it will sit a year or two from now - perhaps Smith-Pelly will turn into the power forward many once thought he would be, or perhaps Sekac will become a consistent 30 goal scorer. Time will tell.

For now, Habs fans will continue to be patient, waiting for that winger and defenceman they so desperately need. Five days to the deadline. Can Bergy get it done? 

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Habs face Wings, Bergevin testing the waters?

The Canadiens visit Detroit tonight, having beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, 2-1 in a shootout. The Canadiens should have been able to take care of Toronto in regulation - though they have had a tendency to play poorly against weaker teams this season - but an injury to Sergei Gonchar, and 17 minutes in penalties to Nathan Beaulieu, meant the Canadiens played much of the game with four defencemen, with PK Subban and Andrei Markov both logging over 31 minutes. Beaulieu had a bit of a coming out party, showing of his smooth skating and his penchant for the rough stuff, as he came to Gonchar's aid and fought David Clarkson. Beaulieu has a crisp first pass and a good shot - he's going to be a good defenceman for a long time. 

Speaking of defencemen, the Habs were apparently interested in Cody Franson, who was dealt by Toronto to Nashville on Sunday. As you may recall, Montreal had tried to swap Josh Gorges for Franson in July, only to have Gorges block the trade to the Maple Leafs. Given the injury to Gonchar, and the play of Tom Gilbert and Mike Weaver this year, it's safe to say Marc Bergevin is on the lookout for defensive help, with some speculating the Habs could be looking at Edmonton's Jeff Petry. Bob McKenzie of TSN has mentioned Montreal is dangling Lars Eller and Alexei Emelin, looking to make a hockey deal versus a rental. Could a swap with Edmonton be a fit? A player like Jordan Eberle would certainly help solidify Montreal's top six. Would the Oilers be interested in Jarred Tinordi or Greg Pateryn? Either of these Habs prospects could be available, and a package-type-deal might work.

Bergevin is also looking to fill a spot in his top six up front, which is why Eberle would fit. I've said before, and I'll say it again, if Ryan O'Reilly was avaialble, he'd be a perfect fit, and worth what it would cost to get him. The Canadiens also have Jiri Sekac in the fold, who will be a healthy scratch again tonight. Sekac has looked good at times when he's been given an expanded role, but he's lost ice time of late to players like Michael Bournival and Christian Thomas. Is it possible the Habs are showcasing youngsters like Thomas and Bournival, trying to make a deal? Will Sekac slot back in once the deadline passes?

Carey Price will be in net again tonight, and Manny Malholtra looks like he's staying in up front. It's also worth noting Lars Eller and Alexei Emelin played much longer minutes than normal on Saturday, so the Habs may be trying to showcase them as well. Will they play key roles again tonight? How will Markov bounce back, at 36 years old, after 31 minutes against Toronto's top lines on Saturday?

Puck drop is at 7:30. Enjoy.  

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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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