Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

5-1 Habs recall Bournival, get ready for Red Wings

Montreal heads into Tuesday's game with the Red Wings coming off an impressive 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. The Habs dominated the Avs at times, and perhaps most importantly, Carey Price looked like his normal self after a slow start. PK Subban was especially brilliant, scoring two highlight reel goals, and the Canadiens banded together towards the end of the game, fighting off a last-ditch effort by Colorado to tie the game. These Habs have picked up where last year's left off - blocked shots, finishing their checks, and playing the game to a man - and look prepared to challenge for the top of the East as the season progresses. Standouts thus far have included Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk, and the aforementioned Subban. However, another player has looked very solid six games into the season, and that is Manny Malholtra. Malholtra has been a champion in the face-off circle, but perhaps more important than the statistics are the face-offs he is winning. Michel Therrien now has a real defensive centre to call on for important defensive zone plays late in the game. That has eluded him as a coach as far back as the Bill Lindsay fiasco a decade ago - and it has also allowed Therrien to let Plekanec go and roam the offensive zone. Malholtra has been a huge difference maker thus far, and will continue to be a key cog in the Habs wheel as the season continues.

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Habs off to a roaring start

I know what you're thinking. Roaring? Montreal lost 7-1 on Monday. Well, yes they did - but they also went 3-1 on a roadtrip to start the season, playing four games in six nights. Who opens the season with back-to-backs on the road and wings both? The Habs. That's who. Nothing to sneeze at, but with 78 to go, this looks like a pretty decent team.

Lots of positives in the first four games, but quite a few negatives too. It's Wednesday, so I'm going to focus on the negatives a bit here. The power play: going back to last season, the power play is something ridiculous like 0 for a gazillion. They've gone way too long without scoring. Why? Every team knows the puck is going to Subban or Markov. It's too predictable. The answer? A few ideas. One, split them up between wave one and two, and add another puck mover to dish it out on the point. However, the better answer is traffic: create some. Brendan Gallagher goes to the net...that's about it. Rene Bourque has tried, but he just gets penalties. The Habs need a strategy here, and they need to practice it. Put bodies in front of the opposing goalie, and shoot the puck. Goals will follow.

Another negative has been the performance of Subban. He hasn't been great. It hasn't hurt the Canadiens yet, but if he continues plodding along, it will. He's had one very good game out of four. He needs to pick it up.

Positives abound after three wins, but a big one for me has been the performance of Manny Malholtra. What a story, and what a player. Defensive commitment shift after shift, faceoff win after faceoff win. He is a solid addition and will pay dividends as the year goes on.

Lastly, how could I touch the positive aspects of the Habs without mentioning Tomas Plekanec? The consumate professional and team player, he's taken a defensive role the past five or six season because he's been asked to. Well, this year he's on an offensive line, and boy is he performing. He's extremely talented - and he's a leader. Exactly what the Habs need down the middle.

I'm not going to touch goaltending, because it is early. Price will come around. He always does. 

Tomorrow is the home opener, against the Boston Bruins. This should be a fun one to watch. Enjoy, folks. 

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Here we go

Game one is upon us. Fittingly, it is Montreal and Toronto. However, this Habs group is different. Different, and better

Peter Budaj is gone. Jakub de la Rose has been sent down. Your Montreal Canadiens roster is set. Old names, like Price, Subban and Pacioretty will be skating with new names like Malholtra, Parenteau and Gilbert, as the Habs push for their 25th Stanley Cup. Montreal sports a roster that is faster, sounder defensively, younger, and more skill-oriented than a year ago. They have three lines that can score, and a checking line that, on paper, looks fantastic. Will the Habs top last year's total of 100 points? Will they get farther than the Eastern Conference final of a year ago? My gut says yes. 

Look for Carey Price, PK Subban, David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller all to improve on a year ago. Look for Jiri Sekac to make an impression quickly - this guy is the real deal - and look for Jarred Tinordi to begin to grow into the mean, stay at home defenceman Habs fans have been hoping for.

Puck drop just after 7. Enjoy the season. 

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Habs sign Bowman

Alright, back from two weeks with no internet in Northern Quebec, and the Habs greet me with the news that...they've signed Drayson Bowman to a 2-way contract. Not a bad move, given Bowman is a solid checker who has shown soft hands in camp. He's solid depth and adds to the Canadiens weapons as they head into the season. Could Bowman usurp Travis Moen as the Habs pseudo-13th forward? That likely rests on the question of whether the Habs can deal Moen and his contract. I suspect not - and I, for one, hope they don't, as I like Moen and feel he's a solid contributor - but don't be surprised if Bowman ends up taking that spot as the season progresses.

Other battles continue in camp, including Jarred Tinordi's quest for a spot on defence, and Francis Bouillon's fight for a contract. With less than a week to go, the Cube is still with the team. Could he land a contract as a depth defenceman? He's not what he was 5 or 10 years ago, but he is a good teammate and knows his role. I wouldn't be opposed to him as an 8th defenceman for depth if he's willing to play for close to the league minimum.

Oh, and the last battle in camp? The one between the pipes. We know who the #1 is, but who will be backing him up? My pick is Dustin Tokarski, for a variety of reasons, but if the Habs believe they'll lose Peter Budaj on waivers, he may stick around. Perhaps they'll break camp with three goalies? We'll know soon enough.

6 days to puck drop! 

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No captain, my captain

As you have no doubt already heard, the Montreal Canadiens will have no captain for the 2014-15 season. Shades of fives years ago, and not an experiment I entirely agree with. Surely, if Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty and PK Subban are good enough to wear the altenrate 'A,' then one of them is a strong enough leader to wear the 'C,' no? Please don't tell me the true captain is Carey Price. Many teams have great goalies. They don't pass on naming captains because of it. 

No, I was hoping the players would vote on it, as I still think that is the best way of selecting a captain. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd prefer a #5 defenceman who has the support of his teammates over the superstar being named captain by his coach any day of the week. My vote likely would have gone to Plekanec, a good soldier, all-around solid player, and a vocal presence on the ice. He would have been a solid choice, and I doubt many in the media or fanbase would have complained. 

Perhaps the issue is simply that the Habs dealt Josh Gorges - everyone's assumed next captain - and didn't feel comfortable with the replacement options. Or, perhaps, this is Michel Therrien's way of trying to build consensus in the dressing room. I don't know.

What I do know is I don't like it. Give me a 'C' over four 'A's' any day of the week. It may not work in school, but I sure as heck think it works better on the ice. 

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Brodeur courting Habs…Habs after Brodeur?

Alright, it's cooling down outside, so it's only fitting that we address the first Habs rumour of the season. Lots of scuttle the past week over Martin Brodeur saying he'd be open to playing for Montreal. Tonight we hear from Vinny Damhpousse, now of RDS, that the Canadiens are indeed looking to deal Peter Budaj to make room for Brodeur. Furthermore, Damphousse says the Habs have reached out and had a conversation or more with Brodeur's agent. 

So, is brodeur a better fit in Montreal? For me, it comes down to two things: 1) who can win more of the 20 or so games he plays, and 2) who is a better mentor for Price? Question 1 may be a toss-up, but 2 is definitely Brodeur. Not to mention that Brodeur is much more intimidating for an opponent should Price get hurt in the playoffs...a third year in a row.

This also begs the question: what of Dustin Tokarski? Buckle up Habs fans. Hockey's just around the corner. 

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Thoughts and prayers for Jean Beliveau

Rumours over the past week have had Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau suffering from poor health. Sadly, this news was confirmed in a tweet from the Montreal Gazette's Dave Stubbs, who conveys my view on the subject perfectly. Beliveau, who turned 83 this past week, is one of Montreal's all-time greats, and perhaps the classiest player ever to play the game of hockey.

Dave StubbsVerified account
‏@Dave_Stubbs
#Habs Jean Béliveau, in frail health, has lived his generous life w/ dignity, class & grace. He & his family deserve privacy. Respect that.

Be well, M. Beliveau. 

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50 days and counting…

A quick note as summer wanes and the leaves begin, ever so slowly, to turn: 50 days. 50 days from tonight, Montreal faces off with Toronto to start their 2014-15 season. After signing his new contract, PK Subban will be cemented on the blue line. New Hab PA Parenteau will make his debut up front, looking to build on the success he's had over the past few years in New York and Colorado. Manny Malholtra will bring poise and defensive prowess on the third line. Will the Habs name a captain in the next 7 weeks? Will they sign another forward, or make a trade, to fill the one remaining, glaring hole up front on the wing? Which young guns will step up at training camp and earn a spot on the roster? 

Will Carey Price be healthy? 

Lots of quesitons, and very few answers at this point. We will start to get them soon enough. Until then, keep enjoying your summer and getting ready for what promises to be another exciting season for le tricolore. 

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Calm before the storm in Habsland

It's been a quiet few weeks for Habs fans, but that is about to end, with the arbitration sessions for Lars Eller and PK Subban fast approaching.

Rumours today had the Habs offering Eller $1.65 million per year, and Eller's camp countering around the $3.5 million mark. Logic would dictate that they will settle around $2.5 million before the hearing, and that seems reasonable given Eller's last season and comparables across the NHL. I'd be a happy fan with Eller on a deal in that neighbourhood.

Now, Mr. Subban, however, could be a different story. Where will he end up on the salary chart? Sure, the Habs may go into arbitration at $6 or $7 million, but would Subban's camp really be out of line asking for $8.5 or $9 million? I would hope that both sides sit down in advance and hammer out a long term extension. Despite that, I'm nervous. I can't imagine Montreal without PK. This is Bergevin's biggest test thus far: can he get it done?

Otherwise, not much going on in Montreal, unless you count nice weather and great festivals (which you should - a great city to be in come summer!). The Habs signed their first round pick in Nikita Scherbak, and some believe he may make the team out of training camp. Would he fill the final top-six forward spot that seems up for grabs? Other prospects have been suggested as possible candidates, but some media believe that Bergevin may be quietly evaluating trade options. Will anyone else move prior to training camp?

Let's see what the arbitrator comes up with. Until then, back to the patio and my lemonade.

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Quick thoughts on the Habs on UFA eve

Writing from the side of a lake, a few quick thoughts on the Canadiens heading into free agency:

  • Josh Gorges will not be a Hab come October. That much if for sure. Where is he going? If not Toronto, my money is on Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver. He would sure fit in Edmonton if they are interested.
  • The Parenteau trade is a steal. Well done, M. Bergevin, well done.
  • Montreal will be after a defenceman on July 1st. Dan Boyle or Michael Del Zotto would look good on the blue line. If Bergevin strikes out, could Edler from Vancouver be a fit?
  • Jarome Iginla would look darn good on the second line. Dominic Moore would provide great depth as a third/fourth line swing man.
  • Brian Gionta is as good as gone. Who is your next captain? Saku Koivu is a free agent. Could a homecoming to cap his career be in the cards?
  • Keep your eye on Lecavalier. If the Habs genuinely wanted him last year at $4 million, and Philly will eat some salary/cap hit, he could be Montreal bound. Remember, this is a business, and he would sell sweaters.

Alright. That's all for now. Typing this much on an iPhone ain't easy. Enjoy UFA day, and Happy Canada Day!

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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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