The Upper Canadien
It's the most wonderful time of the year. The tulips are sprouting, the birds are chirping...and the snow is falling? Regardless, it's playoff time, and the Montreal Canadiens are getting ready to take on Tampa Bay in the first round. Montreal looks to be a more complete team than they have in at least 6 or 7 years, if not a lot longer. Tampa Bay also look solid top to bottom, and this matchup has the makings of a good series. A quick summary as we get set for puck drop, 23 short hours from now.
Tampa Bay has Stamkos. Arguably the most naturally gifted goal scorer in the NHL. Is he at full health? Does he have a partner to dish like Martin St. Louis did? Who cares. This guy can change a game on his own. Beyond the captain, you know the supporting cast well. Ryan Callahan. Purcell. Palat. Johnson. Tampa has more depth than you may think, and they play a strong defensive system.
Montrea counters with what may be the hottest line in hockey over the past month, as Pacioretty-Desharnais-Vanek lead the way. Their depth is also impresive, as players such as Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Prust, and Travis Moen will be counted on to check the ever-threatening Stamkos. Scorers such as Brendan Gallagher, Brian Gionta, Daniel Briere and Lars Eller litter the second through fourth line. Montreal has the supporting cast necessary to get the job done. But they don't have Stamkos.
Edge: Tampa Bay
On the back end:
Tampa Bay has a strong defensive core, led by Victor Hedman, Matthew Carle and Eric Brewer. However, it gets thin after that, as players such as Keith Aulie, Mike Kostka, and veteran Sami Salo hold down the fort. Tampa's defence isn't exceptionally fast, but they can control the play in their own end, and make a good first pass. Without question though, this is the Hedman show.
After four days of rest, the Canadiens take the ice Wednesday night in game 80. And after writing 800 words on their season thus far, the strategy of resting players, and PK Subban's place in the Michel Therrien landscape, I accidentally deleted it. As such, I'll keep my comments brief in advance of tomorrow's game. Resting Price, Markov, etc al makes sense. Look at what happened to Ben Bishop tonight against Toronto. As for Subban, he's clearly got a special place in Therrien's heart. Is his play hurting because of it? Is his play being effected because he's hurting? We'll know the answer to the latter soon, based on his icetime over the final three games.
With three games left, Montreal has a chance to lock up home ice advantage for the playoffs. Does it matter for a team with as strong a road record as the Habs have had this year? I would argue it does, but I also think being the visitor has its advantages. Regardless, Montreal clearly wants it, and may top 100 points for the first time since Guy Carbonneau was walking the bench.
Enjoy the final stretch. Hard not to be optimistic with the playoffs so close. With a core of Pacioretty, Price, Markov, Subban, Plekanec and Vanek, things are looking up. They've got one of the hottest lines in hockey. Daniel Briere is one of the best point-per-game players come playoff time. Brandon Prust, if he's in, will be as rested as can be. Montreal arguably has their strongest team in two decades.
As Morrisey would say, a rush and a push and the land is ours. It looks like they are Canada's only hope this year. I'm pretty excited to see how this all plays out.
The Canadiens skate into Tampa Tuesday on a five game winning streak, looking to eke out a win against a robust Tampa team nipping at Montreal's heels. Tampa and Montreal have been fighting it out for 3rd in the East for the past few weeks, and the winner of that contest will play host in the first round, unless there is a drastic change of events in the standings. The past six matches between these two teams have been decided by one goal, including 3 this year. Both teams made significant changes at the deadline, headlined by Tomas Vanek up North, and Ryan Callahan down South.
Carey Price gets the nod, while Tomas Plekanec will slide back into the lineup after missing Saturday's game for personal reasons. One element to follow over the remaining two weeks of the NHL season is ice time, specifically that of Andrei Markov in Montreal's case. Markov has soaked up the sixth-most ice time in the league this year, with PK Subban close behind at eighth. In Markov's case, that begs the question of whether or not he might get a break heading into the playoffs. It certainly isn't going to come tonight, but if the Habs mange to get a stronger hold on that third-place standing sometime over the next week, look for Michel Therrien to give his veteran rearguard a bit of a break. However, it's a luxury the Canadiens may not find themselves with this year.
Third place is on the line, and a win secures a playoff spot for the Habs. Should be a great game.
The end of an era tonight, with the last regular season Habs-Leafs game ever on CBC's Hockey NIght in Canada as we know it. I don't have much to add - clearly, it is a huge game for both teams - but I will opine on one point. Based on the practice lines, Alex Galchenyuk appears to be ready to slide in as a centre between Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque. My two cents: it's about time. If Ryan Johansen can play centre in the NHL at an early age, so can Galchenyuk.
He may be the most talented player the Canadiens have, and now he'll get a chance to show us what he can do. I'm happy to see he's probably going to play with Gionta and Bourque, as these veterans should reinforce Galchenyuk and provide some grit to go with his soft hands. The Leafs aren't an overly good defensive team. Let's see what Alex Galchenyuk can do.
7 pm. CBC. Enjoy it, folks.
Were you one of the many that stopped watching? If so, you're not alone. There were many empty seats with 3:22 remaining, when Lars Eller scored his first goal in almost 3 months, to bring the Habs to within two. The rest is history, as the Canadiens become the first team ever in NHL history to come back from a 3 goal deficit with less than 5 minutes remaining.
What spurred it on? Michel Therrien looked like he had checked out with about 10 minutes to go. Carey Price was having a lacklustre game. Brandon Prust had had enough of Milan Michalek, of being pushed around by a cocky Senators team, and he let it be known as he destroyed Michalek in a fight. But I put this win squarely on the shoulders of the Subbanator. PK Subban made rush after rush, taking the team on his back. PK was leading by example, laying hits, blocking shots, and creating chances in the Senators' zone. The tying goal was all PK, as he patiently waited, with 3 or 4 seconds to go, and found the open man in David Desharnais through traffic. 99% of NHLers would have taken the shot, but PK kept looking for an easier solution. He found it, OT followed, and Francis Bouillon potted the winner about a minute in.
Eller - no goals since January 2nd. Bouillon - his first goal of the season, after a month as a healthy scratch before this week. Talk about heroes coming out of the shadows. They came out of the pressbox.
The Canadiens of late have been a mess. Carey Price hadn't started for them in about six weeks. I'm actually surprised there hasn't been more conversation about Price, as the Olympics theoretically could cost the Habs a playoff spot. But push all that aside. Games like last night can make a season. They make boys men. They insprie and reinforce.
Tonight, the Habs are in Buffalo, sans their starting goalie, who stayed behind in Montreal. Not a good sign, and a clear indicator that Price is banged up, but the Habs control their own destiny. Keep winning and they likely have home ice first round. Keep struggling and they could miss the postseason.
That said, after last night, I'm liking their chances. Suffice to say, there seems to be a little St. Patty's day magic in the Montreal air. Let's hope it continues.
The Canadiens are back in Montreal tonight, taking on the Boston Bruins as they try and leapfrog Toronto in the standings and gain another bit of cushioning on a playoff spot. Carey Price still isn't ready, so Peter Budaj is in again for Montreal. This may not be such a bad thing, as Budaj has great career numbers versus Boston, but he looked less than stellar over his past few starts. Things could get a bit dicey.
Tomas Vanek makes his Bell Centre debut, still skating alongside Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec, and Brandon Prust slots back in after a stint out with a shoulder injury. Vanek is still looking for his first goal as a Hab, and the Bell Centre is itching at the chance to welcome him with a standing ovation for his first goal.
Puckdrop at 7:30. Always a good battle. Enjoy!
What a trade by the Montreal Canadiens. Tomas Vanek and a 5th for Sebastian Collberg and a 2nd. Or, another way, a 40 goal scorer in his prime for a Habs B prospect and a pick. Who knows how this went down - maybe they were after him for a while, maybe they swept in at the last minute - but regardless, the Montreal Canadiens do very, very well in this deal.
The Habs also acquired Devan Dubnyk - hold your snickers - for nothing. Nothing. Further, his contract is almost entirely covered by two other teams. This guy had a .920 SVP two years ago. He's only 28. A decent 3rd goalie, no?
The Montreal Canadiens clearly think they have a shot here. I tend to agree. With Price/Subban/Pacioretty and now Vanek, the Habs have a very strong collection of young to prime talent. Best of all: Tomas Vanek plays some of his strongest hockey against the Boston Bruins. Exciting times to be a Habs fan, eh?
Dustin Tokarski starts tonight against the Ducks. Let's see if Montreal can come together and help the young guy get his first win.
If the answer is Mike Weaver, well, I'm not sure what the question is. Regardless, that's who Montreal ended up with on Tuesday, in exchange for a 5th round pick. Marc Bergevin and co. seem to have a modus operandi for deadlines, and it consists of depth defencemen.
So what's coming down the pipe tomorrow? Well, likely nothing. This is generally the norm, and Habs fans have come to expect it. That said, there are a few players I would target if I was in charge, such as Chris Stewart from Buffalo. He's a physical winger who can score, something the Canadiens sorely lack. Buffalo's Matt Moulson would look pretty good too, playing along with Tomas Plekanec - as would some guy named Jagr. However, the big target for me would be Ryan Kesler, which makes my thinking the same as just about every other hockey fan. Kesler is exactly what the Habs need - a big physical centre who can score - and he's very much available. The Canadiens also happen to have what Vancouver wants, with lots of decent prospects and young players to dangle. At the end of the day, however, I suspect Kesler goes to a team closer to challenging for the Cup, and one with more spare parts - perhaps Pittsburgh or Anaheim.
As for the rest of the roster, another mid-range defenceman would help, but that's on just about every other team's wishlist as well. I'm also curious to see if Montreal takes a run at another goaltender - Carey Price has a nagging injury and has yet to play since the Olympics. Recall that Montreal was knocked out handily last year after Price went down in the playoffs. Does Bergevin shed a mid-round pick if a goalie better than Budaj is on offer? I would seriously consider it if I was in his shoes.
Enjoy deadline day tomorrow. Always lots of fun for hockey fans. Given the nine deals today so far, I think tomorrow will be fairly active - I'd pick 15 trades as my guess. Happy Deadine Day.
The Montreal Canadiens hit the ice tonight against the Detroit Red Wings, but Carey Price will watch from the pressbox as he appears to have aggravated an injury during the Olympics. PK Subban will be back in the lineup, and the Habs have called Dustin Tokarski up from Hamilton to back up Slovakian Olympian Peter Budaj.
The Canadiens are in a tight playoff race, making this game against the Red Wings a true 4 point game. However, the Habs can't use the absence of Price as any sort of excuse, as the Wings are also banged up, missing, amongst others, Henrik Zetterberg.
The big question on the lips of many in Motnreal is, what will Marc Bergevin do leading up to the March 5th deadline? If years past are any sort of predictor, the answer is likely not much. Montreal is usually fairly quiet come deadline day. That said, Bergevin still has yet to make his mark on this team with a big deal - perhaps a trade involve UFA-to-be Andrei Markov might be Bergevin's big splash? We'll know soon enough.
Puck drop tonight at 7:30. Enjoy.
It figures that I'd leave the country, have no internet for a week, and the Canadiens would make a trade, but there ya go. As you already know, the Habs flipped Raphael Diaz to Vancouver for Dale Weise. Did Marc Bergevin make a good deal? Hard to say. I believe the Canadiens lowered Diaz's value over time by not playing him, but they did get an asset for a player that otherwise would have left in free agency. That's a step up on what was happening on Bob Gainey's watch, and thus Bergevin has to get some credit. Plus, Weise has looked solid on the Habs fourth line, adding some serious grit. Diaz has also looked good for the Canucks. Perhaps this will be one of those trades that helps both teams.
As for Montreal as a team, they looked solid at the break, with 3 straight wins. Carey Price was on form, Max Pacioretty's line was on fire, and the Habs defence was holding the fort and blocking a heck of a lot of shots. Once back from the Olympics, they'll be fighting down the stretch, likely targeting a 4/5 finish in the East. They'll do it, too, as long as their players don't tire themselves out at the Olympics.
As for those Olympics, some Canadiens with starring roles hit the ice this week and begin the charge for gold. Look for Carey Price to take the net from Roberto Luongo, and PK Subban to work his way into the top 6. As well, my darkhorse for a Hab with an impact is Tomas Plekanec, who will be captaining the Czech Republic. Look for him to play strong for his country, teaming up with his idol Jaromir Jagr as they fight for a medal.
My Olympics predictions, by the way: bronze to the Czechs, silver to the Russians, and gold to Canada.
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.
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