Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

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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Habs-Hawks as Montreal looks for a fix

The Canadiens are heading the wrong way, fast. A bad game in Vancouver, a terrible game in Calgary. After two poor games to start the previous road trip. Not a good showing for the Habs. So what is a coach to do?

If I were Michel Therrien, I would instantly put Jiri Sekac into the lineup. I would also wonder why I took him out in the first place. He was starting to gel with his linemates, has a scoring touch, and plays the entire length of the ice. Who comes out for Sekac? Likely Rene Bourque, though he's been a bit better of late. Perhaps Dale Weise. Travis Moen and Dale Weise shouldn't be playing regularly. Sekac and Michael Bournival probably should be.

On the back-end, I would be very tempted to try Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu on a pairing, and I'd give Mike Weaver a rest. 

This will be a good test. Are the Habs the real deal, or was the start a smokescreen? Let's see who slots in, and how Therrien manages his lines. 

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Habs look to end Western swing on a positive note

The 3-0 loss to the Oilers was, without a doubt, a clunker. Boring game, team didn't show up, looked tired - it is going to happen. Calgary, well, that was another story. The team showed up, somewhat, but primarily the guy who showed up was Carey Price, who put on a clinic.

Tonight, the Habs head into Price's home province to take on the Vancouver Canucks and look to end the trip with a good performance. Jiri Sekac looks likely to get back into the lineup, while many fans continue to debate the defensive side of the lineup. Nathan Beaulieu may be out again, but many fans will want to see Tom Gilbert sit in favour of the kids, though Gilbert had a fairly solid game on Tuesday and chipped in with a goal.

If Price stands on his head, the Habs take this one. No doubt he'll want to put on a show for his family and friends. It's a late start, but it will be a good one. Hope you can catch it. 

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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.

Continue Reading »

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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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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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