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The Upper Canadien

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.



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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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Habs on top after win over Boston

The Canadiens are flying high after Sunday's 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins, as they swept the season series against Boston for the first time since 2008. The Habs looked dynamite all game, causing fits for a Bruins team that just seem to rage every time they play the Habs. More important than anything, the Bruins were one of the NHLest best teams of late, and the Habs stopped them cold. The Canadiens can play with the best of them, and they showed it again on Sunday. A fact made even more important as the Habs had blown recent games to Buffalo and Phoenix. 

PK Subban and Andrei Markov had a great game on the back end, as did Alexei Emelin, who always seems to save his best for Boston. Carey Price was, well, Carey Price. David Desharnais has awaked, with 7 points in his last 5 games, and Max Pacioretty continues his torrid scoring, as he potted his 24th of the season. However, the hottest Hab may be Dale Weise, who now has 5 pts in his last 3 games, and is beginning to look like more than the fourth-line cog many expected him to be when he was acquired by Marc Bergevin last year.

Which brings us to the question at hand: what will Bergevin do before the deadline? I still believe Bergevin is looking for two things: a top six forward, and a #3 defenceman. Jaromir Jagr could be a good fit up front, but I'm not sure he'd be a good fit given the game speed of the Habs. That said, I'd take Jagr in a heartbeat, and I believe the price would be right. I still feel Ryan O'Reilly would be a good addition if he were available, though he'd be expensive. As for help on defence, would Michalek out of Arizona be a fit, or perhaps Cody Franson in Toronto?

It's an exciting time to be a Habs fan, with the team performing as it is, and the deadline only three weeks away. Montreal takes on Philadelphia tomorrow.

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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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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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