Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

Habs at the break

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. 

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Weekend to forget for Habs

Not a good weekend in Montreal. An OT loss to Tampa, and a one goal loss to Winnipeg. Two wins would have had them neck and neck with the Lightning for 3rd place. Instead, panic on Gauchetière as fans of the Canadiens try to sort out what is going on.

The good? Nathan Beaulieu continues to look like an NHL player. The kid has wheels. The bad? Just about everything else. Brendan Gallagher plays like a missile, but the referees despise his style. He's Darcy Tucker with better hands. It doesn't endear him to the officials, or his opponents. PK Subban's game has gone south in a hard way. Lars Eller has forgotten how to play hockey. Daniel Briere continues to be used sparingly - and I mean sparingly. He's averaging ice-time I usually associate with Colton Orr. It is a mess.

What happens now? Well, Therrien isn't going anywhere. That would be Bergevin admitting his first hire was a mistake. So I suspect a trade is the more likely option. Who goes? Who knows. Perhaps Louis Leblanc, who clearly is no longer in Montreal's plans. Perhaps Raphael Diaz, who Therrien has indefensibly banished to the pressbox. Perhaps Doug Murray, because, well, let's be honest, if you get get something for Doug Murray...

The season started strong for Montreal. Things looked up. It could still end well - every team has a swoon. But this Habs team looks bad. It can't score. They make every goalie look like Ken Dryder - Al Montoya today could have stopped almost anything - and no one goes to the net.

Get on the phones, M. Bergevin. This roster needs some kind of a shakeup. 

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Habs turning the ship around?

Last night saw the Montreal Canadiens record a 3-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes: a nice, tidy end to what had become a frustrating losing streak. But wait a sec. Does that really end it? Sure, the Habs won 3-0, but they did it on the back of blocked shots. And they were outshot. And at times, they were outplayed. Are the Habs out of the hole? 

We'll have a good idea tomorrow night, as the Canadiens play the division leading Boston Bruins, a match always sure to be entertaining. Carey Price will be looking to build on his shutout, as his stellar season hit a serious rut over the past three weeks. A surprising bright light for the Habs on Tuesday was Rene Bourque, the centre of various trade rumours. Bourque was a force all night, heading to the net with a physical side unseen from him for most of the season. Josh Gorges led the way on the back-end, blocking shots and playing the corners as if the Habs were in a playoff game.

It's good to see the effort. It really is. However, should it be necessary at this point in the season? Why are the Habs having such a tough time after months of success? One might note that the Canadiens ended last year, a 48 game season, with a whimper. Is history repeating itself? Are the Habs simply not built for a full 82 game season?

Perhaps that is why Marc Bergevin is trying to make a move, as the Bourque-PA Parenteau rumours swirl. Regardless, I think it is important to note how Michel Therrien has reacted to the adversity. No public outburts, no skirmishes with the media, simply calm and pragmatic leadership. Love or loathe Therrien, that's what you want to see in a leader, and Montreal's coach deserves a little credit as he tries to stem this slide.

Habs-Bruins, Thursday night. Should be a doozie. Enjoy. 

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Habs in a freefall

There's no sugarcoating it - the Canadiens are crashing. Everyone knows it. No secrets here. They bombed last night, a debacle of a 5-0 loss to Washington. Has the team quit on the coach? Is Michel Therrien on his way out? I had the chance to be a guest on the Warm Room Review Friday on XM NHL Home Ice, and that was a part of the discussion. Perhaps the team needs a shakeup? Is a trade the way to go? That was another part of Fridays chat, with respect to the Habs and others, and everyone has a different opinion. 

I'm just a blogger, so I have no answers. However, I've seen this happen before, and it'll happen many times again. Sometimes teams just crash. The real test is whether they can rebound from the crash, and this will be a week where Montreal's season is defined. They have back to backs on the weekend, and a big Thursday tilt with Boston. Tank the week, and the playoffs may be an afterthought. 

One also cannot ignore the fact that Carey Price's confidence has gone from dizzying heights to much, much lower, as the defence in front of him has eroded and the team has collapsed. How will this effect Price in Sochi? PK Subban has also, for lack of a better word, been terrible of late. 

Lots of questions and there are no answers. We'll need to see which Habs team shows up next. One bright spot: Nathan Beaulieu looks NHL-ready. He's going to be a keeper.

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Habs prep for big tilt against Pittsburgh

The Montreal Canadiens take on the Penguins tomorrow night, coming off a disappointing 5-3 loss to Toronto, and they'll have a little help. Nathan Beaulieu is back in the lineup, as is Louis Leblanc, freshly called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs. Michel Therrien has noted the Canadiens have to follow their gameplan better, which is Therrien-speak for not giving up the first goal and playing patiently. Rene Bourque also looks to be back in the lineup, fresh off a healthy scratch against Toronto, his first since being acquired by the Habs two seasons ago for Mike Cammalleri.

Carey Price will be in net, as the Canadiens look to bridge the 11 point gap between them and first place Pittsburgh. The space to eighth has shrunk of late, as the Canadiens are only 5 points up on being out of a playoff spot. The Habs are clearly missing Alex Galchenyuk, who brings a lot of offensive creativity, and while it seems unlikely - he was skating on the fourth line today - perhpas Leblanc can help fill some of that void.

Puck drop at 7:30. Should be a nice end to a cold Wednesday for much of North America. Enjoy. 

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Habs back in neutral

After their best performance of the season, a 2-1 win Saturday over Chicago, the Canadiens fell back Tuesday, losing 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils in front of a pumped Montreal crowd, and deflating what was a decent amount of momentum in the process.

How did the Habs let this one slide away? Well, it could have been closer. Brendan Gallagher scored a disallowed goal that, frankly, should have counted, and that would have made it a 3-2 game with 25 minutes to go. That said, the Canadiens lost, the Devils looked good, and Montreal must now pick up the pieces and move on.

What went wrong? Well, the obvious is the Habs couldn't score, and I'm going to focus on one player: Danny Briere. Why? Because Jaromir Jagr shone for New Jersey. He looked a decade younger than his 42 years, and he confirmed before the game that he had wanted to play in Montreal, but Montreal management didn't want him. No, they signed Briere instead. 

Continue Reading »

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Habs knock off Hawks, continue to outperform

If I had told you, in September, that the Canadiens would be chasing first in their divison come January 11th after: 1) public feuding between their head coach and star players, 2) the disappearance of Rene Bourque, 3) the absence of their #3 defenceman for the first 40 games, 4) David Desharnais going the first 20 games goalless, 5) 7 goals year-to-date from their big UFA signing, well, you would have called me crazy. I could go on, yet here we are, more than halfway through the NHL calendar, and the Habs are fighting at the top. There are a few reasons for this, the bulk of them named Carey and Price, but coaching and team commitment have gone a long way, as the Canadiens roster has worked hard and bought into Michel Therrien's defence first system. 

Continue Reading »

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Team Canada thoughts

A few quick thoughts as I'm traveling and internet is scarce, but it is great to finally see PK Subban officially on Team Canada. He's one of, if not the best, Canadian defenceman, and the debate was laughable. Now he'll have a chance to further cement his place as he plays for his country.

As for Carey Price, I see him as the #2 to start the tournament - Luongo has to have a chance to defend his position - but I suspect Price is the guy heading into the medal round.

Otherwise, Carter, Kunitz, and Nash, to me, should have been St. Louis, Neal and Giroux. But hey, these are good problems to have.

Biggest snub: Alex Semin not making Team Russia. Who saw that one coming?

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Habs notes

The Canadiens take on the Canes tonight to close out 2013. Not much new in Montreal these days. They can't score, and haven't been able to for a couple of weeks. Look for Michel Therrien to mix up his lines - yes, again - as he tries to light a fire under some of his scorers. A big night in the boxscore for the top two lines would do quite a bit for Montreal's confidence going forward.

On the other side of the world, what can you say about Zach Fucale? Montreal's second round pick this summer stood tall today as Canada beat the United States 3-2 at the World Juniors. Is Fucale the goalie of the future for the Habs? Perhaps, but Carey Price likely doesn't have to look over his shoulder for a while yet. 

Should be a good game tonight. Happy new year to all. 

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Habs still rolling

After a tight 1-0 win over the Islanders on Saturday, and a loss to Florida Sunday, many Habs fans were worried the good times were over. However, the Canadiens squeaked out another win on Tuesday night, beating the Phoenix Coyotes in a come-from-behind 3-1 win in Montreal.

Carey Price was stellar, Max Pacioretty led the charge, and Josh Gorges made a fantastic defensvie play late, as the Habs racked up points number 44 and 45 as we approach the halfway mark of the season.

The statistc of note from the game? Daniel Briere played just over 4 minutes, and only 9 seconds in the third period. If Briere hasn't requested a trade yet, you have to believe its coming, as he wastes away while the Canadiens play their big forwards and youth. And who can blame them? The mix has worked thus far, and while Briere had some flashes of his old self early on, he's failed to chip in as the Canadiens have gotten stronger. I see only two ways out of this situation for Briere: 1) a trade, or 2) an injury to a top line player, which forces Briere into a central role. To give Briere a bit of slack, he's been playing the year on the wing, when he has historically relished playing centre. Regarldess, this match hasn't, and if the rumours were true and Jaromir Jagr was the other option at this price point for Montreal, the Canadiens can only be ruing the fact that Briere has struggled while Jagr continues to put up stellar numbers as he leads New Jersey's offence.

Tomorrow, the Habs head to St. Louis to take on a strong Blues team that poses a significant challenge for Michel Therrien and his crew. Carey Price will be looking to continue his solid play as he campaigns for the starting job for Canada, while fans also watch to see how Briere is deployed - or if he touches the ice at all. 

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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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