Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

Habs begin offseason tweaks

It started with Andrei Markov's new contract on Monday, and it continues tomorrow night in Philadlphia, as the Habs get set to pick 26th overall at the NHL draft. Trevor Timmins has shown a penchant for drafting unexpected players, so there is no way of knowing who the Canadiens may be targeting, but I wouldn't mind seeing Brendan Lemieux, Ryan MacInnis, Ivan Barbashev or Josh Ho-Sang in le tricolore once the evening is over. Some pundits have the Canadiens looking to trade up, so perhaps the stakes will change, but as of now, they are at the behest of 25 other clubs as they wait to see who is still available. MacInnis and Lemieux would give them some size up front, not to mention some decent NHL bloodlines, Barbashev some prime skill and speed, while Ho-Sang would offer talent that many say is among the highest in the draft. 

Otherwise, look for the Canadiens to try and beef up their forward core with a top six winger on July 1, be it Tomas Vanek redux, a Jarome Iginla short term deal, or through a trade. The Habs are also keen to add a top four defenceman, and some whispers have them talking to the Panthers in that regard, who have a glut of large defencemen. It seems reasonable to suggest new Panthers coach Gerrard Gallant may have asked his GM to nab a couple of Habs he is fin of. That said, every draft week every year is the same song and dance: lots of smoke, not much fire. Perhaps this will be the year that bucks the trend?

As for me, I like the idea that the Habs might try and add some size and grit at the 26th pick, but if Ho-Sang is there I hope they grab him. Raw talent of his regard is rare, and something the Canadiens would be blessed to work with. I also wouldn't shy away from Vanek, despite his playoff results. The Canadiens simply need a top six forward. Is there anyone better out there? As a fallback, I would look West and see if Mike Cammalleri might be willing to come back. But his addition would require more size elsewhere, and the surefire departure of a Brian Gionta, which may not be a bad move anyhow. Gionta has lost a step, and now would be a good time to pass the captaincy on to a younger leader.

On the back end, another player I might target is Alex Edler. Vancouver is rebuilding, and he seemed to be out of favour late last year. Could he perhaps be available? The re-signing of Mike Weaver would also be a good depth move, but as of now he appears likely to be heading elsewhere.

The Canadiens are also on the lookout for a new assistant coach to replace Gerrard Gallant, something else to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. Would Guy Carbonneau be interested in joining Michel Therrien's staff, and would Therrien be interested in his services? Carbonneau could offer help with the Canadiens sputtering special teams, given his past success in that area. 

Draft Friday, free agency Tuesday. An exciting week to be a hockey fan. What does it hold for the Habs? We'll know soon enough.

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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

It's a line from Henry V, but it is fitting for so many reasons for the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs defeated the Rangers 7-4 Tuesday in what was one of the most wild, momentum shifting playoff games I have ever seen. Can anyone else recall a playoff game that went 4-1, 4-4, 7-4? I certainly cant. The Habs stormed out, got the lead, gave it all back, and then stormed out again. I don't know what Michel Therrien said to his team before the third period, but whatever it was, he should repeat it on Thursday, because it certainly had the intended effect. 

Rene Bourque was a beast, scoring three goals, hitting a post, and just missing an empty net late. Lars Eller was a physical presense, hitting all over the ice and netting two assists. PK Subban got the powerplay clicking again, and began to deliver more punishing hits on the Rangers forwards. Dustin Tokarski, oh Dustin Tokarski, made some phenomenal saves, including one with the shaft of his stick, point blank, to keep the game close in the first. At least two of the goals on him were deflections of his own team. Tokarski has certainly proven himself capable this series, and last night battled through to win a game that was a free-for-all. That takes focus and mental strength. Tokarski is building confidence, and his teammates are getting more confidence in him game by game as well.

Other important notes: Max Pacioretty scored yet again in an elimination game - does this guy like pressure or what? - and Henri Lundqvist was pulled after four goals. Do not get cocky Habs fans - Lundqvist generally responds with fervour the game after being pulled, and will likely be top of his game on Thursday. 

This game had some dirtier plays as well. John Moore devestated Dale Weise with a clear head shot late in the third. He should certainly be suspended, perhaps 3-5 games, as he undoubtedley targeted the head. Derek Dorsett headbutted Mike Weaver at the end of the game, and also tried to fight Rene Bourque, this after snowing the small boy holding a Canadiens flag at the beginning of the game. On the Canadiens side, Tomas Plekanec was called in the second for embellishment, for snapping his head back when a stick came close to making contact with his face. Many are calling out Plekanec for this play, but I have a bit of a different take - get someone to come at you full steam with a stick towards your face - do you move your head back quickly? Just as you often duck going under a low bridge while you drive to work, instinct is to move your head back when someone comes at you with a stick. I thought it was a gusty call by the referee, but perhaps a bit much in a playoff game. That said, I'm sure Plekanec will be working to keep his head in place next time, and perhaps the Canadiens will get a high sticking call out of it in game 6.

So the series shifts to New York, with the Canadiens led by a heathy scratch earlier in the season, and a supposed third-string goaltender. Thursday at 8.

Once more unto the breach dear friends, with King Henry on the other side of the rink, once more. 

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Habs trust in Dustin

Well, I'm back from a short holiday, and how the times are a changin'. The Canadiens head into Madison Square Garden tonight down 2-0, trying to desperately eek out a win and avoid going down 3-0. Michel Therrien has announced the Habs will again go with Dustin Tokarski in the pipes, their minute third goaltender with a winning pedigree, while he had Tomas Vanek shuttled down to the fourth and fifth line in practice yesterday. Will Therrien actually scratch the Canadiens big trade deadline acquisition? I doubt it - I suspect he is simply trying to motivate him - but if Vanek does not play, I bleieve that lends credene to the idea that he is playing hurt. If he's healthy, he has about 8 million reasons to play well, and thus I would expect a big game from the free agent to be.

As for the series thus far, a goalie named Henrik has stolen the show, while Chris Kreider's accidentally-on-purpose running of Carey Price really changed the face of this matchup. With regards to Kreider, let's face it, he clearly intended to hit Price as hard as he could. Perhaps he didn't meant to tear his knee, or take his head off, but he did want to send a message. The idea it was a complete accident is absurd - especially since the same player has done this three times in a year. This is the playoffs, and you take advantage of every angle you can. The Canadiens know this, but the best revenge is winning, and I suspect Michel Therrien has driven this home as the Habs look to play for their starting goaltender.

Monday saw the Habs dominate much of the game. They hit the Rangers' goaltender with shots on 41 occasions. If they do that again, they'll find themselves in the win column.

Habs-Rangers. 8 pm puck drop. Let's see if we have a series.

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What a game, what a series

Carey Price was magnificent. Dale Weise was a force. Daniel Briere was Mr. Clutch. The Habs pull it out, and are heading to the conference finals. 

Red. White. Blue!

The series begins - wait for it - in Montreal on Saturday (when was the last time the Habs had home ice in round three?) as the Rangers visit the Bell Centre. Meanwhile, Milan Lucic continues to stew, after threatening to get Canadiens during the handshake line, and being confronted on television about it. 

Moving past Lucic, however, and the childish Brad Marchand, the Bruins are a great team, with amazing talent, and the Habs should be proud they took them down. Getting four wins against Boston was no easy task, but hard work, determination, and a commitment to the system did it. Lucic and a few others aside, Boston is a classy organization, and going forward, they'll move past the accusations and referee conspiracy theories to get back to the team they once were (for a good take on this, listen to Chris Nilan's interview at tsn690 from Tuesday). 

Habs. Rangers. Saturday. Potentially Alex Galchenyuk. Carey Price. PK Subban. Original 6. 1 pm. Other than the 1 pm, not a bad deal, eh? 

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Someone’s going home tomorrow

Habs. Bruins. Game seven. As it was meant to be. As it always was going to be. Two storied franchises going head to head for the 34th time. One team, big and brutish, coming off a phenomenal year, leading the league in points, 54 wins, a year removed from the Stanley Cup finals. The other a younger team, building on draft picks and development, focused on speed and skill. 

Monday night's game was a thing of beauty. A hockey game featuring grit, determination, speed, skill and artistry. No thuggery. No goonery. It was fantastic hockey. Perhaps the best game I have watched in years. Absolute entertainment, from both sides. 

But now we have something potentially better. Montreal. Boston. Game seven. Is there anything better for a hockey fan? 

This game, based on the series, should be close. It will be a battle of goaltenders at the top of their class, defencemen at the top of their trade, and forwards hell bent on outdoing one another. Will Milan Lucic break out? Will Max Pacioretty continue to awake from his hibernation? Will Tomas Vanek show everyone why he's worth $8 million a year? Will PK Subban take over the game as only he can? Is Carey Price about to take his performances this year in elimination games...and take things to another level of goaltending superiority? 

7 pm puck drop tomorrow. Habs coming off a shutout. Bruins waxing about penalty calls and expectations of a win. Montreal talking about what a great year it has been, how anything can happen, and how much they want victory. 

I'm pretty excited. More than I have been in a long time for a Canadiens game. I only hope you're able to watch, because this, ladies and gentlemen, should be a good show. 

Oh, and something tells be the Canadiens aren't ready to go home just yet.

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The PK Subban show

Is there anything this guy can't do? PK Subban is playing the most domianting hockey of his career, and along with Carey Price is carrying the Montreal Canadiens. While the Habs are now up 2-1, and they've still got a lot of work to do, the Canadiens looked good Tuesday, outpacing a Boston Bruins team that at times seemed sedentary. Aside from Subban and Price, Tomas Vanek, Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller had a heck of a game, while a flu ridden Rene Bouque still caused the Bruins fits as he flew all over the ice.

Both teams will be regrouping in practice today, in advance of tomorrow night's pivotal game four in Montreal. No doubt the Canadiens are looking to sieze the moment and go up 3-1, after letting a potential 2-0 lead slip away. Thus far, Montreal has outplayed Boston most of the series on the backs of their speed and skill. The Bruins have started to get angry - it started to show late third on Tuesday - but the Habs have stayed composed and let their play do the talking. 

With regards to the lineup, don't expect any changes for Montreal Tuesday, but Michel Therrien looks brilliant after pulling Brandon Prust from the lineup and inserting Travis Moen. Prust is a warrior but clearly hurt, and needs some time to rest up. The swap of Douglas Muray in for Francis Bouillon also added some much needed size, and helped Montreal clear the front of the net as the game went on. Therrien is having a very good series. 

Is there a dirtier player in the NHL than Brad Marchand? He's probably the guy you'd love on your team and despise when he is elsewhere, but he is without question the sleaziest player I have seen in a long time. Every time I think he's crossed the line, he creates a new line and crosses that one too. 

Enjoy the day off. Big game on Thursday. 

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Setting the stage for game 2

Can the Habs go home with a 2-0 lead? It seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened, including in 2011, where the Habs went home in the first round...with a 2-0 lead over Boston. We won't talk about what happened afterwards. 

Game one was all Carey, all Subban. How do the Canadiens win game 2? It needs to be all Carey again, with sprinkles of Subban, Vanek and Pacioretty. They need to keep playing their game, not Boston's. If they do, and the speed comes through, they'll win.

Lineup changes? I would look to get Bournival back on that fourth line. It's an added weapon and he's responsible defensively. Moen was good, not great. I might consider swapping Moen up for Prust - Prust has not looked right - but I suspect Prust will play, as he's as gritty as they come. 

12:30 puck drop. Fans in Boston are anxious. Fans in Montreal are anxious. Fans elsewhere are asking questions such as, "what's for breakfast? Why is there a hockey game at 12:30?" 

Enjoy folks. 

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Thursday night can’t come soon enough

Well, it appears to be official. After days of online theories and twitter suggestions, the NHL appears to have (finally) announced the Canadiens-Bruins series will start Thursday night, followed by a likely afternoon tilt on Saturday. No doubt the Canadiens are salivating at the thought of playing actual hockey, as Thursday will mark ten days they have gone without a game. As such, the Habs participated in a simulated game Monday night with their black aces, in an attempt to get them back to their normal routines and ready for the rumble that will be Boston.

This series will boil down to who wants it more. The Bruins are bigger, sure - a whole six pounds on average. The Habs are faster, yes, but are you telling me Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and co can't skate? Sure, Zdeno Chara dives, almost as often as his teammate Marchand, but we all know that Brendan Gallagher has been known to take a tumble on purpose and try to goad a penalty.

At the end of the day, this will come down to who is willing to sacrifice more to get to the Eastern final. It is going to be a battle between two very good teams with a lot of skill that buy into systems and support their colleagues. That and two very good goalies. Carey Price and Tukka Rask may be the top two netminders in the NHL. You better believe they are ready to put on a show.

So mark your calendars, boys and girls, Thursday it is. The Bruins have won the past two playoff tilts between these two teams, most recently in overtime of game seven in 2011, en route to a Stanley Cup.

This time? I think it's Montreal's turn. And I'm saying Habs in six. 

Should be a doozie. 

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Habs storm ahead

It had a great pregame show, it had Ginette Reno, it had the apparently possessed Rene Borque, it had phenomenal goaltending, it had referee controversy - yes, last night's Habs-Lightning game had just about everything. What an entertaining hockey game, and what a sunny, warm, welcoming Monday morning for Canadiens fans. A 3-0 lead. Control of the series. Four contributing lines. A team buying into its system. A poised PK Subban. Carey Price, you know, the one everyone knew was in there was was waiting to see in the playoffs. A tough as nails Francis Bouillon. Brandon Prust fearlessly blocking shots late third, despite obvious discomfort. Lars Eller, finally coming into his own.

Montreal is playing its best hockey thus far this year, committed to a defensive system that pounces on mistakes and creates chances without sacrificing defensive position. The fourth win is the hardest to get, but the Canadiens will be pushing for it on Tuesday. Carey Price looked as on as he has in this whole series on Sunday night, but so did Anders Lindback. Steven Stamkos is a gamebreaker - can the Habs continue to hold him in check? (or should that be Czech? Tomas Plekanec playing out of his head defensively).

There is still a lot of work today, but a few days rest would do the Habs some good. You know they want it done in four. Every player knows they want it. Can they do it? 

Tomorrow. 7 pm. 

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Break out the Van Halen and put the beer on ice, it’s playoff time

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.

Up front:

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.

Continue Reading »

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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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