Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

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. 

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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. 

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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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Habs thus far: 19-9-3

Now, I'm not one to read too much into numbers, but heading into tomorrow's game against the LA Kings, the Habs are 19-9-3. Look familiar to anyone? Add in the fact they play the Kings and, well, you know where I'm going with this. 

As the Habs chase their first cup in two decades, there are signs this team could contend. They're beating good teams, based on scoring depth, solid defence, and stalwart goaltending. Up and down the roster, players are overachieving. Young guns such as Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk are thriving under the pressue in hockey's birthplace, while veterans such as Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec play some of their best hockey in a while - Plekanec may be playing the best of his Canadiens career, and that's saying something. Andrei Markov, as well, looks 5 years younger than his real age, playing the best hockey we've seen from him since his plethora of knee injuries started about 5 years ago. PK Subban is turning into, quite possible, the best defenceman in the NHL. To some extent, it really is an embarrassment of riches.

That brings us to Carey Price. As 26, Price is entering his prime, and looks the better for it, with a 1.95 GAA and a .938 SVP. He's the cornerstone of the franchise, and gives them a chance to win every night. Heck, even backup Peter Budaj is performing above expectations, and these two are a big reason the Habs are on the current run they are.

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Habs take another one

The Canadiens are hot. Red hot. Hotter than they've been in a while, and it doesn't look set to end anytime soon. The Habs fought back last night, down 1-0 to Boston, to win 2-1. It was a team effort, led by Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec up front, while Carey Price held down the fort and provided stellar goaltending against one of his only netted colleagues who could be considered at his level thus far through the season.

Price-Rask games have become something to catch. It's always worth making the time to watch a Habs-Bruins game, but with these two young netminders, it has become all the more worthwhile, as they make save after highlight reel save. 

The Canadiens, playing their third game in four nights, came out flat with 3 shots in the first, before charging back with 17 in the second. Whereas last year's Montreal Canadiens often faded, this year's Habs seem to storm back with regularity, led by the youth and skill on their third and fourth lines, depth they haven't had in years.

Montreal will rest up today, before taking to the ice against the Sabres tomorrow. This could be a huge letdown game, after wins against Boston and New Jersey (x2) this week, but based on last night's result, I think Therrien will have them ready.

Of note: Daniel Briere is now playing less than ten minutes a night. Where does he fit? On the transactional front, RDS jumped on the trade rumour bandwagon last night, echoing Sportsnet's assertion that the Canadiens may be after Paul Stastny in Colorado. My question: when a team is playing this well, does making a major move like that make sense, or is a bolt-on acquisition the way to go? 

Happy Friday everyone. 

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Habs on a high heading into Wednesday and television deal thoughts

What a difference a week can make. The Canadiens were downtrodden and couldn't score, yet in a week (and a bit) they have scored goals aplenty, as the first line of Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher has caught fire and provided the spark the Habs needed to get going.

Don't get me wrong though, this has been a team effort. Carey Price is playing the most consistent hockey of his Habs career. PK Subban is yet again a Norris contender. Andrei Markov is playing circa 2006/07 Markov. Alex Emelin is hitting people left, right, and centre. Josh Gorges is blocking shots like nobody's business. Tomas Plekanec is playing phenomenal defensive hockey, shadowing the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin with abandon. These are the Habs that hockey fans like to watch - fast, talented, commited. They want to win, and they're proving it.

Wednesday should be an interesting game. It's always questionable how a team on a roll will deal with extensive days off. Having last played Saturday, the Habs could come out flat, or, they could come out blazing, after four days of solid rest. The insertion of Brendan Gallagher to the first line was a needed energy boost last week, and that setup will continue. Gallagher has injected youthfulness, swagger, and energy into what was, up until very recently, a huge disappointment. Max Pacioretty had one of his best games as a Hab Saturday, after a natural hat trick earlier in the week. That's in no small part due to Gallagher's infusion on that line. 

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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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