Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

Price-Halak rematch

Jaro Halak got the last laugh in his first game against the Habs after being traded. Who will get the better tonight, as Price and Halak go head to head again?

David Desharnais sits as a health scratch, with 1 assist through 15 games, and many will be watching PK Subban, to see how he responds after more criticism from head coach Michel Therrien.

Puckdrop at 7:30. Enjoy. 

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Habs signings begin

As you've no doubt heard by now, the Canadiens signed Alex Emelin to a four year extension, at $4.1 million per year. A solid deal, as Emelin definitely would have gotten north of $4 million on the free agent market, given comparables throughout the NHL. He's a fairly young, fluid defenceman who can throw an open ice hit better than most. In any market, that will get you top dollar.

This should start off a wave of extensions for Montreal. The biggest, and most obvious, is PK Subban, who is due for a solid $4 million or so raise on his next contact. No doubt Marc Bergevin has that next on his list. Will captain Brian Gionta get a new deal? My bet is now, as Emelin's additional money, and Subban's raise, roughly equal the $5 million Gionta makes now. While he'll likely get a lower amount - who's kidding who, Gionta isn't a 30 or 40 goal scorer anymore - he'll still get decent money, and I suspect the Habs believe they can allocate it better elsewhere. 

The Habs head west for the weekend, continuing to try and build on their record thus far as they await the return of key players such as Emelin, Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere. Carey Price has been at his best of late, and has to be considered the front runner to start for Team Canada at the olympics. PK Subban has also been a bright spot, and has to be close to locking up a spot. Louis Leblanc will play again, as the Habs try to figure out what they have in the former first round pick. Will he become a consistent NHLer? Or is he the next Eric Chouniard?

Of note, Pacioretty and Emelin are skating with the team, and should be back soon. The Habs should be pleased with their record thus far, but with a healthy team, they should be even better. 

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One step forward, two steps back

The Canadiens came out flying against Anaheim earlier in the week, playing arguably their best team game since the season began. Then, last night against San Jose, the Habs appeared flat footed and intimidated, as a faster, bigger Sharks team had them for dinner in a 2-0 win.

So which Habs are the real Habs? Well, don't forget that Montreal is currently quite banged up, missing some key players and most of their bigger bodies. Michael Bournival has been the best story thus far, as he shifts between the 2nd and 4th lines, providing solid two-way play and an indication that the future is bright. My money is on Louis Leblanc being called up soon, as the former first round pick appears to have turned a corner in the AHL, with a couple of game winners this week and, by all accounts, his best stretch as a pro. While it has been 4 years since the Habs drafted Leblanc, and many see him as a bust, let's not forget that sometimes players take a while to mature. One that comes to mind is Nazem Kadri on the Maple Leafs, who spent multiple seasons, and played over 100 games, in the AHL. He's turned out quite fine if you ask Toronto fans. Habs fans can only hope the same comes true with Leblanc.

Two decent tests to come this week, with the Rangers on Monday and Dallas on Tuesday. If the Habs want to stay in the playoff race, they need to keep winning. It's tough to make up points as the season goes on, and injuries or not, they need to keep winning to stay in it. Much of this will depend on Carey Price. Let's see if he's up to the task. 

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Habs in tough as Prust hits the shelf

Now this sounds familiar: the Canadiens are suffering a barrage of injuries. Last week we learned Davis Drewiske would be gone 6 months, Max Pacioretty 3 weeks, and now Brandon Prust is out a month with a shoulder injury. Add to that George Parros, Alex Emelin, Doug Murray, and a clearly banged up Josh Gorges, not to mention a concussed Daniel Briere, and you get...a regular season in Montreal.

What is it about the Habs that attracts the injury bug? Sure, you can cite their small roster, but keep in mind many of their so called "big" players (ie Pacioretty, Parros, Murray, etc.) are the ones injured. What's a GM to do? 

For the time being, Marc Bergevin doesn't need to panic. He's helpd build the deepest farm system the Habs have had since the early Bob Gainey years, and I suspect many of the youngsters will be able to step up, fill more ice time, and bridge the gap.

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Subban repeat and other thoughts

After two weeks involving moving and a holiday, I'm back to civilization, with an internet connection and lots of opinions. I've also caught every Habs game, and thus far I am very impressed. A few thoughts as we head towards a weekend date with the Predators:

  • Don't look now, but PK Subban is on pace for over 100 pts. His play has been electric, and he is clearly gunning for a repeat and Norris #2. At this point, if Subban isn't a lock for Team Canada, I don't know who is. 
  • The Subban penalties are becoming an issue. Last night, as well illustrated by TSN, he was the victim of a phantom elbow call, and then later in the game he was called for high sticking, when the opposing player high sticked himself. Subban seems to be a target for the referees (along with everyone else). He seems to shut it out and focus on his play, which is good, but I would hope the Candiens would diplomatically address this with the league. It's getting ridiculous. 
  • Carey Price is on. Maybe it was the poor playoffs, maybe it was getting married, but Price seems grounded and focused this year. He's the key to any chance the Habs make a playoff run. Stephane Waite deserves a lot of credit, as Price has clearly changed his approach and it is paying off. 
  • Max Pacioretty is important, but not irreplaceable over a month. Pacioretty has a hamstring injury and is apparently out for 3 weeks (though past injury experience would suggest Pacioretty may be back in a day or two). If Pacioretty ends up out longer, one potential replacement for goals is Simon Gagne, who it was widely publicized had discussions with the Canadiens back in September. 
  • With Pacioretty gone, does the team's game change? He's a big part of their offence. Might the Canadiens tighten up and try and place a more solid defensive game? 

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1-1: Thoughts thus far

The Canadiens have looked decent through two games, with a few standouts and a few question marks. The loss to the Maple Leafs on Tuesday was not a surprise - the Habs have a history of bombing in openers versus the Leafs, and as soon as George Parros went down, the team looked out of it. I was reminded of the Senators-Habs game in the playoffs when Lars Eller was knocked out - as soon as he hit the ice, the Habs side was mentally out of the game. Which begs the question - when teammates go down, do teams generally jump to attention and play for their friends, or react as human beings often do in other situations, and get distracted?

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Here we go

It's about time, isn't it? The Habs are set to open the season in Montreal tomorrow night against the Maple Leafs. A few quick Habs-related predictions on the eve of a promising 2013-14 campaign:

  • Final points prediction: 99
  • Final place in standings: 2nd in Atlantic
  • PK Subban hits the 70 point mark for the first time
  • Lars Eller finishes the season with >55 points
  • 8 Canadiens top 20 goals
  • Carey Price will be a Vezina trophy finalist

Another prediction that I'll detail: Jarred Tinordi steals Doug Murray's job. How is that possible to predict leading into day one of the season? Hear me out. Doug Murray was brought in to sub for Alex Emelin as he recovers from knee surgery. Murray is not injured and out for 6-8 weeks. 

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Habs make final cuts

The Canadiens announced their final roster after Thursday's game, and both Michael Bournival and Jarred Tinordi have made the team. Great news for the Habs, who can use the energy and grit of both players.

Tinordi, in particular, has looked great in the pre-season, using his body to lay huge hits and change momentum, while Bournival can easily play on the 3rd or 4th line and add the depth the Habs need to compete. 

As an aside, Nathan Beaulieu was a late cut after an injury plagued pre-season, but mark my words: he'll be back soon. 

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Thoughts on Habs camp thus far

So the Habs are a week in and have a couple of games under their belt. A few thoughts thus far:

  • Daniel Briere does not look comfortable with David Desharnais. I'm no expert on line combinations, but I'm not sure their line with Max Pacioretty is going to work. Hopefully a little more time and some additional pre-season games will get them clicking.
  • Louis Leblanc deserved better. He was hurt most of last season, and he proved the year before under Jacques Martin that he can play at the NHL level. Leblanc should have gotten more of a look, and I'm disappointed he was sent down so early. 
  • The Canadiens defence isn't fast. Douglas Murray adds depth, but he seems to have the speed of a mid-sized tractor. With injuries to Francis Bouillon and Davis Drewiske, the Habs are only getting thinner on the back end. Perhaps this is an opportunity for Nathan Beaulieu to step in and make a statement. He's got decent wheels and can make the first pass as well as anyone not named Subban or Markov.
  • Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller are ready to break out. I could see either or both hitting the 55-60 point mark this year. Should Eller get to 60, all of a sudden it is reasonable to ask the question most considered a foregone conclusion: who won the Jaroslav Halak trade? 
  • The Boston Bruins are very good. But if the Habs play a team game, they can outstake them and they can beat them.

We'll see if there are any surprises to come through the rest of camp. I still believe the Habs could use more depth on the 3rd line, along with more grit and leadership. The answer could be Brenden Morrow, who is still a free agent, but the Canadiens have little to no cap space available. We'll see what GM MB has in store as we rapidly approach October 1st. 

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Dust off the cobwebs, les boys are back

The Canadiens training camp is underway, and that cool, breezey autumn air is on its way. Major additions include Daniel Briere, who I suspect we'll see deployed on the first line, and George Parros, who is currently injured but will add some much needed punch to Montreal's forward units. Alex Emelin will be missing on the back end, as a knee injury will keep him out until December or January. Doug Murray will slot in and likely get 4/5 minutes in Emelin's absence.

Guys to keep an eye on? Well, it will be interesting to see how Murray does. He really looked out of gas for Pittsburgh in the playoffs. David Desharnais is looking to bounce back from a disappointing year, and Alex Galchenyuk is poised to continue to grow into the star so many hope he will be. While many want to see him at centre, the Habs have a glut, for the first time in a while, with Desharnais, Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec all up the middle. Look for Galchenyuk on the wing. 

My darkhorse candidate to make the team? Christian Thomas. I've only seen him play a couple of times, but he's been a ball of energy and has fantastic hands, as his father did. The Canadiens gave up a prospec tthey'd been high on in Danny Kristo to get Thomas, so look for him to be given a long look. Even if he doesn't make the cut, I believe he'll be an NHLer one day. Jarred Tinordi is also in line for an NHL job, and didn't look out of place in the playoffs. Nathan Beaulieu could also challenge for a spot on defence.

We're pretty close to pre-season action, and the season is only three weeks away. Not a bad time of year, eh? 

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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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