The Upper Canadien
Well, I'll give the city of Montreal this much: it took 42 games this year. Here we are, April 16th, and it's a full blown crisis. Carey Price has melted down. Peter Budaj is starting Wednesday night. The defence is in shambles. The team has given up. All is lost...
...or so many would have you believe. The reality: goalies slump all the time. Remember a guy named Pat Roy? I happen to recall that, in 1993, he was less than stellar leading into the playoffs. Heck, some were calling for Jacques Demers to remove him as the starting goalie. He was shaky at best. And yet...
So fear not, Habs fans. The earth will stabilize. The sky will not fall in. The playoffs will soon be here, and all of this will be forgotten. As for tomorrow, against the Penguins, expect a spirited Habs team in front of Peter Budaj, he of the Flanders mask. Yannick Weber is expected to be in on defence, apparently recalled from the witness protection program, and Ryan White will be suspended for the game - he's got an in person hearing tomorrow in New York, and if I had to predict it, I'd say he's gone for the rest of the regular season.
Six to go, folks. Crunch time.
The Canadiens lost a close one Tuesday evening, 3-2 to the surging Washington Capitals. Carey Price looked very human on two of the Capitals goals, while the Canadiens went to sleep for portions of the game, especially the second period, which has become an unfortunate theme in an otherwise strong season.
However, a realy bright spot for Montreal was the third line of Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller, and Brandon Prust. This line has once again, upon Prust's return, arguably become the Habs strongest, with the creativity of Galchenyuk and Eller blending perfectly with the grit of Prust. Eller was dominant throughout most of the game, in both the Washington zone and Montreal's. In fact, Eller's performance this evening really does beg the question, what does he have to do to get more ice time? He and Galchenyuk clearly have chemistry, and they're getting more confident game by game. Michel Therrien has to feel fairly confident with three strong lines to roll come playoff time.
In fact, I'd argue the Habs have their strongest four line combination in at least a decade. The fourth line, made up of Travis Moen, Jeff Halpern and Rene Bourque, is very responsible defensively, physical, and creates havoc in the offensive zone. Therrien has done a great job thus far ensuring all of his charges get ample ice time. And here's a familiar theme: Marc Bergevin deserves a lot of credit.
Bergevin has to be in consideration for GM of the year. Yet, for a GM who has turned his team around, he took a lot of flak around the trade deadline. Was it warranted?
So if the top three teams in the East this year are Boston, Pittsburgh and Montreal, they have thus far acquired Jagr, Morrow, Iginla - and Drewiske.
Who is Davis Drewiske? He's a competent depth defenceman who came out of the University of Wisconsin, and provides the Canadiens with insurance on the back end going into the playoffs. Sure, it's not a sexy move, but it's a pragmatic one.
Is Bergevin done? I'm still curious why Rick Dudley has been scouting Winnipeg so much of late. Perhaps they're after a name that hasn't been front and centre? They could still use a physical defenceman, and primarily another scoring winger.
This team deserves some reinforcements after the effort they've put in to date. Let's see what M. Bergevin comes through with.
While preparing for Saturday night's tilt with the New York Rangers, the Canadiens did something many have expected all year, and waived Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle has played little this year, dressing for only 10 games. While he has played admirably, with 3 points and a +4 rating, averaging only 13 minutes a game, Kaberle has been a spare part, as coach Michel Therrien has favoured auditioning AHLers over the veteran NHLer. To Kaberle's credit, he hasn't complained one bit, despite the fact that by all accounts he really wants to play.
The Habs likely made this move to stay flexible towards the deadline, as he represents $4.25 million towards the salary cap. So, who could the Habs be looking at?
After securing only 1 of 4 possible points against the Sabres last week, the Canadiens start a big week with back to back games against the Penguins and the Bruins. The Habs are still clinging to the Northeast lead, but are now 5 points behind the trade happy Pittsburgh Penguins.
Meanwhile, many Canadiens fans are waiting to see Marc Bergevin match Pittsburgh's Ray Shero and make an acquisition or two before the deadline. I don't expect much - the Canadiens have an opportunity to build on their youth, as they hold many draft picks this year on top of a strong system of prospects - and I suspect the Habs will largely stay put. That said, I'm sure Bergevin wants to make a splash, and I could see the Habs adding another big body to the second or third line - especially with Rene Bourque suffering a setback in his return from a concussion.
Yes, the Habs won, but tonight, a note on a Montreal favourite: L'Artiste. Alex Kovalev, the last remaining member of the 1994 New York Rangers playing in the NHL, and a huge fan favourite in La Belle Province, has retired at 39. Many thought Kovalev might surprise after his first game of the year, in which he put on a show and was first star, but it was all downhill from there. He'd been a healthy scratch of late, and the writing was on the wall.
I've heard many a Hab fan say he never should have left Montreal, and that may be true - he seemed to lose a step as soon as he went to Ottawa. His playoff performances are legendary, as he always seemed to go to second gear, and his physical play - who can forget the elbow to Darcy Tucket's head? - will never be forgotten.
So tonight, from all Habs fans everywhere: thanks for the memories. You truly were L'Artiste.
The Habs continue to truck along, having gained yet another point in yesterday's OT 3-2 loss to Buffalo. A few quick thoughts:
- The Bouillon signing is a great move. Marc Bergevin is clearly a chemistry guy, and believes in the leadership present in the room. Bouillon is a big part. Well done, M. Bergevin.
- Jarred Tinordi belongs. I was at Saturday's game against New Jersey, and for a kid his age, he has poise. He's good with the puck - an errant delay of game penalty last night aside - and has a decent shot. As his body fills out, he is going to be a physical beast. The Habs did well bringing him up slowly, and I suspect he'll contribute down the stretch this year.
- Brendan Gallagher is going to win the Calder. This kid isn't slowing down - if anything he is getting better.
- The Habs are winning despite less than stellar Carey Price goaltending. He isn't on right now - he has been at times, but not lately. If he gets hot come April, watch out.
- Michel Therrien is going to be a Jack Adams finalist.
- PK Subban and Andrei Markov both have a shot at being a Norris finalist.
- Tomas Plekanec deserves Selke consideration. Plekanec is obviously offensively gifted, but he gets far too little attention for his defensive work. He's a PK cornerstone for Montreal.
When was the last time the Habs had legitimate invidivual trophy candidates? Things are looking up in Montreal down the stretch, but they need to continue to take the competition seriously. Thursday will demonstrate whether they message has gotten through, as the Habs face the Islanders.
As per RDS during the intermission this evening, the Canadiens are currently working on an extension for defenceman Francis Bouillon.
This may come as a surprise to many, as Boullon is seen as a depth player on the Habs, but he's a fan favourite, a hard worker, and never complains about his role. I suspect Bergevin is approaching this with the understanding Bouillon may be a spare defenceman next year, and that's not a bad move. As we've seen time and again in recent years, you can never have too many defenceman approaching the playoffs - and since the Canadiens once again appear to be a playoff team, it's a good thing they're addressing this proactively.
I'm on the road today, so can't write much, but I will say this: David Desharnais for four years at $3.5 million per is a good deal. The lack of a no trade clause makes it a great one. This rewards a key piece of the Habs offence, while giving them the flexibility to deal the contract, if need be, down the road.
Good move, M. Bergevin. The interesting question now is who stays and who goes. DD, Plekanec, Eller, Galchenyuk...it isn't a problem now, but not too far down the road, there won't be any room at the inn.
I've been traveling the past week, and will be again this week, but as we're at the halfway point I felt I had to opine on this year's Montreal Canadiens team. I can summarize the first two months in one word.
From coach, to first line, to the third line, to the defence, right on down the line, this team has surprised. They are leaner, meaner, faster, stronger, and hungrier than last year. By leaps and bounds. My standouts to date? Brendan Gallagher, Brandon Prust, Max Pacioretty, and PK Subban lead the pack. Gallagher is a Calder candidate, and Subban has to be in the Norris conversation, what with 18 points in 20 games to go with superb defence. Brian Gionta and Andrei Marov have bounced back admirably from major injuries, Lars Eller is becoming consistent, Alex Galchenyuk oozes talent, Josh Gorges blocks shots like they are going out of business, and Alex Emelin is turning into a certifiable top three defenceman.
Who could have predicted this?
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.
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