The Upper Canadien
Montreal has a scoring problem. The Habs sticks have gone silent, after a 1-0 loss to the Rangers, and a squeaker of a 3-2 shootout win against Columbus. What's a coach to do? Michel Therrien appears to be closer and closer to his wits end, as do fans, fed up with the ice time he's awarding players like, oh, the goalless David Desharnais, while he short changes players like PK Subban and Daniel Briere. Many Montreal fans are stumped at Therien's stubbornness, and I'll admit it, I am too. Subban is arguably the best defenceman in the game, yet his minutes continue to trail the top rearguards on other teams. Why? Why does Desharnais continue to get top line minutes when he's so clearly not performing as a top line player? Why does Francis Bouillon continue to get power play time?
These are just a few of the mysteries that are your Montreal Canadiens.
It's a quiet Saturday in Montreal, as Habs fans uncharacteriscally have the evening off. As the Canadiens prepare for a rare Sunday tilt, many wonder how the Habs are going to lift themselves up and dust themselves off after a week of uninspired, lacklustre hockey. Carey Price has great stats thus far, but the Canadiens can't seem to score, perhaps a sign that injuries have taken their toll early in this campaign.
What has gone right for the Habs? Well, Price has, for the most part, been stellar. Tomas Plekanec has been his old dependably self. PK Subban has been phenomenal - yet attracts almost nothing but criticism - and the Galchenyuk/Gallagher/Eller trio have been, on most nights, electric
What hasn't worked? Well, Douglas Murray looks two steps behind his teammates on most nights, injuries have plagued the top two lines, and David Desharnais has been abysmal. It's very difficult to win when you're short on scoring depth, as the Habs are. It's that much more difficult when your, cough, first line centre has an assist through 15 games.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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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