The Upper Canadien
Minus Lars Eller, Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta, the Canadiens came out on fire Friday, defeating the Ottawa Senators 3-1 and tying their series 1-1. Bouncing back after a deflating first game, the Habs were led by the strong play of Carey Price, Rene Bourque, and Ryan White - White playing what was likely the best game of his young NHL career.
Brandon Prust and Raphael Diaz also played inspriing hockey, as Montreal avenged the game one hit on Lars Eller the best way any team can - with a win.
The Habs now head to Ottawa for a rare Sunday night tilt with the Senators, an arena where Carey Price has gone 6-0-2 in his last eight starts. Ottawa often seems like a home game for the Habs, as thousands of Montrealers and local fans pack the arena. Montreal hopes to have Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty back in the lineup, while the Senators seem likely to swap Cory Conacher back in for Matt Kassian, who had little to no discernable impact for the Sens on Friday night.
Game three. We've got a series. Should be very, very good.
Not the start the Habs wanted. 50 shots and nothing to show for it. 1-0 Ottawa. Terrible hit on Lars Eller, who is in hospital with a concussion, facial fractures, and is staying there overnight. It seems unlikely he'll be back in this series, given how quickly the games are being played. Look for Jeff Halpern to slot in tomorrow night, and Brandon Prust to move up with Gallagher and Galchenyuk.
What can you say after a loss like this? The Canadiens dominated for 50 of the 60 minutes and lots. The team was clearly thrown off by the injury to Eller. Is it a suspendable hit? I think under the new rules it may be, given the head contact, but the injury made the play look much worse than it actually was - reminding many, including myself, of Rich Pilon on Kevin Stevens twenty years ago. A huge loss for the Habs, as Eller was probably the most enigmatic forward (perhaps Gallagher was better) until the hit. The key tomorrow night will be the Habs staying composed and looking for revenge via a win rather than a physical confrontation.
Not much time to tweak their gameplan. Not much time for Carey Price to think things over. Maybe that's a good thing?
Habs-Sens, tomorrow at 7. We'll have a very good idea of where this series is going come Saturday morning.
Anticipation, anyone? 36 hours from now, the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators will see the puck dropped on what I expect to be a great first round series. So many good storylines. Subban vs. Karlsson. Price vs. Anderson. Therrien vs. MacLean. While I expect the Senators to be extremely tough competitors - let's face it, just about every playoff adversary is - I do think the Habs hold the edge in this series, and I expect them to win in 6 games. One aspect I'm keen to look for it how Montreal tries to control the flow of the series. Playing defensive hockey will only play into Ottawa's hands, so I am looking for Therrien and co. to try and breakout through the series and, with their speed and offence, apply pressure to Ottawa's defence. I'm also curious to see how many Canadiens fans end up at the Corel Cent, er Scotiabank Place, as I expect thousands to make the trip down highway 417.
As for other sidestories to this series, one curious one is the legal trouble of Montreal defenceman Nathan Beaulieu. He was charge yesterday with assault, stemming from an incident over the weekend involving his father, also charged with assault, and two other individuals.
From last in the East to Northeast Division champions. What a turnaround, and a great playoff series to come. Canadiens-Senators. First time since 1927. Price-Anderson. Subban-Karlsson. Pacioretty-Alfreddson. Should be very, very entertaining.
Of course, none of the past 4 months matter now. It's only just beginning to matter. But I wanted to take a moment and recognize what a job this organization has done in only one year. Well done, Marc Bergevin, well done Michel Therrien, and well done Montreal.
Time to get down to business.
Depending on the outcome tonight, it could be the first time since 1979 since the Leafs and Habs...well, you know. So what's going to happen? Well, it sounds as if Peter Budaj is starting, and I suspect the Habs will rest a few veterans. If I was in charge, I'd sit Prust, Markov, and if he's still hurting, Michael Ryder. If I were the Leafs, I'd be declaring all out war, trying to establish a major physical and psychological advantage over my likely first round opponent. Should the Habs win, and the Bruins lose in regulation, the possibilities are all over the map.
There's a lot on the line. Flanders is in net. The Canadiens are coming off a recent Leafs drubbing.
It's 16 degrees, and it's playoff time. Time to hit the Beer Store.
What to say about Montreal? 45 games into this season, they're tied for 2nd in the East - yet they've lost 4 of 5, given up a slew of goals, and the fanbase is in crisis. But, haven't we seen this before? Sure, the Canadiens have a history of performing strong after backing into the playoffs, be it in 1986, 1993, or more recently in 2010, but shouldn't we be considered that the hitters aren't hitting, the scorers aren't scoring, and Carey Price has forgotten how to stop the puck?
Cool your Jets, Habs fans (and you literally will on Thursday). The Canadiens have 3 games left - New Jersey, Winnipeg and Toronto. That's 3 games to get their act in gear. Every team has a tough stretch. Every one. Montreal, to date this year, really hasn't had one. Good teams overcome adversity, and after all, would you rather they lose now, or, say, 3 weeks from now?
I say no reason to panic. Yet. The biggest issue, clearly, is defence, as the absence of Alex Emelin has proven to be more impactful than expected. My solution? Try Jarred Tinordi with Andrei Markov. Tinordi is big, tough, hits, and can chip in on offence from time to time. He was called up from Hamilton today, but likely won't arrive until the weekend. Sure, it may be a long shot, but I think Tinordi could be just what the Habs defence needs.
Otherwise, status quo. Throw the lines back together as they were before this mini-crisis, let Galchenyuk and Gallagher play with Prust, let Pacioretty and Desharnais work through their funk, and things will come together. It's been a great year for Montreal. It can get much better. It's just going to take some hard work, and a little bit of luck.
Hopefully, that starts on Tuesday in New Jersey.
Montreal dug out what was a key 3-2 victory Thursday night, scoring late after blowing the lead earlier in the game. Carey Price made a number of difficult saves, Montreal's defence tighened up, and the kids, especially Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller, played a brilliant game.
Does this mean Montreal has their mojo back? Who knows. What it does mean, however, is that the Habs' worst stretch of the season is officially behind them, and the playoffs are around the corner. Their next game is against Washington on Saturday, so we'll see if the success of this evening carries over.
Of note tonight: Yannick Weber helped the offence on multiple occasions, and looked at ease on the back end. Expect him to continue playing until Raphael Diaz retuns from his concussion.
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.
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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