Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

Habs eyes on first

It's February 23rd, and the Canadiens are looking down on most in the Eastern Conference. Now, there's an asterisk there, as this is obviously not an 82 game schedule, but most - myself included - did not expect a Habs team in first place this close to March. In fact, most didn't expect Montreal in first place, well, at all. 2013 was to be a rebuilding year, after an embarrasing campaign the year before. What happened?

Here's the jist: a funny thing happened on the way to the Bell Centre. The next generation took over. Names like Galchenyuk, Gallagher, Emelin, Diaz, and Eller are having much more of an impact than expected. 

Impressively, in many cases, they are making up for lacklustre performances from colleagues with names like Cole, Markov and Gionta. We knew the Canadiens would age - we just didn't know that the youth would step up the way they have.

Can it continue? A few factors lead me to say no. Firstly, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk will slow down. They can't keep this offence up all year. Secondly, and more pressingly, the Canadiens have serious issues on defence. Andrei Markov has the points to hide it, but he is a shadow of his former self most nights. I can't blame him, either - the guy is on his 4th and 5th knees at this point - but the reality is Markov cannot log the minutes, and be as effective as he has in the past, and the guy who could theoretically step in, Tomas Kaberle, hasn't played in almost a month.

What about Subban, you say? Well, PK Subban is a great player, perhaps even better than Markov in his prime, but Subban is a different player. He's the trigger man, not the power play artist, and he's more passionate, less cool headed. Montreal needs someone to take pressure off of Markov, and right now, that player doesn't exist - unless Michel Therrien can coax 2002ish Tomas Kaberle out, which seems highly unlikely.

The other issue: road games. Montreal has played a hell of a lot of games at home - so many, that they're going to feel as if they're on holiday for the month of March. Now, they have racked up the wins, which is great - this  was a problem just last year, after all - but they can't continue performing like this on the road. It just won't happen. What goes up...

So where will Montreal end up? I predicted fourth or fifth in the conference at the outset, and I'll stick to that. I think this Canadiens team is a lot tougher to play against, has a lot of youthful vigour, and can probably go somewhere come playoff time. However, just like everyone else, they've got issues they need to work out. Luckily, they've got another 30 games or so to do it.

Quick notes:

  • Tonight, Montreal faces a Rangers team without Rick Nash and Michael Del Zotto. Look for Carey Price in net, despite Peter Budaj's performance last week, and look for Brendan Gallagher to be back from his concussion.
  • We're still waiting for Marc Bergevin to make his first significant trade. I still think Ryan O'Reilly could be Montreal bound, as the Habs have a solid collection of young players that Colorado could covet.
  • Another thought: Carolina needs defence badly, Montreal has a surplus, and Carolina coach Kirk Muller ran the Habs defensive corps for years. Could Yannick Weber, for example, but a good solution for the Hurricanes?
  • The Habs need to fix their powerplay. It was clicking, but has been offline since Subban came back. What about Markov-Diaz and Subban-Plekanec? A forward on the point for the second wave could make a difference.
  • Lastly, speaking of Plekanec, this guy is incredibly underrated. He does almost everything on the ice, and rarely gets the limelight, but he is a heck of a player. Montreal did well locking him up, and I'd be willing to bet he wins a Selke one of these years. 

I also obtained a Bud Red Light last week, which I'm testing out now. I'll be writing about my experience with it sometime soon...if my partner doesn't throw me out first (it gets a little loud sometimes). 

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If they unload Weber to Canes, and Markov is ineffective, then who steps up to fill the gap? Also, do you see Bergevin bringing in a better backup than Budaj, or do you think the Habs goaltending situation is set?

Posted by Etterbeekers on 02/25/13 at 05:30 PM ET


Jarred Tinordi is probably next on the list from the AHL. He’d be in Montreal already if they didn’t have such a backlog of defencemen. Don’t forget, Kaberle can also fill in admirably from time to time.

As for Budaj, he seems to have settled down. That said, I think the Habs would jump at the chance to improve on him as back up if the opportunity presented itself.

Posted by The Upper Canadien from Toronto on 02/25/13 at 11:09 PM ET

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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