If we can all agree that Pierre Gauthier’s tenure as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens will come to an end at the end of the season, then it should come as absolutely no surprise that he walked away from the trade table with only significant move under his belt today: a deal that sends Andrei Kostitsyn to Nashville for a 2nd-round pick in 2013.
From all accounts, Gauthier’s day at the office is done.
It would be hard to imagine Gauthier getting carte blanche to overhaul this team if he’s not going to be around next season to see this thing through. That’s not to say, of course, that Gauthier WON’T be back next season. But if I were a betting man…
I know plenty of Habs fans were clamouring for the team to jettison players like Tomas Kaberle, Chris Campoli, SCOTT GOMEZ, among others. But seriously, why would there be any takers for ANY of those players???
It’s called supply and demand. And the Canadiens have a large supply of players that there was no demand for.
In addition, those of you fretting that the Canadiens might deal players like Tomas Plekanec, PK Subban or Erik Cole can breath easier right about now. The Habs did NOT throw the baby out with the bath water.
More decisions will be made at the end of the season (the end is near!!!) when it comes to keeping, or signing, unrestricted free agents. Those decisions will not be made by Pierre Gauthier. And the players who end up on this team next season will not be coached by Randy Cunneyworth.
If I were a betting man.
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With the arrival of free agent Erik Cole on the scene, the great first-line experiment with the Habs is over.
That’s the experiment that resulted in players like Travis Moen and Benoit Pouliot (remember him?) seeing first-line duty because injuries and a general lack of front-line forward talent on this team.
In Cole, the Canadiens have obtained a forward with size, speed and the ability to put 30 pucks in the net on a good day. Granted, Cole’s better days are probably behind him. Four years at $18 million dollars for a player like Cole at this stage of his career doesn’t exactly qualify as a bargain in today’s free-agent market: but what does? Certainly not the $9.5 million it took to get Tim Connolly and that battered body of his to put his signature to a two-year contract with the Leafs.
In Cole, the Canadiens also have a bona-fide top-six forward who I will pencil in to play beside Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri (pending any further player movement between now and the start of the season.)
I would also like to continue the experiment which saw Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty play some very effective hockey as a line, upon Pacioretty’s arrival from the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Those of you holding your breath waiting for GM Pierre Gauthier to trade Gomez, you can exhale now. It’s not going to happen. We’re stuck with Gomez for better or for worse. Unfortunately, it’s been the latter, as opposed to the former, when you look at the body of work that Gomez has put together during his time with the Canadiens.
Third line? Well, here’s where it gets interesting. I’m beginning to think that Andrei Kostitsyn is not a top-six forward. He’s done very little to prove that he has the capability of being a top-six forward. I thought he put together some of his most effective minutes last season (and there were precious few of them) as a third-line player. So let’s put him on the third line, along with David Desharnais and Lars Eller. Eller is a question mark to start the season as a result of off-season shoulder surgery, but, for the sake of this exercise, let’s fast-track his recovery, shall we?
Which brings us to the fourth line. Through the process of elimination, we’re forced to lump Mathieu Darche in with Ryan White and Travis Moen. Darche deserves every minute of ice time he gets and has been very handy on the power play. But, at the end of the day, he’s a fourth-line player with first-line heart. White provided some much-needed sandpaper when called up from the ‘Dogs last season and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. He’s not a fighter, but the kid’s got grit in his game. Moen? A huge disappointment in my books. Yes, I know he’s an effective contributor on the penalty kill. But that’s not enough. His game isn’t nearly as mean and nasty as it needs to be.
Don’t like Moen on the fourth line? Don’t like Kostitsyn on the third line? Fine. Have your say. It’s your turn to stand behind the bench and bark out the line combinations.
Three games into the regular season, and Canadiens’ head coach Jacques Martin is already playing musical chairs as a way to kick-start forward Benoit Pouliot.
Truth be told, The Coach should also pull a couple of chairs for Pouliot’s linemates, Scott Gomez and Team Captain Brian Gionta. Martin had given Pouliot the benefit of the doubt by playing him with Gionta and Gomez since the start of the season. When it comes to Pouliot, the seeds of doubt were sewn last season, when he fell off map after initially starting his career with the Habs in fine fashion when he came over from the Minnesota Wild for Guillaume Latendresse.
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The Montreal Canadiens’ Centennial Season is turning into a non-stop nightmare, both on and off the ice.
The action on the ice took a back seat, earlier this week, as a result of the unusual move by General Manager Bob Gainey to leave Alex Kovalev behind before the Canadiens moved on to Washington and Pittsburgh, to close out this disastrous six-game road trip.
Then, today, news broke in the Montreal newspaper La Presse that Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn had social ties with a man who has just been arrested on criminal charges. Roman Hamerlik was another member of the Habs identified by La Presse as someone who hung around this character.
It must be noted that there are no charges against the three Habs’, according to the crown prosecutor, and there is no information linking them to the operation cracking down on alleged drug traffickers.
Still, Gainey felt the need to address this swirling controversy at the club’s practice facility at Brossard, while the Canadiens’ took to the ice in preparation for their next game, tomorrow afternoon at the Bell Centre, against the Ottawa Senators.
Gainey told reporters he’s concerned by the published report in La Presse that three of his players have been hanging out with an alleged underworld figure.
And then there’s the concern on the ice.
The Habs, so anxious to hit the road for this six-game road trip, returned home with their tails between their legs, after accumulating a grand total of three of a possible 12 points. One point came in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals Wednesday night, which was followed by a 5-4 loss to the Penguins on Thursday night, to close out this road trip.
Despite the suggestions by some that Alex Kovalev had played his last game with the ‘Bleu, Blanc, Rouge,” number 27 was back on the ice at practice today. And head coach Guy Carbonneau confirmed that Kovalev will be back on the ice tomorrow against the Ottawa Senators, along with his familiar line mates: Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec.
Mind you, Plekanec and Kostitsyn did very well, thank you very much, with Max Pacioretty as a member of that three-some, while Kovalev cooled his jets back in Montreal. In fact, the three were, by far and away, the Habs’ most effective forward unit in the loss to the Penguins.
But Guy Carbonneau has decided to give Kovalev his greatest chance at success by returning him to the scene of his biggest triumphs as a member of this team: playing with Plekanec and Kostitsyn. In effect, he’s told Kovalev: “You think you are ready to help this club when it needs you the most? I’m going to give you the resources to help you get it done. Now, show me what you’ve got.”
And just exactly what does Alex Kovalev have left? With the Mar. 4 N.H.L. trade deadline looming, are these Kovalev’s final days as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Is he destined to exit this city as a mere footnote?
Or will Alex Kovalev seize the opportunity that has been afforded him by Canadiens’ management and grab this team by the scruff of its neck, and pull it out of this quagmire of controversy and shame, and lead it to the promised playoff land?
Is it even fair to ask this question of one man at a time when the Canadiens continue to lose hockey games as a team?
Right now, at this point in time in Canadiens’ history, in this, the 100th anniversary of perhaps the most storied franchise in all of sports, I believe the answer to that question is a resounding:
The Montreal Canadiens can thank Jaroslav Halak for their first win on the road after seven straight setbacks.
Halak was outstanding (something you haven’t been able to say about either of the two Montreal netminders for almost a month) in Montreal’s 4-2 win over the struggling Colorado Avalanche last night. The backup netminder, who is sure to get the start tomorrow night in Vancouver, faced plenty of rubber over the final 40 minutes, but hung tough to help preserve this much-needed victory.
Did I say “much needed?”
Did you see the reaction on coach Guy Carbonneau‘s face after Tom Kostopoulos sealed the deal with an empty netter in the final minute of play? He was jubilant. And for good reason. His club had dropped 7 of the last 9 starts, and was spiralling out of control.
Until Jaroslav Halak stepped up and saved the day.
Halak was given the starting gig after Carey Price surrendered a bushel of goals in Montreal’s 7-2 loss in Edmonton two nights earlier. Price is 2-6 since his appearance in the all-star game. Less than sensational. In fact, all four Montreal all-stars have been less than sensational since the all-star game: Alex Kovalev, Mike Komisarek and Andrei Markov moving into minus territory faster than you can say “Dow Jones Industrial Average.”
But Halak didn’t disappoint last night. After building up a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Francis Bouillon and Patrice Brisebois, the Canadiens went to sleep over the final 40 minutes; outshot 17-4 in the second period, and 19-5 in the third period.
After squandering that 2-0 lead, Andrei Kostitsyn put the Habs ahead to stay with his 19th of the season at 17:44 of the third period, as he slipped the puck past Peter Budaj on a breakaway. The goal by Kostitsyn was Montreal’s first by a forward (I don’t count the goal scored by Mathieu Dandenault against the Oilers) since the first period of the loss to the Calgary Flames: almost eight complete periods of futility on the part of Habs‘ forwards.
Ironically, the last goal to be scored by a Montreal forward, before the Kostitsyn goal, came when Tomas Plekanec put the puck in the net against the Flames back on Monday. Plekanec wasn’t on the ice last night in Denver. He was cooling his jets in the press box after being given a two-game suspension for his nasty takedown on Edmonton’s Denis Grebeshkov. Head coach Guy Carbonneau claimed the incident was a “hockey play.” With all due respect to the coach, that was no hockey play. That was a “dirty play.”
All of which means the Canadiens will again be without Plekanec when they take on Mats Sundin and the Vancouver Canucks tomorrow night. And won’t THAT be interesting. After sucking wind for weeks as a member of the Canucks, Sundin has since found his sea legs and is playing some pretty good hockey. No doubt he will be facing Jaroslav Halak in goal tomorrow night.
And should Halak lead the Habs to another “W”, look for the backup netminder to again get the start against the Capitals, when the Canadiens continue this road trip Wednesday night in Washington.
Mike Komisarek has a vivid memory.
He can recall, in a game on Dec. 1, 2007, at the Bell Centre, how the Canadiens blew a pair of three-goal leads en-route to a 5-4 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators. It was something that was on his mind as the Canadiens took a 2-1 lead into the third period of last night’s game against these same Predators, in this same building.
And sure enough, after building a 3-1 lead on a goal by Andrei Markov at 1:05 of the third period, the Predators pulled within one at 3-2 on a goal by Vernon Fiddler some five minutes later, throwing a major-league scare into a Habs’ team that finally prevailed, 3-2.
“They always seem to have forwards flying out of the zone, guys driving to the net with speed,” said Komisarek when this one was over.
“That game was still fresh in my mind. That was a perfect example of them not giving up. We talked about it in the second, that they wouldn’t let up.”
And they didn’t.
Only some outstanding work by Jaroslav Halak enabled the Canadiens to earn two points against a hurting Nashville team that is struggling to play .500 hockey.
Guillaume Latendresse opened the scoring for the Habs with his 6th in his last 14 games, at 19:26 of the first period; a snap shot that eluded Pekka Rinne in the Nashville goal.
JP Dumont tied it 6:35 into the second before the red-hot Andrei Kostitsyn scored his his 9th in10 games: another shot from the faceoff circle just two minutes after the goal by Dumont. The goal by Kostitsyn came on only Montreal’s second shot on goal in that period. Those would be the only two shots they would get on Rinne in the middle frame, on a night when the Canadiens were held to 20 S.O.G., compared to 25 for the Preds.
The Habs couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn all night long, and nowhere were those frustrations more evident than in the final 90 seconds of the contest. With Rinne on the bench for an extra attacker, and the Canadiens facing a yawning cage, Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec, Robert Lang and Andrei Markov all failed to find the net, despite glorious opportunities.
But in the end, Markov, Andrei K. and Latendresse did, when it counted.
The goal by Markov, his 7th of the season, gives him 33 points as he continues to challenge for the point-scoring lead on this team.
The goal by Latendresse was his 8th of the season. And his steady production of late leaves Habs fans with hope that the enigmatic forward, who drifted badly for a good two-month stretch after starting the season in such promising fashion, might actually hit the 20-goal mark after back-to-back 16-goal seasons.
Then there’s the rejuventated Andrei Kostitsyn. With 15 goals on the season, there’s no reason to believe that A.K. 46 can’t hit the 30-goal mark when all is said and done; after connecting on 26 last season.
And then there’s the steady veteran Robert Lang, who assisted on the goals by Kostitsyn and Markov. General Manager Bob Gainey had said that it remains to be seen if Lang can keep up the rather prolific point-scoring pace he set in the first half of the season, adding that other players need to step up and contribute the way Lang has. But in the meantime, Lang has clearly found a home on a line with the Kostitsyn brothers on team that, despite a long list of injured players, continues to pile up the points; two of them coming the ugly way last night.
The Montreal Canadiens could have used Vincent Lecavalier last night.
But, alas, while Lecavalier and his Tampa team mates were warming up for their west-coast game against the Sharks (which the Sharks won, 7-1) the Canadiens fell 3-1 to the Bruins in Boston.
The trade winds that have been swirling in Montreal in recent days swept through Boston last night, with Habs fans convinced, or at least hoping, that the Lightning will consider parting with Vinnie and his 11-year, 85-million-dollar contract. And that Habs’ GM Bob Gainey will move heaven and earth to bring him to Montreal.
While neither the Canadiens nor the Lightning have said anything tangible to fuel the speculation, this is a rumour that has developed a life of its own, and will not go away in the immediate future until:
A. Tampa trades Lecavalier
B. The March trading deadline passes, and Vinnie is still in a Bolts uniform
The rumours hit a fever pitch early last night with word that Lecavalier was being kept out of the lineup against the Sharks because he was on his way to Montreal. But, sure enough, when the puck dropped at the HP Pavilion, there was Vincent Lacavalier on the ice for the Tampa Bay Lightning. And there’s his name on the scoresheet: 17:07 of ice time on the strength of 21 shifts, and a -1 performance on the night.
It’s all there in black and white, not ‘bleu, blanc, rouge.”
In the meantime, the Canadiens could have used a little Lecavalier-like offensive magic against Tim Thomas, who surrendered but one goal to Andrei Kostitsyn en-route to a 34-save performance in the Boston goal. Historically, the Canadiens have had Thomas’ number. But not last night. The veteran was the difference, holding down the fort in a first-period flurry which saw the Habs pepper him with 17 shots enroute to a 17-9 shot advantage after 20 minutes.
A funny thing happened to the Canadiens on their way to the second period. They stopped skating. True, the goal by Andrei, his 14th of the season on a lovely, patient set-up from brother Sergei, came early in the second period — and opened the scoring. But the Habs slowly began skating in quicksand, and could not keep up to the Bruins, who, like the Canadiens, were also missing key injured players in Milan Lucic and Phil Kessel. Two goals in the second period by big Zdeno Chara on the power play, his second coming on a 5-on-3, put the Bruins over the top, with David Kreji adding an insurance marker in the final minutes.
Not that Jaroslav Halak can be faulted for any of this. From where I was sitting, he looked much better in this loss than he has in many of his wins. But after powering their way to four straight victories on the strength of 23 goals, Montreal’s offensive well ran dry last night.
Of immediate concern is that both Carey Price and Saku Koivu were kept off skates today as the Canadiens practiced at their facility at Brossard. Both are nursing lower-body injuries. The Captain had returned to practicing his teammates and looked to be a reasonable bet to return to action as soon as this week. Koivu’s absence from practice throws that timetable out the window.
Up next: the Nashville Predators Thursday night at the Bell Centre. Defenceman Yannick Weber won’t get a chance to dress for that one. Today he was returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Weber was called up from Hamilton on Jan. 1st and saw 15 minutes of ice time in the 6-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Jan. 7.
He’ll be back.
At precisely the mid-way point of the 2008-2009 NHL season, it’s time to announce the first-half winners of the first-annual “Hefties’, the awards that go to the Montreal Canadiens’ Most Valuable Player, and the teams’ Unsung Hero.
Those w0rthy of consideration for the team’s MVP award include goalie Carey Price, who, despite the occasional soft goal and suspect glove hand, has provedto be worthy of his number 1 status with this club. Yes, the Canadiens have managed to win without him, as Price continues to nurse a lower-body injury. But I’m hear to tell you that this is not so much as a result of any spectacular play by backup Jaroslav Halak, but rather the sudden explosion of offence on the part of his team mates, as whitnessed by the 23 goals the Canadiens have scored during their current four-game winning streak.
There was much gnashing of teeth on the part of many Canadiens fans when the Habs traded Christobal Huet last season; leaving the team’s goaltending in the promising but unproven hands of Price and Halak, with veteran Marc Denis trying to resurrect his career down on the farm in Hamilton. As much as Huet was admired and respected by his team mates and hockey fans in this season, GM Bob Gainey was right when he sent Huet packing, effectively anointing Price as the team’s starting goaltender at the same time.
Price has not disappointed.
Andrei Markov would have to be considered worthy of MVP status, as well, through the first 41 games of the season. Not only he been a pillar of strength along the blue line, but his offensive contributions can not be overlooked, with six goals and 25 assists for 31 points: just one back of co-leaders Alex Kovalev and Robert Lang.
Lang? Another worthy candidate. He’s been a model of offensive consistancy this season on a team that, up until recently, has been victimized by a number of extended scoring slumps.
Worthy candidates all. But my choice as MVP through the first half of the season has to be defenceman Josh Gorges. The team’s outstanding player? Maybe not, overall, at least. But the team’s most VALUABLE player? Absolutely. This young man has skyrocketed up the depth chart as a result of his ongoing consistant play along the blueline. He has shown a maturity beyond his years that has made the deal that brought Gorges and a draft pick (hello Max Pachioretty) to Montreal for defenceman Craig Rivet an absolute steal for Gainey and the Habs.
The fact that Gorges spent much of the first half of last season on the bench as a victim of the numbers game (hello Patrice Brisbois) was criminal. However, he has taken the bull by the horns this season and is developing into a first-class stay-at-home defenceman with a budding offensive touch. One goals and seven assists, combined with a team-leading plus-16, along with his aformentioned tributes, make Gorges my pick as Canadiens’ MVP through the first half of the season.
Unsung hero? Hands down, without a doubt, Tom Kostopoulos. He was arguabley the teams’ best performer in the playoffs last season. And this season, T.K. has done it all for the Canadiens, including score the occasional big goal (he has three on the season.) While heavyweight Georges Laraque cools his jets on the sidelines with a nagging groin injury, it has been left to the likes of Kostopoulos to drop his gloves and stand up for his team mates.
T.K. has taken on opposing players of all shapes and sizes, mostly large and extra large, and has taken his share of lumps. But he never, ever, backs down from a fight. It wasn’t Georges Laraque handed out the punishment when Kurt Sauer of the Phoenix Coyotes levelled Andrei Kostitsyn into the boards early in the season.
It was Tom Kostopoulos.
And although T.K. didn’t hand out much punishment that night against the Coyotes, he made a statement that continues to ring true, some 35 games later.
Other worthy unsung-hero candidates so far? Max Lapierre, Francis Bouillon, and (yes, damn it, I’m going to admit it) Patrice Brisebois. There, I’ve said it. He’s still way too soft of a hockey player, but Brisbois has seen more good nights that most. And, on a team that is still missing a true power play quarterback on the blueline, he at least give the team a respectable shot that from the point.
And so, the Canadiens ride a 9-1-1 stretch into the second half of the season, beginning with Tuesday night’s game against the Bruins in Boston. Imagine. Guy Carbonneau and Claude Julien, who don’t have a lot of love between them, will actually be on the same side of bench in the Jan. 25 all-star game in Montreal; Julien the head coach for the East, with Carbonneau his assistant.
Stranger things have happened. But I can’t think of any off the top of my head.
School’s out for the term, and members of the Montreal Canadiens are enjoying the Christmas break until they return to class Dec. 27 in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. Report cards have been issued for all students. Some have excelled, others need to show more effort. Here are their grades:
Andrei Markov. Andrei has been a very consistent student this term. He is worthy of his current all-star voting status and the fact that he is among the top point-scorers among his classmates is a bonus. A worthy contributor on the power play. A-
Alex Kovalev. Alex closed out the term by exhibiting a renewed interest in contributing to the success of the class after going through a long restless and unproductive stretch. Because of an A-plus season last year, much is expected of Alex this year, and he has struggled to live up to those expectations. But there is reason to believe that his new-found enthusiasm will successfully carry him through to the end of the current school year. C
Alex Tanguay. As one of the new kids in class, Alex adapted to his new surroundings very well, showing a particular interest in playing with fellow classmate Saku Koivu. However, Alex’s productivity has dropped of late and he’s struggling to regain the scoring touch he exhibited through the first month of the school year. Alex is going to have to work harder if he is to enjoy the kind of success he had early in the term. C+
Robert Lang. Another new student this year, Robert has fit right in with his new classmates. An outgoing and engaging student, Robert quietly does his job on the ice without much fanfare. Although the Canadiens were initially pursuing another out-of-town student named Mats, Robert has been more than a capable addition to this team. A-
Saku Koivu. Saku was the most consistent performer in his class, right up until the time a lower-body injury forced him out of action two weeks ago. A tireless worker, the Canadiens miss his leadership and grit. A-
Tomas Plekanec. Tomas is a wonderful student and a terrific young man. However, despite his best efforts, Tomas’s contributions to the success of the class have been lacking. His coach is again giving him a chance to play with the students he had so much success with last season, Alex K. and Andrei K. A more consistent, grittier effort is needed from Tomas. C-
Sergei Kostitsyn. Sergei joined the group in the second half of last term and was a welcome addition to the class. This term, however, he seemed to sulk and was unproductive until recently, having exhibited a renewed enthusiasm lately. He needs to maintain a positive attitude this upcoming term. C
Andrei Kostitsyn. Sergei’s big brother Andrei seemed to flourish when little brother joined the class last year. This term, however, Andrei hasn’t shown the same drive and determination that led many to believe that he could be at the head of the class this year. Andrei needs to work harder and get his nose dirtier. C-
Guillaume Latendresse. Like a number of his class mates, Guillaume began the term in impressive fashion. However, he seemed to lose interest for long stretches as the term went on. Again, like a number of his class mates, he’s shown a renewed interest in his studies and has been making a more consistent contribution. He needs to keep it up. C.
Roman Hamrlik. Roman is in his second year with this class and has been a welcome addition. He’s not as flashy as the student he initially replaced along the blue line, Sheldon, but he contributes in his own quiet and efficient fashion. Very steady along the blue line. B
Christopher Higgins. This has been a difficult term for Christopher, who began the season with a lower-body injury and is now sidelined with an upper body injury. However, when he was healthy, Christopher struggled to find himself and was unable to contribute to his class’s production. A bright young man with the potential to be a class leader, Christopher will need to play a bigger role in class when he returns. D
Steve Begin. Steve was clearly not the teacher’s pet when the term started. However, he has been given the chance to become more involved in class and has been very productive. He has not only exhibited his trademark grit, but Steve has also contributed offensively. B
Matt D’Agostini. Young Matt is a newcomer to class, having recently graduated from Hamilton. Matt has shown a maturity beyond his years and has provided class with a much-needed spark and offensive lift. Matt is sure to finish the term in Montreal. A
Maxime Lapierre. Maxime has brought a more focused determination to class in recent games and has played well with fellow students Tom K. and Steve B. He’s always been a hard worker, but now those efforts are proving to be more productive. B-
Patrice Brisebois. Much has been expected of Patrice this season as a result of injuries, and Patrice’s contribution, particularly on the power play, have not gone unnoticed. However, Patrice still struggles in his own end and is prone to mistakes. C.
Tom Kostopoulos. Tom has been a terrific addition to class and has raised his level of play this term. Tom shows great character in the locker room and on the ice and has exhibited the occasional scoring touch, which has been a nice surprise. B+
Josh Gorges. Josh has emerged as number 2 among his defensive class mates and shows a maturity beyond his years. He’s not the biggest kid in the class, but shows a big heart out there. Wants to contribute more offensively, but should stick to his “stay-at-home” style. A-.
Francis Bouillon. Francis has been an effective contributor to this class for a number of years, and we saw more of the same from him this term. Not the biggest kid in the class, Francis plays big, uses his body well, and makes a terrific first pass out of his zone. An engaging, personable young man. B-
Ryan O’Byrne. Ryan has struggled since graduating from Hamilton, although the teacher has shown faith in the young man. Ryan has taken a step back in his progress since joining the group last season. D.
Mathieu Dandenault. Mathieu has been a patient student this season; waiting for his turn to join his fellow students on the ice. He was given that opportunity recently, to rejoin his defensive mates, but suffered an upper-body injury shortly thereafter. He will be missed by the class. C+
Mike Komisarek. Mike brings size, grit, leadership, and terrific puck-blocking abilities to the class, but showed some inconsistencies before suffering an upper-body injury earlier in the term. He’s back now, and has made a solid contribution since his return. We need to see more of that from Mike in the coming term. B-
Georges Laraque. Georges is well-liked by all. He brings a huge presence to class and has recently shown that he can contribute offensively, as well. Isn’t quite the schoolyard bully that many thought, and hoped, he would be. C.
Carey Price. Carey has performed well this term, keeping his class mates in many a hockey game while others around him struggled. He was missed when he recently came down with the flue and a lower-body injury. He is back in class and will be counted upon heavily in the second term. His glove hand is known to desert him at times. Prone to the occasional bad goal. B+
Jaroslav Halak. Jaroslav recently had a chance to step in for Carey Price for an extended period and came up with a hot-and-cold performance. Won’t get a lot of playing time with his class mates in the second term, but needs to be more consistent when he gets the opportunity. C-
Overall class grade: A stronger class effort of late has this group approaching a B- grade. However, for this term they’ve been issued a C+.
One day after “Plan A” announced his signing with the Vancouver Canucks, Bob Gainey’s “Plan B” celebrated a birthday; his first as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Plan A was Mats Sundin. You remember Mats Sundin, right? The guy who refused to waive his no-trade clause last March because he just didn’t feel right about leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs and joining another club as a rental player. Very noble of Sundin. Except that, in the end, Mats Sundin ended up leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs, only to join the Canucks as a rental player.
And the Leafs got nothing in return.
You know what: what ever is good for Mats Sundin, is good for Mats Sundin. He didn’t owe the Leafs anything, he didn’t owe the Canadiens anything, and he doesn’t owe the sport of Hockey anything. And Canadiens’ fans should have taken their cue from GM Bob Gainey when Gainey’s exclusive window of negotiating opportunity closed without success. Still, Habs’ fans kept their fingers crossed that Gainey might still be able to land the big Swede when he met with Sundin in Los Angeles several weeks ago.
Well, they can uncross their fingers.
As it turns out, Gainey’s aqusition of Robert Lang as Plan B has turned out to be an astute move. Last night, during Montreal’s convincing 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at the Bell Centre, Lang picked up his 13th and 14 assists on the season, and now has 24 points, which ties him for the team lead with Alex Kovalev and Andrei Markov. His 10 goals is tops on a club that has struggled to put the puck in the net the entire season. Although Lang admits it’s gratifying to contribute offensively, at the tender age of 38, he’s not about to read anything into the fact that he’s leading the Canadiens in goal scoring.
Lang will feel a whole lot more like celebrating if the Habs can head into the holiday break with a double-header sweep of the Sabres and Hurricanes. Lang and his team mates hit the ice today at their practice facility in Brossard as they prepare for a weekend set at the Bell Centre: tomorrow night against Buffalo and Sunday night against Carolina.
Goaltender Carey Price was on the ice. The netminder is feeling “90 percent” after going down with a lower body injury and a case of the flue. Jaroslav Halak, who beat the Flyers last night, will get the call against the Sabres. Depending how Halak does against Buffalo, and depending on how Price feels tomorrow, it could be either Halak or Price Sunday against the Hurricanes. Then again, it could be Marc Denis against Carolina. Head coach Guy Carbonneau is clearly keeping his options open for Sunday’s game.
Ben Maxwell was also on the ice yesterday. The fact that he was on the ice with the Canadiens, and not as a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs, is good news for Maxwell, who was ticketed back to the American Hockey League when his roster spot dried up with the return of Mike Komisarek to the Montreal lineup last night. Maxwell’s status did an about turn when Andrei Kostitsyn went down after taking a knee-on-knee hit delivered by Scott Hartnell in last night’s game; leaving Kostitsyn on the sidelines today. The injury to Kostitstyn isn’t serious, and Andrei could be ready to return as early as Sunday. Even if Andrei is ready to go against Carolina, league rosters are effectively frozen until Dec. 27. Which means Maxwell isn’t going anywhere.