Canadiens assistant captain Andrei Markov has finally seen the beginning of the end of his long rehab. He and Habs fans can only hope.
MORE ON THIS STORY FROM CJAD’S RICK MOFFAT CAN BE FOUND HERE:
Yesterday was a rather eventful day for the Montreal Canadiens in advance of tomorrow’s start of free-agent frenzy.
Yannick Weber signed a two year contract with the club worth a reported 1.7 million over the two seasons. Weber will likely be given an opportunity to step into a fulltime roll along the blueline after leaving more of an impression as a part-time fourth liner late last season. Hopefully, the fourth-line experiment is over for Weber, who needs the time to develop as a defenceman, and work on his defensive responsibilities. We know he’s got a terrific shot and a good set of wheels, but he’s got to be stronger on the puck.
READ MORE AT:
It’s time to see what Jaro Spacek, Paul Mara and Hal Gill can bring to the table.
Not to mention Yannick Weber.
You remember Spacek, Mara and Gill, three of the seven players brought in during the off-season during Bob Gainey’s extreme makeover of his hockey team? Lots of size, lots of experience, lots of money. Three veterans who are supposed to help Habs fans forget about Patrice Brisebois, Mathieu Dandenault and Francis Bouillon.
And Andre Markov.
Not to mention Ryan O’Byrne. For now, at least.
Markov is out for four months after undergoing surgery on a lacerated tendon: a nasty souvenir from Montreal’s 4-3, season-opening win against the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night. Just like that, the Canadiens will have to do without their best player until sometime around the Olympic break. The man being touted by some as the next Captain of this team, is now lost to this club until February.
Forty-eight hours later, O’Byrne goes down with a lower body injury in Buffalo, following a 2-1 victory over the Sabres, with the Habs now 2-and-0 thanks to a couple of overtime wins. He’s out for about six weeks.
Presto. Just two games into the regular season, and the Canadiens are already woefully thin along the blueline. The injury to Markov left the Habs with six defencemen, which was manageable for the game in Buffalo. However, the injury to O’Byrne left the Canadiens with just FIVE defencemen, which just doesn’t add up. Which is why the Canadiens have recalled Weber from the Hamilton Bulldogs.
While the ‘Dogs were busy losing 3-2 in their American Hockey League opener to the Toronto Marlies last night, Weber was busy packing his bags for a flight to Caglary, where he’s expected to join the Habs in time for today’s practice at the Saddledome ahead of tomorrow night’s game against the Flames.
I like Yannick Weber. I like his potential upside, potential he is now going to get a chance to realize, as a result of this sudden and dramatic turn of injury events. Weber was one of Montreal’s final training camp cuts; sent packing on September 29th after acquitting himself rather nicely during the pre season. His performance gave Habs fans further indication that this 21-year-0ld from Switzerland is ready for prime time, and ready to step out from under the long shadow cast by another player from Switzerland, Weber’s good friend and off-season training partner, ex-Hab Mark Streit.
The Canadiens, certainly, are hoping he is.
In fact, you’ll recall that Weber was impressive at Habs’ training camp one year ago. However, there was little doubt he was ticketed to Hamilton, where he scored 16 goals and added 28 assists in 68 games last season. It’s ironic that, one week ago, Weber was sent down to Hamilton, a victim of the numbers game. And today, he will skate again with the Montreal Canadiens, a beneficiary of the numbers game; and the dwindling number of defencemen available to head coach Jacques Martin as a result of the swelling injury ranks.
Even with the presence of Weber in their lineup, the Canadiens have absolutely no breathing room along the blueline. As impressive as Matt Carle was in pre-season play, this young man is not ready for prime time and needs time to further develop in Hamilton. PK Subban? Let’s see what he does as a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs before we consider his future as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Alex Henry? He had a cup of coffee with the Canadiens last season and showed precious little, other than the ability to get beat up every time he dropped his gloves. He has a future with the Bulldogs, not the Canadiens.
One defenceman who is available, is Mathieu Dandenault, who was set adrift by the Canadiens at the end of last season. The Habs could do much worse than Dandenault, a reasonably effective puck-moving blueliner who still has some wheels and can be an abraisive body along the boards. Short of pulling off a trade, picking up a guy like Dandenault could be the handiest way for Bob Gainey to, short term, help plug some immediate and significant holes along the blueline.
In the meantime, it’s Yannick Weber to the rescue, beginning tomorrow night, against the Flames.
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.
It’s not too often you can win a hockey game when your netminder gives up a goal every six shots.
But that’s exactly what happened at the Bell Centre this afternoon, as the Canadiens blew a pair of two-goal leads to salvage a 6-5 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers.
The goaltender in question: Jaroslav Halak. Head coach Guy Carbonneau, who tends to be a patient man, went right back to Halak after his backup goaltender was yanked after two sketchy periods of Friday’s 4-1 loss in New Jersey. Halak responded with another sub-par effort, surrendering five goals on 30 shots. However, this time, his team mates bailed him out: or as Carbonneau said when this one was over, “We got two points for him.”
This was a strange 65 minutes of hockey. The Canadiens started in fine fashion; crisp passing as they came in waves against Craig Anderson. However, they sagged in a big way in the second half of the opening period, after they failed to beat the Panthers’ netminder. Goals by Brett McLean at 12:57 and David Booth less than six minutes later put Florida ahead 2-0.
Give the Canadiens credit (at that point, at least) as they refused to fold their tents. The Habs exploded for four goals in the second period by Francis Boullion, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tom Kostopoulos, and Robert Lang. Leading 4-2 after two, it appeared the Canadiens were on easy street against a Florida team that played 24 hours earlier against Pittsburgh.
Not so fast.
Radek Dvorak made it 4-3 early in the third before Andrei Kostitsyn, with his second of the game, re-established Montreal’s two-goal lead at 3:58 of the third.
Which way to Easy Street?
Oops. Another detour.
Jassen Cullimore made it 5-4 Montreal midway through the third, and with 102 seconds remaining in regulation time, it was Dvorak with his second of the night, to send this one into overtime. The goal capped a wild scramble in Halak’s crease, during which time the Montreal netminder was turned inside out.
Thirty shots. Five goals. You do the math.
After a scorless overtime, and a goalpost by Keith Ballard late in the O.T. session, the teams went to a shootout. The first five shooters fired blanks, leaving all-star defenceman Andrei Markov as the sixth, and potentially final, shooter. And he didn’t dissapoint. Going with what he acknowledged as the only scoring move he knows, Markov slipped a backhander through Anderson for the winning goal.
An uglier two points you will never see.
Alex Kovalev’s turnover that resulted in Dvorak’s first of two on the night? Ugly.
The Habs 0-5 performance on the power play, including back-to-back two-minute advantages midway through the second period: Ugly with a capital “UGH.”
The lazy backhander by Brett McLean that beat Halak? The “blast” (I’m being charitable here, folks) by Cullimore from the outside edge of the faceoff circle that eluded Halak to pull the Panthers to within one, midway through the third period?
You figure it out. Because, clearly The Coach is having a hard time doing just that, when it comes to the performance of his backup netminder who has been thrust into a starting role as a result of an injury to Carey Price. I said it before and I’ll say it again: This season Jaroslav Halak has been a .500 goalie who is playing like a .500 goalie. The Canadiens need to be able to count on him when they turn to him, and right now, they can’t. Count on him, that is. Will they turn to him Wednesday in New York against the Rangers? Time will tell.
All right, let’s move on. Some positives for the Canadiens? The play of Robert Lang, Andrei Kostitsyn and Sergei Kostitsyn, brought together as a line for this one. They combined for six points and a plus 8 rating, with Sergei a plus 4. The newly-formed line of Kovalev-Plekanec-Pachioretty had its moments, with Pachioretty coming “this close” to scoring his second as a Hab in the first 90 seconds of play. Kovalev also had a goal post for his efforts. Truth be told, Kovalev had some magic on that stick of his today. But there was clearly no magic involved in his turnover that led to Florida’s third goal. And let’s not forget about Andrei Markov, who, despite being minus one on the afternoon, did something that Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn failed to do in the shootout:
Score. And bail out his goaltender in the process.
Let the record show that Andrei Kostitsyn was the first star in Montreal’s 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night at the Bell Centre. And for good reason. Kostitsyn, who has been struggling to find his game after having his bell rung by Kurt Sauer of the Coyotes in the game against Phoenix way back on Oct. 18, scored only his fourth of the season and picked up an assist on the winning goal by Andrei Markov.
The record will also show that Andrei, at the time of his goal, was on the ice with brother Sergei and Maxim Lapierre, not with his usual line mates, Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec. That’s because head coach Guy Carbonneau again blew up the lines in an effort to squeeze more production out of his forwards.
Of note, The Coach moved Matt D’Agostini into the lineup after being called up from the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs in advance of the game in Washington 24 hours earlier. After watching that one from the Verizon Center press box, D’Agostini was inserted into the lineup against the Sabres, and the young man did not look out of place during 13:52 of ice time, playing with Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins. The spot for D’Agostini opened up when The Coach opted to put Mathieu Dandenault back on the blue line for the first time since the pre-season.
Not that Dandenault has done a terrible job as a fourth liner. But he’s a defenceman. And, as much credit as Carbonneau deserves for showing all kinds of patience with young Ryan O’Byrne, the decision to put Dandenault back on defence was long overdue. Nothing wrong with letting O’Byrne watch this game of hockey from the press box for a game or two. Or three.
However, on a night when Andrei Kostitsyn was the game’s first star, it’s the work by the game’s third star, Steve Begin, that really impressed me.
Begin is not the most talented player on the block, but he is among the hardest working. Game in and game out, he sacrifices his body for the good of his hockey team. Those shoulders of his are so banged up that I’m convinced they’re being held together by duct tape and chicken wire.
The trouble is, at the start of this season, Begin spent most of his time in the press box, and has seen action in only 14 of the team’s 23 games. But since returning to regular duty, the wily veteran has been his usual scrappy self, showing the occasional scoring touch, as well. The goal last night was his third of the season.
Mind you, we shouldn’t be totally surprised to see number 22 put the puck in the net on occasion. In his early days as a Montreal Canadien, after coming over from Calgary in 2003-2004, Begin exhibited a knack for scoring some very big goals. He scored another very big one last night, and has led a very impressive group of grinders this season that includes the rejuvenated Maxim Lapierre, and the always hard-working Tom Kostopoulos. And let’s not forget about Mathieu Dandenault.
No, it’s not the fourth liners who have been the problem with the Canandiens over the last dozen games or so. It’s the guys who are paid big money to put the puck in the net. Last night, it was Andrei Kostitsyn who came to play. We’re still waiting for a few others to take the hint.
Their next opportunity comes Tuesday night when the Atlanta Thrashers come to town.