Say it ain’t so, Alex. Say it ain’t so.
We need to hear it from your lips, and we need you to mean it. We need to hear you tell us that your recent struggles have nothing to do with the fact that you had to trade in the Captain’s “C” you were wearing while Saku Koivu was on the mend, for your familiar “A”, now that Koivu is back in the lineup.
We need to hear you tell us that your struggles of late have nothing to do with the fact that you are now “only” an alternate captain on this hockey team. We need to hear you tell us the fact that you played your best hockey of the season so far, while Koivu was hurt and you were wearing the ‘C”, was just a coincidence; that your contribution of 7 goals and 4 assists in the 17 games that Koivu was out of action nothing to do with the fact that you were wearing the “C” at the time.
Say it ain’t so, Alex. Otherwise, I have a real big problem with you. But more importantly, head coach Guy Carbonneau has a real big problem with you.
After last night’s 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, the statistic that everyone wanted to talk about centered around the number 3. And, no, I’m not talking about Ryan O’Byrne. I’m talking about the number of shifts Kovalev played in the third period. Three shifts. The Canadiens are trailing 2-1 in the third period of a very tight hockey game, and their most talented player is cooling his jets on the bench, for all except three lousy shifts and a grand total of 1:47 of ice time. Why? Because Guy Carbonneau didn’t like what he saw from his sometimes captain.
When Alex Kovalev was in the throws of his 19-game goal-scoring slump, I was never among those who felt that Kovalev deserved to sit out as a healthy scratch. I never felt that he was going to work things through by watching games from the press box. He needed to play. He did play. He played plenty. And he finally snapped out of it: in his second game wearing the Captain’s “C”, after Koivu went down with an ankle injury Dec. 11 vs. Tampa Bay. The night was Dec. 16 in Carolina, and Kovalev snaps out of his 19-game funk by scoring against the ‘Caines. Two nights later, he puts the puck in the net against the Flyers. Two nights after the game against Philly, Kovalev picks up a goal and an assist against the Buffalo Sabres. And there you have it: Kovalev is off and running, while wearing the “C” on his jersey.
Coincidence, right Alex? Your current troubles can’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re no longer wearing the “C”. Can it?!?!?!
“I hope that’s not the truth or we’re in trouble because I’m not taking the C off Saku – that’s the bottom line,” said Carbonneau, following last night’s loss. “If anyone needs a letter to perform on the ice, I have trouble with that. That’s not professional at all.”
But you’re a professional, right Alex? We saw that professionalism all of last season, when you took this team by the scruff of its neck and led it to first place in the Eastern Conference of the N.H.L. At a time when Saku Koivu played a healthy 77 games, wearing the Captain’s “C”. When you poured in 84 points on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn while wearing the “A” on your jersey. Habs fans need to remember that, don’t they, Alex.
But, there he was last night at the Bell Centre. On the bench. For most of the third period. In a game against the Boston Bruins. With the Habs needing every ounce of firepower they could muster, their most talented player was watching this one from the bench.
You know what? It was the right move by Carbonneau. Right time, right place, right player. That’s where Kovalev deserved to be.
Does Alex Kovalev deserve to be in the press box when the Pittsburgh Penguins take to the ice at the Bell Centre tomorrow night? It will be up to The Coach to decide whether or not Kovalev trades in the “bleu, blanc, rouge” of a Montreal Canadiens uniform for a three-piece suit. Because, in the end, it needs to be all about the pride of wearing the most famous sporting colours in the world, and the effort that needs to go along with it. And not about the letter on your jersey.
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.
Georges Laraque doesn’t have a problem with Milan Lucic.
And it’s clear Milan Lucic doesn’t have a problem with the Montreal Canadiens, scoring his 6th of the season last night as the Bruins beat the Habs 3-2 in a game that went to a shootout.
Laraque doesn’t take issue with the fact that Lucic went toe-to-toe with Montreal’s Mike Komisarek the last time the Habs and Bruins met. What Laraque DOES take issue with, is the way Lucic celebrated after taking down the big Habs’ defenceman, who came away with upper-body injuries in the scuffle that will keep him out of the Montreal lineup another month or so.
Despite Laraque’s best efforts to goad Lucic into dropping the gloves in last night’s rematch, it was Lucic and the Bruins who had the last laugh.
The crowd was in a festive mood after watching Patrick Roy take centre stage on a night when the Canadiens retired his number 33 jersey in what was not only jersey retirement night for Roy, but “welcome home” night for the former Habs’ netminder.
The Bell Centre continued to buzz as the Canadiens got off to an energetic start. This would be no repeat of the 6-1 smackdown that the Bruins laid on the Canadiens Nov. 13. The Habs were clearly going to make sure of that.
However, it was Laraque’s ongoing attempts to get Lucic to drop his gloves that really had the crowd energized in that opening 20 minutes. Lucic would have no part of it, despite Laraque’s best “yapping” efforts.
Coach Carbonneau decided to play “me and my shadow” by putting Laraque on a line with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay for the occasion, and matching the three up against the Lucic-Kessel-Savard combination. The move did appear to put Lucic off his game in that opening period. However, Laraque isn’t exactly a Chris Higgins or a Sergei Kostitsyn out there (two of a number of forwards who ended up playing with Koivu and Tanguay on this night). And putting Laraque on that line took Koivu and Tanguay off THEIR game, as well.
Fast forward to the second period. After Andrei Kostitsyn scored his 3rd of the season at 1:31 of the middle frame, in his best game since getting his bell rung by Kurt Sauer of the Coyotes early in the season, Lucic tied it up some ten minutes later. The goal was scored, not when Lucic was matched up against the Laraques-Koivu-Tanguay line, but while the line of Kovalev-Kostitsyn-Lang was on the ice for Montreal (one of countless line combinations thrown together during the evening by Carbonneau).
Lang was also very good last night, finishing with four shots on goal in a plus-1 performance. Kovalev? Tons of ice time: 24:25. But much of it invisible.
The goal by Lucic was made possible when Kessel turned Ryan O’Byrne inside out (sound familiar?) before feeding the puck to a streaking Lucic, who buried it past Carey Price. Matt Hunwick put the Bruins ahead 2-1 midway through the third before Tom Kostopoulos tied it with less than five minutes to play on a deflection against a very good Tim Thomas, who kicked out 33 of 35 shots he faced. He was particularly busy in the third period, when the Canadiens outshot the Bruins 18-5.
After a scoreless overtime, Thomas continued to hold down the fort: stopping Alex Kovalev, Andrei Markov and Saku Koivu in the shootout. Blake Wheeler opened the scoring in the shootout, and it would prove to be the only goal the Bruins would need.
…two steps back?
We’ll begin to get the answer to that question Saturday night, when the Boston Bruins come to town on a night when the Montreal Canadiens retire Patrick Roy’s jersey number 33.
We’ve been down this road with this Canadiens‘ team before, of late. I take you back to the 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Nov. 8; a setback described by Habs‘ head coach Guy Carbonneau as “embarrassing.”
Three nights later, the Canadiens came up with with Carbo called his team’s best performance of the season, perhaps of the last two seasons, in a 4-0 whitewash of the Ottawa Senators.
One step forward…
Unable to build on the success of that victory, the Canadiens took to the ice two nights later in Boston and were humbled 6-1 by the Bruins.
…two steps back.
After a reasonable, but losing, effort against the Flyers Nov. 15. at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens played in St. Louis the following night and beat a struggling, injury-riddled Blues’ team 3-2 in a shootout. Hardly the stuff of champions, but two points nonetheless.
One step forward…
Then, two nights later in Carolina, another listless, losing performance in a 2-1 setback to the Hurricanes.
…two steps back.
Then last night in the Nation’s Capital, we witnessed Montreal’s best effort since the 4-0 win over Ottawa. Ironically, it came against these same Senators; a struggling, injury-riddled Ottawa team that is going nowhere, fast. The thing is, you could say the same about this Canadiens team. Fortunately for the Habs, they proved to be the better club.
You don’t think Guy Carbonneau is relieved? Did you see The Coach’s fist-pump after Alex Tanguay buried the winning goal in the shootout? A happy camper, Coach Carbo was. Who can blame him? As I like to stay: Two points is two points is two points. Something to build on.
One step forward…
Two steps back?
We’ll know more tomorrow night when the Big, Bad, Boston Bruins are at the Bell Centre. Has Coach Carbo finally come up with some line combinations he’s willing to live with for awhile? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Guillaume Latendresse doesn’t deserve to be playing with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, as was the case last night. At the same time, based on his two-assist performance in this one, helping out on goals by Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov, I don’t think Sergei Kostitsyn will hang around the fourth line very long, which is where he found himself playing with Steve Begin and Georges Laraque.
In the good-cop, bad-cop world of Guy Carbonneau, it’s time for The Coach to give Kovalev, Plekanec and A.Kostitsyn another shot at playing together. I like Koivu, Tanguay and Chris Higgins as a trio. And I’d give Tom Kostopoulos third-line duty with Robert Lang and Sergei K. If you don’t want to put Latendresse on the fourth line, then put him in the press box.
Carey Price? Very good last night, despite losing sight of the puck on the power play goal by Nick Foligno that gave the Sens a 2-1 lead, five minutes into the third period. And he was terrific in the shootout, holding down the fort until Tanguay slipped one past Alex Auld with the winner. Dany Heatley had the other for Ottawa.
And lookey here: the goal by Koivu came on the power play.
One step forward…
Midway through this hockey game, it looked like a rummage sale out there: head coach Guy Carbonneau sifting and sorting through his bench in an effort to find a line combination or two worth throwing out onto the ice.
By the end of the night, nothing worked. Certainly not his players, as the Canadiens followed up their solid 4-0 win over Ottawa Tuesday night with another mind-numbing loss, this one a 6-1 setback, to the hometown Boston Bruins.
When it was over, The Coach questioned his team’s heart, work ethic, and mental toughness, which is becoming somewhat familiar territory for Carbonneau, who watched his club put in a similar non-performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night. On Tuesday, the Habs answered the bell at the Bell with their best effort of the season against Ottawa. Tonight, they were up to their old tricks again.
The question now, is: which team will show up Saturday night when the Philadelphia Flyers are in town?
It’s a question that Guy Carbonneau must grapple with over the next 48 hours. Does the answer lie in exploding the lines, as he did midway through tonight’s game, after the Bruins had taken a 4-0 lead on Carey Price?
Mere moments after Marco Sturm’s second goal of the night, at 3:44 of the middle frame, Alex Kovalev found himself playing with Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Dandenault. Later in that period, Kovalev lined up with Lapierre and Guillaume Latendresse.
Then in the third period we saw a sign of things to come, when The Coach went with a chemistry experiment that we’ve all been waiting for: Kovalev with his old line mate in Pittsburgh, Robert Lang, on a line with Latendresse. You can take that one to the bank as The Coach searches for solutions heading into Saturday’s game against the Flyers.
Guy Carbonneau is a patient man, up to a point. He is usually loathe to juggle his lines because of the disruptive trickle-down effect it has on the rest of the forward units. But clearly, he has little choice. The Kovalev-Plekanec-A.Kostitsyn unit isn’t working; neither is the Lang-Latendresse-S. Kostitsyn line. Might as well mix them up, and keep your number one trio of Koivu-Tanguay-Higgins intact.
For the record, Saku Koivu, who blew a tire on the play that led to Boston’s second goal of the game, by Stephane Yelle at 17:00 of the opening period, scored the lone goal for Montreal and was the Habs’ best player on the ice, which isn’t saying much on a night like this.
Now on to other matters, like the ongoing series of brain cramps this team is suffering from when it comes to taking care of the defensive aspect of this game of hockey. What were Mike Komisarek and Mathieu Dandenault thinking when they played patty-cake with the puck and allowed Shawn Thornton to sweep in on Price and tuck a little backhander past the Montreal netminder just 2:31 into this one?
That’s another question The Coach is going to have to grapple with.
Here’s another one while we’re at it: does he go back with Carey Price Saturday against the Flyers? After this one at TD Banknorth Garden was over, Carbonneau admitted that he considered pulling Price on a number of occasions, during the course of tonight’s hockey game. But he didn’t. Do you give Price a chance to get back on his horse against Philadelphia, or do you look down your bench and point a finger at Jaroslav Halak?
So many questions, so little time.
It’s easy to see why Christopher Higgins was the most popular guy in the Canadiens’ locker room following last night’s 4-0 victory over the Bell Centre against the Ottawa Senators.
Putting three past the opposing goaltender tends to make you a V.P.P. (Very Popular Player), and Higgins clearly deserved the limelight as a result of a break-out performance that led the Habs to a resounding victory following a humbling loss in Toronto three nights earlier. When this one was over The Coach called it the team’s best 60-minute performance of the season, perhaps all the way back to last season. And it could not have come at a better time as the Canadiens put the brakes on a slippery slope that saw them hit a brick wall in Toronto Saturday night.
The hat trick was Higgins’ first of his NHL career. In fact, he never scored three in a game while he was a member of the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Higgins figures the last time he came away with a hat trick was while he played college hockey at Yale, from 2001-2003, and seemed to recall it was against his former Montreal teammate, Yann Danis, now a backup with the New York Islanders.
Although the performance by Higgins, which included eight shots on Alex Auld in the Sens’ net, warranted him V.P.P. status, it was the play of Ryan O’Byrne that got my attention.
After playing his way in and out of the lineup through the first dozen games of the season, head coach Guy Carbonneau went with O’Byrne along the blueline last night. And the native of Victoria, BC, responded with his best performance of the season, and one of his best performances as a member of this team.
Far too often this season, O’Bryne has been all “arms and legs” on the ice. Last night, O’Bryne played a controlled game and finally used that 6-5, 234-pound body of his in an effective manner, dishing out six hits on the night, to tie Mike Komisarek in that department. (Maxim Lapierre led the way with eight bodychecks.)
With one assist and a plus two performance in almost 16 minutes of ice time, O’Bryne has earned himself a third straight start tomorrow night in Boston against the Bruins, although that has yet to officially be confirmed by The Coach. The only thing Guy Carbonneau would confirm following today’s morning skate was his goaltender of choice for tomorrow night: Carey Price, who kicked out all 28 shots he faced against the Sens.
O’Byrne, himself, admits he’s going through a sophomore jinx, and his erratic play in the early going has left him in the press box in three of 13 games this season.
“It’s tough,” O’Byrne admitted after today’s skate. “You never know if you’re in the lineup or not. You show up to the rink and you don’t know if you’re playing. It’s a viscous cycle but you try and get out of it. And last night I thought it was a great start.”
He’s right. It was.
It’s a golden opportunity for O’Byrne to step into a regular role with a team that is lacking in depth along the blueline. A player like Patrice Brisebois is going to have an edge over O’Byrne when it comes to The Coach pencilling in is lineup on any given night, mainly because Brisebois gives Carbonneau somewhat of a weapon on the power play with his shot from the point. However, up until now, O’Bryne has been making it too easy for The Coach to go with Brisebois. That may have all changed with O’Byrne’s performance last night.
On a night when fourth-liner Maxim Lapierre was their most effective forward on the ice, the Montreal Canadiens opened the home portion of their Centennial Season with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Boston Bruins.
It was an inspirational evening in which the Canadiens raised the curtain on the team’s Ring of Honor, a tribute to the members of the organization in the Hockey Hall of Fame (a number of whom were present during the pre-game ceremony, including Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Elmer Lach, Butch Bouchard, Guy Lapointe, and Guy Lafleur). And the present-day edition of the Montreal Canadiens started the game in inspirational fashion with a three-goal explosion within a three-minute stretch late in the first period, with Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and, yes, Maxim Lapierre putting the puck in the net.
But a funny thing happened to the Canadiens’ on the way to their two points. With 40 minutes of regulation hockey still to go, the Bruins decided not to “mail it in.” They took the play away from the Habs and stormed back to tie it at 3-3 on a fluky goal off a puck that bounced off the endboards past a surprised Carey Price who had gone behind the net to trap it, to a waiting Marc Savard (Boston’s best forward on the night), who drilled it into an empty net with 48 seconds to play in regulation time.
After a scoreless overtime, Price stoned Phil Kessel, Patrice Bergeron and ex-Hab Michael Ryder (more on him in a moment), while Alex Tanguay scored the only goal the Canadiens would end up needing in the shootout.
As for Lapierre, he led the Habs with six shots on goal and was a dangerous presence during his entire 11:59 of ice time. And full marks must go to his linemate Mathieu Dandenault for setting up Lapierre’s goal with some good work behind tim Thomas in the Boston net.
Habs fans were up in arms after Coach Guy Carbonneau elected to sit the popular Steve Begin, and not Dandenault, to make room in the lineup for big Georges Laraque, who was making his debut in a Canadiens’ uniform. The reality is, Dandenault has played well to open the season. The same way he played well at the start of last season. Dandenault is playing like someone who’se job depends on it.
This is not the first time Steve Begin will be a healthy scratch this season. Mathieu Dandenault will join him as a healthy scratch at some point this season, as well. Bet on it. Georges Laraque will end up being a healthy scratch this season, too.
It’s called depth.
Tom Kostoupolos will end up being a healthy scratch this season, as well. Despite his effective role as a third-line mucker playing with Robert Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn, the injured Chris Higgins is just days away from returning to action. When he does, Kostoupolos will be dropped to the fourth line. Count on it. And someone will have to sit.
It’s called depth.
As for Georges Laraque, it took the newcomer exactly 2:28 to make a name for himself in front of adoring Bell Centre fans, dropping his gloves in the early going to tangle with Shawn Thornton. Thornton scored a quick take-down, but Laraque did a fairly effective job of eventually pinning his opponent along the boards before the officials stepped in.
And as for the Bruins’ newcomer Michael Ryder, he joined Marc Savard with five shots on goal to lead all Bruins’ forwards in that department. He played with a poise and confidence not often seen during his final season as a member of the Habs. However, when all was said and done on this particular evening, he failed to put the puck in the net: a refrain all too familiar to the Canadiens and their fans last season.