Michael McCarron (pictured) and Michael Bournival picked up two points apiece and were among the youngsters to raise eyebrows as the Canadiens took to the ice at the Bell Centre in their pre-season opener.
Bournival had a pair of goals and McCarron picked up two assists as the Habs fell 5-4 to the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout.
Bournival showed lots of ofensive spark out there and McCarron displayed some soft hands in setting up both Bournival and Martin St-Pierre. McCarron went hard along the boards to dish the puck out to Bournival for his first goal of the night. The Canadiens’ top draft pick of this summer could also be found parked in the opposing crease; which is exactly where you want McCarron’s 6-5 frame to be.
Two other players of note who impressed me up front were Martin Reway and Erik Nystrom: both showed plenty of finesse as skill players with speed. Nystrom also showed he has a little show biz in him with his stick-twirling goal-scoring celebration.
On defence, Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi, both with some NHL experience under their collective belts after last season, aquitted themselves well. Peter Budaj and Zach Fucale split the goaltending duties: Budaj playing the first half of the game, Fucale — with his rather stark, generic, “no-frills” mask, finishing up and taking the team through the OT and shootout.
Brendan Gallagher, playing on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller, was in “mid-season form” (as we like to say) and took no prisoners, even though it was only a pre-season game. This kid simply doesn’t have an “off switch.”
This was a fairly entertaining, spirited hockey game: as pre-season games go, and as Habs-Sabres games go. Up next for the Canadiens: the Boston Bruins, who are in town Monday night.
Now that the giddiness of the all-star break is behind us, it’s time for the Montreal Canadiens to get back down to business.
It starts with a 2 p.m. skate at Brossard on Monday, followed by the arrival of the Buffalo Sabres for a game at the Bell Centre Tuesday night.
The Canadiens go into the post all-star break in 11th place, eight points out of a playoff spot. If that isn’t scary enough, the Habs are only two points removed from the Eastern Conference cellar.
Now what? Will Carey Price, the all-star, play like an all-star down the stretch and drag this team, kicking and screaming into the playoffs?
Will Erik Cole, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty continue to lead this team, up front, as they have for most of the season? More importantly, will the Canadiens get some consistant production from the likes of Andrei Kostitsyn, Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec?
Will Scott Gomez play the way he did down the stretch during his first season as a Hab? Or does the Scott Gomez saga start and end with his salary?
Will PK Subban settle down and play the kind of hockey he played the second half of last season, when he stepped in and stepped up at a time when he was needed the most?
Will we see Andrei Markov in a Candiens’ uniform at all this season?
Will Canadiens’ management continue to apologize for their decision to hire Randy Cunneyworth as their “interim” head coach? Or will Cunneyworth shove the “interim” tag down their throats by proving that he has the goods to be a “full-time” head coach in the National Hockey League.
For the Montreal Canadiens, so many questions, so little time. Thirty-three games, in fact, until the final horn goes on the 2011-12 NHL regular season.
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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Alex Kovalev always predicted that, when the goals started coming, they would start coming in bunches.
He was right.
Kovalev scored his third in three games, this one the winner in overtime, to lead the Canadiens to a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night at the Bell Centre. The deciding goal came on the power play with 25 seconds remaining in the fourth period, as Kovalev delivered a wrist shot that found a one-inch opening over Ryan Miller’s shoulder, on his 8th shot on goal.
The goal was Kovalev’s 8th of the season, and capped a dominant performance by the Canadiens’ captain, at least while Saku Koivu remains on the mend with a lower-body injury.
What was even more impressive than Kovalev’s winning goal was the fact that he played this one as if he had missile toe in his boxers. He was mean, he was ornery and he worked hard all night long: particularly on Sergei Kostitsyn’s second goal of the night; Kovalev going strong into the corner and dishing the puck out to Kostitsyn, who sent the game into overtime.
More on Sergei in a moment.
Now, the trouble is, the penalties also came in bunches for Kovalev: as he picked up two of them that led to Buffalo goals. Kovalev was in the box when Clark Macarthur scored late in the second period to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead. And Kovalev was also cooling his jets when Andrej Sereka drifted one past Jaroslav Halak midway through the third to make it 3-2 Buffalo.
But there would be no “quit” in this Montreal team; not on this night. Three times they fought back from one-goal deficits, taking matters into their own hands in a third period which saw Steve Begin set the tone with a series of punishing body checks that seemed to light a fire under his team mates, before Sergei tied it at 15:06 of the third, and Kovalev won it in O.T.
Ah yes, Sergei Kostitsyn: two goals, to give him six on the season, and seven shots goal, in his best performance as a Hab. Finally, number 74 is beginning to look like the player who opened the season as Montreal’s most effective forward. When Sergei replaced injured brother Andrei earlier in the season on the Kovalev-Plekanec line, after Andrei had his bell rung by Kurt Sauer of the Phoenix Coyotes, he looked out of place. Not any more. With Andrei now nursing a knee injury, Sergei has stepped up and delivered.
Another player who delivered last night was Robert Lang. True, he was held off the score sheet, but Lang owned that little black disk all night long; the Sabres simply unable to move number 20 off the puck. And Lang’s 71 per cent efficiency rating in the face off circle spoke volumes for a team that has struggled to win the draw, all season.
Alex Tanguay had the other goal for the Canadiens. And boy, was HE ever due. It was only Tanguay’s second goal in his last 15 games. The next guy who needs to wake up is Tomas Plekanec, who has but two goals in his last 20 games, and just isn’t carrying the mail.
Jaroslav Halak? He fought the puck at times and fanned on a couple of shots that eluded him. But he came up huge midway through the third period, when the Sabres used the Montreal netminder as target practice. Whether or not Halak gets the start tonight, when the Canadiens play host to the Carolina Hurricanes in their final game heading into the Christmas break, remains to be seen. Carey Price, who is coming off a lower-body injury, was on the bench as Halak’s back up last night; Marc Denis having been sent back down to the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The smart money has Price returning to action tonight.
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.
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.
Sure, why not.
While you’re at it, how about Max Pacioretty, Ben Maxwell, Ryan White, Gregory Stewart, and Yannick Weber.
And throw in Brock Trotter, Chad Anderson, Alex Henry and Yanick Lehoux.
Let’s not forget Mike Glumac.
Hey, it worked last night for the Washington Capitals.
With a slew of players out with injuries, the Caps iced a team against the Canadiens that featured a host of Hershey Bears, called up from the American Hockey League. The result? A 3-0 victory over the Habs and a shutout for former Montreal netminder Jose Theodore.
Yet again, head coach Guy Carbonneau used the word “embarrassing” to describe his club’s performance. Carbonneau says he felt sad for Jaroslav Halak, who finally got a start, but got absolutely no offensive support, as the final score would indicate.
The game started in ugly fashion after a costly turnover by, no, not Ryan O’Byrne, but by the usually-steady Francis Boullion resulted in a goal by Tomas Fleischmann midway through the opening period. The red-hot Alexander Ovechkin made it 2-0 early in the second period as he scooted in front of Halak and beat the Montreal netminder. David Steckel sealed the deal five minutes later, after the Canadiens had managed to successfully kill a 5-on-3 Washington power play for 1:42.
Before the second period was over, Carbonneau had seen enough from his forwards and began to mix up the lines and dropped Andrei Kostitsyn to the fourth line to play with Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Dandenault. Mind you, with the way Lapierre and Dandenault have been playing of late, maybe we should consider that move a promotion for Andrei. Because Andrei’s regular line-mates, Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec, certainly haven’t been getting it done this season.
And before this one was over, Carbo went with a power play combination that featured Lapierre, Begin and Tom Kostopoulos.
Hey, why not?
And why not give Matt D’Agostini a chance tonight? There he was, cooling his jets in the Verizon Center press box, while the Canadiens‘ forwards were once again stinking out the joint. If Alex Tanguay isn’t ready to return to action after sitting out last night with a sore neck, courtesy of the monster hit he took from Brad Stuart in the game against the Islanders back on Monday night, why not play D’Agostini? You’ve already paid for his bus ticket, let’s see what the kid can do.
We’ve seen what he can do with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs: 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points in 20 games. That’s good for the scoring lead in Hamilton and good for third overall in the AHL. D’Agostini, who did not look out of place in his two training-camp appearances with the Habs, leads the ‘Dogs in power play goals with five (!) and shots on goal, with 64. Not bad for a 22-year-old from Sault-Ste. Marie, Ontario, who was selected in the sixth round by the Canadiens, 190th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
D’Agostini played his first NHL game with the Canadiens during the 2007-2008 season. With any luck, he’ll play his second game tonight, when the Canadiens host the Buffalo Sabres for the start of a seven-game home-stand.
After opening the pre-season with six games in seven nights, the Montreal Canadiens had to wait a full five days before having the opportunity to finally take to the ice last night in their regular-season opener in Buffalo against the Sabres.
The result: a listless affair which saw the Habs fall 2-1 at the HSBC Arena in a game that ended with a shootout.
“We were nervous,” acknowledged Team Captain Saku Koivu when this one was over. “The puck was bouncing and we couldn’t make simple plays. Sometimes after 5 or 6 days off, the first game is always tough…the season opener.”
Things opened in splendid fashion for the Canadiens, as newcomer Robert Lang wasted no time impressing his new employers. Lang, acquired from Chicago during the off-season as Bob Gainey’s Plan B replacement for Mats Sundin (who?!?!?) beat Ryan Miller before this one was three minutes old to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead. However, four minutes later, Mike Komisarek was victimized by a bouncing puck that flipped over his stick and ended up in the net behind Carey Price: thanks to a goal by Thomas Vanek on a low shot that eluded the Montreal netminder.
Although neither team would manufacture a scoring opportunity through the final 40 minutes of regulation play and the five minute overtime, the Canadiens did have their chances, as it turned out, near the end of the second (Robert Lang hits the goalpost), near the end of the third (Sergie Kostitsyn misses the net in the dieing seconds) and near the end of O.T. (with Alex Kovalev having a chance to end this one). But the Habs continued to fire blanks, a pattern which extended into the shootout.
Ales Kotalik and Drew Stafford beat Price with identical moves in close on the Habs’ netminder, while Robert Lang and Saku Koivu were unable to put the puck past Ryan Miller.
The Sabres win the shootout 2-0, and the game, 2-1.
The line of Robert Lang-Sergie Kostitsyn-Tom Kostopolous was the only one that could get untracked for the Canadiens on this night. The line of Plekanec-Kovalev-A.Kostitsyn showed little out there. It was the same story for the unit of Koivu-Tanguay-Latendresse. For a team that’s supposed to beat you with speed and finesse, there was little speed or finesse exhibited by the Canadiens in this, the opening game to their 100th season.
Defensively, Ryan O’Byrne seemed lost out there at times, and Patrice Brisboise was prone to some nasty giveaways. Only the work of Price kept the Canadiens in this one.
The Habs boarded a bus for Toronto and a date with the Maple Leafs tonight, with Jaroslav Halak already penciled in to get the start for the Canadiens.