Kirk Muller says it wasn’t often that he got nervous as a player. But he admitted to me today that he’s likely to have a case of the nerves tomorrow night when he walks across the ice at the Bell Centre to take his spot behind the opposing bench as the Carolina Hurricanes take on the Montreal Canadiens.
Are you disappointed that Muller didn’t get a chance to take over behind the bench as head coach here in Montreal? Do you think that Randy Cunneyworth got the job that might have gone to Kirk Muller, had the timing been different?
And do you think that Randy Cunneyworth even has a shot at returning as head coach of the Canadiens next season?
We’ll talk about that tonight, in The Locker Room. We’ll hear from Kirk Muller and another former Hab, defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, about some critical comments Spacek made several weeks ago about the situation in Montreal.
And as former Expo Gary Carter battles an aggressive form of brain cancer, we’ll talk to a teammate of Gary’s, and a long time friend, former first baseman Tommy Hutton, about Gary’s valiant battle.
Tonight, 6-7 p.m., in The Locker Room.
MORE WITH KIRK MULLER AT:
(…with apologies to that very funny guy eating chicken wings on that TV commercial.)
Tomas Kaberle picks up two assists — one of them on a POWER PLAY GOAL (yes, I’m shouting) in his Habs’ debut as the Canadiens beat the Jersey Devils 2-1 Saturday afternoon.
Great. Two assists. Tomas Kaberle is money in the bank. Or at least he was, in his opening 60 minutes as a member of the Bleu, Blanc, Rouge. Personally, I’d like to see what we’re going to get out of Kaberle for the rest of the regular season and (dare I say it) into the playoffs.
Kaberle took to the ice in New Jersey after being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes (who were only too happy to get his fat salary off the books) in exchange for Jaroslav Spacek. And wouldn’t you know it: Spacek picks up two assists in HIS first game as a member of Kirk Muller’s Hurricanes, be it in a losing cause.
Spacek was into his final season as a member of the Canadiens: obtained during the off-season of massive change as an unrestricted free agent; during the same wave which saw Bob Gainey pick up the likes of Brian Gionta and Michael Cammalleri as UFA’s. Spacek was a solid citizen with the Habs during his stay in Montreal — although he spent much of this season in sick bay. I don’t think he ever delivered as per the expectations when Canadiens signed him. A few too many sketchy defensive moments and not enough offensive upside: but, by and large, I have no problems with his record as a member of the Habs.
The fact that the Canadiens sent him to Carolina for Kaberle tells me three things: GM Pierre Gauthier was desperate to shore up his power play with a defenceman who can move the puck and get a decent shot away from the point; that we’ll be lucky if we see Andrei Markov play a game this season, before the playoffs (just a hunch on my part); and Yannick Weber has taken a step back in his development in becomming a full-time blueliner on this team.
Although I’m less than impressed wit the deal that brings Kaberle and his contract to Montreal, I do give Gauthier credit in going out there and making a deal for a player he truly believes will help this team. Gauthier put his money where his mouth is. The question is: was it money well spent. I have my serious doubts.
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.
With game 31 of the regular season in the books, a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricaines in one of the strangest hockey games you’ll ever see, I’m left pondering the question:
Where are these guys?
Where is the Tomas Plekanec who emerged as a truly splended centreman last season on a line with Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Kovalev? The Tomas Plekanec who took the bull by the horns last season and proved he could step up and play with a world-class (?) talent like Alex Kovalev while pivoting Montreal’s most effective line in 2008-2009. You’ll recall that, the previous year, which proved to be a breakout season for Plekanec, the native of Kladno, Czech Republic didn’t get going until after the coach REMOVED him from a line with Kovalev.
And where is Andrei Kostitsyn? Where is the gritty, feisty and supremely talented hockey player who tore it up in the second half of last season to finish with 26 goals. Yes, he got his bell rung by Kurt Sauer of the Phoenix Coyotes early in the season, but that was 26 games ago. Since then, we’ve seen only flashes of his former self. Case in point: one goal in three straight games against Buffalo, Atlanta and the Rangers. Since then: 0-for-6.
Where is little brother Sergei? Where is the guy who, after being called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs 30 games into last season, exhibited a scrappy, productive and tenacious approach to this game that literally lit a fire under Andrei. Where is the Sergei Kostitsyn who, through the pre-season and into the first handful of games of the regular season, was arguably the best forward on this club?
Where is Guillaume Latendresse? Oh. There he is. On last night’s scoresheet, with a goal off a penalty shot. His third goal of the season to break an o-for-9 drought. Three goals. Was it too much to expect Guillaume Latendresse, after back-to-back 16-goal seasons, to put himself on a pace to finish with, perhaps, 20 goals this season? At this rate, he’ll be hard pressed to score 10. Here’s another guy who started the season looking so solid, while playing on a line with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay. Until he mysteriously vanished. To the press box, until the recent rash of injuries.
Where is he?
Where is Alex Tanguay? So dominant through the opening dozen games of the season, Tanguay has virtually disappeared over the last dozen, with but one goal to his credit during that stretch.
And Chris Higgins? Don’t get me wrong. I really feel for the guy after he suffered a shoulder injury 3:33 into the game against Calgary one week ago; just more of that dark cloud that has hung over him since the start of the season. However, the reality is, up until that point, Chris Higgins’ season consisted of little more than a three-goal performance against the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 11.
Where are these guys?
When head coach Guy Carbonneau puts the line of Steve Begin, Tom Kostopoulos and Maxim Lapierre on the ice to start last night’s game in Carolina, he’s not doing it to “make a statement.” He’s doing it because, on too many nights, Begin, Kostopoulos and Lapierre have been Montreal’s BEST line. When Carbonneau puts Begin, Kostopoulos and Lapierre on the ice as a power play unit, as he has done in recent games, he’s not doing it to “make a statement.” He’s doing it because Begin, Kostopoulos and Lapierre DESERVE IT.
Which brings me to Alex Kovalev. You would think that with all the soul searching and gnashing of teeth that accompanied Kovalev’s 19-game goal-scoring drought, the biggest Canadiens’ statistic that would have emerged from last night’s 3-2 loss to the ‘Caines would have been the goal by Kovalev, which came at the 3:57 mark of the second period. The goal coming while the Canadiens were playing shorthanded, with Kovalev floating a bit of a knuckleball past Cam Ward after Robert Lang had won the draw deep in Carolina territory.
Nope. The key Canadiens’ statistic that emerged from last night’s loss to Carolina featured a string of 11 straight penalties called against Montreal (although a penalty would have been called on the ‘Caines on the play that led to the Latendresse penalty shot.) It was simply amazing to see this parade of Canadiens to the penalty box during the first 40 minutes of hockey. Some of the calls were warranted, others were not. Regardless, the Canadiens failed to adjust to the fact that the officials were clearly going to call everything on this particular night. And as a result, the Canadiens essentially played 20 of the first 40 minutes of this game, shorthanded. The Hurricanes responded with three power play goals.
Game, set and match.
Up next: the Philadelphia Flyers in town tomorrow night. We’ll wait and see who shows up.