Tag Archive | Guy Carbonneau

WAS HABS’ GM ASLEEP AT THE SWITCH?


Four weeks into the job as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, everything was coming up roses for Marc Bergevin.

Until today’s announcement that Bob Hartley had taken a the job as head coach of the Calgary Flames.

If you believe everything you read on Twitter, Hartley was destined to take over as bench boss of the Habs.  Mind you, we were hearing the very same thing about Patrick Roy up until just a few short weeks ago, when he seemed to fall off the Twitter radar.

But I digress.

Hartley was going to be “the one.”

Well, he’s not. Not in Montreal, at least.

The optics of today’s developments are not good for Marc Bergevin, through no fault of his own.  Bergevin, first in Shawinigan during the Memorial Cup, and then, just yesterday, at the NHL GM’s meetings in New York, made it clear that he was in no rush to name a new head coach.  He said the move could come quickly, or it could take awhile.  Yesterday he stated the obvious when he said there would be no annnouncement coming from the Canadiens this week.

In fact, Bergevin might not have a head coach with him at the draft table when it comes time for the Canadiens to make their picks next month in Pittsburgh.

So, basically, Bergevin has said a whole lot of nothing about the team’s vacant coaching position over the last week or so — because there hasn’t been anything to say.

You can’t fault the guy for that.

But Habs fans who were hoping to see Bob Hartley behind the Montreal bench are going to equate Bergevin’s decision-making process as “waffling.” They are going to see this as Bergevin’s inability to land the big coaching fish in what is a very small coaching pond for the Canadiens.  They are going to accuse Bergevin of being asleep at the switch.

Was he?  I don’t know.  I have no idea how close Bob Hartley might have been to becoming the next head coach of the Montreal Canadiens.  In my view, only two people know the answer to that question:  Bob Hartley, and Marc Bergevin.  And, at the news conference held today in Calgary to introduce their new head coach, Hartley acknowledged that although the Canadiens had shown an interest in his sevices, he called Bergevin to tell him that he would be joining the Flames.

So while Marc Bergevin was wowing them with his initial front-office signings of Bobby Kinsella as a U.S. scout, Rick Dudley as assistant GM, and Scott Mellanby as Director of Player Personnel, he still hasn’t given Canadiens fans what they’ve been lusting for.

A new head coach.

Welcome to Montreal, Marc.

READ MORE AT:

http://www.cjad.com/Blog/HabsNews/home.aspx

GAINEY GETS HIS MAN


“What was Gainey’s rush?!?!”

“Boring, defensive hockey comes to the Montreal Canadiens!!!”

“The guy has as much personality as a wet noodle.”

…and so it goes.  Just some of the reaction to this week’s hiring of Jacques Martin by the Montreal Canadiens as their new head coach.  Personally, I think Jacques Martin is just what the doctor ordered for this ailing franchise.  But apparently, I may be in the minority here.

For starters, let’s look at the three above-mentioned criticisms.

What was Gainey’s rush?

I’ll tell you what was Gainey’s rush.  Gainey was in a rush to put a head coach into place with some time to spare leading up to the NHL Entry Draft, that will be held June 26-27, at the Bell Centre.  Gainey was in a rush to finally add a sense of stability to a franchise that had been drifting without a full-time head coach since Guy Carbonneau was fired on March 9, and a franchise further set adrift with word that team’s ownership is about to change  hands. Finally, a sense of direction from the Habs as they now move into high gear to assess the 10 potential unrestricted free agents they have on this team, and they players they will need to find to replace the UFA’s who don’t come back.  I’d say Gainey had several good reasons to be in a rush, wouldn’t you??

Boring, defensive  hockey comes to Montreal.  

And this would be a bad thing?!?!?  The fact that Jacques Martin had a large measure of success as a defensive-minded coach, largely with the Ottawa Senators, is something I’m thrilled to see on his C.V.  The Montreal Canadiens were a terrible team last season when they weren’t playing with the puck.  The fact that they weren’t much better when they DID have possession of the puck, is another story.  Defense wins championships.  Okay, Jacques Martin hasn’t won any championships in his lengthy tenure as an NHL head coach, but that’s because he didn’t have a goaltender in Ottawa who could win a playoff game.  Martin’s system turned a mediocre Ottawa team into a very good Ottawa team.  That works for me.  Hopefully, it’ll work with the Montreal Canadiens.

Jacques Martin’s personality, or lack of same.

Apparently this is an issue with some fans. Hmmm. Let me see now.  The last coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Guy Carbonneau, had a pretty fiery temperment.  Carbonneau was an emotional coach who wore his heart on his sleeve.  He spoke his mind and took no prisoners.  And where did it land him?  On the unemployment line.  Jacques Martin isn’t a politician.  He isn’t a stand-up comic (although a few laughs were sorely needed in what was a disastrous Centennial Season.)  He’s a head coach.  A professional head coach.  A head coach with experience.  Lots of it.  A head coach who finally brings to this organization a body of NHL knowledge that the Canadiens have been lacking since the days of Jacques Demers.  

Jacques Martin was even criticized by some over the suit he wore to the Bell Centre when the Canadiens introduced him as the 29th head coach in franchise history.  THE COLOUR OF HIS SUIT, FOR GOODNESS SAKES!!!!  LIKE THAT’S GONNA MAKE A DIFFERENCE WHEN IT COMES TO HIS QUALITIES AS A HEAD COACH!!!!!!

For the record.  It was a brown with faint pinstripes.

Listen to me.  Jacques Martin doesn’t have to impress us with his wit or his charm.  Or his wardrobe.  He has to take the players he has in that dressing room and get the most out of them.  End of story.

Actually, the story is just beginning for Jacques Martin, who may have come out of left field in all of this.  But he is the right man for the job.

HABS THROUGH CARBO’S EYES


Guy Carbonneau says he never saw it coming.

Just about everyone else, however, did.

Carbonneau spoke to the media yesterday for the first time since being fired Mar. 9, in the hours after a Canadiens’ 3-1 over the Dallas Stars in Dallas.  Despite Montreal’s struggles this season, Carbonneau told a packed house at the Bell Centre yesterday that he felt the Canadiens were headed in the right direction.

He may have been the only one.

How surprised was Carbonneau when he was given the pink slip by GM Bob Gainey in a curt, 10-minute conversation that took place upon the team’s arrival from Dallas that fateful day?  On a scale of 1-10?

“A 12,” deadpanned the former coach.

Let me say right now that I like Guy Carbonneau as a person and I respect his abilities as a coach.  He was a finalist for the Jack Adams trophy as coach of the year last season, for a reason.  He was given a contract extension by Bob Gainey going into the 2008-2009 campaign, for a reason.  Gainey called the hiring of Carbonneau the best move he’s made as Habs’ GM, for a reason.

But those reasons began to wear very thin as the team rolled through the all-star break.  And for Carbonneau to suggest that this team was headed in the right direction at the time of his dismissal, just doesn’t ring true to me.

Yes, the timing of Carbonneau’s firing could be considered a bit odd, coming, as it did, following a victory.  However, how can anyone truly believe that this team was “on it’s way”, after one crummy win over the Dallas Stars?  You can’t blame Carbonneau for clutching at straws yesterday and insisting that he had the horses to turn this season around. Human nature, I suppose.

But it just doesn’t ring true.

All you need to do is look at this club’s record right around the time of the all-star break.  Since Jan. 20, the Canadiens have suffered through a pair of four-game losing streaks.  Yes, they did manage to win four straight during that post all-star stretch, at the end of February.  But upon closer inspection, those four victories were made possible by the unbelievable play of goaltender Jaroslav Halak.  Period.  The performance of the players in front of Halak during that winning streak? 

Mediocre, with gusts of brutal.

In short, there was absolutely nothing to suggest that the Canadiens were going in the right direction after they beat the Dallas Stars on the night of Mar. 8.

That’s why Bob Gainey fired Guy Carbonneau.  In an effort to save the season.

And what will it take to save this season?  Alek Kovalev figures he has a pretty good idea.  In the minutes following Montreal’s 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers Tuesday night, Kovalev, who returned to action with a goal in regulation and another in the shootout after a couple of days with the flu, said the Canadiens would need to win eight or nine of their remaining 12 games to remain in the playoff hunt.

That would mean the Canadiens will need to play in the neighbourhood of .700 hockey between now and the end of the regular season.  What are the odds of that happening, given the way this team is playing?

Let’s face it.  Even though the Canadiens are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, barely, tied for seventh place in the East with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Habs have been nothing better than a .500 hockey team all year long.  Yes, they have a record of 36-25-9 heading into tonight’s game in Ottawa against the Senators.  But let’s just look at wins vs. losses.  Thirty-six wins, vs. 34 losses.  That’s barely better than .500 hockey.

And, as Bob Gainey said just the other day, .500 hockey isn’t going to cut it.

So what do the Canadiens do after picking up three of a possible six points in the first three games with Gainey back behind the bench?  They leave a very important point on the table, and allow the Rangers to walk out of the Bell Centre with a very valuable two points, in a 4-3 shootout loss. 

Make it four of a possible eight points with Gainey behind the bench. 

More .500 hockey.

Which isn’t going to cut it, regardless of who is behind the bench.

HABS DON’T HAVE TO GO FAR FOR LATEST ACQUISITION


Some 24 hours after dispatching the popular Steve Begin to Dallas, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey found that depth centreman he was looking for.

And he didn’t have to go far, to get him.

After the Habs arrived in Philadephia for last night’s gme against the Flyers,  they announced the acquisition of Glen Metropolit off waivers from the Flyers. Which meant that all Metropolit had to do, was walk across the floor of the Wachovia Center to join his new teammates in the visitors locker room. 

Now, Glen Metropolit will never be confused for, say, Vincent Lecavalier.  Not when it comes to stature OR talent.  At 5-10, 185 pounds, the Toronto native isn’t exactly a “big body” up front.  And 12 goals is the best she’s been able to do in a single season at the NHL level.  But Gainey clearly saw something in the 34-year old when the veteran became available, making Montreal his 7th NHL stop.  Last year, at this time, you may remember Metropolit in a Boston Bruins uniform, and his splendid performance against the Canadiens in the playoffs. 

Then he moved on to Philadelphia.  And just 55 games in his career as a Flyer, Metropolit became expendable as the Flyers worked toward freeing up some cap space for the return of Daniel Briere to the Philadelphia lineup. 

And that is how Metropolit, who’s resume includes stints with the Long Island Jawz, Anaheim Bullfrogs, and the New Jersey Rockin’ Rollers of Roller Hockey fame,  became a member of the Montreal Canadiens.  Just hours before the Habs were set to take on his former team.

Fast forward to the start of last night’s game, and head coach Guy Carbonneau wasted little time in going to his latest acquisition. Metropolit opened the game on a (short-lived) line with Alex Kovaelv and Gregory Stewart. And the Flyers responded with Joffrey Lupul beating Jaroslav Halak  just 28 seconds in, to make it 1-0 Philly.

Mike Richards then made it 2-0 some eight minutes later, and the Flyers were off and running, right?

Wrong.

After starting the game like gangbusters, Philly goalie Antero Nittymaki  lost his game, while the Canadiens found theirs.  It was Tomas Plekanec with his 17th of the season on the power play at 16:25 to make it 2-1 Philly; Plekanec extending his goal-scoring streak to five games since his recent suspension.  Tom Kostopoulus tied the game just 13 seconds later with a goal from an impossible angle, before the rejuvenated Alex Kovalev (one goal and two assists on the night) put the Habs ahead with his 15th, late in the frame.

Simon Gagne tied it up midway through the second, a period which saw the Flyers outshoot the Habs 18-5; and a period which also saw the Canadiens weather a couple of 5 on 3 Philadelphia power plays.  The two teams eventually went to overtime.  And with Scottie Upshall in the box for running the crease,  Mathieu Schneider cranked one up from the point, past Nittymaki, to propel the Canadiens to their third straight win:  for the first time since early in the New Year.

As for the newest Hab, he finished with 11:47 of ice time, winning 60 per cent of his faceoffs in the process. 

Now, Metropolit, who looks and sounds like Brian Smolinki (it’s eerie, I tell ya), might not be the answer to Habs fans’ prayers as Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline looms ever larger.  But, true to his word, Gainey has gone out and filled what he felt was a need at centre by plucking the veteran off waiver wires.  That’s not to say that  Gainey has put the phone down, for good, when it comes to conversations with other GM’s around the league over the next three days.

But I’m here to tell you that I believe Bob Gainey has put his phone down, for good, when it comes to conversations with other GM’s around the league, over the next three days.

STEVE BEGIN TO DALLAS VIA PHILADELPHIA


When Steve Begin took to the ice this morning at the Habs’  practice facility in Suburban Brossard, he was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

When Steve Begin boarded the team charter for Philadelphia and tomorrow night’s game against the Flyers, he was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

But a funny thing happened to Steve Begin on his way to Philly.  He became a member of the Dallas Stars.

Upon arrival in Philadelphia, Begin was whisked away from his (former) team mates, and was informed that he had been dealt to the Stars for defenceman Doug Janik (more on HIM a little later.)  So, while Begin’s (former) team mates made their way to the team hotel, Begin caught a flight to Dallas, to join his new team mates, the Dallas Stars.

And that was it.  Begin’s career with the Canadiens, which spanned the better part of six seasons, was over.  Traded to Dallas for a journeyman defenceman who might never see the light of day with the Montreal organization.  That’s because Janik, who has bounced around between the NHL and the AHL since the Buffalo Sabres made him a 2nd-round pick in the 1999 Entry Draft, is ticketed for the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs.  However, he first has to clear waivers.  And if he doesn’t, well, he’ll end up with another team.

And the Canadiens wil be left with absolutely nothing, in return.

But GM Bob Gainey was obviously willing to take that chance, in order to give Begin an opportunity to do something he hadn’t done over the last five games with the Canadiens:

Play hockey.

It’s not as if Begin wanted “out” of Montreal, according to Gainey.  He wanted a chance to play a regular shift.  That’s something that he wasn’t getting for a good part this season.  Through the opening four weeks of the season, and over the last four weeks, Begin saw more action from the press box than he did on the ice.  As one of five men battling for three positions on the fourth line, Begin was in a dogfight for playing time.

Today at practice, for example, as Coach Guy Carbonneau formed his lines for tomorrow night’s game in Philly, it became clear that Begin, once again, would be the odd-man out.  Along with Mathieu Dandenault.

Why?  I can’t really tell you.  Only Guy Carbonneau can tell you why Begin, a guy who gave his heart and soul for this club,  played only 42 of the team’s 61 games, with no end in site to his role as a designated sitter.

Next to Saku Koivu, no one displayed more grit and more guts on this team over the last six seasons, than Steve Begin.  Half the time he played hurt; his body held together by duct tape and chicken wire.  Sure, maybe he was never more than a third-line player on this team, but, in all the time he wore the CH on his chest, he consistently sacrificed his body for the good of the team.

But you know what?  If the trade with Dallas is going to mean a new lease on Steve Begin’s playing life, I’m happy for the guy.  He deserves it.  He was a brilliant pick-up on the part of Gainey, one of his first moves as GM of this club, when he plucked him from the Buffalo Sabres’ organization as a waiver draft selection, on Oct. 3, 2003.  And if he asked Bob Gainey to give him an opportunity to play a regular shift, albeit with another team, that works for me. 

For those of you who are rubbing your hands in glee in anticipation of this deal being the tip of the iceberg in terms of possible player movement on this club leading up to the Mar. 4 trade deadline, you can stop right now.  Except for perhaps a move to acquire some depth at centre, it’s not going to happen.  That was all but spelled out today by Gainey.

This is the team, by and large, that will carry Montreal’s playoffs hopes through the final six weeks of the regular season.  Minus one of this team’s best performers in the playoffs last season.

Steve Begin.

HABS’ CENTENNIAL SEASON HANGS IN BALANCE


Some celebration.

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:

Yes.

FINALLY. A WIN. ON THE ROAD.


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.

A CRY FOR HELP


Though out his team’s slide to oblivion, Montreal Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau has maintained that the answer to what ails his team lies with the 23 players in the dressing room.

Nobody is going to do it for them, said the coach, prior to leaving for this current six-game road trip.

That was before the Canadiens fell 6-2 in Calgary Tuesday night, and 7-2 in Edmonton.

Following last night’s loss to the Oilers, Carbonneau stopped just short of issuing a plea to general manager Bob Gainey to step in and help stop the bleeding.  But it was clearly a cry for  help from  The Coach following the Canadiens’ seventh straight loss on the road.

“I’ll sit with Bob and try to find a solution,” said Carbonneau when this one was over.  “But it’s hard to make trades.  You need two teams to do that.”

Words of desperation from a desperate coach.

First of all, let me say that Carbonneau’s lineup changes for last night’s game had me scratching my head in a big way.  Mathieu Dandenault up front in his return to action after an arm injury?  Okay, I could live with that one, even though the Canadiens have been horrible along the blueline, and Dandenault had been playing some solid D prior to his injury.  But easing the veteran back into action as a forward made some sense, although I was surprised to see him on a line with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec.

And then there was Josh Gorges.  As a forward.  Yes, he’s struggled on the blueline, but why move him up front?  Why sit out Steve Begin in place of Josh Gorges, as a forward? 

Well, that’s what the coach did: sit out both Begin and Sergei Kostitsyn.  And waddaya know: both Dandenault and Gorges responded.  Too bad nobody else did, save for maybe The Captain, who continues to work his tail off.  Dandenault had a goal and two assists, while Gorges finished at plus 2 on the night.

Cold, comfort however, on a night when Carey Price surrendered four goals in the first period.  Price finished the game, and why not?  See what the youngster is made of.  Sure he gave up fat, juicy rebounds all night long.  But, yet again, he received absolutely no help from the players in front of him.

If the coach was looking to move two defenceman to the forward position, maybe he should have started with Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek.   Because last night they certainly didn’t deserve to be patrolling the blue line.  Komisarek was on the ice for the first four Edmonton goals, although he did finish at “only” -1 for the night.  Markov finished at a -3.  Throughout this entire 11-game stretch of nine losses,  every single Montreal defenceman has played some brutal hockey:  Hamerlik, Bouillon, Komisarek, Markov, Brisebois, Gorges.  

All of them.

Perhaps Montreal’s steadiest defenceman during this stretch has been Ryan O’Byrne.  Go figure.

Like Carbonneau, I have felt that the answer indeed does lie with the 23 men in this Canadiens’ locker room.  The same way you can point 23 fingers when it comes to laying blame for this mess. 

When Alex Kovalev took a high stick in the face and had to be helped off the ice last night,  I could just hear Habs fans silently praying he wouldn’t be back.  Kovalev has been an easy lightning road for what has been ailing this team.  Often, for very good reason, as the result of his status as the most talented player on this team.  Well, Kovalev came back, stitched up across the nose. 

Misery loves company.  And the Canadiens have been a miserable hockey team. 

TEAM.

Now what?  Well, there will be no trip to the bowling alley for this bunch today.  Despite catching the red-eye and flying into Denver in the wee hours of the morning.  The Coach fully intended to take advantage of  his team’s scheduled ice time at the suburban Westminster Promenade Arena this morning, ahead of tomorrow night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.

More help from down on the farm?  You might be interested to know that, while the Canadiens were busy losing to the Oilers, the Hamilton Bulldogs were busy beating the Hershey Bears 4-2,  led by the 36-save performance of the game’s first star, Marc Denis.

Just thought you might wanna know.

STRIKES, SPARES AND MISSES


Less than 24 hours after dropping a mind-numbing 6-2 decision to the Flames in Calgary,  Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau tried another approach today in Edmonton.  Enough with the meetings, and the talking.  With the Canadiens, losers of 8 of their last 10, preparing to meet the Oilers tomorrow night, Carbonneau today took his players…

Bowling.

That’s right.

Bowling.

Here’s how the day’s activity in Edmonton rolled out.  The players grabbed the bus for the practice rink for what was supposed to be a mid-morning skate.  Except Guy Carbonneau “hijacked” the bus, and the club made its way to Gateway Lanes for team bonding, and team bowling.

The players were put into teams, and each player bowled four games.  A “playoff” then took place, with the team of Hamerlik, Gorges, the Kostitsyn brothers and Kovalev taking top honours.  The individual high score was 227, posted by Mathieu Dandenault.

So, instead of Carbo working his players to the bone at practice following last night’s disastrous showing in Calgary, it was a  “kinder, gentler” coach who took them bowling, instead.

Bowling.

B-o-w-l-i-n-g.

Bowling.

And you what?  Who am I to argue? The players, themselves, know that they are playing their more lethargic, listless, uninspired hockey of the season.  They don’t need to be reminded of that.  I’m sure they mulled that around plenty, during a 30-minute players-only team meeting following the debacle in Calgary. 

Sure, The Coach could have had them report to the rink for a 9 a.m. bag skate after arriving in Edmonton from Calgary in the wee hours of the morning.  Carbonneau could have shown no mercy, and taken no prisoners.

Instead, he took his players bowling.

This is a move that’s going to be second-guessed until the cows come home.  Or at least until the final siren goes on tomorrow night’s game against the Oilers.  If the Habs win in Edmonton, Carbonneau will look like a genius for showing a little T.L.C. at a time when their season is threatening to spiral out of control.

But if they lose…

If they lose, Carbonneau will be vilified by fans and the media alike, for failing to put the hammer down on his players.  But you know what?  What would that prove at this point?  Do you really think this group needs another practice right now?  Do you think these players really needed to head to the rink this morning so that the coaching staff could work them to the point of puking?

No.

This is a team that needs to start feeling good about itself.  And from all accounts, the players emerged from today’s bowl-a-thon feeling good about themselves.  Feeling loose.  These players need to start having fun again.  If if it can’t happen at the rink, initially, it might as well happen at the bowling alley. 

Because as terrible as the Canadiens have played of late, it’s what’s happening between their ears that has to be the biggest concern to the coaching staff: Carey Price being the number one example.  But I’d don’t have to tell you, he’s not alone. 

The all-star Carey Price has been no-allstar during this stretch.  The all-star Mike Komisarek has been no all-star since the Canadiens went into the dumpster some three weeks ago.  The all-star Andrei Markov has been no-all star since the wheels started to fall off with a Jan. 20 loss the Atlanta.

And all-star Alex Kovalev…well…you know where I’m going with that.

The Canadiens are fragile between the ears.  They’re playing scared.  And they are playing with absolutely no confidence. 

Maybe this will help.  Maybe it won’t.  It sure can’t hurt.

SAY IT AIN’T SO, ALEX


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.”

Bingo.

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.

Right, Alex?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.