Tag Archive | Jaroslav Halak

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.

HALAK TO THE RESCUE


It’s not hard to see why, with five minutes to play in last night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, Habs’ netminder Jaroslav Halak decided to take advantage of a stoppage in play to skate the bench for a swig of water.

At the time, the Canadiens were clinging to a 2-0 lead, with Halak and the Habs weathering a third-period storm which had the Canucks outshooting the Habs 13-2 when number 41 made his way to the bench for something to cool his parched throat.

Using the opportunity to catch his breath, Halak returned to the goal and finished the job: recording his first shutout in almost one year, and kicking out 34 shots on the night, in a 3-0 victory over Mats Sundin and the Canucks.

Going into the game, head coach Guy Carbonneau said he was looking for some stability in goal, a hot hand he could ride. 

He’s found it.  For now.

Halak was very good against the Senators in a 5-3 win Saturday night.  Last night, he was THE reason why the Canadiens were able to come out of the Bell Centre with two points against a surging Vancouver team.  It was THE outstanding goaltending performance of the season, so far, for the Habs.  And, as a result, the job as this team’s number one goaltender is Halak’s to lose.

Far too often this season, Halak was a .500 goaltender who looked like a .500 goaltender.  As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, even when the Canadiens were winning in Dec. through early Jan. with Halak in goal, and Price on the injury shelf,  they were winning by scores of 5-4.  Far too often this season, Halak has been an adventure in goal, leaving fans wondering why Marc Denis never got a shot at a starting assignment when recalled from Hamilton.

And why is it that Marc Denis STARTED the season in Hamilton?   Why wouldn’t the Canadiens have kept Denis with the big team as a security blanket in case Price faltered? 

For the same reason G.M. Bob Gainey felt secure enough to trade Cristobal Huet last season. Because the Canadiens’ brass was confident that Carey Price could get the job done as the team’s number one goaltender, just as they were convinced that Jaroslav Halak could be a capable backup.

My, how the tables have turned for these two young netminders.

While the chant of “HA-LAK, HA-LAK” rang through the Bell Centre rafters last night, Price was on the bench,  left to ponder a season that has seen him go from all-star  to has-been in the eyes of many fickle hockey fans in this town.  All at the tender age of 21.

Welcome to Montreal, Carey, where you’re only as good as your last save.

But let’s get serious, folks.  Carey Price will be back.  The question is:  when?

You’ve got to believe that Halak built up a tremendous amount of goodwill with his performance against the Canucks; to the point that, should he falter Friday night in Philadelphia when the Canadiens take on the Flyers, The Coach will be hard pressed to make an immediate switch and go back to Price. 

Of course, should the Habs win with Halak in goal against the Flyers, Carbonneau will not do what he’s done in the past when this team has played on consecutive nights:  switch goaltenders.  A victory in Philadelphia would, you would think, guarantee Halak the starting assignment the following night, when the San Jose Sharks come to town.

However, let’s got get ahead of ourselves, when it comes to the soft-spoken native of Bratislava.  Back-to-back wins do not a season make.  However, by backstopping the Habs to consecutive wins over the Senators and the Canucks,  Halak has helped the Canadiens do something they hadn’t done in more than a month:

Win two straight hockey games.

Can Halak help launch the Canadiens into a three-game winning streak for the first time since the start of the New Year?

I can’t answer that question.  But he WILL be given that opportunity, that’s for sure.

KOVALEV SHINES IN SPOTLIGHT


Did you expect anything less from Alex Kovalev?

With the spotlight on number 27,  for all the wrong reasons, Kovalev returned to action yesterday, scored a goal and added two assists, to help power the Canadiens to a 5-3 win over a stubborn Ottawa Senators hockey club.

The chant “Kovy, Kovy, Kovy” rang through the Bell Centre rafters, the moment that Kovalev was introduced to the crowd by way of pre-game player introductions on the jumbo screen.  And it didn’t take Kovalev long to pay the fans back for their ongoing support, as he set up Tomas Plekanec for the game’s first goal just 2:23 into the opening period; the first of three power play goals for the Habs.

One hundred and ninety-five seconds  later, Kovalev made it 2-0 when he picked up a Chris Phillips turnover and beat Brian Elliott stick-side.

Kovalev also assisted on a goal by Patrice Brisebois; a goal that gave the Canadiens a commanding 4-0 lead.

They needed it.

The Sens stormed back in the second period with a pair of goals before Mathieu Dandenaultscored a huge goal with 18.1 seconds remaining in the second to put Montreal ahead 5-2.  Despite giving up the late second-period goal (by that time, Alex Auld was on in relief of Elliott), the Sens continued to press, as the Canadiens ran into some serious penalty trouble.   However, Jaroslav Halakwas able to keep the Sens at bay, kicking out 44 shots; with the Canadiens outshot 22-4 in the third period.

Finally, a win by this Canadienshockey team.  One they could be proud of.  They’ll have an opportunity to make it two straight wins, for the first time in well over a month, when they play host to Mats Sundin and the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night.

And won’t THAT be fun.

Oh yes. Alex Kovalev.  The man loves the spotlight, doesn’t he?  Remember the all-star game?  He didn’t disappoint that night.  And he didn’t disappoint last night, coming away as the game’s first star.  As impressive as his offensive contributions were, what really raised my eyebrows was the way he lunged for a puck in the first period, timed the move perfectly, to clear the zone at a time when the Canadiens were killing a penalty.

While, on most nights, it’s all about artistic merit when it comes to Kovalev, that particular move was all about effort.  And for the better part of his 19:44 of ice time, it was all about effort for the rejuvenated Kovalev, who joked with his team mates that his return to action after an unscheduled two-day vacation felt like he had just been traded to this team.

A rather interesting choice of words, what with the Mar. 4 N.H.L. trade deadline just 10 days away.

Will Kovalev still be a Hab when he wakes up on Thurs., Mar. 5th?  More of what we saw of Alex Kovalev last night,  in the days and weeks to come, will certainly make it more difficult for G.M. Bob Gainey to consider trading his enigmatic all-star.  I’ve always maintained, and I still maintain, that Kovalev isn’t going anywhere. Not now, at least.  But the last time I checked, my business card did not include the title: General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens.

The REAL question that begs to be asked is:  WHICH Alex Kovalev will show up to the rink Tuesday night against the Canucks. And Thursday when the Habs are in Philadelphia.  And the following night, when the Sharks are in town.

Etc. Etc.

The Alex Kovalev who played like an all star last night?  Or the Alex Kovalev who played himself off this team just a few short days ago.

The only person who can answer that question is number 27 himself.

WINNING STREAK SNAPPED AT ONE


When the Montreal Canadiens initially released their February practice schedule, they had ice time pencilled in at their facility in Brossard for noon today.

Maybe they should use it.

Then again, why bother.  Nothing seems to be working for this Habs‘ team that fell 4-2 in Vancouver last night, in a game the featured more of the same:  catch-up hockey by the Canadiens; more miserable play by their so-called all-stars; and goal tending that’s not getting this team very far, with Jaroslav Halak the flavour of the night against Mats Sundin and the Canucks.

Ouch.  That one hurt.  Especially when Sundin set up Ryan Kesler on a 2-on-1 that was created when the Canadiens turned over the puck at the Vancouver blue-line to make it 4-1 early in the third and officially put this one out of reach.

Oh, look.  Another Montreal turnover.  So what else is new?

But, the Habs are back home.  For now.  They returned to Montreal in the wee hours of the morning for a day and a half of home cooking, before they hit the road again. 

You recall how much the Canadiens were looking forward to hitting the road?  The opportunity to get out from under the microscope at at a time when the team was struggling?  Well, after four games on the road, the Canadiens are still struggling.  And the future doesn’t look bright as they get set to embark for the final two stops of this six-game road trip.

Wednesday night they’re in Washington to face the red-hot Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals; Ovechkin scoring goals number 39, 40 and 41 on the season in last night’s 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.  And on Thursday, the Habs are in Pittsburgh where they will face the Penguins, who will have a new face behind the bench to replace Michel Therrien, who was fired yesterday.  His replacement:  Dan Bylsma, who moves up to the N.H.L. ranks after coaching the team’s A.H.L. affiliate in Wilkes Barre-Scranton. 

If nothing else, the Canadiens will be facing a Penguins team that will react to Therrien‘s dismissal with a dead-cat bounce.  Which means the Canadiens could very well return home from this road trip with a record of 1-5;  that one victory of the desperation variety against the Colorado Avalanche, one of the Western Conference bottom feeders.

I’m not going to bore you with any more of the details of last night’s loss.  Suffice to say it was more of the same for this Habs’ team that  has failed to win back-to-back games in exactly one month.  ONE MONTH.  Don’t believe me? Look it up yourself. 

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The last time the Canadiens won consecutive games was Jan. 15 when they beat Nashville 3-2, and followed that up with a 5-4 win over the Sens in a shootout, two nights later.

You’ll recall last year the Canadiens, when they LOST two in a row, always seemed to turn things around to avoid any extended losing skids.  THIS season, they’re having a hard time simply WINNING two in a row.

But that was last year.  When Alex Kovalev was tearing up the league.  When Carey Price was making Habs‘ fans forget about Christobal Huet with quality goal-tending.  When the power play was clicking.  When Sergei Kostitsyn was playing inspired hockey to the point where he was making big brother Andrei a better player.  When Thomas Plekanec…well…I could go on.  But why bother.

I mean, if this year’s edition of the Canadiens can’t bother, why should I?

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.

EARLY EXIT FOR HALAK IN ATLANTA


It wasn’t supposed to end this way for Jaroslav Halak.

After taking the team through a very respectable 6-2 run while Carey Price was out nursing an ankle injury, Halak made his 9th consecutive start last night in Atlanta against the Thrashers.

By the time the game was 30:58 seconds old, Halak was on his way to the showers after surrendering three goals in a 4-2 loss to the lowly Thrashers.

Clearly Halak didn’t bring his “A” game to the Phillips Arena. But then again, neither did his team mates; certainly not through the opening period of play. It was perhaps Montreal’s most listless, uninspired period of hockey all season: a period which saw the Thrashers go ahead 2-0 on goals by Erik Christensen at 5:02 and Chris Thorburn less than two minutes later. Halak did not look like a Vezina-Trophy winner on the first goal; a harmless-looking  shot that eluded the Habs’ netminder. He couldn’t really be faulted for the Thorburn goal, as his defencemen on the play, Roman Hamrlik and Josh Gorges deserted him.

This was a long night for Gorges, who finished the game at minus three, and who has struggled of late. Hamrlik had his problems last night as well, and blew a tire on the play that led to the goal by Rich Peverley that made it 3-0 just 3:48 into the second period.

Exit Jaroslav Halak: enter Carey Price, earlier than expected. Price, out since the end of December, had been pencilled in by Coach Guy Carbonneau to return to action tonight in New Jersey against the Devils. But Carbo had clearly seen enough of Halak, prompting an early return to action by Price.

The Canadiens responded with goals by Max Pacioretty at 4:54 of the second, and Steve Begin some 90 seconds later, to pull the Habs to within one, at 3-2.

But the Thrashers, led by goaltender Kari Lehtonen, weathered a third-period storm and put it out of reach at 8:55 of the final period: a goal by Zach Bogosian that came on the very first shot on Price over the final 20 minutes of play.

It’s was pretty evident that the Canadiens were looking ahead, perhaps to the Devils, perhaps to the All-Star break, at a time when they should have been taking the Thrashers a heck of a lot more seriously. But then again, the Habs, on too many occasions, have played down to the level of their competition on nights like this.

The result: two points, out the window.

The verdict on Halak and his play as the team’s number one goalie during Price’s stay in sick bay?

First off, give credit to The Coach for getting the most out of Halak at a time when the Canadiens could have been in serious trouble during this injury-riddled stretch.  In fact, give The Coach credit for getting the most out of ALL  his players, (many of them fresh out of Hamilton) with the team forced to deal with this rash of injuries. 

As for Halak, well, you can’t argue with his 6-2 record. But he gave up a lot of goals during that stretch. Fortunately for number 41, his team mates, on most nights, scored more than he surrendered: hence his impressive winning percentage during his stint. Which is more than you can say about Halak when, through the opening weeks of the season, he was a .500 goalie who LOOKED like a .500 goalie.

However, any way you slice it, he’s no number one goaltender.

HABS BAIL OUT HALAK


It’s not too often you can win a hockey game when your netminder gives up a goal every six shots.

But that’s exactly what happened at the Bell Centre this afternoon, as the Canadiens blew a pair of two-goal leads to salvage a 6-5 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers.

The goaltender in question:  Jaroslav Halak.  Head coach Guy Carbonneau, who tends to be a patient man, went right back to Halak after his backup goaltender was yanked after two sketchy periods of Friday’s 4-1 loss in New Jersey.  Halak responded with another sub-par effort, surrendering five goals on 30 shots.  However, this time, his team mates bailed him out:  or as Carbonneau said when this one was over, “We got two points for him.”

Indeed.

This was a strange 65 minutes of hockey.  The Canadiens started in fine fashion; crisp passing as they came in waves against Craig Anderson.  However, they sagged in a big way in the second half of the opening period, after they failed to beat the Panthers’ netminder.  Goals by Brett McLean at 12:57 and David Booth less than six minutes later put Florida ahead  2-0.

Give the Canadiens credit (at that point, at least) as they refused to fold their tents.  The Habs exploded for four goals in the second period by Francis Boullion, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tom Kostopoulos, and Robert Lang.  Leading 4-2 after two, it appeared the Canadiens were on easy street against a Florida team that played 24 hours earlier against Pittsburgh.

Not so fast.

Radek Dvorak made it 4-3 early in the third before Andrei Kostitsyn, with his second of the game, re-established Montreal’s two-goal lead at 3:58 of the third.

Which way to Easy Street?

Oops.  Another detour.

Jassen Cullimore made it 5-4 Montreal midway through the third, and with 102 seconds remaining in regulation time, it was Dvorak with his second of the night, to send this one into overtime.  The goal capped a wild scramble in Halak’s crease, during which time the Montreal netminder was turned inside out.

Thirty shots.  Five goals.  You do the math.

After a scorless overtime, and a goalpost by Keith Ballard late in the O.T. session, the teams went to a shootout.  The first five shooters fired blanks, leaving all-star defenceman Andrei Markov as the sixth, and potentially final, shooter.  And he didn’t dissapoint.  Going with what he acknowledged as the only scoring move he knows, Markov slipped a backhander through Anderson for the winning goal.

An uglier two points you will never see.

Alex Kovalev’s turnover that resulted in Dvorak’s first of two on the night?  Ugly.

The Habs 0-5 performance on the power play, including back-to-back two-minute advantages midway through the second period:  Ugly with a capital “UGH.”

The lazy backhander by Brett McLean that beat Halak?  The “blast” (I’m being charitable here, folks) by Cullimore from the outside edge of the faceoff circle that eluded Halak to pull the Panthers to within one, midway through the third period?

You figure it out.  Because, clearly The Coach is having a  hard time doing just that, when it comes to the performance of his backup netminder who has been thrust into a starting role as a result of an injury to Carey Price.  I said it before and I’ll say it again:  This season Jaroslav Halak has been a .500 goalie who is playing like a .500 goalie.  The Canadiens need to be able to count on him when they turn to him, and right now, they can’t.  Count on him, that is.  Will they turn to him Wednesday in New York against the Rangers?  Time will tell.

All right, let’s move on.  Some positives for the Canadiens?  The play of  Robert Lang, Andrei Kostitsyn and Sergei Kostitsyn, brought together as a line for this one.  They combined for six points and a plus 8 rating, with Sergei a plus 4.  The newly-formed line of Kovalev-Plekanec-Pachioretty had its moments, with Pachioretty coming “this close” to scoring his second as a Hab in the first 90 seconds of play.  Kovalev also had a goal post for his efforts.  Truth be told, Kovalev had some magic on that stick of his today.  But there was clearly no magic involved in his turnover that led to Florida’s third goal.  And let’s not forget about Andrei Markov, who, despite being minus one on the afternoon, did something that Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn failed to do in the shootout:

Score.   And bail out his goaltender in the process.

PACIORETTY PRODUCES IN 1ST NHL GAME


It didn’t take long for Max Pacioretty to make an impact at the NHL level.

Pacioretty, one of four members of the Hamilton Bulldogs called up by the Canadiens this week as a result a growing list of injured players, scored in his very first NHL game, on his very first shot, against the New Jersey Devils last night at the Prudential Center.

Unfortunately for Pacioretty and the rest of the Canadiens, it was the only damage the Habs could do on this night against Scott Clemmensen and the rest of the Devils, who prevailed 4-1 to snap Montreal’s three-game winning streak.

Pacioretty wasn’t the only freshly-minted Montreal Canadien to see action last night.  He was joined by fellow Bulldog Kyle Chipchura on a line with veteran Steve Begin.  And goalie Marc Denis ended up seeing his first taste of action as a Hab in the third period, after Jaroslav Halak, the starting netminder, was pulled after 40 minutes.  Halak fought the puck all the night, surrending two goals on the first eight shots he faced, before being yanked at the end of the second period, with the Canadiens trailing 3-1.

With Carey Price once  again fighting a lower body injury, Halak took his .500 record into last night’s game for another starting assignment.  And you know what? He looked like a .500 goaltender.  None of the three goals he gave up, Brian Gionta from the edge of the face off circle, Zac Parise through the five-hole from a bad angle, and John Madden, high on the glove side, were world-beaters.  Then again, Halak didn’t have a whole lot of help from his defence, as witnessed by the goal by Madden in the second period, which came on a 2-on-1 after Patrice Brisbois was caught way out of position after pinching in.

With players like Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Chris Higgins out of the lineup, you just know that the law of averages is going to catch up with you.  And it did last night in Jersey.  Sure, there’s the giddiness that surrounded the goal by Pacioretty in his first NHL game.  But last night the Habs looked more like the Hamilton Bulldogs than the Montreal Canadiens, although that’s not to take anything away from the play of Pacioretty, Chipchura and young Maxim Lapierre, who isn’t too far removed from the Bulldogs, himself.

Of immediate concern for the Canadiens, next to the crowded situation in sick bay, is the ongoing listless and unproductive play of Tomas Plekanec;  the inability of the Plekanec-Kovalev-Andrei Kostitsyn line to gain any kind of traction this season, and another “Oh-fer” performance by the power play: 0-for-4, on this night.  It would also be nice to see Matt D’Agostini find the zone again after making such a splash when initially called up from Hamilton.  It would also be nice to see Robert Lang make some noise out there, again.

We’ll cut the injury-riddled Canadiens as much slack as they need, however, as they prepare for their next game tomorrow afternoon when the Florida Panthers are in town.  Whether or not Carey Price is ready to return to action, remains to be seen.  Whether or not Guy Carbonneau gives Marc Denis the starting nod, in case Price isn’t ready to go, also remains to be seen.

I say if Price can’t play, you hand the puck to Denis.  He deserves a shot.  Halak deserves to sit.

Look for Yannick Weber to make his regular-season debut against the Panthers, likely as a power-play specialist and occasional fourth-line forward, a-la Mark Streit.  The Canadiens didn’t call Weber up from Hamilton to sit on the bench in Montreal.  The young man will get his opportunity, and my bet is that it will come tomorrow.

CANADIENS EMBARRASSED YET AGAIN


Matt D’Agostini?

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.


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