Let me take you back to the off-season, at a time when it became clear that Mats Sundin didn’t want to have anything to do with the Montreal Canadiens, and before GM Bob Gainey went out acquired Plan B, in Robert Lang.
Once it became pretty clear that Sundin had very little interest in Montreal’s overtures, Gainey was asked who he felt could step in and help fill the void at centre.
His answer: Kyle Chipchura.
However, that was until Gainey went out and signed Lang as a free agent, effectively squeezing Chipchura out of the Plan B picture. Unfortunately for Lang, his season came to an end at 8:33 of the third period in the game against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 1st, after the 38-year old suffered an Achilles tendon injury. At the time, Lang was leading the team with 18 goals and had distinguished himself rather nicely as a big, productive, if somewhat slow-flooted, force at front.
That was until 8:33 of the third period against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 1.
Exit Robert Lang. Re-enter Kyle Chipchura, the original Plan B, called up today from the Hamilton Bulldogs, and expected to join the team in Denver in time for tonight’s game against the Avalanche.
Chipchura, a 1st-round 2004 draft pick, has had a number of cups of coffee with the Canadiens this season, most recently as a call-up in December when veterans like Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins were dropping like flies. He spent eight games with the big team before being sent back down to Hamilton; eclipsed on the prospects depth-chart by the likes of fellow-Bulldogs Max Pacioretty and Matt D’Agostini, who are still with the big team.
Chipchura returns to the Habs after scoring 13 goals and adding 13 assists in 33 games with the Bulldogs this season, good for a plus-18 rating. Obviously this time, he’s hoping to stick. His best opportunity to make a full-time impression came last season, when he spent most of the first half of the campaign with the Canadiens, before being sent back down to the American Hockey League: the clock ticking on his long-term prospects as a bona-fide big-league talent, within this organization.
Now he’s back.
Chipchura will never be confused with Robert Lang. He’ll never be nearly the offensive talent that Lang has been throughout his career. But Chipchura has the potential to be a solid, two-way contributor at the N.H.L. level. Although it’s unfortunate that this latest opportunity comes at the expense of Robert Lang’s season-ending injury, it’s an opportunity, nonetheless.
One door closes, another one opens.
Personally, I’m rooting for the personable young man from Westlock, Alberta, who would love nothing more than to celebrate his 23rd birthday, just six days from now, on Feb. 19, as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Upper body, lower body.
Upper body, lower body.
Unfortunately, it’s been an all-too-familiar refrain for the Montreal Canadiens of late. And the latest member of the Habs to be singing that painful tune is Alex Tanguay who is out with an upper body injury after going down early in Tuesday’s win over Tampa: specifically, a dislocated left shoulder that will keep him out of action for at least six weeks.
Tanguay joins line mates Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins on the shelf, and the news on Tanguay comes after the Canadiens sent forward Ben Maxwell (not surprisingly) and defenceman Ryan O’Byrne (he needs to play somewhere) down to Hamilton. Which, if you do the math, leaves the Canadiens will a number of holes in their roster. Especially with further word today that goalie Carey Price is again being bothered by a lower-body discomfort that kept him out of action recently, and will keep him out of tomorrow’s game in New Jersey against the Devils.
Today the Canadiens called up Max Pacioretty, Kyle Chipchura, goalie Marc Denis, AND defenceman Yannick Weber, which will please legions of Habs’ fans, to no end, on a number of fronts.
We’ve come to know what to expect from Chipchura on an NHL level. Chipchura was with this team for much of the first half of last season before being down to the Bulldogs. He’s not a speed burner, but he brings a solid two-way effort to the rink at centre, although his lack of skills at the face-off circle did him in last season. This season he showed very little in training camp and during the pre-season, which is why he has spent the year in Hamilton. He likely would have been tabbed for a recall when Maxwell was called up, but Chipchura was nursing a groin injury at the time.
Denis is up only as a short-term backup to Jaroslav Halak. Price is not expected to be on the sidelines for long.
Which brings us back to two of Montreal’s most intriguing prospects: Pacioretty and Weber.
Both performed splendidly in pre-season, with Pacioretty clearly knocking on the door to an NHL career after moving from the U.S. university ranks to a career as a pro. And Weber, doing his best to make Habs fans forget about Mark Streit, has progressed nicely in Hamilton after a junior career with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
Pacioretty started slowly in Hamilton, but has been playing his best hockey as a member of the Bulldogs of late, as witnessed by his performance in Hamilton’s 4-0 win over the Toronto Marlies Tuesday night. Pacioretty scored his 5th of the season in that one, in what was his strongest showing as a member of the Bulldogs. Chipchura, who has also been playing splendid hockey of late, notched his 10th of the season in that one.
We know what Weber brings to the rink. He’s a smooth-skating defenceman with a terrific shot. But his defensive skills remain suspect. But with O’Bryne now in Hamilton, a move that had to be made in order to give the struggling blue-liner regular playing time, Weber will get his chance to impress the Montreal brass. His last chance to impress Montreal brass, in Montreal, came at the Bell Centre Nov. 30, which he scored a pair of goals in a game against the Binghamton Senators. He will no doubt see action, at least on the power play, during this call-up.
Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that the Canadiens have not been able to escape the injury bug this season, which was not the case last season, when they were a consistantly healthy bunch. Because with the giddiness that comes with the team’s recent winning ways, and lofty expectations when it comes to players like Chipchura, Pachioretty and Weber, comes the harsh reality that with a steady stream of Habs making their way to sick bay throughout this season, the Montreal Canadiens are quickly turning into the Hamilton Bulldogs.
It’s not every day that your number one line is sitting in the press box.
But that could indeed be the case when the Canadiens return to action Friday in New Jersey after closing out the 2008 calendar year with three victories in four nights; win number three coming last night in Tampa thanks to a 2-1 shootout decision over the Bolts.
The fact that the Lightning have jerseys with the gawd-awful nickname BOLTS plastered on the front is a conversation for another day.
By the time this one was over, Alex Tanguay had shaved, showered and was making his way to the team bus with his left arm in a sling. Three shifts into his game, Tanguay was taken into the boards, hard, by Evgeny Artyukhin and gingerly made his way to the locker room, never to be seen again. His night over, after just 1:43 of ice time. The injury forced Guy Carbonneau to shorten his bench on a night when the Canadiens were clearly somewhat wobbly-legged as a result of three games in four nights.
However, both goaltender Carey Price and forward Guillaume Latendresse gave the Canadiens a chance to come away with at least one point against the BOLTS. Price slammed the door after surrendering a first-period goal to Vinnie Prospal. After the two teams skated through a scoreless second period, the recently rejuvenated Latendresse notched his fifth of the season when he poked a backhander past Mike Smith through a pile of bodies, just :46 into period number three.
Truth be told, the Canadiens were the better team over the final 25 minutes of this hockey game. Robert Lang had a chance to win it in regulation on a breakaway at the 14-minute mark of the third, but failed to convert. And with five seconds showing on the clock, Andrei Kostitsyn rattled one off the post. Then, in O.T., Maxim Lapierre was robbed by Smith, with the BOLTS’ goaltender down and out in his crease: nothing but air for Lapierre to shoot at.
However, Lapierre didn’t miss in the shootout. After Alex Kovalev opened the round of shots with a goal, Lapierre beat Smith to give Montreal a 2-1 advantage, setting the stage for Lecavalier vs. Price. And Price won that battle, giving the Canadiens another two points and a 2-1 victory.
While Price celebrated in the crease with a pose that looked like a cross between an archer and Hulk Hogan, Alex Tanguay didn’t look like a man who was going to do much celebrating as he made his way to the team bus, grim faced, sporting that sling on his left arm. Tanguay has struggled of late after opening the season in explosive fashion playing on a line with Latendresse, and then Chris Higgins, along with Saku Koivu. The goals were coming in bunches for the former Calgary Flame. Not any more. Just exactly how long Tanguay is lost to this club remains to be seen. But, for now, at least, he joins his former linemates Koivu (lower body) and Higgins (upper body) in sick bay. And perhaps in the press box for Friday’s game in New Jersey, pending the results of an MRI.
In the meantime, the question is: who will the Canadiens call up from Hamilton if Tanguay remains out of action? The two obvious candidates would be Kyle Chipchura and Max Pacioretty. Interesting to see that both of those two young men are playing their best hockey of the season down on the farm, as whitnessed by their performance in last night’s 4-0 win over the Toronto Marlies at Copps Colliseum in Hamilton. Chipchura notched his 10th of the season while Pacioretty, who is finally beginning to feel comfortable with his move from the university ranks to the American Hockey League, scored his fifth in his best performance of the season.
My suggestion? If the Canadiens need to make a personel move as a result of the injury to Tanguay, they should call up both Chipchura and Pacioretty, and send Ben Maxwell back down to Hamilton. Maxwell is clearly not ready for prime time. Chipchura would replace Maxwell at centre, and Pacioretty would replace Tanguay at wing. IF Tanguay needs to be replaced at wing.
We’ll know more after Tanguay’s New Years’ date with an MRI machine.
It says here that you’re not going to win too many hockey games when you can only score one goal.
For the second straight game, the Montreal Canadiens could score but one goal. And for the second straight game, that goal scorer was Patrice Brisebois, who might not be Sheldon Souray or Mark Streit. But at least he put the puck in the net, which is more than can be said for any of his teammates over the last 120 minutes of hockey.
The Habs made Simeon Varlamov look like Jacques Plante as the rookie goaltender stopped 32 shots in his very first NHL game. Jaroslav Halak made his third straight start for the Canadiens as a result of the flu bug that has bitten Carey Price, and a lower-body injury that Price is currently dealing with.
Marc Denis, called up from the Bulldogs, was the backup.
Nicklas Backstrom and Michael Nylander, with the winner with less than three minutes to play, were the only Capitals able to beat Halak on this night. But then again, you’re not going to win too many hockey games . . . (…fill in the blanks).
Montreal head coach Guy Carbonneau was clearly fit to be tied when this one was over, as a result of the season-long lesson in futility that has been delivered by this team’s power play unit: 0 for 8 last night; 6 for 77 in their last 17 games. Alex Kovalev, without a goal since November 1st, stretching 19 games, didn’t feel The Coach was sending a message when he put fourth-liners Steve Begin, Tom Kostopoulos, and Maxim Lapierre on the ice for a couple of power play shifts in the second period, after the Habs blew a four-minute man advantage situation.
Carbo begs to differ. He WAS sending a message.
“Right now our power play is non-existent,” lamented Carbo when this one was over.
With Saku Koivu out for at least two weeks (before he’s re-evaluated) with a lower-body injury (likely a foot or ankle) Ben Maxwell made his NHL regular-season debut after being called up from the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs and played on a line with Matt D’Agostini (who has looked impressive in a Montreal uniform in the handful of games he’s played since joining the Big Team) and Andrei Kostitsyn. Maxwell looked like a deer caught in the headlights in the first period, but managed to settle himself down and generate a couple of scoring opportunities in his 12:28 of ice time.
“I’ve got to be a little stronger, a little faster and a little smarter out there,” said Maxwell. “Tonight I felt like I was running around a little too much.”
The clock would appear to be ticking on Maxwell’s stint with the Habs. The prevailing theory is that if Koivu is out for any length of time, Maxwell will be sent back to the Bulldogs and Kyle Chipchura will get the call to join the Big Team. A groin injury prevented Chipchura from re-joining the Habs this time ’round.
And, with Koivu out, Kovalev found himself wearing the Captain’s “C.” Going into the game, Carbonneau was asked if he hoped if the “C” on Kovalev’s jersey might inspire the enigmatic number 27.
“I hope not,” Carbo responded at the time, adding, “I don’t believe you need a letter to get going.”
Well, as it turned out, the letter didn’t “get Kovalev going.” Then again, over the last 120 minutes of hockey, no one else on this team has been able to get anything going, either, on the score sheet at least, other than Brisebois.
Yes, the effort was there for the most part, at least after a listless opening period. But the results weren’t.
So, what began as a very promising seven-game home stand closed with a thud with back-to-back losses to the Tampa Bay Lightening and Washington Capitals. The injury-riddled Canadiens hit the road tomorrow as they prepare to meet the ‘Caines Tuesday night.
That is the only way to put last night’s 6-3 setback by the Canadiens at the hands of Mikhail Grabovski and the Toronto Maple Leafs. When this one was over, Habs‘ head coach Guy Carbonneau called it the most embarrassing game he’s ever been associated with.
And for good reason.
The Canadiens walked into the Air Canada Centre after having used smoke and mirrors to forge a record of 8-1-2 through the first 11 games of this season. And they proceeded to fall flat on their faces against a Leafs’ team that won all the battles. Every single one of them. They outplayed, outworked, outhustled, out “everythinged” the Canadiens, all night long. In the end, the 6-3 final score actually flattered the Habs, who were outshot 41-20 (12-3 in the first period, alone) on the way to losing 61 percent of the faceoffs.
Can you spell U-G-L-Y?
This is a clearly Canadiens team that has spent too much time admiring itself in the mirror; too much time believing in their pre-season press clippings after being called the “team to beat” in the East. This is a Canadiens team that might have more talent than the 2007-2008 edition of the club, on paper, at least. But the last time I checked, this game is played on the ice. And last night, the Canadiens left their game, in the locker room.
It would be easy to point a finger at someone like Patrice Brisebois, who was playing patty-cake with his man along the boards, on the play that led to the goal by Grabovski, his 7th of the season, to put Toronto ahead 2-0 early in the second period. But with Brisebois, while the talent might not be there, at least the effort is, on most nights.
How about all-star defenceman Andrei Markov, who did a terrific imitation of a pile-on as Nick Hagman blew by the Canadiens‘ D-man and proceeded to blow the puck past a beleaguered Carey Price to open the scoring eight minutes in.
While we’re at it, does Mike Komisarek look like a guy who is trying to play his way into a big, fat contract?
And where are the forwards when it comes to being responsible on the ice, when you DON’T have the puck???
Unfortunately, ten fingers aren’t enough when it comes to singling out the culprits on this Canadiens‘ team. For all the talent this club possesses, none of it will mean a lick, if it’s not accompanied by good, old-fashioned hard work. And on this four-game road trip, despite capturing five of a possible eight points, there wasn’t nearly enough of it.
So, now what?
Now what, indeed.
Well, how about we start by taking a look at the score sheet from last night’s game, down on the farm in Hamilton, where the Bulldogs beat the Toronto Marlies 5-2.
Let’s see now….Kyle Chipchura, the “C” on his sweater, having been named Captain of the Bulldogs 48 hours earlier…with a pair of goals; Max Pacioretty, who dazzled at training camp and has picked up the pace of late as a Bulldog…two assists; and Matt D’agostini, another solid performer in the pre-season and a proven point-getter at the AHL level…with his 7th goal of the season.
Why don’t we ask any or all three of these players if they’d like an opportunity to show the Canadiens’ brass that they have the work ethic necessary to make it at the NHL level? How about we give the likes of Guillaume Latendresse, Sergei Kostitsyn and Ryan O’Byrne the opportunity to get a different perspective on this game of hockey?
Now what, indeed.
Jaroslav Halak claims there was a little luck involved in keeping the puck out of the net for most of the night against the Florida Panthers. Maybe. But luck will only take you so far when you are faced with 36 shots, and turn aside 35 of them.
Halak, in his second start of this young season, gave his hockey team a chance to win tonight. And win they did, 3-1 against a smothering Florida Panther team that threatened to take this one to overtime.
After team captain Saku Koivu opened the scoring at 2:07 of the second period, converting a backhanded seeing-eye pass from the game’s second star, Andrei Markov (Halak was the first star), the Panthers started to take the play to the Canadiens, and had the Habs chasing their tails for long stretches deep in Montreal territory. Keith Ballard, the best player on the ice for the Panthers, tied the score at 7:20 of the third period. However, Francis Bouillon saved the day for the home-town team with a long blast from the blue line to beat Tomas Vokoun with what proved to be the winning goal at 10:53 of the third.
Tomas Plekanec, in need of a goal more than anyone one else on this club, finally got his first of the season. Granted, it was an empty netter, but it was huge. With Maxim Lapierre in the box for two minutes for holding the stick (!?!?!), and Vokoun pulled for an extra attacker, the goal by Plekanec was more than just icing on the cake. It was all that, and the cherry on top.
The goal by Koivu marked the 600th point of his inspirational career with this club. It was a moment not lost on The Captain, who is clearly taking the time to stop and smell the roses this season, acknowledging after this game was over that, at this stage in his career, he doesn’t know how many more seasons he has left in him.
The goal by Bouillon came in his first game of the season, having started the year in sick bay. After playing much of the opening period up front to help ease him back into the lineup, Coach Guy Carbonneau liked what he saw from number 51 and put him back on the blue line in the third period. It was a move that paid instant dividends.
One thing’s for certain. Now that Bouillon is healthy again, look for Ryan O’Byrne to become the odd man out along the blue line. O’Byrne has not had a terrific start to the season, as witnessed by his three turnovers in less than nine minutes of ice time last night. Last season, O’Byrne saw plenty of action: from the press box. He’s destined for more of the same, based on his early play.
Tonight’s game was Kyle Chipchura’s first of the regular season. With Steve Begin joining Chris Higgins, Georges Laraque, and Andrei Kostitsyn in sick bay, Chipchura was recalled from Hamilton of the American Hockey League and played on a line with Robert Lang and Tom Kostopoulos. Chipchura saw 11:26 of ice time and put in a solid effort. Yes, he was on the ice for the Ballard goal. However, he was also on the ice for the Bouillon goal. And his biggest play of the night was one he didn’t make. It appeared that Chipchura had a chance to snag the puck that was headed to the blue line in the moments leading up to the Bouillon goal. But Chipchura never touched the puck, which ended up on Bouillon’s stick, and in the Florida net.
After bouncing back and forth from Montreal to Hamilton and back again, Chipchura a deserves a chance to unpack his bags, and call Bell Centre home for awhile.
Let me take you back a few months ago, when it became clear that Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Bob Gainey was having little success trying to convince Mats Sundin to join the Habs.
At the time, Gainey said the Canadiens had a Plan B in place at centre, in Kyle Chipchura, should the Habs fall short in their efforts to convince Sundin that Montreal is the place to resume his NHL career.
Fast forward to today, and Mats Sundin is still dithering about his playing future, while Kyle Chipchura is no nonger a member of the Habs, sent down to Hamilton to join the American Hockey League Bulldogs, after starting the season with the big team.
What happened? Well, for one thing, Robert Lang happened. Lang became Gainey’s Plan B at centre, when all was said and done, when it became clear that Sundin wasn’t going to be receptive to the GM’s overtures. And as a result, Chipchura, after starting this season in Montreal, is back with the Bulldogs.
Chipchura never got a chance to suit up with the Habs in the opening four games of the regular season before being sent down to the AHL. He did record a goal in pre-season play, in the opening minute of the September 27th contest against the Senators in Ottawa. However, history will show that Chipchura did not distinguish himself during training camp and the pre-season. The fact that he has been returned to Hamilton comes as no surprise, not with the likes of Chris Higgins ready to return to action after sitting out the start of the regular season on the injury shelf.
It’s a far cry from last season, when Chipchura distinguished himself at centre during training camp and won a spot on the big club. He went on to score four goals and add seven assists in 36 games before being sent down to the Bulldogs. His skating, and his ability in the faceoff circle, became liabilities, and Chipchura finished the season in Hamilton and is destined to finish this season in Hamilton, unless he can work his way back into the Montreal lineup.
At age 22, Chipchura is no longer the fresh-face youngster picked 18th overall by the Canadiens in the 2004 entry draft. He is a young man at the make-it-or-break-it-point of his career with this organization. He knows it, and he knew it going into training camp this season. That’s not to say that we have seen the last of Kyle Chipchura in a Canadiens’ uniform. However, you have to wonder if the native of Westlock, Alberta, still has a long-term future with this organization.
Grit? He has plenty of it. Character? Tons of it. The ability to keep up to the play at the NHL level? That is a question that Chipchura has yet to successfully answer. While Chipchura struggles to find his game, a new group of youngsters has arrived on the Canadiens’ scene, including Ben Maxwell and Max Pacioretty, ready to push some veterans for jobs.
The reality is, Kyle Chipchura might end up being lost in the talent shuffle, which is unfortunate for the personable young man who fought back from a serious achilles tendon injury in junior hockey to knock on the door at the NHL level. Whether that door ultimately opens, completely, for Chipchura as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, however, remains to seen.