It’s time to see what Jaro Spacek, Paul Mara and Hal Gill can bring to the table.
Not to mention Yannick Weber.
You remember Spacek, Mara and Gill, three of the seven players brought in during the off-season during Bob Gainey’s extreme makeover of his hockey team? Lots of size, lots of experience, lots of money. Three veterans who are supposed to help Habs fans forget about Patrice Brisebois, Mathieu Dandenault and Francis Bouillon.
And Andre Markov.
Not to mention Ryan O’Byrne. For now, at least.
Markov is out for four months after undergoing surgery on a lacerated tendon: a nasty souvenir from Montreal’s 4-3, season-opening win against the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night. Just like that, the Canadiens will have to do without their best player until sometime around the Olympic break. The man being touted by some as the next Captain of this team, is now lost to this club until February.
Forty-eight hours later, O’Byrne goes down with a lower body injury in Buffalo, following a 2-1 victory over the Sabres, with the Habs now 2-and-0 thanks to a couple of overtime wins. He’s out for about six weeks.
Presto. Just two games into the regular season, and the Canadiens are already woefully thin along the blueline. The injury to Markov left the Habs with six defencemen, which was manageable for the game in Buffalo. However, the injury to O’Byrne left the Canadiens with just FIVE defencemen, which just doesn’t add up. Which is why the Canadiens have recalled Weber from the Hamilton Bulldogs.
While the ‘Dogs were busy losing 3-2 in their American Hockey League opener to the Toronto Marlies last night, Weber was busy packing his bags for a flight to Caglary, where he’s expected to join the Habs in time for today’s practice at the Saddledome ahead of tomorrow night’s game against the Flames.
I like Yannick Weber. I like his potential upside, potential he is now going to get a chance to realize, as a result of this sudden and dramatic turn of injury events. Weber was one of Montreal’s final training camp cuts; sent packing on September 29th after acquitting himself rather nicely during the pre season. His performance gave Habs fans further indication that this 21-year-0ld from Switzerland is ready for prime time, and ready to step out from under the long shadow cast by another player from Switzerland, Weber’s good friend and off-season training partner, ex-Hab Mark Streit.
The Canadiens, certainly, are hoping he is.
In fact, you’ll recall that Weber was impressive at Habs’ training camp one year ago. However, there was little doubt he was ticketed to Hamilton, where he scored 16 goals and added 28 assists in 68 games last season. It’s ironic that, one week ago, Weber was sent down to Hamilton, a victim of the numbers game. And today, he will skate again with the Montreal Canadiens, a beneficiary of the numbers game; and the dwindling number of defencemen available to head coach Jacques Martin as a result of the swelling injury ranks.
Even with the presence of Weber in their lineup, the Canadiens have absolutely no breathing room along the blueline. As impressive as Matt Carle was in pre-season play, this young man is not ready for prime time and needs time to further develop in Hamilton. PK Subban? Let’s see what he does as a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs before we consider his future as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Alex Henry? He had a cup of coffee with the Canadiens last season and showed precious little, other than the ability to get beat up every time he dropped his gloves. He has a future with the Bulldogs, not the Canadiens.
One defenceman who is available, is Mathieu Dandenault, who was set adrift by the Canadiens at the end of last season. The Habs could do much worse than Dandenault, a reasonably effective puck-moving blueliner who still has some wheels and can be an abraisive body along the boards. Short of pulling off a trade, picking up a guy like Dandenault could be the handiest way for Bob Gainey to, short term, help plug some immediate and significant holes along the blueline.
In the meantime, it’s Yannick Weber to the rescue, beginning tomorrow night, against the Flames.
With the glow of a magnificent All-Star weekend long faded, the Montreal Canadiens kicked off the unofficial second-half start to the season with a 5-3 loss to the Lightning in Tampa, with the Habs showing the same tendencies they exhibited during back-to-back losses heading into the All-Star break:
Shoddy goaltending, sloppy play in front of their net, a sputtering power play, and the inability to bury the puck.
So, after putting together an inspiring December run at a time when this team was hurting, the Canadiens are stumbling as regulars begin to return to action.
Saku Koivu, who returned to action prior to the all-star break, was joined by Chris Higgins, who was back last night after a 19-game layoff with a shoulder injury. Even Ryan O’Byrne was back in the lineup, recalled to the big team after a solid 13-game stint with the Hamilton Bulldogs. And the big defenceman finally showed some confidence out there, something he rarely did before his demotion.
Higgins and Koivu were joined by Matt D’Agostini for most of the night. And for most of the night, the three could generate little in the way of offence. Then again, you could say that for two of the other three forward lines as well.
True, the Canadiens exploded out of the blocks with a 20-shot barrage on Mike Smith in the opening period, outshooting the Bolts 20-7 in the process. But they found themselves clinging to a one-goal lead on goals by Maxim Lapierre, his 9th, and Alex Kovalev, his 13th. The goal by Kovalev was a gift after Smith put the puck on the stick of the 2009 NHL All-Star MVP, thanks to a sloppy clearing attempt, and Kovalev connected. The writing was on the wall in this one when, late in that period, the Canadiens blew a 5-on-3 that went on more almost a minute and a half.
Once again, the only line that was a threat out there was the so-called fourth line of Lapierre-Guillaume Latendresse-Tom Kostopoulos. That’s because, once again, the Canadiens’ best players failed to be their best players. The line of Lang and the two Kostitsyn bro’s? Invisible.
In the end, it was a second-period meltdown that did the Canadiens in, as the Bolts took advantage of a flopping Carey Price with a three-goal explosion on only six shots to make it 4-2 Tampa. Latendresse got one back with his 9th of the season, a goal that was originally credited to Lapierre. But it was much too little, much too late.
Let’s hope the play of Ryan O’Byrne last night was a sign of things to come for this young defenceman, for Montreal’s sake. Because the Habs, after finally tightening things up defensively in recent weeks, have been giving up way too many goals in recent games: 18 in their last four starts. Other disturbing statistics surround the plus-minus play of some of the team’s D-men. Over his last seven games, Roman Hamrlik is -8. Over HIS last seven games, Josh Gorges, is -9. Patrice Brisebois was in that neighbourhood, as well, until he was yanked from the lineup to make room for O’Byrne last night. But all indications are that Brisebois will be back in the lineup tomorrow night when the Canadiens close out this five-game road trip in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers.
I’d like to know: why? Why would coach Guy Carbonneau want to put Patrice Brisebois back in the lineup after Ryan O’Bryne has finally put together a solid 60-minutes of hockey for the first time in almost two months (as a member of the Habs, at least).
We might begin to find out the answer to that, and other questions, as GM Bob Gainey takes a good, hard look at the talent he has on this hockey team, with the March 4th trade deadline just five weeks away.
It was a statement game for head coach Guy Carbonneau and his Montreal Canadiens.
Carbonneau made his statement even before the Habs took to the ice Wednesday night at the Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings, by putting Ryan O’Byrne on the ice for the team’s opening shift.
You remember Ryan O’Byrne, right?
Forty-eight hours earlier, O’Byrne put the puck in his own net late in the game against the New York Islanders at the Bell Centre, which allowed the Islanders to get back in, and eventually win, the contest.
After some good-natured ribbing on the part of Carbo and the rest of the team on the flight to Detroit Tuesday afternoon, The Coach gave his young defenceman a vote of confidence by putting him out there for the opening faceoff. O’Byrne responded with 17:13 of some pretty solid ice time. Yes, he was turned inside out, not once, but twice, by Johan Franzen of the Wings midway through the third period. On the same play, no less. And it resulted in Frazen’s 10th goal of the season. But by that time, the Canadiens had already made THEIR statement, by coming up with their best performance of the season.
From the drop of the puck, the Habs matched the defending Stanley Cup champions stride for stride, outplaying the Red Wings through the opening 20 minutes, despite the fact that they failed to beat Ty Conklin in the Detroit net.
The hard work and perseverance paid off early in the second period when Maxim Lapierre, who clearly didn’t like the view from the press box as a recent healthy scratch, went hard along the boards before dishing the puck out in front of the net. Finally, some good luck for this Habs‘ team as it went off a Red Wing skate and past Conklin for a 1-0 lead.
Some seven minutes later, the Canadiens connected on the power play when Tomas Plekanec, who skated miles in Monday’s loss to the Islanders, converted a lovely tic-tac-toe play to make it 2-0 Montreal at 12:17 of the middle period, the assists to Andrei Markov and Alex Kovalev.
A power play goal, to boot.
Then 80 seconds later, the Canadiens took advantage of a Detroit turnover in Red Wings’ end, with Saku Koivu delivering a lovely backhand pass to Chris Higgins, who backhanded one off a Red Wings’ skate past Conklin to make it 3-0 Montreal. Like Plekanec, Higgins skated miles against the Islanders on Monday night. And, like Plekanec, Higgins was finally rewarded for his efforts with a goal.
The goal by Plekanec was his first in nine games. The goal by Higgins was his first in eight.
Welcome back, gentlemen.
A couple of scary moments last night for the Habs. Just 2:16 into this one, Alex Tanguay is creamed along the boards by Brad Stuart and leaves the game. Then early in the third, defenceman Josh Gorges takes a slapshot off the knee and goes down like a ton of bricks.
The injury to Tanguay forced The Coach into line-juggling mode for the rest of the game. However, when it was over, Carbonneau emerged from the dressing room to say that Tanguay appeared to come away with nothing more than a sore neck and should be okay for Friday night’s contest in Washington.
As for Gorges, he limped off the ice but returned. Good news indeed for both Gorges and the Canadiens, as the young defenceman continues to contribute quality major minutes along the blue line: 22:33 of them last night, in a plus-1 performance.
As for the Red Wings, owners of the most effective power play in the NHL, they only had three opportunities to play with the man advantage as a result of a disciplined effort by the Habs. Mind you, the Wings got revved up in the third period, as witnessed by their 16-4 shot advantage over the final 20 minutes. But you never really got a sense that the Canadiens were going to let Detroit get back into this one.
And they didn’t, thanks to the work of goalie Carey Price.
End of statement.
As if there weren’t enough reasons to be frustrated with the play of defenceman Ryan O’Byrne this season.
O’Bryne made the highlight reel for all the wrong reasons Monday night, when he put the puck in his own net, giving the New York Islanders a chance to get back in, and eventually win, this game, 4-3 in a shootout.
With less than five minutes to play and the Canadiens leading 3-2, Sean Bergenheim of the Islanders was called for holding; a delayed penalty which enabled Habs’ goalie Carey Price to scramble for the bench in favour of an extra attacker.
Then, for some inexplicable reason, O’Byrne, who was on the ice at the time, decided to pass the puck back to his netminder. Except by that time, Price was home and dry and sitting on the bench. The puck ended up in the Canadiens’ net, giving Bill Guerin the easiest goal he’ll ever score. O’Byrne’s “own goal” tied the contest at three. And after blowing yet another power play opportunity after Jon Sim of the Islanders was called for delay of game at 18:34 of the third, the two teams skated through a scoreless overtime.
The Islanders then beat Price twice in the shootout, goals by Richard Park and Bill Guerin, giving New York enough of a cushion after Joey Macdonald had stopped by Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Tanguay.
With the Bell Centre jeer of “O-BYRNE, O-BYRNE” still ringing in his ears, O’Byrne faced the music as he tried to digest his brain cramp which led to the Islander victory.
“It looks like I’ll be on a blooper reel for quite awhile,” said O’Byrne when this one was over. “The puck was kind of chipped off the boards and I went back to get it and play it back to Price. Obviously, Price wasn’t in the net, so…,” his voice trailing off.
You want to know something? I feel bad for the kid, I really do. Here he is, pressed into some heavy-duty minutes as a result of a defensive corp that is thin on talent, never mind the injury to Mike Komisarek, and the guy puts the puck in his own net. Talk about bad breaks, they don’t get much worse than that.
But let me tell you what frustrates me even more about the play off Ryan O’Byrne this season.
Let me take you back to the 3-2 shootout loss to the Bruins last Saturday night at the Bell Centre, when Phil Kessel turned O’Byrne inside out before dishing the puck to Milan Lucic for a goal.
Or the game against the ‘Canes in Carolina four nights earlier, when Sergei Samsonov blew by O’Byrne for a third-period goal in a game that effectively ended when Ryan Whitney scored the winner, with O’Byrne in the penalty box.
Oh, there are plenty of reasons to be frustrated with the play of Ryan O’Byrne, who has not progressed the way we all thought he would following his performance with the Canadiens last season.
However, before you you hand Ryan O’Byrne a one-way bus ticket to Hamilton as a result of his miscue last night, you might want to make room on that bus for the likes of Alex Kovalev, who is without a goal in his last ten games; and the entire Canadiens’ power play unit, which was 1-for-7 last night, and ranked 29th in the National Hockey League when it comes to power play efficiency on home ice, going into last night’s game.
For all the talent and skill this team supposedly possesses, how many times has a guy like Tom Kostopoulos been Montreal’s most effective forward this season??? And how about LAST night? The goal scorers for the Habs (in addition to defenceman Josh Gorges): Steve Begin and Maxim Lapierre, who, along with Mathieu Dandenault, formed Montreal’s most dangerous forward unit.
The fourth line.
Are you kidding me?!?!?!?!
If you think the Canadiens’ biggest problem is Ryan O’Byrne putting the puck in his own net, well, I’ve got some land I’d like to sell you in Florida.
I’m guessing that Canadiens’ head coach Guy Carbonneau is not going to give his players a day off from the rink upon their arrival in Ottawa.
That’s what Carbonneau did when the Habs arrived in Carolina Sunday night, ahead of tonight’s game against the Hurricaines. In the “good cop, bad cop” world of Guy Carbonneau, the coach decided to play good cop, and reward his players with a day away from the rink, following their 3-2 win in St. Louis.
Some of the players golfed. Others went to the movies. Still others went to the mall. And then they went out and dropped a 2-1 decision to the ‘Caines tonight, before boarding a flight to Ottawa for their next game, Saturday night, against a struggling Sens team that has lost five straight.
The decision by Carbonneau to “reward” his players for the two points they earned in St. Louis was the right one, in my books. It was an ugly win, but it was a win nonetheless. It gave The Coach a chance to pat this fragile team on the back, in an effort to help these players regain the confidence that has mysteriously deserted them.
Another loss, this one to an average Carolina team struggling in the month of November. Yes, there was a power play goal, finally, by Robert Lang, that gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead early in the second period. Say what you want about Robert Lang being a poor-mans’ Mats Sundin, Lang has six goals to his credit and is giving the Canadiens exactly what they bargained for when they obtained the former Chicago Black Hawk.
However, instead of building on that lead going into the third period, the Canadiens were left flat-footed by a Carolina team that came in waves. Sergei Samsonov decided to score his first of the season, against his former teammates, at 3:06 of the third period, turning defenceman Ryan O’Byrne inside out in the process. Then, with O’Byrne in the penalty box, Ray Whitney scored the winner some three minutes later.
The Canadiens then proceeded to fold their tents, failing to show any of the desperation you’d expect from a team that has now lost five of its last seven games; a team that has scored five regulation goals in its last four games.
This isn’t a Canadiens’ team playing on an ice surface. This is a Canadiens’ team playing on egg shells.
They don’t pay me to “know why”. The guy they pay to “know why” is the guy who rewarded his players with a day off following a win in St. Louis, and was himself rewarded with another uninspired performance by his team against Carolina.
Yup, I’m thinking there won’t be any trips to the mall for the Habs before their game against the Senators.
It’s easy to see why Christopher Higgins was the most popular guy in the Canadiens’ locker room following last night’s 4-0 victory over the Bell Centre against the Ottawa Senators.
Putting three past the opposing goaltender tends to make you a V.P.P. (Very Popular Player), and Higgins clearly deserved the limelight as a result of a break-out performance that led the Habs to a resounding victory following a humbling loss in Toronto three nights earlier. When this one was over The Coach called it the team’s best 60-minute performance of the season, perhaps all the way back to last season. And it could not have come at a better time as the Canadiens put the brakes on a slippery slope that saw them hit a brick wall in Toronto Saturday night.
The hat trick was Higgins’ first of his NHL career. In fact, he never scored three in a game while he was a member of the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Higgins figures the last time he came away with a hat trick was while he played college hockey at Yale, from 2001-2003, and seemed to recall it was against his former Montreal teammate, Yann Danis, now a backup with the New York Islanders.
Although the performance by Higgins, which included eight shots on Alex Auld in the Sens’ net, warranted him V.P.P. status, it was the play of Ryan O’Byrne that got my attention.
After playing his way in and out of the lineup through the first dozen games of the season, head coach Guy Carbonneau went with O’Byrne along the blueline last night. And the native of Victoria, BC, responded with his best performance of the season, and one of his best performances as a member of this team.
Far too often this season, O’Bryne has been all “arms and legs” on the ice. Last night, O’Bryne played a controlled game and finally used that 6-5, 234-pound body of his in an effective manner, dishing out six hits on the night, to tie Mike Komisarek in that department. (Maxim Lapierre led the way with eight bodychecks.)
With one assist and a plus two performance in almost 16 minutes of ice time, O’Bryne has earned himself a third straight start tomorrow night in Boston against the Bruins, although that has yet to officially be confirmed by The Coach. The only thing Guy Carbonneau would confirm following today’s morning skate was his goaltender of choice for tomorrow night: Carey Price, who kicked out all 28 shots he faced against the Sens.
O’Byrne, himself, admits he’s going through a sophomore jinx, and his erratic play in the early going has left him in the press box in three of 13 games this season.
“It’s tough,” O’Byrne admitted after today’s skate. “You never know if you’re in the lineup or not. You show up to the rink and you don’t know if you’re playing. It’s a viscous cycle but you try and get out of it. And last night I thought it was a great start.”
He’s right. It was.
It’s a golden opportunity for O’Byrne to step into a regular role with a team that is lacking in depth along the blueline. A player like Patrice Brisebois is going to have an edge over O’Byrne when it comes to The Coach pencilling in is lineup on any given night, mainly because Brisebois gives Carbonneau somewhat of a weapon on the power play with his shot from the point. However, up until now, O’Bryne has been making it too easy for The Coach to go with Brisebois. That may have all changed with O’Byrne’s performance last night.