Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Game Thirteen: Stars vs. Habs

Quick. Who is this? It's an ex-Hab. Com'on, don't you recognize? Why, it's George Laraque (in his Halloween costume).

You know, I gotta admit it. He makes one fine lookin' bride.

Thursday News 'n' Notes:

- Well, here's some good news. According to Therrien, George Parros will start Friday night's game against Minnesota, while Max Pacioretty will likely start Saturday night in Denver (although he might possibly start Friday as well).

The bodies are coming back!

- Habs announced this morning they've signed Alexei Emelin to a 4 year, $16.4 million extension. Now, there's plenty to introspect from the deal. One, considering the fact Emelin sustained a pretty traumatic knee injury, the extension is a risky move - but it reflects a confidence from management that he's progressed very well from surgery. Secondly, the signing helps the Habs to solidify its blue line looking for next season, with P.K. Subban headed towards restricted, and Andrei Markov heading towards unrestricted free agency. Assuming P.K. receives his huge payout, the Habs will be faced with some tough decisions with respect to Markov. Do they resign? Is there cap room? And if the Habs to attempt another Markov extension, then others will have to go. At this point it appears a near-certainty that Brian Gionta won't return. Also Francis Bouillon (hopefully). But perhaps also Raphael Diaz?

I still think that Bergevin, considering the current depth he's got, free agent considerations, could be moving a blue liner before the trade deadline.

Wednesday News 'n' Notes:

Couple of observations from last night's win over Dallas.

First, Carey Price just keeps on rolling along. Yeah, the one goal he allowed in was a tad "iffy", but he again made key 3rd period stops, including a sparkling glove save on Eakin with 3 minutes left to preserve the victory.

Also rolling along and seeming getting stronger is Thomas Plekanec, who's really turned his game around since stumbling out of the season gate. He's producing significant offense while fulfilling his checking responsibilities. The past two weeks have reminded those who might have forgotten that Plekanec is undoubtedly the team's #1 center, and that status won't be changing anytime soon.

A decent outing by David Desharnais last night - he didn't pick up any points, but he was involved in the play, pushing the crease, and actually winning a battle or two for a loose puck along the boards. If he can continue to play this way, then eventually the points will start to roll in, and the critics will focus their frustrations somewhere else.

Speaking of criticism, I've two pieces to offer. First, the Habs 4th line isn't working any more. Since Travis Moen and Brandon Prust went down to injury, callups Mike Blunden and Patrick Holland have done their best to pick up the slack, but their fringe NHL abilities aren't sufficient - in particular Blunden, who's really struggling to keep pace. Last night the line was particularly dismal ... 0 for 15 Corsi.

Ryan White is a qualified 4th line NHL center, but he's not good enough to carry both Blunden and Holland on his shoulders.

Secondly, Doug Murray. Oh, boy. Yeah, I know Bergevin signed him up as a rather expensive insurance policy, from which we're already cashing because of the injury bug, but wow ... his numbers so far are bad, bad, bad. Setting aside the atrocious speed, his Corsi last night was 2-for-15. And yet, for some unknown inexplicable reason, Michel Therrien had him out there for the entire duration of the final 60 seconds. Fortunately, Dallas didn't score to tie the game, but you just have to wonder sometimes what game Therrien is observing compared to the rest of us. He certainly doesn't seem to be looking at the stat lines as the game is progressing, to see who's performing well, and who's stinking up the joint.

Murray - we must be honest here, hasn't been an aromatic bed of roses. 


Third Period:

- Habs 60% combined Fenwick through 40. Yeah, seems about right.

- That Subban rush was beautiful. Blunden's gotta cash that home. Stick on the ice ... stick on the ice.

- Loss of Moen has really nullified the 4th line's grinding effectiveness. 

- Dallas really kept in check so far in the period - no momentum, no real urgency, no real threat to tie this game.

- Refs firmly putting their whistles away. Two petty clear Stars penalties for crosschecking and tripping are ignored.

- Stars have played 230 third period minutes this season. Three goals scored over that period of time.

- Oh man, Leblanc with a great pass to streaking Desharnais all alone in front of Lehtonen. Misses the net.

- Sleugh-footed Murray gets nabbed for interference. Late stages of the 3rd, why's he even out there?

- Speaking of "why the hell is he out there?", Bouillon - first line PK.

- Habs sitting on it here, it's worrying.

- Gorges/Diaz easily the best defensive tandem tonight for the Habs.

- Bouillon and Murray out there at the same time. Can't watch.

- That goaltending interference call in Gallagher was utter nonsense. 4 on 4 helps Dallas, opens ice. Yuck.

- What a glove save by Price on Eakin. That might be the clincher.

- Therrien puts Murray out there with 40 seconds left. I'm baffled.

- Whew. That was a close one. Habs defense might get the credit for the team's impressive GAA, but it's really been Price and Budaj that have made this team exceptionally difficult to score on.

Second Period:

- Bournival has been awarded the goal, 3rd of the season. Diaz back to a goosegg on the scoresheet.

- Blows my mind when these announcers talk about "automatics" for the Olympic team that Subban isn't on that list.

- Bournival's passing is excellent. To have this guy emerge as a top 6 forward is a huge blessing to the organization near and long term. Bergevin has some tough choices of who goes and stays headed his way.

- Yeahhhh ... I dunno if this Doug Murray thing is gonna work out. The slowness is just ... too much.

- Markov looks great tonight. Offensive slump the past two weeks but that won't last much longer if he keeps it up.

- Fine powerplay for the Habs. Stars really haven't had much going - resemble the Habs Saturday night against the Sharks - hanging close on the scoreboard but being dominated on the ice at both ends.

- And the Desharnais line strikes, not surprisingly. Bourque shovels in the loose puck, Desharnais nice job driving the puck deep. 2-0.

- Just remembered that Daniel Briere plays on this team. Bournival has made me totally forget.

- Habs now comfortably outhitting, out-blocking and are +4 on takeaways.

- Stars having trouble making accurate passes, also making Habs defense look better than they actually are.

- That won't help Price's Olympic case. Eakin cuts the lead in two with a 40 foot wrister blocker side. 

- That Eakin goal was disappointing, but it was still a pretty one sided period of a one sided game. Habs with a "comfortable" one goal lead, if such a thing were possible, headed into the 3rd.

First Period:

- Two netminders at the very top of their game going head-on-head tonight. Over/under on more than 4 goals scored?

- Desharnais actually just won a battle for a puck behind the opposition net. Can't remember the last time that happend. It eventually generated a quality scoring chance for Leblanc.

- Bouillon is a positional mess. Therrien is just asking for trouble every time he sends him out.

- That Bouillon/Diaz combo is going to be an adventure tonight.

- Throw it at the net, never know what might happen. Diaz' first of the season, Plekanec continues to pile up the points. 1-0.

- Another good shift by Desharnais line. Leblanc looks pretty confident out there.

- Outstanding save by Price on Seguin on 3-on-1 break. Shot was labelled for top corner. 

- Speaking of Price, Ruff, in case you'd forgotten, is going to carry plenty of weight over the final Team Canada selections. 

- Leash is pretty tight on Doug Murray. Markov and Subban can expected a 25 minute night.

- Another boring hockey night. Fairly close checking, Price looks in usual fine form. Desharnais hasn't been awful, which is encouraging. Bournival and Leblanc also quite good. Habs depth really shining through.

Gameday Game Preview:

The Montreal Canadiens return home tonight after enduring what was possibly one of the most boring hockey games in the history of the everything, a 2-0 shutout win last night over the hapless New York Rangers. Please, please, let us never speak or think about that game again. It's over. Done. History. We move on.

Tonight le boys take on the decidedly mediocre Stars from Dallas. In just about every meaningful hockey stat, Dallas ranks somewhere between 11th and 18th in the League. They're not a terrible team, they're not a good team. They're ... MEH. Borderline playoff fodder.

So what's the deal, Dallas? Well, they are still a rebuilding franchise, so their return to truly competitive hockey is still a couple of years out. But they do have the new colours and uniforms! Amiright?

Actually, both are pretty wretched - the logo looks like it was done by an admin assistance using Microsoft Word, the colours reminded me of big green lollipops. Mmmm ... Halloween lollipops ...

Anyway, there IS upside. First they nabbed a great coach in Lindy Ruff, who happily managed to get fired out of the disaster zone that is now the Buffalo Sabres. They DID acquire Tyler Seguin from the Bruins for a bunch of nothing (we here in the Eastern Conference thank Dallas for that little bit of robbery). They DO have a pretty good netminder in the form of Kari Lehtonen. It's just that this year they've been very medicore in how they've assembled these pieces to produce great moments in mediocrity.

SPEAKING of ... Erik Cole. Yeah ... the Habs shipped his attitude out of town in exchange for an even worse attitude in Michael Ryder. Oh well, at least the payroll was slimmed down. Anyway, Cole hasn't had the greatest of starts to the season, just one goal in eleven games for a guy who's greatest attribute is as a sniper. Maybe tonight's the night for Cole. He's certainly victimized the Habs plenty in the past (can we forget the job he did on the Habs in the '02 Eastern Semis? Oy).

Over on the Habs side, same lineup as last night. Still lots of bodies on the mend, although Max Pacioretty skated today. Louis Leblanc had a pretty decent effort last night, even though he was saddled next to David Desharnais. Patrick Holland seems to be settling in nicely on the Habs 4th line. And Michael Bournival is pretty much solidified his spot on the Habs top 9 - which means once those injured bodies start to return, somebody's gonna get demoted (*cough* Desharnais? *cough*)

Carey Price returns to action against Lehtonen. Puck drops at a more reasonable time of 7:10 EST.

Tuesday News 'n' Notes:

- Nifty little stat on just how well Carey Price and Peter Budaj have performed this season. Habs have the second best save percentage in the League, coming in at a sparkling .943. Even just at the 12 game mark, that's exceptional.

- Not much to write about this morning. No practice today because of the 24 hour separation between games. Max Pacioretty, hamstring and all, did some skating this morning. So his healing progress continues. Otherwise, all is relatively fine in Habsland. Solid victory last night in New York, a pretty solid performance by Louie Leblanc, and of course, Peter Budaj's stellar backup performance and well-deserved shutout.

Tonight's opposition, the Dallas Stars, are a different, and more difficult kettle of fish. More on them later today.

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