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.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Game Twelve: Habs vs. Rangers

Third Period:

- Leblanc drives the crease, draws his team a powerplay. Coaches love that stuff.

- Doug Murray with a Subban like open ice thumping on Kreider. That alone was worth the interference penalty. 

- Kreider called for a clear pick - fans are going nuts but that was a designed play and the Rangers got caught.

- Is there a better backup in the NHL other than Budaj? He certainly ranks up there in my biased opinion. Another quietly solid night.

- Just need one more to nail this home, but Habs red lines are playing very passively.

- Line matching, Rangers pin the Habs 4th line in their zone along with Murray, but Budaj comes up big with a couple of nice saves.

- Supurb work by Gallagher. When he wants that puck he simply goes and takes it. Sets up snakebitten Eller in front of Lindqvist. Eller once again can't finish. 

- Leblanc's got a good excuse tonight: look at who you saddled me with at centre!

- Rangers on late powerplay, looking for some urgency here.

- Habs PK doing nice job keeping the shots confined to the perimeter. Budaj can handle those easily.

- Bouillon leaves his feet to make a check that really wasn't urgent. Generates great scoring chance for Pouliot. Just say no to Francois on the PK.

- Desharnais/Leblanc two on one break. Leblanc had great position but Desharnais is so fixated on scoring that he takes a selfish shot. And misses the target.

- And there you have it. Rangers defense forced to pinch, Gallagher and Eller with a 2-on-1, and Gallagher makes the right play dishing to Eller, the puck eventually hitting Galchenyuk's skate and in. Reviewing it for intent.

- No way Gallagher intentionally kicked that in. Wasn't even a kicking motion. Right decision there.

- Budaj was excellent tonight, Habs are truly blessed in net this year. An impressive victory to spoil the Rangers' and MSG's grand opening. New York's offense is a total mess right now. Can easily see why this team has just 3 wins in 10 games.

Second Period:

- Intersting 1st period time stats. Leblanc got 3:18, which by Therrien young forward standards, isn't half bad. Markov with crazy 10:18, three minutes more than Subban. Murray clocked in just over 4 minutes.

- Both clubs' shooting accuracy has been pretty dim tonight. Point shots are generally going nowhere near the net.

- Well, I thought Anaheim's powerplay was pretty bad, but the Rangers are even worse. Game is almost torturous to watch.

- Eller line shift, three quality chances. Draw a powerplay. They're the only line out there with moving parts.

- Guess who now has the least amount of playing time so far tonight? Desharnais. 

- Rangers' combined Corsi is 57.8%, but not a single legitimately dangerous chance on Budaj yet.

- Nouillon has to do a far better job going back to retrieve the puck from behind his net. Budaj bails him out.

- Effort is still there for the Eller line, just seem a little snakebit. As long as they maintain zone pressure and generate quality chances, something will give. Eventually.

- Bournival with an absolutely beautiful play. Carries the zone, drops it back to Plekanec, then picks Mark Staal, which opens everything up for Plekanec to carry to the net, sweet move on Lindqvist, and Habs take 1-0 lead. 

- Pretty sorry period of hockey. This game has nothing to do with well performing defenses, and everything to do with two teams whose offenses are badly under performing. Just 20 more minutes left to endure .

First Period:

- Habs first PP, nothing. Hasn't looked particularly dangerous since the Winnipeg game.

- So great to see Domanic Moore out there. Gauthier's decision to let him walk I'd always believed was a significant mistake and loss that's never really been replaced since.

- Decent argument to be made that Bournival does a better job forechecking than either Plekanec or Gionta. Certainly is more tenacious.

- Habs second powerplay, Therrien elects to start the Desharnais over the Eller line.

- Two unwise penalties by Gionta this period. Habs powerplay looks as disorganized as I've seen it all season. No flow, passing is a mess.

- Pretty sloppy and uninspired opening 20 for both teams. Rangers controlled the tempo much of the first half, Habs responded well the second half. We have two teams whose offences are badly struggling, first goal wins?

Gameday Game Preview:

What an honor! I guess. The Habs are the very first guests to the newly renovated Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, as they take on the ne'er-do-well Rangers.

First. Travis Moen. He's out for a while with a facial fracture (which is probably 92 times more painful than it sounds), so here we go again with the call-ups. Pretty soon Hamilton is going to have trouble icing even just three offensive lines. So Moen goes down, and up comes Louis Leblanc, who's been tearing it up for the Bulldogs this season.

ALSO ... we have an injury return! Doug Murray's rehab came in nicely ahead of schedule, so he'll be starting his first ever game in a Habs uniform.

So those Rangers. What a start. Did you know that there were actual living, breathing hockey "experts" who picked the Rangers to finish near the top of their Division this season? It's true!

Funny stuff. Let's cut New York a bit of slack. With all of those renos happening at the Garden, the Rangers were forced to open their season with a nine game road trip. With 3 wins in those 9 games, New York finds themselves buried fairly deep in the eastern standings. The 29th rated offense. The 29th rated defense. 17th rated powerplay. 18th rated penalty kill. 27th rated Corsi. 23rd rated Fenwick. October has not been kind.

Another excuse for the Rangers - injuries. They've had quite a few to important guys. Rick Nash is indefinite with concussion. Carl Hagelin is indefinite with a shoulder injury. Ryan Callahan is gone until December. On the bright side, after losing Henrik Lundqvist to injury last week, he's supposedly been okay'd for return tonight.

The Habs. Well, Saturday night, what can you say? They played well enough against the powerhouse Sharks, more-or-less staying in the game until early in the 3rd, when San Jose took total command. Still, it was one of those "encouraging" losses, when you consider the depth of the Habs injury list, and how they still managed to play a competitive game.

With Moen out, we'll probably see Leblanc get a few 4th line shifts alongside David Desharnais and Rene Bourque on the 3rd line. The other two top Habs line remain the same, the EGG and Pleks/Bournical/Gionta.

With Murray starting tonight, it's likely Nathan Beaulieu will sit, although in this writer's opinion, the Habs true 6th man out should be Francios Bullion, who's had a string of brutal defensive performances the past two weeks.

Puck drop is ... I guess 7:40 EST? Not sure if MSG will have some kind of opening night ceremony. Yeah. They probably will. 7:50 puck drop then, in all probability.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Game Eleven: Sharks vs. Habs

Third Period:

- 40 minute line, Sharks in command, 58.1% Corsi, 57.1 Fenwick. The second period wasn't as lopsided as the first, but it was still dominating.

- Oy. Gift goal for Couture as the puck takes a fluke redeflect off the glass to the front of the Habs net with Price behind his goal. Being down 1-0 to the Sharks in the third is bad enough, being down two - pretty much mission impossible.

- Oh well, if this one ends in defeat, it won't be as though the Habs lost to an inferior opponent. Losing to Edmonton last week sucked. Losing to San Jose tonight, what else were we expecting?

- Nothing to lose at this point, so Habs defense are going to be pinching hard to keep the puck in the Sharks zone. We'll probably see a few Sharks odd-man breaks coming up.

- Man. This Couture. Sure wish he was on my team.

- Sharks haven't been outshot this season. That won't change tonight. 31-17 with 10 minutes left.

- Ouch. Moen, who doesn't wear a visor. That's nasty. Puck in the face. Straight to the room.

- Usually the team controlling possession (as much as the Sharks have), tend to be outhit since they're the team being chased. That isn't the case tonight. 15-9 San Jose so far. 

- I think Niemi has had one genuinely tough save - the Eller slot shot in the 2nd period.

- When Gallagher stays down, you know he's hurt. I don't like the way Irwin finished that check - Gallahger was vulnerable and had his head slammed into the backboard. Gallagher had to be dragged off to the room for the concussion check.

- Gallagher is back. Moen most definitely is not, and won't be.

- Sharks are just so good and protecting their crease, it's an impenetrable fort. Habs have no chance tonight. Not even a whiff.

-Feel bad for the fans at the Bell Centre, who paid a pretty penny to watch their team get systematically suffocated by the opposition. The Sharks benefited from a fluky goal, but it really didn't matter. There was no way the Habs could have come away from this one with 2 points - the Sharks, especially defensively, were nearly perfect with defensive zone coverage, while the Habs

The better team won tonight. The much, much better team won.


Second Period:

- Sharks powerplays 3, Montreal 0. And counting.

- Inevitably, Sharks convert. Beauty pass by Thornton to Couture, Sharks lead 1-0.

- Sharks dominating zone possession against the Habs in this period. Their relentless forchecking style now starting to pay off.

- There are limitations, but Diaz is easily the Habs' weakest defensive link on their PK. The Couture goal began after an unforced Diaz error resulting in a turnover, and within seconds, the puck was behind Price.

- Stat line is looking ugly for the Habs. Sharks (close) Fenwick 63.6%, 63.3% Corsi. Easily could and should be more than just a 1-0 lead.

- Niemi just robbed Eller with his glove on a point blank slot wrister. These high percentages are going to be few and far between, so conversion is critical. So far the Habs have come up zeros.

- I think even Therrien is giving up the ghost. Desharnais 5:52 icetime so far. Only Blunden and Holland have less.

- Just as I post that previous comment, Desharnais gets a shift, and the Habs generate three excellent scoring chances, and more critically, momentum.

- Powerplays: Sharks 4, Habs 0. Another hold. Habs cant keep up with the speedier Sharks, and the officials are taking notice.

- Sharks are so much the superior team, it's simultaneously painful and wonderful to watch. It's still a mini-miracle that the Canadiens are one shot away from tying this up.

- Do my eyes deceive me? A Habs powerplay. Two minutes, plus the minute they had with the net empty. Desharnais somehow missed a wide open net off a juicy loose puck.

- Habs have been the far more dangerous team since that Desharnais shift. Momentum folks, never underestimate it.

- P.K Subban hath arrived at the game. Dominating near two-minute long shift.

- Price fancy glove flash on Stuart.

- 40 minutes complete. Bad news for Habs, the Sharks are a dominating opponent, and they've dominated this game. Good news, the score is just 1-0, and the Habs were really feeding off momentum the final six minutes of the period. Montreal has hope - perhaps not realistic hope, but nonetheless, hope. 

First Period:

- Did I forget to mention the Sharks starter? Oops. It'll be Antti Niemi.

- Habs just announced that Greg Pateryn has been sent back to Hamilton. So that's that.

- Plekes line starts it off for Les boys.

- Les Dive. Les Dive. Wretched tripping call on Markov, Freddie Hamilton with his embezzlement impersonation. Sharks go to the PP.

- Impressive kill. Sharks with that high rated man advantage had nothin' going.

- Sharks are relentless with zone forecheck. Habs struggling to win battles and clear their zone.

- Moen of all people, tried a fancy through the legs shot off a loose puck, nearly slipped it past Niemi.

- Tight checking game so far, both offenses struggling to find a rhytm. Habs' best hopes though, is to play boring.

- Plekanec knocking himself I think for not passing off to Gionta on a shorthanded 2-on-1. So far this Sharks powerplay unit has looked pretty meek.

- Not sure how long Holland will stick around with the big club, but he does a fine job on the Habs PK unit.

- Does Desharnais really think he can overpower a foot taller NHL defenseman by going around him along the boards?

- Sharks had possession edge, although a lot of that can be credited to receiving two powerplays. Very tight checking period, most of the shots were from perimeter locations, both netminders not surrendering much, rebound-wise, both teams doing a very good job protecting the area around the crease. The game is more of a chess match, strategically compelling, otherwise, it's been pretty dull.

But boring hockey wins, right?

Gameday Game Preview:

The Montreal Canadiens face what will probably be their toughest test of the young season as they host the powerhouse San Jose sharks tonight at the Bell Centre.

The Sharks have just one regulation loss in their first ten games, which just came following a tough last second loss to the Bruins on Friday night. Tonight's game in Montreal is the 3rd game of a 5-game eastern road swing for San Jose, so the Habs might be counting on the Sharks' legs being somewhat road-weary. Here's hoping anyway.

The Sharks line is pretty impressive. 3rd rated Corsi and Fenwick, so their high League standing is no fluke (unlike say, Colorado or Toronto, whose win/loss records do not reflect their statistical outputs). In addition to a high-rated advanced stats, the Sharks have the top rated offense, the 8th rated powerplay, and 4th rated penalty kill.

So .. ack. 2013-14, the Sharks have been a very good team.

Meanstwhile ... the Habs head into tonight's game coming off a pretty impressive 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks, who were also off to an impressive season start. The Habs are being helped by the sudden offensive emergence of the Thomas Plekanec line, comprised of Pleks, Brian Gionta and Michael Bournival. While most of the attention this season has been poured on the Habs phenom Lars Eller, it's Plekance who leads the Habs in forward scoring with 9 points, one ahead of Eller. Brian Gionta, who really struggled out of the season gate, finally seems to be rounding into form, picking up four points the last four games.

So continued output by the Habs Plekanec line will not only punch up the Habs' offensive threat, it'll take some of the checking pressure off the Eller/Gallagher/Galchenyuk line - who've collectively cooled off at late, largely because most opposing teams have focused their checking line against them.

The Sharks are lead by two dangerous scoring lines, Joe Thornton/Freddie Hamilton and the rookie sensation Tomas Hertl. Second line features Logan Couture who centres team co-scoring leader Patrick Marleau and Tyler Kennedy. What's really given the Sharks an extra dimension of danger this season is the emergence of their so-called third line as a real scoring threat, led by Joe Pavelski (12 points), Tommy Wingels (6 points) and Matt Nieto (5 points).

The Sharks don't feature big-named stars on their defense, but who can argue with the result? With a team GAA of just 1.7, the Sharks have the NHL's 3rd rated defense.

From the Habs' perspective, tonight's test will be awfully tough. Carey Price will have to bring forward his A+ game. Anything less, and the Canadiens will stand little chance of knocking off this exceptionally talented San Jose roster.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Game Ten: Ducks vs. Habs

Third Period:

- Advanced stats virtually unchanged through 40. Combined Corsi 58.0%, 57.1% Fenwick, Habs.

- A stunning 120 foot tape to tape pass by Subban to Bourque for clear cut break. Bourque can't cash it.

- The Ducks, quite frankly, have been out-muscled tonight.

- Just as I post the previous post, Gorges with a poor turnover creates an odd man break for the Ducks, Maroon finishes a nice setup by Bonino. Price no chance.

- And here we go. Bouruqe with a lazy trip and the Ducks go back to the powerplay, with the wind now picking up their sails. 

- That huge save by Hiller on Eller in the 2nd looking a bit more important now, isn't it?

- Do I dare mention Chris Lee has called a good game tonight? 

- Bourque out of the box. Literally 5 seconds later, redemtion. Game. Set. Match. 

- Can we now enjoy these last few minutes of Saku? The only thing we're missing is a Koivu goal.

- Fans chanting Saku, wanting to see him one final shift.

- Here he is. And the applause.

- Thank you Saku, there'll never be another one like you.

Second Period

- First period combine, 59.1% Corsi, 57.1% Fenwick. Both Habs. So confirmation that the first 20 was a one-sided affair.

- Habits continue to die hard. Habs coming out flat and passive to start the 2nd period. Feh.

- The only thing stopping the Habs from giving this one away is terrible puck control by the Duck in Montreal's zone. Not able to muster very many quality chances.

- Anaheim losing most of the puck battles. It's slowly suffocating their offense.

- 5 on 3, big chance to "put them away" right here.

- Gionta. Finally, Habs capitalize.

- Props to Hiller for that piece of robbery on Eller. Down by three, some might not have the effort left in their bodies.

Bournival looks like he's been on the Habs powerplay all year. There's no way Thierrien can keep him out of the lineup if this continues. When the injuried bodies come back to play, who's going to be the odd guy out? (*cough* Bourque *cough*).

- Habs sitting back final three minutes of the second, but Price is sharp. 

- Not quite as dominating as the first, but the Habs held their own, took advantage of their 5 on 3, and for once, hold a comfortable lead with 20 minutes left. Impressive night for Montreal, uninspired night for Anaheim.

First Period:

- Ah, Chris Lee. Our arch-nemesis. We meet again.

- Ooh, early penalty to Ducks' Perreault. Let's see how bad their PK really is.

- Holy moly, Therrien starts the Eller line first!!

- No goals, but nice puck rotation by Habs to get two quality point shots on Hiller.

- Desharnais is just a simple defensive check for any loose puck in front of the opposing net. Just a simple push and he's flat on his butt. No chance, and more importantly, no realistic way that he could ever score a garbage goal.

- Eller does a magnificent job driving the goal coming off the wing, generating two quality shots. 

 - Wow. Great blind feed by Koivu to Cogliano, post hit. Classic Saku Koivu. 

- Desharnais with the semi break, did everything humanly possible to push the puck past the line, Hiller kept it out.

- Beaulieu has no business being on the powerplay, his shot is too weak. As I type that in, a Beaulieu shot is tipped in by Bournival, and Habs take deserved 1-0 lead.

- Eller nabbed for a hook, League's worst rated PP goes to work.

- Yeah. That's one big-time struggling specialty unit. Ducks completely disorganized.

- Another high quality shift by Bournival, who intercepts a horrible clearance pass by Getzlaf, makes a perfect cross-ice pass to Plekanec, who fires a bullet under the bar. 2-0. One goal and one assist for the kid.

- Impressive bounce-back period for the Habs, vastly outplaying the Ducks almost the entire frame. Shots 10-7 Habs, but it was much more lobsided, possession-wise. The Habs Achilles heel, the 2nd period, will tell the story.

Gameday Game Preview:

So much is overshadowing this game - well, it's one thing really; Saku Koivu, who is making quite possibly his final visit to play on Montreal ice. The atmosphere around the Bell Centre today, with scores of fans coming out to steal a peek and maybe pick up a precious autograph, is indicative of just how significant a mark Koivu made, and ultimately left in Montreal. He is, and will forever be, one of the most popular individuals to ever play for this franchise, and I fully expect the greeting he receives tonight from the crowd to be nothing short of overwhelming. It had better be. 

However. There is a game to be played. The Ducks are off to a pretty good start this year, with Bruce Bordreau settling in nicely behind the bench since taking over last season. With 7 wins in their first 9 games, Anaheim sits in 2nd place in the very tough Pacific Division. The Ducks' big-named players have been producing nicely this season, with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf leading the way in team scoring. Also producing is center Mathieu Perreault, and the always dangerous and speedy Jakov Silfverberg. And of course, the other Ducks' Finn sensation, Teemu Selanne. Anaheim has two very dangerous scoring lines, although Bordeau relies heavily on the Getzlaf line, which is averaging near or over 20 minutes ice time per game.

The Ducks' fast start is reflected by their possession and zone dominance stats. 6th overall League Corsi and Fenwick combined ratings. The one weak spot for the Ducks are their specialty teams - the powerplay is currently ranked worst at a paltry 8.3%, their PK isn't fairing much better, 24th overall at a less-than-mediocre 77% success rate.

Over on the Habs side, the hot topic continues to be injuries, and their impact on the starting lineup. It's expected that Therrien will post the same lineup tonight that he used on Tuesday against the Oilers. Players to watch include the Eller/Galchenyuk/Gallagher line, which (please please please) we hope will be utilized as the Habs first line powerplay unit. The usual underperforming suspects should also be observed - Rene Bourque, who's in one of his usual funks, and David Desharnais, who's off to what could fairly be described as a disastrous start to his 2013-14 season. One point in nine games isn't going to cut it, nor is it providing anything close to the offense the Habs require to compete over 60 minutes. The Eller line can only pull so much slack - something's gotta give.

Keys to watch are the production of Anaheim's first two lines (and the Habs ability to contain them), and specialty units - can the Habs exploit the Ducks' weakest link?

In the nets tonight are Carey Price for the Habs, and Jonas Hiller for the Ducks.

Puck drops 7:40 EST.

Thursday News and Notes:

- Saku is back! The second-worst move on the Bob Gainey era - that being, letting one of the finest centers and captains to ever wear le blue-blanc et rouge, simply walk away (I'll let you figure out Gainey's worst move), makes his return to the Bell Centre tonight! There were about 50 or so fans out at the Centre this morning looking for Saku and maybe an autograph or two. The presence of the Captain with the heart of a lion has never really left this city, so if you thought the applause at the Bell for Roman Hamrlik the other night was rousing, just wait for tonight. You ain't heard nothing yet.

- Morning skate: George Parros was there, which is a good thing. He seems awfully close to returning, and given how thin the roster has been getting, any warm hockey-able bodies are sorely welcome.

More later, including game preview!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Game Nine: Oilers vs. Habs

Wednesday Notes:

- Coach Therrien just answered a few Qs, and indicated that Tinordi's demotion was to provide him with more playing time than he's currently receiving in the bigs. So ... why not just give him more, and say, Bouillon less? /snark.

Therrien added that the club is considering bringing up Greg Pateryn from Hamilton, which is making me go "hmmm ...", with Emelin and Murry on the horizon for return, I find it curious that Therrien is considering rotating in another young defender. Organizational depth is a wonderful luxury, but there comes a point of excess. So I'm thinking ... trade in the works? UPDATE: Indeed, Pateryn has received the call-up from Hamilton. This *could* mean that he'll be slotted in as the #6, while Beaulieu will platoon on the 4th, pushing Holland on to the scratch list tomorrow night.

- Jarred Tinordi was assigned to Hamilton this morning. Which means Nathan Beaulieu can probably count on not getting sent back to southern Ontario - at least for awhile. Tinordi had a strong pre-season, but has struggled in many of his regular season starts. Hopefully the Hamilton stint will help to recapture that physical edge that caught so many eyes when he was called up for the post-season series against the Sens.

Practice lines this morning were exactly as the starting lines from last night's game:


- Interesting little quip this morning about that fight last night between Moen and Acton Gadzic that was interceded by the linesmen, apparently because the League front office has sent a directive that officials are to stop fights whenever possible (or so that's the word). Moen this morning said that one of the linesmen apologized to him afterward about stopping the fight, and explained that he was following League orders. Interesting.


Final Score: Edmonton 4, Montreal 3

Let's break it down:

Corsi (all): Habs 54.1% Oilers 45.9%
Moen: 65.2%
Eller: 61.5%
Galchenyuk: 60.0%
Desharnais: 45.2%
Holland: 38.5%

Fenwick (all): Habs 50.6% Oilers 49.4%
Moen: 61.5%
Plekanec: 58.3%
Gionta: 58.3%
Desharnais: 35.0%

No surprises here. After cooling off the past couple of games, the Eller line rebounded nicely last night, and were by far the most dangerous line for the Habs. However, for whatever reason, coach Therrien doesn't seem to be rewarding their performances with increased icetime. His bench management stubbornly continues to give the Eller and Plekanec lines equal time, including the insistent deployment of Plekanec as the first line powerplay. It (again) hurt the Habs last night, who had two man advantages that went nowhere that could have drilled a stake into the OIlers' coffin.

Defensively, the Plekanec line was on the ice for three of the Oilers first goal (much of that can be blamed on Rene Bourque's lackadaisical defensive play), but they weren't the only culprits. The Habs defense was particularly porous last night, allowing the Oilers speedy forwards free reign to attack the Habs slot in the 3rd, resulting in two goals from high percentage shooting positions. Francis Bouillon continues to be over deployed, and the Oilers were skating circles around him - posting team defensive low 42.1% Corsi combined. That's bad. Bouillon is a coaching favorite, but his presence beyond a 12 minute game is hurting this team, especially in the defensive zone.

Price didn't have his "A" game going last night, but he wasn't the differing factor in the loss.

Two other matters. First, Desharnais. I know, broken record, but we're now entering inexcusable performance territory. One measly point in nine games for the guy who was supposedly the team's #2 center. He isn't that anymore. He's now degenerated into a marginal NHL forward. This is Scott Gomez territory, except that Desharnais is smaller and even more ineffective in the opposition zone. Last night's performance was particularly dismal - Deshairnas' passing to his wingers was atrociously inaccurate. At some point, the Canadiens will have to make some kind of an intervention, because his production simply cannot continue to be overlooked anymore.

Finally, the Oilers post-game comments singled out Eller's "junior team" quip as their inspiration for victory. That's wonderful. Congrats to Edmonton for their inspired play. But one win does not preclude Eller's apt description of the Oilers' style. They *are* a freewheeling, disorganized collection of raw talent. This means they do have tremendous potential of winning games that resemble shootouts. But when it comes down to putting together quality victories over quality opponents, the Oilers aren't a quality team. They lack cohesion and discipline. That makes them at best, an average team, and at worst, a franchise that's likely headed nowhere.

Third Period:

- Stats check, Habs are now -3 in the 2nd period this season. Way above even first and third periods.
- Subban and Markov are probably both going to cross past the 27 minute mark through 60 minutes.

- White, Eller and Gallagher on the ice. Wonder if Galchenyuk is getting a little punishment for dogging it back on the Oilers' first goal?

- Looking at the line, it's been a pretty dreadful night for Desharnais. His passing has been terrible - this might be his worst game in what has already been a very poor start to the year.

- Bouruqe has had a decent night, but he's not gaining any favours saddled with Desharnais. At this point, I'd almost be tempted to move him next to Plekanec.

- Sometimes P.K. Subban just takes your breath away. At this moment, there is nobody better on the blue line in hockey. Absolutely nobody.

- Ryan White. How do you not teach foolishness? Oilers with open ice now with a 4-on-4.

- Petry. Pretty pass from Nugent-Hopkins. Plekanec again. Oilers take lead.

- So the "junior team" factor. How much is inspiring the Oilers towards winning this?

- It's all come apart. Perron. Guess who's on the ice? Plekanec line.

- That shot was stoppable, from Price's POV. But it still doesn't excuse the wretched turnovers by the Habs in the neutral zone.

- Plekanec, Gionta, Galchenyuk, Bourque, Bouillon are combined -10 so far. The first four listed have not been covering their assignments tonight. That's a big part of the story.

- Habs defense doing a fine red carpet impersonation. The team is more or less in collective shambles.

- Habs now look like the team at the end of a six game road swing.

- So who looks like the junior team tonight?

- Habs put in 20 minutes of decent hockey tonight. The rest was shambles. Only the EGG line and Subban showed up. And Bournival. The rest of the crew, let's hear the excuses. 

- Stats breakdown and post-mortem later, It doesn't get much easier for the Habs. The Ducks Thursday, and then ... gulp ... Sharks on Saturday. 

Second Period:

- First period line wasn't totally lopsided, Corsi +3, Fenwick +2. But Habs had shot advantage 14-8', and completely dominated the faceoff circle winning 15 out of 19. Yikes.

- Decent rebound by Edmonton to start the period, but you can't fake your way through tired legs. 

- If trend continues, Markov and Subban might clock in the high 20s tonight for icetime. Predictably, Therrien has the short leash on the new guy - Holland barely has 2 minutes so far.

- Rousing applause as Roman Hamrlik's attendance is announced. Classy response by those in attendance.

- Desharnais for holding, inexcusable since Edmonton is the chasing team. Habs getting into some penalty trouble, seemingly looking for ways to let the Oilers back into this game.

- Nice little confidence vote by Therrien, as Holland gets some PK time (and does well).

- Gallagher fearless driving the Oilers net, but not so enthusiastic (as well as Galchenyuk) coming back to cover his assignment, as Hemsky with loads of room to waltz right to the slot, cuts Habs lead in half. 2-1.

- Habs were coasting, tempting fate by taking a passive attitude controlling the tempo. Oilers quietly have wrestled themselves back into contention. Therrien won't be pleased.

- Oy. Plekanec can't clear the zone, Nugent-Hopkins with a wrister that causes Price to surrender a sweet rebound, which is buried by Smid coming in off the point. Tie game. Shades of Columbus all over again where the Habs had total control, took their eyes off the ball, and have let the opposition wrestle control. No way this tired Edmonton team should be on even terms. But here we are.

- Wow. Habs combined Corsi was 66% before the Smid goal. Crazy lobsided except for the scoreboard.

- Eller line is totally (and I mean TOTALLY) dominating possession tonight, but still isn't getting more time than the Plekanec line. 

- Great reaction save by Dubnyk to keep Gallagher off the scoresheet. That line is motering.

- Hugely disappointing period for the Habs, but it continues a disturbing trend for Montreal this season - their second periods have been pretty terrible. If Edmonton somehow wins this, Habs fans are going to be mighty grumpy.

First Period:

- Second shift White line is put out. Signal that Therrien wants Habs to be physical?

- Reportedly many scouts are in attendance tonight - teams are smelling blood in Edmonton's waters already, and might be seeking a bargain.

- Solid shift for Bouruqe, working hard for the puck along the boards, generally not being invisible.

- Excellent pad save by Dubnyk on Gallagher. That could set the tone for the evening.

- Oilers Arconello line looks fired up tonight. See if they'll make a mark on the scoresheet.

- Beating dead horse watch: Habs first powerplay, Therrien stubbornly sticks with Plekanec/Gionta/Bourque to start. By the time Eller line is sent out, Subban/Markov combo is off. 

- Oilers 3rd and 4th lines really struggling to contain Habs attack. Saw plenty of hooks and slashes until finally a trip was called. Habs go back to the powerplay.

- Plekanec one-times off a sweet cross ice pass from Markov. 1-0.

- Oilers look tired out there. Makes sense, last game of a long trip.

- Oilers are an exhausted mess. Chasing the puck, sloppy turnovers, and Gallagher intercepts an ill-advised and silps a sweet wrister past Dubnyk. Habs already in command.

- Oilers Acton Gadzic drops the gloves with Moen, looking to stop the bleeding. Officials intercede, no fight. Fans are miffed, but good work from the lines to break that up before it started.

- Oilers' defense is incredibly passive. Just backing up and giving Habs forwards free reign to come right at Dubnyk.

- Ugly period for Edmonton. Game started eveny enough, but from the 10 minute mark forward, Habs were all over Edmonton like an ugly coat. Advanced stats shortly.

Pre-Game Lineups:



Yakupov-Nugent Hopkins-Eberle(?)

Belov-J. Schultz

Not that the Habs should be chest-beating, but that's a pretty thin Oilers lineup. After the 2nd line ... hmm ... it's looking pretty rough.

In other gameday news, Lars Eller ruffled a few feathers today after making comments about the Oilers' "junior" style of play:

Gameday Game Preview:

So this oughtta be interesting.

The underwhelming Edmonton Oilers will take on the Habs tonight at the Bell Centre, puck drop around 7:40 EST. The game will be the only visit of the year by the oil, their final destination in what has been a relatively disastrous six game road trip. The swing through the east has produced an underwhelming 1-4-0 record for Edmonton, although they did manage to grab a W in Ottawa Sunday afternoon, following a strong performance by their first-string (?) netminder Devan Dubnyk.

The road trip has been especially tough on the Oilers, not only because they've lost 4 out of 5, but they've also seen a couple of critical offensive weapons hitting the injury list. Ryan Smyth, who strained his groin last week in a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to the Leafs, is gone for at least another week. Meanwhile club scoring leader Taylor Hall had a knee-on-knee collision with Eric Gryba of the Sens this weekend, and he'll be out of the lineup for at least a month.

Can we make it even worse? There's no confirmation as of this writing that Jordan Eberle is able to start tonight. He's got an undisclosed injury.


If there's any consolation for Edmonton fans, it's that Habs fans can relate to having a depleted roster. The Canadiens have lost not only Max Pacioretty for at least another couple of weeks, but also key grinder Brandon Prust with a shoulder injury until late November, and Daniel Briere for ... who knows how long? Briere is sidelined with concussion from a head hit taken Saturday night.

Oh yeah. Can't forget George Parros - he's still indefinite from concussion. And Alexei Emelin (not due back for another month). And Doug Murry (not due back for another month).

Have I left anyone out?

In response to the rash of hurtin' bodies, the Habs called up Nathan Beaulieu (who might get some 4th line action), Mike Blunden (ditto) and Patrick Holland (double ditto). This all means that Travis Moen will probably get bumped up to 2nd or 3rd line duties, Ryan White will probably stay 4th line centre, with Bluden and Holland on the wing, and Beaulieu as the 6th defenseman, possibly rotating in for some 4th line shifts depending on how well Holland performs. Jarred Tinordi will be a healthy scratch.

So .. lots of juggling happening here. New lineups, different line mates, it all creates the heightened potential for a sputtering, sloppy game.

The teams. Well, the Oilers are off to a pretty disappointing start, we've rehashed this before about how entering the season, Edmonton was *finally* going to be a competitive force in the Western Conference. However, team defense and inconsistent starting goaltending has resulted in a string of close loses. The Oilers play so far reminds me quite a bit of the Habs' dreadful 2010-11 season of countless one-goal losses. Edmonton, like that Habs team, aren't awful - they're just not quite good enough to eek out close-margin victories.

Even with all their injuries, the Habs enjoy the luxury of depth - Blunden and Holland are quality replacement players, and while replacing someone like Prust is difficult, if not impossible, it still doesn't compare to the situation Edmonton is facing in having to replace Smyth, Hall, and Simon Gagne (and maybe Eberle as well).

So roster-wise, major advantage to the Habs tonight.

No announcement yet on starting goaltenders. Probably it's Carey Price and Dubnyk.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Game Eight: Predators vs. Habs

Happy Monday?

- Habs have announced that Brandon Prust is out for four weeks from an upper body injury, and that Daniel Briere is out indefinitely from concussion.  Mike Blunden and Patrick Holland have been called up to fill up the now very banged-up Canadiens roster.

More later today.

Mondays. Blah.


Final Score: Nashville 2, Montreal 1

Okay, let's break it down.

Corsi (all): Preds 57.3%, Habs 43.7
Galchenyuk: 75.8%
Gallagher: 75.7%
Eller: 71.4%
Gionta: 38.7%
Plekanec: 32.4%
White: 26.1%
Moen: 23.8%

Fenwick (all): Preds: 57.6%, Habs 42.4%
Eller: 71.4%
Gallagher: 68.0%
Galchenyuk: 67.0%

White: 27.8%
Plekanec: 25.0%
Moen: 18.8%

First, let's get this out of the way: The officiating was inexcusably poor. From Subban being called two minutes for "embezzlement", to the unpenalized head hit to Briere, to the ridiculously bald interference on Gionta, to the worst sin of them all - Chris Rooney signaling a score that he later admitted he never saw cross the goal line in the first place.

Believe it or not, I actually do minor league officiating, and within that system, they constantly remind those who are learning to officiate, never guess a call. Last night, after the reply was inconclusive, the officials gathered, discussed the play, and unilaterally waved the original call off. Which is to say, Rooney fessed up that he blew the call - he hadn't actually seen the puck cross the line. The control center in Toronto, I'm sure, told Rooney "sorry, replay shows nothing, you screwed it up, you sort it out." So, in accordance to the rule book, the officials made the right call.

But Rooney's original call was a cardinal sin. You might see that from someone just learning the ropes, but you should never see that from a guy who's been officiating the League for more than 10 years.

Anyways. The game. The advanced stats confirmed my maddening inclinations - the Eller line was having one heck of a game, the Plekanec line was a mess, and still ... and yet ... Therrien insisted on starting Plekanec on each and every Habs 3rd period powerplay. In other words, for reasons that are beyond me, Therrien doesn't seem inclined to access his best performing offensive units when their utility is required most.

One other thought. The Habs 4th line, Bournival (who played just fine) excluded, had probably their worst game of the season. Ryan White and Travis Moen were a positional mess last night, and while White was delivering some nice hits in the 3rd, Therrien deployed his weakest performing players of that evening out with less than 2 minutes on the clock: Moen (18.8%), Gionta (33.%) and for whatever reason, Desharnais (43.8%). Yeah, Seth Jones scored a pretty, pretty goal to win the game, but the replay shows that most of the guys wearing red and white were badly out of position, providing Jones an unmolested lane to gain a high percentage shooting position. Game. Over.

Critically, though, Therrien somehow wasn't recognizing that the EGG line was really rumbling out there, and even if he did spot the obvious, still didn't utilize them to their full potential in the 3rd.

That, folks, is how you arrive at a frustrating defeat.

Third Period:

- 2nd period stats, Preds 61.5% Corsi (combined), 67.8% Fenwick (combined). Those are pretty dismal numbers, if you're wearing a C and an H.

- Crazy. Just crazy. Lars Eller just doesn't stop. Gallchenyuk drives the net, and Eller shoves in the puck off his rebound.

- We think. They're looking to see if it crossed the line.

- Eller's reaction is telling that it crossed the line, but no replay seems to definitely show the puck crossed the line.

- Thing is, the original call by Rooney was a goal, so the reply must show clearly that the puck was kept out. I don't see that.

- Hmmm. The official ruling is that in the opinion of the four officials it didn't cross the line? Huh?? But why did the official call it a goal in the first place???

- Okay, still don't understand that call. It's been a rough night for Martell and Rooney.

- Bournivall continues to have solid shifts, continues to be mostly stapled to the Habs bench. What's a guy gotta do?

- Well at the very least, Habs have been the better team in this 3rd. Outshooting Preds by two at the halfway mark.

- Really solid shift by Ryan White, three solid hits alone. Habs hoping the Preds will wear down as 3rd progresses.

- Again, Therrien puts out PP first line Plekanec/Gionta, and again it goes nowhere.

- Nasty collision by Prust into the backboards. He looks he's favoring his leg. No dirty play there, he simply lost his balance going in too hard, too fast. Meanwhile behind the play, Gionta is hit nowhere close to the puck. Officials don't call it. Maddening.

- Therrien now sends out Deshairnas/Bourque and the powerplay really goes nowhere fast.

- I just don't quite understand the strategy here. It's not as though the Habs are up or down 3 goals, and the coach is experimenting with some line combos, looking to get his slumping players moving again. The game is tied late-ish into the 3rd - you have the man advantage, you don't mess around. You send out your tops guns. Ah, well.

- Okay. Another powerplay, very late in the 3rd. Therrien goes with Plekanec/Gionta/Bourque. I gives up. I GIVESSSZ UUUUP.

- Disastrous. That shift drew boos. Now finally EGG line comes out, but it's too late.

- Well, that was deserved. Subban and Georges get caught out of position, Ginota out of position, and the Preds' Jones makes a brilliant move and scores with 94 seconds left. Not a cool results for Habs, but a highlight-reel goal for Jones.

- Not one of Markov's best nights controlling the puck at the line.

- Habs had plenty of opportunities in the 3rd, but Therrien wouldn't put out his most dangerous players, in particular with specialty units. Just deserts - the Preds dominated the first 35 minutes but didn't have the lead. Their win tonight was fair and square. They were the better team.

- Frustrating loss. Post-game breakdown in a bit.


Second Period:

- After having an excellent outing Thursday night against Columbus, Michael Bournival got 90 seconds of icetime in the first. Can't explain the inexplicable.

- Preds 1st period team Fenwick was 86% Yup. Eighty. Six. Percent.

- Preds very nice puck movement on their man advantage tonight. You'd never know they came into the game with the 17th ranked powerplay.

- Briere's head targeted by Nystrom. Somehow either missed or not called by the officials.

- How'd that gaping net get missed? Nashville might look back at that play if the Habs are able to find something resembling a game.

-  And there you have it. Gallagher pushes one home off a loose puck. The game is tied. Preds are getting robbed here.

- Bourque gets nabbed again. This time for a trip. That's 6 powerplays for Nashville, and counting.

- Briere is gone for the night. League might review that head shot he took.

- ICYWW, tonight's referees are Rob Martell and Chris Rooney. 30 years of NHL officiating experienced combined. You might have thought otherwise watching tonight's contest.

- Not quite as lobsided as the first, but still not a very good period by the Habs. Too many penalties, too much soft play in their zone. On the upside, the Predators seem to be jinxed, outworking, out-hustling, out-passing, out-shooting and dominating possession. But they're not ahead on the scoreboard. They're a team simply not taking advantage of opportunities - not burying their opponents. If Habs somehow win this game, it'll be robbery.


First Period:

- Tinordi gets the call tonight, Beaulieu will sit. Actually, Beaulieu will be rejoining the Bulldogs. So, that's that.

- Eller line gets first shift, and it takes them less than 30 seconds to create a good scoring opportunity.

- Given how they're struggling so much for goal production, Preds' margin for error is pretty thin tonight.

- Clunky play by Diaz putting the puck over the glass, unforced error gives Nashville early man advantage. On the bight side, at least this means Diaz won't be on the PK. 

- Early on Price looks right in the zone. Two very tough saves off labeled wrist shots (and counting).

- Habs have early possession edge, but Predators have had better scoring chances.

- Sweet setup by Briere to Bourque. I think Briere could become a far more effective forward if he focuses more on the setup. He's still very able in that department.

- Josh Gorges banged up a bit on his first shift. Have only seen him for one complete shift since then.

- Therrien continues to insist on using Diaz on the PK. Still haven't figured that out yet.

- More unforced errors. Ryan White deposits the puck over the glass, and the Preds have 39 seconds of 5-on-3.

- Subban comes out, just as Weber deposits the puck off Gorges' leg behind Price, and into the open net. Bad luck for the Habs, Preds take early lead.

- Safe to say the first 15 minutes, the Habs are getting stomped, both ends of the ice. Habs defense far too passive, even with consideration to all the penalties taken so far.

- With Markov/Subban at the line, Therrien sends out Plekanec/Gionta/Bourque to start the man advantage. It largely goes nowhere. Then Bourque draws a hold. Next time let's start the EGG line, eh coach?

- Shots are 14-3 Nashville. A minor miracle the Canadiens are only down 1-0.

- I think the Habs have had only one "dangerous" shift so far, that was the first one of the game. Since then ... oy. It's not been pretty.

- Tinordi, who's not been nearly as rough and tumble as we saw last spring, jawing it up at the Preds' bench. He'll need to play with more of an edge if he hopes to solidify a starting position.

- Oy. He's calling that for diving, isn't he? Yup. Once again the refs are targeting Subban AGAIN. It was a clear-cut trip by Nystrom on Subban. Which means not only do the Habs not get the extra man advantage, they lose their biggest powerplay weapon.

- Ref announces call on Subban for "embezzlement." I'd say that's an accurate description of the call itself.

- Diaz is no P.K. Subban on the powerplay.

- Diaz gets the hook, Bouillon takes his spot.

- And Bouillon makes a terrible cross ice pass to a crease full of Preds, powerplay is snuffed.

- Ugly, ugly, ugly 20 minutes for the Canadiens. Outshot 14-6, possession was terrible, and if wasn't for Price, this game could easily be 3-0 Nashville.

Gameday Game Preview:

The Montreal Canadiens look to win their 5th game in a row as they host the Nashville Predators tonight at the Bell Centre. The Habs are coming off a hard-fought win off the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, a game where they surrendered a 3-0 2nd period lead, before Thomas Plekanec saved the day with a game winning goal with little more than a minute left in the 3rd period.

So those Nashville Predators. They were, not long ago, considered the team of the future. And why not? They had (have?) the best coach in the business in Barry Trotz, who's now entering his 15th year behind the Nashville bench. However, the economics of the game has hit the Predators hard, resulting in the team losing the irreplaceable Ryan Suter (who departed to Minnesota). The Preds simply couldn't compete with the Wild's $100m offer (little compensation that even with Suter, Minnesota still hasn't found its way out of the post-season wilderness, and they're off to a slow start this season).

Trotz is at the moment, the longest surviving coach in the League. That strand of that longevity, however, seems to becoming thinner as Nashville goes through another rebuilding process - there are rumors that Tortz may be on the chopping block if Nashville fails to live up to expectations.

Thing is, what are reasonable expectations? This is a club whose offense is in the midst of a full rebuild - and so far this year, their outputs are reflecting this painful process. With the 26th rated offense, Nashville is leaning on players like the struggling Matt Cullen to pick up some slack, for which there is plenty with Mike Fisher leading the team in scoring with just 5 points.

The Preds, not surprisingly, play a game with emphasis on possession, a reflection of Trotz philosophy. They had, by reasonable measure, a decent outing against the L.A. Kings in their last start Thursday night, out-possessing and out-chancing the Kings by a substantial margin, but nonetheless, still losing to L.A. in a shootout. Their offense simply hasn't been able to finish the play.

So tonight, the Preds take on the semi-hot Habs, with the Canadiens benefiting from stellar play by Carey Price, who's off to his best season start in years. Also (seemingly) warming up is Habs centre Thomas Plekanec, who scored two on Thursday night, and Brian Gionta, who got off to a terrible start his first 6 games, had his best game of the season against Columbus. Plekanec and Gionta's contributions were good timing for the Habs, as the team's number one line of Eller/Galchenyuk and Gallagher have cooled off of late. As long as the Habs have contributions coming from other lines when their top line doesn't produce, they should be okay.

Puck drops tonight at 7:15 EST.


Okay, now that we've reminded you that it's the end of the week, GOOD NEWS. Other than, of course, the Habs are on a four game winning streak. The MRI results are in, and Max Pacioretty has been diagnosed with a strained hamstring, which for you non-medical types out there means ... well ... here's Harvey Keitel to deliver you the prognosis:

Max is expected to return to action around mid-November.

More later.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Game Seven: Blue Jackets vs. Habs

Francois Lacassee / Getty Images

Final Score: Montreal 5, Columbus 3:

Let's break it down:

Corsi (5v5): Columbus +3
Michael Bournival: 69.2%
Travis Moen: 64.3.%
Ryan White: 60.0%
Brendan Gallagher: 41.7%

Fenwick (5v5): Tied
Michael Bournival: 100%
Travis Moen: 87.5%
Ryan White: 77.8%
David Desharnais: 33.3%

Another, yes another, excellent night for the Habs fourth line. Ryan White's turnaround from the end of the last season is so stark, that he's become one of the more remarkable early-season stories for the Habs. The line tenacious forecheck has been outstanding - it's helped relieve a great deal of pressure off the rest of the offense, and worked as a very effective tourniquet against opposition momentum. In short, I don't think the Habs would be at 5-2 right now if it wasn't for the likes of White, Moen and as we saw tonight, an most excellent performance by Michael Bournival, who imho, was the game star.

Carey Price was solid - not quite as acrobatic as he was against Winnipeg and in particular  Vancouver, but he made some critical saves when his team needed it most, especially towards the end of the 3rd period.

On the downside, after looking really good on Monday night, Desharnais regressed back to his old ways - finding himself largely contained and irrelevant through much of the night. Therrien tried to jumpstart his line by giving Desharnais and Briere a couple of powerplay shifts - which were pretty much ineffective.

Nonetheless, the Habs grind out another win, and now creep closer towards a particularly challenging part of their schedule with Anaheim and San Jose coming to town next week.


Third Period:

- Habs +4 Corsi, +2 Fenwick through 40 minutes.

- Habs Boullion gets soft and sloppy forcing Price to make two huge saves. Columbus pressing here.

- Jackets getting lots of bodies in the slot, Habs defense unable to clear. Not sure how much longer Price can keep his team ahead.

- There we go, and guess what? It's Jenner again - picking up the rebound and muscling one past a sprawled out Price. The three goal lead now gone.

- Rough night for Tinordi, Therrien has reigned in his icetime significantly. Which means leaning on Markov more, which means the Habs defense isn't nearly as strong.

 - Bouillon/Tinordi pairing creating lots of opportunity for the bigger Jackets forwards to molest the crease without much trouble.

- Meek wrister by Briere on clear-cut 2-on-1. Easy save for Bobrovsky.

- What a PP shift for the Eller line - Bobrovsky making couple of huge saves. Why that line doesn't start EVERY Habs powerplay is beyond me.

- Habs have rebounded nicely since surrendering the tying goal - one problem though, Bobrovsky has suddenly decided to play the game - very, very well.

- Who wants to bet Jenner wins it for Columbus with a hat trick?

- So tonight was specialty team dream. 4 of 6 goals scored so far with those units.

- Subban for high sticking, he seems to take these penalties at the worst possible time.

- Columbus firing slappers from high slot at will. Habs lucky they didn't score.

- Bournival can do it on the PK as well. Excellent forechecking demonstration there. Really impressive night for him.

- Wowzers. Plekanec is the hero, first winning the draw deep in his zone, the streaking up ice to lead a 3-2 and then snapping one past Bovrovsky from 40 feet. Bobrovsky was way out of position, but we'll take it.

- Hold the phone. Gorges with a trip and Columbus with a very late PP. 42 seconds left.

- Plekanec with an empty netter after Price makes a sensational game saver. Diaz also with an outstanding block on Johansen to preserve the win. A sleeper game that got awfully fun the final 10 minutes. 

Second Period:

- Hate to hex this but Price approaching 99 saves on last 100 shots.

- Ridiculous elbowing call on Subban. No way a big league official should make such a poor call.

- Justice served. Fine forechecking by Ryan White creates a turnover and shot by Markov beats Bobrovsky. 3-0.

- Jenner scores his NHL first off a juicy Price rebound. So everything square now. 3-1.

- Desharnais and Briere continue to do the Habs PP no favours.

- Another disappointing night for the Plekanec/Gionta combination. Not giving the team much offensive momentum. Listless shift after listless shift.

- That Jenner kid is a pesky bugger, isn't he? The kind of pest that coaches love.

- Bournival really fitting in well on the White line, which itself is having an excellent season so far. Habs depth really a blessing during uncertain times with injuries to critical players.

- Critical mistakes here. Subban makes a poorly timed pinch and Eller, who drops back to cover the point, turns it over to Johansen who snaps it past Price on the resulting break. No way Subban should be taking that risk with a 2 goal lead. Sigh. 3-2 Habs.

- Difference between a 2 and 1 goal 40 minute lead is pretty significant. Habs have demonstrated a decent capacity for protecting these 3rd period leads, but Columbus is a far more dangerous team than anyone else Montreal has faced this season.

First Period:

- No announcement about Pacioretty until after the game, apparently it'll be announced by Bergevin. Beaulieu is a healthy scratch, meaning Bourque is playing.

- Both teams storming out of the gate. Did I say earlier today that it's going to be a low scoring game? Oops.

- Gallager gets ice sticked in the face right in front of the official. Not penalty worthy, it seems.

- Subban is putting on a show tonight. Got the feeling could be big night for him.

- Bouruqe!! If he keeps that up they'll make everyone catch that flu bug. Beautiful pass by the way, from Subban to create the breakaway. Powerplay goal gives Habs early lead.

- Habs with relentless pressure - Subban having an incredible period makes am sparkling move at the line to feed Markov who makes a perfect cross ice pass to Bournival who beats Bobrovsky with the one timer. A ridiculously beautiful highlight goal, Bournival's first in the NHL.

- Jackets seem to be targeting Gallagher tonight. Couple of nasty hits along the boards, in addition to the high stick that wasn't called. Habs sticking up for him and getting punished with a roughing penalty.

- When it's Briere and Tinordi leading the rush, you have a pretty good idea where that play is going to end.

- Habs 4th line doing fine job blocking Jackets shots. Canadiens also doing good job protecting their crease from any dangerous rebound surrendered by Price (there haven't been many so far).

- Not a completely one-sided period, Habs outshooting Columbus 14-11, Price was his usual solid self, while the Canadiens offense took advantage of their chances. Subban was a monster in that first frame - when he's in full gear, this team takes on another dimension that makes it difficult, if not impossible to beat.

Saddest Power Rankings Page Ever:

And go figure, it comes from the CBC's Kelly Hrudy (ooh boy) with a quintessentially lame "Behind the Mask" power rankings of the League's goaltenders. All 20 of them. There are no more. That's it. 20.

The worse part isn't that Hrudy couldn't be bothered to list all of the League's teams, it's that of the 20 teams mentioned, the mother corp uses 11 out-of-date logos, including the infamous Buffalo slug logo, the forever-90s old Tampa Bay Lightning logo, and for old time's sake, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim logo.

Thanks CBC for your old, meaningless and completely irrelevant content. I can only assume that Don Cherry approves.


Gameday Game Preview:

So ... lots of questions circulating around the Habs camp today, the biggest by far is today's pending announcement of Max Pacioretty's MRI results. Rumors have been circulating, mostly discredited, the Pacioretty could be done for the season with a Markov-like torn ACL. At this point, not even the insider insiders have a clue about Max's long-term fate.

The only thing we do know for certain is Pacioretty won't be playing tonight, and with Rene Bourque missing the team morning skate because of flu symptoms, Michel Therrien might be forced into a few awkward adjustments. From what we were able to deduce from Therrien's presser this morning, if Bourque is able to play tonight, he'll be assigned to his usual position beside Thomas Plekanec. If not, Therrien said he'll go with 7 defensemen, with Nathan Beaulieu as the extra man who would, when asked, play the occasional 4th line shift with Ryan White and Travis Moen.

So the Canadiens are smarting a little bit in preparation for their game tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets. In case you've spent the past few months on the moon, the Jackets were shifted from the Western to the Eastern Conference this summer, which means that instead of these two teams meeting once or twice during an average season, the Habs and Jackets will see each other three times this season.

The Jackets, who've been a long-standing League joke for their complete inability to build a playoff-competitive team, are no longer a laughing matter. This is a team that came agonizingly close to making the playoffs last spring, are feature plenty of young, energetic talent. The Jackets' main young feature these days is can't-miss blue chip prospect Ryan Murray, who was Columbus' first round pick in the 2012 draft (2nd overall) behind Nail Yakupov and ahead of Alex Galchenyuk.

Murray's main strengths are supposedly his mobility, game awareness, and an excellent ability to feed the puck to his forwards. Habs fans will have a great opportunity tonight to view a potential NHL star in the making in Murray.

Other key young guns to keep an eye out for include center Bruce Jenner, the pesky Jacket's 2nd round pick in 2011. At a bulky 200+ pounds, Jenner put up some impressive numbers in the OHL before cracking the NHL roster this fall.

The Jackets offense hasn't been off to a great start this season - currently ranked 23rd in the League. The Jacket's big off-season acquisition Nathan Horton, had shoulder surgery that will keep him out of the lineup until January, perhaps December at the earliest. With Horton out, the Jackets started the year experimenting on their top line with Brandon Dubinsky - Marion Gaborik and Jenner. Since then, Jenner has been bumped around as the Jackets continue to search for a spark on their first line.

On speciality teams, Columbus stacks up reasonably well - with the 9th ranked powerplay and 7th ranked PK. The Habs meanwhile, currently rank 7th and 9th accordingly.

Columbus' main strength, not surprisingly, is goal protection. A 10th ranked defense that features, in addition to Murrary, the popular ex-Hab James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson. Oh yeah - and one Sergei Bobrovsky, last year's Vezina Trophy winner, will start between the pipes tonight. Bobrovsky, who posted a 2.0 GAA and .932 SV% is putting up similar numbers so far this season,  a 2.48 GAA, .929 SV%.

So with full consideration to the Blue Jackets' defense, Bobrovsky, and the excellent outings so far by Carey Price, don't expect the red light to shine very many times tonight.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST.


Gameday News 'n' Notes

Okay, Therrien just had a presser, and there's a bit to sift through.

- Everyone is on pins and needles about Pacioretty's MRI results, which won't be known until this afternoon. Max had the MRI last night.
- Update on George Parros: He's working out in the gym right now, according to Therrien, is following the strict routine required for anyone who's suffered a concussion. No idea when he'll be back, or even when he'll be skating. But Therrien said his recovery has so far, gone quite well.
- Update on Alexei Emelin. Therrien said his timetable for return has been accelerated slightly from sometime in December, to now sometime in late November. So good news there (hopefully).
- Therrien said if Bourque can't play tonight, he'll be using 7 defensemen.


- MRI results for Max Pacioretty are supposed to be released some time today. Then we'll know if Max's injury sustained in the first period in Winnipeg is short or long term (not that it needed mentioning, but Pacioretty will not be playing tonight).
- Rene Bourque also did not participate in the morning skate. He's down with the flu and will probably not play tonight. Not that his presence would have been noted, anyway.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Game Six: Habs vs. Jets

News and Notes:

- Habs defenseman Drew Drewiskie had shoulder surgery today, and will be out for probably the rest of the season (estimated recovery March/April, 2014).
- Habs ticket buyers, including yours truly, love to complain about how damn expensive it is just to see one measly game at the Bell Centre, but according to Forbes Magazine, at an average pricetag of $257.06, fans in Montreal only have to fork out the 7th highest dollar to see their team in the flesh. So who's the most expensive hockey ticket? The centre of the hockey universe in Toronto of course, where the average price (reminder, this is just the average price to see one game) is a mind-boggling $368.60. Sheesh. Actually, it sucks to be a Canadian in this department, other canuck-based teams rate pretty high on the list with Winnipeg #3 (really?), Edmonton #4 (I'd be miffed), Vancouver #5, Calgary #6, and Ottawa a more "reasonable" 15th overall. The Hawks at #2, are the most expensive American-based team to see at $313.18 - but unlike Toronto, they have a pretty reasonable excuse for charging sky-high ticket prices: they're the Stanley Cup champions.

Cheapest NHL ticket? The endlessly bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes, the average stub price a measly $76.65.

See the full list here.

- Finally, Max Lapierre. Don't get me started about this human waste of a hockey player. By now you've heard about his dirty hit on Dan Boyle last night, which sent the Sharks defenseman to the hospital. Not embedding or posting a link to the hit - just take it from me, it was horrible. Anyway, Max will probably get 10 games for this latest incident of misbehavior - he's fast developed a reputation for being one of the worst people alive that also happens to play in the National Hockey League.

Lapierre has one career highlight:

That's it. That's all he has to show for his nothing career. Godspeed Max, we're all looking forward to the day when you won't be coming back to the rink again.

Montreal 3, Winnipeg 0. Stathead Stuff:

Okay, here it is:

Corsi: Winnipeg +28 (yeah, Price really was that good)
White: 56.3%
Prust: 56.0%
Desharnais: 52.2%
Plekanec: 24.1%

Fenwick: Winnipeg +8
White: 72.7%
Moen: 69.2%
Desharnais: 68.8%
Galchenyuk: 24.1%

Not entirely surprising numbers considering how the game was your basic grind-'em-out type victory not befitting the speed and elegance of the EGG line. Ryan White - for that matter, the Habs' 4th line continues to impress, doing an excellent job in swarming opposing forwards, generating decent zone opportunities, and setting the table up nicely for the Habs' top producing lines. If White continues this play, it'll be nearly impossible for Therrien to scratch him if/when Parros makes his return.

The Habs defense didn't have a particularly impressive outing, which anyone might find surprising since the Jets were shut out. But that's largely because of Carey Price's stellar performance. Nathan Beaulieu, still in learning mode, struggles with puck possession confidence. He's apt to shooting the puck away, either forced or unforced, for fear of creating a turnover. It's typical behavior for any defender trying to break into the NHL - but it's hurting the Habs transition. Beaulieu also doesn't do his defensive partner any favors by repositioning himself in a clear passing lane. In short, Beaulieu needs to really work on puck possession, mobility and effectively moving the puck up ice to a teammate. 

Anyway, largely nit-picky stuff. The trip was quite successful, and now the team can enjoy an extended home stand.

Third Period:

- Kane gets nailed yet again for a hook. That'll drive the coach up the wall.

- Desharnais and the Subban with clunky turnovers giving Jets 2-on-1 break, Price another excellent save.

- Desharnais having a decent night, except when he's put out on the man advantage. Then everything seems to go south.

- Subban with two consecutive terrible defensive shifts. Price bailing him and his team out.

- Not sure how much longer Price can keep 'em out.

- Another disappointing night for Gionta. Just not involved, very slow on the play. 

- Price's Sp% the past two games is now a nifty .986. 

- Price just zoned. Jets will have to fire it through him to score.

- Prust hurt last shift, now Plekanec is smarting. It's been a very physical game tonight. 

- Habs committing far too many turnovers in their zone, but Price just soaks anything up that comes his way.

- Jets swarming, can the Habs hold the fort for much longer? Desharnais line a real defensive liability in the 3rd period.

- Habs just hanging on right now. Dumping any puck in sight.

- Really can't understand putting Briere out right now, and he gets nailed for a hook. Oy.

- All Price needed to bring to the rink tonight was his glove. At least half his saves have been with the mitt.

- Habs kill the Briere penalty but Jets are still pressing hard.

- Winnipeg has some ridiculously awful ice tonight. Puck bouncing all over the place.

- There's your dagger. Jets get nailed for a crosscheck (Little). Habs can just kill the clock with barely two minutes left.

- Briere his first as a Canadien. Empty net, I guess he'll take it. Now Price for the shutout.

- 6 out of possible 8 points on the west swing, an excellent result. Tonight, Carey Freakin' Price. Haters are gonna have to hate something else because Price looks totally on focus this season. 

 Second Period:

- Pacioretty is officially done for the night, left leg injury. Max off a terrible start this year, luck-wise. 

- Gorges playing so much more effectively and efficiently than he was at very start of the season
- Diaz with a big red target on his body tonight. Not moving his feet fast enough along the boards and he's getting hammered like crazy by Jets forwards.

- Kane has been pushing the envelope all night, finally called for a hook.

- Habs chance to bury here.

- Prust injured?? In the dresssing room.

- Game getting pretty chippy. Price continues to play solid, if unspectacular perfect goaltending.

- Prust reportedly has equipment issue (skate).

- Jets have gone out moe aggressively in the 2nd to combat the Habs aggressive forecheck, but they haven't yet been able to generate much offensive momentum.

- Corsi and Femwick virtually tied right now, indicating decent rebound period for Winnipeg. 

- Winnipeg now generating serious zone pressure and quality shots on Price. Habs definitely on their heels right now.

- Okay at this point I'll gladly take a 2-0 40 minute lead. Growing concerned that the Jets might strongarm their way back into this.

- Price with a ridiculous save. Jets efforts not being rewarded.

- Habs lucky to maintain their two goal lead because Carey Price. Habs with a big let down period. Winnipeg has a decent shot if they play that well and the Habs that indifferently in the 3rd period.

First Period:

- There's that fast start and weak goal surrendered by Pavelec, Prust with the easy rebounder. 1-0 before most everyone has arrived at their seat.

- Maybe Habs fans hope that Prust is the cure that ails Desharnais?.

- White continues to be in fine form - making his removal from any starting lineup a difficult decision. 

- Galchenyuk to wide open Gallagher crashing the Jets net. 9/10 he puts that puck in the net.

- No goals, but pretty decent looking Habs man advantage there.

- Jets leaving passing lanes wide open, which allows the Habs to set Subban up for a cannon drive. Pavelec simply cannot adjust and it's 2-0 Habs.

- Reeling Jets burn their TO. 

- Price picking up exactly where he left off Saturday night. That's bad news for Jets fans.

- Desharnais seems to have found his legs tonight. Now we have to find Bourque's.

- Eller correctly assessed penalty for embellishment. He's gotten away with a couple over this road trip and the officials are starting to key in on it.

- Save the third period against the Canucks, easily the Habs' best played period of this road trip.

- Habs +10 Corsi, +7 Fenwick. Pretty one-sided 20 minutes, maybe most one sided Habs have had this young season

Gameday Game Preview:

The western stretch has finally arrived. The Canadiens wrap up their four game trip tonight, as they take on the Winnipeg Jets for the first and only time this season. Which is a shame if you're a Habs fan, since the Canadiens have amassed a pretty impressive winning record over the Jets lately. Since moving from Atlanta to Manibota's capital city, the Habs have posted an 8-4 record overall, a 3-2 record at the MTS Centre.

Anyway, those stats really don't matter. The season is new, the slate is clean, and both clubs are hoping to finish strong in their respective Divisions, although entering the season, the Habs were strong contenders for a high finish, while the Jets are presumed to be in tough to qualify in a very tough Western Conference.

The stats line, albeit early for the season, depicts a distinct Habs advantage. The Habs have the 7th ranked powerplay, the Jets 20th. Habs PK is a decently rated 11th, the Jets are 16th. The Habs have the 8th ranked offense, the Jets 16th. The Habs defense is rated 5th best, the Jets 16th. In other words, Winnipeg is a decidedly mediocre team on paper - at least, so far.

For you eggheads, Habs Corsi is rated 10th overall, Jets are 26th. Fenwick, Habs are 8th, Jets 27th (eek), and just for fun, the Habs PDO clocks in at 22nd overall, Jets are 11th (the lower your PDO, ranking the better).

So the stats really don't stack up well for Winnipeg - that much we can agree upon.

The Jets offense is anchored by one of the best wingers in the game in Evander Kane. Expect Michel Therrien to assign his best checking forwards (read: Thomas Plekanec) to shadow Kane through the night. Meanwhile on the blue line, the Jets rely heavily on the mobile Dustin Byfuglien, who's been off to a strong start this season, collecting 6 points in 6 games. Otherwise, the Jets aren't a particularly deep team, but they're well coached, so they have the ability to patch together a relatively effective and balanced attack. That said, if Kane is nullified, the Jets' ability to muster together victories becomes significantly limited.

Even though they have a .500 record, Winnipeg has also been hampered by inconsistent goaltending this season - their starter tonight, Ondrej Pavelec, was bombed out of the building on Friday night, as the Jets were manhandled by the Dallas Stars, 4-1. Pavelec let in a couple of questionable goals in the first period, putting his team in a deep enough hole that they couldn't recover.

On the Habs side of the ledger, Brian Gionta returns to the lineup tonight after missing two games relating to a family illness. With Gionta back, one can probably expect the so-called "EGG" line to return (Eller/Gallagher/Galchenyuk), while Daniel Briere and Max Pacioretty will probably be centred by David Deshairnas again.

Carey Price will start for the Habs. Puck drops around 8:10 EST.

Monday Update:

HAPPY MONDAY!! It's especially happy for we Canadians because 1) it's a no-work day (for most of us) and 2) it's Thanksgiving!! Actually yours truly just had his fill of Turkey, and Ham, and stuffing, and cabbage rolls, and mashed potatoes, and gravy, and pumpkin pie, and I think I'm 8 pounds fatter. Disgusting.

Seriously, I'm very thankful for the weekend, and that my life has been pretty fortunate, surrounded by family and friends. Not everyone is so lucky.

Know what else I'm thankful for? That in 2012, the Montreal Canadiens finished with the 3rd, rather than the 1st overall pick - when back at that time, NHL Central Scouting had rated Nail Yakupov as the next big can't miss hockey offensive sensation. Instead, we got "stuck" drafting present-day scoring sensation Alex Galchenyuk (dear CBC, he's still not Russian), while the Edmonton Oilers, unable to resist temptation even though their blue line was desperate for talent, used their pick on Yakupov.

So today, there's this in the Edmonton Journal:

"I really don’t like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.” - Nail Yakupov.

From everyone here in Habsland we say - thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you THANK YOU Edmonton!