Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bent, but not broken... hopefully

For the Habs, there's only one question to answer tonight: how will they respond after last night's emotional game against the Bruins? 

Regardless of the answer, tonight promises to not be an easy game. While still nursing their bruises, they have to come back tonight and face an Islander team that's rested, and quite frankly, has nothing to lose. My guess? It'll take the Habs a bit to get going tonight.

After an eventful evening last night in Boston, Carey Price gets the night off as Alex Auld gets the start. Sadly for the penalty kill, Hal Gill gets the night off to rest a lower-body injury. Ryan White, called up earlier today from the Bulldogs, will be in the lineup.

Of note, The Senators officially pull the plug on the season and deal Mike Fisher to Nashville, who announce the trade as the team picking up "Carrie Underwood's husband". Ouch!

2010-2011 Regular Season, Game 56: New York Islanders at Montreal

  • Kind of surprised to see Gomez starting after getting benched for most of the 3rd period last night
  • Habs are facing a goalie whose NHL experience I could practically count on one hand. Not pumping a few by him might be bad for their collective psyche
  • Not a great start, as Pouliot takes an offensive zone penalty. Still feeling a little frisky after his one-punch fight last night, perhaps?
  • Well, they passed their first test and killed it off. But now Pacioretty's off for holding... and another offensive-zone penalty, which means that they might be trying a little too hard to prove themselves from last night
  • Good: Wisniewski draws a penalty with his speed. Bad: early into the ensuing powerplay they turn the puck over at the Islander blue line, forcing Subban to take a tripping penalty, already their 3rd penalty of the game
  • Martinek gets called for running Plekanec from behind into the boards. I wonder why that wasn't called when it happened to Subban earlier in the game?
  • Subban with another tripping call to prevent a breakaway, though it sure looked like he touched the puck first. And not Tavares is going off for goalie interference. Are these refs trying to out-call the crew from last night against the Bruins?
  • You just knew that one of those penalties would eventually turn into a powerplay goal. Pacioretty takes a cross-ice feed from Desharnais, and his one-timer makes it 1-0 Habs.
  • Ugh... in close Tavares is able to lift one over Auld's left pad. Game tied at 1.
  • So far, Gomez, Eller and Kostitsyn are having a better game than last night... which unfortunately isn't saying much.

Well, not a horrible first period, but it still would have been nice to see a little more bounce-back after last night. Still, it would be tough to get up for the Islanders. At least they got their feet wet and came out of the first tied at 1. If they had been trailing... yikes. As it was, the Islanders had the lead in shots 12-9, but the Habs led in faceoffs, 11 to 8.

  • Hey... Auld is sporting a new mask! The artwork is VERY reminiscent of Dryden's bullseye mask, with an additional large CH painted on the right side
  • Bacon pancakes for dinner... yummy! Now if the dog would stop giving me the evil eye...
  • Habs have started showing some nifty passing in the Islander zone, but noting to show for it. The Koskinen kid is looking solid in nets for the Islanders
  • A Gomez turnover turns into a break for the Isles. That won't curry him any favour from his detractors
  • Man, I'd take a team full of Giontas any day
  • Sweet! White digs a puck out from behind the net, then finds Pouliot in the deep slot who one-times it 5-hole. 2-1 Habs!
  • Some territorial presence; I think that Gomez/Eller/Kostitsyn just played their best shift in a couple of games
  • Auld has had to sharp a little too often tonight, which isn't good when you're playing a team that has 13 fewer wins and 9 more losses than you on the season
  • Wisniewski absolutely ROBBED on the goal line
  • Not good. The Isles split the defense, then split Auld's legs for the tying goal. 2-2.
  • The guy is money... Pleks and Kostitsyn break in on a 2-on-1, and Pleks fakes to Kostitsyn before rocketing one home from the right hash marks. 3-2 Habs!

An much more solid period from the Habs against a team that they SHOULD beat, taking the territorial advantage and a 20-10 lead on shots in the second period (29-22 overall). Faceoffs are now even at 21, though the Isles have laid on the body a little more, with a 16-10 lead in that department. To this point, Wisniewski leads the Habs in ice time (18 shifts for 18:43 of ice time).

THIRD PERIOD/Overtime/Shootout:

  • Isles have yet to come back to win when trailing after 2 periods. Hopefully tonight doesn't break a trend
  • A little too close, as the Isles ring one off of the left post behind Auld
  • What a clusterf***. No backcheck turns a harmless-looking play into a 3-on-1, which after some pinball action finds the puck behind Auld. Tied at 3.
  • Rough shift for Ryan White: accidentally bowled over by Subban, then nailed with a hooking penalty
  • Man, Desharnais looks small out there. Doesn't play like it, though
  • Just saw a closeup of Spacek. Nice shiner he's sporting from last night's festivities
  • A GREAT backcheck from Gio sends Pleks in on a breakaway, who's tied up and can't finish. So close!
  • The Habs continue to let Isles players sneak behind their defensive coverage. That'll burn them if they're not careful
  • Note to refs: if a guy puts up his hands as if to say, "I didn't do it"... he probably did
  • Wisniewski passes into Plek's skates which turns it over to a shot off the post for Matt Moulson. Way too close of a call for the Habs so late in the game
  • Overtime. Well, at least it's a much-needed point... and hopefully more
  • No-go in overtime. We get to see how Auld does in a shootout
  • Shoot To Thrill on the Bell Centre PA. Good choice
  • Aaaand... Kyle Okposo snaps a wrister past Auld for the only goal of the shootout. 4-3 Isles, final.

Well that was... anticlimactic. Habs end up with 40 shots (to the Isles' 33) but can't get the winner past the rookie Koskinen. The also won the faceoff circle, going 52% on the night, but the Isles had a big lead in hits, at 24-14.


 Well, in hindsight, I guess that it could have been worse.

Coming off their most emotionally-charged game of the season, playing a well-rested (although inferior) team that had nothing to lose, the Habs came away with an all-important point for getting to overtime. The Habs were also understaffed, without Price, Gill, Darche, and long-term injuries Markov and Gorges in the lineup.

Still, when you're playing a team like the Islanders that is so far below you in the standings (and icing a rookie goaltender, to boot), it's vital that you find a way to end the night with two points in your back pocket.

The best news of the night is that the Habs best players (Plekanec and Gionta) played like their best players. And Pouliot, Pacioretty and Desharnais are looking like they're keepers, too. Subban? Not his greatest night, though he looked out-of-sorts with his steady defensive partner out of the lineup.

Thankfully, Andrei Kostitsyn looked to be finding his way out of the fog that he had been skating in. Coach Martin rewarded his effort with some late-game shifts, which is a big step up from his 3rd period benching last night in Boston. The Habs need to get this guy back on track; his explosive shot, a potential gamebreaker, is going to waste if they can't get him to find the back of the net with any regularity. A shot in the shootout might have been the confidence boost that AK needs.

Hey, at least the Leafs lost tonight, via the shootout, too. The Habs meet up with them on Saturday night to try to break up their three-game slide.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Drop the puck already...

If there's one rule that I don't understand in hockey, it's the 'delay of game' rule that's assessed to a player for shooting the puck over the glass.  

Don't get me wrong... I understand how the rule works and is applied, but I don't understand why such a rule even exists, since the execution of it seems quite counter-productive: a player delays the game, so the referee then delays the game even further by giving the player a penalty, escorting said player to the penalty box, announcing the penalty, and finally lining the players up for the face off to restart play.

And that's without line changes or even a dreaded TV timeout.

If the NHL is really looking for ways to speed up the game, they could take a hint from soccer and do away with this rule altogether. If a player sends the puck over the glass (intentional or not), have a linesman immediately drop another puck onto the ice at the spot from where the the puck was shot, and the non-offending team then gets to immediately take possession and continue the play. You wouldn't even have to stop the time clock.

The benefit, other than speeding up play, would be the complete discouragement of trying to delay the game or relieving offensive pressure in your zone by shooting the puck over the glass. Much as scrumming along the boards in a an effort to get a stoppage in play has all but been eliminated simply by having the referees refusing to blow the whistle, and thus making the tactic useless, delaying of the game could be minimized by smart application of the rules and common sense.

Anyone have the phone number for the NHL Rules Committee handy?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Someone at NHL head office is a Leaf fan

Can you spot the mistake?

You'd think that the NHL could afford better proof readers.

Either that, or Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment has a mole working in the the graphic design office in New York. The problems aren't just on the ice with the refereeing. It's probably just a simple oversight, but can't this league get anything right? 

Taking out the trash

What day is pick-up?

Man, the Ottawa Senators suck.  

You know, it wasn't that long ago that Hab fans (especially this one) would dread games against the Senators. For a number of years, playing a game against Daniel Alfredsson and company would give the feeling that another loss was merely sixty minutes away... and that was often the case.

My, how times have changed. For the fourth time in five meetings this season, the Canadiens defeated the Senators. Actually, 'defeated' isn't the right word. Let's try "annihilated". Or "obliterated". Kicked the tar out of. A 'sand in the Vasoline' type of win. A 7-1 spanking, and it wasn't even that close. And there's always something quite satisfying about hearing Hab fans cheering, singing, and booing the opposing goaltender in their building.

Save for a post, two flubbed 2-on-1's and a broken stick with a wide-open net in the first period, this one could have just as easily ended up in double figures. Tomas Plekanec led the way with two goals, and Brian Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban had the others. Only a horrible defensive breakdown off of a faceoff kept them from getting Carey Price, who had another great game, his fifth shutout of the season. For Price, his 24th win ties a season high for him, in only game 48 of the Habs' season.

As for the Senators goaltending? It hasn't been their biggest problem, but get a load of these numbers: Pascal Leclaire has been their best guy between the pipes, and he leads the team with just a .908 save percentage. He's 4-7-1. Their other three goalies all have save percentages of under .900. That ain't good.

Tonight, the Habs chased starter Mike Brodeur after 4 goals on just 15 shots. Enter Brian Elliott, who fared a little better, but not much: another 3 goals on 20 shots.

The win sits the Habs second in the Northeast Division, one point behind Boston. The Canadiens are now 7-1-2 in their last ten games. Tomorrow, Saku Koivu returns to Montreal. If he scores the winner in overtime, I'd be happy with the Habs being 7-1-3.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shocking photo of Cammalleri injury

Cammalleri grimaces in pain after leaving the dressing room in Dallas

A recent photograph sheds new light on the injury that caused Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri to leave Tuesday night's game in Buffalo. 

It appears as though the crosscheck from behind that sent Cammalleri careening into the boards early in the first period my have not caused the injury that threatens to have the Montreal sniper out of the lineup through the All-Star break. It's believed that Cammalleri suffered trauma during the team's recent western road trip, specifically at a game in Dallas, and that the hit in Buffalo merely exacerbated the problem.

"Cammy's a gutsy guy," said teammate and captain Brian Gionta, upon viewing the photo. "It's not like him to talk up an injury, so it doesn't surprise me that he tried to play through it. To tell you the truth, we probably should have suspected that something was up. Since that trip into Dallas, he's been setting off the metal detector at all of the airports."

The Canadiens have since announced the placement of Cammalleri on injured reserve, and have called up Ryan White from their AHL-affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs to take his spot on the active roster.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Price shines in 18-minute effort over Calgary

Teammates congratulate Price on his outstanding 18-minute win. Photo: Dario Ayala/The Gazette

Montreal's Carey Price once again showed why he's one of the great young goaltenders in the N.H.L. 

Coming into the game at the 3-minute mark of the third period after starter Alex Auld had surrendered his 4th goal--which allowed the Flames to complete their comeback in erasing a 4-goal deficit--Price was spectacular in his 18:08 of ice time, turning away all four shots he faced.  

Sitting in his dressing room stall after the Habs' 5-4 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames, Price reflected on the satisfaction that came with the win.

"A night like this is a goaltender's dream", said Price. "A light skate before the game, take a few practice shots, then relax for a couple of periods while checking out some of the fine product in the seats around me, or when they flash a pair up on the big screen to get some cheap cheers from the crowd. Then a quick skate out to the crease--I mean, I don't even have to bother with any of that warm up stuff--and bango, I've got my league-leading 23rd win. What's not to like?"

The Canadiens had jumped out to in impressive 4-0 lead before the Flames popped in a couple of goals in the second-half of the 2rd period, then tied the game with two quick goals in the first three minutes of the 3rd, signaling the beginning of Price's night.

"When I was called into action, I had just started listening to side one of 'Animals' on my iPod." recounted the All-Star goalie. "And when I got back to the bench, win in my back pocket, it had just started into the last minute of 'Dogs'. I'm kind of pissed that I missed almost the whole thing."

Music wasn't the only thing on his mind, however.

"To tell you the truth, I was kind of getting tired of having to bust my ass for a full 60 minutes, but then getting tagged with a loss because the guys in front of me were mailing it in with 8 or 10-minute nights. I mean, some of them didn't deserve the hot water in their showers," said Price, his voice starting to show emotion. "I could already have 28 or 30 wins if they pressed with the kind of 18-minute effort that I showed tonight."

The Canadiens are next off to Buffalo for a tilt at the HSBC Arena, but not before Price tends to an important matter: treating teammate and good friend P.K. Subban with a post-game meal for scoring the Habs 5th goal, in overtime, to seal the win. 

"I'll think I'll take him for wings at Cage Aux Sports."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bruin blogger gets racial on P.K. Subban

In having a blog, especially one that supports a specific sports team, I shouldn't be surprised to receive the odd piece of hate mail.  

Yesterday, a comment was posted by the "Big Bad Bruins" blog ( under the "Auld Fired Up" article. Because of the content, I've debated how to handle it. I was originally going to delete the comment and forget about it, but have since decided that since it was willingly posted on a public blog, that Big Bad Bruins needs to be called out and held accountable. 

Here's what Big Bad Bruins had to say: 

(Note that I've added the asterisks; the original comment was unedited.)

"Is this a f*****g joke , is this a hab clan for all you c**ksuckers to rally together , just face it pitsburgh kicked your ass lastnight and Fleury mocked your piece of shit goalie , and for PK n****r Subban i would skin him on the ice at the bell centre then wear his big n****r lips on a necklace , GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BRUINSSSSS !!!!

Upon first reading the comment, a number of things first came to mind. It was either posted by some juvenile that managed to stay up past his bedtime on mommy's computer, trying to get a rise out of me, or by someone who quite possibly believes the kind of hate that he left on my blog. 

Either way, he/she isn't the sharpest tack in the box. The person in question posted the comment using their Blogger ID, instead of posting anonymously or under a fake name, so it was easily traced back to the Big Bad Bruins blog. Following my natural curiosity, I decided to check it out. There's an article about the Hab/Penguin game that seemed rather well written, especially considering the style of the original comment, so I pumped it into a Google search. As it turns out, it was lifted from a story that originally posted on (

So not only is the person that runs the Big Bad Bruins blog a racist bigot, they're a thief, too.

It's a shame that people like this need to spill their venom in the name of a sports rivalry. I have several Bruins fans as friends, and although the teasing and needling between us can at times get quite heated, it's always understood that it's good-natured and all in the name of fun. "Boston Bruins Blog" crossed that line, and has now been exposed for what he/she is.

Bobby Orr deserves a better breed of fan.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

C'mon, vogue....

The way that some folks are talking, you'd think that he had given the finger to the Queen.  

When Carey Price struck his "Usain Bolt" pose a couple of seasons ago after turning away a Vincent Lecavalier shootout attempt and securing the Canadiens a win, some folks took it as a brash move by a young kid who had yet to win anything of significance in the NHL. While that may be, others saw it as the emerging personality of one of the league's promising young stars; the kind of thing to which the NHL likes to hitch its marketing machine.

Ask Price, and he was merely celebrating a big win.

The Montreal netminder is hardly the first goalie in NHL history to break the mold and strike a pose. He wasn't even the first with the Canadiens. The great Jacques Plante would raise the ire of the opposition when he's raise his arms over his head after a big win. Ken Dryden wouldn't use his pose to celebrate, but his restful leaning on his stick while the action swirled around him was sometimes seen as a slight towards the teams were nightly handled with ease by probably the greatest team ever assembled.

Fast-forward to January 6, 2011. The Habs are facing a team that they eliminated in last season's playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the game goes into a shootout. Price stones six shooters to secure the victory, and busts out another pose:

Personally, I'd give more style points to his first one, but the sentiment behind both is the same: big save, big win, let's celebrate. But with last night's loss to those same Penguins, some Hab fans believe that the turning of the tables was brought on by The Pose. This feeling was heightened by Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury mocking Price's pose after the final siren had sounded.

Not that Fleury has much to "in your face" about when talking about the Habs; going into the game he was a very ordinary 9-7-1, with a lofty 3.45 GAA and a meager .886 SV%, while the Habs made him look like Swiss Cheese in handing him his golf bag last spring. And he had what could be described as a rather routine night in picking up the win. Not really anything out of the ordinary to get excited about.

There's the difference: Price celebrated. Fleury mocked.

No, surely the loss couldn't have had anything to do with the Habs having given the Penguins eight powerplay attempts which led to four powerplay goals, could it? And of course it was a spur of the moment celebration almost a week previous that cost the team two points in the standings... wasn't it? 

Um, no.

Another problem that some people (fans AND players) have with Price's exuberance is that it goes against the grain of their idea of "proper" goalie celebration. A fist pump is seen to be ok. Price "low fiving" with teammate P.K. Subban after a win seems to be acceptable, too. Yet a pose is somehow taken to be over the line and showing off.

But what about the goalie's teammates? Should one of them score an exciting goal, or win a fight, wild celebration is not only accepted, it's often encouraged. The Alexander Ovechkin highlight-reel goal is always followed by a an innovative move or a jump into the glass. Should a goalie then, upon making the final save to seal a win not be afforded the same latitude in celebration without being branded a showoff and becoming "bulletin board material" for the opposing team?

Goalies, I say go for it. You're supposed to be oddballs, anyway. Don't let the extent of your personality be limited to what's painted on your mask. Work up your best celebratory move, and bust it out when the situation warrants. Heck, it could even become an event in the All-Star skills competition. 

Now Carey, get to work on rehearsing your next pose. May I suggest the "Hulk Hogan", or maybe a back flip?

Auld fired up

Alex Auld defends his crease. Photo: Getty Images

They say that an army is as only as good as the guys behind the front line.  

That can so be said for a hockey team; the guys that have been charged with the support roles make it easier for the big guns to do their job. To that end, this year for the Canadiens backup goalie Alex Auld plays the role of reserve infantry to starter Carey Price's heavy tanks.

From the moment that it had been announced that Auld had signed on as the number two guy, there has been much second-guessing of the choice from many fans an media alike. Halfway through the season, though, Auld is doing everything that he can to prove that he is the right guy for the job. And it's not an easy one; being a backup goalie means working your butt of to be ready for playing time that could come today, tomorrow, next week, or even next month. You can be called on for spot duty, a scheduled start, to play in event of an injury, or even take the reigns of the starters' role should circumstances dictate.

With Carey Price so far having shouldered the bulk of the goaltending load, Auld is on pace to play in just 10 games this season. Expect that number to rise, though, as the Habs get deeper into the season and look to lighten Price's workload, especially on back-to-back game nights. 

Auld's performace to this point in the season should make it easier for Coach Martin to make that decision, too;  his 3-2-0 record, with a .941 save percentage and a 1.74 goals against average, though over a small sample size, exhibit that he is doing what he needs to be done outside of game action to be ready for when he does get the call.

If you were to ask him, Alex might say that the reason for his strong play would be his willing acceptance of his backup role. Last year, split between Dallas and the Rangers, he appeared in 24 games, with 20 starts; only three other times in his 10 seasons has he started more than 20 games, and in his only full-fledged season as a starter (2005-06) in 64 start he was 33-23-6, 2.94 GAA and a save percentage of just .902.

Hey, some guys just aren't built to shoulder the entire load, and that's cool. The best teams are populated by players that have defined roles that best make use of that player's abilities. It's called "playing withing yourself".

And for this year's edition of Alex Auld, it's a damn fine place to be.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Bruins alternate jersey unveiled for games against Habs

The new updated Bruin alternate jersey

On the heels of yet another loss to the Canadiens, the Boston Bruins have decided to update their wardrobe in time for their next match against Montreal. 

The update to Boston's alternate jersey, though minor, is seen by the Bruins to better represent their style of play when taking on the 24-time Stanley Cup champions.

"Last night was just another glaring example of how the Montreal Canadiens will always dominate our franchise," said Bruins Director of Marketing Steven Guthwaite. "Our guys may just as well have skated onto the Bell Centre ice with those red dominatrix gag-balls shoved in their mouths."

In front of another 21,273-strong sellout at the Bell Centre, Boston looked to be cruising to victory at the 57-minute mark of the game. Then the roof fell in, with the Habs striking for two late goals to send the game to overtime before Max Pacioretty made Bruin goalie Tim Thomas his bitch with a great wrist shot to the top corner to seal the comeback for the Canadiens.

So it was that at a post-game press conference the Bruins unveiled their new duds, which will be worn exclusively in games against the Canadiens. The new jersey mostly resembles the current Briuns' alternate, with the exception of the word "Bruins" in the chest logo being replaced with the word "Bitches", referring to the role that the Bostonians play when they tangle with the Habs. 

When asked about the term used to describe the Bruins on the new jersey, Guthwaite defended the choice, saying that the best uniforms represent the true identity of the teams that wear them.

"In going over the long history of matchups between the two teams, we wanted to make sure that we came up with the one term that best described our franchise. And that word is 'bitches'. For example, in the 1950's the Habs made us their bitches in the Stanley Cup finals three times, and then a couple of more times in the 70's. We had that record-breaking Bruin team in 1971, but the Canadiens showed us who was the boss in the first round. And don't even talk to me about 1979. Don Cherry can kiss my wrinkly ass."

Mr. Guthwaite continued, "Sure, there have been a few high points, like in 1988 when we beat the Canadiens for our first playoff win against them in 45 years, then we were pretty good against them until the mid-90's, even though it was the Habs that won the Cup, and not us. Then there was that string of nine wins a couple of seasons ago, but that's been it. Since then, (9 games) just one measly win."

On a positive side, the Bruins say that if the new look is successful with the fans they plan on rolling out an entire line of Bitches-branded Bruin merchandise, including dog collars, leashes, and leather whips and riding crops.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Habs' new training aid gets a "passing" grade

Forward Michael Cammalleri tries out his sweet new training aid

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.  

On the heels of a disastrous holiday road trip that saw the team seemingly incapable of completing a simple pass, Montreal Canadiens Equipment Manager Pierre Gervais knew that something had to be done. And in a moment of inspired brilliance, it looks as though he may have hit on an answer. 

"I was over at my parent's place during the Christmas break, and while in the kitchen, I went to pour myself a cup of tea", explained Gervais. "My mom's teapot is covered with one of those knitted tea cosy things that's meant to keep the pot warm. Well, hers is knitted to look like a kitty sitting on the counter... little ears, whiskers and everything, though I don't like the pink colour. I mean, have you ever seen a pink kitten? If the Pink Panther had a family, maybe.... but anyway, that's when it hit me."

"If the forwards are complaining that the defense are incapable of anything other than hitting them in the skates with their passes, then why not make the sticks look like skates?"

Gervais and his assistants immediately went to work on a prototype. What they came up with was an attachment that looks like a skate, but fits neatly over the blade of a hockey stick. He's tentatively calling it a "skick", putting together the words "skate" and "stick". 

A few Canadiens ran the invention through its paces during an informal  practice at their training facility in Brossard, and Cammalleri was one of those immediately impressed.

"It's great," said the Canadiens forward. "I can stick handle with it, so that a bonus. But the main thing is that I'm now starting to receive passes from the defense where it's supposed to be: on my stick. Today was the first time that Subban didn't hit me in the foot since about early November."

As for the Habs' rearguards, they seem to like the idea, too. 

"Now I don't have to think about it," said the aforementioned Subban, referring to his passing. "I just see something flash by up ice, and pass to it without having to worry if I'm turning the puck over. It all fits into what Coach Martin has been telling me, that less is more."

With the players on board, Canadiens' management is looking into the possibility of being able to use their new training aid in actual games. General Manager Pierre Gauthier said that while there's not technically anything in the NHL rulebook that wouldn't allow the device to be used during play, he wouldn't hold his breath while waiting for the go-ahead from the league.

"There's nothing in the book either that says that you can stop the puck and skate backward into the goalie during a penalty shot. Not that I'm still bitter, but let's just say that I don't have much confidence in the league doing the right thing in terms of applying the rules."

As for Gervais, he doesn't think that his work is done. 

"I've only tackled half of the problem. Now me and my team need to find a way to make a skate look like a stick, and the opposition's goal to look like thirty feet of open ice."


Friday, January 7, 2011

A case for Georges Vezina

A quick look up into the rafters of the Bell Centre in Montreal will show that the Montreal Canadiens have retired the numbers of three goaltenders: Jacques Plante (1), Ken Dryden (29) and Patrick Roy (33).  

Together, their play represents a span of five decades with the Habs, from the early 1950’s through the mid-1990’s. On the surface, that would lead you to believe that there wasn’t a goalie of incredible stature--one worthy of having his number retired--to have played for the Canadiens before 1952, Plante’s first season. Of course, that wouldn't be true.

As a candidate for number retirement, George Hainsworth should come to mind. Over a seven-year stretch with the Habs, he recorded 81 shutouts and won two Stanley Cups. Or maybe you’d toss your hat into the ring for Bill Durnan, the great ambidextrous goalie who over his seven-year career added another two Stanley Cups for the Habs. Both of those men could (and probably should) be honoured, but if you go back even further you come across the name of the man who inspired the trophy that Hainsworth and Durnan would win a combined nine times.

Along with Didier Pitre and Edouard “Newsy” Lalonde, goalie Goerges Vezina was a cornerstone of the early Montreal Canadiens. At a time when the team’s existence from season-to-season was not assured, Vezina was a constant in the lineup, helping to give fans a team identity to which they could relate. 
Vezina played in 328 consecutive regular season games (a goaltending record that stood over 30 years), plus 39 more league playoff and Stanley Cup challenge games for a total streak of 367 games spanning 16 seasons. His streak came to an end only when he was unable to answer the bell for the second period of the first game of the 1925-26 season. It was only then that it was discovered that Vezina had been suffering from tuberculosis, the disease that would take his life mere months later. So important had he been to the development of goaltending and to the team that the Canadiens donated a trophy to the NHL that bears his name; from that point onward the league’s best goaltender for each season would be awarded the Vezina Trophy.

Other points to support the retiring of Vezina’s #1:

Only 35 goalies have been inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Vezina was included in the original induction class of twelve players in 1945, along with fellow Canadien Howie Monrenz, whose number 7 has been retired.

Vezina won two Stanley Cups with Montreal, the same number as Patrick Roy, whose number 33 has been retired.

The Canadiens don't have a policy of "one man, one number"; 12 and 16 have each been retired twice. The same could be done for 1.

A couple of NHL firsts for a goaltender included Vézina being the first to register a shutout, blanking the Toronto Arenas 9-0 on February 18, 1918. Also against the Arenas in December 1918, he became the first goaltender to be credited with a point in an NHL game, an assist on a goal by Newsy Lalonde.

During his career, NHA and NHL seasons ranged from only 16 to 30 games in length, yet Vezina's 328 regular season games put him 5th all-time for the Habs, behind Plante, Roy, Dryden and Durnan.

His 23 playoff and challenge game wins rank him 6th on the Habs all-time postseason win list, even though he only had the privilege of playing in 39 career postseason games. Those 39 games tie him for 5th on the team; only Roy, Dryden, Plante and Durnan having played more.

For an idea of  how prevalent goal-scoring was at the time that Vezina played, in 1918-19 he set the season record for the fewest number of shutouts needed to lead the NHL in that category with 1.

His lifetime regular season goals-against average is 3.42, a feat considering that much of his career was played at a time when goalies would be penalized for leaving their feet to make a save. And he improved with age; after the rule change in 1918 that allowed goalies to leave their feet, he further refined his craft and lowered his goals-against average in each of his last 5 seasons. His average of 1.97 goals per game in 1923-24 was the first time that a goaltender had averaged fewer than two goals against per game. And the following year, he lowered that mark in his final season by dropping the number to just 1.81... at the age of 39.

His GAA in his last 3 playoff appearances (6 games, 7 goals against) was a mere 1.16.

Six times in his career, Vézina had the lowest goals-against average in the league,. Had it been around, he would have won his own trophy that number of times. In addition, he had the second-best average another six times.

A list of some of Vezina's accomplishments: 

 1910-11   Led NHA in GAA (3.80), fewest goals against (62), tied for most games played (16) 

1911-12    Led NHA in GAA (3.57), fewest goals against (66), tied for most games played (18)
1912-13    Tied for most games played (20) and shutouts (1) 

1913-14    Led NHA in GAA (3.23). Tied for most wins (13), games played (20), shutouts (1) 

1914-15    Tied for most games played (20), second in GAA (3.88) 

1915-16    Stanley Cup champion, Led NHA in wins (16) playoff wins (3), tied for most games played (24) 

1916-17    Led NHA in games played (20) 

1917-18    Led NHL in wins (12), GAA (3.93), tied shutouts (1) 

1918-19    Tied for NHL lead in games played (18),  Led NHL in playoffs games played (10), playoff wins (6), playoff shutouts (1) and playoff GAA (3.60)  

1919-20    Tied for NHL lead in games played (24)   

1920-21    Tied for NHL lead in games played (24) 

1921-22    Tied for NHL lead in games played (24) 

1922-23    Tied for NHL lead in games played (24) 

1923-24    Stanley Cup champion; Tied for NHL lead in games played (24), shutouts (3) and led in GAA (1.97), playoff games (6), playoff wins (6), playoff shutouts (2), and playoff GAA (1.00) 

1924-25    Tied for NHL lead in games played (30), playoff wins (3); led with fewest goals against (56), GAA (1.81), playoff games played (6) and playoff shutouts (1)

As it stands, the first four decades of Canadiens history is underrepresented in the list of retired numbers, though era alone shouldn't be a determining factor in if a player should receive the team's highest honour. But if it wasn't for the stellar careers of players like Georges Vezina, the team may not have survived through the 1930's; there's every possibility that there may not have been a CH for the Richards, Beliveau, Plante, Dryden or Roy to wear. For that, I can think of no better reason for the Habs to rightfully raise the Chicoutimi Cucumber's #1 to the rafters.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Yeah... but was it legal?

It was one of those nights for the Habs.

Not only did they spend a good part of the night beating themselves, but they were also the victim of a Steven Stamkos penalty shot. And not just any old penalty shot, but one of those schmancy-fancy kinds of penalty shots that the Lightning got all persnippity about when the same thing done to them by one of the Oiler's young hotshots not all that long ago.

To be fair, Centre Hice doesn't have a problem with spin-o-ramas on penalty shots. Or back flips, for that matter. As long as the move doesn't break any of the cardinal sins as laid out in the NHL rule book, it should be fair game. And good goal or not, the Habs didn't play well enough to win. But the Stamkos goal would seem to flaunt the letter of the law on a number of fronts.

In case you haven't seen it, let's go to the video...

And for clarification, here's the paragraph from the NHL rule book dealing with penalty shots. The pertinent bits:

"24.2 Procedure - The Referee shall ask to have announced over the public address system the name of the player designated by him or selected by the team entitled to take the shot (as appropriate). He shall then place the puck on the center face-off spot and the player taking the shot will, on the instruction of the Referee (by blowing his whistle), play the puck from there and shall attempt to score on the goalkeeper. The puck must be kept in motion towards the opponent’s goal line and once it is shot, the play shall be considered complete. No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind (an exception being the puck off the goal post or crossbar, then the goalkeeper and then directly into the goal), and any time the puck crosses the goal line or comes to a complete stop, the shot shall be considered complete.

The spin-o-rama type move where the player completes a 360° turn as he approaches the goal, shall be permitted as this involves continuous motion." 

According to the rules, the Stamkos goal could be questioned on a number of points.

  1. Continuous motion of the player toward the goal--by the NHL's definition, a spin-o-rama move involves the a continuous motion of the player toward the goal, and thus is allowed. However, Stamkos' skates enter the crease, stop, then move back out of the crease, further away from the goal, and thus shouldn't be considered a continuous motion of approaching the goal. 
  2. Motion of the puck--the rules state that if the puck comes to a stop, the shot shall be considered complete. Stamkos stops the puck before propelling it into the net 
  3. Interfering with the goaltender's ability to make a save--Stamkos skated into Price, making contact with his pad while in the crease, thus not allowing him freedom of movement to attempt a save.

Point number three is what bothers me most with the goal. The whole reason that a penalty shot is awarded in the first place is because the shooter is deemed to have not been given a fair shot at scoring on the original attempt; the penalty shot is meant to address this. But it then seems ironic that on the penalty shot a goal can be scored while preventing the goaltender from having a fair shot at making a save. 

Interestingly, concerning penalty shots, the rulebook only covers possible fouls by the goaltender (leaving his crease early, throwing his stick, etc); it doesn't specifically address actions by the shooter which in the normal flow of the game could be considered a penalty. 

In the grand scheme of things, the Stamkos goal had no affect on the outcome of the game; the Canadiens had already self-destructed to the point where, goal or no goal, they weren't going to win. But to cover future instances where a similar play could affect the outcome of a game, shouldn't an addendum to the penalty shot rule, or at the very least a more detailed clarification of the rule be considered?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Time to stop the bleeding

Visual repesentation fo the Habs' recent road trip

Anybody got a tourniquet?

I don't remember much of what I had to learn to get my boy scout first aid badge, but I do remember that to stop the bleeding you've got to elevate the wound. Elevating their game would probably be the best thing that they could do to turn around their recent road trip. 

If the Habs can play the stingy kind of defense in front of Carey Price that gave them their early-season success, they could very well skate out of Tampa Bay with two points. On the season, the Canadiens are third overall in goals against (86), while the Lightning have had troubles keeping the puck out of their own net; they've allowed 120, good for 29th in the league.

The Habs will be down two defensemen for tonight's game with the usually-reliable Josh Gorges joining Andrei Markov on the sidelines as he gives some rest to a nagging injury. The Lighting have fared better in avoiding the injury bug, as 10 of their players have been able to suit up for every game this season; only five Habs (Gill, Spacek, Gionta, Halpern and Lapierre) have perfect attendance.

Oh, and the Canadiens have that pesky Steven Stamkos to worry about. He's already potted 29 goals. Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri lead the Habs with just 12 each.

Defenseman James Wisniewski, aquired a couple of days ago from the Islanders for a couple of contitional draft picks, makes his Hab debut tonight. Hopefully he brought his first-aid kit.

2010-2011 Regular Season, Game 38: Montreal at Tampa Bay

  • Lots of Hab fans in Tampa tonight, as usual. Ex-Hab goalie prospect Cedrick Desjardins gets his first NHL start tonight
  • And lots for them to cheer about right off the bat. Pacioretty cuts in from the left side and centres a pass for Gionta that goes in off the defenseman's skate. Wisniewski, with the assist gets his first point with the team. 1-0 Habs!
  • Wisniewski wearing #20
  • On the powerplay, the new guy clangs one off the post from the point. Hopefully he'll give shooting lessons to Subban
  • 10 minutes in, and the Habs have already taken two minor penalties. My dog has more discipline in front of the food dish
  • Not a fan of watching games form this arena. The rink lighting sucks for TV
  • Boo! They've taken the assist on the goal away from Wisniewski and have given it to Gomez

Well, whattaya know? A good first period from the Habs, which is great, considering that they've yet to win a game when trailing after either the first or second period. Aside from being up by 1 on the scoreboard, the Habs also lead in the faceoff circle 11-9 and on the shot clock 8-6. 

  • Is it wrong for me to hope that it rains in Pittsburgh on New Year's Day? It would serve the NHL right for shoving Crosby and the Penguins down our throats--again--in the Winter Classic game. The forecast? 11 Celsius with rain
  • A too many men penalty isn't a great way to start the period
  • And they take a SECOND too many men penalty to go down by 2 men. The Lightning don't take long to take advantage, Martin St. Louis sniping the goal from the right circle. Tied at 1
  • After a decent first period, the Habs are playing some pretty jittery hockey
  • Huh? A 4-on-1, and Lapierre decides to shoot from the goal line?
  • Strange play... Spacek was going to be called for tripping, but the puck deflects off of the falling player to negate the delayed penalty. 2-1 Tampa.
  • For my money, Pleks is the best player on the team not named Carey Price or Andrei Markov
  • Looked to me like the Habs just got away with what could have been another too many men penalty

Some horrible indiscipline and a bit of bad luck conspired to take the Habs' one-goal lead into a one-goal deficit in the span of 20 minutes. They've yet to come back to win a game this season, so they'll have their hands full... but they've got no one but themselves to blame. Shots were 8-5 for Tampa that period; faceoffs are split down the middle at 15 apiece.

  • Hopefully they have their heads in the game for this period
  • That was pretty weak to award a penalty shot. And Stamkos pulls a move that by the rulebook shouldn't be allowed, but it'll make it onto all of the highlight packages tonight anyway. 3-1 Lightning
  • Spacek pins Price up against the post, allowing Stamkos to circle behind the net and dump it into the yawning cage. 4-1 Lightning. Ugly
  • I've got to look up the penalty shot rules. I don't think that Stamkos' attempt should have been counted, and Price doesn't, either
  • The poor little Hab fan behind the bench looks like he's had his Christmas stolen
  • Price given the rest of the night off as Auld comes in
  • That should do it. Hamrlik with another Hab penalty, their 7th, with under 2 minutes to play

Another horrible road game for the Habs, as Cedrick Desjardins earns his first victory in his first NHL start, though he didn't have to face many quality scoring chances. Final shots were 38-28 for the Habs. Hey, at least the Leafs lost, too.


James Wisneiwski played 21:48 in his debut for the Habs

Where to start? The Canadiens' road trip from hell continues with another loss, this time by a 4-1 margin to the Lightning. Discipline--or rather, the lack of it--cost the Habs big time as the took another seven penalties, which Tampa Bay used to blow the game open.

A too many men penalty is the sign of a team whose heads aren't collectively into the game, and usually serves as a wakeup call to get their acts together. That wasn't the case tonight for the Habs, who while they were killing off that penalty apparently forgot that they were supposed to be playing shorthanded and got caught for ANOTHER too many men penalty. Down by two men, they gave up the first of four unanswered goals and after that point were never really in the game.

Florida tomorrow night. Will it be more of the same?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's kind of like taking a knife to a gun fight

Not to be confused with the Habs' offence

David got it done with his slingshot; maybe the Habs could sign him to play on the second line. 

Then again, if he were wearing a Canadiens uniform I'm not sure that even the accuracy of his shot could help him slay Goliath... or the Flyers... or the Capitals... or even the Leafs. 

To put it simply, if the Habs don't score, then they don't win. To anyone who's familiar with the game of hockey, that seems like an obvious enough statement. But the Habs have taken the art of turning weak offensive outputs into losses to another level. To this point in the season (after 37 games) the Habs have suffered fifteen regulation-time losses, games where they don't earn a point in the standings. The offensive output in those losses are as follows:

2 goals, October 7 vs. Toronto
0 goals, October 21 vs. New Jersey
1 goal, October 30 vs. Florida
0 goals, November 2 vs. Columbus
2 goals, November 6 vs. Ottawa
0 goals, November 18 vs. Nashville
2 goals, November 22 vs. Philadelphia
0 goals, November 26 vs. Atlanta
2 goals, December 10 vs. Detroit
1 goal, December 11 vs. Toronto
3 goals, December 15 vs. Philadelphia
2 goals, December 19 vs. Colorado
2 goals, December 21 vs. Dallas
1 goals, December 26 vs. New York Islanders
0 goals, December 28 vs. Washington

Add it up, and in 15 regulation-time losses they have scored a paltry total of 18 goals... or a less-than-scintillating clip of 1.2 goals per game. Contrast that with the average of 3.45 goals per game that they've scored in their 20 wins.

Being shutout 5 times is bad enough, but toss in three 1-goal performances, and there's 8 games where Montreal goaltending would have had to have shutout the opposition to even have a hope of earning a point in those games.

The good news: only once has the team lost in regulation when scoring more than 2 goals. 

Even with a less-than stellar defensive effort in front of him on many nights, Carey Price's goals-against average is a very good 2.27, which means that  they're getting the kind of steady goaltending, game in and game out, that they need to have a chance to win. The guys between the pipes have been saving their bacon, as 12 of their 20 wins has seen the team has score 3 or fewer goals.  

Unfortunately, the trend is that this team's offense leans towards all-or-nothing, needing to pump three past the opposition's goaltender to keep from losing. They're not getting blown-out, but they're not winning games that , even if they were to muster a mediocre offense, they should be winning.

1.2 isn't going to cut it.