An Interesting Exercise

Idea courtesy of Jes Gőlbez, here is my team-by-team list of most/least favourite players:

(Most Favourite/Least Favourite)

Anaheim: Scott Niedermayer/Corey Perry
Atlanta: Ron Petrovicky/Patrik Stefan
Boston: the Bridgewater Flash, Glen Murray/Hal Gill, Brian Leetch
Buffalo: Jay McKee/Teppo Numminen
Calgary: Andrew Ference, Iggy/Bryan Marchment
Carolina: Erik Cole/Cory Stillman
Chicago: Adrian Aucoin/Matthew Barnaby
Colorado: Ian Laperriere/Pierre Turgeon
Columbus: Adam Foote/Bryan Berard
Dallas: Brenden Morrow/Mike Modano
Detroit: Jiri Fischer/Mathieu Schneider
Edmonton: Jason Smith/Krys Kolanos
Florida: Martin Gelinas/Jozef Stumpel
Los Angeles: Mattias Norstrom/Sean Avery, Craig Conroy (he drives a Hummer)
Minnesota: Willie Mitchell/Alexandre Daigle
Montreal: Saku Koivu (hon. mention for Begin, Rivet, Bulis)/Mike Ribeiro
Nashville: Daniil Markov/Tomas Vokoun (just for stoning Canada at the WC)
New Jersey: Colin White, John Madden/Paul Martin (F$%&*@! Sponsorship scandal)
New York Isles: Arron Asham/Rick DiPietro
New York Rangers: Steve Rucchin (fellow UWO alum)/Glen Sather
Ottawa: Zdeno Chara/Vaclav Varada
Philadelphia: Peter Forsberg/Derian Hatcher
Phoenix: Mike Ricci/Mike Comrie
Pittsburgh: Mark Recchi/Sergei Gonchar
San Jose: Patrick Marleau/Kyle McLaren
St. Louis: Dean McAmmond/Keith Tkachuk
Tampa Bay: Sean Burke/Dave Andreychuk
Toronto: Alex Steen/Tie Domi
Vancouver: Mattias Ohlund/Anson Carter
Washington: Jeff Halpern/Andrew Cassels

Whew, that's harder than it looks.

Ottawa 4, Montreal 0

It could have been worse. Claude Julien could have let the reins off the forwards instead of having them stay back and support the weakened blueline, like Pat Quinn would have. Keeping the score reasonably close is probably better for team morale.

Even with Alexei Kovalev in the lineup, the Canadiens lack finishing skills. Going 12-3-1 to start the season, this was masked by the fact that they have enough speed and skill to generate enough scoring chances to win. Since then, the Habs have been 2-4-3, and the lack of goal-scoring is glaring. Even without Redden in front of him, Emery had a pretty easy shutout.

Without Kovalev, the Canadiens are basically the same team they were in '03-04 - a tight defensive team with good goaltending that scrapped out marginally more wins than losses. Until the offense snaps out of the current rut, they have to go back to playing that way.


In Ken Dryden's The Game, there is a memorable passage where he describes the chain reaction of events that lead to a goal. On a power play, a harmless pass is deflected which leads a defenseman to think he can intercept it behind the net, which leaves his man open in front. When he fails to reach the puck before his opponent, the pass is made in front and a goal is scored. If the initial pass is not deflected, the goal would not have been scored.

Dryden's point is that goals are rarely the result of a single error or a single superb effort. Typically, a whole lot of the little things add up to produce a goal.

Last night, the Habs had two only left-shooting defensemen in the lineup: Mark Streit and J.P. Cote. That meant Mathieu Dandenault, who shoots right and normally plays that side, was forced to play some shifts on the left side. In the first period, Dandenault had to clear the puck from the defensive zone while under pressure. Because he was on his off side, he had to backhand his clearing attempt which flew over the glass, and the Senators opened the scoring on the ensuing power play. A left-shooting defenseman would have almost certainly would have been able to keep the puck inbounds. If Andrei Markov had not been suspended, Dandenault would not have had to play the wrong side. C'est la vie.


Out of the frying pan...

...and into the Corel Centre.

Turns out I wasn't the only one ticked over the officiating Saturday night.

As indicated in the above linked article, Andrei Markov has indeed been suspended for three games. It's a fact of life: touch an official, get suspended. This was not a bright move by Andrei, with a couple more tough divisional games coming up and the team already shorthanded. Souray and Komisarek will also be out. In fact, this suspension could permanently cost the Habs the services of Ron Hainsey, if he is claimed off re-entry waivers. This is a distinct possibility, as noted by Bob MacKenzie.

With three regular defensemen out of the lineup, this could get ugly tonight in Ottawa. What the hell happened to that great start? Since Kovalev's surgery, the team is 2-4 and the bad news just keeps on coming.


This great line is from Buccigross' latest piece:

"Quenneville has about $10 million-$20 million in the bank and he dresses like a Burger King night-shift manager. You have to respect that. Joel is the kind of guy who would rather smoke a $300 cigar while wearing an $8 tie. Crawford is probably the other way around."

Unfortunately, so is this line:

"I love the Colorado home whites, and if I was a season-ticket holder in Denver, I'd be bummed if I couldn't drink my $12 beer and watch them fly around in those white sweaters."

He's a very entertaining writer, but sometimes I wonder how much of a 'hockey guy' he really is. I mean, "bummed" over the Avs wearing dark sweaters at home?? Come on.

Then there's the usual letter responses where he offers name suggestions for unborn children. Then the usual references to bands that were big on 90's college radio, then something about an otter and chicken parm. Those bits that are getting to be as beaten to death and threadbare as a SNL skit. If we could only merge his writing style with Eric Duhatschek's hockey brain, we'd have the perfect hockey writer.

Looks like I spoke too soon. Because of injuries/absences on the Habs' blueline, Ron Hainsey is now a Columbus Bluejacket for half price. The Habs will be facing the Sens tonight with three NHL defensemen, one AHL defenseman, and Mark Streit. Beautiful. Doug Maclean better hope he doesn't get into similar injury trouble, or at least hope Bob Gainey isn't as spiteful as I am.


Ho hum

Another Saturday night, another game the Leafs manage to swipe from the Habs despite being outplayed. Toronto 4, Montreal 3 in OT.

Both teams came out tepid in the first, the Habs moreso, and they handed the Leafs a 2-0 lead. After that the Habs carried most of the play although the game remained pretty slow and dull until the last half of the third. That's when the skating started, and accordingly Montreal really took the play to the boys in blue.

The big story was Rivet's minor for tripping Antropov at the end of regulation time, giving the Leafs a 4 on 3 to start OT - almost a sure goal. It wasn't so much the chintzy call or it's timing that bothered me. It was the number of non-calls, especially in the preceding ten minutes - McCabe holding up forecheckers, Lindros' love taps on the gloves of Koivu, and so on. That, along with a disallowed goal by Markov for "contact with the goalie" although he was tripped up by Kronwall and slid into Belfour after the puck was in the net. And three minors drawn by Tie Domi, which with the benefit of slow-motion replay were blatant and obvious dives. And the minor given to Steve Begin called "hooking" when he shouldered Jeff O'Neill off the puck.

Basically the officiating by Kevin Pollock of Kincardine, Ontario and Dean Warren of Toronto, Ontario was a joke. It was so bad even Don Cherry took pity on Julien's lads, and the obsessively neutral Ron Maclean described several penalties against the Habs as "cheap." It was the most one-sided ref job I've seen since the 2002 Olympic Women's gold medal game in Salt Lake City. Watching a debacle like this makes me want to get off the couch and head to the rink to watch our local high school or junior A team play.

I hate to bitch about the refs because it sounds like sour grapes. But these Saturday night Montreal-Toronto games are a big deal. The rest of the country - the casual fans - have to learn that the Canadiens are the better team, the more fun to watch, and have a brighter future. If they don't, the Leafs will keep getting the better ratings and I'll be condemned to receive a steady diet of Toronto Maple Leafs every Saturday night with the accompanying Bob Cole, Harry Neale and Don Cherry on HNIC until the end of time. And nobody wants that.


Why doesn't he go by 'Richard'??

WADA president Dick Pound (now there's a porn star name if I've ever heard one) suspects as many as one-third of NHL players use performance enhancing substances.

NHL Deputy commish Bill Daly responded to Pound's comments as follows:

"I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Pound's comments have absolutely no basis in fact. I find it troubling, to say the least, that he would find it necessary to comment on something he has absolutely no knowledge of.
Perhaps Mr. Pound would be better served to limit his comments to topics as to which he has knowledge, instead of speculating on matters as to which he has none."

It's not the first time.

In the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics Becky Scott, North America's first ever medallist in cross-country skiing, asserted that doping was rampant and her sport needed to be cleaned up. Pound, an Olympic bigwig at the time, basically said Scott didn't know what she was talking about and that she should stick to skiing. Since then, Scott's bronze medal was upgraded to silver, and then gold as the two competitors ahead of her at the 5k pursuit event were revealed to be dopers. I don't recall reading about an apology by Pound to Scott after she was proven to be right.

Despite making many ignorant remarks and being an all-around dork, Pound somehow keeps getting appointed to prestigious positions. Here's hoping this greasy lawyer gets out of sport altogether, grows himself a handlebar mustache and takes up a career in the field he was named to be in.


Double Standard?

With Don Van Massenhoven's nasty facial injury, why aren't we clamouring to make visors mandatory for the officials?

Just wondering.


The Jiri Fischer scare

What happened to Jiri Fischer is something that seems to be on the rise - top athletes who appear to be healthy as a horse passing out due to a heart problem, sometimes even dropping dead. When they push their bodies to the limits of exertion, it unearths these usually insignificant heart problems. I'm just thankful that Fischer is OK today.

This isn't just a problem for the pros. I'm sure everyone can think of a local athlete who suddenly and shockingly died while playing a sport. It happened to my neighbour and former gym teacher at an old timer's hockey game a few years ago. At the time, the idea of having a defibrillator in every rink appeared to be taking hold. I'm not sure why that movement lost it's momentum.

ESPN whipped up this list of other scary events at NHL games. The trio of recent injuries to Montreal Canadiens - Brian Savage, Trent McCleary, and Donald Audette - brought back memories of some terrible seasons. The Habs have some injuries now, but nothing compared to those years.

Lastly, regarding the postponement of the Wings-Preds game last night: It's nice to think it was out of respect for the fallen player, but I have my doubts. Games have continued under similar circumstances, including those that made ESPN's 'scary' list. For game officials, the worrisome part of the Fischer incident was the unknown. If a player sustains a neck injury hitting the boards or suffers a severe laceration, his medical situation may be dire but the cause is obvious. Sometimes terrible things happen in hockey games, but the game usually goes on. With Fischer, no one knew what happened at the time. It may have even been something done by a crazy fan, a la Monica Seles. The game was wisely postponed because of the chance, small as it may be, that it was something potentially harmful to other players or even fans.


What a stinker

Jeez... Tonight, more than one member of the Montreal Canadiens took a look at the roster of the visiting Washington Capitals and thought to themselves, "cakewalk." The Caps out-hustled, out-muscled and out-finished the Habs. By the time les boys realized what hit them, the home crowd was already restless and they were in a three goal hole. They never recovered (for a change) and Washington stomped to a 5-1 win without a significant contribution from wunderkind Alexander Ovechkin.

To be fair, the Habs owned the play in the second and third but Kolzig looked strong and managed to get hit in the crest of his sweater by most shots. The performance of Danis and Theo was sub-par. Offensively, defensively and in the nets, Montreal lacked confidence.

Twenty-one games into the season, this was the first time this year that the Habs were significantly outplayed by a lesser opponent. Hey, it happens to every team once in awhile. Let's just hope a lesson has been learned.


Quarter pole awards

Biggest hit

Ovechkin on Colin White

There may have been bigger hits, but none by such a talented rookie on such a tough defenseman. Check out the movie

Worst TV Studio 'Personalities'

"Nhl on the fly," Bill Berg, Dave Reid

Wow, are these guys dull. Who knew their clutch & grab skills would translate so well to slowing down hockey broadcasts. Are they only on TV for name recognition among Leaf fans?

Best Puckhandler with one Hand on the stick

Erik Cole

He must have forearms like Popeye.

Most frequently striking the "I didn't do it!" pose

Bryan McCabe

You know the look. We're seeing it a lot this year. It's like the Karate Kid pose, except with both feet on the ground. A defender checking his man just starts to cross the line from "good, hard defense" to hooking or holding when his opponent falls. It may or may not have been a dive. The defender holds his arms and stick in the air innocently, as if to say to the ref, "I didn't hook/hold him! How could I with my arms and stick so far away from him!"

Goalie Allowing the Most Highlight Reel Game Winning Goals

Jose Theodore

Jason Spezza's OT winner and Sid Crosby's shootout winner will make the "Plays of the Year" reels.

Rosiest cheeks in the NHL

Ruslan Fedotenko

He's straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Best name for a goalie

Mike Wall

I can't decide whether Steve Passmore has a good or bad goalie name. Do more pucks pass Steve? Or do his opponents shoot less and pass more?

Most Shocking Plus/Minus Stats

Dany Heatley, +20
Scott Hannan, -12

Heatley is on pace for +96 on the season.
Defensive stalwart Scott Hannan is currently tied for 696th and dead last in the NHL.

Time for a tangent. The nhl.com stats are amazing. I have wasted away so many lunch hours there.
Habs fans can now justify their favourite players statistically: Steve Begin is leading the league with 59 hits, and Andrei Markov is #2 in takeaways with 25 (Modano and Rob Blake have 26).
Need to know the highest-scoring Brazilian-born player? Robyn Regehr, 2 pts.
Say your hockey pool rewards goals and assists, but PENALIZES power play points - pick up Jamal Mayers - 6g, 2a, 0 PP points.

The 2,795th stat reflecting higher scoring this season:

53 players are on a point-per-game pace.

In '03-04 there were 12, three of whom only played half the season (Palffy, Forsberg, and Marc Savard)

Most lethal shootout team

The Dallas Stars

4 goals in 4 attempts, no goals against in 4 attempts.

Player in TSN's database whose photo looks most like he's straining on the toilet

Wade Belak

And finally, not to pick on everyone's favourite albino sasquatch, Wade Belak is also winner of the Most Curious Injury award.


I Want To Believe...

...that Alexei Kovalev will only miss one month. Now it seems that may be optimistic. After surgery, the Canadiens' team doctor David "Fox" Mulder said this:

"It's not as bad as it might have been," Mulder said, "but it's not as bad as it could have been, either. He'll probably be out four to eight weeks. I would say mid-December would be very hopeful. Six weeks is a good estimate."

Not as bad as it might have been, but not as bad as it could have been either??? Is it four, six or eight?? The truth is out there...


With injuries to Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik, and Radek Bonk, the Canadiens' depth has already been put to the test this season. Steve Begin, Alex Perezhogin, Tomas Plekanec and Chris Higgins have filled in admirably. Now, we'll find out what happens to the Habs without their most talented forward since Guy Lafleur.

I agree with Red Fisher that Koivu, not Kovalev, is the team's best and most important player. However, Kovalev will be harder to replace. If Koivu were out for an extended period (as has been known to happen from time to time), an amalgamation of Higgins, Bonk, Ribeiro and Begin etc. could form a reasonable hand-drawn facsimile of their captain if they all pick up their games a little. There is no player in the organization that comes close to Kovalev's skill. No one can handle the puck or run the power play like he can. I think we'll see the top line and top PP unit change their tactics. A little less puck control, a little more dump & chase. Less tic-tac-toe, more shoot and drive to the net.

Losing Kovalev shouldn't be catastrophic. That is, unless Koivu's increased exposure leads to an injury. How does a #1 line centred by Mike Ribeiro sound? Yikes. On the upside, Perezhogin will be getting plenty of icetime which can only be good for his development.


Bad News

Alexei "Call Me Alex" Kovalev will be out for about a month while recuperating from knee surgery that is being described as 'routine maintenance.' Kovalev tore an ACL early in his career, and had arthroscopic surgery similar to this in 2001. This could mean a return to the top line for Alex Perezhogin.


There are a couple of new Q&A articles at canadiens.com to commemorate #12. Twelve questions were posed each to Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer.

The Roadrunner, on Leafs Fans:
"Even to this day, Toronto fans are just too much. I’m telling you, the Maple Leafs must lead the league in Stanley Cups won before the season even starts!"

Both players have glowing reviews of the new NHL game.
"I think it’s fantastic. It’s added so much life to the game. It’s great for not only the fans, but for the players too. You can see on their faces that everyone is energized and it really shows on the ice. I mean it’s end-to-end action, you’d think it was the playoffs even though it's only November."

"It’s just terrific. To be brutally honest, I had trouble sitting though three whole periods in recent years, but now when the games are over, I wish there was a fourth period. You already see a change happening where if you can’t skate, you won’t be able to keep up and you won’t be in the NHL for long. That’s how it should be."

Personally, I hold these players' opinions in higher regard than that of Tiger Williams or other curmudgeons who weren't talented enough to score.


Finally, original material like this is why I read hockey blogs.


Sometimes, the bounces go the other way

After ringing up a 12-3-2 record largely on the back of one-goal wins and third period comebacks, you can't complain when the bounces go the other way for a change. But WHY does it have to happen when they play the Leafs??

5-4 overtime win for Toronto was a good game. The Buds lost 5-2 last night in Buffalo, so it's no surprise the Habs spanked them all over the ice for the bulk of the game. The Leafs looked old, slow and possibly concussed.

It started out with the usual CBC-Belfour love-fest, as the Eagle looked like a wall in stopping 18 Montreal shots in the 1st. After that, Eddie looked as average as Theo for the rest of the night. As usual, the Habs spotted the opposition a couple before they finally reaped the rewards of their up-tempo game. They were up 4-3 in the 3rd and it was beginning to look like another just another late comeback victory, when the Leafs scored what Bob Cole described as a "fortunate goal." I would have described it as "unfortunate." Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe I guess. Rivet tried to clear the puck along the boards from behind the net, and it bounced up, over the net, onto Theo's back and over the goal line for Jason Allison's first even strength goal of the year. That set the table for a Cherry-esque too many men on the ice call in overtime, and Jeff O'Neill's subsequent game winner.

It sucks to lose to the Leafs at home on a Saturday night, but there are a lot of good things the Canadiens can take away from this game. They outplayed Toronto by a good margin. Last time we had an NHL season, and for many seasons previous, a visit from the Leafs led us Habs fans to expect a loss. Tonight I was expecting a win. It appears the Montreal Canadiens were expecting the same.

~ ~ ~

I don't know what expectations the Toronto Maple Leafs organization have for themselves this year. I get the feeling that JFJ doesn't really know what to expect either. With his hands tied by the team's existing contracts and the new cap, he made the only moves he could in an attempt to improve the team. Adding three players reported to be dressing room cancers was a risk he had to take. Seems Allison has already questioned his icetime in the media. The Leafs haven't imploded yet. If they keep playing like they have in their last two games, they will.

~ ~ ~

Montreal might not be leading the league in bench minors for too many men, but it sure seems like it. I think they're leading the league in minors for skaters clearing the puck over the glass. Streit was penalized for it tonight. It's a little ironic that the Habs were charged with "delay of game" when they were flying and pressing to keep the pace high all night.

I don't like this new rule. Several years ago, a few goalies started shooting the puck over the glass intentionally to relieve pressure. So what did the league do? What it usually does - changes the rules. A rule was introduced to penalize goalies for doing this, whether intentional or not. Then the goalies lobbied that the rule is unfair because skaters were not penalized for doing the same thing (never mind that there are many things skaters can do that goalies can't and vice versa - freezing the puck for instance). Sensing the injustice, but not willing to admit they were wrong and scrap the rule or leave it to the discretion of the refs, the league added the same rule for skaters this year.

I expect the goalies to start to lobby against their new "no fly" zones. (Why do commentators call them "no fly" zones, anyway?? Goalies don't fly.) Then the league will have to apply the same rule to skaters. Many shifts will end in a stalemate when the puck lands in one of the corners because no one can touch it, just like when the puck ends up in one of those dead spots in a game of table hockey. The ref will have to kick it to one of the defensemen.

~ ~ ~

Jeez, Ottawa has thumped Buffalo 16-5 in their
last two match-ups. I guess the Sens are mightier than the Swords.


The Crosby Show

Lots of people are outraged that Ovechkin won the rookie of the month award over Crosby. Given their performances in October, I would have to agree that Alex edged Sid and should have won it.

Since then I've seen games featuring both players, including tonight's Habs-Pens contest. In my strictly amateur opinion, Crosby is a far better hockey player. Ovechkin has scored some beauties and I like that he throws the occasional hit, but Crosby does so much more. You sit up and take notice when Ovechkin has the puck. While Crosby can, to a lesser extent, bring you out of your seat, he also does all the little things shift after shift.

On his first shift of the game tonight he blew past Markov, Montreal's best defender, for a scoring chance. In the second period on a delayed penalty call, Markov had possession on the Pens' blueline and Crosby forced him to back off all the way to the Habs zone where he stole the puck. This is the Habs' most mobile and best puckhandling defenseman. Then, of course, he scored a beaut for the only goal in the shootout.

Crosby is only three months removed from this 18th birthday. He's still growing, and he's one of the best players in the league. Ovechkin is nearly two years older, but who is more mature?

As for the game tonight, Habs fans have to be disappointed with the team's performance. Pittsburgh lost 5-0 in Atlanta last night, and Montreal was rested. That became apparent as the game wore on and the Habs grew stronger and the Pens lost their legs, despite Souray and Begin leaving the game. Souray took a shot off the foot, and Begin received a major and game misconduct for a huge hit on Maxime Talbot.

Speaking of that hit, Kerry Fraser botched the call. It was called an elbowing major. If Begin's elbow made contact with Talbot's head, it did so while tucked firmly against Begin's side. The hit was "clean," if dangerous. Talbot was crouched, stretching for the puck with his head down when Begin made contact. I understand the league wanting to crack down on headshots, but this was not a deliberate headshot. It's unfortunate that the boxscores will show Begin being assessed with an "attempt to injure" penalty, because he's not that kind of player.

A few points about the TSN broadcast:

- When listing the lineups, the TSN graphic labels the forward lines as "Scoring Line," "Two-way line," "Checking line" and "Energy line." Alas, if only all the NHL teams would arrange their rosters to fit these nice tidy labels. The Habs' so-called two-way line for the evening was centred by Mike Ribeiro, quite possibly the most one-dimensional player in their regular lineup.

- My girlfriend thinks Pierre McGuire and Gord Miller make quite a funny looking pair. One was "the noisy little bald guy," the other was "the guy who looks like his face is reflected in a spoon."

- If I hear Darren DutchOven say "roof daddy" with his idiotic sportscaster's inflection, I'm going to barf. That catchphrase makes no sense at all! Gah!


Lightning Crashes Bell Centre

It was a vintage 2002 performance by both Theo and his teammates. As usual, Tampa's stars showed up to play in Montreal. Last night Jose snagged their shots like an exotic dancer on Ste. Catherines snags $20 bills. Unfortunately, the rest of the team also played like the rest of the team from 2002. They played rope-a-dope in the 2nd period, standing and watching the Lightning forwards unload shot after shot, not unlike young men standing and watching the exotic dancers on Ste. Catherines. The Habs' D must have just gotten the memo from the League head office - in the *new and improved* NHL, you're not allowed to touch the talent. Much like certain clubs on Ste. Catherines.

After Theo's best performance this year, management wasted no time in demoting Yann Danis to Hamilton, along with his 1.50 GAA and .946 SV%. Apparently Cristobal Huet has recovered from his off-season knee injury.

There is a cute article at hockeysfuture.com about Sergei Kostitsyn and his melancholy search for Russian babes in London, Ontario. There is often confusion around how to anglicize the names of many Russian players when they arrive in North America. It has been particularly bad with the Belarussian Kostitsyn bros. I've seen their name spelled ten ways from Sunday, including Kastitsyn, Kostitsin, Kostytsin, and Kostytsyn. 'Kostitsyn,' as I've spelled it here, appears to be taking the lead.



A look at the good and bad of the Habs' season thus far.

+ Top line
- "#2" line
The trio of Koivu, Kovalev, and Zednik/Perezhogin has been as good as anyone could expect, often dominating games. Koivu in particular has been a whirling dervish on the ice, hearkening back to his early days in Montreal before he became saddled with the 'injury-prone' label. Kovalev has been incredible at times, and he has managed to produce even when having an off-game. For a player of his abilities, he sure seems to miss the net a lot. Perezhogin was the benefactor of playing with these two world-class talents until Zednik recovered from a groin pull. Zednik still appears to be finding his hands, and has not been much of an improvement over Perezhogin.

The consensus second line of Ribeiro, Ryder, Dagenais/Higgins/Other has been poor. Maybe they're thinking they have to play like "#2" in the bathroom sense. Ribeiro has shown flashes of the talent that led the team in scoring in '03-04, but those flashes have only punctuated long stretches of invisibility. Ryder has been better, often carrying this pairing to respectability, but even he does not seem to have the same jump he had two years ago. The less said about Dagenais, the better.

- Injuries
+ Injuries where the team can afford to have them
So far, Zednik, Sundstrom, and Bonk have been felled by groin pulls. Ivanans had some teeth extracted by Zdeno Chara, D.D.S. Ryder missed most of training camp with an ankle sprain, Begin has been ill but has not missed any games, and last night Bulis was lost in the first period with a shoulder injury. The good news is the injuries have been to the forward ranks where the team has depth. The young players, Steve Begin, and Mathieu Dandenault have filled in admirably so far. If the defense were to suffer a few concurrent injuries, the situation would be cause for more concern.

+ Andrei Markov
- Sheldon Souray
There were early rumblings of Norris contention in 03-04 as Sheldon Souray appeared to have put his booming shot and mean streak together into a package resembling a true #1 blueline stud. This season he seems to be lost and lacking confidence. Could be the new interpretation of the rules, could be personal problems, could be he fooled us all last season. After playing in Sweden during the lockout, I was expecting a more well rounded player this year. If there's a single image
capturing Souray's performance this year, it has to be his half-heartedly (half-assedly?) sticking his bum out at Jason Spezza just before "the goal." That behind may stop baywatch babes in their tracks, but it couldn't stop the Spezz dispenser. In basketball, they call that "putting you on a poster."

On the other hand, Andrei Markov has been superb. Every bit of value Souray lost because of the new rules, Markov gained as much or more. Mobility, positioning, good hands and a quick stick make for a top-notch defensive defenseman in the *new and improved* NHL. The enduring image of Markov this season has to be him lifting Jaromir Jagr's stick in the corner, stealing
the puck, then making a crisp pass up ice for a quick transition to offense. That type of play doesn't get as much circulation on highlight reels as does Souray's attempted bum check. The only thing separating Markov from Norris contention right now is points. I get the feeling that the Norris winner this year will go to one of the many "defensemen" in the league who are actually forwards in disguise.

+ Road record
- Home record
6-0-1 on the road, 5-3 at home. A .625 win% at home is nothing to sneeze at, but hey, everything's relative. Some say a better road record than home record is a sign of a young team.

+ Play at even strength
- Play on special teams
The PP and PK have been average. With the team's excellent play at even strength, average special teams should be adequate. However, I am not impressed with the Habs' number of PP opportunities vs. penalty kills. They are even-steven. One would expect a good skating team to draw more penalties than they take, and I can't come up with a good explanation why that's not
the case. If I were conspiratorial in nature, I might suggest that the team's history in ...theatrically attempting to draw penalties (Ribeiro, Kovalev and Markov in particular) might have put them in the ref's bad books.

- Winning one goal games
+ Team's performance in said one-goal games
If a team amasses a good-looking record with a run of close victories, you have to expect that sooner or later their luck will run out and some of those close wins will turn into close losses. The Habs lead the league with a 9 wins in one goal games, and a record of 9-1. The Sharks are second with 7 wins and a record of 7-2. Some say that winning close games is a sign of a good team, that they "find a way to win." Horsefeathers. I am on the side of
Mr. Tom Benamin on this subject.

So, on the flipside, the Canadiens have played well in those games that I have seen. It seems just as likely that the Habs were unlucky in several of those wins, and the opposition was fortunate that they only lost by one. The Habs have outshot the opposition in 11 of 15 games thus far. Also, their 11-3-1 record has not been against the stiffs of the Eastern Conference. Excluding the results of their games vs. Montreal, the combined record of the nine teams Montreal has played so far is 60-40-12. The Habs are 5-2-1 against the Northeast: 2-0 vs. the Sabres and Bruins, 1-1 vs. the Leafs and 0-1-1 vs. the Sens.

+ Yann Danis
- Jose Theopendoor
Theo has not been up to snuff. That they're still winning despite their Hart winner's struggles makes their record even more remarkable. While it is good to see the rookie Danis make the most of his opportunities to play, the Habs are going to need Theo at his best if they want to win a playoff series or two.

+ Kids now
- Kids in the future
The play of Perezhogin, Plekanec, Higgins, Komisarek and Danis has been superb. As a group, they make few rookie mistakes and usually look like composed veterans. The reason should be obvious - compared to the big names of this year's rookie crop, they *are* all veterans. The youngest, Alex Perezhogin, is a full four years older than Sidney Crosby.

These players are not fresh-faced 2005 draftees - they all have a great deal of pro experience, whether it be AHL or one of the European leagues. Though they have been solid, I don't see too much room for improvement in them. Perezhogin looks explosive at times, so he might surprise me as his career progresses. Komisarek, who I thought would be good for 15-20 minutes per game, has been looking stronger and getting more shifts lately, so I guess he may turn into a top-pair guy. Plekanec plays a solid 2-way game. Higgins especially looks like he may be destined to be a defensive specialist. He got plenty of scoring chances last night, but like those do-it-yourself pine furniture kits, he has no finish. None really look like they have all-star abilities, and I see at best #2 line potential in all of them. That does not bode well if there is a long-term injury to one of the top scorers, or for next year when Koivu is eligible to become a - (*gulp*) - UFA. I hope I'm wrong, of course, and all of the kids turn into superstars.

So far this season has been all a Habs fan could hope for. Home ice in the first round sounds more reasonable than it did a
month and a half ago.


Eee Ess Pee Ehn

An entertaining new feature on ESPN's NHL player profiles is a pronunciation key. To wit:

Robitaille = ROH bih tigh
Vyborny = vuh BOHR nee
Olli Jokinen = OH lee YOH kuh nehn
Aki Berg = AK ee BUHRG (I thought that was Finnish for 'pylon')

This must only for European and French Canadian players, right?

Drury = DROO ree
Weinrich = WIGHN rihch
Jassen Cullimore = JAY sihn KUHL ih mohr
McAmmond = muh KAM uhnd

Some are inexplicable:

Foote = FUT
Smyth = SMIHTH
Peca = PEH kuh
Ricci = REE chee
Alyn McCauley = AL ihn muh KAWL ee
Leclair = luh KLAIR
Scatchard = SKATCH uhrd
Rucchin = ROO chihn

And if those aren't funny enough, here are the translations of a few Red Wings:

Lang = LANG
Chelios = CHEHL ee ohz
Mathieu Schneider = Matthew SHNIGH duhr
Woolley = WUL ee
Yzerman = IGH zuhr muhn

I love some of the French Canadian ones:

Martin Lapointe = mahr TAN luh POYNT
Martin Biron = mahr TAI beer AH
Briere = bree YAIR
Phillipe Boucher = fuh LEEP boo SHAY
Begin = bay ZHIHN
Mathieu Dandenault = Matthew DAN duh noh
Lemieux = luh MYOO
Jose Theodore = ZHOH zay THEE uh dohr
Georges Laraque = ZHORZH luh RAHK
Yannic Perreault = YAH nihk puh ROH
Desjardins = day zhar DAI
Simon Gagne = sih MOHN GAHN yay
Tanguay = TAN gay
Cloutier = KLOOT yay
Ian Laperriere = EE uhn luh PAIR ee AIR
Chouinard = shwee NAHRD
Pascal Dupuis = paz KAL doo PWEE

Here's a little quiz for you. Guess the NHL names, then scroll down to see the answers:

1) MAHR tai sai loo EE
2) OH lehg kuh VAH shuh
3) zuh DAY noh CHAIR uh
4) REH kee
5) rih VAY
6) ZIH gee PAHL fee
7) luh KAV ihl yay
9) juh ROHM uh GIHN luh
10) ZHAH suh BAZT yuhn zhee GAIR
11) puh TREEZ BREES bwah
12) OH lahf KOHL zihg
13) kah nah WAHL chuhk
14) NEE duhr MIGH uhr
15) NIH koh ligh HAH bih BOO lihn





1) Martin St. Louis
2) Oleg Kvasha
3) Zdeno Chara
4) Recchi
5) Rivet
6) Ziggy Palffy
7) Lecavalier
8) Yelle
9) Jarome Iginla
10) Jean-Sebastien Giguere
11) Patrice Brisebois
12) Olaf Kolzig
13) Konowalchuk
14) Niedermayer
Alexander Khavanov

Jacques Demers is Illiterate

Jacques Demers has admitted to his biographer that he is functionally illiterate.

Wow. That's ballsy. This is a man who has made it to the pinnacle of his career. His admission should make people realize that illiteracy is not caused by a lack of intelligence. I hope this story gives other illiterate adults the courage to seek help.


Hear, hear

A study suggests that there may be fewer injuries to minor hockey players if bodychecking is introduced earlier.

"If bodychecking produces an initial period of adjustment as the current study suggests, then perhaps it would be better that the adjustment happens while the youngsters are smaller and have less speed."

Opponents to early bodychecking usually have one of two arguments: it diminishes skill development, or it is an injury concern.

I have always felt that injuries will be less likely when bodycheking is introduced earlier. Younger kids are surprisingly durable in collisions with other young kids. Relative to their weight, their bones are stronger than those of adults. Bone (and body) mass increases with the cube of bone diameter, while bone strength increases with the square of bone diameter. A five foot drop is nothing to a mouse, but will break an elephant's legs. A young child is more likely to absorb a ten foot fall without fracture than an adult. Lighter weight and less speed is a good combination when first learning how to throw/absorb a hit.

When introducing bodychecking at older ages, you also have to contend with teenage hormones. There will be kids out there just to throw hits and get away with violence. By making checking part of the sport with younger, more innocent kids, they learn to assimilate it with the rest of the things they love about playing hockey. There will be no sudden orgy of violence at age thirteen, because they already understand that collisions are just another part of the game.

The skill argument is a valid one. It is up to the coaching to develop skills in a practise environment without bodychecking, and of course it is crucial to have sane hockey parents. So many ugly things in hockey could be resolved with good coaching and reasonable parents...