Caps Visit; The Rookie Scores Twice

Yes, Chris Higgins provided all the offense (two goals) for the Habs in regulation time. What, were you expecting goals from some other rookie? Not seen on the highlight reels: Higgins' Selke-worthy takeaway from that other rookie a mere 10 seconds prior to Koivu's OT winner. Final score: 3-2.

All three teams that were tied for 6th in the East anted up as Tampa took out the Thrash and the Devils downed Buffalo. Unfortunately, the tiebreakers do not favour the Habs. Tampa has the edge in wins, and NJ has a 2-0 lead in the season series. Montreal's goal differential is also the worst of the three. A series versus Carolina or Ottawa looks probable, but 6th place and a date with the Rangers/Flyers would be oh so niiiiiiiiice.

From Gibson's
Weekend Hockey Report:

"...we could see Montreal play Ottawa and Jersey take on the Rangers in round one. If that were to happen, those series would be wars and there might not be anything left of the winner when all was said and done."

I'm not sure whether Gibson is dishing out respect for the Habs, or disrespect for the Sens. Since he's based in T-dot, I would tend to think the latter. Personally, I don't see a Habs-Sens series turning into a 'war.' Les boys would do well to stretch it to six games. With a couple of games versus Ottawa remaining, we might get a playoff preview.


Pet peeve/Grammar Nazi rant OTD: In interviews, NHL coaches/GMs have taken to asking themselves questions then answering them immediately. Do I hate self questioning? You bet I do! Does it piss me off? It sure does! Is there anything I can do about it? Bitch about it here, I suppose.


A Mediocre Post

Stupid interweb was broken yesterday. How the hell am I supposed to slack off at work without my interweb?? Frig. As if work didn't interfere enough with my blogging already. So, to catch up on this week's news...

On Sunday, the Habs finally got the Crosby Monkey off their backs and avoided a season sweep at the hands (flippers? Water wings??) of the Penguins. That gave them four wins in their nasty five 5-games-in-7-days stretch. Not bad.

Kevin Gibson's Monday Hockey Report:
"With [Humpty Dumpty] being sold, my favourite snacking past time is coming to an end, I'm going to have to retire from potato chip eating. Which is a shame because I'm in my prime."

I love this guy's columns. It's like some internet backwater where he can say whatever he wants because no one is paying attention. Kinda like Sisu Hockey.

On Tuesday: Huet says, "Satan, get thee out!"

Wednesday: Get ready to roll your eyes at Bucci's latest.

Is there anything more mainstream than saying, "Man, I'm so totally NOT mainstream!" Gimme a friggin' break. You work for ESPN. The letters from readers section is better than usual, where there is some discussion on hockey parenting. He offers up this interesting tidbit:
"Ed Jovanovski did not start playing hockey until he was 11."

Today (Thursday): Hockeydirt celebrates the Habs' season saviour. Nice.


"...if I could be any NHL player, I'd want to be Alexander Ovechkin. Young, a hot-shot, talented, and with a hoard of delirious male groupies falling in my path, offering to copulate my passes. That would be the life."
Sorry, I just can't think of a comment. No comment would do it justice.

Pet peeve/Grammar Nazi rant OTD: The Chicago Blackhawks are not mired in mediocrity. Mediocre implies average or middling. In the NHL, that's playoff calibre. The Blackhawks are mired in craptitude, not mediocrity.


Go and boil your bottoms!

You sons of silly persons! You don't frighten us, English pig dogs! I fart in your general direction! JFJ is a hamster and Pat Quinn smells of elderberries! Now go away before I taunt you a second time!

[Update: Jeez, I only just read Tom Benjamin's Python taunts from a post a couple of days ago. Great minds think alike?]

Just like Thursday night, the match started out with the requisite tone-setting minor penalties. This time, however, the Leafs capitalized. Luckily for the Habs it turned out not to be a special teams game, and Montreal received some beneficial officiating for a change. After a couple of travesties in Toronto earlier this season, they were due for some zebra love. Also, the Leafs' blueline was wafer-thin even before Khavanov left the game with a broken bone in his foot. They were exposed again in the chippiest Habs game of the year.

In quick n' dirty point form:

- A pumped up Kovalev just what the Habs need! With three minutes left, so the story goes, Tucker attempted a cheap shot at Kovy. In response, Kovy took the puck, circled around the Leafs' zone, deliberately went toward Tucker and dropped him with a
flying elbow to the yapper (Kudos to Kukla's). It is damn rare you see the puckhandler goon someone - how Kewl is that?

Here's a T.O. writer's perspective on Kovalev-Tucker. Here's Jack Todd's POV.

"Bring back Harold Ballard," cracks my protégé, Red Fisher. "At least he was fun."
- All Hell broke loose, predictably, just prior to the 5-minute mark of the 3rd. There was an OK tilt between Dandenault and Allison. Not sure why Allison would risk an injury this way - it isn't easy to putt with swollen knuckles. Downie and Richardson squared off in a lacklustre affair with no real punches thrown. Did anyone else notice that Downie was wearing a wristwatch??? Maybe he uses it to track his icetime - all eight seconds of it per period.

- The aforemantioned fireworks have been attributed to Rivet's actions with Sundin. Mats was inordinately bitchy in these two games. Surely, even Tie Domi can understand that if Sundin is going to get chippy with Rivet, Craig is going to retaliate with vigour. I'm in agreement with Don Cherry in these matters: if a superstar wants to act like Matt Barnaby, he has to be willing to accept the consequences.

- Bonk Bonk! The slothful one completed the 'Radek Bonk' Hat Trick (3 goals on the season) in the first period! Then Bonkie proceeded to *double* his season total just five minutes later with a shot Tellqvist should have stopped.

- Koivu has been stone cold lately. Must have swapped brains with Bonk.

- Again with playing Markov in the 3rd period of a blowout, Gainey?! Let the guy rest his back!

- On the down side, the Leafs finally scored an even strength goal - their first since March 14.

- Jan Bulis, one of my favourites, was a healthy scratch for the last two games. Not sure why - perhaps Gainey is frustrated with the lack of offense? Perhaps he wanted to dress some thugs? Little bit of both?

Now, on to Pittsburgh where our boys will try to avoid a four game sweep of the season series with the Pens. Yes, you read that correctly. If that wasn't embarrassing enough, I think they'll have a tough time. This will be their 5th game in 7 days, and there could be an emotional letdown after an intense pair of games with the Leafs.


Time for a tangent. Everyone lambastes the Leafs for being old and overpaid. Ya know, that's what happens after half a dozen years of mortgaging the future and buying at the trade deadline. The heat the Leafs are getting from the press and fans these days pales in comparison to the heat JFJ and previous GMs would have taken had they not bulked up for playoff runs in those years. Dryden had no choice - with an aging roster, they had to go for broke. It was a gamble, they lost, c'est la vie.


Bob Gainey signed Kyle Chipchura to a three year deal. He will report to Hamilton.


Hockey Team 5, Power Play 1

Throughout the game, the story was how the Leafs' power play was so effective while the rest of the team's game was... somewhat less than effective. Dave Hodge had his say here. It was the theme all night on the TSN broadcast. This is old news for Habs fans, as it has been the theme all season in Leafs-Habs matches. When T-dot has their PP going, they are dynamite. When their opposition stays out of the box, it can get fugly. Last night was not a special teams game. Aside from the requisite tone-setting minors early it was relatively PP-free, with predictable results. Red Fisher's recap is here.

I think Pat Quinn did the best he could to cope with the new NHL, in which two things have had an enhanced value: skating and special teams. Since Leafs can't skate, he took a collection of sour old lemons (is there a sourer lemon than Jason Allison?) and made tangy 5 on 4 lemonade. Unfortunately, when Kaberle and McCabe are sucking wind after playing two full minutes with the man advantage, the soft underbelly of the Blue&White is exposed. That soft underbelly is Berg, Belak, and now Richardson. All game long, the Habs capitalized on the deadwood (Suglobov is Russian for 'deadwood') of the Toronto roster. Well, not quite all game long, because the game was over halfway into the 1st period. But you get my meaning.

Joe Bowen provided an entertaining play-by-play. Bowen is like that Leafs fan buddy of yours. You know the type - fridge full of Molson Canadian, loves the Tragically Hip, and for some unknown reason just can't seem to grasp that no one really gives a shit that it's Todd Gill's birthday today.

Bowen described flagrant interference by Chad Kilger on Mike Komisarek (on which the ref made the correct penalty call) as a dive. I have never, ever seen Komi come close to embellishing anything. Then he described a Darcy Tucker forward triple flip in pike position as a flagrant trip (on which the ref made the correct non-call). Fortunately, the game was out of reach early and viewers were spared further officiating critiques from Bowen.

Also amusing - TSN had trouble with their scoreboard during the play. The score was rapidly changing from [Tor 0 Mtl 3] to [Tor 24 Mtl 0] to [Tor 0 Mtl 8] to [Tor 53 Mtl 0] and so on. It was pretty funny. I know, I know - simple mind, simple pleasures.

Lastly - why the hell were Markov and Rivet killing 3rd period penalties when the score was 5-1??? Gainey dressed 7 defensemen! Let the hurt guys rest!


Yikes. Playoff odds are now 50/50 between Habs and Thrashers, and Atlanta has been trending up since an abysmal start to the season. They are 9-3 since Olympic break...

The most crucial games remaining don't even involve the Habs. Atlanta visits Tampa on the March 30th, April 6th and April 11th. Best case scenario: TB wins all 3 in regulation, since the Bolts have such an easy schedule. We'll have to hope either the Devils falter or the Trash run out of steam.


Most Canadians have probably seen the ads for this geographically challenged title (it was the Soviet Union at the time, not 'Russia') soon to be presented by the CBC.

The show was filmed here in NB, probably because of our decrepit mausoleum-like rinks that resemble Russian architecture from the 60s. There were some celebrity tryouts for roles about a year ago, including Gord Downie who really wanted to be Ken Dryden. Hey - that's two Hip references in one post!

There were sneak preview clips here but it seems they're gone now. A co-worker (see photo at right) of my significant other will be appearing in the film as Phil Esposito's skating double. I don't think I'm breaking any rules by posting the pic, since very similar ones have been printed in the local papers. Also, it is rumoured that this local chap will appear as Ron Ellis' skating double. I'll be watching.


Bad Weekend! Bad!

Didn't see the debacle versus Pittsburgh on Saturday. A keg was involved, and that is all I have to say about that.

The writing muscles are still in a state of recovery, so let's just point out that Montreal has merely a single point in the standings to show for five games against the Penguins and Caps so far this season. That is atrocious, and the road to redemption begins tonight in Washington.


Par for the Course

Top o' the mornin' to ya! Last night Carolina completed their 4-0 sweep of the season series, over which they outscored the Habs 25-9 and won by an average of four goals per game. The 5-1 final was just par for the course. At least Montreal held Kevyn Adams to less than six goals.

In the 13 games that Andrei Markov has missed, the Habs have gone 3-10 and have been outscored 52-26. This guy is the perfect defenseman for the new NHL. He makes the team tick. They need him back pronto, or they will really be aiming for pars this spring.

According to
mc79hockey, Montreal still has a pretty good chance of making the playoffs. Interesting to note that their most likely placement is 6th, which reflects the soft schedule they face for their final 17 games. The 6th seed would be a godsend, given that the 7th and 8th seeds will be facing the Hurricanes and Senators. The 'Canes have owned the Habs this season (see above paragraph). Montreal has played much better against Ottawa, but are still only 2-3-1. Thanks to the new NHL policy of making everyone a winner, the Sens are 4-1-1 vs. the Habs. I'm not sure which is the scarier option:

- facing a team that has blown you out by a combined score of 25-9 in a series of laughers, or
- facing a team against whom you have played about as well as you possibly can, yet who are still walking away with the season series.

Rather than test the Habs resilience against either foe I'd much rather face the New York Rangers or the Flyers of Philadelphia, against whom the Habbies have earned 6 and 7 points respectively out of the possible 8. But first, just make the damn playoffs, boys.


TSN's Down East correspondent Alex J. Walling penned this tribute to Boom Boom Geoffrion and Red Storey.


Presidential? Sweet!

Every winter, you can count on a columnist or two to harp about the unimportance of finishing first overall. Dave Hodge does so is here. A Caustic Matriarch demonstrates disdain for the President's Trophy here.

While ending the regular season in first place is no guarantee of winning the Cup, it is definitely the best place to be to give your team the best chance at winning it. Three times the odds of the next best spot, in fact. Since 1980 (the first season that saw 16 teams in the playoffs), first place finishers have won the Cup 9 times. The only other 'placements' to win it are 2nd through 7th, with an anomalous 10th place winner (the Devils) in the lockout year of 1995. Teams finishing first overall won the Cup 36% of the time. No other seed has a rate higher than 12% (3rd/5th/6th).

Think those numbers are skewed by those early 80s dynasties? You'd think right, but only a little bit. Say the Flames '89 Cup delineated the end of the NHL dynasty. Since then, President's trophy teams have won the Cup 31% of the time, compared to 12.5% for the next best seeds (3rd through 6th). The #1 team is still 2.5 times more likely to meet the president than anyone else.

Another interesting fact: Other than the Devils' lockout-year win in '95, no team outside of the top seven has won the Cup in the era of the 16 team playoff. The top seven teams are currently Detroit, Ottawa, Carolina, Buffalo, Dallas, Calgary and Nashville.


Red Storey passed away yesterday. Here's Red, on Red.


Huet Loses and the News

It was a close one, but the Canadiens
fell 2-1 to the Lightning. Don't worry Cristobal, Habs fans are still happy to be "Stuck With You." That tune takes you back, doesn't it? All the way back to 1986... the year a certain unheralded netminder led Habs to the Stanley Cup...


I had a dream last night that the Habs played the Hurricanes. I was only subliminally aware that the teams would be meeting in Montreal on Thursday. Weird. Anyway, Kevyn (not Craig) Adams netted an eye-popping 6 goals in an 8-2 laugher. Wonder if Kevyn dreams like I do...

There are only two Adamses in the NHL right now and they're both with the 'Canes. What is with the Addams Family concentrating themselves on a single team, anyway? Seems like it was only yesterday I was struggling to differentiate
Greg A. Adams from Greg C. Adams on the Canucks.


There is some great stuff in a new blog called
Vic's Space. For example, this piece is justification for my dislike of Cory Stillman, but is also a crushing blow to my affection for Ryan Smyth.


In Habs Prospect land, Kyle Chipchura's Prince Albert Raiders are not playoff-bound. Kyle could now join the Hamilton Bulldogs, says
this article at Hockeysfuture.com.


Here's an updated picture of the competition for the stretch run:

Both the Islanders and the Leafs have 64 points and 19 games left, but I chose to include only the Buds. Until they are mathematically eliminated, Toronto is the horror movie villain that just won't die.


- Tampa has the easiest schedule, and hosts the Thrashers three times. Worst case scenario: a trio of 3-point games. Best case: the Bolts take all three in regulation.

- The Habs have the 2nd easiest schedule, and have nine games left versus the bottom feeders of the East: Pittsburgh (2), Washington (2), Boston (2) and the Isles (3). Don Cherry espouses a loosey-goosey effect, by which teams in the playoff hunt are often beat by teams that are out of contention and hence have 'nothing to lose.' The skeptic (and Cherry-hater) in me says this effect is imaginary.


Democracy Making Inroads in Blogdom

Have your voice heard in Off Wing Poll #2! Added to the right of the page. When I realized there was no Green Party option, I spoiled my ballot in protest.


Last weekend's mild weather was murder on the backyard rink. Sisu Gardens is now closed for the season. It is a sad, sad day - not quite as sad as the closing of the Montreal Forum ten years ago, beautifully described by Red Fisher here - but sentimental and emotional nonetheless. The legacy of The Gardens will live on through the summer, as pucks scattered over neighbouring backyards are soon to be discovered by unsuspecting lawnmowers.


Check out these excellent posts on trade deadline deals and cost/benefit analyses of team building techniques, courtesy of Tom Benjamin and Mudcrutch respectively. Really, the subject is much more engrossing than how I made it sound.



What a sad turn of events. Bernie 'Boom Boom' Geoffrion
died the very day his number was to be retired by the Montreal Canadiens. It was a shocking departure. Last week he assured fans that he would be attending the ceremony. Mid-week came the announcement that he had stomach cancer. Then this terrible news this morning.

In a demonstration typical of Montreal Canadiens synchronicity, the banner ceremony took place 69 years to the day after the Howie Monenz's casket laid in state at the Montreal Forum. Morenz's daughter, Marlene, would later become Geoffrion's wife.

Boom always played second fiddle to the Rocket in his days with the Habs. He will always be remembered as the second player to score 50 goals, and as the fortunate winner of the
1955 Art Ross trophy. Rest assured, the two are having their rematch for that award right now.


Tonight also marked a contest between the two NHL teams Boom played for - the Habs and Rangers. I caught the game on RDS. My thoughts:

- How the hell did the Rangers get into first place in their division with that collection of defensemen? I mean, they added Sandis Ozolinsh and they're still sub-par. That speaks volumes of the play of Hank Lundqvist this season.

- I don't know a whole lot about how to evaluate a netminder, but how he performs in a 5-on-3 situation should go a long way. Both Huet and Lundqvist were superb on these occasions this evening.

- A Ranger cleared the puck over the glass from his end in the 3rd, which resulted in a 5-on-3 PP and an injured spectator. I have a hard time sympathizing with fans who are hit by pucks. It should be printed on ticket stubs: “To prevent injury, watch the puck at all times.” That’s all you need to do to prevent a trip to outpatients. Maybe I’m just hardcore.

- RDS does so much more with the microphoned game participants than the anglo stations. CBC and TSN have their segments once per period where they play tape of some of the more interesting comments by the “wired” player. RDS did this every commercial break. Bob Gainey was the lucky party tonight. Tonight I learned that NHL coaches don’t say a hell of a lot more than any other hockey coach – “Think fast, move the puck, Jagr’s on the ice, etc.” In fact, Bob sounded a little bit geeky.

[Update] - Don't know how I forgot to mention this last night. Actually, yes I do. Andrei Markov left the game early in the 2nd and did not return. This event shifted the tilt of the ice from pro-Habs to pro-Rangers for the rest of the game. Thanks to the aforementioned audio courtesy of Mr. Gainey, viewers at home learned that the problem was with Markov's back. He has had problems with back spasms all year, so this is probably not a longterm injury. Let's hope, because the Habs do not cope well when he's out of the lineup. And, oh yeah, Habs won 1-0.


CCM is currently running a contest to decide the
nickname of Alex Ovechkin. My prediction: the 'winner' won't stick. Whatever happened to the Booms and Rockets of the NHL? Why can't players gain nicknames without them being so contrived?


Leafs 5, Bolts 1. Karma is now 5-1 vs. Tampa since the Olympic break, after which the Lightning's coach John Tortorella forbade Freddy Modin from celebrating his gold medal with his Swedish teammates. For shame. Fonzie has also been extremely hard on his goaltending tandem lately. I'm not talking about 'calling out' his players in the media - that can be accomplished with some civility. Tortorella has said downright nasty things about Burke and Graeme to members of the press. That's why Karma also holds a 35-15 edge in goals in those six games. The playoffs are looking like a long shot for the atmospheric electrical discharge.


Pierre Lacroix likes Montreal Pig's Ears

Seems like every problem the Canadiens have winds up in Colorado. First there was Roy. Then Brisebois, now Theodore. Next, Gainey should try to pawn off Radek Bonk, the Canadian tax system and the insane obsessed Montreal media to the Avalanche. Let's see Pierre turn those into silk purses.


Last night's 3-0 win in Boston was a bland game until a second period post-whistle scrum. There was a little cheap shot by Boynton that was so ridiculously embellished by Ribeiro that it brought back Bruins' memories of spring '04. Numerous infractions followed. The hockey game had more oomph after that, but it was still apparent this was a contest between a road-weary club playing it's 6th in 10 days and a club demoralized by it's "seller at the trade deadline" status.

Rapidfire thoughts: Tim Thomas was excellent. Huet was good - he didn't have to be great, with the B's pop-gun offense. Zednik is looking snakebitten. Wonder if it was the same snake that got Bonk. Maybe they should invest in a mongoose. At least Zed has started to do more 'little things,' as he threw several hits. The game was yet another contest decided by special teams, which sucks. The Habs garnered 9 out of 12 points on their six game road trip.

"I don't think there's another goalie in the league playing as well as him. If he had played the whole season, he'd be the Vezina Trophy winner." - Sheldon Souray
Think Shelly misses Theo?


this a joke? The headline reads, "Let's mortgage farm for Ovechkin."

Peter Worthington (a pen name?) of the Toronto Sun says, "I'd trade any four or five Leafs for Ovechkin. He's that awesome."

Ya know, this Worthington chap is right! What a discovery! ( that's sarcasm )

He goes on to say, "As for Ovechkin, would the Caps trade him for, say, Sundin and any three others? They'd be crazy not to."

Wow. Just look at what "Sundin and any three others" have done for the Leafs this year, and imagine what they would do for the Caps. Stupidity, thy name is Peter Worthington.


Gainey Unloads Millstone

Well, that was unexpected.

I mean, when was the last time you heard of a player who is out with a long-term injury being traded? Obviously, Pierre Lacroix expects the circa-2002 Theo to re-emerge at some point, either in time for this year's playoffs or next year's. But to rely on Budaj/Kolesnik down the stretch in a tight race? Yeesh, them's balls o' steel.

Here's what Lacroix is thinking: He watched ten Avs take part in the Olympics in Turin. Lacroix is bringing in Theo to provide a convenient source for Propecia, which he will slip into his team's water supply, and voila! No more Avs at the Olympics! Watch for hockey players with hairy backs in Denver.

From the Montreal perspective: In the off-season, Jose Theodore leveraged his 2002 Hart trophy season for an albatross of a contract - $16M over three years. At the time, Gainey's hands were tied - he had to bite the bullet and pay the lad, rather than disgruntle a popular player. Since then, things have gone... poorly. Although Theo is paid Hart-winner bucks, he's been providing minimum-wage performance. That spells doom in a salary capped league. And then there are all the other 'distractions,' documented nicely in this article.

Now, somehow, Bob Gainey has managed to crawl out from under that contract. The icing on the cake is that he managed to bring in an adequate replacement for the stretch drive. Seems Gainey's new plan is to count on Aebischer/Huet/Danis to serve as crease filler until Carey Price is ready. After this season I'm unsure of Aebischer's status - reports are conflicting as to whether he will be a RFA or UFA. Either way, this deal is not bad. Not bad at all.

Who thought the Habs would be heading into the stretch run with a goaltending tandem from France and Switzerland?


Headline: Canadian Crooks honoured by IOC

I told ya the Olympics are corrupt.


This just in: Montreal has acquired Todd Simpson from the Blackhawks for a 6th round draft pick.

The Habs are already a team that often gets into penalty trouble. Simpson will not help in this regard. Fortunately, I expect him to be nothing more than a depth player. He should only see service in case of injury to one of the regulars.


Penalties on Parade

The Battle of Ontario has a game review from the Tronna perspective. It includes a blueprint for Leafs success for the rest of the season.

Note item #3: The officiating must be favorable. Oh, yes, it was indeed favourable last night. This is getting to be a
theme for Habs games in the ACC that are officiated by the pride of Hogtown himself, Dean Warren. This time, Warren's accomplice was Craig Spada of Fort Erie, Ontario.

Despite playing three games in four nights, the Habs carried most of the 5-on-5 play in the first two periods. Of course, there were only 17 seconds of 5-on-5 play in the first two periods. Komisarek's high-stick on Domi early in the 3rd sealed the deal - the Leafs scored twice on the resulting double minor. Oh, and Ponikarovsky's dive and flopping in the 2nd? Magnificent! As beautiful an embellishment as Ribeiro '04.


Bernie 'Boom-Boom' Geoffrion has been
placed on the DL with stomach cancer. He says he'll be able to make it to Montreal on Saturday for his sweater retirement ceremony. Watch for a big game from Saku Koivu.


Ramble On

Caught the game on CJAD radio last night, and it sounded like a thriller. Good to see the team mount a comeback after a mediocre game by Huet, and we can't be disappointed in getting the single point. Francis Bouillon (hand?) and Tomas Plekanec (shoulder) both left the game with injuries, and I haven't run across any news pertaining to their status for tonight.

At the beginning of this road trip (at NYI, Fla, TB, then Phi and Tor back-to-back), getting six points would have been a reasonable goal. With only the Leafs game to go, the Habs have already earned seven points. Al Strachan discusses the trip here.

Let's not congratulate ourselves just yet - if some reports are to be believed, tonight is an opportunity to send Toronto into rebuilding mode. A win would go a long way in bringing out the Leaf Nation's "wait 'til next year" calls a couple of months early; a loss would go a long way in allowing a determined rival get up off the mat. It will be a tall order after a draining OT game in Philly last night. Fatigued as they may be, Montreal has to press and take advantage of the Leafs' depleted blueline.


Also from the Strachan article, Bob Gainey made this comment on Matt Higgins:

"He has talent on top of having discipline," said Gainey of Higgins, the Canadiens' hottest scorer at the moment. "He has a good sense of the game. He can play in all the major situations and in that sense, he reminds me of Lehtinen."

I told ya. He's the Habs' next Selke threat.

Ah, the Leafs. The mere mention of this oddly pluralized word polarizes Canadian hockey fans. The Habs faithful are #1 in statements such as "I don't care if we [win the cup/make the playoffs/trade Theo] as long as we beat the Leafs." With the possible exception of Senators fans, that is. So why do the blue & white invoke such strong emotions? Let's see...
- Darcy Tucker. There was a famous article a few years ago that named the Leafs as the most hated franchise in the NHL - this was at the peak of the Tucker-Corson-Domi-Quinn perfect storm. Corson is now long gone, and Domi and Quinn have mellowed with age.

- Andy Frost. "This... is... overnight." A celebrity PA man? Does anyone else find this pretentious?

- "Thank You Leaf Fans." I can just imagine the exchange last summer, after the ratification of the CBA:

Bettman: "As a nice gesture to our fans, we'd like to paint 'Thank You Fans' on the ice of every venue. Thoughts?"
Bruins GM Mike O'Connell: "Jeez, Gary! Don't you realize that this will cost us several dollars?!? We're not made of money like the Leafs, you know. Friggin Leafs. I bet they'll even paint extra words, just to rub it in."
Trevor Linden: "Extra words? How will this affect my escrow?"

- Leaf Nation. Leaf fans making the pilgrimage to Montreal, and rooting for the blue & white in the Mecca of hockey?? Sacrilege!

- Stormin' Norman Rumack. Says he: "Wendel Clarke literally carried this team on his back!!!" Someone please buy Stormin' Norman a dictionary. Then tell him how to spell 'literally.'

- The CBC. They are supposed to be neutral. Their broadcast schedule and their commentators reveal otherwise. Bob Cole and Harry Neale wear their Toronto Maple Leafs underoos for every game. At least Joe Bowen makes no bones about his fanship.

- Rangers North. Their team-building style consisted of gobbling up every high-priced vet available. Positively Rangers-esque, only it has worked much better. Until now. After picking up O'Neill, Allison and The Big E(rror), you have to wonder if JFJ has changed his office calendar since 1999. Next thing you know, he'll be investing in dot-com start-ups and asking computer salesmen, "Is this tax software Y2K compliant?"

- They're good. Post-Ballard, and especially post-Fletcher's-Gilmour-deal, they've been damned good.

Yes, the reasons are many, and they are varied. But lately, with their struggles, I have had twinges of... What's the opposite of hate? Love? No, not that far from hate. Less hate? Yeah...

Honestly, the Leafy Greens - Kyle Wellwood and Alex Steen - are fun to watch. By the way, I call dibs on the nickname "Leafy Greens." And you must admit, it's fun to watch the Leafs in the playoffs. Who doesn't want to see Leafs-Sens in the first round?

Also, we make fun, but the Leafs players and brass have a tough job. If they displease the media, they are disgraced in the headlines. Of course, if you displease the Montreal media you and your family are disgraced in the media, and reporters will try to find some dirt on your pet dog.
So, to quit rambling, my point is that this Habs fan's hate for the Leafs is abating. I reserve the right to delete this post and never speak of it again if the Leafs win tonight.


On the Silence of the Trade Deadline

I expected more post-Olympic trade action than merely Calgary re-acquiring The Incredible Hulse. Everyone is saying it's due to 1) the earlier deadline and 2) the salary cap tying the hands of some GMs.
I proffer this: it is possible (although remote) that some deals have already been consummated 'in principle,' but the buyers are holding off until latest possible date to mitigate the salary cap effect.

What will happen with the Habs? I have no idea. Nothing major. I suppose some insurance in goal might be useful, but that would have to be a cheap, experienced vet, and I can't think of anyone who fits the bill.

Rumours are only rumours, but the number of times I see Jan Bulis' name pop up in trade rumours/suggestions makes me uncomfortable. Bulis is one of those guys who is more valuable to a team than whatever you could get for him. His strengths are undervalued (in both the trade market and when negotiating salary), but they crucial to winning games.


Can Lightning Strike Thrice?

First Tampa. Now Toronto and Philadelphia?

The big 6-2 win over the Lightning on Saturday night was unlikely. According to Habs Blog:
"The Canadiens won both Florida and Tampa Bay back to back road games for the first time in 18 tries."
Tonight Montreal takes on the Flyers in Philly, who are rumoured to be in an ill temper at les habitants. It seems some Habs took a little too much pleasure in their 5-0 Superbowl Sunday win over the orange & black.

Then, on heels of the Flyer match come the archrival Maple Leafs tomorrow night. Although they've been in a terrible slump, the Leafs played well in a 4-2 loss to Ottawa. Plus they always play the Habs tough. Plus the Habs will be in back-to-back road games while T.O. watches and waits at home. I've had this game circled on my calendar for a month. While a win over the Leafs would go a long way in simultaneously securing that final playoff spot and knocking out their nemesis, the circumstances of the game won't allow me to be the least bit optimistic.

With a pair of tough games like these, it's good that the Habs made hay against the Isles, Panthers and Bolts. If they go 0-for-2, it will be crucial that they don't lose their confidence. This road trip is the final long one for the season, and Montreal's schedule softens up considerably the rest of the way. Things are looking up, but then again, "One never knows, do one."


Jokinen Gets Existential

Pat Hickey discusses Olli Jokinen's contract situation here. Jokinen comments:

"If I were me, I'd sign me to a long-term deal."

Whoa, that's deep.


The Hockeybird is usually gold, but today it's pure platinum. Check it out:

" 'How fat is Ken Hitchcock?' I voted for 'Sci-fi comic fat, with well-formed man-boobs.' Be sure to cast your vote. "


"When Ovechkin wins the Calder over gold-medalist Henrik Lundqvist in a few months, I hope we get treated to highlight footage of his shorthanded goal with five-minutes to play when his team was down by seven goals."


With a couple of road wins earned on the back of a blazing hot Cristobal Huet, the Canadiens finally have a little breathing room in the #8 spot. Sure, the opposition wasn't exactly the Sens and 'Canes, but the way they've been playing on the road this season any wins are cause for optimism. Don't look now, but they're closer to Tampa and Jersey in the standings than they are to Boston/Toronto/Atlanta.

Speaking of Tampa, The Bolts will be Saturday's opposition. I'm not optimistic about this game, given that they were utterly spanked Tuesday night by the Panthers and then had three days off to stew in their own juices. I expect them to be rested, solid, and generally cheesed off which could mean a rough night for les boys. Then again, in the words of the immortal Fats Waller, "One never knows, do one?" A Habs win would put them two points back of Tampa with a game in hand...


Huet the Whooping Cough of Team Partisans

My French is awful. I belong to the generation of Maritimers that just preceded the explosion of French Immersion in school. Oh, sure, I took enough core French to regurgitate the usual lines, "Je m'appele [name]. Il fait beau," but that's about it. Unfortunately, my laziness has allowed me to coast through life just like most other anglos. Native speakers of other languages the world over all bend over backwards to accommodate us. It's sad and embarrassing, really, and there is no good excuse for it.

One day, I will learn French - but first, I must master my mother tongue because, as many readers out there are already aware, my ungood english is bad too, as well.

Anyway, my point is that a good chunk of the coverage on the Habs is in French only - and it is invariably the juicier chunk. I can often get the jist of print articles online, but sometimes I must defer to the mighty Google Translator, often with amusing results. To wit, from RDS:

"Of unknown with whooping-cough

Cristobal Huet is more recognized in Quebec in France. To Grenoble, its birthplace, the guard of the Canadian can saunter in the streets without creating attroupement. In Montreal, the situation is quite different. In the space of a few weeks, Huet became the whooping-cough of the partisans of the team."

Ah, the price of fame. I wonder if CristoWall misses sauntering in the streets.