Game 5

Well, this one was similar to game 4 in that the 'Canes came out of the gate fast and the Habs could not recover. Again, with the notes:

- This time the special teams were the difference. Carolina bagged a couple of PP goals and were 2/5. Montreal was 0/5, and it was the ugliest 0/5 I've seen in a long time. The Habs PP was just getting outworked.

- On the flipside, Montreal's PK was typically passive. Cullen's 2nd period goal used a formation that confused Begin and Bonk. Cullen was on the blueline in the middle of the ice with passing options on both boards about ten feet inside the line. Both high PKers committed halfheartedly to Cullen, the shot got through and that was the ball game.

- Especially early on, it seemed like the Habs were losing all the battles. That's another thing Saku always does.

- The officiating in the game, like game 4, was leaning toward the "let 'em play" school. Hrudey said it was the best game of the playoffs, which may or may not be true. I really liked a couple of early TB/Ott games. Plus it's hard to be objective when the Habs are concerned.

- Tuesday, the Habs have to come out flying. The last couple of games, a slow start has been their undoing. With the predictable early 'tone-setting' penalties, it helps to be the team controlling the play in the offensive zone.


Channel flipping

During commercials, I watched the San Jose - Nashville game. Say what you want about the hockey knowledge of Nashville fans, but they know their 5-on-3s. Fans seated behind the Preds' penalty box had a couple of great signs up against the glass:
"Maximum Occupancy: 1"

"No Vacancy!"

This afternoon, I watched the NBC broadcasts. Don't like all the graphics. It's like watching Pop-Up Video. Is that still on?


Other stuff

- Here is a sparkling review of The Rocket.

- Ah, the Buffalo sports bar experience.

- According to the latest print issue of THN, Huet is pronounced Hu-ETT. Almost like (Foster) Hewitt, but with the stress on the 2nd syllable.

- VCOE continues it's hazing of the playoff teams. It's the Habs turn today.

- Dave Stubbs has discovered Brind'amour's weakness:
"It's ice cream. And cookies. And pretty much any other snack food or leftover his three kids leave within his reach... His 205-pound frame forgives his occasional sweet tooth, given his religious devotion to fitness.
"Broccoli is for dinner," he said with a grin. "You don't reach for it late at night as a snack. Hey, with three kids in the house, you can't not eat crap. My next goal is to cut out that vice. My diet can be better."
The buckets of Häagen-Dazs in the visitors' dressing room at the Bell centre Tusday night will be compliments of Sisu Hockey.

Game 4

The mix of nice weather outside and hockey on TV inside has been making it hard to find time for blogging. Game 4 is old news, but I have notes so it's going to be posted.

- Between games 3 and 4, Carolina must have read the book on shutting down Kovalev. They did a bang-up job of smothering him. The guy can stickhandle in a telephone booth, so the 'Canes wisely limited him to less space than a telephone booth. They've adjusted. Now Kovy and the Habs have to adjust their game to match.

- With the Habs coming out tentative and deflated, a couple of players stepped up and stood out: Francis Bouillon and Tomas Plekanec. It must have been contagious, because the team improved drastically after the 1st.

- Anyone out there know which make of stick Sheldon Souray uses? Just so I know which stick to never buy for fear that it snap in two while taping it. I have found pics of him using Louisvilles, but I'd like to be sure before initiating a boycott.

- With the blade of his stick blessed with the blood of a Hero, Justin Williams put on a show. Every game, it's been a different player showing up offensively for that team. That's what they do.

- Huet looked a little shaky. I was going to mention that he looks uncomfortable with the puck down low in his end and that a large portion of goals scored on him were on those types of plays, but Ron MacLean beat me to it. Seems that has been a theme early in the playoffs this year. MacLean's theory is that moving the goal line two feet back is the reason.

- Just because I have failed to mention it already: Cam Ward is playing well.

- After his high stick on Zednik in the 2nd, you could see Bret Hedican turn white. It was a very similar incident to the one on Koivu. Hedican circled and checked to see if Zed was OK - something you don't always see, even with accidental sticks.

- There has been much discussion of high sticks. It's easy to single out Williams, especially after his errant stick on Markov in the 2nd. In fact, it seems everyone now carries their sticks irresponsibly. Despite Red Green imploring everyone to keep their stick on the ice, players hold their sticks way out in front of themselves like a lance when skating and brandish it like a sword in the corners. Ron MacLean and Don Cherry even bantered about it - Cherry said Ron was foolish for playing pick-up without a full mask. I have no idea whether it's due to the facial protection in youth and development leagues or the lightweight sticks or some other reason. I'm loath to suggest another rule, but it might be worthwhile to introduce something to encourage players to keep the blades of their sticks knee-level or lower.

- Never mind all the heart and soul crap. Saku Koivu is a major player and does many important things on the ice, and does them well. The Habs just can't replace those minutes.

- Halfway through the 3rd, after one stillborn breakout after another, I got the feeling they wouldn't tie this one up. And they didn't - final score is 3-2 Carolina.


Hot Topic

The officiating has been the talk of the town. A couple of the less vulgar entries are here and here.

I've been amassing some thoughts lately to put into one monolithic gripe about the officiating. And, speak of the devil, Tom B himself dropped by for a visit.

The way the season was supposed to work goes something like this: 1) There is a firm crackdown early, 2) there are lots o’ penalties, 3) eventually the players 'get it,' 4) the game opens up without the cursed obstruction, and 5) we all get to see the best playoffs since Gretzky was an Oiler. That isn't how it has panned out. The Refs are now deciding playoff games instead of regular season games, and - get this - the penalty rate is even higher in the playoffs than the regular season. Something has gone horribly wrong.

When I watching the games, I'm sick of glancing around my TV screen to see if a ref has a hand in the air every time a player throws a hit, attempts a pokecheck, or even emerges from a corner with the puck. I'm sick of the elevated status of the power play goal in deciding games. I'm especially sick of 5-on-3 goals. If you dislike the shootout because it's of it's disconnect from the actual game winning ability of a team, you must have a similar twinge regarding the PPs.

There is a groundswell of opposition to this standard in the playoffs. The NHL officials webpage is currently down (DOS attacks? Millions of hits by would-be stalkers?). However, there is still a lot of support for the way the refs are 'staying the course.' This poll at THN shows 75% of respondents said the officiating standard is not too strict. So I'm going to take an approach here to help that majority see it my way (without coming across as a curmudgeon, I hope).


In the stats world, when evaluating a test (in this case, a referee's judgment of a penalty) there are two basic types of errors:

False positives: This would be when a penalty is called that should not have been called, i.e. a player falls accidentally and the ref nabs the nearest opponent. Falling for dives would fall under this category. When a penalty is replayed in slow motion, you can usually see a legitimate penalty. For this reason I think this rate is relatively low, although higher than in years past because of the dives.

False negatives: This is when an infraction occurs, but is not penalized. i.e. the officials missed it.
For further background, a 'positive' would be a penalty properly called. A 'negative' would be a non-penalty properly called.

Arguments in favour of the crackdown usually cite the low rate of false positives. The penalties called are usually legit. The player was doing something naughty - he sits in the box.
For me, the kicker is the false negative rate. I don't believe for a second that a game that featured 10 hook/hold/interference penalty calls had only 10 hook/hold/interference incidents.

Watching the game at full speed, it is very difficult to pick false negatives out. The Koivu injury is a prime example. If they can miss that, just imagine how many little things they miss.

The players aren't stupid. No one is going to confuse a jock with a rocket surgeon, but I refuse to believe they're too stupid to know what a hook/hold is, or that they're too dumb to realize that penalties cost their team games. So why do they do it?

The fact that players continue to take penalties tells me that the false negative rate is very high, that they usually get away with it. If they didn't, they would have adjusted by now. Because they get away with so much, the players have to cheat or else be at a competitive disadvantage.

The pro-crackdown observers say they would be better off playing a perfectly clean game. I disagree. If the opposition can get away with 90% of these little infractions, your 'perfectly clean game' will get you run out of the rink.

The result: both teams walk a tightrope, trying to play as competitively as the standard du jour will allow, while the refs penalize what they can catch, trying to prove to everyone they're calling it tight. The result is an unpredictable mess of power plays.

If the crackdown was perfect and every little incident correctly called, the players would have made the adjustment by now. Hell, they would have made it after a handful of games. The fact is, this game is impossible to officiate perfectly. Too many things happen too fast for human beings to observe, analyze and evaluate - especially when those officials are required to skate more than the players. You can't blame the refs. They have an impossible job, and they do it better than anyone else could.


Here's the Oxford dictionary definition of the word "standard," in the context of the NHL's officiating "standard:"

"something used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations."

Clearly, the use of the word, as applied to NHL officiating, is richly slathered with irony.

To start, here's mudcrutch:

"I guess obstruction and interference are ok if they're setting up offensive chances."
Yes! Bingo! There is a different standard, depending on which end of the rink you're in. When you're attacking, you can set picks. When defending, that's called interference. All in the interests of increasing scoring, because scoring is what we tune in to see.

I really think this, along with the icing rule, is causing the game to drift toward a basketball-style half-court game where attackers can handle puck at will until they take a shot. It is becoming increasingly difficult for defenders to legally strip the puck. It seems like we've seen more long possessions in the offensive zone, and not as many odd man rushes as promised. Of course, this is purely subjective (just as subjective as any ref's interference call).

So, will the next stop on the Bettman bus be the introduction of a shot clock? I'm only half joking - you read it here first, folks.

There is also a different standard, depending on who is making the calls. Which brings me to...


Tom B put up a post in February discussing the criteria for defining a sport. Of course, hockey made the grade while things like curling, figure skating, auto racing etc. were debatable.

One of the chief requirements for the 'sport' categorization was clearly defined criteria for determining winners. In the 100m dash, the athlete crossing the finish line first wins. It doesn't get any clearer than that; the 100m dash is a sport. Figure skating, however, relies on the subjectivity of human judges to declare winners. Therefore, it is not a sport. In hockey, the winner is the team with the most points on the scoreboard at the end of the night. Clear-cut, right?

In this year's playoff hockey, 45% of all goals have been scored on the PP. [Update: that 45% includes SHGs. Thanks PSH.] The PPs depend on the subjectivity of human judges. Judges such as Dan "The French Judge" Marouelli. Hmmm.

We're not quite in figure skating or diving territory (yet), but it seems we're firmly into moguls skiing range, where half the evaluation of the athletes depends on their finishing time and the other half depends on the judges' scoring of their 'tricks.' Do we really want to go further down this road?


I must qualify my agreement with Tom B. Unlike Tom, I mostly like what has happened to 5-on-5 hockey. We are getting more back-and-forth games with teams trading rushes and chances. Unfortunately, the 5-on-5 is becoming irrelevant. The PPs decide the game, and the erratic calls decide the PPs.

It's nice to see that I'm in agreement with Scotty Bowman (from Kukla's Korner).

So, what's the answer? I have no idea. Would slowing the game down help? People loved the 80s, with it's out-of-shape players and two-minute shifts. Maybe shorten the benches? I dunno.

I really think a more moderate approach will be seen as the playoffs progress (prime example in CAR-MTL Game 4 tonight), but it's already too late to save round 1 which is invariably the best hockey of the year, every year. And that is unfortunate.


I have notes from Game 4 but I'm sleepy. Maybe tomorrow.


Break up the Oilers Bloggers

These guys have damn near cornered the market on witty, informative reads lately.

Wanna know why
Bob McKenzie isn't a GM? Actually, what I wanna know is how, exactly, this rotund little mullet-clad man got to be the preeminent hockey guru in the country.

What about Kelly Hrudey, the man being groomed to replace the deteriorating Don Cherry? Just
how good a goalie was he, anyway?

Where, exactly, is the
partition between upper- and lower-body?

Remember the Red Mile? It's Edmonton's turn this year,
but first they need a slogan. Watch out - it gets a little 'Blue.' Pun most certainly intended.

I had
one of these lunchbuckets. It always bothered me that the TIE fighter's lasers were staggered. As if the Imperial technicians would have been so slapdash in their calibration!

Speaking of the
Evil Empire...

Série terminée pour Saku

Ya know, people tend to mellow out with age. Now that I'm sprouting the odd grey hair, there are very few things that could cause me to regress into a fit of blind fanboy rage. Losing the captain to an unpunished high stick is one of them. In case you hadn't figured it out, the URL near the top of your screen is a tip o' the hat to the NHL's most inspirational player. It won't be easy, but with a little restraint, we'll keep things civil here today.

If you haven't heard, Saku Koivu is
out indefinitely.

The always level-headed Pat Hickey says
Williams should be suspended. Not gonna happen. In fact, don't even think for a second that the refs might ease up on the Habs to make up for the missed call. If anything, expect more of what we saw late last night (5 straight Carolina PPs, that is) to make it obvious that they're not making even-up calls.

And, of course, the requisite double minor applied to Mike Komisarek in the 3rd period after his stick punctured the parchment-thin lip skin of Cory Stillman (photo at left).

Aside: When was the last time we saw a 5-minute major for high sticking? It used to be a fairly common occurrence. Now that the refs have the less severe double minor to fall back on, they're afraid to call the major.

From The Hockey News:

"Players should also be considering what kind of visor to wear: the minimalist model Koivu was wearing or the long-shield style favoured by Ottawa’s Dany Heatley, among others. If you’re going to wear a visor, isn’t it worth going big or not going at all?"
OK, so now it's Koivu's fault for not wearing a larger visor? How about keeping your stick on the ice?

Other thoughts on the game:

- The bad goals are worrisome. Brind'amour's equalizer in the 3rd was eerily similar to Cullen's series opening goal, and Souray was just as liable. Do the Hockey Gods need to give you another wake-up call already, Shelly? Play the man, not the puck!

- After the game, Don Cherry told Habs fans to start worrying if Carolina starts to get on a roll. I suggest Habs fans (at least well adjusted ones with their priorities straight) worry about the health of Saku Koivu's left eye.

- Outplayed yet again, I don't undertand how Carolina continues to put up better shot totals.

- Was I mistaken, or were the Habs faithful booing Cory Stillman? If so, why - the tying goal in game #2?

- Those Jon Lovitz Subway commercials make me want to take a compound stick to my own eyeballs. WTF is with Subway and grating ads? There was that gawdawful shadow puppet guy, then the annoying Jared, now this.

- The missed call on Williams was only the tip of the officiating iceberg last night. You expect cranky fans on the boards to whine about 1-sided refs, but the outrage at LaRue and Marouelli is off the charts. Even established journalists like Hickey and Jack Todd are getting in on it. The way things were called, I'm surprised Koivu wasn't given a two minute 'holding the stick' penalty for clasping Williams' blade with his eyelid. Dennis LaRue and Dan Marouelli: Welcome to the sh*tlist. It will be interesting to see how far these two refs go in the playoffs.

- Why did Montreal sit back on the 1-goal lead in the 3rd? It didn't work with five minutes left on Monday night, so why would they think they could do it with 15 minutes left last night?

- Upside to the game: The Habs soundly outplayed 'Canes. There were two goalposts, they were jobbed by refs, the OT winner was scored on a 5-on-3.5 (Bonk counts as 0.5 because of a broken stick), and it was still damn close. That's a good omen.


Home Stand

Now for a two-game home stand. But is home ice an advantage? So far, with the higher seeds (and supposedly better teams) having bulk of home games, the home-road record is split evenly, 10-10.

Jack Todd writes about the mindspace the Habs should be in with a 2-0 lead.


Souray is a maybe for game 3 tonight.

Steve Begin says:

"The guys are winning, so there's probably no rush for me to step in."

Think again, Steve. The sooner the better.


Okay, I think I've got it: the Big Spreadsheet is drunk.

After the Red Wings' loss last night, the Habs are now Cup Favourites at 21.9%. Detroit is number two, at 15.6%.


Couple of jewels from Gibson:

"Brett of course had hemorrhoids and then surgery. Today it would be described as a "lower body injury, that may or may not require surgery" That sounds a bit better."
"Mike Tyson's favourite player, Ehrhoff, had three assists last night as San Jose beat the Predators 4-1."

I've been watching the Ottawa-Tampa (Martin Havlat is the best 2nd liner in the league) and Detroit-Edmonton (Chris Chelios is the most skilled diver in the league) series pretty closely. Last night I woke up on the couch, wiped off the drool, squinted at the glare off Peter Mansbridge's lustrous dome on TV and gasped as I realized that I missed my first overtime goal this year. Hopefully, that will be the last. I just gotta keep giving 110% and taking it one game at a time.

With the Oilers' win, a Calgary-Edmonton series inched a little closer to fruition. Colorado will have to beat Dallas for it to happen in round two. If the planets align and we get treated to a Real Battle of Alberta... hooooo boy! After the entire province is laid to waste, the other surviving team (Col/Nas/SJ) should have a cakewalk to the final.


Tom Benjamin caught game 2 of the Car-Mtl series, and started yet another discussion of the penalty calls.

Obviously, many observers are in favour of the new standard. The point Tom is making (which I agree with) is not that these little calls are made, it is that for every borderline one-handed ineffective hook that is called, there are a dozen more just like it or worse on *every shift* that are not called. People want it called tight, and people want consistency. If we had both right now, we would be watching 59 minutes of 3-on-3 hockey (or, even worse, 5-on-3 hockey) every game.


CoCo Cuckoo

Colby Cosh's Big Spreadsheet now has Montreal as the most likely finalist (as of Apr. 24). Their Cup odds are 21.4%, only behind Detroit's 23.0%. Ottawa stands at 3.7%. The only reasonable reaction to this is: HUH???

This is clearly a complex conspiracy designed the jinx the Habs.


Further to a point I made earlier today about Gainey's chosen playoff lineup: Aaron Downey played regularly down the stretch. In the two playoff games thusfar, the rarely used Niklaus Sundstrom has been dressed.

With Steve Begin out, it seems Gainey is going with a gentile style versus the 'Canes. This is odd, considering Bob shifted the team toward a more rough & tumble game when he stepped behind the bench. He acquired Downey, and often dressed he and Begin ahead of Bulis/Zednik/Sunny.

In the regular season, the Habs amassed 1688 hits (that's just the sum of the players' stats from nhl.com including mid season acquisitions). Carolina's total is 1217. So far in their playoff series, Carolina has totaled 36 hits to Montreal's 21. The 'Canes are hitting at their regular season pace, while the Habs have eased up. That could be a home/road difference, I suppose, but I think it is more likely that the Habs are playing a safe game to avoid penalties.

With the series moving to Montreal tomorrow night, the Habs have to keep doing what they've been doing - keep playing a road game, that is - and not get caught up in the hoopla at home.


I saw The Rocket on the weekend. If you get a chance, go see it.

Hockey player cameos include Stephane Quintal, Mathieu Dandenault and Vincent Lecavalier. Mike Ricci and Sean Avery have more prominent roles.

Lucky #7

Both #7 seeds, Montreal and Colorado, jumped out to 2-0 series leads on the road. The Habs and Jose Theodore are on a collision course for the final!

My incoherent yammerings from last night:

- The Playoffs are the Bizarro NHL. Teams that haven't given up a 3rd period lead all season promptly do in the playoffs. Home records and road records reverse. Mike Ribeiro throws bodychecks.

- Nice one liner from Harry Neale: "Carolina has given up more turnovers than Betty Crocker!"

- Souray left in the middle of the first period and did not return. The team is calling it a "contusion in the lower body," but anyone who saw the play (or heard Shelly's post-game falsetto) knows he got bagged with a shot. I think the Hockey Gods did this to give Souray a lesson: "Play the man, not the puck!"

- Souray's absence meant Andrei Markov would play 38 minutes. Fortunately, he should be back Wednesday night.

- Kovalev: "We're definitely a better team when we keep the 5-on-5 game." On the flip side, Carolina is clearly the better of the two teams when Montreal is down two men. Let that be a lesson. Two friggin' 5-on-3 goals... @&*%!

- Considering the 'Canes first goal was a fortunate bounce, the two aforementioned 5-on-3 goals, and the tying goal scored with an empty net, that the Habs still won has to be encouraging. That's a lot of crap not going Montreal's way.

- The Habs were playing it too safe late in the 3rd and got burned. When you have a power play and you intentionally ice the puck, you're playing it too safe. A goal on that PP would have ended the game.

- Stillman is Still the invisible man. Sure, he netted the tying goal in the 3rd but Recchi should have gotten credit. His screen immobilized Huet.

- Cherry, speaking of the Habs after the 3rd: "Are they stupid, or what?" This is the #7 seed facing the #2, they're up one game on the road and taking the next game into OT. Tough crowd. Guess you have to employ a Domi to impress Grapes.


I read recently an interesting quote from a coach or GM. Can't quite recall the exact wording, but it was to the effect of, "You shouldn't have to build two teams," meaning a team built for regular season success should also be successful in the playoffs. The rules and their interpretation should be consistent in both 'seasons.' It is a fair comment.

But what if game is different, and not due to officiating? What if the teams involved play hockey differently in the playoffs? The 'T' word has been tossed around more in the last five days than it was through the whole regular season. Bob Gainey is dressing different players than those who played regularly - and successfully, I might add - down the stretch.

You usually hear players say the 'intensity level' increases in the playoffs. I would wager that, if you looked hard enough, you could find some statistical evidence for a different game in the postseason.

My point is (yes, I have a point) that perhaps the Hurricanes and Canadiens are built for two different games. The Hurricanes were incredibly successful in the regular season, but the Habs are up 2-0. Might it be true that the old chestnut, 'defense wins championships,' has some truth to it? Perhaps, in an effort to increase interest after the lockout, Rutherford built the 'Canes to play an exciting and entertaining style for the new NHL. Meanwhile, North of the border, perhaps Gainey built his team for dull but sound defense, knowing the Canadian audience has a higher tolerance for defensive hockey.

Just a theory.



"It's not unusual for players to seek out medical help away from home. The Buffalo Sabres can thank the Canadiens team physician David Mulder, for getting Daniel Briere and J.P. Dumont back on the ice. He performed abdominal surgery on both players this season."

Little do they know that Dr. 'Fox' Mulder also implanted a mind-control device, programmed to activate should the teams meet in the playoffs ... bwahahaha!


Bucci articulates what so many of us are thinking:

"When the game is played at equal strength, it is unquestionably faster... Power plays slow the game down... If the players become tentative, the edge is gone."

The goal is to speed the game up. So they crack down on penalties that slow it down. Unfortunately, I fear the refs are being measured by the number of penalties called rather than the speed and quality of the game.


Kovalev a 'Cat Person'

From Pat Hickey's latest:

"I've been saying that I hate the word underdog and after winning the first game, I don't think we're the underdogs," said Kovalev, who was part of the New York Rangers' Stanley Cup winner in 1994. "I think we've taken a step up. We're cats now."


Some quick thoughts on Saturday's match (been busy and Blogger's being cranky):

- Sheldon Souray is struggling with skating backward and staying in front of opponents. He was bloody awful on that first goal. I mean, take the man, not the puck! It's pee wee stuff! Then Souray made an ill-advised pass on the PP which resulted in a shorthanded breakaway. How do you do that - give up a breakaway on the PP with a 4-1 lead in the 3rd? Yeesh.

- Don Cherry blamed the ref for getting into Shelly's way. Thanks Don, but we really don't want your support. After all, it didn't do the Leafs any good this year. And another thing, Don, what was that you said in the 1st Tampa-Ottawa game, about Brad Richards being good on the point during PPs? Ron asked if you thought it was risky and you said no, because Richards is "like a defenseman back there." So. Richards got burned for a huge SHG. Fonzie put a defenseman back there instead. Any further comment, Don? No? Didn't think so.

- We gave up a gift goal 50 seconds in, but Gerber re-gifted it in the 9th minute for Bouillon.

- In the 17th minute of the 1st, Bonk scored the winner. Meanwhile, Stillman was off making snow angels in no man's land. Other than that, the only thing Stillman achieved was serving Gerber's diving penalty. At least he's a team player.

- I couldn't believe the margin held by the 'Canes in shots. Neither could the Habs. From the same Hickey article, Huet says:

"I had to make some tough saves, but the quality wasn't there... There were a lot of shots from wide angles and from far away."

and Rivet says:

"I don't know who was counting, but we only had seven shots in each period? Give me a break."

- Koivu only played ~13 minutes. Gainey rested the checkers late in the game - smart move.

Tonight, Ray Whitney is in the lineup and Gerber gets the start again.


What a game between the Bolts and Sens last night! St. Louis and Boyle were awesome. Just had to say that.


Stop! Hammer time!

Last time the Hurricanes were in Montreal, Rod Brind'amour stuck his head out the window of the team bus and got arrested for mooning. He's so ugly his momma had to get drunk before she breast-fed him!

Who's gonna score on the mighty Huet? Josef Vasicektomy? Impotent! Cory Stillman? Softer than the Pillsbury Doughboy! Staal's offense is gonna stall!


I'm sorry. This just isn't working.

For starters, it's hard not to like this Carolina team. They were universally expected to suck, but came out flying in the new NHL and won their division with offense. Staal's a thrilling young player. Williams overcame some nasty injuries and has begun to fulfill his potential. Brind'amour has been a yeoman for years and is finally leading a winner. Same for Wesley on the blueline.

Secondly, and more importantly, it's a helluva lot easier to come up with dirt on this Montreal team than it is for the 'Canes. Habs fans, how many times do you want 25-9 thrown in our faces? "Oh, the regular season doesn't count anymore," you say? Remember the last playoff meeting? 8-2 Carolina. The meeting before that was 5-1 Carolina.

For every Hurricane I can diss, there must be three Habs ripe for a razz. Souray will be appearing on many star players' year-end highlight-reels (Briere and Spezza come immediately to mind). Then you have Mike Ribeiro's... antics. I posted awhile back about the mutual exclusivity of hockey players and thespians. Ribeiro is an exception. And if you can show me a Habs fan who hasn't wanted to pull his/her hair out in frustration after a lackadaisical backcheck by Alex Kovalev, I'll show you a Prozac abuser.

I will go this far: The 'Canes have a couple of soft forwards. In particular, Cory Stillman has been getting a lot of credit for their success this year. I don't buy it. He's a guy who puts up good numbers, yet continues to bounce around the lesser teams in the league. Yes, Carolina was still a lesser team when he signed. Sure he put up 80 points for the Bolts, but the team didn't even notice when he went AWOL in the playoffs. And for all that regular season scoring, he was the guy deemed expendable when the salary cap came a-knocking even though he would have cost far less than Tampa's big three. Oh, and he won't play hurt.

Ray Whitney is in the same category - along with Vinny Prospal, the Turgeons (Pierre and Syl), Craig Janney, Darren Turcotte , Ribeiro, etc - of stats guys who disappear in the playoffs. In the odd years they actually make the playoffs.


Tom B is right on with Pat Quinn. You'd think his style would be perfect for the new NHL. I've said it before: The problem in T.O. was their on-ice personnel. You just can't mortgage the future forever.


The Fish put together another nice read - this one featuring... Prime Minister Harper. I threw up a little bit in my mouth after typing that.


Oh, how I missed playoff hockey! The first period of Ottawa-Tampa was awesome... until the 5-on-3. Of the 20 goals scored last night, 12 were on special teams and there was one ENG. Get the feeling that the NHL's "crackdown on obstruction" is turning into a euphemism for "lotsa penalties?" I'm not enjoying the PP deciding games.


I'm off to see The Rocket this afternoon. Then, game #1 tonight! Woo!


Break it down!

"In the world of 5-on-5 hockey, the 'Canes should own the momentum. If it comes to a lot of special teams play, the Habs are decidedly better on the PP (5th in the league-'Canes were 17th)."

This comment by Cason got me thinking about special teams. Plus, I really should have a go at a more serious analysis of this series.

Forwards: Ballyhooed shutdown man Rod Brind'amour has more goals (30), points (70), and PPGs (19) than any Hab. He's fourth in scoring for the 'Canes. Even without Erik Cole (he's the straw that stirs the mint julep) the edge goes to Carolina. It's not even close.

Defense: Montreal's blueliners are bigger names and play a higher 'event' game. You notice them more, and that's not always a good thing. The 'Canes are truly a defense by committee. The best thing I can say about them is that Laviolette's decision to dress seven regularly has been a stroke of genius. Edge to Montreal, if they can stay out of penalty trouble.

Goaltending: I have no idea. The most important position and the hardest to gauge.

Now, in this topsy-turvy post-modern world, do labels like 'forward' and 'defense' really matter? Quality is subjective and there is no absolute truth. Let's try to break things down by game situation instead.

Even strength: 'Canes are +10 on the season. Habs are -5.

PP/PK: If you look strictly at the success rates, it seem special teams would favour Montreal. However, Carolina plays a higher risk game in both situations with forwards on the points for PPs and an aggressive PK resulting in more SHGs for both sides. To take this into account, you have to look at the net +/- per opportunity, including PPGs for/against and SHGs against/for. Habs are +0.179 goals per power play opportunity and are -0.168 goals per penalty kill. 'Canes are +0.154 on the PP and -0.144 on the PK.

What's it all add up to? A wash. That is, if the opportunities are distributed evenly.

If the referees call everything in sight to make it plain that they're calling it tight, the differential will be crucial. Can we guess how the penalties be distributed? On the season, Montreal has dealt with 463 PPs and 481 PKs for a -18. Carolina has had 531 PPs and only 445 PKs for a whopping difference of +86. Yikes. That is what accounts for the Hurricanes +18 goal differential on special teams for the season, while Montreal is only +2.

This is something I addressed back on Feb. 8. At the time, the Habs were being called for 15.6 minutes per game and their opponents 13.4 min/g. In the 28 games since, the Habs have committed 17.6 minutes worth of offenses per game while opponents have committed 18.9. It would appear they've taken measures to correct this part of their game. If they can continue this change in behaviour against the potent Carolina offense, tricolore will stand a chance. And, as Cason suggests, an even-strength series will favour Carolina. A penalty-filled affair is the Habs' best bet for success - as long at the calls are even-steven.


Betrayed! Red Fisher says "Hurricanes in seven."


Habs vs. 'Canes

Here is the schedule, from NHL.com:

Game 1: Saturday, April 22nd 7:00 PM at Carolina
Game 2: Monday, April 24th 7:00 PM at Carolina
Game 3: Wednesday, April 26th 7:00 PM at Montreal
Game 4: Friday, April 28th 7:00 PM at Montreal
Game 5: Sunday, April 30th 7:30 PM at Carolina
Game 6: Tuesday, May 2nd 7:00 PM at Montreal
Game 7: Thursday, May 4th 7:00 PM at Carolina

Key for Montreal success: Use Photoshop to paint a Bruins sweater onto Eric Staal with the name 'Thornton' on the back. Hey, it worked in '02 and '04.

Key for Carolina success: Keep using whatever dark magic they used in the regular season series with the Habs.


  • Steve Begin is out with a sprained knee. His uncanny recuperative powers will see him back into the lineup before the series is over.
  • Francis Bouillon returned last night from a bruised ankle.
  • Ray Whitney has a lower-body problem and is day-to-day.
  • Erik Cole is out with a fractured neck vertebra. I fear he will make an emotional return mid-series and lift the 'Canes to victory.

Interesting Fact: The Hurricanes have a league-leading seven players whose last name begins with 'W.'

On the basis of
Colby Cosh's B.S. (that's Big Spreadsheet), I'm going to predict a Habs win. Unwise? Pshaw. Any system that says the Habs and Rangers are 50 times more likely to win the Cup than the Devils is good enough for me.

My other quick n' dirty picks for the first round are Ottawa, New Jersey, Buffalo, Edmonton, Dallas, Calgary, and San Jose.

Calgary over Buffalo in the final.


Poor Sean Avery. Unwanted by Detroit, L.A. and
now Sportsnet.

Next stop for Sean: the WWE.


I love
this photo.

Preseason Predictions Re-revisited

I would be remiss if I failed to present the final standings, after a reminder from Mr. Mirtle.

East Champ - James Mirtle

West Champ - Jes Gőlbez

'06 Bragging Rights: Jes Gőlbez

Skunk Award: SI

Despite a late push by yours truly, Gőlbez could not be caught. Among the bloggers, things have tightened up since February. The same can't be said for the three big publications.

"Predictions are for presspadoopedigitators." - Pat Quinn


Off The Hook

Washington did Montreal's dirty work and knocked Atlanta out last night. The Habs are officially in the playoffs. In there like swimwear. For that, we can thank the tender, tender groin of Kari Lehtonen, back when the season was young. Now, the groin of another star goaltender - that of Dominik 'Spaceman' Hasek - could propel Montreal into the second round. Could this be fate? Might those old Forum ghosts manifest themselves such that the Habs ride a wave of shattered groins all the way to the Cup?


The Leafs were finally 'mathematically' eliminated over the long weekend. That's as eliminated as you can get. Roll the credits - the horror movie villian has finally been extinguished. So long Chucky. So long Jason Voorhees. So long Teen Wolf, Frankenstein (actually, Frankenstein's monster), and all you slow but persistent zombies from Night of the Living Dead.


Red Fisher has been the beat writer for the Montreal Canadiens for 50 seasons. Mike Boone wrote a nice tribute/roast. If you haven't read them already, I implore you to read Fisher's series on his top 10 memorable moments and top 10 Canadiens while the articles are still available.


Many, including Jack Todd, have been wondering why David Aebischer has started three of the past four games. Consensus seems to be that Gainey has been coaching like a GM and is giving his pricier acquisition undeserved icetime.

Al Strachan has a theory that Aebischer allows the team to produce more offense. Granted, the Habs have produced 3.57 goals per game in the seven games Aebischer has started and only 2.75 in front of Huet. That's probably because the team has been relatively healthy, has played well lately, and has faced softer opponents.

For the moment let's pretend Al is right and Aebischer somehow provides that extra 0.82 goals per game. While we're on the topic of goal differential, how about we have a look at the team's goals against average with each netminder. After all, in addition to their offensive duties, goalies might have something to do with actually stopping goals too. With Huet, the team GAA is 2.09. With Aebischer it is 3.71. Aebischer's impressive offensive production doesn't come close to making up for his goaltending inadequacies. Ergo, start Huet, Bob.


Betbrain.com provides an amalgamation of odds from a number of bookkeepers. I made a copy of their Stanley Cup playoff odds back on Sept. 21:

Did anyone out there have the foresight to grab Buffalo at 150-1? Wow.


Pet peeve/Grammar Nazi rant OTD: It is playoff 'berth,' not 'birth.' I realize there is clinching involved in both, hence the confusion. Sorry, but I find phrases like 'Rangers Nail Down Birth' quite disturbing.


Avery Kaput!

...and there was much rejoicing.

There just wasn't enough room on the bristol board for this fan to include "with my 12 gauge."
It's implied.


Now, last night in Buffalo... Hickey describes the Habs' 1st period as 'tepid,' which is nowhere near strong enough. Try rank, rancid, and icky. After 20 minutes they were down 2-0, and could have been much worse. Things were pretty much even after that, but the damage had been done. In the 3rd, Souray was put on another poster by Briere (whose name, it must be noted, is tantalizingly close to biere, the French word for beer).

The Sabres swarm. They have no big-name stars (although Afinigenov and Briere have mucho talent), but they put fourth an excellent effort and they support one another. They gang up on you. You may be able to out-muscle, out-hustle, or out-skill one Sabre, but it is not easy to beat two or more. It seemed like every time a Canadien handled the puck for a couple of seconds, he was immediately surrounded by four men in black. Only on the occasions that the supreme talent of Kovalev (as much as Pierre McGuire dissed him) beat two or more Angry Goat Heads were they able to create anything.


Three of the top four teams in the East - Buffalo, Carolina and the Rangers - have blueline personnel that I would instinctively consider inferior to the Habs'. That should tell you something about instincts and the 'new NHL.'

Obviously, penalties are bad. So are hits. Perhaps the two are related? Also bad: Takeaways. Who knew.

Playing a low-risk, gentlemanly, inconspicuous game is the key to good defense. Let the forwards take care of the offense, never mind trying to make pretty passes, and for goodness sake, don't hit anyone 'cause you'll just get smacked with a penalty.


After a year without salary, a pay cut due to CBA, a pay cut due to his old age, and a pay cut due to Canada's taxes... is it really that surprising Darren McCarty filed for bankruptcy? I, for one, am shocked that there haven't been more stories like this.


Grammar/Medical jargon rant OTD: A 'hip flexor' is a body part, not the name of an injury. The correct description of the injury would be 'hip flexor strain' or something similar.
Saying a player is on the DL with a hip flexor is like saying "he's out with an ulna," or "he's scratched because of a coccyx" or "we won't be seeing Chris Pronger tonight because he has a left nut."


Ooooookaaaaay... found this while searching for an embarrassing photo of Sean Avery. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.


Zed, a Spleen, and The Beaverbrook

The significant other wanted to see the finale of Canada-Russia '72, so I missed over half of last night's game. For the portion that I saw, the Sens carried most of the play while the Habs demonstrated some excellent bend but not break defense. Richard Zednik was back in the lineup due to injuries to Bonk and Begin, and he scored the game winner. Zed ain't dead yet, baby.

Ya know, if you take away the generation's best goaltender, their top three defensemen (including two Norris contenders) and one of the best second line wingers in the league, we can actually play with these guys. Montreal finished the season series with the Senators at 4-3-1, earning 9 out of the 16 points available. On the other side of the fence, Ottawa went... 4-3-1, earning 9 out of the 16 points available. Great! We both get bragging rights!


Hockeydirt features a prominent local story. A high school girl shows everyone that she can play just as dirty as the boys by lacerating an opponent's spleen.


As mentioned earlier, the finale of Canada-Russia '72 was on last evening. Don't worry - I won't spoil it for everyone by blabbing about how it ends. Let's just say a certain team wearing red and white emerged victorious, but only after a certain someone breaks the ankle of another certain someone and a last-minute goal by a third certain someone...

Oh, and the hotel that Team Canada stayed in? I've been to three wedding receptions at the same building. No one was injured by falling chandeliers.


Devils **** Habs Gently

Saturday Night: NJ 3, Habs 2.

Now that was some
Tenacious D by the Devils in a playoff-style game. They made few mistakes, and capitalized on the mistakes by the Habs. Jersey made it back-to-back 3-2 wins by beating the Rangers yesterday.

It looks like Montreal is homing in on 7th place and a 1st round series vs. the Hurricanes. That's something I was hoping to avoid. I just get the feeling that Cole will make a dramatic return and spur the Red&Black to a big win. There is a huge drop-off after 2nd place in the Eastern
Conference. The Rangers, Sabres and Flyers all look quite beatable. If the Devils cannot be caught, there may be an outside (way outside) chance at catching the Radio Flyers. At least we're not in the West, where it appears one very good team will not make playoffs.

Steve Begin suffered a gruesome-looking knee injury Saturday night.
According to Pat Hickey,
"Steve Begin said he'll try to skate today."

Considering his MRI is scheduled for Tuesday, this is truly a testament to the insanity of Steve Begin. It looked like one of those knee-destroying incidents, but as we all know by now, the man is made out of kryptonite. From a recap of Game 6 vs. the Bruins in '04:

"...attempting to lay a check on Patrice Bergeron late in the second frame, he collided face-first into the glass and boards and was rushed from the ice with a bloody gash along his cheekbone and jaw. He returned mid-way through the third period wearing a full facial shield after receiving over 30 stitches, losing a tooth, and suffering other dental damage. Said Julien, "It’s incredible. There isn’t anything that can hold this guy back."
Even if Begin is out for awhile, Gainey has provided this club with some good depth up front. Bulis/Zednik and Sundstrom have been frequent scratches lately.


Caught the first half of "Canada-Russia '72" on CBC last night. Most of the filming was done in Fredericton, so I found myself often looking for faces I recognize rather than following the story. The documentary-style shaky camera was annoying, and there was little new information revealed about the series. I can't help but think a real documentary with interviews and footage from the era would have been better.

Phil Esposito is portrayed as a bit of a pompous ass. This is not surprising, as that is the impression I have of him anyway. Nowadays, Espo is "
Voiping with Vonage," whatever that means.

A commenter over at
Kukla's Corner is disappointed in the calibre of the skating doubles. Yes, it's true - they use doubles rather than the real actors for the hockey action shots. Even in Canada, there is very little overlap between hockey players and thespians. Think of your high school team, then think of your high school drama club. Anywho, I would respond by saying that those skating doubles are mostly very good senior league players. This is a relatively low-budget production, and to expect the skaters to re-create familiar highlights that have been aired thousands of times and look like the best players in the world while doing it is to expect a bit much.


Fickle Habs fans everywhere have declared Bob Gainey the overwhelming winner in the Jose Theodore trade after Theo's
first appearance in a Colorado uniform. Count on Pierre Lacroix being declared the overwhelming winner sometime later this week.


Eight Straight

Let's turn a blind eye to the fact the Senators were missing their *top four* defensemen, shall we? Let's just savour the road win over the top team in the conference. A first round matchup with Ottawa doesn't sound too bad, as long as they promise to dress Novak, Norton and Malec.

It wasn't the AHLers on the blueline that killed the Sens last night. It was their PK. I've noticed a tendency this season toward penalty killers playing keep-away to kill off time rather than adhere to the KISS principle and just ice the puck. It's a good play, if you can get away with it. Playing your second game in two nights with a severely depleted defense against a Montreal team with a very good power play (it sounds weird just saying it,
but it's true) is not the time for fun & games.

Vermette was in the midst of a Harlem Globetrotters routine on the PK in the 2nd period when the Habs stole the puck and scored before the Sens could get set up in their box. These guys ain't the Washington Generals. Then in the 3rd period Murray sent Heatley and Alfredsson out, ostensibly to kill another penalty. Predictably, they went sniffing for goals and predictably, they got burned. 5-2 Habs, QED. The Sens had better get over themselves and start playing hockey or they'll have a short playoff.

Speaking of the PP, four of the top five teams in the league with the man advantage are from the Northeast.

Other notes from the game:

- Ottawa outshot Montreal by a whopping count of 21-6 in the 1st. It was bad, but not quite as bad as it looked. Maybe the Habs were playing rope-a-dope on the tired Sens?

- How about Arnason's gaffe that led to Ribeiro's goal in the 2nd? Pretty nifty little blind pass, there, Tyler. I'm sure glad we didn't get him at the deadline.

- Speaking of Ribs, he's been looking good. It's like he's playing with humility, like he no longer thinks he's the cat's ass. Being on Kovalev's line would humble any dangler.

- Komisarek has finally begun playing with confidence - he's hitting and agitating, and even pissed off the Sportsnet broadcast team.

- Downey and Norton squared off in the second period, but embarrassingly, not a punch was thrown. The pair were given misconducts. Downey fancies himself a boxer; hence the stance. Norton didn't want to get too close. He must have seen the Downey/BowlOfRice video.

- Where did Dany Heatley get that visor? It's *huge.* He looks like an astronaut.


The Toronto Maple Leafs have ordered their playoff ducats. That money would have been better spent printing off a few pink slips at Kinko's. No doubt they've already placed an order at the silk screeners' for a Stanley Cup Banner too.


Pet peeve/Grammar Nazi rant OTD: TSN's Darren DutchOven's catchphrase "roof daddy." What the hell does that even mean???


Prospect Update

Hockeysfuture.com has published their spring NHL team rankings.

After this year's rookie crop, I was rather surprised to see Montreal actually rise a notch from #6 to #5. The reason is that Alexander Perezhogin and Tomas Plekanec are, rather generously, still considered to be prospects by their criteria. Chris Higgins is not.

In other prospect news,
Alex Emelin is in trouble in Russia.

After the whistle blew on a delayed penalty call against Magnitogorsk, Metallurg forward Evgeny Varlamov shot the puck, hitting Lada defenseman Alexei Emelin (the Montreal Canadiens' third-round pick in the 2004 Entry Draft), who was own on the ice.

Knowing he'd just broken one of hockey's cardinal rules, an apologetic Varlamov skated toward Emelin. The enraged defenseman would have none of it. Rising to his feet, Emelin struck Varlamov with his stick, catching him flush in the neck. Varlamov crumpled to the ice, unconscious, and was taken to the hospital. Fortunately, early media reports that the player had suffered vertebrae damage proved false. However, Varlamov sustained a severe concussion. The RSL has suspended Emelin indefinitely.
First Perezhogin, now this. The Habs need to start drafting players who know how a hockey stick is supposed to be used.


Apparently, some Canadiens were
ticked off by comments made by Dominik Hasek back on Jan. 26 (the toenail clipping game), and have been using his words as motivational material. Personally, I don't think anything said by Dom was particularly outrageous. This is a guy with a tenuous grasp of the English language to begin with, and his intent was clearly to praise his own teammates for a solid defensive effort. But hey, if that's what it takes to get our lads motivated to two out of every three games since, it works for me.

After the Habs' recent run, tonight's rematch with the depleted Senators should be an interesting test.


The dreaded flu is making the rounds again. Maybe this one will be the bird flu, and knock the Thrashers out for good.


Group of Sevens

7 straight wins, 7th place, 7 games to play.

The Habs went 8-2 in a string of 10 games against teams below them in the standings. The remaining seven games in the schedule will be tougher. They have two versus Ottawa, two versus Buffalo, two home games against the Devils, and one last tilt with the punching bag of the Northeast - the Bastan Bruins. Even if the Sens and Sabres are suffering injury problems, the Canadiens have a tougher sked than Jersey, Tampa or even Atlanta. Sixth place is within reach, but I'm not optomistic.

Here's the Gazette recap of last night's game. Aside from some knee-on-knee controversy, it was yet another dull, special teams affair.

Random gibberish:

- After three straight shutouts of the Bruins, Huet says, "Aw, Shucks."

- The gnashing of teeth over the Garth Murray/Marcel Hossa trade disappeared completely after Murray's two-goal first-star performance on Saturday. Okay, everyone who panned the trade please stand up. You know who you are. Now can we please just trust in Bob?

- In all of the games I have seen this season, there have been two laugh-out-loud moments that stand out in particular: Kovalev's run at Darcy Tucker, and this incident featured at Off Wing Opinion. In a game against the Canucks, Dion Phaneuf challenged Jarkko Ruutu to throw down, then cartoonishly tripped over his own stick. I'm surprised one of the many Oiler blogs out there has not yet posted a screen cap of Dion frozen in his head-over-heels posture for posterity.

- There is an in-depth interview of Sheldon Souray by David Amber up at ESPN. Is it just me, or do all of Amber's interviews start with the "race" angle and work from there?


Also up at ESPN: the anticipated playoff series.

I gotta say, the matchups in the East aren't doing much for me. It's been known for a long time that the best hockey is seen in the West. All of the West matchups look fun, excepting Nas/Ana (crickets chirping, *tumbleweed rolls by*).

I'd stay up late to watch Van/Det. Edm/Dal is intriguing too, but ya know what would rawk? The Battle of Alberta in round 1! For that, I could set aside my disdain for Ralph Klein-onomics and revel in the great rivalry. Plus, half the province of Alberta is displaced Maritimers and Newfies who, as I understand it, do the bulk of the grunt work for the oil barons and Peter Pocklington types.


Pet peeve/Grammar Nazi rant OTD: Sportscasters referring to "a (playername)." For example, the Canadiens need "a Crosby" or "an Ovechkin." Sorry, Mr. broadcaster, but there is only one Crosby and one Ovechkin. Please don't insult them by suggesting they have clones. This also applies to phrases such as "the Gretzkys, or the Brodeurs of the league..." The indefinite article can, however, apply to the Sutters, of which there are numerous identical examples.