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» 2013 » May

  • Ottawa eliminates Montreal 4-1

    It was a somewhat softer landing than I think many expected last night as the Canadiens were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs in what I think I can safely call a disappointing end to a promising season.  As the final seconds ticked off of the clock the remaining sparse crowd that the Bell Centre attempted to recognize the effort of the players who had overachieved all season long to win the North East division, but could not in the end, defeat a solid-if-not-great Ottawa Senators team. The last time the Canadiens were eliminated from the playoffs, by the eventual cup-winning Boston Bruins, there was a palpable sense of despair within the Habs community. Losing to a rival is tough. Losing in over time of Game 7 is worse. This time around I’m not sure there were too many people who gave Montreal a serious chance following their dispiriting Game 4 loss in Ottawa.

    The reasons for this are many. Recently, the injuries sustained to key players became too much to bear. As much heat as Carey Price took in the final weeks of the season for sub-par play, we saw last night exactly what would happen to this team if Carey wasn’t the goalie for the long-term. This is not to over-state the importance of one guy, or to disparage the play of Peter Budaj, who frankly played as well as you could expect from a back up that rarely played this season. Still, the loss of Price to injury all but sealed this series as over for the Habs.

    It didn’t stop there though. The loss of Lars Eller was an incredible blow to this team. And seriously – just how crazy a thought is that given how his season started? Its amazing to think of his very public benching earlier this year, given how incredibly he responded, finally getting the opportunity to play with skilled wingers instead of plugs. I’ve been a very public booster of Eller’s talent ever since the trade with St. Louis happened. He’s far from the perfect player, but his skill set as a skilled forward with good size and amazing vision is going to be critical to the Habs success next year and beyond.

    I’m definitely bringing up the size issue because in this series – possibly more than in any other year, Montreal’s sheer lack of size was on full display. The spark of what could be is right there on view. Subban, Gallagher, Galchenyuk, Pacioretty, and Eller all played significant roles on this club. We saw glimpses of the future on defense in cameos by Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beulieau, and Greg Pateryn. But there is some serious reason for concern as the team flips the calendar pages toward next season.

    Andrei Markov started the year on a tear – and ended with a thud. The veteran defender is still an elite powerplay defenseman. Markov ended the season 3rd in goals and 4th for points among NHL defenseman, but in every other facet of the game, Markov started to show that he simply cannot be relied upon to play big minutes for a playoff contending team. Next year is the final of his current contract, and one certainly wonders whether or not he’ll be back again after that.

    We can certainly expect that Tomas Kaberle will be bought out before the start of the 2013-14 season, lessening slightly the cap burden on the club – but at some point (and I expect early) in the season next year the Habs are going to need to lock up PK Subban long-term. There is no way at all that Montreal gets a discount on his next contract after what took place to start the year. Eric Karlsson makes $6.5M. Drew Doughty makes $7M. You don’t like those numbers? Tough. Dion Phanuef makes $6.5 which means PK’s agent is about to do very well.

    Montreal’s defensive log-jam is further complicated by the dearth of rookies waiting to get NHL time, and the dearth of smallish NHL defensemen already signed to contract. If Raphael Diaz has a spot on your roster, you simply can’t afford to employ Francis Bouillion, Josh Gorges, and Yannik Weber. It seems crazy to speak ill of the former two players, given the fact that they play their guts out every game – but Ottawa showed that having a big, physical blue line is the best way to make sure that the types of scrambles that led to Montreal’s undoing in Game 4 don’t happen. The trick is to find big guys who are mobile and compliment them with the offensive guys like Subban and Markov. Josh Gorges is a warrior, but he’s not giving Montreal what Ottawa got from their young blueline.

    I’m going to leave it there for now. I’m sure on the coming months there will be much to talk about with this team. As I said off the top – there is a core of young talent on this team that is good enough to ensure that Montreal is in the playoffs for years to come, but they need big help in the most literal sense.

    Great season guys. It hurts right now – but a huge thank you to all of the people who come on this site, who participate, and follow this club through all of the ebbs and flows. It makes us crazy, and bitchy, and ecstatic – usually in the space of one period. It wouldn’t work without you.

    Go Habs Go!!

    ~Mats

  • Round One: Game Five

    The Montreal Canadiens were fairly healthy for most of the strike-shortened 48 game season. Despite lengthy absences from concussed players Raphael Diaz, Rene Bourque, and finally Alexei Emelin, the Habs managed for the most part to avoid any detrimental injuries that would cost them in the standings. Like every team, they took their knocks and got back into the lineup as quickly as possible.

    The playoffs unfortunately have been an altogether different experience. The list of casualties is becoming rather long and dispiriting. Even if the miraculous happened, and Montreal were able to win the next 3 games of their first round series, they would need to do so without some incredibly critical players.

    Lars Eller is done for the year. The injuries that he sustained during the violent open-ice check will require a significant amount of time to heal. He is reported to have skated with the team yesterday, which is fantastic news, but anyone who has suffered facial fractures knows that he will not be playing full-contact any time in the near-future.

    Brian Gionta is also gone for the duration of play. Gionta re-injured his left bicept in Game 1 of the series which required surgery yesterday to fix. This definitely explains the quiet series for the captain who certainly did not look comfortable at any point this post season.

    It was also revealed yesterday that Alexei Emelin has not yet had surgery on his knee following the devastating fall he took on a check that he put on Milan Lucic in April. This is definite grounds for concern as the recovery time for that type of injury necessitates a long rehabilitation meaning the Montreal will likely be without the services of Emelin for much of the first half of next season as well.

    Ryan White and Brandon Prust are both unavailable for Game 5 due to upper body injuries. The latter never really looked healed from his separated shoulder injury sustained late in the regular season.I would be shocked if Prust were to return for Game 6 even if Montreal is able to grit out a win tonight, given that he has added an injury to his abdomen to his already ailing shoulder.

    The final nail in the coffin is the injury to Carey Price. Price has been insanely durable through his career, but suffered a lower body injury on the final shot of regulation time in Game 4 of this series. Price hobbled from the ice following the awkward stretch and did not return in Montreal’s heart-breaking loss. He will not return to this series however much longer it lasts -suffering from what is almost certainly a strained or pulled muscle in his leg(s) or groin.

    Michael Blunden has been inserted into the lineup in place of Brandon Prust and will at least give the Habs a player who has experience playing NHL hockey. The other player who will step in to the lineup has not been announced as of yet, but HIO has reported that Michael Bournival participated in the morning skate. Bournival has played big games in the past as a part of Team Canada at the World Juniors, but he is going to be in tough to make much of a contribution tonight in his first ever NHL playoff game.

    I hate to be a pessimist (not really) but it doesn’t look good for your Canadiens tonight. Those injuries are going to be extremely difficult to overcome, and while it isn’t over until you lose 4 games, you can be forgiven if you don’t like the Habs odds in this one.

    Let’s hope for the miraculous!

    Go Habs Go!!

    ~Mats