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Game 45 : Habs/Thrashers

  • A little more then halfway through the season and despite numerous lengthy injuries, the Canadiens hold the 3rd most points in the East.

    Perhaps the 2nd best record, considering the Capitals games played total 3 more.

    All things considered, not a bad place to be.

    The Canadiens are lurking around 4th in the Conference, quietly, not on top drawing attention and creating expectations like last season’s 1st place surprise. Not being gunned for each and every game, not having their video tapes analyzed and re-analyzed like the #1 powerplay in the league does.

    Are the Habs more dangerous this year?

    Are the Bruins deflecting all the attention and praise and heightened expectations while the Habs quietly coast through, with half their team on the sidelines?

    Gunning for #1 every night took it’s toll on the Habs come round 2 of the playoffs, what shape will the Habs be as they approach the final stretch?

    And the Bruins? How much do they have in the tank?

15 Comments
  1. I also wonder about whether Boston is going to run out of gas. Hard to say at this point given that a loss for Boston comes a such a surprise these days. I’m very happy with how things are going in Montreal these days. Andrei Kostitsyn is on fire. Kovalev is playing more like last season’s leader. Gorges has emerged as a solid top four defender. How glad are we to have Robert Lang for the entire season for half the price of Mats Sundin!!?? I think we have a better team than last season and I think that we are going to be tougher to play in the post season.

  2. #2 Dancan81 says:
    January 20, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Considering the Bruins are plagued with injuries as well I only see them getting stronger. Same goes for the Habs. When Price, Koivy, Higgins and Tanguay are back the coach will have some tough, but good, choices to make. The team, with better than good goaltending, can catch first place. Lotta time left. Still however missing one piece, another dman. I’d rather get JBo than Vinny at this point. We wouldn’t have to give up as much and our offense is on fire.

  3. Case and point. Price returns and the team stops playing team hockey.

    Way to capitalize on an opportunity to gain ground on a banged up and struggling Bruins team there Habs. Good work.

  4. Gainey, go and get Lecavalier please. He’ll play for you regardless of who’s in goal.

  5. Took the words right outta my mouth Joseph. The one exception for me is that I don’t think they played good hockey right from the opening faceoff last night. But after St.Louis did us a favor and held Boston to 1 point the other night, to come out flat like this was sickening.

    We looked as we do most times when we make the trip down south. These guys just decided they weren’t gonna play or skate last night and let the chips fall where they may.
    Horrible display against a horrible team.
    And this is exactly why I can’t see a deep playoff run with what we have right now…because they decide when they wanna play and when they don’t…great teams don’t do this….same team as last year basically, same team that got bounced and bullied right out of the playoffs by Philly.
    Nice to watch a few winning streaks again this year, but what will that amount to come playoff time again?
    This teams inability to play good, strong hockey consistently AND Carbonneau’s system of rolling 4 lines every game, will eventually catch up with this team again this year. 4th liners getting first line ice time, 4th liners on the PP, and 4th liners on the ice when your down 2 goals with 2 minutes left, are what gonna bury this team the way it’s already buried them at times this year. Maybe our top forwards are getting very few points because of the limited ice time….because they have to watch Guillome on the PP and Begin on the ice when we need goals at games end.

    You look at the success of other big team in this league and this just doesn’t happen…the 4th line plays a role and get 7,8 mins a game…and are not on the PP or anywhere near the ice in the final 2 mins when you’re down…are you kidding me ??? These teams take time outs to rest there stars so they can finish the game for God’s sake.

    When Lang and Kostitsyn can get a goal each, and maybe Lapierre digs one in, and we’re winning this doesn’t look as bad, but in a game like last night, this ridiculous sytem shines through as a thorn in the heel of this team.
    Again, don’t see any deep playoff runs unless things change some…can anyone really disagree whole-heartedly with this?

  6. #6 Mats Naslund says:
    January 21, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Donnie: I’ve questioned Carbos decision making at times this year. I think the 3rd and 4th lines have been great this year, and because of that Carbo has faith in them. Unfortunately, as you eluded, the 4th line is highly unlikely to get you the comeback goal when the chips are down in the third period. It was the same in Boston on the 13th, after the Canadiens got down, Carbo was content to roll 4 lines and the result was the inability to mount an effective comeback. The other issue I have with Carbo is that following a goal, he always goes to the Lapierre line which I can understand from one perspective: you want them to get the puck in deep and to create a chance to get the goal back. The problem is that Montreal barely ever responds to a goal quickly because they never have their most talented personnel on the ice to change momentum.

    That being said, the top lines certainly had their opportunities to bury their chances. It was very frustrating to watch chance after chance in that third period. One thing I have noticed: Both Montreal goals were the result of a player getting in front of the net and capitalizing on rebounds. Too often when Montreal is down, Montreal skaters skate past the net! When they do go to the net, they are often out of position, and miss the best opportunities to tie up the game. They make average goaltenders look like Roy in 93. If Montreal is going to be successful, they are going to need to learn how to score goals that aren’t wrist shots from impossible angles off of the cycle.

    As far as a deep playoff run, I think a lot of that depends on team defense. Despite This team can score goals. The reason they lost last night was defensive mistakes that led to chances against suspect goaltending. I’m pretty glad to have Price back. He bails the team out when they need it. Halak just seemed incapable of giving the team the chance to win the odd 2-1 game.

  7. #7 Habs 4 life says:
    January 21, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    You nailed it Mats.

    We didn’t lose last night because we didn’t have Vinny. We could have 5 Vinny’s out there but without solid D and goaltending, you-are-not-going-to-win. I think what last night boils down to is that the Thrashers made the most out of the few opportunities they had, and when you add weak goaltending, terrible D positioning (I’m looking at you Hammer) and a whole lot of luck on the side of Atlanta, where just not going to get that W.

    How can you blame carbo for playing our 4th line so much? whenever there was a direct matchup between our 1st line and Atlanta’s, they skated circles around us. If you’re 1st won’t keep up, then put guys out there who will at least try. Even if you lose, your sending a message to the “top guys” to smarten up and start moving their feet. The only problem I had with Carbo last night was not cutting Hammer’s minutes when he was clearly struggling all night.

    So here’s the problem; what do you do with a line that plays the hardest, and plays consistently well shift after shift but doesn’t have the scoring ability to win games?

    If anyone knows, please send your resume the Habs head office.

    On a side note, I think it’s funny that nobody complains about the 4th line’s ice time when we win.

  8. #8 Mats Naslund says:
    January 21, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Nobody complains about the fourth line when we win because they do what you need them to do with a lead: get the puck in deep and keep it there. Unfortunately for Montreal, minutes spent cycling doesn’t count as goals. Your strategy is going to be completely different depending on whether you are leading or trailing in a game. Montreal are terrible when it comes to coming from behind. Sending in the 3rd and 4th lines is not a great strategy, especially since Lang’s line was buzzing every shift in the 3rd.

  9. #9 Joseph says:
    January 22, 2009 at 2:01 am

    Very good insight, Donnie, MN, Habs 4 Life, as per usual. Only I don’t expect a Lecavalier to be a saviour for this team. I only stated that to make the point that the Habs desperately need a player who’ll grab the rest of the team by the balls and say ‘This way!’ whenever necessary. They currently don’t have one I’m afraid.

    Also, I don’t believe that Carbonneau’s plan, whatever it may be, is working. What I do believe is that this team pulled together, tightened the bolts and cranked things up a few notches when key players went down. This is not a difficult assessment to make. As soon as Price, and tonight Koivu, returned, the rest of the team seemed to relax a bit as if they were expecting someone else to do the work now that the marquee players were back in action. Silly and stupid, but quite obvious.

    All that said, I simply don’t expect much from this team this season. I’d like to but the idea of them succeeding in the playoffs is highly unrealistic to me. They don’t play as a team for any consistent period of time, like the ones atop the standings do. Ah, well.

    It would have been dramatic if Gainey could have pieced together a true contender for the big anniversary. But alas, 100 is merely a number, folks, and events in the universe don’t play out according to our watches.

  10. #10 Mats Naslund says:
    January 22, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I’m not convinced that things are as bad as they seem. I’d like the rest of this week a lot more if we had won last night in New Jersey, but the Canadiens are still (despite losing 3 of our last 5) 4 points ahead of last years season which was by all accounts a resounding success. We still need a lot of work on our defensive play, and it would be nice if a few players could really start to light the lamps.. but a long playoff run is still definitely a possibility.

  11. #11 Joseph says:
    January 22, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    You, much like Senet1, are a half full kind of guy, MN. I used to be as well but then I became a bitter pessimist with age. :-) Just kidding, I’m not all that old.

    In all seriousness though, it’s not about the points for me. (Given the roster upgrades over the off-season, they should have more points… and more than four better in, I’m sure, not only my opinion. Further, I’m not overly concerned with points but rather more with a team that is going to lose in the playoffs if it keeps playing the way that it currently is.) No, this team would need something special to happen to it between now and May for me to start getting excited about the possibility of a long playoff run. And by ‘special’ I mean emerging from the All-Star break almost reborn. Putting all the bad habits, which, as I had stated earlier on, become more and more difficult to break with time, behind them and playing the way that we all thought this roster capable of playing. If they do this, I’ll change my tune entirely.

  12. #12 Mats Naslund says:
    January 22, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I hear you Joseph. I’m not saying this roster is ready for a long post-season right now. Clearly we don’t have the sandpaper we thought we were going to need at the end of last season’s playoffs. Remember though, last year we were in a very similar position. We didn’t go on a real tear until the second half. All the talk at this point was how the team was going to fold and miss the playoffs like in 2006/07. My point is that with a LOT of games to play, there are reasons to think that guys will step up. I’ll lay out my reasons for optimism:

    The “4th Line”: Ok, sure they’ve been the 3rd line for the past 20 games due to injuries, but who hasn’t been impressed with the play of Maxime Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse, and Tom Kostopoulos. They don’t score every game, but you can be guaranteed that night in and night out, you are going to see those guys grinding, checking, “pest-ing” (ok not a word). Lapierre especially has drawn comparisons to Carbo for his work in the face-off circle etc. The improvement that these guys have made in the past 25 games is impressive, and I’m hoping that their improvement continues as we get closer to the post season.

    Andrei Kostitsyn: It was a painful beginning of the year for the Kovalev, Plekanec and Kostitsyn line. They were so good in the second half of last season that everyone expected their offensive fortune to continue. It didn’t. When he was hurt in mid-december he had 13 points. At the All-Star break he has 28 points and has 14 points in his last 13 games. If he can continue to produce Montreal will be a MUCH stronger offensive team. The recent outburst of offense from his linemates are evidence enough of that.

    Defense: Its hard to write about being encouraged by Montreal’s defense since our recent play has been spotty.. but.. Montreal is currently 7th in goals against. Considering Price was hurt for so long, and that Halak was not very good in his absence, I think that is an encouraging sign. While there is always room for improvement – Montreal has been very good defensively by the standard of most of the NHL.

    Depth: I heard Claude Julien talk about why Boston has been so good this season. He said that it takes time for young players to develop, but when they do it is infectious, and that having so many young players step up has provided the team with incredible depth. Sometimes we may overlook how important a part health plays in a Team’s success. Last season we were fairly healthy and that allowed the team to use its depth effectively. This year we have even more. If Montreal can stay healthy, the team has a good shot at making the kind of improvement that we need to make a solid playoff run.

    Gainey: I know it is a stretch to say that the GM could have a big impact on the second half of the season, but Bob Gainey knows the value that he has on this team. He is willing to part with assets in order to strengthen the team going forward, and the sense to say NO if he doesn’t find the right deal. He was asked point blank whether he will be a buyer, seller or tweaker at the trade deadline on NHL Live today, and replied “At best: buyer, at worst: tweaker”. He is the type of guy that likes to have all of the information he needs to make an intelligent decision and that is what makes him such a good GM. His decision to abandon Mats Sundin in favor of Robert Lang is just one example of his ability to shift gears and make the best decision for his club.

  13. #13 Senet1 says:
    January 22, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    Matt’s to Joseph, ditto, I agree with what Matts is saying. To me if you are a true habs fan even in the worse of situations you still have to believe that the glass is half full not half empty. You still have to believe that you can win at any time. I have always subscribed to the Yogi Bera theory that it is never over until it is over. I have been fortunate to live through these miracles on a personal level three times when all looked lost something happened that turned the tide and we won a game or a championship. So I guess because of that I believe until the end.

  14. #14 Senet1 says:
    January 23, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Now as for our team, we are ahead of our pace of last year and we have had some major injuries to our team yet we have played well enough to stay in the battle and continue to win. With a healthy 2nd or 3rd line and our #1 goalie in the net we can start to make a push to improve our status in our conference. Well we catch Boston, probably not but there is still hope, Boston like most teams should go into a tail spin at some point in this season. If they do we have a chance if not then we are going to be a fourth place team at best which is not that bad of a situation. It would mean that if we continued to win come playoff time we will play Boston in the conference final, unless of course the get beat by someone else.

    Yes it would be nice to have Vinny but not at the expense of of our defence. What we truely need the most is an experienced defenceman one who can hit, skate and take command of the powerplay. He probably will be available but I doubt if we can afford him,(Bouwmeester) Kaberlie is the next choice he can do two of the three and would fit in with the team.

    Then all we need is our #1 goalie to play like we know he can and we should be positioned for a strong run at the cup. We all have seen goalies steal series and the cup if Price does then we can beat Boston and then onto San Jose and the cup.

  15. #15 Joseph says:
    January 27, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    Are you suggesting that I am not a true Habs fan, Senet1? :-)

    The 4th line. I have no complaints about the play of Lapierre, Latendresse, and Kostopoulos. They’ve been solid at both ends of the ice in the games I’ve been able to see thus far.

    Kostitsyn et al. He has undoubtedly been playing much better than he was earlier on, as has Kovalev, as has Plekanec. But I’m not so anxious to put all of my faith in the idea that these players will repeat what they accomplished in the second half of last season. They simply don’t appear to have that same instinct. But I could easily be proven wrong.

    Defense. What defense? And price has looked anything but spectacular in the few games since his return… which is alarming.

    Depth. The Habs certainly have it but they haven’t used it very well, in my opinion. That depth requires motivation. Consistent motivation. And the players seem to be less motivated than more on many nights.

    Gainey. I have no doubts about his insight or his abilities to shape this team. But he’ll also need some good fortune to land the missing pieces of the puzzle and not simply trade tit for tat.

    That being said, I really believe it’s time that the Cup made its return to its homeland, where it belongs. And I sincerely hope that the less than desirable play which I’ve been witnessing most of the season fades quickly and is replaced with a true desire to win. In the words of Irvin, “I want players who hate to lose.”

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