Thursday, October 27, 2011

Could It Be? Is That Hope I see?

Yes, it was just one win. Yes, the Montreal Canadiens are still only 2-5-2. But for the first time since the Jets' home opener in Winnipeg, there were a few reasons to smile in Montreal last night.

Let's start with an obvious one: Max Pacioretty. There were legitimate fears over how he would play once returning from last season's spinal cord injury. The truth is, Max hasn't been the same player he was prior to that injury; he still hesitates a little about charging into danger areas or going recklessly to the net. But he is maturing into the player he has always had the potential to be, whose mix of size, speed, and skill make him a top notch top 6 guy. And if he ever re-gains that head down, charge the goal, style... (and it isn't unreasonable to think he'll only get more and more comfortable on the ice over time) look out NHL cause we'll have a legitimate star powerforward on our hands. Four goals, five assists through 9 games is a great start for Max, and this while bouncing around on numerous combinations of lines. Plus the game seems like nothing can keep him down, a studly quick healer worthy of the nickname Wolverine.

Next, there's Carey Price. The Habs' star netminder got a couple of demons out of his closet by finally picking up career win #100 and shirking the pink pads he was using since for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Not to suggest it was causing a distraction, but getting past the milestone always helps to have one less thing at the back of your mind, and about those bads... well I'm not saying they were bad luck, or that they were of some inferior quality or comfort or fit... but for whatever reason, Carey wasn't getting it done in them. If the team is going to turn this terrible start around, they need Price at his best, so hopefully he gets to that level quickly.

Third would be Erik Cole. After a tough start to the season that saw Jacques Martin misuse him in every way imaginable other than sticking him on defense, Cole has been amongst the team's top wingers in each of the last two games. The Cole that Habs fans were happy to sign seems to have shown up, and hopefully he stays hot as when on his game, he is exactly the type of player this team needs.

Next let's talk Perry Pearn. No, I'm not going to say that he was the root of all of the team's problems and his firing allowed the team to stomp the Flyers last night. I've never been a big fan of Pearn, as he has a demeanor not all that unlike Jacques Martin's and his work on the powerplay and with the defense has at times been questionable. But the firing of an assistant coach with no external replacement isn't ultimately going to be a difference-maker. So why was Pierre Gauthier's announcement and subsequent press conference an encouraging sign? Maybe it's just the eternal optimist within me grasping at straws, but I was happy to hear the line Gauthier toed with the media. He spoke of a new commitment to "outside the box" thinking. He repeated a few times that the organization had to "change its global outlook." While he did state flat out that Jacques Martin was still his guy (for as much as we can believe it when a GM says this), what this says to me is they want to evolve, modify, or completely scrap the defensive shell system that Martin preaches. This says to me they see the issues at hand and they're ready to step outside of their country club mentality and open themselves up to new tactics. I'm a fan of getting creative and using all the tools at your disposal in sports management, so if Gauthier says they're ready to try new thing, then I take that as a great sign of better days ahead. The first step may have been firing Pearn, but I'm certain other changes - whether we're privy to them or not - area round the corner.

Finally, there's the long lost saviour of the Montreal blueline, Andrei Markov. There is renewed hope on this dossier as well, with members of the media taking advantage of having access to Gauthier to get an update and PG stating that things look good. Markov has responded well to testing in Florida and will get back to Montreal this Friday. There's no explicit timetable for his return to practice or game action, but it sounds like we may finally be getting closer. If the offense has awoken, a healthy Markov is the type of boost that could quickly lift this team out of the depths of the Eastern Conference basement.

So Habs fans, happy days may not be here again just yet, but there is some light at the end of our collective tunnel. And this while Brian Gionta has yet to show up, Hal Gill is still in his usual clumsy early season mode, P.K. Subban is struggling to find his game, and Scott Gomez and Chris Campoli remain on IR. Maybe... just maybe... the Fail for Nail must be put on hiatus.

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