Monday, November 28, 2011

Canadiens Call Up Louis Leblanc

In the wake of the Max Pacioretty suspension, the Montreal Canadiens announced that 2009 first round pick Louis Leblanc has been recalled from the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Leblanc, 20, missed the first 5 games of his debut professional season, rehabbing from off-season shoulder surgery, but has since collected 4 goals and 10 points in 14 games. Leblanc is average sized at 6'0", 180 lbs, but plays an aggressive forechecking and responsible defensive game.

Leblanc is likely to play only if Andrei Markov doesn't dress for Wednesday's game (which is the likely scenario, given that the club might not want him to return in the first half of back-to-back games). He can play either center or the wing, and is certainly a better option than playing Frederic St. Denis on the wing, but if Markov dresses, it's possible the team uses Yannick Weber up front ahead of Leblanc.

I like this move, given that it will only be for 1 to 2 games at the most. Leblanc has played well in Hamilton, and a little taste of the big league may motivate him further to work hard to earn a full-time promotion. He was quite effective in preseason games a year ago, but had to sit out this year in rehabbing his injury.

He should wear # 71, as he did in preseason a year ago, and if he does play tomorrow, he will become the milestone 800th player to play for the Canadiens in a regular season game in franchise history.

But a word of caution, Habs fans: don't expect too much from him right away. Leblanc has an NHL future, but it may be as a two-way third liner rather than a top 6 scorer. He isn't NHL ready yet, and will continue to develop in Hamilton. He's only 20, so be patient with him please. The fact that his debut comes on the road should help to lessen the heaps of pressure being lumped on his shoulders.

Max Pacioretty Suspensed for 3 Games

The NHL announced this evening that Habs forward Max Pacioretty has been suspended for 3 games for his hit to the head of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. The hit allegedly broke Letang's nose, though he returned to the game minutes later.

Here is Brendan Shanahan's explanation of the suspension:

Three games seems a little stiff for that hit. I had predicted 1-2, because while it was a hit to the head, I would disagree with Shanahan and his team about Letang's head. To me, it does move significantly as he shoots, after Pacioretty has committed to the hit. A 3 game suspension seems inconsistent with other recent non-suspensions by the league, including to Zack Bogosian and Milan Lucic.

It will be interesting to see how Martin fills the gap caused by Pacioretty's absence on this road trip. Smart money may be on the return of Andrei Markov for Thursday night's game to avoid starting him in a back-to-back. If that's the case, it'll likely be that Frederic St. Denis plays at forward Wednesday night, and is then pushed from the line-up to make room for Markov, with Yannick Weber shifting from defense to forward.

Your Canadiens for November 28, 2011

- The Canadiens take off for Anaheim at 1:00 PM this afternoon to begin a 3 game road trip through California. Wednesday night's game against Saku Koivu and his struggling Ducks begins at 10:00 PM Eastern.

- Good news in the injury department this morning. Chris Campoli joined his teammates for practice today, albeit wearing a non-contact jersey. Still another step forward. Also, Ryan White was seen back on skates for the first time this season, skating on his own on a separate rink in Brossard. White is recovering from sports hernia surgery and is still weeks away. Andreas Engqvist and Jaroslav Spacek joined White for the skate. This means everyone was on the ice except for Scott Gomez, who, thus, should not be expected to join the team on the Cali trip.

But perhaps the best news? Andrei Markov practiced on a regular pairing today, skating with Alexei Emelin! It sounds like his return is near! Yannick Weber found himself outside the top 6, skating with extra Frederic St. Denis. Great news that Jacques Martin is finally appreciating Emelin's play, and the Markov - Emelin pairing has very high potential. However, Markov later skipped out on a drill involving taking contact in the corners, which raises some doubt about his return date.

More fuel to the Markov / Emelin fire: Here were the powerplay lines from practice this morning:

Cammalleri - Desharnais - Cole
Markov - Subban

Pacioretty - Plekanec - Kostitsyn
Weber - Diaz

Lots to digest there! Again, Markov practicing in a "healthy" position. Tomas Plekanec no longer on the point on the powerplay! Finally! With the shift, the Lars Eller on the powerplay experiment seems to be over, at least for now. And Brian Gionta has also seen his spot cut, after being a -9 with no points in the last 3 games. But perhaps more interesting is that Yannick Weber, who appeared to be on the 4th defensive duo (meaning out of the line-up), practiced in a regular powerplay position. It is likely, then, that the Canadiens will dress 7 d-men for Markov's return, either holding Markov out for just limited minutes and the man advantage, or playing Weber at forward.

- Before the team leaves, Max Pacioretty will have a hearing by telephone with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. Pacioretty will have to explain himself for the hit that broke Kris Letang's nose on Saturday.

Will he be suspended? It's a tough call. Yes, it is a shot to Letang's head, so for that alone, we could see Pacioretty should get 2-3 games. However, given some of Shanahan's other decisions this season, there could also be an argument that Letang was leaning into a shot with his head down, and by the time he leans in, it is too late for Pacioretty to change the trajectory of his hit. As such, Shanny may rule no intent, and let Max escape unscathed this time around. My call would be a 2-game suspension, though the fact that Letang was back a couple of minutes later could work in Pacioretty's favour in lessening the punishment. Hoping he gets a break, though, as Saturday night he awoke from a couple game slump with a strong effort which he could build on in the coming week.

- The Washington Capitals have fired coach Bruce Boudreau and replaced him with Dale Hunter. How does this relate to the Habs other than the fact that they haven't fired Jacques Martin yet? Well, Dale Hunter was head coach of the London Knights and a big influence on prospect Jarred Tinordi. Fortunately, Dale's brother Mark, who worked with him, will take over as coach, so it shouldn't be a drastic change.

- Speaking of coaching changes, in a move that is sure to draw the ire of Habs fans towards Pierre Gauthier, the Carolina Hurricanes today fired coach Paul Maurice and hired former Habs Captain and assistant coach Kirk Muller to replace him. Many saw Muller as an eventual replacement for Jacques Martin in Montreal, so this move is somewhat frustrating.

- Per phenomenal French rumour site Dans Les Coulisses (, when the Habs charter takes off for Anaheim this afternoon, general manager Pierre Gauthier will be on board. It's not at all uncommon for a GM to travel to road games with his team, but one must also consider that given the performances of the Habs and Ducks up till now, both clubs could stand to make a move. Gauthier, who previously worked for the Ducks, has transacted with general manager Bob Murray quite frequently, so another deal is not out of the question.

- Prospect winger Danny Kristo had a big weekend for the University of North Dakota. His club was off to a tough start to the season but posted big wins on Friday and Saturday, with Kristo totaling 3 goals and 2 assists, now giving him 17 points in 14 games.

Also in the NCAA, Steve Quailer had a 3 point night, now at 11 points in 11 games, while Mac Bennett picked up 3 assists in 2 games, now with 13 points in 16 contests, besting last year's season total of 12 points.

- Hockey Canada unveiled today a list of 41 players who will take part in a selection camp in preparation for this December/January's World Junior Championship. Included on this list are Canadiens prospects Brendan Gallagher, Michael Bournival, and Nathan Beaulieu. The two forwards should be near-locks to make the squad, while Beaulieu will face tough competition to lock down a job on defense.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Your Canadiens for November 25, 2011

REMINDER: Due to American Thanksgiving, today's Philadelphia Flyers - Montreal Canadiens game begins at 3:00 PM EST. If you can't watch the game then, RDS is replaying it in its entirety at 6:30 PM EST.

- The Habs will be without Scott Gomez (insert Thanksgiving joke here) for today's game. He is day-to-day with a lower body injury and did not practice yesterday. Though they did practice, neither Andrei Kostitsyn nor Andrei Markov is ready to return, and since no one was called up from Hamilton, the Canadiens will dress 7 defensemen (including Frederic St. Denis).

- Carey Price will get the start in goal for Montreal. It is unlikely Peter Budaj will start at home against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, so we shall see how Price holds up for back-to-back games.

- Jaromir Jagr and Chris Pronger will miss this game due to injury and illness respectively. Good timing for the Canadiens!

- A Russian news source yesterday reported that Alexander Avtsin's agent indicated the player was promised by the Canadiens to play at least 10 games for the Habs this season (source:

The source is the same that broke the Andrei Kostitsyn - Jacques Martin story from this summer. Avtsin was considered a highly intriguing prospect when he was signed a year ago, bringing the always coveted mix of size and skill to the table. He struggled to get ice time in the American Hockey League as one of the AHL's youngest players (starting the season at age 19) last year. This season, after a slow start, he seems to have possibly turned a corner, having the most productive stretch of his North American career the last little bit, playing notably on a top line with Louis Leblanc and Phil DeSimone.

He'll need to keep consistently playing well to deserve that call-up to the NHL, or else the Habs will basically have to determine whether he's in the long-term plans or not. If the answer is yes or maybe, they'll need to give him a look to keep him happy. Of course, there is no North American source making this claim "official," but it would make sense when combined with the report that Avtsin was "disappointed" when cut from Habs camp this Fall (it's not like anyone expected him to have a shot at making the club anyway!).

- Hockey Canada will announce the list of players invite to Team Canada's final evaluation camp for the World Junior Championship Monday morning. Canadiens prospects Brendan Gallagher and Michael Bournival are shoe-ins for invites, while Nathan Beaulieu should be on the camp roster as well, though he faces the toughest road ahead to make the actual squad.

- With no NHL games yesterday, it was a quiet night for Habs fans. But check out today/tonight's schedule; in addition to the Canadiens game, virtually every Hab prospect in North America is in action! Brendan Gallagher's Vancouver Giants, Nathan Beaulieu's Saint John Sea Dogs, Jarred Tinordi's London Knights, Michael Bournival's Shawinigan Cataractes, Morgan Ellis's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Danny Kristo's UND, Mac Bennett and Greg Pateryn's Michigan Wolverines, Darren Dietz's Saskatoon Blades, plus the Hamilton Bulldogs (and more!) all have games tonight! A busy night of scoreboard watching no doubt.

- Want to meet P.K. Subban? Let's be honest, who doesn't?! The Habs defenseman will be signing autographs at the Best Buy Quartier DIX30 in Brossard this Sunday, November 27th, at 2:00 PM.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Your Canadiens for November 24, 2011

So how about that, ladies and gentlemen? A comeback win from down 2-0. The same old script would have had Your Canadiens stumble and take penalties after Lars Eller had reduced the lead to 2-1, before falling short of a tying goal in the dying seconds.

But not last night. If the Canadiens were a little thrown off in the first after that early "off Emelin, off posts, off Diaz, off Price, and in" goal, they didn't let off, and played well enough to get the win. The game wasn't perfect. Some might say they didn't deserve the win. But they'll take it, especially considering the several occasions this season where they lost but deserved a better fate.

Despite his production, Mike Cammalleri continues to struggle in overall play. Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty had off-nights. Brian Gionta finished the night a -3 (though we'll forgive him a little for scoring the shootout winner).

Who was good? Well Scott Gomez left the game with a lower body injury (considered day-to-day), which allowed Lars Eller to return to the center position where he has been far more effective. Eller showed us another glimpse of his immense potential, leading the charges with a goal and an assist.

If P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber had difficult evenings, it was surprisingly strong play from Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz that solidified the back end. Though they played less than any other blueliners (17:08 and 19:06 respectively), they both left a positive impression, something that is becoming a trend in Emelin's case. It will be interesting to see what choices the Habs' brass makes once veterans start to get healthy. Andrei Markov and Hal Gill are non-negotiable LDs, while Jaroslav Spacek and Josh Gorges are most comfortable there, and Alexei Emelin has traditionally played there and only looked good there. Oh, and when Chris Campoli is also healthy? Yep, an LD too. The logjam on the left means some guys are going to have to shift over. On the right, we have P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber, and Raphael Diaz; not exactly the strongest group. Of the lefties, Gorges has spent the most time playing on the right, followed by Spacek. So perhaps we will see something like this?

Andrei Markov - Josh Gorges
Hal Gill - P.K. Subban
Chris Campoli - X

The X is the interesting spot. I'd love for Emelin to stay in the line-up since he has shown great improvement and brings a physical element that no other player in the group does. Unfortunately, though, with the more experienced Yannick Weber, Jacques Martin's favourite Raphael Diaz, and the grizzled veteran Jaroslav Spacek all in the mix, if everyone is healthy, it will take a trade for Emelin to see any ice time. From an asset management standpoint, it would likely make most sense for Diaz to be sent to Hamilton, since he can be demoted without clearing waivers, but we'll see what shall happen.

Erik Cole should have had the game winner with 30 seconds to go which you know he would have been happy about in his return to Carolina. But oddly, both the goal was disallowed AND no penalty was called for a blatant trip from the Hurricanes.

And how about Carey Price? No, it wasn't his best game of the season, but he did manage to stop all 3 Hurricane shooters in the shootout. Prior to this game, opposing teams had scored on all 4 shootout attempts against Montreal this season. Price's career shootout save percentage is just .695. The concept of him being a good shootout goalie because of Canada's big win over the U.S. in the world juniors several years back is really a myth. Price made few saves in that marathon, and Canada was really saved by the heroics of Jonathan Toews. Now I'm not dissing on Price or anything, but the shootout is simply not his thing.


- If you, like me, avoid watching L'Antichambre like the plague, then you would have missed them making a big deal out of Darche - Subban gate last night. For those that didn't notice, there was a play in last night's game where P.K. Subban was skating the puck up ice, and Mathieu Darche was calling for a pass. Subban made an extra move before dishing the puck off, leaving Darche just to dump it into the offensive zone. Darche was enraged, emphatically waving his arms and yelling at Subban as the two skated off to the bench. The folks at L'Antichambre were divided on the issue, half ripping Subban and half ripping Darche, but certainly that kind of a display of anger towards a teammate isn't something you want to see in-game, especially not from a fourth liner plug towards your #1 defenseman. L'Antichambre went on to turn it into a "dressing room feud between old guys and young guys," citing things like Brian Gionta not being willing to pass the puck to Max Pacioretty, or Mike Cammalleri not wanting to pass to Lars Eller. Ridiculous poppycock.

- If you missed it yesterday, RDS had some fun photoshopping Scott Gomez into a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey and Sidney Crosby into a Habs jersey.

- The Hamilton Bulldogs are struggling, suffering another big loss yesterday, 5-2 at the hands of the Grand Rapids Griffins. The 'Dogs took a 2-1 lead into the third thanks to goals from Phil DeSimone and Brian Willsie, but couldn't hold on. Louis Leblanc picked up an assist in the losing cause, while Alexander Avtsin was a team-worst -4. (on the bright side, I guess it at least means he saw good ice time in the third!)

- Perry Pearn (remember him?) has agreed to take a job with the Canadiens as a pro scout. He attended the Winnipeg Jets - Washington Capitals game last night. Pro scouts have the mandate of, well, scouting other pro teams. This could be to have good information on trade targets, or simply to assess other opposing teams for upcoming games.

- And non-Habs related, but a couple of recent European hockey videos to make you giggle:


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Curious Case of Andrei Markov

After much speculation at yesterday's morning skate, official word got out this morning that defenseman Andrei Markov has received medical clearance for contact in practice. While this isn't a timetable for a return to game action (which Jacques Martin previously said wouldn't be before early December's California trip), it is an important step in his recovery.

Let's use this occasion to look back and see what exactly has gone on the past while in the strange saga of Mr. Markov, which has taken enough twists and turns to be a television soap opera.

June 1998 - Andrei Markov was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 6th round of the 1998 NHL entry draft. He had only recently made a shift from playing center to his now familiar spot on the blueline during the 1996-97 season with Voskresensk Khimik of the Russian league. With the pick directly before Markov, the Ottawa Senators selected Chris Neil, while earlier in the 6th round, with another of their picks, the Habs had taken Gordie Dwyer. Also notable is that, just 9 picks after Markov, the Detroit Red Wings stole Pavel Datsyuk. Some pretty good players for 6th round picks! (also taken that round were Trent Hunter, Niko Kapanen, Antero Niittymaki, and Ales Kotalik)

October 2000 - Markov crossed the ocean for the 2000-01 season and had an immediate impact with the Canadiens, spending only 14 games with the AHL's Quebec Citadelles while playing 63 for the Habs in scoring 23 points as a rookie.

2001 - 2007 - Markov played big minutes for the Canadiens (with the lockout season in the middle spent back in Russia) and, for those, who forget, was quite healthy and durable. In fact, he did not play fewer than 67 games in any of those years.

May 2007 - For the first time in his career, Markov had the chance to become an unrestricted free agent. Instead, he chose to re-sign with the Canadiens ahead of time, inking a 4-year, $23M deal ($5.75M cap hit). In the first year of his deal (07-08), Markov would set a new career high with 58 points, only to better that the following season (08-09) by netting 64. All seemed good with Markov and the Habs, as the blueliner was establishing himself as a top 10 d-man league-wide.

April 2009 - The Canadiens were looking like they just might be able to salvage a disastrous Centennial season as a late-season hot streak prevented the club from slipping out of a playoff spot. But the straw that broke the camel's back was a hit on Markov by Mikhail Grabovski late in a 6-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 4th that injured his left knee. The Canadiens folded in four straight games in the first round, before opting to completely overhaul their roster that summer. Markov, however, remained part of the team's core.

October 2009 - As the team looked to turn to a new chapter with a new leadership group in place, the unthinkable happened. Their top defenseman, in his return to action in the season opener on October 1, had his left ankle slashed on Carey Price's skate in a freak accident and required surgery which was initially predicted to keep him out till February. This game was again against the Leafs, which had many believing Markov was cursed versus them.

December 2009 - The General showed he could be a quick healer in suiting up with his teammates again on December 19, scoring 2 of the Canadiens' tallies in a 3-0 win over the New York Islanders.

April 2010 - The Canadiens were just starting out on what would turn out to be a fairytale run to the Eastern Conference finals when, in an April 30 second round game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a hit by Matt Cooke would cause damage requiring surgery on Markov's right knee.

October 2010 - Markov wasn't ready for the following season's opener, but got back in the line-up by October 30th. Many questioned if it was perhaps too soon, as he didn't have the same immediate impact as in his previous return from injury.

November 2010 - Just 7 games into his return, in a blowout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, Markov collided awkwardly with 'Canes captain Eric Staal and slid into the boards, twisting his knee below him. You could instantly see it on his face. It was bad. Markov was fully aware of what had just happened and was incredibly frustrated by it. The right knee hadn't held up, and it would be back to the surgeon's table.

June 2011 - After playing only those 7 games during the 2010-11 season, Markov was again set to become a UFA. The Canadiens had a big decision to make on a guy who had been loyal throughout his career and was one of the best at his position when healthy. There were no d-men of Markov's calibre available to replace him on the free agent market, and so management put their faith in the Canadian-citizen-by-choice by awarding him a generous 3 year deal at his same previous cap hit ($5.75M / year).

"We look forward to having him back in our line-up for the start of the upcoming season," read the final sentence of general manager Pierre Gauthier's press release. (source:

Risky, no doubt. Three years at that kind of money is a lot to offer someone who had played only 52 regular season games over the prior two seasons combined. But they couldn't really be gambling here, I told myself. Who should know better about Markov's health than the Habs' brass and trainers?! If they feel confident enough to make this investment, they must be certain he will be fully recovered and ready to go in no time!

September 2011 - As training camp rolled around, the rumours and stories began to fly. Had he suffered a setback requiring his knee be drained late in August? Was it because he hadn't been rehabbing it hard enough? Or had he been training too hard? One story indicated that he had returned to Russia for a few weeks vacation and the club was shocked upon his return that he hadn't kept up with his rehab schedule while away. He then began doubling up the intensity of his workouts in Montreal to make up for the lost time, which resulted in the development of water in his knee. Of course, this is rumour at best, but it is a story that fits reasonably well with all the public evidence we have.

Markov was skating with the team when camp began, but then he seemed to fall slightly off the radar. Next think you know, Chris Campoli was signed. Gauthier was quick to tell reporters that Campoli had absolutely nothing to do with Markov's health.

"He's (Markov) progressing very well," Gauthier said on September 26th. "The knee is in very good health. He keeps moving along in his rehabilitation. We'll see if he'll be quite ready or not (for the season opener), but he shouldn't miss too many games." (source:

Won't miss many games, huh? Well that's comforting, but then why had the team been insisting he was healthy? Or were they? Four days later, on September 30th, head coach Jacques Martin was quoted as saying, "Markov's rehab is going well. He's skating on his own and continues to work on building his strength. We knew from the start he wouldn't be ready for the start of the season, so it's on schedule." (source:

It's not hard to understand, then, why some perceive a rift between Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin. Their statements seem quite contradictory. The team seems to want to cover up that they perhaps err'ed in judgment or didn't do their due-diligence sufficiently with regards to Markov's health.

October 2011 - Still following? So Markov is doing well, and won't miss many games. But where did he go? Suddenly no one could find him around the rink. His progress appeared stalled. Had he stopped skating? Then we got this leak courtesy of blogger Big T on the Habs: a photo of Markov waiting at Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport, his right leg elevated as he sits in a chair, waiting to board a plane to Florida. (source:

Indeed, on October 12th, Martin confirmed Markov had flown to Florida to meet with his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews. The nature of the meetings was unclear; would Markov require a follow-up procedure? Was it just for observation and to receive a green light? Concerns continued to mount when what was initially announced as a one-week stay was extended to nearly two full weeks in the Sunshine State. There was talk amongst some of possible discontent between Markov and the organization, or some other strange issues at work. Rumour-monger bloggers were quick to put out stories suggesting that Markov's next game in the NHL would only be following a trade to another club. Questions were raised about neighbours observing his house being frequently inhabited both now and throughout long stretches of summer. Were things less rosy than the team wanted all to believe?

November 2011 - But then, almost miraculously, things seemed to get back on track. Upon returning to Montreal, Markov was back on the ice, starting with just 15 minute sessions but working his way back up to contactless practices with the team. Though there is no specific timeframe for his return, even with his today (November 22) being cleared for contact, the club has suggested it won't be before early December's California road trip. By that time, he will have missed nearly 1/3 of the season, which - while it's not like anything is lost just yet - certainly doesn't constitute "not many games."

But of course, it couldn't be that simple. A chronicle as convoluted as this requires at least one more twist before he can get back on the ice. And that seems to have come, as there has been a confirmation that Markov's Candiac home is on the market for a price tag of $1.5M. (source: It seems he and his common law partner have split, and thus he no longer felt the need to retain the home he shared with her and their two kids. An understandable situation for anyone going through such a time in their personal life, but certainly it hasn't stopped the internet Hab fan gossipers and rumour mongers from suggesting the house is being sold because he wants out of Montreal.

As Habs fans, we can all hope that Mr. Markov will be back in the line-up as soon as possible. He is the type of player that can take a bubble squad and turn them into true contenders. But most importantly, it is crucial that when he does return, he is fully healed and will be able to play the vast majority of the team's games over this season and the next two. If not, for the team to be competitive, they will need their young blueliners to mature awfully quickly and/or seek a real replacement for a true number 1 d-man.


November 30 2011 - The day many expected Markov to return to the line-up, for a game against the Anaheim Ducks in sunny California. That week, Markov had spent practice on a regular top 6 pairing with Alexei Emelin, and even lined up on the team's top powerplay unit beside P.K. Subban. There was a little worry when he skipped out on some contact in the corner drills, but then, something completely unpredictable. There we were on game day, with the whole team taking to the ice in the morning, and no Markov. A "therapy day" was the excuse Jacques Martin gave. Of course, no sign of Markov for that evening's game.

December 1 2011 - The next morning, in getting ready for the second half of a back-to-back, this one against the San Jose Sharks, only the injured and suspended players took to the ice in the morning. But along with Max Pacioretty, Chris Campoli, Jaroslav Spacek, and Andreas Engqvist was no Andrei Markov. Is this a good sign? Is he a healthy player who thus got the morning off? Or was he unable to lace up his skates for a second straight day? Perhaps we'll know more come game time.

And then this: Montreal reporter JF Chaumont confirms the team has stated Andrei Markov is not with the club in San Jose. The Habs obviously wanting to torment their fanbase did not elaborate as to where Markov is, or why he isn't with the group.

It would later be revealed that Markov stayed in Anaheim and headed to L.A. to meet with doctors while the team traveled to San Jose. Given that the Habs' next game was back in Los Angeles, the move made some sense. However, reporters Brian Wilde and Martin McGuire revealed a story prior to game time that in fact, Markov was having trouble pivoting to one side, and thus again had to take a step back in his recovery. He was to be off the ice for at least the next 5 days.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Your Canadiens for November 21, 2011

While the attention of the rest of the league is on the much-anticipated return to action of Sidney Crosby this evening, Habs fans have a big game of their own to watch. After ending the New York Rangers' 7-game win streak on Saturday night, the team will have a chance to put a stop to Boston's 8-game run this evening.

- Your Montreal Canadiens for tonight:

Mike Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Brian Gionta
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Scott Gomez - Lars Eller
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen - Aaron Palushaj

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Frederic St. Denis - Yannick Weber
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz

Carey Price

- Carey Price was today named the NHL's first star of the week for a second time this season. Despite Peter Budaj getting a start mid-week, Price put up a 2-0-1 record with a .972 save percentage and a 0.67 goals against average. His last two starts have represent the first time in his young career that he has recorded back-to-back shutouts, with his current streak at 127 minutes. Congratulations Carey!

- Tonight marks the 100th game of P.K. Subban's career. The young blueliner has stepped up his game in the wake of injuries after a slow start to the season.

- Hal Gill, released from hospital on Friday, rejoined his teammates for practice for the first time this morning, but will not play tonight. His return shouldn't be far away, however.

- Gill skated in practice with Andrei Markov, who was wearing the same white-coloured jersey as his teammates. This led to speculation that he may have received medical clearance for contact in practice, but it was later clarified that he has yet to get that green light. It is expected that it may come later this week, though. There is still no specific timeline for Markov's return, but Jacques Martin had mentioned it won't be before the California road trip which is in early December.

- Chris Campoli and Andrei Kostitsyn also skated this morning, but with a team trainer as opposed to their mates. While Campoli being a ways off is hardly news, it seems Kostitsyn isn't progressing as quickly as many had hoped for.

- Turning our attention to the prospect ranks...

After a great game with a goal and 3 assists on Friday night, Brendan Gallagher was held off the scoresheet Saturday and then collected an assist on Sundy, now giving him 36 points in 21 games, but falling off the 50-goals-in-50-games track for the first time, stuck at 19.

Fellow WHL'er Darren Dietz scored a goal yesterday, giving him 15 points in 24 games and a team best +18 rating.

Despite finishing the night a +2, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu had a 6-game point streak broken yesterday. Montreal's first round pick last June has 20 points and is a +17 in 23 games.

Michael Bournival has played three games since returning from injury. He was twice held off the scoresheet (and finishing a -2 on both of those occasions), but Saturday night he picked up 2 goals, to now give him 12 in 10 games played.

Danny Kristo was held off the scoresheet for a second consecutive weekend (with a bye weekend in between), cooling off after a rocket start. He is now back at the 1 point-per-game mark with 12 points in 12 games.

Also in the NCAA, Mac Bennett scored his 3rd goal of the season, passing the 2 he notched last year. In his rookie season, the defenseman put up 12 points in 32 games, while now as a sophomore he has 10 in just 14 contests.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Your Canadiens for November 17, 2011

Some updates prior to the Canadiens engaging in the second half of back-to-back games, this one taking place in New York against the Islanders.

- Peter Budaj gets the call in goal for Montreal. With Carey Price recording a shutout last night, and there being a third game in four nights on Saturday, this seems like a good call. Budaj was solid enough in his last start, and Price will be back in goal to face the Rangers.

- Both Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek will be out again for tonight. This means Frederic St. Denis will play his second NHL game after a decent debut last night.
UPDATE: According to Renaud Lavoie this evening, Gill's illness has him in the hospital. Hopefully it's nothing too serious and I wish him the speediest and fullest of recoveries! It means, though, that he'll likely be out for Saturday's game as well.

- Evgeni Nabokov will get the start for New York against the Habs. Nabokov has played 7 games for the Isles, with a 1-5 record, 2.89 GAA, and .910 save percentage. Kyle Okposo, who is having a tough start to the season and has fallen out of favour somewhat in Long Island, will be a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game.

- There will be 4 Swiss-born players in tonight's game: Nino Niederreiter and former Canadien Mark Streit for the Isles, and of course Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz for Montreal.

- The Abbotsford Heat have lent 21-year old center Mitch Wahl to the Hamilton Bulldogs for the remainder of this season. Wahl, a 2nd round draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 2008, missed all but 17 games in his AHL rookie season last year due to injury, and put up 5 points. The 6'0", 200 lbs California native spent 5 games in the ECHL this year where he scored 5 goals and 7 points, but has no points in 5 games at the AHL level. Note that even though Wahl will play for the 'Dogs, he remains Flames property and could not be called up by the Canadiens. For more on Wahl, see here:

- The Canadiens organization mourns the loss of former long-time trainer Eddy Palchak, who passed away last night. Rest in peace Eddy. See a nice tribute to him here:

- On a happier note, Mike Cammalleri Tweeted YouTube links to the latest series of BioSteel web ads. Here are the two that star the Habs' sniper.

- The CHL yesterday posted its latest edition of the Top 10 clubs CHL-wide:
You'll notice the teams of many Canadiens' junior prospects included:
#1 - Jarred Tinordi's London Knights
#2 - Nathan Beaulieu's Saint John Sea Dogs
#6 - Darren Dietz's Saskatoon Blades
#9 - Michael Bournival's Shawinigan Cataractes
Each of the four is a significant contributor to their team's success.

And speaking of Beaulieu, you can contribute to his Movember campaign and check out pics of him with a "stache" here:

- Former Montreal Canadiens defenseman Stephane Quintal has been hired by the National Hockey League to assist Brendan Shanahan with league player discipline issues.

- On the subject of discipline, it was finally made official today that Zdeno Chara will face no charges from Montreal police for his hit on Max Pacioretty.

A Great Day to be a Habs Fan

In an early season that has had plenty of ups and downs for diehard Montreal Canadiens fans, last night was certainly one where we could all sit back and smile.

Not only did the Habs put up a dominating 4-0 win, giving Carey Price his first shutout (and assist!) of the season and P.K. Subban his first goal (a culmination of greatly improved play over the past few games), but for the first time in the 2011-12 regular season, the team is now above the .500 winning percentage mark. They've battled their way to that point with an impressive 7-2-1 record over the past 10 games. And if even that isn't enough to please you... at long last, Mathieu Darche did NOT receive any powerplay time yesterday!

I recently saw it suggested that Erik Cole might be one of the more disappointing off-season signings league-wide. If you had only watched the first 7 Montreal Canadiens games this year, I could see how you would think that. Cole took his time finding his zone in Montreal. But over the last 11 contests, night in, night out, Cole has been one of the team's most dangerous forwards, playing physically and driving the net hard. Over the last 11 games, Cole has picked up 4 goals and 4 assists, a rate which would project to 60 points on an 82-game season. Sixty is just one less than Cole's career high of 61 set in 2006-07, so it would be unrealistic for Habs fans to expect anything more from him. I, for one, am loving Cole, and feel every bit as happy about the signing as when it was first announced (or when I was clamouring for it prior to July 1).

Shifting over to other good news which made it a great day to be a Habs fan...

- Yesterday evening, the Montreal Canadiens announced the signing of Brendan Gallagher to a 3-year entry level contract. Gallagher is in his final season with the Vancouver Giants, where he currently has 18 goals and 31 points in 18 games. He is well on pace to better his last season's totals of 44 goals and 91 points in 66 games and seems a near-lock to represent Canada in the upcoming World Junior Championship. Last night, he captained the WHL Team that defeated Russia 5-2 in the penultimate Subway Super Series match, though he was held off the scoresheet.

Gallagher is the second highly touted prospect to be signed to join the Hamilton Bulldogs (if he doesn't make the Habs outright) for 2012-13 after Jarred Tinordi. They will form part of a strong incoming pro class that should also include Michael Bournival, Morgan Ellis, Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn, and Danny Kristo.

- Speaking of Ellis and Beaulieu, both were in action for their QMJHL clubs last night, and each recorded 2 assists in respective 4-3 victories. After a bit of an up-and-down start offensively, Beaulieu is now on a 5-game point streak, over which he has 2 goals and 6 assists. It will be interesting to see if he is invited to Canada's December camp for the World Juniors and if he can lock down a spot amidst tough competition.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Your Canadiens for November 16, 2011

Updates prior to tonight's game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

- Hal Gill is expected to again be out of action tonight with a bad virus.

- Jaroslav Spacek was hurt against the Buffalo Sabres and will not play tonight. To replace him, the Canadiens called up defenseman Frederic St. Denis from the Hamilton Bulldogs. St. Denis, 25, had a solid training camp and is considered amongst Hamilton's best two-way blueliners. Most recently, the 5'11" rearguard had a goal and an assist in Sunday's win over Binghamton. But it certainly goes to show how little NHL-ready depth is presently available to Montreal. Who would have imagined that the team would have to play a game with all of Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz, Alexei Emelin, and St. Denis amongst the top 6 d-men. Even when you add P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges to round the group out, the total NHL experience of the lot is just 579 games played.

While this is far from an ideal situation, I'm quite curious to see how St. Denis will look. Neither Emelin nor Diaz has been "ripping it up" lately. So if St. Denis can play solid, mistake-free hockey, there may even be an opportunity for him to pass one or the other of the two rookies in the depth chart. Unlikely, sure, but at this point I'l ready to look at anything that might help the team's often confused play in its own end.

Per my Habs historian projects, in making his NHL debut, St. Denis will tonight become the 799th player to play for the Canadiens in a regular season game in the team's history. Wonder who # 800 will be!

- Andrei Kostitsyn is not practicing with the team, and thus is expected to miss another game this evening. The Canadiens should, however, get Mike Cammalleri back after he missed Monday night's game.

- Also in Monday's game, Andreas Engqvist seemed to suffer a minor injury that will keep him out of action. Though, realistically, he would likely have been sat to make room for Cammalleri's return in any case.

- Andrei Markov joined the team for their light practice yesterday, wearing a non-contact jersey of course. He even stayed around to share a few words with journalists afterwards with his usual dry humour. Still no timetable for his return, though.

- Tonight's game will be a big one for Erik Cole, a forward who after a slowish first few games now makes up an important part of Montreal's most productive line of late with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. Despite a brief stint in Edmonton (and excluding the lockout), Cole had played for the Hurricanes in every one of his 9 NHL seasons prior to this one, and thus will be facing off against many good friends.

It's also a big one for Lars Eller, who will be participating in his 100th NHL game.

- Down in the AHL, the Hamilton Bulldogs lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Peoria Rivermen last night. With an injury to Garrett Stafford and the call-up of St. Denis, the 'Dogs recalled both Olivier Dame-Malka and T.J. Fast from the ECHL. Dame-Malka, in his second AHL game this season, recorded his first AHL point, assisting on a Philip DeSimone goal. Michael Blunden had the other tally for Hamilton, while Dany Masse was the only one of 5 shooters able to beat Ben Bishop during the shootout.

- Sticking with prospects, highly-touted Michael Bournival returned to the line-up from injury for the Shawninigan Cataractes - the team he captains - last night. Bournival was held off the scoresheet and finished a -2 in a 5-1 loss, playing only his 8th game of the season after missing about a month of action. In those 8 games, Bournival has tallied 10 goals and 13 points.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Your Canadiens for November 14, 2011

Here's your state of the organization update on the eve of a big divisional contest against the Buffalo Sabres.

- Expected / Probable Lines for tonight:


Travis Moen - Tomas Plekanec - Brian Gionta
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Scott Gomez - Lars Eller - Aaron Palushaj
Andreas Engqvist - Petteri Nokelainen - Mathieu Darche

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Jaroslav Spacek - Yannick Weber
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz

Carey Price


Thomas Vanek - Luke Adam - Jason Pominville
Ville Leino - Derek Roy - Drew Stafford
Nathan Gerbe - Paul Gaustad - Brad Boyes
Cody McCormick - Matt Ellis - Patrick Kaleta

Marc-Andre Gragnani - Christian Ehrhoff
Mike - Andrej Sekera
Jordan Leopold - Robyn Regehr

Jhonas Enroth

- Hal Gill is sick, missed the morning skate, and will not play for Montreal tonight.

- I shudder looking at that inexperienced bottom pairing, but at least Gill's absence lets Alexei Emelin play on his natural left side.

- Mike Cammalleri did participate in the morning skate, but will not play tonight. It seems his knee or leg is still bothering him.

- To replace Cammalleri, the Canadiens announced that Andreas Engqvist has been called up from Hamilton this afternoon.

-Andrei Kostitsyn was not at the team's morning skate today, but another injured player was back. And that player? Andrei Markov! Of course, he was wearing a non-contact jersey, but it's still a big step to see him re-join his teammates for a skate. In theory he should re-join them for practice before long, and if that's the case, he could be back in the line-up before the end of the month.

- For the Sabres, Ryan Miller is out tonight after suffering a concussion on the much-talked about Milan Lucic hit Saturday night. The league announced today that Lucic would not be suspended for the hit, so expect an angry Sabres group this evening.

- Also sitting for Buffalo tonight is towering defenseman Tyler Myers. Coach Lindy Ruff has been unhappy with the play of his blueliner (signed to a huge deal this summer, as you'll recall) and is trying to send a message with this move (not unlike Jacques Martin did with P.K. Subban last season).

- Amongst prospects, the weekend was a big one for a few members of the Canadiens organization, so here's a breakdown:

Nathan Beaulieu, after a somewhat disappointing Subway Super Series (despite a beautiful shootout goal), has a goal and 3 assists in his last 2 games. That helps to get him back on track from a disappointing start statistically, giving him 17 points and a +14 rating in 20 games. Beaulieu's lack of production overall is not a huge area of concern, but this combined with his sometimes shaky play in his own end mean he is farther away from the NHL than some might think. Don't get me wrong; great prospect. But not ready yet.

Brendan Gallagher, after being held off the scoresheet for a rare time on Wednesday, had a good weekend with back-to-back goal and assist, 2 point games. Gallagher's stats are definitely eye-catching with 18 goals and 31 points in just 18 games. His 18 goals rank him 5th in the WHL, while everyone ahead of him has played either 3 or 4 more games than he has. He also ranks 7th overall in points and is 6 ahead of his closest teammate. Gallagher will be part of the Team WHL that takes on Russia as the Subway Super Series continues on Wednesday night.

Another WHL prospect who is hot is defenseman Darren Dietz. Though he was left off the Super Series roster, Dietz is tied for the Saskatoon lead in points amongst d-men with the undersized Connor Cox and first round pick Duncan Siemens with 14 through 22 games. Dietz, a big and tough blueliner, is also tied with Cox to lead the team as a +19 (tied for third-best league-wide). A 5th round draft pick this past June, Dietz looks like an early candidate as a late-round steal.

Lastly, the Hamilton Bulldogs snapped out of a funk yesterday in downing the Binghamton Senators 5 to 2. Alexander Avtsin led the way with his best game as a Bulldog, contributing 3 assists en route to being named the first star. Avtsin also scored a goal earlier this week, so Habs fans can cross the fingers that maybe... just maybe... the ultra talented Russian winger has turned a corner in his development. After a strong first game, Louis Leblanc had fallen off the map a bit in settling into AHL-level play, but he scored his 2nd and 3rd goals of the season yesterday, the last of which was a nice breakaway deke. Also scoring for Hamilton were Brian Willsie, Frederic St. Denis, and Andreas Engqvist. Robert Mayer got the win in goal.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Habs MVP: Josh Gorges

At season's end, whether or not the Montreal Canadiens make the playoffs is likely to depend most on Carey Price. To get there, certainly, they'll need offensive contributions from the likes of Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, and strong two-way play from Tomas Plekanec. They'll also probably need a healthy Andrei Markov (sooner rather than later) to bolster the D and fix the powerplay. And definitely the size of Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty has brought the club an offensive element it has lacked for years.

But for my money, thus far this season, the Habs' MVP is none other than Josh Gorges.

Of course I don't say this only as a reactionary statement to his powerplay goal last night, ensuring a win in a game where a loss meant falling into another prolonged slump. Sure, that helped, but on a team whose biggest weakness is inexperience and softness on the back end, and with sophomore P.K. Subban having more downs than ups thus far, Gorges has been the team's top blueliner.

Gorges, a simple defensive d-man whose career high is just 23 points, has a goal and 6 assists through 15 games, good enough to rank 8th on the Canadiens and tops amongst his fellow rearguards. Since he doesn't get a powerplay shift, all of his points have come at even strength, ranking him 5th on the Habs for points at 5-on-5 and, perhaps more impressive, tying him for 6th league-wide amongst defenseman in this category.

But it's more than just the offense. In returning from a significant injury, Gorges has played with tenacity, provided leadership to his young teammates, and been the same determined, hard-working d-man that got him to the big league in the first place. His +7 rating is the best on the team, and he ranks third in ice time at 21:06 per game, behind only Subban and Plekanec. He is able to eat up difficult minutes to protect younger players like Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz, and Alexei Emelin, each of which has struggled at times in their own end.

It will be interesting to see how the Canadiens shuffle the pairings when Andrei Markov returns to the line-up. Gorges has spent much of the past few seasons playing on the right side, paired with Markov or Hal Gill. But his successes this year have come on a more natural left side, paired with Subban. Assuming that after a couple of games, Markov will be looked upon to play over 20 minutes a night, he will need a partner who can do likewise, indicating he is likely to play with either Subban or Gorges. Presumably the other of the two would then be paired with Gill (seeing as both have had success with him in the past), meaning that either way, Gorges would find himself back on the right. Hopefully this won't impact his strong start, and given that it is still a familiar situation for him, it really shouldn't.

The "trouble" then will come at year's end, given that Gorges's current one-year deal, paying him just $2.5M, would make him an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2012. At this point, re-signing him appears to be a non-negotiable (no pun intended) must, and a big pay day for the 27-year old should be upcoming. Many fans urged not to worry, claiming that the lack of offense in his game meant his raise couldn't be all that significant. But his camp is sure to be looking favourably at the contract Braydon Coburn just signed with the Philadelphia Flyers; a 4-year extension worth $4.5M a season. Braydon's numbers aren't all that much better than Josh's, with consecutive seasons under 20 points (though his career high is 36). They are roughly the same age, though at 6'5" and 220 lbs, Coburn's size is clearly an edge. Coburn averages a little more ice time than Gorges at 21:27 a game this year, but that ranks him third amongst Philly Ds whereas Gorges is #2 in Montreal (though that may change with Markov's return and depending on Subban's play). Should Coburn make more than Gorges? Yes, I would say so, but not by all that much. If Coburn gets $4.5M, it becomes easy to justify a $4M deal for Captain Kelowna.

With an influx of young prospect d-men in the coming seasons, Pierre Gauthier (and/or his eventual replacement) will have to make many decisions, but this summer, letting go of such an important cog as Gorges couldn't be the right one. He'll have to get creative, given that Carey Price also needs a big raise, Subban needs at least a medium-sized one, and the summer after will be Max Pacioretty's turn to cash in. But Gorges looks every bit like a future contender for the captaincy, so hopefully we'll be able to rest easy that he'll stay in Montreal for the long haul.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Your Canadiens: State of the Habs Update(s)

Admittedly, I wasn't able to watch last night's Montreal Canadiens game as I was travelling for business-related pursuits. As such, I have to base my opinion on highlights, reviews from various sources, and statistics. But even from only this, it isn't hard to understand that Habs fans could be slightly frustrated from a pair of losses in games that could have easily gone either way on the heels of a 4-game win streak.

So where does this leave the team and organization at large in the second month of the NHL season? Here is my take on a number of fronts:

1) The Forwards in Montreal

- Erik Cole has consistently been one of the team's most dominant forwards on a nightly basis over the last 7 or 8 games. His numbers may not be overly impressive, but he is "bringing it." He is providing the physical, big body presence the team lacked up front, and generating plenty of scoring chances by cutting to the net. The signing - at least for now - looks like a good one that is part of "the solution" to building a winning team.

- Max Pacioretty, the team's leading goal scorer with 6 and second-best-point-getter with 11, is developing into the top 6 power forward fans hoped for. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, however: we still haven't seen the best of Max. Last year, he would cut to the net the way that Cole does, or that Brendan Gallagher did in training camp. He has been hesitant to make those moves at times this year, to be expected after returning from such a significant injury. But if he re-finds that confidence, then look out, cause we'll be looking at a young and dominant player.

- Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta are players the Habs need more out of. Gionta is on pace for just 17 goals and less than 50 points, while Cammalleri may have 7 points in 11 games, but is a -5. These players are paid to lead the way up front, and though Jacques Martin was quick to point out the inexperience of his young players as part of a cause for the loss to the Oilers, it is the Cammalleris and Giontas that need to pick it up most. Still, if the NHL ever decides to award half a point for hitting the goal post, the Habs would have two perennial Hart Trophy candidates in these guys.

- Injury Updates: It seems like Andrei Kostitsyn will miss (or is questionable for) at least one more game as the Habs called Aaron Palushaj back up from Hamilton today. Palushaj has gone back and forth all season long, collecting 8 points in 7 games with the Bulldogs. The other injured forward, Scott Gomez, rejoined his teammates in practice earlier this week wearing a non-contact jersey, but hopes to get medical clearance for physical play as soon as today. With the green light, he could be back in action as soon as Saturday, though it'll be interesting to see where Martin plays him. Though he has produced, David Desharnais is a clear weak spot in the line-up to me, and giving some of his responsibilities to Gomez could upgrade the team. This situation will be an interesting one to monitor, as per Martin, both Kostitsyn and Gomez are considered day-to-day at this point.

2) The Defense in Montreal

- If Desharnais and Mathieu Darche have earned Martin's favoured status amongst forwards, Raphael Diaz somehow found a golden ticket on the back end. I don't dislike Diaz - I do see potential there - but on a defense that is already too small and soft, he doesn't fill a dire need. Having both him and Yannick Weber in the line-up is redundant at best, and that has nothing to do with the fact that they're both Swiss. Alexei Emelin may be caught out of position at times and not overly impressed in his North American debut, but if he is given some experience and allowed to develop properly, his mix of size and hitting ability are skills that would greatly improve the D group (see his hit on Ales Hemsky from last night).

- Injury Updates: Per the training staff, Andrei Markov is still "progressing well" and is nearing a return. He has been skating daily (with increasing duration) and working hard in the gym. Signed to be the team's clear #1 blueliner, his addition will be a huge one, even if he needs a few games of lesser minutes to get back into top shape. Given that Markov will take over powerplay duties (more on that later) from one of the current pointmen, I would like to see Diaz being the one sat when he returns, with either Josh Gorges or Jaroslav Spacek shifting over to the right side to accommodate the change.
There is more good news, being that Chris Campoli (remember him?) skated for the first time since his injury yesterday. While he is still a while away from a return, it is good to see that his rehab is progressing. He will be a welcome upgrade on either Weber or Diaz as an offensive defenseman who is less of a liability in his own end due to added strength. So while I still consider defensive zone play a big weakness on this team, there are a few solutions on the horizon.

3) The Powerplay

- Why Tomas Plekanec remains on the point on the powerplay, I do not understand. Yes, he does have two goals from there, which is more than Mike Cammalleri or Raphael Diaz have with the man advantage. But Plekanec is the team's top face-off man after Petteri Nokelainen, and his best offensive skills relate to being shifty with the puck as opposed to a big shot or precision passing. Sure, he is a two-way player, but as evidenced on the Oilers shorthanded goal yesterday, that doesn't mean he is a natural to play at the point.

- Similarly, I don't get the continued use of Mathieu Darche on the powerplay either. At least it's not at the expense of Erik Cole any longer, but once either Kostitsyn or Gomez are back in the line-up, they deserve those minutes far more than Darche. He can go to the net, sure, but so can Cole, Pacioretty, and Gionta. Darche is not an offensive player; he is a fourth liner at best who can occasionally fill in on another line. He would not be on any other team in the league's powerplay.

4) The Prospects

- Injury Updates: Jarred Tinordi returned to the London Knights line-up after missing a couple of weeks due to cuts suffered on his face during a fight. In his two games back, Tinordi turned in strong performances, finishing each game a +1 and picking up his third assist in 8 games to date.
Michael Bournival is nearing a return for the Shawinigan Cataractes. The young center was hoping to be ready for the Subway Super Series this week, and told staff he'd play at less than 100% if it would help his chances to make Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior Championships. Bournival was told not to worry, that his spot at the December camp was already assured, and that he should take his time to heal in full. He expects to be back in the line-up within a week to 10 days.

- Who's Hot?: With Bournival out and Danny Kristo blanked in consecutive games for the first time this season, Brendan Gallagher stepped back up to remain the hottest future Hab. With 8 points in 3 games so far in November, Gallagher is now at 16 goals and 27 points in just 15 games with the Vancouver Giants.
Also hot are a few NCAA prospects. Dustin Walsh, who showed good size and power forward instincts at Montreal rookie camp in September, had a 5-point weekend, giving him 7 points through 4 games with Dartmouth.
In Michigan, Greg Pateryn had back-to-back 2 assist games to sit at 2 goals and 10 points in 10 games, while frequent defense partner Mac Bennett scored a goal in each of those games giving him 2 goals and 9 points in the same time period. Pateryn is a senior and should be a lock to be signed and join the Hamilton Bulldogs next season, while Bennett might return for another year of college.

5) Oddball

- For anyone in the Dallas area, the Stars will be giving former Canadien Mike Ribeiro the bobblehead treatment on December 1st. The first 7,000 fans in attendance at that night's game against the Ottawa Senators will receive a bobblehead. For those (LIKE ME) who collect Canadiens-related memorabilia, this is good news as it is the first figure of Ribeiro ever produced. I'll certainly keep my eyes peeled to find one online!

Finally, with two losses dropping the Canadiens back below the .500 mark, the upcoming two game swing down to Phoenix and Nashville could be critical in determining how the team will fare this season. They have played well enough to win but come up pointless on numerous occasions, but unless they can pick up 4 points this week, they will continue to dig a hold in the Eastern Conference standings.

Thus, it's a big week for the Habs and their fans, so GO HABS GO!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Marc Antoine Godin Interviews Alexei Emelin

After season-after-season of failed attempts, Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier finally persuaded defenseman Alexei Emelin to give North American hockey a shot this year. Unfortunately, he has found himself in the role of 7th defender for the time being, and will thus be a healthy scratch for a 5th consecutive game tonight against the Ottawa Senators.

Whether or not you agree with Jacques Martin's decisions, if you're anything like me, you've been extremely curious to hear how Emelin feels about his time in Montreal thus far. Today, thanks to a great interview by Marc Antoine Godin of La Presse, we have Emelin's answers to some hot button questions. See the interview (in French), conducted through a translator, in its entirety here:

Translating some key points, Emelin states that he "has to prove that he has his place in this league." He has no real answer to the question of whether or not he's happy with how he's being used thus far, but points out that his coaches gave him plenty of confidence, trust, and ice time in Russia, though he knew he'd face stiffer competition for time with the Canadiens.

When asked the question everyone wants to know, whether a season of little ice time in Montreal would make him return to the KHL in the off-season, he responded that he's not sure; he's "here now, will continue working hard, and time will tell."

Emelin also adds that the transition to North America hasn't been an issue; that he is comfortable on North American sized rinks. He points to Andrei Kostitsyn as a big help in translating talks with the coaching staff and to Jaroslav Spacek for helping him with positional play on the ice. Finally, he mentions that while he isn't afraid to fight, he needs to be careful of his eye - seriously injured during a scrap in Russia - as further injury could leave serious permanent damage.

I, for one, sincerely hope that Emelin earns a full-time spot on the Montreal back end. He has shown on the international stage that he has huge potential, and he brings a skill set of size and physicality that the team certainly lacks. It would be a shame to lose such a talent before he had a real chance to show what he can bring.

Player Spotlight: Olivier Fortier

[Player Spotlight Archives]

Olivier Fortier is hardly a household name, even amongst Montreal Canadiens fans. This is, in part, no fault of his own, as Fortier has missed considerable time over his three year professional career due to injuries.

Montreal's third round pick in 2007, Fortier was never considered a prolific scorer, though he did top the 1 point-per-game mark in his final season with the Rimouski Oceanic, putting up 35 points in the 29 games he was limited to.

Unfortunately, he missed all but 1 regular season game in his rookie year with the Hamilton Bulldogs (2009-10), yet was still dressed for the team's 10 playoff games, a testament to his sturdy and reliable defensive play from the center position (he won the Guy Carbonneau Trophy as the QMJHL's top defensive forward in 2007-08).

His statistics may not seem overly impressive; 9 goals and 20 points over 68 AHL games last year, with further injury making him available for just 1 playoff game. But it says something about a player when, with those numbers, he continually earns scoring line and powerplay ice time. This isn't a case of Jacques Martin and Mathieu Darche either; he is never slotted into these roles, but rather works his way up. Fortier's shifts are earned strictly through hard work, faceoff skills, and a nose for the net.

Four AHL games ago, Habs fans were excited to see the debut of Louis Leblanc on the professional stage, returning from injury to join the Hamilton Bulldogs. And rightfully so. Leblanc dazzled with a goal, 2 assists, and first star honours in his debut. Much quieter also making his season debut that night was Fortier, held off the scoresheet. But perhaps you've missed what happened in the 3 following 'Dogs games, where Leblanc was held to just 1 assist total (not saying he played poorly), while Fortier potted a goal on each night (albeit all in losing causes) to give him 3 through 4 games.

Comparisons between Leblanc and Fortier won't end here as they will be battling for a similar job with the Canadiens in coming seasons. They are of similar size (both 6'0" and south of 200 lbs), versatile enough to line-up on wing or at center, and their bread and butter is two-way play. Hey, you can't even play the language card, with Fortier hailing from Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec. Of course, Leblanc's upside is much higher than Fortier's, and for Fortier to have any shot at an NHL future, he will need to stay healthy and prove the injury bug is behind him, but at 22 years old, he may be one of the least-talked about near-NHL ready prospects the Canadiens have.

Fortier will never be a top 6 forward in the NHL, but he could make a solid third or fourth line center. His limitation in Montreal may be his very average size on a team that wants to get bigger, but he has the potential to be a Samuel Pahlsson-type player with his defensive acumen, skating ability, and work ethic. Fortier will be a restricted free agent this summer, and with the Canadiens having a fresh group of young talent slated for Hamilton next season, he'll need to produce well and stay in the line-up to ensure he remains in the organization's long-term plans. Hopefully he does stick around, as losing a potential young NHL'er for nothing on a team with - at times - questionable bottom 6 depth seems like mismanagement.

You can catch Fortier, Leblanc, and their Bulldog teammates tonight as the team takes on the Houston Aeros at 7:30 PM EST. Listen to one of hockey broadcasting's great, Derek Wills, call the game on CHAM 820 radio here:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Habs Sign Jarred Tinordi to ELC

The Montreal Canadiens announced today that the club has signed 2010 1st round pick Jarred Tinordi to a 3-year entry level contract. The deal will pay him a signing bonus of $270,000, plus $810,000 per year, for a cap hit of $900,000 annually.

Tinordi, 19, was named captain of the London Knights at the start of this season. He has missed the last couple of weeks with cuts to his eye area suffered during a fight but is expected back in the line-up shortly.

In 63 games last year, the 6'7" rearguard scored 14 points, earned 140 PIMs, and was a -8, while logging big minutes (sometimes as much as 30 a game) for the Knights. Prior to his injury, Tinordi had 2 assists and was a +7 in 6 games this year.

Both this year and last, Tinordi looked good during Montreal's training camp, and he has a shot at being one of the defenders for the U.S. World Junior Championship squad over the Christmas holidays.

Tinordi should join the Hamilton Bulldogs (at least for practice) once the Knights season is up (if it ends before that of the Dogs), and should play full-time in the AHL next year (either way, his contract will only start ticking next season, and he won't count against the 50 contract limit until that point either). He will be part of a very strong incoming class of talent at the American League level next season, alongside Nathan Beaulieu, Brendan Gallagher, Michael Bournival, Morgan Ellis, Greg Pateryn, and likely Danny Kristo.


In other Habs prospect news, forward Brendan Gallagher snapped a 2-game pointless skid last night in a big way. He scored his team's first 3 goals before assisting on an empty netter in a 4-2 win. Gallagher now has 14 goals and 23 points in just 13 games. He is tied for second in the WHL in goals despite having played at least 3 fewer games than all other leaders.

Around the League: Catching Up With Old Friends

As diehard hockey fans, Habs fans develop what feel like close personal relationships with the players on the team. It is not uncommon for Montrealers to feel like their mood is defined at least in part by the club's successes, so it is normal to feel an emotional bond with the players who determine the team's fate.

Unfortunately, between following the current Canadiens, Hamilton Bulldogs, junior prospects, and everything else, we don't always have time to continue following former Habs once they leave the city. Thus, today we look around the league at the starts of some who once wore the blue, blanc, et rouge. Note that the intent is not to lament over the fact that they were traded or allowed to leave, but just to provide an update on some of the athletes we used to love (or hate) watching.

Matt D'Agostini -RW, St. Louis Blues
In his first full season with the Blues last year, D'Agostini set career highs in goals (21) and points (46). He is off to a similar pace start to this campaign with 4 goals and 6 points through the first 11 games. I've always been a fan of D'Ags since watching him speed down the wing in Canadiens' development camp, so I'm glad he has found a home on a scoring line in St. Louis, averaging between 14 and 17 minutes a night.

Jaroslav Halak - G, St. Louis Blues
After being the Canadiens' playoff hero in 2010, Halak had a very average first season as the #1 in St. Louis (.910 save percentage and 2.48 GAA). He is off to an even shakier start this year, with his starting job in question as he has split time with Brian Elliott (who has outperformed him to date). At the moment, Halak's numbers come in at an atrocious .843 save percentage and 3.58 GAA with a 1-5 record.

Kyle Chipchura - C, Phoenix Coyotes
Chipchura has played only 1 game for the Coyotes this season before being assigned to the AHL's Portland Pirates. The former first rounder hadn't played in the American League since being a Hamilton Bulldog in 2008-09, when he scored 35 points in 51 games. In Portland, the awkward skating two-way center has 4 goals and 6 points through the first 8 games.

Sergei Kostitsyn - RW, Nashville Predators
The younger Kostitsyn brother continues to impress offensively, following up on a 2010-11 season where he hit the 50 point plateau. On a team that lacks in the forward ranks, Sergei plays 18+ minutes on most nights, though he was recently sidelined with a minor injury. Through 9 games played, he has picked up 3 goals and 8 points, one assist more than brother Andrei's output thus far.

Chris Higgins -LW, Vancouver Canucks
After leaving the Canadiens in the ill-fated Scott Gomez deal, Higgins' career took a tailspin. In Montreal, Higgins felt he was a deserving top 6 winger, capable of topping the 30 goal mark (and his career high of 27 didn't disagree). But with stops in New York, Calgary, and Florida over the next two seasons, he seemed penciled into a third line defensive forward role. Since joining the Canucks at last year's trade deadline, he has rejuvenated his career, playing an important role on the team's run to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and now starting the current campaign on an offensive tear. In 12 games, Higgins has scored 6 goals and added a pair of helpers, well on pace to smash last season's 13 goals and 28 points.

Maxim Lapierre - C, Vancouver Canucks
The Canadiens decided Lapierre wasn't in the long-term plans last season, resulting in his requesting a trade. The Anaheim Ducks also couldn't get the best out of Max, and so, like Higgins, he was moved to the Canucks at the trade deadline. Playing alongside Higgins, Lapierre was a valuable roleplayer during last season's playoff run, and has had a productive start to the year with 3 goals and 5 points in 12 games, numbers that would beat his highs of 15 goals and 28 points averaged out over a full season. Laps could have been a quality fourth line center for the Habs this year, averaging 11:46 of ice a night and going 51% in the face-off circle.

Pavel Valentenko -D, New York Rangers
Valentenko never played a game for the Canadiens, but was considered a top prospect when they brought him over from Russia. After a first season in the AHL, the tough defensive defenseman decided he could not support his family back home on an American League salary, and left back to Russia. He was tossed in as an incentivizer in the Scott Gomez deal, and the Rangers convinced him to give North America another shot. With a solid season back in the AHL under his belt, Rangers fans expected him to challenge for a job this year, but despite injuries on the back end, a disappointing training camp (and his own injury) has him playing for the Connecticut Whale, collecting 1 assist through 3 games.

Ryan McDonagh - D, New York Rangers
This one's still a sore spot for Habs fans, so I'll keep it brief. A first round pick in 2007, McDonagh was the central piece sacrificed by the Habs to acquire Gomez, amidst rumours of a slowed development and even one story claiming he didn't want to play for a Canadian team (very unconfirmed). He made his pro debut last year, playing 38 games in the AHL and 40 for the Rangers, and has gradually taken on a bigger and bigger role, being one of the team's top blueliners in the absence of the injured Marc Staal this season. McDonagh is second to only Dan Girardi in ice time on the team, averaging 24:49 per game, and despite traditionally being a defense-first player, has scored 3 goals and 5 points in 10 games. I don't think I need to tell anyone how much of a welcome addition he'd be to the Canadiens right now.

David Fischer - D, Florida Everblades
Speaking of first round picks, Fischer also never played a game for the Habs, and the team even decided they'd rathe rnot sign him and instead take the compensatory 2nd round pick. So what ever happened to the skinny 6'3" d-man? He signed with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL, scoring 29 points and a +12 rating over 63 games in a successful rookie season in which he saw action on both the penalty kill and powerplay. He re-signed with the club in September to spend a second season in the ECHL, where he is off to a 2 goal and 6 point start through 8 games. Should he continue at such a pace, an AHL club may take notice and his hockey career may be prolonged.

Mikhail Grabovski - C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Habs fans knew that Grabovski would be a solid offensive contributor when he was dealt away, but it was his off-ice issues and attitude that led to the trade. In Toronto, he has fit in well with Nikolai Kulemin in a top 6 forward role, being a 20+ goal and 50+ point contributor. After a slow start to this season, he has picked it back up, now with 4 goals and 7 points in 11 games. Many Canadiens fans get frustrated that the team "gave Grabovski away for nothing," but let's keep in mind there was a reasonable return at the time. The Habs received prospect defenseman Greg Pateryn and a 2nd round pick. Pateryn continued to develop nicely at the college level, while the 2nd rounder was traded to Chicago for Robert Lang, who was proving to be a nice addition prior to a season-ending injury.

Francis Bouillon - D, Nashville Predators
Bouillon fans will be happy to know that the 5'8" defenseman has made a full recovery from the concussion that limited him to 44 games last season. In 4 games this year, the 36-year old has played between 15 and 19 minutes, but has no points and a -3 rating thus far.

Tom Kostopoulos - RW, Calgary Flames
Canadiens fans were sad to see Kostopoulos go, as he was a quality fourth line energy guy in Montreal. After a year and a half in Carolina, the 6'0" winger now fills the same roll in Calgary where he averages just over 10 minutes a game, including 1:20 on the penalty kill. In 9 games this year, he has 2 points and a fight.

Jeff Halpern - C, Washington Capitals
Halpern's face-off stats are off the charts in Washington, which makes one wonder why Jacques Martin was so insistent to play him on the wing. He lacks Petteri Nokelainen's right-handedness, but has won draws at a 65.2% clip while posting 3 assists and a +2 rating in 9 games. He is averaging 11:50 per game, including 1:41 shorthanded and 0:40 on the powerplay.

Roman Hamrlik - D, Washington Capitals
Staying with the Caps, a guy I was really sad to see leave this summer was Roman Hamrlik. Sure, he's getting older and has lost a step or two, but he is a dependable defensive d-man who could have thrived with reduced minutes. His 1 goal and -2 rating in Washington may not be impressive, but the tough minutes he continues to log are, leading the team in total minutes played and second in average per game to Mike Green. His nightly average of 21:52 includes 1:47 shorthanded and 1:49 on the powerplay. If only there had been a way to retain Hamrlik's services for one final season instead of Jaroslav Spacek's.

Craig Rivet - D, Elmira Jackals
Many were surprised at Rivet's decision to sign a one-way ECHL contract this year after playing 14 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. The fact is, certainly he could have gotten an AHL contract, but by signing an ECHL only deal for now, he will be free to sign a try-out with a club that may need his services dearly later into the season, such as one depleted by injuries at the NHL level. In 6 ECHL games, Rivet has collected 4 assists and 20 penalty minutes.

Guillaume Latendresse - RW, Minnesota Wild
Much like Benoit Pouliot in Montreal, Latendresse was on fire immediately following the deal that sent him to the Wild. While Pouliot's play trailed off after that first season, Latendresse's problems were conditioning and injury, playing only 11 games over the 2010-11 season in which he scored 3 goals and 6 points. Healthy again, he has been amongst Minnesota's best forwards in several of the first 10 games, though he has just 1 goal and 5 points to show for it. To his credit, while averaging over 16 minutes a night, he is a team-leading +4.

Benoit Pouliot - LW, Boston Bruins
There was a fear amongst Habs fans when this signing was announced that somehow Pouliot would put it all together in Boston. Well Canadiens faithful, you can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Pouliot has played 8 of Boston's 11 games, averaging just 9:43 a night. He has yet to pick up his first point, to go along with a -3 rating on the struggling Bruins.

Tom Pyatt - C/W, Tampa Bay Lightning
I was a big Tom Pyatt fan as a safe, penalty-killing fourth liner, though it was a fair assessment that the 4th line in Montreal needed to be bigger and tougher. I'm glad he has gotten a shot in Tampa, dressing on the wing in 7 of the team's first 12 games and playing just under 12 minutes a night in those appearances. Amongst T-Bay forwards, only Adam Hall and Nate Thompson have averaged more shorthanded minutes per game played than Pyatt, who has 1 assist and a -1 rating.

Marc-Andre Bergeron - D, Tampa Bay Lightning
After leaving Montreal, Bergeron split the 2010-11 season between the Tampa Bay Lightning and their AHL affiliate in Norfolk, with identical 2 goals and 8 points production in each league. He was in Tampa for their run to the conference finals, appearing in 14 post-season games. He was solid there... but no one saw this start to the 2011-12 season coming! Through 12 games, Bergeron is tied with Erik Karlsson for the NHL's defenseman scoring lead with 13 points. Though he doesn't play on the penalty kill, his 18:59 on ice per game are fourth most on the Tampa back end, and he has maintained a +2 rating. Of course, he leads all Lightning d-men in powerplay time with an average of 2:23 a game.

Alexandre Picard - D, Pittsburgh Penguins
After playing 43 games for the Canadiens last season, Picard started this campaign with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL. In 9 games, he collected 3 points while showing a +7 rating, enough to earn him a call-up today as an injury fill-in with the Penguins.

James Wisniewski - D, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets started the season off horribly, and their modest turnaround has coincided with Wisniewski's return from an 8 game suspension. With The Wizz in the line-up, the Jackets are an even 2-2, and though I still don't consider him a legitimate #1 defenseman, Wisniewski has averaged an astounding 28:20 of ice time per game, including 5:47 on the powerplay and 2:32 shorthanded. He seems to be handling the time fairly well, with 4 assists and a +2 rating to show for it thus far. Still hate the contract, but can't argue with the numbers to date.

Alexei Kovalev - RW, Moscow Oblast Atlant
Injuries have limited the 38-year old winger to just 5 of his KHL team's 16 games thus far, but he has produced well, with a goal and 4 points. For those that don't follow the Russian league closely, some of his teammates you may be familiar with include Nikolai Zherdev, Branko Radivojevic, and Janne Niskala.

Saku Koivu - C, Anaheim Ducks
Of course, I save my all-time favourite Hab for last. I was heartbroken when the Canadiens chose to let Saku go, but even I can acknowledge he is in the late stages of his career (though I would take him back in a heartbeat). Koivu found a home on the Ducks' second line with fellow Finn Teemu Selanne and veteran Jason Blake, though his output dropped from 52 points in 2009-10 to 45 in 2010-11. He had his first big game of 2011-12 last night with a goal and an assist, but still has just 5 points through 12 contests (while the ageless Selanne is up to an amazing 14 points). 36-year old Koivu unfortunately still takes the occasional undisciplined penalty that saw his time in Montreal cut short, but he plays big minutes in Anaheim, averaging 18:02 a game and winning 52.4% of his face-offs. With an average of 1:24 on the penalty kill a night, he is the only one of Anaheim's top 6 forwards to take a regular shift when down a man.