Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Your Canadiens for December 27, 2011

Welcome back, Habs fans. Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas or happy holiday weekend, and after a 4-day break, your Montreal Canadiens are back on the ice this evening. Let's hope that the team begins to play up to its potential and rattles off a win streak, or the opposite occurs and we see the kind of re-tooling I discussed yesterday. The only thing we don't want is a middle ground scenario, especially if it encourages Pierre Gauthier and Geoff Molson to trade picks or prospects to try to grab on to the 8th playoff spot.

- We saw Randy Cunneyworth roll out new lines at practice yesterday. They were as follows:

Max Pacioretty - Lars Eller - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Tomas Plekanec - Andrei Kostitsyn
Mike Cammalleri - David Desharnais - Louis Leblanc
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen - Mike Blunden

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Alexei Emelin - Tomas Kaberle
Yannick Weber - Chris Campoli

Lots to look at here. Most notable is the slotting of Lars Eller and P.K. Subban on to top lines following their one game sat as healthy scratches. Many have complained that Eller's potential is being wasted by playing him with third line wingers, pointing to this as a cause of his limited production (despite evident displays of top notch skill). He's now being given a chance with the large and talented wingers that David Desharnais has been blessed with this season (though he has played to a level worthy of their talents). It will be an interesting experiment to see if Desharnais can continue to produce without their size and if Eller can unblock offensively by playing with them. As for Subban, he will go right back to where he was before his scratch and I'm sure Randy Cunneyworth will be watching closely to see if any of the lessons he may have sent his way have been understood.

On D, Alexei Emelin seems to finally have a spot made for him on the left side. As much as Tomas Kaberle looks good on the powerplay, he hasn't earned any trust at 5-on-5. Could he really be that much worse playing the right side? At least you strengthen the left by slotting in a guy who has played like a Top 4 blueliner on the team on that side of the ice.

- Other than the lines, the big news out of practice was that the Canadiens now have an ad for Subway (Sandwiches) on their practice jerseys. This was met with outrage by many, including Dave Stubbs of Hockey Inside/Out / The Gazette. There have been many indications this season that the Molson family is about the cash in a big way and this is the latest move to increase their profits. Habs fans will be less angered if it is positioned as extra money going to pay for Jacques Martin's dismissal and/or perhaps sending Scott Gomez to Hamilton! And at least it's just a practice jersey right now.

- The 2011-12 World Junior Hockey Championship kicked off yesterday. If you don't follow the tournament, as a hockey fan, you are missing out. These under-20 kids play with hearts on their sleeves, representing their country and trying to be noticed on a big stage to vault their hockey careers forward. It is some of the best hockey you can watch all year. Here's how the Habs fared on opening day:

Brendan Gallagher had the game-winning goal and added an assist in Team Canada's 8-1 steamrolling of Finland. Gallagher spent most of the game on a top line with team captain Jaden Schwartz and future Winnipeg Jets star Mark Scheifele.

Nathan Beaulieu played only limited minutes 5-on-5, but was a fixture on Canada's top powerplay unit where he looked far smoother than any other blueliner. He finished the game with 1 assist. He isn't a flash player like a Subban, but he makes smart, efficient plays well and has a booming and accurate point shot.

Michael Bournival was the weakest of the three Canadian Canadiens (heh), generating some chances but also fighting the puck at times. He was the only member of Team Canada to finish a negative, of course a -1. He got looks on many different lines throughout the night after starting as the fourth line center.

Jarred Tinordi, an assistant captain with Team USA, scored a lucky goal in the first period with a shot that was going well wide but bounced in off a Danish player's skate. Still, it was a well timed pinch in the offensive zone by the big man. Tinordi played on the team's top pairing with Adam Clendenning. He took a delay of game penalty for clearing the puck over the boards from the defensive zone in the first period which was costly, as the Danes scored on the ensuing powerplay.

Daniel Pribyl is an interesting story that I don't fully understand yet. Despite a report last week that he would be named an assistant captain for the Czech Republic, according to the IIHF website, he is not a part of the final Czech team. I've yet to see any report explaining this, but the Czechs do only have 12 forwards on their final roster (most teams carry 13). I would guess Pribyl may have been injured in a pre-tournament game or practice, but we will perhaps know more when the Czechs open their tournament tomorrow.

- The Hamilton Bulldogs got back into action yesterday follow their Christmas break. They played the first period as though they were still working off their Christmas dinner, falling behind 3-0 to the Toronto Marlies in the first six minutes. But they came storming back with 6 unanswered goals to earn the win. Robert Mayer was perfect after coming in to relieve Nathan Lawson after the third goal, while Olivier Fortier passes the offense with two goals. Also scoring were Aaron Palushaj, Ian Schultz, Phil DeSimone, and Andreas Engqvist with an empty netter. Joonas Nattinen and Gabriel Dumont each collected two assists.

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