Sunday, December 4, 2011

Your Canadiens for December 4, 2011

A solid effort and big win yesterday for the Montreal Canadiens over the Los Angeles Kings means things are likely to continue to hold steady for now. Jacques Martin lives to fight another day, and with both Bobby Ryan and Jarome Iginla seemingly off the trade market, there are no rumoured imminent transactions. But lots has gone on today and yesterday in the Habs' world, so here's a recap:

- Yesterday, Pierre Gauthier provided an update on the health of Andrei Markov. As much as he tried to frame it positively, with good news of Markov's repaired tendons holding strong, the reason the rearguard had disappeared from the team's entourage was made abundantly clear. Some time in the next few days, Markov will undergo a round of arthroscopic knee surgery to remove some debris from his knee area that had been causing significant swelling and pain. This is a relatively minor surgery, but it will still mean at least another three weeks on the shelf for the Russian who had hoped to start playing as recently as the California trip. I've written plenty on the Markov debacle, so I need not remind anyone how frustrated this makes Habs fans. Why on earth was a 3-year deal necessary this summer when his health was clearly still a big question mark?! Why was there no back-up plan in place given Markov's health? Sure, some of these young defenseman would have to get a chance at some point, but they've been thrown to the wolves with a lack of veterans to soak up tough minutes when they struggle.

- This morning, the Canadiens announced that Aaron Palushaj has been sent to the Hamilton Bulldogs. The 'Dogs have struggled mightily this season, with a win last night putting them at just 7-12-2 (last place in the Western Conference), so getting back a top AHL scorer like Palushaj should be a big boost. This is also great news for Louis Leblanc, who impressed sufficiently to pass Palushaj in the depth chart (at least for now). While it is no guarantee that Leblanc will stick around with Max Pacioretty returning from his 3-game suspension, it is still a good sign for the 20-year old pro rookie. To show the logjam at forward that may mean a return to top AHL minutes for Leblanc, here's a look at the depth chart:

Cammalleri - Plekanec - Gionta
Pacioretty - Desharnais - Cole
Moen - Eller - Kostitsyn
Darche - Nokelainen - Leblanc

While Louis could see some ice time (even taking shifts in place of, say, Travis Moen on occasion), he may be better off building strength in the American League and eventually returning for a permanent third line job when there is a spot for him. In the short-term, though, having Leblanc over Palushaj improves the club's bottom 6.

- Speaking of the Bulldogs, Nathan Lawson made 23 saves as Hamilton beat the Rochester Americans 3-2. Mike Blunden and Mark Mitera scored first period goals, with Gabriel Dumont, Phil DeSimone, and Brian Willsie picking up assists. Joonas Nattinen had the winner, snapping a 2-2 tie at 9:16 of the third period unassisted. For Nattinen, it was just his second goal of the season, but both have been game winners.

- A player I expected and hoped would join the Bulldogs once the Canadiens' back end was healthy, Raphael Diaz, seems to be making a strong case to stay in Montreal. I can't say I quite understand it - I'm not sure what he has done so well to deserve such a favoured status - but he played over 24 minutes yesterday (2nd to Josh Gorges) including over 4 minutes of penalty kill time. It's not that I dislike Diaz. I think he has definitely passed Yannick Weber in the depth chart, making Weber expendable and a likely trade chip. But while Diaz is a reasonable puck-mover with a half-decent point shot, he suffers from similar defensive zone issues to Weber, being on the small and soft side. To me, with the likes of Chris Campoli, Jaroslav Spacek, and eventually Andrei Markov returning, Diaz's skillls won't be needed in Montreal this season. I'm scared, however, that it will be Alexei Emelin - the unique physical presence on the Montreal back end - that sits once two injured veterans are ready for game action. The only explanation I have is that Emelin is a riskier player, while Diaz plays a safer "unnoticeable" game that Jacques Martin loves. It is the risk factor, however, that gives Emelin so much greater potential than the young Swiss.

- At the prospect level yesterday, Nathan Beaulieu (8th) and Michael Bournival (13th) each had goals as their teams faced off. Beaulieu's marker was the overtime game winner, while Bournival's was his 13th in just his 14th game. Jarred Tinordi added another assist to his record, now at 7 in 18 games. Tinordi finished the night a +2 and also fought, taking 11 minutes in penalties as he was called for an instigator. Danny Kristo, playing the second of back-to-back games in Alaska, picked up a goal and an assist and is now at 19 points in 16 games.

1 comment:

Bullsmith said...

Both Diaz and Emelin have shown that they deserve to be in the NHL. I agree that Emelin's package is something the Habs lack, but Diaz's defensive play has been under-rated. He cannot handle big forwards 1 on 1, but he makes exceptionally quick decisions and has the feet and hands to go with them. If the habs do send him down, hopefully he remains a long term part of the picture. I'm very impressed with him and think he has real potential as a PP player. Weber and St. Denis are the two guys who should make room for Spacek and Campoli. Spacek's playing days are numbered anyway.