Thursday, January 12, 2012

Your Canadiens for January 12, 2012

Greetings all from beautiful Barcelona, Spain - the land I'll call home until early April. Tell anyone you like hockey here, and field hockey is assumed. ICE hockey is a required specification. Little kknown fact, though, that FC Barcelona has a roller hockey team. But don't start picturing Messi on skates any time soon; different athletes playing in a far less popular league.

Welcome back. Regular updates and articles shall now resume. Since it's been just over a week without any Habs news on this site, I'll recap major stories that, as a Habs fan, are your NEED TO KNOW of the moment:

Brian Gionta Undergoes Bicep Surgery

It wasn't long after the Montreal Canadiens dropped a 3-0 decision to the St. Louis Blues that the club announced its captain Brian Gionta had undergone successful bicep surgery and would be out indefinitely. Gionta has played in only 31 of Montreal's 42 games this season and the game against the Blues was just his second after missing a month of action with a lower body injury. But even ignoring the time he missed, his 15 points averaged over a full season had him on pace for his lowest season total since 2003-04. This injury is the latest bit of bad news for Habs fans in a season where nothing has seemed to go right and, combined with the loss, might be the final nail in the coffin that cements the club as sellers in the mind of management.

The injury is further bad news for Mike Cammalleri fans, as I strongly believe the club planned to shop one of the two snipers. As I've mentioned previously, depending on two similar, undersized, streaky goal scorers to lead the way offensively doesn't seem like the best conceived plan given the team's lack of a big power center. If Gionta misses the remainder of the season (which is a possibility at this point), he would be off the market and unlikely to be dealt during the off-season, which might seal Cammalleri's fate with the Canadiens.

It seems, as reported by awesome French-language Habs blog Dans Les Coulisses, that Gionta's bicep injury wasn't actually a new peril, but rather the aggravating of a previous "minor" injury that occurred against the Vancouver Canucks on December 8th (Gionta's final game played before missing a month due to what the team dubbed a lower body injury). Did the Canadiens lie about it being a lower body / groin, and did Gionta return too soon from this arm injury? We don't know for certain, but it seems reasonable to guess that to be the case.

Mike Cammalleri Calls the Habs "Losers"... or Does He?

Speaking of Mike Cammalleri, a big fuss was made of his comments after the Canadiens most recent loss. Depending on the media source you choose to follow, he mentioned that the team currently has a "losing mentality," or "prepared" and "played" like losers. Perhaps more enraging to some was an absolution of his own responsibility in the team's current troubles, claiming that he feels he is always getting better and continues to play good hockey. He even tossed some very public heat towards head coach Randy Cunneyworth in partly blaming his costly errors against St. Louis on the fact that he had only gotten limited ice time prior to those shifts, not allowing him to properly get into the game's flow and magnifying those instances. He also indicated that not playing as much during games means he needs to work harder in practices just to stay in shape; not something you want to hear from a guy who has been taking "optional" days off virtually all season.

Of course, as all athletes do, the next day Cammalleri claimed to have been misquoted, indicating his comments were meant as nothing but to indicate the team was frustrating with losing, and that it was the media who had blown them out of proportion. Whether that's true or it's just Cammalleri regretting his little rant is of course up to you to decide.

Scott Gomez Nears a Return; Ryan White Not So Much

Scott Gomez is back at practice with the Canadiens, and while he won't play tonight, there is a very good chance he could be in the line-up on Saturday. Ryan White, however, appears to still be a ways off. White was visibly frustrated when talking with the media, given that his recovery is taking far longer then anticipated. All he could say was that his skating is virtually 100%, but he had absolutely no timetable for a return to full action other than not being close.

Carey Price Named to NHL All-Star Game

Carey Price will unsurprisingly be the only member of the Montreal Canadiens at this year's All-Star game in Ottawa. Raphael Diaz and/or (though less likely) Alexei Emelin might have had a chance to make the game's rookie additions, but only two defensemen were chosen being Justin Faulk and Adam Larsson. Faulk is the only member of the Carolina Hurricanes at the Game at all, securing his spot.

Hamilton Bulldogs on a Tear

The Hamilton Bulldogs struggled out of the gate this season, losing key players like Aaron Palushaj, Andreas Engqvist, and Louis Leblanc to injury-replacement call-ups in Montreal, and dealing with injuries of their own. But with these 3 back in the AHL, the team is on quite a roll of late, winners of three straight and 10-2-3 in their last 15 games. Palushaj and Engqvist have been amongst the most dominant in the recent surge. Palushaj is riding a 5-game point streak, totaling 4 goals and 6 assists over that span, while Engqvist has 8 goals and 5 assists on a current 8-game point streak. The team has four more contests before the big one: The Steeltown Showdown, an outdoor game in Hamilton against the Toronto Marlies on January 21st.

Brendan Gallagher and Morgan Ellis Dominant in the CHL

Brendan Gallagher was one Canada's standout performers at the recent World Junior Championships and certainly earned every bit of that bronze medal the team won. No one would have thought badly of Gallagher if he had a modest slump immediately upon his return to the WHL's Vancouver Giants, but much the opposite has transpired. After a season-high 7 (!!) points (3 G, 4 A) in his first game back, he followed it up with a goal and an assist in his other game since to give him 28 goals and 55 points in just 30 games. He is on a much better pace than last season, when he scored 44 goals and 91 points in 66 matches.

But Gallagher isn't the only Hab prospect to be enjoying strong performances. Morgan Ellis, a 6'2", 200 lbs offensive defenseman, was recently dealt from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles - the team he captained - to fellow Canadiens prospect Michael Bournival's Shawinigan Cataractes. This in and of itself is good news as Shawinigan hosts this year's Memorial Cup, guaranteeing the participation (barring injury) of both players before they make their Hamilton Bulldog debuts next season. But Ellis, who had 25 points in 34 games with Shawinigan this season, has exploded offensively since the trade in scoring 3 goals and 4 assists over three games played (with at least 2 points in each game). Ellis is often overlooked when discussing Montreal's bright future on the back end, but he does have potential to be a future Raphael Diaz with size.

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