Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Your Canadiens for March 21, 2012

As usual following a couple of days where I was unable to post, here's a recap of the latest buzz from the Habs' realm.

- The Race for the Bottom Heats Up

Your Montreal Canadiens have been a little too hot as of late, collecting points in each of their last 6 games (3-0-3). Fortunately, some of the teams around them have won a few games as well, and so the Habs haven't gained much ground on the teams ahead. Montreal remains 28th overall in the league, but let's hope some losses are to follow, as you can see in the graphic below that there is quite a logjam going all the way up to 22nd position. Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota are the teams falling the quickest, so it is important to hope they pick up a few points along the way as well.

As for the prizes for the teams that fail hardest, Nail Yakupov was limited to only 42 games this season between the World Juniors and injuries, but still scored 69 points, improving his points-per-game average from 1.55 last season to 1.64. Mikhail Grigorenko finished 8th in QMJHL scoring as a CHL rookie (and 5th in goals with 40), second on his team with 85 points in 59 games. Alex Galchenyuk played only the final two games of the regular season for Sarnia, held off the scoresheet in each. Certainly there will be the eyes of many scouts on him entering the playoffs.

- Bulldogs Sample Three College Players

The Hamilton Bulldogs shuffled up their lineup for the stretch run, releasing two forwards - Joey Haddad and Eric Lampe - from tryout contracts, and signing three others to similar agreements.

Haddad, 23, had interesting size at 6'2", 200 lbs, but managed only a single goal in his 11 games with Hamilton. Lampe, 25, scored two over 13 games.

The three new bodies are Travis Novak, 23, Ryan Flanigan, 23, and Jesse Todd, 25, about whom you can read more in the Bulldogs' official release HERE. None are considered top prospects, so they shouldn't be looked at as much more than roster plugs filling in for injured players in Montreal and Hamilton, but it is still a chance for them to impress and possibly earn an AHL deal for next season if the Canadiens decide more depth is necessary. Flanigan and Novak made their debuts last night, with neither recording a point but the former leading all Dogs' players with 4 shots on goal.

- Injury Updates

When Tomas Kaberle first missed a game last week, it was blamed on the birth of his child. Thus, people became a little skeptical when he didn't quickly re-join the team in the days that followed, with the Habs eventually citing an upper body injury for his absence. Kaberle is one of 6 players to not join the team on their trip to Buffalo for this evening's game.

Raphael Diaz is not expected to return this season. The 26-year old rookie is on schedule in his rehab, but is likely to run out of games remaining before he reaches 100%. Diaz impressed beyond expectations this season, and it will be interesting to see how the Canadiens decide to shape their defense in preparing for next season and where the Swiss native will fit in. He is a capable bottom-pairing player, able to take a shift on a second powerplay unit. If he isn't to play another game this year, his 16 points in 59 games are nothing to scoff at as a starting point.

Similarly, captain Brian Gionta continues to work to get back, but isn't expected to be at 100% before May, meaning his disappointing and frustrating season is at a close. Gionta's 31 games are the fewest he has ever played in an NHL season, while his 15 points are the fewest since his rookie year (11 points in 33 games in 2001-02). He is another case where the Habs' brass will have to consider how he fits into the plan moving forward.

Mathieu Darche continues to skate, though is also not in Buffalo. Travis Moen is expected to resume skating today. A return for either is possible, perhaps even likely for Darche, and with both pending unrestricted free agents this summer, decisions will need to be taken in their cases relatively soon.

Scott Gomez is unlikely to return this season given he remains off-ice with concussion issues. It has been a terribly turbulent season for Gomez who, in addition to his lack of production, has been in and out of the lineup with various different ailments.

- Prospect Report

Joonas Nattinen paced the Hamilton Bulldogs to a 3-1 win yesterday with a goal and an assist. The 21-year old AHL rookie has had a very streaky season, but has scored 7 of his 9 goals on the season in the past 15 games, which hints at a good learning curve and some remaining potential to develop further next year.

CHL playoffs get underway this weekend, which means a wrap on some impressive regular seasons for Canadiens' prospects. With a goal in his final game, Patrick Holland enters the post-seaosn riding a 20-game point streak. He finished his WHL season with 25 goals, 84 assists, and 109 points in 72 games, ranking 6th in league scoring. His Tri-City Americans finished 1st in the Western Conference, meaning a first round matchup against the Everett Silvertips will begin in the coming days.

Brendan Gallagher's Vancouver Giants earned home ice for the first round (also in the WHL's Western Conference) and will face the Spokane Chiefs in the 4th-5th seed matchup. Gallagher finished the season with 41 goals, unable to match last year's 44, but did play 12 fewer games. He hopes for a longer playoff run this season after injury limited his participation to just 4 games last year (in which he still contributed 2 goals).

Finally in the WHL, Darren Dietz and the Saskatoon Blades finished 5th in the East, meaning they will play the Medicine Hat Tigers. Despite being known perhaps more for his rough style of play, Dietz finished 2nd in points amongst Saskatoon defensemen, with 44 points in 72 games.

Over in the OHL, Jarred Tinordi's London Knights finished as the league's top seed, drawing a first round matchup with the Windsor Spitfires. Held off the scoresheet in 6 games last year, Tinordi is still seeking his first OHL playoff point.

In the QMJHL, the two most important clubs for Habs fans are the first and second seeds, and with second seed Shawinigan already assured a Memorial Cup berth as the host, Canadiens fans can hope neither is upset on route to the finals. Nathan Beaulieu's Saint John Sea Dogs won the regular season championship, with Beaulieu finishing 5th on the team in scoring and 12 points ahead of the second most productive d-man. Saint John draws 16th seed Cape Breton in the opener in what should not be a fair fight.

Shawinigan captain Michael Bournival finished the year fourth on his team in scoring due to missed time during the WJC and with injury, but had the top points-per-game average with 56 in 41. Teammate Morgan Ellis was a point-per-game player after being acquired by the Cataractes, ending the year matching Beaulieu with 52 points, the pair tying for 5th in league scoring amongst defensemen. Shawinigan will play the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the first round.

In the NCAA, after being held pointless in North Dakota's opening round 2-game sweep of Bemidji State, Danny Kristo scored a goal and 2 assists over a three game set that saw the Fighting Sioux crowned WCHA Final Five Champions. As such, they earned the top seed for this weekend's NCAA West Regionals (#4 nationally) where they will open against Western Michigan. Kristo's numbers are impressive, but he was outshone by rookie teammate and fellow Hab prospect Mark MacMillan, who is currently on a 6-game point streak over which he has accumulated 3 goals and 7 assists.

Greg Pateryn and Mac Bennett's Michigan Wolverines are the top seed in the Midwest Regional meaning they will play Cornell. Michigan was kind enough to post a link to this chart to show how the final 16 schedule plays out:

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