Sunday, November 30, 2008

What an audition

The Canadiens front office brass were all there Sunday night as the Hamilton Bulldogs got a rare opportunity to make an impression on the ones they all hope to one day count as their future employers.

Perhaps no one on the Bulldogs roster fills a need with the parent club better than Swiss-born defenceman Yannick Weber, and did he ever take advantage of the opportunity presented to him.

Weber's two goals Sunday night in a 5-3 loss to the Binghamton Senators each came on the power play, and they both came on shots from the back end.

The first was on a two-man advantage, and his one-timer on a feed from team captain Kyle Chipchura was a rocket from the right point that Baby Sens goalie Brian Elliott barely saw, let alone having any chance of stopping it.

Note those words: "one timer" and "right point." How many goals have the Habs scored from that spot this season? Not many, if any.

His second goal came when Brock Trotter fanned on a Ryan White feed, but the puck just sat there for Weber drifting into the zone. He quickly let go of a snap shot that Elliott had no chance to stop because he had already committed to Trotter's potential chance.

Weber was pretty composed after the game while facing questions about his future in Montreal and his performance in front of not only GM Bob Gainey, but assistant GM Pierre Gauthier, Bulldogs GM Julien Brisebois and scouting director Trevor Timmins.

"I know they're watching, but it doesn't really change much as far as my game," Weber said. "I'm lucky that at this time, in this building, I got two goals."

The timing was indeed good, as it was for fellow training camp poster boy Max Pacioretty, who scored a beauty of a goal late in the third to cut the Bulldogs deficit to 4-3. He picked up a puck in the neutral zone, crossed the blue line and turned Baby Sens defenceman Neil Peutric inside out before flipping a backhand past Elliott.

Pacioretty had a rough start in Hamilton with only an assist in his first seven games, but in the 15 games since he has three goals and 10 assists.

"After being sent down you have to prove to yourself and to everyone else that you belong up there (in the NHL)," Pacioretty said. "I think I lost sight of that."

Playing in front of 14,446 at the Bell Centre was a special treat for Pacioretty and his teammates, and it brought the rookie who just turned 20 on Nov. 20 back to those moments of glory he had in training camp.

"I thought I remembered what it was like," Pacioretty said. "But it's the most unbelievable feeling in the world playing in this building."

While those two had a good night, I was also impressed with centres Ben Maxwell and Ryan White.

Maxwell was centring a line with Pacioretty and AHL veteran Mike Glumac, and he's been manning the left point opposite Weber on the Bulldogs power play.

He says he's played that spot since he was in bantam hockey, and judging by how he was able to move the puck Sunday he appears very comfortable there.

I asked him after the game if he'd been following the Canadiens struggles with the man advantage this season, most notably on the blue line.

"That's a pretty tough power play to crack," was Maxwell's first response.

Maybe it was at the beginning of the season, but not right now as Guy Carbonneau appears willing to try just about anything to get the power play going.

White, meanwhile, showed more Sunday than he did in all of training camp. He made smart passes, played a physical game and was used in all situations centring Trotter and Yanick Lehoux.

On the discouraging side of things is the continued slide of Marc Denis. He started the season on a tear, allowing as many as three goals only four times in his first 11 starts. But since then, he's allowed that many in six of seven starts, with a save percentage of .879 over that span.

"The goalie usually goes as the team goes," Denis said, a sentiment that was echoed by Bulldogs coach Don Lever, who says the guys in front of him haven't been very strong of late.

To be fair, Denis had absolutely no chance on three of the five goals he gave up Sunday night, so maybe he has been better than his numbers indicate.

When Denis was single-handedly winning games for the Bulldogs earlier this season, it appeared as though his troubles with the Tampa Bay Lightning were a thing of the past and he could step in as a backup to Carey Price if Gainey saw fit to trade Halak for some help on the blue line.

Denis doesn't have to clear waivers to come back from Hamilton, and Halak could be an attractive piece of a package the Habs could put together to fill that hole in the No. 4 defenceman's spot.

But regardless of how much support he hasn't been receiving from his teammates, a guy with a save percentage south of .900 for any significant period of time in the AHL is not quite ready for the big time, so maybe Denis isn't all the way back to form just yet.


Anvilcloud said...

I wonder if they would consider bringing him up just for the PP for a year or two? Yvan Cournoyer began as a PP specialist if I remember correctly, and he was able to blossom into a all round player.

Yves said...

I'm very interested in seeing Weber for a few games in Montreal.

Montreal's PP needs a boost.

The young guys usually bring enthusiastic energy to the mix also...

We need a bit of a boost.

And we need Komisarek! Although he looked sharp behind the bench.

Anonymous said...

Claude Lemieux! Claude Lemieux! Claude Lemieux! He's all we need.

pierre said...

You'r right Anvilcloud but Yvan (from hearing about it) played a regular shift on the 4 th line where he wasn't hurting the team and was able to progress nicely from there to become the all around talent he became.

The problem of using a kid as a saviour are many.... but the ride ahead do indeed look like it could be a fairly rought one... after all being in the middle of an identity crisis while having to face teams who sees us as the top Eastern team that they all would love to beat is certainly not an ideal situation..... a situation that could had been avoided had our engineer in chief not messed around with the crucial elements that were fondamentals to the balance and strenghs of our last season.

We were an average team playing an average 5on5 game that had the particularity of being well tuned for drawing penalties and creating hight number of PP opportunities for our own stellar PP units..... limits we had.... but we had a fonctional identity, earned plenty of points and played some rather exciting hochey..... a strong base to built upon but shurely not one to be tempered with..... but lol and behold not re-signing Streit this summer did just that..... Markov lost a left-handed quality shooter playing his right for the first time since Souray left and with that we lost our edge which was inextriquably linked with our assurance and momentum in our last season.

What will happen ?

As scenario's goes, the easiest one for our team would be to regain PP supremacy and to play the 5on5 type of game we were familiar with last season with the little better personel that we have this year...... but I cant see that happening and I cant see how Weber would make that much of a difference to our PP for the fact alone that his right hand shot is not idealy suited to be paired with Markov....... and then where would Weber play at evenstrengh..... he is not ready, smaller than Streit, and than there is the others, personel would need being shifted, presse boxed or send down.

A big trade ? not likely.....

All of us re-learning to live with smaller expectations ? not improbable... we are almost allready there.