Saturday, December 13, 2008

You want adversity?

This is adversity.

Guy Carbonneau loved saying during last year's playoffs that his Canadiens had dealt with their share of adversity during the regular season, but in fact the Habs had few obstacles come in their way prior to the playoffs last year.

This, on the other hand, is real adversity, the kind that tells you what your team is made of.

The news Saturday morning was that Carey Price would be out until at least Christmas, according to RDS, and that he not only had the flu, but he had a lower body injury as well. If indeed Price is unable to play until Dec. 27, the Habs would have four games without their No. 1 guy in nets against Carolina twice, Philadelphia and Buffalo. Not a treacherous schedule by any means, but teams that give the Habs trouble.

Saku Koivu will apparently be out for two weeks with his ankle/foot injury, which means he too should miss those four games, plus a game in Pittsburgh on Dec. 27 and possibly one in Florida two nights later. Of course, that's assuming the Canadiens are being completely forthright about the nature of his injury, which may not be the case.

What makes me say that? Well, when Carbonneau says Christopher Higgins will miss at least a week, but he's seen with his left arm in a sling and the Team 990 is reporting he'll be out at least a month, I feel that's a slap in the face to your fan base. If you don't want to reveal the exact location or nature of an injury, that's fine. But at least be honest with how long your players will be out of action, because that's all the fans really need to know.

When Carbonneau made his plea to the media in last year's playoffs to stop calling his players to find out what their injuries were, he was doing so in order to try and level the playing field. Teams in other markets didn't have the same type of voracious media scrutiny he did, and he thought that was unfair.

The media corps complied, but then we learned that Koivu had been skating on his injured foot while Carbonneau was telling the media he hadn't even tried putting on a skate yet. If you want fairness in one direction, it has to be reciprocated. I remember more that one reporter saying that day the gloves were off, and everyone was fair game again.

I mention all this because I want to give Carbonneau the benefit of the doubt and believe him when he says Koivu will be back in two weeks, or Price will be back after Christmas. Mike Komisarek's imminent return appears to be right on schedule, so that gives me reason to believe the timeline on the other two, but Carbonneau's track record in this area is not very strong.

This is a big test for some of the bigger under-achievers on the Habs right now, and it's clear that the Robert Lang, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay line needs to take the lead and produce some offence. The doghouse line of Tomas Plekanec, Guillaume Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn need to show they can be reliable players for this team in the New Year, and in the case of the first two, they need to show something for next season as well.

But in this sort of environment, I think the Ben Maxwell, Matt D'Agostini and Andrei Kostitsyn line may come out looking the best tonight because the expectations are so low and there's little pressure to perform. That's normally when guys perform their best.

Meanwhile, a healthy Washington Capitals squad is in Montreal to face a team they beat 3-0 at home with a lineup that was nine regulars short. The only injury the Capitals need to worry about is in goal, where scheduled starter Jose Theodore didn't make the trip and will be replaced by Simeon Varlamov.

Varlamov is making his first NHL appearance and is considered to be the Capitals goalie of the future, but he wasn't exactly ripping it up with Hershey. The Bears are the best team in the AHL, so Varlamov's 10-3-0 record is no surprise, but his 2.34 GAA and .909 save percentage don't put him among the AHL's elite netminders.

Still, if the Caps are able to light up Jaroslav Halak the way they did Alex Auld in Ottawa on Friday night, Varlamov won't need to be all that good to get a win in the NHL either.

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