Thursday, April 30, 2009

Russian reinforcements?

Mathias Brunet reports over at his Rondelle Libre blog that the Montreal Canadiens are presently in discussions with Kontinental Hockey League stars Alexander Perezhogin and Alexei Emelin.

If indeed the Habs are able to convince the two to come to North America, which appears to be at least Emelin's desire, it would fill two gaping holes in the Montreal lineup next season.

Emelin, by all accounts, is a tough-as-nails defenceman who backs down from nothing, but the question now is whether he has hurt his game by staying in Russia this long. He turned 23 on Saturday, so he's still relatively young, but he's never played a full season on a North American ice surface or with NHL-style refereeing.

Still, he would be welcome addition to a blueline that could potentially see the departure of Mike Komisarek, yet is only expected to welcome Yannick Weber and perhaps P.K. Subban to the fold, hardly players that could replace the physical dimension Komisarek brings (or used to bring in his pre-Lucic version of himself).

Here's a YouTube clip of some of Emelin's highlights, though these aren't very recent:

Brunet's story doesn't make it sound like Habs VP Hockey Operations Julien BriseBois is very sure of what Perezhogin's plans are, but he's become a pretty elite player over in Russia. This year he had 50 points in 55 games for Ufa Salavat Yulayev, who dominated the regular season wth a 44-8-4 record, but got knocked out in the first round of the KHL playoffs (sound like a certain California team we all know?).

Perezhogin's point total was tied for 10th in the league, three points behind Jaromir Jagr and two points better than teammate Alexander Radulov. He's currently playing in Switzerland at the world championships for Russia and has three points in his first three games.

Emelin is not in Switzerland, having been injured after taking a beating from former Lightning giant and third overall draft pick Alexander Svitov, which you can see here:

But another Habs prospect who is in Switzerland to represent Russia is Konstantin Korneev, a ninth-round pick in 2002. Korneev had 22 points in 54 games with CSKA Moscow this season, but as Brunet reports, BriseBois says the Canadiens haven't held any discussions with him about a possible return.

A big reason why Emelin and Perezhogin may want to come back to North America is the way the KHL is handling the current economic crisis by having the players take minor to severe pay cuts next season. The two of them have no contracts right now, so who knows how low their salaries may plummet?

In any case, the timing couldn't be much better for the Canadiens, who will desperately need some talent to fill out the roster this summer.

Second round predictions

I guess I had a decent first round, hitting on six of eight first round winners, though I didn't get the number of games right in any of them. Whatever, I'll take it. I missed on the Blues upsetting the Canucks (couldn't have been more wrong on that one) and I took the Sharks over the Ducks in seven games.

At least my two Cup finalists are still alive as the Wings and Pens made it look pretty easy in the first round.

So, here goes round two:

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins (1) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)
The Hurricanes are a popular pick for the upset here, and I understand the logic. Most of the Bruins have never been to the second round of the playoffs and they couldn't have had a much easier time getting out of the first round this year. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, beat a very tough opponent in a seventh game on enemy turf, and much of the roster has Stanley Cup-winning experience. But despite all that, I think the Bruins depth, toughness and talent will win out here. Eric Staal scored five goals in the seven games against the Devils, but I have trouble seeing him do the same thing with Zdeno Chara stalking him all series long. If the Bruins play as disciplined against the 'Canes as they did against the Habs, I think this should be relatively easy.

Pick: Bruins in 5

Washington Capitals (2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (4)
Yeah, yeah, Sid the Kid and Gino against Alex the Great, the NHL's wet dream come true. Personally, I think the offensive firepower cancels each other out pretty evenly among the two teams. Match up Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Semin, Chris Kunitz and Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Gonchar and Mike Green, Bill Guerin and Viktor Kozlov etc... There's not much of an advantage to either side that I can see, but it should make for some pretty exciting hockey. The difference, in my eyes, will be in goal, and for my money I'll take Marc-Andre Fleury over Simeon Varlamov any day. Not to take anything away from what Varlamov accomplished, but a lot of goalies have looked pretty brilliant against the Rangers this year. Facing the Penguins firepower is a whole other can of worms. Throw in Pittsburgh's playoff experience, and I think they have a decided edge.

Pick: Penguins in 6

Western Conference

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8)
Granted, the Ducks are not your average eight seed and should give the Wings everything they can handle in this matchup. But Detroit is like a chameleon because Mike Babcock can adapt his team's game to basically any style of play and still come out on top. Everyone knows what the Ducks will throw at you: big bodies looking to take your head off. That definitely bothered the Sharks, but it won't rattle the Wings. The only wildcard here is Chris Osgood getting outplayed by Jonas Hiller, who essentially stole that series against the Sharks. Does Hiller have another theft in him? I doubt it.

Pick: Red Wings in 7

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (5)
This is the toughest call of the four second matchups, but even though I picked the Canucks to lose in the first round, I'm big enough to admit when I was wrong. With Roberto Luongo as an anchor, the Canucks should win a long, back-and-forth series on home ice in a seventh game, and I'll even go so far as to say it will be decided in overtime. I love the Blackhawks makeup and was really impressed with how their young forwards bullied the Calgary Flames, essentially beating them at their own game. Dustin Byfuglien, Adam Burish, Ben Eager and Troy Brouwer were the most important guys in that series, but the Canucks have a deep and, most importantly, healthy defence after getting a week to rest up while the 'Hawks were battling Calgary. I think that might give Vancouver the edge in the end.

Pick: Canucks in 7

Monday, April 27, 2009

Who stays and who goes?

After a solid weekend to digest everything that transpired over this tumultuous Habs centennial season, over everything that was said as the Canadiens packed their bags for a long summer, I have come up with this conclusion: I have no idea how to make sense of any of it.

The 2008-09 version of the Montreal Canadiens were dysfunctional lot almost from the very beginning, even as they were compiling one of the best starts to a season in franchise history. It became very clear relatively early on that this team was not as good as it was supposed to be, but by the end of the year it was also far worse than it should have been.

But the bright side of all this is that changes are coming in a very drastic way, so I thought I would look at who should still be in Montreal next season and who should politely be asked to leave.

George Gillett Jr.
I don't think there is much doubt that Gillett would love to cash out right about now, flipping a relatively minor investment for big money to help him maintain his foothold in Liverpool. The Canadiens are a cash cow for Mon Oncle George, but it's one that has essentially plateaued in terms of value, and with buyers lining up why wouldn't he sell? Gillett has been as good an owner as you can ask for in terms of the on-ice product. Yes, he maximized the profit on his team based on the ridiculous demand for tickets and merchandise, but that can't necessarily be faulted because I feel anyone would have done the same in his shoes. If Gillett goes, however, heads in the Canadiens front office may begin to roll.

Bob Gainey
I'm not going to be a Gainey apologist here, but I will say that circumstances outside his control have handcuffed his ability to make this team better over the years. No matter how many times Gainey or anyone else on the Canadiens deny it, there is a real sense among NHL players that Montreal simply isn't worth the headache. Mathieu Dandenault came right out and said it in Brossard last Thursday, and he isn't the first one to do so. I'm of two minds on Gainey's future with the club, and they both revolve around the insane cap flexibility the Canadiens have this summer. On one hand, Gainey should be given a chance to truly build his team, and what better opportunity than this one? But on the other hand, Gainey should be held accountable for creating a situation with so many free agents that became a distraction. Gainey himself admitted as much last week. I think Gainey's future is directly tied to the ownership issue, and if by some miracle Gillett hangs on to his 80.1 per cent stake in the team, Gainey will be back as GM. That might be the best possible outcome for the Habs, only because I don't see an available candidate to replace him that would be much of an upgrade.

Coaching staff
I find it hard to see Kirk Muller back with the team next year, seeing as that was Guy Carbonneau's hire. A new coach will almost certainly want his own assistants (unless Gainey does the unthinkable and returns behind the bench). But when I read Mathias Brunet's piece at La Presse today on Francois Allaire's contract status with the Ducks, I did a double take. Near the end of the story, Allaire says his contract is up at the end of this season, he hasn't had any negotiations with the Ducks as of yet, and being so far from home is starting to wear on him a little bit. If there is one guy who might be able to get Carey Price turned around, it would be Allaire, and this is someone the Canadiens should definitely target as soon as the Ducks playoff run is over. I'm not sure Rolland Melanson will be back with the team next year, and I also can't help but put some of the blame for Price's play this season on him. Allaire would be a perfect replacement.

Saku Koivu
I think this decision lies largely in Koivu's hands. His measured responses last Thursday about his future with the team sounded to me like a guy who sees a chance to win, and doesn't necessarily see it happening here. Also, as much as I would never have a single bad thing to say about Koivu on the ice, I feel all those years of illnesses, injuries and media controversies have taken their toll on him both mentally and physically. A change of scenery might be the best thing for him. The Canadiens will not be a better team without him, but they also can't responsibly offer him anywhere near the $4.75 million he made the last three years. Koivu said he won't follow the money, but there are limits to how much of a pay cut he might be willing to take. I think he's played his final game as a Hab.

Alex Kovalev
Unlike Koivu, I think Kovalev might be willing to take a significant cut in pay to stay in Montreal. Don't ask me why, I just do. Maybe it had something to do with his assertion last Thursday that nothing will influence his decision to sign with Montreal, not the ownership issues, not Gainey's status, not Koivu's decision, nothing. As maddening as he can be to watch, Kovalev has always picked up his game when it's mattered most, and that is a valuable commodity. How does 98 points in 116 career playoff games sound (31 points in 33 playoff games with the Habs)? I don't think we'll ever get a repeat of his performance two years ago, but Kovalev at 75 per cent is better than most at 100 per cent.

Alex Tanguay
I admit I wasn't high on Tanguay early this season, even though he was producing points. But watching him play with Koivu and Kovalev at the end of the year convinced me this guy was worth keeping. I think Gainey - or whoever the Canadiens GM is - should make Tanguay a priority signing. "If the Canadiens were to call next week," Tanguay said, "I'd be willing to talk." That might be a good idea, assuming they can talk him down a touch from his $5.25 million salary this season. He's only 29 and this was the first year he's ever been hampered by injuries. He said he was looking for term over money, so maybe they can sign him for as little as $4 to $4.5 million a year over six years, which would only bring him to age 35.

Mike Komisarek
Here is the biggest conundrum facing the Canadiens braintrust. Prior to his shoulder injury, Komisarek was a slam dunk signing, a future captain the Canadiens could build around. But that injury, and later watching him play without Andrei Markov to his left exposed the flaws in Komisarek's game. But he is still only 27, and could potentially blossom into something special. But at what cost? Komisarek refused to talk about his future last Thursday, saying he paid his agent a lot of money to make those decisions for him. That sounded to me and lot of my colleagues like someone who was ready to hit the open market. If that's the case, I think the starting price on Komisarek will be $5 million over a long-term deal, perhaps as high as seven or eight years. Other than Jay Bouwmeester, Komisarek will be the most attractive defenceman on the free agent market. With Brian Burke sitting on gobs of money and cap space in Toronto, I could see him upping the ante for a big, bruising defenceman. I'm not sure he's worth that kind of money, so Komisarek may very well be gone.

Robert Lang
Lang doesn't want to be part of a re-building process, and doesn't feel one is necessary in Montreal, but if he sees Koivu and Komisarek leaving town then he might just feel inclined to do the same. He had a great season before his injury, but who knows if he will ever get back to that level? He'll be 38 next season and coming off the type of surgery that has hampered some people's careers, people far younger than him. Lang made $4 million this season, but offering him any more than half that number would make no sense. The only thing working in Montreal's favour here is that other teams will be just as reluctant to offer Lang a big contract, especially since he is over 35 and that contract will count against the cap no matter what happens (except for long-term injury relief). So maybe the Habs can sign Lang for a year at $2 million, but any more than that would be irresponsible.

Mathieu Schneider
Schneider will be 40 on June 12, and he wants to go somewhere he can play two more seasons. Schneider's age makes him as risky as Lang, but he plays the type of game that could allow him to play until he's 42, in theory. Having Schneider around would definitely help a guy like Yannick Weber and maybe even P.K. Subban adapt to the NHL game, but it would have to come at a cost that is far lower than Schneider's $5.625 million salary this season. My hunch is that Schneider will find a team willing to let him play two more years, but it won't be here.

Francis Bouillon and Mathieu Dandenault
I put these two in the same category because they are both Quebec natives who would likely take a significant pay cut to stick around. With the influx of young defencemen coming up through the system it's pretty unlikely that both will be back. They are both 33, they both made too much money this year ($1.875 for Bouillon, $1.725 for Dandenault) and both probably have a few good years left in them. The question is, which one? If the decision were left up to me, I'd go with Dandenault because his style of play produces less wear and tear than Bouillon's, and his versatility makes him more valuable.

Tom Kostopoulos
I would definitely re-sign him even though playoff performance left something to be desired. He's a great value at $900,000 per year and his hustle and willingness to at least make an attempt at defending his teammates. His return is not vital, but considering how many young guys there will probably be on the team next year, I would think Kostopoulos would be a nice lead-by-example candidate.

Patrice Brisebois
He says he has to figure out if he wants to keep playing, but I think that decision will be made for him. Brisebois can sleep well at night knowing he carved out a 1,000-game career despite chronic weaknesses that never really improved.

Tomas Plekanec
He won't get a big raise from his $1.6 million cap hit this summer as a restricted free agent, even though he's arbitration eligible, but the Canadiens might be best served by shopping him around while he still has some semblance of trade value, especially if Lang is re-signed. I love his effort and work ethic, but I think Plekanec simply lacks the stones to be a successful NHL centre. I hope he proves me wrong one day.

Vincent Lecavalier
Whatever it takes, injury issues or no injury issues. Time to kiss and make up, Bob.

So there you have it, my 300th and final post of the season. I'll be checking in every now and then as news develops surrounding the Habs, and it should be a pretty hectic summer for that. I'll also weigh in on the playoffs at the completion of each round, but otherwise things will slow down a fair bit around here until the draft. Thank you all for making this experiment a load of fun for me, and next year I hope we can continue to make it grow into something bigger and better.

Have a great summer!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gainey comes out punching, Koivu packing his bags?

Post-mortem day in Brossard was far busier than usual this year.

With 10 unrestricted free agents and another five restricted free agents, there were a lot of players us brutal media types wanted to poke and prod as to what they intend to do this summer.

To skip over some of the boring details, I'll start with this: Alex Tanguay, Alex Kovalev, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, Mathieu Dandenault and Patrice Brisebois all expressed an interest in returning here next year, while we didn't get a chance to talk to Francis Bouillon and Tom Kostopoulos, but it's a pretty safe bet that both would jump at a contract offer if it came.

"If the Canadiens call next week," Tanguay said, "I'm ready to talk."

The more surprising news was that Saku Koivu and Mike Komisarek did not overtly say they wanted to sign with the Canadiens.

In Komisarek's case that's understandable, because his agent Matt Keator (who also represents RFA Christopher Higgins) is notorious for instructing his clients to hit the market and go to the highest bidder. If Komisarek does that, despite his admission today that he had a bad season, he will make upwards of $5 million a year simply because of the nature of supply and demand with a slim defence crop available this summer.

I used to think he was worth that kind of dough, but I'm not positive after watching him play without Andrei Markov next to him the past few weeks.

But when Saku Koivu refused about two dozen opportunities to simply say he would love to be back with the Canadiens, I was originally pretty stunned. Koivu only needs to play one game next season with the "C" on his jersey to surpass Jean Beliveau as the longest-serving captain in Habs history. It's a record that would mean the world to Koivu, but his comments Thursday lead me to believe that he wouldn't mind seeing what life is like outside the Montreal fishbowl.

Thursday's meet the media day was a perfect example, as there were about 100 reporters, photographers, cameramen and TV personalities on hand to pick at the carcass of this failed centennial season. And even though Bob Gainey said the media pressure is not as great as it seems in Montreal, he's also a man who will be looking to convince some free agents to come to this team.

Koivu has had to deal with numerous attacks from the media over the course of his career, largely based on his inability to speak French after 10 years as captain, but also because he once truthfully said the Habs were not Cup favourites, and another time he and several other European players skipped the pre-season golf tournament.

He estimates that if he's still available on July 1, he'll be gone, and it will be pretty freaking weird to watch Koivu play in another uniform if that were ever to pass. He downplayed his desire to play with his brother Mikko in Minnesota, saying it would be extremely cool but he would rather not risk casting a shadow over his little brother by signing with the Wild (I've got news for you Saku, Mikko's shadow is now considerably larger than yours, and that's not because he's a bigger guy).

Koivu has never had a chance to be on the open market, and though he and his family love the city, having this kind of opportunity probably won't come again because Koivu is not getting any younger at 34. And I think we all saw flashes of that age in the playoffs.

My take on it is that Koivu will surely be asked to take a hometown discount to sign with Montreal, and probably even a lesser role on the ice, and I'm not sure he's willing to do that. I'm also not sure he feels he has a legitimate shot at winning a Cup in Montreal, that if it was going to happen this was the year, and it's been wasted.

Gainey did not disappoint in his 25-minute meeting with reporters, just like a night prior after Game 4 ended and he accused the Bell Centre fans of "bullying" Carey Price.

Personally, I believe fans who pay those ridiculous prices to get in the building can do whatever they want, but the mock cheers for Price were just stupid. He didn't have an outstanding series, and he had a pretty horrendous second half of the season, but so did a lot of his teammates. Price expressed a willingness to stay in Montreal and deal with the inherent pressure of playing goal for the Habs, but he was still seething from the incident Thursday afternoon and I got the distinct impression that if he were a UFA like 10 of his teammates will be, he'd be gone.

Also, I'm not sure how Gainey's "rude, obnoxious assholes" quote was relayed to everyone, but I just wanted to make it clear he was talking about fans in LA who booed Darryl Sydor out of town. But the inference that he felt the same way about the fans who gave the mock cheers to Price would not be a stretch.

Gainey's highlight moment Thursday was calling out Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton for leaking the names of the players being discussed in the Vinny Lecavalier trade talks. Gainey called the leak a "disgrace" and gave it partial blame for the Habs terrible second half.

I understand not being happy that names got out - which, by the way, essentially confirms that the names that got out were in fact the ones involved - but to go from there to blaming it for a meltdown like the Canadiens had is going way, way too far.

Yes, that's a distraction, especially to two guys like Tomas Plekanec and Christopher Higgins who have serious self-confidence issues and take everything way too hard. But to the point where it would send the entire team spiralling downward into an abyss of mediocrity? I don't think so.

I was dying to ask this question, but the Habs PR staff cut Gainey's news conference off and wouldn't let me get it in.

With what Gainey said Thursday, does this mean the potential of a Vinny Lecavalier trade happening at the draft in Montreal is essentially out the window? Gainey was still pretty pissed off about the situation Thursday, and this is three months after the fact. Now Brian Lawton is also pissed, calling Gainey's assertions "preposterous" and denying that he leaked the names to try and up the price on Lecavalier.

If Gainey needed to get that off his chest, maybe he should have done it the same way he's accusing Lawton of doing it - with a discreet media leak. Doing it on a press conference being broadcast live on two networks in Quebec and attended by every major media outlet in the country may not have been the best way of going about it, just like Price's reaction to the fans was probably not the best move either.

The difference is that people will forget what Price did as soon as he starts winning games for the Habs. But I don't think Lawton will ever forget what Gainey did today, especially not before the draft.

So I think Habs fans can now kiss Vincent Lecavalier goodbye.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Could that have been Price's last game as a Hab?

I'm just wondering, because there are a lot of reasons why that might be the case.

The Roy style arm-raising at the mock cheers from the crowd during Wednesday's Game 4 beating at the hands of the Bruins was just the last sign in a long line of lowlights for the young goalie this year.

Not to overreact about one, singular moment in a long season full of letdowns, but Carey Price's reaction - to me at least - looked like a kid who was already fed up of the demands of being not only the number one goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, but the saviour of a franchise that now looks to be in dire need of one.

In a perfect world, Price wouldn't even be near his prime right now and the Canadiens would still be molding him for the starting role after a full season in Hamilton and platoon situation this year. But that's just not how it works in the salary cap NHL, and if you believe you have a stud rookie who can play on an entry level deal, you have no choice but to play him.

Last year's playoffs hinted that Price wasn't ready, and this season only confirmed it. Not to say he played poorly on Wednesday, because he didn't. The only goal he really had a chance on was Phil Kessel's, and even that came on a breakaway. But the total regression he had since January and the off-ice rumours that have been swirling about him make me wonder if he could ever realize his full potential in Montreal.

Because Price does indeed have potential. Tons of it. But will he ever be able to forget this year and put it behind him, let alone grow from it? Not too sure, and he's still a pretty decent trade chip should the Habs decide to go that route.

But who will be making that call? Bob Gainey had a lot of pressure to produce a winning team this season and he didn't deliver. Even firing Guy Carbonneau didn't work, though I've really grown tired of the idiots who chant his name at the Bell Centre because they're the same people who were calling for his head when he still had the job. Though the reasons for Gainey's failure were largely out of his control - injuries and young players being stupid chief among them - it is still Gainey that will have to answer for this disappointing season.

The only thing that might save him is the unstable ownership situation, because any incoming owner may want a name GM attached to the team, but this would be a pretty ideal situation for a new manager to walk into with a pretty clean slate to work with.

Schneider's out, Price is in, Tanguay?

Mathieu Schneider skated for about 15 minutes with his teammates Wednesday morning but has been ruled out for Game 4. But even though Alex Tanguay didn't skate this morning, he remains a game time decision, Bob Gainey said.

The Habs also announced that Patrice Brisebois did not play in Game 3 due to a lower body injury and he is still not available to play tonight, so Gainey will use the same six defencemen he did in Game 3.

Carey Price will be Gainey's man in goal, even though giving Jaroslav Halak a shot in nets appears to be the only way the Canadiens could possibly pull off the impossible and win the next four straight. It's almost as though Gainey is admitting his team can't win the season, so why shatter his franchise goalie's confidence by pulling him now. Better to let him get through this exprience as a whole.

Yes, Game 3 was the time to give Halak a shot, but I still feel Halak has proven before that he can steal four straight games and he should be given an opportunity. It's yet another example of why a GM should not be behind the bench.

No clear evidence of line changes for tonight's game, with Koivu, Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn practising with the first power play unit and Tomas Plekanec, Matt D'Agostini and Christopher Higgins on the second. Yannick Weber will be on both units, paired with Roman Hamrlik and Josh Gorges.

"You won't be seeing any Knute Rockne coming out of me," Gainey said. "Let's play. We want to play. We earned a chance to play when we earned our playoff spot."

Your daily Markov and Lang update

Andrei Markov and Robert Lang took the ice again Wednesday morning with strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Livingston, skating for about a half hour prior to the Habs morning skate.

Of the two, Markov was the one actually doing drills in an effort to play a game, while Lang was literally just skating around on his own shooting pucks. They were both already on the ice when I got there, and Markov was doing a drill with Livingston stopping pucks rimmed around the boards at the blue line and shooting them on net. He looked alright doing it, but later when he was asked to simply skate back and forth across the ice, he looked to be labouring between "sprints" (they weren't all that quick).

I'd be stunned to see Markov in uniform tonight based on what I just saw, which means there might not be a return engagement in Boston.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"I don't know what to say anymore"

Honestly, I'm starting to feel sorry for Tomas Plekanec.

I know a lot of Canadiens fans don't, and I don't blame them. But if you were able to see with your own eyes just how much this guy cares about how horribly he's playing, I think you would also have a tinge of sympathy for the guy.

Plekanec was the first one on the ice in Brossard today, spending a few minutes skating alone before six more of his teammates plus the two goalies got out there for Tuesday's optional practice. The others? The Kostitsyn brothers (with their dad watching from the stands), Mike Komisarek, Yannick Weber, Gregory Stewart and Matt D'Agostini. That's right, no Ryan O'Byrne. Why would he need to practice?

Plekanec was one of the last off the ice today and got to his stall in the dressin room only to find a group of reporters waiting for him. He smiled, kind of the way you smile at that hated neighbour who you know is stealing tomatos from your garden, but you just can't prove it.

The first few questions he was asked were easy enough, but then the inevitable arrived. It started nicely enough, "Not to say you played a bad game last night Tomas, were a minus-3."

"I don't know what to say anymore guys," he said, looking up at the ceiling (or the heavens beyond it) with a grin. "I go into every game to try and stop the bleeding. I don't know how to describe it."

Plekanec, throughout his struggles, has always been accountable for his play. Believe me when I tell you the same cannot be said for some of his teammates. There's never a menacing scowl thrown in the direction of a critical questioner, never hiding behind the screen of a slump, never making excuses about ice time or line combinations or anything. I respect that, even though I don't particularly respect the way he's been playing of late.

But Plekanec is only one guy who needs to wake up and suddenly find his game in order for the Habs to have any hope of pulling off the impossible and erase this 3-0 deficit against the Bruins, a team that has weaknesses, but just haven't been forced to show them in this series.

Andrei Kostitsyn could provide a much-needed boost to the Canadiens attack with some inspired play, even if it were only a period. Everybody has to start somewhere.

Mike Komisarek was downright awful in Game 3, one where he needed to be at his best. He played only 18:15, compared to 27:06 for his defence partner Roman Hamrlik and 26:45 for Josh Gorges, and was a minus-2 on the night. It was his errant pass that led to the back-breaking tip in by Phil Kessel at the end of the first, a goal that might very well have lost this series for the Habs.

There are others who need to improve, in fact just about everybody needs to improve, but those are the three most glaring examples in my eyes.

Bob Gainey didn't come right out and say it, but I would guess he's going to go back to Carey Price in Game 4. If he does, I feel it would be a mistake, just as I felt it was a mistake not to go with Jaroslav Halak in Game 3. What the Habs need right now is for a goalie to come in and not only win, but steal four straight games.

Take a look at what Halak did from Feb 21-28. He stole four straight games where the Habs were outshot 167-106, but still outscored Ottawa, Vancouver, Philadelphia and San Jose 15-8. It's become very clear that while Price isn't playing poorly, he's not able to steal a win. He's been given three opportunities, enough is enough.

Lang and Markov on the ice

Robert Lang and Andrei Markov jumped on the ice in Brossard just after 11 a.m., an hour before their teammates are scheduled to practice.

Both are doing drills with strength and conditioning co-ordinator Scott Livingston, and I'd say they're going somewhere in the range of 50-60 per cent. Lang has both ankles taped, which he usually doesn't do, and the two of them are going into turns with some trepidation.

I would imagine having them on the ice alone means there's been little improvement in either case, and I have troubnle understanding why either of them would be asked to play Wednesday night.

I know a team can't think they're out of it until they are actually eliminated, but Bob Gainey does have a responsibility as GM not to jeopardize the future by playing Markov in the face of a near impossible situation.

Neither Alex Tanguay nor Mathieu Schneider are out there, so we'll see if they practice with their teammates at noon, just like they did Monday for the game-day skate before suddenly being ruled out for that pivotal Game 3 matchup.

I take it back

Caught up in the booing of the crowd, the Carbo chants, the listless late-game power play that could have tied it up, I think I was unduly harsh on the Habs in my post-game blog hit.

Because really, playing without Andrei Markov, Alex Tanguay and Mathieu Schenider, not to mention Robert Lang or even Francis Bouillon, the Canadiens played their hearts out Monday night in an effort to extend this series and maybe give some of those guys time to get back.

Unfortunately, they came up short against a team that plays such a tight system, they don't get rattled easily and stick with their game plan even when their opponent is dominating them in every facet of the game.

Bob Gainey said after the game that all of his injured players will be re-evaluated for Game 4, meaning all or some or one of Andrei Markov, Mathieu Schneider, Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang could be in uniform Wednesday night. But honestly, Monday was the Canadiens last stand, and while I still believe they came out for the third playing as if they had already lost, their effort up until that point needs to be commended.

It's 12:30 and I'm wiped, but I invite you to read what I wrote for the CP and for I'll check in Tuesday after the Canadiens and Bruins practice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Let the offseason speculation begin

That will be the talk around the city tomorrow when this potential sweep at the hands of the Bruins is finally in the books.

Which free agents will be back? Has Saku Koivu played his final game as a Montreal Canadien? Same for Alex Kovalev? How much does Bob Gainey offer Mike Komisarek? Is it in fact Bob Gainey that will be doing the offering? If the Lightning want Carey Price for Vincent Lecavalier, is that not the biggest no-brainer ever?

The Canadiens entered the third period of Game 3 only down a goal, with every possibility of putting together another solid period like they did in the first and come out winners, esepcially since hey were starting on the power play. But right from the drop of the puck, the Canadiens played like a defeated team in the third.

Not only were they not on the same page, they weren't even on the same book. But worst of all was that the Habs were plainly out-hustled by Boston in the period when the Canadiens literally had 20 minutes to save their season. No play illustrated that more than the final, empty net goal by Chuck Kobasew, where he beat Saku Koivu to a loose puck and outmuscled him to the net to ice the game 4-2.

The game ended with the stands half empty, and the other half of the Bell Centre faithful were booing and chanting "Carbo, Carbo."

Not pretty.

Tanguay, Schneider out for Game 3

In a bizarre twist, neither Alex Tanguay nor Mathieu Schneider took the pre-game warm-up with what a Habs spoeksman described as upper body injuries.

Carey Price was the first goalie to take shots in the warm-up, suggesting he's getting another start, despite everything pointing to giving Jaroslav Halak a shot.

More to come...

Gainey at his revealing best

Here's a little portrait of the start of Bob Gainey's press conference Monday morning prior to Game 3:

Q: Bob, can you tell us who your starting goalie will be tonight?

A: Can't tell you.

Q: What do you think of the Milan Lucic suspension?

A: No comment

Q: Is the choice of goalie a game-time decision?

A: Yup

Later, he was asked about potential lineup changes for tonight's game, and Gainey first said in English, "I'm not going to discuss my lineup."

Later, when asked the same question in French, he said, "It's possible. I'd watch the warm-up."

The Canadiens skated for about a half hour Monday morning, and all the forwards were wearing red jerseys while all the defencemen were in white, giving no indication as to who would be playing with whom. The drills were no help either as the forwards and defence switched spots liberally.

Meanwhile, Gainey and Don Lever watched the skate from high above the ice in the press box, kind of like the king watching over his subjects from the tower of his castle.

Of course, all this is perfectly fine come playoff time, though I'm not sure if Gainey is trying to keep the information from the Bruins or if he simply doesn't know yet.

Personally, I expect to see Carey Price in net tonight, even though I think Jaroslav Halak should get the nod. Price was first off the ice in practice, which usually means he would be playing, but when Halak was asked if he was Gainey's man he grinned and said, "Nobody knows."

Least of all the Bruins, but frankly, I don't think they really care either way.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Robert Lang donned the equipment Monday morning before the Habs jumped on the ice for their game-day skate, a change from his skate a day prior when he was just in a track suit.

I'm not sure if that's a sign of improvement, but he was apparently skating a bit harder than he was Sunday.

He was joined by Andrei Markov, which means Markov will not be skating with his teammates in about 15 minutes or so. According to Bob Gainey's criteria for when a player is ready, that would mean Markov will be out for Game 3 tonight because he hasn't practiced with the team.

However, Francis Bouillon didn't practice with the team before being thrown into the fire of Game 2, so who knows what will happen?

I'm pretty sure Gainey's going to say neither Lang nor Markov are available tonight, of he answers the question at all. But it's a do or die game, so if Markov is even close to being ready, I would imagine he'll be in the lineup.

But what do I, or anyone other than Gainey, really know anyway?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Desperation time

BOSTON - If Andrei Markov is anywhere near being able to play, now is the time it needs to happen.

Apparently, his first on-ice session Thursday was a setback, but his skate on Friday didn't make it any worse. When a team is clutching at any positive news it can get, that has to qualify.

Without Markov, the Habs are now 6-17-2 since the lockout. This year alone, they’re 0-5-1 since Markov went down on a hit by Mikhail Grabovski in Toronto, and it’s hard to imagine the Canadiens beating the Bruins without their best player on the ice.

Saturday night’s game actually started out pretty well, with the Canadiens controlling much of the play early and outshooting the Bruins 8-2 over the first nine minutes or so.

But then Sergei Kostitsyn, inserted into the lineup to provide some offensive spark, put a halt to the Canadiens momentum with a bone-headed neutral zone hooking penalty.

The Bruins, of course, capitalized immediately.

“Any kind of positive play we had was halted by the penalties we took,” said Christopher Higgins, who took a high-sticking penalty in the offensive zone late in the first.

In fact, four of the Bruins five power plays came off neutral or offensive zone penalties, and that gave Boston three goals because their power play was lethal.

The Bruins, to a man, credit Mark Recchi and his willingness to stand in front of the net and stay there for their success on the power play.

“Recchi’s the big key,” said Bruins defenceman Dennis Wideman. “He screens the goalie and tips more pucks than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

So here’s an idea, how about moving Recchi from that spot? Seems simple, no? I understand you’re not allowed to cross-check guys out of the way anymore, but often times the Habs defence just lets Recchi stand there. Shouldn’t someone, anyone, make some attempt to move him?

Another idea might be to stop taking those useless penalties.

“We’re going to have to play better,” Bob Gainey said. “And part of that is playing smart.”

Gainey might want to take some of his own advice.

I was all for playing Sergei Kostitsyn to see if he could provide a spark to Andrei, who was simply comatose in Game 1. But even though Tomas Plekanec was a total non-factor in the first game, or in the last two weeks for that matter, was it better to only dress three centres?

Or how about dressing Francis Bouillon when it was clear that prior to the game he wasn’t too sure of his ability to compete at a playoff level? He never came out and said it, but he was not very convincing when talking to reporters two hours prior to the game.

There are a few things moving forward the Habs can try to use to their advantage in Game 3: First, Milan Lucic will likely be suspended for trying to re-arrange Maxim Lapierre’s face with his stick. His game misconduct was switched to a match penalty after the game, which usually carries an automatic suspension unless King Bettman decides otherwise. Lucic is a big momentum-changer with his physical play, and Boston often feeds off his energy.

Second: the Bell Centre should be a rocking building Monday and the Bruins openly admit that’s a tough building to play in, especially in the playoffs. Mike Komisarek appealed to the fans to make it so, but I have a feeling the place won’t be quite as jumping as usual. It’s hard to be cocky when you have little confidence in your team.

Third: the referees are almost always influenced by the crowd in Montreal. Though some people may think otherwise, they weren’t influenced in Boston. Every one of those penalty calls were in fact penalties, and I really didn’t see that many opportunities for the zebras to send a Bruin to the box on his own.

But the most important thing, by far, is the return of Markov. I don’t know if it’s possible, and I’m wondering if Gainey would be more cautious with him than he was with Bouillon because of the latter’s free agent status. But to have any chance whatsoever of sending this series back to Boston – let alone winning it – Markov has to play Monday night.

Game 4 would be too late, because the series would be over already.

Friday, April 17, 2009

From ridiculous to brilliant?

BOSTON - First off, I've got to say sorry for neglecting the blog of late, but I've been pretty overrun with my responsibilities in Beantown.

Anyhow, here's what I did today for CP and, but I wanted to go a little more in depth on the big change Bob Gainey pulled in Game 1.

He really did have a straight face when he said this week that there was nothing he could really do that would surprise the Bruins, but I'm wondering if that surprise had any effect whatsoever.

Georges Laraque playing with two of the team's most talented offensive players had to be something neither Claude Julien nor his players expected, but it didn't exactly prevent them from winning the game, though it may have been a bit tougher than anticipated.

Personally, when I saw that Laraque was on that line, I laughed and thought about Laraque telling me about "the plan" he and Gainey had regarding his usage in the series, one that was hatched up prior to the April 9 game in Boston that the Habs lost 5-4 in OT. If that was the plan, I thought to myself, there had better be something else in that bag of tricks.

But I have to admit, as the game went along "the plan" began to look more and more effective, especially when it came to Zdeno Chara's frame of mind. On more than one occasion, Chara had to step in and handle Laraque after the whistle.

One time, I saw Laraque chirping at him as the two skated up ice during a stoppage in play. Chara first turned to answer him, then stopped himself and looked away, like a jilted lover who doesn't want to admit she loves the man who just cheated on her.

If Laraque can continue to get Chara thinking about him, and not Alex Kovalev, then his presence is a good thing, as it is when Chara is forced to move him from in front of the net or try to push him off the puck behind the net.

I think we can all agree that Georges Laraque is not going to win or lose this series for the Canadiens, but the more he contributes in a positive way, the better Montreal's chances appear to be.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Can the Bruins confidence be a weakness?

BOSTON - Georges Laraque stole the spotlight Thursday morning prior to Game 1 because of these comments he made to CKAC on Wednesday morning, and you can read what I thought of the sideshow here.

But the biggest thing that jumped out at me today was the air of confidence in the Bruins room, a huge contrast from last year when there was a definite sense of impending doom in the Boston camp prior to the series.

Players were very composed, and though they said nothing that would provide bulletin board material for the Habs, I really felt that their body language spoke volumes about how they feel about their chances to win the series.

Bruins coach Claude Julien repeated over and over again how his team will simply play the same way they have all season by rolling four lines and playing physical without crossing the line to stupid, undisciplined play.

"Even when things were going well, when we were on that hot streak and got ourselves in first place, we never really looked further than the next game," he said. "We are really a team that seems to do better when we focus on short-term goals, and right now, I've said all week that we're not going to change our philosophy. Our way of playing has been succesful for our team all year. There's no real big secret to our game plan here. We don't plan on changing much."

Last year at the same time, Julien would be laughed at if he had said the same thing because the Canadiens had taken all eight meetings between the teams. But when you win the conference and won five of six games against the Habs, there really is no reason to change a thing.

"We had a ot of guys getting their first experience in the playoffs (last year), and what better place to start than Montreal," Julien said. "There's no doubt they gained a lot of experience, grew from that xperience and hopefully we'll take advantage of it this year."

I'm wondering if this might serve as a hinderance to the Bruins success in the series.

When Boston turned it around last year, I really felt it was because Julien just coached the pants off Guy Carbonneau, making adjustments on the fly while Carbonneau was more reluctant to do the same because of the regular season success of his team.

Now it is Julien in the role of sticking with what worked, while Bob Gainey has the task of making the adjustments necessary to switch the momentum from the season to his team in the playoffs. Will Julien be more willing than Carbonneau was to shuffle the deck should his team lose tonight? Will he be willing to scratch a player that's under-performing compared to the regular season? I'm not sure.

Gainey, however, won't have to struggle with changes he might be forced to make, because frankly there isn't a single formula that has worked for any extended period of time for the Canadiens all season, even when they were winning games in the first half (doesn't that seem like a season ago now?).

When looking at the series on paper, the Bruins have a decided advantage in every single possible category: goaltending, forwards, defence and special teams.

But perhaps, just perhaps, their lone weakness might very well be their own success.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Return of the Breezer

Just a quick update before I take off from Brossard, but Patrice Brisebois will be in the lineup for Game 1 in the place of Yannick Weber.

Up until now, Weber had been skating with Mathieu Schneider at practice all week, but I suspect the plan all along was to play Brisebois. It's a pretty wise move to let Weber absorb the intensity of the playoffs from the press box Thursday, and there's nothing saying he couldn't be used Saturday night in Game 2.

That's it for now, but you can read my blog hit from for at this link throughout the series. My name's not on it, but it's obviously the blog dealing with the Habs-Bruins series. I'll be posting for once on off days and twice on game days, but I'll also be posting different stuff over here at The Daily-Hab-it.

See you in Beantown!

My Stanley Cup pick

Just so I can look smart in the unlikely event that this were to ever come true, here's my Stanley Cup pick (drum roll please):

The Pittsburgh Penguins over the Detroit Red Wings in, say, six games.

There, that was easy enough. Now get ready to bask in my clairvoyance.

Just packing up the old garment bag for my trip to Boston today after watching the Habs practice in Brossard. I'll try to post an update before leaving, but I'm not sure I'll have time. At worst, you'll be hearing from me from Beantown, where I really hope to be able to catch a Red Sox game on Friday night. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My clueless first-round predictions

Honestly this year's playoffs are about as hard to predict as any I can remember, even though this is really the first time I'm making an earnest attempt at doing so. All the so-called favourites have their warts, whether it's the Red Wings stinking it up at the end of the season, or the Sharks relying on proven playoff non-performers like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, or the Bruins simply being the Bruins.

But I'm going to give it a shot, so here goes.

Eastern Conference
Boston Bruins (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)
I do honestly believe the Habs have a chance to win this series, and all the talk of this being a quick one is a little misguided. Yes, the Bruins took five of six games from the Habs this year, but it was only last year that they lost all eight games. Frankly, the Bruins are not all that different from last year aside from the maturation of guys like Phil Kessel and David Kreci. They're still relatively thin on the blueline, even though having Zdeno Chara play 30 minutes a game kind of wipes that factor out. But despite all the reasons I have for the Habs pulling the upset, I'm still not ready to put my faith in Carey Price, and I think that might ultimately prove to be the downfall for the Habs. Andrei Markov's questionable status also hurts, because he is clearly the Canadiens most valuable player.

Pick: Bruins in 7

Washington Capitals (2) vs. New York Rangers (7)
I didn't think the Rangers were a playoff team when the season started, and I still don't, even though they technically did make it. That defence is very suspect, and against a team with the firepower of the Capitals I don't think this series will be very close. Yes, the Rangers have a decided advantage in goal with Henrik Lundqvist, but that's the only area where New York has an edge (their top-ranked penalty-killing, in my view, is largely based on Lundqvist anchoring it). There are't too many goaltenders around that can win a series by themselves.

Pick: Capitals in 5

New Jersey Devils (3) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)
I sincerely believed only a few weeks ago that the Devils would be coming out of the Eastern Conference, but it's hard to keep believing that when the Devils put together a six-game losing skid at a vital time of year. They did get it together to finish with four wins in their last five, but I think the Hurricanes are just too hot and represent a very difficult match-up for a Devils team that still appears to be in disarray.

Pick: Hurricanes in 6

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)
I really get the impression this one won't even be close. The Penguins are just as hot as the Hurricanes and represent a match-up nightmare for any coach. Who do you try and stop? Sidney Crosby has been rejuvenated by the addition of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin on his wings, while Evgeni Malkin is simply Evgeni Malkin. The Flyers do have some talent up front, but the back end is suspect and the goaltendin gremains an issue, despite Martin Biron's masterful playoff performance in dispatching the Habs last year.

Pick: Pittsburgh in 5

Western Conference
San Jose Sharks (1) vs. Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks (8)
The Sharks are a pretty impressive team in my books, even if Thornton and Marleau have a tendency to disappear as soon as the weather gets nice. They have a great mix of youth and veterans, while the addition to Dan Boyle to replace last year's deadline acquisition Brian Campbell has been a definite step up. Still, the Ducks are a pretty formidable eight-seed, especially with the possibility of Francois Beauchemin making a return during the series to add to the Scott Niedermayer-Chris Pronger tower of defensive power. I see the Ducks giving the Sharks a run, but ultimately falling short in what promises to be the best first-round match-up in the West, if not all the playoffs.

Pick: Sharks in 7

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)
I know the Jackets are a nice story, and I want Rick Nash to have a good run in his first trip to the playoffs. But as vulnerable as the Red Wings seem with their horrendous finish and the shaky play of Chris Osgood in goal, I just don't see an upset happening here. Too much experience on one side, too little on the other. It's that simple.

Pick: Red Wings in 6

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. St. Louis Blues (6)
Hey Vancouver, congratulations. By having a great second-half push coupled with a pretty horrendous collapse by the Calgary Flames, you won the Northwest Division crown. Your reward? Facing the hottest team in the NHL. The Blues were 16-23-3 as late as January 11. Since then, they've gone an astounding 25-8-7, a points percentage of .713 over their final 40 games. I just don't see how that momentum can be stopped.

Pick: Blues in 6

Chicago Blackhawks (4) vs. Calgary Flames (5)
On the flip side of the St. Louis Blues is the Calgary Flames. Since what I thought was a brilliant deadline day, grabbing Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold, a Flames team that was 38-19-6 at the time went 8-11-0 to finish the year. Maybe everything we've heard about Jokinen really is true. The Blackhawks are not exactly scaring the pants off anyone either, but considering this is Jokinen's playoff debut, I don't see how the Flames can reverse the trend they've established since early March.

Pick: Blackhawks in 5

Monday, April 13, 2009

Time for BGL to show his value

If indeed it's true that having someone like Georges Laraque in the lineup - even is he's sitting on the bench - scares the opposition straight, then I see no problem having him skate on the fourth line in Game 1 of the Habs first round playoff series against the Boston Bruins.

But otherwise, why would he play? Everyone knows that fighting is not a major part of playoff hockey, even though the odd skirmish does break out every now and then. And if Laraque can't fight, then is he still a useful player?

I guess drawing two penalties and using his strength on the cycle against the Penguins the other night won Laraque this spot in the lineup, if indeed he's still skating on the fourth line by Thursday. But if he's dressed, I'd be willing to bet that most of his shifts will be grabbed by someone else.

Why? Because the Glen Metropolit-Christopher Higgins tandem has been identified as a shutdown line, one that uses speed to throw a blanket over the opposition's top skaters. I thought they and Mathieu Dandenault were doing a good job of that until the latter was called back to the blueline for emergency duty.

But there's no way Laraque can actually be expected to play against top-flight forwards, and he'd have trouble keeping up with his linemates. Trouble is, I'm not sure who would take Laraque's place on that line when the game gets important.

You don't want to bog down either Alex Tanguay or Alex Kovalev with extra defensive responsibilities when they will be expected to produce most of your offence. Neither of the wingers on Tomas Plekanec's line really have a clue defensively (or, for that matter, offensively of late) while Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos already fill a checking role on Maxim Lapiere's line.

So would that fourth line simply get nailed to the bench, with Metropolit and Higgins heading out for penalty killing duties? I find that hard to believe, especially since Claude Julien can very comfortably roll four lines on the other side.

Maybe Laraque skated on the fourth line to put some doubt in the Bruins' minds and he actually won't play Thursday. Or maybe Bob Gainey actually plans to use him in a shutdown role. Either way, I find his tentative inclusion in the lineup at practice Monday curious, to say the least. The time to dress Laraque was that big regular season showdown in Boston last week, but I have trouble seeing how effective he would be in the playoffs.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Opening myself up for ridicule

I figured I would do the honourable thing and check up on my pre-season predictions for the Eastern and Western Conference standings to provide you with an update of just how wrong I was, simply because I'm a sucker for some good cyber mockery. So let me have it.

Well, I guess I'll start with the good stuff and that's the fact I had the Devils, Flyers and Penguins ranked exactly where they finished. I also had the Capitals winning the conference, and I wasn't too far off on that one, so I'm going to give myself a pat on the back. But I had the Habs finishing second, the Bruins sixth and the Panthers and Sabres filling out the top eight. Those I left out were the Rangers in ninth and the Hurricanes in 11th. Overall, I'm actually pretty happy with how things turned out for my predictions in the East with six of the eight playoff teams correct, with my biggest oversight definitely being my Hurricanes pick, and I had four teams slotted where they actually finished (hard to miss the Islanders finishing last).

Now this is a completely different story. I did pick the Red Wings and Sharks to finish 1-2, so they just flipped positions on me, but that's when it starts to get all goofy. I had the Oilers winning the Northwest and grabbing the three seed based on their late-season charge last year that fell just short of a playoff berth. Obviously I didn't foresee the train wreck coming in Edmonton this year, which I feel was actually worse than what went on in Montreal, just without all the crime rumours flying around. I also had the Canucks, Flames and Blue Jackets out of the playoffs, while the Stars, Wild and Predators were in. The Canucks have truly surprised me this season, while I have a hard time explaining how the Flames looked so unbeatable for a long stretch this season. I have a feeling the Calgary team we're seeing now is closer to reality, but the fact is they led the division most of the year and I definitely didn't see that coming. As for the Blue Jackets, it's hard to predict a rookie goalie coming out of nowhere and leading you to the franchise's first playoff berth, so I won't beat myself up over that one, and you also can't foresee Brenden Morrow and Sergei Zubov being lost for the year while Marty Turco messed the bed all season for the Stars. Overall, I only got four of the eight playoff teams right and the only team I had slotted correctly were the Kings coming 12th in the conference. Pretty horrific stuff.

Stay tuned for my playoff predictions coming this week as I prepare for my trip to lovely Boston, Mass., where I'll be blogging the Habs-Bruins series not only for you over here on The Daily Hab-it but also at I'll get a link up as to where you can catch my CBC stuff as soon as it gets going.

Midday playoff check-up

Not much left to say except that the Flyers have a chance to lock up home ice in the battle of Pennsylvania with a win today over a Rangers team that has nothing to play for. It should be in the bag, but stranger things have happened. The Hurricanes not playing Cam Ward yesterday leads me to believe they have no problem playing the Devils in the first round, because a Carolina win could have given them home ice in the first round.

Eastern Conference Playoff Race

Philadelphia Flyers - 4th place, 99 points, 44 wins, 5-4-1
1 game remaining - 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Won 3-2 over NY Islanders
Remaining schedule – Today vs. NY Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins - 5th place, 99 points, 45 wins, 7-2-1
0 games remaining
Last night – Won 3-1 over Montreal

Carolina Hurricanes - 6th place, 97 points, 45 wins, 8-2-0
0 games remaining
Last night – Lost 3-2 to New Jersey

New York Rangers – 7th place, 93 points, 42 wins, 5-4-1
1 game remaining - 1 on road, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Today @ Philadelphia

Montreal Canadiens - 8th place, 93 points, 41 wins, 5-3-2
0 games remaining
Last night – Lost 3-1 to Pittsburgh

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Keeping up appearances

I don't think anyone could accuse the Montreal Canadiens of tanking their final game of the regular season against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, because the guys wearing the CH did try to win.

But honestly, only the Canadiens top lineup was going to win this game, and with Saku Koivu spending parts of the game on a line with Georges Laraque and Gregory Stewart I think the message was sent loud and clear that a victory was not vital in this one.

Still, the Habs played a pretty decent game despite being outshot 34-13 through two periods, and they had every chance to win it until allowing two shorthanded goals on the same power play in the third period.

Number one disappointment? Tomas Plekanec's line with Andrei Kostitsyn and Matt D'Agostini, who failed to leave a lasting impression that they will be the least bit effective when the playoffs begin in Boston next week. Kostitsyn had a couple of chances and Plekanec once again tried his hardest, but those two just look like they have no clue right now, and I have a hard time believing they're going to suddenly get it over the coming days.

But otherwise there were some encouraging signs, starting with Carey Price. He looked shaky to start the game, giving up two straight softy rebounds in the opening minute of the game, with the second one pounded in by Evgeni Malkin from the doorstep.

But he made up for it in a big way by keeping the Penguins at bay until that fateful power play in the third, including too incredible glove saves on Matt Cooke and Bill Guerin in the final two minutes of the second period that are sure to make the late-night highlight reels. Yes, he shouldn't have allowed the third goal, but I think he had a pretty solid night overall.

I also thought Yannick Weber had a pretty good audition on defence, and even though the intensity Saturday night was nowhere near playoff levels (despite Pittsburgh playing for the chance to host a first round series) I think Weber proved something by holding his own defensively.

But the important thing to come out of this game for the Habs was that no one got hurt, and now everyone can look forward to the 32nd playoff meeting between the Bruins and Habs. Based on what we saw Thursday night in Boston, it should be riveting drama and while the Canadiens are definitely underdogs, I wouldn't necessarily bet the house on the Bruins.

It's looking like Boston

Though no one should take anything for granted, it looks as though Bob Gainey wouldn't mind facing the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.

The team's performance in Boston on Thursday night had to have an influence on his decision to give Alex Tanguay the night off against the Penguins in the season finale at the Bell Centre tonight.

Of course, the Canadiens could still win with the lineup Gainey is proposing, but when he says he's going to use the game as preparation for the playoffs by trying some different things to see if they will be useful later on, you have to think that actually winning the game is not the number one priority.

Carey Price will be in goal after what I thought was a strong performance in Boston, despite the five goals allowed, some of them of the soft variety. What impressed me most was the way he played after the Bruins went ahead 3-1 with a few masterful saves, allowing his team to get back in the game and even take the lead before a boneheaded delay of game penalty by Mathieu Dandenault opened the door for the Bruins.

With both Georges Laraque and Gregory Stewart in the lineup, I also look at tonight's game as a playoff audition to see who could fill the policeman role in the playoffs. Laraque has a decent amount of playoff experience, reaching the Stanley Cup final with the Penguins last year and the Oilers in 2006 while playing a regular shift with both teams. But Stewart's speed should give him the inside track on the job for the playoffs, since there are hardly ever any fights and the level of intimidation comes more from big hits than big punches. But to hit someone you have to be able to catch him, and Stewart definitely has an advantage in that category.

I'm also eager to see Yannick Weber play a full game on defence, because if he's able to acquit himself well in his own end against some pretty challenging forwards like Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and company, he should give Gainey confidence to use him back there in the playoffs.

I'm pretty stunned to see Mathieu Schneider is expected to play tonight, which must mean that there really is no chance he could aggravate his injured shoulder by taking a big hit along the boards. Still, it's a risk I see little point in taking, especially when Patrice Brisebois and Ryan O'Byrne are available to take that spot.

In fact, I would have liked to see O'Byrne in uniform tonight because it would have provided him a final opportunity to prove his potential playoff value. Right now, I see little chance of him playing in the playoffs barring a string of injuries, but perhaps a strong game tonight could have given O'Byrne a chance to make a case. There's nothing really to lose by dressing him, so I guess the decision's already been made in his case.

Morning playoff check-up

Both the Penguins and Hurricanes will be playing tonight for the right to host the first round, which is pretty astonishing considering where these teams have come from. As recently as Feb. 25, the 'Canes and Pens were ninth and 10th in the conference. Since then, Carolina is 14-3-2 while Pittsburgh is 14-2-3, virtually identical records bringing them to the cusp of home ice advantage in the first round, and perhaps beyond. But even if both of them win tonight, it's possible the Flyers will maintain their hold on fourth if they can get three points in their last two games. Still, I'm not sure I like Philly's chances against either Carolina or Pittsburgh. In fact, I'd rather be in the Canadiens shoes right now, with a chance to face the Bruins or the Capitals in the first round. If the Habs lose in regulation to Pittsburgh tonight, they book a ticket to Boston. If not, they have to wait for tomorrow's Rangers game against the Flyers to know what the future holds.

Eastern Conference Playoff Race

Philadelphia Flyers - 4th place, 97 points, 43 wins, 5-4-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight @ NY Islanders, Sun. @ NY Rangers

Carolina Hurricanes - 5th place, 97 points, 45 wins, 9-1-0
1 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight @ New Jersey

Pittsburgh Penguins - 6th place, 97 points, 44 wins, 7-2-1
1 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight @ Montreal

New York Rangers – 7th place, 93 points, 42 wins, 5-4-1
1 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight @ Philadelphia

Montreal Canadiens - 8th place, 93 points, 41 wins, 5-3-2
1 games remaining - 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight vs. Pittsburgh

Friday, April 10, 2009

Morning playoff check-up

The Panthers get dropped despite a gutsy win over Atlanta last night because the Rangers and Habs took care of their business, and now all that's left to decide is positioning. But that can change drastically between now and Sunday as the 4-5-6 teams are all tied in points, as are the 7-8 teams. The Flyers remain in the driver's seat for home ice in the first round with a game in Long Island on Saturday and a home date with the Rangers on the last day of the season, but if they wind up tied in points with the Hurricanes and/or the Penguins, the Flyers will lose the tiebreak based on wins. Carolina's loss to Buffalo hurt its chances, but the 'Canes had to lose at some point. The situation makes it so the Penguins will have a lot to play for in Montreal on Saturday, so the Habs can expect to see their top guys in uniform.

Eastern Conference Playoff Race

Philadelphia Flyers - 4th place, 97 points, 43 wins, 5-4-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Lost 2-1 to NY Rangers
Remaining schedule – Sat. @ NY Islanders, Sun. vs. NY Rangers

Carolina Hurricanes - 5th place, 97 points, 45 wins, 9-1-0
1 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Lost 5-1 to Buffalo
Remaining schedule – Sat. @ New Jersey

Pittsburgh Penguins - 6th place, 97 points, 44 wins, 7-2-1
1 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Won 6-1 over NY Islanders
Remaining schedule – Sat. @ Montreal

New York Rangers – 7th place, 93 points, 42 wins, 5-4-1
1 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Won 2-1 over Philadelphia
Remaining schedule – Sun. @ Philadelphia

Montreal Canadiens - 8th place, 93 points, 41 wins, 5-3-2
1 games remaining - 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Lost 5-4 in OT to Boston
Remaining schedule – Sat. vs. Pittsburgh

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cooler heads prevail

OK, they didn't prevail, they lost in overtime. But the number one reason the Habs were able to clinch a playoff spot Thursday night in Boston by losing 5-4 was discipline. More specifically, Mike Komisarek's discipline.

On two separate occasions, Komisarek found himself in a situation where he was tangled up with someone with their gloves dropped waiting for him to dance. But he didn't, and the power plays the Canadiens received as a result turned into their first and third goals of the game, both of which tied the score.

At the end of the first, Zdeno Chara was throwing punches, but Komisarek kept his cool (though I'm sure he had no interest in challenging Chara). Next thing you know, Alex Kovalev starts the second with a power play goal, and the game is tied 1-1.

Then, after hitting Milan Lucic from behind in the neutral zone, Shawn Thornton came flying at Komisarek with his gloves off but couldn't find a partner, and then Lucic also came in and tried to rip Komisarek's head off. The four-minute power play that ensued resulted in Mathieu Schneider's goal to tie it again at 3-3.

Both pivotal goals, both made possible by Komisarek showing a level of maturity we haven't seen from him in his entire career. That game may very well have been a turning point for him on his way to being an elite shutdown defenceman. He was credited with a game-high five hits and had a clutch blocked shot with the score tied in the third in just over 22 minutes of ice time. He did get eight minutes in penalties, but not a single one of his four minors resulted in a Bruins power play, and two of them gave his own team crucial ones.

I still can't for the life of me understand why Bob Gainey didn't dress Georges Laraque, because the Bruins approach to the game was very predictable and he may have been able to calm things down a bit. But you know what? The Habs did a pretty good job sticking up for themselves against a far tougher and bigger team.

Also, if Laraque dresses, perhaps Matt D'Agostini doesn't and his two-goal night never happens. Under that scenario, the Canadiens are not sitting comfortably in a playoff spot tonight.

Schneider's return paid off in a huge way with three power play goals, one off his own stick proving that his shoulder is just fine when it comes to shooting the puck. Now might be a good time to send Andrei Markov to see that doctor Schneider went to, because if the Habs have any hopes of winning a round in the playoffs they rest on Markov's speedy recovery.

Finally, there was Carey Price, who may have given up five goals on 33 shots, but battled the whole night to keep his team in the game and made a number of key saves. He was pretty money when the Habs needed it most, and I think that performance might have solidified his spot as the playoff starter, if there was ever any doubt in Gainey's mind on that question.

So now the Habs are a playoff team, and everyone knows anything can happen come playoff time. Price could get ridiculously hot, the first line could suddenly go on a tear, even Yannick Weber might turn into one of those obscure playoff heroes that seem to pop up every year. Basically, everything is new again and all is possible.

All that's left to be decided is where the Habs will start the playoffs, Washington or Boston. Both would represent formidable tests for the Canadiens, but both are also quite beatable because they lack playoff experience, especially between the pipes. Frankly, I think the Canadiens couldn't care less who they play, they're just happy to be in.

After a roller coaster year that provided every challenge imaginable, they should be.

What can Schneider offer?

It sounds very likely that Mathieu Schneider will in fact be in the lineup tonight, which can only be seen as good news not only because of what he could possibly bring to the power play, but also what his presence would mean psychologically to the whole team.

He's still a game time decision, but if Bob Gainey says there's a "good possibility" he'll play that's about as definitive as you're going to get.

Having both Schneider AND Andrei Markov out of the lineup was a huge mental drain on the defencemen they left behind, and knowing Schenider is in uniform should take some pressure off the shoulders of Josh Gorges, Roman Hamrlik and especially Mike Komisarek, who really looked like he couldn;t handle the extra workload in that loss to the Senators.

But I'm wondering what Schnedier can bring to the table with what the Team 990 is reporting as a partially torn left rotator cuff. Won't it hurt when he shoots? Will that take some velocity off his shot? What about taking contact in the corners? Won't he be inclined not to put his shoulder in dangerous situations?

I'm not saying Schneider shouldn't play tonight, because if he feels he can go then there's no reason to sit him out. But I would be a little cautious in the way he's used. As much as possible, he should be shifted on the fly so that Claude Julien can't send his big guns out there against him, and his minutes need to be limited to no more than 16 or so, unless of course the Habs spend 20 minutes on the power play.

The usage of the entire defence corps is going to be interesting to watch tonight, as Mathieu Dandenault will be playing back for one of the few times this season as well. I would expect that all of the pairings are going to be mix and match affairs that will change from shift to shift.

It sounds like Ryan O'Byrne will miss the cut, and Carey Price is going to have to deliver a masterful performance tonight to get the Habs to at least overtime and remove all doubt of a playoff appearance.

No word on whether or not Georges Laraque and/or Gregory Stewart will play, but if I were in Gainey's shoes Laraque would be in the lineup. He played pretty well the past little while and if he uses his unique talents properly, Laraque can have a positive impact on this game.

Good news or more baseless speculation?

I would be tempted to believe RDS when they report that Mathieu Schneider received good news on his bum shoulder from the specialist he saw yesterday. The fact he was on the ice at the morning skate is definitely a good sign.

Of course, it was RDS that reported Schneider's season was finished on Monday, but that may have also been true because the Canadiens medical staff may have indeed recommended surgery.

In any case, if Schneider could come back for the first round it would provide a glimmer of hope for the Canadiens to succeed.

But he won't be back tonight, and the Canadiens would be best served to wrap up the necssary point in the standings in Boston and eliminate any potential for high drama Saturday. We are all too aware fo what can happen when the Habs need a single point on the final night of the season to make the playoffs, are we not?

It appears that Bob Gainey will relent in his stubborn refusal to play Mathieu Dandenault on defence, which is also good news. I shudder to think what would have happened to Yannick Weber in a 5-on-5 situation with Milan Lucic bearing down on him on a dump in.

Morning playoff check-up

Sorry for the late check-up this morning, but I just forgot simply because nothing changed last night in the race. Tonight, however, is another story altogether. For the Habs the mission is simple: make it to overtime in one of their two final games, and they're in. Obviously, they would prefer to do it with a victory over the hated Bruins tonight, especially considering that might be a first-round playoff opponent. But really, anyway they get in will be fine with the Habs, I'm sure. Overtime or bust!
Otherwise, the Hurricanes continue their improbable march to home ice in the first round with a game against the Sabres that could also officially knock the Sabres out. The Rangers play the first of two against the Flyers, while Philly will fit a visit to Long Island in between the two Rangers games. If the Flyers can sweep the Rangers and the Panthers win both their remaining games, the Blueshirts would be out, even in the event of a tie between the two because the Panthers took the season series. Under that scenario, the Habs would still be in even if they lose out.
Finally, in the event of a three-way tie between the Habs, Panthers and Rangers where all three teams have 41 wins, the Rangers would be out because they have the worst points percentage in games played between the three clubs.
Do you have a headache?

Eastern Conference Playoff Race

Philadelphia Flyers - 4th place, 97 points, 43 wins, 6-3-1
3 games remaining - 2 on road, 1 at home, 2 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight @ NY Rangers, Sat. @ NY Islanders, Sun. @ NY Rangers

Carolina Hurricanes - 5th place, 97 points, 45 wins, 9-0-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight vs. Buffalo, Sat. @ New Jersey

Pittsburgh Penguins - 6th place, 95 points, 43 wins, 7-2-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight vs. NY Islanders, Sat. @ Montreal

Montreal Canadiens - 7th place, 92 points, 41 wins, 5-4-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 2 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight @ Boston, Sat. vs. Pittsburgh

New York Rangers – 8th place, 91 points, 41 wins, 5-4-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 2 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight vs. Philadelphia, Sun. @ Philadelphia

Florida Panthers - 9th place, 89 points, 39 wins, 5-4-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Did not play
Remaining schedule – Tonight @ Atlanta, Sat. vs. Washington

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The power play cavalry is coming

The Habs just called up Yannick Weber from the Bulldogs and sent Doug Janik back down to the minors.

If this move wasn't obvious before, going 0-for-6 on the power play over the past two games certainly made it so. Weber may have all sorts of warts in his own end, but he can shoot the puck with velocity and accuracy, something that has been sorely lacking the past couple of games.

He has 16 goals and 28 assists in 68 games with the Bulldogs this year, putting him seventh in scoring among the league's defencemen, and was named to both the all-star game and all-rookie team. He's scored 10 of his 16 goals on the power play and he leads the team in shots on goal with 201, or just over three per game.

With Janik heading to Hamilton and Mathieu Dandenault playing so well on that wing with Glen Metropolit and Christopher Higgins, I really don't know how Weber will be used in 5-on-5 situations, but it would appear obvious to me that he'll be playing on defence unles Gainey does an about-face and puts Dandenault back there.

Weber's a right-handed shot, so that gives the Canadiens four defencemen who normally play the right side and one of them will have to slide over. If I were Bob Gainey, I would move Mike Komisarek to the left side and pair him Ryan O'Byrne, then put Roman Hamrlik with Weber and Josh Gorges with Patrice Brisebois.

It's not ideal, but at least you'd have one reliable, steady-handed defenceman on each pairing (notwithstanding Komisarek's last game), and the defensive pairings get all jumbled up as the game goes along in any case depending on whether or not the Habs have a lead. If they do on Thursday, you can be sure to see a heavy dose of Komisarek, Hamrlik and Gorges.

What kind of pairings would you come up with?

Morning playoff check-up

The Flyers did the Habs a huge favour by beating the Panthers last night, making the losses to the Sens and Rangers a little more palatable. Despite the setback the Habs can still finish seventh, but sixth place looks extremely unlikely because all the Pensguins have to do is beat the lowly Islanders on Thursday. That's probably a good thing, because it looks like the Devils are locked into third in the conference, and Montreal's probably got a better chance against either the Capitals or Bruins. The Rangers have two games left against the Flyers, who are in a dogfight for home ice in the first round with the red hot Hurricanes. Philly should be plenty motivated for those games, which is also good news for the Habs. There's a brief reprieve in the race tonight as none of the teams are in action, but it's another huge night Thursday as the Habs can punch their ticket with either a win in Boston or a Panthers loss to the Thrashers.

Eastern Conference Playoff Race

Philadelphia Flyers - 4th place, 97 points, 43 wins, 6-3-1
3 games remaining - 2 on road, 1 at home, 2 against playoff teams
Last night – Won 2-1 over Florida
Remaining schedule – Thurs. @ NY Rangers, Sat. @ NY Islanders, Sun. vs. NY Rangers

Carolina Hurricanes - 5th place, 97 points, 45 wins, 9-0-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Won 9-0 over NY Islanders
Remaining schedule – Thurs. vs. Buffalo, Sat. @ New Jersey

Pittsburgh Penguins - 6th place, 95 points, 43 wins, 7-2-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Won 6-4 over Tampa Bay
Remaining schedule – Thurs. vs. NY Islanders, Sat. @ Montreal

Montreal Canadiens - 7th place, 92 points, 41 wins, 5-4-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 2 against playoff teams
Last night – Lost 3-1 to NY Rangers
Remaining schedule – Thurs. @ Boston, Sat. vs. Pittsburgh

New York Rangers – 8th place, 91 points, 41 wins, 5-4-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 2 against playoff teams
Last night – Won 3-1 over Montreal
Remaining schedule – Thurs. vs. Philadelphia, Sun. @ Philadelphia

Florida Panthers - 9th place, 89 points, 39 wins, 5-4-1
2 games remaining - 1 on road, 1 at home, 1 against playoff teams
Last night – Lost 2-1 to Philadelphia
Remaining schedule – Thurs. @ Atlanta, Sat. vs. Washington

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sliding in the back door

That looks to be how the Canadiens will ultimately qualify for this year's playoffs because the Florida Panthers are letting it happen.

The Habs 3-1 loss in New York on Tuesday night was nothing anyone should be overly shocked about, and the sting was lessened by Florida's 2-1 loss in Philly. Bob Gainey essentially put all his eggs in one basket on Monday when he overtaxed his best players in an all-out effort to grab that win against the Senators. When that was given away in a 38-second span in the third, the game in New York was already all but lost.

The Canadiens put up a pretty good effort considering the circumstances, playing fatigued against a rested team in a building that is not very kind to them without Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider, but ultimately it was for naught.

There are definitely disappointing aspects to the loss, starting with the play of Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec, who were non-factors once again. Plekanec's case is more complex because I don't think anyone can accuse him of not working and not wanting to be better. He simply doesn't know how to do it.

But in Kostitsyn's case, he has absolutely no idea how the effort level is supposed to increase at this time of year, how this is the time for him to take his physical gifts and put them into hyperdrive, how coasting through the neutral zone wen rushing with the puck just won't cut it anymore. Being a healthy scratch didn't help him grasp the concept of high-intensity hockey, seemingly.

The third member of that line, Matt D'Agostini, had his moments Tuesday night and I would say played a pretty fair game, but there's not a whole lot you can do when your linemates are bumping into each other and sticking to the boards as if they were magnetized.

Gainey had to spread the minutes on defence, especially after it became blatantly obvious that Mike Komisarek was too drained from his 26-plus minutes on Monday night to be remotely effective with the puck. If indeed Markov and Schneider are not available for the near future, Komisarek will have to log at least 24 minutes a night, so his reaction Tuesday was not a very encouraging sign. He did, however, have a potential game-changing moment when he drilled Sean Avery cutting into the slot with his head down, but the hit didn't have the desired effect.

Carey Price made 41 saves, and if you look at that number in a vacuum you'd have to say that was a pretty good night's work. But the Nik Antropov goal in the second was a backbreaker, one his team could not afford to allow, and those are mistakes Price simply can't make if he wants to be considered elite. But overall, it was a passable night, especially considering it was his first game in a week.

Finally, when your fourth line is your best line, there's trouble brewing.

But again, the Canadiens should not get totally depressed over the loss because they were in the game throughout that first period, but when the Rangers went up a gear in the second, the Habs couldn't keep up.

In Boston on Thursday night that may not necessarily be the case, especially if Mathieu Schneider is deemed fit to play by whatever doctor he is seeing on this road trip for a second opinion on his shoulder, but a win there is still a tall order.

But even if the Habs lose in Boston on Thursday and finish the season by losing at home to Pittsburgh on Saturday, all they need is a single loss by the Florida Panthers - whether it's in regulation or not - against either the Atlanta Thrashers or Washington Capitals to qualify for the post-season. Or if the Rangers get swept in their home-and-home with the Flyers to close out the season, even if one of those losses are in overtime, the Habs would still make it because they have the tie-breaker on the Rangers.

Both those scenarios are very plausible, a lot more so than the Habs managing a victory in their final two games without Markov and Schneider. Unfortunately, it's looking more and more like the Habs will be doing a lot of scoreboard watching between now and Saturday, because their playoff lives may very well be in someone else's hands.

But that should really be nothing for the Canadiens to be ashamed of because they've earned this right to back in with a very solid week of work last week. Except it doesn't raise too many hopes of a first-round playoff win either.

Everyone in the ownership pool

If I'm George Gillett and I know I have no intention of selling the Montreal Canadiens, then I'd speak up right about now.

With La Presse reporting today that a group of 20 Quebec businessmen led by Jean-Sébastien Besner are trying to arrange an agreement where 30 per cent of the team would be sold to the public, with shares going for $100 a pop, and that Hall of Fame defenceman and former Habs GM Serge Savard would be ready to buy the club at the drop of a hat, this lingering doubt over the future ownership of the club risks becoming larger than life.

I was surprised to hear about Savard's interest because, quite frankly, I didn't know he had that kind of dough. I know he's made some money in the hotel business, but if he were to buy all of Gillett's 80.1 per cent share of the Canadiens it would probably cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of US$270 million, based on Forbes magazine's estimate on the value of the team.

Savard says he can get the money, and that he'd be ready to buy whenever Gillett gives the green light. If that's actually the case, then I couldn't imagine a better owner for the club considering his history with the Canadiens. The question would be whether or not Savard would be able to take a hands-off ownership approach the way Gillett has, but then again Savard does know what he's talking about, so maybe his input wouldn't be such a bad thing.

I'm not sure I could say the same about Jim Balsillie.

The Besner idea is a little more out there, but still interesting. As Vincent Brosseau-Pouliot points out in his piece, the Green Bay Packers have functioned quite well as a publicly-owned team, and this proposal wouldn't even be going that far. Besner's plan would see Gillett remain the managing owner with a 50.1 per cent share of ownership. Molson-Coors would maintain its 19.9 per cent ownership, and the remaining 30 per cent would be up for grabs in the form of at least 1 million shares that cost $100 each.

Besner hopes to raise $100 million to $125 million through the sale of shares, which would provide Gillett with an influx of cash to help deal with his debt issues while still maintaining control of the club. And Gillett even spoke of the possibility of making a portion of the team available to the public back in December.

The idea appears noble, until Besner starts talking to La Presse columnist Jean-François Bégin about the influence the public could have in certain hockey-related decisions, such as making sure there are more Quebec-born players on the team. That's when things start to get tricky, to say the least. If the GM of the Habs has to answer not only to Gillett, but to a legion of Quebec shareholders with their own specific demands, the team risks becoming a joke.

Just imagine trade deadline day or the start of free agency. Would all the shareholders receive a menu of players to choose from and have to send in their requests?

No, of the two scenarios put forth here, I would go with Savard in a heartbeat, even though it would be pretty cool to be a part-owner of the most storied franchise in hockey for only $100. It's just that the idea of the Habs having over 1 million owners is a recipe for disaster.