Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tampa Bay at Montreal

Cristobal Huet Steals Lightning’s Thunder and 2 Points

Many times this season while watching the Habs, I wonder if I’ve stumbled upon an episode of The Amazing Race (which is Mrs. Pescatore’s favorite show). If a team on TAR commits a foul, they are given a 30-minute delay penalty while all the other teams get the head start. On certain occasions this year, the Habs don’t seem to get started until the second or third period this season and still manage to steal a 4-2 victory from the clutches of defeat. Chalk the Lightning-Habs game on Thursday as a sterling example. If not for Cristobal (Is it too early to anoint him Saint?) Huet turning away 41 of 43 shots including a dozen quality chances on Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis. This game should have been over after the first period yet the game was tied at 1-1 after 20 minutes. Tampa’s Shot totals were 18-4 in the first and 15-6 in the second. When Mark Streit is your best FORWARD in the first 30 minutes of a game at home and your Penalty killing unit scores TWO short-handed goals, you have no business winning. Huet clearly outplayed Lightning goaltender Marc Denis whose lack of timely saves has been Tampa’s undoing since losing Nikolai Khabibulin to free agency after their Cup run in 2004.

Special K Not an Essential Part of Opponent’s Balanced Diet

For the third time in December, Captain Saku Koivu answers the offensive call with a 2-goal game including a game winning short-handed tally and a game clinching empty netter. It seems that everyone Koivu plays with becomes a better player and he is directly responsible for the awakening of Latendresse, Kovalev and Higgins this year. There must be smelling salts on the back of his skates because the team has relied on the captain’s lead several times this season to wake them up in games they have slept through in the early periods.

Les Kids Sont Alright

When Coach Carbonneau can rely on a fourth line of rookies Latendresse, Maxim Lapierre and second year man Mark Streit to be the best forechecking line on the ice, chip in with a game tying garbage style goal (Lapierre’s first in the NHL), and contain the ever dangerous Bolt offense late in the third period, you know the Montreal Canadiens’ future is in very good hands. The internal competition is a trademark of the Gainey team philosophy. The arrival of Lapierre and Higgins spells trouble for Garth Murray and Sergei Samsonov

The Fine Print

The goal scorers for Tampa were Richards and St.Louis. Streit and Lapierre scored their first of the season for Montreal along Koivu’s pair. The other key C-H; Chris Higgins did not play and will join the team on Saturday at the Bell Centre against the Daycare Brigade of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sheldon Souray returned after missing a game with a hand injury. Radek Bonk left the game after receiving a puck in the nose. Coaching Mr. Crosby and Malkin will be former Habs Bench boss Michel Therrien. FYI: The Pescatore family has still not forgiven him for the Carolina Hurricane playoff bench minor. I do not think he will be behind the Penguin bench when this team moves to the next level and requires a refined playoff coach with tactical skills.

In response to the question raised in my last article regarding Sergei Samsonov, the answer is Broken Clock. Was that Guillaume Latendresse singing along to BOTH national anthems?

See You At The Game,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Boston at Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 4-3 in an emotion filled evening that included a moment a silence for the loss of Laura Gainey and the Gainey family. The Bruins were also playing with heavy hearts upon confirmation that Bruins Rookie Phil Kessel was diagnosed with testicular cancer. To their credit, both teams rallied to provide another Bell Centre sold out crowd to a most entertaining affair.

The Sergei Redemption: Broken slump or Broken Clock?

When faced with his former team and a 19 game goal drought, Sergei Samsonov responded with a brilliant 2-goal effort. Despite an atrocious giveaway by Alex Kovalev, which resulted in Bruin Marc Savard’s first of two goals, Samsonov and Plekaneks used their speed to torment Zdeno Chara and the Boston defense. The next few games will tell us if this performance was that of a struggling offensive player emerging from his cocoon or the old “even a broken clock is right twice a day” phenomenon which also explains the Leafs defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning after losing their last 7.

Can’t Spell Character without the C-H.

The Habs have displayed great character in face of adversity including the loss of key players throughout the year as yesterday’s wounded included Sheldon Souray, Steve Begin, and a near ready Chris Higgins. AHL call up Maxim Lapierre played a spirited game on the fourth line and provided his team with 4 of 5 face-off wins and a much-needed right-handed shot. He did not seem the least out place as he doled out hits, used his speed to rush defenders and assisted on Latendresse’s game winning goal. Andrei Markov’s work on the Habs’ power play goal added a new dimension that differed from the “ give it to Souray and let him shoot’ angle they have been using all year. Another key trait of the Habs consistency has been their goaltending. David Aebischer offered a solid effort last night with sound positional play. Expect Cristobal Huet to get the start against the 2004 Stanley Cup Champion Lightning

The Fine Print

The imminent return of |Christopher Higgins and the possible emergence of Maxim Lapierre and Mark Streit as effective forwards may spell bad news for Garth Murray and a reshuffling of forward lines 1,2 and 4 with decisions to be made regarding Latendresse and Plekanec. One possibility has Higgins moving back to the first line, Latendresse moving to the second line with Kovalev at center and Samsonov while Plekanec moves to the fourth line with Begin and Lapierre/Streit.

Montreal meets the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, December 14th at the Bell Centre. Look for native sons Lecavalier, St-Louis, Perrin, Marc Denis and former Q star Brad Richards to bring their “A” game in front of family and friends.

See You At The Game,

Monday, December 11, 2006

Buffalo at Montreal

The Hate Is On

It is an indisputable fact that the longest and most bitter rivalry in hockey is Montreal/Toronto. As far as Montreal was concerned, Boston was always a close second but it seems that these days, the relationship has lost its zest. The new number two is the Habs versus the division rival Sabres. Unlike the acquiescent Bruins, Buffalo has always given Les Glorieux fits since their NHL expansion year of 1970. Now, Lindy Ruff’s team is the poster child for the new NHL. With team speed, four-line depth and an elite goalie still to enter his prime, The Sabres are realistically vying for their first Stanley Cup. If the first 4 meetings between Montreal and Buffalo were any indication, a playoff meeting between these two teams would be THE series to watch.

As stated in my earlier comments, the upper tier teams bring out the best in the Habs. Saturday’s “Vintage sweater night” 3-2 Shootout loss was certainly one of the best Canadiens’ efforts of the season showcasing their team speed, defensive depth and quality game planning by rookie coach Guy Carbonneau against the league’s longest standing bench boss and Jack Adams trophy winner in Ruff. The Habs only Achilles heel on this and most nights was their scoring finish. Sergei Samsonov still appears to be frustrated including a game clinching shootout stop by Ryan Miller. Alex Kovalev was unable to finish what would have been one of the year’s sublime goals after spinning around the Buffalo defense in full flight during the overtime and firing wide. Les Canadiens were unable to cause early damage on a four-minute power play and that seemed to be ominous even with the score still tied at 0-0. When Mrs. Pescatore who attended the game with yours truly states that will come back to haunt them, you know the players thought it as well. Cristobal Huet turned in another solid performance and had no chance in all the shootout goals including a five-hole beauty by local product Daniel Briere and a Rolstonian slapper by Tomas Vanek. Kovalev provided the lone goal with Koivu being the other Montreal forward to be denied.

The regulation time scorers were Michael Ryder on a rebound (what did I tell you, Mike?) and Sheldon Souray who left the latter stages of the game with a wrist injury. The severity of which is to be determined today. Sabres goals belonged to Novotny and Roy.

The Fine Print

The Habs collected a point on a night when most Eastern Conference contenders lost. Chris Higgins is having his full team practice today and is expected to see game action this week. Mark Streit played another strong game as he was a strong fore-checking forward, played defense on all the special teams and shifted permanently to defence late in the game with the absence of Souray. I wonder where the nay Sayers who challenged the usefulness of Bonk and Streit and the Captaincy of Koivu are hiding these days?

Count me in one of those who prefer the Sabres’ old Team Swedenesque jersey to current Barney Rubble’s toupee/QMJHL style jersey they now don.
Montreal’s next game is at home on Tuesday December 12th against the Boston Bruins. Boston won the last meeting 6-5.

The Newby Lexicon:

Word Or Phrase:
“Rolstonian Slapper”

When some demented mind, left alone on a shootout breakaway decides on a slap shot when only 15 feet away from the goalie. Causing much debate on goalie safety and a possible new endorsement deal between the NHL and Depends Undergarments for net minders. Named after the pioneer of this new phenomenon, Minnesota Wild forward, Brian Rolston. Akin to punching your kid brother in the face to wake him up for Saturday cartoons.

See You At The Game!

On a serious note, I extend my best wishes To Habs’ Vice President and GM Bob Gainey whose daughter Laura is currently lost at sea after being washed overboard this weekend. The rescue search continues. Mr. Gainey has taken a leave of Absence. I remember watching Ken Dryden’s 1991 CBC documentary Home Game, which spent some time at the Gainey home on the day of a game and witnessed how sweet and funny Mrs. Gainey was and how the whole family enjoyed each other at breakfast, even mocking the patriarch’s lack of scoring prowess when compared to his pre-teen son Steve. To see the tragedy that has befallen this family in the past few years is sad. Our thoughts are with the whole Gainey family.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Montreal at Long Island

Turn Me On Hab Man….

Way back in the 1960’s (a decade in which the Habs won 4 Stanley Cups), A rumor had run rampant that Paul McCartney, in the prime of his and his band’s life has suddenly passed away in a tragic car accident and was replaced by an incredible look and sound alike whose artistic output from 1966-1970 was among the most influential in the last century.

After watching last night’s Hab 4-2 defeat of the Islanders, I’m left wondering what they did with my beloved misfits of the past few weeks. Consider the following clues as per why “The Habs Is Dead”.

1. Cristobal Huet returned in net after being shelled by the Bruins earlier in the week faced less than 30 shots for the first time this year! He was solid all night despite a relatively easy night for him with the exception of the last two minutes of the game.

2. I could swear that Saku Koivu wears number 11 for the Canadiens but that was either Kirk Muller coming off the bench or Mark Messier coming back to haunt his cross town rivals one more time. Special K was dominant. The effort has always been there with him but this time he came up with a road effort that included 2 big goals, a multitude of chances for his line mate Michael Ryder and lots of space for his other line mate Guillaume Latendresse to cash in on a two footer in traffic. Ryder should have easily had a hat trick and NO, I don’t mean it like when a Toronto Make-Belief fan says “We should have won that game 8-4” after losing it 4-1. Ryder had at least 7 or 8 quality chances. It has gotten to the point where I’m willing to dress up as Santa Claus on a street corner, ring a bell and collect funds for the HELP MICHAEL RYDER BUY A GOAL foundation.

3. Guy Carbonneau made in-game line changes! In the third period, you actually saw Kovalev playing with Koivu at even strength while Latendresse moved down to play with Plekanek and Samsonov.

4. They scored 5 on 5! THEY SCORED 5 ON 5!

5. Mark Streit actually looked good as a fore checking forward. He brought speed, defensive savvy and dare I say it without losing my passport, grit!

6. Janne Ninimaa was not totally useless! The man I had dubbed the Nininightmare left it all out on the ice last night…literally. The Habs defenseman lost some blood when struck near the eye with puck and returned later in the game. Way to go Blood and Guts Janne!

7. The Habs turned in a full 60-minute performance in the second game in as many nights! What am I saying? I mean a full 60 minutes anytime, anywhere!

Whoever has kidnapped my old Habs team? You can keep them. I’m not paying the ransom. This one suits me fine.

The Fine Print

Defenseman Mike Komisarek delivered some great hits in front his family and friends who probably accounted for half of the announced 9551 in attendance at the vastly outdated Nausea Coliseum. It is pitiful that the two teams that shared 8 cups between 1976-84 can’t muster up more than a post-pillaged Jeffrey Loria era Montreal Expos. The game itself was quite entertaining. Ted Nolan has done quite a job turning a team that has missed the playoffs in the past few years into a gritty and speedy team despite the loss of Captain and team leading point producer Alexei Yashin to injury. Compare to the previous overtime loss in New Jersey, this was like 2 A.M after having an expresso coffee at midnight. Both goals scorers for the Isles were former Hab Aaron Asham and Mike “around the league with 30 teams” Sillinger on deflections.

LATE BREAKING TRADE RUMOUR: Islander backstopper Rick Dipietro has only 14 more years before he becomes a UFA. Look for him to go at the trade deadline if the Islanders are out of contention in 2020.
Montreal’s next big test is the mighty Buffalo Sabres on Saturday December 9at the Bell Centre.

The Newby Lexicon:

Word Or Phrase: “Bench Minor for Too Many Men”
Definition: a two-minute penalty assessed to the team that places more than allotted amount of skaters allowed during the course of a game. A player on the ice at the time of infraction serves the penalty at the coach’s discretion. Akin to trying to score separately with twin sisters and telling both of them your actual birthday is coming up. In both cases, know whom you’re going with or it will catch up to you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch a tape of the game backwards for any hidden clues or messages….

See You At The Game,

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Montreal at New Jersey


Maybe not….

The Habs surrendered a short-handed overtime goal to Patrick Elias and the New Jersey Devils with 8 seconds left in a 2-1 loss. A road point in New Jersey in the Martin Brodeur era is something worth shouting (good things) about. The Radek Bonk line again provides the offense while the dreaded second line collect more minuses for their night’s work.

WARNING # 2: Never operate heavy machinery when watching the Devils play. Yesterday was another battle of the trap with the Habs trying to hold on to a one-goal lead for 55 minutes a la “old NHL”. They almost succeeded if not for the brilliant work of Mr. Brodeur. David Aebischer almost posted a shutout while doing his infamous juggling-acrobat-on-a-unicycle imitation with every shot thrown at him. On most nights, his performance would lead to a minimum three goals against. Tonight the puck has eyes but recovered its GPS system in the last 10 minutes. It would appear that the only GM crazy enough to acquire him as a number one goalie is down the 401 or an organization whose every goalie is hanging out with Britney and Paris. If Andrei Markov were not to miss the game with illness, it would have been the first Hab win in the swamp since 2002.

Habs visit the Islanders tonight

Tonight finds the Habs playing the vastly improved New York Islanders without Alexei Yashin. Expect Cristobal Huet to start this one. A game in Long Island would usually be a gimme with native sons Christopher Higgins and Mike Komisarek leading the way in front of their friends and family as they had last year but Higgins will miss tonight’s tilt with a sprained ankle. Despite rehabbing the injury with an astounding 7 hours per day of exercise in the hope of being healed in time for this very game, he will not be ready. The key to Higgins’ success is his simplified game of hustle and he tenacity around the net. He creates space for Koivu and Ryder and scores most of his goals from close in. He has also created a reputation as a threat when the team is shorthanded by leading the league with goals until his injury.

The new NHL is made for scorers like Higgins who crash the net and score the garbage goals and other the Bonk line, no players ESPECIALLY anyone on the famous second line are nowhere near the net when the rebounds are there. Alex Kovalev has the type of shot that creates rebounds and Samsonov is nowhere to be found to cash in. Goal scorers cash those in when they are in a slump. Perhaps switching a Latendresse with Samsonov will provide the second line with a big body who can collect the garbage goals.

Defending Kovalev

The call-in radio shows and media are rife with everyone’s frustration with Alex Kovalev. #27 is reminiscent of Habs’ fans grievances with Claude Lemieux. The press were tired of his antics, the fans were tired of his antics, yet in the playoffs the both players show why they are worth tolerating in the long run. Fans here run them out of town and realize we can never replace them. They have both won cups and been integral parts of upsets and extending cup runs Unlike Samsonov, Kovalev has never once complained about this city. He loves pressure and I’ve never seen a player hit as many crossbars as he has this year. At the moment, everyone is blushing over a defensive liability like Souray who is having the type of season where every shot he takes seems to go in while criticizing Kovalev star-crossed season and no one is there to take advantage of the space, rebounds and respect opponents readily give him. When I’m paying an extra 20% for all 16 playoff tickets IN ADVANCE this spring, I’ll feel much better with our chances knowing Kovalev will be on the ice over a Samsonov or Souray.

A further bad omen

Les Canadiens have yet to win the second game in as many nights this season. They will need one of their best efforts of the season to halt their worse losing dtreak of the season, the shaky play of the past two weeks, and the type of panic that Leaf fans are currently greasing the pan for in the “city of drought”.

The Newby Lexicon:

Word or phrase: “ playing the typical roadgame”

Definition: a team in a visitor’s rink barely surviving during the course of the game only to escape with a positive result by the narrowest of margins. Akin to escaping via the back window with your pants and one sock on when the husband/wife comes home early when their “Religious Studies” class is canceled (or so I’ve been told).

See you at the Sports bar showing the game,

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

97th Anniversary Commemoration

Montreal—The Montreal Canadiens commemorated their 97 th anniversary last night in front of their 73 rd consecutive sellout crowd at the Bell Centre. The occasion was marked by celebrating their long standing rivalry with the evening’s opponent, the Boston Bruins. Several Hall of Fame Alumni from both teams were introduced including Milt Schmidt, Ray Bourque, Guy Lafleur and Emile Bouchard along with Bruin Vs Habs Video highlights of which some account for the greatest moments in NHL History.

I am quite sure that nothing from last night’s sloppy 6-5 win by the Bruins will be tacked on to the end of the reel.

Bizarre would the best word to describe the game. On a night when the Habs seemed to be dominating from the opening face off, the Bruins capitalized on a shaky Cristobal Huet and later David Aebischer. For every

4 or 5 dangerous Montreal scoring chance missed, The Bruins cashed in on a harmless one. It’s not often that Boston will beat Montreal with an ineffective Bergeron, Murray, Chara, and inconsistent goaltending. The game even ended with “too many men” penalty called IN THEIR FAVOUR.

Goalie Huet, who has dominated the Bruins in the past 2 years must have taken the medication marked THEODORE in the Habs Clinic. His teammates could not redeem him this time as he does for the team on an almost nightly basis. We’ll give him a mulligan on this one. David Aebischer did not help the cause or his value with his performance.

The second lines of Kovalev, Plekaneks and Samsonov have yet to find their scoring touch a quarter through the season. Many blame Plekaneks inability to be a proper center but I feel the blame is squarely on the underachieving and overpaid Samsonov. His inability to head for the net, shoot high and manufacture goals on pure desire when all else is failing, the way true snipers do continues to frustrate fans. I’ve always contested his acquisition. He began the season by publicly questioning Coach Carbo’s decison to bump him to the fourth line. He channeled his anger into his best effort later that week. The controversy quickly subsided and with it, Samsonov’s production since. His best year was 29 goals playing with Joe Thornton. In less than a full season with Jumbo Joe, Jonathan Cheechoo scored 56. Samsonov has historically struggled in a playoff atmosphere. He would be wise to realize that Montreal is a playoff atmosphere year round. Why is it that every Quebec-born or ex Hab player always return to haunt Montreal but the reverse never happens? It would have been nice if Samsonov could have risen from his funk by burning his old team; instead, he continues to burn his current one. Damn that salary cap!


Memo to Michael Ryder: Give the puck to Saku, get open and USE THAT SHOT! Enough with the dangling! If Ryder studied the Brett Hull technique, he’d score 40-45 easily. Instead some of his poor decisions have resulted in costly turnovers. Although the turnover that resulted in the game winning Bruin goal by Brad Stuart was a blown call by the ref on the obvious two- handed crosscheck given by Brad Stuart, Ryder should not be retreating and dangling the puck in a tie game with a 3 minutes left (don’t you love it when the guy who should be in the sin bin and the guy who burns you are one and same? Hello, Justin Williams…..)

It seems that Garth Murray is vying to be this year’s version on Niklas Sundstrom. His failure to take the 2 extra strides needed in the neutral zone to not cause an icing resulted in the Bruins fifth goal and the disruption of momentum the Habs clearly possessed after climbing back from a 4-1 deficit. It may be time to replace him with someone who has a better set of wheels and hands. Maxim Lapierre seems to fit that mould in Hamilton.

Despite some questionable lapses of focus and effort at various points of games within the last two weeks, the Habs should be commended for not having lost two games in a row all year. This claim will be severely tested when they meet Martin Brodeur and the stingy Devils in New Jersey on Wednesday night. New Jersey won the first contest 2-1 on November 4 th.

Beware! The Devils’ current coach is former Hab bench boss Claude Julien and Future Hall Of Fame Goalie Martin Brodeur is a native son and offspring of famed Montreal Canadiens’ photographer Denis Brodeur. Expect them to have a stellar performance. Hopefully, Sheldon Souray, who is enjoying a career season in a contract year is a former Devil and will continue his scoring success. He is the First Canadien to reach the 10 goal mark this year.

See You At The Game….