Category Archives: Habs

Saku, we hardly knew you

 

Saku with one of my kids, many years ago.  A wonderful memory…

 

Tonight, the man who for a long time was the face of the Habs and the emotional center of fan respect and appreciation for the team, will be once again be skating on the ice of our home rink.  Saku has already given an extensive press conference and openly, with occasional smiles and also an obvious lump in his throat, answered the most obvious questions.  How does it feel to be back?  What memories and feelings does he keep after all those years as our captain?  Read an excellent account of his answers here.

What strikes me in the return of Saku is how we suddenly get glimpses of the man who for all those years eluded us: a man who acknowledges some of his ordinary failings, and who also confirms (at last) how much hockey meant for him in Montreal.  Because, let’s face it: Saku in Montreal always seemed to be about something other than hockey.  He is a small, often injured player, who in his final seasons with the CH often failed to be the clutch guy.  In fact, his propensity for late hooking penalties that would cost a comeback had earned him the nickname “Captain Hook” with some fans.  Fan worship of Saku had a lot more to do with his “Captain Courageous” persona, and here, we were in purely irrational territory.

We Habs fans are nothing if not ridiculously emotional, and Saku was for us the intersection of several great scenarios.  His was the story of a hard-working nice guy struck by that most random evil: cancer.  It was also, for a long time, the script for what a true captain brings to his team  –nothing tangible (in the form of points or victories), but something more esoteric, more elusive, and greater: the capacity to be a team, to coalesce and meld into one thing driven towards one common purpose.  Somehow, Saku did that.

In his final seasons with the Habs, there were many rumours about how in fact his leadership was hollow, a spectacle for the press, while in the dressing room his was a divisive influence.  Much was made about the fact that Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu didn’t seem to be able to play with heart unless one of them was out with an injury.  Whatever the truth may have been about Koivu’s ability to lead, I have always given such negative echos little credence, mostly because they emanated from the same sports writers (one in particular) who would constantly decry Koivu’s lack of French.

To the fans, Saku’s presence on the ice was an essential passionate component of the team’s emotional barometer, regardless of his stats. There was much irony there as Saku, in post-game interviews, always seemed restrained, uncomfortable, largely emotionless.  Indeed, off the ice he wasn’t much to write about, and even when speaking of his battle with cancer, he tended to minimize, de-dramatize, and make everything sound quite flat. But once the puck drops, as we all know, a great alchemy takes place: an unassuming, bland little guy could be the soul of a franchise steeped in a fantastically intense emotional history. Quebec hockey fans know the saying: “Ça se joue sur la glace.”  On the ice, Saku was the receptacle for our visions of courage, selfless devotion, toughness and nobility.  Off the ice? To the consternation of politicians and cynics, whatever he was or wasn’t off the ice didn’t really matter.

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At the 2010 buzzer: renovations, face transplants and imported mimes

In the USA, where I have been on vacation for the past week, there is a makeover show titled, grotesquely enough, “Bridoplasty.”  The obvious point of the exercise proposed by this fiesta of self-hatred, is to allow a bride-to-be to turn all her agression, not towards her bridesmaids and future in-laws (as it was in the old days), but inwards towards her own flabby arms, backfat and dimpled, downy chins.  The result?  A pimped out, spackled, orange thing with poufy hair and hopeless dreams that will not be contained.  But I digress. 

The time has come for teams to likewise transform themselves in an attempt to win a spot to the Spring dance, and to somehow divest themselves of unwanted flab, pine-riding backfat and unsavory accesories.  Having said that, I was not thrilled to hear that Max Lapierre would be moving to a brand new suburban Mc Mansion–this time, in California–and re-decorating all-over again, without the added thrill of having the project filmed for TV.  Our Max, a proud Quebecer who sometimes scored clutch goals of pure beauty, was lately known for his belief in the psycho facial expression as an intimidating practise.  One to jabber incessantly without the usual dropping of gloves, he resorted instead to an impressive array of theatrically stunning grimaces and bug-eyed grins.  And anyone who would rather see him slugging it out had to admit that last season’s comeback win in Round 1 proved the far-ranging effectiveness of the Lapierre Psycho Face against some of the league’s most gifted scoring lines. 

Max is gone, but we now welcome Jim Wisniewski, (by no stretch a pretty boy) a D-Man with lots of playing time but a troubling differential back on Long Island.  In the absence of Markov and in light of the ongoing saga of PK Subban, a capable and fairly tough defenseman is what the Habs do need.  His arrival certainly could not have been more fortuitous, as he scored 2 goals against the Panthers on New Year’s Eve, including the OT winner.  Not bad for a guy who made a name for himself earlier this season for having made an obscene hand gesture in Sean Avery’s general direction and subsequently having his exploit replayed incessantly in censor-blurred form on Sportsnet.  A two-game suspension followed the classy interpretive miming attempt, perhaps as a result of having been witnessed live in real time and 3D by Gary Bettman, in attendance that night.

Now Jim Whisniewski turns the page and has donned the classiest jersey of all, the holy flannel, so he’ll have to settle for either fisticuffs of psycho faces in order to get under his opponents’ skin.

Meanwhile, the rest of the league also gets set to explore new faces, less flabby physiques and leaner, meaner muscle.  In the East, the Leafs appear on the verge of a reno worthy of “La Maison de Maxim Lapierre”: some things have just proven to be bad acquisitions or useless ornaments,  Tuscan chandeliers that just do not fit in with the the Toronto glass-tower setting (Mike Komisarek, lousy without his Habs counterparts, Jiggy, he of the porcelain groin, Kaberle, a PP guy who has an acute allergy to shooting, etc…).  Buffalo and New Jersey have to do something, anything, to clean up their rosters, and out West, Calgary is sure to make some moves.

The Habs may yet be involved in some of these fixes, retro-fits and renos…

And for today, let us enjoy the so called “Winter Classic,” come rain or come rain…..

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A child’s x-mas: our Habs as kids

I couldn’t resist posting a few pics I found of our favourite Habs players back when they were wee youngsters with stars in their eyes.  Enjoy!

Tomas Plekanec (check out all that hair!):

Mike Cammalleri:

Josh Gorges (intense as ever, and hmmmm captain!):

Tom Pyatt:

Max Lapierre:

Brian Gionta:

Mathieu Darche:

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Joy to my world

Several good things happened last night, not the least of which was a clearly broadcast glimpse of Jacques Martin spontaneously *laughing* mid-game, as he appeared to be joking with our re-energized Plekanec at the bench.  Yes, I saw teeth, I saw jollity, and I had no choice but to believe in the reason for the season: the Habs were going to win this one.

On the ice, more good things: power play goals, Carey Price looking solid and calm and making key saves in the third, the Habs twice erasing a one-goal deficit, Andre imposing himself around the net, and Plekky being the best player of the night.  The PK was efficient, and the team was able to recover from serious defensive nonchalance (Hamrlik casually one-handing his stick in the crease) with a  five-minute PP that yielded two goals.  Nice resilience, boys!

In passing, can I just mention what a nasty bunch these Canes are, even now that the League’s ugliest man (Rod BrindAmour) has graciously retired .  Paul Maurice, once boyish and somewhat charming (in his Leafs days) has become a scowling, potty-mouthed malcontent.  As for the players, they showed a general lack of class and sportsmanship, from Eric Cole, who once upon a time had his neck broken in a nasty hit, and yet opted to slam Spacek head first into the boards, to Staal, who was yelling at Gionta to get up after our captain had gotten tripped in the final minutes of the game.  Not impressive.

Habs’ road trip resumes on Boxing Day, and until then all are enjoined to celebrate safely, revel, rest and feast, and of course take a minute to put on your skates and hit the ice!  Happy Holidays!

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Hurricane preparedness plan: Habs vs Carolina 12/23/2010

Must!

Win!

Jacques Martin did not go ape-feces after the Habs’ loss in Dallas.  In fact, he let the guys go out for dinner and a few beers,  and cancelled a practise in Dallas the morning after this disheartening stinky face-wash by the Stars.

Ok, perhaps the acerbic big-eared coach has been delving into his (very brief) psychology manual in order to let all of this sink in and reinforce team spirit in a mellower setting than the hostile rinks of American teams.  It’s x-mas time: anything is possible, festivus miracles and all that.

Be that as it may, tonight’s game is eminently winnable, and I for one am looking forward to some of the veterans getting onto our coach’s radar.  It seems that the young’uns get the brunt of his telegraphic displeasure, while our veteran friends Spacek, Halpern and Hamrlik blunder away with no call-outs. Let us not forget that we have two young, developing players (PK and Carey) trying to fill the immense void left by Markov’s absence.  They cannot succeed without better support from the more experienced players.

A great article about PK Subban and the many perceptions of his talents and responsibilities:

 Donnons (encore) du temps à Subban

More later…..

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Filed under gametime, goalies, Habs, hockey (defense), hockey (offense), Jacques Martin

The slump is upon us

Five losses in the last 6 games.

If it weren’t for the fact that our Habs are in a division that is woefully underperforming so far, they would risk falling out of a playoff spot within the next couple of games.

While recent losses must be attributed in part to a schedule that has included some strong teams, it is clear that some problems are cropping up with our boys.  We can perhaps blame some of their lethargy on the long-term absence of Markov finally being felt (notably on the PP).  Yet there is more.

Scoring chances are few.  Goaltending is spotty and Carey seems distracted, unable to make the spectacular lateral movements that were keeping his team in the mix earlier this season.  His positioning and anticipation have suffered, and his defencemen are playing nervously.

Most telling perhaps, is the fact that the Habs seem unable to come back from even a one-goal deficit.  Habs are 17-3-2 when they score the first goal.  But when they have allowed that first goal, they’ve only won twice in the last 11 games.  They have yet to win a game after trailing in the first.  Such stats tell us that the first goal looms way too large both on the attackers’ minds, and on Carey Price’s psyche.  The will to stage a comeback is a mindset that must be cultivated with this squad.  Call it character, call it perseverance….

It seems so long ago that our Habs accomplished an exploit for the ages:

My advice to PK Subban is that instead of flying into a crazed, disconnected fight to vent frustration, a timely shot from the point would do the trick.

Habs are now headed to Raleigh, and this one against the Hurricanes is in the proverbial “must-win” category.

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The Stars at night/Are big and bright

Deep in the heart of Texas!

Habs face the Dallas Stars tonight, and Brother Andrei will be watching from the safety of his suit, pondering recent civil unrest in Minsk. He’s a healthy scratch for tonight, as is Yannick Weber.

Eller will be on the Cammalleri-Plekanec line, and Pacioretty will be with Gomez and Gionta.

The Stars have been very strong at home (9-0-2 in the last 11 home games), and their goalie Kari Lehtonen hasn’t lost in 8 regulation games.

This game will be a good indicator of how the Habs’ season is shaping up, and how Carey Price is handling a steady workload on the road.  Another attempt to come from behind could be very costly, and our small, fast team needs to play on its strengths.  In a post-Markov world, the defence needs to buy into the same system at all times.

Martin is making all kinds of noises about his guys refusing to battle, and lacking in commitment around the net.  After a tough, punishing practise on Monday, he expects his offense to do much better.

More after the game….

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What was I saying about turnovers?

Two of the goals scored in last night’s game occured because of turnovers.

Sloppy play when faced with the league’s most productive offense = a costly loss.  Subban and Picard each finished the game with a -2 differential.

I am not thrilled with some of the goals that are getting in, as our Carey seems to have become a mere human once again.  The hockey gods are capricious, especially with goalies, and the 5-hole is holier than it should be these days.  The glove, capable of such exploits at times, has been given to bouncing glances at the puck that result in ugly, ugly scoring on the Habs.

This is precisely the kind of yuletide inconsistent effort and spotty energy that has me worried.

Habs are in Dallas next, to reconnect with their old friend, party animal/loud public drunk/ disruptor of Texan restaurants, Mike Ribeiro.

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Habs vs. Boston, Dec 16 2010

See also:

A punishing hit by the Subbanator

It was a night of strange (read: stupid) goals, for the most part, and a night of strange firsts as well.  Cammalleri got his first career penalty shot, and deked Thomas out of his undies to score a beauty. Mike also had his first fight.  That one was a head-scratcher, since our handsome pint-sized sniper was going up against the brawnier Krejci–who is no Boogieman, but still….like a tenacious chihuahua fastening to your pantleg, Mini Iron Mike managed to overpower his opponent.

You’d think a matchup featuring two of the league’s best goalies would have offered few goals, or perhaps allowed only finesse displays of scoring ability, but it turned out quite otherwise, as many of the pucks that beat Thomas and Price seemed to defy the laws of physics, logic, and aesthetics.  Attemps to propel a puck into the crease bounced and careened into pads, skates, and into the net, and neither goalie was able to put on much of a show.

Our PK (the guy, not the special team)played better, and was able to deliver a legal but lethal check on Brad Marchand, much to the delight of the Bell Center crowd.  As for Pacioretty, he had a solid night, with a goal and an assist.

Of note: a sudden increase in penalty shots.  Has a memo been sent to the league’s refs asking them to spice up proceedings by suddenly allowing penalty shots, when they are normally rare?  One was allowed in the Leafs game as well last night, and suddenly they seem to be occurring frequently across the NHL.

Michael Ryder, once a prolific scorer, is MIA in Boston, just as he eventually was in Montreal.  Chara is also the shadow of his former self.

You, Sir, are dead to me.

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Turkeys aren’t flyers

Tonight vaguely marks the point at which fans begin to worry about tryptophans (the chemical that is naturally found in turkey and that, according to folk wisdom, makes the whole fam flake out and sleep like snakes digesting baby antelopes right after a holiday meal).

Tonight certainly marks the point at which my superstitious self begins to worry about the Habs, the Holidays, and the possibility of a solstice slump.  Too often in recent years, the Habs have gotten through December and January as though they were all having heaping plates of turkey and stuffing about 20 minutes before puck-drop: sleepily, groggily, nauseated by the thought of effort, seemingly burping up fumes of undigested drumstick and just wanting to get back to the bench.  Please, oh ye about to be born, don’t let it happen this year.

Whether these holiday turkeys of the past have been caused by too much partying (young players), too much warm and fuzzy family time (older warriors), too much caring about non-hockey-related things (yes, you can go visit the sick kids, but they want you to win too!), or unfortunate acts of God (Habs bench flu epidemic of 2008)–none of that matters.  What fans want for x-mas is simple: for players to show up and work, yes, work through the holidays.

The need to re-mojofy begins tonight, as the Habs face the ugly, evil, but very efficient Flyers, and continues tomorrow, when their best frenemies the Bruins and their goalie Tim “Patrick the Starfish” Thomas try to extend the Habs’ losing streak.

The Habs have yet to lose 3 in a row this season.  They have been playing against the current of Jacques Martin’s established system, and have gotten into a habit of showing up sometime in the second intermission.  No more.  Where are the virtuoso breakout passes by our usual skilled suspects?  Where is the Cammalleri sharpshooting, never-give-up offensive-zone presence?  What about the solid Martin defensive system that had the Habs tops in penalty -killing until recently?  Let’s get Carey back where he belongs, and make him play two nights in a row, before anybody hits the holiday buffet.

Otherwise, our fear of clowns will be superseded by a fear of Santa Claus.

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