Never a dull day in Habsland.
Depending on Scott Gomez’s condition, Jacques Martin has some decisions to make as the Canadiens begin preparing for a tough back-to-backer: the mighty Wings in Detroit on Friday, then a quick zip up to Toronto for an HNIC special against the Leafs.
Gomez is not having the kind of season that justifies his salary, but he will be difficult to replace.
Who centres Mike Cammalleri and Travis Moen?
It was Jeff Halpern last night and probably will be in Detroit. But with all due respect to the winner of the Walmart Trophy (if there were one) as the NHL’s Bargain of the Year, Cammalleri needs a more adept playmaker.
That would break up a line that hasn’t played a bad shift since they were put together: Eller, Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche.
Gomez will also be missed on the Canadiens’ league-leading penalty-kill and on the second wave of the power play.
As we saw during that painful five-minute PP last night, there was no one capable of rushing the puck through the neutral zone to gain the blueline and start a set-up.
Gomez is good at that … as is Darren Pang’s favourite 21-year-old defenceman.
Would a Gomez injury mean P.K. Subban’s penance is over?
Among Martin’s options is dressing seven defencemen. I’d be reluctant to move Yannick Weber up front, now that he’s putting together a string of good performances on the back end. Has Subban ever played forward?
Martin could stick with his winning lineup, adding Dustin Boyd, who’s well rested. Or the team could call up a Bulldog, Max Pacioretty (with Maxim Lapierre moving to centre) or David Desharnais.
Decisions, decisions … but not as difficult as the ones Bryan Murray has to make before his Senators fade out of playoff contention.
Man, Ottawa was bad last night. I was sure they’d get a huge lift from killing off a five-minute PP; but with the exceptions of Jason Spezza and Nick Foligno, no Senator presented much of a challenge to Carey Price. The Canadiens’ defensive system is good, but Daniel F., Kovy, Mike Fisher and Milan Michalek were practically invisible. Even Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu weren’t their usual annoying selves.
Josh Gorges talked about the cumulative effect of sound hockey: getting pucks deep on a consistent basis forces Dmen to spend a lot of time with their backs to onrushing forwards, and they become tired and worn down by the third period. That certainly seemed to be the case last night with Chris Phillips et al.
Speaking of fatigue on the back end, is Roman Hamrlik going to play 25 minutes against Detroit AND Toronto?
You can get a pretty good Abbott and Costello Who’s on First? routine going with Eddie Olczyk and the Old Czechs. But since Andrei Markov went down, Hamrlik and Jaro Spacek have played superb hockey against the opposition’s best forwards. Hamrlik, in particular, has looked like the player who was the NHL’s first overall draft choice (by Tampa Bay) in 1992.
He may have lost a step or two, but Hamrlik compensates with outstanding hockey smarts. He’s rock-solid in his own end and shows some zip in the O-zone when the opportunities present themselves.
Can he and Spatch play killer minutes for the rest of the season? They may not have to, depending on the degree to which Weber/Alexandre Picard/P.K. can step up.
• • •
If I get out of the Bell Centre early enough on game nights, I’m able to enjoy the 11:30 wrap-up on CKAC, featuring Dany Dubé’s brilliant analysis.
Last night Dubé talked about Jeff Halpern. The veteran centre is a neighbour of Lars Eller (whom Halpern calls “Larry”), and they usually share a ride to and from practices.
Dubé says Eller has learned a lot from Halpern during their commuting conversations. And it is a tribute to the team spiritedness of the veteran centre that he’s willing to befriend and teach a young player whose development will cut into his own ice time.
The Team Above All concept, which evolved during the playoffs last spring, runs right through the Canadiens’ room.
And I think a propensity to talk, rather than listen, is a big part of the problem with P.K.
• • •
Last season, the Canadiens won their 18th game on Dec. 23. A 5-1 pounding of the Hurricanes in Carolina raised their record to 18-18-3 and was the third in a streak of four Ws.
This team is 18-8-2 and riding three in a row, headed into Motown.
• • •
Speaking of numbers, Carey Price is on pace to win 50 games.
This would break the 48 W record Martin F. set in the 2006-’07 season.