Happy birthday, Jaroslav Spacek.
He’s 37 today.
I don’t know what Jaro, one of the team’s media-friendly good guys, has planned by way of celebration.
But tomorrow night the Leafs will give him the bumps.
Because Hal Gill was out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury to that long upper-body, Spatcho played 20:38 against the Islanders. He was teamed with P.K. Subban and was on the ice for only one New York goal, Michael Grabner’s first, erasing a 2-1 Canadiens’ lead.
When Jacques Martin spoke about the Gill absence putting a strain on his older Dmen, he included Spacek. But Roman Hamrlik played 27:07 and was on for two Islanders goals, finishing the game at minus-1.
New York cycled effectively, spreading out the Canadiens’ defence and working the puck back to the point, maintaining possession for long periods and wearing out the Canadiens D, which looked tired in the third period.
P.K. was, as usual, one of the best players on the ice. Yannick Weber played well against a team that was nothing like Boston in terms of physicality. Alexandre Picard had three giveaways (Hamrlik had four), but finished the game at plus-1.
James Wisniewski nearly gave the game away, passing inexplicably to Matt Moulson which resulted in a scoring chance with 41 seconds left.
I’m harping on the D, as usual, because without Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and, now, Hal Gill, the Canadiens’ blueline has become the team’s area of greatest vulnerability.
After the Beantown Beat-down (love those alliterative phrases), I thought the Canadiens’ greatest need was more size up front to cope with the hulking Bs, Flyers, Rangers and other potential playoff opponents who enjoy significant grit advantages.
It would still be nice to pry David Clarkson out of New Jersey. But if Gill is on the shelf for a while, Pierre Gauthier has to go D hunting again, as he did after Gorges was hurt and the GM acquired James Wisniewski.
Trouble is, the trade deadline is 17 days away. A lot of shoppers have crowded into the Mall, and demand is driving up the price of supply.
There are rumours Brian Burke wants a first-round draft choice, a prospect and a roster player for Tomas Kaberle. That’s ridiculous, but the Toronto GM could probably snag two of those elements from a playoff-bound team that needs help on D.
Chris Phillips? Less expensive, better on the back end than Kaberle. But Bryan Murray’s phone must be ringing off the hook.
The game on Saturday looms large as an indicator of where the Canadiens, losers of three straight for the first time in 2011, are at.
The team has given up 15 goals in the three losses. Three times last night, the Canadiens failed to hold a lead.
They are still comfortably ensconced in sixth place, four points up on the Rangers with a game in hand. But the schedule is about to get scary.
After the Leafs Saturday and Sabres next Tuesday, there’s a western swing to Edmonton, Calgary for the outdoor game and – gulp! – Vancouver.
February ends with home games against Toronto and Carolina.
March starts with three on the road: Atlanta, Florida and Tampa Bay. The Canadiens play 15 games on 30 nights, including two sets of back-to-backs.
If the D is still depleted during March …
Well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.
So let’s dwell on happier thoughts, like the steady improvement of David Desharnais. His line, with Benoit Pouliot and Ryan White, was the Canadiens’ best last night.
The team is getting ongoing excellence from its young players. That augurs well for a promising future – but how much of it will Pierre Gauthier have to sacrifice to help the present?
• • •
The Sporting News has named the 10 greatest NHL teams of all time, selected by a panel of former players, coaches and execs.
Numero Uno: The 1976-’77 edition of your Montreal Canadiens. Guy Lafleur had 56 goals and 136 points, Steve Shutt scored 60, Larry Robinson was plus-120, the team went 60-8-12 and swept the Bs in the Stanley Cup final.
Second best? The 1955-’56 Canadiens, who went 45-15-10, led by Jean Beliveau’s 47 goals, 38 from Maurice Richard and Jacques Plante’s 1.86 GAA in 64 games.
After the 1983-’84 Oilers, the ’81-’82 Islanders, the ’51-’52 and 2001-’02 Wings and 1969-’70 Bruins, the ’64-’65 Canadiens were ranked eighth best of all time. In Sam Pollock’s rookie season as GM, they won a 13th Cup for the franchise … and were led in regular-season scoring by Claude Provost, with 64 points.
The ninth and 10th spots were the 1991-’92 Penguins and ’46-’47 Leafs.
Let the arguments begin …
• • •
Guest Comment from Displaced:
When the Flyers traded for Pronger, I thought, they
WAY paid overpaid for an older defenseman with rapidly diminishing
skills… I was wrong. But I missed the big picture. They have a
singular goal – win the Cup. Not “make the playoffs”. Not “be
competitive”. Not “make money”. Win the Cup. They spun their wheels
early last season and brought in Laviolette, a coach with a Cup winning
What is our goal? Seriously…
and PG have had success (hell, lots more than most) but they seem to be
making the safe moves rather than going for it. And our team seems to
be inheriting that conservative trait. Let’s review our recent major
– Our major acquisition for last year’s
playoffs was Moore. Nice pick up. Cost us a second rounder. He
certainly contributed to our unexpectedly good playoff success. But is
that a Cup win move? No.
– We lose Markov and
Gorges and replace them with Wiz. Again, nice pick up. Moderate
cost. Is that a move that will win the Cup?
Two years ago, we added Cammi, Gio, Gomez, some older D, and bring in
JM to coach. Are Cammi and Gio really first line forwards on a Cup
winner? Probably not. Gomez top line on a Cup winner – sort of. He
was a rookie when the Devils won their second and scored 55
regular-season points on their most recent Cup winner. Again, nice
additions and perhaps the best players available that offseason. Not
really Cup winning stuff.
– JM is the Volvo of
NHL coaches. Nice guy. Safe pick. Long tenure. Lots of wins. Good
organizational guy. Never won a Cup. Hell, he had to buy tickets to
get into the Cup game. He has the second most regular seasons wins
without a Cup appearance. Second to Ron Wilson… ouch.
is becoming our trademark. I’d be more optimistic that there’s a Cup
in our future if we rolled the dice, swung for the fences, or reached
for the brass ring. If this team isn’t going to win it all, break it
up. If it has a shot, make the big moves. Until we start taking
chances are theme song as fans might be Stuck in the Middle with You.