About last night …

With two games to play before Dec. 25, it might be too early to dust off the hoary “Christmas came early” cliché.
But you had to think that a fat guy with a white beard made a pre-emptive stop in Washington last night.
Your Montreal Canadiens scored on their 5th, 6th and 8th shots. By the time the chost Capitals built a 22-8 shots advantage, Canadiens led 3-1.
Good goaltending, a few lucky bounces and what the heck, the road trip starts with a W.
Last season’t holiday road trip produced one win in four games. The season before it was one in five.
So to be 1-0 heading to Atlanta … hey, we’ll take it.

And there were some positives. Cristobal Huet came back very strong after a seven-game absence. Guillaume Latendresse had two goals and worked hard all night. Sergei Kostitsyn got the first goal of what should be a really good NHL career. Maxim Lapierre played another strong skating game.

It’s a young team. Every win is a character-building exercise. So is every loss.
But as bad as things were in early December, maybe a Christmas swoon can be avoided this season.

Canadiens are sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, one back of those amazing Boston Bruins. With the exception of Ottawa, no one looks capable of pulling away.
That early Christmas gift – two points Canadiens didn’t deserve last night – could be crucial in early April.

26 Comments

  1. Habs Suck... Less says:

    I agree that the Habs are hanging in there with the team they have. But, just remember that the “experts” predictions were for the season finish, not Christmas. This team, especially after stealing a W last night after a very poor performance (with the exception of a few guys), still needs a lot of work and are not a shoe-in to the playoffs. So, those experts’ predictions could still come to pass and haunt us. Just something to consider…

  2. Odie Clegorn says:

    Let’s wait and see how this trip turns out. Tomorrow night’s games is critical as it’s the beginning of a back to back weekened and then that dreadful trip to the sunny south. We stole one last night; we need to earn one now.

  3. sidhu says:

    Here is what the Caps’ owner, Ted Leonsis had to say about last night’s game:

    Did That Feel Like a 5-2 Loss to You?

    Yuck. Second period – 2 shots on goal – 2 goals scored by Montreal.

    Weird game. We dominate in every aspect yet on the scoreboard it looks like we got blown out.

    We no longer care about effort or optics; we just need points and results. We took a step backwards last night.

    http://ted.aol.com/index.php?ID=1563

  4. Blitzen says:

    Oh and I won’t hold my breath for big trades. Not gonna happen and we’ll be working with the team we have as long as it plays the way it has. Now if it falters seriously and looks to get out of contention, then maybe…

  5. Blitzen says:

    I mean Timmins has been drafting speed guys for years so why would you now bring in a system that absolutely doesn’t maximise that speed? Weird….

  6. Blitzen says:

    I like the way the team is going. The kids are learning while making mistakes and the Habs are doing better than the experts predicted.

    Look at Chips last night…made a bad play that led to a goal and then got it together and made a good play that resulted in a goal on our side. I think if we can get through the mid part of the season, that team will have seasoned and could surprise. My only wish, oh Santa, is that they forecheck more with two men deep. Everytime they do it, the other teams get in trouble but for some reason, they seem to back off for long stretches during games, which allows the other teams to make line changes, then hit the neutral zone with speed. I don’t understand why that isn’t obvious to coaches. That team is better suited for speed not the trap.

  7. J.T. says:

    Ah…they could have played better. That’s true. But they’ve also played worse. For a road game against a team they normally don’t get inspired to play, in the depths of December, I’ll take it. If this was last year, they would have lost 4-1. With any luck, they consider themselves fortunate and resolve to clear the puck out of their own zone better and shoot more against Atlanta.

    The beauty of this is if the playoffs started today, it’d be Habs/Bruins in the first round. Please, Santa, grant my Christmas wish!

  8. JF says:

    Hey, J.T., Habs and Bruins – I’d take that. And it could even happen. But the Bruins are amazing this season. Without Patrice Bergeron, without much outstanding talent, they’re in fourth place, second overall in the East. I don’t understand why they always play so badly against Montreal – but I’ll take that too.

    Despite the positives, last night’s was a lousy effort. Why are they so passive in their own zone? Why do they always lose the battles along the boards and in the corners? Earlier in the season they were much more aggressive, cleared the zone more efficiently and gave the opponent fewer shots. Now they’re being outshot regularly and depending for a win on great goaltending – their pattern in the last couple of years. I’d like to see them win a few games in which the goaltender does not figure among the game’s three stars

  9. The Teacher says:

    I seem to remember earlier in the season, the Habs had

    -the center-man playing in front of the net covering the third man
    -the wingers were closer to the boards and not panicking and collapsing towards the net.

    Given that they are so far away from the boards, every pass along the boards or clearing attempt goes right to the other team’s defense-men all the time. (Giveaway Number 1)

    They also are not very adept at receiving passes along the boards for some reason.

    Our breaking out of the zone was much better earlier in the year as

    -we used the center man as a second outlet pass for the winger receiving the puck along the boards (the center man usually receiving a pass about 2 feet out from the hash marks)instead of leaving us only with the winger on the other side of the ice as a pass option

    This usually creates a situation where there are sometimes 2 or 3 opposing players in the way of any pass attempt (thus creating Giveaway Number 2)

    or we can always of course use the second option which frankly, I am getting REALLY tired of.

    -dumping it in the zone (which usually results in Giveaway Number 3)

    I didn’t see much of the game last night, but that is what I’ve been seeing lately.

  10. Rugger says:

    I really think way too much emphisis is placed on shot totals. For years (80’s-90’s) the Bruins routinely outshot everyone they played – what did that win them? I would much rather see the Habs being patient and taking advantage of opportunities like last night. It appeared to me that the goals were all from hard work and crisp passing, what more can we ask?

  11. Moey says:

    You’ve got a point, the only stat that matters are the goals that go in.

  12. JasonM says:

    Last night’s game left something to be desired, their system revolves around their goalie playing as all-star, their forechecking wasn’t aggressive enough and always do that extra pass when they could simply shoot. Yet I’ll take those 2 points.

    Overall I feel that they weren’t inspired to play against the Caps. Hopefully they will get inspired when they play the Thrashers.

  13. ebk says:

    They won and in the end that is all the really matters. The Canadiens made the most of their few chances and the Capitals failed to bury the many they had. They importance of receiving quality goaltending was never more evident than last night. Huet was excellent, Kolzig was not. Game Over.

    A few other observations, take them for what they are worth.

    The next two months we will see the transition to the Carey Price era. Enjoy the remaining days of Cristobal Huet in a Hab uniform. He is a quality NHL goalie and the better he plays the next two month, the bigger the bounty Gainey can get for him. I wish him well were ever he goes.

    For a kid that supposedly needs to be sent to the minors, Latendresse is quite productive, notching goals 8 and 9. If Gainey started sending down every forward who was less effective and less productive than the big kid, there would not be enough left to ice a team. That Gui notched his 7th goal in his last 14 games must be giving his most vocal critic nightmares. Guess he is proving that he belongs here and not in Hamilton. Will we see his critics acknowledge that they were wrong. Doubt it.

    Which brings me to my last observation. A lot of people on this site were ready to run Kovalev out of town on a rail this summer. They are strangely silent now. Most players have a down season every now and then, happens to all but the greatest ones. Moving Kovalev this summer would have been a huge mistake, one many people here were ready to make. Good thing Gainey has more sense than many of us. Guess that is why he gets paid the big bucks and we get to post our observations on a hab blog.

    Before I forget, May you and yours have a great holiday season.

    Thanks for reading

  14. P St. Pierre says:

    Well said my friend.

    Guillaume Latendresse is going to be a very good player for the Canadiens. His skating needs work, but you can tell this guy wants to play and play well for his hometown team. The presence that he brings with his size and willingness to grind it out are traits which have been lacking on a soft Canadiens team for many years. That this guy was even willing to take a chance at fighting Chara should be enough to earn some respect from any fan of the team.

    Your comments about Huet are totally correct. He’s a classy individual and a great goalie. I’m excited to see the Carey Price show, but it’s too bad that Huet will be leaving. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him and more since he got here.

  15. The Teacher says:

    I acknowledge that Lats has been producing lately and only has 4 goals less than Higgins. I also like the fact he seems passionate about playing here.

    However, he still needs to attend skating lessons in the summer.

    Thank you.

  16. doug says:

    Still not crazy about Latendresse because of his skating and because I think he’s a bit cocky, something that could impact his performance in Montreal.

    Having said that, he played a really wonderful game yesterday. . . and the goals were just part of it. He was skating hard, checking, and getting in front of the net. I’m starting to feel like he may have a future in Montreal, and I was one of the people that thought he shouldn’t have been here at the beginning of the year. I’m not totally sold yet – and still think Ryder is a better player than he is and is getting a bum rap – but he’s starting to show good hockey sense and drive.

    As for Huet, I wish he would stay another year. I think as a regular player he’s better than Price at this point in their careers and Huet’s a class act. I think he will burn us if he’s in the same conference – I’d trade him just to make sure he doesn’t end up a Leaf or Bruin or something (although I’d prefer we keep him. . . don’t see what the fuss is about Price yet. Very young and yes he’s calm but for a guy who’s “so incredible with the puck” he’s had a Roy-like year with bumbling and at times costly errors – see his last game – and a propensity towards some holes upstairs blocker side and occasional 5 hole gaffes that are not solid nhl caliber goaltending)

  17. ebk says:

    nice points about Huet, in total agreement with you. He has been classy about the whole situation. He sees the writing on the wall and from what I understand has gone out of his way to be supportive and helpful.

    It kinda made me mad a couple of days ago when someone suggested that Huet was happy about Price screwing up that goal against the Panthers. I highly doubt that was the case, guess it shows more about their lack of class and how they would handle themselves in the same situation. Huet has done nothing to suggest he is of the same character.

  18. ebk says:

    you are a good man teach

  19. yukonhab says:

    Starting to really like the “Tits”. Lots of confidence in Andre’ and speed in Sergi right now….love it!

    GO HABS GO!

    We can win the next 2!

  20. likehoy says:

    A couple of things:

    -We deserved the win, we played hard defensively and made the most of our chances.

    -Don’t let the win get to your head because…

    -If you don’t shoot, you don’t score. Shot totals may be an overrated stat, but scoring a goal is tough without shooting and the more you shoot, the more chances you are going to have to score because, well the puck is heading towards the net and you never know what happens.

    -Ollie the goalie is washed up, his career’s finished. He’s constantly out of position and letting in weak goals. He’s probably the reason why the Caps suck so bad this year. 3 goals on 8 shots? ya we’re happy about that cause we played the caps. 3 goals on 8 shots on NJ or Florida? unlikely. It explains the quality of our opposition and their style of play.

    on the players we like to talk about:

    -Latendresse is here to stay. I’m a Latendresse supporter, I see major potential in him. He can give good crisp passes in the offensive zone and he has a good shot. He’s learning how to use his body more and how to be more effective with his limited skating ability. He will be a good power forward.

    -Kovalev should not be ran out of town, but used to improve our team. He’s playing pretty well and it’s nice that we’re winning on most nights cause of him, but I’ve seen enough of this season. We’re missing that dimension that has the opposing teams defencemen scared when they’re in the offensive zone and back off when the puck comes around, instead of pinching in and knowing they’ll win the battle. We’ll make the playoffs with Kovalev this year, but then what happens after? We need a top-end offensive talent for the next 10 years and I wouldn’t mind using Koivu, Kovalev, Ryder, Huet as trade bait to get something like this. Nothing against these guys, but JUST making the playoffs isn’t good enough for me. I want the habs to win the cup, and quite frankly, there are players on this team that are still holding us back.

    If you ask me, as kovalev, koivu, huet have probably hit their peak in trade potential, and we should use it to our advantage, given that the future is looking quite bright in our organization with all 10 defenceman we drafted, but like I said, run through our prospects and pick one out that looks like he’s going to produce 100 points or even close to that, and Koivu/Kovalev aren’t getting younger. Try to steal some first rounders from LA or Wash (both are last place in both conferences). They’re both contracted for next season, so maybe a draft day trade is in the making. I’m not saying trade all 3 of them, but 1 of them would be nice, 2 of them would mean we drastically changed the look of our team and maybe for the better.

  21. Chris says:

    I agree with you about Latendresse. He is reasonably slow, but he is improving. And big, physical forwards almost always take longer to develop because their game is based around strength. The problem for them is that NHL players are far stronger and faster than junior players, and that takes some adjustments in their training routine and timing on the ice. I think Latendresse is making nice progress…he needs to get his all-around game improved and I think that Carbonneau’s tough-love approach will accomplish that goal. By the way, I thought some people might enjoy the comparison of Latendresse with one of the best players in the game today, Vincent Lecavalier. Gui had roughly the same stats in his first season as Lecavalier. Gui also is doing fine when compared with other power forwards such as Holmstrom, LeClair, Neely, and Bertuzzi. I’m not saying he will develop into a superstar, but patience must be the order of the day.

    As for trading Koivu, Kovalev and Huet, I would have to go with absolutely no, maybe and no, respectively. Koivu is the team’s heart and soul, to borrow a tired cliche. There is no player on the team quite ready to step into the pressure cooker that is the Montreal Canadiens captain position. Huet takes a TON of pressure off Price and allows him to develop at the right pace. I don’t want another Marc-Andre Fleury, Jocelyn Thibault or Stephane Fiset (all very good goalies, by the way) situation in Montreal because we fed them to the wolves. Kovalev is, for me, a take him or leave him guy. His play this year has been much better, and I think he is a valuable team leader for our contingent of Russians/Belorussians. Nonetheless, you have ZERO chance of getting a high end first rounder for any of these guys. Teams like Washington and Los Angeles have absolutely no reason to make trades for players at the end of their peak years. They are building for the future, just like us. If you really want to trade a guy like Koivu, your bidders will be teams like Detroit or Vancouver, and then you are getting a 1st rounder in the 20-30 range and/or some lower tier prospects.

  22. Ian Cobb says:

    Three most important stats for a championship club in
    order of importance. On Dec.21st, were we stack up in a 30 team league.

    1st-GA-95-18th place. better than Dec.12th-21st place.

    2nd-PTS.39-13th place. ” ” ” ” -16th place

    3rd-GF-100-10th place. ” ” ” ” -14th place

    So we have improved over the last ten days in all categories.

    Young team on the move.!!

  23. ebk says:

    have a good Xmas, Ian. I appreciate your outlook on things.

  24. Ian Cobb says:

    Thanks and have a great season yourself.

  25. TommyB says:

    Ian, nice observation….now if we could only get rid of Carbonneau, we might be first place in all three categories!

    (and you know I’m kidding)

  26. Ian Cobb says:

    Tommy– Merry Merry to you! PK Suban A couple of points with the juniors so far. I,m looking forward to that tournament boxing day. Got to go drive my school bus, talk at you later! IAN


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