About last night …

The most popular game of “what if?” among Canadiens fans focuses on Andrei Markov?

What if the team’s best player hadn’t been injured during the season opener and missed almost half the schedule?

Here’s another one:

What if Brian Gionta hadn’t missed 21 games?

If the Canadiens’ toughest, hardest-working and most consistent player had been available for more games, this team might have more than 82 points heading into the last seven games of this crazy, roller-coaster of a season.

Gionta scored two goals, including the winner, in that crucial conquest of Florida.

He has 25 in 54 games. Last season in New Jersey, Gionta scored 20 goals in 81 games.

As my friend Sean Gordon of the Globe & Mail suggested when we chewed over the 4-1 win, maybe Bob Gainey knew what he was doing whe he signed the diminutive sniper.

 

I invite the Commentariat to correct me (which gives them an inordinate amount of pleasure), but I can’t remeber Brian Gionta playing a bad shift this season.

He never quits on a play. He battles for loose pucks. He skates fearlessly into the dirty areas where a succession of speedy, skilled Canadiens forwards have feared to tread during recent seasons.

Gionta is the unSamsonov. And he’s a MAJOR upgrade – not least for his impeccable dedication and work ethic – on Alex Kovalev.

Just like Gionta’s former Devils teammate, Scott Gomez is an upgrade on Saku Koivu.

And just as the third member of their line, Benoit Pouliot, is an upgrade on Guillaume Latendresse … no matter how many goals the former underachiever scores in Minnesota.

Through Gainey’s off season rebuild and Pierre Gauthier’s tweaking – notably the addition of Dominic Moore – your Montreal Canadiens are a better team than they were 76 games into last season.

The nightmare in Buffalo might have haunted a team with less grit and character.

Not this team.

Even after Florida made it 2-1 and every Canadiens fan on the planet held their collective breath and thought “Noooooooo, not again!”, this bunch was determined to avoid déja vu all over again.

After the Three Stars were announced, the Bell Centre PA system serenaded departing fans with a James Brown classic. And there was much to feel good about:

• Moore’s line contributed quality shifts. Travis Moen, playing with a visor for the first time in his career, killed penalties, worked the boards and had a few scoring chances. Sergei Kostitsyn continued to display the tantalizing skills that raise hopes he could become a star.

• Markov was Markov. Like Gomez and Gionta, he was plus-3. And while the power play fired blanks in two opportunities, Markov and Marc-André Bergeron combined to give the Canadiens a oint threat thats been missing.

• Jaro Halak was Jaro Halak. A light load – 24 shots – but key saves, including a beauty on Nathan Horton, when the game was tight. Jaro is 24-11-3. If the playoffs start tomorrow, he’s the Canadiens’ starting goaltender … as he will be when the playoffs start next month.

• Jaro Spacek is a class act. Hugely popular with the media because he’s accessible, win or lose, and because he’s such a good guy, Spacek was genuinely concerned by the damage his clean hit did to luckless David Booth.

• Jacques Martin showed class by heaping praise on Booth, whom he  called “an outstanding young man, one of the better kids I’ve ever coached … a professional on and off the ice.” Let’s hope Booth is going to be OK. His concussion, resulting from a Mike Richards cheap shot, put the kibosh on Florida’s season.

• Tomas Plekanec made it 100 goals in the NHL with his third empty-netter since the Olympic break. The return of Mike Cammalleri has fuly restored mojo on the Pleks line: Andrei Kostitsyn had three shots on goal and four hits. We can only hope Pleks’s 200th will be scored in a Canadiens’ uniform.

The game was not a DVD collection classic. But it was a crucial win for the Canadiens, snapping a three-game skid (during which they salvaged two points) and exorcising the ghosts of Buffalo.

Boston, Atlanta and Philadelphia lost – the latter two in three-point games.

The Canadiens are sitting sixth as they await a Saturday night visit by Martin F. and the Devils.

If the playoffs began now, their first-round opponents would be the Sabres – a team the Canadiens, for 56 minutes, looked like they could beat.

That’s another “what if?” we can kick around.

•  •  •

Maxim Lapierre’s return to the lineup meant champagne all around on L’Antichambre.

Max played a team-low 7:49 and was a non-factor: 4-4 on faceoffs, one shot, one hit, one blocked shot. No PP or PK time.

Glen Metropolit’s place on the Scott Gomez wave of the PP was taken by Benoit Pouliot.

Will Metro and Mathieu Darche be back aganst the Devils?

Or will Martin stick with a winning lineup?

•  •  •

Funny how seldom these days you hear anyone say the Canadiens should have kept Cristobal Huet.

274 Comments

  1. avatar_58 says:

    Or Cammy with Toronto (he said it was an offer)

  2. linp says:

    It is obvious that if Booth didn’t have a concussion problem, he would just continue to play after the hit. With his condition, he should have been more careful and should avoid being hit (a la D’Agostini).

  3. camel_larry says:

    another what if:

    What if Gio had chosen to sign with Buffalo instead of Montreal?

     

    Go Habs Go!

  4. Geoff F says:

    Everyone will have a different opinion, i’m not saying i’m right.  Cammy definitely brings speed and goal scoring to the mix which opens up lanes for everyone else including AK46 & Pleks.  So i’m not saying he’s not good, i’m saying that compare him to Gionta and i feel like Gionta plays harder and with more grit than Cammalleri.  I guess I feel that he does a better job leading by example that doesn’t mean that i don’t think Cammalleri does NOT lead, i just think Gionta is better.  But most importantly the scrapping with Teammates thing puts me off a little.  Having an edge is one thing knowing how and when to use it is another (maturity).  Again only my opinion.

  5. jbroderi says:

    If I could pad my stats a little, I would.  He stripped the puck from the Dman, and then he really had no chouce but to put it in.  If not, he would have intentionally missed, which would be even more disconcerting.  I get your point about the bad karma, but I hope we paid the piper angainst the Sabres..

    “Do the day and let the day do you” JB

  6. topher5468 says:

    Thats a fair question, IMO I say no. I believe you can’t go out on the ice and and not compete against a team that is still competing, thats when bad things happen. I think there a different respect in Hockey for things like that and when the net is empty you have to shoot on it, unlike other sports when teams do concede when the game is out of reach.  

    “It’s not an obsession, It’s a way of life..”

  7. Danno says:

    I think they just rested Metro. That’s all. Might be hurting a bit.

     

    “Hey Richard, two minutes for looking so good!”

  8. avatar_58 says:

    Was it? I pretty much said “EFF YEAH!” – especially given how much trouble that crappy southern team has given the habs over the years. Sorry, no sympathy here.

  9. thepriceiswrong says:

    couldnt this be summed up as “the playoffs are a brand new season… anything can happen.”

    But yeah… enjoy the math

  10. avatar_58 says:

    Carbo did the same to Price then was promptly fired not long after. So who knows.

  11. forskis says:

    That would be a tough Centennial gift to pick:  playoffs or no playoffs but a gift-wrapped Tavares, Hedman or Duchene…

    “I am guilty of using elipses…”

  12. topher5468 says:

    I think the Blackhawks putting Huet back in the net for the 3rd period speaks volumes about their feelings about him. I think he’s done in Chi and why waste Nemi on that game. Why else would you put him back in there to get further demoralized. 

    “It’s not an obsession, It’s a way of life..”

  13. ed lopaz says:

    I watched the hit several times on you tube, Spacek’s shoulder hits Booth in the head.

    Pat Hickey – who probably looked at the hit 10 or 20 times before writing his article – knowing how professional he is – is sure that this was a shot to the head as he wrote:

    “but Spacek caught Booth in the head”

    of course – I have the same replays as you have – nothing more – so this is my opinion on the contact vs your opinion on where the contact took place.

    I’m saying that “assuming” Spacek’s shoulder hit Booth’s head – it should be an automatic penalty as though it was a stick to the face.

    If Spacek’s shoulder hit Booth in the chest – as you suggest – then I stand corrected – and I have no problem with the hit.

  14. forskis says:

    Just wondering…Gionta’s 2nd goal was into an empty net with 8 sec to go and a 2 goal lead:  would that be considered running up the score and building bad karma?

    When I watched it happen I thought, “Was that really necesary?”  I had a bad feeling right away.

    “I am guilty of using elipses…”

  15. The Juice says:

    Gotta go back aways…’95-’96: Turgeon 38G, Damphousse 38G, Rucinsky 25G in 56 games…Turgeon and Damphousse both had over 90 points and Recchi had 78…sick. Result? Lost to Rangers 4-2…I’m sure you recall the Habs were up 2-0 after winning the first 2 in NY and then coming back home and blowing it. Similar to what happend against Carolina a few years back after the loss of Koivu…f’ing Justin Williams!

  16. avatar_58 says:

    Hmm. See I thought this too until that one stretch where Gionta didn’t do a THING. The line went cold. Then all the sudden he started producing again. Same goes for Cammy – some players just have off games that’s all. I sure as hell NOTICE Cammy since coming back even if he hasn’t scored yet – it’s clear Plek and AK notice him

  17. showey47 says:

    Had we missed markov for half the schedule last year like we did this year we would have ended up with  either taveras,hedman or duchene. Damn it,lol.

  18. jbroderi says:

    I think metro should be back in sat for lapierre.  I can see darche being out, him and pyatt latley is like flipping a coin, but Laps is having a real hard time without his bumchum Gui!

     

    “Do the day and let the day do you” JB

  19. avatar_58 says:

    Nope, just like the goalie-choices I’m sure he’s smarter than that. After all Lapierre didn’t do much all game.

  20. jbroderi says:

    Just a new take on winning percetnage and what it might mean in the play-offs.

    lets assume we play buffalo (big assumption, but I am just making a point.

    we will also consider all ot/shoot-out losses as a normal loss.

    buff winning% is .555, spread over any given 7 games, they win 3.9 games out of 7.

    Mon winning % is .493, spread over 7 games, they win 3.4 out of 7.

    The difference between the two teams as of these stats would suggest .5 games difference over 7 games, or one more loss for the Habs over a 14 game span. That difference could be viewed as both teams winning a six game series, but the third series, one team is tied 1-1 after 2 games, and the other is up 2 to 0.  I know that couldn’t happen, because they would be playing each other, but it really shows how small the difference is over a shorter amount of games.

    When you look at it this way, 10 or 12 points may seem like a lot, but that is over 82 games.  A series is at most 7 games, with every team having several hot/cold streaks that last 7 games or longer.

    Maybe I am boring you, but this looks quite interesting and puts the odds of winning a play-off series in perspective.

    just a note wash vs boston would be 4.6/7 games for washington, 3.16/7 games for boston.  a bigger difference, but is it that much of a sure thing??

    “Do the day and let the day do you” JB

  21. forskis says:

    Yes, it is good…I guess Gainey knew what he was doing after all…yes, this current team is behind the pace in terms of points compared to last year, but this year’s team works a lot harder and does not give up and the losses are no longer blow-out losses.

    Who knew that Gionta would get back to scoring goals?
    Who knew that Gomez would be the key to getting Gionta back to scoring goals?
    Who knew that Pouliot would end up doing more than Latendresse no matter what Latendresse did in Minnesota?

    And props to PG for getting Moore, a player at 1.1MM with 8 pts in 13 games which is a 50 pt. season pace and who also helped wake SK74 up.

    “I am guilty of using elipses…”

  22. showey47 says:

    3 out of 6, you forgot the sens regulation loss. Don’t worry i’m trying to forget it also,lol


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