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.


  1. 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!

  2. The Juice says:

    The point is, the Habs needed a veteran backup in the playoffs. What did we get for Huet, a 2nd round pick? Not worth a potential chance at the cup in my opinion. Furthermore, I think Bob thought the team had a better year ahead than the current one so he made no moves at the deadline to take a run, instead injuries ruined the team in ’09. Lesson: if you’ve got a hot team, go for it! don’t wait for next year.

    ps-I bet the Hawk’s go further than the Habs this year…any takers?

  3. Flabadagub says:

    Seriously!?!? This is a disgrace. I’ll continue to never watch those jerkholes and tell everyone I meet for the rest of my life, to do the same.

  4. showey47 says:

    lmao,no kidding. At least we don’t hear much of “michael ryder will be the next john leclair” anymore. For a million bucks more i will take gionta over ryder. Was i the only one who was sick and tired of huet blowing games against the leafs? Never mind against playoff teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if the hawks lose in the first round if they stick with huet. My money says the hawks start with niemi.

  5. showey47 says:

    considering huet lost to those same flyers in the first round,probably. But then again with huet’s history of not being able to win big games we probably would have lost to the bruins in the first round.

  6. avatar_58 says:

    Granted, but would we have still lost in round 2? Hmm.

  7. bigjames says:

    after what happened to us in buffalo the other night, i say we have to build up as much of a lead as possible. and if you have an empty net, you have to bag it. to not bag it is bad karma in my view.

  8. 100HABS says:

    We took 3 out of 6. Look at four games, we took 4 out of 8.

  9. Ian Cobb says:

    Very calm leader, I agree. He leads by example.

  10. Ian Cobb says:

    Two pennies. —And Markov is bilingual also, great choice.

  11. Ian Cobb says:

    I agree,clean hit. I still don’t know how he got hit so hard in the head, maybe his head hit Spacek’s chest????

  12. twocents says:

    Hey, apparently Markov had words with Price.

    I suspect there may be more to him than meets the eye.

  13. JF says:

    I don’t give much for the chances of any team facing the Redwings.  They’ve looked formidable lately.  The only question surrounding them is whether Jimmy Howard can withstand playoff pressure or, like other rookie goaltenders, will wilt and fold.  But I don’t think Chicago have much chance whoever they face with the goaltending they’re getting.

  14. joeybarrie says:

    I disagree with Markov being the best man for Captain. He is too quiet to do what we need in the locker room. Cammalleri (in my most humble opinion) is the guy we need with the C.

    To me if he has the effect you say he does. Which I agree completely. He is already doing his best to help lead in his way. Changing this is giving him expectations I do not think he wants, and goes against his perceived character.

    I wish to let him concentrate on what he is currently doing and doing it well. To me being the key player is not what being a captain is all about. I want some of the qualities we had in Carbo, Gainey and Muller. I love Koivu, but there was something missing in his Captain style. I think he did a GREAT JOB, in a way no one else has done. But I want a little of the Camma fighting with Lapierre in practice in our Captain.

    There may be other teams, but only ONE Club De Hockey…

  15. joeybarrie says:

    Sometimes, people don’t think before they post. Hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20… At least we got to the second round. IF HUET HAD OF PLAYED IN A HABS JERSEY HE WOULD HAVE DONE MUCH MUCH BETTER… I mean cmon he is French, so…………

    There may be other teams, but only ONE Club De Hockey…

  16. Ian Cobb says:

    It is a tough chore but we must find a way for players to ease up when the head might be impacted. Last night the hit was clean enough and at first even on replay I did not see his head get hit. I thought contact was in front and he suffered wipe lash or his head hit the ice.

    Anyway my point is this, if any player hits another player in the head by accident or otherwise, just like a stick infraction, a penalty should be called.

    Now! the problem starts. Is it a 2 min penalty, double, or 5 and a game.? It will be the discretion of the referees on the ice, and reviewed by the league for further action.

    I don’t care even if it is one of our own. We must take the head contact stuff out of this game today. They changed the rules to make the game twice as fast as it was for the better I might add. Now they have to find a solid method to protect the lives of those who are now in much more mortal danger. No grey area’s, get the respect back in the game with enforcement now.

  17. joeybarrie says:

    If we had of kept Huet for the rest of the season, he would have walked for nothing and people would be yelling even more. We traded him for the draft pick that got us Matt Schneider when we needed him. We would have had to pay him 5.5 million to stay. Gainey did the right thing. 5 million for a save% of .909 and a GAA of 2.53. We got that with Price for much less.

    ALWAYS THE SAME, as soon as he does well somewhere else, Gainey is an idiot and he would have won us the Cup. As soon as he doesnt do so well, falls off the radar and nothing is said.

    There may be other teams, but only ONE Club De Hockey…

  18. twocents says:

    I agree about his approach with the media. It is a fairly new aspect for him, but he commands respect here too with his thoughtful and unique presence in those situations.

  19. Geoff F says:

    I think your assessment is spot on.  The thing that i really like about Markov is that he doesn’t spew the same drivel over and over in post game interviews.  He says what’s on his mind, he thinks about his answers and i love it when he sometimes throws a curveball and lets the reporters deal with the uncomfortable silence that ensues.  I personally like and expect a leader to step out of line and tell it like it is when necessary.  I agree that Markov is an excellent candidate for all the reasons you have mentioned and more!

  20. Chorske says:

    Except that Halak has the right to seek arbitration, and Price does not.

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