If someone had told you the Canadiens would complete their Andrei Markov-less schedule with a record of 7-2-1 …
You would have laughed – bitterly.
The most optimistic fan might have hoped for a .500 record until the return of the team’s most valuable player.
There is every indication Markov will be ready to join his high-flying, first-in-the-NHL, how-the-heck-are-they-doing-it? teammates against the Panthers at the Bell Centre.
If someone had told you Jacques Martin would have to alter a winning lineup to get him in …
As it is, the coach will be benching a red-hot goaltender to make room for Carey Price.
Someone commenting on François Gagnon’s blog came up with the perfect summary of what happened on Long Island:
Oh my G-Auld!
Martin’s Midas touch continues apace.
After Price started nine straight games, the coach took a chance by sitting him. The Canadiens had beaten the Islanders on Wednesday night. The team had momentum. Everyone, from the goaltender out, was playing sound, winning hockey.
But Price wasn’t going to start 82 games this season.
So Auld, who hadn’t played since the pre-season, during which he reminded no one of Patrick Roy, got the start, made 30 saves and kept the Canadiens in the game through their worst period of the season.
The Islanders didn’t begin playing until the game was 10 minutes old. But once they got their aggressive, physical forecheck going, the home team consistently bottled the Canadiens up en route to a 13-4 shot advantage in the middle period.
Auld stopped 12 of the shots, and he might have stopped 13 if Tomas Plekanec had tied up Matt Martin on the lip of the crease.
Auld stood tall and got excellent PK support through a 5-on-3 Islanders power play that lasted an agonizing 1:43. He was particularly outstanding on the shots the Islanders kept blasting in from the point.
Pierre Gauthier was criticized for signing Auld. Fans wondered why the GM didn’t sign Dan Ellis or someone else with a better NHL pedigree than Auld.
Gauthier knew what he was doing. He wanted a reliable veteran who would be content with a backup role, a goaltender who would work hard in practice and provide mentorship for Price, as Cristobal Huet did.
He’s big, he’s bald and he’s 1-0, with a GAA of 1.00 and a save percentage of 96.8.
Now Auld can sit again, and Martin has a go-to guy for the three sets of back-to-backers the Canadiens will play in November.
Another Gauthier signing that merits mention: Jeff Halpern.
Halpern is winning faceoffs (8-3 last night), killing penalties (which will reduce wear-and-tear on Plekanec, which will pay off as the season progresses), contributing quality puck-management minutes and making unfailingly intelligent plays.
Wednesday night, Halpern had a goal and an assist to help sink the Islanders at the Bell Centre. Then in a tough, hard-hitting road game, he pulled down a lob pass from P.K. Subban, gained the zone and fed Benoit Pouliot for the winning goal. (Props to Mathieu Darche, whose drive toward the net took an Islanders Dman out of Pouliot’s shooting lane.)
I loved Glen Metropolit, but this is a MAJOR upgrade.
Halpern is making $600,00.
Is there a better bargain in the league?
(And the guys on L’Antichambre, Carbo and François Gagnon agree.)
It was another great night for the supporting cast. Travis Moen got another goal, and forechecking shifts by the third and fourth lines broke the Islanders momentum in the early minutes of the third period.
Contributions from the plumbers are found money because the Pleks-AK46-Cammalleri line continues to shine; and Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta will get it going soon, right?
The G&G slump would be the talk of the town if the Canadiens weren’t winning.
Enough pissing and moaning about finding them a left wing. The captain and his highly-paid centre have to get going.
And they will, with the luxury of having sucked through a seven-win start.
Now shall we ponder the Big Question?
Who sits for Markov?
Were the Canadiens a pure meritocracy, Jaro Spacek probably would be sampling Bell Centre hot dogs on Saturday night.
Spatch was not great against the Islanders. He’s played 10 unstellar games this season.
But you know what?
A team that’s been winning doesn’t make a respected veteran a healthy scratch.
No, Spatch is not Bobby Orr. There are times when he isn’t Bobby Dollas.
But he gives his all … albeit a diminished all from a 36-year-old hockey player with a lot mileage.
Spacek and Roman Hamrlik were heroic during Markov’s lengthy absence last season. I think Martin will give them a vote of confidence by keeping the Czech pair intact against Florida.
Josh Gorges and Hal Gill will be kept together. And Markov will play with P.K., which should be fun to watch.
Alexandre Picard, who has been steady while complementing the flamboyance of Subban, becomes the seventh Dman.
Picard will get his chance. Injuries happen. Trades happen.
Ten games without Markov and your Montreal Canadiens lead the Northeast Division, the Eastern Conference and the National Hockey League.
Their goal differential, plus-6, is third to Boston’s plus-9 and L.A.’s plus-7.
They’ve won 4 of 5 road games.
The Islanders were the first opponent to exceed 30 shots since Tampa Bay – and that was 17 days ago …
Back when no one knew anything about Alex Auld