About last night … and tonight

Obvious deduction: Kyle Chipchura was the problem.

The hard-working rookie watched from the pressbox as his teammates played one of their better games of the season in Tampa Bay last night. Guy Carbonneau juggled three of his lines and no sooner had Canadiens fans stopped scratching their heads than the team had five goals, 10 names on the scoresheet and one of the more impressive Ws of the season.

Are the Canadiens that good, or do the Lightning really suck?

We’ll find out tonight in Sunrise, where the Panthers await. Florida does not have its cross-state rival’s firepower, but the Panthers have several attributes the Lightning lack – notably first-rate goaltending and Jacques Martin’s stifling defensive system.

Canadiens passed a big test last night. Having played horribly in Dallas, the team need a bounce-back game to avoid ominous echoes of last season’s post-Christmas collapse.


After a slow start during which linemates introduced themselves to
each other – "Chris, you  can call me Max …." – Canadiens blew the Lightning out of their own building, where TB has been dominant this season. The guys in white jerseys consistently got the puck deep, which created manifold problems for TB’s lousy defence. Canadiens won most of the battles along the boards and played airtight D against superstars Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards.

In their pre-game segment, RDS pundits Jacques Demers and Benoit Brunet said the Canadiens would have to conform to the league-wide trend toward three lines, using the fourth line for about five minutes per game.

Someone forgot to tell Carbo. The coach continued to roll four. Mathieu Dandenault played the fewest minutes, and he logged 12:24.

Carbo also used all six defencemen. Josh Gorges logged a season high 17:31 and continued to assert himself as a player who compensates for his lack of size with strong skating and excellent puck movement, including tape-to-tape first passes. Memo to Patrice Brisebois: Take your time recovering from that shoulder injury.

Canadiens are going to have some decisions to make when Steve Bégin and Bryan Smolinski come off the IR list. Sergei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre seem to have won spots in the lineup, and I have to think Chipchura’s pressbox stint will be a short one.

Who plays and who sits? And what will they do with Michael Ryder – who was minus-2 last night?

• Canadiens scored four even-strength goals. Eight of Guillaume Latendresse’s 10 goals have been scored 5-on-5; he leads the team in that category. Gui! is playing really solid hockey.

• Cristobal Huet starts again tonight. He’s the hot hand, and fatigue shouldn’t be a factor: Huet had a quiet 28-save night in Tampa.

• Alex Kovalev is aging like single malt and hasn’t played a bad game this season. He is on pace to score 35 goals, which would be the second-highest total of his career. Kovy scored 44 for Pittsburgh seven years ago. His Canadiens’ high was 23 during the season after the lockout.

• Andrei Kostitsyn played for Polimir Novopolotsk and CSKA Moscom before signing with Canadiens and joining the Hamilton Bulldogs three years ago. Kid brother Sergei played two seasons for the OHL London Knights, where he was coached by Dale Hunter. Which of the Belarussian brothers was better prepared for The Show?

• I loved Max Lapierre last season. I love him again this season. He’s a great skater, he wins battles for the puck, he never takes shifts off.

• OK, they’re not Robinson, Savard and Lapointe. But the Big 3 on D – Markov, Komisarek and Hamrlik – are pretty darn good. Think Tampa Bay would like to have them? Or Toronto?




  1. HabsProf says:

    Kane and Gagner, not Kane and Toews. I keep making that mistake (this is not the first time). Repeat until it sinks in – Kane and Gagner, Kane and Gagner.

    I believe you are an Andrei booster – I was referring more to some of the posters that have been on his case. I do agree with you that Sergei seems a little more NHL ready. I also just think that at times we are silent about his contribution. He makes a great outlet pass that springs Pleks and Kovy on a two-on-one, we get a goal, and the talk after the game is about the goal (understandable) but no mention of the pass. I continue to be impressed at his passing. At times, he shows great vision and creativity (he’s not Adam Oates, but hey, not many are).

    I’m pleased to hear that Yemelin seems to be a can’t miss guy – now if we can just persuade him to come over to this side of the pond. (Of course, we will really have a glut of defensemen then).

    I am also intrigued by the possibility of the brothers Kostitsyn on the same line, no matter who centres them (though, like you, I prefer Pleks). I just hope we wait another year for each to get a little more seasoning.

  2. ebk says:

    He looks ok, we just have to many smallish dmen on the team.

  3. RH says:

    Hey, I’ve got to admit you were right all along about Jorges, Boone. Watching him play more and more, I’m gaining more respect for the guy. He keeps his head up, doesn’t give the puck away, and most importantly, hustles on every shift. Kinda cheap of Chris Gratton to pick on him last night. He does look kind of small out on the ice, for some reason though. Or, maybe it’s just me.

  4. ebk says:

    My editor missed my mistake, I was actually referring to their even strength offensive production. Thanks for the pickup

  5. grrrreg says:

    Nice post. But this team is not in desperate need of goal production. Montreal is 12th for goals scored, and 10th for goals scored per game in the league. These numbers are inflated by the excellent PP poduction, but still, it’s not that bad.

  6. Mike Boone says:

    I’m still an AK booster. He’s fast, he has good size and a terrific shot. If that line can remain intact all season, he and Pleks will benefit from playing with Kovalev (although I’m also intrigued by Plekanec centring the brothers.)
    Pierre McGuire says Yemelin is an absolutely blue-chip, can’t-miss NHL player. I trust his judgment.
    BTW, Sergei played with Kane and Gagner, not Toews.

  7. Bill H says:

    Thanks for that analysis. Let’s hope K1 continues to grow and flourish.

  8. Ed says:

    Excellent analysis of Andrei Kostitsyn. What is there to criticise about this guy who is still only 22? He has come a long way this year.

  9. HabsProf says:

    A couple of words about Kostitsyn the Elder, who is clearly still rough around the edges, but who I think is deserving of more credit than he has been receiving.

    -He is 7th on the team in scoring, which is not bad for a kid who started the season without a regular spot in the lineup.

    -He is tied for 3rd on the team with Kovalev for non-power play points. Only Pleks with 19 and Koivu with 16 lead Kovy and Andrei’s 15 each in that category. For a team desperate for 5 on 5 scoring, Andrei is an important cog. Don’t say it is just Pleks and Kovy carrying him – anyone taken a look at some of Andrei’s passes lately? He exhibits some real brilliance.

    -He is tied for 3rd, with Higgins, in plus/minus, at +4. Only Komisarek and Hamrlik surpass him. I believe plus/minus is more indicative of the play of defensemen then forwards, but it is still an indication that his defensive play is not as bad as is claimed.

    -Over the last 10 games he has 10 points (4g, 6a) and is +3.

    -16 of his 18 points have come in the 24 games since he joined Pleks and Kovy, a pace which projects to about 55 points over a full 82 games, which would not have been bad for a player in his first full season.

    -The kid has played a grand total of 67 games in the NHL.

    I happen to agree with Mike Boone that Kostitsyn the Younger shows better hockey sense and better preparedness than his older brother. The fact that Sergei started in North America at a younger age indeed may be a factor (and does not bode well for guys like Yemelin that we are still hoping to entice back here). But he may also just have had the sort of personality that allowed him to adjust better to the culture shock. Playing with the likes of Kane and Toews can’t have hurt, either.

    Whatever the reason for the difference, it seems that some posters (not all) are bashing Andrei because of it, and I just don’t understand why.

  10. Zaskar says:

    My bad. I’m sure you’re right that they still would like to have him back.

    On another note, I think it would be interesting to offer Price, Ryder and a Kostitsyn brother for Lecavelier. I wonder if other Habs fans think that crazy…would it be enough to get him????

  11. The Teacher says:

    Yeah, I remember Higgins exploding during the second half of his rookie season. I think we are all waiting for that to happen again and consistently. Perhaps it was a function of his supreme fitness and that will play itself out over the 82 game schedule.

    Last year he was injured early so had to have lost some of his fitness level, and he did play well despite a broken collarbone for the last 17 games of the season.

    I expect Higgins and Komisarek to improve their game relative to the rest of the NHL during the latter part of the season as a result of their dedication to fitness.

  12. The Teacher says:

    I’m on record in saying SKost74 will be a better player than his brother. He seems to know where to be and handle handle himself in most situations.

    SKost74 has a little feisty-ness in him. I remember one point during the game when either he or a few players on our team were getting hit a little hard by the Lightning. He was near the penalty box and after receiving a hit kind of away from the play, he waited until the puck got to that player and tried to hit him hard and aggressively. Shows me he won’t back down often, but does it intelligently.

    AKost46 will be a good player in his own right, but it is also true that playing on a line with Kovalev and Plekanec doesn’t leave him much time to actually control the puck.

    They seem to be grooming him to be a breaking winger who will get his chances by streaking wide along the boards or placing himself in position to receive a one-timer pass. At the latter he doesn’t see to adept, neither at placing himself, or at one-timing these passes that he totally seems to be reacting way too late on. AKost46 is aggressive, but only after he gets hit once or twice, seems he needs a physical game to get him mad and going. That might bode well for the playoffs, if we ever get there.

  13. Ian G Cobb says:

    Love to read a thinking person,s post!

  14. Mike Boone says:

    He is a HUGE upgrade on Souray. But Hamrlik was lon g gone – to Edmonton, the Islanders and Calgary – by the time Tampa Bay won the Cup.

  15. Ian G Cobb says:

    We must continue to spread our dollars over 25 players, and not do what the Lightning, Pittsburg, Rangers, and others have done. They have locked in big money for three or four players and surounded them with an inferrior balance.

    They will forever stay in the middle of the pack.

    This is a team sport and you need 25 players working as a unit and shareing the same umbrella, not 3 or 4 sharing one CAP.

    Developing your own is a much slower process but a winning strategie.

    We are playing a much better team this evening, I just hope we all will be well entertained!


  16. Bill says:

    Really good points, especially regarding Kostitsyn and Latendresse. I would say same goes for little Kos and Higgins: If just one of these could blossom into an elite scorer, the Habs offensive problems would be over


  17. ebk says:

    The top three lines last night played well, the fourth line, well that was another story. The Habs will need to be a whole lot better tonight. The Lightning looked disinterested and tired. Florida will mount a much stiffer challenge and the Habs need to be better. Two points is two points, take it and move on.

    The addition of the kiddie corps has made a world of difference to the team.
    K2 can play on either of the top two lines and do a good job. Early in the season, when the top line struggled, there were no alternatives who could play up there, K2 has filled the void for a struggling Ryder well. Lapierre is an annoying pest, who works his butt off and has a little offensive wiggle to his game. He is much better than any of their defensive/energy type players.

    Latendresse continues to silence his critics, the big kid is proving on a nightly basis how wrong his critics were about wanting to send him to Hamilton. No he isn’t a great skater, he looks awkward at time, who cares. He has 10 goals and his providing goal production on a team that desperately needs it.

    Kostitsyn the Older is playing the best hockey of his young NHL career. He is the Habs best young forward on a nightly basis and is emerging as a top-tier NHL player. He has 10 points in his last 11 games and looks to be on his way to a long and productive NHL career. After the all-star break two years, Chris Higgins after a slow start to his rookie season, emerged as an NHL scoring threat, Kostitsyn the Older, reminds me of Higgins two years ago. Finally figuring out the things he needs to do to be a productive NHL player.

    With the parity(mediocrity) that exists now in the NHL and the additions of Lapierre, K2 and O’Bryne this team is close to being a contender. Their goaltending gives them a chance to win every night. Their forwards are much improved from earlier in the season. If Ryder can get his game back or Gainey can somehow move him for another struggling top six forward, this team will ice three lines as good as anyone but the top few teams. If Carbo wants to keep rolling four lines, Gainey needs to upgrade the fourth line a fair bit.

    As long as they stay with the kids, this team will be competitive this year and down the road should move into the upper-tier of the NHL. The journey there will be a roller coaster ride, Enjoy it, it should be fun.

    Thanks for reading

  18. Zaskar says:

    Hey Mike,

    Hamrlik was a first rounder for TB and helped them knock Montreal out of the playoffs the year they won the cup!

    He’s an excellent upgrade over Souray in the defensive end. And is it just a coincidence that Phaneuf is struggling this season?????

  19. Alirio says:

    You make some great points Mike, but I think the most important factor for tonight will be whether or not the Habs will do what they usually do: take a hard-working win for granted and follow it up with a sloppy loss.

    I’ve made a huge mistake…

  20. JF says:

    I agree. The only time in the past five or six weeks that they’ve played two really solid games in a row was against Philly and Toronto a couple of weeks ago (and I guess you could add the overtime loss against Atlanta). The pattern seems to be a solid effort followed by a sloppy, indifferent performance. If they can bring last night’s intensity to tonight’s game, they have a chance of at least getting a point, even though their opponents are the Panthers. But with Huet in goal, they can’t let it go to a shootout!

    I’d be surprised if Chipchura does not play tonight. He is a strong defensive centre who will be needed in the kind of game Florida is likely to play.

  21. Cable Guy says:

    I hope Breeze-by and Smoke don’t come back period. Little Tits is amazing and is playing better every game.

  22. Forlando says:

    I agree with Alirio…that is the big question, sometimes I get mad at Carbo and blame him for the way the kids play, but how can you blame a coach when you see the guys play like they played last night and then they go out and they don’t skate, shoot, pass or hit!!!

    Now, I don’t want to single out Ryder, but seriously when was the last time you saw him winning a battle for the puck or a 1 on 1 situation….I can’t remember that happening this year and I am being serious.

    I don’t think Chipper should be in the pressbox, I would give Ryder a last chance with that Laps, Higgy line and sit Kosto this time and send Chipper as center of the 4th line. If Ryder does not wake up, then back to eating hot dogs when the guys play the Rangers.

  23. Blitzen says:

    When we get beat, people say we suck. When we beat a team, people ask whether we really played well or they played badly. Getting tired of this. A win is a win is a win folks.

    Pretty sure that every single time we have played with a hard two man forecheck, we have won. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

  24. arcosenate says:

    jeeze, the older brother isn’t playing that bad, sure he might not have been as well prepared but he is coming along quite nicely. good skater, good shot, makes some decent passes too. just has to be calmer clearing the defensive zone. he’ll be a positive on this team for a long time!

  25. J.T. says:

    Those are good points. The team last night had a lot of things going for it…not the least being a dispirited and increasingly lousy Tampa team as the opponent. But there are basics that still need work. Faceoffs for one thing, which are still a terrible weakness most nights. The PK must improve. It’s ranked what now…24th in the league? While team discipline has been very good overall this year, they’re giving up WAY too many goals during the penalties they do take. And zone clearances…too many players inexplicably dump the puck toward their own blueline without any kind of plan in mind. It’s ridiculous to see how many times they had possession last night, only to rush a thoughtless play and give it away. If it’d been a better team than Tampa, they would have paid for that. If the team can improve those three areas in the second half of the season, while maintaining a strong PP and a good nightly effort, they’ll be in the playoffs with room to spare.

    As for Smolinski and Brisebois…I think there’s no question Kosty Jr. and Gorges are contributing more to the team. But the reality is, Gainey has signed them for the year and there’s no way out of that. I can’t see Kostitsyn sent back to Hamilton if he keeps up nearly a point a game…but when Smolinski is activated, with his NTC, he can’t be moved. That means someone, likely Lapierre, is Hamilton bound. Which isn’t fair, but there you go. Breezer should be used only very sparingly as a seventh D, if he doesn’t decide the old body’s had enough and call it quits.

  26. Blitzen says:

    I don’t think Laps will be sent down. Not with the effort he is putting in. That would send an extremely bad message to the youngsters. Enough with Smokes. Gainey can say that the young guys matured earlier than he thought and that Smokes was just an insurance in case they didn’t. Cut him loose and no one will complain.

  27. howtathor says:

    I hope Chips comes back tonight. As much as I love Tom the Bomb he is not a center, although I had to adjust my set when he was winning face offs last night. It’s a tough choice but I would sit Ryder and play Chips with Higgy and Lappy on the wing. I think the team’s handling of Ryder is unconcionable and his confidence is shot.
    He will have a good career elsewhere. When Smokes or Beige come back they can fight for a space on the fourth line. At least Smokes is a center!

  28. the Maritimer says:

    The Lightning do suck. They have no goaltending and a mediocre defense. I know a team that has both to spare and they could use an elite forward.
    ’nuff said’.

    Another night of boring Jacques Martin hockey ahead tonight. Think I’ll skip this game and wait for the next match against the Rangers on Sunday.

  29. Ian G Cobb says:

    We played a good game against a poor team and still had a let down 3rd period. We have to get to the point of closeing out games properly, or we will continue to give up 2 points to the better teams.

    Last year we were in the bottom 1/4 of teams in the league.
    This year we are in the top 1/2 of teams in the league.

    And after this road trip and into Feb. we will be in the top 12 teams. Not good enough, but a hell of an improvement.

    By the end of next year we will be a squad not to be taken lightly.

    Frustrating for us and them, but two years from now WATCH OUT !!

  30. J.T. says:

    I disagree. You don’t go out signing veterans for relatively big money AND give them no-trade clauses, then turn around and waive them. At least, I’m fairly sure Bob Gainey doesn’t. Look at how bad Samsonov had to be, both on the ice and off, before Gainey waived *him*. Smolinski’s been ineffective, but not an outright liability worthy of being thrown away like that. No, like it or not, Smolinski will be taking up a forward spot as long as he’s healthy for the rest of the year. That means unless someone else is traded for a pick or prospect, someone has to go to Hamilton to make room. Right now, if you had to pick between Lapierre and S.Kostitsyn, who would you send down?

  31. ebk says:

    I would not send either down. It was a mistake that both started the season in Hamilton and would be a colossal error to send either there now. There are other moves that can be made to free up a roster spot for Smolinski. Gainey is a smart man, hopefully he can figure an option that is better than the one you suggest.

  32. Blitzen says:

    I would send Smokes down. I think the only way they send either Laps or SKoz down is if the team totally sucks when Smokes comes back.

  33. ZepFan2 says:

    “Smolinski’s been ineffective, but not an outright liability worthy of being thrown away like that. No, like it or not, Smolinski will be taking up a forward spot as long as he’s healthy for the rest of the year.”

    I guess that means Smokes is more important than Ryder. If so, that’s just sad.

    Why can Ryder sit in the press box and be paid millions, yet Smolinski gets to play? What exactly has Smokes done to deserve such respect and Ryder none?

    You mention Samsonov and how long it took before he was waived. Since Ryder has been benched, have you heard him complain even once to the media? Yet he’s being treated worse than Samsonov was.

    This will be John LeClair and Mike Ribero all over again…sigh

  34. J.T. says:

    Listen…I’m probably the biggest Ryder booster out there right now. I think the team would be better off with him scoring, and the only way he’s going to do that is if he’s playing. But the unpalatable fact remains that when Smolinski is activated, there will be 24 players on the roster. I have no problem with Smoke being scratched, and would certainly prefer him to sit than Ryder…but even if he’s in the pressbox, there will *still* be 24 players on the roster. That was the point of my post…something’s got to give. Either someone is traded, without getting another body in return, or someone is sent to Hamilton. Maybe Gainey is working on a trade. But if he isn’t, who goes to Steeltown? I doubt it will be anyone who has to clear waivers…especially a guy Gainey specifically went out and signed last summer. It won’t be Ryder either.

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