About last night …

If there were a direct correlation between hard work and success, Tom Kostopoulos would have a den full of Art Ross trophies.

You  can’t succeed without trying, but busting your butt is no guarantee.

So it’s nice to see Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Darche and Benoit Pouliot rewarded for their effort.

As they said on L’Antichambre last night, PhD (yay, Stubbs!) is a north-south line:

Darche goes and digs out the puck, Halpern makes plays, Benny is the shooter.

And as Darche said, it’s not rocket science.

Nothing cute or fancy. Simple, direct hockey.

And timely.

Because with Tomas Plekanec too flu-gripped to play and the Top Four forwards continuing to struggle, the Canadiens needed production from the proletariat to scratch out a win in Buffalo last night.


Maybe “scratch out” overstates it.

The sabres are a terrible team: dead-last in the league, winless on home ice, a goal differential of minus-12 and a power play that’s worse than the Canadiens’.

For all that, however, the home team began the game like they planned to win it. Buffalo skated off to an early 10-2 shot advantage, had two power-plays within 10 minutes and fired 16 first-period shots.

But they didn’t beat Carey Price until Mike Grier completed an odd-man rush late in the period. And Halpern got that one back less than 90 seconds later.

Same deal in the second period. After Jordan Leopold pinched deep and took advantage of Scott Gomez’s defensive lapse in Price’s crease, Pouliot took all of 40 seconds to make it 2-2.

You have to be happy for Benny. That was the fourth goal for a guy who stopped his 2009-’10 scoring on March 25 and didn’t get his first one this season till Game 7.

The players talk about confidence all the time. It is, as far as one can ascertain, the belief that muscle memory cultivated since pee-wee hockey will produce the desired results.

Confidence can be fragile. It certainly is in the case of Pouliot, who’s had a career that scarcely justifies his lofty first-round draft status.

Playing with two hard-working (and low-paid, but that’s another story) veterans, Pouliot is rebuilding his belief that he can score goals. And the knack is returning because he working hard on the other elements of his game: solid, physical two-way hockey.

Confidence is also sky-high for the Canadiens’ goaltender. Price has won seven games, and he’s yet to play a bad one.

The key to the Canadiens’ season was getting Price off to a good start. They’ve done this, based on Price’s own ability and team defence: the Canadiens are the only team in the league that has yet to surrender more than three goals in regulation time.

There were many things to like last night – and a few aspects of the Canadiens’ game not to like – but I’ll not enumerate them because the Sabres are so gosh-awful.

I’m reserving judgment on the new defence pairings until I see them against Ottawa at the Bell Centre tonight.

What bears mentioning is Jacques Martin’s confidence in his players.

In the third period, protecting a one-goal lead, Martin used all four lines (albeit limited ToI for Lars Eller and Dustin Boyd). And on two third-period power plays, the allegedly ultra-conservative coach (he used to be Joe Clark’s brother-in-law, but I digress) continued to use four forwards.

Watching Mike Cammalleri on the right point, I couldn’t help wondering what might happen if a speedy penalty-killer pops one past him. Could Andrei Markov make it back to avoid disaster.

But the coach had confidence in his new PP alignment …. even while nursing a narrow lead.

And Martin had confidence in his lineup, all of whom – with the exception of Eller – played double-digit minutes.

Senators tonight.

•  •  •

I should have had more faith in a McGill man.

I was one of the fans disappointed by the Canadiens’ decision to keep Mathieu Darche after Ryan White’s excellent training camp.

It wouldn’t have happened, some suspected, if the name was Matthew Parker.


Darche is grateful for the opportunity to play in his hometown, and he never takes a shift off. He has excellent chemistry with Halpern; they’re helping Benny revive his career.

And in these tough economic times, everyone loves a bargain. Halpern makes $600,000, Darche $500,000.

Suffice it to say the lunch-bucket guys have been more productive than players making A LOT MORE money.



  1. PeterD says:

    Dead Horse…let it go already.  Price IS OUR GOALIE!  Halak is gone and he will not return in a very long time if ever…so just let it go and move on.

    It’s a new season and new players and new dreams of the Prize at the end of the season…

  2. CharlieHodgeFan says:

    It’s a dead horse. Price is alert, quick and in the game. His shoulders are square and he isn’t playing like the big kids stole his balloons, the way he did last year. If his style is different from Halak’s – well, he isn’t Halak. But he’s doing a fine job and stopping shots he would say he hadn’t seen last year.

    I’m watching a good goalie here, night after night. I would feel more confident that would continue if I were watching Halak, but Price is slowly starting to win me over. If he can maintain the level of play he’s showing, then Gauthier’s gamble will pay off for us, as well as for him. A lot CAN happen. but what is happening now is very positive, and fun to watch.

    Wait til Price has the one bad game every goalie does. There will be habs-depressives dancing in the streets. Til then, this young player is making enormous progress and is impressing the hell out of this increasingly optimistic pessimist.

  3. Captain aHab says:

    But you are beating a dead horse. Price isn’t the problem right now…if this team could score on the PP, we’d be flying real high. Still doing very well despite that.

  4. Exit716 says:

    Price tried the poke check on Grier and missed. Simple as that.

  5. Chris F says:

    Don’t want to beat a dead horse, and I realize Price played well again, but I can’t help but think it can still be better if not for wasted movement.

    It reminds me of an acrobatic goalie who I played with in Junior A. He made some unbelievable saves, but his tendency to “over play” cost us goals.

    Price is making players, such as Mike Grier, look like Mario Lemieux. On these cross ice passes where the shooter is taking the pass with speed, Price is flopping, going down too early, not using his  size, and creating a lane by which a simple stick handle across the crease leaves an empty net.

    Interesting to hear the comments come from the St.Louis players about how Halak never seems to be out of position, doesn’t use any unnecessary energy, makes it look very, very, easy. Three shutouts, that means no bad goals, no waisted movements, being square to the shooter.

    I’m as happy with the win as anyone else, but it’s sometimes about save %, Halak is .940 – that is off the charts good. He has what you would call a quiet body. Nobody in the league is better, and it’s not even close.

    Price is making many great saves, but he is still way to busy at times. Against Columbus, and Buffalo, two goals were scored which were exact replicas of one another, a cross crease pass with speed, Price overplays, flops on his back and makes the shooter look like gifted goal scorer. Move cross crease, go down if you want, but stay square, chances are, those shooters who are not gifted will hit you with the puck more times than not.

    Go Habs Go!

  6. JF says:

    This was the kind of game we would have lost last year.  In fact, it started out looking dismayingly like last year, with the first period played mostly in our zone and Price facing a barrage of shots.  We couldn’t clear our zone and we couldn’t construct anything convincing in the way of an attack.  If it hadn’t been for Price, we would probably have gone to the locker room down 2 goals.  I was glad to see the team get it going in the second period; we were much better defensively, and we played with more intensity.  But something I’d like to see us do more is crowd the net.  The Sabres did it every chance they got, and it produced their second goal, the kind of goal that results from bodies and confusion around the net.  I’d like to see us score more of those.

    The PhD line must be the bargain of the NHL.  Even Pouliot, although he got a substantial raise over last year, is comparatively low-paid, and Halpern and Darche are the hockey equivalent of dollar-store pickups. When Halpern was signed, he spoke of Darche, with whom he played briefly in Tampa, as an underrated player, and I’m beginning to agree with him.  Darche never takes a shift off, and he does something not enough of our players do, which is drive to the net.

    Fans complain a lot about how the Canadiens handle young players, but I think they’re doing a good job so far with Benoit Pouliot.  Pouliot is a young man who’s had some hard knocks in life, a high draft pick whose career has not been particularly illustrious so far and who has a reputation for laziness and lack of drive, a player who shone briefly here before becoming negligible to the point where it was thought the team might as well give up on him.  Instead of writing him off, however, Gauthier gave him a vote of confidence with a raise he’d scarcely earned and a one-year deal to prove himself.  Is it too early to say Benny’s doing it?  Maybe, but he arrived in camp in better condition than last year, and he’s worked hard so far.  Despite his habit of falling down inexplicably, he’s played well in nearly every game, and now the scoring touch seems to be returning.  I think Jacques Martin has been careful with him, using him in situations which are likely to build his confidence, and keeping him off the struggling Gomez line perhaps to avoid putting too much pressure on him.  Putting him with Halpern and Darche is also serving him as a textbook example of what sheer hard work can accomplish, particularly in the case of Darche, whose foothold in the team and indeed the league is tenuous, and who knows he’s likely to spend many games on the bench.

    JM is being similarly careful with Lars Eller, who had only a so-so game and saw his ice-time reduced in consequence.  I think he’s not ready yet to be a top-line centre, so will likely have limited spells as centre on a lower line and time on the wing until he gains confidence and gets his reaction-times up to NHL speed.  But fans as well as the coach need to have patience; it’ll be a couple of years before we really see what Eller is capable of.

    If we can get all our lines and our powerplay rolling, this would be a seriously good team.  As things are, we could just as easily not make the playoffs.  One-line teams do not win many games, and over the season, special teams are key.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.