…..During last night’s telecast of the Canadiens-Rangers game on the Madison Square Garden Network, Rangers analyst Joe Michelletti told his audience that the Canadiens expect Andrei Markov to start full practice with his teammates this week. Is it possible that they know something we don’t? The answer is “Yes it’s possible.”
…..The Canadiens obsession with “controlling the message” came up this week in columns written by Francois Gagnon, Rejean Tremblay and Red Fisher. There was a time when the dressing room was open and Canadiens players and coaches were readily available to the media; when the media group included on most days one TV camera belonging to CFCF-12 (now CTV), plus two or three radio reporters and the newspaper beat guys. Now the post game stampede into Canadiens room includes six or seven cameras and twenty to twenty-five reporters. Players are reluctant to say anything even remotely controversial. One need only point to last February’s sensationalized dressing room exchange between Hal Gill and P.K. Subban over a discarded sweater to understand the reason for the distrust. The “good old days” are gone, never to return, unfortunately for those of us who remember the way it was.
……The seven- year forty-nine million dollar contract Nashville gave goaltender Pekka Rinne last week set Canadiens fans and media to worrying about what Carey Price is going to demand if he ultimately gets to unrestricted free agency elibibility in two years. The answer is, he’ll get the going rate. While Rinne’s contract is now the benchmark, the league’s other franchise goaltenders; Cam Ward, Ryan Miller, Marc-Andre Fleury and Roberto Luongo all are operating on long term five million dollar-plus contracts. Price is already earning three million. As current rich Canadiens contracts expire (starting with Spacek), the Canadiens will find a way to give Price what he’s worth. I can see the Canadiens giving Price a six million dollar one year restricted free agent contract next summer while the financial repercussions of a new collective bargaining agreement are analyzed. The long-term contract would follow. And then there’s the Subban contract.
……NHL officiating is, what it is. Keeping order in a game noted for it’s controlled chaos can be inexact at times and criticizing their work is an unending fools errand. That said, what in tarnation was where was referee Dean Morton’s headspace last night at Madison Square Garden? In the fifth minute of the game Michael Blunden jumped on the ice and threw a hard but clean shoulder-to-shoulder check on Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky who was in possession of the puck. Morton’s arm immediately went up. Ryan Callahan jumped in and instigated a fight with Blunden. When it was all sorted out, Blunden was hit with non-existant interference. Dubinsky got off scot-free on instigator and the Canadiens wound up two men short because in all of this there was a legitimate too many men on the ice call because Blunden jumped on the ice before Erik Cole was at the bench. And Petteri Nokelainen was thrown out of the game along with Rangers defenseman Michael Sauer for a secondary fight. A veritable officiating dog’s breakfast!
……Scott Gomez is going to be available to the Canadiens sooner rather than later. How he’ll fit into the lineup has been up for debate the past week. First, it should be mentioned that Gomez is a centre and will return to the lineup in that role, not as some have mentioned, as Lars Eller’s winger. If I were to guess, rather than tinker with the top two lines, Gomez will centre Eller and Andrei Kostitsyn. Travis Moen will go to the fourth line with Petteri Nokelainen. The decision on the healthy scratch will be between Mathieu Darche and Michael Blunden depending on the opponent.
…..I hate second guessing but this is unavoidable. Bob Gainey in his eagerness to completely re-tool the Canadiens in June 2009 was taken to the cleaners by Rangers general manager Glen Sather. Two years before, Sather had paid an insane amount of money for unrestricted free agent Gomez who’s production proceded to drop off the table. Christopher Higgins seemed to be enough but Gainey also threw in defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko. In return, the Canadiens got Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Sather, I was told later, brazenly pushed Gainey to accept the contract of an absolute non-prospect named Michael Busto. Two years later, you can’t blame the Rangers for gloating. In this morning’s New York Post in a story about the emergence of McDonagh, Larry Brooks quoted Ranger centre Brandon Dubinsky “What were they thinking?” Good question. Given the silence of the Canadiens front office, we’ll never get the answer.
……And about last night’s bench minor for too many men on the ice. Last year the Canadiens led the entire NHL with fourteen of them. After thirteen games they are already at four and they’re leading the league again. What’s with this? Nobody seems to have an explanation. A little more hustle getting to the bench at the end of a shift might help.
……In the five games since the Canadiens relieved Perry Pearn of his special teams coaching duties Canadiens penalty killers have given up just 2 goals in 25 times shorthanded (92.5%). While Randy Ladouceur might be a very able replacement, he has had no time to make any adjustments to the
systems that Pearn and his predecessor Kirk Muller put in place. Chalk up the outstanding work of the penalty killers to the general team improvement over the last five games.
Players of the Week (Two Games)
Forward – Erik Cole just ahead of Michael Cammallleri and Tomas Plekanec. Cole was only Canadiens forward that still had jump in the third period against the Rangers. Five scoring chances including one goal, plus nine hits in two games. Cammalleri -eight of his 13 shots were on target. Two assists. Plekanec had points on all three Canadiens goals in New York.
Defence –Josh Gorges – in two games he logged a total of 44:54; 12:23 killing penalties 10:09 of that in the Ranger game.
Moving Up – Brian Gionta. Seemed to have trouble establishing his time in the first ten games of the season despite decent points production. Had strong games against Ottawa and the Rangers including a goal, assist and four scoring chances.
Under the Radar – Yannick Weber. Maybe it’s the presence of Jaroslav Spacek on his left but Weber had a strong weekend.
…….After Louis Leblanc scored a goal and two assists in his first game as a professional and then added another assist in his third Hamilton game, there was talk of a rapid rise to the NHL. Well, hold the thought. Since then the well has gone dry. Leblanc has no points the last three games and he’s finding out that professional hockey is a man’s game. To his credit, in his last three games, playing on a checking line, Leblanc has nine shots on goal.