Carey Price is no longer the Alfred E. Neuman of netminders.

Carey Price is no longer the Alfred E. Neuman of netminders.

Bob Gainey was right. I was wrong.

It’s killing me to say it but I’m a big enough man to do it. Gainey was right about Carey Price being the Chosen One and I was wrong to doubt it. That said, I stick to two things I’ve said a bazillion times in recent years. First, it remains true that the Gainey years (and the Gainey-Lite years with Pierre “Mr. Personality” Gauthier) were disastrous for the Canadiens. That’s a fact that’s only become more clear as the years go by. Just look back at what Gainey did in the summer of 2009 – yes that would be the summer he dropped a neutron bomb on the team, changing I think ten players, bringing in a chap named Gomez and knee-capping the franchise until Marc Bergevin arrived on the scene.

The second thing I’m sticking with is that us naysayers were right to grumble when Price was struggling prior to the past two seasons. He hadn’t delivered the goods until then, so it was perfectly okay to give the Chill Out Kid a hard time.

But we’re now two seasons into the New Look Price and obviously you’d have to be even more of an idiot than I am to be anything but thrilled by the coolest calmest netminder in the league.

The stats do sometimes lie but not in this case. As of Saturday afternoon, Price was ranked No. 3 amongst goalies, with a goals against average of 2.06 and a save percentage of .932.

But you have to keep in mind who’s playing in front of Pricey. On so many a night, it looks like most of the team has come into the game with the idea that they don’t have to back-check hard because this era’s version of Patrick Roy is going to make the save. When he plays like a mere mortal, like during Tuesday’s loss to the basement-dwelling Buffalo Sabres, then the Habs look like….well like the Sabres.

But when he’s on his game – as he was for back-to-back shutouts against the Rangers and the Capitals a few days back – the Canadiens look like the best team in the league. Remember that save on Martin St. Louis where Price twirled round in the air and nudged the puck out with his shoulder? That’s the kind of magic we’ve been seeing with scary regularity this season.

There’s also a welcome new intensity to the Price persona. Remember that incident a few years back when he was caught goofing around after a soul-destroying loss to the Bruins in the playoffs? That wouldn’t happen now. Instead we see him smashing and breaking his stick on the crossbar after the Stars score with two seconds left in the period to claw themselves back into the game. There’s a fire there that wasn’t seen before from the guy I used to call the What Me Worry Kid. In other words, he’s no longer the Alfred E. Neuman of goaltenders (ask your grandpa to explain the reference).

During Tuesday’s laugher of a game against Buffalo, I tweeted to say that the feature from that morning’s La Presse speculating about whether Price should win the Hart Trophy had perhaps jinxed the goalie. I might’ve added that Price just let in a weak goal. Then my pal Chris “Hunter S. Thompson” Curtis jumped into the fray, knocking me for daring to question our saviour/goalie.

My argument was/is that Price is not above criticism even if he’s having a career criticism. That’s when Habs Eye on the Prize boss Andrew Berkshire waded in to tweet that: “No, Price is pretty much above criticism. I thought this was a joke but apparently not. Added Berkshire: “No, it kinda isn’t. Carey Price has prevented this team from being in the lottery, essentially on his own.”

Fighting words but with some truth to them. La question qui tue – where would the Canadiens be in the standings if Price wasn’t performing these Vezina/Hart-worthy heroics night after night? To ask the question is to answer it.

So yeah he is The Man. Like I said, I am still no fan of the firm of Gainey & Gauthier’ reign of error. But yes I have changed my position.

On Carey Price that is. I still can’t stand Arcade Fire.

 

Here is a special guest blog post from erudite Habs watcher (and old pal) David Winch:

 

by David Winch

Special to Top Shelf

The Galchenyuk moment is here: Where is he headed, and what kind of player will he be?

These are exciting questions for Canadiens fans in the third season of top draft pick Alex Galchenyuk’s career. After scoring 89 points over 158 career games – about the same 0.56 points/game pace as in his rookie season – Galchenyuk is now on pace for a 55-point campaign in 2014-15. These modest but promising scoring totals are overshadowed by his play — sensational pinpoint passes and perfect, scorer’s-touch finishes:

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?hlp=8476851

Fan expectations have, accordingly, been sky-high: “Galchenyuk … possesses a unique combination of size, skating, high-end skill, and leadership that makes him the type of player every NHL team covets at center.” (HockeysFuture.com, fall 2013). Online posters enthuse: “He’s got a lot more ‘dipsy doodle’ in his game than [Stéphane] Richer ever did. … Sky is the limit for this kid. I think he’s ready to hit 70 points this season … At his peak, he’s at least a PPG player who can dominate the puck.” Eager to jump ahead in the expectations race, the usually sober Eyes on the Prize site told readers back in 2013 that Galchenyuk was “ahead of [Tyler] Seguin’s development curve.” Adding: “Does this mean that Galchenyuk is going to explode into a 30-goal and 60+ point player next season [i.e. in 2013-14]?”

Actually, no.

Breathless anticipation is tempered by the proviso “he’s only 20”. Young players often need time. Even fabulous No. 1 draft pick Guy Lafleur took years to fully emerge. In his third full season, as he fell to just 21 goals over 73 games, there were pointed questions around the Forum about Lafleur’s can’t-miss status. –How good will he be?

Similarly today, how clearly can we picture Galchenyuk’s future with the Canadiens?

Galchenyuk is a big, rangy skater whose long strides make him capable of sudden shifts in speed. He looks slightly top-heavy, with the top and bottom halves of his body somehow moving at different velocities as he pivots. His long limbs give him both a delicate touch with the puck and a powerful shot, which elicits gasps. Galchenyuk matches several NHL player styles. Some observers evoke versatile, high-scoring forwards like Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash or Mark Recchi, others the deceptively fast, big-guy styles of a Bobby Smith, Joe Thornton or even Phil Esposito.

As one HockeysFuture analyst writes, “Galchenyuk has excellent offensive skills, vision, hockey sense, character along with a deep desire and commitment to be the NHL’s best player. He has high-end offensive talent to go along with a strong work ethic and a willingness to pay attention to the defensive side of the game. The big centre needs to improve his first-step acceleration, strength, physicality and defensive zone positioning to be successful centre at the NHL level. His potential is a franchise player and possibly an elite star in the NHL.” –Yowza.

Imagine that future

But today Galchenyuk remains a big Rorschach blot, onto which fans project their dreams and hopes. Let’s try to sketch out this blurry future. After all, the Canadiens have seen players like this before. Does this description sound familiar? …. With a long-legged, deceptively quick stride and superior puck-handling skills, he had no difficulty proving his rightful place on the big stage. [His scoring and physical approach] were indicative of his versatility. [He] could be a smooth-skating, playmaking center or he could drop the gloves for a bout”, notes one player profile at Canadiens.com.

In fact, the player portrayed above had *lots* of trouble proving he belonged in the league. Peter Mahovlich bounced up and down for four seasons between NHL Detroit and the minors before being traded to Montreal in 1969. Once with the Canadiens, he again spent 31 games in the AHL, before finally being called up. He scored 17 points in his 36 games (0.47 pts/game) with the Habs in 1970. He was 22.

A player with many of Galchenyuk’s qualities, Pete, the 6-foot-5 “Little M”, quickly rose to being almost a point-a-game performer for the rest of his career. A reliable goal-scorer and sturdy playmaker, over his nine seasons with the Habs (1969-1978) Mahovlich scored 223 goals. In his core seasons (1970-1977) when he played about 78 games a year, he netted an average of 35 goals a year.

Then there was his flash. Some of Pete’s helter-skelter rushes (here with Team Canada in 1972) are Web legends, rivalling any Rick Nash gem:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMD9_VHab2k

Compare these Mahovlich moves with the Galchenyuk highlight reel above: absolute assurance with his hands, a sudden burst toward the net, then he brazenly outguesses the overmatched goalie to score. (“Peter had a helluva reach”, said coach Scotty Bowman.) Then, like Galchenyuk, Pete beams unreservedly, as if it’s all some divine surprise to him.

In Mahovlich’s biggest seasons, between 1974 and 1976, he shattered the 100-point barrier twice on the Habs’ legendary big line, often skating at centre between Lafleur and Steve Shutt. Dishing the puck to 60-goal scorers was ideally suited to his adventurous style: his 82 assists remain a Canadiens team record for a single season. You read that right: not Lafleur or Jean Beliveau, Peter Mahovlich. And the 117 points he scored in 1974-75 trail only Guy Lafleur’s gaudy season totals. Revealingly, he was also a leader in short-handed goals (17), a stat which, like triples in baseball, is synonymous with excitement.

Unfortunately, Mahovlich lost his scoring altitude after 1977 and was traded, quickly falling to an annual 65 points or so. Over his NHL career, he still averaged 0.87 points per game, but Pete’s peak years included just 3-4 top seasons. By comparison, strong skaters and stickhandlers like Mark Recchi (0.92 pts./game) or Brendan Shanahan (0.89) had similar averages, but over longer careers. And his image as a mischievous fool (he once got into a reckless brawl with a Habs roommate at their hotel, causing him 23 stitches) didn’t help. It put off some fans. His achievements were eclipsed. This prompted chronicler Red Fisher to label Mahovlich “the most underrated” Montreal Canadien of all-time.

By contrast, the young Galchenyuk is certainly not underrated. Everything is still expected of him: fans are holding their breath. They can dream Hab dreams, but only his on-ice performance will fill in the blanks.

— Drop the puck, already! We all want to see how this drama turns out.

……………………

David Winch is a Montreal-based writer and editor. He last contributed to Top Shelf in April 2014 with an account of Frank Mahovlich vs. the ’71 Bruins: https://topshelfwithbk.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/david-winch-takes-another-look-at-the-famed-71-bruins-habs-series-the-big-m-bruins-killer/

 

So I posted this NME list of the 40 greatest David Bowie songs earlier and my pal Daniel Weinstock quite rightly pointed out that “there was a real over-emphasis on early Bowie”. He’s right. I like all 40 songs but fact is that the newest song on the list is from 1986 (Absolute Beginners) and almost all of them are from the ’70s. Now obviously the ’70s is Bowie’s greatest period – don’t even try to argue with me on that point – but it’s just as obvious that there have been plenty of great Bowie songs released after 1986. Here are some of them, which really should have been on that list.

Thursday’s Child from Hours (1999):

Something in the Air from Hours (1999):

I’m Afraid of Americans from Earthling (1997):

Slip Away from Heathen (2002):

Sunday from Heathen (2002):

Buddha of Suburbia from Buddha of Suburbia (1993):

Valentine’s Day from The Next Day (2013):

So yeah, NME was totally lazy on that list. And a tad insulting to Bowie. He’s made some great music since Scary Monsters. Oh and putting Modern Love at No. 8 and Let’s Dance at 6 proves that it’s a joke list. Why? Cos those are shite songs.

(Yes I know this a hockey blog but I am all about mixing up hockey and rock’n’roll so……well sue me. It’s my blog and I needed to set the record straight on this. But if it’s any consolation, I am watching the Habs Devils game while doing this.)

– Brendan Kelly

sakukoivu1

Well the good news is that kindly ol’ coach Michel Therrien is saying Max Pacioretty is day-to-day and has not ruled out the possibility that he’ll play Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators. Right after that dangerous hit from the Ducks’ Clayton Stoner Thursday night, Patch looked to be in real pain and it was like you could hear the air being sucked out of Habs’ fans across the province as we contemplated the notion that we might have to go some serious time without the team’s leading scorer (13 goals and 25 points in 33 games).

So in the end it appears to be not as bad as it looked at the time. This is very much a good thing.

So should Mr. Stoner have had to face some punishment from the League. Having now watched the video a number of times – hey it was Friday afternoon – I am leaning toward the idea he should’ve been penalized for boarding but that’s it. The colour commentator on the City broadcast had a point that Pacioretty was “a little guilty of admiring his pass there” – he was watching the puck move down the ice and clearly didn’t see Stoner coming. So he wasn’t playing heads-up hockey and worse, as he got hit, he turned to face the boards, compounding the danger.

That said, the hit was late and since Andrew Berkshire was kind enough to post the rule on boarding, you can see the hit is most definitely worthy of a boarding call. Here’s the rule: “A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently in the boards.”

You read that and you realize the refs totally goofed. No penalty? That’s a joke. But it probably doesn’t deserve a suspension either.

Now on to Saku Koivu. I am not the world’s biggest Saku fan – inspirational leader maybe but not a No. 1 centre on any other NHL team – but that was a terrific tribute Thursday night. And guess what? That other smallish No. 11 – the one not named Gallagher – started and ended his speech in the language of Béliveau. He opened by saying: “Bonjour mes amis de Montréal’. And ended with: “Je t’aime pour toujours, Montréal”.

And so ends the language controversy that has dogged the former Habs captain for years, with some in the franco world grumbling about the fact that he never said as much as ‘bonjour’ publicly while spending a decade with the Canadiens C on his sweater. Fact is I was one of the grumblers (eds. note: Of course you were. The haters will hate.) You live in Montreal, you are captain of their main sports team, it’s a mostly franco city, you show respect by speaking a little French. Seems pretty simple to me. You don’t have to be fluent but you do have to make an effort, like young Mr. Subban has.

So I’m super happy he broke out some franco chat last night but it begs the question – why didn’t it happen when he was with the team? I think some of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of the management at the time that didn’t have the brains or guts to tell him he had to do a little parlez-vous-ing. But he should’ve known better too.

So what changed? I have to think one of the factors is the new much more franco team headed up by president/owner Geoff Molson and GM Marc Bergevin, the latter a guy who has filled as many positions in the organization as possible with francophones and who has often talked of the importance of his franco roots. Did someone politely suggest Koivu throw in un peu de français? La question qui tue.

– Brendan Kelly

 

Is it too early to panic?

Posted: December 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

brendan-gallagher

Longtime readers will be surprised to hear this from me – the Nabob of Negativity, the Dark Voice of Doom – but yes it is too early to panic.

Yes our beloved Canadiens have lost four of the last five, they’ve lost two in a row, ruined our last weekened by dropping two straight to the lowly Sabres, and are 4-5-1 in their last ten. None of this is very good. And in the first period of Friday’s night Blackhawks Canadiens bout, they looked like a team with that kind of record playing against one of the league’s powerhouses.

The Habs outshot the Hawks 14-12 in the first third but Chicago was clearly the dominant team, playing a way more confident, structured game than the Canadiens. As my pal Rob Naylor put it, first period was the men playing the boys.

Let’s just say that for this year’s Habs, the first period is not their time of day. Marc Antoine Godin in La Presse notes that the Blackhawks lead the League in first-period goals, with 30, while Montreal have the worst first-period goal total in the League, with a totally pathetic 8 goals. Think about that for a second. Montreal has played 28 games and they’ve only scored 8 goals in the first period all season. That’s not worrisome. It’s psychotic.

But I am not in panic mode because Les Boys showed real character fighting their way back from that 2-0 lead. First our personal hero Brendan Gallagher snapped one past whoever that goalie was we’ve never heard of in the Chicago net – I know, I know, it was the anti-star Antti Raanta – then Sergei ‘Old Man’ Gonchar scored his first goal as a Hab – and his first since the early ’90s – on a slapper and P.K. ‘No Norris This Year’ Subban briefly transformed himself into his old superstar self and scored a beauty, just ripping it past the Antti-Man with a Howitzer of a blast. All of a sudden it was 3-2. Have to give big-time credit here to Carey Price as well, who was just brilliant in the second period, almost Halak-like for heaven’s sake.

That was character stuff. All heart. Blah blah blah. Then they threw it all away in heartbreaking fashion, sort of like Elvis in Vegas in the early ’70s. A bogus call on No Norris Subban led to a Captain Serious goal and then Brandon Saad sucked the air out of our city with the winning goal with 27 seconds to go.

So yeah tough night. But I’m not panicking. I’m just a little depressed. But I’ll get over it. Right? Pour me another pint.

 

Sergei Gonchar.

Sergei Gonchar.

What the hell! Guy leaves town and all hell breaks loose. I have been in St. John’s for less than 48 hours and already my Montreal Canadiens have dumped two players. I can only imagine what is going to happen to the team between now and my arrival back in Montreal Saturday.

Who’s set to walk the plank next? Can Prusty survive my George St. vacation? Will Gally be able to hold on to his Habs sweater until I crawl out of O’Reillys in the wee hours of Saturday morning to make it to the airport?

Clearly Marc Bergevin was convinced that he had to wait til I was distracted by the many fine products of the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company – Eric’s Cream Ale for the Kilkenny fans, Honey Brown for the Newcastle boosters and British IPA for the IPA crowd – to make these moves.

Big mistake pal. They have wifi at the Hava Java café on Water St. – where I’m sitting sipping herbal tea right now (eds. note: Are you okay? shall we call for medical/psychiatric aid?) and so if anything Top Shelf, sidelined by this mental fall, has been re-invigorated by my trip to The Rock.

To re-cap. René Bourque on the bus with the Hamilton Bulldogs. A good thing. Now Travis Moen is shipped to the Dallas Stars in return for 86-year-old Sergei Gonchar. (This just in – Pop Montreal honcho Dan Seligman tells me the Russian D-man is a spright youthful 40.)

Well first-off I am as happy to see Moen out the door as I was Bourque. Neither big guy was adding anything to the equation at this point and if you ask me, Moen had been pretty ineffective ever since he signed that too-sweet deal.

But Gonchar? Is this a good thing? Like everyone, I used to really like this guy but he’s way past his due date, no? And it’s a lot of dough. $5 million, apparently, a big price increase from Moen’s $1.8 million. The up-side is that Gonchar’s contract ends this season whereas that ridiculous Moen deal goes on for another season.

And Montreal has the money. They just need to sell a few more of those over-priced beers at the Bell Centre. So I guess it’s mostly good for Les Boys. Though Habs Eye on the Prize does make one good observation – if this interferes with the development of Jarred Tinordi and/or Nathan Beaulieu, then it’s most definitely not a good deal for the Habs.

So generally positive, but jury’s out on this one.

On that note, I need to figure out where to watch Tuesday’s Habs-Jets bout. Christian’s on George St. or the Rose & Thistle on Water St.?

Good riddance to René Bourque

Posted: November 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

Well in the immortal words of my favourite group – The Ramones, of course! – ‘Glad to see you go go go, you’re gone’.

René Bourque appears to be gone – and this is a good thing. The Canadiens put the big winger on waivers, no one picked him up (I mean who would?), and now he’s set to be sent down to the Hamilton Bulldogs. So first off, kudos to Marc Bergevin for taking the initiative re getting rid of this chunk of dead wood. That’s what we like about the smartest-dresser in the NHL – he can actually take action, unlike our old pals in the firm of Gainey & Gauthier who couldn’t make a decisive move if their lives depended on it. Well I guess they sometimes did, usually to disastrous results (hello Scott Gomez!).

But clearly Bourque’s time had run out in Montreal. Zero goals and two assists this season simply isn’t good enough. And basically he’s been a bust here ever since he came over from Calgary in the Cammalleri trade. Yeah he was a hero in last season’s playoffs but that was in retrospect a fluke and/or simply an offshoot of him meeting Ginette Reno.

Any hoo, Bergevin looks good today for dumping him but you have to think he would’ve looked even better if he’d struck when the iron was hot and unloaded Bourque in a trade right after the playoffs (as one of my pals suggested at the time).

The other disturbing thing here – I am forced to agree with Don Cherry who said that Bourque is a floater. Last but not least, this news allows us to think back once again to that wack-job Cammalleri-Bourque trade. Remember? When our fave wacky GM Pierre Gauthier traded Cammie half way through a game in Boston, sending the Hab over to the team’s hotel in the middle of a game. Classy eh? That was one of the low points of one of the low-point regimes in the history of the Habs.

So if you ever feel bad about Bergevin, just think of how low we sunk with Gauthier and knock off the grumbling.