P.K. Subban2

From the start of the brave new Rogers world broadcast order, the prime spot that is CBC on a Saturday night has been reserved for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I get it. Toronto is the biggest media market in the country, the Leafs get the top ratings, so you wanna have their games on the network that reaches the most Canadians.

(We won’t go into here how the CBC executives just gave away that precious air-time. That, alas, is another story.)

But you may have heard that the Leafs have been tanking of late. As Pop Montreal guru Dan Seligman quipped, before it was even true, they’re a Gong Show. They are way way out of playoff contention, have sold-off as many of their decent players as they could, and are now openly dissed even by their most faithful fans (who deserve praise for their hockey-sweater-tossing prowess). In the meantime, the Montreal Canadiens are first in the East, have just made a couple of moves to strengthen their roster, and are far and away the Canadian team most likely to go deep in the post-season.

So why not move tonight’s Habs game – and all the Habs games going forward – on to CBC? Virtually all of the Canadiens’ games have been on City on Saturday nights, a channel that doesn’t have nearly the reach of CBC. And that’s where you’ll find Saturday’s Montreal-Arizona match-up. So why not flip that one over to CBC and take that meaningless St. Louis Toronto snoozer and put it on City.

It would also be a good way to generate more viewer interest in the Habs as they move toward the playoffs and hopefully boost your post-season ratings.

Of course it’s never gonna happen. Too logical. Just remember that the folks making these decisions all live in Toronto. It’s in their genes. They simply can’t imagine a world where you prioritize the Canadiens over the Leafs.  It’s Don Cherry’s world. And they’ll make decisions like this even though it’s a bad business decision because they’re prisoners of the Leafs Nation. Bizarre.

 

Carey Price being interviewed at the Canadiens fan practice. Photo by Brendan Kelly.

Carey Price being interviewed at the Canadiens fan practice. Photo by Brendan Kelly.

Your Montreal Canadiens are sitting pretty atop the Eastern Conference and so you’d think everyone in the Habs Nation would be riding as high as the team. So why do I hear so much grumbling?

Sure the casual fans are all super-enthused but talk to folks who watch closely and, quietly, behind closed doors, they’ll tell you they don’t really believe these Habs are going to go the distance. Compare that attitude to the Chelsea fans we all know. Chelsea are first in the Premier League and their supporters are just ecstatic (to the point of obnoxiousness, suggests this Man City fan).

So why are so many skeptical of the Habs? It’s simple really. You look at the numbers and you realize the Canadiens’ amazing record this season is built on a structure with plenty of wobbly supporting beams. The short version is this – there’s one thing holding this all together and he’s called Carey Price.

Price is, right now, the best goalie in the league with a GAA of 1.92 and a save percentage of .935. He has a league-best 36 wins. But you already know this if you’ve even glanced at a Habs game in recent weeks. Forget this week-from-hell in California and look back and think of all of the amazing games Price has played this season. Prior to this year, we used to say that Price didn’t steal games. Well he’s been on a grand-larceny roll this season. Every couple of games he pulls off a save that just leaves us speechless. He’s in a zone.

The rest of the team not so much. And that’s why the doubters are out there doubting.

Let’s start with scoring. Montreal ranks 22nd out of 30 teams in terms of goals-per-game with a sad-sack 2.6 average. All the teams below them are not playoff teams, including Colorado, Columbus, Florida, Carolina, New Jersey, Edmonton, Arizona and Buffalo. (Florida is the closest to contending given it’s in 9th place in the East and still in the wild-card hunt.)

The Habs can’t score. Simple as that. They have one bona-fide sniper in Max Pacioretty, who now has 31 goals, but after that the scoring dips big-time. The second-highest scorers are Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk, who both have 19. Brendan Gallagher has 18 and then you zip right down to P.K. Subban with 12 and underachieving David Desharnais with 11. (Can I just mention that a first-line centre with 11 goals at this point is a wee bit scandalous?) Then it’s on to the single digits. Not good.

You know why they don’t score? ‘Cause they don’t get shots on net. The Habs rank 26th in terms of shots per game, with an average of 28.3. Yup this would be The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight that launched just two pucks at Los Angeles Kings’ netminder Jonathan Quick in the first period Thursday night. Once again the teams that have less shots per game than the Canadiens are all way down in the standings (Edmonton, New Jersey, Buffalo), with the exception of Calgary which is in 8th place in the west.

More worrisome stats? Montreal is also one of the worst teams in terms of shots against, ranked 22nd, with an average of 30.4 shots against per game. Once again the only teams with more shots against are not contenders (New Jersey, Dallas, Arizona, Ottawa, Toronto, Columbus, Colorado, Buffalo).

So guess which stat is the one where the Habs are king of the hill? You got it. Goals against, with an average of 2.2 per game, making them far and away the No. 1 team in this department. Given the high number of shots against, there’s only one explanation for that stellar number and once again the prize-winning answer is the mysterious man from Anahim Lake, B.C.

So yes lots to worry about as the playoffs approach. You could of course argue that Price is indeed one of the Habs players and they’ll go as far as he can carry them in the post-season. But it sure is a risky proposition to have everything hinge on one guy’s performance.

Now I’m hedging my bets here. I’m just reporting the facts. The doubters are doubting and the Habs have a bunch of scary statistics. Does that mean they’re going nowhere in the playoffs? Not necessarily. It is indeed another season and anything can happen. But unlike What Me Worry Price, I am a little concerned.

– Brendan Kelly

 

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.