Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Lightning strikes for a third time this year

It felt like a bigger game than usual.

And Carey Price elevated his game to another level.

Unfortunately for the Habs, he was the only one.

The Tampa Bay Lightning continue to own the Canadiens beating them by a score of 1-0 Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.

"It could have been a different outcome if he(Price) wasn't in the net but he's going to be in the net for them," said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. "Down the stretch and if we meet in the playoffs, he's going to be there so we're going to have to find a way."

It was the third time this season the Lightning were able to beat the Canadiens.

Price was the lone bright spot for the Habs making 35 saves in the game, in what was one of his best performances of the season.

But the Lightning were aware, to beat the Habs, they needed to beat Price.

"Over the course of the game we had a lot of chances and opportunities that could have went in that didn't," said Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, who had the game winning goal. "But he's a great goaltender and made those saves."

The match up doesn't look like a good one for the Canadiens. In a best-of-seven series between the Lightning and the Canadiens it would take four show stealing performances from Price for them to win the series. Even then, it might not be enough because the Canadiens can't score.

Montreal still has 15 games to figure things out. But if Price is the only player that elevates his game during the playoffs, the Habs will get struck by Tampa Bay.

"It's the holy grail of hockey and it's a lot of fun to player here and it's that much more fun when you win," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Phil Kessel: But I was right

"But I was right."

The stigma surrounding Phil Kessel just won't go away.

It's funny how in the media business the egos and stubbornness of some get in the way of the ultimate goal of being objective and honest.

And there's no NHL player that is a better case study of this phenomenon than Kessel.

This isn't limited to the media and can be seen in all walks of life. People want to be right. And the bigger the ego, the more desire to be right. It can be argued that from an NHL standpoint, no city has a bigger ego than Toronto.

Brian Burke became the President and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs in November of 2008. At the time the Leafs were in shambles, the farm was empty and the big club had nobody to build around.

It was unanimously agreed upon in Toronto that a complete rebuild was needed. Finish at the bottom, draft high and build a foundation of players within. Everyone thought this was the way to go. Except the man in charge of actually making the decisions, Mr. Burke.

In 2009, Burke traded for Kessel (who at the time couldn't come to terms as an RFA with the Bruins) sending two first round picks and a second round pick in exchange.

"How could he do this! A rebuild must done! He's wrong, I'm right."

And just like that the stigma surrounding Kessel began and instead of finding the positives in his game, the media went on a crusade to tear Kessel's game apart because: "they were right."

To both Burke and Kessel's detriment, Kessel missed the first month and a half of the 2009 season and the Leafs went on that year to finish 29th in the NHL, earning the second overall pick. Had Toronto managed to pickup one more "loser" point along the way, it's likely they swap draft rankings with Florida, Boston ends up with Erik Gudbranson and this conversation never happens.

But Boston drafts a franchise player in Tyler Seguin and the crusade on Kessel continues. "See, Seguin is the centre the Leafs need, Burke messed up, look, I was right."

From that moment on, it didn't matter what Kessel was going to accomplish on the ice. The rebuild was flawed to those watching from the outside and Kessel (and to a certain extent Dion Phaneuf) represented five years worth of mistakes made by Burke.

Kessel scores 37-goals... "But I was right."

Kessel plays four straight seasons without missing a game.... "But I was right."

Kessel scores four goals, six points and is the best forward in the Leafs' seven game loss to the Bruins in the playoffs... "But I was right."

Kessel is approximately a point a game player during his entire tenure with Toronto... "But I was right."

From day one, there was no winning for Kessel in Toronto. He was put in a situation where the one way to succeed was to win the Stanley Cup and to do that single handedly is close to impossible.

If people really think that Kessel is the reason for Toronto's failures as a franchise, it's because they are focusing on the "but I was right."

Trade Kessel for Patrick Kane during the 2009-2010 Chicago Blackhawks run and he's got a cup. Or replace Marian Gaborik for Kessel last season for the Los Angeles Kings and you have the same thing.

Kessel is one of the best offensive players in the league and perhaps most under appreciated.

Getting rid of him, instead of providing him with a gifted centre (something he's never had) would be a mistake because you simply will not get adequate return on the dollar.

If he ends up with a team that has the potential to win it all, he'll be able to hoist the cup.

And I'll be able to tell you, "I was right."

- Mitchy

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Falling off the map

The Montreal Canadiens came from behind to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 last night at the Bell Centre. 

Watching the Flyers up close, it's sad to see Vincent Lecavalier logging time on the third or fourth and looking like a shadow of his former self. 

Philadelphia looks the fool for giving him a five year, 22.5 million dollar contract just two years ago. 

The thing is, Lecavalier isn't the only player to fall off the map, quickly and rapidly. 

Here are the top five players still active that just don't have it anymore. 

5. Dany Heatley:

At one point a 50-goal scorer and one of the most lethal shooters in the league. Now 34-years-old, Heatley has played in only six NHL games this season, while playing most of his season with Norfolk of the AHL. 

4. Scott Gomez:

Everyone in Montreal still cringes when they hear the name. Gomez, a former rookie of the year and 2-time Stanley Cup Champions has found a resurgence of sorts back in New Jersey. But after the massive contract in New York, Gomez's skill set decreased rapidly to the point where in Montreal people were counting the days since his last goal. 

3. David Clarkson: 

Clarkson is on the list, but I don't know if he was ever "good." His best season came in 2011-12, when he scored 30-goals for the New Jersey Devils. The Leafs broke the bank and gave Clarkson a 7-year, 36 million dollar contract. He has 10-goals on the year and has been a healthy scratch for the past two games. 

2. Vincent Lecavalier: 

It's amazing to think that teams lined up to offer Vincent Lecavalier a contract after he was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He's got seven goals on the year and has been been a healthy scratch on numerous occasions by coach Craig Berube. It's a long way from when he was one of the best players in the NHL.

1. Alex Semin:Nobody knows what happened to this guy. Got a contract and lost his desire to compete? Semin with the Carolina Hurricanes has been an absolute disaster and isn't even comparable to the other guys on the list. Five years ago, Semin scored 40-goals for the Washington Capitals. Just two goals this season and he's been a healthy scratch quite often. Semin signed a five-year contract extension worth $35 million

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

It doesn't matter

The Montreal Canadiens lost to an inferior opponent... again

But it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. 

Including tonight's 3-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre, 46 per cent of the Habs regulation losses have come to teams outside of the playoffs. 

"At the beginning of the game, in the first period, we weren't alert," said Canadiens' coach Michel Therrien

For whatever reason, Montreal can elevate their game when they play optimum opponents, however they're just as capable as dumb-ing things down and coming out flat when the competition is inferior. 

"It's unfortunate we didn't do it for 60 minutes but it's not like we were horrible the rest of the game it was just a couple of bounces here and there," said Canadiens' forward Max Pacioretty.  

Here's the thing. In the playoffs when it matters, the Canadiens won't be playing against inferior opponents and every game will have a high intensity. 

It would be much more concerning if the Canadiens were beating up on the poor teams but couldn't keep up against the top teams, specifically in the East. 

Everyone knows the identity of this team by now. They need to get good goaltending and timely scoring or they don't win. Game in and game out, they get both and that's why the team is a contender for the Stanley Cup.

Tonight against the Sabres, they didn't get either of the two ingredients to their recipe of success, so it's not shocking that they lost. Carey Price was sub-par and up front the Habs didn't challenge a vulnerable Buffalo defense. 

"Sometimes, some teams just give you trouble and they (Buffalo) are one of them," said forward David Desharnais who was the Canadiens' best forward on Tuesday night. "We're having a tough time and we got to prepare better and be ready." 

With three days off and another weak/non-playoff team, the New Jersey Devils coming to the Bell Centre Saturday, one would expect them to show up with a valiant effort.
So long as they don't look ahead to the Bruins, who they play on Sunday. 

- Mitchy

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The land of misfit toys

The Maple Leafs play the game better than anyone else.

The blame game, that is.

"I don't know what security is doing. It seems like we're giving the guy a couple minutes to flip everybody off and mock real fans," said Nazem Kadri following the Leafs loss Monday night against the Hurricanes at the ACC.

Yeah, it's security's fault.

Maybe that example is unfair, but the issue digs deeper.

Ron Wilson blames Phil Kessel.

CEO Tim Leiweke blames unnamed top players.

Dave Nonis blames Randy Carlyle.

Brendan Shanahan likely blames Nonis.

Fans blame Shanahan.

Another 18-wheeler has driven off the cliff. The only problem is this time nobody knows who is sitting in the driver's seat.

The firing of Randy Carlyle was clearly a mistake. And now a lame duck interim coach is a fish out of water.

The funny thing about this whole thing is the predictable final outcome. Well funny to some, not so funny to others...

At some point, the Leafs will turn the slide around, but it will be too late. They'll make a late push when they are all but eliminated from playoff contention. Because of this, Toronto will have another first round draft selection that will be in the 7-10 range. Mediocrity forever.

Because of the missed playoffs, the Leafs will make some moves. But because of the untradable contracts, they'll be forced to trade the wrong players.

Out goes Joffrey Lupul, Cody Franson and possibly JVR. The team remains stuck with Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson.

It's not to suggest that these players are bad. Or that single handedly they are the problem. But they represent the flaws in team building and vision that an organization must have if they want to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

Certainly a team can win with Kessel. But the TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS cannot, and definitely not with him as their top player.

There's plenty of examples of fantastic hockey players that you wouldn't want to label as "the guy." Some guys produce at a great clip, but are much more suited to be in a complimentary role. Jakub Voracek (currently leads the league in scoring), Patrick Kane, Tyler Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Nikita Kucherov, Vladimir Tarasenko and Nick Foligno highlight players in the top-20 of NHL scoring that most people would take on their team any day. Try to build around any of those guys, on their own, in a market like Toronto. It just won't work.

If we try to prognosticate even further into the future, next fall when everyone starts off with a clean slate, the Leafs rush an undersized and underdeveloped William Nylander because, well, this is what the Leafs do.

The solution to the underlying issues aren't so clear. And at this point in time, the answer as to who is driving the truck is equally confusing.

- Mitchy

Friday, 12 December 2014

Canadiens vs LA Kings: Santa came early this year.

The Canadiens found a way to win, again.


A fluke.

Smoke and mirrors. 

However you want to describe it, they got the job done Friday night at the Bell Centre with a 6-2 victory over the LA Kings. 

The Kings dominated in the shots department (46-20) and had the puck for the entire game. But it didn't matter because the best player for the Canadiens was their goaltender Carey Price. 

"We totally dominated the first period... Carey Price was really good, wasn't he?" Coach Darryl Sutter remarked after the game. 

In what was a sensational game, Price was beat twice, once by Jake Muzzin on a play where he never saw the puck because Andre Markov couldn't clear Trevor Lewis from the front of the net. The other was a laser off the stick of Drew Doughty. 

"Price wins games for this team all the time," said Doughty. "We wanted to get pucks to the net and as you saw in the third period we eventually started putting pucks behind him." 

So the Habs make it two in a row, with victories over two teams that should be in the playoffs come April. Perhaps the hockey gods wanted to even out games where they deserved a better fate (Buffalo and Chicago.) Whatever the case, Montreal is now just one point out of top spot in the Atlantic division of the NHL. 

It wasn't pretty, and if the Canadiens play like this every night, it's not a recipe for success. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Jean Beliveau


Many fans, alumni and media members have described Jean Beliveau as perfect.

Tuesday night's pre game ceremony honoring the legendary captain was in the same mold, perfect.

From the video montage, to the moment of silence... perfect.

Having been to the rink following events that called for a moment of silence, it's usually brief and not as silent as you might want. Everyone is waiting for the game to begin.

This moment of silence seemed longer, quieter. Every second seemed like a minute, yet you never wanted it to end...

As the silence turned into applause, the attention turned to his widow Elise. With elegance and remarkable poise, Mrs Beliveau quietly whispered "thank you," and acknowledge the fans of Montreal for their support by simply raising her hands.

Her husband's seat at the bell centre remains lit up with the number four beaming light down on the Canadiens for the rest of the season.

From the Vancouver room post game:

- "When I saw his wife I got kind of choked up there," said goalie Ryan Miller. "You have such a bond with someone, somebody who walked beside him and then to accept that standing ovation and to see her face, how the relationship must have meant so much, it just got me choked up."

- "I think that's a tribute to a great man and his family," said coach Willie Desjardins. "I coudn't believe his wife she's such a trooper, she shook hands all week and she was there and it must have been really hard for her but she was awesome."

- "Once they showed Mr. Beliveau's family, it was another level, it really got to me, and I'm sure alot of other players and fans, it was really emotional," said Alex Burrows.