Friday, 24 April 2015

Sens put fear into the Habs

The Ottawa Senators accomplished something small but significant on Friday night at the Bell Centre.

They shifted "the pressure" to the Montreal Canadiens.

"When we were facing elimination the pressure was on us," said Senators' coach Dave Cameron. "Each day you win to play another day, the pressure shifts to Montreal."

Well mission accomplished.

Playing game six at the Canadian Tire Centre was the last thing the Canadiens wanted to do. And if they can't put the Senators away in that one, the weight of the world will be on their shoulders to win game seven at home.

Much like their late push this season, a lot of things seem to be falling in place at precisely the right time for the Senators.

Bobby Ryan had been criticized heavily for his play through the first four games of the series. He showed up in game five scoring twice and seemed relieved to have contributed.

"Obviously it's a not secret I've been pressing, I was very frustrated with myself as well as everyone around me so it's a relief, hopefully a step forward and you hope they continue to roll," said Ryan post game.

Andrew Hammond let in some soft goals through the first two games of the series. In steps Craig Anderson and he looks like he did two years ago when these two teams last met in the playoffs. Anderson has stopped 120 shots of the 123 that he's faced.

"I'm just trying to find the puck as much as I can, the guys in front of me are doing a good job of letting the guys have one shot," said Anderson. "Right now I'm getting a little lucky."

The formula has worked for the Senators. Dig yourself a hole and climb out of it in improbable fashion when everyone has counted you out of it. It has worked in the past, so why not believe it could happen again?

"We've had that quiet confidence for the better part of two months now," said Ryan. "There's just a belief that we're going to come out and be successful."

What happens in Game Six will say a lot about the Montreal Canadiens. They have showed resolve in the past and can be just as resilient as the "pesky Sens." Ottawa has dealt admirably with the pressure of being down 3-0, we'll see how the Canadiens handle the pressure of potentially being one of the few teams in sports history to surrender a 3-0 series lead.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Two games, two wins for the Habs

For a second straight game, the Senators let an opportunity to slip away.

Heading into game two at the Bell Centre, so many questions needed to be answered from a Senators perspective. And every answer, was the right one yet they lost anyways. 

Would Andrew Hammond be able to bounce back after a subpar game one performance? 

Hammond was fine in game two, just not good enough to win. He made 39 saves and gave his team a chance. None of the goals that beat him looked great, but Hammond made several point blank saves and didn't make things easy for the Habs. Most importantly, Ottawa didn't have to turn to Craig Anderson and can easily stick with Hammond confidently for game three at the Canadian Tire Centre. 

"It's hard to take moral victories at this time of year, generally you're judge by wins and losses," said Hammond postgame.

Would Mark Stone be available, how limited would he be?

Mark Stone played and was a factor in the game. Picking up two assists, he was more than effective and more importantly the Senators weren't forced to dress Chris Neil. That said, he didn't take any shots AT the net, let alone on the net. The Canadiens will probably be cheating to the passing lanes and giving him the open shots in game three. Stone also took a few hefty slashes from Brendan Gallagher during the game. 

"It was up to me, I went out for warm ups and felt healthy enough to help the team," said Stone postgame. 

Would the Senators be able to stay disciplined, or would the elevated emotions from game one creep into game two?

Ottawa in no way looked like a team that was distracted or frustrated. But they still took too many penalties. If they give the Canadiens another six powerplay opportunities in the next game, they'll score more than once. But since they were "hockey" and not "stupid" penalties, they get a pass. 

"Penalties we took were in the normal course of action, both teams were in control which I pretty much expected they would be," coach Dave Cameron postgame. 

There's no question that the Senators are now in trouble. Their season is on the line in game three and it's starting to look like the miracle run is coming to an abrupt halt and midnight is about to strike. 

"We've been a never say die to for the last three months," said Stone. 

- Mitchy. 

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