Another ugly win... another ugly loss on defense... where do the Habs go from here!?
So here we are, Monday morning, October 5th, another crappy-ish fall day. The habs are sitting pretty at the top of the Eastern conference, just below the Washington Capitals, on a 2-game road winning streak. The new players, for the most part, are producing, Carey Price is standing on his head, and the team is finding ways to win despite the odds being against them.
So what's the problem, you say?
Andrei Markov, the Canadiens' all-star defenseman, one of their top point producers and arguably their best all-round player, is injured for 4 months. A tendon cut by a skate, it's the injury that almost ended Robert Lang's career, and many believe a 4 month recovery is being generous.
If that didn't make you want to kill yourself as a Habs fan, Ryan O'Byrne left the game against the Sabres on Saturday in the 1st period, and won't return until at least six weeks from now.
Now, any casual or non-habs fan would say, ''hey, isn't that the guy that scored in his own net last year?'' or, ''isn't that the guy who was stealing purses with Tom Kostopoulos?'' And while these things may be facts, the truth is that O'Byrne was finally turning the corner and coming into his own as a defenseman. He was playing physical and had an excellent training camp and was proving himself to be a suitable replacement to Mike ''I'm a Burkie-type player'' Komisarek on the blue line.
Well, now his physical presence is gone for the first two months of the season, a period where teams establish their styles and mark their territories against their rivals. And while most people will say that it's just the start of the season, with a shortened schedule, games being closer together, most teams improving and getting tougher, and physical play increasing, every game is going to be important this year, and every point is going to count.
In two games, the Habs have already given points to two divisional rivals who are going to be just as much on the fringe of making the playoffs this year as the Canadiens are going to be. And while it's good that the Habs are battling and beating teams they shouldn't be beating, after looking at the post-game stats, but they have to find a way to lock it down defensively and play a responsible game, or else those extra points are going to haunt them, big time.
That being said, and the injuries to the blueline having sunk in, where do the Habs go from here?
They have already recalled defenseman Yannick Weber from the Hamilton Bulldogs, and it's pretty obvious that he will suit up tomorrow night against the Flames, probably with Josh Gorges. He was the obvious call up, but he's not that strong defensively and might have trouble at even strength, especially against the tough western Canadian teams the Canadiens are facing this week.
Waiting in the wings down in Hamilton are P.K. Subban and Matt Carle, not to mention Alex Henry and Shawn Belle. Carle has been with the organization for a few years now, and has always been devastated by injuries every time he had a chance to crack the line-up. But he might be the next call-up. P.K. Subban is a highly touted prospect, but there have been reports that he's nowhere near ready to play at the NHL level, especially defensively. Belle and Henry are nothing but depth defensemen you call up during short-term injuries.
So, do the Habs tough it out with these guys, or do they attempt to make a trade? Several teams could be suitable trading partners, with Chicago facing cap troubles and Phoenix always a few loses away from another firesale, and personally, two puck moving defensemen that could fit well on the Habs are Brent Seabrook and Ed Jovanovski. Seabrook is safer fit in terms of cap space, but Jovo-Cop, despite the higher salary, might be able to step up in Markov's absense as a number one defenseman. He had a bad year last year, but one has to realize that he was playing for Phoenix.
Another option is signing one of the still-available defensemen to a short-term, close-to-league-minimum salary to ease the pain on the loss of Markov. Names still on the free agent list include:
Greg De Vries
While arguments could be made about the contribution of each, one has to also consider why these guys aren't signed to any teams at the moment. Dandenault lost his chance when he decided he didn't want to swing between winger and defenseman. Bergeron is useless outside the powerplay (even though a lot of people in this city are already in love with the idea since he's from Quebec), Gauthier is a goon, and Chelios is an old man.
Bob Gainey has to look long and hard at all these options before deciding what he does. So long as he doesn't get Patrice Brisebois to come out of retirement, I'll be patient and understanding.....
Practice Line-ups and outlook on Calgary game
Calgary's going to be a tough game tomorrow for the Canadiens. Strong defense, underrated offense and a goaltender that can suck the life out of any team. The Habs are going to have to work hard play a dirty game, like they did against the Leafs and Sabres, but they're going to have to be tighter defensively, because they aren't going to win with the short margins they had agains the last two teams they faced...
Thanks to Habs Inside/Out, here are today's practice line-ups. Notice the absense of Glen Metropolit, who's still nursing a rib injury that made him leave saturday's game in the 1st period. No word on whether he'll be ready for tomorrow's game at the Saddledome.
Mike Cammalleri – Scott Gomez – Brian Gionta
Max Pacioretty – Tomas Plekanec – Andrei Kostitsyn
Guillaume Latendresse – Maxim Lapierre – Travis Moen
Gregory Stewart – Kyle Chipchura – Georges Laraque
Extra skater: Matt D'agostini
Canadiens Player of the Week
A feature I'll try to keep updated every Monday, this is where I'll give props to a player that impressed me in the past week's games. It may be a player who exceeded expectations on the scoresheet, it may be a player who was simply physical and hard working, it may just be an unsung hero.
This week was hard to choose with only 2 games on the schedule, and based on the fact that both victories were team victories, and there were a lot of candidates... Travis Moen was superb after being invisible in the pre-season, Josh Gorges was solid replacing Markov, Georges Laraque decided to start earning his salary, and Brian Gionta was solid as well. But in the end, there could only be one, and this player deserves all the credit in the world for standing on his head and earning the team 2 victories:
2 wins, 81 saves on 85 shots for a .951 SVP and a 1.89 GAA, let's hope he can keep it up and steal a lot more games for the Canadiens as the months progress.
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