Game Day: Habs @ Oilers; Paul Mara Returns
Pierre Gauthier has pulled the trigger.
Only problem is, it was a water gun.
Late Wednesday night, the Montreal Canadiens acquired defenseman Paul Mara from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a 5th round pick in 2012. The pick is likely the one acquired from the Ducks on New Year's Eve in the Maxim Lapierre deal (which also brought prospect Brett Festerling to the Canadiens), which means that the Canadiens essentially lose nothing in the acquisition.
Fans were quick to put the deal down on Twitter. The reason of course being that Mara already had his chance to be part of the Canadiens last year. Mara played 42 games with the Habs last season, putting up 8 assists and no goals, with a -16 rating before succumbing to a shoulder injury that ended his season.
So, why are fans so upset? Team 990 host Tony Marinaro is using the "we had O'Byrne" argument. Others see Mara as useless. Personally, I see Mara as a seasoned experienced veteran who can serve as a depth defenseman and reduce the number of rookies the Canadiens have on their current roster while the likes of Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill recover from their nagging injuries. He won't eat up too many minuntes, but he can play more than the 11 Brendon Nash did on Tuesday and would likely be more stable than Alex Picard, even though he has been doing pretty well as of late.
Mara fills a void while other players are injured. He provides leadership and experience, and it's clear that the Canadiens value that in him, seeing as despite his shoulder injury, they kept him around during the playoffs. His teammates will be familiar with him and he seems like a likeable guy, so what's the problem?
Who cares that we could have still had Ryan O'Byrne? I didn't like how easily the Canadiens gave up on him earlier in the year, but it was a matter of cutting your losses with a player who had no confidence playing with the Canadiens and maximizing the return as he was losing value sitting in a press box most of the time. It's unfortunate that the team could have actually used him after Markov, Gorges, and now Spacek and Gill all succumbed to injuries, but it is what it is, and there's nothing wrong with with Paul Mara.
But it's obviously a depth move. Which begs the question, what's next? It's clear that the Canadiens still have needs, and on the Team 990 this morning TSN Analyst Darren Dreger claimed that the Habs had three needs, and that a depth defenseman like Mara was 3rd on the list, just to get another body on the ice.
I can probably make a good guess at what is left. A top six winger and either a depth forward or yet another defenseman, probably a bigger name among those available (the Kaberles, the McCabes, etc). With a week and a half left until the trade deadline, it's really anyone's guess what Pierre Gatuhier does next, but for now, at least the Canadiens can rest assured that they will be able to ice full defense units until the injury situation ameliorates.
No word on whether or not Mara will play tonight, but he will be with the team in time for the game tonight.
And yes, there is a game tonight.
The Canadiens will start their three game Western swing in Edmonton against the Oilers. The game has a 9PM start, so make sure to fill up on caffeine and energy drinks throughout the day.
The Habs head into the Albertan capital losers of 4 of their last five games. Despite putting in their best performance of the season on Saturday against the Leafs, in a 3-0 shutout win, they were pounded to the ground by the Boston Bruins, embarrassed by the New York Islanders and out-worked by the Buffalo Sabres as well as the New Jersey Devils. The Canadiens still hold on to a comfortable spot in the East in 6th place with 69 points, but they'll have to keep one eye on the rearview mirror as they head into a tough Western stretch of games.
The New York Rangers have been sliding as of late, but are still only 5 points behind the Canadiens. Behind them are the Carolina Hurricanes (7 points behind), who have also been average over their last 10 games. But the real threat, believe it or not, may be the Buffalo Sabres (60 points), who are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and right back into a playoff race that seemed out of reach just a few short weeks ago. They are tied with the Atlanta Thrashers in 10th place, who have been pitiful in their last 10 but still not going away. And while it will be a long shot for the Leafs, Panthers and Devils, the streaks they can go on should never be discounted.
In all likelihood, the Canadiens should have no trouble making the playoffs. But their inconsistency as of late may be something to worry about, and while the Oilers shouldn't be any threat, you honestly never know what could happen when the Canadiens step onto the ice with what should be an inferior team.
We all know how the Oilers season has gone. Despite some promising rookies, they still have some severe deficiencies on defense and just haven't been able to put it together. They're a while away from competing, and will likely be sellers at the deadline. But that won't stop them from taking advantage of a struggling team tonight, and with so many explosive young forwards in their line-up, we could be in for one speedy affair tonight.
The Habs will have to find a way to keep things at their pace, especially with the minds of a lot of players likely looking forward to Sunday's outdoor game in Calgary.
Puck drop is just after 9PM Eastern, and you can take in the game on RDS as well as CBC.