I should write bitter, angry blogs more often

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UPDATE 5:45PM: After Max Pacioretty was shipped out to Hamilton this morning, Matt D'Agostini was sent packing as well. No real surprise here, he was actually worse than Pacioretty, and time with Guy Boucher will do both of them some good.

Ben Maxwell, a natural center, has been called up to replace him. Maxwell played 7 games with the Habs last year, scoring no points. He has 34 points in 46 games with the Bulldogs.

Also, Paul Mara won't accompany the team on its Florida road trip, resting after suffering an upper body injury this weekend (according to RDS).

Onto the next bitter, angry blog....

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I'm a lifelong Habs fan. I've followed this team religiously for years, and have never wavered in my support. So when I write a blog about the team that may come off as angry or bitter, it's not because my support for the team is teetering off the bandwagon. And the same applies to what I'm about to say today.

I came into this weekend with very little expectations for this team, going into games against the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, and it certainly came off that way in Friday's preview blog. Let's face it, any sensible Habs fan would not expect the Canadiens to come out of back-to-back games against these teams with 4 points. Two or 3 points out of 4 was even a stretch before Friday's game.

Yet, here we are, Sunday afternoon, and the Canadiens have jumped back into 8th place in the East, in fact tied for 6th place with Philadelphia and the Rangers, with 55 points. And not only did they win both games, but astonishingly, the Habs only gave up one goal in the 3-1 win over the Devils, and none in a 6-0 pounding of the Rangers.

Moreover, almost every player in the Canadiens' top six either continued on their hot streaks or built new ones. Over this weekend's games, Mike Cammalleri has 3 goals and 2 assists. His linemate Tomas Plekanec had a goal and an assist in Saturday's shutout. Newcomer Mathieu Darche, a goal and 2 assists. The line of Benoit Pouliot, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta produced 3 goals and 3 assists over the two games.

And that's not even mentioning the spectacular displays put on by goaltender Jaroslav Halak in both wins, making 63 saves and posting a shutout.

So what does all this mean? Does this put the Canadiens back on track? Does this mean that Georges Laraque actually WAS the problem, that he actually WAS costing the Canadiens wins? Does this mean that the team we saw for 50+ games before this was just a dominating team that was in a long slumber?

What do we take out of these two games, these two wins, going forward over the next 29 games?

I hate to say it, but this blogger thinks that it's too little, too late.

There is no question that there are some great hockey players on this team. Mike Cammalleri might actually be underrated as a goal scorer, and he's certainly earning his paycheck. Both he and Brian Gionta are leading this team through example, and Gionta hasn't lost a step despite breaking his leg. Scott Gomez is another leader and while he had a rough start, he has certainly found his niche on that second line with some good linemates, and regardless of his salary, he is helping this team every game. Tomas Plekanec has been this team's MVP, but Andrei Markov is once again making his case for that same title, albeit quietly.

Most importantly, the Canadiens are extremely lucky to have two goaltenders that have emerged as number ones. Carey Price, whatever criticism he may face, is still a number one goaltender in this league, and still has a very good career ahead of him. The same goes for Jaroslav Halak. For one of these goalies, that future will come on another team. In the cap era of the NHL, it's inevitable. But for now, the Canadiens are the envy of nearly every other team in the league, with two goalies under 25 ready to grab the reigns.

Add in some experienced role players, and some young players, and on paper, this team really doesn't look all that bad. For the first time in a very long time, they have an excellent goaltending tandem. For the first time in a very long time, they have a group of defensemen that SHOULD be able to do the job. They have dominant, explosive offensive players and good defensive forwards.

So what the hell is the problem? Why are they still struggling to make the playoffs? Why do they dominate one game, and come out catatonic the next game?

As I said in Friday's blog, and as I've said before that, and as I'll say again in the future, there are deep rooted problems in this organization. And management can trade players or send them to the minors or even send them home just like that, but this is the same team that took the ice 7 years ago when Bob Gainey took the helm. And a couple of dominant wins isn't going to change that.

The Canadiens could very well still make the playoffs. They've proven that they can both win and lose to teams above and below them in the standings, so anything can happen between now and April. Players can continue their hot streaks or lose them. They could get tired at the Olympics or bring momentum in from a medal win.

But as an invested but realistic observer, I can't accept that this team can beat any of the powerhouses in this conference in a playoff series. They've done nothing to prove that they can. And bigger changes are going to have to be made in order for that to change. Take it as angry or bitter, but it's the hard truth.

The 3-1 perfomance against the Devils and the incredible 6-0 performance against the Rangers left most Habs fans, including myself, with a big smile on their faces. Win or lose, we continue to follow this team. But that doesn't make them exempt from our criticism, and it should in fact encourage it. No fan should be happy with the mediocrity this team portrays.

So while we can be happy with how this team has performed over the last two games, we shouldn't be blinded by the illusion. Maybe this is the real deal, and the Canadiens have turned the corner. Odds are that they haven't. For now, we can enjoy our Sunday knowing that the Canadiens are once again in a playoff spot, and we can enjoy every win after this. But if this truly going to be a season of change for the Canadiens, well, then I hope the Molsons are watching the games extremely closely, because they might have some tough decisions to make between now and the end of the season.

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SIDE NOTES

Some specific positives to take out of this weekend, besides, of course, the dominating performances and 4 points:

- Mike Cammalleri is now on pace for 40 goals. He hit 26 during Saturday's game, and he continues to prove that he is the Canadiens best goalscorer since Stephane Richer. Habs fans have to be happy with his performance no matter what else is going on around the team.

- Benoit Pouliot is the other goal scoring revelation for the Canadiens, scoring 10 goals in 15 games as a Hab, and proving the Latendresse trade to be one of the best 2-sided traded in the NHL in a long time.

- Mathieu Darche has seemingly proven his worth to coach Jacques Martin, as it looks like he will remain with the team for now. He has registered a goal and 2 assists in his 3 games as a Hab, not to mention 4 hits, 3 takeaways and no giveaways, all while averaging around 10 minutes of ice time.

- As a result, Max Pacioretty has been sent down to Hamilton. While putting up a respectable 3 goals and 11 assists in 52 games (keep in mind he's been playing in mostly a checking role, averaging about 12 minutes of ice time a game), he clearly has some consistency issues, not living up to the coach's expectations. He's been hitting (68 hits) and hasn't given up the puck that much, but some time with Hamilton's Guy Boucher will do him some good. No word on whether anyone will be called up in Pacioretty's place.

- Finally, looks like the Team Laraque vs. Team Gainey argument has been pretty close. In our most recent poll, which asked whether BGL got what was coming to him or not, 53% of the voters think that he did get what was coming to him (versus the 47% that the situation was treated without class).

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The Canadiens will be back on the ice on Tuesday, with back-to-back games in Florida against the panthers, and then on Wednesday against the Lighting in Tampa Bay. They then move on to Ottawa to face the Sens in the annual Hockey Day in Canada festivities to close out their January schedule.

Hopefully they've put some controversy behind them, and they can prove me wrong with 3 solid 60 minute performances.

Stay tuned to TCL, as we have some big things coming up in the next few weeks.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and the week ahead!

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
www.twitter.com/thecheckingline

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