It Hab-Ened last Night: Loss to Oilers Reinforces Habs Needs

Last night, the Montreal Canadiens went into Edmonton looking for an "easy" win against the lowly Edmonton Oilers.

Dead last in the Western Conference and in the entire league, for that matter, 28th in the league in the scoring department, and 27th in goals against. Should be a breeze, right?

Wrong.

I'll spare you guys most of the details that you probably already know, but it was ugly. While the Canadiens did manage to muster 37 shots against Nikolai Khabibulin, the Oilers' 28 shots seemed to be too much for Carey Price in the Habs, as Edmonton would take this, the first game of the Canadiens Western road trip, by a score of 4-1.

But that's not all they would take.

In an incident that would be uglier than the game itself, the Canadiens would lose defenseman James Wisniewski not even halfway through the first after Taylor Hall would basically take a shot to his face at point blank range:

As you can see there was a lot of blood loss, and a picture that surfaced on Wisniewski's fan page on facebook shows a lot of swelling and what seems like a lot of pain (you can view the picture here, but be warned, it's pretty gruesome>. While there's been no official report on Wisniewski's status, it has been reported by the Edmonton Journal that Wisniewski did indeed make the flight with the team to Calgary, where they will prepare for Sunday's highly anticipated outdoor game against the Flames. It is, however, unlikely that Wisniewski will play either Sunday against the Flames or Tuesday against the Canucks.

We all know how the Canadiens operate, there will likely be no official word on his status for a little while, but Renaud Lavoie has said on Twitter that there is a possibility of broken bones in Wisniewski's face, which would likely keep him out of action for a month. But those reports remain unconfirmed so we'll leave it at that.

Paul Mara joined the team in Edmonton yesterday after being traded to the Habs from the Ducks in the wee hours of Thursday morning, but his equipment had not arrived on time. He should be able to play in Sunday's game, easing the loss of Wisniewski slightly.

But the Canadiens didn't trade for Mara to replace Wisniewski, who was serving as the team's #2 defenseman behind PK Subban since joining the team in a trade earlier in the season. He was here to replace Brendon Nash on the bottom pairing.. In all honesty, Mara was really re-acquired to take on the role of Hal Gill, who's nursing an "upper body" injury. Both are big and on the wrong side of thirty, and their best years are behind them, but can still be leaders for the team and serve a good purpose on the ice in a limited role. If you ask Mara to play top minutes, all that's going to happen is what happened last year when he was with the Habs. He's not going to be able to keep up, and he's going to break down sooner rather than later.

In last night's loss, Subban played over 29 minutes, Hamrlik and Weber played over 27 1/2, and Picard nearly 25. The Canadiens aren't going to last very long if they continue on this path, with or without Mara. It's pretty simple. The more you play, the higher the risk of getting injured. Add in the age factor of a Roman Hamrlik and that risk increases even further. With word that Spacek's injury (knee) may be much worse than expected (my guess is season-ending, but, as you probably guessed, the Canadiens haven't said a damn word), and of course no chance of seeing Andrei Markov of Josh Gorges back this season, it's clear what Pierre Gauthier has to do.

Yes, he's dealing from a position of weakness. Yes, there are teams like the Canucks and even the Coyotes and Avalanche who are in desperate need of defenseman, but there's absolutely no choice here. The Canadiens have to trade for a top four defenseman, and they have to trade for one sooner rather than later. Odds are the Habs will likely have to get a premium to get an experienced defenseman in town, but they have some prospects stockpiled, they have a few picks remaining and plenty of cap space, so it needs to happen, now.

Bryan McCabe, Eric Brewer (edit: Just traded to the Bolts), Joni Pitkanen, Chris Phillips are all pending UFAs and would all serve the immediate needs of the Habs, and likely wouldn't cost more than a draft pick. Further (but slightly more desperate) options could be picking up Sheldon Souray on re-entry waivers from the Oilers, or looking at a Dennis Wideman, Filip Kuba, or someone of that sort who still has a year left on their contract.

There are lots of options, but limited time and a lot of competition. The Habs have to act now before the well runs dry and they lose too many games.

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STILL NEED A FORWARD

At the same time, Pierre Gauthier will likely have his hands full looking for the dreaded top six forward everyone's been hollering for. And if he isn't looking for one after last night's performance, well, I don't even want to go there.

The Canadiens poured 37 shots on an aging Nikolai Khabibulin, standing behind a team that's been notoriously bad on defense this year, yet they still only managed to score one goal. Just like the need on defense is glaring, the need up front is getting evermore obvious. Just in the past week, they've made 3rd string goaltenders on Long Island and in Buffalo look like Vezina winners, only mustering a single win in their last six, a shutout against the Leafs.

With Andrei Kostitsyn as inconsistent as ever, Scott Gomez growing more and more useless by the shift, Cammalleri on the shelf and Plekanec, Gionta and Pacioretty only able to do so much, the obvious need is a right winger to play with Plekanec, or to make an attempt to spark Gomez.

Last night, the Canadiens got a first-hand glimpse of two such wingers that could fit the role to perfect:

Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky.

Both have been in trade rumors for a while now, and despite being young by NHL standards, both have seemingly been on the outs of Edmonton. Their stats and figures are eerily similar, as both have 37 points (Penner has 20 goals while Hemsky has 12). Both are right wingers, in their late 20s, that make a little more than $4 million a season, and both have a year left on their contracts.

I think anyone who's had a conversation with me in the comments here or on Twitter knows I'm not the biggest fan of Dustin Penner. Penner won a Stanley Cup in his sophomore year basically by association to a stacked group of forwards, and, in my humble opinion, has performed in Edmonton simply because of the fact that he's pretty much their only forward with talent (excluding of course this season). He'd notoriously been a thorn in the side of coaches, usually do to health and weight issues, and he seems to suffer from the same issues all of the Canadiens problem-childs have over the last couple of years: laziness.

If you ask me, Dustin Penner is another Guillaume Latendresse or Benoit Pouliot situation waiting to happen. And I don't want to have to deal with that.

But with the Canadiens getting somewhat desperate, with the numbers in the "games remaining" column dwindling, I simply say "take your pick" and get it down Gauthier. This has gone on long enough, and with the major trades of the season seemingly happening before the February 28th deadline (there go our hits), he'd probably be best served making a deal sooner rather than later.

Until then, we look forward to Sunday's outdoor game in Calgary, and hope the news about James Wisniewski isn't as bad as expected.

Prax
www.betterwithpopcorn.com
www.twitter.com/GeorgePrax