Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Tanguay and Latendresse were two of the main injuries the Canadiens had to deal with this season (photo credit to habsinsideout)


Why is it that the Canadiens always seem to have to do things the hard way?

This season has been nothing but a series of tests and trials. Injuries, illness, an incessant rumour mill, gang connections, firings, signings, suspensions (for the least likely of candidates I may add), players coming and going, bad stretches, good stretches, bad goaltending, good goaltending, players being “asked” to take vacations…we’ve seen it all. This was supposed to be OUR centennial season. A year to celebrate all the Habs teams of the past, and look towards all the teams of the future. A year to win cup #25 (while improving our Stanley cup winning rate to 25%) – an insanely high number for an insanely storied franchise.

While, at first, we did celebrate and express our joy, so many other distractions got in the way, and somehow we have still not clinched a playoff spot, and there are 2 games left in the season. While fans and players alike are going back and forth in their heads trying to make sense of all this, I prefer to look at it from a “let’s see how far we’ve come” perspective.

First of all, read this list of players: Koivu, Tanguay, Higgins, Lang, Latendresse, Komisarek, Markov, Schneider, Bouillon, Price, Sergei Kostitsyn, Andrei Kostitsyn, Dandenault, Laraque, Gorges, Hamrlik, Brisebois.

And add these names: Kovalev, Halak, Higgins again, Price again, Koivu again, Begin (when he was still here).

These are players who were either injured (first list) or ill (second) at some point during the season. Not one player on the Habs roster has played in all 80 games. Hamrlik and Gorges are the closest, having played 79 each (they each missed only 1 game when they were injured).

Who does that leave? 3 players: Kostopoulos and Plekanec, who both had suspensions this season so missed some games and Maxim Lapierre, who was a healthy scratch for 3 games after saying on TV that Georges Laraque told him that now that he’s with the team Lapierre doesn’t have to try as hard… I’m sure Carbo loved that one (I’m omitting Metropolit, and most of the young guys who haven’t played for more than a few games). Only 3 players out of 20-something guys were not injured or sick at sometime during the season. That is honestly unreal.

They keep saying they shouldn’t make excuses, but honestly losing that much of a team IS a big deal. Just as losing your coach is a big deal, losing a teammate (Begin), having horrible rumours spread about you (to refresh your memories, Jean Perron accused Higgins, Price and Sergei K of partying too much, and went as far as calling Higgins an alcoholic (according to a source quoted on a Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo! Sports)), being linked to gang members (Hamrlik and the Kostitsyn brothers)… These are all important facts to consider… most of which most likely did influence their play. Not to mention the centennial craziness: the all-star game, the almost nightly pre-game presentations, the even more intense media coverage than usual (if that is even possible).

The thing is though, after all of this, they are still here, in the playoff hunt, with two games to go. Even when February hit, the month that could be compared to the Titanic (i.e. colossal disaster) didn’t sink the organization (sorry couldn’t resist haha). Halak won games for us, seemingly playing 60 minutes of 6 on 1 hockey, with a few sporadic goals from the least likely candidates and we got points, enough to get us this far. Without him, all would have been lost, and unfortunately this brings back memories of the 2006-2007 season when Huet got injured and Aebischer got bad… and Halak nearly saved the day. In the second to last game of the season, when Huet was finally back (as Jaro’s backup to give him one more night off), Jaro was pulled in favour of Huet after letting in 3 goals, which eventually resulted in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers. Carbonneau was the coach at the time, and faced the decision of putting Huet or Halak in the net in the last game of the season versus Toronto. Need I mention that it was a must-win if we wanted to make the playoffs? Carbo went with Huet, instead of Jaro (who had carried the floundering team during his absence). He was wrong. Michael Ryder scored a hat trick that night. Chris Higgins scored 2 goals. But it wasn’t enough. The Leafs won by a score of 6-5 and Huet was never pulled despite letting in 6 goals. I still maintain that he made a mistake putting Huet in that night. Jaro deserved it, and Huet had just come back from injury so wasn’t 100%. He made another mistake when he didn’t pull him. And these mistakes were costly.

All I hope is that Gainey doesn’t make the same mistakes. Price wasn’t the main reason we lost yesterday, but he did not look well. He was shaky, nervous, and fought the puck all night. If he doesn’t feel ready or still feels sick in any way, Jaro should play. He may not have won the last game, but it wasn’t completely his fault either, and it seems that he has consistently been the more confident of the two for the past 3 months. I’m not saying he should play both games, but all I’m saying is that if there’s any doubt on Price’s behalf, he should voice it and Jaro should play. The team at least deserves that.

The biggest problem facing us now is the loss of Markov. With Komisarek still having a tough time, he and Gorges did not make a good defensive pairing. I think that Hamrlik and O’Byrne should be placed back together, as well as Gorges and Brisebois or Dandenault and then Komisarek and Janik. That way it will be a bit more balanced. The way it is now, all 3 pairings made me nervous.

Markov is not just some other defenseman. He is the most valuable asset to our team. I don’t even want to think of where we would be without him… but even more so, I don’t want to think about where we WILL be without him. Even if we make the playoffs, what are our chances, especially since Schneider’s gone too?

The one thing the team has going for them is at least it’s clear that they are able to overcome adversity. All these tests and trials I’ve talking about?… they’ve gotten by them all so far.

All that remains of this centennial season are 4 days, 2 games, 120 minutes, and 4 possible points… There’s nothing more anyone can do at this point but wait. Maybe, just maybe, this statistical impossibility of a gut-wrenching / heart-warming season will be extended.

Hollywood couldn’t have written it any better.

No comments: