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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Two Top Goalies = 14 Goals

 Photo Courtesy of REUTERS/Adam Hunger

The anticipation leading to last nights match up between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins was palpable. With only 2 points separating both teams for the lead of the Northeast Division, and a  great historical rivalry in the rear-view mirror, there was no doubt on either side of the border that this was an important game.

Everyone that I discussed the game with predicted a low scoring contest. Taking into the consideration that Carey Price and Tim Thomas would be between the pipes at each end, that seemed reasonable to surmise. Both keepers ranked in the top two spots for most wins in the league, and held more than respectable GAA and SV% numbers.

So, how is it that two of the three goalies in the league that many feel are in the Vezina Trophy race, managed to allow a total of 14 goals on a combined 67 shots? It was hardly the responsibility of either Price or Thomas.

On the Bruins side of things, they played a game that gave up too many power play opportunities to the Habs. Perhaps it was the flailing Montreal Power Play that lulled the Bruins into a false sense of hope. But if that was the thought process, PK Subban, David Desharnais, and Max Pacioretty (2) proved Boston wrong amassing four Power Play goals.

But Montreal should not have had any misgivings about the team that they faced last night. The Bruins size and skill set has been a powerhouse for the past month, launching them into 1st place in the Northeastern division, and 3rd in the conference.

So where did it all go wrong? Plain and simply put - defense and a forward line that failed in every aspect.

Before even reaching the halfway point of the first period, the defensive pairing of Hal Gill and PK Subban found themselves in the same spot they were in during Sundays game against the Devils. Each player being at -2. And much like Sundays loss to New Jersey, it was from poor, undisciplined, selfish defensive play.

Case in point: the Bruins second goal. After taking a shot high to the body, the puck careened off Price and high into the air in the slot. Subban stood there watching the puck descend, and then proceeded to make the most ludicrous choice of his young career so far. Instead of stepping into the zone and batting down the puck with his hand, he tempted fate by trying to utilize his eye hand co-ordination to slap at the airborne rubber with his stick. Apparently Seidenberg has the better co-ordination as he took advantake of the Subban miss, and whacked it into the back of the net.

Price stood no chance, and that seemed to set a tone for the night.

Despite the fact that Gionta and Subban (redeeming himself somewhat on the PP) managed to tie the contest early in the second, the Habs forwards continuously coughed up the puck, turning it over consistently in their own zone. The biggest offenders? Scott Gomez, Lars Eller, and Andrei Kostitsyn. With a combined -12 (each man individually at -4), it was no wonder that Martin decided to send them a message by keeping them on the bench for the majority of the third period.

I've taken a lot of flack this season for supporting Gomez. I know he's a playmaker and not a goal scorer. I also have preached the fact that his stats over the years prove that he's a second half of the season point maker. But last night was inexcusable. As for Kostitsyn, his lack of effort, lazy skating, and seeming lack of desire have earned him a spot on the fourth line as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather see Darche with a slot in the top six. At least he shows determination and heart.

So we can only imagine what the line up will look like tonight as the Habs come home to face the Islanders in the Bell Center. Carey Price will get a much earned and needed night off, as Alex Auld replaces him in net.

The question is ... what forwards are going to show up to play?

If the Canadiens want to avoid a mini slide here, they will need to show up with speed, grit, and determination. Get back to the quick tape to tape passing that they were showing in January. But they will also have to make a decision to keep the Islanders to the outside of their defensive zone, and own the neutral zone.

Hopefully Jacques Martin will also have made a coaching decision to move Gomez and Kostitsyn, sending a message that -4 from two top 6 forwards won't be tolerated.

If the Canadiens want to have any success against the Bruins in the last two matches they have this season (which the good news being: they're 3-1 v Boston so far this year), they are going to have to step up their game, and stop trying to play a Bruins style of game. They can't outsize them, so they best start looking at out playing them.

Let's hope that last night was not a glimpse of things to come. I hope to think that it was a lesson learned instead.

Tonight will give us a preview of that.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Beliveau on my Back ...

Last year, through the whole season, I delayed the decision.

There was a sticking point for me. Simply put, I always make fun of people that show up to a Habs game wearing a jersey with some name on it like Laraque, Lapierre, or one of the Kostitsyn brothers. Not that I have an issue with people liking those players, it's just that there's no knowing how long they're going to be around for.

So my conundrum last season was whether I take the initiative and wear the number of my current favourite player, or at least wait til this season to see if he was still part of the roster.

Clearly I made the right decision, because I would have been stuck wearing #41 on my back to every game this year, and probably be getting side long dirty glances from fellow Habs fans in the stands - and on the streets - despite the fact that we're all routing for the "CH"!

So instead of choosing a player that currently laces his skates for the Canadiens, I decided that whenever I got my first ever Montreal jersey, it would have to have a name on the back that was a symbol of the teams strength and class. It would have to be someone who; like the storied franchise, represented our history, longevity, and the 24 Stanley Cups that La Flanelle has captured.

It would have to be #4, Jean Beliveau. Captain. Ambassador. Legend.

Fast forward to Christmas morning 2010. Nearing the halfway point of the season and I STILL haven't bit the bullet and bought myself a jersey. But I had vowed that it would definitely happen this year. With the team in the midst of a road series slump, my faith was wavering a touch. And then it happened.

I took the gift box that was handed to me and slowly eased it from its wrapping paper. Inside revealed the plain green box of Simons Department Store on rue St Catherine. I was expecting a holiday sweater like the one I had opened just hours earlier. But as I peeled back the tissue paper, staring up at me was the bleu, blanc, et rouge of a coveted Montreal Canadiens home jersey. The perfect white "C" emblazoned on the left chest, and the beauty of the number 4 peeking out from one sleeve.

I literally caught my breath. A tear welled in each eye. And as I lifted the prize from it's box, turning it around ever so slowly in my hands, the letters spelling BELIVEAU unfurled into perfect vision.

I was spellbound. Shocked. In disbelief.

I was ecstatic!

I carried that beauty on a hanger, all the way to Toronto. Jean and I made our debut together on my sisters back yard ice rink Boxing Day night, as I celebrated the season surrounded by family. All of whom are Leaf fans. But I had a feeling of immense pride as I skated around that rink, stick in hand, making tape to tape passes with the boys.

I've always known what it was to be a true fan of the Montreal Canadiens. But that night, I felt different. I felt like there was just a tiny little piece of Jean Beliveau inside me. That I too was an ambassador for the most incredible hockey franchise the world has ever seen.

Tonight will be the first time that I get to watch my beloved team hit the ice, while I sit ever so proud with #4 on my back. I will wear it with joy, and feel honoured that the best name I could possibly have picked is across my shoulders. And it will bring them luck on a tough road trip - of that I am sure.

I'm so glad that I waited. I'm glad that I dropped the "1" from behind the "4", and will forever wear the name of a legend on my back. It's something that I will always be proud of, and something that I know people will look at many years down the road, remembering Our Ambassador.

And to you M. Beliveau - if by some strange piece of luck you should ever stumble across these words:

Thank You for representing us in the incredible fashion that you do. I will do my best to represent you the same way, every time I don my jersey bearing your name.

Go Habs Go!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Montreal Canadiens Blogging Horizon Widens

I was shocked when I received an email this morning from Bruce Hollingdrake.

There's something about being a writer that is always daunting and, in turn seems to become self doubt. I've experienced it since day one. I would sit and write, and as my thoughts flowed from brain, to hand - and then from pen to paper - I would feel inspired and on top of my own world. I felt artistic and special.

But then that moment would come when the pen would be laid to rest, and a re-read of those "brilliant" thoughts would be looked at more subjectively. And that's when that little voice inside my head would tell me that what I'd written wasn't all that good. It was average at best.

These are the thought processes of those who are cursed to write based on passion.

So when Bruce notified me this morning that he had read my Tribute to Pat Burns, and liked it enough to link it to The Hockey Writers web site, I felt a sense of pride in my work for a change.

But it didn't end there.

Through further discussion, Bruce and I "spoke" at length regarding my coming on board and writing for his site, as a contributor to the Montreal Canadiens content, as well as giving opinion on various happenings around the league.

So it's now official. I am happy to announce that I will be a regular writer for The Hockey Writers site (view My Bio) which has over 60 writers, including 7 who hold full media credentials.

That doesn't mean that BBBR will fade into the background. It just means you have an added venue to read my thoughts and opinion, and another great place to support my efforts in getting the Habs message out there.

Again - I can't thank you all enough for your incredible support since this sites inception, and I ask that you continue to support me in my future endeavours, as well as right here: On Bleed, Bleu, Blanc, Rouge!

Go Habs Go!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Patrick (Pat) Burns : Montreal Canadiens Coach Remembered

It's a rare occassion when I sit down to write, that I don't know what to say.

All I knew, as I booted my Notebook and clicked the links to get me to this point, was that I felt something. I knew there was an emotion that I wanted to project onto this page, and share with my readers. But when I started to physically type the words, I had to begin again several times.

I've never been the type to feel particularly close to, or aligned with people of celebrity status, or those in the media. I have my thoughts on them, but I don't know them. We don't share moments together, so to pretend like I even have an understanding of them, as people, would be ludicrous. But there is a certain kinship that I think many people have felt with Pat Burns over the years. Undoubtedly, because of his ability to wear his heart on his sleeve, produce some exceptional results in his work (that most of the hockey world holds dear), and because he showed every soul that witnessed his life, what it meant to never give up.

You could always tell just by watching Burns behind the bench - even before being told - that he had been a "cop" in a previous career. He had both the stature and the demeanor. The ever watchful eye and the ability to analyze a scene were all prevalent in his coaching ways. But there was also a softness in his eyes. An understanding. You got the feeling that even when he didn't like what he was seeing from his players, he had the ability to coach them. More-so; mentor them.

And the results were the proof of the pudding so to speak. In 1019 games in the NHL, while coaching 4 different teams, Burns amassed 501 wins, 353 losses, 151 ties, and 14 OT losses. But the stat that probably says it all to me is his 3 Adams Trophies, which he gained with three separate teams - all being Original Six franchises. He is the only coach in the history of the league to gain that honour on so many occasions.

During his four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Burns (who's record was 174-104-42) took the Habs to two first place finishes, one second place, and one third in the Adams Division. It also saw La Flanelle earn a berth in the Stanly Cup Final (1988-1989), only to lose to the President Trophy winning Calgary Flames in 6 games. To this date, it is the last time two Canadian teams have squared off in the Stanley Cup Final.

After moving on to both the Toronto Maple Leafs (1992 - 1996), and the Boston Bruins (1997-2001), from which he was fired on an equal number of occasions, Burns settled in behind the bench of the New Jersey Devils for the 2002-2003 season.

In his inaugural season with that franchise, Burns coached players like Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Scott Stevens, accomplishing the crowning jewel on his career, with a Stanly Cup Championship over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in seven games. A feat only accomplished by two coaches before him - also previous members of the Montreal Canadiens club - Jacques Lemaire, and Larry Robinson.

With an impressive record, trophy winning seasons, and a Stanley Cup ring - there was one underlying feature about Burns that consistently shone through. And that was his ability to never give up. Pat Burns was a fighter, and sadly - he was soon to find out after hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup, how important that quality would be for him.

Through battles with both colon cancer and liver cancer, Pat Burns always showed the heart of a champion. Stepping down from the forefront of the league after the second diagnosis, Burns battled on, until his third diagnosis - this time of incurable lung cancer. Deciding to forgo treatment, Pat Burns felt content in living out the balance of his days near his wife: Line.

Sadly, we lost Pat Burns yesterday. He finally succumbed to the disease that had been festering in him for many years. He died near his home in Sherbrooke Quebec.

But there are many things that the hockey community will take with them after his passing. Grit and determination can carry you a long way, and a quitters attitude has no place in this life. A sense of humour is paramount to what we all face on a daily basis (imagine the media reporting you're dead when you're not - and calling them up to remind them that you're still alive - shopping in the local market for your dinner). But mostly, we'll remember those soft eyes, and his incredible attitude. Even while facing death.

To Patrick Burns; we thank you for being more than an example of how to live both on and off the ice. And to your family, we offer our good wishes and prayers.

In His Own Words:

"I know my life is nearing its end and I accept that."

Gesturing to a group of local minor hockey players, he said: "A young player could come from Stanstead who plays in an arena named after me. I probably won't see the project to the end, but let's hope I'm looking down on it and see a young Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux."

Patrick Burns (April 4, 1952 – November 19, 2010)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Montreal Canadiens : Habs Week 8 in Preview

Just when you thought you were facing the Dogs of War last week, along comes another tough November week! Montreal has some serious adversaries to face this week, and once again, I can't be too positive of the outcome. Mind you, the team showed enough spirit last week to bring out the positivity in even the most pessimistic fans.

But there are certainly some serious issues that the Habs are facing as they start the week off tonight at home against their nemesis - the Philadelphia Flyers. Last week at this time, Jacques Martin had shuffled his defensive unit, and looked to solve the struggling power play. And just as all seemed to be turning around, Andrei Markov's heroic return was quashed by what looks to be another significant injury.

While there has been tremendous speculation as to what the results of Markov's knee-on-knee collision with  Eric Staal will be, there is still no conclusive information available at this time. What we do know is this - the defense will be paired differently this week in his absence.

Montreal will have the luxury of spending the next week on home ice, and the toughest test of the week is tonight. The Flyers come back to the Bell Center for the first time since upsetting the Habs in the Eastern Conference Final last May, and without doubt, the Habs will be looking for retribution. But the squad in orange tonight are not exactly the same team that Montreal faced last, with key injuries keeping Danny Carcillo, Ian Laperriere, and Michael Leighton out of the line-up. But Captain Mike Richards has anchored a team full of talent to 9 victories in their last 10 games. And the familliar faces of Giroux, Carter, and Briere have amassed 49 points since the puck dropped this season. Add that onto the overall size of the Flyers, and once again we will see if the speed of the Canadiens can compete for a full 60 minutes.

Thursday brings the Nashville Predators to Montreal, and the return of former Habs - Francis Bouillon, and Sergei Kostitsyn. For a team that's sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference, and having scored only 38 goals on the season, it needs to be noted that the Preds are a solid 2-1-2 in their last 5 against the Canadiens. Pekka Rinne will most likely get the nod to start between the pipes, and he's sporting a highly respectable 2.85 GAA and .910 SV%. Numbers that aren't the most promising for a Montreal offense that is just beginning to get on it's feet. Most of all, there will be great hope that the return of SK74 doesn't come back to poison the decent start of his brother, as it seemed to do when they both skated in Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.

Saturday night caps off the home stand with the age old rivalry of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto, who got off to a superbly promising start (5-0), have tanked as of late, losing their last eight straight. They continue to struggle offensively, and a red hot Carey Price is not likely to help them in their quest to break out. But depite some decent offense from Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel (with 7 and 8 goals apiece), it's apparent that the Leafs franchise is suffering from the loss of Captain Dion Phaneuf. Having said all of that, the Leafs continue to be a team that plays well against Montreal; and if ever there was a team that the Leafs would love to break out of their slump against - it's Les Canadiens.

Not the toughest week of the year. But one that screams out a warning against the ever present complacency that always seems to be on the tongue of those fans who follow the Habs like a religion. But for 63,819 fanatics, it should be an entertaining and relatively succesful week, before heading out of town to face the Broad Street Bullies on their own turf.

There's nothing quite like the echoing chant of the Ole's as they drift upwards to the rafters of the Bell Center. Here's hoping for plenty throughout the course of this homestand.

Montreal Canadiens : Habs Panel (BBBR and TCL) 2nd Week Panelists Announced

It's hard to believe that it's already closing in on two weeks since we had our first Habs Panel. And with the sweet success that it brought, we're pulling out all the stops for the follow up.

There has been plenty of action in and around the Canadiens camp over the past week. Success against two very strong teams (Vancouver and Boston), and a decisive victory against the Carolina Hurricanes brought 6 points to le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.

But other issues have arisen as well. Predominantly, the trade of Ryan O'Bryne, and the possible extended loss of Andrei Markov; only a few short games after his return from a torn ACL.

So we're ready to deal with the issues at hand, and this week we've brought in the following two heavy hitters.

Kamal Panesar is on the Panel this week, and he brings a lot of depth and knowledge to the group. Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of Habs Addict, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz, and Habs writer for The Franchise.

And complimenting him is Kevin van Steendelaar of Habs Eyes on the Prize. Kevin's passion for the game has put him in the position of interviewing some of hockey's legends over the years; including Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Cassie Campbell, Mike Keenan. Plus former Habs Kirk Muller, John LeClair and Guy Lafleur (to name a few).

So make sure you join us on the site this coming Sunday for another Habs Panel as we continue to chase after the relevant news on the Montreal Canadiens, and offer our speculation and opinion. And then prepare to get in on the action, as once again, we open the floodgates in our LIVE BLOG on Monday November 22nd - just prior to the Habs / Flyers match-up.

We're looking forward to having you join us once again!

If there is something on your mind that you would like the panel to discuss, you can still submit your questions here!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Je Me Souviens ... Lest We Forget.

As the 11th hour of the eleventh month, on the eleventh day passed, many of us stopped to celebrate the 92nd Anniversary of Armistice Day.

And despite the fact that this is a Blog dedicated to written stories of the Montreal Canadiens; today Bleu, Blanc, Rouge pauses to reflect on the most important men to live - and die -  in our history.

Sacrifice is a small word that can never fully encompass the meaning of everything that was done by our forefathers. WW1, WW2, the Korean War, Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan. These are all Theaters of War in which many of our family, friends, and Brothers in Arms  have served. Let's take time today - not just at the eleventh hour - to pour over what has been done to secure our freedom and our way of life.

Drawing back to the Montreal Canadiens, let us all ponder the quote that hangs in the dressing room of our beloved hockey team. A quote taken directly from the verse of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae's illustrious poem "In Flanders Fields" :

"To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high."

Je Me Souviens.