The Worst Fans in Hockey: Take 2.

As the Habs stand on the precipice of elimination. It saddens me to see the fan (and some media) reaction to the current roster. I’ve already written about how Habs fans can be considered some of the worst fans in hockey. I am fully aware it’s a broad statement. If you spend five minutes on twitter reading through any fan base’s tweets and you’ll see plenty of terrible fans. Mainly it’s people who refuse to either look into the details of the games or players; enjoy meaningless hot takes; or are prone to mob mentality. This reached a crescendo in my head when I saw Sean Campbell, host of the post game show on TSN 690, tweet about a “fan” who called in last night to complain about Pacioretty, because he believed that  Beliveau would have deked on the breakaway and that shows leadership. I mean…I have no words for this…so I’ll simply carry on. 

One thing I want to make clear is that I’m not against criticizing your team; everyone is entitled to that opinion and right. Especially as a consumer of the product that is sports. My issues is with the sub segment of fans, who prefer to live with their narrow view of the game and seemingly exist simply to stir the pot, or bask in negativity. Typically these fans are ultra-quiet when the Habs are playing well or will nit-pick on one player struggling despite team success. Look all fans will sometimes veer into the negative when things aren’t going right, but some prefer to just stay there. It just seemed that the Habs seem to have more of them, or maybe they just come out of hiding for the playoffs. So I’ve identified the 7 types of worst Habs fans, and ranked them on the DEL: “deking equals leadership” scale of 1 to 5; 1 being mildly offensive yet somewhat understandable and 5 being so irrationally stupid that you wonder if that person is constantly drunk and was watching cock fighting instead of hockey but thought it was a Habs game, so they kept yelling “Patio-ready sucks!!!” at a chicken.


The Bandwagon Fan

 Habs win game 1 of a series? This fan is talking about the Stanley Cup! Planning the parade route and party. Habs lose game 2 of the series? This fan morphs into a “He Sucks” Fan or a “Chicken Little.” Habs win game 3? C”EST SENT LA COUPE! Habs lose Game 4?…ok you get the picture.

 DEL Rating: 1. This fan is annoying, but not the worst. Most of these fans are either getting swept up by playoff fever or don’t usually watch the game on a regular basis. As mentioned – there is a fear that these type of fans dip into a more annoying fan type, but many are willing to just be supportive of the team and remain positive.

 

The Numbers Team and the Anti Numbers Team.

 I grouped these two together, because I’m only talking about the extreme fringe of each group. Those who only live and die by analytics, and those who flat out refuse to even acknowledge the value of numbers in any shape or form. Full disclosure here:  I am a numbers guy, but I don’t think they are absolute. I understand what PDO is but I don’t think it’s just an indicator of puck luck. Perhaps over the course of a season, but in a short series with the most talented players on the planet? It could be an athlete elevating themselves into a level of focus that allows them to exceed their average play even if it’s only for a few games. On the flip side to deny the value of these stats when they have so obviously been indicators of success means you’re so out of touch that it makes it difficult to be credible. 

DEL Rating: 2.5 Both extreme wings of these groups fall into a “know-it-all” category which is insufferable at times. It’s ok to have your ways of viewing the game, but don’t push that view on others, and scoff and belittle those who don’t share it. At the end of the day, you want to see your team succeed, but these fans come off a selfish, and usually deserve a to be ignored or occasionally, punched in the face.

 

The Subbanites

I love P.K. Subban, when the trade first happened, I wrote a whole blog on how I believed it was a mistake. It’s important to note I also love Shea Weber. They are two different players, and I appreciate what both can bring to the table. As the season progressed, there were moments were I missed Subban, or felt he could have helped the team, but in the end the trade was made, and it’s over now – move on. It’s ok to cheer for Subban, and be happy for his success, but don’t use it to revel in the Habs struggles. Those who constantly compare Subban and Weber, and gleefully point out that the Predators swept the Blackhawks to mock the Habs are bordering on trolling. Be the bigger person – Subban certainly has been – if you really are a fan of his, than emulate his character and class and shut the fuck up. 

DEL Rating: 2 to 3. It’s still fresh enough that I’m willing to be somewhat understanding, but as time goes on this will slide up the scale. In the meantime, Subbanites need to meet someone new, or go see a shrink so they can learn to let go. It’s not good for the soul to hold a grudge, or be an annoying prick.

 

The Old Timers Club

 Look, I’m all for nostalgia, after all, the Habs have a very rich and impressive history. But…that was then, and this is now. The game is so different as compared to the 90s, the 80s, the 70s that you cannot compare eras. It is a fool’s errand. I appreciate the lessons of the past to help build a better future. But when it comes to sports, some of those lessons don’t make sense anymore. The game is faster, players are bigger, goalies are better, management is different, coaching is more detailed…it is a different game. Furthermore, the Habs haven’t won a cup in 24 years – just like the Subbanites need to learn let go, so do the Old Timers. Be proud of the history, draw motivation, and spirit from the legends but don’t blur the time line. Enough with “these guys need to play with more vigor and jam! They don’t have enough heart. Dag nabbit! They need to hit more! Shoot less! Drink raw eggs, and crap thunder!! I don’t want Maurice tonight. I WANT THE ROCKET” and so on…until they fall asleep. So unless you have a time machine or can find those damn Forum Ghosts and bring them to the Bell Center, you need to step into the present.

 DEL Rating: 1.7. I have a soft spot for these old timers. As a fan who has read up on the history of the game, and Canadiens. I have become more sympathetic to the good old days. Furthermore I think the Canadiens mean more to Montrealers than most other franchises around North America. I’m not suggesting they are better or worse, simply that the Montreal Canadiens and the city of Montreal’s are intertwined in their history. Sports has become part of culture in many places. In Montreal it’s been the case for 100 years….Good Lord am I becoming an old timer? No way, I’m going to put on my Jean Beliveau jersey, read the hockey sweater, pound some prune juice, and go to bed early.

 

The Chicken Littles 

A lovable group, only in the fact these fine folks are as consistent as Andrei Markov. Pre-Season; Regular Season; Playoffs; Off-Season…it doesn’t matter to our fine feathered friends, as catastrophe is always looming around the corner. A player will inevitably slump, an injury will definitely occur. The coach will make the wrong decision, the GM will bring in the wrong player. A player’s positives are completely glossed over to concentrate on the negatives. I actually feel kind of bad for these fans, because I think deep down they want the Habs to succeed but they are incapable of seeing anything positive that would allow them to have hope. Perhaps they fear hope, after all it’s easier to hang out in the dark versus actually come out in to the light, and taking a look around. In the end these people have an expiry date, and begin to reach dangerous levels of annoyance in their constant negativity

 DEL Rating: 3. This can quickly spiral into a 5 if negativity levels reach a code red. But sometimes it’s easy to fall in the chicken little mode when things aren’t going well so I’ll give them a slight pass. But for those stuck there…at some point they will either need to be brought in or dragged into the light. Where they will either turn in to dust or begrudgingly accept that “hey, it’s not so bad to cheer for your team, win or lose.”

 

The “He Sucks” Fan

 An amalgamation of the Bandwagon Fan, a Chicken Little, with a pinch of know-it-all. The “He Sucks” Fan is close to being the most annoying fan in existence. Almost every fanbase has these fans, but Habs nation takes the cake, as no one is safe from the clutches of this type of fan. This season Max Pacioretty became only the 5th Montreal Canadiens in their history to have 4 straight 30 goal season. As captain this season he was the most steady presence on the ice all season. He has become a two way force and dynamic penalty killer as well as one of the best goal scorers in the NHL. So of course because he’s struggled to score in this series (but generate chances, create space on the ice, and get shots on net): “He Sucks!” Carey Price has another stellar season in nets for the Canadiens. Widely regarded as one of the top 5 goalies in the NHL, he has backstopped the Habs to number of playoff appearances and earned a Vezina and Hart trophy along the way. Despite the fact he has no goal support in this series, has .936 save percentage and 1.82 GAA, numerous fans have come out and said “he’s not playing well – told you he was overrated.” One media member had the gall to suggest that Price wasn’t “stealing games for the Habs”…so I guess that means: “He Sucks!” Look I know the best players on a team will always be held to a different regard, however to ignore the work they are doing and quickly dismiss them as lazy or not good enough, shows a lack of credibility and understanding as a fanbase. It takes a significant amount of assuming to be a “He Sucks!” fan, and in the end you definitely come off looking like an ass to you and me.

 DEL Rating: 5. In the end this fan is so incredibly frustrated they need a smoke, a glass of wine, and a massage just to end up tense. They will also turn on a dime the second a good game happens to the players they were currently hating on. Stating all along that it was their complaining that got the player to kick it into extra gear even though that players has been playing as hard as possible all along. The most frustrating aspect of this fan is their complete and utter denial that the other team has anything to do with Habs’ struggles. So many fans seem blind to the fact that Lundqvist has been incredibly good for the Rangers in this series, and has kept them in games for long stretches where they could have been down by 2 or 3 goals. 

“Lundqvist? He Sucks…Pacioretty and Price? They suck MORE! TRADE THEM ALL! Blaaargghhhh”

Ugh….Well at least this fan is consistent…consistently annoying.

 

The Troll

 The ultimate worst fan. The fan who isn’t a fan of the team, but a fan of hate. One who stirs the pot, and makes outlandish claims aimed to generate a reaction. This fan is the mutant offspring all of the worst fans with a dash of evil thrown in. They exists only to crap all over the Habs and humanity, and revel in failure. Usually a front runner who jumps from being a fan of whoever the best team in the league is at that given time. This fan believes no one wearing the CH is good, and that the Habs will never win; don’t want to win; and can’t ever win – and will say anything to “prove” it. This is the fan that other fans tell spooky stories about around a camp fire. 

The Troll. They are rarely seen as they are often sitting behind a keyboard and tweeting away and cackling like an evil scientist. There is no redeeming quality to this fan. The worst of the worst. The only way to beat them is to ignore them. Because they can very quickly cross a line and they can be hurtful.

 DEL Rating: 10. If I ever met a troll in real time. I would tell them “I’m sorry you’re the way you are’ and walk away…right after I break their fingers so they can’t mean tweet, or cyber bully anyone for a few weeks. Assholes.
 There you have it. Come on Habs fans! I know there are plenty of good, honest hockey fans out there. Let’s rally behind the team and cheer them on win or lose! Habs in 7! 

Go Habs Go!

First Round Preview: Canadiens vs. Rangers

After a one year hiatus, the Montreal Canadiens are back in the Stanley Cup playoffs. While many of the Montreal Canadiens haters and naysayers will shake their heads and spout off about the Habs, the truth is, any warm-blooded Canadian knows the playoffs are simply just better when a franchise like the Canadiens are involved. It’s the same reason that despite the rivalry, I, for one, am happy that the Toronto Maple Leafs have made the playoffs this season. It’s good for Canada. It’s good for hockey, and it’s good for Canadian fans of hockey. 

Once again, the Canadiens find themselves in a match-up against an Original Six team. While the match-up with the Rangers lacks the regional intensity that the Leafs bring with them, or the incredible history and intensity that come with a Bruins match-up, the Rangers and Habs have had their fair share of memorable moments over the last few years.

There was this infamous moment – (cue Montrealers going crazy and throwing Molsons everywhere): 

Which led to this:

 

And finally this:


 

3 years ago, the Canadiens had an improbable run to the conference finals until they ran into the Rangers and, more specifically, until Chris Krieder ran into Carey Price. I’m not going to sit here and suggest that the Habs would have defeated the Rangers with Carey Price in nets, but when you consider the series went six games with Dustin Tokarski in nets, you’d have to think they would have had a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993. That Rangers team was very, very good – better than most people gave them credit for (including this fool). 3 years later and they’re still very, very good; however, they are different than that team that beat the Habs in 2014. 

 So let’s not dwell on the past, and focus on the present, and near future. In breaking down this first round match up, I decided to focus on 5 factors I believe will give everyone reading this (hi Roy!) a more clear picture on who to look for, what to look for, why to look for it, and who has the advantage.

1) Offense at Even Strength:

At first glance, this would appear to favor the Rangers; they feature a fast and deep squad of forwards, and mobile defensemen led by Ryan MacDonagh. The Canadiens have had goal scoring problems for most of the season and their most able puck-moving defenseman is a 106 year old Andrei Markov. Lo and behold, when you look at the numbers, you’ll see that at 5v5, the Rangers scored 14 more goals than the Habs throughout the season.

Before all the chicken little Habs fans out there begin to slide open their windows and climb out on the ledge, it is worth noting that when you consider goals scored at 5v5-close (close play is when the game is tied within or within one goal in the first and second periods, and tied in the third) the Rangers only have 2 more goals than the Habs on the season. Consider as well that the Rangers scored 7 more empty net goals than the Habs and this offensive advantage is not so stark.

When you factor in possession stats it leans even heavier in the Habs’ favor. Regardless of who coached the team this season, the Canadiens have been one of the best possession teams in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Rangers have been middling at best, however, where they make up for the lack of shots towards the opponent net by capitalizing on their high danger scoring chances: this is reflective in their above league average shooting percentage. Furthermore, they are one of the best teams in the NHL at generating high danger scoring chances, through pre-shot movement. (slot passes, east-west scoring chances).

While Habs can take solace in knowing that captain Max Pacioretty is the best offensive player at even strength on either team, the Rangers boast more balanced scoring from top to bottom. Their forward group is led by every Habs fan’s favorite Ranger: Chris Kreider. Both teams have even strength scoring dynamos in Michael Grabner and Paul Byron, but the Rangers have gotten some good offense from their rear guards, even though their possession numbers aren’t great. This is an area that Montreal struggles in once you look past Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry.

Advantage: New York Rangers. It’s very close, yet the Rangers’ spread out offense, give them an edge even though Montreal is better at possession and shot generation. This is in theme with most NY/MTL discussion I’ve had…it’s close, but New York bagels are better, but give me Montreal smoked meat every time…. 

 
2) Defense at Even Strength:

While fans always huff and puff about goal scoring, the objective of hockey isn’t to just score as many goals as possible. It’s to score more goals than your opponents; a simple and obvious act that often gets lost amongst the hand-wringing and complaining. As detailed above, the Rangers seem to boast more depth than the Habs. However, defense is a team game, and the Habs worked hard this season to become an elite defensive team, often at the sacrifice of potential offense. The bottom line is this shift in strategy worked. The Canadiens were the 3rd best defensive team in the NHL at 5v5, while the Rangers were 18th. The Canadiens goal differential at 5v5 was +24, while the Rangers were at +14. At even strength, the Canadiens boast the two top defenseman in all the NHL with regards to goals against. No other defenseman in the league allowed less goals against at even strength than the immortal Andrei Markov and the man mountain Shea Weber. The Habs’ system champions possession and defensive responsibility from their forwards – this allows for less shots against, and less chances against. While any line with Kreider will drive offense towards the oppositions net, the aforementioned Markov and Weber will be standing in his way. Injuries have hurt the Rangers this year, but they simply don’t have the skill on defense to drive possession out of their zone beyond MacDonagh. As a result, they focus on creating turnovers and blocking shots in order to counter attack, and take advantage of the team speed.

Finally, it helps having the best goaltender in the league to back up your D, but more on that later…

Advantage: Montreal Canadiens. For the most part, the Habs one-upped Trump by building a wall at their blue line before he could erect one along the Mexican border. 

3) Special Teams:

The Habs started out the season with one of the hottest power plays in the league. Armed with Weber’s canon of a shot from the point, they were scoring goals and leaving traumatized goalies in their wake. However, that was a long time ago, and the Habs’ power play limps into the playoffs without much success. Overall, they finished the season with a respectable 19.7% success rate; however, that has plummeted to under 14% down the stretch. As teams have adapted to the Habs “one trick pony play” of setting up a Weber slapshot, there’s been a shocking lack of creativity and east-west scoring chances. Considering they have one of the best goal scorers in the league on their team, you’d think they’d find a way to get Pacioretty more shots. On the other hand, the Rangers have hummed along at an average of 20.2% all season and have been on fire down the stretch at over 30% success rate. 30%! You can’t blame Habs fans for heading to their closest Belle Province, stumbling into the kitchen, locating the piping hot gravy pot, and dunking their faces in it. Once again, all you fantastic chicken littles, I’ll ask you to put the gravy pot down, and continue to read on.

The power play is only one aspect of special teams – the other is the penalty kill. I’ve never been shy about stating my lack of belief in Michel Therrien as a great NHL coach. Nothing has been more indicative of that than the Habs’ penalty kill, pre and post Therrien. Julien has instilled an excellent penalty kill strategy that has seen the Habs’ penalty kill ranking rise from 22nd under Therrien, to 14th overall to finish the season. Over the last month of the season, the Habs had the 3rd best penalty kill league-wide. Meanwhile, the Rangers had the 3rd worst penalty kill over that same span and finished the season 19th league wide.

Neither team generates a ton of power play opportunities, which works in the Habs’ favour. Furthermore, the Habs were one of the least penalized teams in the league under Julien. The ability to avoid taking penalties will be vital due the potentcy of the Rangers’ powerplay.

 Advantage: New York Rangers, but only because in a New York (power play) minute anything can change. If the Rangers fail to draw penalties, this could lean towards the Habs. (Yes, I’m sitting squarely in the fence on this one.)

4) The X-Factors:

For the Rangers, the aforementioned power play is an obvious x-factor. While his peak goal-scoring days are behind him, Rick Nash was still tied for the team lead in power play goals and has the ability to put the puck in the net, the Rangers will need him if they hope get to Price. JT Miller and Kevin Hayes give the Rangers  scoring depth and create the offensive balance the Habs seem to lack. However, the key x-factor is Mika Zibanejad. A player familiar with the Habs from his Senator days, Zibanejad put up 37 points in 56 games. He will be tasked with slowing down the Habs top line, while chipping in with some offense. If he can add that extra layer of depth to an already deep lineup, it will add significant pressure on the Habs’ defense corps. 

As far as the Habs are concerned, they have a certain 4th line left winger that has been the talk of the town before this playoff series kicks off. Alex Galchenyuk began this season as the Habs’ number one center. He led the team in scoring when he sustained a knee injury that knocked him out of action for 6 weeks. Upon his return, he resumed the top center role, but seemed to struggle defensively. Although he was driving offense at a high rate, his defensive mishaps caused him to slide down the line up, eventually ending up on the wing. To be clear, Galchenyuk is the Canadiens’ best offensive center and he’s playing on the 4th line…on the wing. He may the most obvious x-factor in playoffs history. If he can harness all that talent and take advantage of his playing time, it will add a dimension to the Habs attack that would have the Rangers scrambling. At 22 years old, Galchenyuk is still young enough to develop into that top line player, but it isn’t a stretch to call this the first major fork in his career. 

Advantage: New York Rangers. They simply have more x-factors. A greater potential for their depth make an impact, including a guy I write about in the next section. (How’s that for cliffhanger? Not bad, right?)

5) Goaltending

For the longest time, the Habs were defined by their goalie and best player: Carey Price. Too often, during the Therrien era, Price was forced to support a leaky ship and force it through rough waters. It all came to head this year when the Habs’ penalty kill went into the tank. While his even strength save percentage was largely unaffected, his save percentage during the penalty kill plummeted. So what happened to the man who has been widely regarded as the best goalie in the world for the last 3 years? Did he forget how to play for a month? Did he throw in the towel? Well, the question was answered when Julien took over and shored up the penalty kill. After weeks of frustration, Price could focus on being the best goalie in the world, and since the coaching change, he has done just that. 

As for the Rangers, they have their own icon in nets. King Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the best goalies in the NHL for the better part of the decade. However, at the age of 34,  Lundqvist has shown signs of slowing down. He put up the lowest save percentage of his career at .910, and was largely outplayed by his back up Antti Raanta. Having outlined the Rangers’ penalty kill struggles above, I decided to take a look at the goalies 5v5 save percentage. Sure enough, there was Price, sitting amongst the league leaders. When I lowered the threshold of games played, Raanta even showed up in the top ten. Lundqvist did not rank in the top 20 – astonishing, considering he has been the symbol of goaltending consistency over the last decade. Finally, I decided to look at save percentage with respect to high danger chances, as this is a good indicator of the goalies that can make the tough saves. Once again, Raanta bested Lundqvist. Granted Raanta played only 30 games compared to the 57 for Lundqvist, but it’s pretty clear that Raanta may serve as another x-factor in this series if the King stumbles. Lundqvist has been a competitor and elite athlete his whole career. It is unlikely he will let a difficult season hinder his desire and need to excel in the playoffs. However, what the mind and heart want, the body sometimes cannot follow. Considering his well documented trouble at the Bell Center, the Rangers’ coaches will have to keep a close eye on their franchise goalie. 

Oh…I know what you’re thinking: “Hey Z…who led the league in the high danger save percentage??” Well that would be one, Carey Price. 

Advantage: Montreal Canadiens. Carey Price has dominated the Rangers throughout his career. While many people are saying he was out to get revenge on Kreider, my guess is he simply was upset he never got a chance to compete during that conference final. He will be hell bent on winning this series, and likely to be more focused than ever. He represents a daunting task for the Rangers but not one that’s impossible to beat. 

Final Verdict:

I’ll be honest, before I started this preview, I had assumed there couldn’t be two more evenly matched up teams in the first round. However, after finishing my analysis, I was surprised to find out that the Habs were largely superior to the Rangers in every possession metric I could find. Now, I’ve discussed the use of analytics on this site before, and I am a big proponent of using them to gauge a team’s chance of success. It won’t be 100% what I base my judgement on, but it’ll certainly influence any decision I would make. While the Rangers scored more goals, the reality is hockey is not just about scoring goals and but also about keeping them out. This is where the Canadiens have a marked advantage over the Rangers. In fact, only 2 teams in the NHL allowed fewer goals than the Habs 5v5. As a result, the Habs have a superior GF% (ratio of GF/ GA as a percentage) than the Rangers. The Rangers have gotten sub-par goaltending from Lundqvist and have largely survived with a dangerous powerplay, and an above-league average shooting percentage. The Canadiens seem to be at a disadvantage on paper – they played in the weaker division, lack the scoring depth, and the power play has struggled to generate any additional offense. However, they control the puck and generate lots of shots towards the opponent’s net. Since the coaching change, they have defended at an elite rate, and when it’s all said and done, they have Carey Price in nets. If Lundqvist can turn back the clock, or Raanta can pull off a Halakian effort, I can see this series stretch to 6 or 7 and going the Rangers way. The Rangers are a very good team and can get to Price is the Habs defensive structure breaks down and then begin to allows the Rangers to cycle the puck and set uo their offense. But I’m betting against that; I’m betting on a razor sharp focused Price; and finally I’m betting that the Habs close this series out by winning 4 hard-fought and close games. 

How many games will it take? Honestly I have no idea because every game will be a battle. It could easily go 7, but I’ll go out on the limb and say Habs in 5 with a Carey Price shutout to win the series at home.

Go Habs Go. 

The NHL’s Worst Fans…?

Given the Habs red hot start, I resisted blogging due to superstition. 

Yes, I actually believed that releasing a blog post to my tens of fans (Hi Roy!) would somehow alter reality and cause the Habs to lose a hockey game.

 Look no one ever said superstitions made sense, it is what it is…and it’s f’n real, ok!

 (Please note: I also believe in winged horses, pagan Gods, and Batman)

 As a result I’ve missed out on putting down my thoughts on the record setting 9-0 start. While one can argue that I didn’t even do a preview post before the season began, I could argue back…nothing…since I totally could have done it. My only valid excuse is that I had tend to my multiple fantasy football teams….and my child, of course…if I go missing one could assume it’s because my wife gave me multiple F5’s after reading this section.

 I’ll keep my thoughts on the Habs start to a minimum because ultimately my overwhelming feeling throughout the whole run was “it’s only October.” While it’s nice to bank some points early and not have to rely on a mad dash finish to make the playoffs to secure home ice advantage. I couldn’t help but think that this start was getting way too much attention. Either way, the big 3 have stepped up and played great. A full season of Petry will do wonders to rest our top pairing (specifically Markov) and give the bottom pairing more time to grow (specifically Beaulieu). The 4th line has been great, and Galchenyuk has looked good at center. So all this leads me into my next point, which sadly has overshadowed anything else I wanted to write about with regards to the Habs.

 Alexander Semin.

 Not specifically Semin, but the fans reaction to Semin. Not just about Semin…but the fans reaction after Monday night’s 5 -1 loss to the Canucks. (Even worse I heard someone complain about Price, this person’s name is probably Judas and suffers from short term memory, and is blind…and deaf). Also can’t forget the fans’ over reaction to the game against the Maple Leafs on Saturday. (one fan: OH MY GOD THEY GAVE UP 5800 SHOTS!! THE HABS SUCK) (another fan: YAY WE ARE 9-0 WE RULE THE UNIVERSE, CALL OFF THE SEASON. WE GOT THIS) (me: SIXTY! SEVEN!) (sorry I couldn’t resist)

 It comes down to the fans’ reaction.

 It’s often said that Montreal has the best fans in the NHL. I’ve said it myself. During one of many (long) short and sweet posts waxing philosophical about hockey and life, I’ve mentioned how galvanizing the fan base can be during a playoff run. How tremendous the Montreal fan base can be. Well here I am to sing a different tune. For the most part we do have some amazing fans, but – and keep in mind: I’m a super fan, I watch every game, I own a plethora of paraphernalia, my son’s first word was Habs (this isn’t true, but I wish) – I’m here to say that…

Habs fans are the worst fans in the league.

 Cue “Yes!” chorus from my Bruin, Leafs, Flyers, Senators, Rangers, Canucks, Oilers, Sabres, (this list can go on) fans. However I’m not stating it from their point of view. Those teams love to hate the Habs for a myriad of reasons, chiefly among them is how Habs’ fans love to remind people of their rich history and championship pedigree. While I admit this can be annoying (nostalgia is fun, but it has its limits), any fan would love to have lineage and history of the Montreal Canadiens. I mean could you imagine if the Habs had still been winning cups this whole time, my God…we’d be insufferable. We’d essentially be New York Yankees fans…Yuck…hold on while I take a shower after that thought.

 No, my statement is based on the fact that Habs’ fans live and die from one extreme to another. Look honestly they aren’t better or worse than any rabid fan base. Most Canadian cities have irrational fans, but everything gets amped up here, due to the history, the culture, the politics, and the fact that everyone is a know-it-all. While saner minds usually prevail, it’s sometimes disheartening to see our fans come down on a player because of a perceived reputation and not based on his play on the ice. It’s even tougher when that is sometimes split along the lines of language. I know it’s complicated but it’s also not complicated. This is your team: support them! You don’t abandon ship at the first sight of trouble, just like you shouldn’t cram aboard the bandwagon because your team is doing exceptionally well…in freaking OCTOBER…I mean is it even November yet? Get a grip people.

eh Michel? Which way to the parade mon gars?

 It’s all compounded by social media which gives everyone a platform to voice opinions…I fully support this of course, but it’s hard to read things about Semin for example, when you realize fans simply aren’t willing to educate themselves. I mean the guy has a 57 CF% and producing more shots on net per minute than Tomas Plekanec. Yes he’s looked a little slow, yes he’s had some brutal turnovers, but you know what…so have other players. The fact remains he’s a useful player and you have to question how the coach is motivating his players or if he is using them to their full potential. But hey, let’s pile on a guy who’s been in our line up while we went 9-1, of course he’s the reason we are struggling! It’s hard to swallow such irrationality of expectations sometimes. Habs fans have become like that student in the class…you know who I’m talking about…that kid who gets mad because they got an A, not an A+…Really? I hate that kid…unless I needed help understanding algebra, then that kid was my BFF…

 I’d say it’s compounded even further by the fancy stats crowd. While I’m a huge proponent of the advanced stats movement, and have written about it at length…holy crap are they a bunch of negatrons. Habs advanced stats have been decent through ten games, but in the last few games they’ve fallen off…CUE THE NUMBER GEEK POLICE! HABS SUCK! WEE WOO WEE WOO (that’s supposed to be sirens)…sometimes these guys are more insufferable then the layman who won’t educate himself and still be pissed that we lost “one.” Hey now, I respect the numbers, I understand the concerns, but these people are like those kids at the arcade back in the day; the ones who knew all the crazy codes at Street Fighter and wouldn’t tell any others. SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE GUY…instead of being all smug with your hadoukens. I know Therrein doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to advanced stats, but you know who does…Price and you know who else? P.K Subban, and wouldn’t you believe Captain Pacioretty has excellent metrics as well. I know Semin is a lightning rod for the number guys, but let’s face it guys; he isn’t making or breaking the Habs this season. His benching isn’t a good sign, but at the same time, it’s early in the season and maybe you want other guys to play and get some burn. I always try and say this, don’t assume to know what’s happening behind closed doors, the makeup of a team is more than just numbers and spreadsheets. Let’s not over react.

Hadouken your face Michel!!

 I wrote ages ago about the different types of fans. One of those was the “Chicken Little”, a fan who couldn’t believe in this team no matter what. Even if they won a Cup, they were the genesis of my “Bursting into Flames” post because I could genuinely see these naysayers exploding at the sight (and utter confusion) of the Habs success. The sad reality is…all the different types of Habs fans have a slice of “Chicken Little” in them. The biggest Habs haters, aren’t the Bruins fans, or Leafs fans, they’re Habs fans.

So let’s focus Habs nation, there is A LOT of season left to play, there will be slumps, streaks, injuries, and surprises. Let’s keep our eye on the prize. Going 82-0 was never an option, and even worse going 82-0 and losing in the first round would be meaningless. The games that matter start in April, and they end in June. That’s what Bergevin is concerned about, and that’s what we should be concerned about. Let’s not fret small decisions, bad turnovers, and uneven score adjusted Corsi. Just take a step back off the ledge, stop planning the parade, and relax. I mean, the team is having a great start, let’s just enjoy it and appreciate the effort from les boys. Only in Montreal will you find fans nitpicking anything on a 9 and 1 team. I, for one, will do such thing! We have a good team, with great players, solid complimentary players, and a mediocre coach…Damn, I was this close…oh well can’t win them all…there’s clearly some chicken little inside this fan as well.

I guess that’s what losing since ’93 will do to a fan base…

 …But hey at least it’s not as bad as’ 67. (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

 Go Habs Go

Never too Late.

It is safe to say the the Habs’ season comes down to tonight’s game 3 match up versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.

While losing tonight doesn’t officially end the season, going down 3-0 to a very good Lightning team will be a death blow.

While I picked the Lightning to win in 6, it seems like even more of an uphill battle for the Habs to drag it to 6 games. While we can write off game 2 as a complete debacle, the real gut punch game was the first one. The Habs played an excellent game only to come up short in double overtime. A win in that game changes the complexion of the series and perhaps none of the undisciplined behavior that marred game 2 happens.

We can’t change the past, but we can affect the future. As such I’ve outlined 5 factors I think will swing some of the momentum in their favor tonight...While it seems like it’s a little too late for any of these changes to really make a difference – when you’re back is against the wall, you either come out swinging for your life or your turtle and fade away.

1) Changing the lineup:

 

By all accounts, Bergevin attempted to bring in a top 6 winger at the trade deadline. While he did manage to nab Petry to help the blue line, he came short of acquiring a Thomas Vanek like forward up front. At the same time, I think Vanek’s play during last year’s conference finals run left somewhat of a bitter taste in Begevin’s mouth. As a result, it may have had something to do with his focus on getting gritty, bottom 6 players. While this hasn’t really panned out; Torrey Mitchell, at the very least, has proven to be an effective 4th line center, and an important defensive zone face off man.  The fact remains: the Habs can’t score. Therrien has tried various different lineups throughout the year without yielding any significant results. There is no disputing that Max Pacioretty has been the Habs’ best forward this year, he led them in goals and pointsTherrien has tagged him with frequent sidekick David Desharnais, and he is currently playing with Tomas Plekanec. It’s been fairly obvious, that Lars Eller has been the Habs best center lately, not just in the playoffs but down the stretch. Yet Therrien has not made the move to put Pacioretty on Eller’s wing. Perhaps having all your eggs in one basket is not a good idea, but at this point, with your season on the lineit may be time to bust out this pairing. 

Other than that, we have to consider the curious case of Alex Galchenyuk. He played nine games at center earlier in the year; he scored 9 points in 9 games including a hat trick. That was his best stretch of the season, yet he was either removed from the role by Therrien due to his defensive play, or as some have suggested, he requested to be removed and put back on the wing. Perhaps the responsibility of playing center was too much for him. Once again with your season on the line, you need to go all in.

Ultimately Therrien is not known for his creativity or risk taking, he knows he has an ace in Price. So he has built a conservative, methodical strategy up front used to exploit his greatest strength – his goaltender. But with the Habs having scored only 7 goals in the last 5 gameseven the staunchest supporter needs to admit that something‘s got to give here.  While we all wait and sit patiently for a power play that has been dormant for a year and half. It would be nice to see the coach roll the dice with some brand new line up combinations in hopes of jump starting a moribund offense.

 

2) Beating Ben Bishop:

 

Bishop is now 12-1-2 in his career versus the Montreal Canadiens. He has a SV % north of 95%, and has looked more like Carey Price, than Carey Price. Prust’s attempts to throw Bishop off his game are well documented, and it seems that the Habs in general have gone out of their way to get in his crease, knock him over, and take their shots. Here’s the problem; it isn’t working. First of all; Bishop isn’t even his real name. His real name is The Mountain and he’s 6’10and weighs 400 pounds. In all seriousness, Bishop is 6”7 and 215 pounds, he is imposing physically and most likely unaffected by the Habs small(ish) forwards. Second of all; he’s still dominating – other than flubbing a routine glove save, our forwards have no goals through two games. He weighs so heavily on the heads of the Habs’ shooters that they either miss the net while going for the perfect shot, or they shoot it right at the logo in his chest. Bishop is in a zone, there is no denying it.  The best way to beat a hot goalie is to capitalize on the power play – which is what the Lightning did in game twoIn lieu of that you need to get some lucky bounces, now while luck is something of an intangible force which you can’t affect, you can affect the bounces part. Instead of focusing on running Bishop, Habs players need to be looking for deflections and rebounds. While Bishop is enormous and covers so much net, he’s still a little jerky in his movement, and does give up plenty of rebounds. The message to the defensemen should be to keep pucks low and make sure they get through traffic. They need to do away with the high slap shotsThe only way to score is to get pucks to the net, not past the net. Bishop is not invincible; cracking him gives the Habs the best chance of winning.

 

3) Play keep-away:

 

After Detroit almost beat Tampa Bay in 7, I was upset that we had to match up with Tampa instead of Detroit, but happy because I felt Detroit had provided the Habs with a good blueprint on how to stifle and frustrate the Lightning. It started in nets, where Mzarek was able to steal a game, and play at high level throughout. I felt good about this since the Habs have a “fairly good” goaltenderI was also impressed with how the Red Wings adapted after suffering a barrage of shots in the first two games. They began to cut off the neutral zone, and control the puck. The Lightning were the highest scoring team in the league, and they reached that level with a mediocre power play. At even strength, this team is freewheeling and fast skating. They love to bring the puck through the neutral zone, and carry it into the offensive zone. At that point their superior fore-check takes over and generates chances for all its myriad of offensive weapons. The Red Wings put a stop to that for the most part, by trapping them in the neutral zone, and forcing them to go outside. They followed this up by having the defenseman move the puck up quickly up the boards and not allowing the Lightning to set up any sort of fore-check. The best adjustment was Detroit realized the best way to neutralize the best offense in the NHL is to take away the puck. The Red Wings took the play to the Lightning, instead of dumping and chasing (a staple of Therrien); they used their skill carry the puck in and cycle against some of the slower Lightning defensemen. They did to the Lighting what the Lightning normally do to their opponents. In fairness to Therrien and the Habsthey did a good job of this this in game 1 and through the first ten minutes of game 2 before the wheels fell off. But this is not an inherent strategy of the Habs, and when the wrong personnel is on the ice, it’s impossible to generate the type of sustained pressure and cycle needed to control the puck.

 

4) Discipline/Special Teams;

 

I tied these two together because of the game two debacle. As mentioned above the Habs played an excellent first ten minutes of game twoWell that momentum was grounded,due to some selfish and undisciplined penalties taken by some of the Habs veterans. This type of behavior continued throughout the game to the tune of four Lightning power play goals. This problem was compounded by another “O fer showing on the Habs power play (now an unbelievable 1 for 26 in these playoffs). At this point we are beating a dead horse, but the special teams play has got to be better. The Habs have no hope of beating this team 5 on 5, so they need to create that imbalance on special teams. Their stupidity in game two may have woken up a Lightning power play, however I suspect that it was a blip on the radar. Tampa has struggled with their power play all year,and the Habs’ penalty kill has been good for the most part. At the very least, the Habs should be conscious of playing a tight and discipline game, and not affording the Lightning any chances to find out whether or not their power play is really back or not. At the same time the Habs need their power play to wake up – one of the biggest critiques of Therrien is that he is stubborn and unimaginative, and the power play is the best example of that. After a year and a half of stagnation: the Habs continue to do the same thing game in and game out. There no fluid movement, no cuts, no short passes – everything is long and sweeping: from one side of the ice to the other. All of this in hopes of a P.K. Subban blast from the point. The problem is EVERYONE knows this is coming, and yet the Habs persist with this model. As mentioned already, the Habs need to concentrate on getting pucks to the net, and look for tips and rebound. While some have suggested changing the whole philosophy of the power play, I think it’s a little too late at this point of the season. So shorten some of the passing lanes and look to get pucks on Bishop and pray to the hockey gods.



That’s all I got , but if all else fails…well….


 


Go Habs Go.

 

‘Sens’ing a Disturbance in the Habs Force.

The sun is out, the snow is melting, the birds are singing, the BBQ’s are lit, and the smell of manure is in the air…Welcome to spring in Montreal! Of course it wouldn’t be spring in this fine city, without some good ol’ playoff hockey, and it starts tonight! 

 

Your Montreal Canadiens just wrapped up one of their most successful seasons…EVER! Yes, you read that right. If you look at purely wins (a solid 50 that hits like a Labbat 50) and points (110 points and the second best total in the entire league), this iteration of the Habs would appear to be worthy of holding up against some of the franchise’s greatest teams. But alas, this is 2015 and not 1975; no one is rushing to grab the paper just to check the standings, or see who is leading the league in goals. We live in the age of information, and we are buried alive in different stats that strip away any perception of a team and leave it a smoldering carcass of shortcomings, deficiencies, and with the stink of failure.

 

I’m not going to rehash the stats.  All we need to know is that the Habs enter the playoffs as one of the poorest possession teams; they don’t generate shots towards the net. As a result, they don’t score a lot of even strength goals. Generally speaking, being good at these stats have a very, very strong correlation to playoff success. 


Now I’ve been accused many times of being a hater, even though I bleed bleu-blanc-rouge, I’m a Chicken Little fan who never believes in the team. Now I’m not going to sit here and say I haven’t picked against the Habs. Two years ago, I had Ottawa beating us in round 1. Last year, I picked Boston to beat us in round 2. I’ve spent most of this year cautioning my friends not to get overly excited about the team’s success because it was based largely on a stretch of games in which Carey Price transformed into Spiderman, after being giving super soldier serum, showered in gamma radiation, and yielding the mighty Mjolnir as a goalie stick.

 

With that in mind, you know which way I’m headed in my prediction on this opening round versus the Ottawa Senators. I’m going straight for the jugular here and will say Ottawa wins in 6 games. 

 

Why Mr. Genius blogger who knows everything?

 

Here’s why kids. 

 

Despite Ottawa’s slow start this has been a completely different team since David Cameron took over; since Marc Methot returned from injury; and since the emergence of Andrew Hammond from career AHLer to the hottest goaltender in the universe over the last 25 game (and McDonald’s icon). Ottawa trumps the Habs across the board on most possession/shot stats. While they have definitely had their share of puck luck going 20-4-4 in their last 28 games; make no mistake about it, this is an exceptional team, with great talent, hot goaltending, and good coaching. When we add the fact that the offensively challenged Habs are going to be without their #1 sniper, who is also one of their best penalty killers, and a team leader…I’m already on the fence here but without Pacioretty I’m really not getting the warm and fuzzies about the Habs chances.

 

Fine Mr. Super handsome know it all blogger, what’s the point of writing this blog thenJust go live in Ottawa, you traitor!

 

Take it easy kids.

 

Here is why I’m writing this today, because I am a Habs fan, and because there is a lot about this team that I like, and that I believe in. So I’m going to sit here and give myself 5 reasons why I think Montreal can win this series.

 

1) Rest

 

Ottawa has been in survival mode for about 20-25 games now. Once it became clear to them they had a shot; they’ve been laying it out on the line every game. Montreal has felt secure about their playoff position for weeks now, while there have been some important games here and there with respect to playoff seeding; you can argue that they have taken their foot off the pedal somewhat – even Carey Price has looked mortal over his last 4 games. Of course this has created mass panic within the halls of Hab fandom, because…that’s what Montrealers do…they panic. But the Habs have had games this year which they have played well (…at least for stretches of the game), and we all know what Carey Price is capable of doing when he’s dialed in. You can look at the Habs and confidently say “this team can kick it into another gear. Can you say the same for Ottawa?  Their play been inspired over the last 4 to 6 weeks, with rookies stepping up, and everyone playing hard. It’s safe to say they have used a significant amount of gas to get to this point. Will all that momentum they created carry them through the playoffs despite depleted energy levels, or will they run out of steam and finally come back down to earth?

 

2) X-Factors

 

I’m not really looking for advantage here as this section is more of an emotional, intangible part of the game. While it’s become custom to analyze everything and anything, it’s easy to forget that these guys are humans. Ottawa has had their share of emotional moments this year, most recently yesterday, when their assistant coach, Mark Reeds, passed away after a battle with cancer. They have also been dealing all season with the knowledge that their franchise’s leaderBryan Murray, is also battling terminal cancer. There’s a lot of emotional weight that the Ottawa players can dig deep into in order draw intrinsic motivation in those tough moments. As for the Habsrecently Elmer Lach passed away. He was the oldest living player left in the whole NHL, not just the Habs. A hall of famer, his number resides in the rafters along with another great that we also lost this year. I wrote about Jean Beliveau when he passed. He moved many people to do the same. His legacy is intertwined with this franchise and his passing also touched every player who wears that CH logo over their chest. It took a few years for the Ghosts of the forum to make it to the Bell Center. This year they received two greats from not only the club’s history, but this city’s history. 

“To you from failing hands we throw the torch.  Be yours to hold high.”

 

3) Experience

 

Ottawa fans like to highlight the playoff match up two seasons ago when Ottawa beat Montreal in 5 games. That’s fine, and while that series ended up being one sided, most people forget that the Habs dominated game 1 of that series, and Ottawa won on the back of an exceptional performance from Craig Anderson. That series cannot be discussed without noting Grybas hit on and attempt to decapitate Lars Eller, who was the hottest player on the team, and was centering the best line on the team at that time. It changed the whole complexion of the series. Another factor that goes unmentioned by the Ottawa faithful is that their was unceremoniously beaten in 5 by the Pittsburgh in the following series. The following season Ottawa didn’t even make the playoffs. Last year the Habs made the Eastern conference finals sweeping an injured Tampa Bay team, upsetting the Bruins in 7, and then stretching the Rangers to 6 games, despite playing 90% of that series with their 3rd string goaltender. Habs bottom 6 is made up of character guys, who know the stakes in the playoffs, and every year it seems like someone steps up. Ottawa’s success this year has been driven in large part by young players like Lazar, Stone, and most notably Hammond. None of these guys have played in the NHL playoffs; none of them have been in an atmosphere like the Bell Center. 

 

4) Underdog?

 

Despite a better record and some stretches almost equivalent to Ottawa’s 20-4-4 (17 ROW) run (the Habs had a stretch where they went 18-8-2 in 28 games (16 ROW)), the Habs seem to be playing the role of underdog. Ottawa’s hot stretch into the playoffs, as well as the elevated play of Hammond in nets, and Stone up front have propelled Ottawa ahead of the Habs in many of the fans’ and experts’ minds (mine included apparently). If I’m Therrien, I’m playing this fact up, I’m playing the “no one believes in us” card. I’m playing up the fact that people think Karrlsson is better than P.K. Subban, I’m telling Galchenyuk and Gallagher that the only young players being discussed in this series are Pageau, Lazar, and Stone. I’m looking at Plekanec and Markov and telling them no one is talking about these two long time Habs that have been instrumental in their success,. Finally I’m looking at Carey Price, and saying to him with a straight face, that there are people out there…that genuinely think…that Andrew Hammond is better than you. The Habs need to feel and play like they have something to prove, and at the same time, play like they have nothing to lose. That’s how Ottawa’s been playing for the last 6 weeks. Now Ottawa has everything to lose. Let’s drop the puck.

 

5) Carey Price

 

It’s amazing that even after the season Carey Price put together, he still has doubters. Because his last 4 games were “ordinary” (by the way he won 3 of the 4) that he somehow has regressed to a point in which he will be thoroughly outplayed in the playoffs. Look Carey will be hard pressed to repeat his performance for a section of this season; a stretch of 30 some odd games in which his save percentage was north of 95% and he didn’t allow more than 2 goals in a single game. It’s unheard of, and almost impossible to sustain. Here is the thing though, he can do it over 2 to 3 games, he may be able to do it over 5 to 7 games. Carey Price can steal a series, or two, or threeThe hope, of course,is he doesn’t have to. The hope is the Habs figure out how to get that extra goal; whether it’s someone stepping up, or the power play coming to life. On the flip side, Andrew Hammond will never be as scrutinized as he will be starting right now. Pierre Mcguire brought up a great point on the radio this week that this will be the first time in his career that an NHL team will be 110% focused on scouting and evaluating him. Prior to this, Hammond was an undrafted, career minor leaguer. Even teams that signed him didn’t scout him much as they did so with no intention of having him in the big leagues. Andrew Hammond has been one of the best stories in the NHL so far, but he’s about to face his biggest challenge. He’s about to do that while staring across the ice at the best goaltender in the world. People are rushing to pick Ottawa, due to their recent streakthey are a trendy pick to make it out of the East.  They’ll have to face Carey Price and beat him 4 out of 7 games. That’s a tough mountain to climb for any club, and if the Habs give Carey any kind of support, this may actually be the one sided series that some people are expecting but in the favor of the Habs.

 

 

So all that said…have I changed my mind? Look playoffs ultimately come down to goaltending. But the idea of a goaltender “stealing” a series is the wrong approach. If your goaltender outright steals a series, then it means you played poorly as a team. To allow a goaltender to “win” a series, you need some support, even if you’re outmatched (see Habs vs. Bruins last year). Ottawa is not a flash in the pan team, and they have a more than capable backup should the Hamburgular finally go stale. 

 

Despite the five reasons listed above – when I look at everything, my biggest concern is the lack of power in our powerplay, certain match ups (I wish Therrien would sit Emelin), Therrien in general (and his coaching strategy), and the injury to Pacioretty….


So…I’ll have to stick with my prediction Ottawa in 6….

 

…or Habs in 7!!

 

Go Habs go!!!

 

NHL Individual Awards – Half Season Assessment (aka HABNRAMDCWITWWA)

I accept defeat, I accept the fact that I will not be able to update this blog as regularly as I hoped. Thus I have officially changed the name of this blog to “Random Rumblings”. Which I feel is a more accurate description of how often it is updated.

With that out of the way. I was planning on posting this big beautiful blog post during the NHL All Star game weekend. But in typical random fashion (see, it didn’t take long for the name to come in handy) – it did not get completed in time. Luckily with a few minor changes and some additional rumblings, it is now completed and ready for your reading pleasure.

The NHL All Star game typically represents the mid point of the season. As a result, we are inundated with numerous bloggers and pundits giving out their “mid season” awards that mean absolutely nothing since there is literally half a season left to be played. Never one to strive for uniqueness or glory, we at Random Rumblings Inc, will simply follow the masses and put out the first ever Halfling Award Extravaganza. Thus revealing how little we value our own picks and what geeks we are for naming our awards after David Desharnais Bilbo Baggins. (On a side note, I keep saying “we” because while one would assume I manage this awesome and consistently updated blog myself. I actually have a team of 23 people who help keep this site humming at a breakneck speeds)(If you believed that …than you must be the same person who thinks having one player from each team on the All Star game is a good idea.)(Yes, that means you’re an idiot.)

bilboholcey

So just to be clear this is not really an awards post as I’m simply breaking down the awards race, and eventually determining who I think will win the award….yes the name is misleading, but the truth is I also misled myself. I started writing this with the intention of giving out a mid season award…and then just ended up basically rambling for 2300 words instead. (Yes, I’m also an idiot)

Because I know how much you all love my long, long…long posts, I wanted to add as much crap into one blog entry as possible. (Since I probably won’t update the blog again till March…2016.) I will also rank – on a scale of 1 to 5 Bilbos – how likely the player I choose ends up winning the award (1 being not likely, and 5 being a shoo-in) and I will also provide a true, out of no where, dark horse per award. Finally….since this is a Habs blog, I will discuss which players on the Habs will win the “equivalent” award within the confines of the team.

In the immortal words of the Joker (geek alert #2) “… here we go…”

(Before continuing I have to note that I forgot to break down the Calder, which goes to the rookie of the year. Let’s just say it’s going to Filip Forsberg. With props given out to Aaron Ekblad.)

The Rocket Richard Trophy:

This looks like it’s boiling down to a five horse race between Rick Nash, Tyler Seguin, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and one of the most underrated players in the league –  Joe Pavelski.

Winner: Steven Stamkos – while he’s having a great season, and Tampa Bay has a deep team that has the best shot at winning the East. He still hasn’t gone on a real tear – I can see him going on a second half scoring binge and separating himself from the pack.

One Bilbo: All that said, this is as tight a race as we’ve had in years, especially when you factor in Nash’s reemergence and Seguin emergence as goal scoring dynamos. Finally you can’t discount number 8 – hard to bet against Ovechkin when it comes to goal scoring.

Dark Horse: Tomas Tatar – he’s been a ripping it up lately and is 9 goals off the lead with 22 total. Furthermore he’s playing for the Red Wings, who are the home made chocolate chip cookies of the NHL – always good, never disappoint. I also just wanted to say his name, which I always pronounce “Tartar”. (You know you do it too)

Habs Top Goal Scorer: Max Pacioretty – I was tempted to go with Max Pacioretty as the dark horse, but is he? He finished 6th last year and top ten again this year. Regardless, he’s got this category locked up as far as the Habs leading goal scorer. If I was also giving out Bllbos on the Habs category, he’d have 86387 Bilbos, and all of them would have been given super soldier serum. (geek alert #3)

Art Ross Trophy:

Hands up if you had Jakob Voracek as the league leader in points at the half way point of the season. Now hands down if you’re a compulsive liar. Hands down if you’re Jakob Voracek’s mother. If you do, by some miracle, still have your hand up, you should immediately forward your CV to the Toronto Maple Leafs because you’re a hockey psychic, and they will hire anyone. There are ten guys within 10 points of Voracek, including a pair of recent Art Ross winners, who’s lives are narrated by Morgan Freeman. As well as, noted point demons: Patrick Kane, Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin and Tyler Johnson…wait what?? Ugh TB really is that good eh? (cue Habs fans sadly nodding their heads before they burst out in evil maniacal laughter and rip their clothes’ off to reveal Carey Price themed unitards.)

Winner: Jakob Voracek – Crosby and Malkin have had injury issues, which may hold them back. Giroux may have the best shot, but the dynamic with him and Voracek is pretty consistent which leads me to believe he will be slightly behind him for the rest of the season.

Two Bilbos: Like the Rocket race – this is to tight to call. Kane and Seguin have a great shot but play in a much more difficult conference, and you can’t ignore Sid the Kid, who’s more than capable of going on sustained stretches of brilliance.

Dark Horse: Steven Stamkos – is it even possible to call Stamkos a dark horse? He sits 12 points back, and as mentioned above, he has yet to go on a real crazy scoring binge.

Habs Top Point Getter: Maybe Max Pacioretty – It ultimately boils down to Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Tomas Plekanec, with an outside chance going to Alex Galchenyuk. P.K. has come on strong lately, as the power play has finally found it’s footing. Galchenyuk, even at the age of 20, is probably the most talented forward on the roster, but does not get enough playing time…so I’m going with Pacioretty on this one. He’s the Habs’ best even strength player, gets ample PP time, and should finish on top in goals and total points.

Frank J. Selke Tropy:

They should really rename this award the Bob Gainey award, since it was literally created to honor him given that his defensive prowess did not always show up in the stat sheet. They should be careful in renaming the award however, since they would run risk that the award would then trade Ryan McDonagh to the New York Rangers for Scott Gomez… … …Let’s move on.

Top defensive forward in the NHL typically doesn’t have much turn over, as there have been 8 multiple time winners in the trophy’s 32 year history. In more recent years it’s sort of been given to the best “two way player” as winners tend have had some impressive point totals to go along with solid +/-.

Winner: Jonathan Toews – with perennial contender Patrice Bergeron having gone through some early season struggles, there is no clear cut favorite this year. Chicago is still tops among the league leaders in goals against and they do it without the help of a top 5 goaltender. Toews hits all the hot buttons; he is an elite scorer, solid face-off man, and great penalty killer.

Four Bilbos: There is a lot of hockey yet to be played, but let’s face it…what warm blooded Canadian hockey fan doesn’t love Toews. I think I go to bed every night and pray my son grows up to be Jonathan Toews. The NHL needs to a find a way to honor this guy, and the Selke trophy is the perfect award.

Dark horse: I just claimed that I want my son to grow to be Jonathan Toews! There is no dark horse, there is only Toews.

Habs Best Defensive Forward: Tomas Plekanec – This one is a no brainer; Plekanec will probably get consideration for the Selke. Pleks remains the Habs’ best two way player, main penalty killer, and is great face off guy. He also wears a teenage mutant ninja turtle neck and shall be called Plekanardo from here on out.

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James Norris Memorial Trophy:

The Norris has bounced around various players the last few years. But is generally an award that features the same contenders every year and has some impressive multiple time winners. This year we should also see new players garner some consideration. If the season ended today you’d have a hard time convincing anyone that Mark Giordano and Ken Shattenkirk didn’t deserve to be two of the nominees.

Winner: Shea Webber – in a year where there could be as many as 7 legitimate contenders for the award. I’m going with Shea Weber given that he plays for one of the best defensive teams in the league, he’s top 5 in TOI and +/-. He’s top ten in points and goals for defensemen. Finally, he was recruited by the Avengers to stop Ultron by shooting a puck at his face. (Geek alert #4)

Half a Bilbo: If the Flames make the playoffs, I’d be tempted to say that Mark Giordano would be the odds on favorite to win it, but the Flames are definitely not guaranteed a spot in the rough and tough West. Add in names like Duncan Keith, Ken Shattenkirk, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, and Erik Karlsson and this should probably be -3 Bilbos.

Dark Horse: No one – Given all the real contenders there just isn’t room for a true dark horse, so I’ll mention the name of one my favorite players in the NHL who is a tremendous defenceman but plays for the lowly Arizona Coyotes. Oliver Elkman-Larsson-Awesome. OK so I added the “awesome” but this guy is the real deal, and does not get enough recognition.

Habs Best Defenseman: P.K. Subban – I mentioned that P.K. Subban will probably be in the mix when it comes to the Norris conversation. He’s improved in the defensive zone, and his offensive game remains one of the best in the league from the blue line. Furthermore, unlike some of the other contenders P.K. has very little help in terms of carrying the load. Andrei Markov is an ageless wonder, but once you get by those two- the Habs’ blue line is dangerously thin. As a result, P.K. Is one of the most valuable defenseman in the league, as the Habs are a substantially worse possession team when he’s not on the ice.

Vezina Trophy:

Between 1990 and 2010 only 10 goalies were awarded the trophy, and most of those goalies showed up as multiple nominees. Sure there was that one year Jim Carey quit acting and played goalie for the Capitals in preparation for a big movie role, but the part went Jean Claude Van Dame who saved the day in Pittsburgh. Over the last 3 years we’ve seen 3 different winners, and two of those are in the running again. King Henrik Lundqvist who maybe the most consistent goalie of our generation, and Tukka Rask, who despite a slow start, he has really come on strong as of late. I’d also love to give a shout out to everyones lovable undersized goalie: Jaroslav Halak . But let’s face it this season boils down to two netminders who have not won the award yet: Carey Price and Pekka Rinne.

Winner: Carey Price – HOMER ALERT…but not really. While there is no doubt this is a Habs blog; my choice of Carey Price is echoed by various non Montreal based pundits, as well as opposing coaches. Furthermore various advanced stat articles have laid claim to Price’s dominance this year beyond the usual numbers.

3.5 Bilbos: Barring huge run by Rask (which is possible) – it’s coming down to Price vs. Rinne.The biggest hurdle for Rinne is staying healthy, he’s already missed the last few weeks with a knee injury.

Dark Horse: Branden Holtby – There are a few dark horse candidates, specifically Branden Holtby who has really bounced back after a down year to be top 7 in wins, GAA, SV%, and shutouts.

Habs best Goaltender: Dustin Tokarski. Just kidding. Halak? Oh yeah this guy…

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Hart Memorial Trophy:

This is officially the MVP award of the NHL. As with other MVP awards it is often difficult to assess who should really win this award. Is it the best player in the league? Or the player most valuable to his team. Typcally this award goes to a high scoring forward who plays for a playoff team. In fact over the last 30 years only one defenseman has won the award, and two goalies (with Dominik Hasek winning it twice in back to back years.) This year no forward has really separated themselves offensively, I counted up to ten legit candidates at forward. Such widespread attention, has left the door open again for a goaltender to sneak in, and two in particular have been staking claim to being MVP.

Winner: Carey Price – While Pekka Rinne is also very much in the running (the Preds have gone a respectable 3-2-2 in his absence.) This TSN article which I linked above, and this blog post from the managing editor of Habs Eye on the Prize, Andrew Berkshire, show without a shadow of doubt that Price is the most valuable netminder in the league. Despite some really impressive seasons some of the NHL’s brightest offensive stars. The bottom line is the Habs would not be a playoff team if not for Price. When you factor in that he’s the best at his position, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better choice.

2 Bilbos: Habs lost to the Sabres today, and there is a sliver of truth to the thinking that the Habs’ are too reliant on Price and he could wear down. Add that to the fact that this award typically goes to a forward and I’d have to say the odds are low.

Dark Horse: Phil Kessel? – What if the Leafs turn it around? and go on a run? and make the playoffs!! Yeah…dark horse…not a dead horse. How about Mark Giardano? He has no hope of winning this but the Calgary Flames have been one of the best stories in the league so far, and Giordano is the heart and soul of that team.

Habs’ MVP: Carey Price – He’s won the Molson Cup for the last 386 months…Look, it’s obviously Price. But P.K. Subban is not far behind. and Max Pacioretty isn’t far behind that. As mentioned in my Habs’ Season Preview the Habs’ will only go as far as the big 3 take them.

So there you have it there first ever “Hafling Awards But Not Really an Award, More of a Discussion on the Candidates and Who I Think Will Win the Award” Awards! better known as the HABNRAMDCWITWWA, (It’s really a miracle that the word HAB is in this acronym,..that was not planned.)

 

Go Habs Go!

Great Expectations: Habs Hangover Season Preview Edition

When the Hangover burst into cinemas in 2009, it was a revelation. It exceeded any and all expectations. It launched the careers of Zach Galafinakis and Ken Jeong, and propelled Bradley Cooper into an A-list actor. So naturally, after this epic run, news quickly spread that Hangover 2 was in the works. Excitement spread immediately; fans could not wait to see how it would top the first. Alas, while the movie was a financial success, it was ultimately disappointing (and led to a slightly better but also disappointing third movie).

The Montreal Canadiens just finished their most successful season since winning the Stanley Cup in 1993. They finished the regular season with 100 points. They rolled to the Eastern conference finals, highlighted by an emotionally charged and electric 7 game series victory over chief rival and Eastern conference powerhouse, the Boston Bruins.

So naturally, after this epic run, fans can’t wait to see how the Habs will top last season. Will they win their division? Will they score more than 100 points? Will they make it back to the Eastern Conference finals? The Stanley Cup finals? Will they lift Lord Stanley’s Cup over their heads and hang a 25th championship banner in the rafters of the Bell Center?

Well there is one guy out there that wants to pull back on the reins of Habs nation and say: “Whoa there, big fella!” He’s pretty important to the overall success of the Habs. He writes an effin’ amazing blog. He has won the last four fantasy hockey leagues he’s participated in, but let’s face it…realistically, I actually matter as much as one of P.K Subban’s farts. But Marc Bergevin, the man I was actually alluding to, does matter…he matters a lot. He went out of his way after last year’s epic run to quell expectations entering this season: “The fact that we went to the conference finals doesn’t mean that we start ahead of everyone else on October.” – He’s right, but fans tend to get playoff goggles.

Bergevin had a busy off season; vets like Gionta, Gorges, Briere, Bouillon and Vanek were let go to make room for PA Paranteau, Tom Gilbert and a slew of young prospects. Most fans rejoiced with the increased roles that would open up to our young roster players, and prospects. We need to take a moment and respect the players we released. While Gionta, Gorges, and Briere were clearly on the downside of their careers, they brought certain intangibles to the table and a winning attitude. Fans tend to take ‘experience’ for granted, and while there is an argument that young players won’t get experience as long as the old guys are around, you still can’t discount the stability that veterans bring to the locker room. That said, the Habs have a good mix of veterans and young players coming into this season and should be able to build off last year.

However, there are still some burning questions as we enter the season. Questions that – depending on how they are answered – will go a long way to shaping what direction the Habs’ season will take.

Here are my top 5 issues/questions facing the Habs as they enter the 2014-2015 season.

1) The Center Conundrum?

One of the main talking points of last season was David Desharnais’ effectiveness as the teams #1 center.
One of the main talking points of the off-season was about trading Tomas Plekanec.
One of the main talking points of the preseason was moving Alex Galchenyuk to center.

All three points are connected, with the general consensus being that it is a matter of time before Alex Galchenyuk ascends to the #1 center spot. So what happens to David Desharnais? It is well documented that Max Pacioretty is happier when he’s lined up with his best bud. Does Desharnais even have any value when he’s not playing with Max? Keeping Pacioretty happy is a key component, because he was proven to be somewhat surly and defensive when his effort is questioned and whenever he or Desharnais are struggling. So if Desharnais is required to appease Max (and frankly he’s a tough piece to trade as his value is so closely tied to Pacioretty), that leaves us with Plekanec and the true X-factor when it comes the center position: Lars Eller. Most people will agree at this point that Plekanec is a better player than Eller and you would get no argument from me. However, we can’t overlook these factors: Eller is 6 years younger; he makes 3.5M dollars less annually; he is signed for the next 4 years versus 2 years for Plekanec. He is also bigger and stronger than Plekanec. On the other hand, Plekanec has the experience, the higher hockey IQ, and is a two way force who warranted some Selke consideration the last couple of years.

Fearless Prediction:

I think this season remains status quo with Galchenyuk resuming his role on the wing, and Desharnais, Plekanec, and Eller manning the top three center spots. I predict that Eller and Galchenyuk will both have strong seasons. Next year – with Pleks entering the last year of his contract – we should see a changing of the guard down the middle of the Habs line up.

2) Can the kids step up?

Speaking of Galchenyuk, he will be needed to up his game to a new level this year. The same goes for Gallagher, as well as new edition Jiri Sekac. On the blue line,Nathan Beaulieu and Jared Tinordi will be expected to earn full time roles and contribute nightly. Dirty little secret about the Habs last year was that they were the worst corsi team in the playoffs and had the fifth worst corsi in the entire league. Having Beaulieu and a big body like Sekac to replace Gorges and Gionta should help. Ultimately, the skills of Galchenyuk, and the drive of Gallagher can help take the Habs to another level. The “young G’s” are only 20 and 21 years old respectively; both these kids still have a long way to go before hitting the peak of their potential. If the Habs are to maintain last year’s pace and/or take the next step, both kids have to take a step forward in their careers and (cross our fingers) stay healthy. (Galchenyuk has a dicey injury history, and Gallagher is always at risk of being shillegaghed by opposing goaltenders – Gangs of New York style).

Fearless prediction:

Galchenyuk leads the Habs in scoring and Gallagher leads the NHL in penalties drawn and goaltender interference calls. The Young G’s will notch new career highs in goals and points and continue progressing into premier players in the league.

3) 9 million reasons for P.K. to fail?

P.K.’s contract was a hot button topic this summer. In the end, he will be the highest paid defenseman in the NHL at 9M dollars per year (although with the influx of TV money coming in and the rising salary cap, his contract will be much more acceptable in a few years, but as mentioned – Habs fans tend to be shortsighted). While no one doubts P.K.’s confidence and skill, he will certainly have an extra big target on his back this year, and not only from opposing teams but from the media and fans. Should he struggle even for 2 or 3 games in row, there will be an avalanche of articles, tweets, and quotes about how he is buckling under the pressure of his new contract. P.K. needs to be able to quiet his detractors and take his game to an even higher level. As the Habs’ best player not named Carey Price, he will be needed to excel in every situation of the game for the Habs to mimic any success they had last year.

Fearless prediction:

P.K. finishes the season top 5 in defenseman scoring, top 5 in minutes per game, and becomes the first player penalized for farting on an opposing goaltender. Oh, and he will also be nominated for a Norris trophy.

4) Oh captain, my captain?

Will the lack of a captain hurt this team and serve as a distraction moving forward? Gionta was just named captain of the Buffalo Sabres and with Gorges serving as his back up, the dearth in the leadership contingent of the Habs is noticeable. While some suggested that Markov is the natural leader of this team, it’s been clear that he has no interest in the extra responsibilities that come with being captain of the Habs. P.K. was described as the natural future captain by some, and a “not ready, prima donna” by others. Finally, most pundits seem to agree that the one true leader of this team is in fact Carey Price, but goaltenders are not allowed to be captains per league rules. So in the off-season, the organization named Markov, Plekanec, Subban and Pacioretty as alternate captains and for the second time in less than ten years the Habs will play a season without a captain.

Fearless Prediction:

I should note that the last time the Habs did not name a captain, they went to the Eastern Conference finals. I don’t expect the lack of captain to be an issue at all as these “young vets” along with Markov should be able to guide and lead the Habs’ youngsters and new additions. By the season’s end P.K. will emerge as the one obvious choice to be captain, while behind the scenes Price will hold the most clout.

5) Can the Habs’ stars continue to shine? Can they shine brighter?

Carey Price emerged as a top 5 goaltender in the NHL last year. Max Pacioretty finished sixth in goal scoring with 39 goals. P.K. Subban followed up his Norris winning season by finishing fifth in overall point total for defensemen. They are the Habs’ version of the “Big 3”. Can they continue their success this year? Can they raise their games to the next level? None of them are even 27 years old yet – which is scary when you consider their level of success up to this point. So much is dependent on their play – from the Habs maintaining their top 5 penalty killing unit, to improving the Habs’ 19th ranked powerplay. They are also vital to the even strength game; Pacioretty dominated all Habs’ forwards in both corsi and fenwick 5 on 5 and P.K. led all Habs’ defensemen. Price had the second best save percentage at even strength in the entire NHL. While we mentioned many different factors in play for the Habs to succeed this year, the season will ultimately rest on the shoulders of these three players.

Fearless Prediction:

I already mentioned that I think Subban will be fine and will be nominated for a Norris. Pacioretty will take the ‘A’ on his jersey very seriously and elevate his game to a new level, cracking 40 goals and looking like a force. He will eventually join Galchenyuk to be one of the best center/winger combos in the league for the foreseeable future. While Price will obviously be in discussion again for the Vezina, he will also be in the discussion for the Hart trophy as he emerges as a true leader, and the irreplaceable piece to the Habs’ machine. The Big 3 will have the Habs battling the Bruins and Lightning for the top of the Atlantic division all season.

This season should be very interesting as key teams in the Atlantic division have improved, and Boston still rules the hill. However, led by the Big 3, the emerging play of the Young G’s, and some of the youthful additions to the blue line, they should avoid the hangover, improve on the almighty possession metrics, and contend for a top seed in the Eastern conference.

I hope.

We’ll find out – starting tonight versus the Toronto Maple Leafs!

Let me know what you think on twitter (@wolverine_z) or in the comments below.

Go Habs go!

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