Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Last night was a night of firsts at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
A first career loss for Scott Clemmensen (6-1-1,  1.97 GAA) against the Habs.
A first career win at home for Carey Price (1-2-1, 2.22 GAA). against the Florida Panthers.
The first career point for Brendan Gallagher, in his first NHL game no less.
The first Goal and the first star selection for Alex Galchenyuck.
The first win of the season.
The first win for the new Coach and the new GM.

Lots of firsts.

Before the puck could drop,  The Canadiens paid tribute to Richard Garneau who passed away over the weekend. Richard Garneau for 23 seasons was the "French Dick Irvin" covering the Montreal Canadiens for SRC. When the Montreal Forum closed, when the Bell Centre (then Molson Centre) opened, when there is a jersey retirement, when the Canadiens celebrated 100 years, Garneau was there.

Alex Galchenyuck, in a classy move, was named the first star of the game after scoring his first NHL goal. He had a great game. His line with fellow rookie sparkplug Brendan Gallagher was hopping all night. Shift after shift guided along by their "babysitter" Brandon Prust they drove to the net creating chances. If we're to be fair however, Galchenyuck was not the best player on the ice last night, he wasn't even the best Hab last night.

Lars Eller was a healthy scratch last night as the coach said that Eller needed to "show more intensity". This was not a problem for Rene Bourque. Bourque last night played the kind of game that was advertised of him by former General Manager Pierre Gautheir when he was acquired. Michel Therrien has given Bourque new responsibilities and some rope to prove or disprove his ability. Last night he shined. While he did not collect any points on the game, Bourque created. By driving to the net hard twice, he drew two penalties. The Canadiens would score on one of the ensuing Power Plays. He used his body throwing 4 hits, and he killed penalties. Not only did he kill penalties, he killed them effectively. It's true, he was on the ice for Florida's only goal of the hockey game, but this is a work in progress. So far, I like the results.

Many will point to the play of Andrei Markov as being stellar. Markov scored 2 goals on the Power Play last night, and logged just over 23 minutes on 6 shifts. If there were any doubts about his health they should already be disappearing. While many will point to Markov's goals a a sign that he's "back", I was much more encouraged by the defenseman's play in his own end. Markov wasn't afraid of battles in front of the net or in the corners, he didn't shy away from contact, and he continues to have an excellent ability to read and anticipate the play. Offensively, he struggled with the puck. It is the case with many players early in this shortened season as many of them haven't played all year. In the case of Markov his amount of games over the last 3 years is limited, but he has played over 30 games already this season including his time in the KHL. I am encouraged by Markov's play, I think he is on his way back, but to say he's already there might be wishful thinking. There will still be some frustrating games for the defender, if not for the fans.

There were many encouraging signs out of the Montreal Canadiens last night. Many players played well. Many players worked very hard. Many hits were thrown, players stood up for eachother and offense was created. Michel Therrien, as promised has even started to evolve his coaching tactics often pushing a defenseman into the offensive zone as a fourth attacker supporting the forwards. Last night, the Canadiens drove the pace. But, let's be honest here, this was a Florida Panthers team playing it's 3rd game in 4 nights.

Many of the Panthers players looked tired. Jonathan Huberdeau came as advertised. He had only 2 shots on net, however both were excellent saves by Carey Price who had to be strong at moments. Huberdeau was strong with the puck and drove play on the ice whenever he was on it. Scott Clemmenson also had a strong game despite letting in 4 goals. He made 29 saves. Alexei Kovalev had a few nifty dangles and missed the net a few times on hard shots, but for the most part did not stand out positively or negatively.

The Panthers scratched Captain Ed Jovanovski last night, as they have said they will do multiple times this season. His age, coupled with his style of play and a condensed schedule don't mix well. This leads me to wonder how many games Francis Bouillon can play 20 plus minutes for. Bouillon gives everything he has in his body on every shift, a recipe for disaster with his small stature in a shortened season. 

Alex Galchenyuck is making the decision to keep him in Montreal or send him back to Sarnia a difficult one. He hasn't yet looked out of place in Montreal, but we have seen similar situations arise with young players here before. After 3 more games played in a Habs uniform, the brass will need to make a decision. Personally, regardless of his play here, I would send him back to Sarnia. I feel as though there are too many unknown's as to what will happen if he stays here. By sending him back to Sarnia, he is given a chance to play meaningful games, more minutes, and compete for a memorial cup. It would also give the Canadiens a longer training camp in the fall to re-assess the situation. 2 games, does not 5 make, but this can't be an easy decision. With other young players who also need to be rotated in (Eller, Gallagher) I wouldn't hesitate to scratch Galchenyuck for a couple of games. Scratching him, allows him to participate in practices with Montreal, while not using up games of eligibility. This would allow the team to have a longer look at the player, doing it for too many games however wouldn't be great either as he needs to play to develop. Let's re-assess in a week.

Look at the positives, get ready for Washington tomorrow. The Caps will bring it.

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