Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Lookback At The Habs Season...A Tad Too SOON!

The Habs salute their very loyal fans, raising their sticks high to a standing ovation. Montreal lost game five 6-4, and Philadelphia took the series 4 games to 1 to head to the Conf. Finals.

R.J. Umberger, or Richard Junior as we should all know by now, went from casual 4th liner to goal-scoring dynamo in a short series vs. Montreal.

Umberger had two goals and an assist to finish the five-game series with eight goals and one assist after he had a goal and an assist in seven games against Washington.

Talk about an increase in productivity...

The Flyers wound up achieving the seemingly impossible; not only simply eliminating the East's top team, but doing so in such short fashion, requiring but five games to accomplish the feat.

Although credit must go where it's due, one cannot overlook the obvious fact that Philadelphia was extremely lucky throughout the series, be it an unlikely and improbable Biron save, or a shot from one of our own players that would RING OFF THE POST; Philly owned the horseshoe.

There is not a single game I can honestly point out in this series and say 'Philly dominated us, they deserved the win'. That simply didn't happen. What DID happen was Montreal failed to cash in on most of their opportunities throughout the series, whereas the VERY opportunistic Flyers seemed to have the power to take a shot from anywhere and wind up having it go in.

Maybe, then, it should be said that Montreal didn't flat out dominate as they were expected either.

But, it can't be about excuses all the time, right?

There is one excuse left however, which really needs to be pointed out: Carey Price WAS exactly what Carey Price IS: A 20 year old, inexperienced and rattled goaltender.

This is something Carey is unaccustomed to throughout his career; having some success, but having that success shattered in an instant (in this case, 5 games). "The goalie of the future", who has gone on to capture WJC Gold and the AHL Calder Cup, got a wakeup call as to what it really is going to take to go the distance in the NHL for a shot at attaining Lord Stanley's hardware.

Carey let in a bad goal on more than one occasion throughtout the series, and, at times, in a single game alone (i.e. game 5). His play at times helped to completely swing the momentum in Montreal's direction, but it also, and more prominently, sometimes gave Philly that slim hope of winning another game; and thanks to guys like R.J. Umberger, Philly cashed out.

I'm definitely NOT abandonning ship on Carey Price; I still believe he will materialize into a quality backstop over the years, and I even feel he will be heading to Vancouver in 2010 in a backup role should Marty Brodeur not be able to make it. But, it has become evident that Carey Price wasn't himself in these playoffs, as the reality started to sink in to himself that it would be a LOT harder to dominate at the league's most elite level in the NHL at such a young age.

The keys to Montreal's exit in the playoffs: The ineffective powerplay. A powerplay that provided so much muscle in the regular season, finishing first, got undone by a great penalty-killing effort from Philadelphia...and luckily, we didn't get eliminated by Boston, who I believe killed Montreal's powerplays even more effectively. The goaltending was also very inconsistent, as Price started so strong, but fizzled so rapidly, never really recovering.

This team should have made it to the Conference Finals, but didn't...what can we do but cheer for a season that analysts and experts predicted to be abysmal.

All in all, the entire season for this young Habs team, including Price, should be taken as a learning experience. EXPERIENCE - what a key word.

This team is very young and only getting older as the years go by. If the team could accomplish 1st in the East already, then they need not have much to worry about. Although they didn't stand out as much as I'd expected, the Kostitsyn brothers are going to benefit heavily from the rigors of the post-season, and for them, the most important lesson to learn is that you have to brace for a hit, because it's coming: don't shy away, but BRACE for it, and work through it.

Guys like Lapierre, Begin and Bouillon showed that they will not shy away from anything, and they seem to know what it takes to go deep in a cup run...although that run won't happen this year.

You've got to feel for a guy like Chris Higgins whose inability to finish golden chances may have played a part in the Habs demise (although he did score in game 5 on one of his rare shots that SHOULDN'T have gone in). Chris, although being used as a top 6 forward, played a perfect checking-liner role.

I believe that Montreal was indeed missing the one thing Gainey openly admitted before the trading deadline: An impact player, a real difference maker.

With the season over, here's a lookback at some of the Habs notable performers:

Canadiens Player of the Year: Alex Kovalev...what a great season he provided, allowing us to have so much to cheer about on so many a night. His uncanny skating and shooting ability was an absolute thrill to watch, and with his career winding down, we can expect possibly one more great season out of AK 27; luckily, that season will be Montreal's Centennial, and he will be inspired to play the same calibre hockey as he did this season.

Canadiens Breakthrough Player(s) of the Year: Undoubtedly, there are a few, but I will try to narrow them down to the utmost important:

Josh Gorges - all you need to do is remember the fear in Josh's eyes when he received the puck just a season ago, when he was used sparingly as a 7th defensemen. Compare that to the stable and reliable, panic-free play we saw from him this year, and it's hard to argue that anyone improved more than he did.

Tomas Plekanec - Although he had a slow start to the playoffs, he eventually got going, even though it was too litte, too late. He showed maturity by calling himself out, stating that his own play was similar to that of a little girl's. The regular season was a different story entirely, as he, lined up with Kovy and AK 46, provided 1 third of one of the most exciting line in the NHL (take it from me, I watched a solid TONNE of hockey with the CentreIce package.)

Roman Hamrlik - Though he could hardly be considered as a breakthrough player at his age, he really turned Montreal's defensive hole left by the departed Sheldon Souray into a mountain. His calmness, stability and efficiency on the backend really played a HUGE role in Montreal's seasonal success. All in all, the Hammer turned out to be one of the top 3 free agent signings last off-season, behind Detroit's Brian Rafalski on defense. Good call, Bob.

Canadiens' Disappointment of the Year: I hate to have to put him in a negative group, but Chris Higgins honestly belongs here (although not ahead of Michael Ryder of course, whose tenure with the club is 99.9% over). Higgins was counted on at the start of the season to lead by example, but just like in the playoffs, Higgins failed to convert chance after chance after chance. It may be a little harsh to say he's one of the biggest disappointments, but his misses in the regular and post season figure in too strongly against the 27 goals and 52 points he garnered.

Michael Ryder was, hands down, the biggest let down of the season. The two-time 30 goal scorer was given his fair share of chances, and night after night he showed the inability to convert when he was setup. His decision making was poor all year, choosing to shoot rather than pass on so many occasions when the latter option was the most obvious. I shutter at the fact that he will sign with a new NHL team this summer, and will tally at least 25 goals, possibly 30 once again.

Canadiens Unsung Heroes: Mike Komisarek - blocked a league-leading amount of shots and dished out almost the same quantity of hits.

Mark Streit - although I'm not his biggest fan, he was a powerplay dynamo in the regular season, and his versatility came into effect on multiple occasions as he was sent out to play forward.

Andrei Kostitsyn - eventually, the Kovalev torch will pass, and Andrei is really picking up as a 10th overall draft pick should, scoirng 26 goals. He had 8 playoff points in 12 games as well.

Tom Kostopoulos - The greek! What a series he had, and what a signing he turned out to be. Sticking up for his teammates throughout the year in a heartbeat, not only on, but OFF the ice as well (anyone remember a certain PURSE SNATCHING incident in Tampa?) Kostopoulos played a gritty game and figured in on the scoresheet at KEY moments of games, overachieving at his limited role to earn a spot on the Unsung Heroes list.

And now, here comes a name that I can't believe I'm typing: Patrice Brisebois - OK, LET ME EXPLAIN! He still is one of the slowest players on the team, and possibly in the NHL. But, it cannot be overlooked that he actually provided a stabilizing and efficient presence in the playoffs, which was completely unexpected, even though he scroed a goal in his own net this past series. Breezer's time here should be over, but he did after all play a key role in the playoffs, especially on a bone-dry powerplay.

This offseason should be something very interesting to follow. Gainey will likely try to acquire a marquee player to make this huge Centennial season noteworthy, all the while trying not to disrupt the makeup and chemistry of this current team. An "out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new" movement is to be expected, and vets such as Bryan Smolinski, Patrice Brisebois and Mathieu Dandenault should all be let go.

Kyle Chipchura will likely have a 4th line spot next season, and Ryan O'Byrne should be poised to play in his first full NHL season. Michael Ryder will also be let go, as his interest to re-sign here is probably less than 0%. It will be interesting to see how Gainey handles Mark Streit's UFA status.

Thanks for visiting the site on a consistent basis! I will try to update the rest of the playoffs!


x-ine said...

I agree with most, if not all of what you've said. I think we've got a great future ahead with this group of guys. What it comes down to is that inexperience got the better of a lot of them, and the vets just weren't able to overcome those gaps.

I think next year is going to be awesome if present trends continue. Sure, there are some guys that will need to step it out, and we could definitely use that "impact player."

To many, Price is the scapegoat this year and I don't think that is fair. He was thrust into the position as #1 goaltender and he just wasn't quite ready yet. But that's ok - we made it to the top of the conference and past the 1st round with him, so that counts for something!

There are definitely some guys who need to step it up next season - Higgins comes to mind. Latendresse, perhaps? I think they, along with Ryder, deserve another chance. We all know that Ryder is gone and I suppose the real reasons will never be made clear to us. That saddens me because his star will shine once again.

The season being over so prematurely is a crushing blow because, honestly, how else am I going to fill the void until next season?


sasabainga said...

That's what kills me am I going to pass the time waiting for next October... THANK GOD it's summertime, at least.