I have been asked to come aboard a league-wide blogging site called The Checking Line as regularly appearing Habs blogger. So Thursday, March 1 was entry number one. Click this link to check it out!
It’s funny. Ever since I started this blog, whenever I think about sitting down to discuss the Montreal Canadiens, a sense of guilt arrives reminding me my goal is to be a sports writer and not a Habs blogger.
Of course this emotion seems to forget my dream job would be to live in Montreal, travel with the team and write about them every single game until my fingers fall off, but my logical side – the one with the inferiority complex – says I might want to keep some other options in mind.
I’m not saying I don’t like writing about other sports or their teams, in fact it’s the complete opposite. It’s just that, while I can certainly hold my own in a conversation about any North American major sport – except NASCAR, unless you count belittling its hillbilly fans into tears with three-syllable words as ‘holding my own’ – I know more about the Montreal Canadiens than any other team on earth.
And because of that, I have more opinions about them than any other sport, which is why I so often think of something to blog about.
But I realized something last night while basking in game-six glory. Right now, hockey is on the minds of almost every sports fan I know and seeing as how sports fans I know make up a pretty large percentage of my readership, I could probably get away with a little puck prattle. And seeing as how – for at least another day and a half – the Habs are one of just seven or less clubs remaining, I might actually avoid a metaphorical stoning if I chat Les Glorieux a tad more often than normal.
And so, with all that being said, I have decided variety is for men with middle-aged crises and as long as the Habs are alive, this blog will be about them as often as I please.
Day 1 – Often overlooked
If you’re a big enough Habs fan you know Mike Cammalleri was on Bob Gainey’s radar long before Dopey Darryl let him walk out of Cowtown last season without so much as a single offer sheet.
There are two reasons why I won’t spend the next 500 words talking about the gaffe Sutter made last June. No. 1, I already blogged a ways back about Calgary’s insistence on spending every non-Iggy nickel on their blueline and how well that is likely to work in today’s NHL. And No. 2, I already told a friend on Facebook tonight we have to officially stop mentioning Cammalleri and Calgary in the same sentence because he’s already been a Hab longer than he was ever a Flame and it’s time to start discussing his future and not his unfortunate past.
But even without dragging Calgary’s name through a red mile of mud, I can still make my point. And that is, quite simply, Mike Cammalleri is the most overlooked player in the league.
OK, so that statement clearly came without doing a thorough scan of every roster and also during a period when the winger is leading the playoffs in goals, but I stand by it nonetheless.
After scoring 39 goals last season, he signed with the Habs and spent an entire summer answering the same question. Can you put up those numbers without Jarome? Never mind his 26 goals in ’06 during his first full season with the Kings or his 34 goals and 80 points two years later with the same club.
Then once the season started, after already being forgotten for the Team Canada Olympic camp in August, Cammy began to put the puck in the net, keeping firmly in the top-10 goal scorers heading up to the roster announcement in December. Yet all the while, his name was never mentioned even once as a candidate to make the Olympic team.
Should he have been in Vancouver? Nope, probably not. As hard as it is, I don’t let my inner fan cloud my talent judgment and I know he didn’t belong there this time. But even Carrie Underwood’s Mike Fisher was mentioned as a candidate.
Mike GD Fisher.
I wonder how fast Brian Murray would soil himself if he knew he could trade Fisher for Cammy straight up?
Anyway, it wouldn’t have made a difference had Cammalleri somehow made that team anyway, as he hurt his knee before the break and likely couldn’t have played Team Canada table hockey at the time. And then, when he finally did come back with about a dozen games left, he was understandably behind his usual game shape and struggled – as did his teammates – right up to that disgusting shootout loss to the Leaves, which the Habs sheepishly parlayed into the eighth seed they still enjoy today.
But the second this post season started, Cammalleri took off and started scoring all kinds of goals, almost all of which have led to huge victories for his club. He outplayed and outscored Alex Ovechkin. He’s outplayed and WAY outscored Cindy Crosby so far. And he sits atop the entire NHL in playoff goals scored, with 11 in just 13 games.
He’s the only of MANY free agents brought in by former GM – and renewed icon – Bob Gainey who wasn’t stacked with a resume of playoff experience. And yet, while that group of proven winners has certainly done their fair share thus far, Cammalleri’s performance surpasses them all.
And that brings me to my biggest observation of overlooking.
Since the moment coach Jacques Martin announced the Habs’ decision to not name a new captain in the wake of Saku Koivu’s departure, the debate among the Club du Hockey’s faithful fans has been nonstop over who should be the next leader of this great organization.
Andrei Markov was obviously an early candidate, as he’s probably the team’s best player, was the only remaining member of the former captainship and was well-known to fans in a time when no one knew who any of these guys were. But Markov is nicknamed the Dark Knight for a reason. He comes out of the shadows to make great plays, before slipping back behind the scenes and he doesn’t need the spotlight to be extremely effective – a lamp the captain can’t avoid. That and he doesn’t speak either English or French and I hear the Russian papers in Montreal have a significantly lower circulation.
Scott Gomez, his grotesque contract and his Don Rickles sense of humour was also given some love from fans, many of whom figured the coveted letter would at least match the expectations $7.5-million puts on him.
But the man to receive the most votes on the season was the Rochester Rocket Brian Gionta. As literally the smallest guy in the NHL, Gio and his oversized heart fills the void Koivu left almost to perfection and the fan base instantly – and understandably – fell for him.
But in all of the discussions I have seen, led and been thrown out of this season, not one time did I hear someone make an argument for Cammalleri to be the next captain. Without insulting any of the other formidable candidates, how the flying F is that possible?
Not only is he their most productive scorer and a talkative guy in the dressing room, but he freakin’ loves playing in Montreal. Like LOVES it there.
He wanted to play in Montreal because of the atmosphere and pressure that come with it and he has relished in both every step of the way. He gives the best and most honest interviews I’ve ever seen from a player and he’s ALWAYS nice to the media, even complimenting questions from time to time.
He’s not afraid to light a fire under his teammates, going after guys in practice on two separate occasions, and gives 110 per cent at all times without ever allowing a single sentence of credit to be sent his way.
He’s classy beyond words on the ice and keeps his goal celebrations so quiet he almost looks bored with his own awesomeness. In fact, all he ever does after he scores is turn and thank the man who passed him the puck.
Oh and right now he’s the main reason not wearing goal pads why the hockey world is still watching one of the most exciting playoff runs anyone could imagine.
I’m not necessarily trying to start the Cammy for Captain campaign and if the eventual decision has fan-favourite Brian Gionta take over that role, you won’t see a complaint from this writer.
But it would sure be nice to see Cammy on the ballot for once.
OK, so here’s the thing. I don’t have a lot of time to write here as the Habs take on Pittsburgh in game two at what can only be described as stupid o’clock today and I have pregame rituals to get started.
With the restraint on time I’m currently experiencing, I won’t get too far into this 2 p.m. ET start time for a playoff game. But I will say, catering to the needs of a country whose fans are grossly outnumbered by those who’d rather watch half-retarded people drive in a counter-clockwise circle is not just annoying, it’s flippin’ useless.
But, that’s just the way it is (my LEAST favourite cliché statement on earth by the way) and I have no choice but to rearrange my routine.
Before I offer my thoughts on Les Glorieux, allow me to say a few words about the rest of round two as well, seeing as this is NOT a Habs blog.
Really, it’s not.
How many of you out there are zip-for-four after game one as far as teams you are cheering for? I know it’s not just me because the four teams to lose in game one are ALL either my favourite or my best friends’ favourites and we are all – at least publicly – rooting for each other. For now, that is.
San Jose and the people who actually still believe in this club after a decade of ‘even-funnier-than-the-Buffalo-Bills’ are probably feeling pretty confident these days. After all, you might too if you were all-too used to being upset by someone 20 points your inferior.
But after sneaking past a pile of rookies in Colorado, the Sharks outplayed Detroit for 1:19 the other night and tiptoed away with a win. Good for them. I’m not sold. Heatley got his FIRST of the playoffs that night and he’s THE guy brought in to put them over the top.
Nabakov stinks whenever it matters and the Wings are full of those who smell terrific. If San Jose actually wins the Cup this year they’ll have to do it with me kicking and screaming the entire way.
I’m not too surprised the Boston Bruins were able to beat Buffalo – a group carried by goaltending this season – and advance to round two. And now that they have their best player back in the lineup, not to mention the early series lead over Philly, the Bruins have to be considered a threat.
They have some scoring, some toughness, some big strong defensemen and a good goalie. These are all the things necessary to win in the spring and with the favourites almost all falling in the East, I’m no longer betting against Beantown.
I just REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY dislike them. Go Flyers.
The Canucks killed Chicago last night. Antti Niemi was hung out by his Hawks teammates and a very skilled group from Vancouver handed them their ass for it. Everything I just said the Bruins have, the Canucks have more of and that’s a scary thought for Chicago. There isn’t much to say here. If the Hawks think they can play like that and rely on Niemi to give them a Halak-esque performance, they are screwed.
On to the Habs.
Had I posted immediately after their game-one loss to the Pens it might have looked something like this:
Um, crap. The end.
Let’s recap: Absolutely everything the Canadiens relied on to get past Washington missed the flight to Pittsburgh. Halak was clearly much too exhausted to be playing game one so soon after round one – thanks scheduling morons – and got lit up five times on 20 shots and the most talked about penalty kill in the playoffs put up a goose egg in the wrong category for two periods.
Oh and just for good measure Andrei Markov, the Habs best player, went down with his second weird-ass injury of the year and most likely won’t see the ice again this series.
With all that on the mind, it’s hard to imagine many Habs fans out there were feeling to good after that game. But after I sat and thought about it for a bit I realized, aside from Markov’s knee, we should feel pretty good about this series.
For starters, I’m not worried about Jaro and neither should you be. If he doesn’t make another save this season, he’s still the reason we are watching them play in May. I’m sure he’ll bounce back this afternoon but if he doesn’t, yet another look at Price this season couldn’t hurt. I mean, deciding between which of these young studs to stake your future on deserves as mush research as possible if you ask me and seeing as how the Habs are on borrowed time anyway, who could complain?
As far as the penalty kill is concerned, while I know the Pens are much smarter about their man advantages than the Caps, they WON’T get four power play goals again. And more importantly, the Habs won’t get such dumbass penalties again either.
Of the first four Pittsburgh power plays – all goals – the Habs had a too may men, a delay of game and a roughing call from Gomez jumping Cooke as result of a clean hit on Markov. I’m not saying Gomez shouldn’t have done it, I’m just saying we shouldn’t be shocked they scored as a result of it.
It’s kind of like a leadoff walk in baseball. They ALWAYS seem to come around to score.
I thought aside from shorthanded situations the Habs completely controlled that game and showed the Pens’ lack of invincibility. Fleury is not Miller or Brodeur either and if the Habs continue to shoot they WILL continue to score.
And I like Montreal’s chances of tightening up their discipline and consequently their penalty kill, as well as showing up with a superstar goalie again. So, even if they don’t win this game today and don’t get back the services of Markov this entire series, I believe the Habs can comeback and win this one.
Of course, I picked Pittsburgh to take this in six, but that’s beside the point.
Enjoy the games.
That was all I could muster for a Facebook status in the wake of the Habs’ stunning game-seven victory over the Washington Capitals last night.
I guess I could have said: Bahahahaha, suck it Washington!! I knew it was just a matter of time before Les Glorieux took you down!! I guess it’s just a tough year for big-name Russians, hey?
But had I actually said – or thought – any of that, it would pretty much solidify me as being everything I absolutely despise about SO MANY sports fans. Don’t misunderstand, I’m peaches and cream over people talking trash but when you start a series 33 regular-season points behind your opponent you should shut your mouth even after you’ve won. The satisfaction is in sending them packing, pure and simple.
And don’t even consider an attempt at professionalism as being my motive either, as anyone dumb enough to not hide my Facebook posts knows I am anything but proper on that website.
The truth is I’m as shocked as anyone about this one, including Alex Ovechkin and Bruce Boudreau.
What we as hockey fans – let alone Habs lovers – witnessed over the last three games was something that just doesn’t happen. Sure, eight seeds can beat the No. 1s – believe it or not, 28 per cent have done it since the league adopted the current playoff format – but not after falling down three games to one and certainly not when playing the NHL’s top offense, top power play and supposed top player (though who are these people kidding?).
Not only did Jaroslav Halak stop 131 of 134 shots over the final trio of games, but the Habs blue-liners – led by Hal “who-the-crap-knew-this-guy-was-so-freakin’-good” Gill – blocked almost as many before they could reach the apparently-superhuman Slovak. Plus, a kid with 40 goals on the season and 44 shots in the series drew a seven-game blank and the soon-to-be Norris winner was reduced to a total liability.
These are the kinds of insane factors necessary to concoct such an unheard-of result, and no one is more surprised than me they all occurred in the favour of a team I cheer for.
But it happened. I’m clearly elated that it did. And whatever happens to Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge from this point forward is pure gravy.
When I’m not thinking about how ridiculously awesome this upset was I can almost derive some sympathy for the Caps. They had an amazing season and have taken over top billing in that city – something not possible in most American NHL towns. But when you perform at that level throughout an entire season you tend to snag some expectations along the way.
And unfortunately for them, hockey is a lousy sport to expect to win in.
The NHL playoffs are exciting to a level most hockey fans would agree other sports have trouble matching. The reason for this is the ability for underdogs to come out on top.
And the reason these Cinderella stories often come out of hockey is because of goaltenders. All other ludicrous variables aside, the Habs won because their goalie performed in a way folks will talk about for a VERY long time.
They didn’t win because the Caps played poorly. But that fact just unveils another unfortunate for that club; perception is reality and right now the perception is ‘who gives a rat’s ass about opposition net minding? What the FUntimes happened out there guys??’
The blame game began immediately after the hockey portion wrapped up and you’ll never guess where it landed. OK, maybe you will.
After Washington Post columnist Tracee Hamilton called this “one of the biggest failures in D.C. sports history” she went on to call out the great No. 8 on pretty much everything I labeled on him after game one.
Now, many of you will say it wasn’t Ovy’s fault and that he was one of the few to actually put up some numbers in the series, but Hamilton hits it perfect when she gets into his ability to lead.
“But the day before Game 7, Ovechkin skipped the optional skate. Nearly everyone else showed up. Semin was also a no-show. One might have thought he could use the practice. One might have thought his captain would tell him so. But it’s hard to lead by example when you’re not in the building. It’s a small thing, but it’s not, not in team sports.”
Doesn’t that just say it all? Do you really think Sidney Crosby would skip a skate before a game seven? Not a chance. And not because he thinks he needs the workout but because he understands what the letter ‘C’ means in this sport.
Plus I don’t think I need to point out the fact zero of the captain-less Habs missed out on their optional skate and won’t during the next four-seven games while Ovy goes after his third all-time hole in one.
As for those delightful little Habbies and those four-seven games they are guaranteed to play in, they have about three more seconds to enjoy this latest win because their big prize for beating the almost-best-player alive is a date with the actual-best-player alive. Oh and by the way, Sid’s never played better than he is at this moment.
Good luck boys.
As sure as I was the Caps would upend Montreal rather quickly, I’m that much more sure the Habs can’t possibly find their way to a seventh game against Pitt, let alone beyond them altogether. But I just made eight logically-sound, well-educated picks in round one and finished up 4-4, so my assuredness means about as much as Ovy’s new tri-pack of Titleists.
Quick side note: there are eight teams left and one of every seed. San Jose (1), Chicago (2), Vancouver (3), Pittsburgh (4), Detroit (5), Boston (6), Philadelphia (7) and Montreal (8). I just found that kind of interesting.
Take care all.
Just one quick post to say Happy Birthday to my boy T-Roy back in Medicine Hat, who turned 31 today. Hope you’re doing it up regardless of your 5 a.m. start time bud!!! Wishing you were coming to Deuce’s for the hockey game tomorrow!!