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Will The Real Montreal Canadiens Please Stand Up!

It took all of a week and a half, six games to be precise, to stem doubt into everything that was to be believed about this year's edition of the Montreal Canadiens.

Youthful progress, high scoring, gaining defensive confidence, well coached.

All of it gone under the bus like some twisted "Twilight Zone" episode, one that harks back to the 2006-07 season, when the good ship Les Canadiens was doing a Titanic impersonation at about this same time.

It seems that lately the more we know what this team is about, the stranger they get.

Of course, that summation could read like an overzealous exaggeration, as soon as the team strings together its next three game win streak.

Going back to the Rangers game on January 3rd, the Canadiens haven't been the same seemingly sturdy and progressive team. Trying to find evidence as to why is quite mystifying, as it involves putting the finger on more than just one simple aspect that has gone haywire in this span.

It is perhaps a combination of ills that has the Habs spinning of late.

Like a crammed February schedule that has seen them play 7 games in the first 13 days of the month with the end of January quite compounded as well.

The absense of stalwart defenseman Roman Hamrlik due to a serious infection. Hamrlik has looked priceless in the lineup and even more precious out of it.

Secondary scoring that has for all intents become inexistant. Lately, when opponants have practically shut down the Kovalev - Plekanec - Kostitsyn trio, it means victory.

Goaltending that has become suspect and fragile. The team's strongest point has picked the most inopportune times to become questionable.

Coaching decisions that are not yielding the expected results. Previously, Carbonneau's midas touch sensed the pulse of the team pefectly. Now it looks like he's scrambling for solutions.

There is a connundrum when trying to separate excuses from reason and fact.

It might boil down to cause and effect.

A simpleton's analogy would go like this: If you have a toilet bowl full of water, and you drop a bowling into it, you do not blame the spill on the floor.

Just as one points to the first domino as the trigger for making all successive ones fall, one must not blame the effect.

The schedule and Hamrlik's absense have had their consequences - obviously.

I don't mean to lay that out as an excuse because I hate, despise, and revolt, at the mere use of excuses for explanations as the to why the team has come up short.

Do the Canadiens not have depth, astute coaching, youth, and an injury free lineup going for them?

I agree, the Habs have all those aspects to a point, but the team is not overflowing to the bursting point in any area.

While they aren't the Detroit Red Wings - who've been suspisciously slumping, as well, of late - Montreal can appear to be quite solid when compared to the teams chasing them. Every team has its own question marks. Perhaps fans thought the Canadiens has less that they appear to have now.

Every team is dealt a reality check along the course of the season - most teams more than once.

All teams feel the vice of a tight schedule at varying points in the year - every team faces that same drop in energy in those times.

Every team deals with injuries. The Canadiens were spared - only Huet, Smolinski, and Begin were hit, and they had the resources to ride each spell out.

As one of the higher scoring teams in the league, secondary scoring for the Habs wasn't a problem until it vanished. With the Canadiens, that secondary scoring was done by the three remaining lines.

The Canadiens goaltending - read Cristobal Huet - looked sound until the Ranger game. It could be a combination of too many games in a row for Huet, the schedule, the return of Carey Price, or the above reasons mentioned, that could explain Huet's less than stellar showing.

As for Carbonneau's decisions lately, I just put it down to the notion that a coach experiments to learn from those experiments. If he weren't criticized for trying stuff, he'd be blamed for not trying.

In this skid, it could also be added in that the Canadiens players aren't used to losing games in a row this season. As a unit, they might not have known how to react and recognize trouble ahead. With so many young elements, these boys might have gotten so comfortable in winning that they thought the ills of a loss would repair themselves.

Lessons learned are priceless.

In the Rangers game, the Habs got a stench too comfy, and were lured into indiscipline. It cost them embarrassingly on the occasion of back to back afternoon games where they were unfocussed and too confident.

The following Tuesday, they almost succumbed to overconfidence again, but settled down enough to hang on and beat Ottawa.

Two days later, after beating the Senators, they figured the Leafs for mince meat after Toronto was dishevelled by Florida. They underestimated the Maple Leafs pride. Overall, the Habs outplayed the Buds that night, but the Leafs pounced on each Canadiens moment of distraction, and when the Habs woke up, it was too late.

In Ottawa on Saturday, Montreal came out tentative and doubting. The Senators, with their returning artilliary, chewed up the Canadiens in no time flat.

Not feeling so cocky after staring down first place and taking the bullet in the showdown, the Canadiens hit Tampa reeling and confused. The duel became a battle of two teams dealing with external distractions. The Panthers minds might have been on Richard Zednik's concerns, while the Habs were but two days removed from arrestations following a party time in the state.

Both teams left their distractions away from the arena and played out a hard fought game with an unusually high total of shots on goal. The Habs pounced on a rare Florida mistake, forced the Panthers into penalties and finally struck gold in overtime.

The win was relief!

It would be a mistake to suggest that with one simple win, that the Habs are out of the woods now.

For all that the Canadiens did well in this game, the stains of previous losses remained. Ghosts aren't so easily scared off.

A back to back confrontation against the Flyers awaits, and a more telling time in the Habs present season I cannot recall.

Nevermind where this current Canadiens team have been, these two contests will tell where they are going.

The Fyers have been dealing with their own identity, and the moment has come for Montreal to make a statement.

Will they stand up?

Some personal notes here, for my regular readers:

I always try best as I can to post on a daily basis regarding games played on a given night. I've referenced back six games to the Rangers contest on February 3rd because I have posted just once since, and it was after the win over the Senators two days later. For the readers who do not know, I work in emergency dispatch ( Fire Department, Police, Ambulance, etc ) and my priorities and shifts can change without much notice due to leaves, absences, and demand. I catch every Habs game do or die, but watching the replayed versions on Canadien Express on RDS or my own VCR tapes does not always allow me the time frame to post on each game as they are played. I wish that I could, but this blog comes after family and work on my priority list. Still, I do my best to have content here for you to read.

Each year, when February hits, I have the added shuffle of my daughter's travel team excitement to throw into the mix. Her Cornwall Typhoons Pee Wee team has just ended their regular season this past weekend. Next week we will find out what the playoff schedule will be. This past Monday, her team began the playdowns for the Provincials in Toronto come the first weeks of April. Her team has to win their district, and then their region, to go to the Provincials.

The district playdowns are a one round round robin. On Monday, the Typhoons beat South Dundas 1-0. On Wednesday, a win against Russell would clinch the district title for them. They beat Russell 1-0.

My daughter Crystal, who's known as Poke Check on this site, spent the final two and a half minutes of the Russell game on the ice. She was killing off a late game penalty, before defending 4 on 6 with the Russell goalie pulled to protect the win.

Crystal is 13 years old. Once fully dressed before the game, she realized she needed to take a pee. Her coach then approached her to let her know her line was starting. She is the second leading scorer on the team, plays center, and is on every power play and penalty kill unit. She held it in!

The Typhoons scored two minutes into the game and hung onto that lead until the final minutes.

The Russell team has the second and third leading scorers in the league, and both were lined up for the games final faceoff - in the Typhoons end with 10 seconds on the clock. Crystal lined up at right wing. In the time out her coach called, she told her centerman to win the faceoff whichever way could, she had her opponant covered.

On the faceoff, the Russell centerman, the league's leading scorer, did exactly as she should have, and drew the puck right, onto the stick of the girl Crystal had covered. The puck lay between her feet as Crystal bearhugged her opponant. The Russell player brought her stick up and hit my daughter between the legs, causing her to pee right there on the ice. Crystal didn't flinch.

The Russell girl never got the shot off. The Typhoons won 1-0, and are off to the regional playdowns.

This weekend, we will be in the Pickering, Ontario region for the Durham tournament, just east of Oshawa.

The motel we will be staying in carries RDS - I made sure!

The tournament runs from Friday to Sunday, and I should be back blogging here by Monday night the latest.

Due to an employee terminance, I am working the 11 PM to 7 AM shift starting Sunday night and running until Thursday the 21st.

My sincerest apologies to readers expecting daily content at this site.

There be gaps and off days, but I will try my best to keep things up.

Cheers to all!

Robert L