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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Montreal Canadiens: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Halifax Edition

by Tyg

Being a local, I was excited to score tickets to the Habs - Bruins preseason game at the Halifax Metro Center. Sure, it's preseason and it's not like I expected much in regards to the players I would see, or the final score, but it's hockey and it's the Habs and I knew what I was getting when I bought the tickets.

For the most part I was interested in seeing three players in particular: Erik Cole, Alexei Yemelin and Peter Budaj. Naturally, I also wanted a good look at the kids, most of whom have failed to impress me in the preseason play I've watched thus far.

The Good

If Scott Gomez keeps this up, he's in for a good year. The goal was nice, but what I saw was a determination, focus and effort level that he seemed to have misplaced for most of last season. He worked hard, played smart, and had some nice chemistry with Erik Cole.

Erik Cole is a nice addition to the roster. He's big, not afraid to get his nose dirty and is faster than he looks on television. He got a bit lazy once the wheels came off and resorted to cherry picking from the blueline, but with a full NHL squad around him he's going to create time and space and he's also going to find the back of the net.

The Habs fans contingent in Halifax, Nova Scotia is much larger than I thought. If we didn't outnumber the Boston fans in that little arena (capacity just over 10,000) then we at least met them halfway. Also the count of Go Habs Go chants from fans in the street was 10-2 over people who told us they sucked. Gotta like it!

The Bad

After watching them play a full 60 minutes, I have to maintain my previous opinion that the Habs rookie prospects are completely underwhelming. There's a bit of talent amongst them, but I don't believe most will ever make the NHL, at least not with this team.

They are so busy showing off that there is little teamwork, cohesion or vision on the ice. Most of the time they are unaware of where their linemates are, and they are all far too easily knocked off the puck. I don't recall them delivering a check until well into the third period.

At one point one of the kids was literally standing against the boards watching his linemates skate by, and he was totally surprised to when his centerman passed him the puck, which he immediately turned over. There was little evidence of "hockey smarts", with perhaps Aaron Palushaj being the exception.

Frankly, none of the kids are good enough to showboat at this point, and it is in direct conflict with the teamwork philosophy that the Canadiens have worked hard to develop as a team identity in the past couple of years.

I was also disappointed in Alexei Yemelin who failed to clear the blue paint, didn't seem particularly involved in the game, and like the rest of the team, didn't bother to deliver any checks until too late in the game. Only Alex Henry got frustrated and angry, for which he took a stupid penalty.

When it comes to the vets on the squad, Hal Gill's 10 foot reach is not always going to compensate for his lack of speed and that is brutally painful to watch without PK Subban to cover for it. Mathieu Darche and Andrei Kostitsyn were completely invisible for the entire night.

The Ugly

I know the defense around Peter Budaj was brutal and didn't help, but there were also goals he absolutely should have had. From where I sat center ice I could always feel him sweat and shake whenever the Bruins got a clear shot at him. He lacks confidence and rebound control, and does not track the puck well at all. Pierre Groulx has his work cut out with him here.

There is no excuse for giving up two short-handed goals like that. The power play showed little cohesion, passing too much and shooting too little. The penalty kill was a mishmash of panic and scramble.

So there you have it. If I were Jacques Martin and had to pick a 13th forward today to make the squad, I'd probably pick Palushaj, just because I think he will do the least damage and may even grow from the experience.

I do think that despite all the depth signings of defenseman by Pierre Gauthier over the summer, if the Habs sustain even half the injuries they did last season, we will be spending to the cap again. I have little faith in the defenders that are currently available for call-up.

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Tyg used to frequent the Old Forum during her early childhood when he father held corporate season tickets, and she fell in love with Larry Robinson. So her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.

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