Friday, December 17, 2010

Montreal Canadiens: Team Chemistry, Carey Price, and Jaroslav Who?

This article was first published in the December 15th edition of Main Street Magazine and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by Main Street Week News to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Magazine delivered right to your inbox.

A wonderful year at Main Street Magazine is wrapping up and 2011 is right around the corner. As 2010 ends, it is a great time to share a few thoughts on the Montreal Canadiens and their first 30 games.

Team Chemistry: When the Canadiens backed their way into last season’s playoffs, most hockey analysts expected a first round loss to the Washington Capitals. However, as they rode the hot-hand of Jaroslav Halak, the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge came together as a group and fought their way to the Eastern Conference Final. After defeating the heavily favoured Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the clock struck midnight on their fairy tale trip through the post-season.

Coming into the 2010-2011 season, the team has proven that while Halak was a key contributor in the post-season, perhaps his brilliance overshadowed another element to the team - chemistry. With a full season together, this year’s squad has marched straight to the top of their division and the conference. There is still a long way to go, but at this point, it looks like the Boston Bruins are the only Northeast Division team capable of catching the Habs. The players have become familiar with Jacques Martin’s coaching style and they appear to genuinely like each other. They are having fun on and off the ice; confidence and chemistry can take this team deep into the playoffs again this season.

Jaroslav Who? After Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier traded goaltender Jaroslav Halak, all eyes looked towards Carey Price. Could Bob Gainey’s “thoroughbred” finally become the team’s next great goaltender? As the team passes the 30-game mark, we are well on our way to knowing the answer.

Price appears to be the “real deal” in Montreal; he is near the top of most statistical categories with the league’s elite goaltenders. The young man from Anahim Lake, BC leads the league in games played (27), minutes played (1,623) and wins (17). He is second in the league in shutouts (4) and total saves (757), and his 1.96 goals against average ranks fourth overall. Not too bad for a kid with so many doubters heading into the season. Unsure of how he would perform as the team’s number one goaltender, the Canadiens wisely signed Price to a two-year contract at $2.75 million per year. With the season he is having, it may already be time to think contract extension. The more success this young man has, the more costly it will be in the end.

The “Other” Guys: When Halak went to St. Louis in a trade for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, the overwhelming sentiment in Montreal was anger. A legitimate number one goaltender traded for two unproven prospects - the fans were outraged! Halak has impressed hockey fans in St. Louis and Price has performed in Montreal, taking some of the pressure off the Canadiens GM. Having said that, Eller and Schultz will forever be known as the “other guys” in the Halak deal. So, how are they doing?

Eller has hit the ice in all but one of Montreal’s games, scoring two goals and adding four assists. The first round pick (13th overall) in the 2007 draft has demonstrated some playmaking skills, while not being a defensive liability. He will make some mistakes, as all rookies do, but he is learning on the job, which will only help his career moving forward.

Schultz has played 17 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. After playing his junior hockey with the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League, Schultz is considered a long-term project. He will not be in Montreal this season but his time in Hamilton will help him develop into a strong third or fourth line player.

Have a safe and happy holiday everyone - I will see you back here at Main Street in the New Year!

No comments: