It’s been almost 20 years since Patrick Roy walked the length of the bench, past coach Mario Tremblay, and straight to president Ronald Corey to tell him he had played his last game for the Montreal Canadiens. Since that fateful night, a total of 20 men have occupied the blue paint for the Habs. Jose Theodore, the NHL’s most valuable player in 2001-02, was a supernova that crashed and burned in a tire fire of controversy and was traded for a career backup. Andy Moog and Stephane Fiset were No. 2 goalies on Stanley Cup winners. Cristobal Huet and Tomas Vokoun went on to greater things and more money elsewhere. And a number of them have been clearly part of the “we-hardly-knew-ye” variety. Olivier Michaud, the youngest man ever to stop a puck for the Canadiens, currently lives in Montreal and operates Ecole de Gardiens de But Olivier Michaud.
One of those 20 men is Carey Price, the 27-year-old bow hunter and rodeo champion from Anahim Lake, B.C., whose father flew him in his own plane from his remote village to Williams Lake so he could play youth hockey. Price is unflappable and engaging, has a quiet swagger and is on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats in a conga line of all-time greats produced by the Canadiens. Of the 35 goaltenders enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, seven of them have earned their way there by backstopping the Habs. (An eighth, Riley Hern, won four Stanley Cups with the Montreal Wanderers, a pre-NHL juggernaut.)
The Vezina Trophy appears to have Price’s name already engraved on it, and the notion of Price winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP is gaining a lot of steam. That’s because, under scrutiny by both eyeballs and hockey analytics, the Canadiens are decidedly mediocre without him. They start games dreadfully, they rarely knock their opponents off the puck and they are one of the worst possession teams in the league. When they get a lead, they give up a ridiculous number of shots, in terms of attempts and those that end up in Price’s glove to die. To suggest Montreal is a rag-tag team that would be life-and-death to make the playoffs if not bound by chicken wire and Price’s lasso rope isn’t a stretch. He proves it time and again when he is great, which is almost all the time, and when he is shoddy, almost never. Simply put, if Price isn’t the best player on the ice, the Canadiens don’t win. Read more
Well, the old-time hockey guys in the NHL’s head office must be doubling over patting themselves on the back right about now. They’ve instantly created a gong show in the first-round series between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. And in a league that openly admits that it sells hate, it just got exactly what it wants.
No matter that its ludicrous decision not to suspend P.K. Subban for his two-handed slash to the hand of Mark Stone has suddenly hijacked this series. Between now and Friday night for Game 2, few people will be talking about how the Canadiens fourth line depth players, who had been dormant for much of the season, rescued them in Game 1. Fewer will be talking about how arguably the two best goaltenders in the NHL going into the playoffs, Carey Price and Andrew Hammond, have to be much better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1. Read more
One small whack in the playoffs, one giant gouge for playoff-kind.
P.K. Subban’s tomahawk to Mark Stone’s wrist ignited an inferno of what is so controversial and so awesome about the NHL playoffs. It was a microcosm of a hockey fan’s favorite two months of the season, all captured in a few moments of the second period of the first game of Round 1.
You know that, no matter what else happens in every Stanley Cup tournament, there will always be at least one controversy related to NHL officiating. If it’s not a personal relationship between a referee and a particular player some fans and media focus on, it’s a debatable call that earns the ire of the public (and often, the team on the wrong end of the call). And it didn’t take very long at all for that officiating controversy to take place in the 2015 post-season: in the second period of Game 1 of Montreal’s first-round series against Ottawa Wednesday night, Canadiens star defenseman P.K. Subban was assessed a five-minute major penalty for slashing and a game misconduct.
The ejection of Subban enraged Habs fans, especially after Sens phenom Mark Stone – who, after being slashed by Subban on the penalized play, writhed around in great pain and left the game – returned to action a few minutes later. But if you think Subban was wronged to be given so harsh a penalty, don’t blame the officials. Blame the league and its philosophy of basing punishments on injury and thus encouraging players to embellish.
To be certain, Subban’s slash of Stone’s arm was (a) a two-hander; (b) vicious; and (c) could easily have caused serious damage to him: Read more
Senators captain Erik Karlsson dumped the puck into Montreal’s zone a little more than 12 minutes into the opening frame, and after it bounced off the end boards and back toward the net, Markov delicately attempted to push the puck toward Price, presumably to get a whistle and stop the action. Instead, the veteran blueliner pushed the puck between Price’s legs: Read more
CANADIENS: Who’s kidding whom? When your goaltender is putting together a historically dominant season worthy of Hart Trophy consideration, it’s a generally accepted principle that he is the key to your hopes. You can dismiss the Canadiens all you want, but goaltending is still an enormous part of the game in the playoffs, and the Canadiens have one of the very best in the NHL. Combine that with a team that transitions from offense to defense quickly and is one of the most opportunistic in the league and it can provide a formula for playoff success. Whether it’s their historical mystique or their goaltending, the Canadiens have an uncanny ability to get into the heads of their opponents and crush their hopes before they have a chance to gain any steam. Yes, the Canadiens are top-heavy in terms of talent, but that top is as good or better than anyone else’s.
SENATORS: The Senators have relied on their youthful vigor and a group of kids who have turned out – at least in the short term – to be much better than expected. Anyone who thought Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone would be in the Calder Trophy conversation at the beginning of the season, go directly to the front of the class and collect your gold star. As they showed in their late-season run, the Senators are a team that plays on emotion. Andrew Hammond provided the Senators with outstanding workhorse goaltending and a feel-good story around which the entire organization could rally. If the Senators can harness that energy and carry it into a playoff run, who knows how far a team of guys who are too young to realize they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing can go? Oh yes, and it helps they have the most dynamic offensive defenseman in the game today in Erik Karlsson. Read more