Greetings, Internet traveller! You’re just in time to join us on a sporadic journey through central and eastern North America (nobody said this was going to be an energy-efficient journey). We’ve enlisted the help of local tour guides for every stop, equipped with all the information you need to know about what’s new and exciting in every area of our trip. So without further ado, let’s fire up those engines and fasten your seatbelts…we’re going for a ride.
(NOTE: These pieces were submitted Friday and therefore do not reflect on games played last night.)
Part 1 of 2
By Andy Bayer
If the season were to end today, Montreal would be in the playoffs (and play the Bruins!). But that’s only because the Metropolitan Division is as bad as its name. It’s been an up and down season for the Habs. After losing four straight games in early November, the Canadiens have stopped the bleeding a bit. They’ve split the last four, including a resounding 6-2 win over Minnesota. In that game, Max Pacioretty broke out of a season-long slump with a hat trick in the first period.
The Habs have been very good at keeping their twine from bulging, ranking second in the league in goals against per game at 2.04. Most of the credit here goes to Carey Price who has been even better than his numbers indicate and has cemented himself as the favourite for the net in Sochi. The return last weekend of Alexei Emelin after knee surgery should give Price some help. The problem for the Habs has been the goals-for per game category, where they rank 17th at 2.59. They are also sitting at a perfectly mediocre 50 per cent in five-on-five fenwick close.
The only line that has been consistently producing has been the “Kid Line” of Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller – that is, when they’ve been together. Michel Therrien, ever the chemist mixing his elements, has switched Gallagher to the Max Pacioretty/David Desharnais line to rekindle their magic. Tomas Plekanec has been solid, but his wingers (usually Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta) have been hit or miss. Michael Bournival has been like Brendan Gallagher last year, the hard-working rookie who adds a spark to whatever line he’s thrown on.
There has been plenty of the usual controversy and car burning on St. Catherine St. (well ok, not yet) and, as usual, P.K. Subban has been at the centre of it. Subban has been exceptional again this year, ranking second in points for defensemen with 19 in 22 games. His ice-time has been a hot topic though as he’s ranked 18th among defensemen. Therrien has made veiled criticisms of Subban’s defensive play, even though he is third in the league in corsi relative (meaning his team allows far fewer chances, and creates far more chances when he’s on the ice than when he’s off). These criticisms haven’t helped Subban’s Olympic chances, which are, according to Darren Dreger, a long shot. But the Habs, and Subban, may not care about that if they can make it back to the playoffs and go further than last year. If Therrien wants to do that, he should start focusing on players who don’t happen to have Norris Trophies.
Tampa Bay Lightning
By Tasha Meares, Editor of Bolts By The Bay
This has certainly been a tough week for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
We started out the week on the road, at the beginning of a four-game road trip through the West. While the Lightning have spent the entirety of the season beating Western Conference teams, the West decided they had enough. The Lightning have dropped all three of the games of their current trip, the last of which being Thursday night in San Jose.
While it may seem like the Bolts are in trouble right now, it’s not really as bad as one would think.
The Bolts still hold the second-place position in the Atlantic Division, being bested only by the Boston Bruins, who seem to have our number this season. However, that is another story for another day.
Also, we are seeing the Lightning offense play a much tighter game. While it may not seem like it, if you are watching the same games I am, you are seeing the Bolts with much better puck possession and taking more shots on goal. After all, you can’t score if you don’t shoot, right?
Next up for the Tampa Bay Lightning is a date in Anaheim on Friday night for a rematch with the Ducks to close out their road trip. On Monday, they face the New York Rangers when the Lightning will honor captain Martin St. Louis in front of the hometown crowd for playing his 1,000th NHL game.
Can the Lightning recover from the rough road trip and end strong? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
By Caitlin Campbell, Co-Editor of Sabre Noise
Raise your hand if the past week for the Buffalo Sabres was the best week for you as a fan in the last 16 years. Not just because they went 2-1, but also because Darcy Regier is finally out of Buffalo! To top it off, Regier took Ron Rolston with him as the Buffalo Sabres cleaned house. Yeah, I think it was a good week for Sabres fans.
Less than a week after being shutout by the Los Angeles Kings, fans got to see Ryan Miller defeat Jonathan Quick back in Buffalo. Not only did Miller win the battle, he also outlasted his Olympic counterpart as Quick had to leave the game because of injury. Back to the actual game, the Buffalo Sabres and Ryan Miller stood tall and got the win against the Kings.
As mentioned earlier, Terry Pegula decided he had had enough of the #FireDarcy chants, the booing and the terrible on-ice product and called for changes. Immediately following the ugly shootout win over the Kings, Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston were relieved of their duties and Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan were brought in.
LaFontaine took over as president of hockey operations while Nolan returned to the coaching ranks on the same day Regier was let go. Pegula stated that change was needed and that the front office staff would need to be on the same page going forward.
The second leg of our journey begins here.