Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Montreal Canadiens Season Preview

When a Nathan Horton point shot beat Carey Price, the Canadiens' up and down 2010-2011 campaign came to an end. The Canadiens pushed the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins further then any other team; however, critics point out the Canadiens sixth place finish in the eastern conference, and the fact they were more or less a .500 team in the second half of the season.

The point is, at times the Canadiens look like a contender and at other times they look like a lottery team. Hockey fans want to know what Montreal Canadiens team will take the ice this season and if the team as well as some key players will show some much-needed consistency.

Simply put the Habs fate rides solely on one man, Carey Price. The play of the Canadiens 24-year-old goaltender will dictate whether or not this team can have success. Last season Price has outstanding, sporting a 38-28-6 record with a .923 SV% and a 2.35 GAA, Price finished in the top ten of every major goaltending category and was robbed of a Vezina nomination. There is no reason why Price can't repeat last year’s performance this season; but if he doesn't the Canadiens are in serious trouble.

Last Season the Canadiens struggled to produce offence, scoring only 2.6 goals per game, good for a spot in the bottom third of the league rankings. If the Canadiens want to have success they are going to need increased production from some integral pieces to the offensive puzzle. Scott Gomez had a mear 38 points in 80 GP last season, not good enough for his $7.5 million salary. The Habs need Gomez to solidify himself as the number two center behind Thomas Plekanec and give the Canadiens two legitimate scoring lines.

The Canadiens are also in need of someone to step up as a big scoring winger. Andrei Kostitsyn is on his last chance to fill the role for the team. Kostitsyn mirrors the Canadiens in many ways, he has lots of talent but lacks consistency. Kostitsyn is in need of a fast start as Max Pacioretty will be battling him every step of the way for
ice time as well as the addition of Erik Cole pushing him down the depth chart.

Cole will provide a much-needed size boost up front for the Habs and should also add scoring. With this Canadiens team being largely the same at forward as last year, the Canadiens will need key pieces to step up and fulfill their potential.

The strength of the Canadiens will likely still be keeping the puck out of their net. The Canadiens have a strong and deep defence corps with players capable of filling all roles. The big question mark as always with the Habs defence is the health of Andrei Markov. Markov played only seven games last season as a result of recurring knee problems. When Markov is in the lineup the Canadiens are a different and much better team, especially on the power play.

Last season also saw P.K. Subban emerge as a superstar in the league. Subban is one of the most exciting players in the NHL with a booming shot from the point and an ability to throw punishing hits as well as blazing speed. Subban scored 14 goals last season nine of which coming on the PP, Subban makes things happen when he's on the ice and is a reason for Canadiens fans to get excited.

Josh Gorges will also be returning from injury to provide a stabilizing force on the back-end. The Habs also added talented Russian Alexei Emelin to the defensive unit. Emelin is a solid puck-mover and devastating hitter that the Canadiens have been courting for some time. Overall the Canadiens should have a deep and responsible defence to protect Carey Price and Peter Budaj.

So the question remains, what Montreal Canadiens team will show up? The good thing is we begin to find out October 6th against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reaction to UFC 135

UFC 135 went down on Saturday night headlined by the much-anticipated main event of Jon Jones vs Rampage Jackson. Jones defended his light heavyweight title in convincing fashion submitting Jackson by rear naked choke in the 4th round. Jackson showed grit during the fight but Jones was on another level then the former champ. Jones was in control from the opening bell and never once looked in danger. The champion took Jackson down multiple times and peppered him with a variety of strikes including leg kicks that took a toll on Jackson, as well as a punishing elbow that cut Jackson under the eye.

After the fight Jackson said he was humbled by Jones and was in the best shape of his life but was still soundly beaten and went as far as to say Jones is "The real deal." After the post fight interviews number one contender Rashad Evans entered the ring and engaged in a stare down with Jones which heightened the tension for their title fight.

Also on the card Josh Koscheck returned to action with a first round TKO of Matt Hughes. Hughes looked strong in the opening minutes of the fight using a strong jab to keep TUF alumni Koscheck at bay. Koscheck began to find his range as the round wore on though eventually landing a powerful hook followed by a flurry of strikes that dropped Hughes. Koscheck would then batter the fallen Hughes with punches finishing the fight.

In another dominant performance Nate Diaz was back at home in the lightweight division with a first round submission of Takanori Gomi. Diaz controlled the entire fight with technical and powerful striking that utilized his healthy reach advantage over Gomi. Gomi in an effort to avoid further punishment took Diaz down. Upon being taken down Diaz worked his magic on the ground easily submitting the legendary Gomi.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Back to .500

It wasn't pretty but they'll take it. The Irish got back to .500 today with a 15-12 win in Pittsburgh. Notre Dame did not play its best game but did enough to squeak by the Panthers on the strength of a late touchdown drive. Irish Quarterback Tommy Rees struggled most of the afternoon but was a perfect 8-8 passing on the go ahead drive. Tyler Eifert caught five passes on the drive including the touchdown and two point conversion.

Notre Dame struggled on offence all day as Pitt took away star wideout Michael Floyd. Rees struggled to find other recievers until the final drive in which he found Theo Riddick on three occasions as well as Eifert five times. The Irish were held in check most of the game and were void of big plays with the exception of a Jonas Gray 79 yard TD run in the 2nd quarter.

The Irish defence continued its strong play this season. Notre Dame's defence held Pittsburgh to 268 yards of total offence. The Irish also managed to limit the Panthers vaunted rushing attack to 2.7 yards per carry and sack Pitt quarterback Tino Sonseri on five occasions. Pittsburgh only scored one TD on the Irish defence which came on a drive prolonged by a roughing the kicker penalty and aided by a pass interference penalty against Gary Gray.

Notre Dame was lucky to escape Hienz Field with a win on Saturday. The Irish turned the ball over two times against Pitt which brings their season total to a FBS worst 15 and also commited eight penalties for 85 yards. Notre Dame can't afford to shoot themselves in the foot down the road against teams like Stanford and USC.

Next up for the Irish a battle at in state rival Purdue in primetime.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Case for Captaincy: Five Players who Could be the Next Captain of the Montreal Canadiens

Today in a press conference Montreal Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier stated that the Canadiens will have a Captain this season.  However Gauthier did not say who the team was leaning towards just that numerous players are being evaluated for the position.  With that in mind here are five players on the Habs roster that could wear the C next season.

Andrei Markov:  Markov has spent nine seasons with the Canadiens and was an assistant captain last season.  Markov expects the best from his teammates and will let them know when he doesn’t approve of their effort (such as a verbal confrontation last season with Carey Price after a loss).  Markov could miss some time at the start of this season recovering from injury but he is still one of the most respected players in the Canadiens dressing room.  Markov quarterbacks the PP as good as anyone in the league and he chipped in offensively to the tune of 34 points in 45 games last season.  Markov is the longest serving member of the Canadiens currently on the roster which should give him an edge.

Josh Gorges:  Once considered a throw in as a part of the deal that sent Craig Rivet to San Jose Josh Gorges has become a true leader and shutdown defenseman in the NHL.  Gorges is another well respected voice in the Canadiens dressing room and along with Hall Gill was a part of blocking shots and stopping the oppositions top players during last seasons playoff run.  Gorges has been a leader at every level of hockey that he’s played in and could be the next Canadian captain of the Canadiens.

Hall Gill:  Hall Gill is a veteran with a Stanley Cup ring who knows what it takes to win in the playoffs.  Gill sacrifices his body on a night in night out basis and is a journeyman who commands respect from his teammates.  Although Gill has his shortcomings he gives 100% effort every night and could mentor the Canadiens youngsters quite well.  Gill also wore an A for the Canadiens last season.

Brian Gionta:  Don’t let his little frame fool you Brian Gionta is willing to go to the dirty areas to score goals.  Gionta was also an assistant captain for the Habs last season and he has a Stanley Cup ring from his time with the Devils.  Gionta is a veteran who is respected and gives 100% effort, he also is one of the Habs go to players and many Captains are who their teammates are looking for to make plays in crunch time. 

Mike Cammalleri:  Cammalleri similar to Gionta is a little guy who’s willing to sacrifice his body to score goals, and when his teammates see this they want to do the same.  Cammalleri was the Canadiens go to goal scorer in the playoffs last season and was seen mentoring the likes of Subban and Kostitsyn during games.  Cammalleri lifted the whole city of Montreal with his play reminding fans of Lafleur and Shutt.  Cammalleri is the Habs best player and commonly a team’s best player is their Captain since they are looked to for big goals.  As we saw during last seasons playoff run Cammalleri can score big goals.         


Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Montreal Canadiens Top Ten Prospects

P.K Subban: It was a tough decision if P.K. should be considered a prospect or not considering he is clearly NHL ready, but for now he’ll count as a prospect. Subban played in only 2 NHL regular season games last season scoring 2 assists in them. Subban then took the league by storm in the playoffs scoring 1 goal and 8 points in 14 GP while shutting down the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin. Subban was also elected to the AHL All Star Team last season as well as winning the AHL’s Presidents Award as AHL MVP.

Lars Eller: A former St. Louis Blues 1st round selection the Canadiens acquired Eller in the Jaroslav Halak trade. Eller scored 2 goals in 7 games with the Blues last season and 57 points in 70 GP in the AHL last season. Eller was also a member of the AHL all-rookie team last season and will compete for a full time spot on the Habs roster.

Louis Leblanc: Leblanc was the Canadiens 1st round selection in the 2009 entry draft. Leblanc played at Harvard last season scoring 11 goals 12 assists for 23 points, good enough to lead his team in all categories. Leblanc also won Ivy League rookie of the year and was one of the final cuts of Team Canada’s World Junior team. Leblanc will play this season for the Montreal Junior Canadiens of the QMJHL in order to play more games and increase his chances of making the World Juniors squad.

Danny Kristo: Kristo has the Canadiens 1st selection in the 2008 draft (56th overall). Kristo has great speed and skill and was a member of the Gold Medal winning USA World Junior team. Kristo is a bit undersized but should add weight to his frame over the next few years. Kristo is currently playing at the University of North Dakota of the NCAA.

Jared Tinordi: Tinordi was the Canadiens 1st round selection 22nd overall in the 2010 entry draft. Last season Tinordi captained the US NTDP Under-18 team where he had 5 goals and 13 points in 56 games. Tinordi is known for his defensive ability and will play next season with the London Knights of the OHL.

Alexander Avtsin: Avtsin was selected by the Habs in the 4th round 109th overall in the 2009 entry draft. Avtsin is a big body at 6-2 and 198 lbs and has recently signed an entry level contract with the Canadiens. Avtsin scored 56 goals and 110 points as a member of Dynamo Moskva last season.

Yannick Weber: Weber was selected by the Canadiens 73rd overall in the 2007 entry draft. Weber was an integral part of the Kitchener Rangers 2008 Memorial Cup runners up. Weber is known for his ability to chip in offensively from the back end. In the 2008-09 season Weber made the AHL All Star team after tallying 18 goals and 44 points in 68 GP. Last season however was not as good; Weber scored only 32 points in 65 GP and was a minus 5 in the 5 NHL games he played last season.

Aaron Palushaj: Palushaj was selected by the St. Louis Blues 44th overall in the 2007 entry draft and was acquired by the Habs in a deal for Matt D’Agostini. In 2008-09 Palushaj scored 50 points while playing for the University of Michigan which was good for 2nd in the CCHA. Last season Palushaj scored 32 points in 62 games between Peoria and Hamilton of the AHL.

Brendan Gallagher: Gallagher was selected by the Canadiens in the 5th round 147th overall in the 2010 entry draft. Gallagher was invited to Team Canada’s World Junior Summer Evaluation Camp this summer. Gallagher scored 41 goals and 81 points in 72 GP with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL last season, good for 16th in league scoring. Although Gallagher is small a 5’9’’ it’s hard to argue with his production.

Mathieu Carle: Carle was selected in the 2nd round 53rd overall in the 2006 entry draft. Due to injury Carle only played 31 games in the AHL last season scoring 5 goals and 15 points. Carle also played in 3 games for the Canadiens last season failing to record a point. Carle has all the tools to be a top 4 defenseman in the future for the Habs if he puts his mind to it as his focus is a question mark.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Big Shoes to Fill: Replacing Clausen and Tate at Notre Dame

The Brian Kelly era will officially start at Notre Dame in two days when the Boilermakers travel to South Bend. Kelly has fans excited about ND football again after the Irish have fallen on rough times over the last few years. Kelly’s biggest challenge this season other than installing his new system is to replace to of the best players at their positions in the history of Notre Dame football, Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate. Clausen was the #1 recruit in the country coming out of high school in California and was committed to bringing Notre Dame a National Championship. Although that never materialized Clausen is still one of the best quarterbacks in Notre Dame’s history, Clausen completed 62.6% of his passes for 8148 yards 60 touchdowns and 27 interceptions during his Notre Dame career. Now that Clausen is gone the new man in charge is redshirt sophomore Dayne Crist. Crist threw for 130 yards 1 TD and 1 INT while appearing in 4 games for the Irish last season. Crist ran a similar offence in high school that he will run under Coach Kelly this year, which should work in his favor. Crist like Clausen was a very highly touted recruit out of California and hopefully he to can go down as a great QB at Notre Dame.

The other key playmaker Notre Dame lost on offence to the NFL is Golden Tate. Last seasons Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top receiver Tate crushed opposing defenses all of last season with his ability to find open space and be next to impossible to tackle. It helped Tate that defense’s also needed to worry about Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph who will both be returning this season. Tate was recruited out of Tennessee as a RB before switching to receiver, a path similar to the man that might replace him New Jersey’s Theo Riddick. Riddick is among many candidates for Tate’s old job alongside Michael Floyd. Other players vying for the spot are Duval Kumara, TJ Jones, John Goodman, and Deion Walker.

Tate and Clausen will go down as two of the greatest ever to play at ND, but now it’s time for the next era of Notre Dame Football stars to be born, starting on Saturday September 4th against in state rival Purdue.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Top 10 Defenseman in the NHL

1. Drew Doughty: Doughty scored 16 goals and 59 points last season while playing in all 82 games. Doughty was also a plus 20 and played for the Gold Medal winning Canadian Olympic team. Doughty is only 20 years old and will only get better.

2. Duncan Keith: Keith scored 14 goals and 69 points last season while helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. Keith was also a member of Team Canada’s Gold Medal Olympic team. Keith took home the Norris trophy last season and at 27 he’s in the prime of hi career.

3. Shea Weber: Often forgotten since he plays in Nashville Weber is quietly one of the best defenseman in the NHL. Scoring 43 points in 78 GP last season Weber proves he can score and shutdown top forwards with his physical play. Weber is also in his prime at 25 and has one of the hardest shots in the NHL. Weber is yet another member of this list on Team Canada’s Gold Medal winning team.

4. Chris Pronger: Pronger is 35 and seems to get better with age. He played in all 82 games for the Flyers last season scoring 55 points. Pronger was also a +22 and can shutdown anybody in the NHL thanks to his huge frame and ability to make the smart play with the puck. Pronger also played for Canada in the Olympics.

5. Mike Green: Green led all defenseman in scoring last season 19 goals and 76 points in only 75 GP. Green also was an amazing plus 39 last season for the Caps. Green does have some shortcomings in his own zone at times but is a catalyst offensively. At only 24 Green is still young and will be a force for a long time to come.

6. Dan Boyle: Another Canadian Olympian Boyle is 34 and still a force. Boyle scored 58 points in 76 games last season for the Sharks. Boyle can move the puck with the best of them in the NHL and is also able to shutdown the oppositions top players as Boyle was a plus 6 last season.

7. Nicklas Lidstrom: Lidstrom is one of the best defensman of his generation. Lidstrom is 40 years old now but he still scored 49 points last season and was a plus 22. Lidstrom has been the constant in the Red Wings success over the last decade and if he was younger would be at the top of this list.

8. Brent Seabrook: Seabrook is the other half of the Blackhawks top pairing. Seabrook is in his prime at 25 years old and was a member of the Canadian Olympic Team. Seabrook posted 30 points and was a plus 20 in 78 games for the Blackhawks last season.

9. Andrei Markov: Markov is one of the best puck movers in the NHL. He has been the constant in the Habs power play success over the last few seasons. Markov played in only 45 games last season due to injury but still managed 34 points and was a plus 11. Markov is 31 and a pending UFA, he can expect a raise.

10. Sergei Gonchar: The now Ottawa Senator Gonchar is an offensive machine. Gonchar scored 50 points in 62 GP last season but was a minus player. Gonchar is 36 but can still run a PP with the best.

Honarable Mention: Tyler Myers: The Calder Trophy winning Myers will be on this list if he proves his rookie year wasn’t a fluke. You don’t see guys the size of Myers skate the way he does everyday.