Habs Will Start the Season With Pocket Aces

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by Habsterix, Senior Writer, AllHabs.net

In sports, a wild card is an outside factor that has suddenly become included for some reason or another and may influence the outcome of a sporting event. The Montreal Canadiens happen to have two of them.

PENTICTON, BC. – As the tug of war continues between the NHL and the NHLPA to ultimately determine if the 2012-2013 season will start on time, Marc Bergevin and his newly assembled team are conducting business as usual. After adding some much needed grit to a roster often pushed around in the past, Bergevin and newly appointed head coach Michel Therrien didn’t have to make a move for what could prove to be the biggest difference maker in improving over last year.

This past season, Montreal was one of the teams with the most man-game lost due to injuries and the lack of depth cost them immensely. Many players had to step up into roles for which they were either not ready for, or simply incapable of fulfilling, resulting in a domino effect. Who doesn’t remember shaking their head seeing Mathieu Darche or Travis Moen playing on one of the top two lines and on the powerplay, or seeing a defenseman being used at forward?

While impressive for the most part, P.K. Subban became the team’s number one defenseman in only his second season in the NHL, situation made necessary due to the fact that Andrei Markov was lost for most of the season. That’s a lot to put into the shoulders of a young defenseman who, in spite of an exemplary work ethic and an immense talent, still has a lot of learning to do in this league. Markov’s injury also forced rookie defensemen like Alexei Emelin and Rafael Diaz to play more than they would have otherwise, or in situations that they wouldn’t have, exposing a definite lack of experience at the Canadiens’ blue line. Luckily for the team, they could count on All-Star goalie Carey Price, winner of the Molson Cup, to limit the damage on the ice.

Before suffering from his first fluky injury (cut by Carey Price’s skate), followed by his knee injury, Markov was amongst the league’s elite at his position. Not necessarily excelling in any facet of the game, he did everything well and his biggest strengths have always been his vision on the ice and his passing ability. The Canadiens had one of the best powerplays in the league and while the triggerman changed over time, from Souray to Streit to Bergeron, Markov was the quarterback, the common denominator. The team could count on 45 to 65 points a season with him in the line-up.

On offense, there is no denying that the departure of Jacques Martin and his smothering system will be welcomed by many players on the team, but it would be unfair to blame the lack of scoring entirely on the former head coach. An anemic powerplay for most of the season certainly didn’t help but the loss of team captain and leading goals’ scorer in the previous two years, Brian Gionta, had a lot to do with it. True that Erik Cole, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty picked up the offense, but secondary scoring was an issue, especially when trying to find someone to play with Tomas Plekanec. Gomez, well… let’s not even bother to go there.

Since signing with the Canadiens as an Unrestricted Free Agent in the summer of 2009, Brian Gionta has been Montreal’s top offensive threat with 77 goals in 200 games including playoffs, while wearing the Habs number 21. Of those goals, 24 came on the powerplay, playing the role of the much needed right-handed shot on the off-wing at the goal mouth. If only there was a stat to show how many of Gionta’s goals have been scored from the front of the net, in traffic, as the captain certainly is not afraid to get his nose dirty in spite of his small stature.

One aspect often forgotten when talking about the impact of the loss of Markov and Gionta is their experience and their leadership, both on and off the ice. Markov would have been a great mentor for young Subban, and young Emelin might have had a smoother and faster transition to the NHL with a healthy Markov by his side, speaking his native tongue. After a full season without a captain, let’s not forget that Gionta was the one picked to wear the captaincy and while there are other leaders in this dressing room, none were deemed bigger than the one players nickname Gio.

With a more offensive and aggressive system in place under Michel Therrien, with the added grit to the line-up providing skilled players with some much needed protection against intimidation, and with the development of young players both on defense and at the forward position, Habs’ fans should be excited to see this team hit the ice. And with Gionta and Markov healthy, the Canadiens could very well start the season with pocket aces, to borrow an expression from Texas Holdem poker. All that’s left is to keep our fingers crossed in hope for Mr. Bettman and Mr. Fehr to reach a deal for a new Collective Bargain Agreement in time for the season to start.

En français: Le Canadien commencera avec une paire d’As

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J.D. Lagrange
J.D. is a Senior writer for All Habs as well as Associate-Editor for the French version Le Magazine All Habs, while one of three Administrators of the fan forum Les Fantômes du Forum. He has created the handle Habsterix as a fictional character for the sole purpose of the internet. It is based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule and his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992 from his home town of Sherbrooke, Quebec, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement. || J.D. est Rédacteur-Adjoint sur Le Magazine All Habs et il est un Rédacteur Principal sur le site anglophone All Habs, tout en étant un des trois Administrateurs du forum de discussion Les Fantômes du Forum. Il a créé le pseudonyme Habstérix comme caractère fictif pour l’internet. Celui-ci est basé sur Astérix de Gaule et sa potion magique est sa passion pour les Canadiens de Montréal. Lorsqu’il est né, Jean Béliveau soulevait la Coupe Stanley et il se rappelle des jours où gagner n’était pas un espoir, mais une attente. Pour lui, écrire est un passe-temps, pas une profession. Ayant déménagé dans la superbe Colombie-Britannique en 1992 en provenance de sa ville natale de Sherbrooke, Québec, il a commencé à écrire en français pour garder sa grammaire, jusqu’à ce que ses amis anglophones ne réussissent à le convaincre d’avoir son blog en anglais. Son épouse vous dira qu’il est têtu, mais elle sera la première à reconnaître son grand sens de l’humour. Il est toujours fier de partager avec vous, lecteurs et lectrices, ses points de vue sur différents sujets, et quoi que les gens ne s’entendent pas toujours sur ceux-ci, le respect des opinions et des autres est son énoncé de mission.

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