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- January hasn't been a kind month for Lars Eller. He has just 12 points in 44 games, his lowest PPG average of any month.
It was a week to forget for the Habs, as a consistent lack of effort led to the team losing 3 of 4 games, all of which were within their division. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs turned it around this week, winning both of their games, including a shutout from Jaroslav Halak. The Burning Issue this week looks at the issue of veteran players, while our Final Thought feature analyzes the first quarter of the season, plus the weekly player grades, in the Recap.
8.5 - 10: Player has exceeded expectations for the week, very strong contributions.
6.5 - 8: Player has met expectations for the week, is not hurting the lineup.
5 - 6: Player has performed below expectations for the week, play has negatively affected the team.
Under 4.5: Player has had a week to forget, questions should soon be arising about his future with the organization.
#39 - Cristobal Huet: 8.5
Wasn't the greatest vs Ottawa, but a pair of very strong games vs the Isles and
Sabres, only 3 GA in those 2 combined. (Season Average:
#31 - Carey Price: 7.5 He wasn't the reason the team lost in Buffalo, but his so-so rebound control cost the Habs a couple of goals. (Season Average: 7.93)
#79 - Andrei Markov: 8.0
Played well despite the rough fall into the boards in Buffalo, has shown why he
leads Eastern d-men in voting. (Season Average:
#44 - Roman Hamrlik: 8.0 His defensive game was stellar, but the offensive game has been very paltry, more than weak wristers are required. (Season Average: 7.5)
#8 - Mike Komisarek: 7.5 I'm a little concerned with the frequency that he's getting into altercations - he's most effective when he actually is on the ice. (Season Average: 7.75)
#26 - Josh Gorges: 7.0 Played a solid game vs Buffalo, I'd like to see him get a few more consecutive games in and see if he can build off this. (Season Average: 6.75)
#71 - Patrice Brisebois: 7.0 The trademark giveaways aren't there, but he was beaten on several in-zone coverage battles, and his PP contributions are dropping. (Season Average: 7.06)
#32 - Mark Streit: 7.0 He led all Habs defenders in points this week and that's worth something, but his overall play continues to regress. (Season Average: 7.06)
#51 - Francis Bouillon: 6.0 He was scratched in favour of a defenceman who doesn't play his side of the ice, that says just about enough in itself. (Season Average: 6.71)
#21 - Chris Higgins: 8.0
It was nice to see him get back on track, he was the team's most consistent
threat on the ice throughout the week. (Season Average:
#22 - Steve Begin: 8.0 Gotta love it when a player like Begin scores a couple while playing his standard game, very nice to see him rewarded for his work. (Season Average: 7.38)
#46 - Andrei Kostitsyn: 7.5 Although the numbers weren't there this week, he was one of the few consistent threats the team had. (Season Average: 7.19)
#27 - Alexei Kovalev: 7.5 Like Kostitsyn, a threat most of the time, but he also had some of the careless giveaways that brought back memories of last year. (Season Average: 7.88)
#14 - Tomas Plekanec: 7.5 Made some good plays with the puck, ever notice that the officials are always telling him how to properly take a faceoff though? (Season Average: 7.63)
#28 - Kyle Chipchura: 7.0 Steady, but not spectacular; this is something I sense we'll be saying plenty about him this year (which isn't half bad.) (Season Average: 7.36)
#25 - Mathieu Dandenault: 7.0 Made some good plays on the offensive side, but the defensive effort was lacking a bit. (Season Average: 7.31)
#6 - Tom Kostopoulos: 7.0 The suspension didn't deter him from playing his standard hard-hitting game. (Season Average: 7.0)
#73 - Michael Ryder: 6.5 He's making the right reads most of the time, too bad the execution off the reads wasn't there much. Still better than a few weeks back though. (Season Average: 7.0)
#11 - Saku Koivu: 6.5 The talk that he's "out of gas" seems premature, but there's no denying he isn't getting the job done right now. (Season Average: 7.81)
#84 - Guillaume Latendresse: 6.5 He wasn't bad at times, but it was unacceptable to miss all 3 of his golden opportunities. (Season Average: 6.44)
#20 - Bryan Smolinski: 6.0 Nice to see him get a couple of points, but his game just wasn't consistently up to par this week. (Season Average: 7.14)
#54 - Mikhail Grabovski: 5.5 Looked overwhelmed in his game this week, the skills are there, but he needs to learn how to use them more effectively; the NHL is not the spot for this. (Season Average: 6.5)
The Dog Pound
Despite being outshot in both games, the Bulldogs managed to win convincingly in both.
Games 16-17 of the season.
3 Stars: 1) Ferland - HAM 2) Locke - HAM 3) Helm - GRA
3 Stars: 1) Lapierre - HAM 2) Halak - HAM 3) Carle - HAM
All but one Bulldog had a plus rating this past week.
Goals: Ferland (8)
Assists: Kostitsyn (14)
Points: Kostitsyn (19)
+/-: Locke (+7)
PIMS: Lapierre (46)
November 28: Wilkes-Barre Scranton vs Hamilton
November 30: Philadelphia vs Hamilton
Veterans - every team has them, and every team needs them, except the Habs if the fans had their way. At the beginning of the season, Tom Kostopoulos was the goat, as he was stealing the spot from Maxim Lapierre. Now, Bryan Smolinski is being chastised, for taking away playing time from Kyle Chipchura, while Michael Ryder is hoarding the icetime that apparently belongs to Sergei Kostitsyn, despite the fact that Hamilton coach Don Lever says that Andrei's younger brother has plenty to learn about being a professional, particularly in the effort department. Do Ryder and Smolinski in particular need to play better? Of course, there's no point in denying that. But at the same time, all of the good teams have veterans, including those that aren't producing up to expectations. If they're holding on to their guys, why can't the Habs? Come playoff time, teams are always looking for veteran leadership; that's where the players like Smolinski will prove their worth - either by helping the current team, or via trade when the market is right.
As we pass through the 1st quarter of the season, a few things are beginning to take shape. The same problems from last year exist - the team can't score 5 on 5, lives and dies by the powerplay, and has little to no offensive depth on a consistent basis. However, the goaltending has been stronger than many expected, as has the defence, led by All-Star vote leader Markov, who has picked up the slack from Sheldon Souray's departure. To me though, the play from the team resembles so much from last season that it scares me. At this time in 06-07, the goaltending was there, and was winning the games when the offence wasn't producing, and the team had a similar record to the one the current team has today. To me, this says one thing - if the status quo remains, they're going to be in some trouble sooner or later, seldom can a team consistently get by on solid goaltending alone. This is not the time for the team to rest on their laurels, and the sooner the coaching staff gets this message across, the better.
The next edition of the mailbag will appear in December. Get your questions in for the next issue, by e-mailing any of our writers, or in the comment field below. If you've already sent in a question for the next one, there's no need to send it again.