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It’s been an interesting week in Habland; two losses to only one win has some fans getting a little antsy. The mailbag this week had a lot to say about the goaltending situation as well as the second line. There was also a comment about last week’s column wondering why I focused so much on Dagenais. Simple answer really: he’s what people were talking about.

We’ll start this week with the same line of questioning…

Why keep Dagenais over Hossa? -Patrick, Albany, NY

This is a question that came up more than a few times, actually, and I can understand why it was asked, particularly considering how good Hossa looked during the preseason. I believe there are a couple of reasons for the decision.

First and foremost, I think there was an offer for Hossa. He may not have had a lot of value, but he’s still young enough that there’s the possibility of perceived potential. Dagenais, on the other hand, is slightly older and comes with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get tag. Dags isn’t going to do much improving at all. When you watch him play, you don’t see a shift here and there where he shows much more than usual – he’s basically the same all the time. Hossa, at least, showed that he could be something more.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, concerns consistency. Regardless of how Dags is a one-trick pony, management knows what that one trick is, and they feel they can surround him properly to allow him to perform that one trick well enough to help the club. Hossa, on the other hand, was hit or miss. One shift he looked great, the next he might as well have been invisible. It’s a tough question, but would you rather have consistency, even if it comes at lower talent, or would you rather have unfulfilled potential that could be great at times, or hair-pulling mad at others?

Finally, there was the aspect of meshing with the team. Yes, Hossa looked like he was playing well with Bonk, and yes, Bonk said some good things about him. Dags, on the other hand, we know plays well with Ribeiro. Despite his weaknesses, he *did* score at a solid rate last season. And if you think that’s the end of it, remember back to the game against the Rangers this season and the penalty that Koivu took. He cross-checked Hossa pretty good when the play was long gone. Think Koivu appreciated the kid? I found that a very telling gesture.

Ribeiro and Dagenais are more than enough to bring home an elite defender like Aucoin. -Bitton

Can we add Hainsey to Ribeiro and Dagenais to get a quality #2 centre or #3, 4 defender? – Bob.T

There were plenty more questions and comments mirroring these two, but I’ll look at these two here.

Ribeiro and Dagenais can, in no way, bring us Aucoin. At one point last season, I’ll grant that it might have been more or a possibility, but consider that Aucoin last season was logging 30+ minutes for long stretches of games for the Islanders. He’s one of the better defenders in the game and trading a surprising but small centre and a role-playing winger probably wasn’t going to land him. Looking at it today, there’s no chance at all the two would land Aucoin. Dagenais is being benched and Ribeiro looks lost out there at times – and not half the player he was last season.

Now, can we add Hainsey to the two to get something useful? I question that as well since Hainsey passed through waivers – which means that teams could have had him for free. Packaging two bits of filler with one half-useful centre will never bring what we think it might. Not a chance.

There was, in fact, another comment that said trading Ribeiro would land a riot in Montreal, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Rocket Riot. I counter this by saying that even the French media is starting to question Ribeiro here in Montreal. Yvon Pedneault openly said that Ribsy had better watch his back because Plekanec was looking awfully good. Now, I don’t think it’s going that far just yet – I think management will give Ribs a clear shot with other wingers if necessary, but the love-in for Ribeiro is receding faster than my hairline.

Montreal fans are disloyal to talented goalies: Theo gets wins but still there are complaints.

Montreal fans sometimes boo for no apparent reason. Go talk to Breezy if you don’t believe that. In the case of Theo, however, my comments have nothing to do with disloyalty, rather they highlight what I feel are legitimate concerns regarding his game. It was very telling that, after Danis recorded his shutout, Roland Melanson, goaltending coach, was interviewed by the RDS boys and basically agreed with my every analysis of Theo: his base positioning was bad and he was struggling with his game. Rollie the Goalie went on to say that he felt it would take about ten days to work out the kinks in his game. If you read my report on last night’s encounter with the leafs, I think I made it quite clear that I see the improvement.

I think there are too many people out there who feel defensive about the Habs when there’s no reason. Theo has struggled this year. That’s not a disloyal thing to say, it’s the truth. If pointing out areas of concern means people are being disloyal, then I think we’d best all bury our heads in the sand.

I already accept the poor puckhandling skills, but how long do you think it will take for the $15M man to prove his worth?

Melanson figures it will take ten days to work out the kinks. Judging from past experiences with Theodore and his struggles, I have no reason to believe otherwise. I’d say by next Saturday night when the Islanders come to town Theo will probably be close to where he should be. The only issue there will be confidence, and that will take an extra game or two to bring back up to the level where it needs to be.

What adjustments would you make the the 2nd and 4th lines?

The first thing I’d do is introduce Dagenais to the Gatorade jug and have him serving drinks to the players. Then I’d put either Zednik or Perezhogin on Ribeiro’s wing for a minimum of three games to see how that changed things up. If that didn’t help, I’d shuffle Ryder to the fourth line and give Higgins more chance at the second line, with Zednik moving to his off-wing (which he’s comfortable doing). The goal with all this is to give Ribeiro every chance to succeed at the game he plays best – finesse. Right now he needs some speed and grit on his wings because, as it stands, the game is a little too fast for Ribs.

The fourth line I wouldn’t want to fiddle with at all, except I believe it has the elements that will improve the second. If it came down to it, placing Ryder on a line with Plekanec and Begin might actually be a good thing, since Plex and Begin will both be able to work the boards and get the puck to a (hopefully) well positioned Ryder in the slot. It’s a combination I think could be quite successful.

Honestly, at this moment, I don’t feel we have a “second” and a “fourth” line. I feel that we have a 2a and a 2b. It’s great to finally have depth.

This last just came in as I was writing this column, but I quite enjoyed it, so I thought I’d share.

In reference to my comments regarding the Leafs and their good run of luck with the referrees…

It might interest you to note that Toronto is 1st in power play opportunities and 17th in time shorthanded. Seems odd; with this team you’d imagine it’d be the other way.” -Simonus

I’m horribly tempted to send this along to the NHL to see what they’d have to say. Unfortunately, I’d probably get Pat Quinn on the phone whining and complaining that even the fans can’t give his team a break.

And on that note…

Keep the questions and comments coming in!

A Concerned Fan