HabsWorld.net -- 

The week before Christmas was an up-and-down one for the Montreal Canadiens, first stunning Ottawa with a thrilling comeback at home, before stinking up the joint in Washington with a 3rd period that can be generously referred to as atrocious.  The same can be said for the Hamilton Bulldogs, the week started off well with a win over Cleveland, before losing a heartbreaker to Rochester.  Elsewhere, Olympic teams were named, did Vladimir Malakhov actually retire, and could the NHLPA actually seek a lower salary cap?  All this and more in the holiday edition of the recap.

Canadiens Recap:

At the beginning of the week, many fans were predicting a 1-1 record for the Habs, and that’s what actually happened.  But the way it occurred was stunning to say the least.  The Canadiens let the league leading Ottawa Senators have a 3-0 lead, before storming back to take the game 4-3 in a shootout.  Riding that emotional high, the Habs went into Washington, and played a strong first 40 minutes, carrying a 1-0 lead into the 3rd.  Unfortunately, games are 60 minutes, and the Habs didn’t seem to remember that on Friday night, allowing 4 goals in that stanza, and ultimately lost 4-2.

The Good: Alexei Kovalev returns to the lineup vs Ottawa and goes bananas, notching his 700th career point, 300th career goal, and clinched the shootout.  If only all the Habs would return to the lineup with such fanfare.

The Bad: Alexander Perezhogin – you must be doing something wrong to get such a low amount of ice time on such a regular basis; he has played more than 10 minutes in a game a whopping one time this month.

The Ugly:  Injuries, injuries, and more injuries.  Even with Kovalev and Richard Zednik returning to action, the infirmary remains large, with Saku Koivu, Radek Bonk, Jose Theodore, and Tomas Plekanec all nursing injuries, and Mark Streit dressing despite a severe case of the flu. 

The Curious:  Almost everyone has seen Leafs’ C Jason Allison going in on the shootout – it’s slow and painful to watch (if you’re a Leafs fan).  How then is Pierre Dagenais who at times looks even slower than Allison (or a wounded turtle) perfect thus far in the shootout, going 2/2?  For that matter, both of his goals have been shootout game winners. 

Bulldogs Recap:

The Hamilton Bulldogs continue to fight on, managing to split a pair of games this week, defeating Cleveland 5-3 on Wednesday night, before dropping a close 3-2 decision to Rochester less than 24 hours later.  With the win vs Cleveland, the Dogs find themselves in striking distance of getting out of the cellar; they are now just 2 points back of the Barons with a pair of games in hand.

The Good: Hey, the Bulldogs finally signed a player, Lucas Lawson, who they went and found out of Finland.  Now hopefully we won’t see anymore of those “Canadiens won’t ice a full squad” stories.

The Bad:  Jonathan Ferland was wearing the ‘A’ in Wednesday’s win over Cleveland, but he apparently was not the following night against Rochester.  If this is true, then boos-a-plenty to Don Lever, who already has done this with J-P Cote this season.

The Ugly:  A team that finds itself short on offence should be a well-disciplined one, if not, opposition PP’s will do them in.  Unfortunately, the Bulldogs are finding trips to the sin bin to be too frequent, as they are 2nd in the conference in PIMS, only 8 behind Manitoba for the most.

The Curious:  Andrei Kostitsyn, known for great offensive but a lack of defensive abilities, scored a SHG against Cleveland.  Maybe that’ll stay in Claude Julien’s head the next time he’s up with the big club – he might actually see 2 minutes of ice time next game.

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not:

The weekly summary of teams on the rise, and those falling faster than Santa on a slippery rooftop.

Rank Team Comments
1 Edmonton Oilers
Have earned points in 10 straight games (7-0-3), all lines are firing, and Mike Peca’s actually scoring.  The days of calling for MacTavish’s head are gone.
2 Buffalo Sabres
Biron finally lost a game this week, but they are still one of the dominant forces in the conference.  #1 goalie from the beginning of the year Miller returns, position gets even deeper.
3 Nashville Predators
It’s amazing what goalies can do for you, a Tomas Vokoun-Chris Mason tandem is much more threatening than a Brian Finley-Pekka Rinne one.
28 New Jersey Devils
A season to forget already, no Elias, and now coach Big Bird quits, with no replacement in sight.  And then there’s the Malakhov situation (read below).
29 Columbus Blue Jackets
On the plus side, Rick Nash is back.  But when Sergei Fedorov is approaching double-digits without scoring, and Jaroslav Balastik becomes an consistent offensive threat, you’re in trouble.
30 Pittsburgh Penguins
What a beginning to the Therrien era, a losing streak.  Nothing has changed, absolutely nothing.  All the best to Mario Lemieux in his recovery though.

Last Week: 1-Buffalo, 2-San Jose, 3-Calgary, 28-Boston, 29-St. Louis, 30-Pittsburgh

Around the rinks:

With contributions from Normand Szcyrek.

Malakhov retires, or does he?

Former Habs defenseman Vladimir Malakhov is no longer playing for the Devils, and the details behind his absence are  intriguing.  He has either retired, been suspended or taken an unofficial leave of absence from the team.  At this time, there are many conflicting stories.  One report says that Malakhov wanted to retire, but to this day, has not yet filed his papers.  The story getting around suggests that Lou Lamoriello has suspended Malakhov indefinitely because of this, and signed Tommy Albelin to take his place on the roster.  Malakhov’s agent is claiming that his client requested a leave of absence from the team, but Lamoriello rejected that claim.  Now there’s talk that Malakhov’s agent is trying to squeeze some of the remainder of his client’s salary ($2.25 million remaining for this season,  and $3.6 million for next season) out of the Devils. 

Staying after all?

To counter the rumours of the  Pittsburgh Penguins moving after the 2007 season, Mario Lemieux and the current Penguins owners revealed an alternative plan to keep the franchise in place.  They have come to a business partnership agreement with a gambling company called Isle of Capri Casinos to build a billion dollar development in Pittsburgh that would include a new multi-purpose arena. This proposal will not require any tax money for the construction of the development. Essentially, the new partners would gain a gaming license in Pittsburgh, and through the use of a slots  license will build a casino and arena, however, there is no guarantee that the Penguins can secure that license.

Making the Cut:

No fewer than 6 Habs skaters were named to their respective Olympic teams this past week.  Saku Koivu (Finland), Alexei Kovalev and Andrei Markov (Russia), Jan Bulis (Czech Republic), Richard Zednik (Slovakia), and Mark Streit (Switzerland) will all be off to Torino, Italy in February. 

Final Thought:

This is just what we needed to hear at this happy time of year, the NHLPA and NHL are once again in disagreement about the salary cap, but it’s not what you think.  The Hockey News is reporting that the NHLPA has requested that next year’s payroll ceiling be $5 million over the payroll range midpoint, rather than $8 million, which is stated in the NHLPA.  (In other words, with a midpoint of $35 million, the ceiling would be $40 instead of $43 million.)  And get this, the league is against the idea.  This all has to deal with the dreaded escrow account, apparently the players want it gone, and would be willing to accept a drop in the ceiling in order to get this.  The NHL reportedly has said no to this, as it eliminates the concept of cost certainty.  In other words, our gift to us from the league and the PA is this, more bickering about money, the salary cap, and cost certainty.  We suffered through this for how many months, and you revive this at what is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year?  To you (league and PA) I say a resounding Bah Humbug!, for trying to ruin our holiday spirit with this garbage.  We’d have been better off not knowing about this debacle entirely. 

On behalf of everyone here at HabsWorld.net, I’d like to take the time to wish everyone a safe and happy holidays.  The recap moves back to its regular Sunday publication starting next week.