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It was certainly one of the more interesting weeks for the Montreal Canadiens, with a coaching change and the team’s biggest offensive output of the year.  The Hamilton Bulldogs added Pierre Dagenais, and proceeded to lose both their early games this week, reversing last week’s 3-0 performance.  This, plus the latest from around the NHL, a breakdown of the Habs coaching situation, and a scouting report on Siarhei Kostitsyn in the recap.

Canadiens Recap:

It was a week that started off poorly, and ended off strong for the Habs.  A 1-game road trip to Colorado saw the Habs dominated from virtually start to finish, but also saw Cristobal Huet play arguably the game of his career.  Unfortunately, a 3rd period collapse caused the Canadiens to fall by a 2-1 count.  On Saturday, newly named interim coach Bob Gainey watched his team play a strong game all around, and by far their best single period of the season, as the Habs scored 6 in the 2nd alone, pacing themselves to a 6-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks.

The Good: Andrei Markov – something tells me he got the message.  After being called out by Gainey for a lack of production, Markov had his first career 4-point game vs the Sharks.  Honourable mention goes out to Mark Streit, who scored his first career goal on Saturday.

The Bad: The bumping of Michael Ryder to the top line did pretty much nothing, as both he and Saku Koivu were held to 0 points and had minus ratings in the 6-2 victory over San Jose.

The Ugly:  He’s played better since he returned from the groin injury, but Radek Bonk’s glaring giveaway vs Colorado that led to the game winner late in the 3rd will go down as one of the blunders of the season.

The Curious:  Wonder how Cristobal Huet felt come Saturday night?  After being named the starter for the San Jose game by then-coach Claude Julien, new coach Bob Gainey’s first decision as the boss was to give Jose Theodore the start in goal.

Bulldogs Recap:

It was back to normal for the Bulldogs this week, going 0-2 in their first 2 games (game 3 was being played still at the time of publication.)  The addition of Pierre Dagenais did very little to spark the offence, as he had just 1 assist and an even rating through his first 2 games. 

The Good:
Andre Benoit’s play obviously impressed Canadiens management, as he inked a 3 year deal with the Habs this week.

The Bad:  It has not been a great start for Alexander Perezhogin with the Bulldogs.  Through his first 5 games, he has just 2 assists and a -2 rating. 

The Ugly:  A tribute to a bad offence, the Bulldogs do not have a single player in the top-75 in league scoring.

The Curious:  Despite leading the team in scoring all season long, C Corey Locke has not yet been recalled to the Canadiens, while several others have.  Just some food for thought.

The Firing:

First off, the details.  Fired were Head Coach Claude Julien, as well as Assistant Coach Rick Green.  GM Bob Gainey named himself interim coach for what is believed to be the remainder of the season.  Joining him is former Dallas Assistant GM  Guy Carbonneau, under the title of Associate Coach.  It is all but confirmed that Carbonneau will take over as Head Coach beginning in the 2006-07 season, with 1 assistant for that season still to be named.  Doug Jarvis and Roland Melanson remain with the team in their assistant capacities.

Despite the struggles of the team over the past 6 weeks, this move was somewhat of a surprise in the hockey world.  The timing was also a little odd, as Gainey decided to make the announcement early Saturday morning, on a game day, rather than a day or 2 earlier.  What is nice to see here is that this was not a move made out of panic, as was the case in Long Island, with Steve Stirling being fired, with no plan for the immediate future.  Here though, Gainey had spent the last week planning, and was in contact with Carbonneau regularly.  Better still in the long haul is that the organization is allowing Carbonneau to spend half the season getting to know the team and begin to implement his system, without the pressures of being the head honcho.  What does this all mean?  This shows that the firing was not a knee-jerk reaction, it was a calm and calculated move.  Should we have expected anything else from a GM who is best known for being calm and calculated, and not for making irrational and erratic moves like a certain former Islander GM?

What also is important here that isn’t getting the publicity is the firing of Green.  One of the biggest concerns for the Canadiens this season has been the defence, or lack thereof.  Green was the coach primarily responsible for the defence, so his removal shows that the new staff will refocus on and recreate a new defensive structure, one that hopefully will make this team better defensively.

There is one thing that concerns me at least.  It is somewhat challenging to go back and find a team with an interim head coach that actually made the playoffs.  It is even harder to find an interim coach who took his team deep into the playoffs.  It has happened before, but nowhere as many times as it hasn’t.  With the eye primarily on next season and a new system, how effective will the team be down the stretch, playing under a coach who has already announced that he will be relinquishing the role at year’s end?  If the Canadiens falter during the next quarter, do not be surprised to see Carbonneau take over late, and begin to implement his system ahead of time.

Now, what becomes of Claude Julien?  Personally, I feel that he will be back coaching by the end of this season, if not the end of this month.  As everyone knows by now, the New Jersey Devils are still without a coach, and the teams’ system is somewhat similar to that of Montreal’s.  Also, given the fact that the last 2 coaches of the Devils have also been affiliated with the Habs at some point, and it may very well be a match made in heaven. 

Around the rinks:

With contributions from Normand Szcyrek.

Big Bad Joe:

In Joe Thornton’s first homecoming back to Boston since the trade to San Jose, he lasted less than 6 minutes before being  thrown out of the game for a hit from behind, that drove Hal Gill  head and shoulders into the boards.  Gill left with what was eventually diagnosed as a pinched nerve in his shoulder. Thornton was given a major and a game misconduct on the play. The two players talked to each other after the game and apparently held no hard feelings.

Devils In-CAP-acitated:

Watch the New Jersey Devils to either make moves in the off season to rid themselves of more high-priced players, or not make any signings at all. Due to Lou Lamoriello’s signings of veterans Vladimir Malakhov & Alexander Mogilny to multi-year contracts, the Devils will be forced to count the two player’s combined $7.1 M salary for next season regardless of whether they play for New Jersey or retire.  The only way out for the Devils is if another team would trade for them, which is highly unlikely in Malakhov’s case, and also not likely for Mogilny particularly since he was not claimed on waivers recently.

End of the line for Andreychuk:

Like Mogilny, veteran C Dave Andreychuk cleared waivers this week, effectively ending his hall-of-fame NHL career.  Andreychuk has 1 more year at around $800,000 left on his deal, meaning that Tampa will be on the hook for that salary this season, although this year’s contract does come off the books.  Cheers to the Lighting for not sending him to the minors, but jeers to how they handled the situation, with Andreychuk himself learning of his fate through the media, and not the team.

Birds of a Feather:

Some teams are starting to realize the benefits of grouping Europeans from the same country on their team to improve  team chemistry.  This season it has been the Rangers with Czech players and Dallas with Finnish players; in previous seasons Detroit has had numerous Russians, but this season they’ve had several Swedish players on their squad. It’s not a coincidence that all 3 of these teams are enjoying fine seasons so far, which is especially surprising since New York and Dallas were not considered to be amongst the contenders at the start of this season.

How Does Mad Mike Do It?

This week, New York Islanders GM Mike Milbury fired his head coach Steve Stirling and promoted assistant coach Brad Shaw to the position.  During the press conference, Islander owner Charles Wang announced that Mike Milbury will be named  Senior Vice President for Wang’s sports franchises, after a successor to Milbury has been found, which could be as late as the summer.  Milbury has been long criticized for the lack of success that the Islanders have had over his 10 year reign as GM, due to odd trades and a lack of playoff appearances.  During his time with New York as either GM, head coach or both, his team’s record have been a combined 283-377-120; for this he deserves a promotion to upper management?  Early rumours have Brent Sutter as a possible GM/Head Coach replacement for the offseason. 

Final Thought:

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to go and see Canadiens prospect Siarhei Kostitsyn and his London Knights play in Barrie against the Colts.  In the game, Kostitsyn had 1 power play assist, a -3 rating, and 14 PIMS in a 7-5 loss to the Colts.  He was assessed a 10 minute misconduct for diving.  Here are my notes on him from the game:

– His linemates were Trevor Kell and David Bolland, both NHL picks.  This is the team’s 2nd line, and was also London’s starting trio in this game.

– Kostitsyn plays on the top PP unit, curiously with 4 other forwards, Bolland, Rob Schremp, Adam Perry, and Dylan Hunter.  Siarhei plays the right point in these scenarios.

– I was very impressed with the way he communicated to the other players throughout the whole game.  Unlike his brother, who has some difficulties with this aspect, there are no problems for this Kostitsyn.

– He is deceptively fast, and has the ability to kick into a blow-by gear, although his puck-handling when he does so is adequate at best.

– He is not bad defensively, but he certainly isn’t someone who would be out there late in a game with a 1 goal lead.  For that matter, Kostitsyn only had 1 shift while London was shorthanded (5 times).

– Overall, I was quite pleased with his play, although it’s much too early to call him a boom or bust, he could very well turn out to be a steal in the 7th round.