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Two weeks ago, the Habs were in the midst of a huge freefall, but they have turned it around and currently occupy the 8th and final spot in the Eastern playoff race as we head into the Olympic break.  As for the Hamilton Bulldogs, they continue to occupy the same spot they’ve had since before the new year, dead last in the division.  League wide, scandal erupts in Phoenix, and Jose Theodore tested positive for a hair restoration substance; guess who had something to say about that?  All this, plus the schedule analysis for the teams in the hunt, in the recap.

Canadiens Recap:

The Habs were looking to carry over the momentum from a big Super Bowl Sunday win over Philly, and really had just one thing in their way, the referees.  Despite a more than valiant effort on the PK, the Habs fell in overtime by a 3-2 count.  Some important things to note from this game: Montreal had a PPG disallowed late in the 3rd, with still no real explanation why it was disallowed (rule interpretation has been iffy thus far).  Saku Koivu discussed it with the officials, and then found himself in the box less than a minute later.  His replacement at C, Steve Begin, lasted less than 45 seconds, and then he was in the box too, heading into OT.  I will say this though, the game was very evenly played and the same result easily could have come about.  Seeking revenge on Thursday, the Habs survived a last minute goal by the Sabres and scored early in OT, winning by a 3-2 margin.  Saturday was the final game before the Olympic break, and didn’t go poorly, but not the way the players were hoping, falling 2-1 in the shootout.

The Good:
Cristobal Huet, who has a GAA of 1.17 in his last 5 games.

The Bad:  This may sound good at first, but G Jose Theodore’s GAA didn’t go up for the first time in the new year.  The reason: He didn’t play, therefore it couldn’t go up any higher.

The Ugly:  Could it be anything else?  I’m not one to complain about refereeing often, but Tuesday’s game was simply a farce.

The Curious:  GM Bob Gainey announced that he won’t send W Alexander Perezhogin down during the Olympic break, citing it wouldn’t benefit his development.  This is Perezhogin’s first season back in North America since the stick swinging incident, and only his second full year in NA.  He also is just 22 years old.  It seems to me that Perezhogin should be playing as much as possible at this stage in his development, not sitting for 15 days.

Bulldogs Recap:

The week started off with a 4-3 shootout loss to Rochester, and was followed up by Yann Danis’ worst outing of the season, which saw him allow 3 goals on 10 shots before being pulled for Olivier Michaud.  The Dogs lost that one also by a 4-3 count.  The end of the week was redemption though, as Pierre Dagenais led the way to a 4-1 win over San Antonio.

The Good:
Yann Danis was named co-MVP at the AHL All-Star Classic 2 weeks ago.  It’s the second year in a row that a Habs prospect has received the honour, last year, it was C Tomas Plekanec.

The Bad:  It’s early February, and already the playoffs are a pipe dream.  The Dogs are 15 points out of a playoff spot, and the 4th place team (Toronto) has a game in hand on them.

The Ugly:  Pierre Dagenais has been scratched more times (2) than he has goals (1) with the Bulldogs.

The Curious:  This time, I’m a little curious with Edmonton’s GM Kevin Lowe.  Saturday, he placed W Brad Winchester on re-entry waivers, he cleared, and played Sunday vs St. Louis.  Now, he’s decided to not send Winchester back, having to put him on waivers again.  Doesn’t really make a lot of sense, was it really worth going through the whole recall process for him to plan 1 game, then sit for 15 days?

Author note: Less than 24 hours after this column was posted, Lowe had a change of heart and did wind up sending Winchester to Hamilton.

Schedule Study:

With the battle for the final playoff spots already underway, we’ll be taking a look at how the schedule shapes up for the teams that the Habs are trying to catch, as well as those they’re trying to stay ahead of.  This week, we look at how many times each team has to play one of the others in the hunt.

(Rank) Team

Points Games rem. Key Matchups % of rem.
(6) – Tampa Bay 68 24 Toronto, Florida (5), Montreal, Atlanta (3), Islanders 45.8%
(7) – New Jersey 66 24 Atlanta, Boston, Toronto, Montreal (2), Islanders (3) 33.3%
(8) – Montreal 60 26 Florida, Toronto (3), Boston (4), Tampa Bay, New Jersey (2), Islanders (2) 50.0%
(9) – Toronto 59 25 Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Montreal (3), Boston (2), Florida, Islanders (3) 44.0%
(10) – Boston 58 24 Atlanta (3), Montreal (4), New Jersey, Florida, Toronto (2), Islanders 50.0%
(11) – Atlanta 58 24 Boston (3), Florida (3), New Jersey, Tampa Bay (3), Islanders (3) 54.2%
(12) – Islanders 54 26 Montreal (2), New Jersey (3), Toronto (3), Boston, Florida, Tampa Bay, Atlanta (3) 53.8%
(13) – Florida 52 25 Tampa Bay (5), Montreal, Atlanta (3), Boston, Toronto, Islanders 48.0%

One of the key matchups for the Habs will be the Devils.  Currently, Montreal is 6 points out of 7th, with a pair of games in hand.  If they win those, they’re within a pair, with also a pair of head-to-head matchups, including the final game of the season, for both teams.  It could all come down to the final day here.

Around the rinks:

Captain’s sticking around:

On Saturday, the Habs announced that they had come to terms with pending UFA Saku Koivu on a 3-year, $14.25 M US extension; it works out to $4.75 M per season.  The deal also has a no-trade clause, which will put an end to all the trade rumours.

Tocchet in trouble:

Early this week, Phoenix assistant coach Rick Tocchet was charged by New Jersey police, after it was learned that he was responsible for a private and illegal gambling ring.  Very little else has been confirmed but this, more information will be forthcoming in the future. 

Theodore tests positive:

It was announced early Thursday that Canadiens G Jose Theodore tested positive for a banned substance called Propecia.  Its usage is meant to be for hair restoration, but it also acts as a steroid masking agent, which has many people a little uneasy.  Canadiens GM Bob Gainey was very upset about who leaked the news, noting it came from Torino, Italy, the site of the Olympics, and WADA head Dick Pound, who of course had something to say about it.  More on that in the final thought segment.

Break time!

The NHL is now in the midst of a 15-day break, while the Olympic games are on.  6 Habs will be representing their countries in the Men’s hockey tournament, Alexei Kovalev and Andrei Markov (Russia), Richard Zednik (Slovakia), Saku Koivu (Finland), Jan Bulis (Czech Republic), and Mark Streit (Switzerland).  Both Streit and Koivu will captain their teams.

Final Thought:

Oh, how ignorance can be bliss.  In the case of WADA head Dick Pound, he’s probably in such a blissful state that he’s on Cloud 9 at the moment.  Once again, he took this week to heavily criticize the NHL and NHLPA’s joint drug testing policy, calling it pretty much a joke.  Now, someone must have told him by now that the policy is part of the CBA, and that the CBA can only be re-negotiated during the offseason.  My point?  No matter how much he moans and groans about it, it can’t be changed anytime soon, so why keep bringing it up?  No good can come of repeating the same negative statements over and over again.  Believe it or not, this isn’t even the beef I have with Mr. Pound this week.

On Thursday, Pound took joy in the fact in Jose Theodore’s positive test.  There is a lot of speculation that it was Pound who leaked the result, although there is no way to confirm it.  Of course, Pound has become judge and jury all in one and has already sentenced Theodore.  Should we take solace in the fact that he said that athletes that test positive for a banned substance shouldn’t go to jail, just that those players should no longer be in the sport anymore?  Give me a break here.  The Canadiens organization has already provided documentation that Propecia has been prescribed for several years now, and the NHL noted that he applied for an exemption and was granted one, and that doesn’t happen automatically.  Despite this, Pound alleges that Theodore is taking steroids and should get the book thrown at him; he completed ignores the evidence in front of him. 

I won’t even get into how Pound also poked fun at the Rick Tocchet situation, it’s not worth my time to write it nor yours to read it.  For that matter, we shouldn’t have to suffer listening to him wrongfully poking fun at the league we love.  Many of us want to have our thoughts heard about him; I have the advantage of this column, but what about you?  Just remember this, Pound makes frequent appearances at Montreal Canadiens games, being a Montreal resident.  Perhaps the perfect opportunity to make yourself heard could be then, hmm?