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This past week, the Montreal Canadiens went a long way in getting themselves towards the playoffs, winning 4 of their 5 games.  Unfortunately, while this was happening, a mini 2-game losing streak has seen the Hamilton Bulldogs mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.  League-wide, a well known GM and coach get canned, while the Habs sign one of their top prospects.  We’ll also look at the playoff picture, as well as some thought on captain Saku Koivu in the recap.

Canadiens Recap:

What a week for the Montreal Canadiens, although it didn’t start off too pretty.  The Habs needed a 3-goal in less than 3 minute spurt to take care of the Capitals by a 4-2 count on Monday.  The following night on Long Island, the team started off weak and never recovered, dropping a 3-1 decision.  Then came the Maple Leafs.  Thursday night, in what many would call the best period the team has played all season, the Habs got a 4-0 lead and never looked back, taking care of Toronto 5-1.  Saturday was another opportunity to put the Leafs even further back, and that’s exactly what they did, battling their way to a 6-2 victory.  But wait, there was still more, as Sunday night, the team traveled to Pittsburgh for yet another game.  David Aebischer, despite allowing 5 goals again, got his first victory as a Hab, as the Canadiens took the 6-5 decision.

The Good:  What happened to the offence?  17 goals in the last 3 games, where did this come from?

The Bad:  The fact that the Habs barely got by the Pens on Sunday, avoiding what would have been the first time Pittsburgh swept the season series with Montreal.

The Ugly:  Saku Koivu’s goalless streak.  Yes, he’s a playmaker, but 22 games is ridiculous.

The Curious:  Jan Bulis’ scratching for a pair of games is an interesting one, as no official reason was given.  Everyone, including yours truly, has their suspicions, but I really would like to hear what Bob Gainey’s rationale was.

Bulldogs Recap:

It’s time to play out the stretch now, as the Hamilton Bulldogs were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Syracuse.  Also, the team fell by a 4-3 count to Milwaukee on Wednesday night. 

The Good:
  Andrei Kostitsyn has caught fire, notching 12 points in his last 11 games.

The Bad:  There doesn’t seem to be a bright offensive future with the Bulldogs.  Of the top-5 scorers, just 2 (Kostitsyn and Corey Locke) are actually Canadiens’ property; the other 3 are Oilers.

The Ugly:  In yet another testament to a lack of offence, former Canadiens and Bulldogs D Ron Hainsey is 4th amongst defencemen in points, despite being gone since before the new year. 

The Curious:  Last week, the Bulldogs signed C Kyle Chipchura to play for them the rest of the season.  Why then, has he been a healthy scratch since he signed?

Playoff Picture:

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.

Weekly Schedule:

Before we look at the standings, let’s see who’s playing who this week. 

Team Matchups (number is the date)
Tampa Bay 27 @ Carolina, 30 vs Atlanta, 1 @ Florida, 2 @ Pittsburgh
New Jersey 28 @ Ottawa, 30 vs Buffalo, 1 @ Philadelphia
Montreal 28 vs Islanders, 30 vs Washington, 1 vs Boston
Atlanta 30 @ Tampa Bay, 1 vs Carolina
Toronto 28 @ Philadelphia, 1 vs Buffalo
Islanders 28 vs Montreal, 29 vs Rangers, 31 vs Pittsburgh, 2 vs Philadelphia
Florida 27 @ Boston, 29 @ Pittsburgh, 31 @ Carolina, 1 vs Tampa Bay
Boston 27 vs Florida, 29 @ Buffalo, 1 @ Montreal

Of note, 9th place Atlanta has a very light week with just a pair of games, and will have a game in hand on the Habs come the end of the week.


Now, let’s look at the standings.  For clarity sake, we only have total points and games remaining listed in the table.

6. Tampa Bay 11 81
7. New Jersey 11 79
8. Montreal 11 79
9. Atlanta 11 76
10. Toronto 11 72
T11. Islanders 12 71
T11. Florida 12 71
13. Boston 10 68

Standings as of games played through Sunday, March 26th.

Magic Numbers:

Right now, the magic number to clinch the playoffs is 10 (wins), or 20 (points).  Any combination of Montreal gaining points and Atlanta losing points will decrease the numbers.

Around the rinks:

Infirmary update:

D Francis Bouillon remains day-to-day with a left leg contusion.  C Mike Ribeiro is day-to-day with bruised ribs.  D Andrei Markov is still not 100% healthy after suffering back spasms earlier in the week.

Murray done for in LA:

The NHL’s 2nd longest coaching tenure is now over, as the Kings, mired in a tailspin (that coincides with Mathieu Garon’s struggles), decided to part ways with head coach Andy Murray, and hand the reigns to John Torchetti.  Although it has not been made official yet, all signs point to Torchetti losing his interim tag at year’s end to become the full time coach.

Changes in Beantown:

Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs finally had enough of GM Mike O’Connell, and fired him on Saturday.  Curiously, the team claims it was not because of the Joe Thornton trade, but rather because of the players O’Connell recently re-signed.  Those players?  G Tim Thomas and W P.J. Axelsson, as well as 1st round pick D Matt Lashoff, all to 3 year contracts.  Apparently, upper management didn’t like these decisions.  Perhaps another problem lies right there…

Final Thought:

Everyone is up in arms about Saku Koivu’s struggles to score goals.  Yes, he is on a 22-game goalless drought, the longest of his career.  But are things as bad as they seem with him?  Has his play tailed off as much as many fans and media alike say?  Not at all.  Here are some numbers to back it up:

In the 22 games, he has 14 assists, good for 0.64 PPG. 
The team, despite him not scoring, has a 12-7-3 record in those 22 games.
He’s still 2nd in total points, and top-5 in goals.

Are those numbers great?  Not really, but are they worthy of being benched as some have suggested?  Not in a million years.  What everyone else needs to remember also is this: He’s a playmaking centre who’s only scored 20 or more goals twice in his career, his highest being 21.  In fact, the next goal he scores will give him his 5th highest goal total in his 10 year career, upper half despite the slump, while 4 goals in the final 11 games would give him his 3rd highest ever total. 

The reality is, despite a 22 game goalless slump, Saku Koivu is right around where he usually is in terms of goal scoring, and his PPG average is right around his career average; things are not as bad as they seem.  Maybe it’s time to leave him alone and actually encourage the way he plays – with heart, courage, grit, and determination, something this team could always use more of.