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The winning streak continues for the Montreal Canadiens, as it is now at 6 and counting after a trio of wins this past week.  Meanwhile in Hamilton, the Bulldogs managed to split a pair of games and in the process, guaranteed themselves that they will not finish last in the division.  League-wide, it was a week of milestones for some Hall-of-Fame bound players.  Also, we’ll look at the week ahead in the playoff race, and some thoughts on the successes of the Canadiens rookies so far this season.

Canadiens Recap:

It was another solid week for the Habs, taking 6 out of a possible 6 points, moving into 7th in the Eastern Conference.  Tuesday night, the Habs got an early goal from Chris Higgins, which proved to be all the Habs needed in a 2-0 blanking of the Islanders.  Thursday night didn’t go exactly as planned, as the Canadiens blew a 2-1 lead with just 3 seconds left in regulation, but Saku Koivu scored with just 58 seconds left in OT, finishing off the Caps by a 3-2 count.  Saturday vs Boston was a similar story to Tuesday’s, another 2-0 shutout.

The Good:  Cristobal Huet, what can you say?  3 straight shutouts over Boston with another matchup on Tuesday.

The Bad:  Where’d the offence go?  The last 3 games saw the Habs score 7 goals, the 3 prior: 17.

The Ugly:  The PP needs some fine tuning to put it lightly.  This week’s performance on the PP: 1/22 (4.5%).

The Curious:  What’s gotten into Radek Bonk?  Although he hasn’t scored in the last pair, he has 4 goals in his last 5 games, and is beginning to show the consistency that the Habs were looking for when they acquired him.  Why then, after doing so well, is he mired on the 4th line?

Bulldogs Recap:

It wasn’t a great week for the Bulldogs, nor a bad one, as they split a pair of games with teams fighting for their playoff lives.  Friday night saw the ‘Dogs drop a 3-1 decision to the Wolves, while on Saturday, they took care of business, beating Manchester 2-1 in OT.

The Good:
  Head coach Don Lever finally decides to actually play Kyle Chipchura, and the rookie C repays him with an assist in his 1st career pro game.

The Bad:  There is only 1 stat where the Bulldogs have a player in the top-20 and 2 in the top-50, PIMS.  Peter Vandermeer is 16th with 218, and Maxim Lapierre is 26th with 191.

The Ugly:  There are 2 20-goal scorers on the Bulldogs through 74 games, only 2.  Even worse, neither of them are Canadiens prospects, as Brad Winchester and Jean-Francois Jacques are both Oilers’ property.

The Curious:  Although in one sense it’s a good thing that the Bulldogs won’t finish last in their division, but why are we actually celebrating this fact?  It’s been a long year in Steeltown, that’s for sure.

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)
New Jersey 5 vs Pittsburgh, 8 @ Montreal, 9 vs Rangers
Montreal 4 vs Boston, 6 @ Ottawa, 8 vs New Jersey
Tampa Bay 3 vs Florida, 6 vs Atlanta, 8 vs Pittsburgh, 9 @ Florida
Atlanta 3 @ Ottawa, 5 @ Florida, 6 @ Tampa Bay, 8 vs Carolina
Florida 3 @ Tampa Bay, 5 vs Atlanta, 7 vs Pittsburgh, 9 vs Tampa Bay
Toronto 3 vs Buffalo, 5 vs Islanders, 6 @ Boston, 8 @ Philadelphia
Islanders 5 @ Toronto, 6 @ Rangers, 8 vs Washington

Of note, if 12th place Islanders lose 2 games, or Tampa Bay wins 2 (or a combination of the 2), they will be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.


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

6. New Jersey 7 87
7. Montreal 8 85
8. Tampa Bay 8 83
9. Atlanta 9 78
10. Florida 8 77
11. Toronto 9 76
12. Islanders 8 71

Standings as of games played through Sunday, April 2nd.

Magic Numbers:

Right now, the magic number to clinch the playoffs is 6 (wins), or 12 (points).  Any combination of Montreal gaining points and Atlanta losing points will decrease the numbers.

Around the rinks:

With contributions from Normand Szcyrek.

Cudos for Cujo:

Phoenix goaltender Curtis Joseph moved into 6th place for all time wins with 424. The win on March 28 over Nashville allows Joseph to pass hall of famer Tony Esposito. Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky had praise for Joseph: “He’s a tremendous professional and again tonight he was outstanding.”

Brodeur’s moving up as well:

On April 1st, no foolin’, Martin Brodeur passed former Canadiens great Jacques Plante for 4th on the all-time wins list with 438 with a 4-1 win over Philadelphia.  Also interesting to note here, Brodeur had his first shot on goal this season in that contest.

Move over Ranger greats!

Jaromir Jagr over the past few weeks has broken several NY Rangers scoring records:

* Most points in one season by a Rangers player (passing Ratelle)
* Most power-play goals in one season by a Rangers player (passing Vic Hadfield)
* Most points in one season by a Rangers right wing (passing Rod Gilbert)
* Most goals in one season by a Rangers right wing (passing Mike Gartner)

In addition, Jagr has passed Jari Kurri for the most career points by a European-trained NHL player.

Out of contention:

A pair of teams were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention this week, the Boston Bruins in the East, and the Columbus Blue Jackets in the West.  Currently, there are only 6 teams mathematically out of the playoffs, with roughly 2 weeks to go in the season.

Final Thought:

One of the main reasons that the Canadiens find themselves where they are this season has been the play of the rookies, picking up some of the slack of the offence when it enters in one of its frequent slumps.  Early in the season, it was Alexander Perezhogin, who had 7 points in his first 7 games of the season.  As the new year began, it was Tomas Plekanec’s turn to step it up, scoring 9 points in 12 games through the first 2 months of 2006, after coming back from an injury no less.  Then there’s Chris Higgins, who’s been consistent all season long, but has stepped up his play offensively of late, having a pair of 5-game point streaks since February 28th, notching 16 points in that 18-game span.  Now, it seems as if Garth Murray has found his niche, at least for now.  The gritty 4th liner has just 5 goals on the season, but 4 of them have came in the last 9 games, despite averaging under 10 minutes on the season.  Saturday’s contest vs Boston saw Murray notch his first career 2-goal game, and earn his first ever 1st star rating.  We also shouldn’t overlook Yann Danis, who played solid in a 6-game stint, getting 3 wins in his 5 starts, filling in quite well for then-injured goalie Cristobal Huet.

The point I’m trying to make here is this.  After years of having strong farm teams, the Habs have finally started to reap the benefits of their successes, with the crew this year, as well as last season’s additions of Mike Komisarek and Michael Ryder.  This crew of youngsters have shown themselves to be solid building blocks for the organization as it starts to go forward, and I couldn’t be happier, and I imagine that most Canadiens fans feel the same way.  Because of this, GM Bob Gainey has the option of letting a few veterans go come this offseason, and opening up a little extra cap space at the same time.  This is just another way that this season has been successful in more ways than one.