Monday, December 28, 2009

Halak-a-mania Storms Into Ottawa

imageWell OK, we won’t likely see many Habs fans in muscle-cut Halak jerseys or headbands, but the fans of the Bleu-blanc-rouge will be a plenty in Scotiabank Place Monday night.

The Senators home rink essentially becomes a Bell-Centre east when the Montreal Canadiens roll into town. Tickets are still available as this is put together.

Robert Lefebvre, at Habs Eyes on The Prize, had his first insight into a Canadiens road game in the nation’s capital earlier this month and posted it on his blog.

Anyways back to the man of the hour, the man with the power, to sweet to be sour, Jaroslav Halak.

A few weeks back, after it was learned that Halak and his agent had requested a trade, I expected to see some good performances out of the young goaltender to increase his value and/or establish more playing time in Montreal.

But did anyone expect what we have seen in the last four games?


The Slovak-born netminder has been stellar in all four games of this seven-game road swing in which he has faced Halak has faced an average of 46.5 shots on goal, making 180 saves on a total of 186 for a .968 save percentage. His goals-against average during that stretch is 1.48.

Halak was named the NHL’s First Star of the week, after posting three wins and stopping 140 of 146 shots he faced. His GAA now sits at 2.53 and has a save percentage of .926

"It just shows the focus he's had," centre Scott Gomez said of Halak. "What can you say? He's in a zone. It's almost like you're scared not to give him that many shots because we don't know what will happen."

image Halak gets the start (his fifth straight) Monday against the Senators.

Three questions come to mind:

1. Can the Canadiens get the shot total against reduced to a more reasonable number for Halak to face?

Chances are unlikely given the Canadiens tight schedule in December that has limited their practice time.

2. How much longer can Halak, and the Canadiens for this matter, continue this pace?

Halak is clearly an NHL level goalie, but how much longer can he face a multi-shot barrage day in and day out. Also consider the teams he has faced are not the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks, or Vancouver Canucks.

3. What to do with Carey Price?

Even though Price had some soft goals in his last few starts, the losses were clearly not his fault. Jacques Martin will eventually have to give Price a chance to prove himself again, likely in one of the two games in Florida.

So far, when Halak runs the table for four or five starts, Price has remained in support of his fellow goalie and team. How long can that last though?

image Power surge: The second big story as the Habs continue their road swing, has been the meteoric surge in the Canadiens power play, thanks to the return of Andrei Markov.

In four games, since his return from a season opening injury, Markov has eight points and the Canadiens top the NHL in the man-advantage category, with a mark of 25 percent.

Gionta set to return?: Scott Gomez is picking up the pace he’s paid the big bucks for with five points in his last two games.

Gomez could get a boost to his numbers as he could be re-united with the injured Brian Gionta as soon as Monday night. The pair practiced Sunday on a line with Benoit Pouliot.

Gionta has not seen action since breaking his foot, on November 17, and will be a game time decision.

But as the Canadiens medical ward is finding some empty cots, Roman Hamrlik still remains out with a lower-body injury.


The Bad Guys: The Senators sport one of the best home records in the NHL, but are missing some key components to their offence.

Captain Daniel Alfredsson is expected to be out four to six weeks, with a shoulder injury, and Jason Spezza is not expected back until after the Olympics with a torn MCL.

Nick Foligno is also on IR until late January after having arthroscopic knee surgery and was expected to resume skating this week.

This is the third meeting of the season between Montreal and Ottawa. The Senators won the first match-up, 3-1, on Oct. 17, and the Canadiens earned with a 4-1 victory, with Halak, on Dec. 8 in Ottawa.

image Kov-a-nyet!: Over the summer Alex Kovalev reportedly blew off the Canadiens’ contract offer in search of something else, didn’t get it, settled on a deal from the Senators and still claims he pines for his second home in Montreal.

Earlier in the month, the Russian Ice Hockey Federations’ GM, Vladislav Tretiak, bypassed Ottawa on a tour of NHL cities, and made it clear he wanted the best players at that moment.

With 20 points this season, at the time the selections were announced, the 36-year-old was not one of them.

Kovalev responded that he could use the time off, to go with the two and a half months he’s already had off this season, I guess.

Guess the 20,000 goal scorer and win tix!: Just less than a century after Jack Laviolette potted the first goal in Canadiens history, the team’s 20,000 could come tonight, barring a Senators shutout.

Dave Stubbs of HabsInsideOut is offering up a pair of VIP tickets to the Canadiens Jan. 3 game vs. Buffalo for the HIO member that picks the winning goal scorer.

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