Habs Look to Bounce Back

I have to start this blog by explaining that I was embroiled in discussions on Twitter, this morning, about the possibility of Jaroslav Spacek retiring within the next few days or weeks.

(As of 12:27 both RDS and Habs Inside/Out are reporting that Spacek will be out of the lineup. Alexandre Picard will Spacek’s place in the lineup)

Yes, I know, that sounds like hogwash and sounds even more like a convenient story created off of the back of his benching for tonight’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

While anything is possible, since Spacek was 35 when he signed his three-year deal with the Habs, it wouldn’t make sense for him to retire now.

Why?

Well, based on the CBA, if a player who is 35 or older signs a contract, his salary will count against the cap regardless of whether he retires or not during the course of his contract. So, while Spacek retiring would mean that the Habs don’t actually have to pay Spacek for the rest of his contract, they would still have a $3.8 Million hit against the cap, so there is no benefit to the team.

As for Spacek, why would forfeit his pay with only one year left on his contract —after this season. Maybe in the offseason he could consider forfeiting the final year of pay, but why now when he has a guaranteed contract? That dog won’t hunt.

OK, so now that that is covered, let’s move on to tonight’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Columbus Blue Jackets…

Jacques Martin Throws a Change-up

After a disorganized, lackluster performance by the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, head coach Jacques Martin has shaken things up in an effort to fix some of the team’s problems.

The first shake up is on the defensive side of things where 36-year-old Jaroslav Spacek looks like a tired, slow, aging player.  A lot of what we’ve been seeing from Spacek is the result of a long, hard playoff run where he logged major minutes. Moreover, over the course of last season while Andrei Markov was out with a ligament injury, Spacek and his partner Roman Hamrlik both played far too many minutes too early in the season. All of this to say that the now-36-year-old looks like he has yet to physically recover from all of the ice-time he saw last season.

At 36 years of age, the body does not heal or recover as quickly as it once did so maybe sitting Spacek out every couple of game might not be a bad thing.

Picard who has played well so far this season replaces Spacek.

Picard, who has averaged 14:51 of ice-time, has one goal, one assist and a +7 rating over nine games played. One potential problem is that it looks like he will be paired with Andrei Markov tonight, on the Habs’ top defensive pairing.

While Picard has looked good as the seventh defenseman, playing alongside Markov will mean that he will likely be play closer to 18 minutes of ice-time tonight. As such, he will be exposed to playing against top offensive players and his defensive shortcomings could end up being exposed. It will be up to Picard to show that he can take on a larger role if he wants to continue to have a job in the NHL.

Another defensive change that Martin has made is that he has split up the duo of P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, in order to try to balance the pairings a little better. I like the idea too, and thought it was strange that JM had two offensive dynamos on the same pairing against Florida.

For tonight’s matchup, Picard and Markov will form the top pairing with Subban and Hamrlik rounding out the top four. Playing alongside Hamrlik should allow Subban to take more chances and perhaps contribute more offensively as his partner tends to be a rock on the back end.

The Front-end

A major change at practice on Monday was the appearance of Dustin Boyd on the third line with Lars Eller and Maxim Lapierre. The loser in that equation looks like it will be Tom Pyatt who should end up being a healthy scratch tonight.

This is the line that I thought should have been the third line out of training camp and I, for one, was never a fan of taking Boyd out of the lineup. He is a player who has tremendous foot-speed, who plays an aggressive checking game, and who has hands to finish it all off.

In his final season in the WHL, Boyd racked up 90 points in 68 games including 48 goals. While there is no question that there is a huge difference between the WHL and the NHL, those numbers tell the story of an offensively capable player who knows how to finish. Watch for Eller and co. to play their best game of the season and perhaps even be a factor in deciding the outcome of tonight’s game.

The one X-factor that remains as of the writing of this article, is who is going to play with the ever-stumbling Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Given the recent success of the fourth line of Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Darche, and Benoit Pouliot, logic would dictate that Martin will again put Travis Moen out with the two-G’s.

Gomez seems to think that it is a matter of time before he and Gionta get going and, given their individual skill sets you’d have to think he’s right. But with each game that goes by without Gionta scoring, and with each game that Gomez keeps playing like an individual out there, Martin’s leash is getting shorter and shorter.

The problem for the Canadiens right now seems to be that if the Tomas Plekanec line does not score, they do not win.

One has to believe that Gionta, who has been snake-bitten so far this season, is on the verge of breaking out of his slump. Last game, he had several scoring chances including having the tying goal on his stick, but was unable to finish. He is getting closer and closer and like any goal-scorer, his goals tend to come in bunches, so look for a flurry of them when he finally gets that monkey off of his back.

Footnote

-Carey Price will make his 11th start tonight in a bid to get the Habs back to their winning ways.

-Halpern is currently tied with Michael Cammalleri for third in team scoring with seven points (three goals, four assists, plus-four). In addition, Halpern leads all Canadiens in faceoff wins with a 58.97 percent efficiency. Not bad for $600,000 a year, eh?

-Despite having only scored one goal so far this season, Gionta leads the Habs in shots on net with 44. Unfortunately for the Habs captain, he has a pitiful 2.3 shooting percentage.

-Tonight’s game is the one and only meeting between these two clubs this season. Faceoff is scheduled at 7:05 p.m.


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