So the Habs have hit the halfway (plus one ... look, I have a 14 month old daughter, a full-time job, and a new iPod that needing loading ... cut me some slack!) point of the season. Here's what we've learned, in a stripperiffic, Jack Todd-esque (we'll miss ya, ya big, holier-than-the-interweb, throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks jackass) jumble of thoughts style:
The waiting in line details: Habs sit at 2nd in the Northeast, 5th in the conference, 21 wins, 13 losses, 8 OTL (ridiculous stat, saving grace, pity points, or just confusing as hell? Discuss.) The clusterfuck that is the East goes Ottawa, whomever is leading the Atlantic and South on a given day (currently Jersey and the Artists formerly known as the Whale, respectively) and teams 4 to 13 within 8 points of each other. If the season ended today, Montreal gets a first round dance with Sid the Kid and the rest of Oilers 2.0. I'd take that.
The powerplay has shown no ill effects from the loss of Big Sheldon and is 1st overall yet again. The penalty kill is mediocre 25th.
The Habs sit 4th with 3.02 goals for per game behind only Ottawa, Detroit and Philly, but are a more middling 13th in goals against (2.73) No word on where they stand in the "Backbreaking goals that tie or lose a game in the 3rd period and overtime" or "Three goal blitzes suffered in a second-period meltdown" categories; one would reckon it isn't flattering.
The home record is a not-so-fortress-like 7-7-5, and the road record is a very solid 13-6-3. Clearly more strippers need to be sent to the Ritz Carlton, Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, or whatever other hotel opposing teams are bunking down in.
Better Red than ... While Koivu still brings his inspirational best and Higgins shows flashes of his potential, the Habs are being lead this year by their Eastern Bloc. Kovalev is a totally different player, leading the team in points and playing as well as he has ever played in a Habs jersey. As for his linemates, Pleks has taken another big step forward in his development and is morphing into a legitimate threat, and after a slow start, Big Tits has turned on the jets to the tune of 8 goals and 15 points in his last 14 games. The Danse a Dix have to be considered the number one line right now.
Little Tits was called up mid-December and replaced Ryder on Koivu's wing for a time; he's seen the last of Hamilton and is making Andrei work even harder to ensure he has top scorer bragging rights at the Kostitsyn family bbq.
Andrei Markov has played himself into a starting birth on the Eastern Conference All-Star team and is on pace for career highs in goals, assists and points. The Russian, used-to-be Russian, and used-to-be-under-the-thumb-of-the-Russian Mafia on this team get to go behind the not-so-steel curtain at Chez Paree based on their half-season performances.
The Kids Table Needs More Chairs! Even with the aforementioned Tits bros, the Canadiens kiddie corps is a mixed bag. After a blazing, OMGTFS(TM)WELUVU4EVAH start that had fans calling for Huet to be shipped out of town and the keys handed over, The Franchise Saviour (TM) Carey Price hit a rocky patch in late November, losing four straight starts and finding a seat on the bus back to Hamilton yesterday. He's 20 years old. He needs to play. He's going to be back. Breathe. Everybody breathe.
Franchise Captain in Waiting (TM) and Panger's Boy Chips also started strong, showing oodles of hockey sense and anchoring a solid checking line. Honestly, I'm not sure why he got sent down. I thought he was playing some excellent hockey. Corey Locke better play his ass off.
Everyone's favourite name to chant Gui! Gui! Gui! has been shuttled around from line to line to pressbox and back, but is working hard, potting the odd goal and trying to backcheck. He's more Yvon Lambert than Guy Lafleur right now, but that's not a terrible thing.
Mad Max was expected to become a regular pain in the ass for opposing centres, but spent the first few months as a Bulldog before finally getting called back up. Rhino Byrne was looking promising as a head-busting d-man until he broke his thumb in his third(!) fight in one night defending himself after a totally clean hit he laid versus the Panthers. Speedy recovery so we can remove Breezer from the lineup again.
Grabs came up and went back down cause he looked lost. Halak is back now, possibly for a trade showcase. Josh Gorges has played meaningful minutes and not looked like the disaster he was last year ... that's encouraging.
If you told me in September that the kids would play that much and the Habs would be sitting in 5th at mid-season, I wouldn't have believed it, so let's call the youth movement a mild success so far. Vouchers for lap dances when you're all old enough to shave.
You paid how much?!?!?! Bob went out and got some free agents this summer. Breezer hasn't caused nearly the sleepless nights we feared; Greek Lightning has been better than advertised, taking the mantle of total team guy from a beat up, seemingly disinterested Steve Begin by checking, fighting, killing penalties and scoring the occasional goal. Slowinski has been a disaster: He's lost a step, didn't mesh well with any linemates, didn't help as much in the faceoff circle as we hoped, and the team got better when he got hurt. I'd pay him to sit in the press box until his deal is done and let the kids play.
The gnashing of teeth when Souray went west was deafening, and while Roman Hamrlik is probably overpaid, he has proven to be a solid addition. He's been solid even when paired with Breezer, can play on the powerplay, and is an excellent mentor to Rhino and Gorges. I doubt Sheldon would have provided the same. HF29 says you've got to see him play live to appreciate him. You should do that.
The final tally? Hamr and Greek Lightning vs Breezer and Slowinski is a wash. It's the good memories that stripper smell on your jacket gives you balanced by the monster credit card bill you've got to pay off, to put it in FHF terms.
Seriously, stop messing with the damn lines: Carbo still seems to be finding his way as a coach. The continued use of Ryder with Koivu and Higgins, the jerking around of Big Tits, Grabs, and Guimauve, the use of Slowinski on the power play, the continued shuttling of Streit and El Dandy from forward to blueline and back, the oddity of a team coached by Carbo, Doug Jarvis and Kirk Muller losing more faceoffs than they win, the hair pulling tendency to collapse late in games or just whenever they feel like it, and the weird goalie rotation all caused the FHF first-half grief. Perhaps Bob sat Carbo down for a chat, because Ryder is now working better on line three, the Danse a Dix Line has been untouched for weeks, and Huet is looking at a long stretch of starts. Can we thank God that Carbo got his learner's permit with a rebuilding team? Hopefully he can grow with this bunch and be ready when they are.
Other miscellaneous stuff that popped into my head: Streit, El Dandy, and Frankie B have done all that was asked of them so far. Streit might be this team's unsung hero for his play. If Huet stays healthy this team has a shot to win every night. Someone needs to look at the conditioning program to see why the Habs are always giving up late goals ... are they tired? Does someone's Mom keep forgetting the orange slices for intermission? Are they choosing the wrong end of the ice at home and skating uphill in the third? (if you laughed at that, you heard the same urban legend I did, usually from a bitter Bruin fan). Someone needs to figure it out. Currently, the Habs are ahead of the B's and the Leafs; that's good. Let's keep it that way. I think the Habs have more games against the Flyers ... let's hope they get five early goals and then hide Kovy, Markov, Koivu, Higgins, Pleks and the Tits bros for the rest of the game. Komisarek is becoming a beast, and is responsible for my favourite moment of the season so far, the overtime breakaway goal versus the Leafs. I nearly fell off my couch I was laughing so hard.
Lies, rumours, and vicious innuendo: Everyone and their brother is talking Alex Ovechkin to the Habs on a restricted offer sheet this summer, Vinny Lecavalier for a package of Ryder, Halak, a young defenceman and a 1st rounder, Patrick Marleau for Koivu and Ryder, etc etc etc. All very exciting, all very improbable. But nothing beats the suggestion I saw this week that said Higgins, Chips, and a 1st should go to Toronto for a three month rental of Mats Sundin. Jesus. Sundin is an excellent player and a solid citizen, but that deal is fucking lunacy unless a team already thinks it has a realistic shot at Stanley. As much as I wish it wasn't the case, this Habs team does not have a realistic shot at Stanley (remember when Cups seemed like a birthright? Good times. Now I'l be delirious to hold onto the fifth seed.) I see Bob making a minor deal and seeing how far the kids can go, keeping the eye on a run in 2009. Unless this whole Locke/Halak thing is the precursor to something big; if so, kindly disregard everything I just said.
Of course, I don't see the harm in offering Alex the Great a boatload of cash and strippers and seeing what happens ... I'm just saying.
Look, buddy, you don't have to go home but you can't stay here: When all the first half $8 Molsons have been drunk, the lap dances paid for, and the credit card retrieved from the waitress, what are we left with? A Habs team that has no one in the top 40 scorers, not too many players that make opposing goalies lose sleep, some potentially very good goaltending, a tendency to play down to their opposition, give up late goals and lose faceoffs, a very successful power play, the potential to roll three solid scoring lines, speed and youth, and as good a shot as anyone but Ottawa at making the playoffs in the mess that is the East. Our early predictions figured another dogfight for 8th was in the offing; if the Eastern Bloc keeps it up, the kids keep it up, and Huet keeps out of the infirmary ... well, the Habs could go all Russian mafia on someone and plan a first round ambush in a bathhouse. Or something. Would a fanbase that used to measure success by parades accept that?