Though there is still healthy skepticism amongst Habs fans that things will play out well to the end there has been a lot to cheer about and lot of factors that are giving us hope. It is safe to say that no one – even those highly paid hockey analysts we turn to for insights or even pom-pom bearing cheerleading fans like myself- predicted that the Habs would be #1 in the Eastern Conference, if only for a day, now 1/3 of the way through this shortened season. To paraphrase Bette Davis: But they are, Blanche, they are.
It wasn’t the fact that we’re fielding one of the hottest looking squads out there this year that got us where we are thus far. Good looks can bring you many things in life but NHL goals are not one of them. I happily eat crow pie, as alien a flavor as it is to me, and give Coach Therrien his due props. In many ways he appears to be the anti-Jacques Martin in carnal form. There seems to be more teamwork and playmaking, willingness to shake up lines as needed, continued speed, and new toughness. The choreography, as it were, is now perceptible.
Perhaps the biggest factor in our surprise turn around from last year’s dismal placing is in the players themselves. “The Gallys” (Gallagher and Galchenyuk) have brought not only some amazing new wunderkid skills to the team but their youthful vigor seems to be invigorating and inspiring an aging team. Brandon Prust has been a great addition to the team not only for adding a little muscle but, much to our delight, contributing extensively to playmaking.
I think we all underestimated how great a player Markov is – you’ll forgive us, it has been a long time since he was able to play – and he has been not only solid on defence but also one of the NHL’s top scoring defencemen this season. That Price has been nothing short of flawless has been the #1 reason for success so far.
Plekanec and Bourque, who seem to have good years and bad years, are both having a great year and Pleks leads the team in points so far. Actually everybody seems to be scoring at some point or another. Its called teamwork. We just haven’t seen it for a while.
No wonder everyone is surprised we’re #1.
Many also initially wrote off the Habs this year because we have the shortest team on ice. As a short person (5’6″) I was pissed at the suggestion that that is necessarily a negative. And, as it turns out, it is not. Where we have lacked in height (which implies an underlying weakness in face of bigger and heavier opponents though I dare you to come here and say that to this diminutive yet chainsaw toting lumberjack) we have made it up in skill and speed. And, much to everyone’s amazement, we actually are one of the league’s leader’s in hits. So let me shovel a little crow pie back into those Negative Nellies’ pie holes and celebrate the fact that this myth has finally been blown out of the water once and for all.
There is, of course, much to remain anxious about. Therrien does show some reluctance to play the younger team members as often as they should be playing, relying on the workhorse veteran’s instead. Injuries will also undoubtedly take their toll. Some games have been – dare I say – boring. Which is OK if we then go on to win the game (as we have been doing) but I fear it is not a strategy that’ll play well in the playoffs against more desperate opponents. We also are one of the leader’s in penalty minutes. Not because of roughing and fighting as was originally feared but for repetitively getting set back by constant icing as well as calls like too many men on the ice penalties, both of which are very avoidable. The defence still needs a little more work but I guess that’s a long term development goal.
And there are definitely some weak players bringing the team down. Yeah, I’m looking at you Desharnais, Cole, White, Kaberle, and Webber. None are highly valuable as trades. But couldn’t they be bought out or did the budget for that get blown on Gomez? Cole, at close to 40, is close to retirement anyway. And we all know that 40 in hockey, like it is for the gays, is like 70 for straight guys and most white collar workers. Here’s your gold watch, now go play golf and listen to opera recordings.
Thankfully, there’s no age limit on being a fan. If there was you wouldn’t be blessed by some of our “senior” (40 +) correspondents like myself, Tom, Brian, and the Puckbuddy overlords. I find that as I age that some memories do indeed fade. I do have several totes of physical evidence of my past for nostalgic purposes and, just in case, to prompt me about my identity should I ever start to slip into Alzheimers or, more likely, dementia.
Recently, while cleaning up the closet these memories are buried in, I came across pictures of me in elementary school with my best friend at the time. And this unleashed some repressed memories. Besides of my first sexual experience. Seeing a picture of Steve was like the madelaine was for Proust in “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu”. Because I rediscovered my earliest hockey experiences. That they are intertwined with the kid who’s pee-pee was the first I had ever touched besides mine should come as no surprise.
My family was decidedly not into sports besides feigned support for the Boston Red Sox. But my friend Steve’s family were big hockey fans. Growing up as a kid in Boston that meant the Bruins. And you wonder why these were repressed memories! His family took me to some Bruins games – I’m talking about when I was a really young kid – and I got to see the legendary players Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito play. Way cool. And I was also prompted to remember a (now) embarrassing moment when, at my very first game, I asked why one team had more players on the ice than the other and were unmercifully swarming the other team’s net. I was told that was called a “power play”. My reaction: “Well, that’s unfair!”. As an adult I’ve learned that this is actually completely fair (penalties must be punished) and, in the case of the Bruins, 99% of the time deserved. Which is also why I have a strict bottoms-only policy for Bruins fans.
Fortunately, as I’ve matured, I’ve put away childish things and embraced more serious affiliations. At age 18, when I moved to Montreal, I not only became a man but I also became a Habs fan. There’s been no looking back.