The Montreal Canadiens (6-3-1) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (6-5) are surprising Canadian hockey fans in early NHL play and their unexpected good showing couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
Neither the Canadiens nor the Leafs made the playoffs last season and after just 10 games both entertain playoff thoughts.
The Canadiens have displayed a much more aggressive forecheck and the team speed is reminiscent of the glory days when the Habs were known as a great skating club. Coach Michel Therrien deserves much of the credit for implementing this style of play and it’s no surprise to this writer the younger Habs have matured quickly under assistant coaches Gerard Gallant and Clement Jodoin, two of the best when it comes to developing younger players.
Montreal has a pair of dandies in 18-year-old Alex Galchenyuk, who appears to be a superstar in the making and 20-year-old speedster Brendan Gallagher.
I spoke with Serge Savard Sr. Wednesday and he is very pleased with his coaching staff and with the teams overall play. The Habs strength is in their young players. They have arguably the best goalie in the league in Carey Price, a top defenceman in P.K. Subban and now Galchenyuk, who Savard thinks will be a great one. Savard, who passed the torch to Jean Beliveau at the Montreal home opener, couldn’t go on the ice that night with the other Montreal legends as he is recovering from knee surgery. Savard is listed as adviser/consultant to the team owner, but you can rest assured very little takes place in the Montreal camp without the approval of big No. 18, who is still hugely popular wherever he goes.
The Leafs are at 6-5, but 5-1 on the road and they can thank coach Randy Carlyle, who has gotten a lot out of a lineup that is not blessed with an abundance of talent. They have a large number of third- and fourth-line forwards but aside from Phil Kessel, who has no real setup guy to get him the puck, and maybe James van Riemsdyk, their offence is limited.
Goaltender James Reimer has been rock-solid in all of his games and it couldn’t have happened to a better guy. Thrown under the bus by previous Leafs coach Ron Wilson on numerous occasions and bad mouthed in the Toronto press, Reimer has taken it all with class. Every so often, an athlete arrives on the scene that sports fans fall in love with — a guy that prevails against long odds. James Reimer is one of those guys.
A quick look back over the pages of sports history and we can quickly recall a few of them: boxer James J Braddock, who came from the soup kitchens to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world as shown in the movie “Cinderella Man”; quarterback Kurt Warner went from packing groceries at one of the U.S. big box stores to Super Bowl MVP; hockey player Chris Nilan went from being the last player named in the entire draft to one of the most popular players ever with Montreal and Boston; and now Reimer.
There is something about this guy Reimer that has you cheering for him. Tonight, the Canadiens and Leafs tangle in Montreal battling for a lofty spot among the NHL elite teams. How long will the good times last is the question?
On the basketball front, UPEI coach Tim Kendrick surprised some people by releasing guard Terrence Brown but those close to the scene believe this was just a matter of time. There have been a number of instances during the past few months and I am told Kendrick was justified in his decision. For Kendrick, it’s a matter of “the team comes first.”
The P.E.I. Rocket strengthened itself with the return of highly regarded Yan-Pavel Laplante, who was injured in an under-18 tournament last summer.
The talented 17-year-old played well in the Ivan Hlinka tournament and big things were expected of him.
The Rocket hosts the highly regarded Moncton Wildcats Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Civic Centre, and it’s a chance to see the Quebec league’s top scorers Josh Currie and Ben Duffy as well as Laplante in action.
Here’s a couple of NHL topics that you may want to think about.
The New York Rangers have been off to a slow start and one has to wonder if the Blueshirts’ game plan of plugging the middle in their own end is the best use of their talented roster.
I can see grinders, those third- and fourth-line foot soldiers blocking shots, but do you really want skill players like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik doing this type of grunt work? Coach John Tortorella appears to be out to lunch with those tactics.
Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmons received a vicious elbow to the head in last week’s game against Washington Capitals, but defenceman John Erskine was not penalized. The league thought otherwise and handed him a three-game suspension.
Missing the Simmonds hit was like not seeing the Sydney Crosby hit at the Heritage game two years ago. The NHL refereeing to date has been erratic at best, time for Jamie Kennedy to put the stripes back on and show the folks how a real referee handles the game.
Simulcast racing is available at the Red Shores Charlottetown with harness racing this afternoon from Flamboro and tonight from Woodbine, Yonkers Raceway and The Meadowlands.
Gold Cup and Saucer Mystician is entered in the Woodbine $24,000 top class with Jody Jamieson in the bike against a good field that includes Windfall Blue Chip (by Art Major), who won last week for co-owners Jamie MacKinley, Jody Sanderson and Scott Flewellen in 1:55:2.
At the Meadowlands, River Shark, Da Law and Intheblinkofaneye look like the best in the $25,000 A handicap pace. Across the bridge in New York, Something for Doc and Electrofire have been assigned the outside posts in the $35,000 feature.
Popular trainer Wally MacInnis, who has worked with the horses for more than 50 years including the last 30 with Montreal-based Marcel Barrieau, is back in the province for a three-week holiday touring the local restaurants with ex-Abbies GM Jim Kennedy. Wally thinks he’s a handicapper so for the boys in the simulcast room, a word to the wise should be sufficient.
Red Shores-based trainer Jamie Smith is recovering at home following knee surgery while Guelph’s James MacDonald’s ankle is still in a cast and will be for another month or so.
The breeding season is now upon us and Jamie MacKinley must be smiling as there is no better advertisement for a stallion than Windfall Blue Chip in the winner’s circle.
Fred MacDonald’s column appears in The Guardian each Saturday. He can be at email@example.com.