Crucial Stretch Run for the Montreal Canadiens

This Maple Leaf UFA will cost $; Knight has a memorable night; & four North nuggets

Dominique Ducharme was supposed to be the catalyst.

When the Canadiens gave Claude Julien the hook, the Habs sported a 9-5-9 record. Or as some Montrealers liked to say, "Not too bad, eh (also pronounced 'ay.'). 

It was bad enough for g.m. Marc Bergevin who said "Adieu" to Julie and fingered Duke Ducharme as the Mister Fixit; assuming, of course, if there was anything to fix.

So now it's time to see whether what was not really broke was fixed. And guess what? 

Montreal's record is 19-15-9. And doesn't it look an awful lot like 9-5-9?

Nothing against my pal, Bergevin nor Ducharme or anyone else in the Canadiens high command. Bergie wants to win and he did what a g.m. is supposed to do; find a better winning combo.

That same thinking was apparent at the trade deadline when he obtained Eric Staal from Buffalo. The large once-Cup-winner responded with an OT goal in his debut. 

Not too much after that. But, hey, this is what the homestretch is all about. If the Canadiens make the playoffs -- odds are that the Habs will do the trick -- any knock vs. Monsieur Bergevin will be forgotten if Ducharme gets the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge past the first round.


HEADLINE: THE MOST INTERESTING UFA NOT PLAYING

THE JIVE: After the inimitable Auston Matthews and the crafty Mitch Marner, Zack Hyman is the third most valuable Maple Leaf. Forget about Captain Pyjamas and Late For Meeting Bill Nylander; Zack is zee guy because he does it all. He plays hardest, does the 200-feet and just about anything else Shelly Keefe might want from his Number One left wing. Trouble is that Hyman is hurting; kneed out of action against Vancouver and could be wounded for a while. But that's the least of Kyle Dubas' worries. The g.m.'s major migraine is Zach's pending free agent status. We're talking about a fellow who leads the team in plus-minus (+19) has 15 goals, and would be coveted by just about any monied club. He's a Toronto boy but that's no reason for him to be tied to Yonge and King Streets. Can Dubas pay Zack the kind of moolah he'll command elsewhere?  Or will Hyman accept a Toronto discount just to keep the home fires burning? (My Chancellor of the Exchequer Gus Vic figures that Hyman could pull in $4.5 million from his next deal.)


HEADLINE: A KNIGHT TO REMEMBER

THE JIVE: Not that the Panthers need any goaltending insurance -- they've got Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger, two worthies -- but now they also have Spencer Knight. He's the Boston College ace and Hobey Baker finalist who made his NHL debut last night. The Stamford, Connecticut product made 33 saves in a 5-1 win over Columbus. My Famous Floridian insight-producer, Al Greenberg, tells me that Knight "looked confident." Coach Q added, "The kid was cool and calm." Which means that the Cats goaltending tandem next season will be "The Bob and Spencer Show." (Driedger, who'll become an Unrestricted Free Agent" will find big money elsewhere because this Winnipegger has the goods as well.)


HEADLINE: PIERRE MCGUIRE SAYS SID 'MOST DISRESPECTED SUPERSTAR'

THE JIVE: No question, Lucky Pierre -- an NBC staple for years -- knows his pucks. And he does have a point; a darn good point. Sidney Crosby's superior play is taken for granted. The Penguins captain is the epitome of consistency and all-round play. It's rare that Sid ever suffers a bad game.

But "disrespected?" I wonder where that's coming from unless McGuire is referring to all the fuss being made over Connor McDavid -- the three-point period man -- or Auston Matthews; or even the acknowledgment of Patrick Marleau's iron man feat. That said, I understand McGuire's point but when a superstar is taken for granted, it does not mean he's "disrespected." 

(Unless, of course, critics are talking about his "whining," which is a point after all.)


HEADLINE: WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THOSE REVIVED CANUCKS?

THE JIVE: As you'll see elsewhere here on JJ, my Super-Brain-Man, Gus Vic, notes that the Canucks still have a long-shot chance of making the post-season. Very long chance! But that's what Cinderella stories are all about and last night's four-goal-third-period-comeback-win-over-Toronto sure is making Vic look good. Braden Holtby produced another big 37 save game in the 6-3 triumph while Brandon Sutter and Tanner Pearson produced a pair of red lights each. Remember that we're talking about a Canucks sextet that was so riddled with infection -- including coach Travis Green and staff -- that critics suggested they forget the rest of the season. The Canucks have four games in hand on Montreal and trail by eight points. (Cinderella, wherever you are, are you listening?)


HEADLINE: FOUR THOUGHTS AND FORETHOUGHTS

THE JIVE: My buddy, Gus Vic, and The Maven were schmoozing. In no time at all did Pal Vic produce a variety of foods for hockey thought:

1. SURPRISE HARD TEAM: "The hardest team to play against in the North -- night in and night out these days is the Ottawa Senators."

2. FLAME OUT: "Calgary simply does not seem interested in making a push."

3. HOPE IN B.C.: "Maybe there's a (playoff berth) opening for Vancouver after all."

4. A HAB NOT: "Brendan Gallagher's loss to the Canadiens should not be discounted."


HEADLINE: MILAN LUCIC CELEBRATED HIS 1,000TH GAME

THE JIVE: Remember when he was a holy terror in Beantown and helped Boston win a Stanley Cup. Remember when could have passed for an NHL Heavyweight Champion and quintessential power forward? Those were the glory days that are no more. But in his prime The Pride Of Vancouver was one heck of a hockey player. Not much anymore but he gets a large YAY! anyway.


TRIVIA CORNER:

Who stole The Stanley Cup from Chicago Stadium in 1962?

(Answer below.)


CLASSIC COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: "When you're next-to-last in the NHL, you don't have any untouchables. The only untouchable is the owner."

-Flyers coach Bob McCammon when a shakeup of the team was rumored.


TRIVIA ANSWER:

A piano-playing Canadiens fan, Ken Kilander, opened a glass case at Chicago Stadium -- it wasn't locked -- and headed for the exit when a Stadium cop nabbed the culprit just in time.