A new Habs star is born? PLUS Carey Price health watch & more

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Carey Price on the sidelines (circa 2012)

UPDATE: Let’s start with an obligatory Carey Price health update. He’ll be fine. Despite what many conspiracy theorists will lead you to believe, Price has been dealing with a case of the flu over the last 10 days, and has lost approximately eight pounds in the process. The good news is that he has been skating with the team over the last few days and will return to the ice TONIGHT.

In any case, Al Montoya has held the fort so far, with the team picking five out of a possible six points in the standings through the first three games. With the first week in the books, here’s is a quick summary for each game in 140 characters or less (or just about):

Buffalo: (W) Things went as expected. Gallagher scored 2. Shaw made a dirty play and was lucky to not get suspended.
Ottawa:  (L) Started off bad. Overcame 2 goal lead. Ultimately lost when Desharnais fanned in the shootout.
Pittsburgh: (W) Torch ceremony got Pacioretty all fired up as he scored a goal 20 seconds into the game. Pittsburgh couldn’t score. Montoya got his first shutout.

Six Degrees of Alexander Radulov

(and why he’s perfect fit for the Habs)

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Alexander Radulov

On July 1,  a day that has been coined in hockey circles as “Free Agent Frenzy” every year,  the Montreal Canadiens announced the signing of Alexander Radulov for $5,750,000 to return to North America for the 2016-2017 season. This only added fuel to the fire for a volatile fanbase, who were perplexed about the team’s ambitions, given that a certain someone, deemed by management to have character issues had recently been sent packing to Nashville, was being replaced by someone who had also also faced scrutiny for having character issues himself. In the case of Radulov, his transgressions in 2012 went even as far as being acknowledged publicly by his former Coach Barry Trotz after he had violated a team-imposed curfew with none other than Andrei Kostitsyn (Remember him?) during a playoff game in Arizona. They got busted after Trotz verified the time code on the electronic key locks with the hotel staff to find out when they had entered and exited their respective rooms.

Furthermore, given the recent failure of the Alex Semin experiment a short year ago, many were skeptical of bringing on board a player with a history of letting his employers and teammates down. Sadly, negative stereotypes of Russians continue to exist in the hockey world and have a long-standing history of being reinforced by people like Don Cherry. In fairness,  there are some similarities between the circumstances under which both Radulov and Semin were signed which at first glance can be difficult to ignore. These similarities include nationality, position (RW), questionable work ethic, past success and the fact both signed for one-year deals.

So why would things be different now? And why does Michel Therrien have a “good feeling” about it this time?

For starters, in his first conference call with the media, Radulov openly admitted to his mistake from four years ago and argued that he has fathered a child since, suggesting that he is in fact a changed man and that we should let him off the hook. GM Marc Bergevin also stated that he investigated doubts about his character by checking in with a former teammate, Shea Weber, who had developed a friendship with him over the years.

He also stated that he refused more money from other teams or even to return to Russia to join the Montreal Canadiens because being a part of hockey city and competing for the Stanley Cup was something that he really wanted to be a part of. So far so good right? But there’s more.

Radulov also has a unique relationship with this province from his time with the Quebec Remparts in junior hockey in QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) where he was coached and adored by former Habs superstar Patrick Roy. It was even speculated by some that Roy’s recent departure from his job with the Colorado Avalanche was ignited by the team’s lack of interest in Radulov when the expressed a desire to return to North America. In any case, Radulov’s time with Quebec was nothing short of spectacular, with his most notable exploits including leading his team to the Memorial Cup, and once scoring seven goals in a single game. This reverence soon led to local fans and media affectionately nicknaming him “Radu.”

We saw signs of a budding relationship with the newcomer as he received one of the largest ovations during the player introductions before the home opener this week. Habs fans could not contain their excitement to watch him play in his first meaningful game with the team and were eager enough to show their appreciation with chants of “Radu” after he scored at 16:29 of the third period. This appreciation demonstrated by those in attendance showed not only that he bears no similarities to the now forgotten Semin but that he holds the opportunity to mirror the exploits of another former Canadiens star: Alex Kovalev. While the latter’s tenure with the team was frustrating at times, he was beloved by fans and seemed to elevate his play at the right moments. Coach Michel Therrien seems to believe that this is also the case with Radulov and is expecting him to thrive with the attention that will be placed on him in this market.

Although this might all sound a little premature, the Montreal Canadiens might have finally found someone who is tailor made to play for this city. Habs fans, who found themselves looking for someone to shower with admiration this past off-season, may have finally found someone to fill that vacancy. ■

Puck Drop is a weekly column about the Habs.

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