Rumored Gionta captaincy leads Quebec party leader to say that the Habs aren't French-Canadian enough

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briangionta1.jpgThe funny part of being the Montreal Canadiens is that sometimes, just being a successful hockey team isn’t enough when you’re in Quebec. While the team on the ice often has its own problems to contend with, the politicians in the Province of Quebec can get a bit anxious about things. No, they’re not passing legislation to help rook the rules in favor of the team or passing a tax on visiting hockey teams. Instead, they’re getting upset at the Habs for not having as many French-Canadian players as they used to.

With the rumors of Rochester, New York native Brian Gionta being slated to become the next captain of the team, one Quebecois party leader, Pauline Marois, and a PQ language critic, Pierre Curzi, have taken the moment to make a political stink over the apparent lack of Quebec-born players on the province’s only NHL team.

The party’s culture critic, well-known former actor Pierre Curzi, got the ball rolling in a recent television interview, where he said it’s no accident there is a dwindling number of French-speaking Quebeckers in bleu-blanc-rouge.

“The people who don’t wish Quebec to become a country, who don’t wish French to flourish, they know very well that you must take over a certain number of symbols of identity,” he told the television magazine Les Francs-tireurs, adding “the federal power” has seized control of the Canadiens.

Then Ms. Marois weighed in on Wednesday, and while she stopped short of endorsing Mr. Curzi’s line of thinking, said: “I think Quebeckers would like to have more francophones in this team.”

The comments were immediately derided by the ruling Liberals – Municipal Affairs Minister Laurent Lessard burst out laughing when reporters informed him of her remarks.

See Americans, our political system isn’t the only one with out-of-whack ideals and insane grandstanding. We’re not alone in this world.

Unfortunately for Habs fans this kind of talk bubbles up from time to time, especially when it comes down to the selection of front office personnel. Taking a job in Montreal does have distinct differences in that you have to deal with bilingual media on a daily basis. Being the De facto torch bearers for any players born in Quebec is a special burden unto itself and one that’s seen the talent pool drop off in recent years.

That said, wanting the team to be more ethnocentric based simply around Quebeckers is insanity. Hockey is a globalized game with talent oozing out from all over the world. The days when the Habs could throw out dominant line after line of talent from Quebec are gone and players from PQ can go wherever they want to or be drafted by any team in the league. The obsession with players from Quebec, or players relatively close by, has often made times tough for players as they’d burn under the spotlight of Quebecois Habs broadcasters RDS. Just ask Guillaume Latendresse about that.

In the end, this story is simplified by boiling it down to the simplest of public relations kind of analysis. The hockey season is about to begin and politicians want to cash in on the attention and find a way to appeal to the more rabid parts of the fanbase. Problem with that is when you lash out without dealing in logic you’re going to get picked on. With that kind of action, I’d say Pauline Marois and Pierre Curzi are just about ready for American politics.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.