The Montreal Canadiens were already starting to wobble. With just four wins in their last 11 games, now the Habs will be forced to play without centers Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais for the next six to eight weeks.
It’s a heck of a challenge for any team, let alone one that endured a horrendous collapse last season when Carey Price was lost to injury.
Galchenyuk is the big loss now. The 22-year-old is Montreal’s leading scorer with 23 points (9G, 14A). He’d developed great chemistry with Alex Radulov, who is likely to skate now with Tomas Plekanec on the first line.
To be sure, the Habs still have Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, and Andrew Shaw to provide scoring. Shaw can also play center. So can Phillip Danault, the 23-year-old who came to Montreal in February in a trade with Chicago.
But above all, they’ll need Price to be Price. The best goalie in the world (sorry, Bruce Boudreau), Price can keep the Habs in any and all games, even ones where they’re outshot badly.
Given the standings, the Canadiens just need to survive this next month or two without a full-on collapse. They’ve already built a nice playoff cushion. They don’t have to worry if they lose a couple here and there, which they’re bound to do given their situation.
This is also where Weber’s leadership will be tested. GM Marc Bergevin traded away a pretty popular player to get Weber, whom he called a “tremendous leader,” as well as a “complete and reliable defenseman.” Bergevin made that move for times like these, when the heat in that hockey-mad market goes way up.
Montreal starts a four-game home stand tonight against New Jersey. Looking ahead on the schedule, there’s a six-game road trip after Christmas, with stops in Tampa Bay, Florida, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Dallas and Toronto.
If they can survive that trip, they can survive anything.
It should be fascinating to watch them try.
With six straight wins, Philly is one of the NHL’s hottest teams — and tonight, the Flyers will look to make it seven as Edmonton and backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson come to town.
Gustavsson hasn’t been used much this season, but has fared well when called upon. He made 31 saves in a 2-1 OT loss to the Wild this past Sunday and, on the year, has posted a 2.00 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Of course, those numbers have come in a small sample size. The Monster has just five appearances this season, and only three of them were starts.
Now, he’ll be thrown into arguably his biggest test of the year at Wells Fargo. The Flyers are rolling, Steve Mason has been lights out and the team continues to get terrific production from Wayne Simmonds, who has four goals in his last two games (and 15 total on the year, to lead the club).
Of note, tonight is the first of a back-to-back for the Oilers — they play in Minnesota tomorrow — so Gustavsson goes in Philly, while regular No. 1 Cam Talbot faces the Wild on Friday.
— Calvin Pickard gets his first start since Nov. 29 when the Avs take on the B’s in Boston. No word yet on a Bruins starter.
— The red-hot Jake Allen, who has won his last eight starts, will be in for the Blues. The Isles will counter with Thomas Greiss, who draws in after Jaroslav Halak performed well over the last three contests.
— Roberto Luongo has lost three of his last four, despite posting a stellar .928 save percentage over that span. He’ll be in for the Panthers tonight as they host Pittsburgh. Matt Murray is in goal for the Pens.
— Henrik Lundqvist gets a night off after starting four straight, as Antti Raanta will face the Jets. Winnipeg is likely to go with Michael Hutchinson, who occupied the starter’s net at practice this morning.
— Pekka Rinne will look to beat the Stars for the second time this season. Dallas has yet to name a starter.
It’s easy to forget about Leon Draisaitl.
Mostly because he’s not Connor McDavid, and that’s who everyone thinks of when they think of the present-day Edmonton Oilers.
But back to Draisaitl — imagine if (insert your favorite team) had a 21-year-old forward with 11 goals and 11 assists in 28 games. You’d be pretty excited about that guy, right?
That’s the season Draisaitl’s currently enjoying. The third overall draft pick in 2014 (yeah, it’s about time the Oilers started to win), he’s scored four goals in his last four games — and no, he doesn’t always get to play with McDavid.
But the two youngsters have looked good together on special teams, and there have been times when coach Todd McLellan has decided to load up the top line.
“Leon has no trouble playing the wing. He’s done it before,” McLellan said, per the Edmonton Journal. “Sometimes you have a little security there too because Connor and Leon both understand how to play low in the D-zone and the first guy back can assume that position. You also have two centers who can take face-offs as long as you’re not exposed on other lines.”
Long term, the Oilers would probably like Draisaitl to center his own line. Where he ends up may depend on what they do with Nugent-Hopkins, the 23-year-old center who heard his name plenty in trade rumors as the Oilers tried to shore up their blue line over the summer.
Though scoring isn’t a huge problem for the Oilers, they could still use an offensive defenseman to help the power play. So far this season, they’ve been making do with Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera, but adding a real specialist could take their power play from good to great.
The Oilers may also need to shed some salary at some point. It’s nothing urgent right now, but Draisaitl is a pending restricted free agent and McDavid’s entry-level deal ends after the 2017-18 season. You can imagine what the captain’s second contract might look like.
Remember that Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli has never shied away from making trades, and that June’s expansion draft could be preceded by a number of deals.
Yes, Chiarelli would have to think long and hard about trading an all-situations player like Nugent-Hopkins, but depending on the return, it might be something he’d consider.
When the Panthers headed out on the road 12 days ago, they’d won three of their last four games and Gerard Gallant was the head coach.
How things change.
Gallant was fired, quite infamously, after the first of six away games (a 3-2 loss in Carolina). The club proceeded to lose four of its next five, but did a decent job of securing some points with a shootout defeat in Chicago, and back-to-back OT losses in Boston and Philadelphia.
Now, the Panthers are just glad to be back home.
“It felt like a one month trip,” Jussi Jokinen said, per the Miami Herald. “I think it will be nice to go home and spend [Wednesday] with the family, and get our thoughts away from hockey. That will probably be good for all of us.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean things are going to get easier.
The Panthers host the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins tonight, a team that’s won three straight and absolutely torched the scoreboard while doing so. Pittsburgh scored a whopping 19 goals over that span and, quite incredibly, only one came on the power play.
After the Pens game, Florida hosts Vancouver before heading back onto the road for a three-game swing through Minnesota, Winnipeg and Colorado.