Roberto Luongo

Under Pressure: Roberto Luongo

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Vancouver Canucks, we pick…goalie Roberto Luongo.

Full disclosure: we were going to pick Ryan Kesler for this, because 1) there’s quite a bit of pressure on Kesler to return to form, and 2) everyone’s kind of sick of the Canucks’ goaltending saga.

But we just couldn’t do it — nobody’s under more pressure this season in Vancouver than Luongo, for these reasons:

1) His reputation is on the line. Earlier this month, he said his goal is to “get back to where I was two years ago and re-establish myself as one of the best in the league.” Luongo finished the 2013 season with a .907 save percentage, his lowest mark since his rookie season with the Islanders.

2) There’s no legitimate Plan B for the Canucks. Vancouver’s backup is probably going to be Eddie Lack, a 25-year-old who’s yet to make his NHL debut and is coming off hip surgery. Which is to say, Lack is no Cory Schneider. Not yet anyway. If Luongo isn’t good, the Canucks could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

3) The Olympics. Luongo wants to play for Team Canada again. “This is a big year for me,” he said. “I have been sitting on the bench for a while and I want to show everybody what I can do. We all know it’s an Olympic year so I just want to make the best of it.”

On top of all that, Luongo’s long-term future in Vancouver is far from clear, even though the 34-year-old is signed through 2021-22. Remember, the Canucks still have one of their compliance buyouts remaining. And while ownership was obviously loathe to use it this past summer, if Luongo struggles badly this season, the pressure from fans (a.k.a. customers) to use it next June will be immense. Vancouver hockey fans pay some of the highest ticket prices in the NHL. In return, they expect ownership to use its deep pockets to put the best team possible on the ice.

But that debate can wait for later, if necessary. (We don’t even want to get into the whole “Luongo might not actually mind getting bought out” angle.)

Luongo, by the way, didn’t get off to the best start in the preseason; on Wednesday, he allowed four goals in the first 12:24 versus the Oilers, including this stinker:

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Adding toughness was an offseason priority for the Canadiens

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 12: Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks collides with Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators at the United Center on January 12, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Predators 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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After a miserable 2015-16 season, the Canadiens needed fixing. This offseason, it became clear that Montreal wanted to be bigger, tougher and meaner.

It’s an interesting time to take that approach, especially when the NHL seems to be moving in a different direction.

The Pittsburgh Penguins used speed and skill to their advantage during their 2016 Stanley Cup journey and we should expect to see more teams try to emulate that this season.

But GM Marc Bergevin clearly isn’t interested in following the latest hockey trends.

Bergevin made two trades on draft night. He sent Lars Eller to Washington for a pair of draft picks and he acquired Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks.

“Two Stanley Cups in five years,” Bergevin said of Shaw, per NHL.com. “I like guys who don’t like to lose. Everybody likes to win, everybody’s happy when you win. I want guys, when you lose, it gets them inside. It hurts. And then you go back to work the next day.

“Andrew Shaw has it. I was in Chicago long enough to know they don’t take losing with a grain of salt. I want guys who don’t like to lose.”

Days later, Bergevin stunned the hockey world when he shipped P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber.

Again, Subban is no push-over, but he isn’t as nasty as Shea Weber.

“He’s the toughest defenseman to play against in the NHL and I’m glad I don’t have to do any net-front battles with him again … maybe in practice,” Shaw said earlier this month, per the Montreal Gazette. “But I think it’s going to be huge for the team. He’s a good leader guy, a good team guy. He’s got that experience, too. He’s got that shot from the point that will help both on the power play and even strength as well. He’s just that big, strong man in front of the net that’s going to help out defensively as well.”

Clearly, the Canadiens feel that having Carey Price back and playing a physical brand of hockey will allow them to be competitive in the Eastern Conference.

Time will tell if they chose the right approach.

Under Pressure: Michel Therrien

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 07:  Head coach Michel Therrien of the Montreal Canadiens watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on March 7, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Canadiens defeated the Coyotes 2-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Being a head coach in a hockey market like Montreal isn’t easy when times are good, so imagine how hard it can get when the team finishes near the bottom of the standings.

In his second stint as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Michel Therrien has had success. From 2011-12 to 2014-15, Therrien helped guide the Canadiens to a 125-64-23 record. But the “honeymoon” came to a crashing halt this season.

Montreal got off to a 9-0-0 start, but injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher derailed the Canadiens’ season.

With Price and Gallagher on the shelf, the Canadiens went through a miserable stretch in December. From Dec. 3 through Dec. 26, the Canadiens played 10 games and won just one those contests. Things didn’t get much better from there.

Without the defending Hart Trophy winner at their disposal, it’s normal that the Canadiens would dip a little bit, but the lack of solutions from the coaching staff was concerning.

The Habs have made plenty of changes to their roster after last season’s disappointment. Gone are Lars Eller and P.K. Subban and in come Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw.

The Canadiens also added Kirk Muller as an associate coach, but the rest of the coaching staff remained intact.

“Given what we went through in the last six months, to panic and change everything, I’m not ready to do that,” Bergevin said in April, per CBC.ca. “I’ll look at every aspect of the organization to see where we can improve, but to turn everything upside down? No.

“Last year we had 110 points. I’m not ready to throw people out the door based on what happened this year. Nobody is walking away with a clean slate, but we have to break down what happened. Michel learned a lot. We all learned. We’re not happy. It’s my job to address this team moving forward, but Michel will be behind the bench on opening night.”

With plenty of off-season change and the return of Carey Price, there are no more excuses for Therrien. As loyal as GM Marc Bergevin has been to his head coach during this rough patch, don’t be surprised if a slow start costs Therrien his job.

Therrien has already been fired twice before (Montreal and Pittsburgh), so this could be his last head coaching gig in the NHL.

The pressure is definitely on.

Looking to make the leap: Sven Andrighetto

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 2: Sven Andrighetto #42 of the Montreal Canadiens skates prior to the game against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on April 2, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Canadiens 4-3. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Montreal Canadiens day at PHT…

Heading into the off-season, it was clear that the Canadiens needed to address their lack of scoring.

They signed free agent winger Alexander Radulov on July 1st, but he’s far from a sure thing at this point. Montreal also traded a pair of second round picks for Andrew Shaw.

Depending on how things shape up in training camp, there could still be an opening at left wing on the team’s second line.

Sven Andrighetto, who spent parts of the last two seasons with Montreal, might be ready to make the leap and become a regular offensive contributor.

“My personal goal is to be on the roster,” Andrighetto said earlier this month. “I showed last year, I played 44 games and I want to be on the team full-time this year.”

The 23-year-old scored seven goals and 17 points during his stint with the big club last season.

Andrighetto’s greatest asset is his speed, which makes him a good fit for today’s NHL.

After his entry-level contract expired this summer, the Canadiens gave Andrighetto a one-year contract for this season. He’ll need to show them that he’s capable of being an everyday NHLer or he may need to find work elsewhere.

“I played with Andrighetto while Gallagher was hurt and he’s really shown flashes of greatness,” said captain Max Pacioretty. “He’s got tremendous skill. What it comes down to with a player like that is doing it game-in and game-out. We know the skill is there.”

It might be now or never for Andrighetto.

It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

P.K. Subban,
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An injury to Carey Price essentially meant the beginning of the end to the 2015-16 season for the Montreal Canadiens.

With their No. 1 goalie, their most valuable player, out of the lineup, the Canadiens tumbled down the standings and missed the playoffs. The fan base in Montreal would feel even more frustration in the summer as general manager Marc Bergevin suddenly sent fan-favorite and right-shooting defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for right-shooting defenseman Shea Weber in an absolute blockbuster deal.

Weber is four years older than Subban and under contract until 2026. Subban’s deal expires in 2022.

Subban feels closer to winning a Stanley Cup in Nashville than he did in Montreal. Weber isn’t going to try to be the next P.K. Subban in Montreal. And Bergevin, surely, has been feeling the heat for the controversial trade. Some in the media have called it the worst trade in franchise history. Subban is not only very talented on the ice, but he was popular away from it, too, in the city of Montreal.

Not only did the Habs lose Subban in the deal, but their analytics consultant, Matt Pfeffer, didn’t have his contract renewed because he reportedly disagreed with the trade. Pfeffer later confirmed he made a “passionate” case to keep Subban in Montreal.

The deal occurred on the same day the Edmonton Oilers traded star forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson. Yet, this Subban-Weber trade has provided material for the hockey world to debate and discuss just about every week for two months now. And you can bet that will happen when the season begins.

The Habs also signed forward Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million.

This is Radulov’s third stint in the NHL. He’s supremely talented and the Habs could use a player that can score goals. But he’s also been at the center of off-ice disciplinary issues, including a team-imposed suspension for reportedly violating curfew when he was in Nashville.

And getting back to Carey Price: He has been deemed to be 100 per cent healthy heading into the new season, after playing in only 12 games last season with a knee injury.