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Canadiens spent too much time getting tougher, not enough time getting better

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For several years now the Montreal Canadiens have been a very good, but very flawed hockey team.

Before this season their biggest issue was an overreliance on starting goaltender Carey Price, where they would be content to allow him to make as many saves as he had to make for the team to squeeze out a bunch of 2-1 or 2-0 wins. When he was healthy and on top of his game, his performance masked a lot of the flaws and the team won a lot of games (and he won a lot of awards). When he wasn’t there a year ago, the entire thing collapsed on itself and the Michel Therrien-led Canadiens were exposed for the house of cards they always were. If they were ever going to make the leap to serious Stanley Cup contender they were going to have to find a way to offer their All-Everything goalie some additional support and give him some help.

Their apparent strategy in doing that for this season only seemed to create more flaws. They were on display in their six-game first-round exit at the hands of the New York Rangers.

From the very start of the offseason the Canadiens’ plan for this season seemed to revolve around getting bigger, tougher, stronger, grittier and more difficult to play against. Before the start of the 2015-17 season they traded Lars Eller for draft picks. They traded different draft picks for Andrew Shaw and his playoff experience and “hate to lose” mentality. They traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber in a deal that will be dissected, analyzed and second-guessed for decades.

To be fair, they also added Alexander Radulov during the offseason, and he not only proved to be the best free agent signing by any team this summer, he was almost certainly the most impactful move the Canadiens made. But even with that addition, the direction general manager Marc Bergevin and then-coach Michel Therrien wanted to take the team in was clear.

It became even clearer at the trade deadline when almost every move the Canadiens made was centered around adding size and grit to the bottom six as opposed to some much-needed offensive punch. Along with adding Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson to their defense, they made the following changes to their forwards before the deadline.

  • They traded for noted cage-rattler Steve Ott, a fourth-line forward that has scored just six goals and recorded only 14 assists in 152 games over the past three seasons.
  • They traded for 6-4, 229-pound winger Dwight King from the Los Angeles Kings.
  • They traded for 6-3, 220-pound winger Andreas Martinsen from the Colorado Avalanche

After the deadline Bergevin talked about not being able to add offense because the price was too high, and that a lot of their goal scoring issues could be fixed by improved confidence from within and that because playoff hockey gets tougher there would not be as many goals scored anyway.

From the Montreal Gazette:

“For us, we felt we had a good start (and) we had four lines producing,” said Bergevin. “Of late, that hasn’t been the case but I feel comfortable that, as guys get more confidence as we move forward, they’ll be able to chip in. And down the road, there won’t be as many goals and there will be those one-goal hockey games 2-1, 3-2, 1-0. It’s a tight league.

“I always say you can play with a bad shoulder or a bad foot but if you have no confidence, you can’t play,” said Bergevin. “Also down the stretch, it’s hard to score. You look at Columbus last night, one of the highest scoring teams in the league. You have to grind it out to score goals down the stretch.”

In other words: We might as well just try to embrace continuing to win every game 2-1.

As for the players they did add, those three forwards (Ott, King, Martinsen) combined to score 15 goals this season. These were their big trade deadline acquisitions.

The Canadiens played two games in this series where all three of them played in the same game. They lost one 2-0. They were 18 seconds away from losing the other one if not for some late-game (and overtime) heroics from Radulov to set up the tying goal in the closing seconds then score the winner early in overtime.

When it came to the decisive Game 6, when Martinsen and Shaw were out of the lineup (and Torrey Mitchell, who had played well in his limited action in this series was, also scratched) Brian Flynn and Michael McCarron (seven combined goals between the two this season) were inserted in.

The Canadiens were basically playing as a (at best) three-line team when it came to creating offense, and that is simply not good enough, especially when the whole mindset of the team seemed to be focussed on getting bigger and tougher. It runs counter to most everything the NHL’s most successful teams have done in recent years. The Pittsburgh Penguins are 20-9 the past two seasons with one of the NHL’s smallest, least physical rosters. When the Chicago Blackhawks had their mini-dynasty they were consistently one of the smallest, least physical teams in the league. Even the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that reached the NHL’s final four in two of the past three seasons, did it with a collection of forwards that can be described as “undersized.”

It is a speed, skill league, and you can’t beat teams anymore by simply grinding them down with bigger, stronger players (you could argue there was never a time that was possible, but that’s a different argument for a different day). The Canadiens seemed to lose the plot on that one from the start, and then doubled down on it later in the season just before the playoffs began.

The Canadiens added their size and grit. But the end result was the same as we have seen from them in recent years: A flawed team that couldn’t produce anywhere near enough offense to make a deep playoff run with arguably the NHL’s best goalie playing at a high level.

Flyers founder Ed Snider honored with statue outside Wells Fargo Center

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia Flyers founder Ed Snider was honored with a 9-foot bronze statue outside the Wells Fargo Center.

Snider founded the team in the 1960s and remained chairman until his death in April 2016. The statue was unveiled before the Flyers played Nashville on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Flyers’ first home game in 1967.

Chad Fisher, of Fisher Sculpture of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, created and built the 1,300-pound bronze statue, which stands on a 3-foot base encased by granite.

Snider’s statue has a Stanley Cup championship ring on his left ring finger that fans are encouraged to rub for good luck. Flyers President Paul Holmgren was one of the first to rub the ring on the statue.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the statue, like Snider’s accomplishments, ”were larger than life.”

The Flyers won Stanley Cups under Snider in 1974 and 1975.

Hall of Famers Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke and dozens of former Flyers greats attended the dedication.

”Everything I am as a human being, thank you Ed Snider,” Parent said as he threw a kiss toward the statue.

Snider’s daughter, Lindy, spoke on behalf of the family and encouraged fans to rub the ring.

”Paul, especially you,” she told Holmgren. ”The pressure’s on. You’re not off the hook.”

Snider was arguably the most influential executive in Philadelphia sports. He was chairman of the 76ers, was once a part-owner of the Eagles and had a hand in founding both Comcast’s local sports channel and the city’s largest sports-talk radio station.

Snider was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

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On Thursday night, TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Pittsburgh Penguins may have some interest in Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk.

The Penguins have been looking for another center since the departure of Nick Bonino in free agency this summer, so them being interested in him makes sense.

“There’s been some speculation as to who might be available as to players who aren’t and Matt Duchene probably isn’t a great fit financially for the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Dreger said during the Insider Trading segment. “But Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens, his name has surfaced. We shouldn’t be overly surprised by that, again given the fact that more often than not Galchenyuk seems to be in the doghouse there and given the play of the Montreal Canadiens as of late, perhaps there’s a fit there that could make some sense.”

Galchenyuk has been as enigmatic of a player as we’ve seen in the NHL over the last few seasons. Two years ago, he scored 30 goals for Montreal. Last season, he was top 10 in league scoring when he suffered a knee injury in Los Angeles. When he returned to the lineup, he clearly wasn’t the same player.

Things haven’t been rosy under head coach Claude Julien, either. During lasts year’s playoffs,  The 23-year-old found himself as the fourth line left winger. He finished the postseason with three assists in six games.

To say that Galchenyuk’s been in the dog house under Julien would be an understatement (most of the time, he fully deserves to be there).

It hasn’t gotten much better this year. After a slow start, he found himself back on the fourth line. But with the Canadiens struggling out of the gate, Julien decided to put Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin together against the Kings on Wednesday night. The line didn’t produce any offense, but Galchenyuk seemed to be a little more engaged than he had been in previous games.

As inconsistent as he’s been, there’s no denying that he’s a rare talent. When he’s playing well, you’ll notice his vision, quick hands and his quick release. He’ll never be an excellent two-way player, but other teams may be willing to put up with his defensive shortcomings more than Montreal has been willing to.

So, what does Pittsburgh have that Montreal could use?

Realistically, we know that the Penguins have a bunch of untouchables (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Matt Murray aren’t going anywhere). They still have other pieces that could be used to get Galchenyuk out of Montreal.

First, the Canadiens would either have to hold on to some of his $4.9 million cap hit, or they’d need to take salary back because Pittsburgh only has $2 million in cap space.

Secondly, Montreal could use a puck-moving defenseman and/or more offense. Would the Pens be willing to sacrifice a blue liner like Olli Maatta to add another center? That’s what it might take to get a deal done.

But again, Montreal isn’t exactly loaded with offensive talent. Can they really trade one of their best offensive weapons without getting a forward back? GM Marc Bergevin is in a tough spot (mainly because he put himself there).

Would Pens GM Jim Rutherford be willing to make Jake Guentzel available, too? He’s been solid for the Pens and his entry-level contract comes with a cap hit of just $734, 167, which makes him even more valuable to the defending Stanley Cup champions.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all unfolds. The longer Montreal’s struggles last, the more likely they are to want to shake things up.

Galchenyuk has his issues, but he seems like the perfect buy-low candidate right now.

Video: Coyotes’ Luke Schenn scores in his own net during loss to Stars

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As you may have heard, things haven’t been going well for the Arizona Coyotes this season. Yesterday’s 5-4 loss to the Dallas Stars dropped their record to 0-6-1 in 2017-18.

Arizona actually jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the game, when Derek Stepan opened the scoring 5:50 into the first period.

Dallas’ Jamie Benn got that goal back less than a minute later on the power play. Unfortunately for Arizona, the bleeding didn’t stop there. Less than a minute after Benn scored, Radek Faksa was credited with the go-ahead goal to give the Stars a 2-1 advantage.

The thing is, Faksa’s stick wasn’t the last one to touch the puck before it went into the Arizona net. It was Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn that had that honor.

That’s a tough break, but that’s just the way the puck’s been bouncing for them this season.

PHT Morning Skate: 5 things Jagr did in the NHL before Gaudreau, Monahan were born

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–Currently there are four players with a Latino background in the NHL. Those players are: Auston Matthews, Max Pacioretty, Matt Nieto and Al Montoya. Fear the Fin wrote an interesting story about NHL teams not doing enough to market to fans from different backgrounds. “Besides the Sharks, several other teams could be making efforts to reach out to an untapped Latinx market. Dallas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, hell, even the New York teams have millions of fans that aren’t being reached because of some old, racist idea of what a hockey fan should look like.” (fearthefin.com)

–Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka was fine $5,000 for a high-sticking incident with Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on Wednesday night. (NHL.com)

–The Calgary Flames have been an all-or-nothing kind of team so far this season. They’ve had a games where they scored six goals and five goals, but they’ve also been shut out twice. They’re heading in the right direction. (flamesnation)

–Garth Snow was hired by the Islanders in 2006 and he’s made enough mistakes to last a lifetime, but ownership still seems to believe in him. This is a huge year for Snow. If he’s capable of re-signing John Tavares though, maybe ownership’s decision will be justified. (SNY.tv)

–The NWHL is set to start their third season. Unfortunately, a number of Olympic Stars won’t be returning to the league this year. On the bright side, there’s a number of young stars that are ready to take the next step. (victorypress.org)

–Colorado Avalanche fans had a lot of disappointment to deal with last season. They were the worst team in the NHL by a mile, which is making their fans appreciate the little things this season. The Avs have been fun to watch early on this season. (milehighsticking.com)

–The Buffalo Sabres are finally returning home from a road trip, but they’re returning home with a number of injuries. Jacob Josefson, Zemgus Girgensons, Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian, Justin Faulk and Robin Lehner are all banged up. That should open the door for training camp standout Seth Griffith. (buffalohockeybeat.com)

–Teams get pretty creative when it comes to team building activities. The Washington Capitals, for example, went to  an FBI Academy in Stafford County, Virginia. This kind of looks like fun. (russianmachineneverbreaks.com)

–The Blue Jackets are off to an incredible 5-1-0 start. They’ve won four games in a row and things are looking good for them right now. Despite the great start, there’s still things that could be going better in Columbus. Oliver Bjorkstrand still hasn’t scored, the special teams has been lacking and they can’t seem to win face-offs consistently. (thehockeywriters.com)

–Fanragsports take a look at how each of the head coach’s on new teams are doing in 2017-18. Gerard Gallant has exceeded expectations with Vegas, John Stevens has done a remarkable job in Log Angeles, Ken Hitchcock’s reunion with Dallas has already had ups and downs, Travis Green and Bob Boughner are holding their own in Vancouver and Florida, and Phil Housley and Rick Tocchet have both struggled with Buffalo and Arizona. (fanragsports.com)

–The Toronto Maple Leafs have been excellent at even-strength, but their special teams have helped carry them over the last couple of years.  Jeff Veillette of faceoffcircle.ca looked at the penalties they’ve drawn versus penalties that are called against them. They do well with holding calls, but they struggle when it comes to stick discipline. (faceoffcircle.ca)

Jonathan Drouin is more than just another hockey star in Montreal. The 22-year-old was traded to his hometown team this summer and he couldn’t have been more excited. He tried to get away from all the distractions that come with playing hockey in Montreal, but he couldn’t get away from all the fans. (Sports Illustrated)

–The Calgary Flames moved Jaromir Jagr to a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Jagr did a lot of damage in the NHL before his two new linemates were even born. For example, he won two Stanley Cups before they took their first breath on earth. (The Score)