Brendan Gallagher

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Why the Habs are so hot right now

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Look, you don’t need to dig too deep to start raining on the Montreal Canadiens’ parade.

On one hand, the Canadiens enter Sunday’s action as the third seed in the Atlantic Division. That said, it’s easy to poke holes in that, as while Montreal has 29 standings points, they’ve done so in 28 games; the Boston Bruins are right behind them with 28 despite having only played 24.

And you could argue that management is still making unforced errors.

Still, considering how dour things were for so long in November, forgive Habs fans if they’re merely shaking their heads in shocked joy while muttering “five straight wins.”

At 13-12-3, the Canadiens are rolling and, at worst, can consider themselves reasonable contenders for one of the East’s two wild card spots. With four games remaining against the Bruins this season* and other Atlantic teams struggling, they might feel like they can “control their own destiny,” as weird as that is to consider in early December.

We could debate their standing in the East for quite some time, but let’s instead look at their five-game winning streak and ponder how things are turning around. PHT will also consider what lies ahead, too.

1. Carey Price, duh.

From the Dept. of the Painfully Obvious, the Canadiens sure are a lot better when a healthy, focused Carey Price is in net. Yes, that’s some hard-hitting analysis.

During this five-game winning streak/return, Price recorded one shutout and also limited opponents to a single goal on three other occasions. Overall, the superstar netminder has only given up six goals in five games.

2. Resurgent scorers

Even so, Price is far from the only talented Habs player who’s heating up.

Paul Byron lorded his speed over his opponents to collect a hat trick recently while piling up six points in five contests. Despite getting fairly modest ice time, Alex Galchenyuk is on fire with eight points during this run, including four assists in Montreal’s blowout win over Detroit. Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher are heating up, while Jonathan Drouin was looking dangerous before dealing with some injury issues lately.

3. Special teams, indeed

Montreal’s penalty kill has been perfect in four of the five games of this winning streak, while the power play has generated at least one goal in … four of five games.

Now, that’s the sort of stat that you can chalk up to luck quite a bit, although it’s probably also true that the Canadiens were due for some bounces.

[Claude Julien on things starting to turn around about a month ago.]

4. Home cooking

The Canadiens have played four of their last five games in Montreal. That’s not the extent of this cozy stay, either, as Montreal’s domination of Detroit began a five-game homestand. If you want the Canadiens to enjoy consistent success, it will need to come despite a very hot-and-cold schedule, as they’ll face long homestands and lengthy road trips for some time. Let’s consider December and January, alone:

Tue, Dec 5 vs St. Louis
Thu, Dec 7 vs Calgary
Sat, Dec 9 vs Edmonton
Thu, Dec 14 vs New Jersey
Sat, Dec 16 @ Ottawa
Tue, Dec 19 @ Vancouver
Fri, Dec 22 @ Calgary
Sat, Dec 23 @ Edmonton
Wed, Dec 27 @ Carolina
Thu, Dec 28 @ Tampa Bay
Sat, Dec 30 @ Florida
Mon, Jan 2 vs San Jose
Wed, Jan 4 vs Tampa Bay
Sat, Jan 7 vs Vancouver
Fri, Jan 13 vs Boston
Sun, Jan 15 vs NY Islanders
Tue, Jan 17 @ Boston
Thu, Jan 19 @ Washington
Fri, Jan 20 vs Boston
Mon, Jan 23 vs Colorado
Wed, Jan 25 vs Carolina
Mon, Jan 30 @ St. Louis

Overall, that’s a pretty favorable schedule going forward, though, right?

Ultimately, it remains true that the Canadiens dug themselves a pretty deep hole with early-season struggles, but not to the point of burying their 2017-18 season altogether. They probably shouldn’t read too much into their positive clippings now (just as they might want to scroll past the negative stuff in the darkest times), but this stretch is about more than just a 10-point boost in the standings.

* – They might as well circle/highlight one week in January as especially huge, as they face the Bruins three times, with two of those meetings coming in Montreal:

Fri, Jan 13 vs Boston
Sun, Jan 15 vs NY Islanders
Tue, Jan 17 @ Boston
Thu, Jan 19 @ Washington
Fri, Jan 20 vs Boston

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Benn vs. Benn, poor get poorer

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Line of the Night: The St. Louis Blues’ superb top trio.

Seemingly every night, at least one of the NHL’s best scoring lines seems to make its case as the best. It’s getting to the point where any off night is surprising, which seems almost impossible in a league where it’s still (allegedly?) tough to score on a nightly basis.

In Tuesday’s case, the Blues’ red-hot trio of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko added to the Oilers’ profound miseries by triggering an 8-3 stomping.

Schwartz scored one goal and three assists, while both Schenn and Tarasenko enjoyed ridiculous two-goal, two-assists nights. Schwartz and Schenn both are at 30 points in 2017-18, while “The Tank” is rolling with 26. Tarasenko almost had a hat trick today, but settled for the Gordie Howe:

Highlight of the Night: Jamie Benn vs. Jordie Benn, just in time for American Thanksgiving.

(They’re Canadians, but still.)

Shared sadness: The Canadiens lost a hard-fought game to the Stars as the 3-1 margin of defeat was inflated by an empty-netter, while the Oilers were just humiliated, yet both teams really needed wins and neither even got a standings point for their efforts. Times are getting tense for two Canadian franchises that came into 2017-18 with high hopes.

Brendan Gallagher‘s reaction to the empty-netter says it all:

Factoid of the Night: Clearly, it’s totally Connor McDavid‘s fault.

Scores

Canucks 5, Flyers 2

Blues 8, Oilers 3

Stars 3, Canadiens 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

More tension in Montreal after ‘unacceptable’ loss to Coyotes

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Thursday night was rough for the Montreal Canadiens, and not just because of those fights with the Arizona Coyotes.

The Habs fell to the Coyotes 5-4, giving Arizona its first regulation win of 2017-18. After the game, Montreal head coach Claude Julien looked pretty livid, expressing the belief that the issue was not respecting the “gameplan” more than their opponents.

You can see Julien fume in two languages in the presser clip below, with the English answers kicking in around the :45 mark:

It’s been a great ride at times for young goalie Charlie Lindgren, but he showed veteran-level finesse with this quip:

Wait, does this mean I should throw out my uniform-themed skates?

If the loss wasn’t frustrating enough for Montreal, there are some injuries to worry about. Both Andrew Shaw and Brendan Gallagher should be monitored after these moments:

Not good.

The Habs slip down to 8-10-2 on the season, as they continue to see ups and downs. Things started off ugly (and unlucky) with a mark of 1-6-1, but Montreal seemed to correct its course, winning six of eight games from Oct. 28 – Nov. 7. They stumbling has resumed, unfortunately, and Julien must find himself searching for answers.

It all brings up a scarier question: is this really about scheme or are the Canadiens fated for the middle of the pack sooner than expected?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Coyotes get first regulation win, Plekanec’s first NHL fight

The Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes don’t strike you as natural rivals, but the animosity can build pretty quickly when two teams start, well, striking each other.

The Coyotes currently lead the Canadiens 5-4, but even so, you could see frustrations spilling over at times during Thursday’s action. In some cases, it was pretty run-of-the-mill, as Zac Rinaldo fought with Nicolas Deslauriers.

To be fair, there were at least some hard punches thrown, with Rinaldo getting the worst of it, seemingly:

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, there was a truly startling fight, as Tomas Plekanec dropped his gloves for his first bout in his 941st game. Granted, there were times when he didn’t seem like he was totally on board with the fight against Brad Richardson.

You’ll note that there was blood, possibly from Plekanec? It was also that rare fight where a combatant was allowed to return to his feet.

Two questions remain: can the Coyotes hold on for a regulation win, and will Plekanec nab a “Gordie Howe hat trick?”

Update: No Howe hat trick for Plekanec. Instead, the Coyotes protected that 5-4 for their first regulation win of 2017-18. They improved to 3-15-3 on the season.

Here’s hoping Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher is OK:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Paul Bissonnette on personality in hockey, transitioning to radio (PHT Q&A)

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NEW YORK — After a few years away, Paul Bissonnette returned to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a different role. Now retired after 12 seasons as a professional, “Biz Nasty” has taken on the job as the team’s radio analyst and community ambassador.

That was the start of a busy summer for Bissonnette, 32, who also filmed “Biznasty Does B.C.,” a five episode web series that will debut on VIKTRE.com in November. It will feature over a dozen NHL players and other athletes documenting his travels through British Columbia.

Bissonnette chatted with Pro Hockey Talk on Thursday as the Zamboni hummed along the ice inside Madison Square Garden.

Enjoy.

Q. How did the opportunity to join the Coyotes as radio analyst come up?

BISSONNETTE: “I’ve always loved Arizona, they gave me my chance. I’ve always remained good friends with a lot of guys, especially in the media side of it, just because I spent so much time in the press box and bag skating and hanging out with them afterward. [Coyotes PR man] Rich Nairn, we’ve been talking about it for a few years but I still wanted to play. And then I blew both of my ACLs out last year and it was just time. Luckily, I was able to move in as the color radio guy. I’m obviously thankful now to be back on planes and back in the NHL.”

What made you decide against going through rehab for the ACLs and deciding to hang them up?

“It was just time. I’d met a girl and she [asked] ‘How long are you going to keep doing this?’ And to be real, I knew I was eventually going to get into the media stuff. I don’t want to say I became irrelevant, but I was fading out; whereas when I was in the NHL and I was Tweeting, I was in [people’s] faces because I was around. When I went to the [AHL], it was good to get away. I got to win a Calder Cup with the LA farm team [Manchester Monarchs] and I got to have some fun my last couple of years winning. I got to ride it out on my own terms and then it was just time to hang them up.”

If a different organization had come calling, would you have had the same feeling?

“I don’t know. I never really exercised any of my options because I’ve been talking with Rich for at least a year and a half about it. Last year, when I tore my first ACL I was pretty sure I was going to hang them up. I didn’t get surgery right away. I tried to rehab it to finish my career for my last season last year, and then my first game back I tore my other one. So it was a year from hell. I think that was someone up top’s way of saying, ‘Bro, f—off. You’re done. We’ve given you 12 years of pro, now beat it.’ So it’s time to let the kids play, so to speak.”

What’s been the learning curve for you in the booth so far?

“It’s way more difficult than you think. There’s a lot of preparation that’s involved. I’m fortunate enough where I get along with all the media staff. [Fox Sports Arizona’s] Todd Walsh has been around a long time. Tyson Nash was in a very similar situation that I was and he’s done a great job and been successful at it, so I’ve just been asking a lot of questions and shadowing them. They’ve done a great job of helping me out and taking me under their wing.”

What’s the normal game day routine for you?

“I just like to come [to the rink] and chat and sometimes pick opposition’s media’s brains and see how their team is doing. There’s another thing, the NHL Network people, I don’t know how the f— they keep track of 31 teams and all these guys. I have a hard time just doing ours. I’ll get here two hours before [the game] on the bus with [radio play-by-play man] Bob Heethius, who’s been awesome to me, I just prepare with him. We talk about the notes. We look back what their record’s been against this team in recent memory, how the team’s been playing, stats and then just prepare ourselves for the game. Like I said, it’s nice to have a guy and follow him around and do it properly. And even at the beginning, I wasn’t sure I was preparing enough, where the last couple of games I’ve been doing it more and you’re never left with times where you have nothing to say because you always have a little nugget… That’s a term they use, by the way. I learned that one.”

Yeah, you’re catching on.

“Yeah, see? You know what nuggets are. I didn’t know what nuggets were.”

A lot of guys step away and don’t know what they want to do. It must be nice for you remain around a hockey team on a daily basis.

“That’s the one thing I’m most thankful for, is you see these guys, a lot of us don’t have education. We were too busy playing hockey our whole life and all of sudden it’s taken away from you. A lot of guys don’t get to go out on their own terms. I was fortunate to be able to do that and I was fortunate to have a job lined up where I didn’t have to sit around waiting like where am I gonna see my next paycheck, even how am I going to stimulate my mind. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not even the money. I’ve been fortunate.”

What duties are part of your ambassador role with the team?

“One thing as a player that I never had a problem doing, especially because I didn’t play a lot, was going to do all of these events or charity meet and greets. These guys have a long schedule. It’s hard on them, and I told [the team] if these guys are tired and they just got off a road trip and they have a hospital visit, if one guy’s been lugging a lot of ice time and he’s banged up a little bit, send me instead. I know it might not have the same impact as Oliver Ekman-Larsson being at a hospital rather than me.”

Did you have an idea during your career of what you wanted to do after hockey?

“I’ve always one to be a clown. I don’t take myself seriously at all. Lately I’ve been reading on Twitter guys get ragged on, especially hockey guys, for having no personality and I’ve kind of sat back and been like, yeah, because anytime something’s not going well hockey-wise fans and media will use that against them if they show any type of personality. So they use it to their convenience.

“For instance, we got [Connor] McDavid in our mockumentary for the finale. Well, now I’m a little concerned because do I want to put this thing out where maybe Edmonton’s not doing so great and then now people are going to be like ‘Well, shouldn’t you guys be focusing on hockey?’ It’s like, you can’t please anyone now.”

But it was filmed in the summer. It’s not like you’re doing it now.

“But you know it’s coming. We’ve been trying to do some media stuff with the Coyotes and it’s hard because the team’s not winning. You don’t want to also put guys in a vulnerable situation where fans are attacking them because they’re having a little bit of fun off the ice. You’ve got to remember it’s just a game. If any time, especially now, you need to lighten up and try to remember you’re playing a game for a living.”

What did you want to get out of the project?

“Other than the fact that I’m thankful that these guys took the time. Shane Doan jumped in for a full day; so did Morgan Rielly. It was at a charity golf tournament where Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Brendan Gallagher jumped in for 20 minutes each. This is more of hey, I hope hockey fans realize that these guys do have personality. We just have a very humble sport where guys tend to not come outside their shell because they don’t want to come off as abrasive. There’s a lot of reasons. They don’t want to give people fuel and open themselves up in a way where someone can use that negatively towards them.”

Jaromir Jagr had a great quote on Hockey Night in Canada recently where he said he avoided media at times because he didn’t want to have all the attention on himself and felt it might rub some guys the wrong way. He justed wanted to be part of the team.

“That’s just being self-aware. I guess it was different for me because when they interviewed me they just wanted me to be a clown and it was different, as opposed to if you’re interviewing a star and you’re having individual success and the team’s struggling a little bit. Yeah, you never know what other guys are thinking. Maybe there’s a little animosity towards that where I think maybe guys would overthink it when it’s really not like that. That’s just how humble hockey guys are. That just goes to show that they’re more concerned about what their teammates feel and how that might look towards them or make them feel than of them just being themselves and being like hey, these guys want to interview me.”

Finally, now that you’ve stepped away and said it was the right time, do you miss the game?

“Yeah, I didn’t think I would miss it as much but as I’m around the rink more… Because I’m part of an organization, so when you see a guy get hit or taken advantage of you want to get down there and get involved. I’ll always miss it.”

Still have a little enforcer in you.

“Maybe I’ll come back like [Michael Jordan] with the 45 or something.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.