Max Pacioretty

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Inconsistency only consistent thing about Canadiens

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The 2017-18 edition of the Montreal Canadiens has been underwhelming at best. The only thing that’s been consistent about them is their lack of consistency.

On some nights, they look like a team that should have no problem making the playoffs. Other times, they look like a squad that should be picking in the top five of next summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

Through 31 games, they own a 13-14-4 record, but how they got there is the most interesting part.

Let’s forget the fact that five of those wins have come against the Sabres (three times) and Red Wings (twice). Hey, in the NHL, a win is a win. But the Canadiens have rarely not been on some kind of positive or negative streak this season.

After opening the season with an overtime win in Buffalo, Montreal went on to lose seven games in a row. They ended that skid at home against Florida, followed that up with a loss to the Los Angeles Kings and then went on to win five of their next contests.

That hot run came to an end with a 3-0 loss at home to the Minnesota Wild. In fairness to the Canadiens, they didn’t have Carey Price, Shea Weber and Jonathan Drouin in that game. But after beating Buffalo in their next game, they went on to lose five in a row to Columbus, Arizona, Toronto (they were obliterated 6-0 in that one), Dallas, and Nashville before snapping the skid against (you guessed it) the Sabres.

The game against Buffalo was the night Carey Price returned to the lineup. Price’s return sparked the Canadiens and they went on to win their next four games over Columbus, Ottawa and they beat Detroit twice, including a 10-1 drubbing at the Bell Centre.

After the blowout win over the Wings, a lot of people thought they had turned the corner. Instead, they followed up the win over Detroit with home losses to St. Louis, Calgary and Edmonton. Saturday’s loss to the Oilers was beyond embarrassing, as they were totally dominated in front of their fans.

“Well, if I knew, I certainly would’ve done something about (the Canadiens’ streaky play),” head coach Claude Julien said after the loss to the Oilers. “It is frustrating. We had a good stretch there, but this week has been a tough week for us. At the end of the day, you have to be better than you were tonight.”

There’s a number of reasons for Montreal’s lack of consistency. They’ve dealt with injuries to key players like Drouin, Price, Weber, David Schlemko and Artturi Lehkonen, but every team goes through that.

Their goaltending was brutal early on, and that certainly didn’t help during their tough start to the year. Also, the fact that 5-on-5 scoring doesn’t come easy to them is another reason why they don’t produce with any regularity. They’re also lacking some mobility on defense, which isn’t exactly ideal for today’s NHL.

And, of course, the fact that their two streakiest scorers have been “off” more than they’ve been “on” has really hurt them. Both Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk haven’t scored nearly enough. Pacioretty has eight goals in 31 games, while Galchenyuk has seven goals in 31 contests. Both have scored 30-plus goals in recent reasons.

The one thing going for the Canadiens is that the third spot in the Atlantic Division is up for grabs. Yes, the Bruins currently have four games in hand on Montreal and a two-point lead in the standings, but those old rivals will be going head-to-head three times in just over a week during the month of January.

As ugly as the season has been at times, the Habs still in it.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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.

Is it time for the Canadiens to blow up their roster?

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The 2017-18 season isn’t even two months old, and the Montreal Canadiens already find themselves at a crossroads. Is it time for them to start rebuilding?

The Canadiens, who are 8-11-2 after three straight losses to Columbus, Arizona and Toronto, have over $7 million in cap space, but they have nowhere to use it. They already traded a blue-chip prospect in Mikhail Sergachev over the summer, and it’s not like their prospect pipeline is overflowing with quality either.

Clearly, losing Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov (for nothing) hurt this edition of the Canadiens.

The team just completed a six-game homestand  that they should have used to make up for their incredibly poor start to the year. Instead, they finished the stretch at the Bell Center with a mediocre 2-3-1 record (they barely beat Vegas and Buffalo, who were both playing their second game in two nights when they took on Montreal).

During the six-game home stretch, they managed to find the back of the net just 10 times (four of those goals came in the 5-4 loss to the Coyotes).

Up until this point, general manager Marc Bergevin has been unwilling to trade away his veterans for prospects and/or draft picks. That might be about to change, per Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

On Saturday’s “Headlines” segment, Kypreos mentioned that ownership and the front office will have a discussion about the direction of the team.

The one player that was singled out on the broadcast was Max Pacioretty, who has one year remaining (after this season) on his current contract.

Would the Canadiens be willing to move him? Maybe, but would they do so with the idea of a rebuild in mind? That remains to be seen.

You have to believe that Bergevin’s on thin ice. Despite being under contract until 2022, he has to be feeling the pressure right now. Montreal is a demanding hockey market, and although they have plenty of cap space, this team clearly isn’t better than it was last year.

The core is far from terrible. Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Carey Price and Jonathan Drouin are all quality hockey players, but they don’t have much depth up front and their defense might be one of the worst in the league after Weber. Jeff Petry has struggled, the contract they handed out to Karl Alzner appears to be a mistake, Jordie Benn, Joe Morrow and Brandon Davidson are all depth players, and Victor Mete is a promising 19-year-old that’s had his ice time cut lately.

When it comes to the center ice position, the Canadiens are still searching for answers. Drouin has been forced to learn on the job, which is far from ideal for a number one center. Behind him, there’s Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec, who are both better suited to be third liners.

In order to become one of the elite teams in the NHL, the Canadiens have to take a step back over the next couple of years. They might not have to rebuild from scratch because they do have key pieces, but the roster definitely needs a lot of work.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Crawford closes the door, Schenn on a roll

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Player of the Night: Brayden Schenn

OK, the real player of the night is probably Brock Boeser, who collected a hat trick and an assist in the Canucks’ startling win against the Penguins, but we already covered that here. We might as well spread the wealth, then, right?

The St. Louis Blues continue to get strong work from Jaden Schwartz (three assists) and Alex Pietrangelo (two goals), but Schenn has really been a smash-hit for St. Louis so far. That included Saturday’s 6-4 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, when Schenn collected four helpers. This gives Schenn 15 points in as many games with St. Louis.

Maybe we’ll look back at that bold trade as a big win for the Blues?

Honorable mention: Corey Crawford

The degree of difficulty could have been higher, as he old needed to make 24 saves, but Saturday marked consecutive shutouts for Corey Crawford, who’s been dynamite for the Chicago Blackhawks so far this season. They blanked the Minnesota Wild 2-0 on Saturday.

Highlight of the night

Antti Raanta goes from flattened:

To elated as Arizona won in a shootout, which he participated in. Here’s hoping he’s OK, then?

Also, Saturday wasn’t pretty for the Penguins, but this power-play goal sure was:

Factoid of the Night:

Some history for scorers on Canadian teams. Brock Boeser with the Canucks:

Also, Max Pacioretty‘s OT goal and Canadiens history:

Should it have counted, though?

Scores and more:

Golden Knights 5, Senators 4
Blues 6, Maple Leafs 4
Canadiens 5, Jets 4 [OT]
Capitals 3, Bruins 2
Lightning 5, Blue Jackets 4 [SO]
Rangers 5, Panthers 4 [OT]
Avalanche 5, Flyers 4 [SO]
Stars 5, Sabres 1
Blackhawks 2, Wild 0
Coyotes 2, Hurricanes 1 [SO]
Canucks 4, Penguins 2
Predators 4, Kings 3 [OT]
Sharks 2, Ducks 1 [SO]

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.

‘Things have started to come around,’ says Julien, with Habs suddenly surging

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Are the Montreal Canadiens turning the page here?

It wasn’t that long ago the Habs were badly slumping with seven straight losses and issues scoring goals. General manager Marc Bergevin was on the hot seat. That was last week.

Since then, the Habs have won three of their last four games, as they look to move up the Eastern Conference standings. In addition to getting some positive results and points, they’ve scored a pile of goals in the last seven days.

Montreal has scored a combined 18 goals over those three wins, with the latest offensive outburst occurring Monday when they put up an eight-spot on the Ottawa Senators. Certainly not Erik Karlsson‘s finest night, as the Senators star defenseman was a minus-six in that contest.

“I think it’s about confidence in execution. When things are going well, confidence takes over and everything we’ve been working on falls into place and the guys gain confidence. We’re hoping to build on that success,” said Canadiens head coach Claude Julien. “Things have started to come around now. Confidence comes with seeing things go the right way. That makes a big difference for us.”

Further to the Habs shedding their earlier struggles — well, at least for now — is the fact that previously slumping skilled forwards Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, who was banished to the fourth line only a short time ago, have come around, finding their scoring touch of late, with three goals each over this recent four-game stretch.

Yes, good times right now for the Habs. They’re not out of the woods just yet, as they sit 15th in the East, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres. And they’ll be in tough to sustain the lofty 4.5 goals-for per game average they’re currently posting through this stretch.

In the midst of a four-game road trip, the Habs face the Minnesota Wild tonight, before playing the Jets on Saturday and the Blackhawks on Sunday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.