Max Pacioretty

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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.

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.

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Lightning vs. Devils; Canadiens vs. Sharks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Tuesday night. In the early game, the New Jersey Devils host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

The Lightning are coming off a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night. For the sixth game in a row, Nikita Kucherov managed to find the back of the net (he actually scored twice, including the game-winner).

When injuries were piling up for the Bolts last season, the Russian winger was the guy they relied on to get the job done. This season, that hasn’t changed. The Lightning are healthier than they were a year ago, but he just keeps on rolling.

Another player who’s performed well, is goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. The young netminder became the full-time starter when the Lightning traded Ben Bishop to the Kings last season. Although he had some ups and downs last year, he’s been terrific this season.

His individual numbers might not jump off the page (3.00 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage), but he’s come up with a number of big saves already in 2017-18. Last night’s game against the Wings was no different.

“He’s our starter for a reason,” head coach Jon Cooper said after the win over the Wings, per the Tampa Times. “If you want to win in this league, you have to check and you need your goaltender to bail you out on occasions. And the times we haven’t been checking, Vasy has bailed us out.”

After missing the playoffs last season, many expected the Lightning to be better now. The same can not be said for the Devils, but they’ve been one of the pleasant surprises so far.

New Jersey has a 4-1-0 record and they own a plus-8 goal differential. This young team has really come together early, and it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to keep it together.

Rookies Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt have been nothing short of fantastic in the early going. Butcher, who the Devils signed as a college free agent this summer, has eight assists in five games. Bratt has accumulated six points in five contests, which isn’t bad for a 19-year-old drafted in the sixth round.

“He’s a good player,” forward Drew Stafford said of Butcher, per NJ.com. “You guys are seeing that. Doesn’t really surprise me anymore. He’s a heck of a player, so for him to have the success that he’s had so far — granted, it’s power play — but that’s something I feel like he can ride as far as he can.”

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Montreal Canadiens at 10:00 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here

It’s been a tough start to the year for the Canadiens, as they’ve managed to come away with one win in their first five contests.

Despite adding Jonathan Drouin this off-season and having Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and a few others, Montreal is still the only team in the league to has played five games and scored less than 10 goals.

They scored a season-high three goals against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, but they fell 4-3 in overtime thanks to Auston Matthews‘ game-winner.

“I think our guys are focused on what needs to be done internally, inside the dressing room, and what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Claude Julien said, per the Montreal Gazette. “I think so far they’ve done a pretty good job of that. There’s no doubt when you got some guys that are goal-scorers that haven’t scored yet … it’s a normal thing that they might be squeezing the stick a little bit. But that’s what they got to overcome and that’s what we got to try and do and improve our game as we go along here.”

Pacioretty scored a goal in the season opener against Buffalo, but he hasn’t found the back of the net since. Drouin and Galchenyuk both netted their first goals of the season on Saturday night. Three goals in five games from those three players simply isn’t enough.

This will be the first of a three-game road swing in California that never seems to treat the Canadiens well.

Things haven’t been much better for the San Jose Sharks, as they have just one win in four contests.

“It’s on us as players,” Logan Couture said, per the San Jose Mercury News. “If we’re playing well, then the lines aren’t going to change. If we’re not, then they’re going to change them around. How we play will dictate what the lineup is.

“No one’s scoring. You could say our line’s not scoring and we’re not, but no one is. As a team, we’ve got to find ways to create some more offense.”

The Sharks have scored eight goals, like Montreal, but in one less game. Kevin Labanc has three of the eight markers.

If you’re a betting person, you may want to look at the under in this one, but weird things seem to happen when east coast teams go play out west.

Enjoy the hockey!

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.

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Canadiens looking to spark, not ‘bury’ Alex Galchenyuk after move to fourth line

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Alex Galchenyuk won’t be playing center for the Montreal Canadiens this year. At least that’s what general manager Marc Bergevin said last month just before training camp opened up.

Wanting to ease the drama around the Galchenyuk’s place in the lineup, Bergevin’s statement was odd given how thin the Habs are down the middle, even with the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin.

Through four games, the 23-year-old Galchenyuk has zero points and eight shots on goal while grabbing 16:21 of ice time. And after playing 18 minutes in Montreal’s opening two games, he saw a little over 14 minutes in losses to the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks.

Head coach Claude Julien has his hands full trying to spark a listless Canadiens offense that’ is averaging a goal per game through four games and is also dead last in even strength goals (two). Unlocking Galchenyuk is certainly one issue of many that the team is trying to solve.

Galchenyuk, who signed a three-year, $14.7 million extension over the summer, found himself on the fourth-line during Wednesday’s practice with Torrey Mitchell and Ales Hemsky, a move Julien is hoping will help the forward find his scoring touch again.

“Alex is having a tough start,” said Julien on Friday. “With the amount of ice time he’s had on the power play and everything else it just doesn’t seem like he’s getting scoring chances right now. I have to do what I have to do as a coach and it’s certainly not indicative of him only because there’s other guys that we think can help produce as well and they’re not.”

Averaging 3:49 of power play time (third-most on the Habs), Galchenyuk, who missed Friday’s practice with the flu, has generated four shots, tied with Jonathan Drouin just behind team leader Max Pacioretty (six).

“I think with him, as usual when you have Hemsky on your right side you’re not playing with guys who have no skill,” Julien said. “So it’s not about a situation where we’re trying to bury him. I think it’s just a situation where we need to make decisions and move players around for the time being to get us going in the right direction.”

According to Left Wing Lock, Galchenyuk has played nearly 20 percent of the time with Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault at even strength. That hasn’t worked, so why would bumping him down the lineup be the ideal situation? He might get the ice time against an opponents’ lesser lines, but Hemsky and Mitchell haven’t created much where they’ve played with two shots combined between them.

Despite the struggle to find a regular home for Galchenyuk within the Canadiens’ lineup, this is no time for Bergevin to give up on his young forward. History hasn’t been kind to teams who have done that.

As Arpon Basu of The Athletic noted earlier this week, Galchenyuk is Julien’s new Tyler Seguin: a young, talented player who’s struggling to find consistency. The Boston Bruins could certainly use a Seguin in their lineup right now while the Dallas Stars are enjoying the fruits of a team not showing enough patience.

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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.

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Lundqvist bounces back, steals one for Rangers

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Henrik Lundqvist still has it.

After getting benched on Saturday night in Toronto, the New York Rangers’ long-time starter bounced back in a big way on Sunday night to help lead his team to its first win of the season by stopping all 34 shots he faced in a 2-0 win.

Brady Skjei and Mika Zibanejad provided the offense in the win, but the story of the game for the Rangers was absolutely Lundqvist.

In what was almost certainly a rerun of last season for Rangers fans, their team ended up getting outshot by a 34-25 margin on the night (the total shot attempts were 64-43 in favor of the Canadiens) and spent most of the night defending in their own zone. But Lundqvist was able to play what was by far his best game of the young season and keep the Canadiens off the board.

He needed a game like that after giving up eight goals in his first two starts.

He also needed a lit bit of assistance.

It appeared as if the Canadiens scored two goals early in the first period only to have them both end up being disallowed.

First, Andrew Shaw had an apparent goal taken away when it was ruled he kicked the puck into the net behind Lundqvist.

Just a few minutes after that, another potential Canadiens goal was negated when the Rangers challenged for goaltender interference. After review it was determined that Max Pacioretty had interfered with Lundqvist, keeping the game scoreless.

Not long after that, Skej broke the ice with his first of the season.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault made some lineup changes on Sunday by going with seven defenseman and benching Brendan Smith after he struggled in his first two games.

As for the Canadiens, well, this wraps up a pretty miserable weekend that saw them get blown out in Washington Saturday night then shut out in New York on Sunday.

Even though they have a win on the season they still have not held a lead at any point. They won their first game of the season in a shootout against the Buffalo Sabres (playing the entire game either from behind or tied) and were then never really in Saturday’s game against the Capitals.

Steven Stamkos expects ‘no restrictions’ heading into Lightning camp

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Training camps aren’t here yet, but many players got back on the ice – or at least back on the ice with media members around – for the first time in ages on Saturday.

It’s no surprise, then, that the optimism is running high among returning NHL players on Tuesday. Even by that standard, Steven Stamkos‘ feedback is remarkably positive, right down to him expecting to participate in Tampa Bay Lightning training camp with “no restrictions.”

As Stamkos told reporters including the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith, he realizes after years of puzzling injury woes and even surgery, that he doesn’t totally know what “100 percent is” any longer. There’s a certain weariness that comes from being a savvy veteran of injury/surgery rehabs, yet his excitement also seems palpable.

Maybe to the point that it might make it difficult for some to ignore the advice of PHT’s Cam Tucker in tempering expectations for the kind of player Stamkos can be in 2017-18.

Smith also transcribed some of Stamkos’ enthusiastic takes:

“I mean, it takes time,” Stamkos said. “Anytime you’re out for as long as I was, it’s going to take some time to get adjusted back to game speed. Nothing replicates a game until you get in that situation. Once you do that, then you’ll know how your body feels. When you go through something like that you have to find a way to put yourself in position to feel good and still find a way to be the player you know you can be. My expectations are that I’m going to get back to that player. Hopefully it’s right away. That’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes.”

Of course, Stamkos himself admits that his competitive nature pushed him to aim for too much, too soon before. He’s bright enough to acknowledge past mistakes, yet you wonder if that fire in his belly could inspire him to fly too close to the sun again.

To some extent, there’s really only so much he can do, anyway. Just about every player, even the seemingly bionic ones like Max Pacioretty, see ups and downs when they come back from injuries.

The Lightning probably won’t be too offended if they had to “settle” for, say, 80-percent-Stamkos next season. Especially if they get that guy for close to 82 regular-season games.