Paul Byron

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Montreal Canadiens

Max PaciorettyPaul ByronCharles Hudon

Artturi LehkonenTomas PlekanecBrendan Gallagher

Alex GalchenyukJacob De La RoseJonathan Drouin

Nicolas DeslauriersByron FroeseDaniel Carr

Karl AlznerJeff Petry

Jordie BennJakub Jerabek

Victor Mete — David Schlemko

Starting goalie: Carey Price

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Boston Bruins

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciRyan Spooner

Danton HeinenRiley NashDavid Backes

Tim SchallerSean KuralyNoel Acciari

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

Torey KrugBrandon Carlo

Matt GrzelcykAdam McQuaid

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

Drouin or Galchenyuk at center? Habs may choose neither

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It’s been a weird season for the Montreal Canadiens, and Tuesday presented a new wrinkle.

With Phillip Danault sidelined (but resting at home) with a concussion after taking that scary Zdeno Chara shot, the Canadiens are dealing with some injuries at center. One would think that might inspire management to keep Drouin in the middle, or – dare we wonder – even give Galchenyuk another shot at center.

Instead, the plan for at least one day is to mark “none of the above,” with Galchenyuk at left wing and Drouin on the right on a line with Jacob De La Rose. This seems like a good time to break out that blinking gif, eh?

To review, Bergevin explained about a week ago that Drouin was better suited to play at wing “in an ideal world.” It was startling to hear Bergevin say that much after dismissing Galchenyuk as a center – to some controversy – back in September.

Maybe this ends up being a short-term experiment; maybe this is what Bergevin and/or Julien wanted all along. But yes, it’s a little odd.

Now, not a lot has changed since PHT did this study of how Drouin was doing heading into a reunion in Tampa Bay.

Despite being 60.6 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, Drouin’s been a poor possession player. He’s also regressed from an already weak place on faceoffs, winning a pitiful 40.4 percent of his draws this season. With just six goals and 21 points in 39 games, Drouin hasn’t been explosive enough to excuse his other failings. (Numbers via Hockey Reference.)

To that extent, it’s almost surprising the Canadiens waited so long, but it’s still frustrating for many to see them so easily dismiss Galchenyuk’s acumen while seemingly letting Drouin’s shortcomings slide.

Much of that frustration comes from the feeling that they’re essentially mirror images: offensive players who can thrive in the right situations, but can also frustrate their coaches. During Drouin’s Lightning days, Jon Cooper essentially said the same things about his two-way struggles as the Habs have about Galchenyuk. Remember that “two nets” comment?

So, yes, on many levels it’s baffling that the Canadiens are rolling Paul Byron out at center and putting De La Rose in the middle rather than allowing Galchenyuk to get another shot.

The real key might be about a different kind of opportunity: if this is how they get the best players on the ice more often, it may all be worth the headaches and snickers. Because when you line up with Drouin, there’s a solid chance you’ll be getting more reps.

Just look at Alex Galchenyuk’s split stats. It’s a small sample size, but so far in January, his average time on ice is 18:37, a mark that towers over his season average of 15:25. The way Julien sees it, De La Rose can do the heavy lifting while those two (ideally) light up the scoreboard.

“At the end of the day, you have a center who might be a little more defensive when you’re in your own end and I want them to play in the other end. The quicker you can kill the play, the better,” Julien said, via PHT’s Joey Alfieri. “Let those two other guys use their offense to their advantage.”

There are quite a few hockey people who envision a future in which you rarely look at the five skaters on the ice as five different positions, instead letting the situation dictate and transition flow organically. Such a way of thinking would probably be the most positive way to look at this situation. At least beyond the previously stated very-bright-side of getting Galchenyuk on the ice more often, without being to Drouin’s detriment.

If nothing else, Drouin and Galchenyuk are finding some chemistry and rhythm together, and that could end up being a beautiful pairing to watch.

It’s so zany it might just work.

That doesn’t keep it from being zany, though.

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.

Barzal, Tavares shine as Islanders edge Canadiens 5-4 in overtime

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The scary thing about Mathew Barzal is that he may just be gaining steam.

Any time the New York Islanders play these days, it turns into Barzal Watch (in the Twitter world: #BarzalWatch). Even if the Islanders had plummeted as of late with five losses in their past six games heading into Monday, many are just tuning in to see what the dynamic rookie is going to do.

Indeed, Barzal has been lights this season, with 44 points in 44 games prior to Monday and coming off the buzz of a five-point game on Saturday — the second time he’s done that this season.

But John Tavares, who had just one goal in nine games coming into Monday, stole some of that spotlight back with a shorthanded goal in regulation and then the game-winner in overtime in a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

Tavares second of the game came 1:51 into over time and after Carey Price made quite the save to stop a redirected attempt by Tavares just before the latter scored the winner.

Barzal was at it again early in the first period as the Islanders jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead.

Barzal fed Anthony Beauvillier with a nice lead pass and the latter ripped home his eighth of the season just down the road from where he grew up in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, beating Carey Price with New York’s first shot of the game.

It was Barzal’s 30th assist of the season and he followed that up with his 16th goal of the year on the Islanders just over five minutes later for the two-goal advantage. Barzal finished with three points and now has 10 in his past three games.

The Canadiens entered the game 2-0-1 in their past three games but were without Phillip Danault due to a puck to the head on Saturday and Andrew Shaw, who was injured in the same game.

Despite their recent success, things looked grim early on, with Price allowing two goals on four shots.

The Hab battled back, first by forcing a turnover in New York’s zone, allowing Jakub Jerabek to quickly find a wide open Nicolas Deslauriers out front to make it 2-1.

Another defensive breakdown by the Isles led to the tying goal as Paul Byron snatched his 12th of the year on a rebound.

Barzal grabbed his third point of the night early in the second period as the Isles restored the lead with Adam Pelech‘s first of the season at 2:37. And the Islanders led by two for the second time as John Tavares scored shorthanded 1:59 later on New York’s 10th shot.

The Canadiens, down two again, needed a second comeback and they put it together beginning with Jonathan Drouin‘s marker with 34 seconds left in the second period.

Montreal completed the comeback on the power play in the third, with Max Pacioretty scoring his 14th at 13:01.

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NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Anders LeeJohn Tavares – Alain Quine
Anthony BeauvillierMathew BarzalJordan Eberle
Michael Dal Colle – Brock NelsonShane Prince
Jason Chimera – Tanner Fritz – Cal Clutterbuck

Nick LeddyScott Mayfield
Adam PelechSebastian Aho
Thomas HickeyRyan Pulock

Starting goalie: Thomas Greiss

PREVIEW FOR ISLANDERS-CANADIENS

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Alex GalchenyukJonathan DrouinDaniel Carr
Max PaciorettyPaul ByronCharles Hudon
Artturi LehkonenTomas PlekanecBrendan Gallagher
Nicolas DeslauriersByron Froese – Jacob De La Rose

Karl AlznerJeff Petry
Jordie BennJakub Jerabek
Victor Mete – David Schlemko

Starting goalie: Cary Price

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.