Shea Weber

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Grim times for Canadiens: Price struggles, surgery for Schlemko

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Forgive the Montreal Canadiens if they feel beleaguered heading into Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings (which is part of NBCSN’s doubleheader).

After another captivating-but-polarizing summer of changes thanks to GM Marc Bergevin, the spotlight shone a little brighter on the Habs to start. Such magnification made it tough to hide the blemishes of what’s now a 1-4-1 start, even if abysmal luck takes the ugliness to an unrealistic extreme.

If getting beaten down in the local papers and in conventional wisdom didn’t leave them staggering, the Habs are also closing off a back-to-back set after dropping a fifth game in a row via last night’s loss to San Jose.

The hits keep on coming, too, with news that an already-shaky defense corps will lack savvy free agent addition David Schlemko for an estimated three-to-four weeks following hand surgery.

You know things are dreary when one of the more positive bits revolves around starting Al Montoya instead of Carey Price.

It’s true, though, that Montoya’s the right choice here. Most obviously, Price played last night, and you don’t want to lean too hard on any goalie, even one who will begin to cost $10M per season in 2018-19.

Price check

Price’s struggles feel like a microcosm of what this team is going through, as a whole, right now.

In the short term, it’s difficult to imagine things remaining this abhorrent both for the star goalie and his struggling team.

Price’s save percentage stands at .885 so far this season; he’s never been below .905 for a campaign. A 3.56 GAA won’t persist for a netminder who’s never averaged anything above 2.83 (and that was almost a decade ago).

The Canadiens are still easily the worst team in the NHL in both shooting percentage and save percentage perspectives at even-strength. They’re doing so despite grading well by Natural Stat Trick’s various metrics, including getting a friendly percentage of high-danger scoring chances (their fellow dour would-be contenders, the Oilers, feel their pain).

So, a lot of those patterns will just sort of work themselves out naturally.

Still, there are some nagging concerns.

Price already turned 30, and his new, massive cap hit hasn’t even kicked in yet. While goalies have a decent track record of aging more gracefully than, say, snipers, Price’s history of knee issues provides some worry.

Even if he continues to be Carey Price in italics, there really isn’t a great comparable for his contract (Henrik Lundqvist‘s is the closest, according to Cap Friendly). Montreal could serve as a guinea pig for other NHL teams pondering building around an expensive goalie.

Growing pains or signs of a fall?

There are also unsettling questions about Bergevin’s vision, and the way Julien uses players.

Bergevin’s win-now mentality is the source of plenty of debate, but it’s objectively clear that many of his moves have made the Habs older. Shea Weber‘s considerably older than P.K. Subban, and even very young Jonathan Drouin is a grizzled veteran compared to Mikhail Sergachev.

Re-signing Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t ended that saga, and the Habs can’t just blame the media, either.

At the moment, Galchenyuk ranks ninth in even-strength ice time average among Canadiens forwards. He’s currently slated for fourth-line duty alongside Torrey Mitchell and Ales Hemsky.

If the goal is to eventually trade him, this is a backwards way of doing so. If the goal is to “send him a message,” there seems to be a better time than when your team isn’t exactly setting nets on fire like “NBA Jam.”

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When you break things down issue by issue, it’s reasonable to expect better times. Still, it’s tough to shake the worrying signs overall, whether you’re just looking at 2017-18 or beyond.

Things could at least look a little sunnier if Montreal can dig deep and come out of this California trip with a win or two.

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.

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Sharks send Habs to their fifth straight loss

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Make that five straight losses for the Montreal Canadiens.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and an assist on Shea Weber‘s power play blast, giving the Habs center a two-point night. That’s one of the few bright spots, as Montreal lost by a score of 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

This was a battle of two teams struggling to start the new season, with each sitting on only one victory. For the Habs, that victory was back on Oct. 5 in their season opener against Buffalo.

Since then, however . . .

And it isn’t about to get any easier for the Habs. This was the start of a stretch that includes three games in four nights against the bruising California teams — the Sharks tonight, the Kings tomorrow, and the Ducks on Friday. It could still get worse before it gets better.

For the Sharks, who were led Tuesday by Logan Couture‘s four-point performance and Joe Pavelski‘s first goal of the season, they end their five-game home stand on a positive note after losing three of the previous four games.

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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.

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PHT Morning Skate: A make or break season for Marc Bergevin in Montreal?

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— Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has drastically overhauled his team over the past two seasons with some blockbuster trades (P.K. Subban for Shea Weber; Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin) and some massive contracts (re-signing Carey Price, signing Karl Alzner in free agency). As Eric Engels of Sportsnet points out the Canadiens are extremely unique in how they are almost purposely designed to be reliant on their goaltender (both in a financial sense and in the way the team plays on the ice), while the team has seen progressively worse results when it comes to its ability to go deep in the playoffs. Put it all together and you have what could be a make-or-break season for the Canadiens’ GM. [Sportsnet]

Auston Matthews is coming off one of the best rookie seasons in recent NHL history. Now he is being tasked with helping to deliver the first Stanley Cup in Toronto in more than 50 years. No pressure, kid. [Sports Illustrated]

— Defenseman Nikita Zadorov was a healthy scratch for the Colorado Avalanche in their season opener after arriving in training camp late and not getting back up to speed in time. The Avalanche had more than $9.4 million in salary sitting out as scratches on Thursday. It did not stop them from defeating the New York Rangers by a 4-2 margin thanks to a two-point night from Matt Duchene. [Denver Post]

— If it seems like there have been a lot of hat tricks so far this season, that is because there have been. The 2017-18 season is the first time since 1917-18 that four different players have recorded hat tricks in season opening games.

— The first goal in Little Caesars Arena history belongs to Anthony Mantha. The Detroit Red Wings won their debut game in their new building over the Minnesota Wild by a 4-2 margin. [YouTube]

— The Chicago Blackhawks routed the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night by a 10-1 margin. Patrick Kane had a couple of highlight reel assists during the game.

Celebrate Labor Day by pondering the ‘hardest working’ NHL defensemen

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It’s Labor Day (or Labour Day), so hopefully you’re getting those last summer nights/hot dog grillings out of your system.

(Not just talking to you, Phil Kessel.)

With the holiday in mind, it seems sensible to get into the theme of things and ponder the “hardest working” players in hockey. For the record, these lists are based on stats, so feel free to project your own opinions about hustle/grit/other things that would show up on a John Cena t-shirt.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing to discuss some stats that don’t get as much attention.

Defensemen tend to be some of the biggest workhorses in the sport, so this first post will be devoted to them.

For forwards and goalies, check out this post.

Sheer volume

In maybe the least surprising development imaginable, Ryan Suter continues to stand out as a guy who just logs an inane amount of ice time.

Suter headlines a list of five players who’ve logged at least 8,000 minutes of regular-season ice time from 2013-14 through 2016-17.

1. Suter: 9,201:55
2. Drew Doughty: 8,906:33
3. Erik Karlsson: 8,897:18
4. Shea Weber: 8,116:20
5. Alex Pietrangelo: 8,055:50

(Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Roman Josi are very close behind them.)

Killing penalties is one of the toughest jobs, and it can be a very specialized one. Using the 2013-14 to 2016-17 standard, only one defenseman logged 1,000 penalty minutes. Meanwhile, six players logged at least 900.

1. Andy Greene: 1,115:48
2. Alex Pietrangelo: 996:28
3. Zdeno Chara: 986:38
4. Karl Alzner: 935:08
5. Jay Bouwmeester: 945:03
6. Francois Beauchemin: 900:15

(Big-minute guys Doughty and Weber also ranked up high in penalty killing.)

For a significant defenseman, Pietrangelo carries a considerable workload. Consider how much tougher his role has become over the last few seasons.

2013-14: 52.3 percent offensive zonne starts vs. 47.7 defensive
2014-15: 48.4 offense, 51.6 defense
2015-16: 46.9, 53.1
2016-17: 43.1, 56.9

Pietrangelo still manages to produce offensively, so the 27-year-old is quite the all-around gem.

Gritty leaders

However you feel about certain “grit” stats and how helpful they actually are for a team, it’s easy to admire players who put their bodies on the line.

Using the framework of 2013-14 to 2016-17, Kris Russell easily leads the NHL in blocked shots with 907, even doing so in 277 games while Dan Girardi comes in second place with 719 in 300 contests. Russell blocks a hearty 3.3 shots per game.

It’s easier to understand Girardi slowing down when you consider the bumps and bruises he likely endures. Girardi blocked 719 shots during that span, and he also delivered 690 hits. (Shea Weber is a similar bruiser: 637 blocked shots, 644 hits in 313 games.)

Karl Alzner piles up those grit stats while spending a lot of time on the PK, which is predictable but also commendable.

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These stats don’t guarantee that the listed defensemen work “harder” than others. Still, it’s easy to get lost in possession stats and other considerations, and lose sight of how much effort goes into the dirty work in hockey.

If you’re bored and hockey-starved on this holiday, consider clicking around the above links to notice certain names that show up consistently. It might give you a greater appreciation for players you otherwise might have dismissed.

Canadiens invite Eric Gelinas to camp on PTO

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The Montreal Canadiens have added some depth ahead of next month’s training camp, as they’ve given Eric Gelinas a professional tryout.

Gelinas, 26, split last season between the AHL and NHL. He had three goals and nine assists in 27 games with the San Antonio Rampage, and one assist in 27 contests with the Colorado Avalanche.

Like most players on a PTO, he’ll face an uphill battle to make the final roster. The good news, is that the left side of Montreal’s defense has gone through some pretty significant changes this off-season.

Both Andrei Markov and Nathan Beaulieu are gone. They’ve been replaced by Karl Alzner and David Schlemko. The Candiens also brought in KHL blue liner Jakub Jerabek and they signed Joe Morrow and Mark Streit in free agency. Brandon Davidson, who the Habs acquired at the trade deadline, is also back.

Prior to joining the Canadiens, Gelinas admitted that his poor season is the reason why more teams weren’t interested in his services.

“It’s a little disappointing in a sense, but I have no one to blame but myself…I didn’t have a good season,” Gelinas told NHL.com earlier this month (quotes have been translated).

“I had less opportunities (in Colorado), but it was up to me to make the most of the opportunities they gave me, and it didn’t work out. In December, my agent and I decided that I should go to the minors to play more and have more responsibility.”

With Alzner, Davidson and Schlemko locks to make the final roster (unless there’s a trade), that potentially leaves one spot available if they decide to keep eight defensemen. It’ll be interesting to see which player emerges from camp with that position.

Things are a little different on the opposite side of the blue line. The Canadiens are pretty much set on the right side, as they’ll roll with Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn (a lefty who played the right side last season) and Streit (another lefty that usually plays on the right side).