Brendan Gallagher

Where do Habs go from here?

4 Comments

This season hasn’t gone the way many expected for the Montreal Canadiens. Last year, with expectations in the toilet, the Habs managed to push for a playoff spot until the final weekend of the regular season. Naturally, expectations were that they’d take a step forward and actually get into the postseason this time around. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t look like that will be the case.

Last night’s home loss to the Edmonton Oilers extended their winless streak to eight games. It’s now the second time this season that they’ve gone through that long of a streak.

The first losing skid, which coincided with forward Jonathan Drouin going out of the lineup with a wrist injury, occurred between Nov. 16 to Dec. 1. During that stretch, they picked up three of a possible 16 points. The biggest issue then was that they seemed to lose all of their defensive structure.

They allowed between three and eight goals in all but one game and they surrendered four goals or more in six of those eight contests. That’s pretty surprising for a Claude Julien coached team. Sure, they’ve been without Drouin, Paul Byron, Joel Armia for a while now (Jesperi Kotkaniemi also missed a good chunk of time), but falling apart like that is not acceptable.

This time around, they’re not bleeding as many goals, but they’re blowing leads, making mistakes at crucial times and their confidence seems to be in the gutter. For example, during last night’s loss, they had a 2-0 lead in the second period. As soon as Oilers forward Riley Sheahan scored to make it 2-1, you could just feel that the Habs were going to blow it and they did. It’s too bad because they were the better team for 40 minutes.

Even though they’re playing better this time around, they’ve accumulated just one of a possible 16 points.

“I thought we learned a lot of stuff from the last one,” forward Philip Danault said of the two eight-game winless streaks, per the Montreal Gazette. “This time it’s different because we’re playing well, but we’re not getting results. We play with the lead and we can’t keep it. Early in the year, the third period was our best, but not now.”

Montreal now finds themselves nine points out of a Wild Card spot. The other issue is that there’s five teams between them and that last playoff spot. That’s a lot of teams to leap over for a playoff spot.

So, where do they go from here? 

The Habs have four potential unrestricted free agents that they could move before the trade deadline. Dale Weise, Nate Thompson, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marco Scandella could all fetch a mid-round draft pick. Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, Danault, and Jeff Petry all have just one more year on their contracts. All four of those players will be unrestricted free agents in July of 2021.

Now, keeping Gallagher and Danault is a no-brainer. The Canadiens should work on re-signing those two players as soon this coming July. Tatar and Petry are different cases. Tatar is having a career year, as he’s up to 16 goals and 38 points in 45 games this season. He comes with a reasonable $4.8 million cap hit (Vegas is retaining some of his salary). Any team looking for a top-six winger could do worse than Tatar. He could also fetch a nice return for general manager Marc Bergevin.

As for Petry, he’s been an important piece of the defense over the last few years. While She Weber was sidelined with various injuries, it was Petry who picked up the slack. The 32-year-old has struggled over the last little while, but he’s a solid right-handed defender has a $5.5 million cap hit. Petry doesn’t have to be shipped out of town. The Habs have a lot of young defensemen coming through the pipeline and having Petry and Weber there to help those youngsters wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The other situation that needs addressing is Carey Price‘s contract. The veteran netminder hasn’t had much help in front of him this season, but he also hasn’t played at the same level we’re used to seeing him play at throughout his career. He has a 16-16-4 record with a 3.01 goals-against-average and a .901 save percentage this season.

Price also has six years remaining on a contract that comes with a cap hit of $10.5 million and he also has a full no-movement clause throughout the life of the deal. He won’t be going anywhere unless he wants to move somewhere else.

But if he is willing to somewhere else, can the Habs find a taker that’s willing him to give them something decent in return for their franchise netminder? Do they even want to trade one of their more important leaders in the locker room? So there are a lot of questions surrounding Price. The Habs need to decide which direction they want to go in.

Will Bergevin be the one to pull the trigger on these moves? Will they move on from their long-time general manager after this season? There’s no doubt that the pressure is on. The worst thing that could’ve happened was the team exceeding expectations last year. This group wasn’t ready to take the next step this year and they might still be a few years away from being a serious contender. This is a crucial part of the “reset”. Whoever the GM is needs to make sure he keeps/trades the right veterans.

It should be an interesting few months in Montreal.

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.

Lightning, Canadiens continue to head in different directions

Lightning
Getty

Right now the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens are two runaway freight trains heading in very different directions.

They continued their current streaks on Thursday night as we continue to get some clarity in what was once a jumbled and surprising Atlantic Division playoff race.

The Lightning, thanks to their 4-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes, extended their current winning streak to nine games on, while the Canadiens let an early two-goal lead slip away in a 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It is the Canadiens’ eighth loss in a row.

Let’s take a quick look at what is happening with each team at the moment.

The Lightning are back

It is not just the fact they have won nine games in a row that matters. Or even the fact they have the second-best record in the league (14-4-1) since the start of December.

It is the way they are collecting those wins.

They are starting to steamroll teams much the same way they did during the entire 2018-19 season and are finally starting to shake off the early season rust that pushed them down the standings. Over the past three games alone they have outscored the Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes (all teams currently in a playoff position) by a combined margin of 17-3. They are starting to tilt the ice in their favor and dominate teams in the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers. They are pushing the play in every game, they are dictating the pace, and they are playing on their terms. And no one is really able to match up with them.

Their superstars are also starting to get rolling.

Steven Stamkos (24), Nikita Kucherov (21), Alex Killorn (20), Brayden Point (20), and Victor Hedman (18) all have at least 18 points in the 19 games since the start of December, while Andrei Vasilevskiy has a .922 save percentage in net.

Add in strong contributions from players like Ondrej Palat, Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Tyler Johnson and they are just unstoppable right now.

Thanks to Thursday’s win they are now up to second place in the Atlantic Division and still have two games in hand on Boston (first place) and Toronto (third place).

They look to win their 10th game in a row on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Canadiens might be out of it

Canadiens fans have seen this story play out before.

Strong start to the season that is followed by a complete meltdown that eventually takes them out of playoff contention.

After turning a 2-0 lead into a 4-2 loss to Edmonton on Thursday, the Canadiens have now lost eight games in a row and are just 6-15-4 in their past 25 games.

That stretch includes two different eight-game losing streaks. All of that comes after an 11-5-3 start to the regular season.

In the end it all comes down to a lack of high end, impact talent at forward. The injuries this to players like Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, Brendan Gallagher, and Joel Armia have simply been too much to overcome. This was never a particularly deep team to begin with, and when you take some of their top forwards out of the lineup for any stretch of time it is going to hurt in a big way. Add in the fact that Carey Price has not been able to bail them out like he has so many times in the past and you have a perfect recipe for the mess that is currently playing out in Montreal.

They are now nine points out of a Wild Card spot with five teams ahead of them.

Without some sort of a drastic change that deficit seems almost impossible for them to overcome the way things are going.

They have a chance to snap their losing streak on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

NHL Power Rankings: Maple Leafs, Lightning back on track

Order has been restored to the NHL’s Atlantic Division.

After miserable starts to the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, they enter the week as two of the NHL’s hottest teams and have rocketed to the top of this week’s NHL Power Rankings.

The Maple Leafs are currently on a 10-game point streak (9-0-1) and have looked like the powerhouse offensive team they were built to be under new coach Sheldon Keefe.

The Lightning, meanwhile, are quietly starting to wake up from their early season slumber. Since Dec. 1, the Lightning have the second-best record in the NHL and are starting to post downright dominant underlying numbers. Their shot attempt share since then is second best in the league. They are third in expected goals (all numbers via Natural Stat Trick). They are averaging more than three-and-a-half goals per game. Finally they are starting to look like the team that won 62 regular season games a year ago.

Both teams continue to make big jumps in the power rankings and occupy the top two spots for this week given their recent play.

Where does everyone else sit?

To the rankings!

1. Toronto Maple Leafs. They have not lost a game in regulation since Dec. 12 and have the league’s best record (15-4-1) since hiring Keefe. They have some flaws, but they look like the team they were were supposed to be.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning. Everyone was so quick to bury the Lightning this season that no one seems to be paying attention to the fact they have been one of the league’s best teams for more than a month now.

3. Washington Capitals. They showed the San Jose Sharks on Sunday that they are never out of a game.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. They are by no means giving up on Matt Murray but the net belongs to Tristan Jarry right now, and he has earned it.

5. St. Louis Blues. A tough road trip that saw them go 0-2-1 and get outscored 16-8 drops them from the top spot for now.

6. Vancouver Canucks. They have feasted at home this season and enter the week on a seven-game winning streak. But they have to show they can win on the road, too, and they get a chance to prove that this week as they start a five-game road trip.

7. Dallas Stars. If you like goals this is not the team to watch because they don’t score many and they don’t give up many. What do they do? Win.

8. Boston Bruins. Is this too low for a team in first place in its division with one of the best overall records in the league? Not when consider they have only won four of their past 15 games. To be fair, six of those 11 losses have come in overtime or shootout (they have zero OT or shootout wins during that stretch) and there is a HUGE element of bad luck there.

9. Colorado Avalanche. They slumped for a bit, but then started to break out of it with back-to-back blowout wins against the Blues and New Jersey Devils.

10. Vegas Golden Knights. They were better than the early record showed, and now the results are starting to back up the process.

11. New York Islanders. Overall, they are fine. But they have struggled a bit over the past couple of weeks. They have won just four of their past 10 games and only two of those wins have been in regulation. Losing Adam Pelech will not help.

12. Florida Panthers. Imagine how good they would be if Sergei Bobrovsky played like they hoped he would.

13. Carolina Hurricanes. Andrei Svechnikov is on his way to becoming a superstar in this league.

14. Arizona Coyotes. Goaltending is a big part of their success, and their top two goalies are currently injured. Hopefully for their sake Antti Raanta‘s injury is not serious.

15. Philadelphia Flyers. Every time you think you have them figured out, they do a complete 180 and go in the opposite direction.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets. The injury list keeps growing, but they keep finding ways to collect points and keep themselves in the playoff race.

17. Minnesota Wild. Bruce Boudreau has done a really good job keeping this team in the playoff hunt because the roster just is not very special.

18. Nashville Predators. They are fine, and actually quite good, during 5-on-5 play. Their special teams and goaltending is sinking them.

19. Calgary Flames. They should be better than this, but outside of a brief surge following the coaching change they have been a pretty mediocre team all season.

20. Chicago Blackhawks. They are trying to overcome the early deficit they gave themselves, but they still have a lot of points to make up and a lot of teams to jump over.

21. Edmonton Oilers. Huge win in Boston over the weekend. It was just their sixth win in 18 games.

22. Buffalo Sabres. Jason Botterill finally did something to address the defensive logjam and shortage of forward depth. Just not sure if it was enough, especially as they lost another top forward (Victor Olofsson) to injury.

23. New Jersey Devils. They have found some success in recent weeks, but it is probably way too little, way too late.

24. Winnipeg Jets. They are on the playoff bubble and heading in the wrong direction.

25. New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin is on his way to a career season. He just does not have enough help around him yet.

26. San Jose Sharks. They have won a few games lately, but losing that game in Washington is going to sting. When you are desperate for points and have a two-goal lead with one minute to play on the road that has to be two points 100 percent of the time.

27. Montreal Canadiens. I don’t know if Ilya Kovalchuk and Marco Scandella can fix this. What they really need is a healthy Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, and Brendan Gallagher.

28. Los Angeles Kings. The short-term outlook is very bleak for this team.

29 Anaheim Ducks. The only games they have been able to win for more than a month now are the occasional game that makes it to a shootout.

29. Ottawa Senators. Just watching to see where Jean-Gabriel Pageau ends up and how they deal with Anthony Duclair‘s breakout year offensively (contract extension or trade while his value is at its highest point?)

31. Detroit Red Wings. Right now you are just looking for young players to make some progress. Filip Zadina has shown some flashes this season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Face-Off: Kovalchuk’s impact on Habs; Bruins shootout struggles

Getty
1 Comment

It’s Monday, which means it’s time for PHT’s Weekly Face-Off column. We’ll break down some of the significant trends and topics in the NHL for the upcoming week.

Here we go:

• What can Ilya Kovalchuk do for Habs?

Kovalchuk has a lot to prove heading into his tenure with the Montreal Canadiens. As general manager Marc Bergevin pointed out last week, this will be the Russian winger’s last chance in the NHL. If he blows this opportunity, it’ll be Europe or retirement for him.

Montreal is so banged up right now that all they need is an NHL caliber forward. With Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron all out, the Canadiens had no choice but to bring in a veteran off the street. Bergevin made it clear he wouldn’t sacrifice picks and prospects for immediate help, so this was the logical next step.

What are realistic expectations for the 36-year-old though? In 64 games with the Kings last season, he managed to put the puck in the net 16 times. Those are the facts. If you break that down over an 82-game season, it adds up to 20.5 goals for the year.

The Habs can’t be expecting much more from Kovalchuk. It’s just not realistic. Since we’re at the midway point of the season, it seems reasonable for Bergevin and the Habs to expect 10 goals out of their new winger. Anything more would be a bonus.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is starting to heat up

It’s been a tough year for Vasilevskiy. He simply hasn’t looked like himself for most of the year. But things are finally starting to turn around for the Lightning netminder. He’s now won five games in a row. He’s given up four goals in two of those games, but he’s also held the opposition to one goal in the other three contests.

Even though it’s unfair to suggest that he was holding the Lightning back in the first half the season, there’s a little bit of truth in that statement. He wasn’t living up to the $9.5 million cap hit that he’s commanding and that was a problem. If he can keep this going, the Bolts will continue to climb the standings in a hurry.

This is how tough things have been for him, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price this season:

It’s a weird year for the high-end goalies.

• Bruins not so good in shootouts

The Boston Bruins are currently second in the NHL standings, but they couldn’t possibly be any worse in the shootout. Heading into this week, Boston has an 0-6 record in the glorified skills competition. That’s odd and kind of surprising considering the amount of talent they have on the team.

If we break their team down by attempts, here’s what we come up with:
Brad Marchand: 0-for-6
Charlie Coyle: 2-for-4
Chris Wagner: 1-for-2
David Pastrnak: 1-for-4
Jake DeBrusk: 0-for-2
Patrice Bergeron: 0-for-1
David Krejci: 0-for-1
Charlie McAvoy: 0-for-1

On the goalie’s side of things, here are how the Bruins stack up:

Jaroslav Halak has given up five goals on 13 shootout attempts (61.5 percent)
Tuukka Rask has given up five goals on 11 shootout attempts (54.5 percent)

They’re ranked 32nd and 34th respectively in shootout save percentage. Not so good!

• Arizona’s Taylor Hall vs. New Jersey’s Taylor Hall

Since joining the Coyotes last month, Hall has seen his advanced metrics improve quite a bit. That’s not exactly shocking when you consider how bad the Devils have been though.

Hall has a modest six points in nine games with the ‘Yotes, but they’re way more dangerous when he’s on the ice. Here’s the breakdown via Natural Stat Trick just to give you an idea:

When Hall is on the ice, they have 54.47 percent of the shot attempts, 57.58 percent of the expected goals for, 56.2 percent of the scoring chances and 58.49 percent of the high-danger chances.

Yes, we’re working with a pretty small sample size, but if those trends continue he should be lighting the lamp quite a bit for his new team.

Since landing Hall, the Coyotes have a 5-4-0 record which isn’t great. The positive part of that, is that they’ve now won three games in a row against St. Louis, Anaheim and Philadelphia.

What’s coming up this week?
Semyon Varlamov revenge game: Avalanche vs. Islanders, Mon. Jan. 6, 7 p.m. ET.
Marc-Andre Fleury revenge game: Penguins vs. Golden Knights, Tue. Jan. 7, 10 p.m. ET.
Joe Pavelski revenge game: Stars vs. Sharks, Sat. Jan. 11, 10 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Oilers vs. Maple Leafs, Mon. Jan. 6, 7 p.m. ET (live stream)
• Stars vs. Kings, Wed. Jan. 8, 10:30 p.m. ET
• Predators vs. Blackhawks, Thu. Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Flyers vs. Capitals, Wed. Jan. 8, 7:30 p.m. ET.

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.

Ilya Kovalchuk signs one-year, $700K contract with Canadiens

4 Comments

Ilya Kovalchuk has a new home for the rest of the season and it will be with the Montreal Canadiens.

The team announced on Friday that they have signed the 36-year-old Russian forward to a one-year, two-way deal worth $700,000. The Canadiens also noted that the deal is worth $70,000 in the AHL, but if this partnership goes that bad we’ll probably see another mutual termination like what happened in LA.

“We’re trying to improve the team in the short-term without hurting the organization in the long-term,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said on Friday. “You have high-risk, medium-risk and no-risk moves. Bringing Kovy to Montreal, there’s no risk.”

Kovalchuk’s time with the Kings ended last month after a lackluster 81 games over the last two season. He signed a three-year, $18.75M deal in 2018 after spending five years in the KHL and mustered over 19 goals and 43 points in LA. The marriage came to an end after being put on unconditional waivers as the team was terminating his deal.

Since he signed the contract as a 35-plus player, Kovalchuk’s $6.25M cap hit stays on the Kings’ books through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season, per Cap Friendly.

The Canadiens, currently missing Jonathan DrouinBrendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, and Paul Byron, sit seven points out of the last Eastern Conference wild card spot and are desperate to make a second-half push. This move by Bergevin allows him to try something without giving up assets in return. If Kovalchuk doesn’t work, then that could open the door for a trade or two. A third straight spring without playoff hockey would up the temperature on the GMs seat and likely mean big offseason changes for the franchise.

“I’m trying to help them in the short-term to stay in the playoff race until our injured players come back,” said Bergevin. “Those guys probably won’t return before the All-Star break. That’s the main reason why we signed him this morning.”

————

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.