Michael McCarron

Getty

Canadiens spent too much time getting tougher, not enough time getting better

27 Comments

For several years now the Montreal Canadiens have been a very good, but very flawed hockey team.

Before this season their biggest issue was an overreliance on starting goaltender Carey Price, where they would be content to allow him to make as many saves as he had to make for the team to squeeze out a bunch of 2-1 or 2-0 wins. When he was healthy and on top of his game, his performance masked a lot of the flaws and the team won a lot of games (and he won a lot of awards). When he wasn’t there a year ago, the entire thing collapsed on itself and the Michel Therrien-led Canadiens were exposed for the house of cards they always were. If they were ever going to make the leap to serious Stanley Cup contender they were going to have to find a way to offer their All-Everything goalie some additional support and give him some help.

Their apparent strategy in doing that for this season only seemed to create more flaws. They were on display in their six-game first-round exit at the hands of the New York Rangers.

From the very start of the offseason the Canadiens’ plan for this season seemed to revolve around getting bigger, tougher, stronger, grittier and more difficult to play against. Before the start of the 2015-17 season they traded Lars Eller for draft picks. They traded different draft picks for Andrew Shaw and his playoff experience and “hate to lose” mentality. They traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber in a deal that will be dissected, analyzed and second-guessed for decades.

To be fair, they also added Alexander Radulov during the offseason, and he not only proved to be the best free agent signing by any team this summer, he was almost certainly the most impactful move the Canadiens made. But even with that addition, the direction general manager Marc Bergevin and then-coach Michel Therrien wanted to take the team in was clear.

It became even clearer at the trade deadline when almost every move the Canadiens made was centered around adding size and grit to the bottom six as opposed to some much-needed offensive punch. Along with adding Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson to their defense, they made the following changes to their forwards before the deadline.

  • They traded for noted cage-rattler Steve Ott, a fourth-line forward that has scored just six goals and recorded only 14 assists in 152 games over the past three seasons.
  • They traded for 6-4, 229-pound winger Dwight King from the Los Angeles Kings.
  • They traded for 6-3, 220-pound winger Andreas Martinsen from the Colorado Avalanche

After the deadline Bergevin talked about not being able to add offense because the price was too high, and that a lot of their goal scoring issues could be fixed by improved confidence from within and that because playoff hockey gets tougher there would not be as many goals scored anyway.

From the Montreal Gazette:

“For us, we felt we had a good start (and) we had four lines producing,” said Bergevin. “Of late, that hasn’t been the case but I feel comfortable that, as guys get more confidence as we move forward, they’ll be able to chip in. And down the road, there won’t be as many goals and there will be those one-goal hockey games 2-1, 3-2, 1-0. It’s a tight league.

“I always say you can play with a bad shoulder or a bad foot but if you have no confidence, you can’t play,” said Bergevin. “Also down the stretch, it’s hard to score. You look at Columbus last night, one of the highest scoring teams in the league. You have to grind it out to score goals down the stretch.”

In other words: We might as well just try to embrace continuing to win every game 2-1.

As for the players they did add, those three forwards (Ott, King, Martinsen) combined to score 15 goals this season. These were their big trade deadline acquisitions.

The Canadiens played two games in this series where all three of them played in the same game. They lost one 2-0. They were 18 seconds away from losing the other one if not for some late-game (and overtime) heroics from Radulov to set up the tying goal in the closing seconds then score the winner early in overtime.

When it came to the decisive Game 6, when Martinsen and Shaw were out of the lineup (and Torrey Mitchell, who had played well in his limited action in this series was, also scratched) Brian Flynn and Michael McCarron (seven combined goals between the two this season) were inserted in.

The Canadiens were basically playing as a (at best) three-line team when it came to creating offense, and that is simply not good enough, especially when the whole mindset of the team seemed to be focussed on getting bigger and tougher. It runs counter to most everything the NHL’s most successful teams have done in recent years. The Pittsburgh Penguins are 20-9 the past two seasons with one of the NHL’s smallest, least physical rosters. When the Chicago Blackhawks had their mini-dynasty they were consistently one of the smallest, least physical teams in the league. Even the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that reached the NHL’s final four in two of the past three seasons, did it with a collection of forwards that can be described as “undersized.”

It is a speed, skill league, and you can’t beat teams anymore by simply grinding them down with bigger, stronger players (you could argue there was never a time that was possible, but that’s a different argument for a different day). The Canadiens seemed to lose the plot on that one from the start, and then doubled down on it later in the season just before the playoffs began.

The Canadiens added their size and grit. But the end result was the same as we have seen from them in recent years: A flawed team that couldn’t produce anywhere near enough offense to make a deep playoff run with arguably the NHL’s best goalie playing at a high level.

Andrew Shaw to miss Game 6 with upper-body injury

8 Comments

Facing elimination on Saturday night the Montreal Canadiens will be making a couple of changes to their lineup.

Two of them will be coaches decisions by Claude Julien. One of them will be because of injury.

Julien confirmed on Saturday afternoon that forward Andrew Shaw will not play in Game 6 due to an upper-body injury. Julien said he is considered day-to-day at this point.

“He’s a big part of our team, but obviously without him it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up,” said Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher on Saturday to NBC’s Kaitlin Urka. “We say it all the time, guys drop out of the lineup, other guys are going to come in, very capable players and they are going to be able to do the job.”

There will be a number of new players coming into the lineup on Saturday.

Along with Shaw’s absence, the Canadiens will also be sitting forward Torrey Mitchell and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu. In their place Michael McCarron, Brian Flynn and Brandon Davidson will all draw into the lineup.

Through the first five games of the series Shaw has yet to record a point for the Canadiens and is a minus-two with seven penalty minutes. He played 13 minutes in the Canadiens’ Game 5 loss in Montreal, getting into a fight with Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith.

Aside from Shaw’s injury, the surprising move here might be Julien’s decision to take Mitchell out of the lineup because he has played fairly well in the series in his limited role. In his three games during the series he has a goal and is one of the team’s best players in the faceoff circle.

At the morning skate Flynn was centering the third line between Alex Galchenyuk and Paul Byron, while McCarron was skating on the fourth line next to Dwight King and Steve Ott.

Davidson was skating on a defense pairing alongside Jordie Benn.

Tomas Plekanec will return for Canadiens tonight

Getty

After missing the past three games due to an upper body injury the Montreal Canadiens will be getting forward Tomas Plekanec back in the lineup on Tuesday night when they host the Chicago Blackhawks, coach Claude Julien announced.

Plekanec, who last played on March 4 against the New York Rangers, was a full participant at the morning skate and was skating on a line between forwards Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron.

It’s been a tough year for Plekanec offensively with only 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 66 games, but he remains a strong two-way player that is going to give the Canadiens’ third line a lift with his return. With his return Michael McCarron is expected to come out of the lineup.

Prior to his injury Plekanec had been mired in a terrible scoring slump that had seen him record just a single point (an assist) in his previous 15 games. He has just one goal in his past 20.

The Canadiens have been on a roll over the past couple of weeks, winning eight of their past 10 games but remain in a tight race with the Ottawa Senators for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Canadiens enter play on Tuesday two points up on the Senators in the standings, while Ottawa still has two games in hand. On Tuesday they get a Blackhawks team that is coming off of a massive 4-2 win over Minnesota on Sunday and has won 13 of its past 16 games.

Canadiens announce Alexander Radulov out with lower body injury

Getty

The Montreal Canadiens will be without one of their best players on Saturday night against the New York Rangers because Alexander Radulov will be sidelined due to a lower body injury.

The Canadiens announced the injury on Saturday afternoon just a few hours before puck drop.

Along with Radulov, the Canadiens announced that Michael McCarron will also be out of the lineup. In their place will be recent additions Steve Ott and Andreas Martinsen, both of whom were added at the NHL trade deadline as part of the Canadiens’ continued efforts to add physicality and grit to their lineup.

Both Ott and Martinsen will be making their debuts with the team.

But the big story here is the absence of Radulov.

After signing a one-year deal with the Canadiens in free agency following a five-year stop in the KHL, he has been one of the team’s best and most creative forwards this season and is currently second on the team in scoring with 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 63 games. So much emphasis was put on the Canadiens’ offseason moves to bring in players like Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw, but the single biggest addition the team made over the summer was getting Radulov on a one-year, $5.75 million contract. His performance this season is going to make him an attractive target if he gets to the unrestricted free agent market again this summer.

Report: Habs could make Plekanec available before deadline

Getty
4 Comments

Over the last few weeks, the Montreal Canadiens have been hit hard by injuries.

They’re currently without Alex Galchenyuk, David Desharnais, Andrew Shaw, Andrei Markov, Greg Pateryn, Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher. But that didn’t stop them from going 4-1-2 on their latest seven-game road trip, and it should make things interesting once guys start getting healthy.

One of the players that’s seen an increase in minutes is center Phillip Danault, who’s centering the top line with Alexander Radulov and Max Pacioretty.

Also, former first-round draft pick Michael McCarron has looked good in a fourth line role.

When everyone comes back, where will that leave Desharnais and Tomas Plekanec?

Once Desharnais is ready to return, there’s a chance he’ll have to settle for a spot on the wing if he wants to get back into the lineup. He’s played a few games there before, but there’s no doubt he prefers playing down the middle.

Plekanec has been an underrated two-way player for years. Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t been the same player since the midway point of last season.

If he can’t get going, there’s a chance he can find himself on his way out of Montreal, according to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

“(The Canadiens) are going to start to get healthy with (Alex) Galchenyuk coming back,” Kypreos said on Hockey Night in Canada. “But there’s a sense that if (Plekanec) doesn’t get re-engaged that he might be available by the trade deadline.”

Finding a taker for Plekanec might be easier said than done. The 34-year-old has just three goals and 14 assists in 40 games this season, and he has one year remaining on his contract at $6 million.

Even if they trade one or two of their veteran centers, there’s no doubt that the Canadiens would like to add one that can  play on the second line behind Galchenyuk. Even though they like what Danault’s been able to do, it seems clear that he’s best-suited to play on a third line.

Names that keep popping up in Montreal are Avalanche center Matt Duchene and Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Neither player will come cheap though.