Noah Juulsen

Habs waive Alzner as rough season continues

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Last summer, Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin decided to open up the vault to sign free-agent defenseman Karl Alzner to a five-year, $23.125 million contract. Alzner struggled mightily in his first year as a Hab and he’s had a hard time getting into the lineup in year two. Less than a year and a half into this contract, the Canadiens have finally admitted that it was a big mistake.

The club has decided to place the veteran on waivers. The 30-year-old has one assist and a plus-2 rating in eight games this season, but his $4.625 cap hit through 2021-22 basically means no team will be willing to touch him. The move was necessary because Shea Weber (lower body) is getting set to return to the lineup this week.

The Canadiens need Alzner’s roster spot, which means he’ll be heading to AHL Laval if he clears waivers. Even with Alzner off the roster, Montreal is still carrying eight defensemen.

Alzner was brought to Montreal to replace Andrei Markov, who signed with the KHL, but that obviously hasn’t worked out too well for him or the team. According to Cap Friendly, buying out Alzner after this season would cost the Canadiens some dead money on the cap. It would cost the Habs between $1,069,444 and $4,194, 444 in cap penalties over the next six seasons.

Things will become even more interesting once Paul Byron, Nikita Scherbak, Noah Juulsen and Joel Armia are ready to return from injury. The Canadiens will have to make a trade or they’ll have to expose someone on waivers that they don’t want to lose.

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.

Shea Weber could return right in time for Canadiens

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Through 24 games, the Montreal Canadiens have found a way to earn enough points to put themselves in a Wild Card spot. The most impressive part of this story is that they’ve done it without captain Shea Weber. That’s impressive considering they’ve been forced to hand out minutes to defensemen like Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn, Mike Reilly, Xavier Ouellet, David Schlemko and youngsters Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen.

But the defensive issues are starting to become too much to overcome.

In fairness to Petry, he’s put together a solid season thus far (he’s averaging a shade under 25 minutes per game), but having Benn on the top pairing is less than ideal at this point. The good news, is that they’re about to get some reinforcements in Weber, who is expected to be back in the lineup ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Since the start of November, the Canadiens have given up three goals or more in 11 of 13 games. Sure, Carey Price has had his share of struggles, but the in-zone coverage has left a lot to be desired. The Habs have tightened up a little bit over the last two games, but they need Weber back.

Example: Taylor Hall probably shouldn’t be this alone in the slot:

These types of breakdowns have been happening a lot of the last few weeks.

Getting the 33-year-old in the lineup will allow everyone else to be slotted into roles that are more appropriate for their skillsets. Petry won’t have to play 25-plus minutes per game anymore, Benn won’t have to be on the top pairing, Schlemko can go back to being a third-pairing defender, and so on.

There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before the Canadiens lock down a playoff spot, but they’ll have a better chance of doing that with Weber than without him.

“There’s no doubt guys are getting excited to see his presence getting closer and closer,” head coach Claude Julien said last week, per the Montreal Gazette. “He’s the captain of this hockey team. He’s the leader on and off the ice.  Whenever you miss a guy like that, it makes a difference. He’s not going to be our saviour, but he’s certainly going to be a big answer to some of the things we’re trying to solve right now. We’re looking forward to getting him back, but we have a few games before that becomes a possibility.”

As Julien points out, Weber can’t fix everything. He’s a special talent, but getting him up to speed is going to take some time. Weber hasn’t played since mid-December, so he won’t be able to log huge minutes right off the hop. They’ll have to ease him back. At this point, they’ll take that.

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.

Brutal NHL injury news, including for Bruins’ Bergeron

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The bad hockey news just keeps pouring in lately … well, unless you’re Ken Hitchcock, Craig Berube, Willie Desjardins, Jeremy Colliton, and Joel Quenneville’s accountant.

It’s not just about coaches getting fired, either. We’ve experienced a rough couple of weeks of injuries around the NHL, and Tuesday’s updates didn’t exactly add much sunshine to the mix.

To review, on Nov. 15, PHT rattled off a troubling list including Sidney Crosby, Andrei Vasilevskiy, P.K. Subban, Zdeno Chara, Viktor Arvidsson, and various Capitals. About a week before that, it was noted that John Klingberg ranked among some NHL players who are still recovering from ailments.

The hits just keep coming for a dark November.

  • Bruins fans should scold those among them who whimpered: “Can it get any worse?” The injury demons (let’s not credit them as gods, honestly) replied: “Hold my pitchfork.”

Bruins star Patrice Bergeron is no stranger to dealing with injuries that sound downright frightening, from early career-threatening struggles with concussions to dealing with a concussion and a hole in his lung.

Add another ailment to the list, as the Bruins announced that Bergeron will be re-evaluated in about four weeks after suffering a “a rib and sternoclavicular injury” on Friday. The perennial Selke candidate appeared to suffer that injury during a collision with dark horse Selke candidate Radek Faksa of the Dallas Stars:

If you’re like me, you probably blinked at your screen a few times at “sternoclavicular,” wondered if it’s just the word sternum + clavicle, and then had that confirmed after some Googling. That sure is more specific than just calling it an “upper-body injury,” eh, Bruins?

Hockey players often beat these diagnoses, yet it’s worth repeating that Bergeron will be re-evaluated in four weeks, so this could possibly linger even longer than that.

Bergeron’s just about certain to move to IR, joining Chara, who is also expected to miss at least four weeks with his knee injury.

The Bruins are less big and more bruised these days, as their defense is ravaged by injuries beyond Chara, with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and John Moore all considered day-to-day.

Boston has shown a pretty good knack for fighting through injuries, as Bergeron missed his fair share of time last season. That said, the B’s are pretty top-heavy these days, so losing big names is discouraging.

Also discouraging: the Atlantic Division looks ferocious right now; the Bruins are ranked fifth in the division with 25 points. While they have a halfway decent lead for the East’s second wild card spot (three points ahead of the Islanders, though New York has a game in hand), that could evaporate during this depleted month.

If Bruce Cassidy can guide the Bruins through this stretch relatively unscathed, then he deserves even more credit as an underrated NHL head coach.

Do note that the Panthers haven’t confirmed or denied that report just yet. Considering how nasty the injury looked, it’s no surprise that he’ll need surgery. Here’s hoping he can return to NHL action eventually as the same player – or close to his peak level – because he’s been an underrated gem for Florida for some time.

Speaking of Florida, it’s fair to wonder what the Panthers should do in response to this awful bit of news.

The Athletic’s George Richards brings up a good point (sub required) that the Panthers might want to call up Henrik Borgstrom, a promising former-first rounder (23rd overall in 2016). In all honesty, it was surprising that:

A) Borgstrom had such a short leash with Florida to begin with, as he only received four games of NHL action, only averaging 12:40 in ice time.

And B) that it would even take an injury for him to get another look. The 21-year-old’s been fantastic in the AHL, scoring 14 points in as many games.

There aren’t many silver linings to Florida losing Trocheck, but perhaps Borgstrom can pick up some of the slack?

The Stars should probably work on being more aggressive, yet losing Bishop might hit the brakes on such an idea. They’re currently averaging 29.8 shots on goal per game, the eighth-lowest mark in the NHL, while averaging about one more allowed per night.

  • The Capitals largely avoided injuries – for some unknown or at least unspoken reasons – under Barry Trotz. The bill seems to be coming now that Todd Reirden is in control.

Washington got Braden Holtby back in its thrilling win against Montreal on Monday, yet T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov are still banged-up. Add Brooks Orpik to that injured list, as the team announced that he’ll miss four-to-six weeks after undergoing “a successful outpatient arthroscopic surgical procedure on his right knee.”

Orpik, 38, appeared in 10 games so far in 2018-19, although he hasn’t suited up for the Capitals since Oct. 27. It’s a tough break for the veteran defenseman, although some might argue that he’s at the point in his career where losing him isn’t much of a deficit for Washington.

  • Canadiens defenseman Noah Juulsen is out indefinitely with a facial fracture after taking two pucks to the face against the Capitals on Monday. About the only good news there is that he won’t need surgery, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

What’s going on with Carey Price?

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The Montreal Canadiens were expected to be one of the bottom-dwellers in the Eastern Conference this season. Instead, they’ve proven everybody wrong by getting off to an 8-5-3 start. Nothing to complain about in Montreal then, right? Guess again!

After they traded away their two best scorers in Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, the expectation was that they’d have a hard time putting the puck in the net. That hasn’t been an issue. The Shea Weber injury was also supposed to derail their season, but the defense has sort of held up until now. So what’s the big issue that has fans up in arms? Apparently, it’s Carey Price.

Let’s make one thing clear: Price hasn’t been good enough this season. That has never been more evident than over the last few days, as he gave up bad goals in the third period against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

And he also gave up a couple of stinkers in Thursday’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on home ice:

Canadiens using speed to overwhelm opponents

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Heading into the 2018-19 NHL season, the expectations weren’t very high for the Montreal Canadiens. After all, a team that has struggled to score goals five-on-five traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. But thanks to their newfound identity, they’ve managed to exceed all expectations  and boast a 5-2-2 through nine games.

The Canadiens don’t have a superstar up front or an elite player on defense (Shea Weber is still injured), and Carey Price hasn’t even been dominant yet, but they’ve managed to remain competitive thanks to their ability to move the puck quickly. Also, newcomers like Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Xavier Ouellet have fit in really nicely, and they’ve all contributed to the speed the team is playing with.

Not every player on the roster is fast, but Claude Julien and his staff have found a way to change their approach after a horrendous year in 2017-18. Coaching additions like Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson have also helped with that change.

When things are going well for the Canadiens, you can tell by the little time they spend in their own end. Last season, it seemed like they would get hemmed in the defensive zone all the time. Now, their defenders have found a way to move the puck quicker. The fact that the forwards have made themselves more available to receive those quick passes has helped the team get out of their own end with relative ease. Moving the puck allows the Canadiens to play a quick transition game, which eventually leads to some offensive output.

That’s why a veteran like Karl Alzner hasn’t been able to get into the lineup consistently. The Habs have favored skating defensemen like Jeff Petry, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Mike Reilly and Ouellet, and it’s made all the difference.

The other interesting thing about Montreal, is that they can come at you with four lines. Some nights, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tatar will lead the way. Other times, it will be Jonathan Drouin, Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. The team has also used Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia and Paul Byron together, and they have fourth-line options that include Andrew Shaw, Matthew Peca, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Nicolas Deslauriers.

“I wouldn’t say we’re superstars, but everybody is working hard,” Tatar said. “That’s the key. Without that, you’re not able to win a game. We have four lines rolling and everyone is chipping in. That’s a strength for sure.”

Even though they’re coming off a loss in Buffalo last night, no one predicted that they’d have just two regulation defeats in their first nine games, especially because they went up against Toronto and Pittsburgh (twice).

The biggest question mark surrounding the Canadiens is whether or not they can keep this up. Playing fast and being aggressive on the forecheck every night takes its toll on a team. Keeping that in mind, they’re not an overly big team, either, so they might wear down a little quicker, too.

When they hit the dog days of the season, they’ll need Price to be stellar. For now, they just have to find a way to keep this going for as long as they can.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.