Phillip Danault

The great line nobody is talking about

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When we think about the best lines in hockey, our mind immediately goes to the Bruins’ perfection line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. Or we think of the trio in Colorado made up of Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. Those are the two best lines in hockey right now, but there’s three players in Montreal that are being overlooked.

Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher aren’t superstars in the same way that Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog are, but they’ve made up an important line since the start of last season. Not only does that line match up against the opposition’s best forwards, they usually tend to dictate the terms of the game night in and night out.

General manager Marc Bergevin deserves a lot of credit for helping create this line. Yes, Claude Julien put them together, but Bergevin went out and acquired two of the three players when they weren’t exactly in high demand. Gallagher was drafted before Bergevin arrived, but Danault was acquired, as a prospect, from Bergevin’s former team, the Chicago Blackhawks. And Tatar was thrown into the trade involving Max Pacioretty by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Individually, their offensive numbers don’t pop. Danault has nine points in 15 games, while Tatar and Gallagher both have 13 points in 15 games. But take these three players, put them together and watch them dominate.

Danault has played over 156 minutes with Tatar and almost 170 minutes with Gallagher this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. When the trio is on the ice together, they control nearly 60 percent of the shot attempts. Again, keep in mind that they nearly always draw the most difficult assignment of the night.

Last night, at even strength, the trio matched up against the vaunted Perfection Line for most of the night. Keep in mind, the Bruins were playing their second game in two nights, but that still doesn’t take away from the job the Danault line did against them.

Pastrnak managed to score a power-play goal in the first period, which Bergeron helped set up by winning the offensive-zone faceoff. But Marchand saw his 13-game point streak come to an end.

Check out this go-ahead goal by Tatar. Before the puck goes into the net, it was Gallagher that forced the puck away from Pastrnak in the neutral zone. The Canadiens went the other way in transition and they end up scoring. That came just moments after the Bruins’ winger tied the game.

31 seconds later, Paul Byron made it 3-1.

That’s what this three-man unit does for the Canadiens. When Claude Julien starts a period, he usually turns to them. When he needs an energetic shift to spark his team, he turns to them. More often than not, they deliver.

“They’re pretty easy players to play with,” Gallagher said of Danault and Tatar last month, per the Montreal Gazette. “For me, they seem to find me quite a bit and that’s probably why I end up with more shots. They’re very good playmakers and for me to kind of stick to my game is kind of what I try to do.

“I think the three of us enjoy playing together, we enjoy the challenges that the coaching staff gives us every game. That’s something that we’ve had to embrace and I think it’s been good for all three of us.”

The Habs have players with more individual talent. Max Domi, for example, led the team is scoring with 72 points last year and Jonathan Drouin can do things with the puck than most players can only dream of. But these three, when together, are the team’s engine.

Without their chemistry, there’s no way the Canadiens are as good as they are right now. Montreal will have to continue scratching and clawing for every point in the standings, but they can do so knowing they have this group of three leading them into battle every night.

So yeah, they probably won’t get the recognition they deserve nationally because they aren’t the biggest names in the game (they don’t even have a nickname yet), but they have to be considered one of the five best lines in hockey right now.

MORE: Habs’ Domi using special sticks to further diabetes awareness

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.

Max Domi continues to excel in year two with Habs

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When the Montreal Canadiens acquired Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes in the summer of 2018, they were landing a player that had nine goals and 38 and 45 points in his two previous seasons. But in his first year as a Hab, he took his game to another level. He finished the season with a career-high 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games while playing down the middle. What does he do for an encore in year two?

Usually, the leading scorer on a team will get to play with some of the better players on the roster, but Domi’s in a bit of a unique spot. Montreal’s “first” line is made up of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, who have played together since last season. They’re a very effective line and head coach Claude Julien likes having them together.

The “third” line is made up of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia (when healthy) and Jonathan Drouin, who spent a considerable amount of time playing with Domi last year (they weren’t overly effective together). So that doesn’t leave many options for the 24-year-old, who opened the season with offensively-challenged winger Artturi Lehkonen and rookie Nick Suzuki.

Lehkonen is a responsible winger while Suzuki struggled to get his footing early on. Paul Byron, Drouin and Jordan Weal have all spent time on that “second” line at five-on-five. Now that Suzuki has started producing on a different line, Julien is promoting him back to Domi’s line ahead of Thursday’s game against the San Jose Sharks. How have the rotating players affected Domi’s on-ice performance in 2019-20? It hasn’t affected him negatively at all.

As of right now, he’s picked up three goals and nine points in nine games. He has a CF% of 56.36, a SCF% of 57.14, a HDCF% of 63.41 and a very reasonable PDO of .994.

The Habs forward has also contributed to an improving Montreal power play that ranked 30th last season. He’s currently tied for the team lead in power-play points, with four. This is a Canadiens team that missed the playoffs by three points last year. If they can continue to get solid production from their special teams unit, that could be the difference between staying home in April and making it to the postseason.

[MORE: Q&A: Max Domi on the pressure in Montreal, getting Canadiens back to playoffs]

The once controversial trade of Domi for Alex Galchenyuk is no longer being questioned in Montreal. Domi has been so much better and healthier than Galchenyuk that this has become one of the biggest steals of general manager Marc Bergevin’s tenure with the Canadiens.

What makes his time in Montreal even more impressive is that he’s putting up these numbers while transitioning from wing to center. Yes, he struggled with defensive-zone coverage at times last year and he won just 44.9 percent of his face-offs, but those are two things that should improve as he gains experience. We’ll see if he can keep it up, but he’s already winning 50 percent of his draws through nine games.

If he had 72 points last year and he continues to improve, it’s fair to wonder just how high his ceiling is. Can he become a point-per-game player on a yearly basis? That’s entirely possible. Another interesting storyline to follow will be his next contract (he’s going to be a restricted free agent at the end of the year). When he was acquired by Montreal, he signed a two-year bridge deal worth $3.150 million per year. If he builds on last season’s numbers and stays healthy, it’s entirely possible that he could fetch upwards of $7 million or $8 million annually on a long-term deal.

Whatever the price ends up being, Bergevin will probably be happy to pay it given how well this trade has turned out for an organization that has been dying for a talented center like Domi for more than decade.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens vs. Lightning on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

These Atlantic Division foes meet for the first of four times this season as the Canadiens continue with the third game of their four-game homestand. The Lightning, on the other hand, play away from home for the fifth time in six games this season.

One of the biggest questions for Tampa entering this season was when Brayden Point would re-sign. The 23-year-old is coming off a season in which he set career best marks in goals (41), assists (51) and points (92). On September 23, he signed a three-year contract to stay with the Lightning, the only team he’s played for as he begins his fourth season. Point missed the first three games this season while recovering from off-season hip surgery but made an immediate impact in his season debut, scoring twice against Toronto and adding an assist.

While the Canadiens, who are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years (2017), are coming off an encouraging early-season win, the Lightning, after a record-setting regular season, have already lost as many games this season as they did the entire opening month of last season

Jonathan Drouin played a career-high 81 games last season (tied career high with 53 points). The 2013 third overall pick by Tampa has started this season by recording a point in every game for a total of six points in five games. If he adds to that in this game, he’ll be the fourth Canadiens player in the last 32 seasons to open the year with a point streak of six-plus games.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Bell Centre
WHEN: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Steven Stamkos – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph
Ondrej PalatTyler JohnsonYanni Gourde
Patrick Maroon – Carter Verhaeghe – Luke Witkowski

Victor HedmanErik Cernak
Ryan McDonaghKevin Shattenkirk
Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhillip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiJordan Weal
Jonathan Drouin – Jesperi KotkaniemiJoel Armia
Paul ByronNate Thompson – Nick Suzuki

Victor MeteShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Ben ChiarotChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

MORE: Offseason work paying off for Canadiens’ Drouin

Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec.

Kapanen’s stick throwing penalty helps Canadiens rally past Maple Leafs (Video)

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Kasperi Kapanen is an excellent young player for the Toronto Maple Leafs with a very bright future ahead of him. But this was not one of his finest moments in the NHL.

Late in the third period with his team clinging to a one-goal lead, Kapanen committed a completely ridiculous penalty that helped the Montreal Canadiens complete a wild third period comeback that eventually produced a 6-5 Montreal win.

Here’s what happened: While attempting to block a shot by Montreal’s Jeff Petry, Kapanen’s stick snapped in half after it was struck by the shot. Instead of just dropping the broken end to the ice and continuing on with the play, he instead decided to throw it at Petry while he attempted to make a play with the puck.

This, of course, is an illegal play and Petry was immediately rewarded with a penalty shot. He ended up scoring on his attempt, tying the game at four apiece and completing a third period rally that saw the Canadiens erase what had been a 4-1 deficit.

Here is the entire sequence.

The Canadiens took the lead a few minutes later on a Phillip Danault goal, only to have Auston Matthews answer with his second goal of the game for Toronto to send the game to overtime.

But Montreal was still able to pick up the extra point in the shootout, and it is entirely possible it never would have made it there had it not been for Kapanen’s decision to throw his broken stick at Petry.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Crosby leaves preseason finale with apparent foot injury

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PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby left the Pittsburgh Penguins’ preseason finale against Buffalo in the first period Saturday after taking a shot off his skate.

Hit by a shot from Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella, Crosby played on 6:42 before leaving. Pittsburgh forward Bryan Rust left the game after he was hit in the hand in the third period.

”They both got hit with shots,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. ”They are being evaluated now. We will probably have more definitive answers tomorrow morning.”

The Sabres won the game 3-2 in a shootout, with Casey Mittelstadt scoring in the sixth round.

Tage Thompson also scored for Buffalo in the shootout. Thompson’s goal in the second round drew Buffalo even, after Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang opened the round by scoring on a wrist shot. Letang was the only Penguin to score in the shootout.

Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark made 34 saves, and Marco Scandella and Zemgus Girgensons scored for the Sabres. Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust scored for the Penguins, and Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The two teams will open the regular season Thursday in Buffalo.