Phillip Danault

Burning questions for Montreal Canadiens in 2019-20

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Montreal Canadiens. 

Let’s explore three questions for the Habs as 2019-20 approaches …

1. Which Carey Price will show up, and how often?

With that $10.5 million cap hit, Carey Price remains a questionable investment in the eyes of many (myself included).

Still, the 2018-19 season restored some hope that Price could at least be an above-average, if not occasionally elite, goalie for the Canadiens. He managed a .918 save percentage last season, which matches his career average. Considering the heights of Price’s career, that’s a remarkable achievement.

But you must also consider the low points of Price’s career, simply because the Habs have traveled through those valleys quite a bit lately. Price played poorly in 2017-18, and was limited to just 12 games played as recently as 2015-16, so it’s not a given that Montreal will receive great play from Price.

As a side note: it’s his birthday. Here’s hoping it’s a happy one, especially since Price earned about a million cool points for the touching moment he was a part of during the 2019 NHL Awards, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

He’s certainly someone who’s become easy to root for.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | X-factor | Under Pressure]

2. How many players already bumped against their ceilings?

The sheer number of Habs who enjoyed career years is remarkable, from Max Domi to Jeff Petry to Phillip Danault. Even traded-away forward Andrew Shaw often played over his head.

How many of those performances are repeatable?

The advice to tap the brakes is worthwhile with Domi, in particular. Contrast his brilliant 2018-19 season (28 goals, 72 points, 13.8 shooting percentage) with a rough final year in Arizona (nine goals [four empty-netters], 45 points, six shooting percentage in 2017-18) and you’ll realize that it’s dangerous to simply pencil in the same results from year to year.

It’s not all gloom and doom. While the “sophomore slump” is a threat, Jesperi Kotkaniemi could also take another big step forward. Shea Weber could be healthier, which may or may not lead to a healthier power play. And, if you’re hoping for anything to repeat, strong five-on-five play usually isn’t a fluke, at least when you keep most of the same players on a team, and most of them are pretty young.

Still, it’s possible that improved power play work might offset a slight drop-off, rather than supplementing a resounding team at even-strength … but we’ll see.

3. Will Marc Bergevin remain patient?

When it comes to judging the Habs’ GM’s work lately, it feels like people have been grading Bergevin on a curve: “Hey, this didn’t work out as badly as we thought.”

That friendly outlook might not last very long, and if Bergevin’s seat starts to heat up again — they’ve missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and three of four — then there’s the risk that he’ll make reckless moves to try to save his job.

As scrappy as this team is, forking over draft picks and/or prospects for quick fixes could really sting. Thankfully, Bergevin didn’t spend big during the past trade deadline or in free agency this summer (aside from a baffling Ben Chiarot signing), so he’s shown some discipline.

Bergevin’s one of the league’s most entertaining GMs because he’s willing to be bold, though, so we’ll see how long he can be stoic and not make a splashy move, beyond the occasional facetious offer sheet.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

PHT Morning Skate: ‘Gloria’ cease-and-desist; Tallon on the hot seat

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Philly bar where ‘Play Gloria’ began has sent cease-and-desist letters to St. Louis retailers selling merch. (KMOV4)

• Herb Carnegie could have been first black NHL player, according to a letter from the 1940s. (NHL.com)

• Golden Knights offseason will be a failure if they don’t sign Nikita Gusev. (Knights on Ice)

• There’s one thing missing from the Carolina Hurricanes’ otherwise successful summer. (News & Observer)

• If the Panthers don’t get results, it could be Dale Tallon who’s out the door. (The Rat Trick)

• What’s happening in Los Angeles? (Jewels from the Crown)

• What is it going to take to get a deal done with Brock Boeser? (The Hockey News)

• An update on the contract negotiating statuses of Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• The Golden Knights wanted Micheal Ferland. (Sin.Bin Vegas)

Phillip Danault rose to the occasion last season. (Eyes on the Prize)

• Raleigh is ready for outdoor hockey. (Cardiac Cane)

• A look at the comparables for Sam Bennett‘s next contract. (Flames Nation)

• What is wrong with NHL hockey. (Blue Line Station)

Julius Honka could be a worthwhile trade option for Toronto. (Tip of the Tower)

• How close did the Columbus Blue Jackets come to offer sheeting Mitch Marner? (Sportsnet)

Anthony Beauvillier and agent talk contract. (Eyes on Isles)

• His last name includes ‘Stud’ and Jack Studnicka the next great hope for the Bruins at center. (NBC Sports Boston)

• How short-handed icing could lead to more goal scoring. (On the Forecheck)

• A look at the center market still left in free agency. (Two in the Box)

• Kevin Dineen named coach of the AHL’s San Diego Gulls. (Anaheim Ducks)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Bergevin has Canadiens back on right track

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Although it’s not official just yet, it looks like the Montreal Canadiens will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. But this time, there will be more of a positive feeling heading into the offseason.

Coming into last season, expectations were high for this Canadiens team. They had been bounced in the first of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers and fans were expecting the team to take the next step. Unfortunately, Carey Price was injured and the team completely fell apart.

General manager Marc Bergevin’s seat appeared to be incredibly hot going into last summer. The pressure was on. With lowered expectations, the Habs found a way to compete for a playoff spot until the very end of the season. What’s even more impressive, is that captain Shea Weber missed the first two months of the season and franchise goalie Carey Price had a rocky start to the season.

How did they manage to stay in the race? Well, their GM bounced back in a big way.

Bergevin had a very strong off-season.

It started with selecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in the NHL Entry Draft. No one expected him to stick with the team all year, but he proved that he was ready. Even though he’s faded down the stretch, he showed that he has the potential to be a special player for years.

The Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk trade wasn’t well received by most Canadiens fans and media at first, but those doubts quickly faded as it became clear that Domi was made for a hockey market like Montreal. Heading into the final game of the season, the 24-year-old has 28 goals and 71 points in 81 games. As of this moment, it looks like the Habs won that deal.

On June 30th, Bergervin decided to eat Steve Mason’s cap hit (he was bought out by the Habs) in order to acquire Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets. Armia proved to be a useful bottom-six player with size (the Canadiens don’t have many big bodies, especially up front).

A day before training camp, they shipped Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki, and Columbus’ second-round pick in 2019. Although things didn’t work out for Tatar in Vegas, he fit in like a glove in Montreal, as he spent most of the year on the team’s top line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Tatar has 25 goals and 58 points in 79 games. On the flip side, Pacioretty has 22 goals and 40 points in 65 games with the Golden Knights. Again, that’s a win for Bergevin.

On Oct. 1, the Canadiens and Calgary Flames made a minor swap involving three defensemen. Montreal sent Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina to Calgary in exchange for Brett Kulak. Both players acquired by the Flames failed to play in an NHL game this season. As for Kulak, he started the year in the minors, but quickly emerged as a top-four defender for the Candaiens this season. The pending restricted free agent will surely get a raise (he made less than a million dollars this year) going into next season.

Even at this year’s trade deadline, Bergevin sent Michael Chaput to Arizona for Jordan Weal, who fit in nicely with his new team. Weal played on the power play and he added more depth offense to a team that relies on all four of its lines to chip in. The 26-year-old has picked up a respectable eight points in 15 games since joining the Canadiens.

Whether the Canadiens get into the playoffs are not, they’re miles ahead of where they were at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Yes, their past struggles were created by Bergevin, but he’s found a way to get the organization back on the rails. Now, the challenge will be to built upon the season they just had.

They have cap space and plenty of needs. And this time, not making the playoffs won’t be an option. Bergevin has to find a way to improve the left side of the defense and he has to add some more scoring punch to this group. He deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his body of work in 2018-19, but this is another huge year for him and his legacy in Montreal.

So as crushing as the loss to the Washington Capitals was last night, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this organization is heading in the right direction again.

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: Capitals host Canadiens on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday night’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Montreal scored a huge win on Tuesday with a 4-2 victory over the Presidents’ Trophy winning Lightning. The Habs rebounded from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits before outscoring Tampa 2-0 in the third. Their previous win came against the Central-leading Jets. They face their third straight division leader tonight.

The Canadiens enter Thursday one point behind the Hurricanes for the first Wild Card and tied with the Blue Jackets in points for the second Wild Card, but still on the outside looking in due to the ROW tiebreaker. After their game against Washington, they’ll end the season at home against Toronto.

With two games to play, the Capitals lead the Metro by three points over the Islanders. Washington is vying for its fourth consecutive division title.

Three-time MVP and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin is aiming to break a tie with Bobby Hull (7x) to become the first player in NHL history to finish atop the goal-scoring race eight times. Ovechkin (33 years old) can also become the first player since Phil Esposito in 1975 to lead the league in goals at age 33 or older.

On Saturday against Tampa, Ovechkin found the net twice, registering his 50th and 51st goals of the season. Those 51 goals are the most in the league, four ahead of Toronto’s John Tavares and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who both have 47. Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players to record eight or more 50-plus goal seasons.

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

What: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Thursday, April 4, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Canadiens-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhillip Danault –  Brendan Gallagher
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiAndrew Shaw
Jonathan DrouinJordan WealJoel Armia
Jesperi KotkaniemiNate ThompsonPaul Byron

Victor MeteShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Jordie BennChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerBrett Connolly
Andre BurakovskyNic DowdTravis Boyd

John CarlsonNick Jensen
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

John Walton (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Pre-game coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

Paul Maurice not impressed with Jets’ effort in Montreal

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The Winnipeg Jets have been one of the best teams in the NHL for the better part of the last two seasons. This year, many expected them to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and they have been, but Thursday’s performance in Montreal left a lot to be desired.

“We don’t have it happen very often,” said head coach Paul Maurice said after the 5-2 loss. “It’s almost in some ways easier to process this and to get ready for Ottawa, because it’s not like a guy let you down or you played your a– off and the goalie let you down. When I said we were no good, the coach is in on that too. We were all horse—t tonight. Big time.

“The coach was no good, the players were no good, the food was no good. We just hope that the plane works.”

That last line is especially terrific.

Maurice’s assessment of the game is very accurate. If netminder Connor Hellebuyck didn’t make five or six outstanding saves, the final score would have been way uglier than what it was. The Jets were simply the second best team on the ice all night.

The Jets bench boss didn’t single anyone out, but there’s two things that jump off the page if you’re a Winnipeg fan.

The top line of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler was severely outplayed by the Canadiens’ first line, which consists of Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin. The Jets clearly have the more talented line, but they were outworked and hemmed into their own end from the start of the game until the very end.

Each member of the Scheifele line finished with a CF% between 39 percent and 42 percent. They were on the ice for one high-danger scoring chance for and seven against. Like we said, they were totally dominated from top to bottom. Connor managed to score the game’s first goal, but that was partly because of a terrible line changes from Montreal.

They should be able to bounce back in Ottawa on Saturday.

Anyway, moving on.

The other thing that is far too noticeable regarding the Jets, is how invisible Patrik Laine has been.

Here’s how Canadiens play-by-play voice Dan Robertson described Laine’s game last night:

Robertson’s points are all accurate. Nothing Laine did worked and it appears as though this has been the case for a while now. Let’s be clear, nobody should be worried about the way he’s playing, but the Jets have to find a way to get his season back on the rails.

He’s on pace to score 38 goals, which is still awesome. They just need him to step up his production, especially when the first line has an off night.

Sure, the Jets can wait it out with Laine. That will probably work. But they might just have to go out and get him a new linemate via trade. Can they squeeze Matt Duchene or Mark Stone out of Ottawa? Would they be willing to land Artemi Panarin as a pure rental? We’ll find out before the end of the month.

Even though they’re 3-3-1 dating back to Jan. 19, no one in Winnipeg should be panicking about this team. They’re still in top spot in the Central Division and they have the assets to make a significant deal before Feb. 25. They’ll be fine, but they have to move passed Thursday night’s ugly performance as soon as possible.

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.