Steve Ott

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In a surprise, Blues name Steve Ott assistant coach

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Pretty wild last few days for St. Louis on the coaching front.

After gutting Mike Yeo’s staff of four assistants, then hiring hiring Darryl Sydor, the Blues went totally off the grid on Friday by announcing longtime NHLer Steve Ott would become Yeo’s new assistant.

“Steve was a competitor on the ice as a player and I expect him to bring that energy in this role,” Yeo said in a release. “He was highly respected as a player and a person among his teammates and I believe he will be a huge asset to our staff.”

The decision caught many off guard given Ott, 34, has no prior coaching experience and was playing as recently as last month, suiting up for Montreal in its opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Ott is familiar with the Blues organization, having played there for three seasons.

“I am very proud of my playing career and will devote the same work ethic to my coaching career,” said Ott. “The Blues organization is very special to me and my family and I’m excited to take the next step in my hockey career with this franchise.”

Blues GM Doug Armstrong signed Ott to a three-year deal. It’s fitting that Armstrong was the one to engineer this move, as he’s been behind unorthodox coaching moves in the past. Last summer, he defied convention by hiring Yeo as Ken Hitchcock’s assistant, with the understanding that Yeo would inherit the head man position next season.

It didn’t go exactly to plan. Armstrong fired Hitchcock in February, accelerating Yeo’s ascension.

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

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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

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Top 5 overtime goals of this year’s playoffs

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–Steve Yzerman has faced many stiff tests during his time as GM of the Lightning. Last summer, he managed to re-sign both Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, but this off-season will bring its own challenges. Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin and Ondrej Palat are all restricted free agents. Will Yzerman be able to work his magic again? (The Hockey News)

–This fan had a t-shirt with Zach Werenski‘s banged up face on it. That’s gotta be one of the funniest t-shirts of the hockey season.  (Yahoo)

–Sportsnet has accumulated a list of five players that have gone the most regular-season games without scoring a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Obviously, defensemen dominated the list. Luke Richardson went over 1417 regular-season games without scoring a playoff goal in his career. Ron Hainsey, who scored his first playoff goal on Tuesday, didn’t make the list, but he went over 900 games played without one. (Sportsnet)

–Thanks to a 5-4 win over Pittsburgh, the Blue Jackets were able to live another day. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at  the top of the page.

–Here’s another top five list. This time, The Score ranks the five best overtime goals of this year’s playoffs. Kevin Fiala‘s tally in Game 3 against Chicago is at the top of the list, while Maple Leafs rookie Kasperi Kapenen ranks second. (The Score)

–If they want to find a way to keep their series going after tonight, the Blackhawks will need to find a way to stop Nashville’s top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. “There’s a million different things you can say about how to defend any team’s top line, let alone this team’s top line. They’ve got a lot of confidence right now. They’ve all scored goals in this series, so just taking that one step and having a good game the next game and trying to get the job done … get the momentum on our side. That’s the plan.” (NHL.com)

–The Canadiens were clearly frustrated by their Game 4 loss to the New York Rangers, but Steve Ott may have crossed the line when he kicked Mats Zuccarello (h/t: Puck Daddy Blog).

Canadiens make some lineup changes for Game 3

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The Montreal Canadiens are making a few lineup changes for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers on Sunday night when Torrey Mitchell and Brandon Davidson will replace Andreas Martinsen and Nikita Nesterov.

Mitchell was skating on a line alongside Steve Ott and Dwight King, while Davidson was skating on a defense pairing next to Nathan Beaulieu.

In 78 games this season Mitchell scored eight goals to go with nine assists and was one of the team’s best players in the faceoff circle. Davidson spent the season split between Edmonton and Montreal, appearing in 10 games for the Canadiens and recording a pair of assists.

Another quick lineup note for the Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk was centering a line with Andrew Shaw and Arrturi Lehkonen as he did toward the end of the Canadiens’ Game 2 overtime win.

The series shifts to Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday, tied one game apiece.

The Rangers were less than 20 seconds away from taking a 2-0 series lead on Friday only to allow a late goal to send the game to overtime where they would lose on an Alexander Radulov goal.