Claude Julien

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Red-hot Bruins make Montreal more miserable

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If you were scripting the way things actually transpired between the Bruins and Canadiens on Sunday … well, you were probably rooting for Boston.

The Habs actually played quite well against a Bruins team that’s given just about everyone fits, an impressive feat considering the game was also in the not-so-friendly confines of Boston. A funky Joel Armia goal gave Montreal a 1-0 lead about two minutes into the game, and the Canadiens managed to hold that lead for a long time.

… And then, well, things went about the way you’d expect between a Bruins team that is now on a seven-game winning streak, whose 3-1 victory pushed the Canadiens’ collapse to eight consecutive losses.

It almost seemed cruel when David Pastrnak smashed a puck past Carey Price at the 6:16 mark of the third period, right down to Pastrnak’s celebration:

Oof. Everything about this is a big oof, unless you’re that cruel, hypothetical Bruins fan penning the script (the genre’s definitely horror).

David Backes and Jake DeBrusk helped Boston pour it on to win Sunday’s contest, giving the B’s three goals in less than eight minutes to swipe a possible Montreal confidence-booster away, not even handing the Canadiens a charity point.

[MORE: A look at Montreal’s struggles when the slump was at five games]

To reiterate: it’s not as if the Canadiens stunk up the joint. This wasn’t Claude Julien’s answer to Mike Babcock watching the Penguins throttle Toronto 6-1.

Really, then, it comes down to taste: what hurts more, the blowout loss or falling just that close against a mighty team?

The eight-game losing streak has to heat up Claude Julien’s seat, no doubt about it.

But the more probing, painful question is: should the changes reach higher than the bench, and go right up the chain of command, all the way to GM Marc Bergevin?

We’re watching as Carey Price crumbles, carrying an unsettling .897 save percentage into Sunday’s game, and being without a win since Nov. 15. While some Bergevin moves look better with time (the Max Domi deal is a winner, and combining P.K. Subban‘s $9M AAV with Price’s $10.5M cap hit would be scary right now), the overall plan still seems lacking. And let’s not kid ourselves: Bergevin’s had plenty of time to sort things out.

Again, at least on Sunday, it’s tough to knock Montreal’s effort. They remain a strong possession team under Julien, and they haven’t enjoyed the greatest puck luck.

Eventually, people start to lose patience that the bounces will start to go the right way. An eight-game losing streak tends to intensify such feelings, particularly when you’re watching your historical rivals stomping around at your expense.

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.

Bad injury news for Canadiens as Drouin, Byron to undergo surgery

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The Montreal Canadiens entered Monday in second place in the Atlantic Division, just three points back of the Boston Bruins in what has been a surprisingly strong start to the 2019-20 season.

If they are going to continue that strong play they are going to have to do so without two of their top forwards.

Coach Claude Julien announced on Monday morning that Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron are both going to be out indefinitely after undergoing surgery this week.

Drouin will be having surgery on his wrist, while Byron is going to be sidelined due to knee surgery. According to Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh, he’ll be out at least eight weeks.

Drouin’s injury happened in Friday’s game against the Washington Capitals, but Julien insisted it had nothing to do with the big hit from Alex Ovechkin. Julien said Drouin was cleared to return to the game, felt good, and suffered his injury (completely unrelated to the Ovechkin hit) after returning. He did not play in Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.

It is not clear when Byron was injured but he played 16 minutes against the Capitals before also sitting out Saturday.

Editor’s note: Injuries shouldn’t derail your hockey needs. Click here for Montreal tickets

Both injuries will hurt, but Drouin is the really costly injury here because he has been off to a great start this season and is one of the team’s most productive forwards with seven goals and 15 total points in 19 games. Those early numbers would have put him on a 30-goal, 65-point pace over a full season, both of which would have shattered his career highs.

Byron, on the other hand, has had his share of struggles this season and has just a single goal and three assists. Even with those early struggles offensively he has been an outstanding depth player for the Canadiens since joining the team and has been a consistent 20-goal forward while also playing a strong two-way game.

Despite not having one of the league’s top individual scorers, the Canadiens have been one of the highest scoring teams in the league this season (their 3.50 goals per game is sixth best) thanks to a balanced attack. They are going to need to lean on that depth even more in the coming weeks with Drouin and Byron out of the lineup.

Related: Ovechkin with huge hit on Drouin

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.

Canadiens snap Bruins’ winning streak: 3 takeaways

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If the Montreal Canadiens are going to escape the constant state of mediocrity they have been in the past few years these are the types of games they need to win.

Not only a divisional game against one of the best teams in the league, but against a team that played the night before, was playing its third game in four nights, and was probably vulnerable against a rested team.

This was a big test to see if they could take a step forward and they passed it in a wildly entertaining 5-4 win, snapping what had been a six-game winning streak for the Bruins.

1. it was a Big night for the Canadiens’ unsung heroes. Specifically, defensemen Victor Mete and Ben Chiarot. Entering the game Mete had scored one — one! — goal in 134 NHL games and he managed to top that total on Tuesday night alone, scoring two goals in the win.

Then, just a few minutes after Bruins forward Charlie Coyle had a goal disallowed on an offside review (more on that in a second) Chiarot scored his first goal as a member of the Canadiens for the game-winner.

Paul Byron and Tomas Tatar were the other goal-scorers for Montreal, but it’s expected that they will provide offense on occasion. Getting three goals from the duo of Mete and Chiarot was an unexpected surprise for the Canadiens.

2. Claude Julien made a bold call that paid off. Midway through the third period it appeared as if Coyle had given the Bruins a 5-4 lead, only to have it wiped away on an offside challenge by Julien. It was an incredibly bold call given the circumstances because the Bruins’ entry into the zone was ridiculously close and it wasn’t a slam dunk that the play would get overturned. Considering the Canadiens could have found themselves behind and  shorthanded (as is the penalty for a failed challenge) if it did not go their way it could have easily backfired. Fortunately for Julien and the Canadiens it went their way.

3. David Pastrnak is still unstoppable right now. The bright spot for the Bruins had to be Pastrnak scoring yet another goal. That gives him 15 on the season and makes him the first player since the 2005-06 season to score at least 15 goals through his team’s first 15 games when Simon Gagne, Dany Heatley, and Daniel Alfredsson all did it. He also added a little excitement to the closing seconds when he nearly set up a game-tying goal with an incredible rush into the Montreal zone.

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.

Is Canadiens’ Drouin worth trading for?

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After two seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Jonathan Drouin approaches his third in a familiar situation: as a part of trade rumors.

The rumblings revved up on Tuesday, when Elliotte Friedman singled out Drouin in the latest edition of “31 Thoughts” while discussing the Canadiens’ desire to trade away a forward, what with the emergence of prospects such as Nick Suzuki. More smoke gathered on Wednesday, as Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reported that an anonymous Eastern Conference executive texted him that Drouin’s “name is definitely out there.”

It’s gotten to the point that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin seemingly tried to put out the fire, complete with a fiery zinger:

Nice line, but let’s not kid ourselves: as befitting someone who developed a reputation as a notorious prankster during his playing days, Bergevin seems like a GM who always has something up his sleeve.

Consider Bergevin’s history, too.

On June 23, 2016, Bergevin mostly shot down P.K. Subban trade rumors, saying that a trade wasn’t “realistic.” The blockbuster Subban – Shea Weber trade happened about a week later.

So, it’s clear that, while Bergevin is joking about such rumors, he’s also been willing to throw in a plot twist and trade that player after all.

Maybe the most interesting question isn’t if the Canadiens would trade Drouin, but if they should trade Drouin, and what kind of return would be appropriate.

Let’s begin with the most basic facts. Drouin is 24, and carries a $5.5 million salary cap hit through 2022-23. Remarkably, Drouin’s $5.5M places him as the highest average annual value of any Canadiens forward, edging Tomas Tatar at $4.8M.

In 2018-19, Drouin scored 18 goals and tied a career-high with 53 points. For some, his production worked out well enough to at least calm down the most extremely negative comparisons to Mikhail Sergachev, although time will tell if that was still a lopsided win for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That’s because Drouin’s overall game leaves quite a bit to be desired.

While he finished with some of his better possession numbers last season, Drouin’s two-way stats were weak relative to his teammates. This RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey provides a useful snapshot of Drouin’s middling impact, at least when you consider the standards of top-six forwards, and how dominant the Canadiens were at even-strength last season:

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien has soured on scorers with defensive weaknesses in the past — including Tyler Seguin, who’s far and away more of a net positive than Drouin — so it’s no surprise that Drouin’s warts might make him expendable. It all brings back memories of Lightning coach Jon Cooper commenting in 2015 that Drouin needed to learn that there’s “more than one net in a rink.” The numbers argue that Drouin still has something to learn, and maybe Julien believes that it’s a lost cause?

Though it’s dangerous to read too much into preseason numbers, Engels points out that Drouin’s ice time has been pretty low at times over the last week, which sometimes foreshadows a move.

Perhaps Bergevin’s trying to be strategic in sarcastically denying trade rumors, then. If teams view the Canadiens as desperate to trade away Drouin, that would make it difficult to extract value for the forward.

Again, that’s where it gets tricky: what might the Canadiens actually want in return? You could make quite the argument for Drouin fetching great value, particularly if you emphasize the positive. He’s still young, his talent can be dazzling, and Drouin has produced some tangible offensive numbers.

The cons list is more troubling each year, though. Yes, 24 is young, and players can grow, but 24 is also a range where it’s clearer that a player probably is what that player is, more or less. Maybe Drouin can figure it out to become less of a drain defensively, yet it’s tough to imagine him getting anything but sardonic Selke Trophy votes in the future.

So maybe it would take a “change of scenery” deal for the third overall pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. Would it make sense for, say, the Canadiens to send Drouin to the Buffalo Sabres for a comparably polarizing player in Rasmus Ristolainen? Might Montreal receive a better return if they merely want to move Drouin for picks, whether that would be to a rebuilding team or a contender wanting to add some oomph on offense?

Watching this all play out could be almost as exciting as witnessing Drouin’s tremendous puck skills, yet could also be almost as perilous as asking Drouin to be a shutdown defender.

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Maybe slightly worse, but largely the same.

Montreal brought in Ben Chiarot and Keith Kinkaid while letting Antti Niemi and Jordie Benn walk. They also traded away Andrew Shaw.

Aside from a Sebastian Aho offer sheet that had little chance of succeeding, it was a very quiet offseason for Marc Bergevin.

Strengths: Depth, five-on-five play, and possibly strong starting goaltending if Carey Price continues getting back on track.

Claude Julien really had this group firing on all cylinders last season, which had to make missing the playoffs extra-painful. Still, it’s generally easier to reproduce even-strength success than it is to shoot or stop pucks at a high level, so that’s nice. This team can send wave after wave of forwards at you, and their top four of Shea Weber, Brett Kulak, Victor Mete, and Jeff Petry is better than a lot of people realize.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the Canadiens had to be dominant at even-strength last season because their power play was so putrid.

You might be able to chalk it up to the larger feeling that the Canadiens have some very nice forwards, especially Brendan Gallagher, but seem to lack that super-duper-star. The power play might be better in 2019-20 by sheer luck, but personnel-wise, they didn’t really address the problem during the offseason.

It sure looks like Montreal will need to lean heavily on Price, as Kinkaid doesn’t strike me as that much of an upgrade over Niemi, if he even is an upgrade.

(Nice use of emojis, though.)

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Canadiens front office members (especially Bergevin, but also Julien) have weathered some of the bigger storms, as while Montreal missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they generally exceeded expectations in 2018-19. Even so Montreal’s missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and hasn’t won a series since 2014-15. Julien is an excellent coach, but professional sports aren’t always fair to coaches, and things could really heat up if a lot of Canadiens follow career years by plummeting back to their lesser, past selves. A rating of 7 feels about right.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Max Domi, and Carey Price.

If Kotkaniemi ends up not being worthy of the third overall pick of 2018, it looks like that will only come down to people merely having a preference, for say, fourth pick Brady Tkachuk — and so on. The point is that Kotkaniemi was brilliant as a rookie, and considering limited usage, could be capable of even more than an already-solid 34 points in 79 games. Honestly, Julien owes it to this team to experiment with just how quickly Kotkaniemi can grow. He aced his first test in the NHL.

Entering 2019-20, a big question is: will the Max Domi we see look more like the 2018-19 sensation, or the 2017-18 Coyotes forward who needed four empty-netters to reach nine goals? Domi’s entering a contract year, so if he can show last season wasn’t a fluke, he can go from a healthy raise from his $3.15M AAV to a huge jump.

Price is basically always fascinating in Montreal: the franchise, $10.5M goalie in a city that’s watched some of the best netminders to ever play the game. Can Price be dominant at 32? The Habs are counting on it.

Playoffs or Lottery: Montreal was unlucky that the East was pretty stout at the playoff-level in 2018-19, and figure to face big obstacles again this coming season. Not only will the Atlantic’s top three figure to be tough (Lightning, Bruins, Maple Leafs), but the Panthers made investments to be hugely improved, too. For all we know, it may all come down to the Panthers vs. the Canadiens, especially if the Metropolitan Division isn’t a total flop in providing wild-card competition.

There’s quite a bit to like with this team, so playoffs seem more likely than the lottery — although we also know that this tough market can also turn the volume up on any slump.

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.