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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.

Penguins’ Schultz leaves game after falling awkwardly on leg

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This one’s not for the faint of heart.

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz needed to be helped off the ice after getting hit by Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec.

It wasn’t the hit, per se, that caused the issue, but rather Schultz falling backward awkwardly with his ankle twisted underneath him.

The result wasn’t pretty.

Schultz had four assists in three games coming into Saturday’s action and is a fixture in the Pens’ top four on the blue line, logging 17:34 per game so far this year.

It goes without saying, but the loss of Schultz for any length of time would be a major blow to the Penguins.

UPDATE:


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

Canadiens brass moving forward after Pacioretty trade

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The Montreal Canadiens are turning the page.

Just hours after a late Sunday trade sent now-former Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights, Habs brass said the team is now looking forward after a tumultuous, soap opera-like summer in La Belle Province.

“We are entirely focused now on the team and having a great start,” Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said from the team’s golf tournament on Monday. “We’re turning the page. That’s nothing against Max. It’s what happens in hockey once and a while. He and I are friends and we spent a lot of time together over the past 10 years and I appreciate and like him very much and I wish him nothing but the best.”

Molson said the trade for Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick in 2019 came together relatively quickly over the past week or so. Discussions were ongoing with Pacioretty and when the trade request came in, the Canadiens started to actively pursue it.

“The player and the organization agreed that it was probably in the best interest of Max and the organization to look for a trade,” Molson said. “Every once in a while an organization has to make a decision, a team has to make a decision to move on. Mutually, Max’s side with his agent and the Montreal Canadiens agreed that it was probably the right time to make a move.”

[Max Pacioretty saga ends with trade to Vegas]

Molson didn’t want to get into the details of Pacioretty’s trade request or when it was made.

“It’s been going on for several months now that we’ve been trying to make this happen. Here we are today, the morning after,” Molson said.

Speaking to the media after Molson, general manager Marc Bergevin said that a trade request from Pacioretty came in last season.

“That’s a fact, yes,” Bergevin said.

Last week, Pacioretty and his agent, Allan Walsh, shot down the notion that their camp had asked for a trade.

“From our perspective, we’re going to focus on telling the truth and that is a request was made and that’s it,” Molson said.

Bergevin said that when Pacioretty made the trade request, it was evident then that an extension wasn’t going to be on the table. The GM added he never told Pacioretty that he was trying to trade him at any point last season.

“This has been going on for a while,” Bergevin said.

Bergevin added that the Golden Knights were given permission prior to the trade to talk about an extension with Pacioretty.

Suzuki was the key piece in the deal, according to Bergevin, who said the Canadiens had him 11th on their draft list in 2017. The Golden Knights would select him No. 13 overall.

“It’s something we really had to have,” Bergevin said. “He’s a cerebral player, he thinks the game well… he’s got a skill set that made him the 13th pick overall.”

Bergevin expects Tatar to be in camp and believes he can be an asset on the power play.

Pacioretty and the Golden Knights make their only trip to Montreal on November 10, which should be an emotional evening inside Bell Centre.

“Max was a great Montreal Canadien and he always will be a great Montreal Canadien,” Molson said. “He’s always welcome back in this market as a person.”

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

Max Pacioretty saga ends with trade to Vegas

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Talk about waiting until the 11th hour.

Max Pacioretty is now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights after a deal was struck between themselves and the Montreal Canadiens late Sunday.

In return, the Habs get forwards Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft (previously owned by the Columbus Blue Jackets). Montreal also retained 10 percent of Pacioretty’s salary in the deal.

The deal ends months of speculation involving the now-former Habs captain in what turned into the summer’s hottest soap opera in the NHL.

Earlier this week, Pacioretty made it known he wouldn’t be negotiating a new contract with the team (or any other team for that matter, in case he was traded during the season), essentially setting his own ultimatum. The Canadiens, who reportedly hadn’t entered talks with Pacioretty all summer, had to react.

The Canadiens couldn’t conceivably enter the regular season with Pacioretty unsigned after Pacioretty’s announcement regarding negotiations last week.

That move forced general manager Marc Bergevin’s hand and likely went from getting the most to getting what he could in pretty short order.

[The Canadiens wasted Max Pacioretty]

Depending on who you believe (in this case, Pacioretty’s agent Allan Walsh), the 29-year-old wanted to stay in Montreal. If you’re to believe Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, a trade was asked for.

But it was evident all along that the Canadiens — particularly Bergevin — wanted to trade his captain, for reasons only known to the man himself.

Pacioretty had been a godsend to the Canadiens, like P.K. Subban before him, but instead of embracing that gift from the heavens, they decided to waste it (like Subban).

What’s done is done, however.

In the short-term, it’s Vegas who wins the trade.

They get a top goal-scorer added to a lineup that went to the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season this past year. Pacioretty. who has 448 points in 626 NHL games, instantly makes the Golden Knights a better team and positions them for another run next spring. Vegas also has to be thinking they can lock up Pacioretty long-term as well. They still have over $9 million in cap space for this coming season and Pacioretty has one year left on his current deal.

In the long-run, Montreal may just even it out.

Suzuki was taken 13th overall in the 2017 draft and will, if things go to plan, be a part of a new spine down the middle at center for the Canadiens in the future along with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling.

The Canadiens are rebuilding and stocking up on a top-tier prospect like Suzuki is exactly what is needed to do it right.

Still, one wonders what all this time between now and back at the trade deadline in February did to harm Pacioretty’s value on the trade market.

Tatar could bounce back. Suzuki could turn into the center worthy of a first-round selection. That second-round pick could turn into a valuable asset.

Pacioretty is a star. There’s no ‘could’ there.

Montreal’s loss is Vegas’ gain. Pacioretty is a great player joining a great team. A tried, tested and true goal-scorer — scoring 30 or more five times over his decade-long career — and point producer, even on less-than-stellar Montreal squads.

And now Vegas looks primed to once again be a force in the Pacific Division and a return to the Stanley Cup Final doesn’t seem like a silly thought.

Pacioretty is now in a place where he doesn’t need to shoulder all that comes with being a captain in Montreal. That bodes well for the 10-year vet.

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

Second Canadiens prospect stretchered off after bad hit

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For the second straight game, a Montreal Canadiens prospect has been stretchered off the ice.

The latest incident took place Sunday and was the result of an ugly hit by Toronto Maple Leafs prospect forward Hudson Elynuik on Montreal defenseman Jarret Tyszka in the first period of the NHL Rookie Showdown tournament in Laval.

Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reported that Tyszka was taken to hospital for tests, and said that he was conscious and moving his limbs.

Elyniuk was tossed from the game for checking from behind.

On Friday, Canadiens prospect Jake Evans was drilled by a high hit from Ottawa Senators defenseman Jonathan Aspirot. Evans fell backwards, smacking his head off the ice. He required a stretcher to get off the ice and was taken to the hospital before being released.

Tyszka was selected in the fifth round by the Canadiens in 2017 and has played the past three seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Tyszka is expected back in Seattle for his final season junior hockey.


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