UPDATE: Per The Athletic’s Arpon Basu, Weber’s x-rays came back negative. No facial fracture after taking a puck to the face. Claude Julien said Weber will travel with the team for their game on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.
At first, it looked like Shea Weber just brushed off taking a hard, rubber puck to the chops off the stick of Mikael Granlund.
Sure, it looked like it hurt and yes, the Montreal Canadiens defenseman was hunched over on the bench with a nice gash on the side of his cheek. But he stayed in the game and carried on until the end of the first period.
The concern came when he didn’t emerge for the second, however. A few minutes turned to half the period and then the message from the Habs came: Shea Weber, done for the night with an undisclosed injury.
Not what the club nor its fans wanted to hear.
Here’s the video of the deflected shot to the face:
Weber missed most of the first two months of the season recovering from offseason surgery and hadn’t played an NHL game since Dec. 16, 2017 — some 345 days on the shelf.
He has six goals and 10 assists in 26 games this season. Entering Monday, Weber was tied for fifth in average time on ice at 25:34.
Back in November, Canadiens defenseman Noah Juulsen took a puck to the face, twice, in a game against the Washington Capitals.
Juulsen was on the shelf for three weeks.
The injuries look similar, but the hope is Weber won’t miss that kind of time again, especially since he barely played in 2018.
The 2018-19 edition of the Montreal Canadiens were buried before the regular season even started. Coming off a terrible year, they were going to be without number one defenseman Shea Weber for at least two months. Somehow, this team managed to keep themselves in the middle of the playoff picture, but they were starting to fade in the month of November.
Jeff Petry was playing like a rock star while Weber was out, but the rest of the defense was struggling at times and it’s easy to see why. The group was made up of Petry, Jordie Benn, David Schlemko, Mike Reilly, Karl Alzner, and youngsters Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen. That group could only hold on for so long.
Even franchise goalie Carey Price looked human in November, as he posted a 3-5-2 record with a 3.81 goals-against-average and a .886 save percentage. Yeah, it was getting ugly.
But that’s when Weber showed up to save the day.
Initially, the Canadiens believed their captain would be able to come back sometime in mid-to-late December. Instead, he returned on Nov. 27 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Keep in mind that the Canadiens had dropped four games in a row leading up to Weber’s return. They gave up 16 goals during that losing skid.
In his first game back, not only did the Canadiens win, they held the ‘Canes to just one goal. What makes his return even more impressive, is that the Habs didn’t ease him back in. The 33-year-old has played at least 23:59 in every game.
In his second game of the season, he managed to score two goals in a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers. Overall, he’s put up five goals and 11 points in 17 games. Weber’s CF% is at 55.37, his FF% is at 54.24 and his high-danger CF% is at 53.98. Those are some impressive numbers for a guy that didn’t get to go through training camp. Keep in mind that he hasn’t been playing with a true top-pairing defenseman, either. he’s spent time playing with Brett Kulak, Victor Mete and Jordie Benn.
Not only has he been played well from an individual standpoint, he’s also helped make his teammates better. The fact that he can eat up big minutes means that Petry, Benn and the rest of the defenseman on the team can slide back into their true roles.
And do you think Price is happy to see him back?
Price posted a shutout in last night’s win against the Canucks, which was his first game of 2019. In December, the veteran netminder an 8-3-0 record with a 2.42 goals-against-average and a .916 save percentage. Those are radically different then the numbers he posted in November. It’s hard to argue that that’s just a coincidence. It’s not to say that Price has only been dominant because of Weber, but there’s no denying that the captain’s return has impacted his goalie in a positive way.
We’ll find out whether or not he’s going to hit a wall at some point. Sure, he got the first two months of the season off, but he’s not young and as we mentioned before, he’s playing a ton of minutes.
The biggest challenge for the Canadiens and general manager Marc Bergevin, is finding a puck-moving, left-shooting defenseman to play on the top pairing. They’re getting by with the players they have now, but there’s no doubt that they’d like to add another blueliner. They almost got Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings in the summer, so maybe they’ll decide to revisit that now that the Kings are way out of the playoff picture.
But no matter who the veteran plays with, he finds a way to remain effective.
“You see him, as soon as he sees somebody open he moves the puck,” head coach Claude Julien said last month, per the Montreal Gazette. “It may look simple, it may look boring to the player himself, but to everybody’s eyes it’s effective and it’s what keeps players the kind of players that they are through their whole career. I think that’s where you go back to Lidstrom and Chara, that was one of his idols. Those are guys that you can use as good examples and that’s what Shea does. He can play lots of minutes because he doesn’t put himself in positions where he’s got to exhaust himself. He keeps the game simple.”
But the defensive issues are starting to become too much to overcome.
In fairness to Petry, he’s put together a solid season thus far (he’s averaging a shade under 25 minutes per game), but having Benn on the top pairing is less than ideal at this point. The good news, is that they’re about to get some reinforcements in Weber, who is expected to be back in the lineup ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Since the start of November, the Canadiens have given up three goals or more in 11 of 13 games. Sure, Carey Price has had his share of struggles, but the in-zone coverage has left a lot to be desired. The Habs have tightened up a little bit over the last two games, but they need Weber back.
Example: Taylor Hall probably shouldn’t be this alone in the slot:
These types of breakdowns have been happening a lot of the last few weeks.
Getting the 33-year-old in the lineup will allow everyone else to be slotted into roles that are more appropriate for their skillsets. Petry won’t have to play 25-plus minutes per game anymore, Benn won’t have to be on the top pairing, Schlemko can go back to being a third-pairing defender, and so on.
There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before the Canadiens lock down a playoff spot, but they’ll have a better chance of doing that with Weber than without him.
“There’s no doubt guys are getting excited to see his presence getting closer and closer,” head coach Claude Julien said last week, per the Montreal Gazette. “He’s the captain of this hockey team. He’s the leader on and off the ice. Whenever you miss a guy like that, it makes a difference. He’s not going to be our saviour, but he’s certainly going to be a big answer to some of the things we’re trying to solve right now. We’re looking forward to getting him back, but we have a few games before that becomes a possibility.”
As Julien points out, Weber can’t fix everything. He’s a special talent, but getting him up to speed is going to take some time. Weber hasn’t played since mid-December, so he won’t be able to log huge minutes right off the hop. They’ll have to ease him back. At this point, they’ll take that.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Leafs forward Mitch Marner has formed a special bond with Hayden Foulon. This six-year-old girl has been battling leukemia for a while, and she’s become Marner’s hero. “She is my hero. What she has gone through and the way she has fought in her brief life is an inspiration for all of us. All I want to do is to try to bring some happiness to her life any way I can.” (NHL.com)
• Shea Weber could be back in the Canadiens lineup as soon as next Tuesday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes. (Montreal Gazette)
• The Edmonton Oilers acquired Chris Wideman from the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. Someone had to pay the price for that Uber ride. (Edmonton Journal)
• Believe it or not, the Humboldt Broncos are currently sitting in first place in the SJHL standings. (TSN.ca)
• Eugene Melnyk might be blowing an opportunity to get the Ottawa Senators a new downtown arena. (Ottawa Citizen)
• Thanks to some strong goaltending, the Detroit Red Wings have won nine of their last 11 games. Can they keep this up? (The Hockey News)
• Sportsnet’s lists six NHL head coaches that could be on the hot seat. Is Mike Sullivan’s job really in jeopardy? (Sportsnet)
• End to End Sports looks at the top five players outside of the NHL right now. Red Wings prospect Filip Zadina could potentially help his team in a big way down the road. (End to End Sports)
• Thanksgiving can be an awkward time for non-North American NHL players. (Toronto Star)
• Former NHLer Gary Leeman believes there are pros and cons to the concussion settlement. (Hamilton Spectator)
• ESPN’s Emily Kaplan breaks down why there have been so many coaching changes in the NHL this season. (ESPN)
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: The Bruins trailed 4-1 in the third period. They then proceeded to score five in a row, including a hat trick by Pastrnak, who now has 27 goals on the season. The Bruins simply won’t die when they’re down.
J.T. Miller, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning got shelled by the Ottawa Senators, of all teams. Still, Miller, who was traded at the deadline to the playoff-bound lightning notched Tampa’s first three goals in the loss.
Mike Smith, Calgary Flames: He didn’t have much run support, but you only need one when you turn aside each and every shot you face. Smith did just that, stopping 28 shots and Johnny Gaudreau provided the game’s only goal to put the Flames within a point of third place in the Pacific Division in a 1-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers.
Adin Hill, Arizona Coyotes: He allowed three goals on the night — with two in the third period to allow the Kings to erase a 3-1 deficit. But Hill also stopped Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar in the shootout and he did all of this to record his first NHL win. Kudos to the kid.