Tomas Tatar

It’s Montreal Canadiens Day at PHT

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. 

2018-19
44-30-8, 96 points (4th in Atlantic Division, 9th in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Ben Chiarot
Nick Cousins
Keith Kinkaid

OUT:
Jordie Benn
Andrew Shaw
Nicolas Deslauriers
Antti Niemi

RE-SIGNED:
Christian Folin
Artturi Lehkonen
Joel Armia
Charles Hudon
Jordan Weal
Mike Reilly
Brett Kulak
Nate Thompson

2018-19 Summary

Close but no cigar. Despite putting up 96 points in 2018-19, the Montreal Canadiens failed to make the playoffs. It was close, but they were eventually eliminated on the final Friday of the regular season when the Columbus Blue Jackets clinched the last Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Even though they didn’t make the playoffs, last season wasn’t a total failure for an organization that appeared to be in shambles the previous year. Habs general manager Marc Bergevin moved captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round draft pick and he also shipped Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi. Both trades couldn’t have worked out any better for Montreal. Tatar gave the Canadiens a 25-goal and 58-point season, Suzuki had a great year in junior and could make the club this year and Domi ended up leaving the team in scoring, while Galchenyuk has already been traded again.

The difference between last season and this season, is that the public’s expectations were in the toilet coming into 2018-19. Those expectations will be much, much higher this year. Missing the playoffs by a hair won’t be good enough.

“I knew we’d have a better team this season [with the changes that were made], but what I really like is the character. We’ve come from behind in a lot games. That didn’t happen last year. I’m proud of that,” Bergevin said last January, per the team’s website. “Hats off to the players and the coaches. We started at zero and I think we’re heading in the right direction.

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

The Canadiens got off to a good start last year, which was surprising considering the fact that Shea Weber missed the first two months of the season. Carey Price, who needs to be on top of his game for this team to have a chance to play meaningful games in the spring, had a rough month of November, but he was terrific when they needed him down the stretch. Those two veterans will obviously be key for the Habs. If they can stay healthy, Montreal will have a chance.

Brenden Gallagher ended up being their only 30-goal scorer last year (he had 33), but they got depth scoring from all over the lineup. Domi and Tatar were the only two Habs to surpass the 20-goal mark, but nine other players hit double figures in goals.

The downside to all that, is that a few of those players had great years by their standards and they still missed the playoffs. Can they do it all over again and then some?

One of the players who surprisingly stuck with the team all year, was 2018 third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He finished with 11 goals and 34 points in 79 games as an 18-year-old in the NHL. He has all the potential in the world and he may become that true number one center the organization has been looking for for years. If he can take a big step forward in his second year, the Habs will be much better for it.

In the end, Bergevin and his staff  got the benefit of the doubt because they seemingly turned this ship around in one year. That won’t be the case if they fail to make it back to the postseason this time around.

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

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

Sharks drop Golden Knights 2-1 in overtime

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If the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s fixing to be one hell of a series,

Thursday’s meeting cemented that. The game had all the ingredients that make up that playoff feel — tight play, tight checking, great goaltending and low scoring. There was urgency from both teams, despite both being near locks to make the postseason.

And it came right down to the last shot of the game.

Logan Couture scored 39 seconds (ironically, Couture’s jersey number) into overtime to clinch a 2-1 win for the Sharks on Thursday night.

The Sharks gained a single point on the Golden Knights and are seven points back of Vegas for first in the Pacific Division with eight games remaining. Perhaps most important, they remained four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings, who leapfrogged the Anaheim Ducks with a 7-1 win against Colorado. San Jose owns a game in hand on L.A.

Catching up to Vegas seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened. The two teams play each other for the last time next week.

The loss was bittersweet for the Golden Knights, who set record No. 2321778 for a club in their inaugural season.

Malcolm Subban made 42 saves, a career-high after being thrust into action following an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury.

Tomas Tartar got the ball rolling in the game 3:47 into the first period to give the Golden Knights an early lead.

That lead lasted for roughly a period.

Brent Burns tied the game 1-1 at 3:27 of the second period with the slickest of wrist shots from the point.


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

The Buzzer: Rookies get all the goals

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Players of the Night:

Travis Dermott and Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs: Both Dermott and Holl scored their first NHL goals on Wednesday, Dermott in his ninth NHL game and Holl in his first. Dermott assisted on Holl’s goal, because of course he did.

Chandler Stephenson, Washington Capitals: Stephenson scored his third and fourth career NHL goals to help drag the Capitals back from an early first-period 2-0 deficit. His goals began a run of five straight for the Caps, who beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Jones sure could have used some run support on Wednesday. He made 43 of 44 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Someone owes the man a dinner.

Highlights of the Night:

Nice pass from Wayne Simmonds. Nice finish from Nolan Patrick.

Geez, Louise, Tomas Tatar.

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 5, Islanders 0

Capitals 5, Flyers 3

Red Wings 2, Sharks 1 (SO)


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

Marchand, Pastrnak come through in Bruins’ 3-2 overtime win against Red Wings

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The Boston Bruins mounted two successful comebacks in the third period on their way to a 3-2 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.

The Bruins, who have been surging as of late, won for the 10th time in their past 12.

The Red Wings, in quite the opposite scenario, lost their third straight and for the 11th time in their past 12 contests.

By all accounts, the Red Wings deserved a better fate, at least until the third period.

They limited the high-flying Bruins to just two shots in the first period and clawed out a 1-0 lead midway through the second frame, with Tomas Tatar‘s wrist shot finding twine after a perfect screen from Justin Abdelkader.

Boston found the equalizer they needed early in the third frame, and from an unlikely source.

Noel Acciari tied the game 1-1 with his second of the season after getting a couple whacks at a loose puck in front of Jimmy Howard, capping off a solid shift from the Bruins fourth line at 3:02.

Detroit took the lead for a second time, this time short-handed after David Pastrnak got caught pinching, allowing Dylan Larkin to get behind the Bruins rearguard, scoring a beauty on a breakaway to make it 2-1.

Scoring for Boston had been a strength coming into the game.

David Pastrnak, Boston’s top point-getter, came into the game sporting an eight-game point streak. Brad Marchand, sitting just behind Pastrnak in terms of points, have a five-game heater of his own going.

The dynamic duo wouldn’t be denied; the streaks would continue.

Marchand picked out Pastrnak with a perfect back-door feed to tie the game 2-2 with 1:26 remaining in regulation, forcing overtime.

Marchand, now running with good karma, took a backhand pass from Torey Krug and turned it into a partial breakaway, fending off Mike Green, and putting his backhand in the top shelf behind Howard.

Tuukka Rask extended his win streak to five games. Rask, who struggled out the gate to start the season, stopped 31 shots and continues to look like the goalie of years past.


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