Top Cheese: January 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as they are preparing for what could very well be a busy off-season. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

The Canadiens just finished a seven-game road trip without many key contributors. Few would have predicted that they would gather 10 out of a possible 14 points during that time span, myself included. The thing is this team is relentless and when someone goes down, somebody else steps up his game. Some people make fun of GM Marc Bergevin when he repeatedly states that he wants character, but that’s exactly what the players in this room have.

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One of the players who has stepped it up is none other than team captain, Max Pacioretty. Many fans and media personalities wanted to see him traded back in November, not knowing that the one nicknamed by the fans the “Wolverine” for his ability to come back from injuries, was playing with a broken foot. Since the beginning of December, Pacioretty has scored 14 goals in 17 games, including several game winners. He’s healthy now and who, maybe aside from Wayne Simmonds in Philadelphia, will bring a better return for the buck than Pacioretty at a cap hit of $4.5 million? Patches is tied for sixth in the NHL in goals scored, one more than Alex Ovechkin, and he is on pace for a 39 goals season.

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Young veteran Phillip Danault is another one who has stepped up his game big time since Alex Galchenyuk has fallen to injuries. The Victoriaville native has 10 points in his last 14 games including five points in his last five games filling in on a scoring line. To think that Bergevin traded pending UFAs Dale Weise and Thomas Fleishmann to the Blackhawks for Danault and a second round pick in 2018, and the fact that the former first round pick will only turn 24 next month…

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It’s official, Michael McCarron belongs in the NHL… at least, that’s my opinion, shared by many others watching him play since he’s been called up by the Habs. Not only is he a big body capable of defending himself and his teammates, but his skating has improved, he’s not too shabby on faceoffs and he is an asset that the Canadiens don’t have enough off in their line-up. Don’t be surprised to hear the Habs tell McCarron to find himself an apartment until the end of the season, playoffs included.

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Nikita Scherbak scored a goal in his first NHL game against the Maple Leafs and it was a beauty, on the powerplay. There is no doubt that this kid has talent and as we’ve seen right from draft day, he is a very lovable guy with an infatuating personality. What is also telling is that associate coach Kirk Muller did not hesitate to put him in a position to succeed, on the second wave of the powerplay… and he delivered. However, don’t go crazy Habs’ fans, unless he lights it up the rest of the way, he will be returning to the Ice Caps in the near future to learn some more, particularly his play without the puck and his defensive coverage. But the future is bright for the young man.

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What the recent road trip has revealed is the team’s need for a Top-4 puck moving defenseman to be paired with All-Star Shea Weber. The veteran is not the fastest skater out there and he is at his best when paired up with a good skating defenseman, as he’s done in Nashville with Ryan Suter and Roman Josi. It’s no coincidence that Alexei Emelin his playing his best hockey since joining the Canadiens as he’s paired with Weber, but he’s not fast enough to do the job and Nathan Beaulieu did not seize the opportunity presented to him.

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What’s with Carey Price? Yes, he has made some good saves but let’s face it: the team this season doesn’t rely solely on him to steal games and yes, they need that elusive Top-4 defenseman they’ve been chasing for a while, but Price has been allowing a lot of goals lately and his performances are below what we’ve been used to expect from him over the last few years. Is fatigue taking its toll considering he didn’t play all of last year? Perhaps the Habs’ brass better look into it before the playoffs arrive if that’s the case.

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No one would like to see Tomas Plekanec get out of whatever he finds himself into more than the Habs’ brass, but it doesn’t look like it will happen. During a segment on Hockey Night in Canada at the intermission of the game between the Habs and the Leafs, Nick Kepreos stated that Plekanec might be available by trade deadline. The real question that Kypreos didn’t address is this: which team will want to take his $6 million contract for next year considering his lack of offensive production?

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I’ve been tweeting about it and my blood boils over every time I see it… why does the NHL insist on their referees calling penalties for players slashing their opponents’ stick? Because they can break? Heck, sticks break more often when taking shots or even attempting to make a pass. The issue is not the slash, it’s the sticks themselves! Several changes made by the league have been for the best, but penalties for slashing the stick out of players’ hands is definitely not one of them. I remember when I played, coaches in practice would come from behind us, slash our sticks and if we dropped them, they’d say: “Hang on to your stick!” I did the same when I coached minor hockey later in life. Stick checking in that fashion is NOT an infraction in my opinion.

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The Canadiens and the entire NHL are realising by now that Alexander Radulov was a gamble worth taking when he was signed to a one-year, $5.75 million contract this summer by Marc Bergevin. The window of opportunity to re-sign players on a one-year deal opened on January first and some fans are concerned with the fact that a week later, he has yet to sign an extension. Don’t worry so much. Radulov declined two-year deals elsewhere and took a one-year deal in Montreal because he wanted to play there. He loves Montreal and the Canadiens like what they see. It’s only a matter of time before the two sides agree to an extension which will see him in a Habs’ uniform for a few years. Some are concerned about the dollars… to those I say: he will receive what he’s worth. You pay for what you get. Focus on cheering on your team and let Bergevin handle the cap situation.

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More and more people, particularly in the media, are starting to give credit to Michel Therrien for the work he is doing with his team. When Marc Bergevin said last year that he let down his coach and his team, that he was taking the blame and that he had full confidence in him, he wasn’t just saying that. He believed it. Therrien won his 400th career game against Toronto and he’s only the 35th in NHL history to reach this plateau. No matter what his pundits want to believe, you have to do something right to reach that level. Yes, the hiring of Kirk Muller as an associate-coach has something to do with the team’s success, but don’t forget that Therrien asked Marc Bergevin to hire him.

“I talked to him (Thursday) morning and I called Bergy and I told him we had to seal the deal,” said Therrien. “We knew there would be other teams after him.”

For the sake of everyone, let’s just hope that the few “fans” waiting in the weeds for Therrien to screw up either join the fan base and the media by focusing on cheering on the team, or find another team to bring their negative energy to.

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