Drouin Proving Doubters Wrong

It’s June 15, 2017. All is rather quiet in the hockey world as teams are preparing for the upcoming NHL Draft being held at the United Center in Chicago. Suddenly, a bomb blows up in Montreal, when the Montreal Canadiens announce that they have acquired disgruntled left winger Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lighting, sending 18 year-old defenseman prospect Mikhail Sergachev the other way. The 22-year-old from Ste-Agathe, Quebec was coming home… but as it is a regular occurance in Montreal, not everyone was happy.

The Canadiens immediately turned around and signed Drouin to a five year contract extension worth $33 million. Habs General Manager Marc Bergevin was obviously thrilled about being able to land a young, top-notch local talent.

“When you have the chance to get your hands on a player of Jonathan’s talent at a young age, it’s very important. This opportunity probably hasn’t been available to me in five years. Plus, he’s a kid from here, so for me it was a decision I had to make. Giving up Sergachev was not easy, but acquiring Jonathan was a chance we couldn’t pass up.”

Since the trade, Sergachev has managed 78 points in 159 games with the Lightning, most of which on the power play while playing on the third pairing. Drouin has since played 163 games in the Canadiens’ uniform, racking up 105 points (33 goals) including a career best 53 points last season. But he went dry in the last third of the season with only seven points in his last 26 games, including a four points game against the Detroit Red Wings on February 26th. So when he had a slow start during preseason games a few weeks, many were calling for him to be traded and it didn’t take long to hear trade rumours involving Drouin. This prompted Habs’ head coach Claude Julien to come to the defense of his young veteran on September 27th:

“Give him a break! There are 25 players on this team. For one reason or another, he’s the centre of attention. He’s like other players. He’s trying to find his touch. It’s the same reality in every team. The most important is that our guys be ready for the season opener.”

Making an impact

And that’s exactly what Drouin has done since the very first game of the season. He has been the Canadiens’ most consistent forward in the team’s first five games, accumulating six points and being an offensive threat every game. His work ethics is irreprochable and his confidence has returned. Playing mostly with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia, this line has been very productive, Armia having the best start of his career with a team leading three goals (tied with Max Domi).

After the game against the defending Stanley Cup champions St. Louis Blues, a game won by the Canadiens 6-3, an emotional Drouin received an amazing support from the fans gathered at the Bell Centre during his post-game interview. Remember when Carey Price received the same support and was close to tears? These guys are human beings and they care, folks!

Say what you will, this trade was and will be good for both teams and Drouin is working hard on his game. We see him often being the first man back in his zone and he’s still young. You can’t teach talent but you can teach positioning, playing without the puck and that’s what Drouin and the coaching staff are doing. It will eventually pays off… if we’re patient enough to wait a bit to reap the benefits. It seems like it’s starting this year. Go Habs Go!

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Coaching Decisions Costing the Habs

The General Manager gathers the players. The players play and the coaches make the coaching decisions. In order for a team to win games, the GM must get the right players who in turn, must provide their best effort. But if the coach makes the wrong decisions behind the bench, all of this is moot. Often times, coaches get too much credit but sometimes, they don’t get enough blame.

The Canadiens were up to a good start on the road as we’ve touched on recently. But that’s until team head coach Claude Julien made a couple of decisions which might just have cost his team a few points.

The first decision was, in my opinion, to save the best goalie in the world for the home opener when the team faced a more ferocious opponent the night before on the road. It’s no secret that Julien will use both his goaltenders when his team is playing back to back nights. But the choice of playing backup Keith Kinkaid in Buffalo against stronger Sabres just to keep Carey Price for the home opener is a decision that I personally don’t support.

A home opener is only special because there’s a players’ introduction prior to game time. It’s a marketing tool. The game itself is just like any other game. It’s worth two points and those two points are just as important as two points late in the season. It can be the difference between extending the season in April or grabbing the golf clubs… again.

Claude Julien

You have the best goalie in the world. You have got to play him against the tougher opponents and that, regardless of a home opener or not. The goal of any NHL team is to win games and there’s no denying that Price gives the Habs the best chance at winning games. So you play him against the tougher opponents. Period. Is Kinkaid an improvement over Antti Niemi? André “Red Light” Racicot would be an improvement over Niemi the way he played last year. But he’s no Carey Price… far, far from there.

You see, on the second night of a back to back, the team is tired. Your best chance of winning is in the first game. So you go with your best goalie, particularly against a stronger team. On the second night, you hope for the best. People were saying that “they would be mad if they had tickets for the home opener and Price wasn’t in net”. To that I reply: does that mean that Price must be playing every single home game? After all, people buy their tickets for those games too, no? That was a marketing decision going against a hockey decision. They picked the marketing which could have very well cost the team in terms of hockey.

Second mistake

Julien’s second mind boggling decision was not so much to scratch the defensive pairing of Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury in Buffalo and replace them with Mike Reilly and Christian Folin, but to stick with them in Montreal the next day. Three reasons to go back to the Kulak-Fleury pairing:

  • For one, Kulak is the best defenseman today of those four.
  • Two, Julien has the last change in Montreal so he can better control the match-ups for young Fleury.
  • Last but not least, they are fresh, not having played the night before. You have spares Claude, use them!

I know that some folks will think that this is blaming Kinkaid and/or the Reilly-Folin pairing. It’s not the case. Price and fresh players give you a better chance to win. That’s all. The end result of those two questionable decisions is that the Canadiens came out with a single point off a possibility of four, against division rivals, teams who they will be battling with to make the playoffs. That’s not on the GM, nor is it on the players. Those results are solely on the coach. Here’s hoping that Julien minimizes those mistakes so it doesn’t cost his team a playoffs’ berth. Go Habs Go!