Left Defense and Bottom-Six

There are slides and there are… SLIDES. The Montreal Canadiens were doing very well but then, disaster strikes as they lose two key players to serious, long term injuries, both requiring surgeries. Jonathan Drouin a wrist, Paul Byron to a knee. Since then, the Canadiens have yet to win a game in six tries, having a record of 0-4-2, and have literally slid out of a playoffs’ spot. As it stands right now, both Carolina and Philadelphia are ahead of them for the last Wild Card spot, while Tampa Bay (3 games in hand) and the New York Rangers (2 games in hand) are a single point behind Claude Julien’s troop.

While many fans and members of the media are pointing the finger at the team’s defensive core, they are not looking at the entire picture. There is no doubt that the defensemen have to clean up their act by making better decisions with and without the puck, and work on how to defend when outnumbered on the rush. It is clear that Claude Julien‘s system encourages defensemen to pinch in deep along the board in the offensive zone to keep pucks in. But anyone who has coached and played will tell you that the system will also dictate that when a defenseman does this, the high forward, whether it’d be a winger or the centre, has to take his spot in backcheck. That’s not happening, creating a multitude of odd-man rushes. You see, it’s on the forwards too.


While one would be hardpressed to put it all on goaltending, it would be just as wrong to take all the blame off the team’s goalkeepers. Here are their stats for the month of November:

Carey Price11452332293.8833.77
Keith Kinkaid20015649.8754.20

One of Keith Kinkaid‘s two appearances was in relief of Carey Price in the blowout game against Boston. This means that he only had one start this month. For starter, that is way too many games for Price. But he is getting paid as the best goaltender in hockey. The issue is that he’s far from performing like it. Since November 16th, during the current skid, his numbers are as followed:

Carey Price5041129106.8225.34

No team in the NHL will win games with a goaltender with such stats. Price needs to make the key saves. He’s paid to do that.

Left Defense

Rumours around the Habs all seem to be around Taylor Hall. Unless Hall can play defense, that is NOT the Canadiens’ biggest need. While Ben Chiarot has been a pleasant pick-up, he is not a top pairing defenseman and that’s what the Canadiens need. There are plenty of teams around the NHL in the same boat as Marc Bergevin‘s team, needing to tweak their lineup before the season is lost. For that reason, the “trading in a position of weakness” theory simply doesn’t apply.

While overall, Bergevin has done a great job, his downfall has been his inability or unwillingness to address his teams’ needs in-season or on the fly. It seems like he “doesn’t want to pay the asking price”, or so he says himself.

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch lately.

Listen up Marc… When I go to the mechanic, I swear every time because it’s costing me too much money for my liking. But guess what? My truck is on the road and it works! I could choose not pay the asking price and walk instead. Bergevin needs to pay the asking price to get what the Habs need and that, even if he thinks that the price is too high. When you have a prospect pool as full as the Habs’ have, and you hold 12 picks at the upcoming Entry Draft, you have the means to pay up a bit. He’ll be walking a long time if he doesn’t.

I’ve compiled a list of potential candidates that might help the Canadiens, guys that would solidify the left side of the defense. Some are more interesting than others for sure, but it’s an idea, food for thoughts. I don’t know the young upcoming defensemen of other teams so there are obviously many more candidates.

  • Cam Fowler (ANA)
  • Alex Goligoski (ARI)
  • Marco Scandella (BUF)
  • TJ Brodie (CAL)
  • Erik Gustafsson (CHI)
  • Ryan Murray (CBJ)
  • Jonas Brodin (MIN)
  • Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI)
  • Vince Dunn (STL)


The other thing that’s lacking is on the bottom-six of the lineup: grit. Enough already with the cookie-cutter players like Charles Hudon, Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins! No team fears those guys. The Habs need some sand paper. They miss Andrew Shaw and what he brought. They need more of that. The best 4th line in the NHL, in my humble opinion, is with the Islanders: Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. A true energy line. One that makes opponent keep their heads up and get rid of the puck much sooner than they want. One that will “tenderize” opponent in the course of a game and ultimately, a playoffs’ series.

Kyle Clifford would be an excellent addition.

Again, I’ve compiled a list of such players whom I’d rather have on the Habs’ bottom-six:

  • Nick Ritchie (ANA)
  • Lawson Crouse (ARI)
  • Christian Fisher (ARI)
  • Sam Bennett (CGY)
  • Adam Erne (DET)
  • Jujhar Khaira (EDM)
  • Kyle Clifford (LAK)
  • Marcus Foligno (MIN)
  • Sammy Blais (STL)
  • Jake Virtanen (VAN)
  • William Carrier (VEG)
  • Adam Lowry (WIN)

Those guys aren’t goons. They’re NOT like Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen or Nicolas Deslauriers. They can all skate and play hockey, granted not big minutes. Most can be inserted, from time to time, on a higher line to keep opponents honest. In the event of games like the Habs have been having, emotionless, these guys would provide the necessary energy to perhaps wake the team up. But that’s me. That’s the type of hockey that I like. If only Bergevin and the Canadiens saw it the way I do… Go Habs Go!

Top Cheese: November 2019 Edition

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the team is in the midst of a five game losing streak and barely hanging onto a playoffs’ spot in the Eastern Conference. They have scouts across the league, including the GM, and the pressure is mounting to stop the slide before it’s too late. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Just when fans didn’t think that it could get worse than surrendering a 4-0 lead to the New York Rangers only to lose that game 6-5, the Canadiens put up a stinker the following game, getting varlopped 8-1 by their arch rivals, the Boston Bruins, a team they had beaten already earlier this month. It didn’t take more to see the anti-Bergevin crowd come out of their mole hole to call for his head but that’s to be expected. They’ll go in hiding when the team does well and will call for his firing as soon as something happens. That’s a behaviour that will never change coming from that group of people. However, while we can dismiss the anti-Bergevin loud minority, many fans are calling from everyone’s head, from Marc Bergevin to Claude Julien, to Kirk Muller and Luke Richardson. That’s not counting the multiple players that should be traded, in their opinion. But hey, what do you expect? It wouldn’t be Montreal without the drama, right?


If we turn back to clock to November 16th, the Canadiens had just dominated one of the NHL’s top teams, one of the hottest teams in the league in the Washington Capitals. The Habs were comfortably sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the Bruins. But news came out that two quality players, Jonathan Drouin (wrist) and Paul Byron (knee), would require surgery and would miss a couple of months of action. Then, the wheels fell off the wagon in Montreal. Without those two in the lineup, the team has lost five in a row (0-3-2) and is barely hanging onto the final Wild Card spot, with teams right behind them looking at taking over as early as tonight. Worse than the losing is the way they’re losing.


While Byron (19GP: 1G-3A-4Pts) wasn’t having the greatest start of this season, the same cannot be said about Drouin (19GP: 7G-8A-15Pts), who was amongst the team leaders in scoring and was finally showing signs of hustle game in, game out and that, at both ends of the ice. While many understood the importance of those two players, no one would have predicted such a drop in the team’s play and ultimately, confidence, resulting in those five consecutive losses.


During that stretch, the Canadiens’ goaltending performances have been sub-par, like many other aspects of the team’s game. Since November 16th, neither Carey Price or Keith Kinkaid have been able to win a game on their own, steal a game in order to help get out of this embarrassing slump. It doesn’t matter on which team in the NHL, you are not going to win games with stats like this:

Carey Price4403118.8115.42199:25
Keith Kinkaid210017.8754.20100:07

One would have to be out of their mind to think that this team doesn’t needs help. As we have touched on recently on this blog, Bergevin has a very good track record as the Habs’ GM but his biggest downfall is his inability or unwillingness to address needs in-season, on the fly, when the situation occurs, to prevent his team from sliding too far down in the standings. We have regularly heard him say that the goal is to make the playoffs as when you’re in, we never know what can happen. But in order to get there, the team needs their GM to reward his players and coaches by providing them with the necessary help when the going gets tough, like when going through injuries to key players as they are right now. It’s sad to say but eventually, the reverse will also true: don’t do anything and you run the risk of the players folding… as they feel their GM did.


While I personally feel like he has made some very questionable decisions in the last calendar year or so and that he could very well be on a shorter leash, rest assured folks that Claude Julien’s status with the team is secure… for now. The team was doing well prior to the above-mentioned injuries.


Bergevin had a long-term vision when he hired Dominique Ducharme as one of Julien’s assistants and Joël Bouchard as head coach in Laval. He was preparing the franchise by having not one, but two very respected individuals as potential successors to Julien if or when needs be. While that time hasn’t come quite yet, this is a good thing. Ideally, Bergevin would like to buy both of those guys more time to gain experience at the professional level but if push comes to shove, he won’t have to go look outside the organisation to find a quality replacement. My feeling is that the day Julien is removed as head coach, Bergevin will have a spot for him in management within the organisation.


Back in the summer of 2017, team President Geoff Molson made a decision: it is Marc Bergevin who will be the GM to turn the franchise around by going through a youth movement. Ever since, Bergy has acquired quality young players and with the help of Trevor Timmins and Shayne Churla, he has replenished the cupboards with high quality prospects. Molson will not fire Bergevin. This would be punishing him for being ahead of schedule in his re-tooling, re-construction, re-building or whatever you want to call it. Aside from Price and Weber, the core of this group is young and we are starting to see the team’s top prospects starting to contribute. Further, there are more coming folks. Bergevin just needs to keep the team afloat for another season or two and that’s why he must help his people through trade this season. Playoffs’ experience is invaluable for those young guys.


Bergevin has been spending a lot of time scouting the Chicago Blackhawks and their farm team lately. He has also had scouts following the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, amongst others. Some people are wondering why he’s not also scouting the Philadelphia Flyers for Shayne Gostisbehere… that’s because the Ghost has been a healthy scratch for the last few games. Scout him for what? See how many hot dogs he can eat in the pressbox? Scouting is great Marc but now is the time to put your money where your mouth is. If your goal is to make the playoffs, it’s time to help your team. With a prospect pool as full as it is and with 12 picks at the next draft, if you don’t trade now, you never will… in-season that is.


A year ago, the Canadiens went through the exact same slump at the same time of the year. Folks will remember that things got better when Shea Weber came back into the lineup and helped stabilize the team’s play, particularly the play of teammate and friend Carey Price. There is no Weber waiting to come back this season however, and Drouin and Byron are weeks away from returning to the lineup. And that’s why Bergevin MUST move and bring in help if he truly wants them to make the playoffs.


Speaking of Weber, Man Mountain is having a career season. At the time of writing this, the Canadiens’ captain is seventh in the entire NHL in scoring amongst defensemen with 8 goals and 19 points in 24 games, on pace for 27 goals and 65 points. And he’s doing it by facing the opposition’s top lines game in, game out, playing on both the powerplay and on the penalty kill. Weber’s best season was in 2013-14 when he tallied 56 points with the Nashville Predators. Not bad for an aging, over the hill defenseman, right?

The Canadiens are scheduled to play 3 games in 4 nights this week. They are hosting the New Jersey Devils on Thursday (7:30PM ET) and the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday (3:00PM ET) before flying to Boston to face the Bruins on Sunday night (7:00PM ET). No need to say how important those games will be and coming out of it with a minimum of four points is crucial. Will they have the same lineup or will Bergevin inject some new blood in time for those games? That is the question. Go Habs Go!