Habs Defense And The Whole Nine Yards

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The old Detroit Red Wings under Mike Babcock were always a solid team and their biggest quality, in spite of having guys like Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg leading the way, they were always known for their solid defense, making an average goaltender like Chris Osgood look like a top one. Of course, you had a Nicklas Lidstrom leading the way but if you ever noticed at the trade deadline, they always added another defenseman or two. And this is the era when Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin played his NHL career and learned his craft in the Chicago Blackhawks’ organization. 

While it has proven true that defense will win you championships more often than not, the strength is in quality, not in quantity. And that’s where the Canadiens just aren’t quite there. In Shea Weber, they have one of the best all round defenseman in the entire NHL. Not only is he a threat at the point on the powerplay, but he will intimidate you physically as one of the toughest players to go against, as attested by anyone in the league. To round it up, he is one of the best shutdown defensemen out there and by playing over 26 minutes per game (6th most in the NHL), opponents have to work for their goals.

The problem in Montreal is that Bergevin was never able to find Weber a suitable partner and while 19 year-old Victor Mete did well at the start of the season, the game might be catching up to him a bit, and his ice time has reflected that. Further, it’s not guys like Jordie Benn, Karl Alzner, Brendan Davidson or Joe Morrow who can step in there and eat the minutes needed to be paired with Weber.

 

Log jam

The strength of a good hockey team does rely on depth at the blueline but in the Canadiens’ case, while they certainly have the quantity, it’s the quality that’s lacking. Here’s what the Habs’ defense looks like, injured players included:

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Jeff Petry is Jeff Petry, with his ups and downs and the odd brain cramp. Alzner and Benn had a slow start but both have been playing better for a few games now. Davidson and Morrow have filled the gaps when needed but they are depth players. It does look like the internal solution rests on two unknowns…

Due to Weber’s injury, the Canadiens have called up former KHL star Jakub Jerabek, who was having a good season with the Laval Rockets of the AHL, while adapting to the North American smaller ice surfaces and style of play. In his first NHL game against Nashville, Jerabek did quite well for himself as coach Claude Julien gave him over 18 minutes of ice time. Is he a solution? Possibly, but time with tell.

Then you have David Schlemko who has yet to suit up for his first game as a Habs due to injury. He has been skating and he even made the recent road trip with the team, but hasn’t been cleared to return. But even when he does, he has lost the first quarter of the season and will be jumping in without a training camp so while the negative Nancy’s in the fanbase will be quick to be on his (or Bergevin’s) case, he will need some time to get in top game shape.

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Victor Mete will likely be loaned to Team Canada Junior

As for Victor Mete, you can expect the Canadiens to make him available to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships over the Christmas Holidays. This will be great for his development as he will be playing key minutes in a very high-tempo and high quality tournament, with other kids his age. While he doesn’t seem phased by it (yet), this tournament should do wonders for his confidence as well.

But as it stands today, including Weber and Schlemko (injured), the Canadiens have nine defensemen on their roster. When they come back, expect for at least one player movement at the blueline. Jerabek is waiver free, which means that the team can send him down without the risk of losing him through waivers. Everyone else (but Mete) has to clear. Sure, losing one of them wouldn’t be a huge blow but it would affect the team’s depth at that position in the even of injuries. Unless Bergevin manages to pull a rabbit out of his hat, something we are told by reputable NHL insiders, he has been working hard at. Go Habs Go!

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Camp Week One: Surprises and Cuts

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The Montreal Canadiens’ training camp is only a week old and fans and media were already given plenty of opportunities to see the organization’s prospects and veterans in action. While the results in terms of wins in pre-season games hasn’t been impressive thus far, there have been plenty of very interesting stories to follow and, for some, stories to add to their “worry pile”. But it’s just training camp, and very early, right? Right?…

Simply put, some players have left head coach Claude Julien‘s job simple and he has had some rather easy decisions to make so far, and my good cyber-buddy from All Habs, Blain Potvin, summed it up nicely:

It didn’t take long for Julien to make some cuts as Antoine Waked, Simon Bourque, Tom Parisi, Niki Petti, Yannick Veilleux, Stefan Leblanc and Thomas Ebbing were cut from camp and will report to the Laval Rockets‘ training camp. Not a fan batted an eye as no surprises are found on that list of players, none of them figuring on anyone’s list as favourites to cause an upset.

So who is left? The Canadiens posted this list on their twitter account:

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Aside from the injured list, something the organization doesn’t control, there are some guys on that list that are either intriguing or just plain surprises. On defense, the fact that Matt Taormina, Brett Lernout and Eric Gelinas are still there is a good sign. At forward, Peter Holland, Markus Eisenschmid, Jeremy Gregoire, David Broll and Daniel Audette are all pleasant surprises. Does any of them stand a chance to start the season in Montreal? You bet they do! Remember a few years ago when a young Brendan Gallagher forced the hand of GM Marc Bergevin?

There are however two players making the most of their opportunity: 19 year-old defenseman Victor Mete, who has been paired up with none other than All-Star defenseman Shea Weber, and Charles Hudon, playing on a line with Tomas Plekanec. After a week of action, those two are the ones who seem to have the best chance at starting the season in Montreal and while Hudon could stick, Mete would have to be dominant for him to stay more than the 9 games stint ruled by the NHL in order not to lose a year of contract.

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Charles Hudon is making a strong case to start the season in Montreal

There are also some who have lost some ground to others, guys from whom everyone was expecting a bit more from. We know the story of Martin Reway, who has missed an entire season to illness. He will need time to find his bearings and it’s likely to happen in the AHL. Joe Morrow has been hot and cold so far, and so has veteran Mark Streit, although it’s not unusual to see veterans having a slower start to training camps. Perhaps the two most disappointing players have been big Michael McCarron and young veteran Alex Galchenyuk. While the young American-Russian’s spot in the line-up is guaranteed, baring a trade, the same can’t be said about McCarron, who has everything to lose. Expect Streit, Galchenyuk and McCarron to step it up in week two.

Of note: One guy who has looked rather good so far is Jakub Jerabek. We knew, through the scouting report, that he was a good skater, good puck mover with offensive upside. He seems to have adapted rather quickly to the small ice and it’s on the defensive side of the puck that he has surprised the most. Perhaps former Canadiens Jaroslav Spacek did see something in that guy that management saw as well prior to signing him. If he keeps it up, he could very well battle for the empty spot to the left of Weber, who knows?

Understanding training camp

The first week of training camp has exposed some rather strange behaviour amongst the fan base and some media personalities. Perhaps driven by their concerns over “losing” veteran Russians Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov, the incapability of some to discerning training camp from regular season, or at least early camp to later when most veterans are dressed for games, it a big concerning. Pile that to the building mount of skewed behaviours by some or our media personalities and disgruntled fans finding nothing positive to talk about, I guess. Life must be incredibly dark, morose and depressing when everything about what you are supposed to love is seen in such manner that it overtakes any positivity you might have. To each their own I guess.

Regardless, entering the final week of training camp is when you separate the men from the boys and this is when it’s really time to step up for those searching for a NHL job. This promises to be a more interesting week, it will be a stepping stone for the coaching staff and management in establishing the base for the upcoming season. Claude Julien does have his work cut out and so does Marc Bergevin, who has $8.4 million in the bank. But something tells me that hard work doesn’t faze the top-two front men of this prestigious organization. Go Habs Go!!!

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