Habs Closer to Glory Than to Mediocrity

The NHL hockey season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You can try to analyse and break down the season in segments, as coaches often do, but no segment is a true testament of what the season’s results will be. Injuries, a gruelling schedule, travel, mental and physical fatigue, all play a role in determining which teams will be in or out of the playoffs’ race comes April. And that’s the reason why fans and media should never get too high in the face of early success, or too low when their team is going through a rough stretch. But tell Habs’ fans that… good luck!

Many see this five-game losing streak as losing five games in a row. They’re not wrong, but they’re also not being totally honest. Of those losses, two of them were in overtime so in reality, those are ties (with the extra point going to the OT winners). This means that they’ve lost two in a row. Granted, it’s not ideal but let’s not paint this situation as dramatically as some make it out to be. In addition, with the exception of the 5-2 loss to New Jersey, every other game was a one-goal game.

Stéphane Waite has worked hard with Carey Price to get his game back.

When you look at the last game against the Hurricanes, the Canadiens dominated that game. Carolina’s goaltender Curtis McElhinney stopped 48 of the 49 shots he faced, many of them of great quality, and Hurricanes’ skaters blocked an additional 26 shots! The Habs hit a few goal posts and missed at least three open nets, while Trevor Van Riemsdyk robbed Jonathan Drouin of a sure goal with a quick stick on the goal line. 

The return of a healthy Shea Weber has proven, at least for the first game, very helpful for a struggling defensive core as the Canadiens only allowed 22 shots and only had to block 15 in that game. A deflected puck in front of Carey Price and a fluke goal off Victor Mete‘s skate were the difference. If you’ve played hockey or if you’ve been around the game for any length of time, you will know that sometimes, you win games that you didn’t deserve to win and you lose some that you deserved to win. The Hurricanes know that they got away with one they shouldn’t have won. It usually balances out in the course of a long season.

Quality youth and depth

Marc Bergevin doesn’t get half the credit that he deserves for what he’s done this past summer, and even for a few moves that he’s made in the past couple of seasons. For one, Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev is looking better as time goes on. In his first season, the Ste-Agathe native was learning the centre position at the NHL level but still, he came along nicely as the season went along. As a matter of fact, in his last 39 games including last season, Drouin has 33 points, which is a pace for a 70 points season… and he’s only 23 years old! After a hot start (mostly on the powerplay) on a much stronger team last year, Sergachev only has eight (8) assists in 26 games this season. I still believe today as I believed then, that this is a good trade for both teams, but it certainly is not tipped on the Lightning’s side as some claimed last year!

Max Domi has embraced the Montreal market.

Do we need to go back on the Max Domi and Alex Galchenyuk trade? As predicted, Domi has quickly become a fan favourite in Montreal and his offensive output has surpassed what anyone in their right mind would have predicted. And he’s doing this while filling the Canadiens’ top-line centre position. Oh and he too is only 23!

Anyone wants to rehash the Max Pacioretty trade for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second round pick? While Pacioretty has picked up his goals’ scoring with the Golden Knights after signing a four-year, $28 million extension ($7 millions cap hit), Tatar has as many goals (10) and four more points than him, while the Canadiens are playing him $4.8 million and Vegas picking up $500,000 a year for the remainder of his contract. And then, you add Nick Suzuki and the second round pick…

Without going into the other picks at last June’s draft, which are looking pretty darn good by the way, is anyone in their right mind still questioning Trevor Timmins’ decision to suggest Jesperi Kotkaniemi as a good selection for the Canadiens? While 12 points in 25 games is nothing to write a book about, he is developing nicely and has definitely shown that he belongs at this level. He’s 18 and won’t turn 19 until next July! 

The prospect pool has, aside from Suzuki, blue chips like Ryan Poehling, Jacob Olofsson, Cam Hillis, Lukas Vejdemo and Joni Ikonen at centre, with Jesse Ylonen on the wing, Alexander Romanov, Cale Fleury and Josh Brook on defense, and Cayden Primeau in goal. 

Partner for Weber

Shea Weber’s return has brought to light the fact that the Canadiens are still looking for a suitable partner for their captain, someone able to eat top minutes against the opponents’ top line. David Schlemko certainly isn’t it and they will experiment with Brett Kulak and Mike Reilly but in both cases, it’s a long shot. 

This year’s edition of the Habs has a lot more offensive capability, a lot more depth at forward with four lines capable of contributing offensively and that, even if they’re lacking star power up front. The Canadiens really could use a quality puck-moving left-handed defenseman and if Marc Bergevin can find that, this team is a lot closer to glory than it is to sliding back to what we saw of them last season. Go Habs Go! 

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Home Away From Home

For some teams, it’s hard to draw fans to the rink on a regular basis. For many of them, the visitors are important financially when they come to their building. Keeping a balance to make it look like it’s a home game is sometimes… challenging at best. It’s the case when the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens are visitors and it is particularly obvious when those teams visit Western Canada for their annual trip. For one, Jesperi Kotkaniemi is experiencing the power of the Habs’ fan base outside of Montreal for the very first time and judging from his permanent smile, he doesn’t seem to mind at all.

And it is not only in Western Canada. Ottawa and Toronto fans don’t like when their home rinks feel like Habsland. It even spreads to the States where you don’t need to look very far back to notice this amazing phenomenon. It’s not too long ago that in Tampa Bay, the Lightning were restricting the purchase of tickets to the Tampa area via postal codes (or zip codes in the US) to avoid Habs’ fans buying tickets to games between the two teams.

Or do you remember this campaign from the New York Islanders posted on their official website, fed up with the fact that Habs’ fans would louder than their own?

Yes, sometimes teams have to decide between making fists-full of money and the experience for their own fans, for their own players to feel… at home when the Canadiens are visitors. Really, think about it. Is there something more annoying, when you pay big bucks to go to a game, than visitors’ fans cheering their team on right beside you? Well imagine when you have thousands of them in your own rink!

For the very first time, I will get to experience this when I take on the game between the Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena today. I am told that 60-70% of the crowd is wearing red. With BC Boys Carey Price, Shea Weber, Karl Alzner, Jordie Benn, Noah Juulsen, and with players with BC ties like Brendan Gallagher and Mike Reilly having tickets for friends and family, that alone will be red. I know that I will, with my Canadiens vintage red jersey… and I also know that given the chance, I will be chanting the OlĂ©, OlĂ©-OlĂ©-OlĂ© and the Go Habs Go! And guess what? I will make no apology about it.