Injury Bug Taking Its Toll On Habs Season

Yeah, yeah, I know, injuries are just an excuse, bla-bla-bla… In a league where fans are tired of clichés, some are still using them when it suits their needs. For example, the same people who ask for transparency from the Montreal Canadiens’ organisation, claim being tired of being fed clichés but yet, they will use the ‘injury excuse’ cliché to justify their means, to serve their purpose of putting down the team President, the General Manager, the coach. And they don’t realise they’re doing it… or do they?

The fact remains that in a league with so much parity, a few key injuries can take its toll on a team, particularly a team like the Habs, who are in the midst of a reset as most of their key assets are still in the Junior ranks, playing College hockey or are in European leagues still. Thankfully, we are slowly starting to see some of them. Guys like Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Victor Mete and Cale Fleury all have played at the NHL level. Jake Evans is showing some very good things in his current call up and is there anyone questioning Nick Suzuki‘s value? It’s coming folks, but it’s not quite there.

We often hear the example of Sidney Crosby as a comparative when talking about the Canadiens’ injuries but those making the comparison tend to ‘forget’ that the Pens have a guy by the name of Evgeni Malkin who can pick up the slack. Who’s the Habs’ Malkin? Those two teams are at a different stages in their quest for Lord Stanley.

Impactful injuries

The Habs form a young team, one of the youngest in the NHL. With youth comes inconsistency and growing pains. But no matter how you want to twist this, the Canadiens have missed several key players for extended periods of time since mid-November and while it hasn’t changed the team’s effort level, it has affected its overall performances and level of success. Through it, Claude Julien‘s team has gone through two eight games winless streaks.

  • They were three months without Jonathan Drouin, one of the team’s most dynamic players
  • Young Victor Mete missed three weeks
  • Jesperi Kotkaniemi was out a month between a sore groin and a concussion
  • Joel Armia missed three weeks with a wrist injury
  • Brendan Gallagher was out a month after being concussed by a knee to the head
  • The Canadiens are still without Paul Byron, who has been out for over three months already
  • The team’s All-Star defenseman Shea Weber is out and the prognostic doesn’t look good
  • Phillip Danault got a puck to the face and will need dental work, thankfully shouldn’t miss time.

EDIT: Possible devastating news about Weber and the Canadiens…

Many of those players are very important pieces in the Canadiens’ lineup. More so than the names on there, the amount of time they have missed is what hurt the team the most. You can ask other players to step up for a few games but it’s unreasonable to expect them to perform at the same level as those key players. Most of those injuries have all overlapped in one way or another, meaning the team was missing more than one at a time.

Thankfully, team GM Marc Bergevin had the presence of mind to trade for Marco Scandella and offer a contract to Ilya Kovalchuk, both of whom have had an impact on the team. But even they are limited in what they can do over the long run with the missing pieces.

There will come a time when the Laval Rocket will have several young guys pushing for a job and who will be able to step in when called upon, as Evans is doing right now. Those guys are coming starting next year and the young men currently in Laval will have gained another year experience. There are other things which factor into this season’s woes, but to ignore or downplay injuries to justify the team’s struggles this season is far from an excuse: it’s a harsh reality in a league with so much parity as a few key players does make a difference. Go Habs Go!

Home Sweet Home: A Road Warriors Summary

Finally! The NHL season is well underway and we are already starting to notice some surprises across the league. The Carolina Hurricanes as sitting at the top of the league with a 4-0 record. The Buffalo Sabres are leading the Atlantic division. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars are out of a playoffs’ spot. The San Jose Sharks have yet to win a game in four attempts, being outscored by a combined 12 goals so far!

The Montreal Canadiens are set to play their first home game of the season tonight after a heartbreak loss in overtime to the Sabres last night. In three road games, the team has yet to lose in regulation and they are coming home with a total of four points. There have been some positive points, and some not so positive aspects that we’ve all noticed. So here’s a summary of the pros and cons of the Canadiens’ first road trip.

PROS

Jonathan Drouin
  • Habs have accumulated four out of a possible six points on this road trip to start the season
  • Only Montreal and Boston have yet to play a home game in the Eastern Conference
  • Habs are a single point back of the almighty Maple Leafs with a game in hand
  • They haven’t lost in regulation
  • They average four goals per game (tied for 6th in the NHL)
  • They average 35 shots on goal per game
  • The power play is clicking at a rate of 33.3% (3 for 9), tied for 5th best in the NHL
  • Nine players with at least 2 points
  • Jesperi Kotkaniemi didn’t score a single goal on the road all year last season. He has two in three games.
  • Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin. Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen all have three points.
  • In addition to his three points, Drouin has a team leading plus -3
  • Five players with a faceoffs’ percentage of 50% or over, led by Nate Thompson at 56.4%
  • Never die attitude, came back from at least two-goals deficits in all three games.

CONS

  • They allow 4.33 goals per game (7th worst in the NHL)
  • They allow 39.7 shots per game
  • The penalty kill is at a dismal 69.2%
  • Tomas Tatar has eight penalty minutes
  • Rookies Cale Fleury and Nick Suzuki are struggling off the gate, realizing this isn’t preseason anymore.
  • Carey Price with a 3.69 GAA and .900 Sv%
  • Keith Kinkaid with a 4.93 GAA and a .872 Sv%

It’s early. Too early to gauge the season on only three road games. But we are starting to notice some tendencies, some good ones and some bad ones. For example, in spite of having three assists, it is clear that in order for the Canadiens to take the next step, they need an improvement on the top-6 forward group for Lehkonen and if Suzuki delays much further to show signs of offense, they will have to find a solution there as well. The defense is atrocious, as is the penalty kill and the goaltending, while not the team’s biggest weakness, will have to improve.

That being said, there were more positives than negatives in this first road trip and now that Claude Julien will have the last changes for the next four games (at home), we should see the pendulum slowing down a bit and allow to give us all a better idea of the team in front of our eyes. The first road trip, while not perfect, is mission accomplished. Now onto the first home stand. Go Habs Go!