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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Top Cheese: September 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as training camp is in full force and the team and players are battling for a position on the opening day roster. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Charles Hudon is having a great start to this year’s training camp. He is no longer intimidated and at awe for simply practicing with the big boys. He now wants to be one of them more than ever. After a good season last year in the AHL, where he collected an impressive 27 goals and 49 points in 56 games for the St. John’s IceCaps, the 23 year-old winger feels like he’s ready to take the next step in his career and his three assists night in the White vs Red scrimmage was a step in that direction.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here, but just like we as fans and/or media following the Canadiens, shouldn’t read too much in early poor performances, we should remain level-headed with a young player’s early success. Training camp is just starting and will only get tougher and tougher as we get closer to opening night on October fifth. It is, admittedly, better to have a good start than the other way around, no doubt.

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Jonathan Drouin has been omni-present on the Montreal scene, representing the Canadiens, ever since he was acquired. He signed his contract soon after, then attended a press conference with GM Marc Bergevin. He made headlines for training with captain Max Pacioretty, with whom he seems to have developed a good friendship. He made a couple of videos for Canadiens.com already. He attended the Just for Laughs Festival.

Now, Drouin announced that he will be making a $500,000 donation over 10 a ten-year period and also pledges to raise $5M through a variety of initiatives for the CHUM. But can we stop with the verbal diarrhea already? Stuff like this:

The fact is that Drouin did something good for the city. Just like Subban didn’t follow anyone’s lead, or other former Canadiens’ did as well, the young Canadiens’ forward committed a great gesture by helping an organization in need of funding. That alone should be the news, not the mention of other players before him.

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In fact, what is the infatuation of some with former Habs? Whether it be Subban, Radulov, Markov… heck, even Darren Dietz made headlines in the Canadiens’ fan base recently for their activities, quotes or actions elsewhere. Unless there is some kind of sick agenda behind such behaviour, I cannot think of any good reason to put any importance on what former players who are with other teams do.

Subban has been gone for over a year. Get over it. Radulov decided to take the same contract the Habs had offered and to continue his career in Texas. His choice, let it go. Markov waited too late to accept a one-year deal and declined the Canadiens’ offer, preferring continuing his career in his homeland. Done.

You know what? Shea Weber is doing a fantastic job for the Canadiens. Jonathan Drouin is an exciting news both on and off the ice. You have Brendan Gallagher trying to bounce back from a rough season. You have Tomas Plekanec playing for a new contract. You have one of the NHL’s best goals’ scorer in the past 5 years on your team, and the best goaltender in the world. You have young guys like Artturi Lehkonen to focus on. You have young prospects knocking at the door at all positions. You have a pool of junior and College players to get excited about. Tons to focus on without digging dirt on other teams.

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McCarronOne of those young guys is Michael McCarron, who has apparently focused his summer training towards gaining some much needed foot speed. Just like it’s too early to get overboard about Hudon’s strong start, it is also too early to panic about the big centre after one exhibition game where he didn’t look his best. Traditionally, big bodies like him take a while to get going. Management knows that, fans and media should keep that in mind. If he can raise his level of play, McCarron is a type of players that the team lacks of, a big physical body with some sand paper. We can start worrying a bit more if he is cut comes October.

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Another guy who had (or still has) high expectation placed on him is young Nikita Scherbak. Like many young forwards his age, he has struggled a bit with his adaptation to the professional game but that is nothing to be alarming, at least for now. Few seem to remember that guys like Plekanec spent three full seasons in the minors prior to cracking the NHL level and Scherbak is still young at 21 years old. He has a good attitude and wants to improve. I think that he’s one who can greatly benefit from the farm team being relocated in the Canadiens’ backyard in Laval, and that he still managed 41 points last year in St. John’s. Patience is key here.

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Karl Alzner

Twitter can be very depressing at times, particularly if you follow the Habs’ hashtag. The puck hasn’t even dropped and Karl Alzner is taking more than his fair share of shots by some fans, often the same ones mentioned above, the ones focussing on former players instead of the Canadiens. At 6-foot 3-inches and 217 lbs, Alzner is the team’s second biggest defenseman behind Weber. If you’re expecting a gazelle here, you will be disappointed. But he does bring some grit, some shot blocking abilities and sound positioning to the team. He is a better hockey player than Alexei Emelin was, and he is his replacement… not Markov’s. Also, the new number 22 will turn 29 on September 24th, not 39 years old, as some make it sound like! Like Benn, I think that he will be a very pleasant surprise and will be a strong contributor to this team. Give it time folks.

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Well, well… Matt Duchene‘s name is resurfacing in the news, or rather in the rumour mill. While everyone is saying that Bergevin doesn’t have the needed pieces to make it happen, the Canadiens are mentioned as one of the potential teams by every reputable insider out there. Why? Maybe it’s because Joe Sakic will have to lower his expectations for a return for Duchene. Maybe there is no one ready to sacrifice a top bluechip young defenseman for a guy now a year from free agency.

I’m not saying this to raise anyone’s hopes up, as I too believe that the Habs are a long shot to land the coveted centre, but where there is life, there is hope. While the team will be experimenting with Drouin at centre, Duchene would fit in nicely on one of the top two lines by providing depth at a position where the team has very little in the short term.

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With the regular season about two weeks away, the Canadiens will tune their line-up with exhibition games against Washington tonight, and will be facing Ottawa twice, Toronto twice, and one game against New Jersey and Florida. The team will then start the season with a three-game road swing starting in Buffalo on Thursday, October 5th, and will have their home opener the following Tuesday, October 10th, as they will receive the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bell Centre. Real hockey is just around the corner folks! Go Habs Go!!!