Five Reasons Why the Habs Are Struggling

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It’s no secret, it’s the talk of town in Montreal: the Montreal Canadiens are off to a very slow start and fans and (some) media personalities alike are in full panic mode. The media because they like feeding the sensationalism to bring viewership/listenership, and the fans because… many act like drama queens, making us wonder if they can or not see beyond a 4-5 games stretch, therefore making them totally vulnerable to what those media members are saying. 

The reality, however, is not so sombre. The team is, most nights, outplaying their opponent but they simply cannot find ways to either put the puck in the opponents’ net, or keep it out of their own. Hockey is a team sport, at the same level as basketball and football. Yet, it’s composed of individuals who are occupying certain roles on the team. If the most important role players aren’t performing, it creates problems for the entire team and that, my friends, is what’s happening with the Canadiens in this early season. No, it’s not Claude Julien and no, in spite of all the misdirected information we read on Twitter, it’s not Marc Bergevin either.

For one reason or another, fans seem to find very difficult to point the finger at players, particularly their favourite player(s). Instead, they prefer blaming the coach, the GM, the equipment manager or the water boy. Basically, anyone but the culprit. We’ve noticed it many times with P.K. Subban, who was absolutely hated by his teammates for his behaviours. Fans, in fact, are still bringing him up every single day, or anytime he does something positive. We are seeing some of it today with Galchenyuk. Faultless players is key for some fans in Montreal, even when it’s far from the truth.

Five reasons for slow start

Fans can blame the coach or GM all they want, I am not willing to fall for that false excuse until the team’s key players are back at playing to the level that everyone should expect from them. If those players were performing and the team still struggled, then fine, we could look at different culprits but it’s definitely not the case here, folks… at least not yet.

1- Carey Price

So far this season, Carey Price has a record of 1-3-1. His goals against average sits at 3.45 (38th in NHL) while is saves percentage is well below NHL level at .885 (39th in NHL). For someone who is qualified as the best goaltender in the league, this is completely unacceptable. He is fighting the puck more times than not and he is not making the key saves as he has accustomed his fans to. Price is this team’s franchise player and the Canadiens have made him the best paid goaltender in the league with an eight year extension, paying him an average of $10.5 million. That contract, by the way, doesn’t kick in until the 2018-2019 season. If the franchise player doesn’t find his playing form, this team will have a very tough time to have any sort of success. That’s where it starts. He is not paid, nor are the standards for him set as a 38th or 39th goalie in the NHL. We will chill Carey, but you need to start showing signs of who you really are.

2- Max Pacioretty

NHL: New York Islanders at Montreal Canadiens
Price and Pacioretty

Goals’ scorers go though droughts out there during a long season and it happens that the captain is having a rough start. But it’s not his one goal in five games that worries me here.  He is not looking good out there. He is not generating much offensively and against the Leafs, he looked totally lost. Max Pacioretty is at his best when he finds a soft spot in the offensive zone to get open for the lethal shot of his. Right now, he’s all over the ice trying to do too much, or so it seems. The fact that the team is still searching for a qualified and deserving right winger for him and Jonathan Drouin could have something to do with it, as the Brendan Gallagher experiment has been lukewarm and Arturri Lehkonen‘s play has regressed since being brought up to that line. Yes, Alex Galchenyuk could be the solution but not until he shows that he’s willing to put in the effort, which hasn’t been the case so far this season.

3- Shea Weber

The towering defenseman leads the team in ice time this season with an average of 26:20 minutes per game, good for fifth most in the entire NHL. Although the Canadiens have allowed nine (9) more goals than they have scored so far this season, his minus -1 is quite excellent, showing that he is still one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league. Where the Canadiens need Shea Weber to pick it up however is on offense. Weber only has one assist so far this season in five games and it seems like the system and the team haven’t been able to take advantage of his booming 106 mph shot, either at even strength or on the powerplay. As a matter of fact, the Habs’ defensive corp has a grand total of 4 points so far this season, two of which belonging to… Karl Alzner!

4- Alex Galchenyuk

Everything but the kitchen sink has been said or written so far about the enigmatic Galchenyuk. Some feel like no matter his effort level or performances, he should be given indemnity and be moved to the top line with Pacioretty and Drouin but most, myself included, range with the coaching staff in thinking that he must first earn that promotion by displaying an constant effort and better focus on the ice. Either way, as a team struggling to put pucks in the net, the Canadiens need Galchenyuk’s offensive production. Something tells me that there nothing that coach Julien would love more than promote him to first line duties, but early in the season is when you want to instate your system and expectations, at the risk of losing a few games. It was great to see Chucky put one in against the Leafs, and here’s hoping that he can use this goal to get his season going.

5 – The powerplay

The Canadiens finally broke the goose egg when Galchenyuk scored the team’s very first powerplay goal against the Leafs, but that’s a very small victory in the hearts of Julien and Kirk Muller. With one goal in 16 opportunities, only the Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders and Anaheim Ducks have a worse success rate with a man advantage than the Habs so far this season. In a league where the first goal of a game is so important, having a strong powerplay can make the difference between a win or a loss, and on a team struggling to score goals, taking advantage of your opponents’ indiscipline is that much more important. This, folks, is where the absence of Andrei Markov is mostly felt, as the general had a way of finding passing lanes where few others could. Someone else has to find a way to get this thing going in the right direction and the sooner, the better.

 

So as you can clearly see, this is not a managerial problem at this point. When the players are playing at their full capacity, only then talk to me about Bergevin being fired! Until then, it’s a matter of players finding their game, for the coaching staff to find lines with chemistry and for key players on the team to find their legs. Which reminds me of this quote from one of my very favourite movies all-time:

Lieutenant Da

Here’s hoping that the Canadiens do have legs to find! Go Habs Go!

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Who Is Jonathan Drouin?

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Contrarily to what some want you to believe, trading in today’s National Hockey League is far from easy. As a matter of fact, since the implementation of the hard salary cap back in 2005, the number of trades completed have dropped more than half of what they were prior to it. It’s easy to understand why. Teams obviously have to look at the fiscal impact on their team, and they also have to plan ahead, looking at whose contracts will need to be renewed in the foreseeable future. Hockey is a business more than ever and Habs’ fans had a hard reality of it when team General Manager Marc Bergevin had to let lifetime defenseman Andrei Markov walk away to the KHL late this summer.

Getting some young and productive talent at a reasonable cap hit is what will often make the difference in the mid to long term and Bergevin understands that. When he completed yet again one of the biggest trades of the summer in acquiring 22 year-old Jonathan Drouin, in exchange for blue-chip prospect Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens’ GM landed a top-end offensive juggernaut for a player who might (or not) become a stud on defense… but there is no denying that he is the one who received the proven asset versus potential.

Immediately after the trade was announced, Bergevin was on the phone negotiating a shiny new contract with Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh (yes, him), agreeing to a six year, $33 million contract, ensuring that there was no doubt about the commitment between the team and the newly acquired fan favourite.

Who exactly is Drouin?

Jonathan Drouin was born on March 28, 1995 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. Few people remember that as a 17 year-old, he failed to make the roster to start the season with Halifax in the QMJHL despite being the second pick in the entry draft, so he had to return to play AAA midget hockey, until he was called up by Halifax December 9, 2011. Drouin made an immediate impact, getting two assists in his first game, including the primary assist on the winning goal. From that point, Drouin proved to be one of the top players in all of junior hockey. As a matter of fact, Drouin was named player of the year in the CHL. He was then chosen with the third pick overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2013 NHL Draft, two spots behind his Halifax linemate Nathan MacKinnon.

Drouin was among the final cuts in his first training camp with the Lightning and was returned to Halifax for another season, where he finished with 108 points in 46 games in 2013-14 and had 41 points in 16 playoff games. He joined the Lightning in the 2014-15 season, playing in 70 games, and enjoyed a breakthrough in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he had 14 points in 17 games, including four goals in the Eastern Conference Final.

Dispute with Tampa Bay

In a much publicized even, Drouin’s dispute with the Lightning drew a lot of negative attention on himself starting in January 2016. It was no secret that there was a relationship issue between Drouin and Lightning coach Jon Cooper, and one day after being reassigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, Walsh issued a statement on behalf of his client. The agent revealed that Drouin had made a trade request back in November, but had kept the matter private. Walsh referred to it as an untenable situation and that it was in everyone’s best interest that Drouin be allowed to move on and play hockey.

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While some people claimed that he was a head-case, others said that he was given bad advice from the people around him. Either way, this wasn’t good news for either the Lightning or the player. But Lighting GM Steve Yzerman stuck to his guns and on January 20, 2016, he suspended him indefinitely without pay for a failure to report to the Crunch’s game against the Toronto Marlies. It’s not until March 8, 2016 that Drouin finally reported to Syracuse for the first time since being suspended. On April 4th, the Lightning called up Drouin from the AHL after a nine-game stint, a stretch in which he recorded nine goals and an assist. The young forward wasted no time making his presence felt as he scored the game-winning goal in his first game back with Tampa Bay.

Impact of the trade for the Habs

No one understands better the need for local talent with the Canadiens than Bergevin and team President Geoff Molson, and getting arguably the best young Quebecois in the entire NHL was a very impactful feat in itself. As we have touched on this very blog back in May, there was no doubt that if Drouin was made available, the Habs would be all in… and they were!

As much as people loved P.K. Subban, Jonathan Drouin will have an even bigger impact. He’s a mature young man, well beyond his age, and he speaks the language of his fans in his home province. Before even putting foot on the ice, he has already been utilized by the organization for many public appearances and marketing events, and fans have responded to him in a very positive manner, making him feel welcome. Of course, what he does on the ice is what will matter most, but judging from what he has already shown in the NHL, at such a young age, the future certainly appear to be bright for both the player and the Canadiens’ organization. Training with team captain Max Pacioretty, Drouin seems to have already found a home in Montreal. Until we get to see him work his magic in a Habs’ uniform, let’s enjoy together a few highlights of what he has done and what’s to come for the fans. After watching this, you will join me in wishing that the season started now! Go Habs Go!