Coaching Decisions Costing the Habs

The General Manager gathers the players. The players play and the coaches make the coaching decisions. In order for a team to win games, the GM must get the right players who in turn, must provide their best effort. But if the coach makes the wrong decisions behind the bench, all of this is moot. Often times, coaches get too much credit but sometimes, they don’t get enough blame.

The Canadiens were up to a good start on the road as we’ve touched on recently. But that’s until team head coach Claude Julien made a couple of decisions which might just have cost his team a few points.

The first decision was, in my opinion, to save the best goalie in the world for the home opener when the team faced a more ferocious opponent the night before on the road. It’s no secret that Julien will use both his goaltenders when his team is playing back to back nights. But the choice of playing backup Keith Kinkaid in Buffalo against stronger Sabres just to keep Carey Price for the home opener is a decision that I personally don’t support.

A home opener is only special because there’s a players’ introduction prior to game time. It’s a marketing tool. The game itself is just like any other game. It’s worth two points and those two points are just as important as two points late in the season. It can be the difference between extending the season in April or grabbing the golf clubs… again.

Claude Julien

You have the best goalie in the world. You have got to play him against the tougher opponents and that, regardless of a home opener or not. The goal of any NHL team is to win games and there’s no denying that Price gives the Habs the best chance at winning games. So you play him against the tougher opponents. Period. Is Kinkaid an improvement over Antti Niemi? AndrĂ© “Red Light” Racicot would be an improvement over Niemi the way he played last year. But he’s no Carey Price… far, far from there.

You see, on the second night of a back to back, the team is tired. Your best chance of winning is in the first game. So you go with your best goalie, particularly against a stronger team. On the second night, you hope for the best. People were saying that “they would be mad if they had tickets for the home opener and Price wasn’t in net”. To that I reply: does that mean that Price must be playing every single home game? After all, people buy their tickets for those games too, no? That was a marketing decision going against a hockey decision. They picked the marketing which could have very well cost the team in terms of hockey.

Second mistake

Julien’s second mind boggling decision was not so much to scratch the defensive pairing of Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury in Buffalo and replace them with Mike Reilly and Christian Folin, but to stick with them in Montreal the next day. Three reasons to go back to the Kulak-Fleury pairing:

  • For one, Kulak is the best defenseman today of those four.
  • Two, Julien has the last change in Montreal so he can better control the match-ups for young Fleury.
  • Last but not least, they are fresh, not having played the night before. You have spares Claude, use them!

I know that some folks will think that this is blaming Kinkaid and/or the Reilly-Folin pairing. It’s not the case. Price and fresh players give you a better chance to win. That’s all. The end result of those two questionable decisions is that the Canadiens came out with a single point off a possibility of four, against division rivals, teams who they will be battling with to make the playoffs. That’s not on the GM, nor is it on the players. Those results are solely on the coach. Here’s hoping that Julien minimizes those mistakes so it doesn’t cost his team a playoffs’ berth. Go Habs Go!

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Habs’ Target: Jimmy Schuldt

Every single year at this time of the season, NHL teams are circling around the NCAA for a forgotten gem, a player who wasn’t drafted but who developed beyond original expectations. And every year, some of those late bloomers sign entry level deals with NHL clubs after having been courted by several teams. The likes of Adam Oates, Ed Belfour, Joe Mullen and Dan Boyle have been overlooked in the past but with 31 (soon to be 32) NHL teams and scouting crews, fewer and fewer of those gems will be left to find in the future.

This year’s big catch appears to be St. Cloud State Huskies defenseman Jimmy Schuldt. In his November 15th, 2017 edition of his 31 Thoughts, Elliott Friedman linked the Canadiens as one of the most interested teams in acquiring his services and there is little doubt that Marc Bergevin, Trevor Timmins and the rest of the Canadiens’ brass are chomping at the bit to be able to talk to the soon to be free agent, something they can’t do until St. Cloud is eliminated from the playoffs.

Who is Schuldt?

Schuldt is a 6-foot one-inch, 205 pounds left-handed defenseman who is team captain for Huskies. He is a team leader for the #1 nationally ranked Huskies (27-4-3, 19-2-3 NCHC) who helped guide St. Cloud State to the 2018-18 NCHC regular season championship. Schuldt has posted nine goals and 22 assists in 34 games this season, including four power play goals, one SHG and two game winners. He had 71 shots on goal and finished the season with a plus -20 on the plus/minus. He leads his team with 65 blocked shots and he had eight multi-point games in 2018-19. The 24 year old has played in 151 consecutive games during his college career (never has missed a game) and he ranks first on SCSU’s all-time records for a defenseman with 114 career points. He also ranks first in the team records for most career goals by a defenseman with 37.

Competition will be fierce amongst NHL teams trying to convinced that young man to sign with them but as one of the first teams showing interest in him, the Canadiens have as good of a shot as anyone. For one, he participated in the team’s development camp back in the summer of 2017. Schuldt has played his last three years with Canadiens’ first round pick Ryan Poehling and he has also played one year with former NCAA free agent Charlie Lindgren, back in the 2015-2016 season.

When looking at the Canadiens’ roster, there is a gaping hole on the left side of the defense and that is something that Schuldt and his agent might be looking at when making their final decision. As a Minnesota native, he might consider the Wild as well but Mike Reilly will be first to point out how hard it is to pierce that formation on defense, even as a local product.

The Huskies are starting their playoffs on Friday, March 15th when they will be facing the Miami University Redhawks in a best of three series, on the road to the Frozen Four, which will be held in Buffalo from April 11th to the 13th.

EDIT (Mar.15/19): It looks as though that Schuldt has a verbal agreement with the Habs and could sign when St. Cloud is eliminated from the playoffs… unless something changes.