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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Top Cheese: September 2018 Edition

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Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as training camp is in full gear and the Canadiens are working at making amends for a poor season last year. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Three exhibition games down, four more to go and while no one should read too much in pre-season results, the fact is that this year is a lot better for fans’ morale than what the team showed at the same time last season when they won two of the eight games they played. So far, they beat the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals, while dropping a game against a veteran-filled Florida Panthers’ line-up. It is exciting to see a bunch of new faces in a Habs’ uniform and the battles for a spot are very interesting to watch as well.

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Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Max Domi deserves to be suspended for a sucker punch on Florida Panthers’ defenseman Aaron Ekblad. It was clear that Ekblad wanted nothing to do with fighting Domi and those putting the blame on the defenseman for “not defending himself” or “not expecting the punch” are way out of line. No, he did not expect it and no, he did not protect himself… nor should he have to. If we can tell Ekblad’s intentions on TV, Domi should have been able to see the same looking into his eyes. Habs’ fans spent years defending Alexei Emelin because he couldn’t fight because he had a metal plate by his cheek and they now blame Ekblad for refusing to fight because of his concussion history? I’m sorry folks but that doesn’t sit well with me.

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Back when he was the NHL’s Vice-President and in charge of discipline, Brian Burke – who loves the rough stuff and fighting in hockey – condemned Tie Domi‘s sucker punch on then bad guy Ulf Samuelsson. “If anyone thinks that it’s an acceptable response to a verbal taunting, I’ve got news for you because it’s not.” Tie received an eight game (regular season) suspension for his action.

This action by Max Domi doesn’t define him as a hockey player or as an individual and people, particularly those who aren’t happy about the fact that Marc Bergevin traded Alex Galchenyuk for him, should not hold that against him or make an early judgment.

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Now on to more positive news. A few  young prospects are doing very well for themselves so far at camp. One of them is none other than the Canadiens’ first pick at this year’s draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who seems more and more comfortable as pre-season progresses. In a Cinderella-like story, he scored his first goal in a Habs’ uniform in his first game at the Bell Centre, and while fans are discovering his great skills, he is showing good composure for such a young man. Jokingly (and to rub it in a bit), I posted this after his goal:

 

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Another young man doing things well and drawing praise from everyone is Nick Suzuki, acquired in the Max Pacioretty trade along with Tomas Tatar and a second round pick. He’s showing great composure with the puck and finds himself on the right side of the puck defensively as well. And he’s only 19 folks! Claude Julien likes what he sees of him and you can be sure that he will be given every opportunity to show what he can do before the team makes a decision in his case.

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Last but not least, defenseman Josh Brook has also opened the eyes of many as did Victor Mete at last year’s camp. Not the biggest guy, he makes quick decisions with the puck and plays his angles very well. All of that while wearing number 76, a number which, by the way, was handed to him by the organization, not because he asked for it (so don’t be too quick to hate him). If we go by performances only, he ranks third amongst right-handed defensemen at camp, with only Jeff Petry and Noah Juulsen surpassing him on the right side. Unless the team suffers further injuries, it would be unlikely to see him earn a spot in the opening day line-up but he will be on the radar.

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Jonathan Drouin was flattered to see that he had an “A” on his jersey for the game against the Florida Panthers and he had this to say:

“I want to lead this team … I want to be one of the leaders on the squad.” ~ Jonathan Drouin

When asked after the game if management was sending a message to Drouin by putting an “A” on his jersey, Julien said:

“A couple of things. Jonathan came in this year in much better shape than he was last year and he did a lot of good things during the summer. We’re playing preseason games and those guys, you reward them for those kind of things. Tonight with our lineup I thought he was worthy of wearing an ‘A’ and I wanted him to wear it with pride and play the way we wanted him to play and that’s the reason he got the ‘A’. We’re moving them around. We’ll probably get some new ones tomorrow as we play it game by game.”

You can bet that Drouin appreciated the gesture and that he is slowly but surely taking on a bigger leadership role, even at the tender age of 23. Moved to the wing while Domi was available, he seemed more comfortable.

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Speaking of letters on the jersey, much has been said and written about the vacant spot left by the departure of team captain Max Pacioretty. Who will be his replacement? Do they need to have a captain? Here’s my humble opinion on the topic: Yes, yes they do need a captain. And they have two very solid candidates for the position:

Brendan Gallagher is a born leader. He was captain of the Vancouver Giants in the WHL and has been wearing the “A” on his jersey for a couple of seasons now with the Canadiens. No one will outwork him so he’s a leader by example. And in normal time, I’d say: give it to him.

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Shea Weber should be the team’s next captain.

But when you have a guy like Shea Weber on your team, a Mark Messier Award winner, an alternate captain for Team Canada, former captain of the Nashville Predators for many seasons, you simply cannot pass that along. Weber is not the type to be phased or intimidated by reporters. As a matter of fact, he’s the one who brings the fear of God in them, as did guys like Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson back in the days. And if he stands up in the dressing room, you bet that everyone is listening. In my opinion, he will be the Canadiens’ captain. Whether it’s announced before the season starts or when he’s ready to come back, we’ll see.

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When Marc Bergevin told everyone at the end of last season that there needs to be an attitude change in the dressing room, he wasn’t talking about Weber – who was out with an injury – or about Brendan Gallagher. He wasn’t talking about Paul Byron or even Jeff Petry. Seeing the moves that have been made this summer, the finger was obviously pointed to Pacioretty, who completely folded like a towel when things got tough, and about Galchenyuk whose effort simply wasn’t there.

But something tells me that he wasn’t impressed with his biggest leader, Carey Price, and I’m convinced that he had a long talk with him. Bergevin committed a lot of money in Price and most see him as one of the team’s biggest leaders. But much like Pacioretty, he too seemed to have packed it in early last year. True leaders don’t do that. Look at Jonathan Toews and Connor McDavid. They gave it all in spite of their teams’ lack of success. Bergevin wants Price to have that mentality. He needs Price to be like them… and he will.

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Love him or hate him, Marc Bergevin did extremely well in comparison to his peers in his trades of big name players. When you look at what the Buffalo Sabres received for Evander Kane (conditional 1st, conditional 4th and former 5th round pick Danny O’Regan), and what Don Waddell and the Hurricanes received for Jeff Skinner (2nd, 3rd and 6th round pick and former 3rd round pick Cliff Pu), how can someone not be happy with what the Habs receive for Pacioretty? Getting a 20-25 goals’ scorer in Tomas Tatar, three years younger than Pacioretty and under contract for another three years, former first round pick Nick Suzuki and a 2nd round pick is an excellent return. Further, he convinced George McPhee and the Golden Knights to pick up $500,000 of Tatar’s contract for each year remaining on his contract?

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Then rewind a bit… Many fans are still hurt by the fact that P.K. Subban is no longer in Montreal but the Canadiens received Shea Weber in return! Shea freakin’ Weber! Pierre Dorion probably wishes he could have received a Weber in return for a much, much better defenseman than Subban when he traded his captain Erik Karlsson to San Jose. What did he get? In exchange for Karlsson, the Senators received four players: Chris Tierney (career high 40 points), Dylan DeMelo (bottom pairing defenseman), former 1st round pick Josh Norris and former 5th round pick Rudolfs Balcers. They also got a 1st and a 2nd round pick and if Karlsson re-signs with the Sharks, they get another 2nd round pick. Now if you’re from the school that quantity equals quality, you will like this one but most hockey experts are unanimous in saying that Doug Wilson robbed Pierre Dorion in this one. This trade makes Bergevin look like Sam Pollock!

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So here you have it folks! Your Canadiens are NOT is as bad of a shape as some want you to believe. As a matter of fact, they are in pretty good hands in spite of what those who are still butt-hurt by the Subban trade are trying to make you believe. The future is bright and the sun will rise again tomorrow in Montreal. Enjoy this time of year and hop in for the ride, it will be a fun season! Go Habs Go!!!