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!

The Most Underrated Line and Game Notes

Some soar high into the sky, get into the limelight and get the recognition that they deserve. Others, well… not so much. Yet, they do just as good of a job but it’s not as flashy, or their names aren’t as recognized to be worthy of mention, of the recognition that they deserve. The Montreal Canadiens have a forward line flying under the radar at the eyes of both Media and fans alike, other than the ones following the team day in, day out, that is.

The line of Phillip Danault centering Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar proved once again last night that they are an elite line in this league. They were given the task of facing and keeping in check what’s arguably the NHL’s best line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, a job that few other lines in the league have been able to do successfully over the past few seasons and certainly not this year. Not only did they keep them in check, the Canadiens’ top line dominated the Bruins’ dynamic trio all throughout the game. They we in total control of the game when on the ice and that’s not an easy task. But rest assured that Bruins’ head coach Bruce Cassidy and the Bergeron line took notice. At some point, Cassidy even decided to move Pastrnak to David Krejci‘s line in hope to mix things up.

When all was said and done, Bergeron and Pastrnak finished the night with one point each (on the powerplay) but they and fellow linemate Marchand all finished the game with a minus -2 rating. In the meantime, Tatar (2 shots) had a goal and an assist, Gallagher (4 shots) an assist and Danault (3 shots) all retreated in the dressing room at plus -1 after 60 minutes.

In a league where points seem to be the determining factor to get any recognition, a top line where all three have fewer than a point per game is not important enough. After all, even the Norris Trophy (best overall defenseman) and the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) are now awarded, more often than not, to offensive-minded player who happen to be good defensively, although not the best. At some point, the NHL will have to start noticing the Canadiens’ trio as one of the top ones in the league.

Game Notes

  • Claude Julien, who was coaching his 1,200 NHL game, had some coaching to do last night and he outcoached his opponent. He did a master job at matching up the top lines but also, prior to the game, he decided to place often underrated defenseman Ben Chiarot with team captain Shea Weber and match that pair against the Bergeron line. Brad Marchand was invisible, often tangled up with the Canadiens two rugged defenseman. He did not have fun last night and it showed. Result? Julien earned his 635th career win, placing him 14th all-time in that category.
  • Fans at the Bell Centre game Zdeno Chara an ovation when they announced that he was playing his 1,500 game last night. It seems like fans have a short memory as many wanted him to have criminal charges for the incident where he drove Max Pacioretty‘s head into a stanchion a few years ago.
  • Not only did Victor Mete score his first NHL goal earlier this season, he added two more last night against the Bruins. Fun fact: Mete is tied with P.K. Subban in points this season with five, and his three goals is one more than the controversial Devils’ defenseman. Weber you ask (can’t talk Subban without saying this name)? The aging defenseman also only has two goals, but he picked up his 10th point of the season last night. Mete made this guy sweat last night…
  • Was it or was it not offside? When Charlie Coyle scored to put the Bruins ahead, Julien and his video coaches decided to challenge the goal saying that it was offside. After much deliberation and video reviews, it was deemed that Coyle was offside.
  • The debate today is to know if Coyle had “possession” of the puck at zone entry. Some say he did, I say he did not and the linemen got this one right on the review. You see, Coyle did not have possession, he was in the process of gaining possession. Having possession is being in full control which he clearly doesn’t… yet at the time he crossed the line. Was it voluntary? Absolutely. But it doesn’t constitute control.
  • So far this season, the Canadiens are 7-1-2 against teams with a 500 or better record. What’s mind boggling is that they’re 1-4-0 against teams with below 500 record. The good news is that in the playoffs, every team is over the 500 mark but in order to get into the playoffs, the Habs will have to start beating those lower tier teams too.
  • While the defense needs some work – and by that I mean defensive play, not just the defensemen), it’s the offensive production that surprises everyone. So far in 15 games, the Canadiens have scored 3.67 goals per game, good for fourth in the NHL, trailing only the Nashville Predators (4.00), Washington Capitals (3.94) and… Boston Bruins (3.73).

The Canadiens’ next game is Thursday as they visit the Philadelphia Flyers (7-5-2). Game time: 4:00 pm. Go Habs Go!