Left Defense and Bottom-Six

There are slides and there are… SLIDES. The Montreal Canadiens were doing very well but then, disaster strikes as they lose two key players to serious, long term injuries, both requiring surgeries. Jonathan Drouin a wrist, Paul Byron to a knee. Since then, the Canadiens have yet to win a game in six tries, having a record of 0-4-2, and have literally slid out of a playoffs’ spot. As it stands right now, both Carolina and Philadelphia are ahead of them for the last Wild Card spot, while Tampa Bay (3 games in hand) and the New York Rangers (2 games in hand) are a single point behind Claude Julien’s troop.

While many fans and members of the media are pointing the finger at the team’s defensive core, they are not looking at the entire picture. There is no doubt that the defensemen have to clean up their act by making better decisions with and without the puck, and work on how to defend when outnumbered on the rush. It is clear that Claude Julien‘s system encourages defensemen to pinch in deep along the board in the offensive zone to keep pucks in. But anyone who has coached and played will tell you that the system will also dictate that when a defenseman does this, the high forward, whether it’d be a winger or the centre, has to take his spot in backcheck. That’s not happening, creating a multitude of odd-man rushes. You see, it’s on the forwards too.

Goaltending

While one would be hardpressed to put it all on goaltending, it would be just as wrong to take all the blame off the team’s goalkeepers. Here are their stats for the month of November:

GPWLOTSASVsSV%GAA
Carey Price11452332293.8833.77
Keith Kinkaid20015649.8754.20

One of Keith Kinkaid‘s two appearances was in relief of Carey Price in the blowout game against Boston. This means that he only had one start this month. For starter, that is way too many games for Price. But he is getting paid as the best goaltender in hockey. The issue is that he’s far from performing like it. Since November 16th, during the current skid, his numbers are as followed:

GPWLOTSASVsSV%GAA
Carey Price5041129106.8225.34

No team in the NHL will win games with a goaltender with such stats. Price needs to make the key saves. He’s paid to do that.

Left Defense

Rumours around the Habs all seem to be around Taylor Hall. Unless Hall can play defense, that is NOT the Canadiens’ biggest need. While Ben Chiarot has been a pleasant pick-up, he is not a top pairing defenseman and that’s what the Canadiens need. There are plenty of teams around the NHL in the same boat as Marc Bergevin‘s team, needing to tweak their lineup before the season is lost. For that reason, the “trading in a position of weakness” theory simply doesn’t apply.

While overall, Bergevin has done a great job, his downfall has been his inability or unwillingness to address his teams’ needs in-season or on the fly. It seems like he “doesn’t want to pay the asking price”, or so he says himself.

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch lately.

Listen up Marc… When I go to the mechanic, I swear every time because it’s costing me too much money for my liking. But guess what? My truck is on the road and it works! I could choose not pay the asking price and walk instead. Bergevin needs to pay the asking price to get what the Habs need and that, even if he thinks that the price is too high. When you have a prospect pool as full as the Habs’ have, and you hold 12 picks at the upcoming Entry Draft, you have the means to pay up a bit. He’ll be walking a long time if he doesn’t.

I’ve compiled a list of potential candidates that might help the Canadiens, guys that would solidify the left side of the defense. Some are more interesting than others for sure, but it’s an idea, food for thoughts. I don’t know the young upcoming defensemen of other teams so there are obviously many more candidates.

  • Cam Fowler (ANA)
  • Alex Goligoski (ARI)
  • Marco Scandella (BUF)
  • TJ Brodie (CAL)
  • Erik Gustafsson (CHI)
  • Ryan Murray (CBJ)
  • Jonas Brodin (MIN)
  • Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI)
  • Vince Dunn (STL)

Bottom-Six

The other thing that’s lacking is on the bottom-six of the lineup: grit. Enough already with the cookie-cutter players like Charles Hudon, Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins! No team fears those guys. The Habs need some sand paper. They miss Andrew Shaw and what he brought. They need more of that. The best 4th line in the NHL, in my humble opinion, is with the Islanders: Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. A true energy line. One that makes opponent keep their heads up and get rid of the puck much sooner than they want. One that will “tenderize” opponent in the course of a game and ultimately, a playoffs’ series.

Kyle Clifford would be an excellent addition.

Again, I’ve compiled a list of such players whom I’d rather have on the Habs’ bottom-six:

  • Nick Ritchie (ANA)
  • Lawson Crouse (ARI)
  • Christian Fisher (ARI)
  • Sam Bennett (CGY)
  • Adam Erne (DET)
  • Jujhar Khaira (EDM)
  • Kyle Clifford (LAK)
  • Marcus Foligno (MIN)
  • Sammy Blais (STL)
  • Jake Virtanen (VAN)
  • William Carrier (VEG)
  • Adam Lowry (WIN)

Those guys aren’t goons. They’re NOT like Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen or Nicolas Deslauriers. They can all skate and play hockey, granted not big minutes. Most can be inserted, from time to time, on a higher line to keep opponents honest. In the event of games like the Habs have been having, emotionless, these guys would provide the necessary energy to perhaps wake the team up. But that’s me. That’s the type of hockey that I like. If only Bergevin and the Canadiens saw it the way I do… Go Habs Go!

Will Bergevin Let History Repeat Itself?

The date: November 25, 2015. Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price left the game, having played 40 minutes against the New York Rangers. It was Price’s 12th game of the season. He would eventually get shut down for the season and the Canadiens missed the playoffs. The date: December 16, 2017. Montreal had just finished playing the Ottawa Senators which turned out to be Shea Weber‘s last game of the season. You guessed it, the Canadiens did not make the playoffs and got to select third overall at the next Entry Draft because of it. Weber would miss the first 2 1/2 months of the following season and guess what? The Canadiens missed the playoffs again, this time by four points.

Aside from having key players out of the lineup for extended periods of time and missing the playoffs in each occasion, what do those three events all have in common? Each time, Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin was either unable or unwilling to pay the asking price to help his coach and ultimately his team get over such important losses in the lineup, letting them fend to themselves and battle through the adversity only to see them fall flat on their face.

Fast forward to this season, on November 15th. The Canadiens played an almost perfect game to dominate the Washington Capitals, in Washington nonetheless, by the score of 5-2. That impressive win didn’t come without a high cost as they’ve lost two key players in the process: Jonathan Drouin needed wrist surgery while Paul Byron had to have surgery performed on his knee. Since that impressive win and just as impressive loss in terms of players, the Canadiens have yet to win a game in four tries, compiling a record of 0-2-2. To make matters worse, all of those losses were against teams who, at the time, were playing for 500 or less…

Will Marc Bergevin pick up the phone and make a trade?

With only one goal and three assists in 19 games, there is no denying that Byron was not having a good start to this season. He had been playing much better however in November and his ice time went up accordingly. Further, he’s an assistant captain on the team, one of the leaders of the club.

Drouin was having his best start since joining the Canadiens. You could see him being more implicated and his efforts at both ends of the ice were starting to get noticed even by his biggest critiques. His 15 points in 19 games had him at the top of the Canadiens’ list offensively and he and Joel Armia were the biggest surprises on Claude Julien‘s roster at that point.

All on Bergevin

Every single point is important and seeing the way the Canadiens surrendered a 4-0 lead and losing 6-5 to the New York Rangers on Saturday night, a team that had lost 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators 24 hours earlier, was the peak of embarrassment for the players, the coaching staff, the fans and, hopefully to the General Manager and team President as well. It was simply pathetic and, truthfully, unexcusable.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

It is now in Marc Bergevin’s hands and his only. There is no doubt that he has done an excellent job since taking over as we have recently detailed on this blog, but his downfall is his inaction, or unwillingness to adapt in-season, on the fly, as needs occur when they occur. Bergevin has 12 picks at the upcoming Entry Draft and the cupboards are filled with quality prospects. His core of players, aside from Price and Weber, are young and talented. He now has the assets to make a move or two.

Will he have learned from his past inaction and results because of it, or will he try to help the players and his coaches by bringing in reinforcement via trade before it’s too late? Time will tell but rest assured that the players on the team, key players like Price and Weber, are taking notes. If Bergevin does nothing once again and the Habs miss the playoffs, you can expect to have some very unhappy veterans, fans and members of the media and I, for one, won’t blame them one bit. Go Habs Go!