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!

Could the Oilers and the Habs Help Each Other?

One team is in the West, desperate to make the playoffs according to their owner. The other one is in the East, jousting for a playoffs’ position. The first one has just fired their General Manager and they find themselves with their hands tied, strapped to the salary cap. The other has nine million and can afford to pay. But neither is deep enough at any position to sacrifice top talent to make things happen, and neither team is willing to move their young quality assets and high draft picks to improve this year. Dilemma…

As we touched about in a recent article, the Edmonton Oilers are in a bind and have been for quite some time and that, in spite of having two of the best young players in the entire NHL in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The have finally fired GM Peter Chiarelli and team owner, billionaire Daryl Katz was recently quoted saying that missing the playoffs was not an option. At the All-Star break, his team is only three points out of a playoffs’ spot but they have five or six teams to leapfrog in order to make it happen.

Peter Chiarelli was fired by the Oilers

Marc Bergevin and his Montreal Canadiens are in a much better position. The Habs have surprised most people by overtaking the Boston Bruins and trailing the mighty Toronto Maple Leafs by a single point, amid having played a couple more games than their rivals. And they have done so without quality defensemen on the left side, and certainly none worthy of top minutes playing alongside Shea Weber. Sophomore Victor Mete, who even was sent down to the AHL’s Laval Rocket earlier this season, is Weber’s current partner and he’s doing okay. Imagine if they found someone for that role and if they could improve on their league worst powerplay…

Like the Oilers, the direction is clear when asked about the team’s goals as Bergevin recently addressed the topic.

“I’m always going to be listening to options, but the goal is to build for the future. Just to give up assets for the short-term, I’m not going to do it. It would have to be very appealing. If there are young players available, assets have to go. I get that. But, I don’t think I’ll be in the rental business.”
“Based on what I saw in Vancouver [at the WJC], the future of the Canadiens is very bright. I’m not going to start mortgaging the future. I know what’s coming with the World Juniors, who they’re going to be asking for, and I’m not moving these kids. It’s going to be a short conversation, I think… If we drafted these kids, it’s because we believe they have some potential. That came to the forefront in Vancouver with our prospects that really stepped up their games.”
~ Marc Bergevin (January 7, 2019)

An Oilers / Canadiens trade?

First and foremost, forget Darnell Nurse. He’s not going anywhere. If I’m the Oilers, I also try to avoid trading Oscar Klefbom and I am reluctant giving up so soon on top prospect Jesse Puljujärvi. His value is too low right now, the Oilers don’t have much to lose by giving him time to find his game. So who’s left in Edmonton? First, a trade must help them. Their number one goal right now is clearing some cap space. The have a few contracts that they might or would consider unloading in order to prepare for more moves.

PLAYERCONTRACTEXPIRYGPPTS
Milan Lucic$6M – NMC2022-235012
Kris Russell$4M – NMC2020-21409
Ryan Spooner$3.1M2019-20415
Brandon Manning$2.25M2019-20354
Zack Kassian$1.95M2019-20479
TOTAL:$17.3M21339

Everybody knows that they would like to unload Milan Lucic but it would take a whole bag of sugar to sweeten the pot enough to make it happen with anyone and I certainly don’t think that the Habs are a good match. Ryan Spooner is a project with some upside, Brandon Manning is a dime a dozen and Zack Kassian… well, been there, done that.

Kris Russell is an interesting candidate however. No, he’s not a “sexy choice” and no, he’s not a permanent solution. When I made the suggestion on Twitter, some were adamant against him but I have a feeling that few of those people have watched him play enough to make a valid judgment. You see, my girlfriend is an Oilers’ fan (we won’t hold that against her) and I got to watch them often this season. Here’s my take on Russell TODAY…

Kris Russell

Kris Russell is a mobile, puck-moving and shot blocking veteran defenseman. He plays with confidence with the puck and he also owns enough offensive acumen to play on the power play and moves the puck with aplomb. He has great wheels. A lack of size (5-10, 170 lbs) can occasionally hinder his ability to defend bigger forwards but he usually positions himself well and has a good stick. He is no all-star (nor is he getting paid like one) so he will be prone to mental lapses from time to time. He is currently fourth in the entire NHL in blocked shots with 107 and that, with 10 fewer games played than most of his competitors.

What I do know however is that at this point in time, Russell is an improvement over Mike Reilly, Jordie Benn, David Schlemko, Karl Alzner, Xavier Ouellet and arguably Mete too. While he’s not the sexy choice, a Canadiens’ defense with Russell is superior (and deeper) than it is today without him. Period. So at the right price, he would help the Habs. He is 31 years old, so he will be 33 at the end of his contract. By that time, Alexander Romanov will be ready to step in on the Canadiens’ blue line. The cap? The Canadiens don’t have any major contracts to renew during Russell’s term. It’s a none-issue.

The deal: I think that something along the lines of Charles Hudon would get it done, give or take on one side or the other. The question: are the Canadiens a better team with Russell or Hudon? Asking the question is answering it.

Granted, there are other options. But what I’m offering here is one that seems to be a good stop-gap at a very low cost. Go Habs Go!