Young Blueliners Bringing Hope to the Habs

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When Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin said, last Fall, that his defensive group was stronger than the one from the year before, it left many people rather perplexed. It didn’t take long for that group to prove their GM wrong as David Schlemko was on the injured list, newly signed UFA Karl Alzner was showing signs of being unable to keep up and Jordie Benn, who was outstanding for the Habs the season before, wasn’t the shadow of his old self.

And to compound the issue, All-Star goaltender Carey Price, usually a saviour in the Canadiens’ net, was having a horrible start to the season. It was later discovered that he was struggling from chronique fatigue syndrome, and a concussion later in the season put him on the shelf once again. Backup goaltender Al Montoya didn’t fair any better and was later traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Prior to the game against the Buffalo Sabres, only six teams in the NHL have allowed more goals than the Habs.

Further adding to the team’s porous defense is an anemic offense, as coach Claude Julien‘s team is third in the league in offensive futility, as only the Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes have scored less goals than them. Brendan Gallagher is the team’s leading points getter with 45 points in 74 games.

Young defensemen

As the season progressed and with the team out of playoffs’ contention, the Habs’ management is able to test the development of some of their top prospects by bringing in some of the Laval Rocket’s players. Charlie Lindgren was given a shot during Price’s injury, as did Nikita Scherbak, Mike McCarron, Jacob de la Rose and Daniel Carr at forward.

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Victor Mete

The biggest tests, however, seem to be at the Canadiens’ blue line. Surprisingly, 19 year-old Victor Mete spent the entire season with the Canadiens and he has shown that he can play in this league. The Woodbridge Ontario native won’t turn 20 until June and he pretty much has a spot on the team comes September.

Brett Lernout has been impressive since being called up. Standing at 6-foot 4-inches tall, he is an imposing physical presence with remarkably good mobility for a guy his size. The 22 year-old Winnipeg native is keeping his game simple and is a pleasant surprise so far. He is on the cusp of playing full time in the NHL.

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Noah Juulsen

Another player who has been a very pleasant surprise since being called-up is Noah Juulsen. Growing up in Surrey BC, Juulsen’s favourite player was former Vancouver Canucks’ Kevin Bieksa and we can certainly see some of the same qualities, a mobile, hard-nosed defenseman. Turning 21 in a couple of weeks, he still needs to fill-in a bit as at 175 lbs for his 6-foot 2-inches frame isn’t quite heavy enough for the rigorous NHL season and competition.

 

It is unfortunate that Rinat Valiev, the 22 year-old Russian defenseman the Canadiens obtained from Toronto in the Tomas Plekanec trade, has been injured two games into his first stint with the club as he is a big, mobile defenseman on the left side. Depending on how young Bergevin wants to get on the blueline and what he will do with the likes of Schlemko and Benn, Valiev could cause some pleasant surprises at camp next Fall.

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Mike Reilly

Perhaps the most impressive to the fan base but not to yours truly, Mike Reilly is finally given an opportunity to show what he can do. When you play behind the likes of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin, your ice time and chances to showcase what you’ve got is rather difficult. I was fortunate enough to have watched Mike play here in Penticton for a full season and I remember thinking that he was the best talent playing for the Vees since… Duncan Keith! Don’t get me wrong, he won’t be the new Keith but he does have a lot of the same skills, while giving a fifth round pick to get him is a steal of a deal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him given a chance, along with Mete, to be paired with Shea Weber next Fall.

It is highly doubtful that the Canadiens’ brass would want to start with such a young line-up but as it stands right now, the youngsters have outplayed some of the veterans and do deserve a chance to show what they can contribute.

Reilly/Mete – Weber

Alzner – Petry

Reilly/Mete/Valiev – Juulsen/Lernout

So if someone tells you that there is no future talent in Montreal, do yourself a favour and ignore them. It’s far from the truth. Go Habs Go!

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Top Cheese: December 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the Christmas break is approaching and the team finds itself in a bind for a playoffs’ position. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

We can all admit, things aren’t looking good for the Canadiens in their pursue of a playoffs’ spot. They find themselves three points back of the Boston Bruins, who still have three games in hand on the Habs, for the third and final spot in the division. They are five points back of the New York Rangers for the last Wild Card spot, and they have to leap-frog Carolina, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to get there.

While the odds are against them, there is still hope but the team will have to string a few winning streaks soon, very soon, if they hope to participate in the Spring tournament. The fanbase seems divided with some wishing them to sell immediately in hope for a better chance at getting the first overall pick while others, like yours truly, will never give up hope until it’s practically over. With a world-class goaltender like Price, making the playoffs should, in my opinion, be the number one priority as once you’re in, you never know. Just ask last year’s Nashville Predators…

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Speaking of goaltenders, as Carey Price goes, so do the Habs. This season, Price has played 19 games and he has a record of 8-9-2, with a 3.16 goals against average and a .899 saves percentage. Those numbers are well below what people should expect from him, and no one knows it better than Price himself. Here’s a breakdown of the goaltender’s performances in his wins, in comparison to his losses:

WINS

DETROIT 1 G 23 SA .957 Sv%
DETROIT 3 G 31 SA .903 Sv%
OTTAWA 1 G 28 SA .964 Sv%
COLUMBUS 1 G 38 SA .974 Sv%
BUFFALO 0 G 36 SA 1.000 Sv%
NY RANGERS 4 G 26 SA .846 Sv%
FLORIDA 1 G 27 SA .963 Sv%
BUFFALO 2 G 45 SA .956 Sv%
TOTAL: 13 G 254 SA .949 Sv%

LOSSES

EDMONTON 4 G 14 SA .714 Sv%
CALGARY 3 G 37 SA .919 Sv%
ST. LOUIS 4 G 30 SA .867 Sv%
MINNESOTA 5 G 26 SA .808 Sv%
LOS ANGELES 4 G 28 SA .857 Sv%
ANAHEIM 6 G 45 SA .867 Sv%
SAN JOSE 4 G 34 SA .882 Sv%
TORONTO 4 G 22 SA .818 Sv%
CHICAGO 3 G 25 SA .880 Sv%
NY RANGERS 2 G 25 SA .920 Sv%
WASHINGTON 4 G 14 SA .714 Sv%
TOTAL: 43 GA 300 SA .857 Sv%

Pundits like to pounce on Bergevin and the Habs at any chance they get but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we will recognize and admit that not many teams in today’s NHL will win games when their goaltender has a saves percentage below .900… particularly not when he’s your franchise player.

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As Kari Lehtonen reached the 300 wins plateau, The Hockey News released a list of the Top-10 active goaltenders with the most wins.

 

But I would like to add a twist to it, by including the age of each goaltender. Have a look:

  1. Luongo (38) FLA 459
  2. Lundqvist (35) NYR 419
  3. Fleury (33) VEG 378
  4. Miller (37) ANA 361
  5. Ward (33) CAR 300
  6. Lehtonen (34) DAL 299
  7. Rinne (35) NSH 285
  8. Price (30) MTL 278
  9. Quick (31) LA 275
  10. Anderson (36) OTT 245
 Also, if or when you chose to compare the number of wins by goaltenders with the all-time greats, don’t forget that the players mentioned above all benefited greatly from the overtime and shootout wins, something their predecessors didn’t, for the most part.

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In case you’ve been living under a rock and had yet to notice, the witch hunt is full on by some fans and members of the media to get Canadiens’ General Manager’s Marc Bergevin‘s head cut off. But someone dared posting Bergevin’s win/losses record, and found an interesting way to look at the trades that he’s pulled since he was made in charge of the team.

Oh he’s not perfect, don’t get me wrong, but if you show me a perfect GM or coach, I will show you a liar.

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In response to the people who have been calling for the firing of the Habs’ GM, Canadiens’ owner Geoff Molson said that Marc Bergevin has his full support.

“We’ve got some room on the cap, and you never know what he might do or might not do,” said Molson. “He certainly does have the license to improve the team, and that’s his job. I support him fully.”

This might have to do with the fact that he, like other reasonable hockey men around the NHL, understands what @HankBart91 pointed out and that he is still very much respected around the league. Fans can kick, scream and have a temper tantrum all they want, Bergevin’s job is safe until at least the end of the season.

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There are plenty of rumours going around and as we’ve explored in a recent article, the Habs Are Not Alone Looking For A Forward. That being said, Bergevin is still looking at filling the hole on the team’s top defensive pairing, a suitable partner to Shea Weber.

One interesting rumour going around is the supposedly interest from Bergevin towards another former Chicago Blackhawks, puck moving defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Oh he won’t be putting up points on the board, but he is a very good skater with good size and an excellent defender. He can also easily log-in 20-25 minutes of ice time. One has to wonder if Bergevin is talking to the Coyotes about Hjalmarsson, if the name of local product, 22 year-old Anthony Duclair, is part of it… To be followed.

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The Canadiens have announced that they were loaning defenseman Victor Mete to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships over the Christmas break. Most fans and media members are in agreement that the decision is a good one for the development of the 19 year-old.

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Victor Mete

While he played over 20 minutes per game in four consecutive games back in mid-October, Mete’s ice time has diminished since then and he’s been a healthy scratch a few times as well. He has even played forward one game in mid-November. This tournament should do wonders for him, playing quality minutes at a very high and intense level of hockey.

Where fans and media are not necessarily in agreement, is if he should return to Montreal or be sent back to junior after the tournament. The Canadiens have made no announcements about it yet, as it is doubtful that they know at this point. A lot of it might have to do with where the team will be in the standings, injuries and player movement (trades, waivers…).

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It will be interesting to see what the Canadiens do with puzzling forward Alex Galchenyuk in the near future. The enigmatic and talented forward has not been a shadow of his old self since his injury early last season and while many were blaming former coach Michel Therrien for his utilization of Galchenyuk, it seems like he’s finding himself in a second coach’s dog house with Claude Julien. At some point, people will have to stop blaming the coaches and see the whole picture about the young forward. His lack of effort is, in my opinion, the biggest reason why he’s not getting more suitable ice time in the NHL and that’s solely in his own hands.

Will he understand that one day soon, or will the Canadiens lose patience with him first? Time will tell. He still has some value on the trade market because he’s under contract for a couple more seasons and he’s not that far removed from a 30 goals’ season. Let’s hope for the Canadiens that he finds his game as they need offense and Galchenyuk would go a long way in providing just that.

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While Mikhail Sergachev is making a name for himself in Tampa Bay, Jonathan Drouin is battling through injuries and trying to learn a new position as a NHL centre. Bergevin’s failure, this past summer, was to be unable to address the team’s biggest need: a true top-end centre.

Drouin has been good under the circumstance but as it stands today, it looks like the Lightning has the upper hand on this deal. But be careful folks, don’t jump to conclusions too soon. At 14:55 minutes per game, Sergachev is sixth amongst Tampa’s defensemen in ice time, with 1:50 of which coming on the powerplay. Ten (10) of his 21 points also came on the powerplay so that doesn’t (yet) speak of a top-pairing defenseman, folks.

The support cast for both players is also quite different. Put Drouin with the Lightning and Sergachev with the Canadiens and it’s pretty safe to say that the numbers wouldn’t be anywhere close to what they are right now and that, for both players. Let’s give it a couple of years before jumping to that conclusion, shall we? In the meantime… Go Habs Go!!!