Injuries are part of any sport and while there is an old saying that one should not use injuries as an excuse, the fact remains that in a league where parity has become the norm, having one or more key players out of the line-up for any extended periods of time can have a huge negative impact on the end results.
No other team knows that better than the Montreal Canadiens whom, just last season after a very hot start, lost the league reigning Most Valuable Player in Carey Price, only to see their season crumble into pieces, unable to stop the slide towards the bottom of the NHL standings. While Price was the key injured player last season, the Habs had also lost the services of other important contributors such as Brendan Gallagher (broken fingers) and P.K. Subban (back) who was shut down when the season was lost, amongst others.
The 2016-2017 season doesn’t seem to be much kinder to the Canadiens who have been dealing with injuries to key players. Zach Redmond missed the teams’ first 21 games to an injury. Young phenom Alex Galchenyuk will miss his 14th game of the season tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, as he hurt his knee on December 4th. He was averaging a point per game at the time. David Desharnais and Greg Pateryn are still sidelined and have both missed 12 games so far. Brian Flynn missed 11 games, Andrew Shaw will miss his 10th game tonight, Artturi Lehkonen missed 9 games earlier this season, tonight will be Andrei Markov‘s eight game missed to a lower-body injury and Nathan Beaulieu missed 6 games this season. Winger Paul Byron will miss tonight’s game with what was described as an upper body injury after falling victim to a solid check by Patrick Sharp in Wednesday’s game against the Dallas Stars.
To make matters worse, the Canadiens have now lost Gallagher for a minimum of 8 weeks (18 games minimum) to a broken hand as he was victim of a slap shot from none other than Shea Weber, hitting him on the hand which resulted in the feisty winger requiring surgery to realign some bones.
With the injuries above-mentioned, the team has called up wingers Sven Andrighetto and Nikita Scherbak, who will be making his NHL debuts tonight against the Maple Leafs.
With all that said, the Canadiens are not the team suffering the most, believe it or not, to the injury bug. As of December 31st, the Detroit Red Wings had lost 252 man-games, followed by the Edmonton Oilers with 212 man-game. The Habs were 14th in the NHL at the time, with a total of 103 man-game lost. The healthiest team in the league this season has been the Washington Capitals, whose players have missed a combined total of… 10 games all year! Second are the San Jose Sharks with 34 man-game lost followed by, surprisingly, the Colorado Avalanche who have lost 52 man-game.
The good news for the Canadiens is that both Galchenyuk and Markov are scheduled to come back to the line-up this week, while Byron is working out off-ice. The team has yet to provide any concrete update on Desharnais and Shaw.
The dust has settled on Montreal after much movement and clean-up by the Canadiens’ brass. Trades, signings, draft picks, much criticism and some time later, we are finally set to see if this newly revamped team has what it takes to make us forget the nightmare that we all had to go through last year. The time to criticise, to analyse, has finally come and gone and Habs’ fans everywhere cannot wait to see them in action once again. First though, let’s look in a bit more detail not at those who have gone, but at those who have come to replace them. Who exactly are those new faces and mostly, what is it that they bring to this team?
Grit… and lots of it. Since the Canadiens traded away Brandon Prust, they missed some sand paper on the team and it was painfully obvious, particularly when the team was facing more physical teams. The Plekanec, Pacioretty, Desharnais and company too often disappeared with no one having their back in scuffles and while fancy stats people will never recognise it, it remains a key aspect of the game. Shaw also brings net presence, as we know. A slightly bigger Gallagher, a pest who can back it up, a guy who plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot 11″ show. He brings all of that with a pair of decent hands while playing a great two-way game. He gives an effort game in, game out. Let’s also not underestimate a key factor he brings with him: a winning attitude from his days in Chicago.
Much has been said and written about Weber since THE trade. Everyone knew about the leadership as he is the most recent winner of the Mark Messier leadership award. Everyone in Montreal knew about the “intangibles”, the fact that he’s one of the NHL’s true gamers. Heck, some advanced stats guys tried to make you believe that at 31 years of age, he was all but finished. Some who hadn’t followed Weber’s career closely took those words to the bank but the bankers refused them a loan, as we’ve explored when people around the NHL described the Man Mountain. But a huge number of Habs’ fans changed their tune after watching him closely at the recent World Cup of Hockey, when he was the ultimate shutdown defenseman on the winning Team Canada squad.
Talent will only get you so far but nothing replaces experience, and Montoya brings a whole lot of it. No one in their right mind would blame last year’s fiasco on Mike Condon but he was very much unproven at any level, let alone in the NHL. GM Marc Bergevin wasn’t going to risk the same mistake twice in the event Carey Price goes down and Montoya, who knows his role as a backup, will be able to step up. He has enough experience to be able to handle the pressure of goalkeeping in Montreal and remains a decent insurance policy for Michel Therrien‘s team.
Redmond brings one thing: depth at the blue line. He surprised many by out-duelling Mark Barberio for the last spot on the Canadiens’ defensive corp and while his tenure with the team has yet to be determine, particularly based on what the team brass decides what to do with youngster Sergachev, he will be able to provide depth. NHL seasons are long and injuries happen, as we’re already witnessing with Jeff Petry and as Bergevin often said himself, you can never have too much depth on defense.
Radulov is an intriguing one to say the least. Yes, he brings a troubled past but as we’ve discussed after he signed with the Canadiens, Radulov is a Gamble, But The Odds Are On His Side. If what we’re reading is true, Radulov is a changed man and has been for the past couple of seasons. He does bring some much needed offensive skills, some natural goals’ scoring and play making abilities, but he also brings with him some leadership qualities which Sergei Fedorov was raving about out in the KHL. He could also help on what has been in recent years, a pretty anemic powerplay.
"I really like what I see of Radulov. His work ethics, his enthusiasm…" ~ Michel Therrien on @919sports
The easy one here is youth and enthusiasm, although the kid seems quite reserved so far… but that could change when he gets accustomed to his teammates and to the NHL. There is no denying his offensive flair and he has done quite well for himself in preseason games. To his credit, coach Therrien has put him in a position to succeed so far, playing on offensive lines. Let’s hope that this continues as Lehkonen has the speed, the shot and the hockey IQ to have a good rookie season in Montreal. After all, his coach in the SEL was quoted as saying that he’s not expecting him back as he’s too talented.
Perhaps the biggest surprise at camp and that, in spite of blowing everyone out of the competition this summer at evaluation camp. Like Lehkonen, he does bring youth but it’s his skating abilities from the back end, which isn’t without reminding yours truly of a certain Erik Karlsson. His first pass in combination with his size make him what he is. He is the youngest defenseman to start with the big club since Mathieu Schneider did way back when. The jury is out when it comes to keeping him all season or to send him back to his junior team for the year, but I fully support the decision to keep him for a few games to see what he can do when the chips are down, facing full NHL clubs.
Last but not least, this old new-comer could very well be the single most influential and positive addition to the team in the off-season. We know what Captain Kirk did for the Canadiens’ powerplay before accepting a job as headcoach, and we’ve also seen the team struggle to regain that glory since his departure. If what we’ve seen in preseason is a precursor to things to come – and I believe it is – not only should the powerplay help the team win games, but his job title as Associate Coach will add more weight to his input on Therrien when it comes to game decisions from behind the bench.
Add those qualities to the return of Carey Price and you have the recipe to see the Canadiens not only rebound from the hiccup of last season, but to return to being the Stanley Cup contender that they were becoming prior to a devastating season. Enjoy the season folks, it should be a fun one. Remember though… Never too high, never too low! Go Habs Go!