Suddenly, the Montreal Canadiens are the second youngest team in the National Hockey League. Do they get even younger by the time they hit the ice in San Jose  following the trade deadline – or do they get better? Or are these rhetorical questions in the aftermath of the biggest season collapse most of us have ever seen?

Trading Dale Weise was a no-brainer. So was replacing Tomas Fleischmann with a much younger player who will probably do better than one goal and two assists (Fleischmann’s total over the final 23 games of his Montreal career) for the rest of the season.  But who’s next?

In the meantime it was fun watching a couple of players in their early 20s make their Bell Centre debut. It added some extra spice (as Bob Gainey might say) to what might have been an otherwise meaningless, dreary Saturday night that was only going to drive home the point that the playoff edition of Hockey Night in Canada will feature nothing but U.S. teams.

THE GOOD

  • Greg Pateryn. Followed up his best NHL game with another strong effort, even earning some power play time (1:38). I put him up here to highlight the fact that some of you might have forgotten how the Habs got him – from the Leafs for Mikhail Grabovski. His assist on Montreal’s 4th goal was his first career point in 38 games.
  • Mike Condon. Made key saves out of the gate stopping Nazem Kadri and Peter Holland from in tight and then preserved a one goal lead in the second period by stopping Leo Komorov on a breakaway during a Montreal power play. Condon is 3-0-1 in his last 4 starts, allowing more than 2 goals only in the victory in Washington.
  • Alex Galchenyuk. Beauty of a finish to tie up the game less than two minutes after Matt Hunwick scored on a two on one to open the scoring. Three goals in the last two games make it a cinch Galchenyuk will reach a career high in goals. And perhaps stop the nonsense about a possible trade.
  • Lars Eller. The only Montreal forward to hit the 18 minute mark in ice time. It was Eller outmuscling Morgan Reilly behind the Toronto net which started the play that led to Galchenyuk’s 17th goal of the season.  Undeniable chemistry to date with Galchenyuk. But with an Oilers scout in the press box (and almost nobody else) you can’t help but wonder if we’ve seen Lars play for the last time as a Hab. But we also thought that was a strong possibility exactly one year ago.
  • Sven Andrighetto. He’s proven he can play in the NHL. What he has yet to prove is an ability to score enough to play a Top 6 role. These final 21 games should make it more clear.
  • Andrei Markov. The real Markov is back alright. Not only did he thread the needle to the Habs top goal scorer to give Montreal a two goal lead in the third period, his reaction was one of a player whose joy has also returned. Markov pulled out his best Chi Chi Rodriguez impression, substituting hockey stick for golf club.  Clearly out of some personal darkness.
  • Max Pacioretty. Bad start when he gave the puck away in his own zone but was bailed out when Condon stopped Kadri. Late in the period he took a dumb penalty when he stuck his knee out to trip Kadri. His second period was noticeable only for the fact that he wasn’t. But in the third it was that Markov pass that got him going. He scored his second of the night less than two minutes later when he went to the net and picked up a Pateryn carom off the backboards. His shot at a natural hat trick was foiled by Jonathan Bernier who stopped him on a breakaway with nine minutes to play. Naturally, Pacioretty’s first two goal game since October 13(!) was followed by “Where’s that been all season?” chatter on social media. A fair question.
  • Brendan Gallagher. A force in front of Bernier all night (or a pest if you’re a Leafs fan). Had a goal called back after he batted the puck in with a (barely) high stick. These goals should count. The NHL should go back to the old rule of disallowing goals only a players stick is above his shoulder.
  • Victor Bartley. Looks good, or at least looks like a better NHL defenseman right now than Jarred Tinordi, who was again a healthy scratch again for the sinking Arizona Coyotes
  • Jacob de la Rose. Shifted back to left wing to make room for a kid from Victoriaville. If at least one current centreman (Eller, Plekanec, Desharnais) is traded by Monday – or in the off season – where does that leave de la Rose – or is it possible he’s the one who gets dealt?
  • Phillip Danault. Rocky start with line mates de la Rose and Paul Byron as they were victimized on the opening goal by Hunwick just five minutes into the game. But Danault came as advertised – a very good skater and heady player in all three zones who helped kill penalties and won face offs (79%).
  • Michael McCarron. The biggest reason to watch the Habs final 21 games. Even though he didn’t arrive at the Bell Centre until 3:30 PM after playing for St. John’s Friday night, McCarron had a major impact on the game, starting with his line mates. McCarron breathed new life into Torrey Mitchell and Devante Smith-Pelly. He did most of the grunt work on the Smith-Pelly goal when he used his 6’6″ 230 pound frame to separate the puck from defenseman Frank Corrado. Mitchell pounced on it, made a nice back pass to Pateryn at the point who slid it over to Alexei Emelin whose shot nicked off  an immovable McCarron in front of Bernier, trickling to the goal line where Smith-Pelly put the finishing touch on it. McCarron’s first NHL point on a Saturday night at home against the Maple Leafs will be difficult to forget. He managed the same number of shots on goal as Pacioretty (5) in only 10:17 of ice time. Twice he stripped Leafs of the puck and put himself in a strong shooting position. The Habs have been searching for a big, impact centre for over two decades. Now they have one in their line up who is presumably the biggest to ever play for them (Pete Mahovlich was 6’5″. Bobby Smith was 6’4″). What remains to be seen over the next 20 games and perhaps 2-3 seasons is just how much of an impact he provides. It was a good start. Welcome to Montreal kid.
  • Marc Bergevin. I suspected he’d be able to get a second round pick for Dale Weise. I didn’t think he’d get anything more than a 7th for Fleischmann. Weise’s initial asking price was reportedly in the 3.5 million a year range. No wonder Bergevin did not negotiate off that figure. Weise can now make a bigger name for himself and – if all goes well – an even bigger wallet. But not back here.

THE BAD

  • Opening goal by Hunwick. An ill advised pinch by Emelin led to a 2 on 1. It appeared that the Habs had the right guy chasing. But Byron couldn’t get to Hunwick as the Habs’ winger stopped skating, either because he was gassed or realized he couldn’t catch the Toronto defenseman. At least Emelin bounced back to have a good night.
  • Tomas Plekanec. Meh.
  • Morgan Ellis. Not dressed. Recalled with McCarron. Was hoping to see his NHL debut while putting up very strong numbers for St. John’s – 12 goals, 31 points from the blue line in 56 games. Ellis has played four pro seasons since being selected by the Habs in the 4th round of the 2010 draft (same year as Tinordi and Gallagher). The PEI native is an intriguing prospect. It’s interesting to note that the Habs VP and Director of Amateur Scouting Trevor Timmins has joined the rest of the Habs front office in San Jose. It might not mean anything but a year ago when the Habs hit the west coast (following a 4-0 home win over Toronto) on deadline day, Timmins did not make the trip.

THE UGLY

  • Report out of New England that expands on Ron Fournier’s proclamation two weeks ago that there are problems in the Canadiens’ room that can be traced to P.K. Subban. Jimmy Murphy suggests the schism is the direct result of a Subban-Pacioretty rift that featured the Habs captain telling Subban to “tone it down”. *(PLEASE listen to the link) A personality issue is one thing – Subban has been through it all at age 26. But I don’t think you have to be a sociology major to get that having a white player of privilege tell a flamboyant black urbanite to tone it down sounds almost hopeless. Maybe they’ve hugged it out by now (but if you watched the Habs leave the ice after their win over Toronto and paid attention to Subban doing his thing – standing off to the side and congratulating his teammates one by one as they leave the ice – like a captain would do, a la Jonathan Toews – and noticed how he was totally ignored by Pacioretty – and Plekanec for that matter – then it’s clear there are still hard feelings) but if this is in fact irreparable to the point that not even Carey Price can play peacemaker then somebody’s gotta go. Marc Bergevin has already said he’s not trading Subban. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned this season it’s that Bergevin, for good or ill, means what he says.

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13 Responses

  1. Francois

    I’m really excited about McCarron’s addition. Time will tell but I hope he becomes a solid 2nd line centre man behind Chucky (one can dream). Patch has been a disappointment in my book, yes he can score goals but he’s rarely involved physically and he should be ashamed to let opponents abuse Gally after every whistle.

  2. Jay

    For the record..Subban has done the ‘end of the line’ back slaps since day one…pointing it out and identifying it as a sign of Subban trying to weild power or usurp power from Patches is…clickbait material.

    Patches shows no sign of irritation while on the ice…talks to the media in little more lively voice than Toews and states irritations are media creation..so..not sure the strawman argument of Captain told a player to tone it down is media worthy.

    After 7 yrs of playong with each other I am sure both have had their stern words for each other..its bound to happen with guys who see each other more than their wives/girlfriends.

    • Mitch Melnick

      I’m quite aware that Subban has been at the end of the line for years. Just pointing out that there is virtually no response when Pacioretty & Plekanec skate off. Both guys are professionals. Just like comedy teams, movie stars and radio announcers are filled with stories of discontent and even hatred towards each other but away from the stage, the camera and the microphone.

      You’re actually comparing his speaking pattern to Jonathan Toews? I suppose I get it. It’s the only comparison you can make, for now.

      Somebody with access to the Canadiens room decided to blame a team-wide slide on P.K. Subban. The moment they went to Ron Fournier – in gutless fashion (even if they do believe it was for the good of the team) – they had to expect they were, at the same time, inviting more scrutiny. So here we are.

  3. Kostas

    Finally
    Someone who knows what he is talking about.

    Thank you sir.

  4. Michael Nixon

    Guys like Pacioretty and Plekanec have to go. I am tired of both of them and Pacioretty seems to me like a real prima donna. He has been invisible all year and when we needed him he was nowhere to be found. I think time is running out on him and I hope P.K. had an appropriate response which, in my honourable opinion, would be to tell Pacioretty to take a flying leap off a short pier.

  5. Michael Nixon

    Dear Mitch…heard parts of your interview with
    Bergevin and parts of his presser but I have to ask this. Where are the tough questions from the media on things they talk about every day but seem to be unwilling to ask Bergevin. Such as, why the rush to sign Tomas Plekanec to a deal that made him virtually untradeable? Same with Emelin, Desharnais and Eller. You’ve been here four years Marc…what exactly have you done to make the Canadiens a better team. The team still has the same scoring issues that they had before you came aboard. Or, do you think your coach made the proper adjustments since Carey went down in order to help the team win? Or, why are guys who are not producing, ie. Desharnais, continuing to get more ice time than players like Galchenyuk who have been producing. Or, your coach said he would have to monitor Markov’s ice time yet he has continued to have the second most minutes of any defenceman on your roster?

    Media likes to talk a good game but it seems they don’t ask the tough questions when they do get a chance, albeit rarely, with the GM? I listen to your show every afternoon and hear what you and others have to say then you get the coach and nothing of any hard nature is asked of him?

  6. Michael Nixon

    Then you get the GM on…is what I meant.

    • Mitch Melnick

      Nothing? What were you listening to? This was not an end-of-season wrap up. We had 8 minutes at the end of trade deadline day. The biggest issues were dealt with, namely Galchenyuk as a winger instead of down the middle where they are terribly weak, the Price injury and lack of adequate replacement, their complete collapse after the injury and issues in the room and/or between him and his coach. Considering how little he usually reveals I think we were able to illuminate a good chunk of what went/is wrong. The other questions will be asked in April. And most of those answers will be fairly obvious, if not at the time then certainly by the moves that he makes.

  7. Michael Nixon

    Well, Mitch, if TSN690 sends Tony or Mitch Gallo out to the end of year interview maybe those questions will get asked. Nonetheless, if you are talking about the end of trade deadline day then I think the question about Plekanec’s contract is extremely relevant because it is basically an untradeable contract thus reducing the possibility, either now or in the summer, of trading Plekanec to obtain that center we so desperately need. Same with regards to Emelin, Eller and Desharnais contracts. We can’t trade these guys because of the deals Bergevin gave them. If he says, put the blame on me, then I think he needs to admit he made mistakes with those contracts and he won’t do that again. I agree about the other stuff but, clearly, as this was trade deadline day, these contracts prevented the Canadiens from trading some of their assets in order to get rid of some of the deadweight on this team. Again, whether it was now or this summer, getting rid of these guys will be extremely difficult because of the deals they have.

    • Mitch Melnick

      Most teams didn’t make trades. Even teams that are in a lot better shape playoff-wise than the Canadiens. This was trade deadline day for playoff purposes this season. As you will see and have seen in the recent past if you were paying attention, much bigger – and better – deals get made in the off season. Get back to me then.

  8. Todd Plant

    Mitch, I like your insights in this piece, except for one. I don’t think you had to play the race angle on the reported Patches-Subban rift.

    I think the simple & more likely scenario (see Razor, Occam’s) is as follows: that Patches is a reserved, understated guy who is trying to emulate the Beliveau example and wants his mates to follow his lead. Subban is anything but understated, and hence there is some annoyance and jealousy about the attention the latter gets.

    Seeing as both men come from comfortable middle class backgrounds, there is little reason if any, to suggest that any notion of “white privilege” vs “black urbanite” applies here. Even less to suggest any racist underpinnings in the direction of Subban from Patches. This angle is really an ugly and extremely serious accusation towards the captain, which should not be made without cogent and compelling evidence. I have seen none.

    Sometimes the simpler explanation is the right one, and unless I see anything substantive, I’d rather the race angle be left in a lockbox only to be opened when such clear evidence is presented.

    As a side note, I enjoyed your interview of the GM the other day, and was flabbergasted when he falsely justified Chucky at wing by the numbers. He knows full well that the numbers show Chucky dominant at centre, not wing. The only reason he’s not playing centre is due to a stubborn and obtuse coach. It will be much worse, however, if the GM really believes in his take on the numbers and in his public support of the coach.

    • Mitch Melnick

      Thanks for writing. Pacioretty is from a well-to-do family. Suggesting he’s middle class is to totally redefine the term. He was raised in one of the wealthiest communities in America. Subban’s father was a high school principle in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Toronto. I tried to point out – WHILE URGING READERS TO LISTEN TO THE LINK – that really the only thing they have in common is the CH. It is clearly a personality clash. This is Pacioretty’s first go around as captain. Linking him in any way to Beliveau is folly (even without the post game ‘F’ bomb he dropped). The only player on the Habs who has a hint of Beliveau about him as a leader is their injured goaltender. Pacioretty has shown to be ultra sensitive to criticism and is, in many ways, a brooder. This is some of the baggage he carried with him into the captaincy. He’s certainly not alone in this team wide collapse but as their “leader” he must assume a disproportionate amount of responsibility. It was his first major test and it didn’t go well. On the ice, when presented with the possibility of having Alex Galchenyuk as his centre, Pacioretty made it clear he wasn’t thrilled and openly expressed doubt that it would work. It lasted two games (while Brendan Gallagher was injured). Even though the two played a 10 game stretch together last season and it was productive. On too many nights since mid-December the Canadiens looked like a dead ass team. A lot of that is on a coaching staff that couldn’t find a solution. It was also on the leadership core whose productivity all but vanished. Except for one guy – Subban.