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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.