I don’t recall a Habs team of recent vintage that relied so heavily on just its core players this late into the season to ensure there is a second season.

You expect leaders to lead, especially with a game – and a season – on the line. But you also expect others to follow. At the moment, the Canadiens roster appears to be filled out by American Hockey League level players. Fact is, some of them actually are. The rest are contributing so little that I suspect it has forced GM Marc Bergevin into making a move or two that, say a month ago, he would not have considered.

It was an impressive third period to be sure. But where is the sense of urgency prior to the final 20 minutes? Where is the killer instinct heading into a game against one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference?

If you can figure these guys out, let me know. In the meantime, because they had to work so hard to earn two points, you might want to brace yourself for an ugly game back home against the big, powerful and rested Columbus Blue Jackets who are coming off back to back wins against the Islanders and Rangers by a combined score of 12-2.  Feels like the Habs are going to have to rely on another leader to take his game to its highest level. Good luck with that, Carey Price.

THE GOOD

  • Max Pacioretty. Once upon a time I talked about how Pacioretty’s goal as captain should be to model himself after Steven Stamkos. Talk (which the highly intelligent Pacioretty is very good at) really is cheap with a ‘C’ on your jersey. He needed to take over games, carry his team and score goals when they mattered most. He’s always been good at scoring goals. This season, we’ve seen the rest of his game catch up to his talent. Fourth consecutive 30 goal season (5th of his career). Needs 9 in 19 games to hit the 40 mark for the first time in his career. Only one player in the NHL has scored more than Pacioretty’s 31 goals this season. His name is Sidney Crosby. It’s difficult to imagine the Habs doing a whole lot at playoff time without a major infusion of talent. But Pacioretty has more than done his part as captain to keep the season alive.
  • Alexander Radulov. Back to full on Radulov-as-beast mode. Just when you’re thinking he might be running on empty he managed to summon up the energy and the will to hep bring his team back from the brink. His goal just 11 seconds after the Devils had taken what appeared to be an insurmountable two goal lead in the third period ignited his team. A strong wrist shot through the legs of defenseman Ben Lovejoy (after swatting down a poor airborne pass from Alexei Emelin) seemed to catch Cory Schneider by surprise. And what looked like an easy rest of the night for the Devils goaltender turned into something else entirely and he wasn’t up to it. Much like what we saw in Toronto, Radulov got stronger as the game got deeper. He can’t possibly be pacing himself, can he?
  • Alex Galchenyuk. Like most of his teammates he was pretty bad for the first half of the game. But with his talent all he needs is a little time and space to create offense and on a couple of occasions when he did find a man open nothing happened. The move by his coach to the wing seemed to loosen him up. He is quite capable of going on a Filip Forsberg-type run. But only if he gets to play with better line mates. Who else was on the ice when he blasted his overtime winner?
  • Shea Weber. The Devils were so concerned about Weber’s shot during the 4 on 3 power play that it was only a matter of seconds before he found an open teammate. Second two point night in the last four games. First game with two helpers since January 11th. He is spending more time in the offensive zone. How about that rush that resulted in a smart shot along the ice (and a rebound) and his mad dash back to push Travis Zajac (there’s a guy I’d try to get) off the puck inside the Habs blue line. Limped off the ice at one point in the third period (shot block?) while his ice time was an unusually low 20:48 which should help him during the Bell Centre match up against Columbus.
  • Jeff Petry. Logged a game high 24:07. Almost won the game in overtime with a great shot that just missed high glove under the crossbar on Schneider.
  • Nathan Beaulieu. Still too many mysterious shifts in his own end but it was Beaulieu who helped spark the game winner in overtime when he broke up a rush in his own end and carried the puck deep into New jersey territory before taking it to the net where he was stopped by Schneider. Even though the puck was out of harm’s way I’m guessing defenseman Damon Severeson lost sight of it because that was one strange, obvious hook that hauled Beaulieu down to put the Habs on the power play. It was a smart move to get Beaulieu on the ice 3 on 3. He should be out there more often in those situations.
  • Al Montoya. Habs don’t survive if Montoya doesn’t stop Stefan Noesen who was sent in alone with three minutes to play. He also came up big elsewhere but that was truly a game saver with the Habs trailing by a goal and time running out.
  • Andrew Shaw. There are two players who have upped their game considerably since the coaching change – Shaw and Carey Price. Oh yeah, something happened alright.
  • Claude Julien. Observation time is done. While wondering where the strong game of at least a couple of key players has gone he mixed things up in the second period and again in the third. We also saw vintage Julien behind the bench yelling at a zebra after New Jersey’s power play goal gave them a 3-1 lead. Go figure – barely a minute later Miles Wood was called for holding to put the Habs on the power play. It was the first shorthanded goal surrendered by Montreal since Julien replaced Michel Therrien.
  • Marc Bergevin. Jordy Benn is better than Greg Pateryn. He’s better than Nikita Nesterov. And he’s better than the Alexei Emelin we’ve seen of late. But Bergevin’s job might depend on what happens next. Remember – Geoff Molson’s letter to season ticket holders a year ago referred to last season’s debacle as just a “bump in the road”.

THE BAD

  • Tomas Plekanec. Habs surrendered the first goal of the game in the final 20 seconds of the opening period with their best defensive players (including Plekanec) on the ice. While shorthanded in the third, Plekanec lost a defensive zone face off (sound familiar?) cleanly to Zajac who then pounced on a rebound while Plekanec was in no-man’s land to give New Jersey a two goal lead with just over 12 minutes to play.
  • Andrei Markov. Struggled.
  • Nikita Nesterov. At least he drew a penalty. The more you see the less you like.
  • Artturi Lehkonen. Julien recognized that Lehkonen’s game was at a stand still. By the end of the night he was on the 4th line. That’s two straight subpar performances for the rookie winger.

THE UGLY

  • Brendan Gallagher. Is it possible he might be playing himself off the team? There is no easier guy to root for but Julien must be wondering what happened to the guy who used to drive him nuts when he was in Boston. Bergevin likes the term “off the charts” when describing leadership qualities. And it fits Gallagher. But he also has to produce. Considering how badly his team needs offense you can’t help but think that he might have to part with Gallagher to get it.

  • Vanishing acts. It’s not just Gallagher of course. But he was counted on for 20+ goals as a second line right winger. Even through the injuries he’s simply not helping the offense. He’s pointless in the six games since returning to “health” but even prior to the injury there were issues. Overall, he’s pointless in 9 games and has a total of just one goal in his last 17 games. Gallagher admitted to Arpon Basu of NHL.com that his twice broken hand is playing on his mind. But somethings gotta give because if some other players had been chipping in it would alleviate the pressure on Gallagher. But there is no sign of help coming from within any time soon. And there is just one game left for who knows how many players? In the meantime, read it and weep:
  • Plekanec: Since scoring in 3 straight games in early January, Plekanec has one goal (4 points) in 20 games. He’s averaging 16:58 of ice time per game.
  • Phillip Danault. Hasn’t scored a goal in 15 games (5 assists) while playing between Radulov & Pacioretty. He’s averaging 15:12 (but only two games under 15:00 since Christmas).
  • Paul Byron. He’s pointless in the month of February (12 games). Has scored 2 goals in his last 25 games. He’s averaging 14:53.
  • Lehkonen. Since scoring his 11th goal of the season against the Sabres on Januray 21st Lehkonen is pointless in 15 games. He’s averaging 13:49.
  • Torrey Mitchell. Since a two goal game against the Devils on December 8th, Mitchell has gone 36 games without scoring. His last point was an assist against Calgary on january 24th. He’s averaging 12:51. (Since Julien took over Mitchell’s ice time has wisely been cut to 10:00 or less. Back in the bad not-so-old days of fighters and body checkers and “energy” guys filling out a 4th line Mitchell stood out as somebody who could out skate opponents. Not anymore.)
  • Brian Flynn. No goals or points in 14 games. When he plays he averages 12:18.
  • David Desharnais. One goal in 15 games. He averages 13:06.
  • Sven Andrighetto. Two goals in his 27 games. Hasn’t scored since January 18th (12 games). He averages 11:28.

That’s nine of the Habs 13 forwards who have gone MIA since 2017. And who’s real good “without the puck”? There is no great mystery about what Bergevin has to do.

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4 Responses

  1. Harry

    Gord Miller tweeted last week: “One GM told me the hardest top-end players to get in order: D, C, G, wingers.”

    It might have been unthinkable as recently as December, but I think Brendan Gallagher is the piece that should be moved if it means bringing in top-end talent at C or on D. Wingers are far more replaceable.

    Gallagher is young, a great teammate, and affordable but he’s not producing. I’m willing to bet that there’s a GM out there who’s willing to gamble on a change-of-scenery type of move. Colorado looks a bit thin on RW. Maybe Gallagher would be an upgrade on MacKinnon’s wing over 31 year old Blake Comeau.

  2. IMS1965

    I was at the game last night, along with two friends. As an aside, there were probably as many Habs fans as Devils fans, and the Prudential Center fans are lot more welcoming than those in either Madison Square Garden or the Wells Fargo Center. The first two periods exemplified the worst of “Devils Hockey”, but they were aided by a Habs team that won very few battles along the board for puck possession in the offensive zone (a big bugaboo for Knuckles Nilan) and generally seemed disinterested in doing anything other than getting the puck out of its own zone.

    He didn’t get a “game star”, but to me the star of the game was Montoya. Without him, the Habs are probably trailing by three goals in the third period.

  3. dra58

    Agree with most of your stuff about the bad and the ugly except that you should have had Pleky in the ugly. He has been stinking since he signed that contract extension and hopefully MB can either trade him by tomorrow or we loose him to Vegas because that contract versus his return is an albatros around the teams neck.

  4. Michael Nixon

    Mitch, I agree totally with your comment that there are lots of AHL players on this roster but whose fault is that. As much as I disliked MT, I have to be fair and recognize he didn’t have a whole lot to work with.

    It is the GM’s job to provide his coach with players and Bergevin has done a horrible job in five years. Not to mention other guys are just done and still getting way too much ice time. Plekanec is one…he is simply awful and just can no longer compete. He should be getting, at best, fourth line minutes but because Mtl is so bad down the middle, he ends up getting more minutes than Galchenyuk.

    But the simple fact is this team is not good enough, not talented enough, especially up front. And other competitors like Toronto and Ottawa (today getting Viktor Stalberg) build depth and Bergevin sits and does nothing and has done nothing for much of his five years. Putting the Weber deal aside, and one could easily argue who got the better of that deal, what the hell has Bergevin done to make this team better in his five years. We still have the same problems down the middle we had when he got here. Yes, trading for Petry was a good deal but we still rely far too much on Markov, Emelin is nothing better than a third pairing D but we use him in the first pairing because we do not have any talent. His drafting has been awful and the development of players leaves a lot to be desired. These are all issues under the GM’s responsibility.

    Therrien needed to go but, IMO, so does Bergevin. There is zero evidence in his tenure of providing the coach with any decent help.

    You know, I am a big New York Giants fan and I could not believe they fired Tom Coughlin last year when he, like MT, had nothing to work with, especially on defense. Then the Giants and their GM decide to spend $200M on some defensive help and, poof, the Giants make the playoffs mainly because of a much better D. The same can be said for the Habs…right now there is a decided lack of talent and that is on the GM. I still say you guys give MB the kid glove treatment…he has done a terrible job in five years and the evidence is there in the play of this team and in the type of players we have. Does anyone really think that Andrighetto, Mitchell, Flynn, Emelin or so many others would be getting regular minutes anywhere else but Montreal?

    We have a talent starved team except for about five forwards, a couple of D and our all world goalie. That’s it. Frankly, I think this organization is a mess, starting with Geoff Molson who seems to believe his GM can do no wrong.