Alexei Emelin: A Negative Difference Maker

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(Source: Agence QMI)

When we look at “difference makers” on the ice, we often look for those who can be a game changer when their team needs it the most. This could be a shutdown center shutting down the opposing goal scorer, a goal scorer scoring at the right moment, or a goalie making that one extra save to secure his team’s win. However, people may not always think of difference makers in a negative way.


A player can be a difference maker in a win and in a loss. And Tuesday, Alexei Emelin was the difference maker in Montreal’s 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, costing his entire team the game.
Montreal heavily outplayed the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night. The Blackhawks finished with 51 shot attempts, 44 at even strength and 24 on goal while the Canadiens had 90 shot attempts, 74 at even strength and 42 on goal. According to stats’ guru Andrew Berkshire, Montreal finished with seven high danger scoring chances while the Blackhawks finished with only five.


Transitioning from Michel Therrien to Claude Julien has proven to be a very drastic change in playing philosophy for the team. Similar to going from an old, beat-up tire swing in the backyard to The Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland. Regardless, the start of the Claude Julien era was a bit sloppy in terms of system changes. The passes through all three zones didn’t always connect, but that was to be expected seeing as these players had been told not to carry the puck for the past five years and now they are being told to carry the puck.

The team started to gel on the Western road trip. Every player seemed to be playing better hockey, if not their best hockey of the season since Julien came in. All but one.

Mistakes are part of hockey, whether it be a collective defensive zone breakdown or an individualistic play; they happen, even to the best players. When one or two players aren’t performing, it’s on them. When it’s the entire team, it’s on the coach. Had Alexei Emelin only caused one of the goals against in the Chicago game, I probably wouldn’t find myself writing this article, but the fact is, he was the cause of three of the four Blackhawks’ goals.


Let’s look at goal number one:

Emelin gets caught puck watching. He over commits to the puck carrier (Artem Anisimov), putting himself out of position.

This allows Anisimov to make an easy pass to a wide open Patrick Kane. Had Emelin remained in his position, Kane would not have been wide open and wouldn’t have had an uncontested path to the net.

Goal number two:

This Oduya goal was caused  by an Emelin pinch at the Hawks’ blueline.

Emelin went for a hit but ended up running into teammate Brendan Gallagher, causing an odd man rush the other way. As you can see, Jeff Petry is once again forced to clean up another Alexei Emelin mistake. Kudos to Paul Byron’s exceptional back-checking ability on this play.

Emelin coasts back slowly, and at this point, Chicago is already controlling possession.

By the time Emelin returns to the defensive zone, the puck is already in and out of the net.

Goal number three:


This one is pretty self-explanatory. The play starts out as a one-on-three. Petry pushes Kane to the outside, forcing him to back up.

In this frame, there are three Canadiens and only one Blackhawk. There shouldn’t be any danger here.

Thus far, the coverage is good. The Canadiens even set up the diamond for a few seconds.

All of a sudden, Emelin who starts out on his left side moves way over to where Petry is which leaves a streaking Artemi Panarin wide open for what is essentially a breakaway.

He roofs it to make it 3-0 for the Hawks.
Three goals against with Emelin on the ice were a direct result of his peewee brain-farts. Emelin’s play has been trending downward since the start of the New Year, and it’s becoming more and more evident. Now, Claude Julien isn’t the type of coach to throw his players under the bus when it comes to poor play. However, Emelin has been making turnovers and pinches for the majority of this season. It’s just that Tuesday night, we saw the worst of it.

Claude Julien told media on Thursday that scratching Nathan Beaulieu had nothing to do with his play and that he just wanted to keep things fresh on the back end. That approach is understandable, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of Nathan Beaulieu who is one of their best puck moving defencemen. Moreover, he really isn’t as bad as many fans like to think he is.

Beaulieu has been one of the team’s most reliable defencemen as well as being an offensive threat since Julien took over.


There is a chance, however, that rather than benching or scratching Emelin, he (Julien) is hoping to see Emelin play himself out of this funk. I understand that approach, especially for a player’s confidence, but when the race for the playoffs is tight, Montreal can’t afford these recurring peewee mistakes by a 31-year old defencemen.


Time to sit him and to play the superior defencemen.


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Twitter: @PatrickTallon81


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