Habs Rapid Fire: The First 51

Ah, the bye week… a time for a little bit of reflection, a little bit more contemplation, perhaps bit of catching up on the neglected or postponed facets of one’s life and perhaps just a dash of “what the hell am I going to do with myself until February?!”

 

With the first 51 games done and over with, many thoughts have run through our brains and either off into the great wild yonder or circulated back around and done a few more laps.  With so many to come and so many more to go, here are a few of those questions and possibly a couple answers to solve them…

 

  • When Jonathan Drouin was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning, we were promised the peak of Max Pacioretty.  We were being advertised this great promise of a dynamic playmaker –perhaps that answer to the premier spot among the centers– and that he would bring this prolific sniper on his wing to the promised land of 40 goals on the season and some dared to say more.  Why? Because this playmaker would complete passes to the slot at a tremendous rate… when he was already in said slot, where the aforementioned winger was never to be found.  On paper, a little less promising than it should have been read; in practice, far worse than anyone could have imagined.  Fast forward one year and for at least some stretch of time, the dynamic duo of Jonathan Drouin and a different Max in Max Domi ended up being everything that we were promised before.  Such has seemingly been the story in many areas for the Montreal Canadiens this season.

 

  • This may be a bad take when comparing the ceilings and overall numbers in their respective careers but Tomas Tatar is so much better for the Habs than Max Pacioretty ever could have been this season.  Yes, both are performing well right now and have been much of their respective seasons but when Tatar is absent from the score sheet, he remains noticeable and engaged.  He does so many of the things and shows the drive that fans wished Max Pacioretty would.  Getting Tatar plus a second round pick and an A level prospect in Nick Suzuki has made this the best superstar trade Marc Bergevin has made and certainly the least controversial of the bunch.

 

  • Observers have often found themselves in recent seasons to be playing standings watch with the Boston Bruins.  How is it that it always seems as though Boston has multiple games in hand not just this year but seemingly every year? There do appear to be some year to year redundancies with the schedule makers in the National Hockey League but this one is a bit curious.

 

  • Speaking of the Canadiens schedule, while many may envy that the team gets to escape to Florida for a weekend in February and to California in early March, they find themselves facing unenviable streaks of games in the latter portion of the season; most notably, they find themselves heading into Nashville before heading off to Tampa Bay and their dreaded annual stop at The Shark Tank sits right in the middle of the California nightmare.  However, the game against the Sharks is the first half of a back-to-back with Anaheim coming the night after and Los Angeles two days before and thus far this season the Canadiens boast a 4-2-1 record on the opening half of back-to-backs (including an impressive win over the Columbus Blue Jackets) and all of their losses have only been by one goal.  It has been a miserable 20 years where visits to the bay area are concerned but what we can take away from this trend is that if they do lose there for the umpteenth time in a row, it may at least be a respectable loss.

 

  • On a similar thought of schedule making follies, why are they going from Los Angeles to San Jose and then to Anaheim? Los Angeles and Anaheim are a mere half hour apart.  That smell in the air? That is the scent of a rat… a rat and wasted money, fuel, time and energy.

 

  • Who in the world would have predicted that Jordie Benn would have been tied for 12th place (with Joel Armia) in the team scoring rankings halfway through the season? If anyone had heard this back in September, the presumption would have been that this season would have been a greater disaster than they had anticipated.  He has spent stretches of time in Montreal being sung as a depth hero, he has spent even more time being depicted as a disaster on skates.  With many stepping up to the plate and knowing, contract year or not, that he cannot afford to fall behind, Jordie has done the unthinkable and taken action.  Yes, he was deployed in deep water playing on the top pair earlier in the season but how often does a left handed depth defenceman that is not renowned around the league for his shot end up playing so much better on the right side? Buyers at the deadline should take notice that he fought his way back to this level amidst Montreal pressure.

 

  • Another guy that has spent a chunk of time playing out of his depth but for a month now has been looking like a lightning bolt that got shot out of Youppi!’s hind quarters: Phillip Danault.  Tied with Jeff Petry in assists on the season and behind only Tomas Tatar in that race, Danault broke out in a massive way against the Vegas Golden Knights in the final game just before last month’s break.  In order for a team to go any distance in the time of year that matters the most after being written off by everyone before day one, they cannot afford to have silent passengers quietly going about their business.  Danault may or may not have been doing that for the first two months of the season but that changed in a massive way against a team that would know that better than anyone in the Golden Knights.  He does not appear to have spent much time looking back since.

 

  • One of the tragedies of this season was Andrew Shaw going back on the injured reserve.  This season he was a prime example of how different this team is and the seemingly universal improvements from last season.  His eventual return bears one universal hope: that he can find a way to keep it going as he had been prior to going down.  He is skating again but the exact date of his return remains unknown.

 

  • Is Victor Mete going to score this season? If he does not register a goal this year, he may go down as being the best player in a season where he scored zero goals.

 

  • Jeff Petry looked last season like he had lost the will to live, let alone play another hockey game.  He had been as bad or worse than anyone else on the ice more nights than not but this season, his role/assignments seem to have changed.  There were moments of doubt in him but he has persevered through every one of them thus far.  Doing such small, routine things, his benefits are –at times– thankless as they are less noticeable than that of say Shea Weber; this also leads to Petry’s mistakes, however rare or frequent, to being highlighted as the things that he does can be taken for granted.

 

  • Carey Price’s borderline miraculous turnaround this season has been amazing.  Early in the season he had games where he seemingly could not have stopped the Goodyear blimp let alone a puck while the Habs were first playing at a breakneck pace and putting up seemingly countless goals per game; betting the over on Habs games, win or lose, was the safest bet in sports through the fall.  When Carey first started to show signs of coming around again, trends in terms of speed and production began to take a hit and it was almost as if (valid theory) Price got in form again because he was being kept a little bit busier.  Whether it was that, making sorely needed adjustments on defence (properly deploying Benn, waiving Alzner, getting Shea Weber back, putting Mete on the top pair, etc.) things now appear to be clicking in unison and that is the point at which any given team can get dangerous.  The result of this? Players are starting to tune their shots too finely.  They are back to being under the impression that they have to take the perfect shot again to beat Carey Price which means that he has moved right back into his old home living in the heads of the opposition and when that happens, anyone would be hard pressed to find a game that this team would not have at least a reasonable shot at winning.

 

  • When Carey has stolen games, the same old rhetoric comes out of dozens of fan bases about how if it was not for him, their favorite team would have won or how the Habs would be screwed without him as if the fans of Les Glorieux should have to apologize for having him.  Should the Oilers or Penguins have to apologize for defecating out a winning lottery ticket and ending up with Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby? No, every successful team needs talent of such a degree.  Considering how good Niemi has been on a few occasions now, for a look at a team truly lost without their superstar, take a look at the Washington Capitals in games they have played without Alex Ovechkin.  By memory, that is six games to date and the Capitals are 0-4-2 and have scored just four goals in those games and yet no one cries about how their favorite team would have beaten them if not for The Great 8.  In the event that he does end up facing a one game suspension (as Carey Price will) for missing the all star festivities, keep an eye on how the Washington Capitals do without him.

 

  • The power play… what to do about the league’s worst power play that can go months between goals at home or seemingly at all? The apparent solution: put them up against the league’s #1 penalty kill.  Yep, the Arizona Coyotes hold the distinction of being the league’s best penalty killing team and the second best on the road (behind only Pittsburgh) which has to be doing something for them to still be in the playoff hunt in their conference.  Sure, it helps that the bottom half of the western conference is an absolute joke but the league’s top penalty kill is not for nothing.  Recalling that Chicago Blackhawks team in that won the Stanley Cup in 2013, their penalty kill was 3rd best in the league that season.

 

  • The last team to reach the playoffs with a last place power play (by memory) was the Columbus Blue Jackets just a few short years ago.  They were bounced by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.  Take that for whatever it may or may not be worth but in the event that the Montreal Canadiens find themselves with an invite to the big dance, they had best remember how drastically the early stages of the game against Arizona changed as a result of a foreign concept: a power play that actually looked good (a big enough achievement) and one that was productive.  Great things happen when you get enough men that are willing and involved playing below the dots.

 

  • In the event that the Habs find themselves in a playoff spot, they will live and die by what they are and what they have now: youth.  At last check, the Canadiens were the second youngest team in the league with an average age of 26.5 years old and not one forward that is over the age of 29 as Paul Byron does not turn 30 until April.  With or without the possibility or intention of being competitive, some guys like the resurgent Jordie Benn are going to have to go.  Thoughts at the deadline for either side of the coin must be about June but for this team, they must primarily be fixated on June 21st.

 

  • Time to get off of the stat sheet with what may be the key thought regarding the playoffs: what did memorable runs like 2010 and 2014 have in common? Probably a few things but perhaps most of all this: the Habs were not a high seed and performed their best against teams that were placed far above them.  The series to end each of those runs? Against the 7th seed Flyers (Habs were 8th) and the lower ranked Rangers.  In the seemingly likely event that they would be a lower seed, would this team perhaps have their opponents right where they want them? After all, if the Habs win so much as one of the first two games if they play on the road, the opposition has to go on the road thereafter and face the most hostile crowd in the league: Montreal in springtime.  One of the keys to sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning was that they were a young team just budding into the beast that they have become and they gave up not one but both games to the Canadiens before having to embark on the walk through Mordor and attempt to overcome that deficit by winning a playoff game in La Belle Province.

 

  • There are temptations of small purchases out there as only one regular center (Danault) is above 50% in faceoffs this season but the Habs would be best advised to live by the young and die by the young this season.  In the event that a young player that could benefit the team right now and do so following this season should become available, that may bear the possibility of being a different conversation.  The guiding rule for any incoming asset is that the best must still be to come.

 

  • What great things may happen when a philosophy makes a long overdue change.  During the previous coaching staff’s tenure, seeing so many players that were capable of so much better led to “if one or two guys are struggling, they are the problem; if only one or two guys are succeeding, the problem is deeper than them.” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, is worth noting that with this team playing above expectations and seemingly all hands on deck, maybe Claude Julien –clearly knowing that he is not coaching a grinding team, emphasizing now on speed and playing between the dots– should be in the discussion to be a serious candidate for the Jack Adams.  He will be in deep, though; Rick Tocchet is assembling things pretty nicely out in the desert and Barry Trotz is showing everyone that he might just be a real life wizard.  Talk about another team that was left for dead and presumed to be playing for ping pong balls going into this season.

 

  • The truest philosophical temptation in hockey is to say that most any season that does not result in a top five draft pick or a run to at least the conference final is a wasted season.  However, even a brief playoff run this year could provide critical experience for the plethora of young talent on this team today.  In the increasingly likely event that neither of the aforementioned results should come to fruition, this is the takeaway to hope for from the Habs 2018-19 season.

 

  • Fresh blood was clearly needed for the Habs.  A bonus benefit to this has been seen in a strange place: Habs Twitter, one of the darkest corners of Hockey Twitter –if not number one in that category but Islanders twitter gives them an astounding run for their money– for the last couple seasons more so than was normal before.  Much of it has shown progress in reuniting and pointing their torches and pitchforks back at someone other than each other.  The turning point? When the Canadiens moved up in the draft as a result of the lottery which would allow them (to the shock of a couple…) select the resident chosen one, The Mint One, Jesperi Kotkaniemi.  After last season and events of recent seasons (and summers) before that, the unanimous uplifting of a suffering fan base seeing a beyond dismal season pay off was an experience to behold.  A few solid factors have contributed to the collective healing and it was well overdue.

 

  • Does #HockeyTwitter need a rule book? Stay tuned… who’s to say one won’t pop up on here soon?

 

  • Final thought: it may be during the bye week but the staff here at All About The Habs will be present on January 30th for #BellLetsTalk Day and we encourage everyone to join in.  The community breaks the record year after year and this year the objective is no different.  For information on how to contribute to the cause and help end the stigma surrounding mental health, please click here to get involved and raise money for a worthy movement.  After all, who doesn’t pay a little more than they would like to for their phone bills and such? Something as simple as every tweet or retweet containing the aforementioned hashtag puts that money towards helping those suffering from mental health issues and perhaps more importantly, it gets people talking.  We may never see world peace but this, for at least a day, gives us an idea of what that might feel like.  Find us @AATHabs and join us in a conversation that’s bigger than hockey.
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