Grant’s Rant – Net Presence, Please!
December 9, 2017
By Grant McCagg
I understand that winning puck battles along the boards is the be-all-to-end-all for Julien, and it’s also very important for Bergevin given all of the players he’s acquired since becoming GM; in pretty much every case they have been muckers. The Habs have one of the smallest teams in the league, but lots of guys who play bigger than their size. The bottom line is this though – you need big guys with puck skills who can score goals too, including garbage goals.
Far too often this season the Habs have won lots of puck battles, been great along the wall in the offensive end, but then when it came time to put the puck in the net, the 5-9 or 5-10 170-pound guy trying to screen the goalie is easily moved out of the way, and the smaller guy who just won the puck battle shows why on every other team in the league he’s a third liner at best as he simply doesn’t have the finishing ability to be a productive scorer…especially when no one is screening the goalie.
I can’t understand why de la Rose was never used once in the previous five games on a struggling power play when he was “promoted” to the top line. Last week when de la Rose found his scoring confidence, it made sense to stick him out on a couple of power plays to see if he could build on that momentum as he really was playing well, but instead, because his line evidently lost a couple of puck battles versus the Blues, and even though it was predominantly Galchenyuk, de la Rose is the scapegoat because he is 22, and Froese is the coach’s new pet because he supposedly tries harder. DLR saw little ice in the last period versus the Blues and again in the next game…then…back to the stands while a 26-year-old with two career NHL goals plays as much as any fourth-line center in the league because Julien thinks he’s a mucker who wins some puck battles…the Habs forward units have almost become a cookie cutter group.
So just like earlier in the season, when de la Rose sat while Mitchell went out there and worked hard but showed nightly that he had no puck or finishing skills, DLR, a 22-year-old top 36 pick, retards his development sitting in the stands because if they tried to send him to the AHL he would be snapped up in a hurry.
There has been one prevailing issue with the Habs power play not only this season but the past few – no net presence. So why could they not have tried DLR on the power play and told him he had one main task…screen that goalie and create havoc with his size? That lack of net presence is also evident at even strength.
Before that, it was even more quizzical when McCarron was in the lineup that he was not used on the power play ONCE this season. Not once did they ask the 6-6 behemoth to do what he does every game in the AHL…stand in front of the opposing goalie and make his life difficult on the power play. I could understand it if the power play was rocking and there were great options…but every other forward on the team was tried on the struggling unit except for the one guy capable of actually screening the goalie adequately.
No…instead the Habs start the season with Hemsky on the power play, and have had the highly ineffective Pacioretty on the first unit for pretty much every game; two players who would rather tear out their fingernails than stand in front of the opposing net. Max has two power-play goals in the past 60 games or something ridiculous like that despite playing hundreds of minutes on the man advantage, but he was sent out ther power play after power play….the old “law of averages” mentality I suppose.
Pacioretty has been the only forward with size consistently used on the power play, and he won’t stand in front of the net…he said as much in an interview this week…he’s above that. Galchenyuk has decent size too, but he’s not that type of player either. Yet tonight he went to the net on the power play, and voila, they scored a PP goal. The task is usually left to 175-pounders in Gallagher and Shaw who couldn’t screen Darren Pang.
It was even more frustrating in the three games Scherbak played, as there was not a single player in the AHL who was more effective on the power play the first month. In fact..there’s not a player in the organization who looked more dangerous on the power play…when he got called up my first thought was “great..they see what I see and are going to use him to boost that pathetic man advantage.”
He was dangerous on every power play in the AHL….absolutely lethal with his vision, puck protection and passing skills, and Julien did not give him a single power play shift. McCarron in front of the net, Scherbak working his magic along the wall with Galchenyuk on the other side utilizing his lethal one-timer on feeds from Scherbak and Drouin, who would be on the blueline with Weber. THAT is what could and IMO should have been tried when Julien had the opportunity.
But…I guess having four young players in a scoring role would cause Julien’s head to explode. I think he finds it tough enough even having Drouin on the first unit as he will not put Galchenyuk and Drouin together on the first PP unit for any length of time.
People say the club lacks scoring options…I don’t see it that way. The coaching staff lacks chutzpah and creativity. Yes…shorthanded goals against would send any coach to the brink of suicide…but how often do they happen, and if having a young group resulted in five more SH goals against for every 10 or 15 more scored, that is still a net gain of 10 or 15 goals…isn’t it?
Got a strange feeling of first-month deja vu in the first period of this one. Habs come out and dominate the first six or seven minutes…lots of pressure but no luck around the net. Oilers first scoring chance goes in the net…and then Carey Price has a lackadaisical brain cramp soon after and all of a sudden it’s 2-0 when at worst it should be 1-1.
After a brief spell where Price looked to have his game turned around, once again the issues with his mental approach crept back in…just didn’t seem to have his head in the game. Once upon a time when Price would let in a goal he focused even harder and battened down the hatches. Once again this season the opposite happened, as he seemed to lose his focus and most importantly, his confidence. Confidence is such a key for a goaltender..and once again Price appears to have doubts creeping in. His mental approach has always been perhaps his main strength..so this is both concerning and hard to explain.
1/ I believe it is time to trade Pacioretty, and in return, a forward with size is in order. Brock Nelson, Nick Bjugstad…I don’t know if either would be available, but obtaining a big center who will hopefully spend some time in the crease on the power play and even strength is something this team could use perhaps more than anything. If I’m Bergevin I’m exploring those options. The Islanders have Tavares and an emerging Barzal…perhaps there is a good fit there…pick up a “scoring winger” in Pacioretty who is a local boy in return for a center who is likely third on their depth chart, but would be top two in Montreal. The Islanders are in the thick of the race so it doesn’t look like Tavares is an option. Well..maybe Nelson is the “consolation prize.” I have no idea if the Isles are interested in Pacioretty, but he would appear to be a good fit at least.
Pacioretty playing on a line with Huberdeau and Barkov..maybe that would rejuvenate him, and certainly it looks like a solid line on paper. Florida has a solid young center group going forward and they need some help now and a changeup to try to get winning….maybe a trade centering around Bjugstad and Pacioretty could also be explored.
2/ The time has come to play Hudon with Drouin other than on the odd power play. It’s puzzling why Julien has tried every JD combination but the only one that had past success before this season – they played very well together in Super Series and WJC (a Q super line of Drouin, Mantha and Hudon) when they were in junior, they are the two most creative players on the club and Hudon will go in the corners and win puck battles. Try them together on the first line…Hudon has earned it.
Drouin has been with Hemsky, Gallagher, Shaw, Chuck, Max, Lehkonen, Byron…but not the one player he has shown to have chemistry with in the past. Drouin has not been able to find chemistry with any linemates for any sustained period of time as it’s been a carousel…yet the Habs inexplicably don’t try a combination that worked very well in the past…and on top of that, are both French Canadian, and it would excite fans and media alike if they were to mesh. I do not get it.
What a difference a week makes. Things were looking so optimistic last Saturday at this time. Three losses in a row and it’s frustration city for everybody. I like Pacioretty, possibly more than most, but I’m so frustrated with him this season. This “streaky” reputation thing is wearing real thin seemingly with everybody but the coaches, who believe that if they just keep plugging him out there in the same spot that he hasn’t done anything for in 60 games he will suddenly emerge.
I don’t know if trading a guy at his lowest value is a great idea. Same goes for Galchenyuk. But man, something has to happen at some point doesn’t it?