This is not Claude Julien-style hockey.
Montreal has surrendered 14 goals and 119 shots through the first three games of the season, and the whispers are already getting louder that GM Marc Bergevin has to pick up another top-four defenceman; specifically, a top-pairing left defenceman.
That is not likely to happen in October. Teams are not trading elite blueliners in the first month of the season very often, if ever.
The issue is by no means a new one, and fans are understandably getting impatient. Montreal has had a glaring hole at left defence since the departure of Andrei Markov. Victor Mete has been paired with Shea Weber for most of the past three season when Weber has been healthy, and while the duo has not been disastrous…it is hard to depict it as an upper-echelon pairing.
One needs to only look at defence ice time to spot the dilemma. Victor Mete is “supposed” to be a top-pairing defenceman…yet he played six minutes less than the third-most utilized blueliner, and had no time on the power play. How many top-pairing blueliners in the league get that usage? Not very many..because most teams have a legitimate number-one left defenceman.
Montreal ran into a similar problem the past two seasons. Jordie Benn often played more than 22 minutes a game…and he should not have been playing more than 17 or 18. This year to date…Ben Chiarot through three games is almost averaging 24 minutes per game. On a Cup contender, would he be seeing the ice more than 18 minutes per game? Probably not. That is not on the coaching staff; that is on GM Marc Bergevin.
Montreal shuffled the defence for Game 3, inserting Mike Reilly and Christian Folin in place of rookie Cale Fleury and Brett Kulak. While I had no major issue with the move…shuffling the third pairing isn’t going to solve the problem.
You want Folin and Reilly to be sharp in case of injuries. You may also want to showcase those guys in case another team is in need of some blueline depth and wants to have a look at them in regular-season action. It is also not a bad thing for Fleury to sit in the stands for a game, soak up the atmosphere and do a reset.
Fleury and Kulak struggled a bit in Toronto, so it made sense to get the fourth pairing some ice time in a back-to-back. It also made sense to replace both….keep the four pairing together instead of juggling them all up. There are nice contrasts with all four groups – they all complement each other’s skillsets.
But….it all goes back to the top pairing. Weber and Mete may complement each other fairly well – Weber the big, veteran defensive defenceman with the booming shot; Mete the smaller, quicker, younger puck carrier more suited for today’s fast-paced game.
Where it goes south is in regards to generating offence. If Mete was a quarterback in the offensive zone the duo would be a legitimate top pairing. That is not Mete’s game.
It is not like Mete lacks ANY offensive potential; his speed enables him to create opportunities; often on a rush from his own zone. Where things break down is when he is stationary in the offensive zone; most specifically, on the power play. Mete lacks an effective point shot, and because of that, his options are limited as opponents take away his passing lanes. He is also not by any means an elite passer, so he rarely sees ice time on the man advantage.
No goals and 20 points in 123 NHL games is not going to cut it on a top pairing, and until this is rectified, Montreal is not going to be serious contenders no matter how well Carey Price plays, or the forward units overachieve.
What I see happening is Bergevin making a move close to the trade deadline if the Canadiens are in the playoff hunt. If not; he may hold off on making such a deal and perhaps hope that one of the highly-touted young left defencemen in the system can step in and win a spot next year.
The issue with that is there is a very good chance that none will be ready to assume such a role next season. Alex Romanov is the most likely candidate, but he is still a teenager, and has yet to produce at the KHL level, so who is to say he will be able to do so at the NHL level as soon as next season?
It is not likely to happen…so Bergevin has to make a deal at some point this season. If the Habs fall out of the playoff race, Bergevin may wait until the offseason. Odds are, though, in this age of parity, that Montreal will be in the playoff race in February, so it will finally be time to make a trade that will cost Bergevin a prime prospect and perhaps even a high draft pick or two.
In the past, Bergevin has been let off the hook for not making deals to plug holes high up in the lineup because the Canadiens were not considered to have the young assets/draft picks teams would seek in such a deal. That can no longer be used as an excuse – Montreal has one of the best crop of prospects in the NHL.
Defencemen Brook, Mete, Romanov, Fleury, Struble, Norlinder, Harris, Juulsen, Fairbrother….all are at the very least decent assets…and all of them aren’t going to play in Montreal, so there is no reason why one or more could not be offered to a non-playoff team at the trade deadline to fix the club’s one glaring hole.
Yes…be careful with your assets and don’t make any panic moves…but don’t go overboard on collecting prospects either, or you will find yourself out of a job like Ron Francis last year in Carolina.
- Max Domi 9 for 9 in the faceoff circle through two periods, and ended the game winning 85 per cent of his draws. Good thing he was winning faceoffs, as he wasn’t accomplishing much else. It was almost as if he won the draw…said “my work is done here” and coasted the rest of the shift. How much is it affecting Domi not having Andrew Shaw on his wing? He has been given an 11-goal scoring checker in Lehkonen and a rookie in Suzuki, and so far, there has not been a whole pile of chemistry developing. It may be time to shuffle the lines a bit. The club’s top point getter deserves a better offensive option than Lehkonen, whose season-high point total is the 31 points he collected last season. Get Drouin back on his line.
- Joel Armia became just the fifth Habs player in history to score a PP and PK goal in the first period of an NHL game, and only the second in the past 25 years.
When Armia shows off soft hands like he did on his second goal, lifting the puck into the top corner from three feet away, one wonders why he has never come close to scoring 20 goals in a season. Lets hope that this is the season where he becomes somewhat consistent offensively. In the past..he would be likey to go ten games without a point than to follow that effort up with another multi-point game anytime soon.
- Drouin has points in three straight road games. The last time that happened was last February, when Drouin had his best stretch as a Hab on a western road swing, culminating his scoring streak with four points in Winnipeg that gave him nine points in those three games, and 46 points through 56 games, meaning he was on pace for 65+ points. He would proceed to go pointless in 15 of his next 16 games. Let’s hope this three-game point streak has no such follow up. Montreal needs 60+ points from Drouin this year.