The Dirty Dozen #10
February 12, 2021
By Grant McCagg
Twelve Post-Game Grant’s Slants
That one was tough to watch. So far the Habs, while wearing the wondrous reverse retro jerseys, have been outscored at home 7-2 by teams with a combined record of 11-20-1. I have visions of Marcel Hossa dancing in my head instead of the Flower in this retro case. “Reverse” is right. Can they ask the NHL to let them wear “forward” retro jerseys in the future? You know a team is “rolling” when it takes 54 minutes to draw a penalty….that was one of the least inspiring efforts I’ve seen from the Canadiens in recent times. You put this game tape and the 2-0 loss to Calgary in a vault and never give away the combination…not even to Geraldo Rivera.
A week ago, Montreal had the top offence in the league. Two weeks ago, they had yet to lose in regulation. Ah….the good times, They seem so far away today. Since then, the club has gone 3-4 and scored just 17 goals. Take away the games against a porous Vancouver defence, and it’s six goals scored in five games….two of those being against a bottom feeder in Ottawa.
What is especially discouraging is that the club was on such a roll when it was time to return home for the first homestand. In 2018-19, the Canadiens failed to make the playoffs, yet finished third overall in wins in the eastern conference. Since then? Habs are 17-21-6 at home, and 22-14-5 on the road. I get that home teams aren’t as intimidating as usual with no fans in the building, but this oddity was happening last season as well. Too much poutine and smoked meat sandwiches when they are home? I’d say too many visits to Chez Paree too…but that was the 1970’s and 80’s when times were different and players made a point of “enjoying themselves” about 300 nights per year. What gives? The Kostitsyn brothers and Chuckie aren’t around to play vodka pong; this is supposed to be a non-nonsense group of character guys.
It takes a special brand of mediocrity to make Mike Smith seem unbeatable. Last night, one got the impression that the Canadiens weren’t beating Smith if they had played six periods. It’s concerning when the club can’t get up for a game against the two best offensive players on the planet. Defence looked slow and soft, forwards looked disinterested…coaches looked perplexed.
Julien appears to be afraid to demote a player more than one line in the pecking order. He is the anti-Tortorella. Hell – he won’t even bench a player for one shift, let alone banish him to the fourth line or sit him out of the lineup unless he’s already a fourth liner. A wakeup call is required for Saturday’s rematch against the Leafs. My post-game co-host Andrew Thompson suggested after the Toronto loss that it may be time for Michael Frolik to draw into the lineup, and I couldn’t agree more, especially after last night. Frolik usually brings energy to a team; and that is precisely what the team needs at this time to snap out of the doldrums.
The Danault Babysitting Club also needs to take a night off. Perhaps even a week. No more pampering the UFA-to-be. This can no longer be about pleasing the players; it’s time to please the team. In 28 games since last February, Danault has scored one goal and nine assists, and is a minus player at even strength. Are those the numbers of a great two-way player? Not on a contender, they’re not. So what do you do? You stop giving him top-line minutes at this point. It really is that simple. Since the playoffs in August, Kotkaniemi has five goals, six assists and is +10 in 24 games playing with a myriad of linemates; none as accomplished as Gallagher and Tatar. Why not give him Gallagher as a right winger instead of everyone else that’s not considered a top-two right winger, and just as much or more ice time than Danault? What can it hurt? The problem is that Julien cannot handle a youngster being on the ice for a goal against in which he makes a mistake. If it’s a veteran…that’s okay.
Yeah…but faceoffs. “We need Danault out there for the faceoffs!” Well….on average…Danault wins about two more faceoffs per game than Kotkaniemi. That’s it. For important own-zone draws, get Danault out there to take the draw with KK on the wing to start a shift if it’s a critical moment, but to me the reasoning that a player who is not producing or playing well has to remain a team’s top center in ice time strictly because he wins two more draws than the other guys is warped. Sure…now and then that lost draw is going to cost a team, but you know what? Scoring or setting up a goal is going to help a team win games too, and right now, KK is a lot better option to do just that than the struggling veteran. Danault almost scored his first goal of the season…but even one that went into his own net went off another player (Weber)….that’s how snakebitten he is at the moment. This 3-on-2 in the third period epitomizes where Danault’s head is at offensively right now:
He gets the puck on the left-hand side with two linemates driving to the net…and he passes it to Tim Horton. The optimum play there is to shoot it on net and hope for a rebound.at the very least…at least pass it in the vicinity of a teammate. But no…he feeds Horton instead.
Jake Evans has been doing a lot of things right defensively this season, and won some big draws as well, but the fact remains that he has failed to score a point in his last nine games either. The stat line on Montreal’s center group in the past nine games has to be a concern. The four centerman combined have scored two goals…both by Suzuki. As my colleague Brian Wilde used to always say…”Win the middle, win the game.” Well then…small wonder that the Canadiens have lost four of their past seven contests. Right now the Canadiens are not winning the middle, and if Ryan Poehling and/or Lukas Vejdemo get off to strong starts in Laval, bring them up to the big club to play some games. The last thing this team needs in the organization is complacency; no more 24th-place overall finishes – this club needs to make the playoffs or Marc Bergevin is most likely gone, and they can’t be caught asleep at the switch with such a truncated schedule.
Where was the energy from Paul Byron last night? The assistant captain gets sat out for a game, and he comes back and you barely even notice him. The same can be said for Joel Armia since he got back in the lineup. Take away that four-point game where he received his concussion, and Armia has been mediocre at best this season. He has always been inconsistent, and at some point you have to tire of that. Yes, he brings size, but what good is that if he doesn’t use it? Once again; the club would be better served with Poehling in the lineup if this trend continues.
Bergevin must be aware of the fact that he needs to make the playoffs this time around. All of those lauded offseason moves will mean nothing in May if the Canadiens are once again shining up their golf shoes. I have been calling for this since before the season started, but it really is time to deal Byron, especially if Frolik can come into the lineup and provide more energy…and I see that being the case. Trade him while there is still a perception around the league that he is super fast and the Breakaway King. Anyone who has been watching the Canadiens closely in the past two seasons know that Byron is no longer getting those breakaways; I honestly can’t remember the last clear-cut one he got. He’s not a sniper, he’s not big, and he is by no means a playmaker. He is supposed to be all about heart, and even though he is always competing, he is simply not overly effective out there.
Caufield is going to be in the Canadiens’ lineup when his college season is over – I have become convinced of that the more I watch both him and the Canadiens. He is exactly what is needed for a struggling power play and unproductive center group. Imagine Kotkaniemi having Caufield on his right instead of Armia? I can see that being the difference between KK averaging an assist every three game and getting one in more than half of his contests. So what do you do to help insulate having a forward under 5-9 in the lineup? You trade the other forward that is under 5-9 (Byron), who also happens to be struggling, and replace him with a Poehling or player obtained in a trade. If Bergevin doesn’t think that Poehling or Vejdemo can help the club get going offensively down the middle, perhaps he even tries to get a centerman back in a deal for Byron. Or even look at packaging Byron and Tatar for a pivot that can fortify the club’s depth down the middle; another center that can win draws and hopefully score a few goals. You can never have too many centermen; as they are easily moved to the wing if they’re not one of the top four on a given night.
Let’s end The Doz on a positive note. Three more assists for Sean Farrell last night. He has a 37 assists in 27 games…11 more than the next best playmaker in the league. Farrell is also averaging more than 2 ppg. Since 2002-03 (the furthest the stats go back)…one USHL skater has averaged similar assist per game totals for the season, and even he was behind Farrell’s pace. That fellow’s name was Jack Hughes, and he had 33 in 27 USHL games while playing on a stacked USNTDP team. He just so happened to be the first overall NHL pick that season. Farrell has 18 primary assists in his last 14 games. If Weise was the Dutch Gretzky…then Farrell is the USHL Great One, and deservedly so. It is rare to see those sorts of assist numbers put up in any junior league. Here are all three of his assists, and each one shows off his excellent vision and playmaking skills. I can see why he has no intention on playing four years of college hockey; he is going to be ready to play in Laval in 2-3 years I would suspect.
Farrell has been on a tear. And he is the picture of consistency too. He set a USHL single season points streak with that three assist game yesterday: 24 games and counting. He has only been held pointless this year in one game. He is getting his points these days on a line with Doan and a few younger guys on rotation, so it is not as if he is benefiting from the hot hand of Matt Coronato, except when they get PP time together. He has already set a career best for goals and is trending towards beating his assist totals from last year, where he was the league co-leader. He is only 4 assists off of last year’s totals, which is rather amazing. Sure, he was ready for NCAA hockey if only Harvard and the Ivies did not cancel their season. But at least he is playing, and making the most of this season…big time.