Were The Canadiens Good Or Just Lucky?

Were The Canadiens Good Or Just Lucky?

Are the Montreal Canadiens a stronger team than we thought, or did they just get lucky and go on a five-week hot streak?

The Canadiens enjoyed an impressive run in the 2021 playoffs. The lowest overall postseason seed, they upset the heavily-favored Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

They came a cropper against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, falling in five games. However, the clubs the Habs eliminated wouldn’t have fared any better against the powerful Bolts.

The Canadiens’ playoff success papered over the fact they barely qualified in the first place.

They cooled off after a hot start, replaced most of their coaching staff by midseason, saw starting goalie Carey Price endure one of the worst regular seasons of his career, endure a 25 game in 44-night second-half stretch following a COVID-19 outbreak, lost playmaking winger Jonathan Drouin for the remainder of the season for personal reasons, and endured a shaky stretch drive with Price, captain Shea Weber and alternate captain Brendan Gallagher sidelined by injury.

Little wonder no one gave them a chance of defeating the Leafs, Jets and Golden Knights in each successive round. And yet, they defied the critics and overcame the odds.

Montreal Canadiens pose with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl (NHL.com).

But which team are the real Canadiens? The one that took their fans on a dazzling run that came within three games of the Stanley Cup? Or the one that stumbled through a shortened season and backed into the playoffs?

On the one hand, the Habs seemed to finally adjust to interim coach Dominique Ducharme’s system in the postseason. They played a strong team game with an emphasis on solid defensive play, quick zone transitions, and in-close scoring chances. Their penalty-killing was the best throughout this postseason.

Price bounced back, reminding everyone why he’s still among the best goalies in the game. Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson formed a solid top-four defense that cleared traffic from around Price’s net and took away the opposition’s scoring lanes.

Young forwards Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi continue to blossom into future stars. Josh Anderson provided size, speed and clutch scoring. Tyler Toffoli was strong at both ends of the rink. Phillip Danault was superb in a shutdown center role. Greybeards Corey Perry and Eric Staal provided invaluable depth experience and leadership.

On the other hand, Price admitted he didn’t play well during the first three games against the Lightning. Anderson’s scoring was inconsistent for most of the playoffs. A thumb injury robbed Weber of his fearsome point shot. Alexander Romanov’s limited postseason appearances raised questions over Ducharme’s faith in the promising defenseman. The power play often looked like they were playing with a live grenade.

So, are they an emerging Stanley Cup contender or an overachiever that crashed to earth in the Final?

Marc Bergevin was a finalist for GM of the Year, which for some weird reason is voted on following the second round of the playoffs. He wouldn’t have even been among the candidates had that vote occurred following the regular season.

The Canadiens’ playoff run probably saved Bergevin’s job (should he still want it) and should remove the interim label off Ducharme’s title. Having gotten their team to the Final, can they avoid the pitfalls that doomed many Cup Final underdogs of the past?

Everything depends on several factors.

Bergevin was able to use plentiful cap space to add Toffoli, Anderson, Perry, Staal, Edmundson and backup goalie Jake Allen. Making similar acquisitions won’t easy with a salary cap expected to remain flat for the next several seasons.

More promising youngsters must begin to crack the lineup. Ryan Poehling, Mattias Norlinder, Cayden Primeau, Jan Mysak, Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris have to make a positive impression within the next several years.

Price must maintain his strong playoff form throughout the regular season, something he’s had difficulty doing in recent years. The 36-year-old Weber must begin accepting a reduced role as a second-pairing defenseman, allowing Petry to take the first-pairing role on their right side.

Toffoli and Gallagher must remain healthy. Danault should be brought back but that could prove difficult given his earlier rejection of a six-year, $30 million deal. If not, a suitable replacement must be found. Perry should be an affordable one-year signing.

Suzuki, Caufield, Kotkaniemi and center Jake Evans must keep improving and take on greater roles and responsibilities. Romanov must be given more playing time and room to allow for his development. Anderson needs to find the back of the net more often. They need more from Drouin than what he’s given them in the past, assuming he can continue his playing career.

Ducharme must prove he can still make the right moves as he did through most of this postseason. He has to ensure the players still buy into his system. He must also silence critics who feel he’s slow to trust his youngsters given his seeming reluctance to insert Kotkaniemi, Caufield and Romanov into the lineup earlier in this postseason.

Even if all those factors pan out, will the Canadiens be deep enough and strong enough to match up well in an Atlantic Division? Can they compete on an even footing with the powerhouse Lightning, the improving Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators, the still-talented Maple Leafs and still-dangerous Boston Bruins?

Can they do more than just hold their own against Eastern Conference teams like the veteran-laden Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals? Will they be able to handle the rising Carolina Hurricanes, the promising New York Rangers, and the hard-working New York Islanders?

Can they keep pace with the best of the west in the Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche? Or the Connor McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers? The suddenly improved Minnesota Wild?

This year was a heckuva run for the Canadiens but they have a long way to go to prove they’re more than a one-year wonder.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 9, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 9, 2021

The latest on Nikita Kucherov and Brendan Gallagher, the 2021 draft order is complete, the Leafs sign Travis Dermott, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

SPORTSNET: cited The Athletic’s Joe Smith reporting Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov played through the 2021 Stanley Cup Final with a fractured rib that required multiple injections. He still managed to put up five points in the five-game series against the Montreal Canadiens.

Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov (NHL Images)

Kucherov had originally denied playing hurt after taking a cross-check from New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield in Game 6 of their semifinal series. He left that game but returned to play in Game 7.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kucherov did seem off his game somewhat during the Cup Final. He tallied 27 points through the first three rounds.

CTV MONTREAL: Hours after losing in the Stanley Cup Final, Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher discovered he’d been robbed after returning to his home.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: At least Gallagher was able to make light of the incident in a Tik Tok video. Still, that incident was insult to injury.

DAILY FACEOFF: According to numbers released by Sportsnet, this year’s Stanley Cup Final was the most-watched in the company’s history since taking over the NHL’s national broadcasting rights in 2014-15. Over 70 percent of Canadian viewers tuned in to that series.

NHL.COM: The order for the 2021 NHL Draft has been finalized. The Canadiens hold the 30th overall pick and the Lightning the 31st pick. The first round is scheduled for Friday, July 23, and rounds 2-7 on Saturday, July 24.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The reason there are 31 picks in the first round instead of 32 is that the Arizona Coyotes forfeited their pick as punishment for violating last year’s draft combine rules.

TORONTO STAR: The Toronto Maple Leafs signed defenseman Travis Dermott to a two-year, $3 million contract extension. The annual average value is $1.5 million.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Dermott may be under contract with the Leafs but he could end up with the Seattle Kraken if left unprotected in the July 21 expansion draft. Perhaps general manager Kyle Dubas swung a side deal with the Kraken to ensure they select someone else. Teams must submit their protection lists to the league by 5 pm EST on July 17.

THE ATHLETIC’S Scott Powers reports the Chicago Blackhawks don’t intend to buy out any players. The buyout period began at 11 pm EST last night and runs to July 27.

ASSOCIATED PRESS: The Florida Panthers are the first NHL team, and perhaps the first U.S. Major sports team, to establish an opportunity for college athletes to align with them as part of recent rules changes allowing those athletes to profit off their name and celebrity.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 29, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 29, 2021

The Lightning thump the Canadiens in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, expansion and NHL draft TV info announced, information on special events for 2021-22 revealed, and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: The Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final with a convincing 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. The Bolts broke the game open in the third period as Nikita Kucherov scored twice and set up Steven Stamkos for the fifth goal. Brayden Point had three assists on the night.

Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov (NHL Images).

It was a rough game for Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher. He skated away with a bloodied head after tangling with Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.

Canadiens winger Joel Armia took a private jet from Montreal to Tampa Bay to rejoin his teammates after emerging from COVID protocol on Monday. He had been held out of the lineup after entering the protocol on Sunday. His spot in the lineup for Game 1 was taken by Jake Evans, playing his first game since being sidelined by a concussion in Game 1 of the Habs second-round series against the Winnipeg Jets.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was a dominating performance by Tampa Bay from start to finish. Despite the score being 2-1 after two periods, there was a sense that it was a matter of time before they blew the game open.

The Canadiens seemed tentative through much of this contest as they struggled to adjust to the Lightning’s game plan. This series will be over quickly if the Habs fail to find a solution.

Poor puck management proved costly for the Canadiens. The Lightning’s first three goals came from offensive-zone turnovers. Lightning coach Jon Cooper also used his home-ice advantage of having the last line change to good effect in keeping the Point line away from the Canadiens shutdown line.

NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman defended the performance of the league’s officiating during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. “It seems every season, it’s a playoff ritual for me to address some aspect of the officiating,” said Bettman. “Let’s be clear. Our officials are not only the best hockey officials in the world, they’re the best officials in any sport.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s an annual playoff ritual because there’s an obvious difference over how games are called during the regular season and how they’re called in the playoffs. The commissioner, however, seems unconcerned that this is a growing issue for fans and pundits.

ESPN2, NHL Network and Sportsnet will broadcast the NHL expansion draft on Wednesday, July 21 at 8 pm ET. The first round of the 2021 NHL Draft will be televised on ESPN 2, Sportsnet and SN NOW on Friday, July 23 at 8 pm ET.

The Vegas Golden Knights will host the 2022 NHL All-Star Game with the date to be determined. The 2022 NHL Winter Classic will be held on Jan. 1, 2022, at Target Field in Minneapolis between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. The 2022 Stadium Series game will be held Feb. 26 , 2022, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville between the Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning. The league also plans to stage a Tim Horton’s Heritage Classic game in March 2022.

SPORTSNET: The Montreal Canadiens will host the 2022 NHL Draft.

THE SCORE: The NHL’s participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing remains “a work in progress,” according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly. He suggested the continued uncertainty over COVID-19 and the games being held halfway around the world doesn’t make it necessarily an ideal Games to elect to go to. NHL participation remains contingent on negotiations with the International Olympic Committee as per the CBA extension agreement with the NHLPA.

YARDBARKER: The NHL confirmed the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central Division as part of its realignment with the addition of the Seattle Kraken. The decision to move the Coyotes was made by the league board of governors in December 2018.

CBS BOSTON: Bruins star David Pastrnak and his family are mourning the heartbreaking death of their infant son on June 23. He was five days old.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: My sincere condolences to Pastrnak and his family on their loss. 

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: The Blackhawks have hired the law firm Jenner & Block to lead an “independent review” of sexual assault allegations against former video coach Bradley Aldrich and the Blackhawks’ internal handling of those allegations.

SPORTSNET: Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league only recently learned of the allegations, adding it will await the results of the independent investigation before deciding how to proceed.

WASHINGTON HOCKEY NOW: Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara was honored at a ceremony celebrating his home country of Slovakia’s 28th anniversary “for extraordinary merits in the field of sports and for extraordinary dissemination of the good name of the Slovak Republic abroad.”

NEW YORK POST: ESPN has hired Chris Chelios to join fellow Hockey Hall-of-Famer Mark Messier as part of the network’s top hockey studio team.

NHL.COM: The Seattle Kraken announced the Charlotte Checkers will be their AHL affiliate starting in 2021-22.

TSN: The Hockey Hall of Fame announced it is moving forward with its induction ceremony for 2020-2021 on Nov. 15.










NHL Playoffs: Underdog Canadiens Face Uphill Battle Against Maple Leafs

NHL Playoffs: Underdog Canadiens Face Uphill Battle Against Maple Leafs

 










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 17, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 17, 2021

The Lightning, Wild and Islanders win the first games of their opening-round series, plus the latest on Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, Nathan MacKinnon and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point scored the game-tying and winning goals as his club squeaked past the Florida Panthers 5-4 in Game 1 of their opening-round series. Tampa Bay winger Nikita Kucherov tallied two power-play goals in his first game after missing the regular season recovering from offseason hip surgery. Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists for the Panthers. Game 2 of this series is on Tuesday evening.

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was the best game of the playoffs thus far. It could end up being the best series of the first round if the Lightning and Panthers maintain the pace this set in Game 1. Kucherov showed no signs of rust in his first game of this season. The Panthers must play a more disciplined style. Three of the Bolts’ goals came with the man advantage.

An overtime goal by Joel Eriksson Ek gave the Minnesota Wild a 1-0 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of their first-round series. Cam Talbot kicked out 42 shots for the shutout while Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves. They meet again in Game 2 on Tuesday.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was an entertaining game despite the low score. Both clubs had plenty of good scoring opportunities but the goaltenders were superb. The Golden Knights were without sniper Max Pacioretty. He’s been sidelined since May 1 by an undisclosed injury.

The New York Islanders nipped the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on an overtime goal by Kyle Palmieri, who also opened the scoring. Ilya Sorokin picked up the first playoff victory of his career with a 39-save performance while teammate Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a three-point game. Game 2 of this series is also on Tuesday night.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry was shaky in this contest. Every goal beat him high to the glove side. Penguins center Evgeni Malkin missed the game with an undisclosed injury. Sorokin got the start as Isles starter Semyon Varlamov was out with a lower-body injury.

An overtime goal by Elias Lindholm lifted the Calgary Flames over the Vancouver Canucks 6-5 after the Canucks overcame a 5-1 deficit to force overtime. Brock Boeser scored twice for the Canucks. Both clubs face each other two more times before their regular-season schedule is complete.

HEADLINES

SPORTSNET: Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and winger Brendan Gallagher have been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate in Laval on a long-term injury conditioning stint. Both are expected to be in the Canadiens lineup for Game 1 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some Canadiens followers freaked out on social media over this decision because they’re afraid one or both could get hurt playing a meaningless AHL game. However, the Habs want both players to get in some game action before Game 1 due to their long absences from the lineup.

THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon will be in the lineup when his club faces off tonight against the St. Louis Blues in the opening game of their first-round series. He missed four of the Avs’ final five regular-season contests with minor injuries.

NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov returned to the ice yesterday for the Capitals optional practice. Both had been on the COVID-19 protocol list since May 4.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s unclear who will back up Craig Anderson for Game 2 tonight against the Boston Bruins. Anderson replaced Vitek Vanecek in Game 1 when the latter suffered a lower-body injury. Kuznetsov, meanwhile, could be several days away from rejoining the lineup.

TORONTO SUN: Jack Campbell will get the start for the Maple Leafs when they faced the Canadiens on Thursday. Winger Zach Hyman is also expected to return to action after being sidelined since April 18 by a sprained knee.

THE ATHLETIC: John Tortorella reportedly wanted to step down last offseason as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. One of the reasons he stayed was because Nick Foligno convinced him to return for one last season.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 8, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 8, 2021

A franchise record for Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell, hat tricks for Leon Draisaitl and Kevin Fiala, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jack Campbell set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win to hold off the Montreal Canadiens 3-2. Campbell made 32 saves while teammate Auston Matthews tallied his league-leading 28th goal of the season. Corey Perry scored twice for the Canadiens. The Leafs moved into first place in the league’s overall standings with 58 points as they hold a seven-point lead over the Edmonton Oilers for first in the Scotia North Division. The Canadiens remain in fourth with 43 points.

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell (NHL Images).

The Oilers, meanwhile, doubled up the Ottawa Senators 4-2 thanks to Leon Draisaitl’s hat trick. Draisaitl and Connor McDavid (three assists) each finished with four points on the night. The Oilers (50 points) hold a one-point lead over the third-place Winnipeg Jets.

A hat trick by Kevin Fiala (the first of his NHL career) powered the Minnesota Wild to an 8-3 drubbing of the Colorado Avalanche. Fiala finished with four points while Wild rookies Kirill Kapizov scored twice and collected an assist while Victor Rask and Jared Spurgeon each had three helpers. The Wild (50 points) snapped the Avalanche’s 15-game points streak and moved within two points of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights (52 points) in the Honda West Division.

Speaking of the Golden Knights, they dropped a 3-1 decision to the St. Louis Blues and remain four points back of the first-place Avalanche. Jordan Binnington made 50 saves and Vladimir Tarasenko netted his third goal of the season as the Blues (40 points) snapped a seven-game winless skid to move two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks into fifth place.

A three-goal outburst in the third period rallied the Los Angeles Kings over the Arizona Coyotes 4-3. The Coyotes remain in fourth place in the West with 43 points.

HEADLINES

THE PROVINCE: The Vancouver Canucks have 21 players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. As the cases spread among the team, the NHL remains committed to having the team complete its schedule. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league has a plan in place to allow the Canucks to complete the season.

TWINCITIES.COM: Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise played his first game last night since March 22 after testing positive for COVID-19. He’s not fully convinced he had the coronavirus as he didn’t feel any symptoms.

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Stars coach Rick Bowness rejoined his team in Chicago after a false positive COVID-19 test forced him into quarantine for the past two games.

TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs’ winger William Nylander was held out of last night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens as a precaution after coming in contact with a potential positive COVID-19 case from outside the team.

Montreal Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher has been placed on long-term injury reserve as he’s expected to be sidelined at least six weeks with a fractured thumb.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That will allow the Canadiens to exceed the cap by almost the equivalent of Gallagher’s $3.75 million cap hit if they decide to acquire another player before the 3 pm ET trade deadline on Monday.

WINNIPEG SUN: Jets captain Blake Wheeler has been sidelined indefinitely by a concussion. It’s believed he suffered the injury after being elbowed in the head by Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk during Monday’s game between the Jets and Senators.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s a big loss for the Jets. Wheeler usually skates at right wing on their top line though of late he’s also played on their second line. He’s fourth among their scorers with 10 goals and 32 points.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner is out for six weeks with a broken finger.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: A significant blow for the struggling Blue Jackets as they try to stay in playoff contention in the Discover Central Division. Jenner’s a big, hard-working forward who can play center or wing. They’ll miss his energy and physical game.

STLTODAY.COM: Blues winger Mike Hoffman was a healthy scratch from last night’s game against the Golden Knights. Head coach Craig Berube denied it has anything to do with his trade status, claiming it was his decision to put Sammy Blais into the lineup.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hoffman’s come up in recent days as a trade candidate with the Blues’ playoff hopes fading. He could be playing elsewhere by Monday’s deadline.

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: The Blackhawks purchased AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs and signed a new 15-year lease with the club’s arena.