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 7, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 7, 2021

The latest on the Canadiens and Lightning, top prospect Owen Power still leaning toward returning to university, the Kraken announces the hiring of two assistant coaches, the latest contract signings and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Expect the Canadiens to ice the same lineup in Game 5 as they did in their previous contest. That means Jake Evans will replace Jesperi Kotkaniemi again on the third line while Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak will replace Erik Gustafsson and Jon Merrill on the third defense pairing.

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexander Romanov (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering those changes contributed to their 3-2 victory in Game 4. Romanov scored an even-strength goal with an assist from Evans.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh is enjoying perhaps the best postseason performance of his career. He’s set up several big goals, leads all postseason skaters with a plus-minus of plus-14, and is one of his club’s top shot blockers.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: McDonagh’s been overshadowed by teammates such as Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Points, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman. Nevertheless, he’s a big reason why the Lightning holds a 3-1 lead in this series over the Canadiens.

ESPN.COM: A league source told Greg Wyshynski there is “zero chance” Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final will be postponed despite Tropical Storm Elsa bearing down on Tampa Bay. That assessment was made based on the forecast, though NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated they have “an amount of flexibility.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, unless the storm’s impact proves far worse than anticipated, it’s game on tonight in Tampa Bay.

WGR 550: University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power is still leaning toward returning to university for one more season before making the jump to the NHL. Power is ranked as this year’s top prospect. He is expected to be selected by the Buffalo Sabres, who hold the first-overall pick.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some teams might prefer a prospect who could be ready to jump to the NHL right away. However, it’s unlikely Power will drop in this year’s draft order. Many highly-touted prospects need another year or two of seasoning before they’re ready for the big time.

THE SEATTLE TIMES: The Kraken yesterday announced the hirings of Kelly McFarland and Jay Leach as assistant coaches. McFarland will oversee the power-play unit and forwards while Leach will be in charge of the defensemen.

NORTHJERSEY.COM: The New Jersey Devils signed goaltender Scott Wedgewood to a one-year, two-way deal worth $825K at the NHL level.

NHL.COM: The Los Angeles Kings signed defenseman Christian Wolanin to a one-year, two-way contract worth $750K at the NHL level.

WINNIPEG SUN: The Jets yesterday signed center Dominic Toninato to a two-year contract worth $750K at the NHL level. It’s a two-way deal in the first season.

CBS SPORTS: Former Boston Bruins defenseman Steven Kampfer signed a one-year contract with KHL team AK Bars Kazan.

ARIZONA SPORTS: The Coyotes have hired Alan Hepple as their new director of pro scouting. He’s the former director of amateur scouting with the Colorado Avalanche.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – February 6, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – February 6, 2021

Recaps of Friday’s action, the league faces criticism as it looks at rapid testing, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: Third-period goals 27 seconds apart by Brad Marchand and Sean Kuraly lifted the Boston Bruins over the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1. James van Riemsdyk was the lone scorer for the Flyers, who played without goaltender Carter Hart (back spasms, day-to-day) and defenseman Philippe Myers, who has an upper-body injury. Forward Oskar Lindblom left the game in the third period following a hit from Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton.

The Detroit Red Wings’ winless skid stretched to eight games (0-6-2) after dropping a 3-1 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Barclay Goodrow tallied twice for the Lightning, including the game-winner.

Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov (NHL Images).

Second-period goals by Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe gave the Florida Panthers a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators. The Panthers extended their points streak to eight games (6-0-2) as they’re the only team that hasn’t lost in regulation. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne made 34 saves.

The Vegas Golden Knights scored five straight goals in the opening 27 minutes to beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-2. Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson and Nicolas Hague each collected three points for the Golden Knights, who were playing their first game since their schedule was paused on Jan. 26 by COVID-19.

Shootout goals by Ryan Donato and Kevin Labanc lifted the San Jose Sharks over the Anaheim Ducks 5-4. The Sharks overcame a 3-1 deficit on third-period goals by Logan Couture, Evander Kane and Brent Burns but Max Comtois tied it for the Ducks.

HEADLINES

TSN: The NHL and NHLPA are investigating rapid testing for players and team staff on game days to flatten the COVID-19 curve after five teams had their schedules paused and games postponed over the past two weeks. A total of 26 games have been postponed, 17 in February alone.

The Buffalo Sabres were among those teams. They were reportedly furious that they were apparently forced to play games last weekend against a New Jersey Devils team that was going through an outbreak of COVID-19. Five Sabres players have since wound up on the NHL’s COVID protocol list while Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger has tested positive. The Sabres had no players on the protocol list prior to the series against the Devils.

THE ATHLETIC: John Vogl reports Eric County executive Mark Poloncarz believes the NHL should have taken greater action to ensure the safety of the Sabres and Devils and everyone around them. “It seemed they were more interested in playing a game,” he said.

League commissioner Bill Daly said there were no concerns expressed regarding last Sunday’s games between the Sabres and Devils. An NHLPA representative said league and union medical advisors determined the game could go on based on the information available to them at the time.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league announced on Thursday they were taking steps to reduce player-to-player transmission of the coronavirus, including removing the glass behind the benches to increase airflow, increasing the distance between players in dressing rooms, and limiting the time spent at the arena by players and coaches.

The recent postponements and reschedulings aren’t surprising. There’s a greater risk of exposure and transmissions because the players aren’t under the strict quarantine conditions they played under during the 2020 playoffs. Doing more to limit transmission at the arena is one thing but there’s little the league can do to prevent players from exposure when they have greater access to the general public away from the rink.

PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: Penguins defenseman John Marino returned to practice yesterday after being placed on the COVID-19 protocol list on Wednesday. Sidelined blueliners Kris Letang and Mike Matheson also skated yesterday.

TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott (leg injury) will not play today against the Vancouver Canucks.

TVA SPORTS: Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexander Romanov required stitches after being struck in the face with a puck during practice on Friday. Canadiens coach Claude Julien said Romanov will travel with the club for today’s game against the Ottawa Senators.

CBS SPORTS: Calgary Flames forward Derek Ryan has been referred to a specialist after injuring a finger during Thursday’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

NEWSDAY: The New York Rangers promoted Chris Drury to associate general manager.

THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Justin Williams is returning to the Carolina Hurricanes as a special advisor to the general manager.










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