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 – June 23, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 23, 2021

The Canadiens take a 3-2 series lead over the Golden Knights, Lou Lamoriello is the GM of the Year, Mathew Barzal fined, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines

NHL.COM: The Montreal Canadiens are one win away from advancing to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final after beating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1 in Game 5 of their semifinal series. Nick Suzuki had a goal and two assists, Tyler Toffoli collected two helpers and Carey Price turned aside 26 shots for the win. Max Pacioretty tallied Vegas’ only goal. The Canadiens lead the series three games to two and can put it away Thursday in Game 6 on home ice.

Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some fans on social media took to blaming Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for this loss. They also questioned head coach Peter DeBoer going with Fleury after Robin Lehner played well in Game 4. The problem, however, doesn’t lie with Fleury but with their offense.

Once again, the Canadiens did a fine job shutting down Vegas’ leading scorers. Pacioretty is the only member of the Golden Knights’ top-six forwards to score a goal against the Habs, while team captain Mark Stone is facing some criticism in the local media for failing to step up in this series.

The Golden Knights may be down but they proved in Game 4 they can battle back. However, they no longer have any margin of error. The Canadiens are playing like a team that believes it can win. Price’s goaltending and their defensive play have made the difference so far. If the Golden Knights don’t figure out a way to beat the Habs’ system on Thursday, they’ll be heading to the golf course by this weekend.

For the second straight year, New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello is the winner of the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award.

NEWSDAY: Islanders center Mathew Barzal received a $5,000 fine by the NHL department of player safety for his cross-check of Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta in Game 5 of their semifinal series.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: The Lightning may have routed the Islanders in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead but they aren’t taking their opponent for granted heading into Game 6 tonight on Long Island.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Isles caught a big break when Barzal didn’t receive a suspension for that cross-check on Rutta. It would’ve been a blow to their chances of winning Game 6 to lose their top center.

VANCOUVER SUN: Henrik and Daniel Sedin are returning to the Canucks, this time as special advisors to general manager Jim Benning.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’ll have to wait and see if the Sedins will have significant input into management decisions or if this is just window-dressing.

SPORTSNET: Referee Wes McCauley is not expected to work any remaining games in the semifinal. His last assignment was as a standby referee in Game 1 of the Lightning-Islanders series. He’s not believed to be injured and there is a possibility he’ll work a Stanley Cup Final game. Considered the consensus “best referee in the NHL,” his absence comes as the league faces growing criticism over the quality of officiating in this postseason, particularly in several semifinal games.

STLTODAY.COM: The St. Louis medical examiner determined that Blues alumni Bob Plager died of a cardiac event prior to his SUV crashed in March. Plager spent 11 seasons with the Blues as a player and spent years with the organization following his playing career. He was 78 years old.

WGR 550: Former Buffalo Sabres star Rene Robert passed away yesterday after suffering a heart attack last week in Florida. He was 72 years old.

Robert spent 12 seasons with the Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Rockies from 1970-71 to 1981-82. His best seasons were with the Sabres (’71-’72 to ’78-’79) with Gilbert Perreault and Richard Martin on the fabled French Connection Line. He tallied 284 goals and 702 points in 744 career games, as well as 41 points in 50 playoff contests.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Robert’s family, friends, former teammates and the Sabres organization.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 21, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 21, 2021

The Golden Knights tie their semifinal series with an OT win over the Canadiens plus ongoing reaction from Game 4 of the Islanders-Lightning series and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: The Vegas Golden Knights tied their semifinal series with the Montreal Canadiens at two games apiece with a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 4. Nicolas Roy tallied the game-winner in the extra frame.

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner (NHL Images).

Montreal opened the scoring with a second-period goal by Paul Byron but Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb tied it midway through the third period. Robin Lehner was a surprise starter for the Golden Knights, kicking out 27 shots for the victory.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Eyebrows were raised when Vegas coach Peter DeBoer went with Lehner over starter Marc-Andre Fleury for this contest. Fleury’s turnover in Game 3 cost his club that game but he’s been otherwise superb in this postseason. It was a gusty move on DeBoer’s part that paid off. Lehner played very well, showing little sign of rust in just his second game of these playoffs.

After the Golden Knights dominated Game 3 and lost in overtime, it was the Canadiens turn to fall in the extra frame after outperforming their opponent. This was one of the Habs’ best games of the playoffs despite the loss. They’ve done an effective job bottling up the Golden Knights’ scoring forwards.

The poor quality of the NHL officiating has been an ongoing theme in this year’s playoffs. It reared its ugly head in this contest. One example was Montreal defenseman Joel Edmundson boarding Vegas forward William Carrier from behind right in front of referee Dan O’Rourke. Another was NcNabb manhandling Canadiens center Nick Suzuki, punching him in the face in full view of referee Chris Lee. There was no call in either incident.

LAS VEGAS SUN: Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon was placed in self-isolation yesterday after testing positive for COVID-19. The test result was revealed hours before Game 4. McCrimmon is the second person in this series to test positive. On Friday, Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive and is self-isolating for 14 days.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ducharme was fully vaccinated but a Golden Knights spokesman declined to comment when asked if McCrimmon had reached that status. The story goes on to say that 85 percent of their traveling party had reached the vaccination threshold that qualified for relaxed travel protocols. McCrimmon and team president George McPhee was seen maskless while watching Game 3 from a suite at the Bell Centre, which could be considered a protocol violation.

The games in this series are the first involving NHL teams traveling back and forth between Canada and the United States since March 2020. So far, no players have tested positive. You can bet the league will be closely monitoring this situation, reminding both clubs about the importance of maintaining its COVID-19 protocols.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: For the first time in two postseasons, the Lightning is tied 2-2 in a series heading into Game 5. They led each of their last six series three games to one heading into previous Game 5 situations.

NEW YORK POST: Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock’s game-saving block in Game 4 is earning comparisons to other famous saves in sports history.










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 1, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 1, 2021

Coyotes end Golden Knights’ 10-game win streak, Canadiens rally to down the Jets, the Seattle Kraken officially join the league, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: A 25-save shutout by Adin Hill gave the Arizona Coyotes a 3-0 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights to end the latter’s 10-game win streak. John Hayden, Michael Bunting and Christian Fischer were the goalscorers for the Coyotes (49 points), who sit three points behind the fourth-place St. Louis Blues in the Honda West Division. The Golden Knights remain in first place with 72 points.

Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki (NHL Images).

The Colorado Avalanche moved within four points of Vegas by blanking the San Jose Sharks 3-0. Philipp Grubauer picked up the shutout with 21 saves in his first game back from the COVID-19 protocol list while Mikko Rantanen collected three points. The Avs (68 points) opened a two-point lead over the third-place Minnesota Wild.

A four-goal rally by the Montreal Canadiens carried them to a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Nick Suzuki led the way with two goals and an assist as the Canadiens (53 points) moved within four points of third-place Winnipeg in the Scotia North Division and opened a six-point lead over the fifth-place Calgary Flames. The Jets have dropped six straight games.

Anze Kopitar scored with 56 seconds remaining in regulation to lift the Los Angeles Kings over the Anaheim Ducks 2-1. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick kicked out 33 shots.

THE SEATTLE TIMES: The Seattle Kraken officially joined the NHL yesterday following the final payment of its $650 million expansion fee. The Kraken can now make player transactions and participate in league meetings and voting. Their first season will be 2021-22. An expansion draft to fill out its roster takes place on July 21.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the NHL, Seattle Kraken. Looking forward to what will hopefully become an entertaining rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks.

CBS SPORTS: New York Rangers center Brett Howden is done for the season after suffering a fractured foot during Thursday’s loss to the New York Islanders.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets prospect Yegor Chinakhov may sign his entry-level NHL contract after helping KHL club Avangard Omsk win the Gagarin Cup earlier this week.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Jackets selection of Chinakhov in last year’s draft (21st overall) left many pundits scrambling to find out who he was as he wasn’t listed among last year’s top prospects by NHL scouts. The 20-year-old forward reportedly had a solid rookie KHL performance this season.

NBC SPORTS: Former NHL star and future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr isn’t ready to hang up his skates yet. The 49-year-old winger intends to return with hometown club Kladno Knights next season after helping them earn promotion to the Czech Extraliga. It will be his 34th professional season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Jagr’s last NHL season was 2017-18 when he played 22 games with the Calgary Flames before heading to Kladno to finish that season. He’s been there ever since.










Bergevin’s Offseason Roster Moves Have Canadiens Flying

Bergevin’s Offseason Roster Moves Have Canadiens Flying