By JD Lagrange – During his press conference on Wednesday prior to the Canadiens’ season opener, General Manager Kent Hughes told reporters that defenseman Mike Matheson had a MRI and they were waiting for the result. At the time, Hughes was hoping that the Pointe-Claire native wouldn’t be missing too much time.
Well, the results came in and the news is not good. Matheson will miss at least eight weeks while recovering from an abdominal muscle strain, the team announced Thursday night. This is not good news for a team that is already lacking NHL experience at the blue line. Teams can usually get by for a few games while missing a good player but you can’t replace a guy like Matheson for that long, not with the same efficiency. In the meantime, Corey Schueneman was called up from Laval.
A young defense
Even though this is a blow to the team, don’t expect Hughes to get on a serious hunt to add a defenseman… yet anyway. As it stands right now, the Canadiens are doing a test drive with waiver pick-up Johnathan Kovacevic. He had an okay first game against the Toronto Maple Leafs but he had only been with the team for a few days. He still needs to get acclimatized to the system and build chemistry with his teammates.
The Canadiens young left-handed defensemen did quite well on Wednesday. Kaiden Guhle led the team in ice time, playing over 22 minutes in his very first NHL game. Arber Xhekaj and Jordan Harris showed some good things too. But the inexperience is showing, and the team desperately needs the return of Joel Edmundson and Matheson. On Wednesday, Mark Giordano had played more NHL games himself than the six Habs’ defensemen combined!
But unless Kovacevic can bump Chris Wideman and David Savard off the top pair (an unrealistic expectation), the right side of the defense is still in dire need of top-end skills. In spite of his nine blocked shots on Wednesday, Savard struggled against the Leafs’ top players. That is simply not his chair to be in. At best, he can play on the second pairing and ideally, he’s on the bottom pair on a good team. Same goes for Wideman. And likely the same for Kovacevic. Losing Shea Weber and Jeff Petry in back to back seasons without properly replacing them on that side is a Grand Canyon size gap.
So while the loss of Matheson hurts, it doesn’t change the fact that the Canadiens are more in need of a right-handed top-4 defenseman than they are of another left-handed defenseman right now. If you had another lefty, then Edmundson and Matheson return and you have no room for any of the young guys.
On the other hand, if you add a quality top-4 right defenseman, you bump Savard and Wideman in a more comfortable seat for them. Then, when Edmundson and Matheson return and you have a more solid and better balanced defensive core.
So if I’m Kent Hughes, the Matheson injury doesn’t change my plans. I’m still looking for a top-end right-handed defenseman to insert into my line-up. What the news of having lost Matheson long term does, however, is that it puts a bit more urgency to pull the trigger on a trade if a player is in fact available.
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