Changes Needed Prior To Road Swing

By JD Lagrange – The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. So why go with the status quo when you don’t get the results that you are expecting? In the case of the Montreal Canadiens, they have a lot of young players who are either NHL-ready or on the cusp of becoming ready. As we’ve witnessed first hand this season, sometimes when giving a young player his chance, he can take it and make the most of it.

The Canadiens have one more home game before embarking onto a full two-weeks road trip. Martin St-Louis’ team will start the trip in Arizona on December 19th, and end it on January 3rd when they will visit Nashville. In between, they will have stops in Colorado, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Florida and Washington. Their next home game won’t be until January 5th when the New York Rangers will be the visitors at the Bell Centre.

Since the meltdown against the Vancouver Canucks when Montreal surrendered a 4-0 lead and a late 6-5 lead, it hasn’t been pretty for our beloved Habs. In their last five games, they are 2-3-0, scoring 2.2 goals per game. They have managed only 25.2 shots per game and have allowed 33.2 shots per game. Their power play (if we can call it that) has a 4.8% efficiency. Last night against the worst team in the league, the Anaheim Ducks, they were outplayed most of the game except the first 10 minutes and a short stretch in the third period. Anaheim outshot the Canadiens 32-25. Worse, the game was at the Bell Centre where the team was booed, unable to generate much against the Ducks’ third string goaltender.

Changes needed

We touched on it yesterday, but the Canadiens seem reluctant to do what Kent Hughes himself said he would do. Before the season started, he stated multiple times that there would be a lot of movement between Laval and Montreal when it comes to his young players. Aside perhaps for Rem Pitlick, that hasn’t happened… yet. But there is no better time than now.

And here’s what I would like to see happen:

To Laval:

  • Jordan Harris
  • Michael Pezzetta

To the World Juniors:

  • Juraj Slafkovsky

To Montreal:

  • Justin Barron
  • Anthony Richard
  • Jesse Ylönen

This is NOT a knock against any of the players being sent down or away. In fact, it’s just part of player development. Those of you who are old enough should remember how the Canadiens used to call up players periodically for a few games for two purposes: to see where they were at in their development, and to give them a taste of first class hotels and charter flights, better restaurants, etc. This helped serve as motivation to work their butts off in order to be called up again. And I must insist that those are not permanent moves. The Habs’ brass can reassess after coming back from the upcoming road trip, while Slafkovsky would return to Montreal after the World Juniors.

Harris for Barron

Justin Barron

I was hesitant between Harris or Arber Xhekaj but in my opinion, “WiFi” has been playing better hockey between the two and he brings that physical aspect, which could be needed on the road trip. Harris isn’t playing poorly but he was better at the start of the season. He could use a boost of confidence in the AHL for a couple of weeks.

After a rough start, Justin Barron was playing some excellent hockey prior to being sidelined with an injury. It is said that he has a great attitude and has gained a lot of confidence in Laval. His right-hand shot would allow to give a rest to Johnathan Kovacevic or Chris Wideman since David Savard is still out. Plus, he can play the point on the power play. That can’t hurt, right?

Pezzetta for Richard

I’ve been a fan of Pezzetta but we are forced to admit that he’s not having a good season. In order to be able to play the style that St-Louis is asking of his players, he needs touches of the puck and he would have more chances of doing that in Laval than in Montreal. There was a time when we questioned if he would clear waivers or not but that concern has pretty much dissipated.

Anthony Richard had an excellent training camp and he has been the Rocket’s best player all season long. Fast skater, gritty, he is also second in AHL scoring with 18 goals and 31 points in 26 games.The 25 year-old can play both center or wing and on the power play. He can also play on the penalty kill as well, where his speed is something the opponent must fear, a bit like Paul Byron was prior to his hip injury. Why not give the guy a shot? He can’t be worse than putting Evgenii Dadonov and Joel Armia and their combined two goals on the power play, right? And what does a guy have to do to deserve a chance?

Slafkovsky for Ylönen

This is where I’m expecting the most push back from fans. Slafkovsky has progressed and he has no bigger fan than yours truly. Unlike most, I wanted the Canadiens to draft him ahead of fan-favourite Shane Wright. I have been one who has been telling anyone who would listen to promote him to a line with Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson. But with injured players coming back, he will inevitably return to fourth line duties. We saw it happening last night when Jonathan Drouin, who started on the fourth line, played the second half of the game on the second line while the young Slovak returned to the fourth. I don’t buy the excuse that he’s too strong, played with men, and wouldn’t develop playing in the highest caliber international junior tournament in the world. Anyone in hockey will tell you that a player develops best with touches of the puck and he would get plenty of that at the WJC. I have listed all of the reasons, including leadership role – which he hasn’t done since midget hockey – in a recent article, which I strongly encourage you to read.

Much like his teammates Barron and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard in Laval, Jesse Ylönen had a slow start of this season. But as we’ve been able to see throughout our feature “In the System“, he has been climbing the chart in points per game at a steady rate since day one. Sound defensively, he has a high hockey IQ and can play on both special teams. In fact, he would be a great option “in Caufield’s office” on the power play for a one-timer for the second unit, something he’s done in Laval for the past couple of seasons.

Suzuki’s ice time

Nick Suzuki

I was discussing with some Habs’ fans on Twitter last night and we noticed that Nick Suzuki looks like he’s running on empty already. It’s hard to keep the pedal to the metal for a grinding 82-games schedule and Suzuki is facing the opponents’ toughest opposition night in, night out. Particularly since Monahan’s injury, the entire burden of generating offense from the center position has been on his young shoulders. And coach St-Louis is leaning heavily on him… perhaps too heavily.

In order to keep him fresh, the coaching staff has to be aware of the long term toll too much ice time is putting on the team’s young stars. For the short run, Suzuki can certainly take playing 21-25 minutes a game. There is no doubt about that. But it is not something that is sustainable in the long run.

In order to better manage his minute and give him some rest, there’s an easy solution: cut his time on the penalty kill. For one, you have Christian Dvorak and Jake Evans at center who can play that role (Evans does, but mostly on the wing). Also, when you play Suzuki to kill penalties, he then needs to sit a couple of shifts to rest. If he wasn’t play on the penalty kill, St-Louis could then come right back with his top line – Suzuki included – to generate offense, changing the momentum immediately after a good kill, while the opposition’s top players are resting from their power play time, therefore creating a favourable match-up. I’ve seen Alain Vigneault doing that regularly with the Sedin twins and it worked extremely well in Vancouver.

Those were just a few observations from an “old man” who has seen similar situations in the past. It is just one man’s opinion, but it’s an opinion that has some logic behind it or at least, it is very defendable. You may disagree and that’s perfectly fine. But if you’re coming at me with the mentality of “tanking”, we will never agree.

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Prospects: Where’s The Rotation?

By JD Lagrange – Prior to season opening, Canadiens’ General Manager Kent Hughes kept repeating to whomever wanted to hear that although his team was young and some players would stay in Montreal while others would have to perfect their skills in Laval in the American Hockey League (AHL), it wouldn’t be set in stone and there would be a player rotation. So far, with more than a third of the season played, we have seen none of it.

Of course, there have been injuries and, let’s face it, the young guys are, for the most part, impressing. There is no way that Kaiden Guhle, for example, should be going to Laval. But in spite of our love for Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj, they have things to work on. Yes, they can work on some of them at the NHL level but we’ve heard many times that this is not a development league. They could greatly benefit from slowing the game down one notch to be a bit more dominant and work on their flaws.

Anthony Richard

But they are making mistakes, lots of them. You also have others who aren’t performing at a level that justifies them staying in the NHL. Of course, the biggest issue is guys like Evgenii Dadonov and Joel Armia who are having a heck of a time this season trying to find their game. But Michael Pezzetta has not faired well this year. Yes, he does need to clear waivers but really, is anyone concerned that he wouldn’t clear?

We wrote recently about some very deserving players in Laval who should be getting their opportunity to show what they can do. None are more deserving than Anthony Richard, who is sitting second in the AHL’ in scoring’s scoring race, after a four-points night yesterday. He can skate, he can put points up on the board at the AHL level, he can kill penalties.

When you stop and think about it, what are the Canadiens struggling most with? Their power play is dead last in the NHL with a 14% success rate. Since December 5th, they are 0 for 20 with the man advantage, which included an 0 for 7 against Calgary. Last night against the Ottawa Senators, they had Dadonov and Armia on the second power play unit. These two wingers combine for two goals on the season! And at about 80% success rate, it’s not like the penalty killing is great either!

As we saw in our feature “In the System“, Jesse Ylönen continues to climb up the points-per-game chart week in, week out. He too can play on both special teams and he provides a right-hand shot for a one-timer in Cole Caufield’s office on the man advantage for the second unit, a role that he plays with the Rocket.

Unfortunately for him, Justin Barron got injured lately but he is also one deserving of a chance to show what he can do. I mean, can he really do worse than Chris Wideman out there? And he’s definitely a better option for the point on the power play as well. And if you’re not going to call him up when right-handed David Savard is on the injured list, when will you?

What is the organization’s reluctance to doing that rotation they said they would do? We’re not talking about permanent moves here. Yes, there are only so many call-ups you can make in a season and you have to save some for post trade deadline for sure. But with the Anaheim game being the 30th of the season, making some kind of change is past due… while we wait for a trade or two to be completed.

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