HabsTracks – November 12, 2022

By JD LagrangeHabsTracks is a review, retracing the current hot topics. This week, we’re looking at the Canadiens’ surprising start, the return of key injured players, the rookies’ contribution, the goaltending situation and the discovery of a true first line, amongst other things. Please feel free to comment and share with your friends.

With a 7-6-1 record, the Montreal Canadiens are up to a much better start than anticipated by most and they’ve done it without arguably their number one defenseman, Mike Matheson. To make that even more impressive, they are doing that with not one, not two, not three, but four rookie defensemen, and in a very tough Atlantic Division.

Speaking of Matheson, he is well ahead of schedule and he has started skating with the team, although in a non-contact jersey. The former Penguins and Panthers’ defenseman had suffered an abdominal muscle strain just over four weeks ago and was said to be out approximately eight weeks. If all goes well, he could be back much sooner, or so it seems.

During Matherson’s absence, David Savard has filled the role of top-pair defenseman alongside rookie Kaiden Guhle. Under the circumstances, he is doing an amazing job while teaching the ropes to his young linemate and that, against the opposition’s toughest lines. Prior to the game against Pittsburgh, Savard is second in the NHL in blocked shots while playing 22:34 per game. He’s not a first pair defenseman, everyone including himself knows it. But he is helping the Canadiens immensely so far.

Speaking of the Canadiens’ rookie defensemen, here’s a summary of what they’ve done so far, league-wide:

GUHLEHARRISKOVACEVICXHEKAJ
TOI/GP20:47 (2)20:21 (3)17:43 (9)15:37 (13)
BkS27 (2)29 (1)14 (7)13 (10)
HITS25 (3)11 (8)17 (5)49 (1)
TkA10 (1)6 (9)9 (2)3 (22)

Another big factor in the Canadiens’ early success has been goaltending. Jake Allen has played like he did prior to his injury in the second half of the season. He’s been solid. The surprise has been the play of Samuel Montembeault however. It’s early (too early) to jump to conclusions, but Monty has been playing well beyond expectations. Here are the two netminders’ stats so far:

GPWLOTLSASvsGASv%GAA
ALLEN945030227428.9073.11
MONTEMBEAULT531117115912.9302.38

Speaking of Allen, there are still fans out there who think that he should (or will) be traded this season and that, in spite of the fact that Kent Hughes and Allen himself both said that they want to continue their association and signing a two-year deal. If having not one, but the two parties isn’t going to convince these people, I guess nothing will, right? Here are the facts: in spite of Montembeault’s nice start, he’s far from proven. Cayden Primeau isn’t ready and needs to stay in the AHL this season. The Canadiens don’t have a goaltender anywhere close to being NHL-ready in the system.

It would take a huge overpayment to pry Allen out of Montreal and a first is not it. It would take a first and a blue chip goalie prospect. His contribution goes so far beyond his positive impact in the locker room. It speaks of on-ice too. Fans say: “they can pick one up”. There are teams that have desperately been looking for goaltenders without success. Two Canadian teams (Leafs and Sens) are only two of them. Allen is going nowhere folks.

Changing gear, Josh Anderson is coming back from his two-games suspension for hitting Alex Pietrangelo from behind. On Friday, from reading and listening to the Montreal Media, it seems like they were running out of material to talk about as they were picking on the big Canadiens’ power forward.

Speaking of Anderson, there’s a misconception out there that he is often injured. True that he had a serious injury prior to getting traded to the Habs but in a Canadiens’ uniform, he has played 133 regular season’s games (prior to the game against Pittsburgh). Only Nick Suzuki has played more.

Juraj Slafkovsky has been taking advices from Anderson on how to use his big frame to his advantage. Unfortunately, the young forward has done like his mentor and took things too far when he hit Matt Luff of the Detroit Red Wings from behind. And like Anderson, he was suspended two games which he will serve the last game against Pittsburgh.

Aside from the dynamic duo of Suzuki and Cole Caufield, another forward is doing extremely well. Kirby Dach came with question marks and just as some members of the (French) media started turning on him, Martin St-Louis gave him an opportunity to play right wing on the top line. In his last six games, Dach has three goals, six assists for nine points and has a differential of plus -5. Only Suzuki on the team has more points during that time span with 10. Their linemate Caufield isn’t far behind with eight. This success might force the Canadiens to look at options at center.

The Canadiens have a relatively easy week ahead of them. They will be hosting the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, before heading to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets on Thursday. The will then be returning home and face the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, at the Bell Centre. Those are three very winnable games but has history has often taught us and as Claude “Piton” Ruel has said before: “Y’en n’aura pas d’faciles!

DATEVISITORHOMETIME
Tue Nov.157:00 PM ET
Thu Nov.177:00 PM ET
Sat Nov.197:00 PM ET

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What The Allen Extension Means

By JD Lagrange – Well there you have it. A couple of weeks ago, it had been rumoured that both the Montreal Canadiens and goaltender Jake Allen wanted a deal done, and both sides were working on a contract extension. They have now concluded a deal as Allen put his name at the bottom of a new two-year contract.

Even with the uncertainty surrounding the health and future of Carey Price, even with two totally unproven goaltenders in Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau, they were many who wanted to see the Canadiens trade Allen as the demand was apparently high around the NHL for him. Even with knowing that Price wasn’t starting the season and may not play all season, they still wanted the Habs to trade the veteran goaltender… in order to “tank”!

Jake Allen

What they fail to see is that “tanking” is a fan’s way of looking at a very real situation. You see, Geoff Molson and his brothers didn’t get to where they are by trying to “tank”. They thrive on success. Jeff Gorton didn’t make it in hockey operations by trying to lose. Kent Hughes worked his butt off to build a reputable business as a players’ agent, by trying to “win” top notch clients and now, he’s trying to built a new career as a good GM. Martin St-Louis went through too much adversity to want to lose. He’s a winner. Winning is in the coaching staff’s DNA. Finally, the players didn’t get to where they are by accepting to lose. Everyone in the organization wants to win. That’s in them. “Tanking”, it’s a fans’ wet dream.

Allen’s extension

So Allen signed a two-year extension worth $7.7 million ($3.85 million cap hit) which will kick in after the upcoming season. The 32 year old’s contract comes with a limited no-trade clause for both seasons, and represents a raise of about a million dollar over what he’s currently making annually.

But here what Allen’s signature truly means:

  1. Marc Bergevin wasn’t too bad at negotiating. Allen was making $4.35 million when the Canadiens acquired him. Bergevin convinced him to accept a two-year, $2.875 million per season contract back when the player was younger and more in his prime.
  2. He is liked and appreciated, by management and in the dressing room. If he was an issue, they wouldn’t bring him back.
  3. He likes playing in Montreal. The Fredericton, NB native didn’t have to sign his extension on such a poor team. He could have simply been traded at trade deadline for a chance to win a Cup, rode into the sunset and tested the UFA market next summer.
  4. There is little to no confidence within the organization that neither Samuel Montembeault or Cayden Primeau can take over as the team’s number one goaltender in the short term. Had they felt confident in them, they would have simply played Allen this year and got another cheaper backup next summer.

The 6-foot 2-inches, 195 lbs netminder played 35 games with the Canadiens last season, registering a 9-20-4 record, a 3.30 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Considering how the rest of the team performed, that’s not bad at all.

So now Habs’ fans, do everyone a favour and please get that “tanking” mentality out of your head. Yes, it’s logical but only from a fans’ point of view. It’s not reality. When it comes to “tanking”, be less of a fan and at least try to see things from the eyes of those who do make the decisions. They are NOT tanking or trying to lose on purpose, and they won’t take steps to do that. Period.

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