By JD Lagrange – As hockey players, we can look at many reasons and excuses to justify a tough season or a rough start to one. Injuries are certainly a factor, as could being a new player needing time to adjust to a new system, teammates and environment. But when push comes to shove, the NHL is a performance league and as harsh as it might sound at times, you are being judged by what you do on the ice. Fair or not, expectations are set on what a player has done in the past and on the salary he’s making. In Montreal so far this season, seven players must give more than what they’ve shown so far.
Yes, on the Canadiens, you have a long list of players whom, up until now, have not lived up to expectations not only from the fans, but if they’re being honest, on what they had set for themselves. Twenty-seven games into the season, we have reached exactly the third of the season mark and while the team as a whole is meeting to exceeding expectations with a 13-12-2 record, they have been slowed down in their progress by a few players. We can even narrow it down by position as they are all forwards.
List of seven
Let’s see who they are, shall we? You will notice that I have left out rookie Juraj Slafkovsky because really, there were little to no expectations when it came to production going into his first NHL season. In fact, many thought that he would be in Laval this year. Also, Mike Hoffman was a big disappointment in the first month or so of the season but since November 8th, he has managed five goals and two assists in his last seven games, which included an injury that kept him out of the line-up for eight games during that stretch.
For this exercise, I have included their production so far this season, the pace that they are at if they play every game to finish this season, and their career average over 82 games. Doing it that way is more than fair for the players as it counts the first part of their career when they were not as productive as they were later on, particularly for veteran players.
Gallagher, Drouin and Armia have all missed considerable time with injuries. Although his offensive numbers aren’t where everyone – himself included – would like them to be, Gallagher has some jump in his strides and he has been good in general. It is particularly true when comparing his play to the past year or so, but the puck simply isn’t going in for him.
Drouin was just starting to show some signs that he had a heartbeat when once again, he was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. He is currently practicing with the team so he must be hinging closer to a return. This will undoubtedly be his last season in Montreal and it’s unfortunate that this potentially fine wine turned to vinegar as it did.
Anyone around the NHL will tell you that when you miss camp and/or the start of the season, it is very difficult to catch up to the pace of your teammates and the league. It is true for Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson as well, who are not up to what we can expect from them. Armia came back to play on October 29th and he is missing that split second while he’s on the ice. Perhaps all he needs is for one puck to go in as he’s had his chances in the past few games.
Evgenii Dadonov is, to me, the biggest disappointment. I was expecting a Tomas Tatar type of player in him. Instead, I’m seeing a Sergei Berezin while he was with the Habs. Soft, uninvolved, disinterested, afraid of physical contact, it is very doubtful that any team will want him at trade deadline, even with half his salary retained, unless he catches on fire… but I don’t see that in him, unfortunately. Prove me wrong Evgenii!
Jake Evans is playing okay defensively. He’s showing flashes, from time to time, with the puck as well. But he has been terribly inconsistent and his offense… rather non-existent. It’s not like he hasn’t had talented wingers to play with, even on the fourth line. He’s had Slafkovsky most of the season, he’s had Drouin, Hoffman, Dadonov, Pitlick, Armia… Those aren’t your typical fourth liners.
Rem Pitlick has struggled this season and I can’t put the finger on the reasons for it. He misses his passes, isn’t driving the net like he was last season, and he’s not getting his scoring chances either. His goal against Seattle was a positive sign and he now needs to prove that he should stay in the line-up.
Micheal Pezzetta, bless his soul, is trying hard and he is a great teammate. But this season, he is not playing good hockey. Turning the puck over at inopportune times, making the wrong decisions, falling all over the ice… There was a time when fans were concerned about losing him if the Canadiens tried passing him through waivers but I fear it’s no longer the case. I would give Anthony Richard, in Laval, a shot up with the big club and send Pezz down for a while. That might help Evans as well.
There you have it folks. The seven above-mentioned players need to give more to the team. The good news is all of them are fully capable of doing just that. There is still two-thirds of the season left for them to take strides in the right direction and the Canadiens’ coaching staff is working hard with them to improve. Here’s hoping that their hard work pays off as rest assured, no NHL player likes under-performing.
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