Seven Underperforming Forwards on The Habs

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.

JAKE EVANS2022-2327044
JOEL ARMIA2022-2316022
REM PITLICK2022-2311100

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.

Jake Evans

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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Return of Injured Players Bad News for Slafkovsky

By JD Lagrange – The Canadiens have gone through a rough stretch with injuries lately, particularly up front. But it seems like some of those players are getting closer to a return and that will inevitably bring back the issue of numbers up front. Fans should enjoy watching Juraj Slafkovsky on the top-six lines as the odds are that he will be returning to the bottom-six when these guys return.

Jonathan Drouin

The irony is that we’re seeing articles pop-up claiming that the Canadiens should not be sending Slafkovsky to the World Juniors with, as a main reason, the fact that he is playing more. Do fans truly believe that with Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Drouin having ditched their non-contact jerseys and practicing with their teammates will be the ones playing third and fourth line when they return?

Brendan Gallagher is not skating yet but he was injured on November 29th against the San Jose Sharks. It was said that he would be out a couple of weeks. Well, the two weeks mark is this coming Tuesday so unless he suffers a setback, he should be back at some point next week.

With those three veterans back in the line-up, and with Evgenii Dadonov showing signs of life offensively, it is very unlikely that those guys will be penciled into the fourth line. The two players most likely to be are Slafkovsky and Joel Armia.

It is no secret that Kent Hughes wants to trade Drouin and Dadonov, two pending UFAs at the end of the season. Rumours are rampant that they would also like to unload Hoffman as well. None of those guys were having a great season, although Hoffman has been the better of the three, particularly the last couple of weeks before his injury. But in order to get value, those guys need to play better and the only way they’ll do that is by playing significant minutes on the top-nine forwards.

World Juniors

A couple of weeks ago, I’ve explained in length why it would be beneficial for Slafkovsky to go spend a couple of weeks in the high tempo, high level World Junior Championships. With the injured players back while that tournament is being played, I have not changed my mind.

Mesar and Slafkovsky as Batman and Robin

The fact is that Slafkovsky has things to work on and having coached for many years, I can tell you that a temporary step back will, more often than not, lead to three steps forward. By the time the tournament starts, Hoffman, Drouin and Gallagher will be back in the line-up. It is my humble opinion that Slafkovsky would greatly benefit from more quality ice time, but also in a leadership role, something he hasn’t done since Midget hockey. Temporarily slowing the game down one notch (as the WJC is very high caliber), allowing him to better apply what he’s worked on with the Canadiens… reuniting Batman and Robin for the tournament.

Will I be upset if the Canadiens decide to not loan the big winger to Team Slovakia for the Holliday break? Of course not, as it is their decision to make, not mine. They know their own plan, I don’t. In fact, I don’t get why people are bellyaching by having what is too strong of an opinion on the matter. It is one of those situations where, at this time, there is no right or wrong answer. Of course we can share our opinion on the matter but mine isn’t better than yours… and vice-versa.

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