Habs Prevail In San Jose

By JD Lagrange – It’s been fast and furious around the NHL, even difficult to keep track of all of the player-movement around the league. As playoffs’ contenders attempt to distance themselves from pretenders by loading up, others like the Arizona Coyotes keep accumulating dead cap space for picks. It’s been so crazy a few days leading up to Friday’s trade deadline that we almost forgot that there are still games needing to be played.

Two of the teams in action last night have made some moves as the Canadiens visited the San Jose Sharks, who started life without Timo Meier. As for Montreal, it was their first game since trading away underwhelming Evgenii Dadonov to Dallas, getting 25 year-old Denis Gurianov. If Dadonov scored in his first game in the lone-star state, the Canadiens’ new addition did everything but putting the puck in the back of the net last night, a very impressive first appearance. The Canadiens came back from a 1-0 deficit after 40 minutes, to win 3-1. Kaiden Guhle, Jesse Ylönen and Christian Dvorak – in an empty net – were the Canadiens’ goals scorers.


Denis Gurianov

The Russian winger, sporting Ryan Poehling’s old number 25, skated on a line with Nick Suzuki and Mike Hoffman for his Habs’ debuts. Not only did head coach Martin St-Louis put the newcomer on the top line, but he also played him on the second powerplay unit against the Sharks.

In 17:02 of ice time (2:24 on the PP), Gurianov ended the night with a plus-one rating and six (6) shots on goal, many of them quality chances. He also hit the side of the net on a one-timer.

Earlier in the day, St-Louis spoke to reporters about what he knew about his new player and about his expectations. Always refreshing to listen to, the coach had this to say: “Honestly, I’ve had people who tried to contact me to tell me about the young player they know, but that’s something I’ll get into in two to three weeks”, said St-Louis. “I want to form my own opinion. I don’t want to be influenced by what someone might tell me before I get to see him. I fee like not everybody sees it the same way, so I don’t want to get tainted just because that’s some person’s opinion”, he added. “I want to see him in practice, I want to see him in games, I want to make my own first impression versus being influenced by somebody with what I should be expecting. Because I don’t think everybody sees it the same way. You’re coaching a hockey player, you’re coaching a person, so if I can get an edge there I will, but in due time.”

With his performance last night, it’s fair to say that Gurianov is starting in the coach’s good grace. He came as advertised. He’s big, he’s a good skater, he has a good shot. On one play, he out skated Erik Karlsson (of all people) on the outside, cut to the net but was stopped by the goalie. In another occasion, he fed a brilliant pass to Suzuki in front of the Sharks’ net, and the Canadiens’ center seemed surprised to get it on his blade, and took too long to shoot.

It’s only one game so it’s important not to get carried away here, but if he is to keep playing the way he did last night, it is not too farfetched to think of him on the right side of Cole Caufield and Suzuki next season.


The game against the Sharks was also the return of Kaiden Guhle into the line-up, he who had left the game on December 29th with a knee injury and hadn’t played since. The rookie defenseman picked up where he left off, paired with David Savard. Smooth skating, always in good position, joining the rush, it’s like he never missed a game.

Guhle finished the night with 18:27, third most behind Mike Matheson and Savard. He scored the game tying goal in the third period, and finished the night with a plus-one rating, three shots on goal, one hit and one blocked shot.

The Canadiens did use their six defensemen rather evenly as the least utilized was Justin Barron, with 15:50 of ice time.


Last night’s win, however, is on veteran goaltender Jake Allen, who stopped 38 or the Sharks 39 shots. In fact, Allen stopped 38 consecutive shots as he allowed a goal on the Sharks’ very first shot of the game, 1:43 minutes in.

Spectacular at times, helped by his defensemen a couple of times, Allen was in full “beast mode” last night. He was a big reason why Erik Karlsson was kept off the scoresheet, something very few teams have been able to do this season. It was the 34th start of the season for the Canadiens’ number… 34.

The Canadiens continue their Western road trip on Thursday, when they will visit the Los Angeles Kings. Game starts at 7:30 PM Pacific, 10:30 PM Eastern.

Coaches’ Core Values And Philosophy

By JD Lagrange – In hockey like in any other sport, coaches are somewhat similar in many ways. Depending on the level that you are coaching, you all want to win. After all, hockey is a lot more fun for everyone involved when you can taste victory. In minor hockey however, some coach put winning way too high on their priority list, even at the Rep levels. Your role as a coach is to develop these young men and women and sitting them on the bench – or shortening your bench, as we say – doesn’t accomplish that.

Every single coach will try to draw the maximum out of his players. They want the goaltenders to make saves. They want to see the defensemen defend and execute zone exits, perhaps even support the offence a bit. They want their forwards to generate offense and support the defense when the opposition has the puck. But there are a variety of strategies and concepts to accomplish all of that and that’s where coaches differ.

Martin St-Louis brings a different and refreshing approach and players seem to appreciate what he preaches. He claims not having a “system” but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s totally true. He has a structure that he wants his players to play within, particularly when they don’t have the puck. But he does leave his forwards latitude to rely on their offensive instincts, on what brought them to the NHL to start with.

My philosophy

Truthfully, I find that, as a coach, I had more similarities with St-Louis than say… Jacques Lemaire or Jacques Martin. I too don’t believe in “systems”, or “traps”. I would like to share some of them and you might recognize some that relate to St-Louis, or other NHL coaches. I will leave out what applies only to minor hockey, things like spreading the ice time more evenly, for example.

Offensive freedom for forwards

As mentioned, I never believed in actual systems but we did work on different breakouts for the defensive zone, working on positioning and decision-making between defensemen and forwards. Getting the puck out of your zone is key as the least amount of time you spend in your zone, the better your odds are at winning. I also believe in a two-men forecheck, but being aware of keeping one man high. Things sure have changed over the years as when I played minor hockey, I was taught “corridors”, where the ice was divided lengthwise into three segments.

Aside from defensive zone breakouts and keeping a man high in the offensive zone, the only two other times I insisted in some structure was on special teams. For one, I used my most skilled players on the power play and to keep them fresh, I was using my third and fourth line players to kill penalties, for the most part. But in both situations, they needed to know how and where to pass the puck to relieve pressure with the man advantage. They also needed to learn how to cut dangerous passing lanes on the penalty kill.

Defensemen on their natural side

One of my strongest beliefs is to play defensemen on their natural side: right-handed on the right, left-handed on the left and here are some reasons:

  • In the defensive zone, they play more on their forehand, allowing for more accurate and stronger passes, and rapidly make plays or flip the puck out of the zone.
  • Their stick while defending allows them to guide the forwards towards the boards, as the higher hand is positioned in the middle of the ice and forwards will try to go where the stick isn’t.
  • It’s easier to keep the puck in the offensive zone when it comes along the boards, allowing for a quicker and harder shot, dumping it back in deep along the board, or making a cross-ice pass.

I wish I had a mean to make a video, as you would clearly see what I mean but you would see how much it makes sense.

Pinching defensemen

I’ve always encouraged defensemen to skate with the puck if they see open ice. Unless you have a teammate open ahead of you, take what they give you as you have possession. I am also very supportive of defensemen joining the rush but must pick their timing. That’s why I liked Shea Weber’s offensive support as the third or fourth man in, as opposed to PK Subban’s end to end, risky plays.

Of course, I insisted on managing the game and making the right decision based on factors like score, time in a period or a game (late goals against hurt more), etc. Also, a pinching defenseman who gets caught up ice better be the one working the hardest on the backcheck.


A bit of a pet peeve of mine is seeing defensemen trying to transform themselves into goaltenders. There’s a guy behind defensemen who is fully geared to stop pucks and that’s the team’s goalie. You see, when a defenseman tries to block a shot, it’s a gamble and in general, I don’t like the odds. You risk:

  1. obstructing the goalie’s view
  2. deflecting the puck
  3. leaving a man open in front for a rebound
  4. getting injured and miss time or be less effective playing through an injury

If you are well positioned, with an active stick, you are in a position to let your goalie do his job, and ensure that you cut the pass or check an opponent, preventing second and third scoring chances off rebounds. You are quicker and more effective on your feet than on the ice. It also allows for a higher percentage of recuperating the puck to transition to offense or get the puck out of the zone.

Of course, there’s a time and a place to block a shot if you’re a defenseman but in general, I will take defensemen who block fewer shots ahead of guys known for their shot blocking “abilities”. Forwards blocking shots? By all means as they are usually higher in the zone, giving more time to the goalie to adjust, and the defensemen behind them to check opponents for rebounds in front.


When watching the current edition of the Canadiens, I shake my head most times they take a penalty. Most times, they are penalties that can and should be avoided. Hear me out… I had zero tolerance for “lazy penalties”. Those are infraction where players used their sticks to slash, hook or trip an opponent instead of skating and moving their feet. Even when coaching girls’ hockey, I taught defensive positioning to play the body, angles to force opponents in low scoring position. So you had to move your feet to do that, gauging and matching your opponent’s speed. There as also no room for selfishness or dumb retaliatory penalties.

Positive reinforcement

It’s amazing to see Martin St-Louis coach but mostly, seeing how positive he remains even when his team isn’t performing. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get mad at his players. It’s done on purpose. Coaches have always had to be good motivators and more than ever before, they have to be good communicators. In a world of entitlement, handing out participation trophies no matter the effort or results, kids have grown accustomed to having everything handed to them. There was a time, not long ago, where bridge contracts were a no-brainer. Today, players want to get paid before having accomplished anything, based on potential instead of what they’ve actually done.

As a coach, I applied a very simple theory, not to hurt feelings: Be critical, but always end with a sincere positive point. I was a talker behind the bench. If I noticed something that just happened on the ice, as we didn’t have tablets and video replay to show the players after the game, I immediately jumped at the occasion to teach. I would describe the play and provide feedback to a player or two. I would also ensure to reinforce a positive thing or two that they have done either on that very shift, or earlier in the game. A quick tap on the back, on the shoulder and on the head, and we’d move on. It often worked wonders.


Strong believer that you play the games as you practiced. My focus was on high tempo, with lots of skating (with and without the puck), conditioning, and I had long segments with high ratio for touches of the puck. Players need to be comfortable and confident when they have the puck on their stick, otherwise they’ll give it away like a hot potato. I wasn’t much into bag-skating here, although I’ve done it when the effort or seriousness wasn’t there. But my players came off the ice having worked a sweat.

Hard work

If you asked any opposing coaches about facing my teams, or if you asked any of my former players, they will all say that we formed a very hard working team difficult to play against. I’m a strong believer that while you, as individuals or as a team, can get out-skilled, there are never any reasons to get out-worked. The old saying that “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” cannot be more true. And that applies not only during games, but also in practice.

My favourite tool that I’ve used every year, at first practice and throughout the season is the mirror analogy. I would tell players to pretend to look themselves in a mirror and ask themselves, without giving me an answer, if they felt like they gave their best effort out there. If the answer is “YES”, then not a coach, not a parent, not a teammate can expect more from you. But if you feel like there were times when the answer was “NO”, then others were justified expecting more of you.

And at the year-end gathering, in minor hockey, I would provide them with a magnetic mirror to put in their locker at school and I would stick a sticker on it with our team logo, with the quote: “Did I give my very best?” I would turn it into a life lesson, saying that it doesn’t apply only in hockey. If you give your best at school, at work, in your relationship, no one can expect more from you. But if you don’t, then perhaps it’s normal for them to expect more? And only you knows the ultimate truth.


As you can see, whether you coach minor hockey – house or rep – or at the NHL level, there are a lot of similarities. While coaches like Jacques Lemaire will dumb it down for players to execute a well strategized plan and system, others like St-Louis want the players to have fun while playing hockey. That’s right. Hockey is a GAME so it must be PLAYED. One thing we’ve noticed for the most part, since Marc Bergevin changed the leadership group and now with the new management, is that the players are having fun together in spite of a couple of bad seasons.

The NHL, however, is not a place to change the style of a player. I remember when then goaltending coach Roland Melanson tried to change Carey Price’s style of play in his first couple of seasons, and it was a nightmare. At that level, if a player is thinking more than he’s relying on instincts, what brought him to the show, it’s not conducive to success.

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