Coaches will probably pick apart the mistakes made by the raft of rookies and spare parts that populated especially the Canadiens lineup, but ultimately it’s the mistakes that can make games entertaining.
RANDOM THOUGHTS ON AN INCONSEQUENTIAL GAME
..Charlie Lindgren has won all three of his NHL starts. His adventurous style of protecting the goal is far removed from the calmness of Carey Price but he stops the puck and battles in the unorthodox way reminiscent of Dominik Hasek.
..It seemed to me that Dwight King was having a lot of trouble keeping up with the Canadiens speed through his first fifteen games under Claude Julien. Yet, while others were being moved in and out the lineup, Julien played him all but one of them. The last two games we started to see the kind of hockey he brought to the LA Kings in the playoffs. And right on time.
…It’s apparent that Alex Galchenyuk likes overtime. Regulation time, not so much. After watching his uninspiring effort over the last seventeen games Julien dropped him down to a kind of fourth line with Steve Ott and Andreas Martinsen. There was no indication of improvement, at least defensively. He loves three-on-three hockey though. That’s the fifth time he’s scored an overtime winner this season tying NHL records established by Steven Stamkos in 2012 and equaled last season by Jonathan Toews.
…The only members of the Canadiens who didn’t get a shot on goal were Steve Ott and Mikhail Sergachov. I’m sure Julien instructed Sergachev to keep it simple and he did that for the most part. There was a little coverage drama on the Wings first goal but he settled down after that. . He still has work to do before he becomes an NHLer , but you can see the flashes of the talent that made him the Canadiens first round pick last June.
….Nothing wrong with big Brett Lernout’s game either. He’s only 21 and probably needs to put on some muscle but having seen him a lot with St. John’s this season, I’m sure he’ll be in the NHL before long. Lernout registered four hits and blocked three shots. Julien liked what he was seeing enough to give him 23:54 ice time, second only to defense partner Nathan Beaulieu.
….And I’m still liking Andreas Martinsen who had six hits and a couple of scoring chances. Martinsen can be an unrestricted free agent on July first. Another player who’s size changes the physical makeup of the team.
THE LONG HAUL –
And so the adventure that is the long regular season ends. It was six months filled with more than the usual share of hills, valleys and revelations. The names that immediately come to mind are Price, Pacioretty, Danault, Byron and Lehkonen.
Carey Price had a season divided into three separate and easily identifiable compartments.
His first third of the season was worthy of a former Hart trophy winner. He appeared in 21 games up to December 15th, posting a 16-3-2 record, a 1.80 goals-against average and .940 save%.
At the Bell Centre December 16th Price let in four goals on 18 shots against the San Jose Sharks and Michel Therrien got a disgusted glare from Price as he was being replaced by Al Montoya early in the second period. It was the beginning of a two month 22 game crash during which he was 8-11-3 with 3.12 goals-against average and .895 save percentage,
After giving up four goals for the tenth time in those 22 games, Michel Therrien was fired and perhaps not so co-incidentally Price was back. In his nineteen starts under Julien Price finished his season 13-6-0 with a 1.72 GAA and and .932 save percentage.
Was Therrien the root of Price’s mid-season problems? You’re going to have to form your own judgment because Carey’s never going to tell us.
While the Canadiens and Price were rolling through the season’s first two months, Max Pacioretty wasn’t. He went into December with five goals in the season’s first 24 games. On December 4th he scored twice at Los Angeles. December 10th he scored four against Colorado. In his final 57 games he scored a league leading 30 goals. We were to find out later that he played through a cracked bone in his foot in October and November. Makes you wonder how many he might have scored if healthy for 80-plus games.
IRON MAN –
Only one member of the Canadiens played in all 82 games this season. Phillip Danault exemplifies the meaning of the word “chemistry”. Hockey people keep repeating that Danault is not a first line centre and yet there he is effectively gluing together Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov where, try as the coaches might, nobody else seems able.
How many picked Paul Byron early in their fantasy draft back in October?
When the season was over Byron was second on the Canadiens goalscoring list with 22. Only one player in the league had a better shooting percentage than Byron who scored on 23.4% of his shots on goal. Not only that, the little guy is durable. He played in 81 of the Canadiens 82 games.
THE ROOKIE –
There was only one rookie who played the entire season with the Canadiens and as the season wore on, Arturri Lehkonen garnered more and more praise as he game continued to rise. There was much training camp discussion about Lehkonen perhaps returning to Sweden for another season. Wisely the Canadien opted to keep him. Lehkonen scored his 18th goal Saturday in Detroit and finished his first NHL season in style with six goals and ten points the season’s last 10 games. A prediction of a few thirty goal seasons doesn’t seem far fetched of what Lehkonen has shown us this season.
THE NEWCOMERS –
In October there was more than a little hot air expended on talk shows and in the city’s sports bars over the wisdom of the Weber/Subban trade and signing of Alexander Radulov to that 5.75 million dollar contract. Most of those arguments were put to rest by the players themselves. Radulov brought energy and 54 points to the team. Weber brought leadership and those 17 goals, 42 points and a plus-20 defensive rating.
The Canadiens finished the season with 47 victories, tying them for second most since their Cup season of 1992-93. They won nine of their last 12 road games.
They scored 226 goals only five more than they scored in last season’s disaster. The difference is defense. Last year without Carey Price they allowed 236 goals (15 more than they scored). This season only 200 goals against. The 36 goal differential added up to 21 more points in the standings.
ON TO THE PLAYOFFS –
Regular season records seldom translate to the playoffs but for the sake of reference the Canadiens won all three games against the Rangers this season, one of them in a shootout. The Habs have won 19 of the last 27 meetings between the clubs.
We all know life is different in the playoffs. Three years ago they met. Rangers forward Chris Kreider took Carey Price out in game one and with Dustin Tokarski in the nets, New York went on to eliminate the Canadiens in six games.
This will be the second time head coaches Julien and Alain Vigneault will go head-to-head in a playoff series. In the 2011 Stanley Cup final Julien’s Bruins defeated Vigneault’s Vancouver Canucks in seven games.
Assume the first two games of the Canadiens/Rangers series will be Wednesday and Friday with the third game at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon in order to satisfy NBC Television.