Habs Weekly Report: Winning Through Adversity

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 7: Nikita Scherbak #38 of the Montreal Canadiens jumps for joy in celebration of his 1st NHL goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 7, 2017 in Toronto,Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

This past week, the Montreal Canadiens continued winning through adversity. Despite having as many as seven regulars out to injury, the Habs went a perfect 3-0-0.  This helped them collect 10 of a possible 14 points during their seven-game holiday road trip.

Habs Weekly Report: Winning Through Adversity

Perfect Start to 2017

The Canadiens started their New Year playing the Nashville Predators, in what was a close defensive-style game. The Canadiens played their fourth consecutive overtime game. This time, it was Max Pacioretty who scored the game-winning goal from a nice pass up ice by ex-Predators forward Alexander Radulov. Radulov finished with an assist on both the Canadiens goals in his return to Nashville. The other goal scorer was Shea Weber who also made his return to the city he captained for the previous six seasons.

In his return to Nashville, a tribute video thanked Weber, leaving the Canadiens defenseman feeling very emotional.

The next night, the Canadiens played the Dallas Stars. For a fifth consecutive game, the Canadiens went to overtime. And for the second night in a row, Pacioretty played hero.  With that goal, Pacioretty tied Aurel Joliat for most overtime goals in club history with 8. That was also his sixth game-winning goal of the season.

The Injury-Bug Bites Again

During the game, the injury bug struck the Canadiens yet again. Early in the second period, Paul Byron left the game after receiving a hit from Stars forward Patrick Sharp. Then, later on,  Brendan Gallagher received a Weber shot off his left hand. Gallagher returned to the bench before throwing his helmet in agony, and racing off to the dressing room. It was on the same hand on which he broke his fingers last season that required surgery. Gallagher is expected to miss at least eight weeks.

This is a huge loss for the Canadiens, as they lose a workhorse that can get his team going with energy. Gallagher may not be having his best season offensively, but he still does the little things that help his team out each night.

As for Byron, he returned in Monday night’s contest against the Washington Capitals after missing only one game. Byron has been a primary source for secondary scoring for the Habs so far this season. He currently has 12 goals and 23 points in 39 games, which are career highs.

The Rivalry Is Alive Again

Saturday night was a typical Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs rivalry game that hasn’t been seen in awhile. There was a lot of tension that included a couple of fights. Two fights broke out during the second period that set the tone for the future of the rivalry.  The Leafs are in the playoff hunt this season, and it showed with their play. They wanted a win and pushed the Canadiens with their mix of skill and grit. Despite having seven regulars out, the Canadiens were able to prevail beating the Leafs 5-3.

Former first round pick for the Canadiens in 2014, Nikita Scherbak made his NHL debut. It included his first-ever NHL goal on the power play with under two seconds left in the first period.

Mad Max is On Fire

Captain Pacioretty opened the scoring against the Leafs with his 14th goal in his last 14 games.  Pacioretty has scored more goals than anybody in the league since December 1st. He finished the week with four goals in three games, but earlier in the week there was fear of yet another injury.  Pacioretty got hit in the foot during practice from a Weber shot that left him unable to put pressure on his foot. However, he was able to come out and play against the Predators and managed to score the winner.

Known as having warrior blood, Pacioretty’s scare fueled him more as he led his team through adversity to victory. He may have started the season slowly, but “Mad Max” is firing on all cylinders right now. Eventually, he will cool down, but the Canadiens captain deserves all the praise he can get for leading his team.

The Impact McCarron has on the team

Michael McCarron has played 11 games for the Habs since being called up earlier in December. With each passing game, he has shown why he is ready for a full-time spot on the Canadiens roster.  McCarron brings an aspect to the Habs that nobody else on the team has, a mix of skill and size.

The Canadiens are known to be a team of smaller stature, especially at the forward position. McCarron has played on the fourth line for the Canadiens as well as some power-play time. What he brings is an ability to protect the puck very well as he helps his wingers cycle down low very effectively. On the power play, he offers a great option to screen the goalie as his 6’7″ frame covers opposing goalies view very well.

McCarron could become the Canadiens  version of Tomas Holmstrom. Holmstrom was best known to be the big body in front of the net during the Detroit Red Wings years of success.

McCarron also isn’t a liability defensively as he has tremendous strength to push opposing players off the puck. He can also protect his teammates like he did when Leafs forward Matt Martin tried to fight Bobby Farnham. Farnham is a tough customer as well but his 5’10” stature isn’t made to fight a guy like Martin.

While he is very likely to be pushed out of the centre position when Alex Galchenyuk comes back. However, McCarron could still be effective on the wing on a full-time basis.

Opening the Week on the Wrong Foot

Monday night, the Canadiens opened up the week at home against the Washington Capitals. However, throughout the game, they lacked the intensity that the team showed throughout their holiday road trip. The Habs seemed tired from their road trip, and let a heavy-offensive Capitals team take charge.  The Capitals beat the Canadiens 4-1, including three unanswered goals in the third period.

Carey Price stopped 35 shots, however in the third period he looked like the slumping Price we have seen of late. There must be something up with Price as he isn’t the Price that the Habs are used to seeing. Could it be that he misses his family and wants to spend more time with them? Or could it just be a simple long slump? Only time will tell when Price will be back to his normal self. For now, the Canadiens must play with more intensity until he comes back to his normal play.

Overall Thoughts

Despite all the injuries, the best of the Saint John’s IceCaps players have stepped up well to fill roles. However, the player who has stepped up the most is Phillip Danault. Danault, who shared the Molson Cup honours with Jeff Petry, has done a great job replacing Galchenyuk.

Danault has gained a lot of chemistry with Radulov and Pacioretty on the team’s top line. It’s quite possible that Galchenyuk doesn’t even play on the first line if the trio continues producing.

Galchenyuk was finally cleared to practice and joined his teammates last Friday. He practised for the first time since his knee injury on December 4th. Andrei Markovwho has been out for the past three weeks with a groin injury, joined Galchenyuk on the ice.  The Canadiens could have both in the lineup later in the week.

In other news, on Tuesday the NHL announced that Weber and Head coach Michel Therrien will join Price at the All-Star game.

They will be going back on the road to play the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday, and Minnesota Wild on Thursday. They will be looking to bounce back from that lacklustre performance on Monday. The Habs will then return home to take on the New York Rangers on Saturday.

Main Photo.