The Montreal Canadiens potential playoff run will begin Wednesday night against the New York Rangers. After missing the playoffs in 2015-16, the Habs bounced back nicely this season to win the Atlantic Division. The Canadiens have an opportunity to go far if the team gels properly. They are considered to be a favourite in the team’s first round matchup. The team as a whole looks strong heading into the post-season, but the Habs will need certain players to step-up. These guys will be the Habs x-factors for playoff success.
Players like Carey Price, Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Max Pacioretty are expected to be difference makers in order to see the Habs go far. However, there are a few other players who will prove to be x-factors in the Habs playoff fate.
While Alex Galchenyuk may be starting the playoffs on the fourth line, he will need to play a huge role in helping his team win. First off, Galchenyuk isn’t playing there because he lacks skill. He’s arguably the most skilled forward on the Habs. Head coach Claude Julien seems to be doing this, to send his player a message for lack of effort as of late.
If Galchenyuk can begin to work hard and have success with players like Andreas Martinsen and Steve Ott. He will more than likely find himself back into the top nine forwards. Julien said he wants to see Galchenyuk work harder, this is his chance.
The main reason why Galchenyuk will be an x-factor is his ability to produce in overtime. This year, he tied a record for most overtime goals in an NHL season. The playoffs may not be 3-on-3, but even his playoff past shows he can come up big in overtime. Out of his three career playoff goals, two of them had been scored in sudden death. If Galchenyuk starts playing the way the Habs know he can, then there shouldn’t be a question that he’ll play a huge role in the team’s success. Especially if he’s shifted back to centre somehow during these playoffs.
Phillip Danault was this season’s recipient of the Jacques-Beauchamp Trophy for the unsung hero of the team. With good reason as well. Danault’s season has been a year of working his way up. When Galchenyuk went down in December, he was the player stepped up and proved to be effective on the top line. He has gained chemistry with star forwards Alexander Radulov and captain Max Pacioretty. Although, he doesn’t have close to the same amount of skill as his line-mates, his work ethic is what completes the top line.
Danault is an x-factor for playoffs success because he has the ability to make the first line work. Galchenyuk who has been given an opportunity on the top line just doesn’t fit as he is too much alike the other two. The truth is top lines in today’s NHL needs a grinder to help the two others produce. Another great example of this type of player is Patrick Maroon. He played sidekick on the top line in both Anaheim and now Edmonton, doing the dirty work for his line-mates. Danault is very good at this as well, helping his teammates get the puck. If he continues to work for his linemates, the Canadiens will go far on the scoring of Radulov and Pacioretty.
Andrew Shaw was acquired at last year’s draft for this time of year. Shaw is proven playoff performer and will likely continue to play that way. Shaw’s grittiness has played a helpful role in the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup twice in the last four years.
Shaw also chips in more offensively when it comes down to crunch time. He has shown that down the stretch as of late for the Habs. Although much like Galchenyuk, Shaw seems out of place playing as full-time centre. Shaw may have the defensive game to play centre in the defensive zone. However, in the offensive zone he is better grinding it out in the corners than making plays up the middle. If the Habs want to make a Stanley Cup push, they will need to have Shaw grinding it out in the corners.
A huge x-factor for the Canadiens will be their head coach. Claude Julien will need to continue to make important decisions as the playoffs move along. One of those will be whether he puts Galchenyuk back to centre and Shaw back at the wing. Both players need to be effective and successful if the Canadiens are to go far.
Once Galchenyuk’s lesson is over, with Julien being an incredibly intelligent coach it is highly expected that he will make the move sooner than later. Especially, if a player like Dwight King who has been underwhelming continues to play under expectations. King like Shaw, has played a serviceable role on two Stanley Cup winning teams with the Los Angeles Kings.
However, it’s not easy to see him performing the same again with the lack of effort he’s showed with the Habs. King will need to work to keep his role on this team as well. He has been playing better lately but nothing worth a promotion. If Julien wants to really balance the lineup, he may need to separate Shaw and King at some point in time. Both players bring playoff grit that is very useful in a bottom six role. The Canadiens have a strong team heading into the playoffs, it’ll be interesting to see how far the team gets with a new gritty style of play.
MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 29: Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens skates the puck during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on March 29, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-3. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)