The season may be in its first week, but the Montreal Canadiens defensive woes are mounting. On Saturday night, the Washington Capitals lit up the Canadiens defensive group in a 6-1 victory. While the Habs played better against the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks, in both games the team’s defensive liabilities were readily apparent.
Montreal Canadiens Defensive Woes Mounting
The Canadiens entered the season with what looked to be a weak defensive core behind Shea Weber and Jeff Petry. The one bright spot is 19-year old Victor Mete. Mete has performed far above all reasonable expectations. The rest of the defensive core, aside from Weber, has been disappointing. Can the Habs need to find a solution?
One of the main problems is that the team’s defense lacks mobility. This is most evident in the transition. While offensive zone entries have been good when defensemen struggle to move the puck up ice quickly, creative offensive opportunities are stifled. Mete, the team’s most mobile defenseman lacks the experience to consistently lead that transition. Despite his youth, Mete remains the best option at present to play on the top pairing. The Jordie Benn experiment seemed to prove that.
While Brandon Davidson has improved his play, it seems likely that Jakub Jerabek will be called up from the AHL sooner rather than later. Another player who is set for his season debut is David Schlemko. He is a mobile defenseman who could prove to be a big help to the Canadiens when he returns from injury this week.
The Need for a Top-Four Puck mover
The reality is that the team is missing Andrei Markov‘s presence. Mark Streit cannot fill his shoes and without a proven top-four defenseman who can move the puck, it seems unlikely that the Habs can contend in the regular season, let alone the playoffs. A player of that caliber is not easy to acquire.
Fans should recall that a few years ago, Bergevin was able to trade a second and fourth round pick for Jeff Petry. While Petry has been uneven this season, a mobile left-shot defenseman could be beneficial to the team. The Habs have the picks to pull off a similar move.
Another option would be to sacrifice one or more wingers to try and pry a player like Cam Fowler from the Anaheim Ducks. With rumors swirling for months about Alex Galchenyuk on the trading block, it seems possible this scenario may be on the table. Can the Canadiens acquire the sort of defensive talent that would justify such a trade?
Wait and See
A trade for picks or players is unlikely in the short term. Fans can hope this team improves on their own. Currently, the Habs are struggling to adapt to Julien’s defensive zone system. Both Shea Weber and Karl Alzner have had some trouble. Julien recently noted that Alzner is still adjusting. “We have some guys who are learning to play differently and we have some guys who are struggling,” Julien said. “We had some breakdowns in our end…”
To be successful in this scenario, Jordie Benn needs to step up, Jeff Petry needs to find his game. Even if they do, giving defensive partners the time they need to adjust may be difficult with a fan base who is growing increasingly irate.
It may be time for Marc Bergevin to cut his losses, admit his off-season was a bust, and find a way to improve the Habs defensive core. The NHL is a league of youth and speed. There is not a lot of room for a defenseman who cannot skate or contribute offensively.