Week 13 in One Word: Shine

January 23, 2022



a quality of brightness, especially from reflected light.

Similar: beam, radiate, emit light, gleam, glow

direct (a flashlight or other light) somewhere in order to see something in the dark

The Montreal Canadiens played four games this week. On Martin Luther King Day in the States, the Habs lost an early game to the Arizona Coyotes with a score of 5-2. On Tuesday, Montreal surprised the Dallas Stars, winning 5-3 in an outstanding performance from Sam Montembeault. The young goalie performed well against Vegas on Thursday, but it wasn’t enough as the home team more than doubled the visitors in shots taken, and the Habs lost 4-3 in overtime. Then on Saturday, the Canadiens were in Colorado, and lost 3-2 in overtime.

Sometimes you shine, and sometimes you pray for the lights to go out.

When young goalies dream about their coming out party in the NHL, I’m not sure many of those dreams include a defense squad that looks like the one the Habs have iced for much of this season. A revolving door of bottom pair and NHL tweeners is not the cast you want in front of you when your time comes to shine.

When Carey Price was expected to have a delayed start to the season while he recovered from injury, Sam Montembeault was claimed off waivers to serve as Jake Allen’s back-up. Then Price entered the Player Assistance Program, and a short-term gig became a lengthy trial period. With Jake Allen injured and out for eight weeks and Price still rehabbing from surgery, Montembeault’s opportunity was turning into a season-long audition. Now the lights are on Cayden Primeau with Montembeault becoming the third goalie injured for the Habs this season.

Both kids saw two games apiece this week. He has struggled for most of the season, for obvious reasons, but Montembeault shone in two games this week. Primeau had a rough night in Arizona but recovered in Colorado. The kids have suffered through some bad starts this year, but this week they helped the Habs claim four of a possible eight points.

Sometimes the shiner comes before the shine.

I’m talking about Michael Pezzetta, the Habs sixth-round draft pick from 2016 that will turn 24 a week before this year’s trade deadline. To the coach’s credit, he must have seen something in the kid, giving him a longer look than expected in training camp. In the absence of injury troubles and COVID-19, Pezzetta may still be waiting for his first NHL game.

Here he is, with 26 games under his belt and 4 goals and 2 assists. Oh, he’s not claiming the Hart trophy any time soon, and he may still be a long shot to make a good NHL team. But those are solid 4th line numbers for a guy who brings a ton of energy and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves.

Our image of Pezzetta forever includes that shiner he was wearing following an ill-matched fight, but we’ll also remember a couple of goals scored because he went to the net to capitalize on a rebound. We’ll remember a goal scored on a pretty shot from the slot. And we’ll surely remember the goal this week that went in off his lips as he was driving to the net.

Pezzetta plays like he wants this opportunity more than any other player on the roster. He plays like he knows he cannot afford to take one shift off if he wants to stick around. In the darkness of a bad Habs season, Michael Pezzetta is taking advantage of his chance to shine. Good for him.

The shiny new GM is a smooth operator.

The bald skull of Kent Hughes wasn’t the only thing shining under the bright lights of Montreal. If you left that presser feeling anything other than impressed, you had your mind made up going in.

Perhaps the most striking moment of the meeting with the media was when Hughes confidently asserted his competence as the best candidate for the GM job, in the face of childish questions about whether he and Gorton were best friends. Seriously guys. This is the Montreal Canadiens, not an episode of DeGrassi Junior High.

I won’t recap the entire presser, but some things caught my attention.

The new GM values player development, and his belief is that development continues across the player’s entire career. Spoken like a guy who has spent a lot of time talking to players. My favourite line was when he said he wants to create a modern organization that players want to be a part of.

The new GM wants to be an offensive-minded hockey club – defensively responsible, but offensive-minded. On its face, this sounds like a stark change from the guy who built from the net out and chose defencemen who preferred being planted inside their own blue line.

The new GM envisions a team that plays fast. If you missed it, let me bring you some clarity. He wasn’t talking about foot speed. “I envision a team that plays fast with the puck, that’s a possession hockey team.”

The new GM was clear that the process to shift from the current team to the team they want to build will take time. He also said he wanted to avoid buying high and selling low, and one wonders what that means for some under-performing veterans. Will he keep some guys around until their stock improves? Jeff Petry comes to mind. Will some guys be playing their way out of town simply because their stock is currently high? Artturi Lehkonen comes to mind.

The new GM believes in analytics, and not just gathering information for the sake of having it. He believes in applied analytics – applied in decisions about players, applied in coaching, applied in development. Don’t look now, but the Habs might be joining us in the 21st century.

The Montreal Canadiens have been living off the shine of their history. Now they’re playing catch up with the rest of the NHL that passed by while the Habs were busy looking back.

The coach is living a lightmare as the beams of the Hughes gaze shine upon him.

You’ve seen those cop dramas featuring the grossly inappropriate interrogations that included dark rooms and bright lights shining straight into the eyes of the suspect. That might be how it feels for Dominique Ducharme right now.

While giving a high-level picture of what his vision is for the team, Kent Hughes was asked if he wanted his own man behind the bench. Hughes responded with a no and said that he had his own beliefs about a modern-day coach, and that he was anxious to speak to Dom and learn more about him. That doesn’t sound so bad for Silver.

But then again, Hughes also said this. “As part of this process, we have to identify and put a team together that fits our identity, fits how we want to play, and choose a coach who’s able to coach those players.”

Choose a coach. There is a clear message here, and it’s shining in bright lights. You won’t be eliminated because another GM chose you, but you also won’t be safe because you were already chosen. There is a clear future choice to be made, and it will depend on whether Dom fits with the identity he and Gorton are building.

The coach’s decision-making has been bizarre at times this season. This week’s episode featured newcomer Rem Pitlick playing his first NHL games at centre while centreman Jake Evans was moved to the wing. It’s been hard for fans to imagine there could ever be a place for Dom moving forward.

Ducharme said on Thursday morning that his coaching philosophy meshes with what he heard from his new boss. We’ll see… right after Hughes shines his light on him and gets a chance to see.

We’re approaching the time of the seasons when the executives need to shine.

Imagine being hired as a new GM in August. The NHL entry draft past, most of the work of free agency done, and having to wait until deep into winter before the trade deadline is upon you. Oh, there is business to be done, but there are no big moments to get your juices flowing. There is a reason why August is not a popular month for hiring GMs.

Not so for Kent Hughes. There’s a ton of chatter about how much work there is to do with so little time to do it. The trade deadline is just eight weeks away. The pressure is on in Montreal.

Here’s the kicker. It’s tough to shine while doing the ordinary. Everyday transactional work is not what gets your name in lights. It’s the pressure-packed moments that provide the opportunity to shine. Fans are ready for it, and most of us think Hughes might be ready for it too.

As the old disco song goes, “Shine, baby, shine!

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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