April 10, 2022
a private performance or practice session preparatory to a public appearance
Similar: practice, tryout, read-through, drill, dry-run, audition
a trial exercise
The 23rd week of action for the Montreal Canadiens featured three games. On Tuesday the Habs welcomed the Ottawa Senators and were on the losing end of a loose affair with a final score of 6-3. Then on Thursday they were in New Jersey and on the strength of seven different scorers defeated the Devils 7-4. The Saturday night game was a match-up against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, where they lost 3-2.
Here’s how I saw Week 23 go down.
The three games this week served little value for the Habs, beyond rehearsal.
With the Habs being mathematically eliminated on March 25th, they faced two teams who are also well out of the playoff picture and Toronto, a team they’d play in August just for the fun of it. With little on the line, the core purpose of these games is rehearsal.
Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield continue to build chemistry and rehearse for what should be a long career as the Habs top-line duo. Others continue to audition for the third spot beside them, with Rem Pitlick getting the look this week. It remains highly questionable for me whether Pitlick is an appropriate long term fit on the line, but he continues to demonstrate himself to be an incredibly useful roster option.
Brendan Gallagher had barely entered his first game back from injury when he scored on Tuesday night. He added three assists before the week was done. Gally’s bread and butter has been going to the net and getting dirty. While the spirit remains willing, the flesh is growing weak. Coach Martin St. Louis has stated his desire to help Gallagher find less taxing ways to be effective. Doing so is practically essential for both Gally and the Habs, thanks to the albatross of a contract instituted by Marc Bergevin.
Another player benefitting from a rehearsal period is Christian Dvorak. Bergevin spent his reset building up his centre line-up and one summer destroying it. The decision to let both Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi walk, with Dvorak being the only guy brought in to fill the hole was both foolhardy and incredibly unfair to D-Vo. Since his return from injury, D-Vo is finding new ways to be effective, eating up defensive zone starts and freeing Suzuki from some of those hard minutes so he can add more offensively. Will Dvorak land a role in the reno period?
The defence group is still somewhat of a casting call. We saw three different sets of D-pairs this week as prospects Barron and Harris are getting opportunities to make a statement for next year, guys like Schueneman and Clague are working to maintain roles, and veterans are rehearsing for supporting roles in the kid show.
HuGo is leveraging the rehearsal contract as the season winds down.
On Monday the Montreal Canadiens announced an entry-level contract for Emil Heineman, who was acquired in the Tyler Toffoli trade. The 20-year-old forward was drafted by Florida in the second round of the 2020 draft. Heineman has spent the last couple of seasons with the Leksands IF of the Swedish Hockey League, and is described as a big, speedy forward with a strong two-way game.
Heineman’s ELC begins next year, but the Habs also signed him to a professional tryout with the Laval Rocket for this season. The impact is that Heineman can begin his adjustment to North America immediately while also being available to help the Rocket in their playoff hopes. It’s the perfect rehearsal for next year.
HuGo used the same strategy last week when they signed Lucas Condotta, a forward who recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. The 24-year-old signed a one-year ELC that begins next year. He also signed a PTO contract for this season with the Rocket. The rehearsal contract is a low-risk option for the Habs.
Cole Caufield should be rehearsing for his Calder acceptance speech.
In 27 games under Marty, Caufield has 17 goals and 13 assists. This follows one goal and seven assists in 30 games under Dominique Ducharme. Would the current pace have been sustainable for an entire season under different coaching? Not likely. Almost as unlikely as the pace under Ducharme being an accurate reflection of Caufield’s capacity.
If I was Ducharme, I wouldn’t be mentioning Caufield while rehearsing for the next job interview.
Carey Price is participating in the rehearsal of a lifetime.
Price is nearing a return to game action. Jake Allen went down again on Saturday night against the Leafs. The Habs are not in a situation where they’ll rush Carey to fill the net, but it feels like he’s close.
The outcome of this end-of-a-lost-season rehearsal is huge for both the player and the team. One possible outcome is that Carey’s knee doesn’t hold up and he finds himself on a Shea Weber path, leaving the Habs with a hole in net and a giant LTIR contract to manage. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the possibility that Carey’s knee holds, and he is ready to lead the next iteration of the Habs into playoff contention.
The elephant in the room is the possibility that Carey is rehearsing for another job. If he can return to health and perform, will there be other teams approaching for his services? Might Carey and HuGo decide to part ways during the off-season?
Rehearsal is a perfect time to iron out some wrinkles.
The game against the Sens on Tuesday featured a few penalties. Ottawa scored two power play goals while the Habs came up with one. During the broadcast, Analyst Mike Johnson commented that special teams is the thing that Marty has not yet been able to address.
The “special teams” storyline, especially where the man advantage is concerned, waited a long time for a protagonist to arrive. Caufield appears to be the man, with Mike Hoffman performing a decent supporting cast role. Still, pretty much every power play goal scored can be fully attributed to raw skill rather than a systematic approach that can be expected to be effective on the regular.
Every break-out and zone entry still looks like an audition for the on-ice version of the Washington Generals, the bumbling basketball squad that was relentlessly embarrassed by the Harlem Globetrotters. Unfortunately, with all Marty has adjusted, the power play still feels like a rehearsal of the same ineffective strategy.
I wonder if there might be a power play quarterback currently rehearsing on another team that will find his way to Montreal in the off-season. Perhaps Marty knows a coach that will run a playoff power play ahead of joining the Habs this summer.
In the meanwhile, the Generals rehearsal continues.