March 12, 2023
The 22nd week of action for the Montreal Canadiens featured three home games against three playoff teams. On Tuesday night, a shootout was necessary to resolve the matter and the Carolina Hurricanes came out on top in a 4-3 loss for the Habs. On Thursday it was another 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers. Then on Saturday, the New Jersey Devils handed them a 3-1 regulation loss.
My analysis of this week comes in questions.
What is the coaching magic behind shooter selections in the shootout?
On Tuesday, Martin St. Louis picked Rem Pitlick, Nick Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin, Christian Dvorak, Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Josh Anderson. I won’t list them, but I can tell you the choices for the Canes were way more obvious, and yet it took them six rounds to conquer the Habs.
The Rangers needed just three rounds on Thursday, and had won before their third shooter went. But I can tell you their options were more plentiful than the group Marty chose from. Pitlick and Suzuki, who have both had shootout success, went again for the Habs. Alex Belzile was the third shooter.
These are meaningless games for the Habs, and the roster is limbed. Caufield, Suzuki and Dach might be the obvious three to start of two of them weren’t in sick bay. Earlier in the season we saw Marty give Dach the chance to finish his old team in the shootout. It took six rounds before Rod Brind’Amour let Jesperi Kotkaniemi finish the Habs.
Real games are being decided. Are shooters being selected based on real data or gut feelings or some other sorcery. It’s a question I’d love to ask every NHL coach.
What will the Habs do with Brendan Gallagher?
On Thursday the Habs announced that Gally will be out another three to four weeks, which almost finishes the season. He’s played in just 25 games this year and has four goals and nine points. It’s been years since he’s had a healthy season.
On Thursday night Alex Belzile scored his fourth goal of the season. He now has 11 points in 20 games. No, Belzile is not a better player than Gally. But we can’t deny that he has produced more for the Habs this year than Gally has… in fewer games.
There are four more years after this on that Gallagher contract, and it carries a cap hit of $6.5M. In my view, there aren’t many questions facing the Habs that are more important for Hughes to answer than what to do with Brendan Gallagher.
Can the Habs make a consistent player out of Denis Gurianov?
He scored the only goal against New Jersey, and has two of them and an assist in seven games for the Habs. He’s scored in both a top six and bottom six role. That’s a pace that’s well worth his cap hit. He cost the Habs a few games of Evgenii Dadanov,
One of the reasons the Habs have been so competitive this year is because they’re cashing in on guys other teams gave up on. Kirby Dach is the star of that highlight reel, but he’s not alone. The Penguins were willing to part with Mike Matheson for an aging and more expensive Jeff Petry. Sam Montembeault, Jonathan Kovacevic and Chris Tierney we’re all waiver claims. Then there’s Sean Monahan, who shone for a while.
Every winning team has a player or two that performs above advertised. Can the Habs development crew make Gurianov one of those guys? That’s a question they’ll be looking to answer by mid-April.
How close are the Habs to their opponents from the past week?
Three teams who are all but confirmed for the playoffs. Three teams who aren’t that far removed from being pretty bad. The Habs were competitive against all three.
What do the Habs need to be ready to contend? I would suggest at least one more top-six forward, a top-pair right-handed defender, and time to mature. Are four years of the Gally contract palatable if at the end you swap him out for Matvei Michkov? Isn’t there a big RHD rising up the draft rankings?
There’s been a lot of angst around the Habs this week about what they value and how they might handle the draft. But seriously, that’s a side effect of meaningless hockey games.
Is there any question that the Habs are in better shape to build a contending team than they have been for years? We might want to take a page from the Carey Price playbook and chill out.
5 thoughts on “Week 22 in One Word: Questions”
Lots to think about Lori. Right now I’m doing what is most difficult for me. Patiently waiting for draft day and beyond. I’m not wasting that time. I’m enjoying the Habs play, reading all I can about their options and watching youngsters develop their skills. I can’t begin to guess what the lineup will look like next year or the year after but right now it’s a lot of fun.
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You’re so right. I’ve seen a lot of posts predicting line combos and such and that feels like a fool’s errand. There will be a lot of shifting on the roster in the next six months.
Thanks again Lori for another great article. Me thinks the Habs are in better shape to build a contending team than they have been for years. The key is still the future development of our prospects from colleges, Junior and Europe. I am hoping we have a great draft this July because it is the future. To me we have an over abundant of Left Dmen and Left Wingers so I expect changes to that ratio in the following 12 months. Cheers
The buy out on the Gallagher contract is not that bad…..but I would let him play out his contract…maybe send him to Arizona for the last year. He’ll likely be injured most of the next four years and be on ltir anyway.
That’s the challenge with the Gallagher contract. He will likely be injured for a good part of what remains of that contract, but we will probably have 2-3 years where he is in and out and not be able to use his LTIR space. It’s way more manageable once he calls it a career, but I don’t think that outcome is super close.