by Taylor Shire
Gritty, rough, hard-hitting, physical, ruthless–those are not words you would associate with the Montreal Canadiens.
Well, the team is trying to change that. With the addition of tough guy Brad Staubitz at the trade deadline, and the recent play of grinder Ryan White, the Habs are proving they can’t be pushovers anymore.
On March 1 when the Habs hosted the Minnesota Wild, White and Wild forward Stephane Veilleux got into a scrap right after the opening draw. The tussle was nothing more than a wrestling match and Veilleux fell to the ground.
Now, that doesn’t say much for the Canadiens toughness, other than the fact that they have players willing to fight. But another controversial play later in that game shows that the Habs have changed.
Near the end of the first period, Veilleux slashed Canadiens goalie Carey Price after Price covered the puck. Habs defenseman Chris Campoli took exception and put Veilleux in a headlock. Almost on cue, in came White, who instantly dropped his gloves and went after Veilleux, while Campoli still had him in a headlock.
White teed up on Veilleux’s face/head and was given a two-minute minor for instigating and a five-minute major for fighting. Veilleux received a double minor for slashing.
The fact that the Habs are going to stick up for their goalie at any point in time speaks a lot about their improved level of toughness. Jumping a player while he is already tied up with another player isn’t the best or classiest thing to do, but when a player slashes your franchise goalie, the rules tend to take a backseat to defending your guy.
If White wasn’t on the ice at the time of the incident, another player undoubtedly would have stepped up for the Habs. The dressing room mentality has changed. The structure of the team has changed. In addition to the acquisition of Staubitz, the toughness level of the team has increased with the addition of Rene Bourque in January, as well as the play of Travis Moen and Mike Blunden at times this year.
Even though they have been struggling in the standings, this team has been playing a more physical brand of hockey, and they haven’t been willing to be pushed around by anyone. This is something the team has not been known for during previous seasons. The last time the Canadiens had a true intimidation factor, was when Georges Laraque was a member of the team in 2009-10. But even then, the Habs were known for their small, speedy forwards and lack of toughness, with Laraque being the exception.
The Canadiens are going to miss the playoffs this year, but this style of play is going to keep the locker room mentality up. They still have small, speedy forwards, but now those players are complimented by players like White, Staubitz, Blunden and Bourque.
The Habs can look forward to next year with the players they have. Changes will need to be made, but the core of the group is going to remain the same. And if the mentality carries over, they will be in a much better position at this time next year.