The Montreal Canadiens successfully staved off elimination Monday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and one of the biggest reasons for this was the appearance of defenseman Alexander Romanov.
Admittedly, I was one of the naysayers who didn’t think Romanov was a reliable defenseman, especially when it came to do-or-die games. But I was pleasantly surprised by Romanov’s play in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, and I think it’s a no-brainer that the young Russian should be kept in the lineup for the remainder of this series.
Romanov’s Offensive Play
Romanov’s offensive play has been one of my favorite dimensions of his play. He’s a very mobile defenseman with good skating ability – something that can’t reliably be said about the other veteran defenseman on the Canadiens’ roster.
And last night, Romanov outdid himself. Not only did he have good puck movement, but he scored the Canadiens’ second goal of the game, giving his team the lead just under halfway through the third period. There was nothing special about the shot, per se, but a wrist shot from the point (through traffic) has been hard to come by for the club’s defensive corps. He was likely put in to shut down the opposition’s dangerous offensive talent, but head coach Dominique Ducharme has to be proud of the offensive production, too.
But again, it wasn’t the kind of shot that made this particular play special. It was Romanov’s refusal to hang back, looking for the best play. He was focused on getting the puck to the net. And that’s exactly the kind of mindset the Canadiens need to have as they enter into Game 5 against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The old adage holds true: you don’t score on shots you don’t take.
Romanov never looked winded to me, either. He was always on his toes, knowing that this was his chance to prove himself worthy of a mainstay spot on the roster. He played with urgency and awareness. The Canadiens are going to need that kind of play if they are to climb back into this series.
Romanov’s offensive production looked subpar throughout the regular season, potting just one goal and registering five assists over the course of 54 games. But Romanov has already demonstrated his high hockey IQ and ability to adapt to whatever situation he happens to find himself in. I think NHL.com writer Marc Dumont had it right when he said:
“His intelligence, a trait that’s quick to come up any time you’re discussing Romanov’s skill set, is impossible to ignore. It’s what drives his ability to quickly adapt to any given situation while maintaining an aggressive disposition on the ice, something he does without forfeiting his crucial defensive responsibilities.”
We don’t know the second-rounder’s ceiling, and this is a good thing. Romanov’s still developing his game – especially on the offensive side of the puck. I have no doubts that he’s going to make the first defensive unit in the coming years. He brings too much to the game to achieve anything less.
Romanov’s Defensive Play
Romanov’s defensive play is what makes him such an attractive choice for the Canadiens’ style of play. As a team that has relied heavily on the shut-down ability of their defensive corps, Romanov fits right into this style of play. But one has to wonder why he hasn’t played more games this offseason.
The answer is fairly simple: Romanov is a turbulent player. In other words, he’s unreliable. It’s impossible to know what he’s going to do with the puck when he gets it on his stick. There were several instances in the regular season where he made risky plays that led to turnovers. And almost all of these instances happened in his own end. This is the one piece of his game that needs to improve. A lot of times, he seems all-too-ready to move the puck when he doesn’t necessarily need to. This is why I didn’t think he was ready for postseason play, where every play matters.
The huge upside to Romanov’s defensive play, however, is his readiness to lay the body when the occasion permits. He has been seen a number of times, skating backwards, across the ice, to lay hard hits. He’s someone the opposition has to be aware of when he’s on the ice, or they’re going to pay. There are really no other defenseman on the Canadiens roster so willing to get physical. One could argue that Joel Edmundson and Ben Chiarot are physical, but not in the same way as Romanov.
There’s a logical reason why he is one of the few defensemen on the team who can afford to make hits like this: he’s a fast skater. Even if he goes to make a hit and misses or falls, he is not removed from the play. He has the ability to regain his composure and get back in the play. This, again, is a unique part of his game. There are no other defenseman on the team who can react and as fast as Romanov.
If he can manage to consistently make smart breakout passes, I don’t think there’s much left to his defensive game that should be criticized. This showed in Monday night’s game. He was making hits and making the most of his offensive opportunities. Granted, he did make some poor passes, but again, he’s still young. This experience can only be a positive for the young Russian.
There’s no question Dominique Ducharme should keep Romanov in the lineup for Game 5 Wednesday night in Tampa Bay. Erik Gustafsson and Jon Merrill do not bring the intensity needed to help the Canadiens get out the hole they find themselves in. The club needs someone who is willing to take chances, make big hits, and contribute offensively.
The big question mark for Romanov is if he can maintain discipline play and reduce as many risky plays as possible. Tampa Bay has thrived off the mistakes made by the Canadiens, and if this team has any chance of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Montreal, Romanov needs to repeat all the good things he managed to do in Game 4.
As with many young kids who grow up in the Midwest, CG played a lot of hockey. His love and appreciation for the game is why he’s here, writing for The Hockey Writers, covering his two favorite teams: Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks. But he writes other things, too, including a debut novel that is set to come out in July of 2021. You can find him on Twitter @TheLastSisyphus.