The Montreal Canadiens’ final game before the trade deadline was against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and general manager Marc Bergevin was in attendance to see how his team would perform. He watched as his team opened with an early 3-0 lead, only to see it evaporate into a crushing 6-3 defeat.
It could be argued that the Canadiens were the better team in their three games against the Maple Leafs this season, and wound up losing all of them. The result, and the few games leading up to it, were enough for Bergevin to back up what he said in December. He refused to trade any future assets away and is ready to roll the dice with this roster.
#Habs Bergevin said if he agreed to proposed deals today, giving in to the other team’s demands, Montreal fans would call him an idiot. The asks were Kotkaniemi or Poehling. “You might call me an idiot anyway,” Bergevin jokingly added.
— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) February 25, 2019
To this point, the Canadiens have overachieved and blown away expectations. No one counted them to be in a playoff spot at this point, including Bergevin. They are not surprising opponents each game, they’re just outworking them. They’re a speedy, undersized team that utilizes those strengths to play well at 5-on-5 while getting great goaltending.
What they lack, though, is evident when you watch them play. They have the 30th-ranked power play in the league and have failed to create scoring chances. Watching the team struggle mightily with the man advantage but become more cohesive and creative at even strength is baffling.
The Habs’ One Deal
Bergevin did make one deal on deadline day. He acquired forward Jordan Weal from the Arizona Coyotes for Michael Chaput. By all vantage points, it looks like a swap of fourth liners. What could a guy who has registered four goals and 11 points in 47 games this season bring to the table?
One thing that is certain, he walks into a dressing room recognizing some faces. He played with Nicolas Deslauriers in the American Hockey League and spent time with Dale Weise and Christian Folin during his days with the Philadelphia Flyers. He also happens to be familiar with one Canadiens player in particular. He grew up in the same part of Vancouver as Brendan Gallagher, which gave the two something to talk about when he arrived.
"Since we were probably 10 years old we've been playing against each other and with each other… It's pretty awesome to be on the same side as him now."
– Jordan Weal on @BGALLY17
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) February 27, 2019
The 26-year-old from North Vancouver gives head coach Claude Julien a skilled upgrade on the fourth line. Right now, the mess that is the bottom line has become a revolving door of players. Whether its been Deslauriers, Weise, Michael Peca or Nate Thompson, there has been no chemistry on a line that needs to play limited minutes.
Weal’s able to play either on the wing or at centre, and that flexibility allows for shift alignments from game to game. The big part of his game is his puck-carrying abilities. His numbers suggest that he succeeds playing in an up-tempo, 5-on-5 system, which is exactly what the Canadiens have thrived on all year.
Where The Canadiens Go from Here
With 18 games left, the Canadiens hold a very slim lead over the teams chasing them for a wild-card berth. Any hope of becoming an Atlantic Division playoff team has nearly evaporated. The Boston Bruins are one of the hottest teams in the league, while the Maple Leafs are not likely to go on any type of extended losing streak in the near future.
If the Habs can hold onto the top wild-card spot, they will face the winner of the crowded and competitive Metropolitan Division, while the second wild-card will pit them against the best team in the league – the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is assuming the Canadiens make the playoffs, of course, which is far from a guarantee.
One thing is certain, Carey Price’s workload is starting to add up. The goaltender has only played more than 60 games twice in the last seven years and has played in 50 games this season. The team has three back-to-back games left on the schedule, and it will be interesting to see how they manage his games. The main problem comes down to special teams. TSN Hockey Insider Ray Ferraro was on Montreal’s radio show TSN 690 recently, and he had this to say about the Canadiens power play:
“I cannot watch the Canadiens power play any more. it makes my eyes bleed. They just don’t get any chances.”
Special teams are such a crucial factor in the playoffs and right now Montreal is simply not generating any scoring opportunities on the power play. When Julien was asked about the struggles on special teams, he brushed away the query by saying “next question.” The Canadiens will have to be in must-win mode during every game from here on out as they hope to cling onto one of the two final playoff spots.