As far as Montreal Canadiens debuts go, defenseman Joel Edmundson’s didn’t receive quite the level of attention as those of either rookie Alexander Romanov or forward Josh Anderson. Edmundson probably prefers it that way, as it was a fairly inauspicious first game as a Hab against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Edmundson’s No-Good, Horrible Game
Edmundson did earn a point, a secondary assist on Josh Anderson’s second marker of the game (when the latter notably only had one goal all of last season). Edmundson was also on the ice for Anderson’s first goal of the game. However, Edmundson was on the ice for three goals against, including the 4-4 game-tying goal midway through the third.
In his defense, the Canadiens were victimized by a bad bounce on that Jimmy Vesey goal, when the puck hit the referee. It’s hard to point the finger on Edmundson or even Jonathan Drouin, who was the one who inadvertently hit the ref, on that one. However, Edmundson was on the ice for the two Maple Leafs power-play goals in the second period to also tie the game at three goals apiece after the Habs had taken a 3-1 lead. That’s a much bigger deal.
On the 3-2 William Nylander goal, Edmundson immediately ahead of time prevented a scoring chance on the part of Zach Hyman. He cross-checked the latter forward to the ice, losing his stick in the process though. Without his stick Edmundson couldn’t adequately defend against Nylander seconds later when he shot past goalie Carey Price (who appeared to be trying to look through Edmundson all the while to get a proper look at the play).
On the 3-3 John Tavares goal, the Leafs forward snuck behind Edmundson, deflecting it past Price for the tally. They were both plays on which Edmundson played a pivotal role in the outcome, of which the Habs came out on the wrong end each time. More to the point, they both came on the penalty kill, which is an area Edmundson was signed to help improve.
That much is obvious based on his deployment against the Leafs, his deployment in the past on both the Carolina Hurricanes and St. Louis Blues and his skillset as a 6-foot-4, 227-pound defenseman. While Edmundson’s relative lack of mobility would generally be cause for concern, it seems to suit the zone defense deployed by head coach Claude Julien, who readily acknowledged Edmundson’s struggles, answering questions from the media in Edmonton as the Habs get set to face the Oilers in Game 2 on the season.
“This guy two years ago played for a Stanley Cup team and was a good player for them,” he said. “We’re not worried about that internally. What happens externally, fans are allowed to voice what they want. Here’s a guy that’s coming off a team [the Hurricanes] that played man-on-man. There’s an adjustment period. He’s trying his best to adjust as smoothly as possible. One game does not define a player. We’ve just got to look at Ben Chiarot last year. It took him a few weeks to get going and really feel comfortable. It’s going to be the same for Joel.”
Canadiens Know What They’re Doing
It should be noted, Edmundson was the third-most-used defenseman by the Blues on the penalty kill in 2018-19, at least in the regular season. The Blues finished ninth overall in the league that season in terms of penalty-kill efficiency (81.5%). Edmundson was also the third-most-used defenseman by the Hurricanes shorthanded last season on a unit that finished fourth in the league (84.0%).
For whatever it’s worth, over the course of eight postseason games the Hurricanes played, Edmundson played the most of anyone on the penalty kill with an eye-opening 4:51 per game (81.8%), albeit over four games after having gotten injured. Considering how, as Julien pointed out, the Blues won the Cup in 2018-19 and the Hurricanes were seen somewhat as dark horses, it’s clear they had some idea of what they were doing. The Canadiens acquired him for a reason.
So, now’s not the time to panic, two games in, even if the Canadiens are up against the Oilers, who clicked at a league-leading 29.5% on the man advantage last season. True, under ideal circumstances, Edmundson would have had a better first game, but, for some additional perspective, the Canadiens have the personnel on the backend needed to improve relative to last season and that’s in addition to Edmundson (or in spite of him, if you’re a pessimist).
For example, Romanov (6-foot, 208 pounds) is left-handed and could theoretically take Edmundson’s spot beside Jeff Petry (if not Chiarot’s on the first pairing eventually). Furthermore, the left-handed Victor Mete, who was scratched against the Leafs, is also an option.
If anything, Mete is the polar opposite of Edmundson, as a mobile 5-foot-9 defenseman (184 pounds), who can sometimes get outmuscled for the puck. Furthermore, while Mete’s offensive skill set has earned rave reviews, he has yet to put it together in the offensive zone, with Edmundson actually handily outscoring him last season despite being a physical stay-at-home presence (a career-high 20 points compared to 11).
You have to believe Mete is going work his way into the lineup eventually, if only due to the fact he’s 22 and needs to develop and the Habs should not be giving up on him yet. And, if the Habs aren’t giving up on Mete, after three relatively unspectacular seasons, there’s no reason to give up on Edmundson anytime soon.
Regardless, whenever Mete does draw into the lineup, he can theoretically take either Brett Kulak’s current spot on the left side beside Romanov. Alternatively, in the event that Romanov moves up the lineup on that left side, the left-handed Mete can play the right side on the third pairing instead, presumably beside Edmundson in such an instance. It wouldn’t necessarily be an either-or situation, even if Kulak would admittedly be the odd man out in each scenario.
In a season in which the Canadiens will inevitably lose ground in the standings very early if things don’t gel the right away, they are effectively under the gun. However, it does them little good to overcompensate and bench Edmundson after a game in which the Habs as a whole showed up for all intents and purposes. Had the loss to the Leafs not been as close as it was (within a Phillip Danault overtime breakaway of victory), maybe Julien could justify going back to the drawing board.
As it stands, mere minor tweaks are necessary, the biggest of which is to stay disciplined against a high-powered Oilers offense. They can’t score on the power play if you don’t give them the chance to, in other words, and that lack of discipline the Canadiens displayed against the Leafs wasn’t on Edmundson per se. Yes, he could have played a much better first game. That only means there’s a very good chance he improves in Game 2, though.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.