Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw has played the best hockey of his career so far this season. He recently recorded his first career hat trick on Feb. 26 against the Detroit Red Wings and has played a large roll in the team’s turnaround from last season.
Shaw’s recent play is what the Canadiens thought they were getting when they acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2016-17 season. Injuries have plagued his time in Montreal, but he is now healthy and the Habs are starting to see exactly what he can do for their team.
Shaw’s Past Success
Shaw had been an integral part of two Blackhawks Stanley Cup winning teams and had a knack for scoring big goals. In 67 playoff games with the Blackhawks, he recorded an impressive 35 points.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin was very familiar with Shaw from his time working for the Blackhawks organization and wanted to bring his strong postseason play to Montreal. The Habs traded two second-round picks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft for Shaw and promptly extended him to a six-year deal worth $23.4 million.
It was a steep price to pay, but the Canadiens needed someone who brought toughness to the lineup and would be able to provide secondary scoring.
Shaw was exactly the type of player that would help the Habs take the next step in their quest for the Stanley Cup.
Injury Troubles for Shaw
Unfortunately for the Canadiens and Shaw, injuries have kept him out of the lineup on several occasions over the past three seasons. He has missed 64 regular-season games in three seasons since joining the Habs.
In his first two seasons with the Canadiens, when healthy, he showed flashes of the play that made him successful in Chicago, but oftentimes he seemed to be trying to do too much. He had a habit of taking unnecessary penalties and recklessly throwing his body around.
Instead of the versatile forward the Habs thought they were getting, Shaw found himself under heavy scrutiny in Montreal for his poor play and injury frequency.
Healthy Shaw Providing Results
Since returning from injury on Feb. 9 in an overtime loss the Toronto Maple Leafs, Shaw has been spectacular for the Canadiens. His hat trick versus the Red Wings was impressive of course, but his overall play since then has been outstanding.
He is at his best when crashing the net and using his very underrated hand-eye coordination to tip pucks in front of goal. Even when he doesn’t get his stick on the puck, he is excellent at jockeying for position and screening goaltenders.
Even with a three goal performance, one of his best moments against the Red Wings came on a Max Domi goal in the second period. Shaw didn’t register a point on the play, but his smart decision to head for the net and create a screen in front of Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard was perfectly executed. It was a subtle play that did not show up on the scoresheet, but was instrumental in creating the goal for the Habs.
In a March 7 loss against the San Jose Sharks, Shaw was involved in a similar play. He went to the front of the net, slipped behind the defenseman and the puck deflected off of his skate and into the back of the net.
When he is getting himself to the ‘dirty’ areas, the puck is finding its way behind goaltenders and it isn’t a fluke. He is poised to set a new career high in points (39 points in 80 games with the Blackhawks in 2013-14) with 34 points in just 49 games so far this season.
His combination of skill and toughness is exactly what the Canadiens need to continue their fight for a playoff berth. With just 14 games remaining in the regular season, every game will feel like a postseason matchup.
When the Habs traded for Shaw, they thought they were getting a player who would excel when the games mattered most. His play this season suggests the Canadiens are finally getting the man they were looking for.