Shooting Da Breeze – February 2021 Edition

Shooting Da Breeze is a collection of random thoughts on a variety of topics, more often than not about the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL, but not always. In this edition, we will touch on topics such as the current slump the Canadiens find themselves in, the team and Toffoli’s record against Vancouver and the rest of the division, the future of Julien with the team, who his replacement might be if he’s released from his duties, the struggles of Danault, Tatar, Weber, Chiarot and Price, and more… Please feel free to share and as usual, comments are always welcome.

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The Montreal Canadiens came out this season like a bullet but they certainly have cooled off lately. True that they faced the Vancouver Canucks five times in the first couple of weeks and Tyler Toffoli made sure to stick it to his former team. Here’s the Habs’ record against Vancouver and their record against the rest of the division:

VS HABSVS
4-0-1RECORD5-5-2
5.60GOALS FOR PER GP2.58
3.20GOALS AGAINST PER GP2.42
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Here’s Toffoli’s production this season against Vancouver and against the rest of the league:

VS TOFFOLIVS
5GAMES PLAYED12
8GOALS3
3ASSISTS2
11POINTS5
+9+/--2

The Habs have lost 4 of their last 5 games. In their win, they played one good period (3rd) against Toronto to come from behind to win that game 2-1. They are 2-4-1 in their last 7 games. That second win was a 2-1 game, obtained against the Ottawa Senators in a game where they didn’t play well either. In those 7 games, they scored 13 goals (1.86 per game) and have allowed 20 (2.86 per game).

The Canadiens’ current overall record has now dropped to 9-5-3 for 21 points, good for fourth in the Canadian Division in points, third in points percentage at .618.

There are a lot of questions about the future of Claude Julien as the Canadiens’ head coach and rightfully so. Last season, the team went through not one, but two 8-game winless streaks. Technically, they were going to miss the playoffs until the NHL felt like they needed the Montreal market to draw viewership. GM Marc Bergevin added several quality players, putting more pressure on himself, his coaching stafff and his team to not only perform better, but to make the playoffs. This recent slump in a shorten 56-game season is comparable to the 8-game winless streak. We know that Julien seems to have difficulties making the necessary adjustments and he still seems to be struggling to do so.

Here’s what team captain Shea Weber said after the come from behind win against Toronto just before the break. The part about no tactical adjustments being made and that it was on the players, speaks volume.

While you will have some who will, once again, get all upset about it as they do every time, the next coach will have to be bilingual. Fans can kick, screem, cry and have temper tantrums about it, it’s a Habs’ reality. Here are some of the potential replacements, in no particular order: Benoit Groulx (Syracuse Crunch), Joel Bouchard (Laval Rocket), Pascal Vincent (Manitoba Moose), Bob Hartley (OMSK Avangard – KHL), Guy Boucher (analyst on RDS) and, of course, current Canadiens’ assistant-coach, Dominique Ducharme.

Ducharme, Bouchard, Vincent and Boucher are already in Canada so they would not have to be submitted to the Canadian Government 14-day quarantine. Which means that the candidatures of Groulx and Hartley would have to be decided in the off-season most likely, particularly with Hartley who is under contract in the KHL.

I personally love the work Bouchard is doing in Laval and he’s just starting to get some of the team’s top talents to work on developing. I’d like to keep him there for a few more seasons. My personal choice would be to name Ducharme head coach by interim and decide on a new coach in the off-season. Some have challenged the fact that he’s part of the coaching staff and gives advices to Julien. True. But he’s not the decision-maker, the one making the final decisions. That’s on Julien. So why Ducharme, you ask? There are several reasons actually.

  • No needs for COVID quarantine so he can coach within hours
  • With a third of the season already played, the Canadiens’ schedule is tight with little time for practices. He could just tweak some things to his liking, a little bit at a time.
  • Trying to implement a brand new system with a new coach could very well cost the Habs a playoffs’ spot.
  • He already knows the players and they know him. So some important familiarities.
  • He’s younger, has had success coaching younger players and knows the millennials better than anyone.
  • It gives the organisation a chance to see what he can do. If he works out, they consider him for the permanent position. If not, it’s easier to say goodbye.

Could a different coach get Phillip Danault going? The Canadiens’ centre’s problem seems to be related to his contract being a distraction. It was reported that he declined a long term deal from the Habs. He was counting on himself to get more money. Unfortunately for him, it looks like he may not be able to get what was offered in the first place now.

Perhaps having someone who is more pro-active as a coach, more dynamic, would help him get back on track? What we know is that he doesn’t seem to be able to do so under Julien.

Another player not having a good season is Tomas Tatar. This is bizarre since he, Danault and Gallagher have been the Habs’ best line in recent years and they’re still, for the most part, playing together. Could Tatar’s issues be related to his centre’s struggles? Who knows but a struggling centerman certainly isn’t helping wingers perform at their best.

Ironically enough, Tatar is the other pending UFA without a contract next season. It is possible that he is suffering from the same tension, or pressure to perform and it’s getting to him too. Whatever it is, he needs to snap out of it if he hopes staying with the team in the mid to long term.

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Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot

The duo of Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot is struggling this season and the fault is on both of them. Facing the opponents’ top opposition night in, night out, they are not as efficient as they were last season. I won’t throw the book at them for the team’s short-handed shortfall, but they do have something to do with the team’s recent struggles. Of course, it would be ill intent to put that slump on their shoulders alone as goals’ scoring and goaltending has been poor as well. But let’s not exonerate them either. They need to be better.

Where I draw the line is when people blame Weber for the powerplay. He’s only one weapon on the powerplay and with the additions made by Bergevin, there are now many other options, or weapons, the team can utilise too. But for some reason, they always seem to try to feed Weber’s one-timer, even when he’s checked. When teams focus on Weber short-handed, it should open up some ice elsewhere and the Canadiens can’t seem to realize that.

On Twitter recently, I was asked about Weber’s contract. Here’s what’s left to it. What’s key here is not the cap hit as much as the actual salary paid. In this old front-loaded contract, he will be getting $6 million next season, then it drops to $3 million the following season. The last three years of his contract, he will only be making $1 million per season. Also, let’s not forget that because he signed an offer-sheet from Philadelphia and Nashville matched it, so Weber doesn’t have any no-trade protection. Further, the recapture penalty, if he chooses to retire early, is 100% on the Predators. The Canadiens won’t be penalized for it.

If he doesn’t want to retire early, he could be an interesting piece for a team trying to reach the salary cap’s floor, adding $7.86 million of cap but only a million in actual salary. Some people asked me about the change in the recapture rule. Here it is for your information:

Fans and some media members are often premature in wanting young rookies or prospects to fill too big of roles too soon. We touched on it recently when talking about Cole Caufield. Now they want Alexander Romanov to replace Chiarot on the top pairing. It’s not the solution folks! Romanov is looking good, sheltered by the coaching staff in his minutes and the opposition he has to face. This is done to allow him a proper development and build his confidence at the NHL level. If paired with Weber, he would be facing the NHL’s top lines night in, night out. Fans would then see a different Romanov and would claim long and hard that he’s a bust, that the Canadiens failed to develop him.

So let Romanov develop at the right pace. He will be with the Habs, on the top-four, for years to come. Allow him time to grow and mature as a hockey player. Victor Mete has played top pair with Weber. How is that working out today? Think folks. Think further than this season.

Carey Price

As mentioned, the Canadiens’ slump isn’t only on a few offensive players and the Weber-Chiarot duo. The team’s best paid player is once again failing to deliver. Looking for reasons to excuse Carey Price is starting to get tiring, even for his biggest fans. At some point, the guy has to pull his weight and take the matter seriously. He needs to live up to the salary he’s getting paid. He doesn’t need to have the best stats in the NHL but he needs to be in the top-5 or at least, top-10 in the league.

The old goalie in me can’t help but notice that each and every time he’s struggling, he’s down on his knees way too soon and too often. When playing with confidence, he will read the play before deciding to stay up or go down. If I notice that, can’t he and Stéphane Waite notice it too? He’s being vastly outplayed by Jake Allen this season and while Allen is a good goalie, he’s no Price (at his best). Amongst goalies having played a minimum of seven games so far, Price is 30th in Saves Percentage (.893) and 24th in Goals Against Average (2.87). Allen is third in Saves Percentage (.932) and fifth in Goals Against Average (2.14).

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It’s not all negative around the Habs. Jeff Petry is having his best start to a season in his career and the arrival of Joel Edmundson is no coincidence. The big lefty is providing Petry some quality coverage when he joins the rush or turns the puck over as he sometimes does. They seem to complement each other really well and with the struggles of Weber and Chiarot, one has to wonder how long before the coaching staff gives Petry and Edmundson more defensive responsibilities.

They both lead the Canadiens in the plus-minus category by a wide margin. Edmundson is plus 16 while Petry is plus 15. That’s in only 17 games folks! Think about it… the goalies are the same and the scoring is the same. They’re just not on the ice when opponents’ score.

The schedule is not going to get any easier for the Habs from now until the end of the season. They will pretty much play every second night, so three to four games a week, from now until the last regular season’s game on May 8th. With little practice time, they need to find their groove and find it soon. They’re now fourth in the Canadian division in points and third in points’ percentage. Only the top-4 make the playoffs. How long will Bergevin let it slide? He only knows… and maybe Geoff Molson. Go Habs Go!

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