Earlier in the season when the Montreal Canadiens dominated the Canucks in Vancouver, the Canucks had as many as four of their regular defenders out of the lineup with injury.
It made for some offensive happiness for everyone involved.
However, since then, the injured have healed and the Canucks have recovered. In fact, with a 3-2 overtime win over the Canadiens Friday night, Vancouver made it five wins in their last six games. The Canadiens in overtime fall to a nearly unbelievable zero for nine.
That’s right. Zero overtime wins in nine tries.
The Vancouver Canucks hadn’t won in Montreal since 2007. The Montreal Canadiens haven’t won two in a row in 20 games. However, they made it a difficult night for the Canadiens, who ran into a red-hot Thatcher Demko.
It looked bad for the Canadiens as they trailed most of the night. Their only goal until the final minute came from Corey Perry who now has six goals on the season after a power play marker in the first. Perry is getting paid $750,000 this season, and worth four times that. He even got moved up in lines in this contest when Joel Armia had frustrated the coaching staff enough that they moved him down to the fourth line.
Montreal pressed the rest of the way, but did not seem capable of any magic until the final minute with the goalie pulled, and on a power play as well. Nick Suzuki absolutely ripped a shot into the top corner to send the game into overtime. It was his sixth goal of the season.
What an important moment for Suzuki as he had been struggling. This will be a gigantic boost for his confidence considering the importance of the game.
The Canadiens’ defence misses Ben Chiarot terribly. He is gone until almost the end of the regular season after breaking his hand in a fight with JT Miller. It’s not as if Chiarot was playing outstanding hockey, either. It’s that the entire defensive corps is messed up without him.
The first issue is that the coaching staff has broken up the best pairing on the team and one of the best pairings in the league, Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson, as a result of the injury. Now Edmundson is with Shea Weber. If you thought Weber and Chiarot was too slow, you have got to see Edmundson and Weber. It’s not that these players are horrific individually, they just make a terrible pair. There is no one to get to the puck first, no one to transition up ice. There is no one to make a fast first pass.
The other big drawback from the Chiarot injury is that the third pair is now overmatched, whereas before the injury it was fine. Brett Kulak and Alexander Romanov was good. They played well together. They were stable. However, Romanov without Kulak is struggling. He now has Xavier Ouellet. Same point as individually they might be capable, but together there is no cohesion.
Instead of three pairs working fairly effectively together, now you have all three pairs diminished by at least some degree. The first and third pair is diminished significantly. The second pair is diminished in some capacity, but overall, wherever there is Jeff Petry, there is something working at least a little.
A good pairing in the NHL is a more stable defender who can take care of puck battles and the front of the net combined with a puck mover known for great skating and fast first passes. That is chemistry. This season, the perfect chemistry was the stay-at-home style of Edmundson with the offensive smooth skating moves of Petry.
One could make the argument that in the future all defenders will be able to do all skills. If you have six dynamic do-it-all defenders, you will surely challenge for the cup. For now, it’s still a combination that works at least in NHL theory.
The biggest issue of the Canadiens defence is that Weber has always been with another slow-footed companion. The pair do what they do well, but if you spend so much time defending well in front of your own net, you aren’t in front of the other net.
The Canadiens have an emergency need for a puck-moving defender to play with Shea Weber.
Call of the Wilde!
Most of the best prospects on the Canadiens were not in action in the last couple of days, but one player is having a resurgence to his NHL hopes in the last two weeks.
Ryan Poehling started slowly this season, but he seems to be finding his better self again, having scored an overtime winner in his last contest for the Laval Rocket. Poehling’s numbers are suddenly better than the leading scorer on the team last season Jake Evans on a point-per-game basis.
Poehling has six points in his last three games. He now has 10 points in the 13 games that he has played for Laval this season. This is a strong total as points do not come easily in this defensive league. Overall, Poehling has moved into a tie for the team lead in points with Jordan Weal. Poehling also leads the team in points per game per 60 minutes played.
Compare Poehling’s totals to only 13 points in 36 games last year. This is a strong progression and that is all that you are looking for in hopes that he finds his way to the NHL. Poehling is still only 22 years of age and already has had his 2021 birthday. He is not an old prospect by any stretch. Realistically, if he is to have a career in the NHL, next season he would need to breakthrough to earn a spot.
It is interesting to note that the organization had Poehling on the wing last season, but has put him back in the middle this year. Not sure what this is trying to say about Jake Evans or even Philip Danault, but it feels like the switch back to his natural centre is trying to say something significant.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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