Vegas Golden Knights' Max Pacioretty takes a shot on Canadiens goaltender Antti Niemi in Montreal on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Graham Hughes / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Jack Todd: Change is fast and fluid in todays NHL
The weekend had an elegiac feel. The leaves mostly gone, Sunday devoted to honouring those who fell and those who served in our collective wars — including my father, who was on the Western Front in France when the guns fell silent 100 years ago.
The return of former captain Max Pacioretty and the Canadiens decision to release Tomas Plekanec marked the end of an era, with two of the central figures in the 21st-century history of the CH now gone the way of Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, David Desharnais, Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu, Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and so many others.
One of the bright spots for the Canadiens this season has been the play of Domi. After a very disappointing season last year in the desert, he potted only nine goals (four of which were empty netters). This season alone, he has already matched his total input for goals, and has been only held off the scoresheet three times through the first quarter of the season.
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In today’s game, change is fast and fluid. I feel for the 10-year-olds, the kids who get involved, get the jersey with the name of their favourite player on the back — then find that player coming for a visit in the garish colours of the Nashville Predators, the Las Vegas Knights or the Arizona Coyotes.
The Canadiens (8-5-3) have had a bit of a roller coaster this season, dropping their last two games, despite scoring eight goals. Their last contest on Thursday evening saw them put up a five-spot against the Buffalo Sabres, but it wasnt enough as a goal by Finnish defender Rasmus Ristolainen got past all-star goaltender Carey Price.
How quickly does it change? We are only four years and change removed from the spring of 2014, but the departure of Plekanec leaves only three players on the roster who were part of that magical run in the spring of 2014: Jeff Petry, Brendan Gallagher and Carey Price. (If you don’t believe things change quickly in 21st-century hockey, consider Price found himself on the bench against the Knights on Saturday, a mere two weeks after he turned in the best game he has played in two years against Boston on the road.)
More nostalgia? While Price was a spectator at the Bell Centre, former backup Jaro Halak was shutting down the high-flying Maple Leafs for the Bruins, taking us all the way back to the spring of 2010 — a time now so remote it’s like a field trip for archaeologists.
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With an era slipping away, it’s time to reflect. For me, two players were the gold standard from the time when I was around the club on a regular basis: Saku Koivu and Plekanec. They battled with everything they had, every game. They played hurt without complaint, they were unfailingly gracious after the most bitter losses, they were humble in triumph, they never disgraced the uniform in even the smallest way.
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As much as I admired Markov on the ice, he could be surly and difficult when he wasn’t playing; Koivu and Plekanec, never. It’s good to know young Jesperi Kotkaniemi was exposed, at least for a time, to Plekanec and his standard of professionalism. Kotkaniemi himself seems to have been born with class (see his goal celebration after he scored against the Knights), but it can’t hurt for him to be around Plekanec, however briefly.
Their Cinderella story may have just been that, as they currently sit 13th in the Western Conference, a year removed from making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
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This city’s perpetually cranky fans, meanwhile, have to be soothed at the wide gap between Pacioretty’s numbers this season and those put up here by Tomas Tatar. Pacioretty had nine shots on goal Saturday, but nothing to show for the evening’s work when he desperately wanted to score against the Canadiens, leaving him with two goals and no assists on the season, while Tatar has seven goals and eight assists for his new club, including Saturday night’s winner to cap a thrilling double comeback.
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Tatar is younger, more involved, infinitely more inclined to go to the net than Pacioretty ever was — and he costs half as much. In the brutal what-have-you-done-for-me today world of the NHL, the Canadiens won that trade by a country mile even without Nick Suzuki (theoretically the key player in the deal) and the second-rounder the Knights threw in to get a sniper who might have passed his best-by date.
If GM Marc Bergevin’s 2017 off-season was pure lead, 2018 has been platinum with the deal that brought Tatar to town, included the draft of Kotkaniemi and dealt the enigmatic and erratic Galchenyuk to the Coyotes. In return, the Canadiens got Max Domi, who is merely the straw that stirs the drink.
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If some of us (guilty as charged, your honour) thought initially the Canadiens lost that trade on the basis of pure talent, we were terribly mistaken. Never mind Domi’s engine revs at about three times the speed of Galchenyuk’s; Domi is a real talent at the centre position, a void for so long.
And Domi hustles. There was a play against Washington the last time the two teams met that said it all: Domi skated his way through most of the Capitals defence on a thrilling up-ice rush, then dished to Jonathan Drouin at the corner of the net — but Drouin was stopped and the dangerous Caps broke back the other way.
There was Domi, busting his butt to get back with an end-to-end sprint to defuse the Washington attack. You could spend hours sifting through film of Galchenyuk’s tenure in Montreal and never find a comparable example.
So even as we’re waxing nostalgic, the next bend in the road looks inviting. We suspect the shaky goaltending might suddenly improve when the quiet man they call “Man Mountain” returns to the lineup and that tendency to give up leads late in road games could magically vanish.
Meanwhile, we’ll doff our caps to Tomas Plekanec and wish him all the best in Kladno. A good man in a sometimes brutal game: If only there were more like him.
What the Puck: Canadiens $84M goalie Carey Price in dire need of help
Struggling Canadiens goalie will get the night off in favour of Antti Niemi as he struggles with the mental side of game.
Video: 11/10/18 Condensed Game: Golden Knights @ Canadiens
Begin: Congratulations, Mr. Graduate!
Buffalo Sabres forward Vladimir Sobotka (17) scores on Canadiens goalie Carey Price at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette
After Carey Price allowed six goals on 31 shots in Thursday night’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre, Canadiens head coach Claude Julien was asked what he could do to help the struggling goalie.
“I think if anything he needs to feel that we’ve got his back — and we do,” Julien said. “We know how good he can be. At the same time, you do the things you have to do. You have a goalie coach that’s going to work with him and he needs to know that his coach and his coaching staff are behind him and believe in him, and there’s no reason not to with what he’s accomplished. Again, we move on.”
After Friday’s practice in Brossard, Julien announced the Canadiens will move on against the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio) without Price in goal. Backup Antti Niemi will get the start, playing for the fifth time in the Canadiens’ first 17 games as former Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty returns to the Bell Centre for the first time as a member of the Golden Knights.
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“The biggest thing is you sleep on those things,” Julien said Friday about his decision to start Niemi instead of Price on Saturday night.
“As a coaching staff, Steph (Waite, the goalie coach) obviously has some weight in there,” Julien added. “But even the rest of the coaches, we talk and felt what was better for the team, what was better for Carey and what was better in this specific situation. I think Carey can take a step back and then really regain his confidence and his focus … everything that needs to be done for him to be as good as we know he can be. So we’re going to go with Niemi tomorrow and then we’ll move on from there.”
Price, who is in the first season of an eight-year, US$84-million contract, has a 5-4-3 record with a 3.07 goals-against average and an .892 save percentage. Coming off the worst season of his NHL career, Price has allowed at least four goals in each of his last four games. Since stopping 33 shots in a 3-0 win over the Bruins on Oct. 27 in Boston — his first shutout since last Nov. 25 — Price has a 1-3-1 record with an .854 save percentage.
Something is not right with the Canadiens’ $84-million goalie — who is earning $15 million this season — and that’s a big problem for this team.
After Thursday’s game, Price said: “Lets just cut to the chase, really. I just didnt play very good tonight.
Price has an 0-2-1 record since switching to new red pads and after practice Friday he was working on a pair of white ones in the Canadiens’ locker room before speaking with the media.
“I’m messing around with some stuff,” Price said about his equipment. “But … it’s all about being strong upstairs, like I said last night. Getting my mental game in order, because I feel like my technical aspect of the game is always pretty sound. I’m not in any panic mode. I’m just going to try and work it out. We’ve got a great team here that’s going to support me through it and we’ll get out of it right away.”
When asked after practice if he was going to play Saturday night, Price said: “We’ll see.”
After Saturdays game, the Canadiens head to Western Canada next week for games against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, the Calgary Flames on Thursday and the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.