FEATURE: Two Seasons, Two Underrated Additions

(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

by Matt Smith, Staff Writer/Social Media Specialist, All Habs Hockey Magazine

The Montreal Canadiens are currently on fire, with a record of 9-0-1. Shea “Man Mountain” Weber has simply been incredible, with four goals (including three game winners), as well as six assists. Weber is leading the Montreal Canadiens in scoring with 10 points and is just one point behind Brent Burns who leads the league among defensemen.

Alexander Radulov has instantly become a fan favorite, his strong play, particularly in the offensive zone is precisely what the Canadiens have been lacking the past few seasons, and I sincerely hope that Marc Bergevin is already contemplating a contract extension for the veteran Russian forward.

Goaltending has been exceptional, as the Canadiens have allowed the fewest number of goals so far this season (13), due to the fact that both goaltenders have stepped up. We expect it from Carey Price, the best goaltender on earth, who has returned with six wins, a 1.17 goals against average and a save percentage of .964.

However, do not disregard Al Montoya, a player signed on day one of free agency. It was a signing that was debatable at the outset, especially since most fans anticipated that Mike Condon would take over backup duties once Price returned from injury. This signing has been another great addition by Marc Bergevin, one that I believe has been underrated as Montoya was able to keep the Canadiens winning despite Price missing the first three games of the regular season with a severe case of the flu. Montoya is 3-0-1 this season, with a 1.47 goals against average, a .955 save percentage and a 36 save shutout against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

As of now, it seems as Al Montoya will start approximately 20-22 games for the Montreal Canadiens this season, which will allow Carey Price to start 60-62 games. But with the strong play of Montoya early this season, that number could be a little lower, permitting Price to not be overworked come playoff time.

Mike Condon was thrown into what ended up being a dreadful situation last season, with the Montreal Canadiens reluctant to acknowledge that Carey Price would miss the remainder of the season. We were all left waiting, losing patience as the Canadiens maintained their downward spiral in the standings with Condon and Ben Scrivens backstopping the team for the greater part of the season.

This season, with the new additions to the lineup, and a healthy Montreal Canadiens team, Montoya has secured the confidence of his teammates. They’re playing very similar if not the same as they would with Carey Price in the net, which is something that could not have been said about Condon or Scrivens. Condon, who was placed on waivers earlier this season, was briefly a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, and was traded this week to the Ottawa Senators.

Scrivens now plays for Minsk Dynamo of the KHL. I am in no way trying to throw these players under the bus as last season was dreadful in many aspects but goaltending seems to be the one area that stands out most. The Canadiens were plagued with injuries last season, but when the team loses Carey Price, that is where the main focus will be directed. I wish both of these players the best in their hockey careers, and thank them for their service to the Canadiens organization.

The second player I would like to showcase is Paul Byron, a forward claimed via waivers from the Calgary Flames last season.

Listed at 5-foot-9-inch, 160 pounds, the under-sized Byron is a player who goes to the dirty areas, plays bigger than his stature, and has rockets hidden secretly in his skates. These qualities make him a very effective penalty killer; one mistake by the power-play unit, and those rockets are unleashed. 

This season, Byron has two goals (including a shorthanded game winner against the Bruins), three assists, and is plus-2. Byron is a player who can be inserted anywhere in the lineup, but one that is better suited for a bottom six role (much like Dale Weise.) This role is not in sync with his current position playing alongside Tomas Plekanec and Artturi Lehkonen or Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher.

Last season most credited the Islanders with having the best fourth line in the league, comprised of Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. This heavy hitting trio brought energy to the team and the fans to their feet each shift.

This season, it is the fourth line of the  Canadiens turning heads with strong defensive play and a scoring touch. This line presently is made up of Phillip Danault, Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn. But I truly believe that if Paul Byron replaced Brian Flynn on this line, they’d be that much better overall, making Flynn the 13th forward.

They may not be the thunderous, heavy hitting fourth line the Islanders once employed, but it would be a line that can definitely turn heads, and produce for the Canadiens throughout the season. Flynn was put into the lineup because of his “faceoff ability,” taking the spot of Daniel Carr, who was recently recalled from the St. John’s IceCaps. After seven games Flynn’s faceoff percentage is only 40 per cent, which is less than Brendan Gallagher, and Flynn has just one assist.

In closing, Mark Bergevin has made adjustments to make the Canadiens a better hockey team, a team harder to play against, and so far, it’s difficult to dispute the results.