Canadiens fans are finding some hope after the team has slowly begun digging themselves out of the crater they created with their horrible start to the season.
Over their first 10 games, they had a terribly low shooting percentage and had only scored 17 goals. In the next nine games, that slowly started to creep up as they now have 47 goals on the season. Montreal’s record has improved to 8-9-2 overall.
That isn’t to say everything is rosy on Planet Habs and that the worst lays behind them. The Canadiens are still out of the playoff picture, albeit by three points. The issues that continue to dog the team are a lack of goaltending and defensive breakdowns.
The goaltending has stabilized with Charlie Lindgren being outstanding in his five starts. Once healthy, Carey Price is expected to return to form. The larger concern is the blueline personnel.
That concern surrounds defensive coverage, the overall mobility and ability to set up the transition game. The Canadiens have a young forward group built for speed. Despite the team leading the NHL in shots on net per game at 36.8, the shots have been largely ineffective and the Habs do not have the players to drive to the net.
A trade is the likeliest route that Marc Bergevin can take. That said, there has been rumblings of the Canadiens’ management has been looking to Europe for some help.
Yet, there may be some answers already in the system to help remedy that. David Schlemko is capable of helping in his own zone as well as make a good first pass. However, he is yet to play a minute of hockey this season due to a wrist injury.
Jakub Jerabek is showing flashes of excellent offensive skills in Laval with one goal, 10 assists for 11 points in 14 games. His consistency from game to game has been an issue as he adapts to the North American game.
Well that and his consistency. Some nights he has a certain spark, other night he looks lost. And then the discipline.
— Amy (@FlyersRule) November 4, 2017
Claude Julien demands a consistent effort from every player, and if Jerabek were unable to provide this, he’d end up platooning with Joe Morrow and Brendan Davidson, which is not what is needed at this point.
If neither a trade or an internal answer is the remedy, Bergevin may look to Europe to sign a free agent.
With the news the KHL may withdraw it’s players from the PyeongChang Games in protest of the doping investigations into Russian athletes, it may open the door for NHL general managers to sign players that remained out of the NHL for a better chance at playing in the Olympics this season.
One such player is Sweden’s Patrik Hersley. The 6-foot-3-inch, 203-pound right-handed defender is the KHL’s leading point getter among defencemen with 24 points in 26 games.
Hersley was the 2005 fifth round selection of the Los Angeles Kings. Known for his two-way play and heavy shot, Hersley is also very capable of playing in his own end, providing a physical style. He provides a quality first pass using good vision to set up the transition. All of these factors, if translated to the NHL, could improve the Canadiens’ blueline.
Another player is a familiar name, Chris Lee. He signed a professional try out (PTO) deal with the L.A. Kings this summer to take a shot at an NHL job after his excellent World Championship performance last spring.
After camp, Lee was released from his PTO then rafter a waiting period hoping for another NHL opportunity, he signed a one year deal to return to KHL Mettalurg, where last season he scored 65 points in 60 games. Lee is a highly mobile defender with an excellent vision and first pass, his downfall, other than age, is his lack of physical play. That aspect of his game can haunt him on an NHL roster.
Despite the Canadiens worst start in over 76 years, this is a team that is only three points out of a playoff position. There can be several reasons for the poor start, but the one reason for that poor start that can be improved on with a personnel move, would be to upgrade the blueline.
A mobile defender who can cut off cross-seam passes, recover the puck quickly and clear the zone are currently desperate needs. Yet, the biggest need from the defense is more of a passing game to take advantage of the young speedy forwards.
Most of the answers may be in the room, but the answer to upgrading the blueline lies with management. Will the Euro trip for the scouts be used to refill the system after a trade or to directly add to the top six defenders? Either way, if the Canadiens want to climb back into the playoff picture now is the time for management to provide the tools to build that picture.