The beauty of any sport is that there are always fan favourites and others who we like to dislike. While the liking is often easy to explain, the dislikes are not always as obvious. Fans will use off-ice issues to dislike a player, their effort or the way they play the game on the ice, by antagonizing everyone like Brad Marchand or other similar reasons.
PENTICTON, BC. – But then you have David Desharnais. While most people see him for what he is, a player who has never had anything given to him, someone who has had to prove himself at every level, a legitimate NHLer making $3.5M per season, some in the Canadiens’ fan base simply never liked the guy and it’s been rather obvious for quite some time.
In what I would qualify as rather puzzling, not to use more drastic terms, those fans seem to blame or dislike him for something that is totally out of his control, but rather in the coach’s hands: his utilisation and the line he is centering. Those fans disliked the fact that he was centering the team’s top line when he is clearly not a number one centre (and he’s not paid as one), although his best friend on the team, Max Pacioretty, has been lighting it up with him on his line.
Having said all of that, the purpose of this preface is not so much to try to figure out some of the fan base, but rather to look at what bringing Alex Galchenyuk to centre has done to the team and, at the same time, to Desharnais who was relegated to “third” line duty. And I put “third” in quotations for a reason, as aside from the first line (any line with Pacioretty will be first line), the other three lines have roughly the same amount of ice time and they all contribute on the scoreboard.
This season, Desharnais averages just over 14 minutes of ice time per game, which is a few second per game less than Galchenyuk and about 4½ minutes less than Tomas Plekanec. But look at the production: Not known for his fast starts to the season, Desharnais has 12 points in 14 games so far, on pace for a 70 points season. That’s one point behind team leader Andrei Markov, tied with Plekanec in spite of much less ice time.
Many people question how can that be possible, especially when playing with lesser talented players like Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann, a guy who couldn’t get a contract this summer, having to accept an invitation on a PTO at training camp.
Well friends, it’s quite easy to comprehend. In past years, while not a true number one centre, Desharnais was facing the opposition’s top defensive pairings and their top lines, for being teamed up with Pacioretty, the team’s best forward. Night in and night out, he was having to face the best of each team, like Zdeno Chara, Victor Hedman, John Carlson and Ryan McDonagh just to name a few.
As the third line centre, he rarely has to face those guys, often even facing the opponents’ third defensive pairing. For a guy as quick and talented as Desharnais, who is used to facing much tougher opposition, it makes things a lot easier. While he may not be a real first line centre, he’s certainly not your typical third line centre either. He has tons of offensive skills and he still is the team’s best passer amongst forwards.
Desharnais’ best quality this season is perhaps the fact that he makes his linemates better. Dale Weise already has seven goals in 14 games, on pace for 41 goals! No, he won’t get there but considering that his career best was 29 points, which he achieved last season, it’s very likely that he’ll crush his best season ever. Tomas Fleischmann has 10 points in 14 games so far, on pace for 59-60 points. He has reached 61 pts once in his career with Florida in 2011-12, and his second best season was 51 pts with Caps in 2009-2010. A lot of this start is on Desharnais, whether people want to admit it or not.
In the meantime, going into the match-up against the Islanders, Pacioretty hasn’t scored in his last five games. Don’t be surprised to see Michel Therrien switch things up and put Desharnais back with him to get him going and if he does, instead of blaming Therrien, here’s hoping that fans will have the foresight and knowledge to see that the move is to get the team’s top player to score, and not to place Desharnais in a position where they feel he doesn’t belong.
3 on 3 OT IS WORKING
Over the last few years, a lot of fans had grown tired of the shootout, a skill competition to determine the winner of a team game, and the league has finally decided to try Ken Holland’s suggestion of having a 3-on-3 overtime. How effective is it? Well let’s have a look using the same time frame, after 180 NHL games played, how many games made it to the shootout:
2011-12: 27 games
2012-13: 25 games
2013-14: 24 games
2014-15: 25 games
2015-16: 10 games
Already, this is an amazing result. When you put NHL skills on a NHL ice surface and give them that much ice, just about every rush is a two-on-one. In the game against Ottawa, Max Pacioretty made a bad pass which turned the puck over. The Senators went the other way at 3 on 1 and scored. Had they not, there is a very good chance that the Canadiens would have gone the other way on a breakaway or even two on the goalie! That’s excitement folks!
I had conducted a study a few years ago using the BCHL as an example. In that league, they play five minutes at 4-on-4 and if still tied, they go to five more minutes at 3-on-3. They do not have a shootout. If the game is still tied after those 10 minutes of OT, it is marked as a tie, with each team earning a point. Over a seven years period, only two percent of all games played finished in a tie! In my opinion, this is the format that the NHL should adopt.
Go Habs Go!