by Corey Desormeaux , Managing Editor, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Alex Galchenyuk and PK Subban (Photo by: Paul Chiasson/CP)
Alex Galchenyuk and PK Subban (Photo by: Paul Chiasson/CP)

OTTAWA, ON – Despite this incredible start to the Montreal Canadiens season there is still, somehow, a thorn in my side.  Is there really anything to complain about?  I mean, the Habs are off to the greatest start in franchise history.

So please trust me, throughout writing this, I asked myself whether I’m just stretching for something to complain about, or if others feel it too? Am I becoming disgruntled or do I just care? Watching the Habs – Bruins game last Saturday I quickly realized that I just can’t let this one slide.

Behind in the third period of a home game against the Boston Bruins, Alex Galchenyuk couldn’t seem to get on the ice.  One of the more offensively gifted and well-conditioned players on the entire Habs roster was rarely getting tapped on the shoulder for his next shift.

I’d like to say the answer to the title of this piece is easy, but frankly, it isn’t. The reality is that you, nor I, can predict what Michel Therrien and the Habs brass is going to do, but we can sure try.

All Habs Hockey Magazine published an article I wrote two weeks ago about just how good I thought Galchenyuk, Lars Eller and Alex Semin could be if they were just given the time and opportunity to grow. The next game, Semin was in the pressbox.

So in this piece, I am going to zone in on Galchenyuk, not because I want him in the pressbox but because I want the Habs to let him play.

Before I begin there is one more thing I’d like to disclose. I am an absolute sucker for players with elite mitts, and so maybe I am little biased towards the Habs releasing the chains on Galchenyuk.  Players like Pavel Bure, Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Federov and my personal favourite Alex Kovalev, have always made the game that much more exciting to me.  I’m not saying Galchenyuk is of the calibre of those players, but he has the potential to be.  And the reality of it is the “what’s he going to do next” feeling I felt with the players above I feel when Galchenyuk has the puck.

I felt that feeling from his first NHL game.  He has to be one of the shiftiest forwards in the game today. Over the years he has worked at remaining unpredictable with the puck while maintaining his speed. Couple this with his increased strength training this offseason and Galchenyuk looks poised to breakout as a star.  There is one missing piece however, and that’s a winger.

I’m not talking about replacing Eller. You should all know by now that I am big Eller supporter.  He has size, speed, and most importantly he has instincts at both ends of the ice.  Far too often a player’s instinct is overlooked.  Eller creates room on the ice from working hard. He does the little things that every line needs to be effective.

I am talking about Galchenyuk’s other winger.  We’ve seen Semin, Paul Byron, Devante Smith-Pelly and Brian Flynn all have their chance through just 16 games of the season!  None of them have taken the reigns.

In my piece two weeks ago I advocated for Semin.  Essentially, my argument has been as follows, Galchenyuk’s line was assembled to score goals and Alex Semin made a career of scoring goals. Although Galchenyuk and Eller are more than capable of holding their own in their end of the ice, this line isn’t called upon to play defence, they shouldn’t be and they aren’t.

Here’s a look at Galchenyuk’s goals per 60 rate at 5-vs-5 with his “winger de jour”

Player Galchenyuk Goals per 60 Galchenyuk TOI with Player
Alex Semin 2.96 101:18
Paul Byron 0.00 12:41
Devante Smith-Pelly 1.63 36:53
Brian Flynn 2.23 26:53
Lars Eller 2.57 163:12

As you can see from above, Galchenyuk was most effective putting the puck in the net with Alex Semin on his wing. Michel Therrien has said that when Semin gets his next chance he’d like to see him play at the speed the rest of the team is playing.  I interpret that as the coach believing Semin isn’t bringing any sort of intensity to his game. He feels that Semin needs to give a full effort in order to play every night.

If that’s indeed true then the coach is right.  You want players in your lineup who are going to compete for a full sixty minutes.  However, with Semin in the press box, the Galchenyuk line isn’t as effective at its job (scoring goals), meaning the coach is reducing his minutes per game.  The last two games, Galchenyuk has finished second to last in ice-time amongst forwards. He played under 12 minutes of hockey in Saturday’s game against the Bruins.

What I’m trying to say here is that Galchenyuk isn’t playing as much because his line isn’t scoring as effectively, but it isn’t scoring as effectively because Alex Semin is in the pressbox. Galchenyuk is a young centreman who needs to play so that he can develop more chemistry not only with Eller but whoever is on his other wing.

This past weekend I was pleased to join the Habs360 podcast to discuss some hot topics with host Chris G.  On the podcast, Chris asked me a question about Alex Semin and whether I expected him to be out of the lineup so soon.  I sort of half answered his question and began rambling on about Galchenyuk and what Michel Therrien needs to do to get him going.  I instinctively shrugged off Semin to speak about Galchenyuk because the Habs have a lot invested in the young centreman and really nothing invested in Semin given that he is signed for one year at a very affordable cap hit.

One of the points I brought up on the podcast was the defensive pairing that is deployed with Galchenyuk.  Galchenyuk spends a bulk of his ice-time with the Nathan Beaulieu / Tom Gilbert pairing (roughly 70 minutes), then it’s the Alexei Emelin / Jeff Petry pairing (roughly 59 minutes), then P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov (roughly 52 minutes).  Subban and Markov are the clear top defence pairing on the Canadiens and are the backbone of puck possession. They control the play and drive the offence.  Not only do Subban and Markov lead the team in Corsi for percentage but take a look at Galchenyuk’s Corsi for per 60 with each defenceman.

Defenceman Galchenyuk Corsi per 60 with Player
Subban 70.94
Markov 70.54
Emelin 49.82
Petry 56.85
Gilbert 49.43
Beaulieu 51.73

What a difference! Furthermore, Galchenyuk’s goal per 60 with Subban and Markov is significantly higher than with other defenceman at approximately 3.50.

If Semin isn’t going to be in the lineup, perhaps some ice-time with Subban and Markov can help Galchenyuk produce at a level the coaching staff is happy with.

What do you think the Habs need to do to unleash Galchenyuk?

  • Richard Courtland

    Well said. Just another example of Michel Therrien’s ability to develop the young players. #sarcasm

    • John Sproul

      Exactly, Eller seems to just cruise, I don’t see any effort or brute strength, he should get in the face of the goalie, I think he should be traded or sent to farm club, he might shine there and get his confidence back, if not, gone.

  • 7 muranowska street

    Eller stinks. He cant shoot, has no vision, and has not proved a bloody thing in his whole time here.

    DD won….its over. Eller is the guy to go. use him and pleks to get eberle or another REAL top line right winger like perry…you get that, dd becomes an 80 pt guy for 3.5, and gallagher shifts down to where he really should be, which then balances out the lines…

    2017 lineup… :-)

    pacc dd eberle/perry
    hudon galch gallagher
    carr maccarron scherbak
    dsp mitchell weise

    • macmandes

      Eller’s fine, we need another winger to take Semin’s place. I still think McCarron should be brought up. He may not be much faster than Semin was, but he a lot more feistier along the boards and Chucky and Eller will feel a lot more comfortable with him on the wing. He has now trained as a center, that would make 3 centres on the same line, what more could you ask for on faceoffs. McCarron is doing great in StJohns. I think he should at least be given a chance to try. What’s the worse that could happen, he’s given a taste of the NHL and he gets sent back down to the AHL if it doesn’t work out.

      • 7 muranowska street

        eller is a 3rd liner at best…he should be used as trade bait in a package with pleks end of year. Big mac needs more time…no rush

        • Corey Desormeaux

          Great discussion all.

          I think Eller provides more than you think. Last year he was relied upon to shutdown the opposing top line and flourished at it. He needs more time to get comfortable at a new position and with new linemates. Be patient, I say.

    • Kheiron

      seriously DD as #1. i love the guy but history has shown he is not suited to play #1, even #2 center role might be too much. and why does everyone want either dd or eller gone anyway, both are extremely usefull and play with heart

    • 7 muranowska street: We offer wide range of perspectives from our writers and welcome variety of opinions via the comments section. But we are different than other sites in that we insist on intelligent debate. Your comments have consistently violated that line. This is not the place to simply parrot the xenophobic bile spewed on RDS and elsewhere.

      Lars Eller is an extremely talented hockey player. As has been confirmed by Marc Bergevin, Eller is the Canadiens player most coveted by other NHL GMs. He is a playmaker with size who can play equally well in all zones.

      David Desharnais is a marginal NHL’er who has benefited from a tight relationship with the coach who gives him favorable icetime, zone starts, linemates and matchups.

      Both are contributing this season.

      To avoid disappointment, I respectfully suggest that you might want to avoid the Eller – Desharnais direct comparison. There are virtually no meaningful metrics where Desharnais comes out on top.

  • Bart

    Give Therrien a good swift kick in the ass, and tell him to smarten up and put Semin back in. Enough with his inane head games!

  • Dennis

    Doing excellent so far. Dont change nothing.

  • billybt

    No there is nothing to complain about.You should see a Doctor to have that thorn removed.

    • Corey Desormeaux

      Thanks?

      • billybt

        Your Welcome ? ?…….Fan since 1953 ( age 7 )

  • Kerry Clark

    Setting him up with PK and Markov would allow him a lot of latitude to just release the beast especially if he has Eller and Semin as his wingers..I’m far from being an expert but, this is absolutely a no brainer!

    • Corey Desormeaux

      Bingo.

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