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|
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|
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?