Chris Kreider and Dwight King. Image by: Getty Images
When Dwight King is getting more ice time in a playoff game than Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, something has gone very much awry.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that he was only one of two players on the Montreal Canadiens who owns a Stanley Cup ring. Or maybe the Canadiens, who seem so obsessed with size these days, like vital stats that read 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds. Or that he has one more career playoff goal than Brendan Gallagher, albeit in twice the number of games.
But if the Canadiens think they’re going to win the Stanley Cup, nay, if they think they’re going to get out of the first round, with Dwight King getting more ice time than Gallagher, they’re almost certainly kidding themselves. In Game 1 of their first-round series against the New York Rangers, the Canadiens played King for a total of 14:01, which was slightly more ice time than they gave to Gallagher. Granted Gallagher sat out three minor penalties that likely cut a little into his ice time, but still.
The problem for the Canadiens was not necessarily that they were outplayed by the Rangers in their 2-0 loss in Game 1. After all, it was Tanner Glass on a lucky backhanded chip shot from the circle who provided the margin of victory in the game. No, for the Canadiens, it was once again their inability to score in crucial situations and a player deployment that was downright head-scratching.
Going into this series, you knew the Canadiens were going to be just fine in goal with Carey Price and on the blueline with the combination of personnel and coach Claude Julien’s system. No problems there. The fact that Alex Galchenyuk found himself on the fourth line with Andreas Martinsen and Steve Ott as his wingers is either a huge indictment of Galchenyuk himself or a move of desperation by a coach who knows he simply doesn’t have the kind of players up front who can deliver consistent victories in the playoffs. Whatever the answer is to that, it’s not good.
The fact that the Canadiens fourth line, with Galchenyuk in the middle, was their most dangerous throughout the game speaks even larger volumes. The three actually had some pretty good looks throughout the game, but neither winger could take advantage of Galchenyuk’s set ups. And that should come as a surprise to no one. King, meanwhile, seemed to struggle to keep up to the pace of the game and was no match for Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen. Phillip Danault, who is passing as a No. 1 center in Montreal these days, wasn’t very effective playing with Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov. Danault was held without a shot in the game on the top line, while Radulov had just one.
As was mentioned before the series started, the Rangers making this a smashmouth affair is a perfect game plan. In one way, it ensured that Gallagher would occasionally go over the edge and take penalties. Second, it forced the Canadiens to play players such as King for more than 14 minutes, which eats up ice time for players who can actually contribute offense. The first game in the series could not have unfolded any better for the Rangers than it did.
It’s becoming pretty clear that GM Marc Bergevin’s vision for the Canadiens is significantly flawed. He got Shaw from Chicago for two second-rounders, one of which the Blackhawks used to select OHL scoring leader Alex DeBrincat, on the basis that he doesn’t like losing. That’s all well and good, but it kind of ignores the fact that the Blackhawks win lots of games and Stanley Cups because they have super elite talent at all positions. Then at the trade deadline, Bergevin confounded the hockey world by acquiring King, Ott and Martinsen, all of whom were supposed to provide the physical element the Canadiens have lacked. Well, consider the fact Sven Andrighetto, the player dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in order to get Martinsen, had five goals and 15 points in 19 games after the trade. That’s four more goals and 13 more points than King, Ott and Martinsen had combined in 37 games in a Montreal uniform.
But there they all were on opening night of the playoffs, two of them playing with a centerman whose talents were pretty much wasted by playing with them. After the game, Julien talked about making a few minor adjustments. But it’s going to take a lot more than that for the Canadiens to even be competitive in this series, starting with playing King a lot less and not allowing Martinsen to stay out for 56-second shifts. His shifts, on average, were the longest of any player, including defensemen, on the team.
It’s time for the Canadiens to admit that this plan is not working and it needs to be changed. It’s not too late.