The Canadiens will be without Alex Galchenyuk for Wednesday’s tilt with the Blues, but no update on a timeline for his return is expected until the team returns to Montreal later this week.
Despite what has been a mediocre stretch of play over their past 10 games, the Montreal Canadiens haven’t had much, or really anything, to complain about. Only five teams have scored more goals, only five have allowed fewer and the Canadiens’ 17-6-2 record has them sitting atop the NHL’s standings.
It’s not all sunshine in Montreal anymore, though.
In Sunday’s 5-4 shootout victory over the Los Angeles Kings, the Canadiens lost leading scorer, Alex Galchenyuk, to a lower-body injury which appeared to come when he collided with Kings captain Anze Kopitar.
The knock came as Galchenyuk was skating through the middle of the ice and bumped legs with Kopitar, who himself was cutting into the slot area. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but Galchenyuk skated to the bench flexing his right leg and the ailment was enough to put Galchenyuk out of the remainder of the contest.
There was no immediate update on Galchenyuk, 22, following the game, but word came down from the Canadiens Monday afternoon that the center will be out indefinitely with a lower-body injury, and the team said further updates would be coming later in the week once he can be evaluated by team doctors in Montreal.
With the way Galchenyuk has been playing, it’s a brutal loss for the Canadiens.
Through 25 games, Galchenyuk was on pace to have hands down the best season of his career. Already with nine goals and 23 points, he was on pace to set match his career high of 30 goals and blow his previous-best point total out of the water with 76 points this campaign. Galchenyuk had also formed a fairly formidable tandem alongside off-season acquisition Alex Radulov, and the duo had combined on the score sheet for 12 goals this season.
But it isn’t just that Galchenyuk was having an impact on the score sheet that will make his loss hurt.
For much of the first few seasons of his career, fans in Montreal clamoured for the talented youngster to be used down the middle. He had spent much of his first few years on the wing despite being drafted as a center. During the 2015-16 campaign, coach Michel Therrien started to test Galchenyuk as a pivot, and he had more than proven that he was capable of carrying the load as a second-line center this year.
In that sense, Galchenyuk gave the Canadiens a solid one-two punch down the middle for the first time in a few seasons.
The current concern is that Galchenyuk has suffered another injury to the same knee he hurt before turning pro. He missed all but two games after undergoing knee surgery on his right knee ahead of the 2011-12 OHL season.
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They sure teased us there during the first two weeks of the season. But we should have known all along that the NHL would go back to its defensive ways.
Boy, the NHL sure had us there for a while. During the first two weeks of the season, players were filling the nets like it was the Bill Clinton administration. The first three nights of this season, there was an 11-goal game, a 10-goal game, three nine-goal games and two eight-goal games. Rookie Auston Matthews turned in a record on the first night of the season by scoring four goals in his NHL debut and his team still lost the game.
Good times. Yup, good times. And like all good times, it inevitably had to come to an end. Because NHL. The orgy of scoring we saw early in the season has been replaced with what seems like a record number of loop passes from the defensive zone. And why are defensemen doing this at such a regular pace? Because trying to get the puck through the neutral zone along the ice is almost impossible.
Through the first 356 games of this season, NHL teams have scored a total of 1,880 goals. Those are real goals. The phony ones teams are awarded for winning the NHL’s skills competition are not included. That means teams are scoring at an average of 5.28 goals per game this season, which if it sticks, will mean scoring is at its lowest in the NHL since The Dead Puck Era™.
To put that into perspective, consider this: the Edmonton Oilers scored a total of 2,114 goals in the five seasons that spanned from 1981-82 through 1985-86. Even if they had recorded a shutout in every one of those 400 regular-season games, they’d still have averaged more goals per game (5.285) all by themselves than what both teams are scoring this season. Think about that for a minute.
Whatever the effect there was on goal scoring early in the season has clearly dissipated. After the first two weeks of the season, teams were scoring at a clip of 5.92 non-shootout goals per game. Since then, teams are scoring at just 5.04. As Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter recently put it, “Then NHL is a 3-2 league.” Unless it’s 2-1 in a shootout.
There were a number of theories as to why scoring was so high early in the season. Some thought it was because the 168 NHL players who played in the World Cup were in mid-season form and therefore, so much further ahead of their teammates. Another theory held that there were so many young players in the league who were not only dazzling fans with their scoring, but making the kinds of mistakes that result in goals going in on their own net. The third was that some early-season injuries to goalies were forcing a number of teams to use backups.
Whatever the case, the NHL has adapted the way it always does. Of course it doesn’t help that the NHL allows the Minnesota Wild to hack away at Johnny Gaudreau’s hand, with Eric Staal finally dealing the killing blow and breaking it with a third try, with impunity. Then you have Gaudreau’s own teammate Troy Brouwer basically saying he does that kind of stuff a lot, so all’s fair, then goes out and proves it by going after leading Calder Trophy candidate Mitch Marner’s hand with a two-hander a couple of weeks later. When these things go unpenalized, few in the hockey community point out that, you know, you’re not supposed to do that and it’s not such a good idea to target the best young players in the league. And those who do get shouted down by hockey people who claim these kids should be wearing more protective gloves to guard themselves from something that happens a hundred times a game. Well, if that’s the case and it does actually happen a hundred times a game, that tells us something about why scoring is so low in the first place.
While other leagues try to encourage offense, the NHL does almost nothing. Certainly nothing radical. It’s been more than a decade since the league reinvented itself after the 2004-05 lockout, but much of what the league has eliminated has crept back in. The league and NHL Players’ Association continue to work toward streamlining goalie equipment at what seems like a sloth’s pace. Ideas to limit shot blocking or reconfigure the goal posts so more pucks will go off the post and into the net are seen as far too radical.
Meanwhile, the goals continue to dry up. According to the Elias Sports Bureau at this point last season scoring was slightly lower than it is this season, but rallied to end up at 5.34 goals per game. Each of the past five years, goal scoring totals have been essentially identical, never going below 5.31 or above 5.34. That could very well be where we end up this season. The biggest difference between this season and last, said Bob Waterman of Elias, is that scoring didn't vary that much from Day 1 to the end of the season in 2015-16, but there was a glut of goals early this season.
The modern-day low for scoring is 5.14 goals per game in 2003-04, the season before the NHL unshackled its star players. If it breaches that number, it would hit a 61-year low (5.07 was recorded in 1955-56). Perhaps that might be enough to push the NHL to do something about it. Or not.
Scott Aarssen in his Clangus jersey
The Braehead Clan wore jerseys to pay tribute to their league-best mascot, Clangus, over the weekend, and the uniforms are glorious.
We’ve seen teams throughout the minor professional ranks dress as everything from Star Wars characters to the lovable Italian plumbing superheroes from Nintendo’s Mario games, but the EIHL’s Braehead Clan went head-to-toe with a brand new style.
In order to help raise some funds for the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity, the Clan decided to go all out in a getup that paid homage to their mascot, Clangus. Voted the league’s best mascot two years running, Clangus, a highland cow with a messy mop, was well deserving of the honor, and the Clan did right by their furry friend.
The detail of the jersey is what really makes it, too. Not only does Clangus’ face adorn the front of the sweater, but the team had jerseys that appeared to have the texture of the mascot’s fur and the helmet decal was nothing short of brilliant.
Instead of going with a simple side sticker, the Clan had a helmet-top design constructed that saw two horns reach up to each side of the helmet with a mop of hair, colored just like that of Clangus, falling down the front. Check this photo of Kyle Wharton in which the decal gives the illusion that the defenseman is wearing a set of horns:
That’s good work from the Clan, who also had an ‘Air the Bear’ stuffed toy toss during the outing which saw close to 1,500 donations. All told, the auction effort helped raise £4,000 for charity, which equates to roughly $5,000 USD.
Unfortunately for Braehead, the game’s result wasn’t nearly as great as the jerseys or charity effort. The visiting Dundee Stars skated to a 6-4 victory.
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A pair of captains find themselves in the rumor mill early in the campaign. Montreal’s Max Pacioretty and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog are both potential trade chips in the hunt for improvements on the back end.
Last June, the Montreal Canadiens shocked the hockey world by shipping defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for blueliner Shea Weber. For months leading up to that move, Subban was the subject of frequent trade speculation.
Nearly six months after the Subban deal, another notable member of the Canadiens' core surfaced in the rumor mill. The Score's Sean O'Leary includes Habs captain Max Pacioretty among his site's list of six NHL players who should get ready to pack their bags this season.
O'Leary believes the Canadiens must stabilize their blueline beyond Weber. In his opinion, the emergence of Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk makes the 28-year-old Pacioretty “expendable.” After three straight 30-plus goal seasons, the Habs captain has bounced around the lineup. Prior to his two-goal performance in Sunday's 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings, he was on pace for only 17 goals.
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos doesn't believe the Canadiens intend to trade Pacioretty, but points out some teams think his situation bears scrutiny. He notes there's some friction between the winger and coach Michel Therrien over his usage this season.
Kypreos echoes O'Leary's comments, claiming a lot of teams wonder if Pacioretty could become a trade chip to boost Montreal's blueline depth. His colleague Elliotte Friedman suggests it could be difficult for the Habs to get equal value.
It's no secret Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is reportedly in the market for a top-four defenseman. Despite Friedman's speculation about the type of return Bergevin could receive for Pacioretty, a scorer of his calibre will attract considerable interest in the trade market.
If Bergevin is willing to move Pacioretty, he should get a solid return. Given the winger's $4.5-million annual cap hit through 2018-19, it would likely have to be a dollar-for-dollar deal.
The Anaheim Ducks could be a trade partner. They're loaded with good young defensemen and could certainly use an experienced left winger such as Pacioretty on their scoring lines. Bergevin could cast an eye upon Cam Fowler ($4 million per season) or Sami Vatanen ($4.875 million).
Such a move, however, would leave Montreal thin on left wing and weaken their offense. While the Habs are among the top-10 in scoring, they've struggled of late in that category. Shipping out a proven 30-goal sniper in Pacioretty won't help them. Prior to the Subban trade, many observers (including yours truly) doubted he'd be dealt. Bergevin's shown a willingness to make big moves for the right return, so perhaps a Pacioretty trade isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.
AVALANCHE CAPTAIN LANDESKOG MOVED FOR BLUELINE HELP?
The Canadiens aren't the only club that could trade their captain for blueline help. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson reports of “rumblings” the Colorado Avalanche could move left wing Gabriel Landeskog for a big-minute defenseman.
Like the Habs, the Avs must improve their depth on defense. They enter this week averaging 31.8 shots-again per game, ranking among the league's worst.
This isn't the first time Landeskog, 24, has popped up in the rumor mill. There was some talk last summer linking him to the Ducks and then-unsigned blueliner Hampus Lindholm, though that speculation didn't go very far.
Matheson wonders if the Avs might offer up Landeskog to the New York Islanders for rearguard Travis Hamonic. The Isles reportedly seek a scoring winger for John Tavares' line. In recent weeks, there was also talk of Landeskog's teammate Matt Duchene being peddled to the Isles.
Despite the rumors and the Avs' ongoing struggles, GM Joe Sakic maintains his belief in core players such as Landeskog and Duchene. Following last week's 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sakic told Terry Frei of the Denver Post he still has faith in his core, claiming the club's poor start is a team issue.
Sakic doesn't sound like a GM keen to shake up his roster. That doesn't mean, however, he won't that option. Former coach Patrick Roy can no longer be labelled the bad guy for their poor play. Sooner or later, the core players could pay the price.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.). For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.