MONTREAL—As painful as it might be for the Montreal Canadiens and their fans to look back on the first 71 games of a season that appeared all but guaranteed to end in a third consecutive playoff miss, it’s an essential exercise to run through before we begin to look forward.
When the NHL slammed the pause button in the second week of March due to risks associated to the novel coronavirus, the Canadiens were all but finished. They had suffered two eight-game losing streaks early on that proved devastating, they lost all four games to a Detroit Red Wings team that won just 13 times in their 67 other contests, and they failed to gain any ground on multiple teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings who had left the door to the playoffs wide open with losing spells of their own.
It wasn’t all bad.
Nick Suzuki emerged as one of the best rookies in the NHL, and a couple of fellow 2017 draft picks, Cale Fleury and Ryan Poehling, got their feet wet at hockey’s highest level. The Canadiens established themselves as a 5-on-5 juggernaut with the league’s second-best shot attempt differential and generated the second-most high-danger scoring chances.
But the fact they were 13th in both 5-on-5 goals and 5-on-5 goal differential speaks to their inefficiency in capitalizing on chances and highlights some of the issues they had defending their own end. It’s also indicative of the goaltending being largely inconsistent throughout and not up to par for portions of the season.
Speaking of not being up to par: Montreal’s power play, which had shown early-season signs of life after a pathetic offering in 2018-19, had produced less than any other team in the league from Feb. 1 to Mar. 11. And, over the same period of time, the Canadiens’ penalty kill had managed to kill off just 79.3 per cent of its penalties, which was 20th-best in the 31-team circuit.
Their special teams were an accurate reflection of where they were, from a mental standpoint, when the season was paused: With 11 games remaining and a 10-point deficit in the standings to overcome, the Canadiens were dejected, downtrodden and dreading having to wait any longer to be put out of their misery.
But that’s all in the past now.
What will four months away from the ice offer the Canadiens—or any other team—in the way of perspective? What will the benefits of extensive rest do for them both physically and psychologically? What will the unexpected opportunity to play for a Stanley Cup bring out of them?
There are a lot of unknowns here.
But the unknown should be a welcome commodity for the Canadiens and their fans—especially up against all we learned about the team from October to March.
Here are some of their key storylines moving forward…
Max Domi’s availability
The 25-year-old, who has type-1 diabetes and celiac disease, is in the middle of a seven-to-10-day holding pattern, waiting to receive clearance from doctors to play.
Domi produced 17 goals and 44 points in 71 games this season after scoring 28 goals and 72 points over the course of the 2018-19 season. If the Canadiens don’t have him at their disposal –specifically up the middle — their chances of advancing past the play-in round go from not very good to dismal.
The Carey Price factor
We know the spectre of playing against the soon-to-be 33-year-old was a big part of the reason some teams fought against having the eight teams that were on the playoff bubble when the season was paused participate in this tournament for the Stanley Cup. Now the question is, will Price offer the type of performance that stands up to his reputation?
In 58 appearances with the Canadiens this season, the Anahim Lake, B.C., native had a .909 save percentage and a 2.79 goals-against average. Those aren’t exactly numbers that would strike fear in an opponent.
But if the Canadiens get the Price who posted a .933 save percentage and a 1.86 goals-against average in his last playoff appearance (in 2017), watch out.
The thought of having Shea Weber at 100 per cent has to be a comforting one for a Canadiens team that hasn’t had the benefit of their captain being rested and healthy for many games since he was traded to Montreal in the summer of 2016.
Beyond Weber, Ben Chiarot has to pick up where he left off—the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder hit career highs in goals, points and average time on ice in 69 games.
Ditto for Jeff Petry, who registered at least 40 points for a third consecutive season.
After that, it gets a little dicey.
Can Brett Kulak be a stable No. 4 after an up-and-down season? Can 22-year-old Victor Mete take a crucial step forward in his development and produce more offence? Can one of Noah Juulsen or Fleury prove reliable enough to play above Christian Folin in the pecking order?
There are depth issues here, particularly on the left side of the defence. Karl Alzner has opted out of returning to play this summer, and that leaves Gustav Olofsson and Xavier Ouellet competing as options.
When you look at the sum of the parts, it’s hard to view this as a team strength.
Who’s going to score the goals?
Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher each had 22 goals to lead the Canadiens this season, but they both play on the same line.
That means Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, Paul Byron, Artturi Lehkonen, Suzuki and Domi (if he’s available) are going to have to provide that crucial secondary boost.
The fact Domi leads that group with 17 goals highlights the concern Montreal might have in this department.
Inside look at New York Rangers – NHL.com
NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers are confident they’re entering training camp with the blueprint for how they need to look and play to be a Stanley Cup Playoff contender.
“We found that balance toward the end of last season, the last two months, from playing with a defensive conscience and also being productive offensively,” Quinn said. “That’s what we have to be. We found some continuity with lines and [defenseman] pairings, and that was really the first time that had happened in the last two years. I think for the first time going into training camp we have a little bit of a clearer picture of what we’re going to look like.”
The disappointment of the Rangers’ quick exit from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season — they were the first team eliminated, swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in three games — hasn’t stolen from their belief that they’ve grown into a contender to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It starts with familiarity with who they have returning, a list that doesn’t include Henrik Lundqvist. They bought out the final year of the goalie’s seven-year contract, making the Rangers’ leader in wins (459) an unrestricted free agent to solve the three-goalie issue they dealt with last season and pave the way for Igor Shesterkin to be their new No. 1.
Shesterkin was 10-2-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 12 starts last season after being recalled from Hartford of the American Hockey League on Jan. 6. New York also re-signed goalie Alexandar Georgiev to a two-year contract Oct. 15.
“I just love his demeanor,” Quinn said of Shesterkin. “I just love how confident he is.”
Artemi Panarin proved last season, when the left wing had 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists) in 69 games (1.38 points per game), that he’s comfortable in the New York spotlight, solving one of the questions the Rangers had going into last season.
Panarin, entering the second year of his seven-year contract, is expected to start camp playing with center Ryan Strome, who re-signed with a two-year contract Nov. 5.
Quinn is eyeing 19-year-old Kaapo Kakko to be the right wing with Panarin and Strome, replacing Jesper Fast, who signed with the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent. Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 66 games last season.
Mika Zibanejad delivered as a No. 1 center last season, scoring 41 goals in 57 games, including an NHL-high 23 in 22 games from Jan. 30 to the end of the regular season. He is again expected to have Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich on his line, giving the Rangers continuity in their top six forwards.
“No final decisions have been made, but certainly you want to start that way and hit the ground running,” Quinn said.
The Rangers expect Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, will be an impact player in his rookie season. Lafreniere is penciled in as the left wing on the third line, likely playing with 21-year-old center Filip Chytil.
Lafreniere arrived in the New York area from his home in Saint-Eustache, Quebec, in November and is training and living with a billet family in Connecticut.
“He has the whole package,” Rangers assistant general manager Chris Drury said. “His skating, his sense, his shot, his passing, you name it, it’s all very elite. His internal drive is exceptional.”
The Rangers are comfortable with their returning defensemen, even if there are issues to iron out, namely filling an opening on the left side they created by trading Marc Staal to the Detroit Red Wings.
Quinn said the Rangers could move a right-handed defenseman (Jacob Trouba, Tony DeAngelo or Adam Fox) to the left side.
DeAngelo, who led New York defensemen with 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) last season, is the most likely candidate, but Quinn said he knows Fox would be comfortable too. It’s unlikely they ask Trouba to switch.
K’Andre Miller and/or Tarmo Reunanen, two of New York’s top defenseman prospects and each a left-handed shot, could play well enough in training camp to win a job and remove the need to move a righty to the left side.
“That probably is the one position that we’re going to have to really let it play out,” Quinn said.
The Rangers have far fewer uncertainties than they’ve had entering the past two seasons, fueling their optimism.
“We feel real good about where we are,” New York president John Davidson said. “We’ve come a long way. There’s been some very difficult decisions, but to get to that end, to the championship, this is what you have to do.”
Canucks anthem singer Mark Donnelly axed for planned appearance at anti-mask rally – Global News
He’s long been a staple of Vancouver Canucks home games, but it appears Mark Donnelly has sung the national anthem for the last time in Rogers Arena.
Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini took to Twitter Friday, responding to a Vancouver Sun report that the Canucks’ anthem singer would be performing at an anti-mask rally in Vancouver on Saturday.
“Hey @VancouverSun, change the headline to ‘Former Canucks anthem singer.’ #wearamask,” wrote Aquilini.
Global News has requested comment from Donnelly.
Gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned by public health order in B.C. since March. In November, the province extended that ban to all social gatherings.
Saturday’s planned “B.C. Christmas Freedom Rally” is being organized in part by Ryan Kulbaba, who has spearheaded several other anti-mask rallies in Vancouver since July.
The events have featured a variety of anti-vaccine speakers and decried what participants say is censorship and government overreach.
Others have expressed fears that a vaccine would be made mandatory, or argued that the fatality rate from the virus does not justify the economic effects of restrictions.
Previous Vancouver rallies have also drawn believers in a range of conspiracy theories, including debunked myths that masks cause cancer or other health issues, baseless accusations that Bill Gates plans to use vaccines to implant microchips in people, and the U.S.-based QAnon fantasy which claims a cabal of U.S. pedophile politicians are consuming children’s blood.
British Columbians opposed to wearing masks hold Vancouver protest
Posters for Saturday’s rally declare “we oppose government orders & will gather for the holidays.”
Along with Donnelly, the event features a message from Santa, singing, speeches from vaccine opponent Ted Kuntz and the group Hugs over Masks, comedy, an anti-5G presentation and evangelical anti-SOGI123 activist and former People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura Lynn Tyler Thomas.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Canucks anthem singer to perform at anti-mask rally in Vancouver – News 1130
VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A rally in Vancouver protesting COVID-19 orders will feature music by Mark Donnelly, the man who has been singing the national anthem at Canucks home games since 2001.
The BC Christmas Freedom Rally is being held in Vancouver Saturday.
“We oppose government orders and will gather for the holidays,” the poster for the event says.
Donnelly is set to perform after a musical parody act and before closing remarks by the organizers.
A previous rally drew a crowd of around 1,000 people to the Vancouver Art Gallery.
In the past, Donnelly has performed the national anthem at anti-abortion rallies.
NEWS 1130 has reached out to Mark Donnelly and the Vancouver Canucks for comment.
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