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Hickey on hockey: Evans line is outlier on first Canadiens report card

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Seventh round draft pick grows into the shutdown center role, while linemates Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen never stop working.

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The Canadiens are at a quarter of what is destined to be a short season that looks set to be a long season.

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It is tradition at this point of the season to offer a report card. A few seasons ago, we decided to scrap the A to F classification system in favor of a more progressive approach. If you’re in school or have kids, you may be familiar with measuring performance using phrases like exceed expectations, meet expectations, or need improvement.

Suffice it to say, no one on this team exceeds expectations with the exception of the Jake Evans line. The draft pick for the seventh round grows into the shutdown center role left vacant by the departure of Phillip Danault, while line-mates Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen never stop working.

With Carey Price on the sidelines, injuries threatening Shea Webers’ career, and Danault enjoying life in California, no one expected the Canadiens to repeat their run to the Stanley Cup final but the first two months of the season were a disaster.

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The Canadiens entered Buffalo Friday with a 5-14-2 record and a .286 win rate. Only Ottawa and Arizona have worse records. The Canadiens are 29th in goals per game (2.24), 30th in goals against per game (3.62), 27th on power play (14.1 percent), 29th on penalty kill (68.2 percent) and 25th in faceoff percentage (47.9). ).

A big problem is that too much is being asked of many players. This is the case with defender Jeff Petry, whose game has fallen off both ends of the ice. He had 42 points in the shortened 2021 season. Hes on pace for eight points this season, but his game will get a boost when he is reunited with Joel Edmundson, who has been a long-standing casualty.

Nick Suzuki was fine but there is no sign of the chemistry he enjoyed late last season with Cole Caufield who has struggled this season.

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Jake Allen has had it hot and cold, but he hasn’t had much help from the defense and he plays way too many minutes in Price’s absence.

Tyler Toffoli falls into the needs improvement category. He led the team last season with 28 goals and scored 17.7 percent of his shots. No one expected him to maintain that pace, but his 7.4 percent pass rate this season is below his career standard of 11.1 percent.

Defender Alexander Romanov will make mistakes, but his physical play and enthusiasm are a plus and he lives up to expectations.

General manager Marc Bergevin took some nimble steps to improve last season’s roster, but his main contribution this time was to boost the French-language content by adding Mathieu Perreault, Cdric Paquette, David Savard and Sam Montembeault. Perreault and Paquette get incomplete points for being in and out of the lineup with injuries; Savard must be better, though you can’t learn speed, and Montembeault becomes irrelevant when Price returns.

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Bergevin did pick up two players who should influence the power play. Chris Wideman does a good job moving the puck from the point and Mike Hoffman is a proven goalscorer but unfortunately he is on the injured reserve list for the second time this season. He has four goals in 13 games, but has a minus-9 difference.

The other newcomer is Christian Dvorak, who was a last minute signing after Jesperi Kotkaniemi jumped to Carolina. Dvorak wins face-offs, but he is a defensive commitment at minus-16. The Canadiens gave up two draft picks to get their hands on him, but the good news is that the first-rounder will likely be a late-round pick.

Another factor in Canadiens’ poor start is Bergevins’ failure to keep two players who were instrumental in the last seasons playoff run. Corey Perry signed with Tampa Bay after the Canadiens wouldn’t give him a two-year deal. And there was no hope of signing Danault after the Canadiens embarrassed him by leaking details of a contract offer. There was a touch of irony in Danault’s departure, as it was Bergevin who encouraged the Chicago Blackhawks to draft him in 2011, and he brought him to Montreal on a transaction five years later.

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And finally we have to look at the coaching. Dominique Ducharme is the latest in a string of Canadiens coaches to step into the role with no head coaching experience in the NHL. The players insist they’re off to a bad start, but there’s some evidence that the Ducharmes system might be a little too cerebral.

Julian is not ready yet: It seems that Claude Julien is still interested in coaching. Julien, who can afford to take it easy as he has another year of contract with the Canadiens paying him $5 million, has agreed to coach Team Canada at Channel One tournaments in Moscow and the Spengler next month. Cup tournament in Davos. Switzerland.

This announcement is important because if the NHL decides not to participate in the Olympics, Julien and his staff, including Montrealer Blair Mackasey as director of players’ personnel, will lead Team Canada in Beijing.

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