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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 6, 2020
After a disappointing regular season, the Canadiens will get an unexpected fresh start if the NHL can pull off its planned 24-team post-season.
The Canadiens (31-31-9) will be big underdogs against the Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6) in their best-of-five qualifying-round series, but there might be some hope for Montreal fans.
The Canadiens play a fast, up-tempo system that has gotten them off to quick starts in each of the last two seasons before they faded. They started this season with a 4-2-2 record and were 5-1-2 after eight games last season. In a short series with all their players healthy and rested, that could work to the Canadiens’ advantage — especially if goalie Carey Price is at the top of his game.
“Well, I hope it is,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said during a conference call Thursday when asked if his team’s speed and fast pace of play could be an advantage. “I think not just guys rested, but excited, right? They haven’t played in a while, so the excitement, the rest and everything you hope will help you along the way.
“I don’t think, honestly, it would matter who we play,” Julien added. “I think the biggest thing right now for me is the experience that some of our young players will be getting. Every year when I meet with you guys (in the media) and for most teams it’s like: ‘What’s your goal?’ Well, it’s easy to say our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, but in order to win the Stanley Cup you got to make the playoffs first and foremost. I always say that: I say our goal is to make the playoffs because once you make the playoffs — you’ve seen it before, you saw it with St. Louis last year — it’s anybody’s game. It’s who’s playing the best hockey at the most important time of the year.
“So I’m enjoying the fact that we’re having the opportunity and that we can go in there and have some playoff experience,” the coach added. “But not just that. We’re not just looking for experience, we’re looking to win. That’s the bottom line. If you’re going to get better as a team you need to win and the ethic of our sport is about winning. We want to do exactly just that. There’s going to be some opportunities for a lot of players here to live an experience they haven’t lived yet. So we look forward to that.”
The Canadiens had a 1-1-1 record this season against the Penguins. The Canadiens won 4-1 in Pittsburgh on Dec. 10 and lost both games in Montreal, 3-2 in overtime on Jan. 4 and 4-1 on Feb. 14.
I wouldn’t bet on the Canadiens beating the Penguins, but if one thing is true about the NHL playoffs it’s that anything can happen.
Who would have predicted the Columbus Blue Jackets would sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs last year? The Lightning (62-16-4) had the best record in the NHL during the regular season — 21 points better than any other team — and finished 30 points ahead of the Blue Jackets (47-31-4).
The Calgary Flames (50-25-7), who had the second-best record in the NHL last season, lost to the Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14) in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
Juggling act for Julien
With a young team that includes two key players who have never played an NHL playoff game — Max Domi and Nick Suzuki — Julien will have a bit of a juggling act on his hand as he balances experience and youth against the Penguins.
Victor Mete, Brett Kulak, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling have also never played in an NHL playoff game, while Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron have only played in one playoff series, when the Canadiens lost to the New York Rangers in six games three years ago.
“To me it’s about giving your players confidence,” Julien said. “I think when you show confidence in your players a lot of times they’re able to come out there and give you your best and probably play their best kind of hockey. For me, I say it often: it’s about coaching. You get in certain situations in a game where you say: If we want to win this game, I got to lean a little bit more on my veterans. There’s other times in the game you say: Listen, our young guys have to come up here and really help out because we don’t want to over-utilize our veterans. You balance things out depending on the situation of the game.
“But I think, at the end of the day, what’s most important is having confidence in your players and showing confidence in them that: Hey, listen, I know you can go out there and do the job and give them an opportunity to gain some experience. But also, I guess, growing in a really positive atmosphere and manner. So that’s what we do as coaches. We try and manage that the best we can. At the end of the day, it’s about winning. So when things get to a point where you got to make some tough decisions, you make them. And that doesn’t mean you sit out young guys. It just means you put out the best players you have to put out at that time.”
Captain Shea Weber leads the Canadiens with 65 games of playoff experience, followed by Karl Alzner (64), Price (60), Brendan Gallagher (40) and Dale Weise (40). Price has a losing record in the playoffs (25-31).
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has played in 164 career playoff games and teammate Evgeni Malkin has played in 162. They both have three Stanley Cup rings.
Byron, Charles Hudon, Laurent Dauphin and goalie Michael McNiven were the only players to skate Friday at the Canadiens’ practice rink in Brossard as Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan continues.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Friday that Phase 3 (training camps) is now tentatively set to begin on July 13 with teams scheduled to report to the hub cities (expected to be Toronto and Edmonton) on July 26. Games are tentatively set to begin on Aug. 1.
Catching up with Mike Ribeiro
Louis-André Larivière of the Journal de Montréal wrote a story about former Canadiens forward Mike Ribeiro , who was back in Montreal recently to attend his father’s funeral.
Ribeiro seemed to fall of the face of the earth after playing his final NHL game with the Nashville Predators in 2017. Even Ribeiro’s agent, Bob Perno, didn’t know where he was.
“When I retired, I decided that I was going to do what I want,” Ribeiro said during an interview with TVASports.ca after an exclusive interview on the La Poche bleue podcast . “I was not going to answer anyone. It may not have been the best way, but since I was very young, I did whatever I was asked. I was about to be 40 years old and I told myself that when I retired, I was going to party …”
Ribeiro earned a well-deserved reputation as a party boy during his six seasons with the Canadiens and that played a big role in him being traded to the Dallas Stars on Sept. 30, 2006 in exchange for defenceman Janne Niinimaa and a fifth-round pick at the 2007 NHL Draft (Andrew Conboy).
“If I had taken care of my body and focused on hockey 100 per cent, I would have helped a team win a Stanley Cup,” Ribeiro said in the Journal de Montréal story.
“Once I was 40, I changed my lifestyle,” he added. “I wanted to show my children another side of me. I wanted to stay close to them. And health is very important.”
Ribeiro said he would now like to get into coaching.
COVID-19 test not fun for Habs’ Weise
Dale Weise has returned to Montreal ahead of Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan.
Weise took some questions from fans on Twitter and one asked if the COVID-19 test he had to take hurt.
“Big time, take a swab shove it as far up your nose as you can for ten seconds!” Weise responded.
Another fan asked how Weise feels about leaving his family behind once players report to their hub city for post-season games.
“Don’t feel very good about it at all,” Weise responded. When asked how his family is doing, Weise responded: “My family is incredible my twins are talking and running around and my 6 month old pup is the best thanks for asking!”
When asked what he’s looking forward to most now, Weise responded: “Just being with the guys it ended so abruptly and that was it so just getting back together will be great!”
Welcome to the NHL Moment
Former Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban talking about his Welcome to the NHL Moment — which involved Chris Pronger with the Philadelphia Flyers — is pretty funny:
Happy birthday to a couple of former Expos players.
Moises Alou turned 54 on Friday, while original Expo Coco LaBoy turned 80.
Photo of the Day
Former Canadiens defenceman Lyle Odelein with the Columbus Blue Jackets:
Video of the Day — Part 1
Yet another reason to love dogs:
Video of the Day — Part 2
With MLB teams starting to work out again in preparation for the delayed start to the season, it’s perfect timing to watch again my favourite scene from the movie Bull Durham:
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020