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Hickey on Hockey: Canadiens playoff push stalls as offence disappears

Hickey on Hockey: Canadiens  playoff push stalls as offence disappears
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The result Friday — a 2-1 win for the Islanders — would indicate that the Islanders have done a better job of addressing their weaknesses. After two seasons at or near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders are closing in on a playoff spot because they have the best defensive record in the NHL. They have allowed only 2.34 goals a game.

Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens keeps his eyes on the puck during the game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on March 14, 2019, in Uniondale, New York. Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

As for the Canadiens, they are a better offensive team than they were a year ago but, as they have reached that part of the season when playoff berths are on the line and it becomes more difficult to score, the Canadiens are coming up short.

The Canadiens have only two wins in their last six games and the offence, which is averaging 2.96 goals a game, has produced only 12 goals during that span and two of them were empty-netters. Defenceman Jordie Benn was the only Canadien to score on Long Island and the failure of the forwards to produce means the road to the playoffs has turned into an uphill slog.

And now for something different: It’s St. Patrick’s weekend and what better time to reflect on the Irish contributions to the great game of hockey?

While hockey is associated with Canada and the game began here, its roots can be found in the Irish game of hurling, which supplied two of hockey’s essential ingredients — sticks and violence.

The Irish were active participants in the game’s development and growth. The Montreal Shamrocks won the Stanley Cup in 1899 and 1900 and, while the Canadiens have always been regarded as a French team, it was the creation of Irish-Canadian John Ambrose O’Brien and son of Erin, George Kennedy, was the owner when the Canadiens began play in the NHL in 1917.

There have been only two Irish-born players in the NHL and they both hailed from Belfast. Most fans will remember Owen Nolan, a hard-nosed forward who started his career with the Nordiques, but the other player is Jim McFadden, who is the answer to the trivia question: Who won the Calder Trophy is 1948?

The Irish are known for their toughness and there have been numerous examples of that quality displayed by NHL players of Irish descent.

Consider the case of Hall of Famer Lester Patrick. The Drummondville native first came to prominence playing for McGill University and went on to a pro career that saw him win six Stanley Cups as a player, coach and general manager.

He was behind the New York Rangers’ bench on April 7, 1928, when his starting goaltender, Lorne Chabot, suffered an eye injury when he was hit by a puck in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final against the Montreal Maroons. This was the era before backup goaltenders and the 44-year-old Patrick became the oldest player to play in a Stanley Cup final when he replaced Chabot. He stopped 18 of 19 shots and the Rangers won in overtime.

Brendan Shanahan, president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, combined skill and toughness on his way to the Hall of Fame. He’s in the all-time top 30 in points (1,354) and penalty minutes (2,489).

Then, there’s my good friend Chris (Knuckles) Nilan. He had 313 fights in the NHL to rank third behind Tie Domi and Dave (Tiger) Williams. Nilan collected 3,043 penalty minutes, which is the ninth-highest total in NHL history.

The list of former Canadiens with Irish roots in the Hall of Fame starts with Joe Malone, who came from the once vibrant Irish community in Quebec City. It also includes Dickie Moore and Bob Gainey as well as Buddy O’Connor, who won the Hart Trophy with the Rangers after many years with the Royals and the Canadiens, and Dick Duff, who was part of several Stanley Cup wins in Montreal after a long career with the Leafs.

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