Stu Cowan: Too early to panic, but Canadiens scoring woes a familiar story

Stu Cowan: Too early to panic, but Canadiens  scoring woes a familiar story
Canadiens head coach Claude Julien looks up at the clock behind players, from left, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron Wednesday night at the Bell Centre. Julien says the team just needs a bit of luck to go their way on the goal-scoring front. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Marc Bergevin certainly loves his grinders.

The Canadiens general manager collects fourth-liners like a kid with hockey cards. But while most kids growing up in Montreal around the time the 51-year-old Bergevin did wanted Guy Lafleur cards, he was probably looking for Mario Tremblay, Doug Risebrough and Yvon Lambert in his packs.

Bergevin made it to the NHL as a defenceman — and lasted 20 seasons — as a grinding player with a lot of character and as a GM has been building the Canadiens in that same mould.

The three forwards Bergevin acquired at the NHL trade deadline — Steve Ott, Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen — were all in the lineup for Game 1 and failed to score a goal, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since they have combined for only one goal by King since coming to Montreal. While all three can be considered fourth-liners, King is now playing on the third line with Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen, while Alex Galchenyuk has regressed this season from a first-line centre to a fourth-line winger beside Ott and Martinsen.

It’s another example of the Canadiens somehow sucking the offence out of their most skilled players. Galchenyuk scored 30 goals last season, but has gone downhill since. Missing 21 games with knee injuries this season didn’t help as he finished with 17-27-44 totals in 61 games.

P.K. Subban went from 15 goals with the Canadiens in 2014-15 to six goals last season, followed by a summer trade to Nashville for Shea Weber. Nathan Beaulieu had 11-41-52 totals in 53 games during his final junior season with the Saint John Sea Dogs, but has only 7-53-60 totals in 225 regular-season games with the Canadiens.

Galchenyuk and Beaulieu — both former first-round draft picks by Montreal — can become restricted free agents this summer and, like Subban, could find themselves playing elsewhere next season.

It’s incredible to think a storied franchise like the Canadiens — the old Flying Frenchmen with 24 Stanley Cups — have not had a player finish in the top 10 in NHL scoring for 31 years. The last to do it was Mats Naslund in 1985-86, when he finished eighth with 43-67-110 totals. The Canadiens also won the Stanley Cup that year.

Heading into the Canadiens-Rangers series, I picked Montreal to win in six games, figuring Carey Price would be the difference in a goaltending duel with Henrik Lundqvist. But if Lundqvist continues to play like he did in Game 1, stopping all 31 shots he faced, the Canadiens are in big trouble. The Rangers were also the best road team in the NHL this season.

It’s still too early to panic, but a Game 2 loss would change that, especially if the Canadiens struggle to score again. 

“Let’s remember, it’s a 1-0 game on maybe a little bit of a fluke goal off (Tanner Glass’s) stick and top shelf,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said after practice Thursday about the Rangers’ winning goal in Game 1. “It’s a tight game. I don’t think our team was bad last night, but we feel we can still be better. So that’s the positive thing about moving forward here.”

Julien noted all five playoff games Wednesday night were low-scoring affairs with Boston beating Ottawa 2-1, St. Louis beating Minnesota 2-1 in overtime, Pittsburgh beating Columbus 3-1 and San Jose beating Edmonton 3-2 in OT.

The Bruins won despite having zero shots in the second period, the Blues won with only three shots in the third period and the Penguins won with only three shots in the first period. But those teams all took advantage of scoring chances when they came, while the Canadiens didn’t.

“As you can see, they’re tight games,” Julien said. “You got to make your own bounces and your own breaks and some nights you get them, sometimes you don’t.

“When you win the Stanley Cup, it’s because you’ve had some luck along the way,” added Julien, who won it in 2011 with the Bruins. “You had bounces going your way. You need those things to be part of the game. What we can do right now is control what we can and continue to work hard and try and find more ways to score and try and bear down on those opportunities. But we’re going to hope that at the same time some bounces go our way. Yesterday’s game, if we score the first goal it’s a totally different game.”
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