NEW YORK, N.Y. — Let’s just get to the heart of it, to the only quantifiable thing that fans in Montreal and beyond care about when it comes to the 2016-17 Canadiens:
Marc Bergevin’s Montreal Canadiens are not.
And that’s that.
Pretty sure Tyler Dellow put it best: “The Germans have a word for this. Subbanfreude.”
From a Canadiens’ perspective, the main on-ice argument for the Subban-for-Shea Weber trade was that it would benefit Montreal in the short term, given that the 31-year-old Weber still had a few effective years in him. The Canadiens won a division title. They lost in the first round. And so they waste another year in that window to win with Weber, much like they wasted those years while Bergervin was in a fox hole watching his friend Michel Therrien burn through packs of smokes while failing to get everything out of his teams.
Losing in the first round isn’t Weber’s fault, mind you. Sure, he was a bit of a drag on possession (minus-0.75 percent Corsi, relative to his teammates at 5-on-5) but had three points in six games. It’s about the principle of the thing: Montreal is a win-now team, and all the Canadiens could do after dropping Game 6 to the New York Rangers was talk about what losing now could mean for winning later.
“It’s a wasted opportunity we have to deal with as a team and individually,” said forward Max Pacioretty. “Hopefully in the long run, it makes us better.”
Pacioretty was the embodiment of that wasted opportunity.
He did mostly everything right: 28 shots on goal, a 59.22 Corsi percentage (adjusted) and a 3.76 expected goals-per-60 at 5-on-5 to lead Montreal. And yet, in the end, he had one assist in six games.
How would he evaluate his own effort?
“I’ll answer that question at the exit” he said.
Pacioretty said he’s been “constantly answering questions about why we’re losing by 1 goal.” Does that mean the Canadiens need more offensive?
“I’m not the GM,” was the reply.
The Rangers had 14 goals in the series, nine of them at 5-on-5. The Canadiens had 11 goals in the series, seven of them at 5-on-5. It was a close series, but ultimately one after which the Canadiens’ offense will be criticized.
“If it had gone the other way, would we have been great [offensively]?” said coach Claude Julien. “That’s what the playoffs are all about. It’s a game of inches.”
Julien was hired with 24 games left in the season, after being fired by the Boston Bruins. He went 16-7-1.
“I think we had offense. I think we lacked finish,” said Julien, failing to note the irony that Artturi Lehkonen was his second-leading playoff scorer. “You need some breaks along the way. You have to earn them. But I thought the guys played hard all along the way.”
The effort was there. That’s the mantra from the Canadiens, and particularly from their captain, who believed that their effort in Game 6 was going to result in a tie game in the third period and a victory.
“There were a lot of opportunities in the third. When New York smelled blood and they really tightened it up defensively and we still got chances … I think everyone on the ice tonight thought we were going to win that game. And we just didn’t,” said Pacioretty.
“Even going into the third period tonight … you know, I’ve been on teams where you’re saying all the right stuff and at the end of the day there’s a little bit of doubt in your mind that you can do it. So this one feels really weird and really, really bad because there was never a doubt in my mind. Even with 10 minutes to go in that period, there was never a doubt in my mind that our season [wouldn’t] end tonight. And that makes it a lot harder.”
A first-round defeat wasn’t what Bergevin envisioned when he traded Subban for Weber. It wasn’t what he pictured when he fired Therrien before he hired Julien. A first-round defeat where the Montreal offense was basically Alexander Radulov and 17 guys looking for a lucky bounce wasn’t what Bergevin had in mind.
But Pacioretty thinks that while a championship wasn’t there, the Canadiens remain on a path to one.
“When we talk with coaches and with management and with ownership, individuals know where they stand with this team. It often doesn’t line up with outside perception, and I don’t expect it to. But it’s nice knowing that we have coaches, teammates, management … everyone in this organization from top to bottom who trusts us that we’re doing the right thing, in terms of the process,” he said. “The result wasn’t there. But when we talk about the process, and not focusing on the end result but the process, I believe that was there.”
Trust the players. Trust the process. And trust that one of the most controversial trades in the history of the Montreal Canadiens will result in a championship their general manager claimed they were close to winning after swapping star defensemen.
“If you don’t win your last game, you’re not happy,” said Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber. “There are 29 teams that aren’t going to be happy.”
As of the second round, we know Shea Weber is on an unhappy team. There’s still a chance P.K. Subban is on the one that will be in the end.
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