The deficiencies of the Canadian in defense were never so obvious Thursday night against the Jets.
With just under two minutes to go, and a one-goal deficit, goaltender Jake Allen benched for a sixth skater, Joel Edmundson was sent into the fray with Shea Weber in an attempt to draw a tie. .
Edmundson is having a terrific season defensively, but he's never amassed more than 20 points in a year, and he's not known for his offensive prowess.
Who else to send? Alexander Romanov and Jeff Petry were barely coming off the ice, Victor Mete had been drying off the bench since the start of the third period and Brett Kulak is arguably the least creative defender in the group.
It was also probably too early, with 1: 50 to go, to send a fifth forward in his place.
The defense situation has improved since the catastrophic summer of 2017. But the Canadian is still missing an essential ingredient to aspire to top team status.
The absence of Markov still looms. That year, let us remember, the Russian offensive defender returned to his country after heated negotiations with Marc Bergevin.
Markov did not help himself by firing his agent and negotiating on his own, and Bergevin probably should have put a little water in his wine.
Alexei Emelin was lost in the enlargement draft, Nathan Beaulieu was traded amid fears of losing him in that draft, and the organization's top prospect Mikhail Sergachev moved to the Lightning in return for Jonathan Drouin.
In the space of a few weeks, the CH had just lost four left-handed defenders, including two resolutely offensive.
The transaction for Drouin hurts today. It is perhaps the only one that Marc Bergevin regrets. At the time, the playoff offense against the Rangers was pitiful and we expected to lose his best element, Alexander Radulov, already drawn to the Texas dollars. The decision could be defended, especially since Drouin was only 22 years old.
Four years later, Drouin, 26, is heading for another 45-50 point season. Unless there is a spectacular turnaround, there will remain the winger we have in front of us. A good little striker, creative, fast, skillful, but a peripheral player, so not a threat to the opposing goalkeeper, and not necessarily the player either to pull the team. Even his greatest accomplice, Dominique Ducharme, had no effect on him.
Sergachev, 22, has become a vital defender in Tampa. He's played 24 minutes in the last two games, and his usage time stands at 10:15 pm this season. Only the great Victor Hedman plays more. He is heading for a second season of over 40 points.
But we will not solve anything by ruminating on the mistakes of the past. The arrival last year of Ben Chiarot, then Joel Edmundson and rookie Alexander Romanov this year, have closed important gaps. They forget about Karl Alzner, Mark Streit, Mike Reilly, Brandon Davidson, Jakub Jerabek and company.
But there is still an essential element missing. Chiarot and Edmundson are not known for their offensive qualities. We miss Chiarot, but the duo he formed with Shea Weber before getting injured was having a tough night.
It's even worse with Brett Kulak replacing him in the top four. Jeff Petry seems to miss Edmundson. He has obtained 5 points in 12 games since losing his regular partner. He had amassed 24 in 23 games with Edmundson ...
Kulak has interesting mobility and he's not a bad defender, but he doesn't generate any attacks. When it rushes towards the neutral zone with the disc, blinders seem to open mechanically. While moving with the disc, he is unable to spot anyone. He will send the puck to the back of the territory or die with it in a corner.
With the decline of Shea Weber, already not a master of the five-on-five transition game, only Petry is capable of generating offense in the top four. Not normal that Petry is one of the only defenders employed in overtime.
Zdeno Chara has aged well in Boston despite his lack of mobility thanks to a formidable young partner, Charlie McAvoy. Weber does not yet have that luxury.
There is hope, of course. Alexander Romanov, without being the announced Chris Chelios or the P. K. Subban, has a certain offensive touch. But he is still green to give him greater responsibilities. There are more difficult evenings, like Thursday for example. He's only 21 years old, just starting to cut his teeth in the NHL, but he's sure to be a top four member for many years to come.
Jordan Harris has what the Canadiens are looking for. The CH did everything to put him under contract last month. We will have to wait another year for it. Mattias Norlinder is still studying in Sweden. He had a typical match a few days ago: two spectacular goals, but also deficiencies in defense. He won't come to America for at least a year.
The top pick of 2020, Kaiden Guhle, and Jayden Struble, two lefties like Romanov, Harris and Norlinder, will be knocking on doors within a year or two.
In the meantime, what do we do? Maybe we give Otto Leskinen a chance, smoking in Laval this season. We hope for the return of Ben Chiarot and we cling to this strong defense, but not very gifted offensively, asking the attackers to fall back even more to help them restart the attack.
Or we call colleagues a few days before the transaction deadline for support. But defenders who are both defensively responsible and gifted on offense are rather rare to find.
The Canadian has been improving since 2018. He will make the playoffs this spring. With any luck, he'll win a round, or two, ahead of the under pressure Maple Leafs. But Andrei Markov still lacks a successor to earn the Cup title.
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