Canadiens hope to learn from disappointing campaign
Montreal struggled with injuries, offence in 'challenge year'
The Montreal Canadiens are hoping they learned lessons from a disappointing 2017-18 season.
Montreal fell 4-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night finishing the season 29-40-13. For the second time in three years they'll be on the outside looking in when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next week. Heading into the NHL draft lottery later this month, the Habs have the fourth best odds of landing the top selection in June's NHL Draft at 9.5 per cent.
"You have to remember it. It's a wasted season if you haven't learned your lessons," said Brendan Gallagher, the club's leading scorer with 31 goals and 54 points. "If we don't learn from it, we're going to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
"Hopefully we can learn and get better and when we do come out, hopefully on the winning side, it's that much more rewarding. It's definitely been tough playing these games."
Injuries exacerbate struggles
Claude Julien admitted the club expected struggles this season, but things were exacerbated by a plethora of injuries. In total, Montreal lost 369 man games to injury, including captain Max Pacioretty (knee) and top defenceman Shea Weber (foot) combining to miss 65 games. Superstar goaltender Carey Price also struggled with injuries, playing in only 49 games.
"This year was supposed to be a bit of a challenge year, but not to the point it turned out," said the Canadiens coach.
"When you have the number of injuries and casualties we've had all year, it certainly puts a dagger in your plans because you're relying on a lot of young players that could've used those experienced guys around them to make them better."
Those who did play all 82 games for the Canadiens this season weren't altogether comfortable.
Defenceman Karl Alzner, who joined the Canadiens in the off-season after nine seasons with the Washington Capitals, struggled adjusting to a new system.
"It wasn't easy and there was a lot of times where I personally didn't feel comfortable out there," he said. "Just times where things didn't seem certain and when there's uncertainty on the ice, then you play slow and you can't close on top players. I wasn't too happy with it."
Bevy of defencemen used
A total of 14 different defencemen dressed at some point in the season. In addition to Weber, the Habs also lost rookie Victor Mete (finger) to injury.
Jeff Petry, one of a group of blue liners tasked with stepping up in Weber's absence, finished the season averaging over 23-minutes a night in ice time — a career high for the 30-year-old.
"With Webs going down, it presented ourselves with different challenges," Petry said. "Guys having to step up and having to eat those minutes and new partners.
"It wasn't as smooth as everybody intended it to be. You find your partner and you find your niche and work on things. There's definitely been some challenges there with new partners, new faces, guys aren't in the system."
'We know we need to get better'
Petry pointed to rookie Noah Juulsen, a benefactor of the injuries on the blue line, as a bright spot this season.
The 21-year-old appeared in 23 games after being recalled from the American Hockey League's Laval Rocket, and registered a goal and two helpers while averaging over 19 minutes a night in ice time on a pairing with Alzner.
"He came in and he played well for us," said Petry. "He does all the little things right. He's not going to go out and do the flashy things, but he's a guy that can be relied on, plays a strong defensive game, moves the puck well."
Montreal now heads into the off-season with eight restricted or unrestricted free-agents, and plenty of room for improvement.
"We know we need to get better, and that's a fact," said Julien. "We're going to work on getting better with evaluations to be made and everything coming up, we're going to try everything we can to improve our team, but at least we know the direction we want to go in and that's important right now."