The transformation of the Canadiens’ defense over the past year has been nothing short of spectacular.
Posted at 11:35 a.m.
Updated at 14:52
We recall that on this date in 2021, Alexander Romanov’s star visibly paled. That leaves Joel Edmundson on the current roster, who played a starring role at the end of last season and during the playoffs. We could also mention the name of Jeff Petry, but he’s injured, and we don’t know if he’ll play again this season or if he’ll ever play for the Canadian again.
Many are those who have left, as many are those who have arrived. Some have even appeared and disappeared in the meantime, greetings here to Sami Niku.
One thing that has never changed, however, is a point of pride for Luke Richardson, the Canadiens’ head of defense on the coaching staff: the “culture” of this group.
The famous top 4 of spring 2021, Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Edmundson and Petry, of course, has made a lot of noise. But beyond the performances on the ice, the esprit de corps that animated the Canadian’s defenders at this time was spectacular. That even included Richardson, by the way.
“I think I speak for all the defenders in saying: We would break a wall for him, because we know he would break a wall for us,” Chiarot said in June.
Ten months and multiple changes later, the perception, at least from the outside, remains the same. Obviously, that’s not wishful thinking, though the defense has gotten a lot younger since then.
“It’s a sign of a good team,” Richardson said Wednesday during a chat with members of the press.
“We implemented things last year, and I think the guys enjoyed what they went through. It won’t go away, it’s here forever. There is a strong culture here: we are not happy with this season and we will do everything to come back. It may take some time, but we’ll be back. »
These days, All-Montreal only features Jordan Harris and Justin Barron, newcomers to the team. The two embody, more or less reluctantly, the idea of change for the followers who so badly need hope.
The cultural ambassadors Richardson speaks of are therefore Edmundson and David Savard, by far the most experienced skaters in the current state of defense. Romanov is only in his second NHL season, and Corey Schueneman, despite his 26 years, is playing his first.
The assistant coach couldn’t be happier with the way ‘Eddy’ and ‘Savvy’ welcome and mentor newcomers.
“They play a very important role,” Richardson said. They calm things down, on the ice and in the locker room. […] They have fun with the kids and make them feel like colleagues, not recruits. Help the kids get their bearings. By extension, “it helps the whole team,” she added.
The two veterans are a boon to coaches, Richardson again acknowledged. “When the youngsters come back to the bench, during a game, they can spend time with them; not to train them, but to give them little advice, talk to them. To be good companions, definitely. It’s huge for us. »
Barron, who scored his first NHL goal Tuesday night, also appreciated the advice the two deans gave him.
Recent visits to Sunrise, Raleigh and Tampa against three of the league’s top teams were no easy challenges for inexperienced defenders. “It was good to have older guys, both on the bench and in training,” admitted the youngster.
Both Barron and Harris are also very good students, Richardson said. Both are “soaking up a lot of information” and seem excited by the opportunity to show themselves among the best.
In junior, in college and even in the American League, sometimes you can be less intense and still get ahead. In the NHL, you can’t take anything lightly. Especially a defender, you don’t want to get caught.
But, he insists, Barron and Harris “are good guys that, in addition, “they don’t want to play only in defense”. “They skate so well that we want to use their skills and energy on offense. When you defend well and smartly, even if you’re not the biggest player, you can generate a lot offensively. »
On Tuesday, after the game against the Ottawa Senators, head coach Martin St-Louis praised Richardson’s “calmness” in his approach to youngsters, allowing them to “feel safe” and be “receptive to constructive criticism.” “.
To use a familiar expression, Barron, Harris, even Schueneman and Romanov, are all there to learn. Everything suggests that they are in good hands.
Lucas Richardson in…
“When he was called up for the first time, during the holidays, it was very difficult for the team, but he showed that he could take his chance. On the next callback, his name was at the top of the list. »
“He’s mature and he skates effortlessly, which is good in this league, and more so in the style of play that Martin St-Louis espouses. »
“It’s a nice surprise. He’s cool with the puck and he’s got a good shot, so he’s on the power play. He has good instincts. »
The progression of Alexander Romanov
“He skates well, makes subtle plays, can shoot, play physically; he has all the attributes of a solid defender. […] Before, he was quick to get rid of the puck, whereas now he makes good use of the space in front of him to carry the puck. He’s not just a great defender looking for the big shot. »
Romanov absent in extra time
“He has a lot of energy, but his style of play is exhausting. When he’s tired, he gets rid of the puck more, and you can’t do that in overtime. Already, we shorten his presence at the end of the third period. He is progressing well, chances will come. »
“He always impressed me when I was playing in Columbus, and even last year in Tampa. He is not the fastest guy, but he is unpredictable for the opponent. Sometimes all it takes is a little feint with the head and shoulder. That’s a good nickname for him, Savvy [en français : rusé, sensé]. He brings character to the dressing room and has good authority with the referees. Young people learn from this. »
“It was a perfect fit last year, given the way we were playing. He solidified our defense. He is also a great professional. During his recovery, when he came to train with us, we saw him talking to everyone, pushing the youngsters. [L’entraîneur adjoint] Trevor Letowski, who did not know him, was impressed to see the difference that a single player could make in a single training session. With everything that has happened and the personnel changes, he has taken the lead. We even see him support the attack. He had been waiting a long time for his opportunity to play a leading role; he grabs it and makes the most of it. The team and the youngsters benefit from it, and so does he. »