Michael Cammalleri had to wait 25 months to get his crack at the Montreal Canadiens after being traded. Three days after being dealt to the Vancouver Canucks, Raphael Diaz is already gearing up for his return.
The Swiss rearguard was sent to the Canucks on Monday in a deal that brought Dale Weise to the Canadiens. Now, with each player having played one game for their new club, we'll get to see them lineup against each other on the Bell Centre ice.
Weise, lining up on a fourth unit alongside Ryan White and Michael Bournival, acquitted himself well in his first time out. He played almost thirteen minutes, which is 1.5x his average TOI in Vancouver. He immediately fulfilled what many envisioned to be his full potential, skating and banging on an aggressive, "real" fourth line for the Habs. The Dutch legend also skated to the team's highest corsi, raking in 68.2% of shot attempts while he was on the ice and generally running roughshod over one of the league's worst lines.
In terms of competition, Weise may get a similar opportunity tonight. The Canucks fourth line of Kellan Lain, Zac Dalpe, and Tom Sestito is deployed in a manner seemingly designed around bleeding as few shot attempts against as possible, while also not wasting precious offensive zone starts. This line may not be as bad as one that includes both Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth, but they won't be far off in their seven minutes per night. An improved fourth line is one of a small number of benefits of the Diaz-Weise swap, and if the Habs can roll an extra line, it may offer them an advantage over an opponent that hasn't been able to do so in some time.
Of course, there's a second factor that improved Montreal's fourth line against Calgary, and that's the return of the indefatigable Ryan White. White played almost fourteen minutes of even strength, including some tough minutes against Calgary's top offensive layers while the game was on the line at the end of the third period. White was thrown into the fire with very little in the way of shelter, and played an energetic and effective game. If he can maintain this standard of play, his return could be a boon to a Canadiens team that has lacked the depth they relied on last season.
While Weise looked solid in his first game in the Sainte Flanelle, and Ryan White was an important cog, the player who made the most impressive debut on Tuesday night was the Canucks new defender, Diaz. Stepping into a ravaged Canucks defensive corps, Diaz reeled off the best possession numbers on the team in more than 25 minutes. Diaz played on both the powerplay and the penalty kill, but perhaps most astoundingly, exhibited a little bit of offensive flair. Given ample opportunity to start his shifts in the offensive zone, Diaz managed to hit the net with 8 (eight!) shots, and even scored a goal. All of this took place in a game against a high quality opponent, the Boston Bruins; a team against which Michel Therrien did not even dress Diaz last week.
When the Habs played the Canucks earlier this season, Montreal emerged victorious. However, it was one of the first games this season in which the Habs were outplayed, and Carey Price stood on his head to take the victory. That game would end up being symbolic for both teams.
The Canadiens have made a habit of relying on Price, even to the point where the team has faltered as result of their inability to push the puck toward the opponent's end. The Canucks, meanwhile, have kept their heads above water from a possession standpoint, but their merely average shooting and goaltending has betrayed them at times.
The Vancouver Canucks, recognizing the significance of recent injuries to Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis, did the improbable by acquiring a top four defenceman for virtually nothing. Meanwhile, in reacting to the Diaz deal, Andrew observed that fans and commentators around the Canadiens struggled to quantify his value. Tonight, that's going to change. Now that the Canadiens have knowingly and permanently handicapped their defensive depth, we're about to find out what Diaz is worth.
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