There were several points during the Montreal Canadiens’ 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night where I thought about something that Canadiens executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton said during the team’s press conference.
It was when he was discussing the firing of Dominique Ducharme, Gorton explained why he made a move after initially saying he was safe until the end of the season.
He said that the team’s play was deteriorating and that there is still a lot of development to have done.
There’s no question that the team’s play was better on Thursday, and a lot of that was their play in the defensive zone. Jeff Petry was discussing what changed. He said that the game plan was simpler, with less switching, and that resulted in less time spent in the defensive zone. The numbers — and the eye test — backed that up.
Later in the media availability, St. Louis was asked to elaborate on the changes he implemented.
“If you’re not close to someone you’re not doing your job,” St. Louis said. “If there are two guys close to one guy, someone is open [...] You have to know what’s going on around the ice while doing your job.”
It was almost jarring to see St. Louis almost immediately pinpoint and correct something that has plagued the team through several coaching changes, whether intentional or not.
That takes me to the comments on Ducharme. The play of Cayden Primeau is not good. He needs to go back to the American Hockey League and work on things there. He’s still young, and most fourth goaltenders would struggle in the situation he’s in. If Samuel Montembeault, who came in relief, is playing hurt as many suggest, then the Canadiens absolutely need to bring in another goaltender.
With only two of their 50 contract slots left open, it’s not as simple as signing a goaltender to get them through the stretch where Michael McNiven, Jake Allen, and Carey Price work their way back. They do, however, have 16 NHL contracts counting outside the NHL team, whether in the AHL with Laval, junior, or Europe. They could conceivably trade one of them for a goaltender.
General manager Kent Hughes said that they aren’t looking to improve their day-to-day situation but Primeau’s development should be considered more important than improving the goaltending simply to try to sneak a few more wins at the NHL level. It might hurt to lose some organizational depth on defence by trading someone like Sami Niku or Corey Schueneman (as an example), but if you can get some much-needed goaltending help that allows Primeau to develop, there are more positives.
With the defence improving, it’s hard to see results when you are quickly down 2-0 and 4-1 on goals you should have had saves on. This isn’t only to blame the team’s goaltending, but at this point, to quote Gorton, a lot of development needs to happen and for Primeau, it’s not happening in the NHL.
It is extremely early in the St. Louis era. He has yet to have a full practice with the team. The fact that some changes are already noticeable is a step in the right direction, but until the team is able to settle down their goaltending situation, it will take some time for the changes to show in the results.