Montreal Canadiens Defence

The Montreal Canadiens are making some changes on the blue line. TSN reports David Schlemko “could” be back this week. As Schlemko told the Montreal Gazette. “I’m not a trainer and I haven’t been cleared (to play), but I’m hoping for Saturday.” This news came around the same time it was reported that Mark Streit had been placed on waivers.

Montreal Canadiens Defence in Transition

The Canadiens signed defenceman Mark Streit to a one-year contract in July. However, the Streit news should surprise no one. Always a gamble, he never found his feet in Montreal. Today, he was placed on waivers after two uninspired games, and a poor pre-season, with the Montreal Canadiens. The experiment appears to be over. Whether it was Streit’s age, speed, or the complexity of Montreal’s nascent defensive system, his long and notable career in the NHL may be over. The Habs will find out tomorrow at noon whether he cleared waivers.

As Benn Kerr noted, Streit was originally drafted by the Canadiens in 2004. In 11 NHL Seasons, he scored 96 goals and 338 assists for 434 points in 784 career NHL games. He has played for the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and New York Islanders. Last year, he was part of a Stanley Cup Champion team with the Pittsburgh Penguins. As LWOH’s own Nick Lariviere points out, the NHL is a league of youth and speed. There is not a lot of room for a defenceman who cannot skate or contribute offensively.

Waiting for David’s Debut

If reports that David Schlemko could play against the Toronto Maple Leafs come to fruition, the Canadiens defence will add an essential off-season acquisition. General manager Marc Bergevin acquired Schlemko from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2019 fifth-round draft pick. He put up two goals and 18 points in 62 games with San Jose. Overall, in a career spanning 360 NHL games, he has scored 17 goals and 87 points.

Sam Feder, of Cerebral Puck, suggests Schlemko’s possession numbers and ability to improve his teammate’s play classifies him as a puck-moving defenceman, behind the struggling Jeff Petry and dearly missed Andrei Markov. In a Sports Illustrated feature, Schlemko’s strong skating and shot attempt differential numbers were reportedly key elements in the negotiations that led him to sign to a four-year, $8.4 million contract in San Jose. The Vegas Golden Knights claimed Schlemko from the San Jose Sharks in the expansion draft.

A New Top Four?

As I suggested in previous articles, the Habs are struggling to adapt to Julien’s defensive zone system this season. In short, moving from a man coverage system to a zone system requires splitting the ice into zones. By working together, successful teams manage puck possession and force low percentage shots on goal. To be successful, Julien’s system requires constant communication and adaptation. The biggest challenge is that defensive players need to understand their partners.

There simply hasn’t been enough time to settle into the new roles and responsibilities associated with this whole-team defensive system. New defensive partnerships mean the growing pains will continue. Pat Hickey suggests Schlemko could get a look on the top pair with Shea Weber. This would displace Victor Mete. While Mete has looked good, overall the defence has looked uneven at times and poor at others. As LWOH’s own Nick Lariviere has observed improving the Habs defensive core is essential.

Toward Stability

Despite the defensive challenges so far this season, the Canadiens are slowly finding out what defensive personnel is most likely to mount a successful campaign this year. It remains an open question about whether they have the talent, the speed, and agility required to compete in a league in which teams are getting faster and faster.

In the interests of stability, Victor Mete may stay on the top pair with Shea Weber. This would mean Julien is hoping Petry and Alzner can start to play better together. This partnership looked good on paper but neither defenceman has played well so far this season. The pairing has been on the ice for 4 goals against and contributed only one assist. This would mean Schlemko will start on the third pairing, likey with Jordie Benn. Benn has looked shaky and struggled on the first pairing with Shea Weber. In the home opener, it was Benn’s clearing attempt that was picked off by Patrick Sharp. He set up Alex DeBrincat for the first goal of the game.

Upcoming Game

The first test of this new look defence will be this weekend. The Montreal Canadiens face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Center on Saturday, October 14. Game time is 7:00 pm EST.

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