The coach has talked a lot about the value of Staal’s experience, but the value of his game has been largely negative. And it’s not because the 36-year-old isn’t trying or doing nothing right. He has adapted to the system, has been reasonably well positioned and could have a few more points to his name with a little more luck, but the things he can no longer do have stood out a lot more than he does. can, and should govern evaluation more than past experience.
Ducharme has to be honest with himself about defenseman Jon Merrill’s ability to contribute as well, on a night he struggled as Brett Kulak scored one of two goals the Canadiens scored in that 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is not a puck thrower or an offensive catalyst; he’s a defensive defender who just contains rather than kills, and that’s just not good enough.
“Every day is an audition,” said Ducharme. “You look at the last 10, 15, 20 games, and you generally look at what the guys have been doing throughout the season and on their way to the playoffs, an NHL player auditions every day.
Night after night, Staal and Merrill got a chance to show they can help when it matters most, with Kulak, Evans and Cole Caufield set aside to let them go, but the verdict is out. It seems clear they won’t deliver anything more than what they were meant to be when Marc Bergevin sent mid-picks to the Buffalo Sabers and Detroit Red Wings to acquire them before the trade deadline.
These are depth options, and if the coach doesn’t treat them as such, it’s going to hurt Montreal’s playoff chances and its own future.
He’s a beginner trainer wearing an interim tag. He’s in charge of a group full of future Hall of Fame members, and it’s a tough position to occupy. But this team isn’t going anywhere with players exceeding their bounty taking ice time away from players who deserve it more, and Ducharme has won not coaching them much longer if he doesn’t assert himself in recognition of that.
His job is to make the most of what he has, and if he doesn’t see players like Evans, Caufield and Kulak giving him a better chance of doing so than players failing those auditions night after night, Canadians will not. stand a chance against a team from Toronto who beat them for the seventh time in 10 games to clinch first place in the North Division.
And while this team once again failed to stamp their post-season ticket, they sure qualify and will most likely face the Leafs in the first round.
The Canadiens could have beaten them that night, but they never recovered from a game that changed momentum in the second period. They were leading 2-0 at the Scotiabank Arena when Merrill lost a battle behind his own net, chose the wrong path to close the gap on Pierre Engvall and failed to stop a shot from him after pushing him towards the perimeter.
Engvall scored and Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen should have stopped his shot, but Merrill’s inability to kill the game before he grew this far was a continuation of a habit that goes to the against what he had been told before his arrival in Montreal.
“I don’t think we did a good enough job of finishing the games fast enough in our zone and then turning them into pucks at their end,” said Merrill. “It’s definitely something that we’re looking to do as a team is hit the defensive zone quickly and finish games and get out of our zone and not spend too much time on our end. So that’s something that we are looking to do as a team in every game. “
It’s something Merrill has built his reputation on with the New Jersey Devils, Vegas Golden Knights and Red Wings, but something he hasn’t been able to do consistently in the 11 games he has been playing. ‘he has disputed so far since his exchange in Montreal. It is rated minus nine because of this.
Staal built his resume by being a reliable goalscorer, able to play on both ends of the ice and elevate his game at the right times. But he hasn’t shown any proof this season that he’s still that player.
And yet, chasing Saturday’s game early in the third period, after allowing three unanswered goals in the second, Staal was deployed six times, which was as often as Kotkaniemi and twice as many as Evans. The puck never found his stick in goal position because he never nearly took one.
It is not a coincidence. Staal has only scored two goals and an assist and a minus-10 rating in 19 games with the Habs after scoring three goals and 10 points and a minus-20 in 32 games for Buffalo; it is a reflection of what he is capable of at this point in his remarkable career, his legs not taking him regularly to where he needs to go to benefit from his reach, his size and that precious experience.
You have to understand that Ducharme tries to get the most out of him and Staal tries to maintain a positive attitude.
“I really felt a lot more comfortable with the structure and the system of play,” he said after Saturday’s loss. “I feel like I’ve been close to a lot of stares and offensive twists. I would really love to see them come in, obviously, and that would be important for our group and I understand that. But in the system and the way we play, I really feel like I’m there and I have to contribute the best I can on offense and in whatever situation Dom asks me to play – whatever face-offs or against certain clashes. I will continue to work on it and try to be ready on Monday. “
The problem is, there is a big gap between what Staal feels and what he has shown.
Steps in the right direction in the last two games of the season for him and Merrill would at least provide evidence that they can get into the roster and be effective if other players can’t do their part with the same opportunities. . But when Danault comes back from a concussion, Brendan Gallagher comes back from a broken thumb, Paul Byron heals his lower body injury and Shea Weber repairs his upper body injury, it will be Ducharme to lean on the players. that give the Canadians the best chance of winning.
He has faced an unprecedented schedule and injuries to his most important players as the Habs sailed him, but not leading a meritocracy is a big part of why he is 15-16-5. since he took over from Claude Julien in February. And if he doesn’t do that in the playoffs, it’s going to prove to be even more costly.