The Montreal Canadiens are among a handful of teams who have been given a “second wind” due to this summer’s expanded postseason. Regardless of the circumstances, the Habs find themselves playoff-bound for the first time since 2016-17. Their opponents? Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Canadiens are a fascinating team this time around for a few reasons. For one, they have one eye on drafting, player development, and building for the future. On the other hand, there’s a large part of the fan base which fancies their chances against the Pens and will relish the opportunity to “go for it” in the ever-transcending National Hockey League playoffs.
Many players on the Canadiens steal the headlines with the likes of Nick Suzuki, Shea Weber, Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, and of course star goaltender Carey Price. However, Montreal also has several other key contributors and unsung heroes whose play often goes unnoticed. Who exactly are these unsung heroes in la belle province, and what sort of impact could they have when the puck drops on the postseason in 5 days? Let’s read on and find out.
Phillip Danault, Center
Phillip Danault starts us off as one of the most underrated and underappreciated two-way centers in the NHL. Since coming over in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks, Danault has established himself as an elite centerman who excels at both the offensive and defensive ends of the rink. As someone watching from afar, it’s been a sincere pleasure seeing him grow as a player and perfecting his craft to become a dominant two-way force each and every night. As his stellar play increased, so did his ice-time (and responsibility), averaging 18:51 per game this year, a new career-high.
Last week, the National Hockey League released its nominees for the Frank J. Selke Trophy-awarded annually to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game. Unfortunately. (and much to the chagrin of Habs fans), Danault just missed out on the cut. Be that as it may, he is still a phenomenal and graceful player, who’s strong play continues to increase. Against the high-powered Penguins, Danault will surely be matched head-to-head against Crosby. He’ll also be heavily leaned on by head coach Claude Julien, in his attempts to thwart the Penguins all series long.
Victor Mete, Defenseman
Up next is 22-year-old, Victor Mete, coming in as one of the smallest defensemen in the NHL. Listed at 5’8, 182 pounds, size certainly isn’t his strong suit. Luckily for the Canadiens, he excels at just about everything else. Since breaking into the Habs top-4, Mete has been nothing short of spectacular. His speed, gap control, smarts, and distribution skills hallmark one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. Often playing second-fiddle to the likes of Shea Weber and Jeff Petry on the Montreal blue-line, Mete has enjoyed a good run of success playing 16 minutes per game with a plus-five rating. Mete will be one to watch and raring to go ahead of his very first playoff game.
For the Habs to have any success against the heavily-favored Penguins, they will need Mete (and the rest of the D-core) to be at their very best. Although not the flashiest of players, Mete has been a solid performer under Claude Julien who has come to trust the youngster, specifically at 5 on 5 play. Look for Mete to play a big role in the play-in round.
Joel Armia, Right-Wing
Finnish winger Joel Armia rounds out our list as one of general manager Marc Bergevin’s best and “least talked about” acquisitions. After coming over in a trade from the Winnipeg Jets, this past season saw Armia’s game take off, setting career highs in goals (16), points (30), and ice-time (17:14). A big, versatile winger, Armia’s value is his ability to move up and down the lineup, and provide “punch” in Montreal’s top-nine forward group. He’s also shown that he has a real knack for goal while donning the red white, and blue of Montreal.
When you think of the Canadiens, names like Tomas Tatar, Drouin, Domi, and Gallagher often receive most of the accolades. However, in just 58 games this season, the 6’4, Finnish winger has been turning heads with his strong, consistent play. A good north-south skater, Armia’s ability to win puck battles, and fight for every blade of ice have made him a real valuable member of the Canadiens in such a short time. The Habs have found yet another spark plug on offense, appearing at their feet from the unlikeliest of sources.
Can the Canadiens pull off what would be a massive upset over the high-powered Penguins? We’ll just have to wait and see.
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