Former Hab stalwart, head coach, and current RDS analyst Mario Tremblay often blows a fuse when the Canadiens are playing listlessly, “mollement”, he’ll enjoin them to throw a hit or two, not make it so comfortable for opponents to skate around and make plays, confident that they won’t be separated from their senses anytime soon compared to if they were up against the Bruins or the Great Gryba.
And I’ve noted a few times that Canadiens players are very focused on the puck in the way they play, and I believe they’re coached that way, that they’re told to stickcheck, turn the puck over and get it going the other way. In that environment, we often see players do a fly-by, a forward passing up an opportunity to lay a hit, finish a check on a defenceman who just fired the puck off the boards. Sometimes you see that opponent bracing, readying for a hit, and a Lars Eller or Brandon Prust skating by and racing off after the puck, and leaving their counterpart genuinely surprised.
In that context, I enjoy Devante Smith-Pelly’s efforts, applaud them. He’s leading the way, forechecking but also finishing every check he can. While I deplore this aspect of the game, until this rule or interpretation is taken out of the game, we shouldn’t pass it up and let other teams enjoy that advantage to themselves.
So I don’t agree when we characterize his hits as meaningless, of little consequence, or that he takes himself out of position to do so. His presence in our roster increases the threat level, makes opponents aware that they need to unload the puck quickly, in a hurry, compared to before. He makes them a little more trepidatious than otherwise.
And his hits are contagious. I think his linemates, and other forwards, will and do take note, and may throw one or two more hits than they would generally. We’ll see on a forecheck that Devo will hit a defenceman, the puck will make its way to the other defenceman, and Lars or Jacob de la Rose will be there and lay another hit on that guy, and so on. These aren’t Scott Stevens quality hits, few are, but they’re enough to keep the opposition on their toes, to make them rush things a little.
So I’m fully on board if we critique him for his lack of production, I expect more from him, certainly I hope for more, but to try to emphasize our critique by downplaying his contributions on the physical side is off-base, I think.