The Montreal Canadiens suffered yet another significant string of health-related setbacks.
They lost winger Rafael Harvey-Pinard for up to six weeks with a lower-body injury on Saturday and saw two of their defencemen leave Sunday’s game versus the St.Louis Blues.
Jordan Harris was the victim of an unfortunate series of events that saw him lose balance shortly before Samuel Blais boarded him. Blais saw numbers the whole way, which led to a well-deserved five-minute major as well as a game misconduct, but the hit left Harris in a state of confusion after his head bounced off the ice.
For now, he’s listed as day-to-day as the team awaits further testing, which will allow them to determine whether he suffered a concussion. As for Guhle, there has been no update, which could be a sign the team is waiting for the swelling to go down before they can offer a diagnosis.
This didn't look good. Harris was already falling and the hit just compounded the issue.
Hopefully, Harris is okay. His head smacked on the ice pretty hard. pic.twitter.com/U0PZMhws0R
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) February 11, 2024
Late Stage Reinforcements
The Montreal Canadiens are starting to run out of options when it comes to potential promotions in the AHL.
They’ve already recalled top forward prospect, Joshua Roy, in addition to signing the Laval Rocket’s leading scorer, Brandon Gignac, to an NHL contract.
We haven’t quite reached the dregs yet, but if the team needs more offensive reinforcements, they’ll have to turn to Philippe Maillet, Lias Andersson, or Xavier Simoneau. Emil Heineman and Sean Farrell are not available, as both prospects are currently sidelined with injuries.
The defensive options aren’t ideal either.
Jayden Struble and Arber Xhekaj are already playing in the NHL, whereas Mattias Norlinder and Bradey Keeper are also injured, leaving the Rocket with very few high-quality defencemen as they attempt to scrape and claw their way to an AHL playoff berth.
Ironically, prospect Nicolas Beaudin requested a contract termination in late January due to the lack of ice time. It was a fair request, but it removed any semblance of depth from the Rocket blue line.
That leaves Justin Barron and Logan Mailloux as the only realistic options for a call-up.
They both play on the right side, whereas Guhle and Harris usually play on the left, but at this point in the season, we can probably stop worrying about forming perfect pairings. This is a matter of short-term survival rather than long-term planning.
William Trudeau plays on the left, and he has improved his results by leaps and bounds since his difficult start to the season, but he’s only returning to a respectable level of play in the AHL, which means an NHL audition is probably out of the question.
Guhle leaves the game after this hit. He was in significant pain. The Habs have the worst injury luck in the history of sports.
Didn't look like there was anything wrong with the hit, but the stick may have bruised some ribs, hard to tell. pic.twitter.com/e4PiKo99UI
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) February 11, 2024
Like most young defencemen, Barron has gone through ebbs and flows during his time in the NHL.
He’s a mobile, puck-moving defenceman who makes his fair share of mistakes, leading to the perception that he struggles when it comes to maintaining possession of the puck.
It’s certainly true that Barron’s decision-making has put his team in a difficult position at times, but overall, he’s produced relatively decent underlying numbers with the Montreal Canadiens.
He also provides a healthy amount of offence, as evidenced by his six goals in 41 NHL games this season. Only Mike Matheson has scored more goals from the blue line, though it should be noted that he has played 11 more games than Barron and only managed one additional goal.
On the flip side, we also have to keep in mind that Barron may not be entirely healthy, either. He missed almost an entire period before returning to play Saturday during the Rocket’s 7-1 drubbing of the Toronto Marlies.
Mailloux, 20, represented the Rocket at the AHL All-Star game, an accolade powered by his offensive prowess.
With 11 goals and 21 assists, Mailloux is currently tied for second in team scoring with forwards Roy and Maillet, and trails only Brandt Clarke for the league lead in AHL scoring by a rookie defenceman.
Like Barron, Mailloux’s decision-making in the defensive zone leaves something to be desired, particularly when it comes to rush defence and positioning. On that note, it’s fair to point Mailloux has improved his defensive play since making his professional debut.
Pas une bonne idée de laisser autant d'espace pour tirer à Logan Mailloux! 🚀 pic.twitter.com/Kde7OC9xld
— RDS (@RDSca) February 10, 2024
Montreal Canadiens Brass Tacks
If the Canadiens were running a meritocracy, Mailloux would be the first player to receive a call.
But there’s more than just a simple NHL promotion in the mix.
The Rocket are fighting tooth and nail to qualify for the playoffs, and they’re doing so without most of their best forwards and defencemen.
Losing one of Barron or Mailloux would put them in a very difficult situation, one that is unlikely to lead to a Calder Cup berth given the team would have to turn to Trois-Rivieres to secure additional reinforcements.
Of course, the NHL should always take priority over the AHL.
Rewarding young prospects who are playing well with some time in the big show is always a wise approach.
However, there’s something to be said about the value of establishing a winning culture in the AHL. On top of learning how to play professional hockey, key prospects must understand what it takes to win.
The stink of a losing lineup does not take long to settle into locker rooms, and it’s very difficult to air out.
But the harsh reality is that there are no guarantees when it comes to AHL personnel.
The available players can change significantly from one game to the next, leaving coaches scrambling to find enough warm bodies to fill out their rosters.
In this particular case, head coach Jean-Francois Houle should once again prepare to lose one of the most important players in his lineup while he attempts to secure crucial wins down the stretch.
Such is life as an AHL coach.