Canadiens coach Claude Julien came to the defence of captain Max Pacioretty when he met with the media Wednesday afternoon in Brossard.
The coach cancelled a scheduled practice and only the extra players skated in Brossard following Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Rangers in New York that evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series 2-2 heading into Game 5 Thursday at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CBC, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690).
Pacioretty failed to score a goal for the fourth straight game and has only one assist in the series. The captain had two shots and two hits in Game 4 and was also minus-1. Rick Nash’s winning goal came after Pacioretty skated past the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh at the blue line after trying to poke check the puck away from him. McDonagh then passed the puck down low in the corner to Nash, who cut to the net and beat goalie Carey Price with a backhand move through the five-hole.
In what has been a very physical series, Pacioretty has only nine hits in the first four games.
When asked about Pacioretty’s mistake on the winning goal, Julien said: “We’re critiquing one play there and there’s a lot of things that happened that game that maybe Carey (Price) saved us and stuff like that. So again, mistakes are part of a game.
“I think we have to be very careful, personally,” the coach added. “We’re jumping on a guy here that has scored over 30 goals every year and all of a sudden people think well, he hasn’t scored yet so let’s jump on Max Pacioretty. And Max Pacioretty is a good captain right now and is doing whatever he can and wants to be better. So at the end of the day, what I’m telling you is that my job is to help him be the best player he can be and if you ask him he’s going to tell you the same thing.”
The coach continued to stick up for Pacioretty, who had an impressive regular season during his second year as captain, posting 35-32-67 totals to lead the team in goals and points.
“This is a sport that has ups and downs,” Julien said. “You get the momentum going your way at times, sometimes it doesn’t. The ebbs and flows of the sport is what makes it interesting. The ebbs and flow of a sport is what makes people question things. At the end of the day, we look at the big picture and that’s what’s important. And Max Pacioretty, I think we’re pretty happy to have him here in Montreal.”
When Julien was pressed as to whether Pacioretty was doing enough away from the puck while not scoring goals, the coach said: “This is not something I’m going to come out here and start discussing a player’s individual play. But what I will do is tell you that you know that he’s a good player and we’re going to continue to make him a good player. Whether you guys think he hasn’t done enough or not, from me internally I think he’s done a lot and I think he’s got an opportunity to be better if he gets a chance to be better. I think my job is to take the pressure off him while he’s getting pressure from elsewhere. So that’s how I handle things.”
You can watch Julien’s entire Wednesday news conference from Brossard on the HI/O Facebook Page.
(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Emelin back on the ice
Defenceman Alexei Emelin, who has yet to play in the playoffs after suffering a lower-body injury on April 5 in Brossard, skated with the extra players Wednesday in Brossard but hasn’t been cleared yet by the team’s medical staff to return to the lineup.
Julien said Emelin would be re-evaluated by the medical staff after skating Wednesday and again Thursday, when the Canadiens have an 11 a.m. practice scheduled in Brossard.
New No. 1 line?
Julien shuffled his lines during the second period of Game 4, putting Alex Galchenyuk between Artturi Lehkonen and Alexander Radulov, while Phillip Danault was at centre between Pacioretty and Andrew Shaw.
While it certainly looked like the new Galchenyuk line is now the No. 1 line, Julien said that wasn’t necessarily the case.
“Well, first of all, I don’t know how he made that switch to be a first-line centreman or whether Radulov went to the third (line)?” Julien said. “It depends how you look at it, right? So anyways, it’s just one of those things. I don’t know how you guys figure 1-2-3, I just like my lines.”
Since Radulov leads the Canadiens with 2-4-6 totals through four games and ranked third in NHL playoff scoring through Tuesday’s game, we’ll look at it as him playing on the first line.
Galchenyuk out of doghouse
Galchenyuk started the playoffs playing left wing on the fourth line with Steve Ott and Dwight King but has worked his way up since then with two assists in the first four games.
Now it’s Pacioretty who is in the doghouse and dropping lines.
“It just goes to show you again that what we’re doing right now … that guy (Pacioretty) will be good again, OK?” Julien said. “He didn’t turn into a bad player and he’s not a bad player right now. We know we can expect more out of him because we know he can score goals. But that doesn’t make him a bad player.
“Through ebbs and flows of a season of playoffs and stuff like that we can choose to be what we want to be,” the coach added. “And I choose to be the guy that’s going to support (Pacioretty) and help him be better because it’s going to help everybody in this city here, help everybody in the dressing room to have a better team by helping this guy out vs. questioning him and getting on him. Personally, I don’t think he deserves it because he’s been good in my time here. He’s a good captain, as I keep mentioning it. He cares about his team and he does whatever he can to help win.
“The other night (in Game 3), would it have made you guys feel better if Radulov hadn’t gone offside (late in the game) and (Pacioretty) would have shot it in the empty net? He’d have one goal, one assist. Would that change the perception of him at that point? So we got to be careful about that stuff.”
Running over Price
The Rangers had a goal called off during the first period after Nash crashed into Price, which certainly had Canadiens fans holding their breath after the goaltender suffered a season-ending knee injury in November of last season.
Julien said it was more a case of Nash taking the puck to the net than trying to run into Price.
“It’s a matter of did he really go after him, or did he take the puck to the net?” Julien said. “Part of our job is to kind of not let him get to the net. He’s a big guy and he got to the net. He tried to score on that play. He didn’t try to run Carey, he tried to score on that play.
“Did we go to (get) him? We went to him right away,” the coach added about his team’s response after the play. “Do you fight and drop your gloves every time there’s a collision that to me was not intentional, it was taking pucks to the net? If he crashes into our goaltender intentionally, I think you’ll see our team react a lot differently.
“To me, that looked like a play of a guy taking the puck to the net and I hope my players do the same thing, they take pucks to the net that same way. You’re trying to score … it’s not easy to score. This happened at the other end. I think we’ve had a lot of guys in the crease and pushed into their goaltender. I think overall we’ve done a pretty good job of protecting our goaltender. I know history makes it a little sensitive when you see that happen, but I like to put the context in the right perspective.”
When Price was asked after the game about Nash running into him, the goalie simply said: “I don’t blame him.”
Here’s a look at the schedule for the rest of the Canadiens-Rangers series:
Thursday, April 20: at Montreal, 7 p.m., CBC, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690.
Saturday, April 22: at New York, 8 p.m., CBC, NBC, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690.
* Monday, April 24: at Montreal, TBD
*- if necessary