Bad news for the Montreal Canadiens as not one but two of their top forwards will be out long-term. Going into last night’s game, a loss to the St. Louis Blues, Montreal had made it known that Alex Galchenyuk would be out “indefinitely” with an undisclosed lower-body injury. However, David Desharnais was injured late in the game as well and did not return. In a short press release tonight, the Canadiens announced that, after inspection by team doctors, both players have been diagnosed with knee injuries expected to keep them out of action for up to two months. No more information has yet been released as to the type or extent of either injury.
Just like that, the Canadiens are reeling. After a historically strong start yet again this season, injuries are slowing Montreal down for the second year in a row. Last season, the loss of all-world goalie Carey Price knocked the Habs out the playoff picture much quicker than anyone thought. Now, they’ll have to deal with their top two centers both out during the middle months of the season With a 4-4-2 record in their last ten games, Montreal’s play had already regressed and that was with Galchenyuk and Desharnais healthy. Can they survive this blow or will it be 2015-16 all over again?
Galchenyuk was on pace for a career year, after the Canadiens handed him the reins as the top line center this season. After a strong campaign last year with 56 points, his first 30-goal season, and a clean bill of health with 82 games played, Galchenyuk was ready to better those marks in 2016-17. The 22-year-old was on nearly a point-per-game pace, with 23 points in 25 games. Desharnais, on the other hand, has gotten off to a much slower start to the new season with just nine points in 25 games. However, since fighting his way up from the ECHL and establishing himself as a star with his 60 point season in 2011-12, Desharnais has been a consistent and productive force for the Canadiens.
The loss of two starting centers at once would cripple any team, but Montreal’s situation is made worse by the apparent cliff dive that long-time center Tomas Plekanec’s career has taken this season. A perennial leader for the Habs, Plekanac has been relied on as a top scorer in Montreal every year since 2005-06. Now 34 years old, that production has dried up for the Czech pivot. Plekanac has just two goals and seven assists in 26 games and has been relegated to third line duty with his least amount of ice time per game in over a decade. Many have speculated that Montreal may even consider leaving Plekanac exposed in the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft, in hopes that the Vegas Golden Knights would take the final $6MM year of his contract off of their hands. Instead, this is now the player that the Canadiens will have to lean on for the next six to eight weeks to keep them afloat. Other options down the middle include veteran Torrey Mitchell, youngsters Phillip Danault and Michael McCarron, or a shift off of the wing for a player like Andrew Shaw, Paul Byron, or Brian Flynn. For now, the Canadiens have recalled forward Sven Andrighetto from St. John’s of the AHL to fill a hole up front. Expect more moves in the coming days, including a possible trade for a player like Martin Hanzal or Patrik Berglund.
Montreal’s rivals in the Atlantic Division are celebrating tonight, as it will be a difficult task for this team to keep up their championship-caliber appearance without Galchenyuk and Desharnais. Galchenyuk is likely second only to Max Pacioretty as far the team’s most valuable forward, and while several others are better than Desharnais, shorthanding any one position like this makes his loss sting more than most others. Without their two top centers until possibly February, the Canadiens are in a tough spot. The prognosis on either injury could have been worse, but this is still somewhat of a nightmare scenario in Montreal.
[Related: Montreal Canadiens Depth Chart]