Why Canadiens should be able to survive Drouin, Byron injuries

Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron will be forced to have knee surgery after getting tangled up with Caps' Richard Panik, and falling down awkwardly.

BROSSARD, Que. — It’s bad news for the Montreal Canadiens, but it’s particularly devastating news for Jonathan Drouin.

The 24-year-old — who has seven goals and 15 points in 19 games — had surgery on Monday to repair damage done to one of his wrists. Drouin’s agent tweeted that the centre is expected to miss eight weeks with the injury, which he suffered in the third period of Montreal’s 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals last Friday.

The Ste. Agathe, Que., native must be so disappointed. You could make the argument he’s been Montreal’s best player to date as they’ve established an 11-5-4 record through 20 games, and given how hard he’s worked to rebound from a tough end to last season, the timing of this injury couldn’t be worse.

“Tough break,” said teammate Nick Cousins on Monday. “He’s been lights out. Obviously, I wasn’t here last year, but guys are telling me he’s playing the best hockey of his career. He’s been awesome. He’s been working hard, and not only the offensive side. The defensive side is actually what’s impressed me the most. He’s backchecking hard through the middle, and he’s like a dog on a bone out there. When he doesn’t have the puck… sometimes guys just wait for it to come to them, but he just goes to get it. It’s been fun to watch. He’s obviously a tough guy to lose at this point of the season.”

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It won’t be easy for the Canadiens to deal with the injury to Paul Byron, either.

Head coach Claude Julien said the Ottawa native will undergo a knee surgery on Tuesday, and that it’s unclear at this point how serious the injury is and how long it will keep him out.

Like we said, it’s a bad-news day for the organization.

But here’s why the Canadiens can deal with it.

First, they boast one of the most balanced attacks in the league, as we covered in depth in our quarter mark report of their season.

Additionally, they went 10-7-1 over their final 18 games last season, while Drouin was their least-used forward and went without a point in 16 of those games. And they’ve put together the record they have so far this season without Byron — a bona fide 20-goal scorer — contributing more than one goal and three assists.

Don’t misinterpret any of that. Drouin isn’t the player he was at the end of last year and the Canadiens will certainly miss the player he is this year at 5-on-5 and on the power play. Byron’s injury leaves a hole on a penalty kill that has already struggled mightily thus far.

But the Canadiens are better equipped to deal with certain injuries. They’re built to withstand these ones in particular.

“I have absolutely not been on a team with this much balance and depth,” said Cousins, who signed with the Canadiens as an unrestricted free agent this past July. “This has been the most complete team I’ve ever been on. We have all four lines that can contribute and play a certain style that Claude wants us to play, so I think that’s the new NHL. I think you’ve got to have 12 forwards that can play.”

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Some of them are going to have to step up now.

Players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen, who have both helped in other departments but haven’t produced as expected, immediately come to mind.

For Kotkaniemi, who has just two goals and an assist after scoring 11 goals and 34 points as a rookie last season, it’s understandable that it might take a bit of time considering he’s just one game removed from missing seven with a groin injury.

For Lehkonen, who has just two goals despite having the sixth-most scoring chances on the team (according to Natural Stat Trick), there’s more urgency. Even if Julien isn’t pressing him for more.

“I think he can score,” the coach said. “I think he knows that too. But every time somebody goes down, we expect somebody else to pick up the scoring. I expect for the guys like him who might pick up the scoring… I still expected them to be scoring before anyway. So I expect them to score any time.

“I don’t believe in putting more pressure on guys to score just because someone else is out and they have to do something more than they’ve been doing before, because that’s like telling them they haven’t done enough. Will a player like (Lehkonen) get more opportunities (with players missing)? Maybe. But at the same time, we know he’s a guy that everyone seems to think he can produce a little bit more. He thinks so, too. He’s got to hit the net when he shoots; he’s got a good shot, and if that happens there’s no doubt it’s going to be a big help to us.”

It’s also going to help the Canadiens if Nick Suzuki, who was promoted to centre Max Domi and Joel Armia ahead of Montreal’s 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, continues to play with confidence.

The 20-year-old has points in each of his last three games and has recorded five goals and four assists through the first quarter of his NHL career. That’s why the coach feels comfortable elevating his role.

“To me, he’s shown that he’s been able to handle that stuff,” said Julien. “I’m always cautious in how I answer (questions about being able to depend more on young players) because it’s a daily thing, it’s a weekly thing. A guy does well, he’s going well (and) all of a sudden you might see fatigue or something in a young player and he’s not handling certain situations as well, and then you’ve got to adjust. But right now, I think his play in the last little while has been really, really good.”

Suzuki’s not alone in that department.

Byron had somewhat picked up his game of late after a very slow start out of the gate. And Drouin played exceptionally well through virtually all of his games.

This setback has to be a very bitter pill for him to swallow.

“We’re in a sport here where injuries unfortunately happen,” said Julien in agreement. “We’re just going to hope that it’s just shorter than longer, and we’re going to hope that he’s going to come back the way he left us.”

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