Canadiens’ Shaw continues strong play as confidence returns

The Montreal Canadiens scored four times in the third to get by the Carolina Hurricanes 6-4.

MONTREAL– Andrew Shaw catches a breakout pass and one-touches it to linemate Jonathan Drouin before driving up the middle of the ice on his way to making the play that ultimately gives his Montreal Canadiens a 6-4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.

Drouin immediately throws the puck across the ice to Shea Weber on the zone entry while Shaw holds the line and then darts into open space. The puck finds the plucky 27-year-old’s stick and he shifts it from backhand to forehand and buries it in one swift motion for Montreal’s fifth goal of the night.

It’s one of nine goals Shaw has scored in the 28 games he’s dressed for this season. It extends his point streak to six games and gets him to within one tally of his total over 51 games last season. And it helps put everything in perspective.

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A little over eight months ago, Shaw’s hockey career was in jeopardy. It was at the end of last season — the Canadiens were cleaning out their lockers after a 28th-place finish in the standings — that he was standing in front of his stall contemplating whether or not he could continue to play the same grinding style that had helped him contribute to two Stanley Cup wins with the Chicago Blackhawks and earned him the six-year, $23.4-million contract he signed with the Canadiens after being traded to Montreal in the summer of 2016. And for the first time in his life, he really wasn’t sure.

A knee injury that required surgery and a six-month rehabilitation was part of that. But the concussion suffered on the same collision, which cut his season short by a month, was what had created the self-doubt he was exhibiting.

Some soul-searching was in order.

“I talked to family, friends, teammates, coaches, guys in the front office, and my agent, too,” Shaw said after Thursday’s game. “I talked to everyone that I could to get as much input as I could.”

Nausea, motion sickness, balance issues, depression had forced the issue, and the people closest to Shaw expressed their concerns with him continuing his career. This was one of many concussions he had suffered over the years and the residual damage from all the knocks had caught up to him and left him and family members worried.

“I don’t know how many doctors I saw this summer,” said Shaw. “A handful of them, obviously. A lot of positive came out of it. I had some rehab that I needed to do to fix some things that were affecting me. A lot of vestibular stuff, some vision stuff, balance stuff.”

With agent Pat Brisson’s help, he sought medical attention from four doctors in Montreal and frequently saw a specialist in his hometown of Belleville, Ont., that helped him recalibrate his vestibular system.

“There were times when I’d get in cars and I couldn’t even sit in the back,” Shaw said. “I always had to drive. Motion sickness was probably one of the worst things. Spinning around was bad. On the ice, finding pucks was really tough for me. My eyes weren’t responding. The signal from my brain to my eyes was a lot slower than it should be for an average person. It was something we found and I did a lot of eye movement, a lot of spinning in chairs, walking on a wooden plank, spinning a striped umbrella [to fix it].

“Then I went and saw all those doctors again and did more tests to see if anything improved and it was getting better and better. I had one last visit and they said everything was clear, it was good and back to above average in all categories.”

And slowly, but surely, Shaw’s confidence began to return to him.

It wasn’t necessarily there at the start of the season. Rehab on his knee was supposed to keep him sidelined through the first month, but he trained aggressively and returned for Game 1 after missing all of training camp.

Shaw was a step behind and found himself scratched from a series of games after struggling through Montreal’s first four of the season. And people around the city began airing their doubts—on social media and on sports-talk radio and television—about whether or not he still had his place in the NHL.

But Shaw caught his wind and found his stride in a hurry, and he has since built his case as one of the team’s most important players as they’ve established a 16-11-5 record through 32 games.

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So you can understand why he’s taken a lot of pride in silencing his critics. More than anything, you can see why he’s taken time to also savour precious moments like the one he was at the centre of on Thursday.

“It’s very rewarding,” Shaw said. “If you know me, you know that I don’t see a life without hockey. I don’t see myself not playing. I think that’s what drove me to do everything in my power to make sure I can get back to where I needed to be. I don’t see my life without hockey in it, without playing in it at least. At some point, there’s going to be a time when I have to call it, but I’m 27. I’m young. I’m not old.

“It was a long summer for me with both the knee and the head and pushing through it. It was mentally as exhausting as it was physically. I think just being able to sit back from the game, look back at what I had success with, getting back to the game and back to my roots is giving me the success that I’m having.”

To see the joy Shaw’s squeezing out of it — playing some of the best hockey of his career next to Drouin and Max Domi on Montreal’s top line — has been something his teammates have appreciated, too.

“Injuries slow down all players, but Shawzy is a warrior,” said Canadiens centre Phillip Danault, who had two assists in Thursday’s game. “He’s won Cups and been through the wars and it’s taken its toll, but the Shawzy we see now is the Shawzy I knew when we played together in Chicago. He practises so hard and his enthusiasm in the dressing room is excellent. I’m happy for him. He’s a big piece of this team.”

Thursday’s key contribution was just one more piece of evidence to support the fact.

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