The Canadiens finished their season Saturday night with four rookie defensemen in their lineup, three of them on emergency recall from St. John’s. Sunday the Canadiens returned the emergency recalls Joel Hanley, Darren Dietz and Ryan Johnston to St. John’s for the final two games of their AHL season next weekend.
Undoubtedly the Carey Price injuries and losing Brendan Gallagher for 29 games played a huge role in the Canadiens finishing twelve points out of a playoff berth but never underestimate the damage caused by the incredible string of late season injuries to the team’s defense.
On paper the Canadiens were set on defense to start the season. They had managed to retain free agent Jeff Petry and he was part of what seemed to be a rock solid group that included Markov, Subban, Emelin, Beaulieu and Gilbert. That group started each of the season’s first seventeen games during which the Canadiens were 13-2-2.
Rookie Greg Pateryn made one of his rare early season starts when he replaced the injured Alexei Emelin in the 18th game. It was the start of the longest list of injuries to an NHL team’s defense this season.
Over the next 64 games 15 different players were to man the Canadiens blueline including seven called up from the IceCaps.
The really serious issues didn’t start to surface until just after Christmas while the team was halfway through the season’s worst slump. On Boxing Day Tom Gilbert suffered his first knee injury and was to miss 14 games. Mark Barberio was immediately recalled from St. John’s to replace him and for as long as it lasted, he fitted in nicely.
In early February Jeff Petry, who had been trying to play through some physical issues since early December finally shut his season down and underwent sports hernia surgery. After playing in only 11 of the first 55 games Greg Pateryn finally went into the lineup to stay.
Then in the same February 22nd game against Nashville both Tom Gilbert and Nathan Beaulieu went down. Gilbert undersent knee surgery and Beaulieu suffered a ‘lower body’ injury that kept him out ten games. Victor Bartley, who had been acquired from Arizona in the January deal for Jarred Tinordi, and Morgan Ellis were called up to replace them. Ellis played only three unremarkable games before being sent back to the IceCaps. Bartley stayed on, at least for a while.
On March 10th P.K. Subban was stretchered off the Bell Centre ice after a collision with teammate Alexei Emelin. The neck injury kept him out of the final 14 games of the season. Darren Dietz became the first of four emergency St. John’s recalls. He made his NHL debut March 12th. After two games he was reassigned to the IceCaps only to be recalled a day later when Barberio suffered the concussion that ended his season.
Three days after Barberio was hurt, Bartley suffered a suspected knee injury which also ended his season and first year pro Joel Hanley became the second emergency recall.
The farce didn’t stop there. Nathan Beaulieu’s season ended with a broken thumb March 31st and another rookie pro, Bret Lernout was recalled. In his first career NHL game Lernout was injured and Ryan Johnston, with only a half season of professional experience finished the final three games of the season on a defense that had only two veterans – Markov and Emelin, plus Pateryn and three defensemen in their first year of professional hockey.
Fifteen different players manned the Canadiens defense this season. Nobody was safe. Three of the five who were on the season ending injury list, Barberio,Bartley and Lernout were injured while on recall from St. John’s.
Goaltending was an issue in Montreal over the final four months but Mike Condon and Ben Scrivens weren’t getting much help from the tattered remains of what was, at season’s start a deep and first-rate defense.