The Montreal Juniors received a wake up call during their road trip out East last weekend. Playing three games in three nights started well with a 5-2 victory over the Halifax Mooseheads. But a 3-2 shootout loss to Moncton on Saturday followed by a 5-2 loss to the #1 ranked Saint John Sea Dogs on Sunday gave reason to raise some red flags.
Winning 5 straight games prior to the loss in Moncton, the Juniors were playing consistently well. However as well as they were playing, the majority of their victories came against average teams. Having a chance to beat Moncton and Saint John in their own buildings would have been a major statement and could have given Montreal the #1 ranking status in the Q.
So what went wrong? Who failed to step up and play their best when it mattered most? Here's my suggestion; secondary scoring;
Montreal's #1 scoring line (Lefebvre / Leblanc / Chouinard) has been nothing short of excellent since the beginning of the year. Lefebvre has 15 pts in 10 gp, Leblanc has 14 pts in 8 gp, and Chouinard has 12 pts in 12 gp. The line's production was sound even during the team's Eastern road swing as they scored 7 of 9 Montreal goals. While this great news for Montreal's #1 line, it doesn't speak well of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th units.
David Rose has been a bright spot for this team. Rose started the season on the 3rd line playing with Philippe Fontaine and Denis Kindl. But after a hot start (10 pts in 12 gp) Juniors coach Pascal Vincent has given him more of a second line type role.
Fontaine has produced a nice amount of offence (7 pts in 12 gp) especially given that he was pencilled in as a 3rd or 4th liner for this season. Rose and Fontaine have demonstrated they share chemistry and will likely be kept together as the season continues.
Now lets talk about the players who need to give more.
Jeremy Gouchie (seen in photo) led the Juniors in points last season, scoring 65 pts in 67 games played. Back then Gouchie had 1st line playing time and played on the 1st power play trio. This season Gouchie is off to a slow start with only 7 pts in 12 gp. His production, and efforts at times, has been at a level far below what he's capable of. When everyone is healthy Gouchie plays on the second line with Trevor Parkes and Louis-Marc Aubry, a trio that should be capable of scoring 1 goal per game at a minimum. But that hasn't been the case. Bottom line, Gouchie needs to get going.
Surprisingly, Trevor Parkes hasn't been much better. Parkes missed a handful of games at the start of the season after attending the Red Wings training camp and looked great after his return scoring 2 goals in his first 2 games. But since then Parkes' production has been limited to 1 goal and 2 assists in 6 gp. Another cause for concern has been Parkes' plus minus rating. Parkes is currently +1 on the season. Last year, on a weaker Montreal Juniors team, Parkes finished at +19, therefore he is far off the pace based on last seasons' results. Bottom line, the Juniors need more out of Parkes.
There's a similar situation on defense. Xavier Ouellet (14 pts in 12 gp) has been nothing short of spectacular and is proving why he should be considered one of the top prospects to come out of the Q for next year's NHL entry draft.
Francis Meilleur has also played very well and provided Montreal with a stable flow of offense coming from the back end. Meilleur has 8 pts in 12 gp.
Where there is room for improvement is with Charles-Olivier Roussel who currently has no goals, 5 assists and is a -1 in 9 games played. For a player of his caliber, that's terrible, and I'm sure Roussel himself would be the first person to admit it. Last season Roussel dominated the Q scoring 15 goals and 51 points in 64 games played. He's obviously far off that pace. But what concerns me more than Roussel's point production is that his defensive play. Roussel has made a few errors while handling the puck in his own zone which has led to unneeded goals. Often these mistakes are made after the forwards have already left the zone and he's one of the last 2 players between the opponents and his net. Bottom line, if the Juniors want to be a true contender Roussel has to be better.
Photo credit: Ron Lemish