Jim Matheson, Edmonton Journal
Maybe the Montreal Canadiens did have a gut feeling Max Domi could play centre after being an NHL winger for three years in the desert and maybe they wanted more sandpaper than Alex Galchenyuk was providing, but they’re lying if they say they knew Domi had more offence in him.
Domi is shockingly 10th in NHL scoring with 21 points. He’s got nine goals and the next one he scores will be one more than he had in his second and third seasons with Arizona Coyotes. He’s got nine goals because he’s scoring at a 25 per cent clip, nine in 36 shots, which you would think is unsustainable except that William Karlsson poured in 43 goals in 184 shots for 23.4 per cent last season in Vegas. He never cooled off.
Last season Domi was six per cent, nine for 150 shots in Arizona, and four of those nine goals were empty-netters. He was 8.3 per cent, nine for 108 shots the year before. So, this tear might not last for the surprising (9-5-3, leading the league with 42 even-strength goals) Canadiens, but the Domi-Galchenyuk trade that fans in Montreal questioned in mid-June, looks just fine, thank you.
Galchenyuk, who never won the love of the Montreal coaches or the GM for his work at centre, even though drafted there, has eight points in nine games for the Coyotes, playing in the middle. So this is a deal (our kid who should be better for your kid who should be the same) that so far has helped both teams.
Domi took 412 face-offs last year in Arizona, 109 more than Galchenyuk in Montreal, but the feeling has long been Domi’s a winger and Galchenyuk’s a centre. So far Domi looks just fine in the middle as Habs’ No. 1 C with Jonathan Drouin, who couldn’t make the move from wing to centre, and right now disturber Andrew Shaw. The points are coming, so is the steady play.
“There’s been an adjustment for sure (centre), even bouncing around from side to side (wing) there’s adjustments. There’s patterns and repetitions than come from one position and when you switch that changes,” said Domi. “But you’re a pro, in the NHL, and expected to be ready when your name is called.”
“He hasn’t had any trouble playing centre,” said Brendan Gallagher, who also has nine goals. “He skates so well and it makes sense because he handles the puck so well. He’s very shifty and can go both ways. I knew him as a good winger(world juniors), but when you look at his skill-set, centre shouldn’t be a problem.”
So far, he hasn’t been overwhelmed even with a steady diet of the big guns.
“We’ve played against (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, (Auston) Matthews, (John) Tavares, (Anze) Kopitar and we’ve got (Connor) McDavid here,” said Gallagher.
“I had played with him at the Worlds (Europe) so knew how good he was, but obviously when he was in Arizona we would only see him twice a year,” said Gallagher. So there was a book there, but more paperback than big novel.
Domi and McDavid are good buddies from Ontario, who’ve celebrated together.
“We’ve won a couple of gold medals together … lots of respect there,” said Domi.
“Special guy, special person. But when the puck drops, we’re not the best of friends. Has he given me any tips? No, but I may have to ask him for a few.”
His nine goals in just 17 games, is eye-opening stuff three on the power play.
“You get lucky and you have to ride the wave,” he said, downplaying things.
Habs’ coach Claude Julien has been tickled by his play, though.
“Every game he’s creating stuff and seems really excited to be with us, said Julien. “He’s definitely shooting more. We had a good chat at the beginning of the year and I told him sometimes I’d like him to think shot first and he’s bought into that.”
“I did see him play some shifts at centre last year so this isn’t his first time with us. A lot of times he’s about building chemistry with certain players too. He’s got that with Drouin and Shaw has stepped in and he’s the one recovering pucks. You can’t just have three playmakers or three guys who play a high finesse game. You need a guy who gets his nose dirty,” said Julien, who has sat Shaw out and didn’t feel he had his legs.
This ’n that: Habs’ captain Shea Weber was practising with the team for the first time since off-season knee surgery which doctors felt it was minor stuff but found considerable damage when they went in for a look. No contact, but he was skating well and taking part in all the drills. They still have him targeted to return in mid December … Habs’ top draft pick, the NHL’s youngest player Jesperi Kotkaniemi, has nine points in his 17 games at centre … Julien wouldn’t reveal whether Carey Price or Antti Niemi would get the goalie start. Price has struggled with an .892 save percentage and 3.07 goal average in 12 games. “He’s hit a bump along the way but we’ll give him time to find his groove again,” said Julien. “I don’t think it’s technical. He’s just working on the mental part of his game, recapturing what we all know he’s capable of.”