How Lars Eller Injury Affects Montreal Canadiens' Playoff Hopes

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How Lars Eller Injury Affects Montreal Canadiens' Playoff Hopes
Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images
Montreal Canadien Lars Eller is taken off the ice on a stretcher in Game 1.

Whether or not you believe Ottawa Senator Eric Gryba’s hit on Montreal Canadien Lars Eller was clean, one thing everyone can agree on is the ensuing injury hurts the Habs’ chances at a 25th Stanley Cup a whole lot.

Of course, after Eller was stretchered off the ice last Thursday night, it seems a bit distasteful to throw terminology like “hurt” around frivolously, especially in relation to a team’s championship chances.

Lars Eller, now released from hospital but concussed with a broken nose and other facial fractures, is hurt. And, whether Gryba wants to admit it or not, saying he’s “not out here to hurt anybody (via CBC.ca),” that was his intent.

Ottawa Senator Eric Gryba hits Montreal Canadien Lars Eller.

He may not have wanted to injure Eller, but hurt? Of course. That’s how hockey is played. If you’re doing it properly, you finish your checks and leave opponents scared to go into the corners or stay in front of the net for fear of having to pay the price. This is a sport that tolerates bare-knuckle boxing for crying out loud and only deems a specific type of check to the head illegal.

At 6’4” and 222 pounds, Gryba is expected to hurt others. With just 33 games and two goals to his name (all this season) at the tender age of 25, he sure as hell isn’t expected to deke out all that many opponents on his way to the other net.

It’s a common theme among Ottawa Senators defensemen not named Erik Karlsson. Karlsson is 6’0” and 175 pounds. However, Jared Cowen, Gryba, Marc Methot, Chris Phillips and Patrick Wiercioch are all at least 6’3”. With exception to Wiercioch, they each weigh more than 220 pounds.

That’s what also stings so much about the hit if you’re a Habs fan. The only Montreal Canadien who stands 6’3” is Carey Price, and, with exception to during his Game 2 victory, he’s been looking considerably smaller recently.

Meanwhile, Habs defensemen top out at 220 pounds, with only reserve blueliner Davis Drewiske hitting that high-water mark. Alexei Emelin, whose knee injury has also been well documented, is only 219 pounds.

Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
Montreal Canadien Alexei Emelin on the ice after sustaining a season-ending knee injury against the Boston Bruins.

So, not only did Gryba injure one of Montreal’s most offensively dynamic players, who would have been on pace for over 50 points in an 82-game season, but he also injured one of Montreal’s bigger players (Eller is 6’2” and 209 pounds).

Of course, losing Emelin, whose physical presence is incredibly valuable, is hardly the same as Pittsburgh losing Sidney Crosby, without whom the Penguins still kept winning.

The same holds true in regard to Eller, who is far from the most physical player out there. He is however gifted offensively and defensively responsible. There’s also the fact that every little bit helps.

When you take into account Emelin’s injury as well as upper-body ones to Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta, it’s clear Montreal might not be able to sustain its trademark high-tempo style of play, which led to a team-playoff-record 27 shots in the second period of the 4-2 Game 1 loss. Case in point, Ryan White was forced to get Montreal’s offense going in Game 2.

When completely healthy, Montreal has three dangerous lines. However, without Eller, Gionta and Pacioretty (in theory one complete line), the Habs don’t necessarily have two. For example, with Pacioretty, David Desharnais is a legitimate top-six forward. Without him, Desharnais skated with Travis Moen and Gabriel Dumont.

It’s a far cry from last year’s top “Two and a Half Men” line, as Dumont is just 5’9” and 170 pounds himself and Moen isn’t exactly the same player who scored his Stanley Cup-winning goal back in 2007. Granted, that would be Chris Phillips, but the point—that Montreal will no longer necessarily be able to get by on its offense alone—stands.

Gionta has been reported as likely being out for the playoffs by Kevin Weekes (via CJAD 800 AM). That would be a shame, but the cold hard truth is Pacioretty is who really matters.

Until he returns and the Habs can return to their style of play to a certain extent, the Senators are proof that anyone can win out of sheer determination and good, defensive hockey, as the Bell Centre scoreboard showed following Game 2. The Habs need not even look outside their locker room for a source of inspiration.

Likely done for the playoffs, Eller may be hurt, but he is still a Hab. Expectations for this team might now be tempered somewhat just like they were following the horrific 1-5 stretch late in the regular season. However, the team’s potential for greatness this season and beyond is still intact.

Without him, the Habs will make do to the best of their ability from here on out, and, win or lose, that’s all their fans can realistically ask of them. A Stanley Cup is not realistic, but it is possible, and Eller will still be a big part of the greatness to come, which further softens the blow.

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