Mike Reilly found his way back into the Montreal Canadiens lineup; and, as is his typical play, he was great on offense but made mistakes on the defensive end. Reilly had been a healthy scratch for six straight games, but he replaced Brett Kulak in the Canadiens win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The question is how long he will stay in the lineup?
During the game, Reilly scored an assist when, after the Canadiens won an offensive-zone draw, he fired a slap-shot that rebounded to Tomas Tatar, who passed to Brendan Gallagher for the game’s first goal. That’s the usual MO for Reilly, who’s had an assist in two of the three games he’s played.
However, his defensive-end issues continually keep him from assuming a bigger role with the team. In fact, during the Maple Leafs game, Reilly couldn’t come up with a loose puck in the corner and the Maple Leafs scored their first goal with just 16 seconds left in the first period. It was the third straight period that Montreal had allowed a goal in the final minute. Not good.
Head coach Claude Julien wasn’t at all happy with the end-of-the-period goals. He stated specifically, “That’s the next thing we have to fix.”
Julien added, “No matter what it is, I don’t like it. I know we’ve given up 40 percent of our goals in the first and last two minutes of a period. If you look at tonight’s goal, the puck was rimming around the boards, there was no pressure, but it hit Mike Reilly’s skate and came loose. It started from there with guys out of position. For me, it’s finishing stronger.”
Reilly’s Unable to Turn His Skills into Regular Ice Time
Reilly’s a great skater, with plenty of hockey skill. At times, he can look like an offensive demon. Every once in a while, he collects a puck in his own end, skates the distance of the ice, and makes a great play in the offensive zone. When that happens he looks like the kind of puck-moving defenseman a team could build an offense around. Sadly, he can’t make those plays with enough regularity to take on a more regular role with the Canadiens.
That’s been the story of his NHL career. At times Reilly looks like a top-four defenseman, and at times his defensive weaknesses simply get in the way of his apparent skills. He’s not always in the right position on the ice, especially when he’s playing against tough competition. Sometimes he makes more than his share of mistakes.
This season, Reilly hasn’t yet been given a prominent role with the team, which differs from last season when he started the season regularly playing more than 20 minutes per game. However, after the trade deadline, his playing time diminished and he was a healthy scratch for almost as many games as he played.
So, Why Is Reilly Still Around?
It was a bit of surprise to many when Reilly signed a new contract with the Canadiens during this offseason. In fact, he was signed for two-years at $1.5 million per season. Given that signing, what’s the Canadiens’ plan for Reilly?
It isn’t as if they don’t already have three left-shooting defensemen who currently play ahead of Reilly. Victor Mete (who last week scored his first NHL goal), Brett Kulak, and Ben Chiarot (who the Canadiens signed for three years at $3.5 million per season) all are higher on the Canadiens list of left-shot defensemen than Reilly.
He could play on the right side, but the team is full there, too. Its right-shot defensemen include Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, and Christian Folin. Prospect Noah Juulsen (the Surrey, British Columbia native) is also now playing with the Laval Rocket.
How Long Will Reilly Stay in the Lineup?
Given his current status on the team, Reilly isn’t likely to stay in the lineup for a long time – that is, unless there’s an injury. He’s the obvious seventh man on the depth chart. And, if everyone stays healthy Reilly will largely spend his time in the press box.
But, that said, all teams experience injuries and the Canadiens are likely no exceptions. And, that’s where Reilly’s value might come into play. Because he’s a veteran of over 150 NHL games, he’ll likely be the first player the Canadiens use whenever one of the team’s top-six defenders can’t play. Reilly valuable because he’s a player who can be turned to when the team needs him. His presence on the team also allows the Canadiens to play young defensemen Cale Fleury and Josh Brook in the minors all season.
General manager Marc Bergevin must be thinking that no team can have too many depth defensemen. Undoubtedly, he’s signed Reilly just for that reason.
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