One of the words used to describe Andrew Shaw when he was acquired by the Montreal Canadiens was character. Shaw is a player “who knows what it takes to win,” said Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, pointing to the playoff experience, Shaw’s production in the post-season and his willingness to take “his teammates with him into battle.”
But the only thing Shaw was taking Thursday night was a needless penalty that didn’t do much in the way of helping the Canadiens win. Shaw’s penalty, a downright puzzling interference minor, came late in the second period when he got his stick purposely tangled in the feet of Flyers center Nick Cousins. Philadelphia made Shaw pay for his indiscretion, too. Claude Giroux potted a power play goal, and from there it was all Flyers as they skated to a 3-1 victory.
The minor penalty was the end of Shaw’s night. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien brought out an industrial-sized stapler and made certain Shaw didn’t see anything but the bench for the rest of the outing, leaving him without a single second of ice time for the entire third frame. Shaw finished the game having skated a team-low 7:41. And Shaw’s penalty was enough for some Canadiens faithful to say they’ve had more than enough of the pesky winger, and it’s clear why.
Shaw has always had an edge to his game, never afraid to mix it up and stir the pot, and that was one of the things that made him both a fan favorite and despised opponent during his time in Chicago. But the Blackhawks never had to deal with a season quite like this from Shaw, because he’s seemingly taken his antics to a new level in 2016-17. Blame it on expectations or the pressure of a new environment, or blame it simply on bad luck. No matter how you look at it, though, Shaw has been racking up the penalty minutes at the worst rate of his career.
Through 38 games, Shaw has already registered 84 penalty minutes, which is a career high with more than a third of the campaign still to be played. He’s third in the league in penalty minutes and first in penalty minutes per game among players who have played in at least half of their respective team’s games. The thing is, though, that Shaw’s penalty totals have been inflated because of a few incidents.
First came the 10-minute match penalty for the boneheaded slew foot in the Canadiens’ season-opener, which was then followed by a 14-penalty minute outing against the Hurricanes that included a misconduct, a 17-penalty minute game that again saw Shaw tagged with a misconduct and, finally, a 22-penalty minute game in which Shaw earned majors for fighting and interference to go along with a misconduct. But as hard as it might be to believe, there is a better way to look at Shaw’s season.
Consider that without the 10-minute infractions attached, Shaw would only have 48 penalty minutes this season, which is roughly the same as any of his other years. Another way to look at it is that Shaw has only taken penalties in 11 of 38 games this season, which is to say more than two-thirds of his season has seen him keep his nose relatively clean. The four games he has racked up big penalty minute totals, he’s really gone all out, to be sure, but his 11 minor penalties tie him with Daniel Sedin, William Nylander, T.J. Oshie and Connor McDavid this season. Altogether, Shaw’s 19 penalties rank 33rd in the league, putting him in the same company as Steve Ott, Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr and Martin Hanzal. Shaw hasn’t been all that bad when you look at it through that lens.
The thing with Shaw, though, is that it’s hard to look at his penalties in any favorable light because of his atrocious timing. On four occasions this season when the Canadiens have been shorthanded due to a Shaw penalty, the opposition has scored, and no time was his transgression as costly as Thursday night. As noted, Giroux’s goal was the turning point in a game the Canadiens were, to that point, leading 1-0. That Shaw has been penalized for four of the Canadiens’ 38 power play goals against is as much luck as anything else, but the same can’t be said for the other issue, which is the late-game infractions Shaw has seemingly decided to make a staple of his game.
During the Nov. 18 game against Carolina, Shaw took a hooking penalty in the final minute and he refused to simply skate to the box. Instead, in a game the Canadiens were trailing by one, Shaw decided to go nuclear, earning himself an additional unsportsmanlike minor and misconduct. The same goes for the Nov. 29 game against the Anaheim Ducks, too, when Shaw became irate over a hooking call with 28 seconds left in a one-goal game. That resulted in a misconduct as well.
So while Shaw has only taken penalties in 11 games, those penalties have had a notable impact in six games — four because the Canadiens surrendered a goal with Shaw in the box and twice because he took a late-game minor when Montreal was scrambling for the game-tying goal. That’s probably not the type of character Bergevin was talking about when he acquired Shaw at the 2016 draft, and that’s certainly no way to win.
The shame in all of this is that Shaw has actually had the most productive season of his career as a full-time NHLer this year in Montreal. His seven goals and 19 points put him on pace to end the campaign with 13 goals and 34 points on the year, which would be good for the second-best point total of his career. But it’s incredibly difficult to take the good with the bad when the bad proves costly.
Shaw has been and is going to remain a key part of the Canadiens for the remainder of the season, and there’s a good chance he’s part of the team for more than a few years under his current six-year, $23.4-million deal. And while Montreal certainly doesn’t want to remove the edge from Shaw’s game, which is one of the reasons they brought him in, you can be certain they’d be quite all right with him reining it in when it’s absolutely unnecessary.
Like any player, Shaw’s at his most effective when he can do his job, and that means being on the ice and creating havoc on the forecheck and in front of the net. He does the Canadiens no good when he’s booted from games or stapled to the bench as the result of senseless minor penalties. If he can sort out that part of his game, Shaw’s going to have no problem becoming a fan favorite in Montreal in much the same way he was in Chicago. But if he continues his current ways, it might not be long before Canadiens fans are hoping to see him gone.
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