Connect with us


Canadiens Have a Clutch Playoff Performer in Paul Byron

On Tuesday morning, following the Montreal Canadiens’ Game 1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, head coach Dominique Ducharme challenged his third line, stating “they had some good things last night, but overall as a line, we need them to be more consistent.” He was referring to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Josh Anderson, and Paul Byron, who had been collectively mired in a goal slump extending back to Game 1 against the Winnipeg Jets.

On paper, the line has all the tools to compete and make plays: size, speed, skill, and grit. This allowed them to impact the game via the penalty kill (Byron) and physical play when not scoring. However, when the Canadiens lost Game 1 to Vegas, the criticism expanded and the zeroes on the scoresheet became harder to ignore. Ducharme’s challenge made it clear that he knew what the line was capable of. Just four days later, it is clear we should all know by now.

The trio enjoys the big moments, as four of the team’s 10 game-winning goals this playoff has come from this line. However, with no disrespect towards Kotkaniemi and Anderson, it is Byron in particular who has shown a more consistent flair for the dramatic during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has only two goals and two assists in 14 games, yet all are directly game-winning goals or primary assists on game-winning overtime goals. With recent history as evidence, it is clear he has established himself as a big-game performer. What makes his performance more impressive is the difficulties he faced during the 2020-21 regular season.

Hitting Waivers

Heading into the 2020-21 season, many, including myself, wondered where Byron would fit into the Canadiens’ lineup considering the extensive changes the team made in the offseason. A decline in offensive production, along with unfortunate injuries in 2019-20, raised many questions about his presence on the team moving forward. However, the key criticism was partially theoretical and not one based exclusively on performance. If Byron was now certainly a bottom-six player with declining production, was he going to be worth the $3.4 million cap hit moving forward? A question such as this truly highlights the somewhat ruthless nature of the business side of the game. That said, it was inevitably going to be asked.

Montreal Canadiens left wing Paul Byron
Paul Byron entered this season with a lot of question marks surrounding his place in the lineup.
Montreal Canadiens left wing Paul Byron (AP Photo/Joe Buglewicz)

Byron did still manage to play 46 games in 2020-21, scoring five goals and finishing with 16 points total. He went cold for long stretches, and as a result, found himself out of the lineup at different times. As a veteran player, a leader on the team, with an “A” on his jersey, this must have been difficult. In addition, and mostly due to a cap crunch, Byron also found himself on waivers three separate times. At any moment he could have been claimed by another team. Ironically, it may have been his contract that dissuaded other organizations from taking chance on the 32-year-old winger.

Latest Canadiens Content:

In any case, no one would have blamed him for being discouraged by the results of the regular season, but that (they say) is the beauty of the NHL playoffs: everyone gets a second opportunity. Byron did not wait long to take advantage of this chance.

Series One

The first major impact Byron made in the playoffs was the very memorable, game-winning, shorthanded goal against the Maple Leafs in Game 1. Images and videos of the goal flooded social media directly after the game. The goal had an effect beyond the online adoration for the skill required to execute it. Instead, it also proved the Canadiens would not be an easy out against their historical rival. If the team had any doubts, Byron put them to rest with that goal.