Montreal Canadiens: Should Paul Byron Sit For Overtime Error?

Dec 29, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Montreal Canadiens Paul Byron Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 29, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Montreal Canadiens Paul Byron Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Montreal Canadiens lost after a bad change by Paul Byron.

Montreal Canadiens left winger Paul Byron is a terrific depth piece to have on an NHL roster.

While he is a fourth line winger making $3.4 million, his speed, intelligence and penalty killing ability is enough to make him a useful NHL player. The fact he proved to be a 20-goal scoring threat for most of his career with the Canadiens ensures he is worth every penny of his contract.

However, the Habs have far more depth on their roster than they have at any other point in Byron’s tenure with the team. That will make it more difficult for these depth players to keep a spot in the lineup every night. Is one error enough to make a valued leader like Byron a healthy scratch? It was, after all, an enormous error that led to the game winning goal.

Byron was on the ice for the 3-on-3 overtime where his speed is even more of a weapon than usual. However, when the puck was turned over deep in the Maple Leafs zone, to Auston Matthews, Byron didn’t look very interested in getting into a defensive position. Matthews quickly moved the puck up to John Tavares who was in on a 2-on-1 with Morgan Rielly from the red line.

Instead of hustling back, which is literally Byron’s biggest strength, he took a quick look at the developing play and then made a quick turn to head to the Habs bench. This left Brendan Gallagher with the impossible task of trying to catch Rielly who was already past the bench and moving at up ice.

Tavares hit Rielly with a pass and the game was over.

Byron was obviously tired and ready to end his shift. However, you can’t just turn and head to the bench when Tavares and Rielly are heading up ice with that much space. A very tired Byron on a back check is better than someone hopping off the bench and accelerating from a stationary position.

It’s hard to say that Byron would definitely have caught up to Rielly and stopped the goal from being scored. But there is no question he would have come closer than Gallagher was able to and at least put a little more pressure on the Leafs skaters to make a quicker play.

Byron played just over ten minutes in the Habs loss and was a big part of their penalty killing unit. He is not necessarily a key part of the Canadiens lineup this season, but he brings an element of speed and defensive awareness that is difficult to replace.

The Habs added veteran depth forwards Michael Frolik and Corey Perry as free agents in the offseason. Does Byron’s mental gaffe in overtime warrant being benched for Perry in the Habs next game?

It would send a strong message to a team that has some key young players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki that even the veteran leaders are held to an extremely high standard.

There isn’t going to be much room for error in the Canadian Division this season. A point here or there in the standings will be the difference between home ice advantage in a playoff series and not making the playoffs at all.

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Sitting Byron for a game for failing to engage defensively in overtime would be the right call and it would ensure another veteran like Perry would get into the lineup early in the season.