Who was the Canadiens’ most valuable player this season?

You can make an argument that defenceman Alexei Emelin should be in the conversation.

There is a direct correlation between the Canadiens’ late-season swoon and the knee injury that ended Emelin’s season. Emelin suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament when he collided with the Boston Bruins’ Milan Lucic in the first period of a game on April 6 at the Bell Centre.

The Canadiens haven’t been the same team since that incident. With the five-game loss to the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs, the Canadiens were 5-10 without Emelin in the lineup. Reader Laurence Rosenbloom saved me the trouble of doing the math, which shows the Canadiens have given up 55 goals in 15 games without Emelin for a goals-against average of 3.66. Before Emelin’s departure, the Canadiens’ goals-against average was 2.39.

Emelin is important to the Canadiens because he is a physical presence on a team that is woefully short of that commodity. He led the Canadiens with 110 hits despite missing the final 10 regular-season games.

As the team limped into the playoffs, Rene Bourque noted that one of the Canadiens’ problems is that they were being outhit in most games. The loss of Emelin was exacerbated by nagging injuries suffered by Brandon Prust and Ryan White. And if you were among those wondering why Max Pacioretty wasn’t going hard to the net in the playoffs, the answer came after the Canadiens were eliminated Thursday night and Pacioretty revealed he suffered a separated shoulder in Game 1.

The Canadiens have played down their lack of size by emphasizing the team’s skill and speed. Ottawa coach Paul MacLean also professed his love for an uptempo game, but after eliminating the Canadiens, said the key this season for the Senators has been the addition of younger players who combine speed and physicality.