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The Habs resumed their road trip with a pair of games in Florida.  While the offence came to play, Montreal was still only able to come out of it with a split.

The Week That Was

Dec. 28: Canadiens 5, Panthers 3 – Montreal jumped on the Panthers early, making it 2-0 quickly before Florida seemed to find their bearings.  While they blew that lead before the end of the period, the Habs were able to get back on track in the third as goals by Tomas Tatar and Artturi Lehkonen gave them the lead once again and despite a late goal and a flurry by the Panthers, they were able to hold on for the win.

Dec. 29: Lightning 6, Canadiens 5 – With Carey Price out, Antti Niemi was called on to play both ends of the back-to-back.  It didn’t go well.  Montreal got off to a strong start, once again getting (and then blowing) a 2-0 first-period lead but they clawed their way back in front two more times.  However, Tampa Bay tied it up in the third when Adam Erne potted a bad rebound and then got the lead for good when Erne snapped one past Niemi with just over a minute left in regulation.  The Canadiens deserved a better fate than they got in this one.

StatPack

Skaters:

# Player GP G A +/- PIMS SOG ATOI
6 Shea Weber 2 0 2 +2 0 2 26:29
8 Jordie Benn 2 1 1 +3 0 2 15:51
11 Brendan Gallagher 2 0 1 +2 2 4 17:25
13 Max Domi 2 0 1 -2 2 4 17:18
15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi 2 0 1 -1 0 5 13:28
17 Brett Kulak 2 1 1 +2 0 4 14:38
20 Nicolas Deslauriers 1 1 0 +1 0 2 10:38
24 Phillip Danault 2 0 3 +4 9 3 17:55
26 Jeff Petry 2 0 1 -2 2 5 22:11
28 Mike Reilly 2 0 0 -3 0 3 17:55
41 Paul Byron 2 0 0 -3 0 3 16:22
43 Michael Chaput 2 0 0 E 0 2 11:25
47 Kenny Agostino 2 1 0 +2 0 2 10:17
53 Victor Mete 2 0 1 E 0 2 20:04
62 Artturi Lehkonen 2 1 1 +1 0 5 15:57
63 Matthew Peca 1 0 0 E 0 1 7:53
65 Andrew Shaw 2 2 1 E 2 5 15:40
90 Tomas Tatar 2 2 2 +1 0 7 17:02
92 Jonathan Drouin 2 1 1 -2 0 5 16:45

Goalies:

# Player Record GAA SV% SO
37 Antti Niemi 1-1-0 4.53 .845 0

Team Leaders:

Goals: Brendan Gallagher (15)
Assists: Max Domi (22)
Points: Max Domi (36)
+/-: Phillip Danault (+9)
PIMS: Max Domi (43)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (138)

News And Notes

- Carey Price missed both games due to a minor lower-body issue so Michael McNiven was called up from Laval of the AHL.  Price has not yet been ruled out for Monday’s contest in Dallas.

- David Schlemko is back on injured reserve with an upper-body injury sustained in Arizona before the holiday break.  Karl Alzner was recalled from Laval to basically serve as the designated healthy scratch.

- Joel Armia returned to practice and appears to be getting closer to a return.  When he gets the green light to return, Marc Bergevin will either need to trade or waive a player to make room (as it’s quite unlikely that Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the lone waiver-exempt forward, will be the roster casualty).

Last Game’s Lines:

Byron – Domi – Drouin
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Kotkaniemi – Shaw
Agostino – Chaput – Peca

Mete – Weber
Reilly – Petry
Kulak – Benn

The Week Ahead

Dec. 31: at Dallas – When you think about Dallas, it’s understandable to think about how good their offence is, especially on paper.  They’re a team that can typically score but has had issues keeping it out of the net.  The exact opposite has been the case this year.  They’re among the top teams in the league defensively but are near the bottom in goals scored with their top players struggling to the point where their CEO went on a bit of a public tirade about it.  They were sufficiently motivated following his comments so expect them at their best for this one.

Jan. 3: vs Vancouver – The Canucks have been streaky for a big chunk of the season but lately have settled into ‘win a couple, lose a couple’ mode.  Top rookie Elias Pettersson is having a strong month of December with 17 points in 13 games while Brock Boeser is at the point-per-game mark.  However, beyond those two and Bo Horvat, consistent secondary scoring has been an issue while they’ve had issues keeping the puck out of their own net.

Jan. 5: vs Nashville – There are plenty of interesting potential storylines in this one.  However, none of them will get much attention since a certain P.K. Subban plays for the Predators and recently returned to their lineup so he will dominate the headlines.  (Nashville also just got Viktor Arvidsson back while Filip Forsberg may be ready as well.)  The Preds will be in the back half of a road back-to-back for this game so there’s at least a chance that Montreal could avoid Pekka Rinne who has been very good to start the season.

Final Thought

With this being the final weekly column for 2018, it’s time to look back at some of the more newsworthy moments of the calendar year.

Habs Win In Draft Lottery: It wasn’t the jump to first that everyone was hoping for but Montreal moved up one spot in the draft lottery.  While there were certainly safer picks on the board in Brady Tkachuk and Filip Zadina, Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins went with a bit of a gamble pick and selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the hopes that he could be the number one centre of the future.  It’s still early but the upside is certainly intriguing.

Pacioretty To Vegas: The trade rumours had been swirling around now-former captain Max Pacioretty for quite some time and it dominated the discussion leading into training camp.  However, just before the annual charity golf tournament, Bergevin dealt him to Vegas for Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki, and a 2019 second rounder.  Tatar has been somewhat surprisingly productive in Montreal after struggling with the Golden Knights while Suzuki appears to be an important part of the core for many years to come.

Price’s Struggles: When Carey Price signed his eight-year, $84 million extension last offseason, there was some concern over the final few years of the contract.  However, not many were expecting the first year to be an issue.  Price struggled last season and hasn’t been too much better overall in 2018-19 either.  All in all, his 2018 calendar year numbers aren’t the prettiest – a 3.03 GAA and a .899 SV% in 53 appearances.  No one was expecting that a year and a half ago.

Galchenyuk Gone: The Pacioretty trade wasn’t the only big one.  In mid-June, the Habs surprised many by dealing Alex Galchenyuk in a one-for-one swap for Max Domi.  The trade was widely panned at the time but the early returns have been quite promising.  Domi has thrived down the middle and leads the Canadiens in scoring this season while Galchenyuk has not fared particularly well in the desert.  While both players have one year left on their deals, Domi still has two years of team control remaining while Galchenyuk will be a UFA in 2020.

Plekanec Leaves, Comes Back, And Leaves Again: Montreal’s one deal at the trade deadline of significance was sending Tomas Plekanec to Toronto (along with Kyle Baun) for Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel, and a second rounder used on Jacob Olofsson.  (Valiev and Rychel were traded to Calgary in separate moves before the 2018-19 season started.)  Plekanec finished the year just two games shy of 1,000 for his career and quickly re-signed with the Habs on July 1st.  However, he was a frequent healthy scratch and played just three games before going on IR.  Instead of being activated, the Habs opted to release him and Plekanec announced his retirement from the NHL and signed with a pair of teams in the Czech Republic.