While the week got off to a rough start, the Habs were able to salvage it by picking up a pair of road victories to head into the holiday break on a high note.
The Week That Was
Dec. 17: Bruins 4, Canadiens 0 – Instead of closing out the home portion of 2018 on a high note, the Habs went out with a whimper. They were down early and never recovered as the Bruins – who were still without Patrice Bergeron among others – dominated for most of the night.
Dec. 19: Avalanche 2, Canadiens 1 – The road trip didn’t get off to a great start either. A bad giveaway by Carey Price in the second period erased Montreal’s lead while Gabriel Landeskog scored the winner early in the third period on a play that the Habs unsuccessfully challenged for goalie interference (and voiced their displeasure about it following the game). The Habs played a lot better than they did against Boston but it was still a loss.
Dec. 20: Canadiens 2, Coyotes 1 – There was some extra urgency from Montreal in this one considering that Price got the nod despite it being a back-to-back. Both Max Domi and Alex Galchenyuk were relatively quiet against their former teams while Paul Byron picked up the game-winner early in the third period to help Price get his 300th career NHL win.
Dec. 22: Canadiens 4, Golden Knights 3 (OT) – Phillip Danault had his most productive game in the NHL as he picked up his first career hat trick including scoring the tying marker with less than 90 seconds left in regulation. Byron then made it two straight game-winners with a goal in the extra frame to give the Habs four of six points on the first half of their road trip.
Goals: Brendan Gallagher (15)
Assists: Max Domi (21)
Points: Max Domi (35)
+/-: Paul Byron (+8)
PIMS: Max Domi (41)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (134)
News And Notes
– After a tough outing against Boston, the Habs opted to send Noah Juulsen down to Laval while bringing back Victor Mete. While Juulsen had solidified himself as a regular before suffering his facial fractures, he averaged just 15:20 per game after his return and was not having the type of impact he was early on.
– While Tomas Tatar picked up a pair of assists against his former team on Saturday, he’s in the middle of his quietest stretches of the season as he has scored just once in his last 11 games. Despite that, he still sits third on the team in goals.
– Charles Hudon made his way into the lineup after being scratched for nine straight games. While his agent indicated to La Presse that Marc Bergevin believes Hudon is still in the plans for the future, it’s hard to see that being the case much longer considering he didn’t do anything to help his cause in the two games he played in.
Last Game’s Lines:
Drouin – Domi – Byyon
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Kotkaniemi – Shaw
Deslauriers – Chaput – Agostino
Mete – Weber
Reilly – Petry
Kulak – Benn
The Week Ahead
Dec. 27: at Florida – The Habs kick off the second half of their road trip against a struggling Panthers squad. They have a strong group of top-six forwards headlined by Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman, and Evgeni Dadonov (Vincent Trocheck is injured) but they don’t get much in the way of scoring outside of that group. Meanwhile, Roberto Luongo and James Reimer are both struggling in goal and as a result, a team that seemed like a safe bet to make the playoffs is tied with Ottawa for last in the division.
Dec. 28: at Tampa Bay – After playing one of the NHL’s biggest underachievers, the Habs get the top team in the league in the Lightning. They didn’t miss a beat when Andrei Vasilevskiy was injured and he’s now back in the lineup. Nikita Kucherov is second in the league in scoring while Tampa leads the NHL in goals scored by a significant margin.
When it comes to development on the farm in recent years, there haven’t been many positives. It got to the point where the Habs left players that needed time in the minors up way too long and it felt like there was minimal confidence that a player would improve on whatever they were sent down to work on. Victor Mete’s demotion was the first real test case under the new regime and it was nice to see that it worked exactly as intended. Before he was sent down, Mete was playing very tentatively but he looks a lot more assertive after just three weeks in Laval. (This really shouldn’t be a big deal but given the disaster that was the previous coaching staff, it actually is quite meaningful.)
Now it’s Noah Juulsen that will get the opportunity to work on his game, another wise decision as was quite tentative since coming back. Part of me wonders if this will be a longer stint, however. Unless Mete plays himself back into getting demoted again, there isn’t another waiver-exempt option on the back end and while some would like to see one of their surplus veterans go, Marc Bergevin hasn’t been able to pull a trigger on a trade to open up a roster spot yet this season despite needing to do so on several occasions now. As a potential playoff spot continues to be a possibility, chances are he’ll try to find a way to hold onto his depth as long as possible. The only way for that to happen now is for one of Juulsen or Mete to be in Laval. If Mete plays like he did against Vegas, Juulsen better be prepared for a longer stay than he’s hoping for.