The Habs rebounded quite nicely this past week, picking up wins in all three of their games to give themselves a small cushion on a playoff position.
The Week That Was
Dec. 4: Canadiens 5, Senators 2 – The Habs were the dominant team early in this one but it wasn’t until late in the second period where they took over on the scoreboard. Max Domi (twice) and Artturi Lehkonen scored in under a four-minute span to go from a tie to a 4-1 lead that proved to be insurmountable for Ottawa. As is often the case when these teams met up, there was more of the rough stuff than usual, especially since the two sides were facing off again two nights later.
Dec. 6: Canadiens 5, Senators 2 – The rematch had a similar result but was played a lot differently. Ottawa opened up the scoring but the Habs tied it up shortly after that and then shut the Sens down, playing more than 15 minutes without allowing a shot. Despite that, Montreal had just a one-goal lead heading into the third but they played keep-away with Ottawa in the final frame, scoring twice while limiting them to just three shots to pick up the mini-sweep.
Dec. 9: Canadiens 3, Blackhawks 2 – Montreal got off to a strong start and were up 2-0 before the game was eight minutes old. It was looking like one more would have put it out of reach but it took them a long time to get that elusive third tally. Chicago tied it up in the second period and spent half of the third on the power play as the Habs took several unnecessary penalties. Buoyed by Carey Price, the penalty kill did well to kill off those late opportunities and were rewarded for it at the other end when Tomas Tatar (who had taken three penalties to that point) redirected a Jeff Petry point shot for the winner with just 77 seconds left in regulation.
Goals: Max Domi (14)
Assists: Domi/Petry (17)
Points: Max Domi (31)
+/-: Max Domi (+7)
PIMS: Max Domi (31)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (109)
News And Notes
– With Noah Juulsen ready to be activated off injured reserve, the Habs waived Xavier Ouellet and assigned him to Laval when he passed through unclaimed. Interestingly enough, Juulsen was a healthy scratch on Sunday.
– Charles Hudon has now been a healthy scratch in five straight games and appears to be behind Matthew Peca on the depth chart. With Joel Armia potentially a couple of weeks away from returning, the Habs may soon have a decision to make on Hudon’s future with the team.
– Michael Chaput is now one game away from needing to clear waivers to return to Laval. Considering the success of the fourth line right now, it’s safe to assume that the Habs will keep him around rather than send him back to avoid the risk of having to waive him again.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Domi – Shaw
Byron – Kotkaniemi – Lehkonen
Agostino – Chaput – Deslauriers
Kulak – Weber
Schlemko – Petry
Reilly – Benn
The Week Ahead
Dec. 11: at Minnesota – The three-game road trip comes to an end against the Wild who have struggled as of late. Devan Dubnyk (anyone remember when he was property of the Habs?) has been yanked in two of his last six starts, posting a woeful .836 save percentage in that span. Zach Parise is actually healthy this season and leads the Wild in scoring with 13 goals in 28 games.
Dec. 13: vs Carolina – After Curtis McElhinney stole one late last month, the Habs will get a quick opportunity for revenge. (They may also get to do so without facing McElhinney as he’s currently hurt.) The Hurricanes have struggled to score this season and are dead last in the East in terms of goals for but Sebastian Aho still gives them a top-notch scoring threat.
Dec. 15: vs Ottawa – It’s already the end of the season series between these two sides, one of those odd scheduling quirks. The Sens are banged up with both Matt Duchene and Bobby Ryan out on top of already missing Jean-Gabriel Pageau (and technically Marian Gaborik) but remain one of the top scoring teams in the league. However, as the Habs saw last week, their defence remains suspect and they struggle to keep the puck out of their own net.
There has been some recent discussion on whether or not it’s time to flip Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the forward lines. I’m firmly in the ‘no’ camp on that one.
It’s important to remember that we’re only two months in and not even near the halfway point of the season. There have already been signs that Kotkaniemi is tiring so adding to his workload probably isn’t the best of ideas. (Yes, he has had some good shifts lately but there have been periods where he has been completely invisible too. That’s fine, it’s all part of development but giving a player more ice time in this situation isn’t ideal. If they intend to keep him up for the full season and potentially a playoff series, that’s a much bigger workload in terms of games played than he’s accustomed to. As things stand, he’s probably going to hit a wall and need a game off here and there; moving him up and playing him even more is only going to make that come quicker.
While everyone would acknowledge that Kotkaniemi is a better offensive threat than Danault, they’ve each scored in the same number of games this season – two. It’s not as if Kotkaniemi is on the verge of an offensive breakout where playing with Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher will make him explode. That day will come but it’s not in mid-December of his rookie season. Danault gives that line some defensive responsibility and actually allows them to start with the puck as he’s the one regular that’s actually decent on the draws. That line’s working so I wouldn’t change it up yet. Kotkaniemi is averaging 14 minutes a night away from top checking and is spending time on the top power play unit. That’s an appropriate workload for the youngest player in the league.
There will come a time when Kotkaniemi can ascend to the top role. Rushing him there won’t make it come any faster, not if they want him to have sustainable success. The old adage is ‘slow and steady wins the race’. The Habs have been following that with their top youngster and shouldn’t mess with it now.