While it ended on a bit of a down note, it was still a solid week for the Habs as they put themselves back into a playoff spot for the time being.
The Week That Was
Mar. 19: Canadiens 3, Flyers 1 – Considering that Philadelphia still was hoping to catch Montreal in the standings, this was expected to be a close game. Instead, Philly didn’t play their best game which allowed the Habs to get away with a win despite not playing their best either. Shea Weber’s goal early in the second held up as the winner while Max Domi added the empty-netter for insurance.
Mar. 21: Canadiens 4, Islanders 0 – After not playing well against them on the road the week before, this was an interesting rematch to see if Montreal could elevate their game. They did exactly that (and then some). They surprised New York early with their physicality and a strong second period gave them a rare cushion to work with offensively. This one featured one of the stranger goals of the year as Andrew Shaw was down in the corner and appeared to be injured and the Islanders stopped playing. That allowed Weber to blast one home from the point which really turned the tide of the game.
Mar. 23: Canadiens 7, Sabres 4 – It took a while for the Habs to wake up as they were outplayed considerably in the opening 20 minutes. However, when they did get going, they were scoring at a rate we haven’t seen in a long time. Max Domi, Tomas Tatar (in his 500th game), and Brendan Gallagher led the way with three-point games which was enough to overcome a sluggish outing from Carey Price.
Mar. 24: Hurricanes 2, Canadiens 1 (OT) – Carolina came out flying but Montreal was able to keep them at bay through the first period and actually got the lone goal of the period. In the second, the script was somewhat flipped as the Habs were the better team but couldn’t get the elusive insurance goal. That proved costly as the Hurricanes tied it late before second-overall pick Andrei Svechnikov picked up the winner in the extra session.
Goals: Brendan Gallagher (33)
Assists: Max Domi (41)
Points: Max Domi (67)
+/-: Tomas Tatar (+21)
PIMS: Max Domi (80)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (282)
News And Notes
– Andrew Shaw’s two-point game against Buffalo gave him 40 points, setting a new career high. He needed 80 games in 2013-14 to get to 39 but just 56 this season to reach 40.
– Jonathan Drouin has played fewer than 13 minutes in just four games this season. However, those have all been in the last four games. It’s safe to say that he has lost the trust of Claude Julien at the moment.
– Nate Thompson is now on a four-game assist streak (who saw that coming?). He has matched his point total with the Kings (six) despite playing 33 more games with them than he has with Montreal.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Domi – Shaw
Drouin – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Byron – Thompson – Weal
Mete – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Benn – Folin
The Week Ahead
Mar. 26: vs Florida – While they’re technically still in the race, the Panthers have been playing out the stretch for a while lately and have turned to rookie Samuel Montembeault for the bulk of the starts over the last few weeks. Florida will be in the back half of a back-to-back on the road for this one (they’re in Toronto on Monday) and with the rough schedule after this, the Habs will need to get this game.
Mar. 28: at Columbus – I think it’s fair to call this one the most important game of the year (which could change depending on how things look for the final few games). The Habs have the final playoff spot. The Blue Jackets want that final playoff spot. This one could very well determine who gets it. The pressure is certainly on, especially for Columbus who has underachieved considerably since loading up at the trade deadline.
Mar. 30: at Winnipeg – The final game of March for Montreal kicks off the gauntlet part of their schedule as they face four of the top eight teams in the league. It kicks off against the Jets in their final out-of-conference game of the year. Winnipeg is one of the top scoring teams in the West which is impressive enough by itself but considering the injuries they’ve had and Patrik Laine’s lengthy slump, they have the talent to be a lot higher when everyone’s healthy. Right now, they’re down Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey but both are skating and could be back for this one.
The decision to drop Paul Byron to the fourth line (that seems to be getting the ice time of a third line) has drawn some criticism, especially because it moved the perpetually-slumping Artturi Lehkonen up to Max Domi’s line. I happen to like the move and not just because both players did well in their first few games following the switch.
Byron, for as good of a player as he is, is mostly a one-trick pony with his speed. He’s not an elite shooter or passer. He just goes really fast. That type of skill set isn’t the most complementary to a guy like Domi. Someone that’s a little more versatile and a little more creative – like Lehkonen – makes more sense from that standpoint. He can’t score to save his life right now (notwithstanding his goal against Buffalo where he went almost as far into the net as the puck) but the offensive options are more plentiful when he’s on that line over Byron.
I like Byron in a role where he can exploit weaker opponents. He can out-skate players and catch them napping which leads to his numerous breakaway opportunities. That’s how he scores a lot of his goals. He’s going to get more of those chances on a lower line where he’ll presumably be facing weaker opponents than he would in a top-six role. I think he has a better shot to be more productive in the lesser role than he would in the higher one.
It’s not often where demoting the higher scorer in favour of the lower scorer actually helps a team produce more offence. Flipping Byron for Lehkonen may wind up being one of the exceptions.