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California has not been kind to the Habs in the past and that trend continued as they dropped two of three including one in embarrassing fashion to drop out of a playoff spot.

The Week That Was

Mar. 5: Canadiens 3, Kings 1 – The week got off to a good start as Montreal had one of their better defensive efforts as of late plus a good showing from Carey Price.  Jordan Weal made a good strong impression in his debut with the team as he scored what wound up being the game-winning goal.  It really makes you wonder why Claude Julien waited so long to put him in to begin with.

Mar. 7: Sharks 5, Canadiens 2 – Julien surprised some by starting Antti Niemi over Price, a decision that ultimately wound up backfiring.  (Personally, I thought it made a bit of sense since not many expected Montreal to win anyway.)  Niemi’s recent struggles continued and they were out of it early on despite actually putting forth a pretty good showing.  Artturi Lehkonen finally snapped his 29-game goalless drought in the losing effort.

Mar. 8: Ducks 8, Canadiens 2 – The Habs deserve recognition for being a team that doesn’t fold too often.  This, however, was one of the exceptions.  They were technically still in it at the midway mark when it was 3-2 but Anaheim scored five unanswered the rest of the way.  Somewhat surprisingly, Price wasn’t pulled for the final few minutes when it got out of hand.  Given that he could very well start every game the rest of the way, a few minutes of rest is better than nothing.

StatPack

Skaters:

# Player GP G A +/- PIMS SOG ATOI
6 Shea Weber 3 2 2 -1 0 14 23:03
8 Jordie Benn 3 0 0 -3 4 7 16:03
11 Brendan Gallagher 3 1 1 -1 4 8 15:41
13 Max Domi 3 0 1 -1 0 5 17:12
15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi 1 0 0 -3 0 2 15:03
17 Brett Kulak 2 0 1 -1 2 1 19:48
21 Nate Thompson 3 0 1 -1 0 2 12:15
22 Dale Weise 3 0 0 -1 0 3 10:54
24 Phillip Danault 3 0 2 -2 0 4 17:45
26 Jeff Petry 3 0 0 -3 2 6 22:44
28 Mike Reilly 1 0 0 -1 0 2 18:03
32 Christian Folin 3 0 0 -3 0 5 15:26
40 Joel Armia 3 0 0 -3 0 5 14:05
41 Paul Byron 3 1 1 E 0 6 16:10
43 Jordan Weal 3 1 0 -4 0 10 15:55
53 Victor Mete 3 0 2 -1 0 4 17:52
62 Artturi Lehkonen 3 1 0 -4 0 6 13:02
65 Andrew Shaw 3 1 1 -2 0 5 17:40
90 Tomas Tatar 2 0 0 +2 0 1 16:06
92 Jonathan Drouin 3 0 0 -3 0 4 16:16

Goalies:

# Player Record GAA SV% SO
31 Carey Price 1-1-0 4.50 .839 0
37 Antti Niemi 0-1-0 4.15 .833 0

Team Leaders:

Goals: Brendan Gallagher (30)
Assists: Max Domi (38)
Points: Max Domi (60)
+/-: Danault/Tatar (+16)
PIMS: Max Domi (78)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (250)

News And Notes

- Tomas Tatar missed Friday’s game in Anaheim due to illness.  He’s likely to be available on Tuesday for Montreal’s next game so it will be interesting to see who comes out as Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s rest has likely come to an end.

- Antti Niemi has just a .831 SV% over his last four starts.  His SV% over his previous three? .962. 

- Shea Weber’s goal (on the power play, no less) was the 200th of his career.  He’s only the 21st defenceman in NHL history to score 200 goals and he is the only active player out of that group.

Last Game’s Lines:

Drouin – Danault – Gallagher
Byron – Domi – Shaw
Lehkonen – Kotkaniemi – Weal
Weise – Thompson – Armia

Mete – Weber
Reilly – Petry
Benn – Folin

The Week Ahead

Mar. 12: vs Detroit – The Habs have fared well against the Red Wings this season so this should be a nice pillow contest following their brutal finish on the road.  Detroit will be without their top defenceman in Mike Green for the rest of the season while Dylan Larkin is dealing with a neck issue so his availability is in question.  Suffice it to say, this is a must-win game.

Mar. 14: at NY Islanders – The Isles continue to defy expectations as they remain in a battle for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division as a potential first-round matchup for the first Wild Card team.  Robin Lehner is dealing with a concussion so for the time being, Thomas Greiss is the starter.  They’ve tried that in the past and it hasn’t worked particularly well so there is a chance that they will slide back a bit in the coming weeks.  That said, they’re still a stingy unit defensively and with Montreal struggling to score, this could be a tough one.

Mar. 16: vs Chicago – Don’t let the record fool you – the Blackhawks have very quietly won 13 of their last 19 games and for a while, it looked as if they could play themselves back into the playoff run.  Corey Crawford is back after his latest concussion while Patrick Kane leads the Western Conference in scoring so this is not as easy of a matchup as it would have been a couple of months ago.

Final Thought

Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s time on the bench drew some ire but if there was ever a time to do it, it was this particular road trip.  Kotkaniemi has struggled offensively on the road this season (he’s still looking for goal number one) and if there’s one thing that those teams all have, it’s size down the middle.  As hard as Kotkaniemi has worked this season, he has been physically overmatched at times and it stands to reason that he would have been at least to some degree in these games. 

Giving a player a night off isn’t necessarily a healthy scratch.  There are benefits to watching from above once in a while and truth be told, I thought it was going to happen to him a lot earlier than it did. 

We also saw how he fared coming off the All-Star break with some rest under his belt.  It has been a long season and it will be even longer after the regular season comes to an end – he’ll either be in the playoffs with the Habs or the World Championships with Finland.  (There’s the potential for both to happen as well.) 

I have no issues at all with Julien’s decision to give him a couple of games off to recharge for the stretch run and he picked the right opponents to do it against.  If it ends at that, there should be no issue.  (If he does it again though, then I think it will be a problem.)