Montreal’s trip to Western Canada proved to be a fruitful one as the Habs picked up a pair of victories out of their three games to continue to hang around the postseason bubble.
The Week That Was
Dec. 17: Canadiens 3, Canucks 1 – The Habs got off to a bit of a slow start and a late goal by Vancouver had them down after 20 minutes which wound up being the trend for the week. However, Montreal’s power play, which has been hit or miss this season, took advantage of two early penalties in the third period and scored on both; those two tallies wound up being the difference in the game.
Dec. 19: Canadiens 4, Flames 3 (OT) – This game was one that wouldn’t be classified as a coaches dream. There were odd-man rushes and scoring chances aplenty for both sides with the Habs pulling off a pair of comebacks (2-0 after 1, 3-2 in the 3rd) before Max Domi went end-to-end in overtime and slapped one past David Rittich for the victory.
Dec. 21: Oilers 4, Canadiens 3 – Once again, the Habs started poorly and were down by two less than 12 minutes in. However, Jeff Petry brought his ‘A’ game against his former team and picked up a pair of special teams points to help Montreal tie it in the 2nd. They also came back from a 3-2 deficit in the 3rd but Riley Sheahan’s third goal of the season was the difference-maker. That goal, as well as their first, were scored on two-on-ones as the Canadiens continue to struggle defending in that situation.
Goals: Brendan Gallagher (15)
Assists: Phillip Danault (19)
Points: Tomas Tatar (30)
+/-: Shea Weber (+12)
PIMS: Tomas Tatar (28)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (142)
News And Notes
– Although both Victor Mete and Jesperi Kotkaniemi both joined the Habs on the road trip, neither have made it back into the lineup yet although Mete at least has a chance to play in their final game on Monday.
– Shea Weber has 29 points (11-18-29) through the first 36 games of this season. The last time he had that many points at this juncture was back in 2011-12 (8-21-29). He was averaging 26:19 through that point of the year while averaging a fair bit less in 2019-20 at 24:13.
– Last season, Artturi Lehkonen shattered his personal record for hits. It was 72 but he recorded 120 in 2018-19. He’s already at 75 this season, a pace of 171.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Domi – Armia
Cousins – Suzuki – Weal
Poehling – Thompson – Barber
Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Reilly – Fleury
The Week Ahead
Dec. 23: at Winnipeg – The Jets have been one of the stranger teams so far this season. There are nights where they look unstoppable and others where they struggle mightily. They still have plenty of firepower on their top two lines though with their top five scorers all having 10 goals or more. On the flip side, they were already somewhat thin in terms of forward depth and now have a few guys out so their lower trios are largely filled with unproven youngsters and minor leaguers; former Hab Logan Shaw has become a regular in recent weeks for them.
Dec. 28: at Tampa Bay – I think it’s fair to suggest that the Lightning have been one of the biggest disappointments in the league this season. Instead of running roughshod over the Eastern Conference, they’re actually on the outside of the playoffs looking in (albeit with games in hand on most teams). Scoring goals hasn’t been an issue but both Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney have struggled considerably this season.
Dec. 29: at Florida – In the previously-annual New Year’s Eve game that isn’t played that night now for optics reasons, the Habs will also face a Panthers team on a back-to-back. Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t been much better than what Roberto Luongo and James Reimer from last season but they have plenty of firepower (while Noel Acciari is coming off the week of his life). Neither game is particularly easy so it will be interesting to see if Carey Price gets both games or someone else gets this one.
Nick Suzuki is giving the coaching staff a tough decision to make. He hasn’t looked the slightest bit out of place while covering for Jesperi Kotkaniemi as the third line centre to the point where it would be difficult to justify shifting him back to the wing upon Kotkaniemi’s looming return. Positional flexibility is great but so is running with the hot hand in which case both Suzuki and even Max Domi all of a sudden need to stay where they are at centre even when the young Finn is cleared to play.
Therein lies the conundrum. Montreal envisions Kotkaniemi as their top centre of the future and they’ve used him there for all but a handful of games late last season. Does it make sense to put him on the wing (perhaps alongside Suzuki) for the time being; having him as the fourth line centre doesn’t make a lot of sense. Or is this a reason to put him in Laval (even if it’s just for conditioning) and let him get 1C reps down there? You never want an injury to force a player to lose his lineup spot but Suzuki’s playing too well down the middle to have him go back to the wing, at least for now. Claude Julien and his staff aren’t too far from having an intriguing decision to make as a result.