The woeful start to 2020 continued for the Habs this past week as they dropped three more games before managing to snap their second eight-game losing streak of the season in Ottawa.
The Week That Was
Jan. 6: Jets 3, Canadiens 2 – Ben Chiarot came to play against his former team as he picked up both goals but Winnipeg capitalized on some bad Montreal mistakes. The Jets scored a goal shorthanded while Andrew Copp’s winner was on a breakaway from bad coverage. Ilya Kovalchuk made his Canadiens debut and picked up an assist.
Jan. 7: Red Wings 4, Canadiens 3 – This is very likely the game that all but officially killed their playoff hopes as the Habs lost to Detroit for the third time this season. They got off to a good start with a two-goal lead, blew it, regained the lead in the third period when Victor Mete banked one in, then proceeded to blow that one and couldn’t even get it to overtime.
Jan. 9: Oilers 4, Canadiens 2 – Once again, Montreal got off to a strong start and had a two-goal lead in the second period. Once again, they blew it. Edmonton came back with four unanswered goals (the last being an empty-netter) and the losing streak hit eight games.
Jan. 11: Canadiens 2, Senators 1 (OT) – For the first half of the game, the Habs were the better team and if it weren’t for the fact they missed the net on many occasions, they could have had a multi-goal lead. Instead, they sat back and Ottawa dominated the rest of the way, eventually tying it up when Matthew Peca put one in his one net. In the extra session, Kovalchuk missed on a breakaway but made up for it when he opted to shoot on a two-on-one, beating Marcus Hogberg to end the streak.
Goals: Tomas Tatar (16)
Assists: Tomas Tatar (23)
Points: Tomas Tatar (39)
+/-: Phillip Danault (+13)
PIMS: Tomas Tatar (32)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (162)
News And Notes
– Brendan Gallagher returned from his concussion, played in one game, then had a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms and is out again. The Hab who initially gave him the concussion, Ben Chiarot, suffered a lower-body injury against Detroit.
– Lukas Vejdemo was sent back to Laval. Dale Weise and Jordan Weal appear to be rotating the 12th and 13th spots up front for the time being.
– Through 31 games last season, Jesperi Kotkaniemi had 15 points (3-12-15). This year, at that same marker, he has just eight points (6-2-8).
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Kovalchuk
Lehkonen – Domi – Suzuki
Peca – Kotkaniemi – Cousins
Poehling – Thompson – Weise
Mete – Weber
Scandella – Petry
Kulak – Fleury
The Week Ahead
Jan. 13: vs Calgary – The Habs won their first meeting last month but a lot has changed since then. Montreal has fallen off the cliff in the standings while the Flames have won five straight to jump into first place in the Pacific Division. Despite having the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the Flames have struggled to score this season but they’ve done enough defensively to win some close games in recent weeks.
Jan. 15: vs Chicago – The Blackhawks are a bit like the Canadiens this season. Expectations weren’t overly high going in but both squads have underachieved so far. They’re also both dealing with notable injuries as Chicago is down three regulars up front (including former Hab Andrew Shaw who has another concussion) plus a pair of blueliners.
Jan. 16: at Philadelphia – If Montreal fancies themselves to still be in the playoff picture, this is a game they’re going to need to get as this is the team that’s holding down the last Wild Card spot. Speculative trade target Shayne Gostisbehere will miss this one after recently undergoing knee surgery while Oskar Lindblom, who leads the team in goals per game, was diagnosed with cancer last month and is out for the season.
Jan. 18: vs Vegas – While it’s fair to be optimistic about the return from the big trade with the Golden Knights last season (Tomas Tatar leads the Habs in scoring and Nick Suzuki is having a strong rookie season), the deal has worked out well for both sides. Max Pacioretty leads Vegas in scoring and was recently named as an All-Star replacement. They possess a well-balanced attack with six forwards already in double digits in goals.
While Ilya Kovalchuk’s winner in Ottawa ended the week on a high note (and it’s worth saying that he has looked quite impressive for someone they signed off the proverbial scrap heap), this past week has to be considered an extreme disappointment. Faced with the prospect of falling almost entirely out of the playoff picture with some winnable games ahead of them, they wilted. The Habs look terrified of third periods now and that has to be concerning. There are always going to be ebbs and flows in a season but that should just be with the results, not their confidence level in the final 20 minutes of each game. This was an issue at times last season as well and it’s something that needs to stop. The Canadiens are not going to have success if at the slightest bit of adversity, they panic in the third period.
It’s easy to look at the three losses to Detroit as the main reason that they’re out of contention and it’s a fair argument. But I’d suggest that the inability to perform in tight situations is the biggest reason. The Habs have struggled badly in one-goal games; they just can’t get the key goal in that final period often enough. Performing under pressure is a skill that every team covets and right now, it doesn’t seem like Montreal has enough of that, even when they were closer to full health. GM Marc Bergevin is going to be going through some tough discussions regarding some of his veteran players as to whether or not to keep them or move them. Something tells me that these third period performances are going to play a factor in deciding who stays and who goes.