For Montreal to have any remotely realistic chance of hanging around the playoff race, they needed a big week. They didn’t get it as they instead dropped all four game to fall even further out of the playoff picture.
The Week That Was
Feb. 10: Coyotes 3, Canadiens 2 – The game got off to a great start for the Habs when Jake Evans collected his first career NHL goal in the opening minute. A minute later, Brendan Gallagher doubled the lead. Things were looking up. And then it went off the rails. A poor goal from Derek Stepan got Arizona on the board before Montreal wilted completely in the second period and despite Price’s best efforts, Taylor Hall tied it up. It looked like it could be heading for overtime but a late hooking call on Joel Armia gave the Coyotes a late power play that Jakob Chychrun scored on with a minute left to give them the victory.
Feb. 12: Bruins 4, Canadiens 1 – David Pastrnak has been a thorn in Montreal’s side this season, coming into the game with five goals in their first three matchups. He then went and picked up a hat-trick while taking advantage of some bad defensive mishaps by the Canadiens. Nick Suzuki scored between Pastrnak’s second and third goals to briefly make it interesting but it felt like they were chasing the game for most of the night.
Feb. 14: Penguins 4, Canadiens 1 – It took until late in the second period for things to really open up. Jason Zucker scored his first as a Penguin with two minutes left after taking advantage of poor defensive coverage. Tomas Tatar got that back in the final minute with a power play goal before Zucker scored his second as a Penguin after taking advantage of, you guessed it, poor defensive coverage. Montreal tried to come back following that roller coaster of momentum but couldn’t beat Tristan Jarry with any of their 18 third period shots.
Feb. 15: Stars 4, Canadiens 3 (OT) – For the second time in the week, the game got off to a great start when Joel Armia scored just over a minute in. Things were really looking up when Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins made it 3-0 relatively early in the second period. The lead didn’t hold. Marco Scandella coughed one up to Joe Pavelski to set up a Mattias Janmark goal, Tyler Seguin scored on the power play, and Blake Comeau somehow snuck a seeing-eye shot through Price who once again did not do well in the second half of a back-to-back (more on that later). Seguin then added the winner in overtime. While many fans (and Claude Julien) were particularly upset with the lack of penalty calls to Dallas (there weren’t any), the bigger reason to be upset is their third blown three-goal lead of the year. (And given how anemic Montreal’s power play has been lately, the odds of them actually doing anything with the man advantage isn’t exactly high.)
Goals: Tomas Tatar (21)
Assists: Tomas Tatar (32)
Points: Tomas Tatar (53)
+/-: Phillip Danault (+14)
PIMS: Tomas Tatar (36)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (196)
News And Notes
– It turns out the world is not coming to an end for Shea Weber after all. The ankle injury, which some suggested could have long-term effects on his career, turned out to be a sprain and he’s listed as out for four-to-six weeks. Considering their playoff odds, shutting him down for the season may make the most sense unless they need to get him into a few games to ensure there are no lingering issues.
– Jonathan Drouin’s return to the lineup was short-lived as he sustained a lower-body injury on Friday night that kept him out of Saturday’s game. Nate Thompson is dealing with the flu which held him out against Dallas as well.
– Artturi Lehkonen has been more of a playmaker than a scorer throughout his NHL career but he hasn’t recorded an assist in his last 15 games.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Kovalchuk – Suzuki – Weal
Lehkonen – Domi – Armia
Cousins – Evans – Weise
Chiarot – Mete
Scandella – Petry
Kulak – Ouellet
The Week Ahead
Feb. 18: at Detroit – For most teams, this would be viewed as a winnable game. But for Montreal, it’s far from a guarantee. They have lost three times to the Red Wings this season; for context, they’ve won all of 14. Anthony Mantha is back and producing while Andreas Athanasiou continues to hold down a -1 rating per game as he’s -42 in 42 games.
Feb. 20: at Washington – Talk about one extreme to the next in terms of quality of opponent. Detroit is dead last and Washington is in the battle for first overall. Everything surrounding the Capitals right now involves Alex Ovechkin who is two goals shy of 700 for his career. If he doesn’t get there before this game, that will be the dominant storyline.
Feb. 22: at Ottawa – The final game before the trade deadline could feature some preventative healthy scratches on both sides including a frequent Montreal killer in Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Senators have been more competitive than most expected this season and with this being a rivalry game, it could be an interesting one even with both teams well outside the playoff picture.
There are some that would like to see Carey Price play both ends of a back-to-back with some regularity. However, he has not fared well in that scenario this season and as he gets older, they are going to have to protect him to an extent and staying out of back-to-backs is the logical way to do so. So why was he in net against Dallas?
It’s not because his play in those situations was enough to inspire confidence of a victory; his save percentage in the second half of these is lower than Keith Kinkaid or Charlie Lindgren. (And while it’s a small sample size for Price, it is for the other two as well.) Losing three straight earlier in the week made the already low chances of a playoff spot a complete pipedream. So what does throwing him out there accomplish?
Perhaps the better question is how little confidence does Claude Julien have in Charlie Lindgren? While his recent track record (over the last couple of years) hasn’t been inspiring, if you don’t have the faith to put him in an out-of-conference game in the second half of a back-to-back situation when your playoff fate is all but sealed, when are you going to play him? Clearly, Cayden Primeau isn’t ready yet (look at his recent stretch in Laval, not the two games he played earlier in the year) and Kinkaid has basically been given persona non grata status with the Rocket.
Backup goalies haven’t carried much importance in the past but it’s pretty clear that it will need to be near the top of the priority list this offseason. If Lindgren isn’t going to get the look down the stretch, maybe GM Marc Bergevin should be trying to get a goalie thrown in on a deal he makes over the next week. At a minimum, that would protect Julien from himself when it comes to running Price out too frequently and unnecessarily. The Habs can only do so much over these next few weeks but playing Price as much as they have been would be a big mistake.