While Montreal’s postseason prospects are still minimal, they’re not going down without a fight after they picked up three wins in as many games to make up a bit of ground in the standings.
The Week That Was
Feb. 4: Canadiens 5, Devils 4 (SO) – This one certainly didn’t start well for Montreal as they were down 3-0 partway through the second period and had nothing going for them. However, a Joel Armia shorthanded goal woke the Habs up and they scored four unanswered including Christian Folin’s first as a Hab. However, their nemesis (the final minute of a period) got them in the third as a too many men penalty resulted in Kyle Palmieri tying it with 20 seconds left. Ilya Kovalchuk, who was roundly booed all night in New Jersey, got the winner in the shootout.
Feb. 6: Canadiens 3, Ducks 2 (OT) – The Canadiens didn’t come out a whole lot better than they did against New Jersey but a good early showing from Carey Price and a Nick Suzuki power play goal had them in the lead through 20 minutes. They carried that same lead into the third before Derek Grant tied it up quickly. After going the distance in overtime against New Jersey, the opposite happened here as just 25 seconds in, Jeff Petry potted the winner after carrying it out from his own zone before snapping it past John Gibson.
Feb. 8: Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 1 (OT) – Recent matchups between these teams have been high-scoring affairs. This was anything but as scoring chances were few and far between. Toronto started to take control in the second period and scored early in the third to open the scoring. That seemed to wake up Montreal who took it to them the rest of the way; Marco Scandella finally tied it up with less than three minutes to go for his first goal as a Hab. In overtime, after Tyson Barrie’s shot was stopped (their only shot after John Tavares’ goal in the third), Nick Suzuki came in on a breakaway and was stopped but Kovalchuk was there to pot the rebound.
Shootout – Skaters:
Shootout – Goalies:
Goals: Tomas Tatar (20)
Assists: Tomas Tatar (31)
Points: Tomas Tatar (51)
+/-: Phillip Danault (+14)
PIMS: Tomas Tatar (34)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (182)
News And Notes
– The Habs got some good news and some bad news on the injury front. Jonathan Drouin was activated off IR after missing nearly three months with his wrist injury but Shea Weber is now on IR after suffering a lower-body injury late in the game against New Jersey.
– Xavier Ouellet was recalled from Laval to give the Habs an extra defender with Shea Weber out while Jake Evans was brought up when the flu bug was at its worst. As players got healthy though, it was Ryan Poehling and not Evans who lost his spot.
– Joel Armia’s goal against New Jersey was his 14th of the season, setting a new career-high. It’s worth mentioning that he has improved on his goal total in each season of his career (4, 10, 12, 13, 14).
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Kovalchuk – Suzuki – Armia
Drouin – Domi – Domi
Cousins – Thompson – Evans
Chiarot – Mete
Kulak – Petry
Scandella – Ouellet
The Week Ahead
Feb. 10: vs Arizona – The Coyotes have struggled lately but could have a pair of key players back for this one in Darcy Kuemper and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Taylor Hall has played alright since joining them in December but he hasn’t given their offence a big shot in the arm either. Nick Schmaltz is their leading point-getter and he has just one goal so far in 2020 (spanning 15 games).
Feb. 12: at Boston – The Bruins have quietly risen to the top spot in the league largely on the backs of their top line that has virtually been unstoppable, combining for 84 goals in 56 games. The goalie rotation of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak has worked quite well as both netminders have been well above-average this season. Charlie McAvoy has shown flashes of offensive upside in the past but just scored his first goal of the season last week.
Feb. 14: at Pittsburgh – The Penguins have been decimated by injuries all season long but strong goaltending and some surprising contributions from depth players have kept them in the thick of things to the point where they’re within striking distance of the division lead. One player who isn’t contributing is former Hab Alex Galchenyuk who has dropped to the fourth line and played a season-low 3:02 on Saturday against Florida.
Feb. 15: vs Dallas – This is Montreal’s final back-to-back set of the season which means Carey Price isn’t getting a night off anytime soon. Despite a strong group of forwards on paper, Dallas continues to struggle offensively as they sit 25th overall in goals scored. Alexander Radulov is having a quiet year with just 31 points in 51 games (and a healthy scratch at one point). What has kept the Stars in a playoff spot is their goaltending as their team save percentage is the best in the Western Conference.
Let’s get this out there quickly. Despite sweeping the week, I don’t see the Habs pulling off the improbable comeback and getting into the playoffs. That said, these next couple of weeks have the potential to be very interesting.
Many have wanted to see an extra top forward added with the cap space that Montreal has had the last couple of seasons. How would the team look with one more impact player? While I’m not sold on Ilya Kovalchuk’s long-term viability (I think the long rest between his time as a scratch and free agency is still giving him a nice boost right now), he’s an impact player right now at least. Jonathan Drouin is now back in the lineup. All of a sudden, the Habs are pretty much fully healthy up front aside from Paul Byron who would probably be on the fourth line if he was available.
Marc Bergevin now has the opportunity to see the potential for this team with three lines capable of scoring. Drouin and Max Domi on the third line is a nice luxury to have and the Canadiens haven’t had a lot of offensive luxuries in recent years. If they pick up a few more wins over the next couple of weeks before the potential sell-off begins, perhaps it leaves an imprint in Bergevin’s mind as to how valuable just one more impact forward can be and how it could make a significant difference to their fortunes for next season. If that pushes him towards filling that void over leaving a bunch of cap space free for a third straight year, this upcoming stretch of games could wind up having a big impact even if it doesn’t move the needle in the standings very much.