While the week started off on a high note for the Habs, they got worse as it went on and didn’t provide much of a fight over their two-game set in Florida.
The Week That Was
Mar. 3: Canadiens 6, Islanders 2 – The Habs have struggled to score and the Islanders are a strong team defensively so naturally, this wound up being the game where Montreal’s attack came to life. They scored three in the back half of the first period to chase Thomas Greiss early while Paul Byron scored a shorthanded goal in the second to put it out of reach. (The Habs came somewhat close to blowing it though, allowing two in the final frame plus another that was called back for a kicking motion.)
Mar. 5: Lightning 4, Canadiens 0 – With Brendan Gallagher sidelined due to the flu, the Habs were forced to dress seven defencemen as a result of Marc Bergevin’s decision to not bring in any depth players to replace the ones he traded away, a move that made no sense at the time and looks even worse now. Without their energetic leader, Montreal laid a collective egg in this one. Victor Hedman scored in the first minute and the last one (1:03 left – close enough) to bookend Tampa’s scoring.
Mar. 7: Panthers 4, Canadiens 1 – Gallagher was back for this one and it still didn’t do much to wake the Habs up. Florida was by no means dominant but they carried the play for much of the game. A 1:10 two-man advantage late in the second period yielded nothing but telegraphed point shots and when the Panthers killed it off, it really changed the game. They picked up a pair quickly in the third to put it out of reach although Jake Evans’ goal after that was a brief bright spot.
Goals: Tomas Tatar (22)
Assists: Tomas Tatar (39)
Points: Tomas Tatar (61)
+/-: Phillip Danault (+18)
PIMS: Ben Chiarot (59)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (223)
News And Notes
– The injury bug has struck again as Tomas Tatar left Thursday’s game against the Islanders due to an upper-body injury (likely a shoulder issue) in the first period. He returned to Montreal and an update on his status should be made available early in the week. Meanwhile, Jonathan Drouin has resumed skating as he tries to make his way back from his lingering lower-body issue. Lukas Vejdemo was brought up on an emergency basis for Tatar so he won’t count against the post-deadline recall limit.
– He may be on quite the offensive slump (just two assists in his last 16 games) but Artturi Lehkonen’s numbers are pretty close to his career averages. In two of his first three seasons, he averaged 0.38 points per game. The lack of production over the past six weeks has dropped his 2019-20 points per game average to, you guessed it, 0.38.
Last Game’s Lines:
Lehkonen – Danault – Gallagher
Hudon – Suzuki – Armia
Byron – Domi – Weal
Vejdemo – Evans – Weise
Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Ouellet – Folin
The Week Ahead
Mar. 10: vs Nashville – While most of their top forwards have underachieved this season (Matt Duchene, last summer’s free agent target, has just 42 points), Nashville has crept back into the playoff race in the very tight Western Conference. Juuse Saros has taken over the number one role (or at least the strong side of the platoon) while Roman Josi is in the midst of a career season.
Mar. 12: vs Buffalo – If you think things have been bad in Montreal this year, it has been just as bad if not worse for the Sabres. They were active to add to their roster over the summer and got off to a great start, winning eight of their first ten games. Things have spiralled completely downhill from there. They can’t stop the puck, they can’t score, and fan apathy has soared. Victor Olofsson is one point ahead of Nick Suzuki for second in rookie points among forwards.
Mar. 15: at Anaheim – The annual trek to California is more winnable this season than it normally is which would be comforting if Montreal was still in a playoff race. The Ducks haven’t really progressed much this season as the integration of several young players hasn’t gone as well as they’d hoped. Ryan Getzlaf is producing the lowest points per game rate of his career but still leads Anaheim in scoring.
With the Habs out of contention, many are calling for the younger players to get a larger role down the stretch and for the most part, I agree with that sentiment. However, when it comes to Nick Suzuki, I think the opposite needs to happen.
Over the last few weeks, he has struggled badly. In that time, his ice time has increased and his mistakes have as well. One of the elements that helped Suzuki earn the trust of the coaching staff is that he doesn’t make many mistakes. I don’t think it’s a case of him going in the wrong direction though. I think he’s just tired. Look at what happened to Jesperi Kotkaniemi last year, it was around this time that his play fell off a cliff. Suzuki seems to be following the same path.
But unlike Kotkaniemi from a year ago, Suzuki played a lot of hockey last year. He played well into May with a long playoff run and a trip to the Memorial Cup. Overall, he played in 92 games last season, excluding exhibitions. He’s at 70 now in the NHL, also excluding exhibitions. That’s a lot of hockey for any youngster let alone someone making their way through the NHL for the first time. There’s nothing wrong with being a little tired in those circumstances.
Also unlike a year ago, they can’t take Suzuki out and give him a night off like they did with Kotkaniemi. Marc Bergevin’s deadline dealings made that all but impossible. But they can manage his ice time more. Max Domi’s line can move up to the number two unit which would knock a couple of minutes off Suzuki’s playing time. Jake Evans could get a longer look which is something they should be trying to do anyway. Generally speaking, more ice time is good for development but when it comes to Suzuki over these next few weeks, less is more.