It turns out playing a team other than Ottawa wasn’t enough to cure Montreal’s woes as they limped through the first two games of the week before eking out a win on Saturday to at least hit their off week on a winning note.
The Week That Was
Feb. 10: Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 2 – The Habs got off to a good start in this one with Josh Anderson scoring just over a minute in but they couldn’t get that crucial second goal that may have been a difference-maker. Instead, Toronto got better as the game went on; they tied it up in the second and scored two in the third to pull away in a game where Carey Price wasn’t at his best.
Feb. 11: Oilers 3, Canadiens 0 – Surely the Oilers could help wake Montreal up from its offensive funk, right? Nope. Mike Smith was sharp after recently being activated off LTIR and the Habs weren’t sharp at all. Edmonton scored once in each period so the game was close for a while but it was one that it never really felt that Montreal was truly in it.
Feb. 13: Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 1 – Toronto got off to a good start with Mitch Marner scoring early in the first but they couldn’t get that crucial second goal that may have been a difference-maker. Instead, Montreal got better as the game went on (it was hard to get much worse) and scored two in the third to steal a victory with Brendan Gallagher picking up the winner late.
Goals: Tyler Toffoli (10)
Assists: Jonathan Drouin (10)
Points: Petry/Toffoli (15)
+/-: Joel Edmundson (+15)
PIMS: Ben Chiarot (28)
Shots: Gallagher/Toffoli (53)
News And Notes
– Tomas Tatar and Paul Byron were both healthy scratches for a game this week to allow Corey Perry to remain in the lineup. For those who have suggested Claude Julien isn’t willing to a bench a veteran, these recent moves suggest otherwise.
– Hayden Verbeek and Cam Hillis were both brought up to the taxi squad, the latter also spending some time with Laval. That allowed Ryan Poehling and Cale Fleury to go to the Rocket to get some game action in. Considering whoever was going to be added to the taxi squad wasn’t going to play, adding weaker links from Laval to the taxi squad when both teams are playing at home makes sense but once they’re back on the road, that may have to change.
– Going back to the playoffs, Byron has now gone 21 straight games without a goal. Also worth noting, he has just 17 shots on goal in that span. He hasn’t been a volume shooter in his career, but one per game is a benchmark he typically clears.
Last Game’s Lines:
Drouin – Suzuki – Anderson
Toffoli – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Byron – Evans – Perry
Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Mete – Romanov
The Week Ahead
Feb. 20: vs Toronto – At this point, there isn’t a whole lot to really profile about the Maple Leafs considering they’ve played them twice in the last few days already. They’ve shown a commitment to defending with more consistency which is a change from the beginning of the season and in doing so, they’ve stopped the Habs from having the types of transition opportunities that they did early in the year. Toronto now has three games against Ottawa where the temptation may be to open up more so it’ll be interesting to see if this matchup winds up being a bit more offence-oriented.
Feb. 21: at Ottawa – The Senators have been better as of late than their record would suggest as their goaltending is starting to come around. They’ve played the Habs tough twice already and even though the Sens are in the basement, Montreal shouldn’t be expecting anything different, especially on a back-to-back where Ottawa will be the more rested team. Matt Murray is currently injured but should be back by then while Ryan Dzingel, who they acquired on Saturday, won’t be available due to quarantine.
What’s wrong with the offence? That’s the current question and while it’s far from a simple problem, I think the answer is fairly simple. Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson have been scoring at unsustainable rates. As soon as that stopped happening, things went stale.
Between the two of them, they have 19 of Montreal’s 52 goals this season. Take those out and the rest of the team are averaging 2.2 goals per game. That’s actually worse than last season. I would suggest it’s not that Montreal was this offensive juggernaut but rather Toffoli and Anderson have masked some of the underlying deficiencies from the holdovers. The core is mostly the same, as is the system.
This isn’t necessarily bad news though. At some point, the holdovers are going to start producing more than 2.2 goals per game. Even last year, they were more productive than that. Frankly, it’s cause for some optimism at this point. As Toffoli and Anderson come back down to earth, the rest of the team should, in theory, be able to pick up enough of the slack to allow the team to have some success. If that happens and they get a bit more consistent goaltending from Carey Price (which will offset Jake Allen’s eventual step back), they should still be in decent shape. Enough to contend for the division title? Perhaps not but in a year where it’s divisional play only with no fans, I’m not really concerned about home ice advantage and stuff like that, especially given Montreal’s disinterest in line matching so far. It should be enough to land a top-four spot and right now, that’s all that matters given that they’re a team that many believe is better suited to play in the playoffs than the regular season.