Montreal’s second lengthy Western road trip got off to a good start in Vancouver where they picked up three of four points but they certainly struggled in the second leg, dropping two straight to Calgary.
The Week That Was
Mar. 1: Canucks 2, Canadiens 1 (SO) – After the offensive explosion against Winnipeg, expectations were high coming into this one, especially after Jeff Petry opened the scoring less than five minutes in. But, as has often been the case over the last few weeks, the offence went dry and couldn’t get the elusive second goal which proved costly. Adam Gaudette beat Carey Price on a perfectly-placed shot in the final minute while Bo Horvat had the only goal in the shootout following an overtime period that looked like Montreal was trying to drag out to the shootout.
Mar. 3: Canadiens 5, Canucks 1 – This contest was a lot closer to that Winnipeg game as Montreal came out and dominated right away although Thatcher Demko was able to keep Vancouver in it longer than they should have been. The lead was cut to one early in the second period before a Shea Weber power play goal put the Habs back in control. The highlight may have been Phillip Danault finally snapping his goalless drought while the lowlight was clearly Ben Chiarot who fractured his hand in a completely unnecessary fight.
Mar. 4: Flames 2, Canadiens 1 – With the surprisingly short turnaround (you can thank Sportsnet for that one), the Habs came out completely listless in Darryl Sutter’s return to Calgary’s bench. Josh Leivo scored a pair in the second period and while Jake Allen was sharp, it’s a deficit that still felt much steeper than it was. Montreal made it interesting in the third when Corey Perry scored halfway through the period but they couldn’t muster up much after that.
Mar. 6: Flames 3, Canadiens 1 – Without the travel concern, the hope was that Montreal would show up for this one. They didn’t – or at least until it was too late to matter. Calgary was all over the Canadiens in this one with their aggression causing all sorts of miscues. It’s the same thing Ottawa does that the Habs struggle with and some adjustments are going to need to be made. They showed up for the third period but by then it was too little, too late.
Shootout – Skaters:
Shootout – Goalies:
Goals: Tyler Toffoli (15)
Assists: Jeff Petry (14)
Points: Jeff Petry (25)
+/-: Joel Edmundson (+25)
PIMS: Ben Chiarot (44)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (86)
News And Notes
– Ben Chiarot is seeing a specialist on his fractured hand to determine what’s next. The early expectation is that he’ll miss four-to-six weeks. That will make him LTIR-eligible if the Habs decide to go that route though they lose banked cap space if they do that.
– Paul Byron has exhausted his waiver exemption and will need to be re-waived in order to return to the taxi squad. In the meantime, they can still send a waiver-exempt player down to try to free up a bit of cap space but Chiarot’s injury will cap them at sending just one player down instead of two.
– With two goals this week, Corey Perry has already matched his goal total from last season with Dallas. He only needed 19 games with the Habs to reach what took 57 games to reach with the Stars.
Last Game’s Lines:
Drouin – Suzuki – Anderson
Toffoli – Kotkaniemi – Gallagher
Tatar – Danault – Armia
Lehkonen – Byron – Perry
Romanov – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Mete
The Week Ahead
Mar. 15/17: at Winnipeg – The Jets responded quite well after Montreal popped seven on them last weekend as they went into Toronto and took two out of three to make the battle for first place interesting. Connor Hellebuyck got Saturday’s game off so it’s a safe bet he’ll play in both of these. We won’t see Nathan Beaulieu though as he was placed on injured reserve and will be out for a while.
Mar. 19/20: vs Vancouver – It’s the final matchups against the Canucks who could still be without Elias Pettersson. With it being a back-to-back set, the Habs will likely see Braden Holtby for one of the two games; the veteran has allowed three or more goals in all but two of his 11 starts so far this season. That’s notable considering the Canadiens have scored five or more goals in six of their seven matchups with the one they didn’t obviously coming this past week.
There are benefits and drawbacks to being a team that’s as capped out as the Habs are. The positive, obviously, is that the roster is more talented and we’ve seen the impact that has made so far. The downside is that when injuries strike, options are limited.
Unfortunately, this is where Montreal finds themselves with Chiarot out and Phillip Danault clearly not 100%. They have enough cap space to basically call one minimum-salaried player up from the taxi squad and also have to be mindful of the bonuses that Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Alexander Romanov will hit. Without getting into all the calculations and details, they don’t have anywhere near enough as it stands to cover those so they’re staring down a bonus overage penalty for next year.
So, how does Marc Bergevin prioritize things? Trading outside of the division for another defenceman sounds fine in theory but if Chiarot winds up missing a month, they’ll only have the replacement for half of that stretch. On the other hand, can they afford to trot out Victor Mete and Brett Kulak as a third pairing any longer than they absolutely have to? And no, Xavier Ouellet as a regular is not the solution.
On the other hand, the risk of running with Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi as effectively their top two centres is that they’re asking an awful lot of two youngsters with Suzuki not really getting the benefit of even being eased in a bit more. Danault hasn’t done anything offensively this year but his importance is much more than some realize. Now he’s not 100% and for some reason, Dominque Ducharme doesn’t seem to trust Jake Evans. There’s a case to be made that adding two centres would make some sense let alone one.
So, where should Bergevin allocate his limited spending resources? Even if he adds a rental player, it will add to next year’s salary cap in the form of the bonus penalty which has to be factored in. They can’t deploy the third pairing in Chiarot’s absence the way they did in the bubble; that will be too taxing on Shea Weber and Jeff Petry over an extended stretch. And while Montreal’s centre group could be a lot better just a year or two from now with continued development, it’s not quite good enough now. That’s a lot to address with only enough cap space for a minimum-salaried player. Good luck, Marc, you’re going to need it.