This is the second of our two-part grade articles evaluating the Montreal Canadiens forwards during the third quarter. The period of games spans March 17 through April 17.
Players must have played in a minimum of three games to receive a grade.
Brendan Gallagher – Grade: A
Stats: 7 Games, 4 G, 3 A, +3, 6 PIM, 9 Hits, 3 Bks, 16 Shots
Grade Comments: Brendan was off to a terrific start to the third quarter, scoring at a point a game pace. Unfortunately, the injury bug that he’s avoided since the 2016-17 season came back to bite him. His thumb was hit by a slapshot from his own defenceman and fractured the digit, which put him out for the rest of the regular season. If the Habs make it to the playoffs, then he stands a chance at returning to the lineup then. It’s such a shame he was injured since his improved play helped elevate his old linemates (Danault and Tatar), who have faltered significantly in his absence.
Tomas Tatar – Grade: A
Stats: 14 Games, 5 G, 6 A, +7, 0 PIM, 2 GWG, 19 Hits, 6 Bks, 20 Shots
Grade Comments: Tatar’s play was much improved for the third quarter of this season. In the first seven games, he picked up eight points and was an impressive presence on the ice, especially in a forechecking role. Tomas was held scoreless on only one of those games. Unfortunately, his linemate (Gallagher) suffered the hand injury that knocked him out for the rest of the regular season. As an indirect result, Tatar’s offensive numbers tailed off as he scored only three more points in the last seven games.
Corey Perry – Grade: A-
Stats: 14 Games, 4 G, 2 A, -1, 14 PIM, 1PPG, 19 Hits, 7 Bks, 22 Shots
Grade Comments: Corey continued his strong play for the Habs during this segment. He played with an edge and some of his infractions were caught by the officials more often causing his penalty minutes to go up. His knack for providing secondary scoring earned him more time on the power play where his disruptive presence is welcomed, especially with Gallagher out of the lineup.
Tyler Toffoli – Grade: B+
Stats: 11 Games, 4 G, 2 A, -11, 8 PIM, 1 GWG, 1 PPG, 23 Hits, 1 Bks, 30 Shots
Grade Comments: Toffoli returned to the lineup after missing three games due to a lower-body injury. His offensive numbers dipped below his previous quarters, but he still remains the leading scorer on the team. Despite that setback, he is still a dangerous player, who loves to shoot the puck and leads the team in goals. His attention to detail on defence does not go unnoticed. Toffoli is still the go-to guy and I chalk up his low numbers with the injury as he was likely not 100% when he returned to the lineup.
Josh Anderson – Grade: B
Stats: 14 Games, 4 G, 2 A, -2, 13 PIM, 30 Hits, 9 Bks, 28 Shots
Grade Comments: Josh stepped up in this quarter, showing more leadership ability on the ice to help lead the team. His production was not at the level of his meteoric start to the season but there are signs he is getting closer to that level. His aggressive play is evident in every game and every shift while his penchant to take the body shows up by leading the team in hits.
Phillip Danault – Grade: B
Stats: 14 Games, 3 G, 7 A, +8, 2 PIM, 23 Hits, 6 Bks, 21 Shots
Grade Comments: Finally, another Habs veteran who was struggling for the first half of this season stepped up and had a solid overall quarter. His offensive production was very good and his linemates were all back in their groove. This line played much like they were the previous two seasons. I also felt that his defensive game was improved, which is his true bread and butter. Much like Tomas Tatar’s offence after Gallagher’s injury, Danault produced only two points during those first seven games without Brendan.
Nick Suzuki – Grade: B
Stats: 14 Games, 3 G, 6 A, -7, 6 PIM, 3 PPG, 10 Hits, 12 Bks, 32 Shots, Faceoff% 47.6%
Grade Comments: Nick’s offensive game improved from the previous quarter. In particular, I noticed he shot the puck more, which although he’s not a pure sniper, is something he needed to do. Unfortunately, his defensive game did not improve. He has been getting some defensive assignments, including some penalty killing time, which shows the coaches are trying to help him get that experience to improve his overall game. There have been times this quarter when Suzuki makes an impressive pass to set up a teammate for a goal. It’s those flashes of brilliance that help me believe the future is bright for this centre, but we as fans need patience to allow him to rise to his level.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Grade: B-
Stats: 14 Games, 1 G, 4 A, -2, 2 PIM, 1 GWG, 21 Hits, 7 Bks, 21 Shots
Grade Comments: Kotkaniemi’s offensive production took a dip this term, producing half as many points as the previous quarter. Part of that can easily be explained since the head coach moved him from centre to the wing due to the arrival of Eric Staal. Jesperi’s new line also received third-line minutes at even strength, where previously he was receiving top-six minutes. This experiment lasted for the first five games of Staal’s presence with the Habs before Kotkaniemi was moved back to centre. In four of those games, he was ineffective as a winger; however, in the April 8th 4-2 win against Winnipeg, Kotkaniemi was very good. He produced two assists and RDS awarded him the second star of the game. After the move back to centre, he has not been able to pick up the slack from Gallagher’s injury and needs to do more in that area to help out. His defensive game is good, and his faceoff work is gradually improving, as he brought it up to 51.8% for this quarter and overall is just under the 50% mark.
Paul Byron – Grade: B-
Stats: 14 Games, 2 G, 5 A, +2, 2 PIM, 1 SHG, 1 GWG, 36 Hits, 9 Bks, 13 Shots
Grade Comments: Where has this version of Paul Byron been hiding? The alternate captain finally stepped up to show some leadership in this quarter. His dismal first half of the season practically meant he couldn’t play much worse. On offence, he managed to produce a point every other game, which was a big improvement. He showed more aggression on the forecheck, as he tied for the team lead in hits.
Artturi Lehkonen – Grade: C+
Stats: 12 Games, 1 G, 2 A, -2, 2 PIM, 17 Hits, 6 Bks, 22 Shots
Grade Comments: It appears the coaches are regaining confidence in Artturi’s game as he was in the lineup more than the previous quarter. Lehkonen uses his speed on the forecheck to harass the opposition to cause turnovers. His defensive game is still strong and he’s well suited for fourth line duties and penalty killing. His shot total jumped up which is a good sign and his offensive production is in line with what I expect from him.
Jake Evans – Grade: C-
Stats: 10 Games, 0 G, 2 A, 02, 7 PIM, 12 Hits, 5 Bks, 10 Shots, Faceoff% 55.4%
Grade Comments: Jake was expected to be a fourth liner this season, and as a young player, that can mean he occasionally is a healthy scratch. Sometimes that is not his fault since the head coach will look to shake up the lineup a little, typically after a loss. In Evans’ case, his inconsistency meant he earned some of those scratches. He did have one outstanding game on April 1st, where he produced two assists. The first of those was while the Habs were shorthanded and he drew a couple of Senators into their corner, then quickly turned to pass the puck to Paul Byron in the slot who scored. That type of hockey sense gives a glimpse into his potential as a pro player. To Jake’s credit, his faceoff percentage improved greatly from last quarter, jumping up just over 55%.
Jonathan Drouin – Grade: C-
Stats: 14 Games, 0 G, 4 A, -9, 4 PIM, 15 Hits, 1 Bks, 28 Shots
Grade Comments: Where has Drouin’s goal production gone? The last goal he scored for the Habs was on February 23. Although Jonathan is a talented offensive forward, he appears to be playing more like a perimeter player, which is bad news for Montreal. Yes, his overall assist production is still strong, since he still leads the team in that category. He appears to be a pass-first type forward and when the opposition realizes that, he will become even less effective. A guest analyst to a TSN 690 show mentioned recently that Drouin has told someone in the Quebec media that his wrist was injured and that is affecting his shot. At least that explanation makes sense to justify why he rarely shoots the puck at the net any longer.
Eric Staal – Grade: C-
Stats: 8 Games, 1 G, 0 A, -8, 2 PIM, 5 Hits, 3 Bks, 9 Shots, Faceoff% 59.3%
Grade Comments: Eric’s first game for Montreal after his trade from Buffalo was a memorable one. He scored the overtime goal to win the game during his Habs debut and the Canadiens have certainly struggled for wins this season during overtime. Since that time, he has been less impactful for the good. His defensive game was less than stellar, and it quickly appeared he was not ready for the centre position on the top two lines. The coaches dropped him to the fourth line and he has fit in better there. His faceoff percentage is very impressive, and hopefully, he can help tutor Suzuki and Kotkaniemi in that regard.
Joel Armia – Grade: D
Stats: 6 Games, 0 G, 1 A, -1, 0 PIM, 17 Hits, 3 Bks, 10 Shots
Grade Comments: Joel played only a few games this segment, due to the positive COVID-19 test that knocked him out for eight straight games. When he returned he was not impactful and was prone to the same inconsistencies that have dogged him through his career. Unless he finds his game again, I do not expect Montreal to re-sign him, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent during the offseason.