The Habs needed a big week to maintain their lead on Calgary for the final playoff spot in the North Division. While there were definitely some speed bumps along the way, they were able to accomplish just that, picking up three wins in their four games, extending the gap in the process.
The Week That Was
Apr. 26: Canadiens 2, Flames 1 – Let’s all take a minute to rejoice in the fact this was the final matchup between the two teams. Calgary gives the Habs problems and the games are not of the highly entertaining variety which is never a good combo. Those were the case once again as Montreal couldn’t find much room to work with and once again squandered a lead in the first period as Shea Weber’s power play marker was matched by Elias Lindholm’s power play tally barely two minutes later. However, Tyler Toffoli’s red-hot scoring season continued as his goal late in the second was enough to stand up as the winner, giving the Habs the critical victory.
Apr. 28: Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 1 – There was a hope that the win and the fact their opponent wasn’t Calgary would shake Montreal from the lethargy. Yeah, that didn’t happen. They played a little better but Toronto came to play (they decided to rest several regulars the day after this one) and had a three-goal lead before the midway point of the game. Nick Suzuki got one back to make it a little more interesting but a brutal giveaway from Jake Allen midway through the third was the final nail in the coffin as led to an empty-net tap in for Adam Brooks.
Apr. 30: Canadiens 5, Jets 3 – As much as Calgary has been the focus in the standings in recent weeks, Winnipeg’s slump has put them within striking distance for third and a regular season-ending injury to Nikolaj Ehlers didn’t help that. They got off to a good start and had a pair of two-goal leads as Allen had a tough outing but to Montreal’s credit, they kept pushing and eventually was able to take advantage of some sloppy defensive play in the Jets’ zone. They got some depth scoring from Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia to tie it before Suzuki’s second of the game with less than five minutes left secured the victory.
May 1: Canadiens 3, Senators 2 (OT) – Montreal wasn’t playing poorly early on but they couldn’t get much going offensively through two periods and Ottawa had a 2-0 lead early in the third. Jeff Petry cut the deficit in half with a nice individual effort and then Suzuki looked to tie it on the power play before the goal was called back due to goalie interference on Corey Perry. They got another power play soon after and this time, Toffoli scored one that counted. That set the stage for overtime where Cole Caufield picked the perfect time for his first career NHL goal, tipping home a pass from Petry to give Montreal their first two-game winning ‘streak’ in more than a month.
Goals: Tyler Toffoli (27)
Assists: Jonathan Drouin (25)
Points: Tyler Toffoli (40)
+/-: Joel Edmundson (+27)
PIMS: Ben Chiarot (48)
Shots: Tyler Toffoli (149)
News And Notes
– The injury issues continued as Tomas Tatar (lower body) missed the last three games while Shea Weber (upper body) missed both ends of the back-to-back. On top of that, Jonathan Drouin was placed on LTIR for personal reasons, effectively ending his regular season. Tatar has resumed skating and Brendan Gallagher’s cast has been removed so there should be some positives on the horizon.
– Alexander Romanov was sent to the taxi squad to get the Habs cap compliant to activate Caufield against Calgary for his NHL debut. His subsequent recall when Drouin went on LTIR was their fourth and final regular recall.
– Joel Teasdale and Michael Pezzetta were paper recalls to the taxi squad to get them back to four players on there. Ryan Poehling and Alex Belzile were brought up as insurance for Saturday’s game but were sent back down on Sunday.
– With his goal on Saturday, Caufield was only the second Hab in franchise history to score his first career goal in overtime. The other was Gerry Heffernan, a winger who spent parts of three seasons with the Canadiens in the early 1940s.
Last Game’s Lines:
Kotkaniemi – Danault – Anderson
Toffoli – Suzuki – Armia
Lehkonen – Evans – Caufield
Frolik -Staal – Perry
Edmundson – Petry
Romanov – Chiarot
Kulak – Merrill
The Week Ahead
May 3/6/8: vs Toronto (one home, two away) – The Maple Leafs will likely have a chance to wrap up the division title at some point in this stretch of games which could present an opportunity for them to rest a couple of players as they did against Vancouver on Thursday. Montreal has played them relatively well despite the poor record but Toronto – not known for being sharp defensively in recent years – has definitely improved their structure in their own end which isn’t a great sign for a Canadiens team that has struggled mightily against anything resembling defensive structure in recent weeks.
May 5: at Ottawa – Very quietly, the Sens have put up the third-most points in the division since April 1st, one more than Montreal and only behind Edmonton and Toronto. As they showed on Saturday, they’re not an easy victory and have caused some havoc in the standings. Matt Murray isn’t expected to be back which is good news although Anton Forsberg could be ready to go by then.
Winnipeg’s Schedule: Monday at Ottawa, Wednesday at Calgary, Saturday vs Ottawa
Calgary’s Schedule: Wednesday vs Calgary, Sunday vs Ottawa
The big news of the week came when Jonathan Drouin was placed on LTIR for personal reasons after missing a few games with what was being called an illness. Speculation was rampant about what the cause was but there’s no point in getting into that. I wish him well and that he’s able to get through whatever it is.
What I do want to touch on is the discussion that stemmed from the announcement and the talk of whether people were being too hard on Drouin. I know there are some out there that believe this to be the case but I disagree. People are allowed to be critical, especially when a player isn’t performing particularly well and that was the case in this instance. Was social media overly toxic? Of course it was, just about everything on there is. There are rational people on there but over the top hot takes drive engagements and that’s how you wind up with so many extremes when civility isn’t always exercised by those participating. Players should know to stay away from that. I respect Phillip Danault’s comment earlier in the week about the challenges of being a Quebec-born player in Montreal that gets extra attention which can be hard to avoid and it’s definitely a fair one. Just don’t compound the problem by looking yourself up on social platforms. It won’t end well, no matter how talented a player you are.
I want to emphasize that I’m not speculating that this is what happened with Drouin. This is a comment on a general discussion point that arose from his situation, nothing more. But speaking negatively about someone’s performance is fair game, as long as it’s limited towards the performance and not the person in general. I can’t say I’ve seen too many instances lately that have escalated past what would constitute a generally acceptable level either from the media. It’s not their job to emphasize the positive; it’s not even the mandate for fan sites like this one. If you’re commenting on the performance of a player (or the team) within the context of the game and limiting the scope to that alone, that should be perfectly fine whether it’s on the positive or negative side. And unfortunately for the Habs in recent weeks, there has been much more of the latter than the former those this past week was a small step in the right direction. Here’s hoping that changes down the stretch and that Drouin is eventually able to return to a happier (and winning) environment.