The week started off well for the Habs but after a tough showing the rest of the way, they still have some work to do before they can officially lock down the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division.
The Week That Was
May 3: Canadiens 3, Maple Leafs 2 – The Habs had a few things go their way in this one. A tired Jake Allen managed to put up one of his better performances lately to keep the Habs in it and they got a late game-tying goal for the second straight contests when Phillip Danault tied it up. After playing keep away in overtime (thankfully, OT goes back to five-on-five in the playoffs so we don’t have to see the rope-a-dope much longer), Cole Caufield was able to pick up the winner and suddenly there was some positive momentum.
May 5: Senators 5, Canadiens 1 – Well, so much for that momentum. The Habs showed up for the first period and pretty much called it a night when the score was 1-1 with Joel Edmundson getting a rare goal off a very well-executed faceoff play. Unfortunately, showing up for one period rarely results in victories and Ottawa skated circles around Montreal the rest of the way.
May 6: Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 2 – Cayden Primeau got the start in the back-to-back and to put it lightly, he struggled mightily though in his defence, he didn’t get much help from the rest of the team and they were down four after 20 minutes. Caufield scored in the second while Artturi Lehkonen briefly made it interesting in the third before Auston Matthews’ 40th put it away.
May 8: Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2 – The Habs got off to a good start in this one with a strong first period anchored by a rare Brett Kulak goal and Nick Suzuki doubled the lead early in the second. They couldn’t get that elusive third marker though and Toronto came back with three in the second. Montreal was unable to muster up anything in the third period and as a result, weren’t able to clinch the final playoff spot just yet.
Goals: Tyler Toffoli (28)
Assists: Jeff Petry (30)
Points: Tyler Toffoli (44)
+/-: Joel Edmundson (+25)
PIMS: Ben Chiarot (48)
Shots: Tyler Toffoli (158)
News And Notes
– The Habs did get some good news on the injury front with Tomas Tatar returning from his lower-body injury. However, as soon as he returned, his linemate went down as Phillip Danault suffered a concussion on Thursday against Toronto, ending his regular season. Among the injured players, it looks like Shea Weber and Carey Price are the ones that could have a shot at returning for one of the Edmonton games.
– Alex Belzile was recalled from the taxi squad instead of Michael Frolik for Saturday’s game, allowing him to make his NHL debut. While the Habs have five forwards on the taxi squad at the moment, those two are the only healthy ones as the rest are just injured Laval players.
– Jesperi Kotkaniemi has now gone 22 straight games without a goal and has just four assists in that span. His previous longest goal drought was 18 games to cap off his rookie season in 2018-19.
– Cole Caufield reached his pro-rated games played bonus, earning him just over $17,000 in the process while Nick Suzuki hit a Class A bonus for assists, getting him a little over $145,000. Those will be deducted from Montreal’s remaining cap room at the end of the year and at that point, they will likely face a bonus penalty for next season. For a refresher, here’s a look at who is eligible for what bonuses from last month.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Kotkaniemi – Anderson
Toffoli – Suzuki – Armia
Perry – Staal – Caufield
Lehkonen – Evans – Belzile
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Chiarot
Romanov – Merrill
The Week Ahead
May 10/12: vs Edmonton – The regular season comes to an end with a pair of games that were rescheduled when Montreal’s positive COVID-19 situation happened. The Oilers are locked into second in the North Division but have indicated that they don’t intend to give their regulars nights off. Connor McDavid hit the 100-point milestone on Saturday and with Danault out of the lineup, he will have a bit more freedom to move around. Mikko Koskinen allowed four goals in as many shots on Thursday and it will be interesting to see if he gets a shot at redemption or if they give third-stringer Alex Stalock a rare look in one of the games.
The clinching scenario for the Habs is fairly simple – one point earned and they’re in. If Calgary or Vancouver don’t max their points, they’re out. (And with them having four games against each other on the horizon, they can’t both maximize their points; one will assuredly knock the other out if the Canadiens don’t get a point before then.) There are some more complex scenarios that involve when games are won by the other teams but for all intents and purposes, that is Montreal’s clinching scenario.
Dominique Ducharme’s decision to start Cayden Primeau in the second half of the back-to-back this week drew some criticism but despite the pressure situation, it was the right call. However, the decision to go back on it after a period was entirely the worst possible choice he could have made.
I get the desire to protect Primeau and if this was even a month ago, the decision would have made sense. But the idea of starting him for that game was to give Jake Allen some much overdue rest. Allen has been huge for the Habs this season (without him, they’re not sitting in a playoff spot) but he has had a lot of poor performances lately which stems from fatigue. There’s a reason he could never secure the number one job in St. Louis; he wears down when he’s the starter. Putting him in when you’re down four goals and clearly not coming back just compounded the problem.
There was another benefit to starting Primeau for that game as well and that was giving Toronto – their likely playoff opponent – one less look at Allen. At this point, the team has to be planning as if Allen is the Game 1 starter, not Carey Price. They can hope Price is ready but concussions can be tough to recover from and even if he’s ready to return, the rust factor has to be considered as well. The more Toronto shooters face Allen, the better prepared they are for the pending series. (For that same reason, I was rather surprised that Jack Campbell played in all three games.)
Pulling Primeau undid all the good in one shot. Allen got minimal rest and Toronto got more looks at him. And what did the Habs get out of it? Are they getting any satisfaction out of only losing by three? Nope. Did it wake the team up and shake them out of their offensive slump? Nope. Did it accomplish anything positive at all? You guessed it, nope.
Was it a humiliating start for Primeau? Of course it was. But he’s hardly the first NHL goalie to allow four goals in a period. It’s happened to everyone and guess what, it’ll happen again. There’s no moral victory in protecting him from an embarrassing performance when it was already that. Everyone remembers the Al Montoya game where he coughed up 10. But leaving him out there was the right call to keep Price fresh for the long run. That’s what a backup goalie is supposed to do. That’s what needed to happen here and I can’t help but wonder if Allen makes the stop on Pierre Engvall’s seeing-eye goal along the ice if he hadn’t played those 40 minutes and got the night off. Tired goalies don’t track the puck as well as they should and react slower. That’s what happened here. If he makes that stop, maybe we’re talking about the Habs having clinched a spot already.
Claude Julien took some heat early in the season for leaning towards the big picture too often. He rolled four lines regularly knowing that a compressed schedule would take its toll. Ducharme has been the complete opposite thus far with most of his decisions appearing to come with no sense of the big picture at all; instead, he lives in the moment with minimal regard for the consequences later. Sometimes, taking a hit in the moment is better if the benefits down the road outweigh the potential short-term setback. That was the case here with a more-rested Allen but evidently, long-term thinking is something Ducharme isn’t too concerned with. With rookie head coaches come rookie mistakes. This was one of them.