It’s hard to win in any hockey league when you’re only averaging a goal scored per game. That’s all the Habs could muster up this past week and unsurprisingly, their losing streak continued with some more bad luck along the way.
The Week That Was
Dec. 7: Lightning 3, Canadiens 2 – What’s the saying – good teams find a way to win and bad teams find a way to lose? It’s an appropriate statement for how this one went. The Habs had the lead for most of the second half of the game and considering what their lineup was, they probably deserved a better fate. However, a Steven Stamkos pass hit Corey Perry and went in with just over two minutes to go and then a bad bounce led to an odd-man rush in the final minute that saw Ondrej Palat pot the winner.
Dec. 9: Blackhawks 2, Canadiens 0 – Had Montreal put up a similar effort against Chicago as they did against Tampa Bay, they’d have had a chance in this one. However, they went through the motions in the offensive zone and were content to hang around the perimeter which is never a good way to try to score. A tough giveaway from Alexander Romanov gifted the Blackhawks the insurance marker while Chicago’s first goal went to Jonathan Toews, his first goal of the season. Marc-Andre Fleury picked up his 500th career win once the buzzer sounded.
Dec. 11: Blues 4, Canadiens 1 – This one was just forgettable on all fronts for Montreal. They had a few scoring chances and completely whiffed. They had too many adventures trying to get out of their own zone with everyone making avoidable mistakes. It was the hallmark of a team that is struggling with the basics. Charlie Lindgren certainly enjoyed it, however, as he picked up his third win of the year while filling in with St. Louis missing both of their regular goaltenders.
Goals: Josh Anderson (7)
Assists: Suzuki/Toffoli (12)
Points: Nick Suzuki (18)
+/-: Niku/Norlinder/Perreault (+2)
PIMS: Gallagher/Pezzetta (24)
Shots: Josh Anderson (66)
News And Notes
– At this point, this section could almost be titled ‘Who Got Hurt Now?". Christian Dvorak was injured against Tampa Bay, Jake Evans was injured versus Chicago, but no one (that we know of) was injured against St. Louis. Joel Armia came back from his issue. Laurent Dauphin and Jesse Ylonen were both recalled from Laval.
– Tyler Toffoli will miss eight weeks after undergoing hand surgery. That puts him on pace to return right before the Olympic break. In other words, he’ll be back in about 11 weeks.
– Mattias Norlinder was sent to Laval to get some more playing time so Corey Schueneman was once again recalled to serve as the seventh defenceman.
– Jonathan Drouin has one power play goal in his last 124 games. For more context, consider that he had nine tallies with the man advantage in his final season with Tampa Bay.
Last Game’s Lines:
Lehkonen – Suzuki – Hoffman
Drouin – Poehling – Armia
Perreault – Dauphin – Caufield
Pezzetta – Paquette – Ylonen
Chiarot – Savard
Romanov – Wideman
Kulak – Clague
The Week Ahead
Dec. 14: at Pittsburgh – The Penguins don’t have anywhere near the number of injuries that the Habs do but the ones they’re missing are certainly notable as Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust are all out. They’ve managed to hang around the race in the Metropolitan Division in large part to Tristan Jarry playing like an elite goaltender and Evan Rodrigues being a top-line player after barely cracking the fourth line in the past.
Dec. 16: vs Philadelphia – Players from both teams are looking at this thinking that this could be a winnable game. The Flyers just ended a 10-game losing streak last week and are struggling at scoring and keeping the puck out of the net. Claude Giroux leads the way offensively in a contract year and if Philly doesn’t turn it around, he could be a notable addition to the trade block if he’s willing to waive his trade protection.
Dec. 18: vs Boston – The Bruins are once again led by their dominant top line but they still aren’t getting the secondary scoring they need. Taylor Hall has been quiet, Nick Foligno hasn’t scored yet, and Jake DeBrusk has been so inconsistent to the point where he and the team are both hoping to find a trade for him. Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark make for an under the radar tandem but they’ve been effective so far.
Dominique Ducharme finds himself in a tough spot at the moment. The injuries are ridiculous – they’re icing a lineup that’s not even close to the minimum spending on the salary cap. It’s hard to succeed with that many key players missing, lesser players in the lineup, and being in a spot where they’re basically playing out the stretch with still nearly five months left in the season. But he’s not helping his cause by using what he has in less than optimal roles.
Montreal needs to find out if Jake Evans can be a 3C of the future. Using Ducharme’s logic, the way to find that out is to not play him at centre as he was on the wing before being injured. Jesse Ylonen hasn’t been on the fourth line since his days overseas before he even signed with the Habs. He’s not an energy player or someone that can create his own shot. He needs to play with talented players in an offensive role so naturally, he gets Michael Pezzetta and Cedric Paquette, players with no offensive ability to speak of while Laurent Dauphin, a checker, plays above him. Kale Clague is in a new environment and trying to learn Montreal’s zone system that isn’t fooling any opponents. Ducharme and Luke Richardson somehow believe that playing him on his off-side while making these other adjustments will help him succeed. Brett Kulak has considerably more recent experience on his off-side, putting him there would make a lot more sense.
I’m not someone who believes in just handing ice time to the kids. There should be a meritocracy and that’s why Cole Caufield wasn’t in that last paragraph. As long as he’s not on the fourth line, I’m okay with his lower usage. When he plays well consistently (and that hasn’t happened too often yet this season), then move him up. But it goes both ways. Joel Armia has one goal all season and was gifted a top-six spot upon his return for reasons that defy logic. Jonathan Drouin is back to being a sporadic contributor and his ice time is on the way up while his power play spot is guaranteed even with that stat from earlier. Again, I know they’re shorthanded but what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen by dropping an underachieving veteran down for a game or two? He’ll underachieve even more? It’s not a matter of Ducharme wanting to keep lines together either as it’s a minor miracle if all four lines stay intact for a game.
I like that Jeff Gorton quieted the talk of a coaching change to put out that fire before it could even really get started but that doesn’t give Ducharme the right to be stubborn or complacent. What he’s doing isn’t working nor is it putting players in the right spot to succeed. At some point, it’s time for him to try applying the obvious logic when it comes to his lineups instead of whatever he’s doing to come up with the lines right now.