Montreal’s top line continues to score at a high-end pace while they received some secondary goal support, an area of concern early on in the season. The end result was an impressive three-game winning streak.
The Week That Was
Nov. 8: Canadiens 3, Red Wings 2 (SO) – It had been a tough start to the season for Mike Hoffman, to put it lightly. His early struggles saw him get benched a couple of times but as a streaky scorer, he could come to life at any time. That happened in Detroit as he potted a pair of rebounds off Brendan Gallagher shots in the first period to get the Habs going early. Lucas Raymond tied it midway through the third but the Canadiens were able to pick up the extra point, winning the shootout 2-1.
Nov. 10: Canadiens 5, Canucks 2 – Vancouver has been hit or miss in the early going this year and fortunately for Montreal, it was the latter to start this game. The Habs scored three in the opening period and had a four-goal lead heading into the third when they sat back and the Canucks woke up. Vancouver worked it to 4-2 and hit the post twice on a power play with more than seven minutes left. However, the Canadiens killed it off and Kirby Dach sealed the victory soon after with his second of the game.
Nov. 12: Canadiens 5, Penguins 4 (OT) – Despite what the final score might suggest, this was a defensive game for the first half of it with few scoring opportunities and fewer goals. But the third period was the opposite with some poor defence and plenty of scoring. Montreal came back from three separate one-goal deficits in the third period to force overtime where Hoffman was the hero, scoring his fourth goal of the week on a two-on-one with Dach.
Shootout – Skaters:
Shootout – Goalies:
Goals: Nick Suzuki (10)
Assists: Kirby Dach (10)
Points: Nick Suzuki (19)
+/-: Nick Suzuki (+6)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (33)
Shots: Cole Caufield (60)
News And Notes
– The first waiver domino fell with the Canadiens electing to waive Rem Pitlick. He cleared and was sent to Laval. Another decision lingers as Mike Matheson is healing quicker than anticipated and appears to be getting close to making his season debut as well.
– Juraj Slafkovsky received a two-game suspension for his hit on Red Wings winger Matt Luff. Those games were served Thursday and Saturday so he’s now eligible to suit up again.
– Johnathan Kovacevic’s assist against Vancouver was his first career NHL point.
Last Game’s Lines:
Caufield – Suzuki – Dach
Hoffman – Dvorak – Gallagher
Dadonov – Monahan – Anderson
Drouin – Evans – Armia
Guhle – Savard
Edmundson – Xhekaj
Harris – Kovacevic
The Week Ahead
Tuesday vs New Jersey – Few would have expected it but the Devils sit atop the Metropolitan Division and are one of the highest-scoring teams in the league with what has been a pretty balanced attack so far. Jesper Bratt is leading the way in points with 19 with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes also averaging over a point per game. Former Hab Tomas Tatar is off to a nice start to his year with 11 points as well. Montreal might catch the Devils at a good time as Mackenzie Blackwood is injured and Vitek Vanecek is also banged up at the moment with rookie Akira Schmid currently serving as their starter.
Thursday at Columbus – Few would have expected Columbus to be at the basement of the division after they added Johnny Gaudreau this summer but that’s where they are. They’ve been absolutely decimated by injuries early on and are down seven regulars at the moment, including Zach Werenski, Jakub Voracek, and Adam Boqvist. Elvis Merzlikins is having a very tough start to his season with Joonas Korpisalo returning from IR and at least temporarily stepping into the number one role.
Saturday vs Philadelphia – The Flyers are a bit like Montreal in that they’ve overachieved relative to expectations while the underlying numbers suggest they’re due to slip back at some point. Philadelphia is missing several key regulars of their own with over $21 million on injured reserve but Carter Hart is off to a stellar start which has nabbed them some early victories. Travis Konecny is their leading scorer but has just five goals with the Flyers sitting dead last in the East in goals scored.
Chris Wideman’s second season with the Habs hasn’t exactly gone well. For an offensive defenceman, he has just three assists in 11 games which isn’t enough production to overcome his defensive deficiencies. With Joel Edmundson back, he’s now the seventh defenceman.
The Habs are soon going to have another decision to make once Mike Matheson is able to return. Do they carry eight defenders and send a forward down or does another defenceman lose his spot? If it’s the latter, Wideman would, in theory, be the logical one as he’d drop to eighth on the depth chart. I’m not sure that’s the right answer though.
I’ve been advocating that Arber Xhekaj could benefit from some time in Laval where he’d be the go-to player on the pairing with more puck touches and a heavier workload than he’s getting now. He has done nothing to lose his spot but it might be better from a development standpoint in the short term if they think he has another gear to get to. A case could be made for Jordan Harris as well as his ice time has dipped lately. Johnathan Kovacevic would have to go through waivers to get sent down but Montreal wasn’t the only team to claim him in the preseason while Winnipeg would want him back to. Cutting him means they lose him entirely which isn’t desirable.
That brings me back to Wideman. There’s the designated hitter in baseball but I’d like to propose something that sounds very similar for the veteran – Wideman should be Montreal’s designated sitter. For nights you need more offensive upside, he subs in for Kovacevic. Otherwise, he sits and the youngsters get the regular minutes, either with Montreal or in Laval. That will probably mean that a youngster undeservingly has to go to the Rocket but it doesn’t have to be for a long stretch. They could go for a few weeks and then flip that one with a different youngster while injuries will hit as well. Meanwhile, Wideman’s role should stay as it is now, with him in the press box most nights while the prospects play.