This past week for the Habs kicked off with what will certainly be one of the more bizarre games of the season and ended with one of the more frustrating ones as they were more or less shut down by the Kings. Plus, some thoughts on some poor decisions when it comes to Montreal’s recent roster management.
The Week That Was
Dec. 5: Canucks 7, Canadiens 6 (OT) – Getting out to a 4-0 lead in the first period is rare. Blowing it completely and actually being forced to come back is even rarer. Both of these happened. The Habs chased Spencer Martin early but weren’t able to get much going against AHL recall Collin Delia while Samuel Montembeault was strong early but struggled mightily as the game went on. Montreal actually got the lead back late but a late penalty to Johnathan Kovacevic gave Vancouver a power play that they scored on to tie it while Elias Pettersson potted the winner after Mike Matheson blew a tire early in overtime.
Dec. 6: Canadiens 4, Kraken 2 – Martin Jones has been one of the better goalie stories in the league this season as he has been a big reason in Seattle hanging around the playoff race. He didn’t play well against Montreal in this one, however, as he allowed four goals on the first eight shots and that type of netminding letdown is hard to come back from. Kovacevic picked up his first career NHL goal in the victory while Arber Xhekaj played as a forward, an experiment they probably don’t want to have to repeat.
Dec. 10: Kings 4, Canadiens 2 – Montreal is at its best in an up-tempo, free-flowing type of game. (That still feels odd typing based on what games were like not too long ago but I digress…) Los Angeles is comfortable playing a more traditional trap and grind type of game. Let’s just say it took the Habs way too long to muster up much of anything and while Mike Hoffman and Cole Caufield made it interesting late, this was a game in which the score undersold how poorly the Habs played.
Goals: Cole Caufield (16)
Assists: Dach/Suzuki (14)
Points: Nick Suzuki (29)
+/-: Johnathan Kovacevic (+5)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (56)
Shots: Cole Caufield (96)
News And Notes
– Brendan Gallagher will miss a couple of weeks due to his lower-body injury while Sean Monahan is still in a walking boot with no timetable for his return. They did, however, get Mike Hoffman back on Saturday while Jonathan Drouin is believed to be close to returning as well.
– On the back end, David Savard didn’t play after getting injured blocking a shot last week while Mike Matheson was hurt in practice and is listed as day-to-day.
– Montreal’s production was more spread out than usual; of the 20 skaters that played, only Chris Wideman didn’t record a point in one of the three games. In Wideman’s defence, he didn’t even play in each contest and had limited ice time.
– As bad as the power play has been, the Canadiens are the only team in the NHL that has not yet allowed a shorthanded goal this season.
Last Game’s Lines:
Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Slafkovsky – Dach – Hoffman
Dadonov – Dvorak – Armia
Pitlick – Evans – Pezzetta
Edmundson – Guhle
Harris – Kovacevic
Xhekaj – Wideman
The Week Ahead
Monday vs Calgary – The Flames have dropped two straight and Darryl Sutter is in a more ornery mood than usual. That’s an interesting combination heading into this one. Jonathan Huberdeau has just four goals so far this season while MacKenzie Weegar is still looking for his first as the two key parts of the Matthew Tkachuk trade continue to struggle. Meanwhile, former Hab Tyler Toffoli is off to a good start in his first full season with Calgary as he has 10 goals and 10 assists thus far, good for third on the team in points (second in goals).
Wednesday at Ottawa – The Senators have certainly underachieved in the early going this season. They added Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux and still aren’t scoring all that often. Cam Talbot was added to help bolster their goaltending and he’s not off to the best of starts either. On paper, they’re a team that should be battling for a playoff spot, not sitting four points behind the Habs in the standings. However, they’ve won five of their last eight so perhaps they’re starting to turn things around.
Thursday vs Anaheim – Expectations were pretty low for the Ducks this season but they’ve failed to come close to meeting even those as they sit dead last in the NHL. Their young duo of Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras are producing as expected but their problem is that no one else is. John Klingberg (who Montreal seriously considered on the type of deal he signed with Anaheim) has just a single goal in 22 games this season while John Gibson, who not all that long ago was considered one of the better goalies in the league, is hovering around a 4.00 GAA.
Saturday vs Tampa Bay – While some might suggest the Lightning are also underachieving this season, underachieving for them is still a .648 points percentage. Their top three up front are all off to strong starts while Mikhail Sergachev has taken a big step forward this season and is cutting into Victor Hedman’s production. Corey Perry has a dozen points so far as he continues to play the same type of role he had with Montreal, showing that he was worth the second year that was offered to him.
Montreal’s new management team has certainly done some things well but if there’s one thing that’s starting to annoy me, it’s roster management. More specifically, a lack of foresight and common sense when it comes to roster management. This past road trip is a perfect example of what I mean.
The road trip started in Calgary. Generally speaking, when an Eastern team goes out West, they want to carry as deep of a roster as they can. At least, that’s what common sense would dictate. Montreal, meanwhile, carried 13 forwards to start the trip, one of which was an injured Brendan Gallagher and another being Sean Monahan who has been in a walking boot for the better part of two weeks. This is what I would politely call asking for trouble. And trouble they got as Chris Wideman had to play as a forward in game one of the trip.
But as luck would have it, the Canadiens got a glorious opportunity for reinforcements midway through the trip since Laval happened to be finishing their road trip in Abbotsford, not all that far from Vancouver. This was a perfect opportunity to place the injured players on IR and open some roster spots to make sure they’d be well-stocked for the rest of the trip. Laval was off until Friday so it’s not as if they’d be hurting the Rocket any. But what happened? Nothing on the recall front. Then, the trouble they asked for came again with Monahan’s foot finally giving out, resulting in them only having 11 forwards available for the second time in four games and Arber Xhekaj being forced to play up front. This was easily foreseeable and easily avoidable. And yet, they chose to do nothing about it, evidently preferring to create the roster chaos.
Of course, this is the same management group that was carrying nine defencemen in Laval and waited for two to get injured before going and trading blueliner Alex Green (who’s on an AHL deal). What was the end result? Laval eventually had to dress an injured player out West to get to 18 skaters because they didn’t take many extras on the trip. Again, easily foreseeable and easily avoidable with precisely nothing being done to help solve the inevitable problem.
It’s worth repeating that there’s a lot to like about this current management group. But roster management certainly isn’t one of their strengths. Frankly, it’d be hard for them to be much worse in the day-to-day execution of roster management so far. There’s still plenty of improvement to be done on the ice and when it comes to day-to-day roster stuff, there’s a lot of improvement needed off the ice as well.