2023 didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts for the Habs with a pair of tough losses although they were able to rebound on Saturday to salvage a victory and snap what was a seven-game losing streak.
The Week That Was
Jan. 3: Predators 6, Canadiens 3 – Josh Anderson had vowed the Habs would be better in this one and if you simply look at the score, well, it was better than the Washington game. But just about any outcome would have been better. Montreal allowed three goals before the game was 11 minutes old and things didn’t get a whole lot better from there. Their losing streak in Nashville now passes the nine-year mark.
Jan. 5: Rangers 4, Canadiens 1 – Clearly, there was more of an emphasis on defence in this one. Understandably so, too, considering how ugly that portion of Montreal’s game has been lately. But it took them until nearly 17 minutes in to manage a shot on goal which is a pretty good indicator of how things went offensively. Chris Kreider scored shorthanded to open the scoring which made the Habs the last team to allow a shorthanded goal this season. That stat in itself is weird given the ineptitude of Montreal’s power play but in terms of weirdness, it was trumped by New York’s empty-netter, a power play marker that also saw the Canadiens get assessed a penalty for too many men. There’s something you don’t see every day.
Jan. 7: Canadiens 5, Blues 4 – This time, Montreal was more engaged offensively even though it took a while for them to be rewarded. After a rare power play goal from someone not named Caufield or Suzuki (Kirby Dach) tied it up at two in the second, the teams combined for five goals and a pair of lead changes in the third. Joel Armia’s second of the night tied it up and then Josh Anderson pushed in the winner, taking away what was likely to be Jonathan Drouin’s first goal of the year in the process. But in a tie game and facing a split-second decision, he made the right call to make sure it went in.
Goals: Cole Caufield (23)
Assists: Nick Suzuki (19)
Points: Nick Suzuki (34)
+/-: Chris Wideman (+4)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (67)
Shots: Cole Caufield (136)
News And Notes
– Kaiden Guhle’s leg injury is a fairly serious one as he’ll miss at least the next eight weeks. Usually in those cases, when they say at least that long, it likely winds up longer than that so the Habs will be without one of their top defenders for a while.
– They did get some help on the back end, however, as David Savard was able to return to the lineup in Nashville. Meanwhile, Mike Matheson has resumed skating and is a couple of weeks away from returning from his latest lower-body injury.
– Brendan Gallagher was able to score against Nashville but his lower-body injury from before continues to persist and he was kept out of the final two games. He’ll be out for at least a couple of weeks this time around. That also happens to be about how long it will be before Sean Monahan is able to return from his foot injury.
– Joel Armia’s goal against New York was his first of the season and snapped a stretch of 29 straight without a goal. Drouin’s drought, meanwhile, is up to 31 straight after his goal against St. Louis was changed to Anderson.
– Prospects Owen Beck and Riley Kidney were traded in their respective junior leagues. Beck now plays for Peterborough of the OHL while Kidney will play for Gatineau down the stretch.
Last Game’s Lines:
Caufield – Suzuki – Dach
Slafkovsky – Dvorak – Anderson
Dadonov – Evans – Armia
Pezzetta – Drouin – Richard
Edmundson – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
Xhekaj – Wideman
The Week Ahead
Monday vs Seattle – The Kraken have been considerably better this season and boast an attack that’s hovering around the top five after putting up eight goals in Ottawa on Saturday. Notably, it has been a score-by-committee approach as there are 12 players with at least 18 points on their roster. For context, the Habs have three (and I’m sure you can probably name them). The Habs won’t see Shane Wright in this one though (he scored in their last matchup) as he was sent back to junior on Friday.
Thursday vs Nashville – Yep, them again as the two sides will play their full season series in the span of less than a week and a half. The Preds picked up a pair of victories following their win over Montreal, including a 63-save performance from Juuse Saros against Carolina. The Preds will be on the second half of a back-to-back for this game so it’s possible that they’ll face Kevin Lankinen instead of Saros for this one.
Saturday at NY Islanders – Montreal will see a familiar face for this one in former Hab Alexander Romanov. The defenceman has fit in well with New York, a particularly physical team. The coaching change was supposed to bring about more offence and it has with the Isles in the middle of the pack on that front with Mathew Barzal leading the way, averaging just over a point per game. Ilya Sorokin sits tied for third in the league in save percentage heading into Sunday’s action.
Sunday at NY Rangers – Not much has changed from their matchup last week other than Ryan Lindgren, who was injured against Montreal, didn’t play on Saturday. Adam Fox continues to truck along offensively, averaging nearly a point per game from the back end while Vincent Trocheck has been a nice addition for them. The summer signing is averaging over 20 minutes a game as their second centre while already chipping in with 30 points.
The annual All-Star Game voting has started up which means it’s time for my annual plea to do the Habs a favour and vote for anyone else but a Canadien. Nick Suzuki is the representative from Montreal once again for this event and here’s hoping it stays that way. While you could make a case that Cole Caufield should be there, it’s much better if he isn’t. I’ll spare the usual rest argument this year and take a different approach.
Consider this – Caufield making the All-Star Game costs the Habs $212,500 on the cap next season. I’m not making that up. Montreal will finish the season in LTIR which means any bonuses earned will roll over to 2023-24. Making the All-Star Game is one of the Schedule A bonuses in Caufield’s deal – if he gets in, he gets that money. He already has hit one of them (goals) and once he plays two more games, he’ll be eligible for the time on ice one which he’s on track to get. He has a shot at points per game as well. So why does this matter? There are four of these in his deal and this is the other one he has a shot at which means it matters from a salary cap perspective.
Of course, him making it would also likely up the asking price on his next contract. And while I’m sure that some of you reading this are thinking "who cares, it’s not my money", the salary cap does exist. More money for him is less for someone else and in a flat cap era, that can make a big difference. Caufield can go make the All-Star team after he signs a long-term deal, one that won’t have performance bonuses in it. Until then, don’t vote to cost the Habs more cap space next season because, in the end, that’s all a vote for Caufield really is this time around.