The Habs closed out 2022 on about as low of a note as possible with a trio of largely uninspired losses as their season-long road trip continues. Perhaps even more concerning is that it’s the veteran players who are showing signs of cracking which is the focus of the Final Thought segment.
The Week That Was
Dec. 28: Lightning 4, Canadiens 1 – The turning point of this game might have the opening faceoff. Montreal wasn’t ready to play (even Tampa wasn’t at their sharpest) and they were down before the two-minute mark. Jake Allen had himself a strong night despite allowing four goals and was basically the only reason this game wound up looking somewhat respectable and not like the other two games to come. Kaiden Guhle was able to break the shutout late.
Dec. 29: Panthers 7, Canadiens 2 – With Montreal holding their first-rounder plus Florida’s, the goal for many fans at least was to see the game not go to overtime. On that front, mission accomplished. In terms of anything on-ice, it was ugly. Samuel Montembeault had an off-night and Aleksander Barkov didn’t as he had a first-period hat trick that was all the scoring that Florida needed.
Dec. 31: Capitals 9, Canadiens 2 – Just when you think it couldn’t get uglier than the Florida game, this game happened. Allen was anything but sharp and several of Washington’s goals were certainly stoppable although it still would have been a sizable loss anyway. Cole Caufield was the lone bright spot with a pair of goals in the loss.
Goals: Cole Caufield (21)
Assists: Kirby Dach (18)
Points: Nick Suzuki (32)
+/-: Chris Wideman (+4)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (65)
Shots: Cole Caufield (123)
News And Notes
– The Habs welcomed Brendan Gallagher back to the lineup, giving them a couple of extra forwards for the time being. That might change after the road trip as if Anthony Richard isn’t going to play, he might as well be back in Laval.
– It wasn’t all good news on the injury front though as Kaiden Guhle suffered a lower-body injury against Florida that held him out of the lineup in Washington. It will keep him out of the final game of this trip as well with a re-evaluation to come at this time. Reading between the lines a little bit, this is probably going to keep him out for a while.
– With Guhle missing the game against the Capitals, no Montreal defenceman will play in all 82 games this season as the rookie was the only blueliner who hadn’t yet been out of action. If you’re curious, only five forwards have played in all 37 games thus far.
– In 31 games last season in Finland, Juraj Slafkovsky had ten points (5-5-10). In his first 31 games with the Habs this season, he had, you guessed it, ten points (4-6-10). It sure feels like he’d be better served with more playing time, doesn’t it? A trip to Laval clearly isn’t going to happen but there’s an ever-growing case for Montreal to make the move.
– Prospect Owen Beck has been added to Canada’s roster at the World Juniors. He takes the place of Colton Dach as the Chicago prospect was injured in the game against Sweden.
Last Game’s Lines:
Caufield – Suzuki – Dach
Hoffman – Evans – Anderson
Slafkovsky – Dvorak – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Drouin – Armia
Edmundson – Wideman
Xhekaj – Kovacevic
Harris – Barron
The Week Ahead
Tuesday at Nashville – The road trip finally comes to an end and it comes against a Predators team that has underachieved considerably this season and sits just three points ahead of Montreal in the standings. The big difference for Nashville this season has been their scoring – they were 12th in the league a season ago and despite basically bringing back the same group (plus Nino Niederreiter), they’re 29th this year. For context, that’s behind Montreal. Despite that, they’re only five points out of a playoff spot so they’ll certainly be viewing this as a must-win game.
Thursday vs New York (R) – The Rangers are another team that has underachieved relative to expectations. That same thing could be said about Alexis Lafreniere, the former first-overall pick who was a healthy scratch this past week (no, this doesn’t mean the Habs should go try to trade for him). Their top players are producing but the secondary scoring hasn’t been great and neither has Igor Shesterkin. Last year’s Vezina winner has seen his save percentage dip by 17 points this season while Jaroslav Halak’s save percentage is worse than both of Montreal’s goalies (yes, even after the blowouts).
Saturday vs St. Louis – Let’s finish the trifecta of underachievers with the Blues. Widely expected to be a playoff team, they instead are just a single point ahead of Nashville and sit fifth in the Central Division. Ryan O’Reilly has seen his production plummet this season while Torey Krug, one of two defencemen that were putting up points, is now out long term. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko, whose trade request from a year and a half ago is still believed to be valid, was injured on Saturday against Minnesota and might not be available for this one.
This is usually the time when I’d reflect on the year that was. And it was a very busy year for the Habs. But instead, let’s skip the brief Year in Review and look at something concerning from these last couple of games.
Montreal doesn’t have a lot of veteran leadership. Rebuilding teams rarely do. But those teams want their veterans to lead by example, especially the ones that have an ‘A’ on their sweaters. In Montreal, that’s Joel Edmundson and Brendan Gallagher.
What have those two leaders done lately? Edmundson has played less than engaged defence over the past few weeks and then against Florida, he cheap-shotted Radko Gudas with a very late cross-check that triggered a review for possible supplemental discipline (though no fine was given). He earned himself an early exit for his troubles. That’s not leading by example. As for Gallagher, he has been back for two games and has thrown tantrums in both of them, one leading to an abuse of officials penalty. That’s not leading by example either; that simply cannot happen.
Edmundson and Gallagher are supposed to be the standard-setters for this group. With Edmundson’s ‘ole’ defence at times and Gallagher’s inability to stay composed, they’re setting a pretty lousy standard at the moment. Both of them are capable of being better than this and need to be better than this quickly.