It was a bit of a turbulent week for the Habs as they mixed in some good efforts along with some poor ones with the end result being a pair of victories in their four games.
The Week That Was
Jan. 9: Kraken 4, Canadiens 0 – Seattle has given a lot of teams problems this season and they were strong against the Habs in their first matchup. They were even better in this one while Montreal was worse. That’s rarely a good combination if you’re hoping to win a game. The first period was once again a problem for the Canadiens as they allowed three goals and with them struggling offensively, that’s a deficit that’s basically impossible to overcome right now.
Jan. 12: Canadiens 4, Predators 3 – There was a buzz at the Bell Centre in this game following a ceremony to honour former Hab P.K. Subban and it seemed to elevate Montreal’s play. They were able to get through the first with the lead and from there, Cole Caufield potted a pair of power play goals while Jonathan Drouin had three assists for the fifth time in his career, giving the Habs enough offence to hold on for the win even with Nashville scoring late in the third to make it interesting.
Jan. 14: Islanders 2, Canadiens 1 – Once again, Montreal’s inability to start the game proved costly as they were down two before the game was barely six minutes old. While Samuel Montembeault shut things down from there, the lack of firepower beyond the top line proved costly. Nick Suzuki made a nice play to get the Habs on the board in the third but they weren’t able to muster up too much of an effort to try to tie it up.
Jan. 15: Canadiens 2, Rangers 1 – Although New York was well-rested and the Habs were playing their second game in less than 24 hours, you wouldn’t have known which team was which as both teams were sharp in this one. Montembeault and Igor Shesterkin traded big saves early and often to keep this one a low-scoring affair. Kirby Dach scored a power play marker in the second while Caufield got the winner midway through the third and the Canadiens were able to hold on from there.
Goals: Cole Caufield (26)
Assists: Nick Suzuki (21)
Points: Nick Suzuki (37)
+/-: Chris Wideman (+5)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (72)
Shots: Cole Caufield (152)
News And Notes
– Michael Matheson has moved up to taking full contact in practices which is a sign that he’s very close to returning. Montreal will have to make a roster move to activate him off injured reserve.
– Jake Evans suffered a lower-body injury against the Islanders and was unavailable for Sunday’s contest. The Habs now have just a dozen healthy forwards on the roster and that includes Juraj Slafkovsky who exited Sunday’s game early as well with a lower-body injury of his own.
– Anthony Richard was returned to Laval with Jesse Ylonen getting the nod to take his place. The 23-year-old has now seen NHL action in each of his first three seasons in North America.
– Cole Caufield’s assist against the Rangers was his first since November 23rd, a span of 23 games without a helper.
– Kirby Dach’s goal against the Rangers gives him a new career high with 27.
Last Game’s Lines:
Caufield – Suzuki – Armia
Pezzetta – Dvorak – Slafkovsky
Hoffman – Dach – Anderson
Dadonov – Drouin – Ylonen
Edmundson – Barron
Harris – Savard
Xhekaj – Kovacevic
The Week Ahead
Tuesday vs Winnipeg – The Habs kick off their longest homestand of the season with this matchup against a Winnipeg team that has gotten a lot healthier recently with the returns of Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nate Schmidt, Cole Perfetti, and Saku Maenalanen in recent games. Connor Hellebuyck is having the best season of his career and is a midseason contender for the Vezina while Josh Morrissey is a strong contender for the Norris and is averaging close to an assist per game. The end result is that the Jets now sit atop the Western Conference.
Thursday vs Florida – It’s the next instalment of the ‘Battle of Montreal’s first-round picks’. The Panthers have won four of their last six to creep a little closer in the Eastern Conference Wild Card mix but they’re currently without Spencer Knight, forcing them to use Sergei Bobrovsky on a nightly basis for the time being despite the veteran having a save percentage below .900. They could have Anthony Duclair back for this one but his return won’t force a trade as Florida remains with Patric Hornqvist who is on LTIR with a concussion. Former Hab Eric Staal is on a nice little run with seven points in his last seven games.
Saturday vs Toronto – There were plenty of people laughing at Toronto’s goalie tandem of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov heading into the season but it has been one of the stronger groups in the league. That, coupled with their typically strong attack, has them sitting tied for third overall in the standings. They’ve battled injuries on the back end all season and one of their stopgap acquisitions (the one that wasn’t a former Hab in Jordie Benn and Victor Mete) has done quite well as Conor Timmins has 10 points in 14 games since being acquired.
This season has been hyped as one that would have a particular emphasis on player development. We’ve seen it work out well with some prospects while others (hello, Juraj Slafkovsky) have seen more than their fair share of struggles. But, for the most part, those players have been in the lineup regularly.
That hasn’t been the case with Justin Barron since his recall. He recently sat for three straight games and was listed as the seventh defender for games this past week. This allowed them to keep Chris Wideman in the lineup. Yes, the same Wideman who is supposed to be helping on the power play but has been taken off there entirely. The same Wideman who has just four assists in 28 games and the same Wideman that isn’t exactly the best in his own end.
For good chunks of the season, Wideman has been a healthy scratch. It’s the role many expected him to have as he works as a seventh defender that can play here and there when necessary. The ‘necessary’ scenario shouldn’t be to keep a young defender in the press box for a week and with limited ice time in other games (to say nothing about the dreadful defensive situation in Laval right now). That goes entirely against development.
I don’t have anything against Chris Wideman. For the role he’s supposed to be providing, he’s doing that fairly well all things considered. But prioritizing his playing time over Barron’s as they were doing last week just makes no sense. Here’s hoping that strategy is now done with.