After a long layoff, the Habs were back in action over the weekend with a pair of matinee affairs. While many were expecting them to be rusty, the opposite happened as they put up two strong efforts against the Islanders and Oilers to pick up two unexpected victories.
The Week That Was
Feb. 11: Canadiens 4, Islanders 3 (OT) – It took a little while for the scoring to come as it was a 1-1 game until late in the second…and I mean late. With less than five seconds left in the second period, Bo Horvat somehow beat Samuel Montembeault with a shot from the trapezoid behind the goal line. To their credit, the Habs bounced back with Justin Barron scoring his first of the season and then did so again after New York retook the lead with Kirby Dach tying it with just over three minutes left. Montreal managed to kill off a power play in overtime and then the player who took the penalty – Mike Hoffman – set up the winner from Mike Matheson following a review that lasted longer than the 4:38 of the extra session.
Feb. 12: Canadiens 6, Oilers 2 – Alex Belzile has impressed since being recalled before the break and he was rewarded for it with his first career NHL goal to open the scoring. Montreal added two more in the first half of the second period and it looked like they could run away with it before penalty trouble allowed Edmonton to make it a one-goal game. However, Rafael Harvey-Pinard scored a late power play goal (their second of the game on the man advantage) before the middle stanza ended while Jordan Harris potted his second of the game early in the third and the Canadiens skated away with the victory from there.
Goals: Cole Caufield (26)
Assists: Nick Suzuki (25)
Points: Nick Suzuki (42)
+/-: Johnathan Kovacevic (+6)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (101)
Shots: Cole Caufield (158)
News And Notes
– The Habs recalled Jesse Ylonen and Alex Belzile from Laval on Thursday, the first day they were permitted to return to team activities.
– Montreal actually welcomed back a couple of healthy players as Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia returned to the lineup. To make room for Armia on the roster, the Canadiens officially moved Cole Caufield to injured reserve. (Not LTIR if you’re wondering, just regular IR.)
– It wasn’t all good news on the injury front, however, as Arber Xhekaj was injured in a fight against Edmonton’s Vincent Desharnais on Sunday. There’s no word yet on how long he’ll be out.
– Nick Suzuki is the first Hab to have four 40-point seasons to start his NHL career since Saku Koivu back from 1995-96 through 1998-99.
Last Game’s Lines:
Harvey-Pinard – Suzuki – Anderson
Dadonov – Dach – Hoffman
Armia – Dvorak – Drouin
Pezzetta – Belzile – Ylonen
Xhekaj – Savard
Matheson – Barron
Harris – Kovacevic
The Week Ahead
Tuesday vs Chicago – The Blackhawks are squarely in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, to put it nicely. Petr Mrazek continues to get lit up regularly between the pipes but Luke Richardson doesn’t have any other viable options with Alex Stalock in concussion protocol. Jonathan Toews hasn’t played since the break due to illness but is expected to be available for this one. Former Hab Max Domi is tied for the team lead in goals (14) and points (35) and there has been speculation that instead of moving him at the deadline, Chicago might look to sign him to an extension.
Thursday at Carolina – Although the Hurricanes have missed Max Pacioretty for most of the year (and he is now done for the year), their offence-by-committee approach has worked well as they have a dozen players with more than 20 points. Montreal has six, if you’re wondering. Defensively, they don’t allow much as they allow just 26 shots per game (five below the league average) which has led to them being one of the stingier teams in the league. Former Hab Jesperi Kotkaniemi has eight goals and 13 assists so far this season. So does Christian Dvorak, coincidentally enough.
Saturday at Toronto – The Maple Leafs find themselves in a lengthy battle for home ice advantage in their first-round matchup against Tampa Bay that has basically been set in stone since November. This will be the first half of a back-to-back for them and with Chicago being the back half, they’re likely to start Ilya Samsonov against Montreal with Matt Murray on IR once again. Auston Matthews is also out and his availability for this one isn’t yet known.
A few weeks ago, the thought of Mike Hoffman having some trade value seemed outlandish. Truth be told, it’s still probably unlikely but he is having himself a nice run right now. The veteran has nine points in his last nine games and with the power play being rearranged following the absence of Cole Caufield, he’s back in the right faceoff dot which is where he has been at his best in the past. I know I’ve certainly noticed that he’s shooting with more confidence lately.
With another year left on his contract at a $4.5 million cap hit, the Habs aren’t going to be able to just move him for an expiring contract and get out from underneath the final year of that deal. However, if he can keep this level of play up for a few more weeks, it opens up some avenues to perhaps flip him for another veteran on a similar-priced deal, one that might be a better fit for Montreal (and Hoffman a better fit for the other team). That’s not a typical rebuild move that sees a player moving for picks and prospects but the next best thing is finding a better fit. That’d still be a pretty good outcome for both sides.