Scoring at five-on-five hasn’t been an issue for the Habs for most of the season but they struggled in that department this past week, picking up just a single win in three games to slip further out of the playoff picture.
The Week That Was
Mar. 12: Canadiens 3, Red Wings 1 – While the Habs didn’t light it up offensively as they did in their last game against Detroit, they controlled the play for long stretches of the game and were able to score enough to pick up the win. Tomas Tatar had another strong game against his former team while Brett Kulak picked up the game-winner to help Carey Price earn his franchise-leading victory.
Mar. 14: Islanders 2, Canadiens 1 – This was a game that most of the team didn’t show up for aside from Price and for a while, it looked as if that might be enough to get at least a point as the game was tied in the dying minutes. However, Kulak contributed to another game-winner but this time, it was for the opponent. An ill-timed pinch confused and ultimately tripped up Max Domi, allowing the Isles to come in two-on-one with Anders Lee converting the pass with just under three minutes left to get them the win.
Mar. 16: Blackhawks 2, Canadiens 0 – The Habs fired shots early and often from anywhere and everywhere and couldn’t beat Corey Crawford if their playoff lives depended on it. A couple of defensive breakdowns proved costly at the other end and that was the difference.
Goals: Brendan Gallagher (30)
Assists: Max Domi (38)
Points: Max Domi (62)
+/-: Tomas Tatar (+17)
PIMS: Max Domi (80)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (262)
News And Notes
– Charlie Lindgren was recalled from Laval and should serve as the third-stringer down the stretch. Basically, his job will be to give Carey Price a break at practice while allowing the team to potentially assess his readiness to serve as Price’s backup next season.
– While Jonathan Drouin’s drought has drawn a lot of attention, Phillip Danault is in quite the slump as well. The de facto number one centre hasn’t scored in 16 straight games and has just seven assists in that span. For those questioning Jordan Weal’s presence on the power play, I’d put Danault being there as being more of a head-scratcher.
– Although it’s not directly related to the current Habs, this isn’t exactly relevant to Laval either so I’ll note it here. Prospect Nikolas Koberstein has signed an ECHL contract with Kansas City, an affiliate of Calgary. The fact he wasn’t invited to Development Camp in July was pretty telling but the fact the Habs let him sign with a Calgary team is a sign that they have no intention of signing him by August 15th.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Domi – Shaw
Drouin – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Byron – Thompson – Weal
Mete – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Benn – Folin
The Week Ahead
Mar. 19: at Philadelphia – The Flyers are still in the thick of the playoff picture so expect another game against a desperate team. Goaltending has been an issue for them in recent weeks so this could be an opportunity for Montreal’s attack to wake up. However, the Flyers have been scoring a fair bit as well so this could wind up being a high-scoring affair.
Mar. 21: vs NY Islanders – After a rough showing against them on the road, the Habs will hope that home ice can prove to be a difference-maker in the rematch. We know New York doesn’t allow a lot of goals and that they play a physical style. In their last matchup, Montreal learned what doesn’t work. Let’s see if they can make the right adjustments.
Mar. 23: vs Buffalo – The Sabres have given Montreal trouble this season despite being well out of the playoff picture once again. Up until this weekend, they were also struggling to score before picking up a win against St. Louis on Sunday. Jeff Skinner was lighting up the league in the first half of the season but has really slowed down since then which has significantly limited the effectiveness of their top line.
Depth can serve a few purposes in the NHL – provide insurance for injuries, allow a team to make some decisions based on matchups, and to allow tired players to have a night off every now and then. The Canadiens are fortunate that they’re relatively healthy (no one on IR despite a few players clearly playing through something). However, Claude Julien’s recent lineup decisions aren’t taking advantage of the depth that Marc Bergevin has assembled.
I’m by no means president of the Mike Reilly fan club but getting him in the lineup against quicker teams isn’t a bad idea. Matt Peca gives the Habs another speed option (and the intriguing potential for an all-speed line of Byron-Peca-Weal) while Charles Hudon does still have some offensive skills which could be useful on a team that’s struggling to score. (There’s also Dale Weise and Nicolas Deslauriers but most would agree they’re exactly where they need to be – the press box.) There are enough serviceable players to keep some regulars fresh, create some competition for ice time, and play the matchups where applicable.
But that isn’t happening. Julien seems to have decided on his ‘A’ lineup and doesn’t want to deviate from it. That needs to change. If a non-core guy isn’t 100%, give him a game off in the hopes that the extra rest will be beneficial the rest of the way and in doing so, they keep someone else in playing shape. When things aren’t going well, there isn’t much to lose. Bergevin has provided a roster that has pretty good NHL depth. It’s time for the coaching staff to utilize it.