The week started off on a sour note with a pair of losses against division rivals before the Habs put together their best effort of the early season in a convincing victory over the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
The Week That Was
Oct. 9: Sabres 5, Canadiens 4 (OT) – This game had pretty much everything the first two had – a multi-goal comeback, minimal defence on either side, and even overtime. However, this one didn’t make it to the shootout as Buffalo made the Habs pay for a penalty in the final minute of regulation in Keith Kinkaid’s Montreal debut.
Oct. 10: Red Wings 4, Canadiens 2 – Last year, the Habs handled themselves relatively well in back-to-back games. That was not the case in this one. They looked listless from the start and even though they were tied midway through the second period, it never truly felt like they were in the game. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a home opener to remember.
Oct. 12: Canadiens 6, Blues 3 – While Montreal trailed for a bit in the second period, this was the first game where they held the lead for the majority of the time. They looked like a much different team in the process as their defensive play was better and it didn’t come at the expense of their transition play which seemed to have St. Louis on its heels throughout the night.
Goals: Armia/Domi (3)
Assists: Drouin/Gallagher (4)
Points: Drouin/Gallagher (6)
+/-: Jonathan Drouin (+4)
PIMS: Tomas Tatar (8)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (22)
News And Notes
– Nick Cousins remains sidelined with a back injury. Curiously, while he’s eligible to be placed on IR retroactive to the beginning of the season (meaning that he could be activated as soon as he’s ready), the Canadiens have yet to do so and are only carrying the minimum 12 forwards on the active roster.
– The Habs are really emphasizing four forward lines when it comes to even strength play. Through five games, only two Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar are averaging more than 14 minutes a night on that front while Jordan Weal is the only playing less than 11 minutes at even strength. That will pay dividends later in the year if they can maintain that type of narrow gap.
– Of the 20 different skaters to suit up in at least one game this season, only rookie Cale Fleury has yet to hit the scoresheet (and he has only played in two of the five games).
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Domi – Weal
Drouin – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Byron – Thompson – Suzuki
Mete – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Chiarot – Fleury
The Week Ahead
Oct. 15: vs Tampa Bay – The Lightning have looked vulnerable at times this season although a seven-goal display in Toronto also showed that they can take advantage of defensive miscues (which should have the coaching staff a little concerned). Brayden Point was injured to start the year but has since returned leaving Cedric Paquette as the lone injury. The Habs have been in a few high scoring games already this season and that seems likely to continue here.
Oct. 17: vs Minnesota – It’s early days but the Wild sit dead last in the league in points with zero through their first four games. Like the Habs, they’re struggling to keep the puck out of the net. Unlike the Habs though, they’re also struggling to score and of the ten goals they have this season, half have come from the back end. This isn’t a bad time to get them.
Oct. 19: at St. Louis – There isn’t a whole lot to really preview here considering the Habs just played them. It’s reasonable to expect that the Blues will have a better defensive effort on home ice and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them try to up the physicality as well.
Oct. 20: at Minnesota – Yeah, them again. The season is more than six months long and somehow, the Habs and Wild will have their season series span a grand total of four days. Worth noting, while Montreal plays in between their first meeting, Minnesota doesn’t so they will be well-rested for the rematch.
It’s only five games in but it seems that one of the largely-divisive players this season is going to be Ben Chiarot. His contract (three years, $3.5 million per) seems to be on the high side and in the early going, so has his usage.
Let’s look at his history in Winnipeg. Before last season, he was a depth player who was largely on the third pairing when he was in the lineup. Injuries forced him into a more prominent spot last season but he was still in a 4/5 role. Expecting him to provide a lot more than that certainly carries some risk.
Clearly, Claude Julien sees something in Chiarot that makes him believe that he’s capable of playing more. Prior to Saturday’s game, he had played at least 21:47 in each of the first four contests, a mark that ranked third on the team in terms of ATOI. It’s also a level of ice time that he reached all of five times in 78 games last season. Asking anyone who’s on a new team that’s playing a much quicker style of play to log that much ice time in the early going when he has predominantly been a third pairing player is playing with fire.
Not surprisingly, the results were murky. There were some moments where he stood out for all the wrong reasons though to his credit, he also looked pretty good in some spots. (Personally, I think he has taken a bit too much heat early on but I can certainly understand the frustration.) That’s why I was pleased to see him dropped down to the third pairing for the St. Louis contest. Even if they envision him being the number three option in terms of ice time, there’s a benefit to easing him in.
If Brett Kulak and Jeff Petry can work long-term as a second pairing, that’s great. If not, by the time that duo doesn’t work, Chiarot will be better prepared to actually step into that spot alongside Petry. It’s a phrase that’s rightfully uttered when it comes to Montreal’s youngsters but when it comes to Chiarot, patience will be required here.