It wasn’t a good end to 2019 for the Habs and 2020 hasn’t started off any better as the Habs dropped a trio of games to slip further out of the playoff picture.
The Week That Was
Dec. 31: Hurricanes 3, Canadiens 1 – After struggling considerably defensively the previous weekend, Claude Julien indicated that the Habs needed to play a more boring game to have success. They responded with one of their better defensive efforts in recent weeks but couldn’t get much going offensively. Ryan Poehling looked to have tied the game at two in the third period but the goal was disallowed for goaltender interference, a controversial call when Brett Pesce pushed Phillip Danault into Petr Mrazek. Charlie Lindgren’s first NHL start of the season was a strong one in the losing effort.
Jan. 2: Lightning 2, Canadiens 1 – There are times when teams get the good breaks and others where they don’t. Montreal is clearly in the latter. The winning goal (scored in the first period) came on a botched pass from Carey Price to Victor Mete. It instead went to Brayden Point who found a wide-open Nikita Kucherov who had an empty net to shoot at and made no mistake. The Habs were the better team in this one but again, their lack of firepower proved costly.
Jan. 4: Penguins 3, Canadiens 2 (OT) – Artturi Lehkonen had himself a strong game as he picked up both goals. But again, the bounces didn’t go the way of the Canadiens. Pittsburgh’s tying goal in the third came seconds after recently-acquired Marco Scandella rang a shot off the post; the other way, Evgeni Malkin’s shot went wide but it took a weird bounce off the boards right to Bryan Rust who had a tap-in. The winner came with some controversy as Teddy Blueger made contact with Price but it was ruled to not be goaltender interference by the league.
Goals: Tomas Tatar (16)
Assists: Danault/Domi (20)
Points: Tomas Tatar (35)
+/-: Phillip Danault (+9)
PIMS: Tomas Tatar (28)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (158)
News And Notes
– While Ilya Kovalchuk was in Montreal on Saturday, he wasn’t eligible to play as he was still going through the process of getting a work visa.
– Brett Kulak has switched numbers to allow Kovalchuk to wear his usual #17. Kulak (when he’s in the lineup) will now wear #77.
– Matthew Peca has taken part in the last few practices with the team which suggests that he could be ready to return earlier than expected.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Cousins
Lehkonen – Domi – Suzuki
Poehling – Kotkaniemi – Weal
Vejdemo – Thompson – Weise
Chiarot – Weber
Mete – Petry
Scandella – Fleury
The Week Ahead
Jan. 6: vs Winnipeg – Their matchup before Christmas was the last time the Habs won a game. Nathan Beaulieu (who injured Joel Armia) won’t be around for the rematch while the Jets are likely to get Andrew Copp back for this one. Winnipeg has only won once since December 23rd so this may not be the worst time to be playing them.
Jan. 7: at Detroit – In past years, the Habs have fared quite well against the Red Wings but that hasn’t been the case this season. Despite how much Detroit has struggled (they’re dead last and it’s not particularly close), this is far from a freebie for Montreal. Anthony Mantha and Danny DeKeyser are among the injured Red Wings so even though it’s the back half of a back-to-back, this is one they should be able to get.
Jan. 9: vs Edmonton – The Oilers played the Habs pretty well when they were out West and picked up the victory in that one. They’re still a team that’s largely led by two players but Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can score enough to win some games. They continue to be vulnerable in terms of allowing goals though and have allowed 26 over their last seven games.
Jan. 11: at Ottawa – The Senators have tailed off a little bit as of late but they’ve still beaten some good teams over the last little while. They may be without goalie Anders Nilsson for this one as he’s battling a concussion but Canadiens killer Jean-Gabriel Pageau is healthy and should be good for his usual big play or two in these matchups.
With 2019 having come and gone, it’s time for the annual tradition of looking back at the top three stories of the year in Montreal.
Domi’s Emergence: When the Habs picked up Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk, it was a deal that legitimately was questionable given his scoring struggles. However, the brighter spotlight and a move to centre has helped turn him into an extremely important contributor for this team. He led the team in scoring last season with 72 points and is within striking distance of the team lead again this year and as a result, the trade has looked great. His bridge deal is up this summer though and it’s going to be interesting to see how talks go on a new long-term pact. His ability to play down the middle has also gone a long way towards helping fill what was Montreal’s biggest weakness as all of a sudden, there’s a surplus of centre options which is a good spot to be in.
Missing With 96: Normally, getting 96 points is more than enough to get into the postseason but the Habs tied a league record for the most points while still missing the playoffs with 96. It understandably created a situation where the upside of this roster was called into question – would they be able to duplicate that this year? The recent injuries aren’t helping answer that one as the overall ceiling of this group is still widely debated. The stretch run was a fascinating one but unfortunately, golf season still started early.
The Offer Sheet: No look back at 2019 would be complete without remembering the offer sheet the Habs signed Carolina centre Sebastian Aho to. He agreed to a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet, one that was heavily front-loaded in an effort to deter the Hurricanes from matching. However, with the draft pick return (first, second, and third-round picks) being low relative to the quality of the player, Carolina quickly matched. Montreal traded Andrew Shaw just before free agency began in part to open up some extra cap room for a deal like this but that cap space remains unused.