The Habs had a busy first week after the All-Star break and while they managed to pick up a pair of victories, they certainly left some points on the table as well.
The Week That Was
Jan. 27: Capitals 4, Canadiens 2 – The Habs got off to a great start and had the lead less than two minutes in before one of their bad tendencies came back to bite them again when Tom Wilson tied it with less than two minutes left in the first. That took the wind out of their sails and by the time they found some push again, they were down 3-1 in the third period. Dale Weise scored in his 500th career NHL game to get it within one but Washington added a late empty-netter to seal the deal.
Jan. 30: Canadiens 3, Sabres 1 – Brendan Gallagher returned for this one and made his presence felt early and often while eventually picking up the game-winner. Ilya Kovalchuk also kept up his strong play with a goal of his own while the Habs had one of their better games defensively, holding Buffalo to just ten shots in total over the final 40 minutes.
Feb. 1: Canadiens 4, Panthers 0 – Florida looked like a team that hadn’t played in nearly a week in a half…because they hadn’t played in nearly a week and a half. The Habs took advantage and didn’t let up. The end result was one of their more convincing (and entertaining) victories of the season over a team that they’re technically still trying to catch in the division.
Feb. 2: Blue Jackets 4, Canadiens 3 – This game was anything but entertaining. Columbus plays a boring but effective style and it had Montreal forgetting some basic fundamentals at times which led to some of their goals. Claude Julien pulled Carey Price when the puck was in the offensive zone but the Habs didn’t have control and the Blue Jackets quickly scored. That wound up standing as the winner as Shea Weber scored less than a minute after. I know there’s a push to pull the goalie earlier but it seems to me that early or not, the Habs should have established control before the goalie gets the hook.
Goals: Tomas Tatar (20)
Assists: Tomas Tatar (29)
Points: Tomas Tatar (49)
+/-: Phillip Danault (+12)
PIMS: Tomas Tatar (34)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (174)
News And Notes
– While Montreal went with just six defencemen on the active roster over the weekend, they fixed that on Monday when they recalled Christian Folin from Laval.
– Carey Price is dealing with the flu and did not make the trip to New Jersey. Cayden Primeau has been recalled from the Rocket.
– Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron are both skating but neither have been cleared to play just yet though that could change by the weekend. The Habs have only one vacant roster spot at the moment so one player will need to be sent down when both are available. My guess is Ryan Poehling given his lack of ice time and Montreal’s other recent moves.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Kovalchuk – Suzuki – Armia
Lehkonen – Domi – Cousins
Poehling – Thompson – Weise
Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Mete – Scandella
The Week Ahead
Feb. 4: at New Jersey – The Devils haven’t fared well since the coaching change that has former Hab defenceman Alain Nasreddine behind the bench but they’ve still managed to give Montreal fits this season with their style of play and that’s likely to be the case here again. Nikita Gusev has hovered near the point-per-game mark over the past six weeks while Blake Coleman is one of the more underrated five-on-five scorers in the league. This should be a lot like the Columbus game.
Feb. 6: vs Anaheim – Not much has changed from last season. They still can’t score and their young forwards, while promising, have all underachieved. John Gibson has stolen some games but even he is having a down year overall. Nicolas Deslauriers plays about four out of every five games on average for them and the change of scenery hasn’t rekindled his offence as he has just a single goal on the season.
Feb. 8: vs Toronto – The Maple Leafs continue to show flashes of putting everything together while leaving a lot to be desired at the same time. They can score with the best of them and William Nylander, in particular, has been impressive as of late. Tyson Barrie has woken up offensively but still can’t defend. Defence overall has been their downfall and with Morgan Rielly out, there are some rough times ahead for that unit. Frederik Andersen was injured on Monday against Florida so his availability for this one is currently in question.
It finally happened. The Canadiens finally gave in to logic and realized that keeping Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the exact same situation with the exact same linemates was going to produce the exact same results (or lack thereof) and sent him down. This doesn’t have to be an indictment on Kotkaniemi or the organization though. Sometimes, all it has to be is the right move and that’s all there is to it.
Does Kotkaniemi need better linemates for his higher-skilled offensive game to shine? Probably. Was he doing well enough to earn the promotion though? Nope. With Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki, and Max Domi ahead of him on the depth chart, a move up the depth chart wasn’t coming either. So they could keep letting recent history repeat itself or try something different by sending him down.
Is Kotkaniemi going to have better linemates with Laval? Of course not. But he’ll have a lot more ice time and the opportunity to play an important role in all situations and that’s a big part of player development as well. He’s also stepping into a playoff race which makes the experience that much more valuable.
This is a move that quite frankly needed to be made a month ago if not longer. Playing a sheltered 12-14 minutes per game isn’t doing anyone any good right now. It’s not what’s best for his development and it isn’t helping the Habs win. So why not change things up? It’s not like he’s getting too old to be a prospect anymore; he’s still 19 when most of his draft class isn’t even in the league yet. He’s still going to be a key piece down the road. A stint in Laval, be it for two games, two weeks, or even two months (my preference) doesn’t change any of that. Development isn’t always the same from one season to the next so it’s nice to see the Habs eventually figure that out and send Kotkaniemi to work with Joel Bouchard in Laval. Everyone will be better off for this.