After two weeks on the road, the Habs opened up their home portion for the 2020-21 season with a pair of games against Calgary and ultimately came away with a split of the two.
The Week That Was
Jan. 28: Canadiens 4, Flames 2 – This was quite possibly Montreal’s worst game of the season but they were opportunistic with the few opportunities they were able to generate. They also managed to have some power play success with Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber scoring with the man advantage while Tyler Toffoli’s shorthanded marker late in the second period put it out of reach.
Jan. 30: Flames 2, Canadiens 0 – I thought this was one of Montreal’s best-played games of the young campaign and they just couldn’t buy a goal despite numerous strong opportunities. Johnny Gaudreau scored early on the power play and that was the only goal Jake Allen allowed in a stellar home debut while Mikael Backlund added a late empty-netter to seal the deal.
Goals: Tyler Toffoli (6)
Assists: Jonathan Drouin (7)
Points: Tyler Toffoli (9)
+/-: Joel Edmundson (+8)
PIMS: Ben Chiarot (18)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (32)
News And Notes
– Nick Suzuki’s season-long point streak came to an end at seven games. He’s only the second Hab in the last 32 years to start a season with that long of a consecutive points streak. (The other Canadien to do so in that span was Andrei Markov in 2008-09.) For anyone wondering, the franchise record for that stat is 11 games, held by Doug Wickenheiser back in 1982-83.
– Corey Perry’s recalls have been on an emergency basis so his regular waiver clock hasn’t technically started. He can play up to nine games on an emergency recall before needing to go through waivers but the Habs could have play nine on an emergency recall, then do some paper assignments with a waiver-exempt player and convert him to a regular recall where the thresholds would be reset again. It wouldn’t be surprising if that’s what they wind up doing if Joel Armia isn’t back by then. Perry was papered back down to the taxi squad on Sunday but will be recalled on Monday.
– Josh Anderson left Saturday’s game with flu-like symptoms but tested negative for COVID-19. It’s possible that he plays Monday; if he doesn’t, Victor Mete will likely have to dress as a forward as the Canadiens don’t meet the threshold for the special ‘Roster Emergency Exception’. However, they would if Anderson was to be placed on the COVID Protocol Related Absences list at which time Michael Frolik would be eligible for recall.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Anderson
Toffoli – Kotkaniemi – Perry
Byron – Evans – Lehkonen
Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Romanov
The Week Ahead
Feb. 1/2: vs Vancouver – Yes, these guys again as the Habs will play more than half of their season set of games against the Canucks within the first few weeks of the campaign. This is a different Vancouver team than what Montreal saw as they took care of business against Ottawa which has them back on track and Elias Pettersson has five points in his last three games.
Feb. 4/6: vs Ottawa (one home game, one road) – The Senators have gotten off to a tough start as expected with just one win through their first eight games. They’re struggling to score and Matt Murray isn’t off to the greatest of starts to his season. Some of head coach D.J. Smith’s lineup choices have been a bit odd as well. Alex Galchenyuk plays with Ottawa now although he has been scratched in five games already. It’s a year of growing pains for the Sens although there’s enough talent there that they are capable of stealing games along the way.
While the Habs lost on Saturday, the bigger news came after with the revelation that Victor Mete has asked for a trade. Yes, Marc Bergevin stated that he hadn’t been informed of such a request by Mete or his agent Darren Ferris but Ferris made statements to multiple reporters about it. There’s a trade request; it just wasn’t done with the courtesy of informing the team first.
I can understand why Mete wants out. It has seemed clear for a while that his grip on a roster spot has been getting more and more tenuous based on his usage in the bubble and the decision to push for an immediate qualifying offer acceptance rather than a multi-year agreement. At this point, Mete is simply just trying to get a shot somewhere since it certainly feels as if his time with the Habs is close to an end. At this point, with his arbitration eligibility, I’m not sure he gets a qualifying offer in July.
The problem here is trying to find a fit that accommodates both Mete and the Habs. They don’t have the cap room to take a pricier player back, nor do they have a ton of depth behind him in the system; Xavier Ouellet is probably the only one they’re semi-comfortable using for any extended period of time. They either have to get a similarly-priced blueliner back or a draft pick that then gets flipped for that extra depth defender. And they get to do all of this with quarantine rules that exclude anyone from an American-based team from being able to skate (let alone play) for two weeks. That takes a whole lot of options off the table in a hurry.
I’m not one that likes to use this space to come up with trade ideas but there is one that comes to mind that may work as a good enough compromise. Winnipeg has a blueliner in a similar situation in Sami Niku who is on the outside looking in when everyone is healthy. The 24-year-old is in the first year of a two-year contract worth $725,000 per year, $10,000 less than Mete so the cap is basically a wash. Both players are eligible to be picked in expansion and would be left unprotected by their new teams. Both are left-shot defenders that have taken turns on the right side. Winnipeg was known to be shopping him early in free agency back in October although losing Luca Sbisa since then thinned out their depth a bit. It’d be a simple change of scenery move and with both teams being in Canada, the quarantine restriction period is considerably less. Mete is the more proven player which may be appealing to a Winnipeg depth chart that isn’t the deepest but some believe there is still some untapped upside in Niku yet given his production in the minors. Is that a thrilling move? Hardly. But would it be an acceptable enough return to allow the Habs to retain their depth without hurting their cap situation and give Mete the fresh start he’s looking for? I think it might be, especially since it seems pretty clear that Mete isn’t in Montreal’s long-term plans which means they can’t plausibly set a particularly high price tag for his services.