It was a week of shakeups for the Habs with changes being made behind the bench but the end results remained the same as their losing streak has extended to five games although there is still a small silver lining.
The Week That Was
Feb. 23: Senators 5, Canadiens 4 (SO) – The Habs actually managed to come back from a two-goal deficit and actually managed to take the lead in the third period, one that was very short-lived as Carey Price’s struggles stopping five-hole shots continued, something that Ottawa exploited multiple times in this one. It looked like Brendan Gallagher was going to give Montreal the victory in the dying seconds but the goal was called off for goalie interference, a call that Montreal certainly didn’t agree with. The Canadiens survived the overtime but couldn’t solve Matt Murray in the shootout and we all know what happened next.
Feb. 25: Jets 6, Canadiens 3 – The Dominique Ducharme era looked like it was going to start on a good note as Joel Armia scored a pair in the first to get the Habs going early. Then the wheels came off. After blowing the lead, Nate Thompson had the dagger in the third period on a weak shot through Price’s five-hole and the fragility of Montreal really started to shine through.
Feb. 27: Jets 2, Canadiens 1 (OT) – Despite the disappointing end result, this was Montreal’s best-played game in a while. The problem was they couldn’t beat Connor Hellebuyck who was at his best aside from Nick Suzuki squeaking one in from behind the goal line. While they dominated the third period, that momentum ended as soon as the overtime began as the coverage concerns returned and Winnipeg made them pay early.
Shootout – Skaters:
Shootout – Goalies:
Goals: Tyler Toffoli (12)
Assists: Jeff Petry (12)
Points: Jeff Petry (18)
+/-: Joel Edmundson (+18)
PIMS: Ben Chiarot (39)
Shots: Gallagher/Toffoli (67)
News And Notes
– As expected, the Habs have been sending Paul Byron back and forth to the taxi squad to free up cap room but even with that and their other shuffle moves, they’ve only banked just over $300,000 in full-season cap room. That will cover some performance bonuses but not all of them let alone freeing up enough space to try to add someone. They may need to get a bit more aggressive on the cap savings front over the next six weeks leading into the trade deadline; if they don’t, it’s a sign that they don’t expect to try to make a trade by April 12th.
– Josh Anderson left Thursday’s game with a lower-body injury sustained on a trip by Dylan DeMelo. While he missed Saturday’s contest, he isn’t expected to be out for long and is listed as day-to-day.
– Heading into play on Sunday, Montreal’s defencemen lead the league in two categories. Joel Edmundson is tied for the lead in plus/minus while Ben Chiarot leads in penalty minutes. Interestingly enough, five of the six most-penalized players in the league are in the North Division while five of the top-six in plus/minus also are from that division.
Last Game’s Lines:
Drouin – Suzuki – Toffoli
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Byron – Evans – Perry
Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Romanov
The Week Ahead
Mar. 2: vs Ottawa – After a tough start to the season, the Senators have turned things around as of late and not just against Montreal. They’re still prone to some off nights – such is life with a young team – but they’ve played the Habs tough so far and Montreal should expect nothing different for this one. Drake Batherson is on a five-game goal streak, picking up eight points in that stretch and still has spent most of his time on the third line.
Mar. 4/6: vs Winnipeg – By now, everyone should be familiar with what Winnipeg has. Their top-six forward group is quite strong, they have a top-level goalie in Hellebuyck and the defence can be exploited as it’s not the strongest group. The road map from Saturday is a good one to try to follow although they will be in tough to limit them to just one goal in regulation again.
If you’ve made it this far, you may be wondering what the silver lining I mentioned in the opening sentence is. It’s simple – despite everything that has happened over the last few weeks, Montreal is still in a playoff spot and has games in hand on everyone behind them. They’re also still in a division where most teams have significant flaws. Toronto’s the top team and should be able to hold onto the number one spot but after that, there’s a case to be made for pretty much every team to make or miss the playoffs, including the Canadiens.
We’re just over six weeks into the season and already we’ve seen panic setting in for several teams – Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and now Montreal. It’s called the added stress of a short season and every game being a ‘four-pointer’ and that’s probably what had Marc Bergevin making the switch now instead of waiting another week or so. And of those teams, none have really done anything to try to address their issues. Sure, the Habs changed coaches but most of the fundamental flaws that are hurting them now aren’t going to be fixed by a coaching change. The reality is that in this cap and travel environment, not much can be changed. The end result is a bunch of flawed teams; that designation isn’t just limited to the Canadiens despite them being in the big rut at the moment. Three weeks from now, someone else will probably be in it.
If Montreal loses the next five games, they’re still going to be within a few points of a playoff spot. That’s just the reality in a division like this, one that has a lot of parity and a guarantee that not every team can win every night unlike in a normal year where out-of-division play can make moving up harder. The fact remains that as far as their playoff fortunes go, they’re still in good shape and are more than in control of their destiny. As bad as it may seem right now, there are three teams that would love to be where the Habs are. It seems bad but things aren’t quite as dire as they seem.