This past week was a roller coaster for Montreal fans. It started strong and ended ugly but at the end of the day, they played the .500 hockey that’s probably needed to help them secure the final playoff spot in the North Division.
The Week That Was
Apr. 12: Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 2 – After a tough outing against Winnipeg, the Habs rediscovered their skating legs and got off to a strong start, scoring within the first 90 seconds and adding the ever-so-rare power play goal before the midway mark of the first. Toronto tied it up in the second but to Montreal’s credit, they kept pushing and Josh Anderson picked one up late in the period before Tomas Tatar put it away late in the third into an empty net.
Apr. 14: Flames 4, Canadiens 1 – Calgary has figured out how to slow Montreal’s attack down and they showed it in this one as the Habs couldn’t get much going offensively aside from Brett Kulak skating in from centre ice and scoring his first goal in more than two years. That was basically the only highlight though as defensive breakdowns compounded the lack of attack.
Apr. 16: Canadiens 2, Flames 1 – Montreal didn’t play any better than they did in the loss to the Flames but Jake Allen had one of his best outings of the season and Tyler Toffoli picked up a pair of goals, the last of which came in the final five minutes of regulation. It was a game they had no business winning but they still picked up a critical two points.
Apr. 17: Senators 4, Canadiens 0 – This was a game that neither side should have won as no one played well. There were preseason games played with more effort and intensity. However, Carey Price’s return wasn’t a positive one as Ottawa scored on their first shot of the game while Drake Batherson picked up a pair.
Goals: Tyler Toffoli (21)
Assists: Jonathan Drouin (21)
Points: Tyler Toffoli (32)
+/-: Joel Edmundson (+27)
PIMS: Ben Chiarot (44)
Shots: Tyler Toffoli (121)
News And Notes
– It was good news on the injury front for the Habs as Ben Chiarot (hand), Joel Armia (COVID-19), and Carey Price (lower body) all returned to the lineup. With the exception of Brendan Gallagher, they’re fully healthy. In Gallagher’s case, there was even some good news there as it was revealed that he doesn’t need surgery on his hand. He’s still out for the rest of the regular season, however.
– The Habs added and lost a defenceman on deadline day. They picked up Erik Gustafsson for a 2022 seventh-round pick and he’ll be able to join the team in Edmonton. Meanwhile, Victor Mete was claimed off waivers by Ottawa and curiously is playing even less per game than he was with Montreal.
– Cole Caufield was recalled to the taxi squad and will at least skate with the team on their road trip. He’ll only miss one game with Laval despite being with the big club for more than a week which will serve as a good introduction to the system.
– Good teams have good production down the middle. Unfortunately, Montreal’s centres have struggled mightily when it comes to scoring. Between their four centres from most of the season (Suzuki, Danault, Kotkaniemi, and Evans) plus the recently acquired Eric Staal, the Habs have combined for all of 20 goals from their middlemen.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Byron
Drouin – Kotkaniemi – Anderson
Toffoli – Suzuki – Armia
Lehkonen – Staal – Perry
Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Romanov – Kulak
The Week Ahead
Apr. 19/21: at Edmonton – The Oilers are well-rested after an unintentional week off due to Vancouver’s situation. They didn’t do much at the trade deadline as they only added Dmitry Kulikov on the back end in a move that’s similar to what Montreal did for Jon Merrill. Montreal has handled Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl well so far and will need to do that again to have a chance unless they play more like they did against Toronto than they did the rest of the week. Edmonton may be without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as he works his way back from an upper-body injury.
Apr. 23/24: at Calgary – Yay, the Flames again. They’ve done well so far in terms of shutting Montreal’s attack down and there’s little reason to think they’ll change their playing style for these ones. Jacob Markstrom is likely to get every start the rest of the way so perhaps he’s a bit tired on the back end of the back-to-back. Simply splitting these two games would do wonders for Montreal’s postseason hopes.
It has been an eventful week for the Habs, to put it lightly. It feels odd typing that considering they were quite quiet at the trade deadline but it’s definitely true.
It’s also true that in spite of how badly they played, they did what they needed to over the past seven days. Because of their games in hand and head-to-heads against Calgary, all Montreal has to do is play .500 hockey the rest of the way and that would probably be enough to get them in. 14 points in their remaining 14 games gives them a better than 90% chance of making it in, per Sports Club Stats. Those are pretty good odds. And as inconsistent as they’ve been the last six weeks, they’ve somehow played at that rate.
A couple of weeks ago, the goal was to get into third place but a lot would have to break their way for that to happen now. Just focus on getting in. Yes, it elicits memories of Marc Bergevin’s "anything can happen" once you get there but for better or for worse, that’s the situation they’re in. In the meantime, if some of the veterans are coasting a bit to try to conserve some energy for the playoffs, they need a stark reminder that they need to get there first. With three games against Calgary (including the first on next week’s schedule), we should know a lot more then about their chances.