The Western road trip continued for Montreal this past week and while they had a tough outing in Arizona, they got some strong goaltending after that which helped them pick up at least a point in three straight games for only the second time this season.
The Week That Was
Jan. 17: Coyotes 5, Canadiens 2 – This was the most winnable game of the week by a considerable margin for the Habs and it’s the one where they simply didn’t bother showing up for. (Which, if you’re already checking the reverse standings daily, you probably didn’t mind.) Cayden Primeau struggled considerably while few Montreal players were able to do much offensively although Rem Pitlick picked up his first as a Hab in the losing effort.
Jan. 18: Canadiens 5, Stars 3 – For one game at least, several of Montreal’s key weaknesses turned into strengths. Montreal has had poor goaltending this season but Samuel Montembeault had an outstanding performance. The power play can’t buy a goal but Christian Dvorak potted one early on. The penalty kill has been a nightmare all season long but killed six straight and even added a shorthanded goal (before allowing a late PPG when the game was out of reach). The end result was a rare win but one that certainly boosted the spirits around the team.
Jan. 20: Golden Knights 4, Canadiens 3 (OT) – Montembeault’s strong play carried over to this one as well as he faced more than 50 shots for the second straight contest. Each team scored once in each period with the third being the only time that Montreal held the lead when Mike Hoffman made it 3-2 just past the six-minute mark. However, the penalty killing struggles returned as they allowed two with the man advantage including Jonathan Marchessault’s equalizer in the third before Shea Theodore scored the winner in overtime. Michael Pezzetta scored for the second time in as many games in the loss.
Jan. 22: Avalanche 3, Canadiens 2 (OT) – This time, it was Primeau’s heroics early on that kept the Canadiens only down one after 20 minutes when it could have been a lot worse. Eventually, the Habs found their skating legs and a goal from Artturi Lehkonen late in the second gave them some life heading into the third and after another rare successful challenge took Nazem Kadri’s goal off the board, Nick Suzuki was able to tie it up with the man advantage. However, their overtime struggles continued, eventually allowing Gabriel Landeskog to tap home the winner.
Goals: Anderson/Suzuki (8)
Assists: Nick Suzuki (16)
Points: Nick Suzuki (24)
+/-: Sami Niku (+3)
PIMS: Michael Pezzetta (37)
Shots: Nick Suzuki (90)
News And Notes
– This wasn’t a good week to be a Montreal goalie. Carey Price is still a couple of weeks away from getting back on the ice, Jake Allen will miss eight weeks with a lower-body injury, and Samuel Montembeault has a tendon injury that the team hopes won’t need surgery. Michael McNiven was recalled from the taxi squad; he and Cayden Primeau are the only two healthy goalies on an NHL contract in the organization.
– Cole Caufield and Joel Armia were placed in COVID protocol and even with the shortened quarantine period, they’ll still be subject to cross-border regulations which will have them out for a couple of weeks each. Alex Belzile cleared COVID protocol, then cleared waivers, and was sent back to Laval.
– Jonathan Drouin suffered an upper-body injury in Vegas and was placed on IR. They opted not to back-date the placement and just made it effective as of Saturday so he’ll be out a week at least past that point.
– Laurent Dauphin has played in 11 games since his recall so if Montreal wants to send him back to the Rocket, he’ll need to go through waivers as well.
– Montreal’s postponed games were rescheduled and the team now has a busy February in front of them. There isn’t much travel, however, as there’s a three-week stretch where their only road game is in New York against the Islanders.
– And in the biggest news of the week, the Habs have a new GM in Kent Hughes, a hire that received a lot of support from our writers.
Last Game’s Lines:
Lehkonen – Suzuki – Toffoli
Dauphin – Dvorak – Hoffman
Pitlick – Evans – Anderson
Pezzetta – Poehling – Pezzetta
Chiarot – Savard
Kulak – Petry
Romanov – Wideman
The Week Ahead
Jan. 24: at Minnesota – The road trip that has effectively spanned the last month will finally come to an end against the Wild, a team that is nowhere close to the checking squad it once was. Minnesota is one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL this season with Kirill Kaprizov leading the way in points. Their leading goal-getter, however, might surprise you, in Ryan Hartman. After bouncing around, he has found a home on their second line while moving back to centre. Sometimes, patience with a player really pays off.
Jan. 27: vs Anaheim – It has been an odd year for the Ducks. Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry have elevated their offence to competent at least and strong defence and goaltending have them in second in the Pacific Division heading into Sunday’s action. And yet, it’s hard to see them not selling at the trade deadline unless Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson agree to contract extensions. If they don’t and those two go on the block, getting a first-round pick for Ben Chiarot will be a lot harder as those two will rightfully command more interest.
Jan. 29: vs Edmonton – There’s a chance that GM Ken Holland will have pushed the panic button by this matchup with how poorly things have gone lately for them. Edmonton’s top two scorers are still scoring but no one else is with any consistency and injuries aren’t helping either with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on IR as well as starting goalie Mike Smith. That means Mikko Koskinen has been the starter and you can quickly figure out why they’ve stopped winning all of a sudden.
Jan. 30: vs Columbus – The Blue Jackets, on paper, aren’t particularly good. But in the standings, they’re not half bad as they sit in fifth in the Metropolitan, albeit nowhere near a playoff spot since the eight playoff teams are all but finalized already. Cole Sillinger is the one player picked from the 2021 draft that is playing a regular role in the NHL while Boone Jenner somewhat surprisingly leads them in scoring. Patrik Laine is finally healthy and is certainly capable of changing the fortunes of a game in a hurry.
Ryan Poehling has had a bit of a strange season. After being recalled following a decent start in Laval, he held his own in the middle six. I don’t think he played great but he was alright. Evidently, Dominique Ducharme doesn’t feel that way. No, he doesn’t seem to be impressed at all as Poehling has basically been banished to a full-time spot on the fourth line while recalls and waiver claims play ahead of him on the depth chart.
When you’re faced with the option of playing one of Jonathan Drouin or Rem Pitlick at 3C or Poehling, the choice is simple – it’s Poehling. (Or it’s Jake Evans who inexplicably continues to play more on the wing but if that’s where Ducharme wants him, Poehling is the only logical answer.) It didn’t happen for multiple games.
Now, I don’t think Poehling has plenty of untapped upside. There’s a good chance 4C is his future home. But in a season like this, what’s the harm in playing him a bit more to see if there is indeed enough offensive upside to play him higher in the lineup? Drouin isn’t a centre of the future for the Habs. Neither is Pitlick, a winger who probably isn’t in the plans beyond this season even. Ducharme can hide behind trying to shield his youngsters from being given too much too fast but that’s a cop-out answer. Playing Poehling 14 minutes a night isn’t overworking him, especially considering who has been trotted out there ahead of him. Just call it for what it is, Ducharme just doesn’t trust Poehling.
In a season where things are off the rails, putting less trust in your few youngsters on the roster sure seems counter-intuitive towards trying to make the most of a bad situation. If I can sit here and figure that out, surely so can Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton. For Ducharme’s sake – and Poehling’s – here’s hoping the bench boss can figure out the obvious before too much longer.