It was a memorable week for many Habs although certainly not for their on-ice success as they lost all three games. However, several players made their NHL debuts and, for the most part, they did pretty well under the circumstances.
The Week That Was
Dec. 28: Lightning 5, Canadiens 4 – With a depleted lineup (or so it seemed – it did get worse as the week went on), no one was realistically expecting much from Montreal. However, their recent recalls and acquisitions made early impacts with Lukas Vejdemo, Rafael Harvey-Pinard, and Kale Clague all scoring to make it a tie game early in the third; the last two were their first career NHL goals. David Savard then gave the Habs the lead and it looked like they’d be able to pull off the upset before recent history repeated itself with Corey Perry scoring in the last minute to tie it up. This time, it got to overtime but early in the extra frame, Ondrej Palat’s one-timer beat Samuel Montembeault and the Habs lost in a game they deserved a better fate in.
Dec. 30: Hurricanes 4, Canadiens 0 – At five-on-five, this was a 0-0 game and Montreal did reasonably well despite not having Jonathan Drouin and losing Brendan Gallagher midway through the game. Carolina’s a good team and the Canadiens put up a decent fight. However, special teams were a nightmare as they often are for the Habs – the Hurricanes picked up three on the power play and one shorthanded and that was the difference.
Jan. 1: Panthers 5, Canadiens 2 – After failing to have the foresight to bring in J-S Dea from Laval and some of the signed juniors (or not wanting to pay the cost of chartering a flight to get them there) to cover for the inevitable last-minute COVID protocol placements, the Habs were forced to play short a forward and a defenceman. They managed to hang around for the first period before Florida really started to take over. Jonathan Drouin and Nick Suzuki scored in the losing effort while Kale Clague cracked the 27-minute mark for the first and probably only time of his career out of sheer necessity.
Goals: Anderson/Suzuki (7)
Assists: Suzuki/Toffoli (12)
Points: Nick Suzuki (19)
+/-: Sami Niku (+5)
PIMS: Michael Pezzetta (35)
Shots: Nick Suzuki (79)
News And Notes
– Let’s get the new injuries out of the way first. Brendan Gallagher is day-to-day with a lower-body injury and Cedric Paquette suffered a neck injury against Florida.
– As for COVID protocol, Paul Byron, Cayden Primeau, Gianni Fairbrother, Louie Belpedio, Brandon Baddock, Jake Evans, and Alexander Romanov all entered. Byron’s wasn’t for a positive test result so he could be back sooner than some of the others as they will be in the US until two weeks have elapsed, allowing them to cross the border again.
– Fairbrother, Belpedio, Baddock, Michael McNiven, and Cam Hillis were the recalls to the taxi squad once it was re-established and with the exception of Fairbrother, they all at least dressed for a game.
– Samuel Montembeault’s game against Tampa Bay was the 28th of his career with at least 30 minutes of playing time. Why does that oddly-specific thing matter? That takes him away from Group VI UFA eligibility this summer and ensures he’ll be a restricted free agent.
Last Game’s Lines:
Drouin – Suzuki – Ylonen
Harvey-Pinard – Poehling – Caufield
Vejdemo – Paquette – Belzile
Pezzetta – Hillis
Kulak – Savard
Niku – Clague
The Week Ahead
Following the postponement of the next four home games due to fans being unable to attend, there is nothing on the schedule for the next week. Even practices aren’t a guarantee with the organization shutting things down through the 6th at least. With that in mind, here’s a look at their next week for when they’re back in action.
Jan. 12: at Boston – The Bruins spent a lot of money adding to their secondary scoring group (Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, and Erik Haula) but are still not getting any consistent scoring beyond their top line. Tuukka Rask may or may not be back by then (I’d suggest he won’t be) and Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have been a little hit or miss in their games although their overall numbers are more than respectable. For the time being, they’re pretty much fully healthy but a lot can change over the next ten days.
Jan. 13: at Chicago – After a surge following their coaching change, Chicago has come back down since then. Outside of Alex DeBrincat, no one else has scored more than seven goals on the season. Their rebuilt defence corps hasn’t been great although Seth Jones has settled in following a tough start to his season. On the injury front, Tyler Johnson is currently the only player of note they’ll be missing; they have a few in COVID protocol right now but they’ll have returned by this point.
Jan. 15: vs New Jersey – Whether this gets played or not remains to be seen and if it is, it wouldn’t shock me if it’s in New Jersey with their road game on March 27th being switched to a home contest. Assuming it does go ahead, Jesper Bratt is someone to watch for as he’s very quietly averaging nearly a point per game, helping to overcome slow starts and injury trouble for players like Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and former Hab Tomas Tatar. Dawson Mercer is doing well in his rookie season and as you may recall, he was picked two spots after Kaiden Guhle and had been speculated as someone that was on their radar.
Last season, the Habs wisely utilized the taxi squad to add some extra depth so understandably, there are some that would like to see them do the same here. But there are two things important to note. First, they’re only in place until the All-Star break and second, they’re optional. With players that test positive being exempt from testing for 90 days and so many Habs testing positive over the last couple of weeks, it’s not something they’re going to need all that often as a lot of the team will be exempt from testing between now and the trade deadline which is well past the length of the taxi squad option. Sure, they can take a couple of extra players on the road this way in a couple of weeks but this isn’t last year where teams needed at least four players on there at all times.
Why, then, would they use a contract slot on a depth player whose usefulness will last about a month? They only have three to work with and if they have plans for signing a college free agent or two, those slots need to be kept available for some of them. Chances are they’ll take some players on at the trade deadline for whatever regulars they move so it’s not as if a taxi squad signing could be promoted to the regular roster for the stretch run either.
It may be called the same thing but the taxi squad of this season is not the taxi squad of last season. The Habs – or any other NHL team – shouldn’t be treating it the same; there shouldn’t be a rash of depth signings coming anytime soon as a result.