Montreal’s trip to Western Canada certainly didn’t get off to a good start but the second half of the week was certainly better for the Canadiens as they picked up a pair of wins with Montreal’s top line leading the way.
The Week That Was
Mar. 1: Jets 8, Canadiens 4 – Montreal has had some flat-out bizarre games this season and this one got added to that list. Samuel Montembeault got off to a horrible start, allowing four goals on the first six shots he faced only to see the Habs come back and tie it up early in the second in large part due to a hat trick from Josh Anderson. However, the Canadiens struggled mightily killing penalties in the second half of the game, allowing four unanswered with the man advantage to make the end result an NHL first with Winnipeg being the first team in league history to win by four goals after blowing a four-goal lead in the game.
Mar. 3: Canadiens 5, Flames 4 (OT) – Calgary had won 11 straight at home heading into this one and the Habs were coming off that tough outing in Winnipeg. They struggled against the Flames last year whose style of play tends to match Montreal’s quite well. But in the end, the Habs kept battling back from deficits and actually got the lead in the third before a last-minute goal from Elias Lindholm sent it to overtime. On the second shift of the extra session, Rem Pitlick set up Ben Chiarot for the winner on a two-on-one with the sequence lasting about as long as it took to think to yourself ‘Why is Chiarot and not a better skater the second defenceman to jump on the ice in overtime?’. That call certainly worked well for Martin St. Louis in this one.
Mar. 5: Canadiens 5, Oilers 2 – Nick Suzuki followed up a strong game with another excellent performance while Montembeault rebounded nicely from his performance against the Jets. It was a game that featured four reviews with none of them going Montreal’s way – a goalie interference challenge from the Habs, two offside challenges from Edmonton, and a league-initiated review in the third to see if they had scored when Mike Smith knocked the net off. Despite their misfortune on that front, the Habs took advantage of a tough outing from Smith to put forth another strong showing offensively, pretty impressive for a team that could barely score two in a game a month ago.
Goals: Josh Anderson (15)
Assists: Nick Suzuki (27)
Points: Nick Suzuki (40)
+/-: Sami Niku (+3)
PIMS: Michael Pezzetta (68)
Shots: Nick Suzuki (129)
News And Notes
– Let’s get the bad injury news out of the way first. Jake Evans is day-to-day with an upper-body injury sustained against Calgary while Andrew Hammond also was injured in that game, suffering a lower-body injury although he stayed in the game. Cayden Primeau was brought up from Laval and was the last NHL-contracted goalie down there with Montreal sending Michael McNiven to Calgary for future considerations earlier in the week.
– Now, the better injury news. Joel Edmundson appears to be likely to make his long-awaited season debut on Wednesday against Vancouver. Meanwhile, Jake Allen, Paul Byron, Jonathan Drouin, and Christian Dvorak are flying out to meet up with the team in Vancouver. They’re cleared to practice but won’t be able to suit up on that one. That will delay the roster crunch for a few more days at least.
– Brendan Gallagher’s power play goal against Edmonton snapped an 18-game goalless drought. However, his even strength drought is still intact and currently sits at 28 games.
Last Game’s Lines:
Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Hoffman – Dauphin – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Pitlick – Armia
Pezzetta – Poehling – Perreault
Romanov – Chiarot
Kulak – Petry
Clague – Wideman
The Week Ahead
Mar. 9: at Vancouver – The Canucks continue to impress under Bruce Boudreau and have worked their way back into the playoff picture. They’ve had more trade speculation around them than the Habs have (and that’s saying something) but it’s not slowing them down any. J.T. Miller is having a career year and Elias Pettersson is playing a lot better after a sluggish start. Former Hab Jaroslav Halak, on the other hand, isn’t faring so well. While he earned a big bonus for games played recently, he has a save percentage of just .883 this season.
Mar. 12: vs Seattle – A rare game that has some meaning in the standings as the Kraken are barely ahead of the Habs now for 30th overall. It’s expected that Seattle will be moving some veterans out but like Montreal, it may be a bit after this game. Jared McCann leads the team in scoring this season and was recently activated off IR as was Jaden Schwartz, bolstering their offence a little bit. Heading into the season, the goalie tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger seemed like a strong spot for Seattle but instead, both have posted save percentages of just .888 so far.
When Montreal picked up Rem Pitlick off waivers, it felt like they were just adding a depth offensive forward at a time when so many regulars were missing. In other words, they picked up a placeholder which, given the circumstances, made sense. His offensive numbers looked nice but his shooting percentage was unsustainable so some drop off was expected. That has happened a bit although, to his credit, he still has produced relatively well since joining the Canadiens.
But where I’m most impressed is how quickly he’s earning the trust to play in defensive roles and how he’s holding his own. (I wouldn’t say he’s thriving, but holding his own is still pretty good for someone who hasn’t seen defensive minutes since his college days.) It’s Pitlick’s play on that side of the puck that is going to make or break his chances of sticking around beyond this season. Depth scoring wingers (he’s not a core piece) aren’t hard to come by but a two-way winger with speed carries a lot more usefulness to a team. He’s not there yet but another six-plus weeks of this level of play should be good enough to show Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton that he’s worthy of a new contract and a chance to prove he’s more than just a placeholder after all. That’d be a pretty good outcome for everyone if it happens.