It was a rare winning week for the Habs as they picked up a pair of victories over Tampa Bay and Columbus while playing a strong game against the league-leading Bruins that came up just a little short.
The Week That Was
Mar. 21: Canadiens 3, Lightning 2 – After being outplayed for significant stretches in the first half of the home-and-home, the Habs found themselves in a similar situation this time around. After all, one team is safely in a playoff spot and the other, well, not so much. However, they once again led for most of the game but this time, they were able to avoid the late collapse. Jonathan Drouin scored in his first game back after being benched which was the perfect response while Samuel Montembeault had himself a big performance to help lead Montreal to victory.
Mar. 23: Bruins 4, Canadiens 2 – I know this is a rivalry game but this one was surprisingly chippy. Both teams had some questionable hits that were only marginally punished while A.J. Greer was ejected for a cross-check on Mike Hoffman, a play that earned him a one-game suspension. In between, Jeremy Swayman was the difference-maker as Montreal outshot and outchanced the Bruins but couldn’t beat him more than twice. Notably, both of the goals for the Canadiens came on the power play which is something that can’t be said very often.
Mar. 25: Canadiens 8, Blue Jackets 2 – While this one certainly was a rout, it’s worth noting that the game was tied after the first period, particularly with the tying goal coming on a bit of an odd play that needed video review to determine if the puck would have gone in if the net was on its moorings. But then the top line took over, headlined by Rafael Harvey-Pinard picking up his first career NHL hat trick and Nick Suzuki recording his first four-point game to help end the week on a winning note.
Goals: Cole Caufield (26)
Assists: Nick Suzuki (38)
Points: Nick Suzuki (61)
+/-: Rafael Harvey-Pinard (+9)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (101)
Shots: Josh Anderson (164)
News And Notes
– Kaiden Guhle’s season came to an early end as he was ruled out for the year with a high ankle sprain. He narrowly made the cut to qualify for bonuses (he had to play in 42 games and ends up at 44) and will hit one of his ‘A’ ones (ATOI) which earns him $210,000 and will be reduced off next year’s salary cap. Guhle wasn’t the only victim of that same injury as Anderson also suffered one against Tampa Bay, ending his year as well. Neither player will need surgery.
– It wasn’t all bad news on the injury front, however, as Kirby Dach, Brendan Gallagher, Jake Evans, and Jordan Harris all returned from their respective injuries, creating a rare occasion where they actually have extra players. Once the emergency conditions were removed by some of those players returning, Anthony Richard was sent back to Laval.
– David Savard has set a new career high in blocks this season at 173 and counting. His previous benchmark was 163, set in his final full season with Columbus in 2019-20.
Last Game’s Lines:
Harvey-Pinard – Suzuki – Hoffman
Gurianov – Dach – Drouin
Ylonen – Evans – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Tierney – Belzile
Matheson – Savard
Edmundson – Barron
Harris – Kovacevic
The Week Ahead
Monday at Buffalo – The Sabres have slipped back in the playoff race and are now six points out of a playoff spot (but only three behind tying Florida). They very quietly sit third in the league in goals scored this season behind only Edmonton and Boston with Tage Thompson once again leading the way. Goaltending has been the issue for them and it’s possible that Montreal will see a new netminder for this one as Devon Levi’s work visa was approved recently, clearing the way for him to officially join the team. A start against his hometown team seems like the type of thing they may want to do.
Tuesday at Philadelphia – The Flyers are four points ahead of Montreal so there are some standings implications in this one. They’re on a bit of a hot streak right now with three straight wins and four of their last five despite being without top scorer Travis Konecny (plus three other key veterans who have missed the entire year). Brendan Lemieux has fit in well with Philly since they acquired him at the deadline, picking up five points in eight games. Meanwhile, James van Riemsdyk, who was supposed to move at the deadline, has just one goal in ten games since then.
Thursday vs Florida – If you’re a fan wanting the Panthers to miss the playoffs to improve that pick which is coming to the Canadiens, this is pretty much as close to a must-win game as there is on the schedule. Florida briefly held a playoff spot this past week but hasn’t won since then. Sergei Bobrovsky has basically been playing almost every game for them for the last little while and, to his credit, he has kept them in the race, even if he does allow the first shot to beat him far too often. Notably, this will be on the back end of a back-to-back for Florida.
Saturday vs Carolina – The Hurricanes continue to be one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league which has helped them to overcome not having one of their veteran goalies available quite often (right now, it’s Antti Raanta who’s out). They spent Max Pacioretty’s LTIR money at the deadline to bring in Shayne Gostisbehere and Jesse Puljujarvi but were dealt another blow with Andrei Svechnikov’s season coming to an end with an ACL tear. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has six points in his last six games, helping him to set a new career high in points with 36; his previous best was 34 in his rookie year with Montreal.
The signing of Sean Farrell will make these last few weeks a bit more interesting. He’s someone that has a real chance to contend for a roster spot with Montreal next season so it will be worth watching to see how much ice time they give him. Do they ease him in or do they put him in an offensive role quickly and see how he fares with someone like Kirby Dach? I know I wouldn’t mind seeing the latter.
There’s also the potential for a side benefit. GM Kent Hughes has suggested he wouldn’t mind getting the waiver-exempt players back to Laval to help their fledgling playoff push. It’s kind of hard to send Rafael Harvey-Pinard down right now but with now two extra forwards on the roster thanks to Farrell’s addition, perhaps Jesse Ylonen can be spared? Farrell getting some NHL action is a win, especially since he’ll still have two years left on his deal after this one; burning a year early doesn’t hurt as much as a result. It can be a bigger one if Farrell’s addition can also help the Rocket try to squeak into a playoff position by allowing them to send someone else back down.