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Lately, it has felt like the long road trip beginning in mid-December has been somewhat of a death knell for the Habs.  However, they did quite well in the first leg of it this time around, picking up five of six points against the Central Division.

The Week That Was

Dec. 18: Canadiens 3, Jets 2 (OT) – Montreal has had some success against Winnipeg lately and it looked like they were on their way to another win early on with a pair of first period goals.  However, their inability to protect leads came back to bite them once again as just past the midway mark of the game, it was tied.  However, it set the stage for an interesting finish.  Montreal had a power play in overtime but Mike Matheson and Adam Lowry went off for offsetting minors early.  That put Justin Barron on the point while his brother Morgan replaced Lowry as the forward.  Justin got the better of that matchup, firing a point shot past Barron and Connor Hellebuyck to get the win.

Dec. 21: Wild 4, Canadiens 3 (OT) – The Habs haven’t won in Minnesota in more than a decade and after going down 2-0 early, it felt like that streak was well on its way to being extended.  However, the Habs flipped the script from the Winnipeg game and tied it up early in the third.  Brock Faber restored the lead soon after but Juraj Slafkovsky got the equalizer with three minutes left to force overtime.  It looked like another shootout was coming but with five seconds left, Kirill Kaprizov was able to fire home the winner, extending Montreal’s losing streak out there by at least another year.

Dec. 22: Canadiens 5, Blackhawks 2 – Another slow start had Montreal down two early in the second period but the Habs got some much-needed secondary scoring as Mitchell Stephens, Josh Anderson, and Slafkovsky all scored before the end of the frame to give the Habs the lead.  From there, they played a solid third and eventually, Nick Suzuki scored to give them some breathing room to help seal the win.



# Player GP G A +/- PIMS SOG ATOI
8 Mike Matheson 3 0 4 +4 4 10 26:00
11 Brendan Gallagher 3 0 1 -2 2 7 15:29
13 Mitchell Stephens 3 1 0 +1 0 1 7:12
14 Nick Suzuki 3 2 3 +2 0 9 22:05
17 Josh Anderson 3 2 1 +1 2 5 17:12
20 Juraj Slafkovsky 3 2 2 +3 2 5 17:35
21 Kaiden Guhle 3 0 0 E 5 7 20:57
22 Cole Caufield 3 0 3 +1 2 6 18:45
26 Johnathan Kovacevic 3 0 0 -1 0 0 14:07
28 Christian Dvorak 3 1 0 E 0 4 16:31
40 Joel Armia 3 0 0 -2 4 2 15:53
47 Jayden Struble 3 0 0 -2 5 1 13:51
51 Emil Heineman 2 0 0 +1 0 0 7:50
52 Justin Barron 3 1 0 E 2 5 20:59
55 Michael Pezzetta 1 0 0 E 0 1 6:06
56 Jesse Ylonen 3 0 1 +2 0 2 8:26
58 David Savard 3 2 2 +4 2 3 22:43
71 Jake Evans 3 0 2 E 0 6 17:45
91 Sean Monahan 3 0 1 E 0 4 19:00


# Player Record GAA SV% SO
30 Cayden Primeau 1-0-0 2.00 .905 0
34 Jake Allen 1-0-0 1.96 .938 0
35 Samuel Montembeault 0-0-1 3.70 .833 0

Team Leaders:

Goals: Nick Suzuki (10)
Assists: Nick Suzuki (20)
Points: Nick Suzuki (30)
+/-: Jake Evans (+5)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (47)
Shots: Cole Caufield (120)

News And Notes

– Mitchell Stephens’ goal was his first since March 2020 when he scored just days before the season was shut down due to COVID.  He’s also now waiver-eligible so when (or if) the Habs want to send him down, he’ll need to clear waivers before that can happen.

– With four points in his last two games, Juraj Slafkovsky has now surpassed his production from last season.  He’s up to 12 points in 33 games after notching 10 in 39 last season.

– While the Habs don’t have anyone in the top 25 for save percentage, they’re a bit above average overall in that department, checking in at 13th league-wide as a team.

Last Game’s Lines:

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Monahan – Evans – Anderson
Armia – Dvorak – Gallagher
Heineman – Stephens – Ylonen

Matheson – Savard
Guhle – Barron
Struble – Kovacevic

The Week Ahead

Thursday at Carolina – The Hurricanes have been a strange team this season.  Usually, they’re good at keeping pucks out of the net but they have the worst save percentage in the NHL, checking in at .876 and are going with a minor league goalie tandem at the moment (though Pyotr Kochetkov is part of their long-term plans).  Andrei Svechnikov is a pretty good goal scorer but has just two in 19 games.  Between that and some other veterans struggling, they’re out of the playoffs right now.  Meanwhile, Jesperi Kotkaniemi has slowed down considerably after a hot start; he has just three goals and no assists in his last 20 contests.

Saturday at Florida – The Panthers didn’t like the optics of having a bunch of Montreal fans come in on New Year’s Eve but apparently, the ignominy of this can be avoided by playing a day earlier.  Who knew?  Despite missing two key blueliners for the first quarter of the season, they’ve gotten off to a nice start, proving their playoff run (the one that killed Montreal’s draft pick) was no fluke.  Sam Reinhart is pacing the way offensively with 40 points already; he’s a pending unrestricted free agent this summer.  If the Habs are going to look to the open market to add up front, he’ll be someone they’ll be considering.

Sunday at Tampa Bay – Is this the year that age and the salary cap catch up with the Lightning?  Granted, missing Andrei Vasilevskiy early on didn’t help but he has been rather ordinary by his standards since coming back.  Meanwhile, Nikita Kucherov leads the league in scoring with 57 points in 34 games as Tampa Bay’s attack continues to be in the upper echelon.  Former Hab Mikhail Sergachev is currently injured but is expected to be back by this game.

Final Thought

We’ve seen the Habs make one call of significance on their back end recently when Arber Xhekaj was sent down to Laval.  Another such call is on the horizon with Jordan Harris being close to returning.  He actually accompanied Montreal on the road trip but they opted not to activate him; if they did, Emil Heineman was the only eligible player to send down to fit within the roster freeze rules (even though there are other waiver-exempt players on the roster).  Considering they finally wanted to give Heineman a look, that wouldn’t have been a good idea.

But they can only kick the can down the road so far.  Harris presumably will be fully ready to play at some point on the second leg of this trip so something will have to give.  They can ask him to consider a conditioning stint that can last for up to two weeks but that’s only a very temporary solution.  The easiest fix is waiving Gustav Lindstrom (and that’s what I think will eventually happen) but that’s not the big decision they’re going to have to make.

No, the call the coaching staff will have to do is figure out who, if anyone, comes out for Harris.  Jayden Struble would be awfully difficult to sit right now.  Johnathan Kovacevic looks a lot better now that he’s back on the third pairing and isn’t doing anything to warrant being healthy scratched either.  Meanwhile, it’s not as if Harris is just a filler piece; he was logging nearly 19 minutes a night before his injury so benching him isn’t exactly an ideal solution either.  Is a rotation the best short-term option?  It generally isn’t.

At some point, Xhekaj is going to play his way into meriting a recall as well so this will be an interesting preview of what’s to come down the road as more of Montreal’s prospects push their way into the mix.  At some point, they’re going to have too many and a move is going to need to be made.  There’s a case to make that they could be in that situation in the next couple of weeks if Xhekaj’s play forces their hand.

Accordingly, while some are wondering when the goalie rotation might come to an end, there’s a part of me that thinks the next trade Montreal makes will actually be moving out a blueliner.  A surplus of healthy depth has been a rarity for Montreal in recent years but they might actually be in that situation in the near future.  With no waiver exemption anymore, Harris will be the first of many pressure points to come on that front.