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The Habs continued their road trip with a trio of contests to wrap up 2023.  After having some success in the first segment of the trip before the holiday break, they had none this time around, dropping all three games.

The Week That Was

Dec. 28: Hurricanes 5, Canadiens 3 – It took a little while for the Habs to find their skating legs but they were able to overcome an early two-goal deficit before the end of the opening period, then tied it up once more at three early in the third when Josh Anderson’s hot stretch continued with a breakaway goal.  However, Andrei Svechnikov eventually potted the winner with six minutes left and the empty-netter to secure the hat trick.  At times, Montreal was right in it and at other times, were struggling mightily.

Dec. 30: Panthers 4, Canadiens 1 – You generally wouldn’t see these teams and think that the game is going to be a defensive battle but that’s what it wound up being.  The first period featured very few shots and while Florida started to get going in the second, it took until the third for the Habs to get going in terms of generating some chances.  However, it was the Panthers who ran away with it in the final frame, potting three unanswered to pick up the win.

Dec. 31: Lightning 4, Canadiens 3 – The Habs got the early two-goal lead in this one, the second of which came from one of the strangest goals you’ll see from Johnathan Kovacevic.  However, that goal also woke up the home side, who stormed back with four straight, a couple of which Samuel Montembeault would have liked another crack at.  Nick Suzuki scored late to make it interesting but they weren’t able to pull off the comeback.



# Player GP G A +/- PIMS SOG ATOI
8 Mike Matheson 3 1 2 -1 2 5 24:25
11 Brendan Gallagher 3 0 0 -2 0 8 15:22
13 Mitchell Stephens 3 1 0 E 0 3 9:26
14 Nick Suzuki 3 1 1 -4 4 5 21:39
17 Josh Anderson 3 1 0 -1 7 7 17:01
20 Juraj Slafkovsky 3 0 1 -3 0 1 19:32
21 Kaiden Guhle 3 0 0 -4 0 3 16:44
22 Cole Caufield 3 2 0 -3 2 8 20:53
26 Johnathan Kovacevic 1 1 0 +1 0 1 11:23
28 Christian Dvorak 2 0 0 -3 0 1 16:50
40 Joel Armia 3 0 0 -2 4 5 14:06
47 Jayden Struble 3 0 1 E 2 2 17:29
52 Justin Barron 3 0 0 -3 0 3 14:52
54 Jordan Harris 3 0 0 +1 0 2 16:42
55 Michael Pezzetta 3 0 1 E 5 3 6:16
56 Jesse Ylonen 3 0 0 E 0 1 9:49
58 David Savard 3 0 0 -3 2 6 21:33
71 Jake Evans 3 0 0 +1 0 1 16:50
91 Sean Monahan 3 0 1 +1 0 5 18:10


# Player Record GAA SV% SO
30 Cayden Primeau 0-1-0 4.01 .867 0
34 Jake Allen 0-1-0 3.05 .880 0
35 Samuel Montembeault 0-1-0 4.11 .800 0

Team Leaders:

Goals: Nick Suzuki (11)
Assists: Matheson/Suzuki (21)
Points: Nick Suzuki (32)
+/-: Jake Evans (+6)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (47)
Shots: Cole Caufield (128)

News And Notes

– Christian Dvorak missed the Tampa Bay game with an upper-body injury.  There’s no word yet on how much time he’ll miss.  At this point, the Habs haven’t announced a forward being recalled so it appears as if they’ll willingly go with 11 forwards for the final game of their road trip.

– Kaiden Guhle’s ice time in the last three games has been his lowest full-gate TOI’s of the season.  (He had a lower one early in the year but was injured in that game.)  One game can be nothing but three is a pattern which could be worth monitoring.

– Gustav Lindstrom has now been a healthy scratch in nine straight games.  At this point, the Habs seem hesitant to put him back on waivers but with eight defencemen on the roster, they’re also quite hesitant to play him.  Not an ideal situation to be in, that’s for sure.

Last Game’s Lines:
Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Anderson – Monahan – Ylonen
Evans – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Stephens – Armia

Matheson – Savard
Guhle – Barron
Struble – Harris

The Week Ahead

Tuesday at Dallas – The long road trip finally comes to an end with a matchup against the Stars who have been one of the top teams in the NHL this season despite getting somewhat of a mediocre showing so far from Jake Oettinger (who is currently injured); backup Scott Wedgewood actually has the better save percentage.  They’ve been a score by committee team this season with six players having at least 11 goals.  By comparison, Nick Suzuki is the only Hab at that market.

Thursday vs Buffalo – The Sabres have been one of the bigger disappointments relative to expectations this season as their young core hasn’t progressed as expected.  They’re a lot healthier now than they were a few weeks ago, however, with Tage Thompson, Jordan Greenway, Jack Quinn, and Zemgus Girgensons back recently, resulting in some decent players being waived and sent to the minors.  Casey Mittelstadt has very quietly taken over their scoring lead as he’s now broken out as a legitimate top-six piece for them.

Saturday vs NY Rangers – New York sits atop the NHL standings as the calendar flips to 2024.  They’re getting above-average goaltending from both Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick while Artemi Panarin is among the top point-getters in the league.  Former Hab Erik Gustafsson has become a nice point producer on their back end while Tyler Pitlick (the other one Montreal had briefly) is a regular on their fourth line most nights.

Final Thought

The last few weeks have been eventful for Justin Barron.  He started off the road trip on a high note with the overtime winner in Winnipeg, showing his offensive skills once more.  However, he has also struggled mightily in his own end at times on this trip with some questionable reads and spotty puck-handling.  That has some calling for him to have a stint in Laval with Arber Xhekaj coming back up.

Fundamentally, the idea of a short stint in Laval isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Barron just as it hasn’t been for Xhekaj.  But I’m not sure the first thing would lead to the second.  Sending Barron down would leave the Habs with three right-shot defenders on their roster – David Savard (a fixture on the top pairing), Johnathan Kovacevic (the current seventh defenceman), and Gustav Lindstrom (who hasn’t played in three weeks and probably won’t suit up any time soon).  Basically, bringing Xhekaj up and playing him would result in the Habs deploying five lefties and one righty, an outcome few teams want to put themselves in, especially when the one lefty that can play the right (Jordan Harris) is already on his off-side. 

Yes, Xhekaj played a few games on his off-side and it didn’t go all that well.  It’s telling they’re not even trying him on that side with the Rocket; clearly, they know it’s not a viable long-term option.  So would sending Barron down to bring Xhekaj up to put him in a role he’s not suited for really the best thing for Xhekaj’s development?  (And at 22, development is the priority, not short-term pugilism.)

About the only way sending Barron down works roster-wise is if they’re prepared to go with Kovacevic on the second pairing or want to move Harris up with Kaiden Guhle.  Lindstrom stays as the seventh defender and then a forward comes up to give them an extra one.  But if you’re looking for a way to get Xhekaj back in the NHL lineup, I don’t think it’s coming at Barron’s expense.