HabsWorld.net -- 

The Habs started their business on Thursday by claiming Colin White off waivers from the Penguins which resulted in Brandon Gignac being submitted to waivers to potentially go help the Rocket and their playoff push. White only had to cross to the visiting dressing room as the Canadiens were back on the ice in Pittsburgh after a disappointing Wednesday loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Montreal’s record on the second night of a back-to-back left little optimism for fans and this one was no different as the Habs controlled large portions of the game but failed to control momentum swings and lost 4-1. 

Montreal’s Lineup

Cole Caufield — Nick Suzuki — Juraj Slafkovsky
Joshua Roy – Alex Newhook – Joel Armia                                          Brendan Gallagher – Jake Evans — Josh Anderson                             Tanner Pearson — Colin White — Jesse Ylonen  

Mike Matheson — Kaiden Guhle
Arber Xhekaj – David Savard                                                               Jordan Harris – Jayden Struble 

Cayden Primeau 

10 Thoughts

1) The opening nine minutes of play belonged to the Habs as they were all over the Penguins. The sequence finally ended when White was guilty of a ridiculous drop pass in the offensive zone. Luckily for White, Kris Letang took the puck and committed and committed an equally ridiculous pass up the middle that Matheson intercepted and buried past Tristan Jarry for a 1-0 lead. 

2) Typical of Matheson, he was a Jekyll or Hyde depending on the shift all night long. The goal he scored came at the end of a brilliant defensive zone play that got the Habs up the ice in the first place. Two minutes later, he was guilty of trying to get cute with the puck in his own zone. Finally, the puck wasn’t cleared and Letang returned the favour as he buried a seeing-eye shot through Primeau to even the score. 

3) Unfortunately for the Habs, the Matheson goal was when they appeared to take their foot off the gas in the period. They got buried in the second half of the period and the shots ended 13-13. Xhekaj had a strong period on the blue line as he was paired with Savard and was responsible for carrying the puck a bit more. Pearson also had a strong period as he was the screen on the Matheson goal, and he won multiple puck battles throughout. 

4) The Habs came out strong once again for the second period as they dominated the initial eight minutes of play. They missed a power play chance on a Bryan Rust tripping call, but the advantage was good enough to keep momentum and they really had the Pens running around. This sequence ended with 8:36 expired as Gallagher was called for a penalty that can only be described as stupid. 

5) If I’m defending the officials on the Gallagher penalty, it’s because I’m getting ready to absolutely blast them for the rest of the period. The Penguins would tie the game six seconds into the advantage. Sidney Crosby beat Suzuki on the draw and then committed a blatant interference that allowed Erik Karlsson to walk the line and release a shot from the middle of the zone. That shot was deflected by Rust for the first Penguins lead of the night. 

6) I mentioned that the Canadiens didn’t do a good job of handling the momentum swings in this game. After falling asleep after the Matheson goal, they panicked after the Penguins’ power play marker. The result was completely blown coverage 21 seconds later as the Habs stood still and watched the Pens pass it around in zone entry to create space for Drew O’Connor who put a shot from too far out over Primeau’s shoulder (more on him later). 

7) Back to the officials for a second. After the blown blatant interference call that allowed a goal, the officials were busy managing the game instead of ensuring consistency in their calls. Xhekaj won a puck battle over Evgeni Malkin at the Pittsburgh blue line. Malkin is no Bambi on skates, but when he realized he was in trouble, he went down as most NHLers do. Because Xhekaj was harder on his stick than Malkin and it created a scoring chance, the play was allowed to continue until the scoring chance developed and then Xhekaj was called for tripping. In isolation, I have no real problem with the missed call on Crosby or even the call on Xhekaj. However, when the two plays happen within three minutes of each other and one is called while the other isn’t, it’s mind-boggling and so frustrating as a hockey fan. 

8) The Canadiens got two power plays in the third period and squandered both chances. My thought isn’t a kind one, but this team is so easy to defend other than one line. I usually complain that they don’t attack the middle of the ice enough. On this night, I almost felt like they wanted to attack the middle but tried far too many made what I call “hope plays” where they tried a play up the middle without knowing that they had a teammate in place, and it simply turned into a giveaway. Frustrating to watch. Letang finally ended the scoring for his second of the night. 

9) I believe Colin White is a placeholder to end the season while providing Laval with temporary help as Gignac is able to return to help with the playoff push as long as he clears waivers on Friday. I wonder if we’ll see more of these as players such as Pearson, Armia, and some defenders are considered in trades alongside Allen as the deadline looms. Fortunately, I don’t think any of these players hold much value, so Hughes, who already holds many late-round picks, might decide that holding on to the player to help Laval holds more value than another late-round pick.  

10) My last thought on the evening is centred on Cayden Primeau. Firstly, let’s preface what I’m about to say with the realization that the three-goalie situation is dumb and is costing both Primeau and Allen any semblance of momentum being able to carry forward. Now, many fans saw Primeau’s strong start to the season and are now defending him when he isn’t playing as good. I get it, he’s still making very difficult saves every time he plays. However, he also makes the easy saves look hard and that’s really awkward for players on the ice playing for him. Also, he’s got terrible rebound control. He’s very much like Montembeault two years ago. And if we remember Hughes’ comments two years ago, they were to the tune that none of the Habs goaltenders were playing at an NHL level. I would like for the Allen trade to happen so Primeau can play more and get going, but I’m not defending him when he doesn’t deserve it.

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Mike Matheson 

I understand the frustration some fans have with Matheson as some of his mistakes look really bad. However, one should remember that Matheson spends most of the game with the puck on his stick, so these mistakes are bound to happen. Consider how many good plays he makes compared to the egregious mistakes. I don’t like him on the ice as a top-line option, but if he’s the second-pairing power play quarterback placeholder until Lane Hutson is completely ready for the role, we need to adjust expectations and be fans of a player who seems to really enjoy playing in Montreal. 

Stats: 1 goal, -2, 3 shots, 1 hit, 24:52 T.O.I. 

2nd Star – Arber Xhekaj 

Can we stop with the coaching staff having a problem with Xhekaj now? I’ve maintained throughout the Laval time and then again when it was reported that the Habs were not interested in moving him while he was in Laval that this was some Torts-style tough love with a kid they think has more potential than what his season is showing so far. He has one good game (yesterday in Buffalo) and they immediately play him the second most on the team behind Matheson as he has another strong game. Let the coaching staff develop, that’s what we want them to be doing right now. 

Stats: even, 1 hit, 21:23 T.O.I. 

3rd Star – Joshua Roy 

Much like Slafkovsky, Roy is slowly coming into his own and boy, has it been fun to watch. It’s less flashy because he’s playing with Newhook and Armia, but if he can get some ice time with Kirby Dach and Newhook to start the year and then maybe even a Tij Iginla or Cayden Lindstrom by the end of the year. Could be some nice support for the one line that does work on the team. 

Stats: 5 shots, 14:45 T.O.I.