The Montreal Canadiens season may have ended over a week ago, but I needed some time to think to look back on the Habs’ season and think about what it’ll mean for the future.
Adding Domi And Tatar
As a fan myself, I thought the Habs would not make the playoffs despite the additions of Max Domi and Tomas Tatar and the subtractions of Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. I thought that with all that goal scoring gone, where were the goals going to come from?
Turns out, Domi and Tatar had career seasons in Montreal. Domi had 28 goals and 72 points while Tatar had 25 goals and 58 points (NHL.com). The only reason why Montreal acquired him in the offseason was because the Golden Knights simply couldn’t find a spot for him in the lineup despite their long playoff run.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin would be smart to re-sign these players as they will be key components moving forward. Domi played with passion almost every night and that seemed to permeate throughout the locker room.
How’d Kotkaniemi Do?
The biggest revelation of this past season was the play of Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The 2018 3rd overall pick was the subject of much debate throughout the season. The debate was whether or not Kotkaniemi should have played the entire season with the club or should he have been sent back to his junior club. Some people have suggested that another year with his junior club would have been beneficial for him. Others would have kept him for the entire year. In the end, it worked out well for him, but he seemed to have tired out a little.
He played so much hockey this year from his league club in Finland to the Habs rookie camp to the Habs preseason and then the 79 games he played this season with the big club. He finished the season with 11 goals (none on the road), 23 assists and 34 points (stats courtesy of NHL.com). Kotkaniemi’s going to be one special kid. We have to give him time to develop as he’s only going to get better.
The Habs Were So Close To The Postseason
What did the Habs in was the overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on March 24. One prominent Montreal radio host (Tony Marinaro of TSN 690) said that it wasn’t a point gained but a point lost and I fully agree with that statement. Had they beaten the Canes, the Habs would have been the ones playing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. Whether or not the Habs would have won a game against them is a moot point now but given the progress that was made this season, one would hope that the Habs will aggressively pursue in the offseason a top-line goal scorer to compliment the goal scoring that Tatar and Domi gave the team this season.
Adding A Backup Goaltender
Another area of concern was the backup goaltender. Claude Julien and Bergevin decided to use Antti Niemi for a good chunk of games this season as the backup, but it became apparent that the coaching staff didn’t feel comfortable with him starting any games near the tail end of the season. As games began to matter more, the coaching staff felt that they couldn’t trust Niemi more and more. The team announced during their final media availability last week that Niemi was not going to be part of their plan moving forward.
The Habs should pursue a veteran backup to Carey Price. Who will that be? I personally don’t believe that Charlie Lindgren is the man right now for that backup role but if we look at Carolina for instance, Curtis McElhinney was a very solid backup goaltender behind Petr Mrazek and that helped them get a playoff spot. The Habs, in my opinion, should look for that McElhinney-type goaltender that can play 20-30 games so that Price can play 45-50 games and give him rest.
Special Teams Needs Improvement
As far as special teams go, their power play sure needs improvement given how putrid it was (30th in the league) and their penalty kill was a respectable 13th place (NHL.com). Nobody can explain why the power play was so bad but if they can find that power play quarterback, there’s no reason to believe it can be one of the league’s best in the near future.
In closing, the Habs played a much better style of hockey this season and that made me want to watch more of their games. The fact that it took until game 81 for the Habs to be officially eliminated from playoff contention says a lot. I can only hope that the Habs can build on this and continue that style of play into next season.
stats from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com
featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals