Montreal Canadiens

Montréal Canadiens: No Playoffs, But Solid 2018-19 Campaign

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?

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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

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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.

All-In-All

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

Montreal Canadiens

Montréal Canadiens: Misery Continues On U.S. West Coast

Every year, the one trip that probably worries Montréal Canadiens fans the most is the West Coast trip where they play the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks. Historically, it has never been a good trip.

Stop 1: Staples Center

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This year was no different. It started off with a visit to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night. The Habs had no problem defeating them as they beat them by a score of 3-1. The Habs got goals from Brendan Gallagher who recorded his second straight 30-goal season, Jordan Weal who played his first game in a Habs uniform and Shea Weber.

More importantly, Carey Price tied Jacques Plante for first place on the Habs all-time wins list with win no. 314. It’s a great accomplishment, but he knows there’s still room for improvement.

Stop 2: SAP Center

The worst of the road trip came Thursday night when they faced off against the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center. The last time the Habs won in San Jose was a 3-2 overtime decision on November 23rd, 1999 and the winner was scored by Craig Rivet. Since that goal, the Habs have gone 0-9-2 in their last 11 meetings since then (NBC Sports California).

Unfortunately, the Habs misery continued with a 5-2 loss. Antti Niemi was the goalie of record. He let in some soft goals that should not have gone in. This season, Niemi has had some bright spots. He recorded a career-high 52-save performance against the Florida Panthers back in mid January (NHL.com) and a New Year’s even win in Dallas against the Stars, but he just can’t seem to find that form again.

What’s worse? Some of the Sharks players were hit with the flu bug and still managed to continue their dominance over the Habs on home ice.

“”I think we’re dealing with a little bit of flu going through the team and a little shorthanded. I thought our goalie was our best player tonight, which gave us a chance, and I thought our third period, when we had to have a big period, we got our best period of the game. We did enough to win an important game.””  – Peter DeBoer (Quote from NHL.com)

Based on DeBoer’s comments, they needed a strong third period and they got it when they needed it the most. They limited the Habs chances and got solid goaltending from Martin Jones who’s having a sub-par season despite winning 33 games. His save percentage is under .900%. Plus, he’d be the first to tell you it could be better. But, he was able to keep the Habs at bay on Thursday night.

Stop 3: Honda Center

The last stop on the road trip was a visit to the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks have nothing to play for. They are just playing for pride as they are well out of a playoff spot. Price was the goalie of record and had a chance to surpass Plante for most Habs wins. Instead, the Ducks had other ideas and lit up the Habs for a season-high 8 goals.

The only bright spot for the Habs was when Weber scored his 200th career goal in the NHL. The Habs dug themselves a hole early in the game and could not salvage it in the end.

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Looking Back On The Trip

The Habs woke up Sunday morning and found themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. Now, the Habs will have to find that extra gear down the stretch if they hope to have any playoff aspirations this year. Otherwise, they’ll be watching the playoffs from home like the other 14 teams who won’t get in.

The Habs take on the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre tomorrow night. They’ll be looking for a win to help put their awful road trip behind them.

stats from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Montreal Canadiens

Montréal Canadiens: Low Expectations At First, But Playing Great Hockey

Prior to the regular season, many Montréal Canadiens fans (including myself) didn’t have high expectations.

But, they’ve looked outstanding so far. At this moment, they are in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division. The bigger question is what is the reason for this surprising success?

What Is The Reason For Their Success?

For one, their play on the ice. Last season, the Montréal Canadiens were giving up the first goal of a game multiple times and had a hard time coming back in games. It was almost as if they didn’t have any fight left in them to mount a comeback. We can say they didn’t have Shea Weber or Carey Price (due to injuries) to bail them out but that would not have been an excuse. The last time that I checked, hockey is a team sport.

This season, they are much more fun to watch. The major difference between last season and now is that they’re scoring the first goal of the game more times than I can count. In addition, the Canadiens offseason acquisitions of Max Domi and Tomas Tatar have helped pave the way for success.

Bienvenue à Montréal!

As it pertains to Tatar, he was coming off probably one of his worst offensive campaigns. He recorded 34 points with Detroit and Las Vegas last season, but couldn’t crack the Golden Knights roster as the team was on their magical playoff run to the Stanley Cup final.  With a fresh start in Montreal, he has fit in nicely on a line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. He currently sits second in team scoring with 38 points (16G, 22A) in 51 games (NHL.com).

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When it comes to Domi, he has injected new life into the team. He plays with energy and heart every night. He may not be an offensive juggernaut, but he has provided the club with something they haven’t had in a while and that’s having a number one centre. He leads the team in scoring at the break with 44 points (16G, 28A) (NHL.com)

Healthy Carey & Shea

Another reason is the play of Carey Price. Earlier this season, he stated that he had been playing injured for a significant amount of time. It was a lower body irritation. So, Antti Niemi had to shoulder the load while Price sat out for a few games. Upon his return to action, Price has looked more and more like the goalie who won the Vezina trophy in 2015.

Since November 26, Price has posted a 12-7-0 record with a .930 SV% and a 2.10 GAA in 19 games (Arpon Basu of The Athletic Montreal).

In addition to Price playing well since his return, Shea Weber has looked phenomenal since his return on November 27th. With Price and Weber in fine form, the Habs have been playing great hockey.

Kotkaniemi

Probably the most surprising revelation this season has been the play of Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Picked 3rd overall in the 2018 draft, he was touted as one of the top players according to NHL Central Scouting. He has lived up to the billing, making some great plays including scoring a highlight reel goal against the Florida Panthers last week. Even if makes a mistake, he still manages to crack a smile that has become infectious. Thru 51 games, he’s recorded 6 goals and added 17 assists for 23 points with a +/- of +3.

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The Habs Power-Play

The power-play continues to be a sore spot for the Habs. Unfortunately, Canadiens head coach Claude Julien isn’t having much magic as his club ranks last out of 31 teams. Only the Philadelphia Flyers and the Nashville Predators have slightly better power plays (29th and 30th place respectively). No one seems to know how to solve the problem.

According to Pierre McGuire of NBC Sports during one of his weekday afternoon hits on TSN 690 in Montreal, he’s stated that the Habs don’t have a power-play quarterback. They don’t have that one player that can get the right set up to score a goal with the man advantage. Perhaps, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin will acquire a power-play quarterback prior to the deadline.

What’s Next?

How will the last 31 games go? We’ll have to tune in starting next week to see if the Habs recent play will continue after some well-deserved time off.

stats from NHL.com, The Athletic Montreal, hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Montreal Canadiens

The Week That Was For The Montreal Canadiens

It started last Monday as the Montreal Canadiens were wrapping up a three game home stand against the Boston Bruins and as usual, the power play was inefficient again, going 0-for-3 in the game. The Canadiens power play hadn’t connected since they last converted on a power play on Dec. 1.

Colby Cave of the Boston Bruins scored his first NHL goal in his 16th career game. Adding to the fire, Jaroslav Halak, in his 10th game against his former team, recorded his third shutout of the season after making 19 saves as the Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-0. This marked his second shutout against the Habs as his other shutout came on January 10th as a member of the St. Louis Blues.

When asked about the Bruins slump and what it meant to be a part of the Habs-Bruins rivalry, Colby Cave said:

“We wanted to get back on the winning track here. And obviously with the rivalry, Bruins and [Canadiens], guys get up a little bit more, and it was a huge win for us and a complete effort, so we’re going to carry that into the next game.” (NHL.com)

In addition, Carey Price spoke with the media regarding the Habs effort in the game against Boston and shared the following:

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot that needs to be said. I think everybody in this locker room knows that was a [very bad] effort.” (NHL.com)

Tough Tilt Against Colorado

Then they went into Colorado on December 19th for a tilt with the Colorado Avalanche knowing full well that if they were going to win, they needed to stay out of the penalty box as the Avalanche power play is one of the best in the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens managed to kill off the Avalanche’s four power play opportunities.

If there was anything positive about the game, it was the fact that they finally snapped their power play scoring drought, early in the first period with a goal by Brendan Gallagher.

The trio of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog figured in on all the scoring in the game as they combined for 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists). Philipp Grubauer started in goal and made 35 saves for the win.

Prior to the game, the Avalanche had given up 33 goals in their previous 7 games going 2-4-1. When asked about the amount of goals they’ve given up, Grubauer mentioned they wanted to cut down on the goals and that they can’t rely on their top stars to score 5 or 6 goals to win a game.

Domi Back In Arizona

The Habs then went to Glendale to take on the Arizona Coyotes the day after as they were looking to snap a mini two-game losing skid and they did just that win a 2-1 win and Price finally got his 300th NHL win. It also marked the first game for Max Domi against his former club.

Domi didn’t record a point in the game but only had positive things to say about his former club.

“That was fun. I have so many memories here, and it was emotional,” Domi said. “I was here for only three years but it seems like 20.” (NHL.com)

It was also a first game for Alex Galchenyuk against the Habs. He also didn’t record a point but was anxious to play well against them.

“I was fired up. There were a lot of emotions, but the second the puck drops it’s another game. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win.” (NHL.com)

The Habs also scored a power play goal in two consecutive games. The goal came from Shea Weber whose return was supposed to fix a putrid power play but it didn’t. It took time and effort and the Habs were rewarded for those efforts. The game-winning goal came off the stick of Paul Byron in the third period to secure the win.

Pit Stop In Sin City

The week ended with a stop in Las Vegas on Saturday to take on the Vegas Golden Knights. This was not going to be an easy game as Vegas came into the game on a six-game home winning streak.

The Habs were looking to head into the Christmas break on a positive note and did just that as the Habs pulled off a 4-3 OT win with the winning goal coming from Paul Byron just 1:59 into the extra frame to give them their first OT win this season.

It would not have been possible had it not been for Phillip Danault who recorded his first career hat trick which included the game-tying goal with 85 seconds to go in the third period with the goalie pulled for the extra attacker.

The game marked the return of Tomas Tatar to Vegas for the first time since being acquired in a trade for Max Pacioretty and he performed well, recording two assists.

Coach Claude Julien really liked the effort the Habs put on the ice against the Knights.

“Really proud of the way we played today, the way we responded today. I thought we played a solid 60 minutes. Vegas is a team that forces you to play well if you want to win a hockey game. They’re a good hockey club, they play a fast pace. If you’re sloppy, they’ll make you pay for it. We had to be on our toes today and had to be sharp, and that we were.” (NHL.com)

Julien also added that he spoke to Danault about getting more involved around the net and create some scoring chances. He did exactly that. Coach Julien added that this performance will be good for his confidence. Let us hope so.

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

 

The Senators Were No Match For The Montréal Canadiens

The Montréal Canadiens easily took care of the Ottawa Senators by winning the home and away series this week by a combined score of 10-4.

The one thing that stood out to me was in the last few games, the Montréal Canadiens outshot their opponents 166-102 and won three of four games.  When you have more than 40 shots on goal, chances are the puck will go in and it has lately.

Last night was no exception as they outshot the Senators 43-21 and won 5-2 behind 2 goals by Paul Byron who was playing in front of his hometown crowd.

In addition, Carey Price seems to be hitting his stride as of late, winning 3 of his last 4 starts and upping his save percentage to .900% and lowering his GAA TO 2.96.

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The Habs will need Price to be at his absolute best and steal some games as they have two Western Conference games this week against Chicago Sunday night and the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. The Habs will need to be disciplined against the Wild as their power play is ranked 13th in the league at 22.6%.

Issues On The Power Play

The one thing that’s worrisome is the power play. It just hasn’t clicked lately. Their power play ranks 3rd last in the league (14.1%). Only the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have worse power plays than the Habs. Since Shea Weber has come back, they have played better but they can’t seem to find the back of the net when they have the man advantage.

Given how players from opposing teams know that Weber can rip a shot from the blue line, they try to block the shooting lane only to just get out of the way once he lets go of a shot.

The Habs didn’t need the power play last night despite going 0-for-3 with the man advantage but when the Habs play against teams that are better than them in the standings, they will need to find a way to draw penalties and properly set up the power play in a way that they’ll be able to convert. They don’t have to convert on every power play but if 1 out of 4 opportunities are converted on average per game, then that’s a sign that the Habs are doing something right.

To summarize, the power play needs to gets better, stellar goaltending will be a must from Price and the balanced scoring has to continue if the Habs have any shot of making the postseason.

stats from NHL.com

featured image photo credit – Kelly Clair