With only one win in their last six games, the Montreal Canadiens are at a crossroads.
They have to find a way to put some positive momentum together, or the playoff spot that seemed a possibility only two weeks ago could soon become a bridge too far. The Habs are still holding onto the last wild card spot, but positive change has to come as soon as now.
The Ottawa Senators were the opposition at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi have that certain something that you just can’t create — it’s either there or it’s not.
It’s chemistry. Last season, Max Pacioretty and Drouin tried so hard to find chemistry, they even skated in September at Lower Canada College in NDG to get to know each other. That chemistry never happened. This season, Drouin and Domi had chemistry right from the first moments, and they are gaining even more as time passes.
Both players may have breakout seasons in their careers. They’re at the right age to break out. The fourth season is usually the season where the player who has been searching finds it.
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Here are the numbers: Domi had three points against Ottawa for 30 on the season in 28 games. Domi is on pace for 88 this season. His previous best was his rookie campaign with 52 points. Drouin, who has counted three points for 25 in 28 games, is second on the team in scoring. Drouin is on pace for 73 points. His best season was 53.
It appears both of these players have not yet hit their hockey ceiling. Wouldn’t that be something if they could sustain this points pace? And if they do, wouldn’t that be a reason to praise Marc Bergevin for these two difficult and controversial trades?
The fans were polled on Twitter the night that Domi was acquired for Alex Galchenyuk and were 89 per cent in favour of Arizona winning the trade. Fans and media alike also panned the deal that saw Mickael Sergachev move to Tampa Bay. All in all, this chemistry that Drouin and Domi have with each other makes Bergevin look as good as he has for a long time.
Artturi Lehkonen certainly is a streaky player. He was stuck at two goals for most of the year. His 19-goal rookie season seemed like something that was Finnish mythology. It felt like he would get 19 more goals in 19 more seasons.
Suddenly, though, he scores three goals in a week, and his fifth of the season was a beauty. Jesperi Kotkaniemi broke hard to the net and slid the pass over to a hard-charging Lehkonen, who tapped it home — both of the Finns with a beautifully constructed goal.
It was a vital one, too, as it made it 4-1 after two periods and took the game out of reach for the Senators.
No one is going to mention Carey Price in a romp of a game that has a final score so lopsided, but when this one was tied at a goal apiece, Price had to be strong to keep Montreal in the game. There were about 15 minutes that Montreal, looking slow and tired, was in trouble. Price had to make strong saves, with the best one in tight off of Brady Tkachuk. The Senators rookie shot from three feet. Price got a shoulder on it and then it went off the cross bar.
It was a key moment in the contest that Price shone.
Jeff Petry had an extremely strong game for the Habs as he broke up play after play.
Petry is an enigma. One night he is amazing, another night he is lost. After watching him for many seasons, however, the key seems to be that he can’t play too many minutes. When Petry is tired mentally and physically, his level of play drops considerably. When he is alert and mentally strong, Petry is a strong defender.
But with the return of Shea Weber, there is every chance that Petry will play his best hockey the rest of this season. Petry’s minutes are down four per game since Weber’s return. The trickle-down effect of Weber returning makes everyone better, as they get fewer minutes and face easier opponents.
When the Habs get a first pair defender on the left side, the improvement will be even greater for those second and third pair defenders in the line-up.
Though Brendan Gallagher didn’t find his way on to the scoresheet with his shift midway through the second period, it was that shift that changed the tenor of the game.
It was 1-1 and the Habs were doing very little, with the Senators taking over the pace of the game. Gallagher then had a shift where he kept the puck behind the net and would not be denied.
The Habs spent their first shift in Ottawa’s zone. They then rolled for three straight quick goals. In the third period, Gallagher did get on the board with a great shot into the top corner, making it 5-1. The Habs then got another strong performance from the assistant captain. He has this type of strong game so often that he barely gets noticed for it anymore; he’s a terrific player. You can see how much he loves the game.
There really were no players that stood out for criticism in this contest. The club did struggle at times, especially early, but individually, there were no passengers. Each player worked hard for a result doing his part. Up and down the roster, there were no issues.
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The NHL will expand to 32 teams in the year 2021-22 by inviting the city of Seattle to the Pacific Division, with a team yet to be named. The Seattle ownership group will pay $650 million to join the league. This follows the $500 million that the city of Las Vegas paid to join only last season. That means Geoff Molson and his ownership group is one of 30 owners to share $1.15 billion. The Habs cut on that is over $38 million.
Seattle joining the league means that in 2021, the Phoenix Coyotes will move to the Central Division.
World Junior Championship nations are announcing their rosters for the Christmas/New Year’s event.
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The Habs will be well represented in the event. For Canada, Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook will attempt to make the team. The American team will have Ryan Poehling on it, for sure, and likely also Cayden Primeau.
The Finnish team will likely have Jesse Ylonen on it, but not likely Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who it’s presumed will stay with the Habs.
Alex Romanov is likely to make the Russian team, while Jacob Olofsson should be a lock to play for Sweden. For Habs fans, the Vancouver event promises to be as exciting as any year in the history of the event.
On the injury front, Noah Juulsen practiced with the club Tuesday and he may be available for duty as early as this week. Juulsen suffered a facial fracture after being hit by a slap shot. With the return of Juulsen, the Habs will be healthy and stronger on the right side than they have been in at least two seasons.
Weber, Petry and Juulsen make an outstanding three on the right.