Thursday night was game two for the Montreal Canadiens in the make-or-break six-game stretch through the holidays.
If you look at it historically, this has been the time the team gained life or began to meet their end. Game one didn’t go well with a tight loss to the Colorado Avalanche, but the second game was a special one for two players who faced their former teams for the first time: Alex Galchenyuk against Max Domi in an interesting side story.
Victor Mete is one of the best players on the Habs on consecutive nights. Mete made a play in the first period that only he on the entire team could have made. Mario Kempe had a breakaway after beating David Schlemko, and from seemingly out of nowhere comes Mete with raging speed.
Mete gained four full strides on Schlemko from the blue line in. Mete also was so fast that he caught Kempe, who didn’t even get a shot away on what looked like a certain scoring chance. Extremely impressive from Mete. It’s hard to imagine that he finds his way to the minors again this season. The left side is weak and it’s hard to imagine a world where a smart hockey mind like Claude Julien looks at Jordie Benn, looks at Schlemko, then looks at Mete and chooses the boat anchors instead of the roadrunner.
You have to be excited for the future of the Canadiens when you look at the skill set of the next generation of players.
Certainly there are moments when Jesperi Kotkaniemi simply does not have the puck on his stick enough in a league where time and space are tight, but when he does find that time, it’s amazing to watch his ingenuity with it. Early first period, Kotkaniemi saw an opportunity to his right side, but there were a lot of bodies in the way of that streaking linemate.
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Kotkaniemi alley-ooped the pass over everyone and landed it almost on the tape of his mate. It was so incredibly creative. He’s only 18 years old, but he has a mind for the game like a true veteran.
He’s going to do amazing things as he adjusts. What a hockey mind. On the defensive side, the Habs had a 2-1 lead with two minutes remaining and Kotkaniemi was on the ice to trying to hold the lead and you don’t even contemplate that might be a dangerous decision.
He is well beyond his years on both sides of the puck.
Brendan Gallagher had three quality chances in his first two shifts, but could not convert. Gallagher always has chances because he’s always around the crease, working his tail off. It’s a story often told, and there is nothing new in the observation, but the recognition is necessary because if everyone had an engine like he did, the club would be significantly better.
Where the comparison needs to be made most is among forwards, where Gallagher’s courage to be in danger areas getting cross checked, and screening shots moving 100 miles per hour, is unmatched.
If it were matched, imagine how many more goals the club would have, especially on the power play where everyone is simply too much on the perimeter.
Shea Weber receives a lot of praise for his defensive play and deservedly so.
He logs 30 minutes of ice time while carrying his defensive partner the entire way. What doesn’t get remarked on enough is what Weber brings offensively.
Weber hasn’t missed a beat since the injury early last year, when through the first quarter of the season he was the leader of the entire team in points-per-game. That’s right. Not the leader among rearguards, but the overall leader. This season, he is continuing to put up a solid point total. With his wicked slap shot goal from 55 feet on the power play to open the scoring, Weber moved to five goals and three assists for eight points in 12 games.
That’s an impressive number already. Weber is 16th in the league in goals for defencemen despite missing two-thirds of the season. Remarkable. He’s still an outstanding player — still not aging, still not regressing, but still needs a defensive partner to play with who has some talent.
On the go-ahead goal for the Habs, we saw some solid work from Phillip Danault, who lost his regular line mates for this one. Claude Julien made some changes and they worked for the 2-1 goal. Andrew Shaw, with hard work in front of the net, created some havoc that led to Danault with the sweet cross-crease pass to Paul Byron, and all he had to do was tap it home for his eighth goal of the season.
Tonight was a 2-1 win for Carey Price for victory number 300 in his career. That’s a 36-save performance, as Price has found his game again. His save percentage is also up about 15 points since Weber joined the lineup.
Price becomes the 35th goalie in NHL history to hit the 300-win plateau. Price going back-to-back, as well, and he didn’t seem to have an issue with that whatsoever.
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Jonathan Drouin is having the best season of his pro career, on pace for 65 points.
He has chemistry with Max Domi that could last for years in one of the true bright surprises of the season. However, there are some times when he simply does not commit enough defensively to the cause.
He just doesn’t choose to battle. When he is attacking, his legs are moving, and he’s battling like a gamer. When he is defending, he glides and has a work ethic that is half of what it is when he can put a goal on the board. The oddity is that his plus/minus is even on the year. It feels like it is worse because he has had some huge gaffes this year.
Drouin is a spectacular player, but he is not a complete player. He needs to get there because winning teams have key players who help you in all three zones.
Charles Hudon goes for long stretches where he is not adding much to the final result. He has one of the worst Corsi on the team and that might have something to do with his line mates most of the time, but it also has a lot to do with his defensive weaknesses.
Hudon is a disappointment overall this season and he is not long for this league, if he does not find a way to put his footprint on the game better than he does.
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When the trade was made this summer, the Habs looked like sure losers in it.
Max Domi had just concluded his worst NHL season scoring — only nine goals, with five of those goals into an empty net. He basically went through the entire season with four goals.
Galchenyuk seemed to have been given up on by general manager Marc Bergevin. Fast forward almost a half season and this trade has done a complete 180. It appears the Coyotes have blown it completely. They had plans for Galchenyuk to play at the centre position, but after he ended up being horrible at that, they instead traded for Nick Schmaltz to take over at centre.
Galchenyuk now plays on the wing where, he has always belonged. Oddly, the Coyotes were desperately looking for a centre but they didn’t consider the player right in front of them: Domi.
Bergevin did. Domi looked comfortable in the middle, handling the defensive duties, but this isn’t just a story about which position the two men are playing, favouring Domi handling the more difficult centre spot.
This is also a story about who is providing offence. It was assumed Galchenyuk would win this battle hands down, but he’s having the worst season of his career. He has only three goals and eight assists for 11 points and is minus seven, which is one of the worst on the team.
Domi is averaging a point per game and providing goals for the first time since his rookie campaign with 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points, while attaining a plus-four which is one of the best on his team. The trade has been a dramatic win for the Habs as both the positions the two are playing and the points the two are attaining are massive wins for the much-maligned Montreal general manager.