The Montreal Canadiens’ road trip throughout the entire United States has been successful so far with two wins in three contests. The final three games happen through New Year’s as the Habs played Florida on Friday night followed by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars before returning home.
- The start was so excellent for the Habs that it was apparent that the Panthers were still suffering from a tryptophan turkey nap. Tomas Tatar scored in the first minute on essentially the first chance on net. What an outstanding addition Tatar has been to the Habs. After a hot start, most suggested he would lose his edge as the season progressed. However, Tatar just keeps on going. His shot up high to beat Roberto Luongo was his 13th goal of the season. On the power play in the third period, it was Tatar again with the quick shot for his 14th. He is on his way to a strong 25-goal campaign. His total is likely to be better than Max Pacioretty’s number as the former captain only has 10 goals on the season. As much as players say they don’t pay attention to what their opposite in a trade is doing, mark my words, they care very much.
- It certainly has appeared that Jesperi Kotkaniemi is more a passer than a shooter at the NHL level. However, in this one Kotkaniemi unleashed a wrist shot that seemed to indicate that predictions of his goals versus assists mix could be a bit light on the goal side. Kotkaniemi had two lightning shots that had beaten Luongo, but both hit the goal post. Those shots will go in soon for the 18-year-old. If you can beat the goalie like that — especially a goalie like Luongo — then the next time you will get that quarter of an inch to go your way. Kotkaniemi’s numbers so far are four goals and 13 assists for 17 points. His ratio could get much closer to one for one. Either way, it is such a joy to watch this young man progress from game to game. He has a terrific head on his shoulders. He learns beautifully on the defensive side of the puck at such a young age. His vision on the ice is as good as it can get. He threads the needle with passes. He seems to predict the play often. He’s in the game most of the time. What he lacks is strength and that is certainly not going to be an issue as he moves forward. He will win more battles. The shot will have more on it. He will go to the danger zones even more. It’s all there for him. What he is achieving at 18 is already quite something, and we are just going through the first lap of a long and wonderful race here. Is he actually still getting taller? Sure looks like it.
- It’s been a tougher go of late for the top Habs duo Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin. They have seemed tired at times in the last couple of weeks. Domi has recently lost touch with his point-per-game status. Both are having career years, but the dog days of the season have certainly affected them. The positive from this one is it seems the Christmas break was a good rest, because the jump was back for both of them. Drouin put in an empty netter to make it a 5-3 final. It was Domi who especially showed quick feet and a quick stick. It’s impossible now to think that there could be a rotation of fortunes that sees Galchenyuk recover while Domi struggles for this to be an even trade. This trade is certainly going to be a win for the Habs.
- Rather than reach for ways that the odd Habs player faltered during a moment, it would be fairer to just point out that no one really struggled and instead concentrate on how well this road trip is going. The Habs have a 3 and 1 record in the first four games. They have only lost against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver with wins in Las Vegas, Arizona and Florida. This is the trip that has always been an indicator of whether the Habs have it in them to fight for a playoff spot, or whether it is a year to fall into the abyss. It’s clear this season this team is ready to compete. The Habs are in a playoff spot at this point, and if they are able to avoid long-term injuries to key players, they will win that playoff berth in April. The final two games are in Tampa Bay and Dallas. Whatever the results — even if they are two losses — this is a successful road trip. The rest is a bonus.
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- The fear was real as Carey Price was put on injured reserve on Thursday retroactive to the Dec. 22. The worry was it’s a long-term, lower-body injury. On Friday, in the pre-game skate in the morning, Montreal head coach Claude Julien took a lot of fear out of the equation saying that it was a nagging injury that Price has had for a while. Even though this was the case, the organization felt that he should see doctors for an assessment of what was described as an irritant. Price has been on the injured reserve list six times and it definitely is a concern for the Habs when he suffers considering his eight-year contract is just beginning. It is natural for fans to worry here, but the wise move is to wait and see what the actual assessment is. It could very well be nothing. In fact, that is the indication that we are getting from the head coach.
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