The Montreal Canadiens, with five wins in their last six games, tried to keep it going against the Nashville Predators Saturday night at the Bell Centre. Carey Price was back in the net for Montreal, sporting a top five in the NHL save percentage since December 1 at .924. However, this was not an elite effort from the Habs as they fell 4-1.
- There weren’t many who were noticeable in a positive way in this one, but one player who continues to be beautiful to watch is Victor Mete. He is really feeling the freedom to take the puck up ice to lead the rush. It is a work of art when he does it. It is a simply gorgeous vision of how beautiful (and fast) this sport can be. One can certainly see the day when Mete flies through centre ice much more and turns his speed into a terrific weapon backing defenders regularly. This sounds like a description of a forward, not a defender. However, in today’s NHL, defenders get the green light all the time. Mete should take it up ice any chance, any time he has a free view. He’s better at winning the zone than half of the forwards on the team. Mete is a strong partner for Shea Weber, who doesn’t have the wheels to be a regular freestyler. Mete is still looking for his first NHL goal. He doesn’t have a shot that could break glass, so he is never going to even hit 10 in a season at his peak, but if he joins the rush, when he gets more comfortable, there is no reason to believe he won’t put five a year on the board. He’s heady with his passes as well, and it’s easy to see 25- to 30-point seasons when he gets more comfortable. That should be in a couple more seasons. Mete’s probably a five-six defender, but a darn good one. He could still be a three-four though. Without a big shot, and with that small frame to battle, he is not a one-two on a strong defensive team on the left side. Still, a second-pair defenceman is a terrific pick for a fourth-rounder by Trevor Timmins.
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- Another night to appreciate the little things that Jesperi Kotkaniemi does. He counted another assist, which is a bonus, but the real aspect of his game to notice in this one is how steady he is defensively. It’s one thing to be 18 years of age as a winger. You go up the ice and you go down the ice. You stand along the boards when your team has the puck in the defensive zone and wait for the wraparound if it is to come. If your team doesn’t have the puck, your man is the rearguard, so watch him. There’s nothing to it, really. However, centre — now that’s a difficult defensive responsibility. You have to actually track the play all the time, essentially predicting it, keeping your head on a swivel, and guiding your blades to the side that may be where danger lurks. Your work happens quickly, and it’s likely to be different work every time you are asked to defend. How do you possibly get that right at the age of 18 all the time? How? It’s something to behold that this kid does it. It’s difficult to remember the last 18-year-old to shine so brightly defensively at the centre position in the NHL. Usually, it is noted what the 18-year-old achieves offensively. When you look at the top 10 point-getters at 18 years of age in NHL history, you find six centres. They are Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Sidney Crosby, Steve Yzerman, Ron Francis and Bobby Carpenter. Five of the six were from the golden age of NHL scoring and four of the six have extremely poor numbers defensively. Yzerman was minus-19 when he was 18. Francis was minus-15. Carpenter was minus-24. Yzerman and Francis became terrific two-way centres. Carpenter’s 200-foot game was underrated. He eventually became a terrific 200-foot centre as well. The best plus-minus at 18 was Gretzky but he was only plus-14 despite having 137 points. These top 18-year-old centres racked up the points, but they weren’t exactly taking care of their own end with great skill yet. No comparisons trying to be made offensively here with the game’s greatest, but defensively Kotkaniemi shines at 18 better than most at the centre spot. Kotkaniemi is plus-one on the season. He has such a bright future. This may be one of Timmins’ best picks in a career filled with outstanding picks.
- Here is the positive: You have Price back to being at his best. You also have Shea Weber back in the lineup solidifying the defence since his return. You have the Habs as one of the best teams for 5-on-5 goals in the league as well. You know that if they can figure out the power play, they may be able to move up the standings even more. The Habs are last in the entire league with the extra man. All looks so rosy right now overall. Now to the negative: They showed absolutely none of the aforementioned in this contest. The Habs were a little too comfortable with all of that good vibe around them these days, and in a long season, you can not get comfortable or you will have a long night. Price wasn’t sharp on the second goal, perhaps. The defenders were too loose in their coverage. The forwards didn’t engage physically enough. There was little second effort, and less hunger. It is a long season and some games you just don’t have the proper motivation. Not singling out Montreal here as the only team who suffers this. All teams lack the proper motivation in an 82-game season at times. This was Montreal’s night to lay an egg.
- Carey Price has been outstanding since December began. He is top five in all of the major categories such as wins, goals against average, and save percentage. This, however, was not a strong night for Price. He would like the slapshot back that he didn’t stop in the first period, then in the second period, it looked like he wanted to play defenceman, hanging on and checking a Predators forward as if he could physically stop him instead of the puck. That led to a wraparound goal where Price is there to make the save 99 per cent of the time. That was a backbreaker as well, considering the Habs had just scored their first goal of the game. Momentum was crushed about 30 seconds after the only time in the entire game the Habs had any.
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- Charles Hudon is getting frustrated with his plight on the sidelines night after night. Hudon has asked for some clarity from the Habs organization about his future. It’s a difficult situation because Hudon needs the ice time to prove himself, but he has not been good enough to earn a regular spot when he has had that ice time. The Habs are on a bit of a roll these days with the fourth line looking good and not getting boxed in their own zone often, so the coaching staff doesn’t want to mess with that successful formula. When all of the forwards are healthy, there will be a difficult decision to make. General manager Marc Bergevin will take Andrew Shaw off the injury list and as a result, he will have to send a player down to the minors in Laval. That player is likely to be Hudon, considering it does not appear at all as if Bergevin is worried about losing young players who have not shown much compared to steadier veterans. He has already lost Nikita Scherbak and Jacob De La Rose and there isn’t much worry from the Habs that a mistake has been made on those two players overall. Hard to imagine that they are worrying that they could lose Hudon too. The salient question is not will the Habs send Hudon down. The salient question is will another team take a chance on him when he gets on to the waiver wire. On that front, it looks like it’s a 50-50 proposition.