It’s hard to believe it’s mid-January and every game carries such weight.
However, when the Montreal Canadiens are in the playoffs with a win or out of the playoffs with a loss, each game is vital. The Habs had a difficult date in Boston on Monday night, as the Bruins were playing extremely well and, in their last game, beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in a hugely built-up Saturday night affair.
Still, Montreal was able to earn a victory in the end, defeating the Bruins 3-2 in overtime.
- If you don’t love Brendan Gallagher, it’s probably because you are a Bruins fan. Gallagher was at it again Monday, taking on Zdeno Chara all night. It was hilarious to watch, as Gallagher basically bounces off Chara but keeps on going as if they’re the same size and not nine inches apart — Chara doesn’t even feel it when Gallagher tries to hit him. But there they were, going at it in the first period, and Chara couldn’t check Gallagher well enough in front of the net. This allowed Gallagher to deflect the Jeff Petry point shot, and the Habs tied it up at one. That’s 18 goals on the season for Gallagher as he maintains the pace needed to get a second consecutive 30-goal season on the ledger. Gallagher’s hunger to be a winner never ceases to amaze.
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- Jesperi Kotkaniemi did so many little things right again. Even on a night when he can’t find the scoresheet, he does so much right defensively to make sure that his line is not in trouble. The advanced statistics are impressive and back these thoughts up; he does benefit from few defensive zone starts, but even with that, Kotkaniemi has an impressive list of advanced numbers. A coach hopes that a rookie playing centre can avoid getting schooled while he learns, but it’s hard to find even a single night this season where that has happened. There were certainly nights the offence didn’t come easily, but not once could you say Kotkaniemi was overwhelmed by the defensive responsibilities required in the NHL. The future is so bright.
- You’re not going to see a better short-handed goal than what Paul Byron was able to complete to put the Habs up 2-1. Byron outskates Patrice Bergeron from the centre line in and then cuts hard to the net with that enormous speed and somehow regathers the puck to lift it and backhand fiercely into the top corner. It was a beautiful goal. That’s 10 goals on the season for Byron. He will have a hard time hitting 20 goals on the season again, partly due to an injury suffered early on.
- Carey Price sure has found his game after a rough start to the season when his save percentage dropped under 890. But in the last eight games, Price has had a save percentage better than 943. He was outstanding in this one. The Bruins outshot the Habs in the third period, looking for the equalizer 17-4. Price faced 43 shots on the night. He was busy and he was outstanding. Price was the star of the game, and they sure didn’t get the game to overtime without him.
- There were so many other Wilde Horses in this one. Jeff Petry had a monster game and was working hard, Victor Mete skated miles and Joel Armia was engaged and using his body well. Max Domi also had a ton of energy, while Jonathan Drouin worked hard, too. Brett Kulak has earned a regular spot on the roster, and Jordie Benn, his partner, is the player the Habs protected in the expansion draft. Phillip Danault won faceoffs over Bergeron, one of the best in hockey, and checked like only he can on the team. Mike Reilly showed courage in a game that needed some. Nicolas Deslauriers dropped the gloves and threw haymakers, showing his mates that they would not be intimidated. Tomas Tatar worked his tail off to get a third-period icing nullified when his mates needed it, and Artturi Lehkonen fought for every inch.
- Shea Weber is not the same player ever since he took a puck in the face last week. The critique here is that he is getting beaten for speed on the rush. This obviously can’t have anything to do with getting a puck in the cheek, but the timing can’t be ignored. Weber was turned badly at the blue line for the first Bruins goal, as Brad Marchand had plenty of time to fire one of the best shots that you are ever going to see into the top corner past Price. Weber will be fine. He’s so smart that even if he has, indeed, lost a step, he will use his intelligence to make great plays. The most important characteristic of a defender is his brain, and Weber’s is the best in hockey. But it is worth a closer look to make sure that what Marchand was able to do is not a regular event against him.
- The only other moment in which you can find some criticism was actually directed at the head coach. Claude Julien always protects Kotkaniemi as if he is a defensive liability. He is not a defensive liability: check his Corsi, check is plus-minus, check the ice. He is not hurting the club defensively. Late in the contest, it was Kotkaniemi not on the ice as Julien went with Michael Chaput late, and he took the crucial penalty, shooting the puck over the glass in panic. It’s just not necessary and it upsets the balance of the lines. Chaput is not a better defensive player than Kotkaniemi. It’s not a strategy that is needed or has worked. The coach certainly redeemed himself, though, with his choices in overtime, as once again, he went with speed and the Habs won it 3-2 in just 15 seconds. Byron, Domi and Petry were on the ice for the winner, as Petry batted it out of mid-air on the backhand.
- Former Habs defender Josh Gorges announced his retirement today from his home in the Interior of British Columbia. Gorges was one of the good guys when he was in Montreal. He never said no to an interview request. He could have had the worst game and he was still meeting the media and answering the hard questions without ever getting annoyed. Gorges should not have had the long career of 13 seasons that he did. He wasn’t big; he didn’t skate that well. He had heart, though, so he was blocking shots, laying out whenever it was required. It was easy to admire Gorges and it was never because his shot was powerful and well placed.
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- The trade has set alight Nick Suzuki. The Habs’ acquisition in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights is playing superb hockey for his new team, the Guelph Storm. Suzuki put on a show in one contest on the weekend when he counted four assists. One of the first assists was simply gorgeous. Suzuki has played only three games with Guelph, and already he has eight points. Overall, he has 53 points in 33 games this season in the Ontario Hockey League. The Storm are one of the best teams in the league, and they traded for Suzuki in hopes of earning a Memorial Cup bid this season.