The challenge for the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night was to match the energy they had in Boston in one of the hardest-fought wins of the year. It would be easy to let down against the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre, especially considering the Panthers had lost six straight games heading into the affair.
- One of these days the first goal in the career of Victor Mete is finally going to come. He’s been so close recently that sooner is looking more likely than later. Mete is playing better hockey since his time in Laval. It also helps to play with Shea Weber as your partner. Mete in the first period showed his great speed by cutting through the crease, moving laterally, and you thought that he had it. However, James Reimer got across beautifully to make the stop. Mete has handled the first-pairing responsibilities well. He seems ready for this. He has not tired with the increased ice time and he has not faltered mentally facing the opposition’s best. When this Habs team is ready to play into the conference finals not too far into the future, Mete will likely be on the third pair, or perhaps the second, but for now, he’s doing the job well as a 1-2.
- How about that power play? It took a howitzer by Shea Weber from 35 feet to break a 0-for-25 run. Weber sure hasn’t lost any velocity on that shot, and it’s as accurate as it always was, too. Weber has played in only 24 games this season, and he already has seven goals. That’s a 22-goal season if he played all of it. It’s a remarkable number for a blueliner, but Weber has a remarkable shot. Credit to Jonathan Drouin, too, for the fake that froze the defenders and the smooth pass right in Weber’s wheelhouse for him to send the rocket flying. You also have to love the physicality that Weber brings, even if it is just to clear a player out of the crease. It adds up to players not so happy to get hit by such a physical force and they don’t find their way into the crease as easily over time.
- An absolute highlight-reel goal for Jesperi Kotkaniemi to put it away at 4-1. Mike Matheson and Kotkaniemi were battling down the left side and Kotkaniemi was able to keep protecting the puck. When he got close to Reimer he was able to deftly toe drag it right across the crease, essentially teasing Reimer with it, then he drew it back and had nothing but wide-open net. It was a gorgeous goal, and Kotkaniemi reacted like he does it all the time. That’s six on the season for the 18-year-old and this was the prettiest of them.
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- For the longest time this season, Phillip Danault was stuck at one goal. He was on his way to a four-goal season as the Habs’ second-line centre. Not a good look. However, he’s found his stride. Danault had one goal in October. He had one goal in November. He has six goals in the last 45 days for eight goals now. The one Tuesday night was a beauty as he spun around on the backhand and slid it home. It looked like something from the Ice Capades or Skate Canada, but it counted just the same. Danault’s goal total equals last season’s and almost a half season remains. He has 18 points in his last 23 games. It’s been said often that Danault has a ceiling of 40 points as a third-line centre, but he does so much defensively that he’s the type of third-line centre that wins a championship for his team. He fits that role perfectly. He’s set up to be a big part of the Habs’ future.
- Max Domi has played strong hockey throughout a run that saw him go 18 games without a goal. Never were you of the mind that he wasn’t helping the cause even when the goals weren’t coming for him. Some games he was flying. In this one, he scored twice but only one counted. One was waived off for goaltender interference, but he persevered and finally counted his 15th goal of the season in the second period. It wasn’t a hard shot, and he knew it didn’t have to be with Reimer out of position. A simple flip to the goal was enough — it didn’t even make it to the back of the net — and it was 3-1 Habs late in the second period. Domi finished last season with 45 points in 82 games. This year he is already closing in on that entire season’s total with 41 points in 48 games. Alex Galchenyuk is also finding his stride in Arizona in the last month. This is a trade that has worked for both teams as the Habs needed a first-line centre or success this season wasn’t happening. Credit a lot of people, but start with the stability at centre led by Domi, followed by Danault, and helped by Kotkaniemi.
- Overall, this was one where the Habs were in real danger of simply not having enough mental and physical energy. It was their sixth game in nine nights, and the second back to back in that time. They just played a thriller that required everything to beat the Bruins in Boston in overtime. Only one night later, the hungry Florida Panthers were waiting, and the backup goalie was in net for Montreal. The Habs chased the puck the entire night. They haven’t been outshot badly many times this season but this one was as bad as it gets. Florida poured it on with 54 shots to Montreal’s 28. But there was Antti Niemi resurrecting his career again. He looked done not too long ago when he was fighting the puck badly in consecutive starts. Suddenly, he’s last year’s Niemi and the first star in this one. The fans gave Niemi a standing ovation. He has a Stanley Cup, but you wonder if this was actually the best he ever played in a single game. He’ll remember that standing ovation his entire life. He’s a goalie with nine lives, written off every two months for the last three seasons, including once this year. That’s back-to-back nights when the Habs won games where they were badly outshot. Four points on the board thanks to Price and Niemi. Eventually, the Habs will have to level the ice because that can’t continue, but for now, enjoy the playoff spot the Habs sit in.
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- Michael Chaput has a much longer leash than he deserves. Against Boston, he was a bit unlucky to fire the puck over the glass to cause the penalty that allowed the Bruins to tie the game. Unlucky, yes, but it happened. He initiated a hockey play. He did it poorly. It ended poorly. Fast forward one night, and Chaput is the cause of the next goal the Habs allow as well. Mike Reilly admittedly gives him a pass that took some skill to handle, but it was on Chaput’s stick, then he gave it away allowing Mike Hoffman to skate in freely to make it 1-0. Chaput has zero goals this season in 26 games. He has four assists. That’s 26 games without a goal. He’s there for his defensive responsibilities, yet he’s costing the club goals against. He plays late in games to protect a lead instead of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who is better than Chaput defensively even though he is only 18 years of age. Chaput has been favoured by the coach instead of Matthew Peca most of this season. Tomas Plekanec retired because there were better players than him, it is said. And what about Jacob De La Rose, who they lost on the waiver wire to Detroit. He’s not an offensive buzzsaw either, but he’s got more goals than Chaput and he’s better defensively as well. Not sure how this Chaput got a longer leash than Donald Trump, but he keeps getting trotted out over and over again. The Habs have three strong forward lines. The first three lines are as balanced as any in the league. You could rotate nine forwards in and out of the top three lines and it would be hard to label which line is the number one, two or three. Then there is line four. Charles Hudon and Peca are in the doghouse for the supposedly strong defensively Chaput, Nicolas Deslauriers with his two goals and Kenny Agostino with his two goals. The Habs’ top nine are excellent, but any hope for the fourth line lies with Ray Poehling, Nick Suzuki, and perhaps even Jake Evans, Jesse Ylonen, or Jacob Olofsson. The future will see some of the top nine now end up on the fourth line. Imagine how strong that hockey team will be. For now, it’s a line that gives you a goal once every 10 games.
- The NHL all-star game used to be a big deal but the lustre is definitely off now. The Montreal Canadiens, the oldest team in North American professional sports, will not have a representative in San Jose for the weekend of the 26th of January. Carey Price was set to attend but he will instead rest a nagging injury of unknown origin to the lower body. It’s a fair excuse for Price, but that the Habs have not been required to have a replacement is embarrassing. Every team should have a player at the all-star game. It may not matter to adults, but this game is important to those who attend and spend a lot of money, and if they’re a Habs fan, they won’t see their team or their uniform. Jeff Petry is tied for third in the NHL for goals among defencemen with 10. He would have been a perfect pick and it would have meant something to him. Sure, it’s not the end of the world to not have a Habs player, but it’s the right thing to do, and that no one in the upper brass of the NHL cares about this just shows how little attention this entire weekend deserves. If you’re gonna do it, do it right, or don’t do it at all.