After one of the best efforts of the entire season, the Montreal Canadiens are in a much better position to earn a playoff spot.
The Habs won in Philadelphia against a Flyers team that simply had to have a win to stay alive in their playoff fight. Montreal had a one-point deficit to the Columbus Blue Jackets, with both teams having played 73 of 82 games. The New York Islanders were the opposition at the Bell Centre Thursday night.
In the end, the Habs shut out the Islanders 4-0.
The power play has been a graveyard all season long for the Habs. They just couldn’t get a boost from it, but then came one of the biggest goals with the extra man all season long.
It was late first period, with both teams still looking for that all-important first goal. Time was winding down, with under 10 seconds remaining, when Joel Armia got the puck in the slot and trickled it home.
What a massive goal, considering the circumstances. What a massive moment for Armia to score the first power play goal in his entire NHL career. Claude Julien and Kirk Muller have gone back to Armia time and time again with no results. When asked about it, they said that Armia provides an important right-handed shot, which didn’t seem to make much sense considering he never got that shot away. In this one, though, he actually got the puck with a pass in such a way that his right-handed shot did benefit the Habs. He slid it home.
That’s 11 goals on the season for Armia, who started a little tamely for the Habs this season. But he has come on strong all season long. Armia is a moose with the puck — he won’t give it up. That tends to have a higher value as the season progresses.
Speaking of another player who brings more work ethic than speed in winning puck battles, Nate Thompson had a terrific contest — he was a penalty-killing workhorse. Thompson, with two straight kills in the first period, was able to play keep-away for a while, then come away with a shorthanded chance that was golden. Thompson received a huge ovation from the intelligent Bell Centre fans who recognized the effort of Thompson, who should have drawn a penalty himself, but the officials were sleeping on it.
Thompson has taken the most defensive zone draws for the Habs since his arrival. He doesn’t have many goals or assists in him, but he has made a massive difference defensively, and has been a significant update to Michael Chaput. This move may not be enough to get the Habs to the playoffs, but it sure didn’t hurt their chances either.
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The Habs looked to be without energy after the Chicago game. It was as if the gas tank was empty at the 70-game mark in an 82-game season.
However, since Saturday night’s shutout at the Bell Centre, the Habs have shown outstanding energy. They were the better team in Philadelphia, and in this one, they had a lot of gusto as well. In fact, you had some players who were throwing their weight around that usually don’t. Jeff Petry was levelling some angry hits. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was hitting as well for the second straight game. Max Domi was angry as usual. It’s not a perfect marker of what a team has in the tank for a contest just by hitting, but if you have players ready to make a physical commitment, they are by logic more prepared to give it their all, and have something to give as well.
Shea Weber gets noticed every time he doesn’t have the same speed as his defensive partner Victor Mete, but one thing that Mete sure doesn’t have is Weber’s shot.
In fact, the players were polled recently and voted that Weber has the second-best shot in hockey, behind only Alexander Ovechkin. Weber scored his 13th goal of the season in just his 50th game. If Weber would have been healthy all season, at this pace, he would have had a 20-goal season — for a defenceman.
Weber still brings it in so many ways. He’s still the player who gets the most minutes against the best players. He still has that rocket that he fires with tremendous accuracy.
What a crucial moment for Jonathan Drouin midway through the second period with a gorgeous goal to count for the first time since February 7th. It was a beautiful play, with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Armia hooking up to give Drouin a clear look. He held on to make a beautiful move for his first goal in 18 games. A huge weight fell off the shoulders of Drouin; you could actually see the relief on his face.
And with that, the Habs took a superb 3-0 start to the game.
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The Habs just kept on going to chase the starting goalie, Thomas Greiss, before the game was halfway over. Jordie Benn peeled off a point shot that was deflected by Jordan Weal. The Habs seemed to be out of gas on Saturday night against the Hawks, but against the Islanders, they had a ton of energy back for whatever reason.
There are peaks and valleys in a long season; it’s hard to go through a campaign without them. The Islanders, for example, are definitely in a lull at the moment during a tremendous and surprising campaign. The Habs have put themselves right back in the hunt with two wins that were anything but gimmes. The battle is on. They may achieve their playoff goal, or they may fall short. Either way, they deserve a lot of credit for recovering from a 71-point season to entertain their fans to a much higher level this year.
The rebuild isn’t yet confirmed, but it’s trending very clearly in the right direction.
While the game looked easy on the scoreline, there was a point in the contest where Carey Price had to be the best goalie in hockey, as voted on by the players, or it could have been very different. The contest was still close and Jordan Eberle had a clean look as he had Price moving laterally. It looked like a certain goal as Eberle waited out Price sliding across, but somehow Price did some sort of Gumby move with his left leg to make an amazing save.
The Habs then converted their chances and it didn’t look like a big night for Price. It was.
A second straight game without passengers. It was a complete effort from the opening face-off. The Habs had a lot of energy led by their fourth line. No goats in this one for the Canadiens in their 4-0 win. Buffalo is next at home on Saturday night, then Carolina in Raleigh on Sunday.
Every now and then, you hear some fans suggest that top prospect Nick Suzuki isn’t going to be an NHL pro in the end. The former first-round draft choice has put up huge numbers, hovering around 100 points for three straight seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. So fans shouldn’t worry. The young man has great hockey sense and outstanding skills that translate well to the pro level, especially as a power play winger for a team desperately in need of one.
This week, Suzuki was recognized by OHL coaches who voted on a number of categories, including smartest player. The coaches believe that Suzuki is the smartest player in the OHL. This is quite an honour in effect. The winner of the award last season was Robert Thomas, another first-round draft choice, who is having a strong second half of the season for the St. Louis Blues. Suzuki was also recognized as the player with the second-best shot and the third-best stick-handling in the coaches’ poll.
Clearly, Suzuki has impressed the top hockey minds in the league. Being named the league’s smartest player is a good predictor of success, with previous winners including Dylan Strome and Matthew Tkachuk. Suzuki starts the OHL playoffs for the Guelph Storm against the Kitchener Rangers tomorrow night.