The eight-game losing skid is over, but the next challenge for the Montreal Canadiens was to make sure they didn’t start another.
The opposition certainly difficult as the Colorado Avalanche visited the Bell Centre. The game featured the NHL debut of Cayden Primeau, as the Habs looked for a spark from the 20-year-old who certainly fit the bill of a fast-tracked player, having not even played a quarter of a season at the AHL level first.
Primeau was tense early and stable later, but he wasn’t able to change the team’s fortunes as the Habs lost again 3-2 to Colorado.
No matter how bad it gets and no matter how grim it looks, you’ll always have Brendan Gallagher.
Late in the second period, Gallagher was working as hard as he always does, driving to the net with purpose as ever. The reward was his 12th goal of the season which is the team lead. It’s funny, because Gallagher doesn’t have a great shot. He isn’t big, can’t command the ice and isn’t particularly fast as a skater. There’s no reason to believe that this fifth-round draft pick would be the leading goal man for the Habs. He has none of the characteristics of a leading goal scorer, except he works his tail off. He gets into the dirty areas where he scores on the regular.
He’s the poster boy for hard work and dedication to succeed — the only player to note in an otherwise lacklustre viewing of a team on the decline.
Ben Chiarot is suddenly a 30-minute D-man. At the start of the season, he didn’t even look like he could handle 10 minutes as he got familiar with the Canadiens’ system.
He’s one of only three defenders that Claude Julien trusts, so he’s seeing the ice more than he ever has in his career.
After Chiarot, the other two are Jeff Petry and Shea Weber. Beyond that trio, the D-corps is rounded out by hope, faith and a prayer. Chiarot is handling it so far, but considering that he has not ever done this before — not only in terms of minutes, but also in terms of the competition that he is facing — one wonders how long he can keep this up.
Julien hopes all season, because it doesn’t look like help is coming. It’s just another example of a good move by the GM in the specific, but not in the general, because the wins aren’t coming along with the good trades and signings. If Cale Fleury can continue to improve with Victor Mete returning, the Habs’ defence should stabilize significantly.
What a nervous Cayden Primeau needed in his first NHL game was a little bit of support.
Early in the contest, Shea Weber was turnstiled. That led to a clean chance and a goal. In the same first period, Jeff Petry was also turnstiled in a one-on-one confrontation, leading to a second goal against Primeau. Admittedly, he did look nervous. Also admittedly, both D-men who were beaten were on the wrong side of the ice.
The truth, though, is that the Canadiens were made to look bad, and you cannot re-write that with excuses.
It also wasn’t wise to put Primeau into the NHL after only a quarter of a season in the AHL. He’s so green — he’s barely 20. It wasn’t an organizationally sound move, whether he succeeded or found the moment too big for him. Management was hoping for a spark, but they looked to someone who looked tense as expected.
Of course he was tense; he shouldn’t have been there. When you’re ready, you don’t feel tense. Just like that, it feels like this organization has lost its equilibrium already. It feels like panic, like PR distraction. It feels like they didn’t know what to do to stop the bleeding, so they took off the tourniquet, then asked a 20-year-old rookie — barely a pro — to be the doctor to save them.
The odds of it working were very long.
The truth, though, is you can just as easily take the other side of this argument and say he was the goaltender — besides Carey Price — that gave them the best chance to win. And that’s true. It’s also the problem.
How can this kid be the best option at the moment? Why did the GM follow his Antti Niemi with Keith Kincaid who basically had the same save percentage? This game is the final result of the intitial mistake. Compounding errors are often a sign of desperation. Primeau did perform better as the game went on, so credit to him for settling down, but the three goals were enough to lose the game.
The fact that he stayed in, played better, and fought off the nerves does bode well for his future games, though he still should be in the AHL, building more experience.
The Canadiens have played 29 games this season, and have 30 points. They are on pace for 85 points.
They started well, but as it stands now, if you don’t award points for losses, the Habs are well under .500 on the year. It’s becoming clear that the Habs are on their way to a fourth year in the last five that they will miss the playoffs. It’s not time yet to say they would be wise to clear the roster of veterans for draft picks, but 10 more games like the last 10 and they are definitely there.
One must consider the possibility that the Habs will be sellers instead of buyers at the deadline. It seems patience will be asked of the fan base yet again.
It’s beginning to look like the Chicago Cubs around here. The fans will have that patience — they’ll always support the Habs in this city — but you’ll have to forgive them if their frustration is high as the losses pile up during a season that they believed in so strongly.
This contest also featured what looked like a serious injury to Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The game had barely started when Kotkaniemi was hit along the boards by Nikita Zadorov. It was hard to tell for sure, but it looked like a slew knee, if not a slew foot, from Zadorov after the hit.
The visual was difficult to confirm, but there is no reason by the laws of physics for Kotkaniemi to go head-first to the ice if he were not dragged in some manner by the Avalanche defenceman. Max Domi came up to Zadorov after and he looked incensed, so it would seem on the ice that the Canadiens thought it was one of the most egregious plays in all of hockey.
Kotkaniemi landed on his head without even being able to get his hand down to break the fall. The second-year forward was down for a considerable amount of time and was helped off the ice. It looked like Kotkaniemi landed at an angle that a neck injury of some minor level was certainly possible, but more likely, we are looking at a concussion for Kotkaniemi.
Many weren’t in agreement whether it was a slew foot, but the laws of physics dictate that it simply had to be something dirty. There was no penalty on the play. Kotkaniemi did not return to the game.