The Montreal Canadiens returned home after their seven-game road trip in dire need of wins.
The Habs are close to slipping right out of the race, especially considering how injured they’ve suddenly become. The forward injuries are racking up, with the loss of Brendan Gallagher to a concussion.
A massive game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Bell Centre found the Canadiens needing to grab a win over the team that they are chasing for a playoff spot.
However, it was another loss as the Canadiens fell 2-1.
It’s been an extremely tough go recently for the Canadiens, as it becomes apparent that a fourth year in five will be served up to the fans without a playoff spot.
However, there have definitely been positives. Youth is being served right now in Montreal. The best of the three young guns is Nick Suzuki, who was the runner-up for rookie of the month for December in the NHL.
Suzuki continues to show skill and poise; you can see his confidence soaring right now. He is becoming much more deliberate with the puck — he is much more reluctant to give it up, as he is discovering that the best option on his team is actually him. He takes it to the goal more, and is learning that he can get plenty of chances at the NHL level.
He is so deft with the puck and has such a strong head for the game, as he seems to be inside the defenceman’s head, figuring out what they may be trying to neutralize him. Suzuki is going to be such a strong player, and it looks like his ceiling is somewhere between 70 and 80 points at the NHL level.
This is a lofty prediction, but he can get there as he matures and learns more. He has shown that he has a very strong learning curve.
Suzuki was just the first of the young guns to shine. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was the second.
Kotkaniemi has been much better since returning from all of the injuries that have plagued him. He was out for a groin injury that lingered so long that a lot of fear about his game was prevalent. Then he came back, looked good, and quickly got slew-footed, finding himself back on the injury list with a concussion. Now Kotkaniemi is back and playing the best hockey of his season, and resembling how he played as a rookie when he held so much promise.
People need to remember that this is still a 19-year-old kid. It’s funny to note that you can see so much praise for players who are Kotkaniemi’s age shining at the world juniors and hearing how great they are going to be because of it. The reminder here for everyone is that, compared to the world juniors, the NHL is harder competition by a very large margin. Kotkaniemi could still play in that tourney if he weren’t already in his second NHL season.
The kid is going to be fine. In fact, he’s going to be very good.
The third young gun who continues to find his way is Ryan Poehling, who is still looking for his first goal this season after being robbed the other night due to a video review.
Poehling is extremely strong on the puck. He adds a strong presence to a line that needs a puck-winner — a line that needs an F1 to go in first to create havoc. Poehling is getting more ice time with all of the forward injuries, and he isn’t looking out of place whatsoever. He’s the least developed of the three young guns at the NHL level at this moment, but he will also be a regular and a strong one.
It’s hard to see the forest through the trees sometimes when it comes to predicting what the future holds for the Habs, but when you see the upside to these young players — Suzuki, Kotkaniemi and Poehling — you can clearly see that the better days are ahead, at least at the forward position.
Although the Canadiens lost another hockey game, the only true goat was the scoreboard, where Montreal could not convert its chances.
One could certainly criticize the second goal, where Carey Price mishandled his pass off to his defenceman leading to a horrible moment, but on the whole, Price had a good game. No one really had a bad game, they just couldn’t finish. The shots on goal were 39-23 for Montreal; they dominated the hockey game. The Lightning are one of the best offensive teams in the league, but they did almost nothing offensively, except they did enough.
Fans will be clamouring for this section to be packed with problems, but they didn’t have any problems except the scoreboard. The Canadiens have lost five of six games and they are on pace for 84 points. They need a shocking, dramatic turnaround to make the playoffs. It appears that this is going to be more scoreboard watching for where the Habs may pick in the lottery, rather than where they may find themselves in the playoff mix.
While that is true, it doesn’t mean this particular night was a bad one, or that the picture looks horrible in the future because of a 2-1 scoreline. Sports are cruel. The Habs deserved a better fate than the one they got, but this is what’s in front of them, and overall, it is dreadful yet again for long-suffering fans as another season without a playoff slot looms.
The Canadiens made two trades inside an hour on Thursday night.
The first was purely a salary and player dump, as Mike Reilly simply was not working out, and was not going to get back in the line-up. The Ottawa Senators took the bait getting Reilly to help their thin blue line in exchange for a career minor leaguer and a fifth-round draft pick. Reilly cost a fifth in the first place, so it’s not really a big win for the Habs, but at the same time, Reilly was never going to be worth a thing ever again in Montreal, and the Habs do dump $1.5 million in salary which fans hope one day that they might actually use spending to the salary cap limit.
The fifth rounder has only a five- to 10-percent chance of being an NHLer using historical references, but that’s better than zero — especially in the hands of Trevor Timmins.
About a half hour later, GM Marc Bergevin acquired the left-handed defender that he has needed for a long time. It’s only a temporary solution at the moment as Bergevin sent a fourth-rounder to Buffalo for Marco Scandella, who has had a strong career. Scandella is a Montreal native, and perhaps this unrestricted free agent, who can go anywhere in April, will find that he likes to play in his hometown.
Scandella has a lot of hockey left in him. He’s playing well and is only 29 years of age. Scandella has a 48 Corsi presently, which equals the best of his career. He has that Corsi despite starting in his own zone a strong majority of the time. He is +9 in plus-minus which is the clear best among rearguards on the Sabres and he is behind only Eichel on the entire Buffalo team. Buffalo indicates with the trade that they don’t feel they’re particularly in the hunt here for a playoff spot, even though they are close to the Habs in the standings.
Scandella, it is presumed, will play on the second pairing with Jeff Petry, and Brett Kulak will move to the press box. The third pair is likely to remain Victor Mete and Cale Fleury. It’s a good deal for the Habs; they have the money, and they lost only a fourth. Scandella may want to sign here, and they get to take a close look at him to see if he works in the system.
All in all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what Bergevin did on Thursday. The only likely issue is it seems a bit too late as the Habs are on pace for 86 points and in desperate need of wins. Then again, if the wins don’t come, Bergevin, if out of the playoff hunt, is also allowed to flip Scandella at the trading deadline. He could get the fourth back, and perhaps, even better than that.