The Montreal Canadiens have had good results against strong teams this season, but their play against poor teams has been their undoing.
The Canadiens have lost twice to the New Jersey Devils and twice to the Detroit Red Wings, the two worst clubs in the NHL. If Montreal went 4-0 in those games, instead of 0-4, they might just be in the hunt still. As it stands, it seems to already be pride that they are playing for.
They tried to salvage some in Detroit again on Tuesday night, but fell to the Red Wings 4-3.
Landing a second-round draft choice is a difficult exercise. The feeling among fans is it’s a 50-50 proposition, but the fact is that a second-round draft choice seldom makes the NHL.
The first half of the second round has a success rate of only 30 per cent, while the second half of the second round has a success rate of only 15 per cent. Only 15 per cent of the time a, player picked where Artturi Lehkonen was picked makes it to the NHL. What Lehkonen has achieved, establishing himself in Finland being the MVP of the playoffs in Liiga, then coming over to Montreal to win a job here, is truly outstanding.
Lehkonen is also showing that the maturity of a player keeps going far beyond the moment most think.
For a forward, a player can still have an upside at 26 years of age and beyond. Lehkonen just keeps getting better. In fact, the last month has seen the best hockey of his career. The career high for the Finn in goals is 18. He scored his 10th goal of the season in the first period shorthanded on a breakaway. He is on pace for the best goal-scoring season of his career, but he will have to keep up his production as he is set for 19 goals at the moment.
Goals aren’t his specialty, though — it’s his solid two-way play, his reliable defensive nature and his intelligence. Scouts call Lehkonen one of the most underrated players in hockey, and they’re right. He’s the type of player who gets you a cup, if he’s on the third line, and you’re relying on him to neutralize and be intelligent.
He’s a complete player. He has limits in finishing his chances, but another truth is that he is actually getting all of those chances. This means that the game is being played in the opposition end a lot. As a fan, if you feel frustrated that he can’t finish, wouldn’t you say it’s better than the frustration you feel when a player is hemmed into his own zone for 50 seconds?
It’s probably still a long shot, but Nick Suzuki might get into the Calder Trophy conversation as the NHL’s top rookie — not as the winner, as that seems to be a lock for Colorado’s Cale Makar, but perhaps as a nominee for the award.
At the moment, he’s likely just out of the picture behind Victor Olofsson of Buffalo and Quinn Hughes of Vancouver. However, Olofsson is out for six weeks due to injury, and he may find himself behind Suzuki when he returns.
Suzuki, who counted his 25th and 26th points of the season on a goal and an assist to move him into fourth overall in the scoring race for rookies, has grown his game all season long. He is gaining confidence, and the head coach is gaining confidence in him.
It’s bizarre how calm Suzuki is in his first season. You would think he would be overflowing with excitement when he scores a goal, but in the second period, you weren’t even sure if he was feeling anything at all, he was so calm. The line that he found himself on in this one was also interesting, as Julien joined Suzuki and Max Domi with Ilya Kovalchuk.
The Russian had a second strong game for the Habs. He had not played for two months, so it was hard to see him coming in and contributing right away, but Kovalchuk has three points in two games. He is also seeing the ice a lot, after it didn’t seem possible that he would be in good enough shape to sustain two games in two nights.
Good for Kovalchuk. It’s hard to imagine this working for the rest of the season, if the Los Angeles Kings didn’t have any use for him, but strange things can happen when you change your environment. He is certainly getting opportunity in Montreal, and he does look extremely comfortable quarterbacking the power play. The pass in the third period to Victor Mete for his goalie was sublime. He’s been a fun addition to watch, too.
That’s always worth something. It is the entertainment industry after all, isn’t it?
It’s been a long stretch of difficult losses for the Canadiens — a long stretch of criticizing a lot of hockey players. It’s been too long to feel like adding to it, at any rate. They are what they are. They’ve lost to the Red Wings, who are the worst team in hockey, three times out of three games. They’ve lost seven straight games, after an eight-game losing skid earlier this season.
For now, just those statistics are enough goat to spread around all over the 200 by 85 for now.
The Canadiens finally gave up on Mike McCarron.
They traded the big forward to the Nashville Predators for Laurent Dauphin, who was immediately signed to the Laval Rocket, where he will spend the bulk of his days. McCarron was viewed as a long-term plan when he was drafted, as the organization hoped that he would grow into his body and improve his skating.
It was never really McCarron’s skating in a straight line that ended up being the problem, it was his inability to use his body with any success to win pucks when he was static. McCarron could have had a career, if he could have been a great puck battler. However, he lost battles at an alarming rate, proving once again that size and strength are not always in direct correlation to success.
For those who want to criticize the pick, there isn’t much on your side to get there. It was a horrible draft year, and where the Habs picked late in the first round, there was essentially nothing left. You can barely find an NHLer after the Habs picked. You have your usual odd player in the following rounds, but there was no obvious player missed in the next 10 to 15 picks. Fans believe that every team should land its first-rounder, but the fact is that the first rounder is not a given.
The first five picks have a 95 per cent success rate to be NHLers; the next five picks have an 85 per cent success rate. Picks 10 through 20 have a 65 per cent success rate.
However, picks 21 through the end of the first round land in the NHL only 50 per cent of the time. That McCarron did not land in a bad draft year is not a surprise at all. It happens half of the time to all of the GMs and head scouts. That’s not an excuse for McCarron, or Trevor Timmins — just a fact to note.