The Montreal Canadiens are on the precipice of being eliminated from the playoff chase in real terms.
The reasons for that are many, but one reason is certainly how the Canadiens played against the league’s lowly teams, with the worst two teams in the East Conference being the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils.
The Canadiens this season didn’t have a single win in five games against either of them heading into a Tuesday night affair in Newark. There was a chance for a small measure of redemption for the Canadiens and they got it, with a remarkable comeback from three goals down to beat the Devils 5-4.
It’s extremely difficult to find positives in this one for the first half of the game, but Joel Armia provided.
Late in the second period, with the Habs looking for anything at all to show that they had a pulse, Armia scored his 14th goal of the season. A breakaway marker while shorthanded, the goal was a new career high for Armia who had 13 last season. He did that in 57 games last year as he was injured.
It was the same situation this year as he also got injured, and this was his 42nd game of the season.
At the age of 26, Armia is still growing as a player. That age is a good statistic for anyone who thinks it’s over for Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling — that if they aren’t good now, they’re never going to get good. Armia was a first-rounder and he took a long time to get comfortable at the NHL level, but he appears to be a 20-goal scorer now if he can stay healthy.
Armia didn’t even get to the NHL until he was 22.
That gift from the Devils woke up the Canadiens for the second half of the contest. It’s been an easy endeavour to criticize the club’s support forwards. Not because they’ve been horrible, but because they’ve been relied upon so significantly by the head coach that it’s opened them up to criticism.
With his overuse of Nate Thompson and Nick Cousins, Claude Julien seemed at many times to think they were far better than they are, especially with the power play usage of Cousins.
Thompson and Cousins deserve the praise in this one, though, as they scored consecutively to lead the Habs back into a 3-3 tie.
I’m not sure where the Habs were able to find their second wind in this one. They looked as disinterested as possible, then suddenly had a spring in their step as if they’re still engaged at the highest level. Christian Folin scored midway through the third period and it was 4-3 Habs. Did Claude Julien deliver an emotional speech? Did Shea Weber threaten some people?
It’s a joke, of course, but clearly something happened. A completely somnolent team woke up with fire in their eyes to take the lead.
It’s always enjoyable to watch a 3-on-3 overtime to see who can shine with wide-open spaces. Max Domi is one of the best on the Habs, if not the best. He’s able to dangle well and he uses his vision to set up his mates well. He also doesn’t have to concentrate on his assignments as a centre, which is his weakness overall.
Another player who is really looking good in overtime already is Nick Suzuki, and as a 20-year-old rookie, this is impressive. Suzuki was the only man back midway through the overtime and he was able to break up a 2-on-1 to preserve the Habs hopes of winning.
It went to a shootout and that’s when Ilya Kovalchuk was able to show why his addition to the lineup has been so vital.
Kovalchuk knows how to score. His shootout attempt was perfection as he snapped it into the top corner for the only goal of the five shots that were taken. Charlie Lindgren hung in on a tough night to stop all three shots by the Devils.
It seems as if GM Marc Bergevin doesn’t want to deal his top trade bait Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry.
Tatar would fetch a tremendous return, leading the Canadiens in scoring and having the best season of his career. With his effort in New Jersey, Tatar has moved to 50 points on the season, with 20 goals and 30 assists in 55 games. From Feb. 24 on, Tatar will be worth less than the day before, but Bergevin needs to make the playoffs one of these years. He will need his talent in 2020-21, rather than a top pick and a prospect that he can likely receive before the deadline.
It will be interesting, and Tatar has certainly made it so with some tremendous hockey this year.
It was a difficult night for Charlie Lindgren who seemed to lose his angle on the first goal against, letting in a shot from outside the face-off circle, then on the third goal he got fooled by a whiffed shot that led to him overcommitting across the crease.
While Lindgren was not stellar by any stretch, at the same time, the other 18 players completely abandoned him for the first half of the game. The Habs have a flu running through the team that resulted in Carey Price and Victor Mete both not dressing, which sounds like an excellent reason to have a poor game. However, the Devils were also without two key players, as PK Subban had the flu and Nico Hischier was dealing with a lower body injury.
Montreal was as abysmal as they have been all season long, down 3-0 before they woke up to make a game of it. And in the end, Lindgren picked up the W, and that’s all the matters for the backup who has a resilient attitude no matter what happens.
It’s been the staple of his career dating back to his Saint Cloud State days.
In Boston on Monday night, two Canadiens prospects were in action in a key contest showing their skills.
Both Jayden Struble and Jordan Harris played for Northeastern in their 3-1 win over Harvard in the semi-finals of the Beanpot. Struble had a strong game for the Huskies, but as an absolute force for Northeastern, Harris had what might be the best game of his career.
In the third period, Harvard had a 5-on-3 power play for just shy of a full two minutes. Harris was on for the entire time, making a series of outstanding plays. He broke up four or five centering passes and was in the right place at the right time, with smart decisions to thwart every Harvard attack. He tried to leave the ice at one point and his coach wouldn’t let him, he was so valuable.
Harris had an enormous amount of ice time in the game. The sophomore was a third-round draft choice two years ago, and it seemed to not be a pick that too many were excited about. He had a good rookie season, but his progression in his second college season now is stunning. He passed his first season total of 13 points before the halfway mark in his sophomore year.
He was also strong for the Americans at the World Junior Tournament. An extremely intelligent player, his decision-making is extraordinary. He’s also a strong skater.
He won’t be a big points man at the NHL level, but if he can translate his smarts through the next level to the NHL, he is going to be a surprisingly good pro. It’s clear that he is still making vast improvements to his game.
Harris, Struble and Northeastern play in the final of the Beanpot next Monday against Boston University, who upset Boston College in double overtime in the other semi-final.