The Montreal Canadiens have fewer than two dozen games to play, and that’s a good thing in this difficult season.
Canadiens fans are more interested to see who will be with the team on Tuesday than to watch them play before then. The trading deadline gets all the headlines when the games don’t mean a thing.
On Thursday, the Canadiens were in Washington to face the Capitals, where Alexander Ovechkin was looking to hit the 700-goal plateau if he could get two. He got the one for 699, but the Canadiens stopped him — and their five-game losing skid — with a 4-3 overtime win.
The Canadiens are an unusual team. They’ve lost four times to the Detroit Red Wings this season in as many games — a team that couldn’t beat an egg. The Wings, on theother hand, have only 11 other wins all season, but they look like the Central Red Army against the Canadiens.
Two nights later, one of the best teams in the NHL, the Washington Capitals, looked like they couldn’t handle the Habs. The Canadiens, who have been on the road, riding a five-game losing skid, played one of their best games of the season. In the first period, Max Domi, Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin all had breakaways.
All three were unable to score, but the chances were many.
Brendan Gallagher was back in the lineup, doing what he does best, and was a nuisance in front of the net all night. That’s where he scored his goal to make it 2-2.
That’s 20 on the year for Gallagher.
He celebrated with great enthusiasm, leading you to believe that Gallagher has so much pride that he brings to the rink every night. He just wants it so much, even when there is no ‘it’ anymore. Gallagher was on pace for his third straight 30-goal season, but injuries stopped that from happening this year — unless he goes on an absolute tear to score 10 in his last 19 of the season, that is.
Ben Chiarot was a minus-3 in the worst loss of the season Tuesday night in Detroit, but he found redemption in this one with two goals, including the overtime winner. Chiarot has been one of the few pleasant surprises this season. Max Domi, meanwhile, whose best hockey of the night is often in the 3-on-3 session, had the setup. A beast in overtime, he’s the best at this shinny style of hockey that the Habs have had in a long time.
Overall, there were some strong performances from the Habs in Washington. They’re an extremely difficult team to figure out — horrible against the horrible, and outstanding against the outstanding. If they could only figure out how to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat, they wouldn’t be where they are in the standings: looking to draft high, instead of the playoffs.
It’s been very easy to fill up this section this season, but this time, the Habs played extremely well against one of the best teams in the game.
They should have won it in regulation. Brett Kulak was on for the last minute with two chances to clear it, but he was unable to. Phillip Danault also had a nice clear look, but his decision to wrap it around the boards with a slap shot was ill-conceived, going the long way and hoping that he could get it past a trio of players there.
It’s nitpicking, really, because the team played very well. In fact, this section was going to be left empty with a large star in place for a job well done. However, it has to be noted that this Habs club has been scored on in the last minute of a period 22 times this season.
They’d be a pretty good team if they could play 19-minute periods.
There have been no trades to speak of yet in the last 48 hours.
Here’s hoping that GM Marc Bergevin is keeping it close to the vest, and that he plans to concentrate on what 2021 to 2028 could look like with the right moves, instead of trying to pull a playoff miracle in 2020 with the same lineup as this year.
One unusual move was made, but by the head coach: Claude Julien as he made Artturi Lehkonen a healthy scratch. There’s no question that Lehkonen has struggled offensively recently. He can go into some lengthy dry spells, but that’s never been an issue before, because Lehkonen plays terrific 200-foot hockey and isn’t a liability even when the offence is not coming.
Julien has always praised Lehkonen for his style of play and intelligence and usually loves him. There was plenty of speculation that he was traded, but that didn’t happen. If they’re planning to trade him and that’s why he was left out, then why weren’t Ilya Kovalchuk, Nick Cousins, Nate Thompson, Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry also left in the press box? So it can’t be that, either.
Perhaps they left out Lehkonen so that interested clubs could look at other players like Nate Thompson and Nick Cousins. That’s kind of a stretch, but it’s a mystery.
This is one of those times where you just have to wait and see. Let the passage of time provide some clarity.