The Montreal Canadiens are now in the column of spoilers for the rest of the season.
The first team whose playoff chances they could hurt were the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens said they would ride Carey Price until they felt they were eliminated, and this was the night they realized the math was insurmountable against them. Charlie Lindgren took to the net for Montreal and played the star as the Canadiens beat the Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime.
- Tomas Tatar seems to be getting better with age. Tatar is 29 and still improving while many forwards at his age are beginning their descent in today’s NHL. With an assist on the first-period goal by Phillip Danault, Tatar counted his 59th point of the season. That’s the best season in points in his career. He later assisted on a Brendan Gallagher goal for his 60th point. In overtime, he made the gorgeous 100-foot pass to Jeff Petry to set up the game-winner for point 61. What an amazing night for Tatar. What an amazing trade by GM Marc Bergevin. He acquires maybe his best two forwards this season in one trade in Tatar and Nick Suzuki. Tatar was a throw-in and a salary dump as Vegas was up against the cap. Remarkable. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray, but the accidents can be your best moves. That won’t happen often, but imagine where the Habs would be if it did not happen this time.
- The Byron-Domi-Weal line continues to be outstanding. What a wonderful surprise for the organization that they have rejuvenated both Paul Byron and Max Domi with this union. There has not been a lot to be happy about recently, but this sure is it. Byron has been back for six games now and in that time he has five points on two goals and three assists. He also woke up the slumbering Domi, who in his last six games has seven points on three goals and four assists. If you can get a line to have two point-per-game players, you really have something to build on. Now, here is the thing that counts — can they keep it up? If these numbers stay even close to this consistency, then you need to keep this threesome together next season. There’s been a rush to bring in Jesperi Kotkaniemi to be a centre, or Ryan Poehling, but the truth is when you look at next season already what we see is this: the centres are Phillip Danault, Suzuki and Domi. The fourth is a mystery, but if Marc Bergevin does not go get a veteran, the best choice in the fourth centre role is Jake Evans. The changing of the guard was premature. The new guard is not ready yet.
- Charlie Lindgren has not put together great numbers in the American Hockey League, but at the NHL level, he passes the test more than he fails it. This was one of those nights. Lindgren had many high-quality saves to help the Canadiens get the win. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that they would have won at all if not for Lindgren. He was stellar. The save with his glove with one second left in the third period of Andrei Svechnikov was outstanding. Antti Niemi and Keith Kinkaid were both given seasons as the back-up ahead of Lindgren, and they both did not come through. It’s easy to wonder what could have been when you see Lindgren rising to the challenge. This is Lindgren’s audition right now. You have to think that Carey Price does not see the net much to conclude the season. If Lindgren can put together a better than .900 save percentage for the rest of this campaign, then Bergevin shouldn’t even look for another back-up next season, but give Lindgren the job for a year. It is what he should have done already.
- Time to not keep silent about Joel Armia. He was headed to the best season of his career by far, but then got injured. He has played 19 games since his return and suddenly he can’t really do much. He is invisible for most of the game. You barely notice him. He has only three goals since his return. Armia has been a dominant player at times in his career and at times he just simply goes away. Whatever he is lacking, he needs to find it.
- The Canadiens’ lack of ability to hold a lead after two periods is stunning. How they manage this could be its own world record. If the Habs overachieved in one department this season, this is surely it. It actually is hard to pull this off 10 times in a season like they have. You have to be good enough to lead after two periods — which isn’t easy — and then you have to be bad enough in the final period to lose a lead, which is also not easy. Collectively, those two things are extremely difficult, but the Habs pull this off as easily. In this one, the Canadiens built their customary big lead. This time it was a full three goals. The next phase was to play completely differently after getting that lead. However, this time it’s no sense going ballistic because they won the contest in the end. This time, they’ll take the two points, and feel thankful that they didn’t have to face that annoying question again and again — how exactly do they do that?
- Word from La Presse newspaper today is that Marc Bergevin will not ask Cole Caufield to join the NHL next season. He said in an interview with Mathias Brunet that he prefers for Caufield to play another season at Wisconsin. Caufield has been stellar, but Bergevin believes that he needs more seasoning in college. He doesn’t like the American Hockey League as an option either suggesting that that is a men’s league. Caufield was drafted only last season and this is sound thinking. Caufield acknowledged himself recently that he believes that he needs to play a more complete game learning the defensive side of it more. That means both seem to be in agreement. It would be a huge surprise, if Caufield doesn’t add to his impressive scoring numbers for the Badgers next season, instead of trying his hand at the pros. The article in La Presse showed that Bergevin’s philosophy is that the youth needs to develop more with the puck on their stick in the minors or in junior and colleges. A player needs the puck to develop skills with the puck, is the thinking. This is a welcome development for the long-term success of these young and talented players. Kotkaniemi has been outstanding since going to Laval, averaging more than a point-per-game. Look for him to start next season in the minors as well. It would be best. The best player development of a forward that the Habs have done in a long time is Tomas Plekanec. He had an outstanding career in Montreal, but he was allowed to grow in the minors for three seasons before starting a 14 year run in Montreal. That’s the way to do it. Figure it out at the lower level first, before you try to figure it out at the higher level.