The Montreal Canadiens were in Florida to take on the Panthers in what was Roberto Luongo night.
Luongo had his number one retired and raised to the rafters in an emotional ceremony.
The Canadiens were not concerned about the Saint Leonard native, though, as they still had their eyes on making a late push toward a playoff spot.
The odds were certainly long, but beating the team that is directly ahead of you was a vital start toward that goal.
But it was not a strong night for the Canadiens, who fell 4-1.
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- One of the few bright spots as the Canadiens conclude the season is the line of Paul Byron-Max Domi-Jordan Weal. Before putting the line together, Byron was less than good in the first half of the season before his injury. Weal was worse than that as he was in and out of the line-up and found a spot only because of injuries. Domi was having a spotty season with inconsistent results at both wing and centre. These three players suddenly are alive when they play together. It’s a line that is better as a sum than it is as its parts. A Twitter follower called it “The Gestalt Line”, which is extremely clever. These three players have outstanding chemistry together. They are all hovering around a point-per-game pace since being put together. Domi is playing his best hockey of the season. Byron seems to have his speed back and his confidence. Weal had a breakaway in the first period where he was unable to convert but looked strong in his attempt. The next shift they forechecked beautifully in perfect alignment to cause the greatest discomfort for the opposition. Not sure if this will remain a line next season as Domi you wouldn’t think is a player to line-up with a third liner and a fourth liner, but if they keep playing this well, the only thing that matters is strength, and this Gestalt Line together is strong.
- There was very little to get excited about offensively though overall in the two games in Florida. One moment of note, though, was the third-period goal by Jake Evans. It was only his second goal of the season, but it was a snipe. Evans won the puck, then went across the middle of the ice with a defender all over him. Somehow he managed to fire an impressive shot against the flow of his body which makes it doubly difficult to get a lot on it. Evans can win a spot at centre next year if he can ensure that the fourth line with him in the middle can defend well enough. Otherwise, they will look for a Nate Thompson type again to fill the role. They aren’t looking for the offence from Evans. They sure didn’t get it from Thompson and they loved him. Evans needs to be strong defensively, and win face-offs. That seems to be what the coaches and management want from a fourth-line centre. Evans can fill the role. Let’s see if he gets the chance.
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- The last two seasons GM Marc Bergevin has looked for a back-up goalie for Carey Price to not compete with him too seriously to create a goaltending controversy but to compete well enough to be reliable. He has failed. Last season, he went with Antti Niemi, who put in a poor save percentage, and the Canadiens missed the playoffs by a single win. If Niemi could have been better or Bergevin had picked a better back-up, the Habs would have made the playoffs. The following season he tried Keith Kincaid, who had a bad save percentage the season before. Again, the gamble did not pay off as Kincaid was dispatched to the minors quickly. Next season, Bergevin will again look for a reliable back-up to play 20 games. Perhaps he has had the right choice with him the entire time. Charlie Lindgren has an .888 save percentage in the short work that he has had for the Canadiens this season. That is not good enough, but if he can continue to play as well as he did in Florida Saturday night, he could be the choice. Lindgren needs to show that he can do at least .900 the rest of the year, and he should get the bulk of the starts, having nothing to play for at this point. Carey Price doesn’t need to prove anything for next season, that’s for sure, so let’s get a look at Lindgren to see if he is the choice for next season. Cayden Primeau needs another year of seasoning. It is not his time yet. Whoever is the choice, he needs to be better than the last two choices. It’s hard to not think of what could have been if Niemi didn’t put in an .887 last year.
- The power play of the Canadiens was one of the shining spots in the first half of the season, but it went south in the last two months. On Saturday night, the Habs had a 5-on-3 situation for 70 full seconds and they were unable to score. All they were able to do was fire from the point four times in that minute and change, and lose a puck battle that was one-on-one. Let’s break that down: Shea Weber and Jeff Petry both have excellent slap shots from the point, but with a two-man advantage shouldn’t there be some sort of set play to break down the triangle to get a shot closer than 55 feet? Also, when you have two extra men on the ice, how do you get involved in a one-on-one puck battle? That should be a three-on-one puck battle that you win easily. Losing that battle cost 20 seconds to get set up back in the attacking zone. It’s difficult to say these words, but where is the coaching here? This is especially true when there is nothing better to offer than 55 footers on a two-man advantage. That’s embarrassing, to be honest. It’s terribly coached hockey.
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- Jesperi Kotkaniemi suffered what the Laval Rocket is calling a “splenic injury” on Friday night in Cleveland, Ohio. Kotkaniemi was hit hard into the boards and left the game immediately. Kotkaniemi was in the hospital in Cleveland, then he returned to Montreal. The Rocket will give more on the nature of the injury next week. Now, take this with the proviso that these are inferences based on an understanding of hockey injuries, and that this is not any inside information acquired, or that it is a known thing. This is just speculation based on history when a hockey player suffers a spleen injury. Almost all of the spleen injuries in hockey are ruptured spleens from intense hits. Sometimes it necessary to remove the spleen in the injury and other times it is not necessary. A hospital visit usually indicates that it is certainly more than a bruise, but a rupture. What you are most likely curious about is what it will do to his career. The recovery period is usually two months, but what is important here is that the hockey career can continue without a spleen. Peter Forsberg played another seven years of effective hockey after his spleen was removed. Again, a reminder, it is not known that Kotkaniemi had his spleen removed. This is simply to inform you of the possibilities during a spleen injury in hockey. There is not a lot of knowledge about a spleen injury generally as it is not that common. However, it does happen, and this is the most likely scenario for Kotkaniemi. Confirmation will come in the following days.
- Cole Caufield’s season ended for the Wisconsin Badgers as they fell in overtime 2-1 to Ohio State in Columbus. Caufield has spoken of an interest to turn pro already after only one season in college. Bergevin has spoken of Caufield needing more seasoning. It should be interesting to see how that conversation goes. Caufield heading to Laval would continue his development well enough. Staying in college would not hurt him either. The only thing that would be negative is an expectation that he is ready for the NHL. Kids are being rushed too soon now into the league when they are not ready. There are many examples all around the league of just drafted kids struggling in their teens to make a difference. For every Connor McDavid, there are 10 who struggle.