The Ottawa Senators have not been an easy out at all this season for every team in the North Division, except the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton went a perfect nine wins and no losses against Ottawa. The Senators against the rest of the North are actually over .500 on the year. If they could have figured out Connor McDavid even just a little bit, the Senators would be in the playoff fight. As it is, they are just spoilers and it looked like they would continue that role, but a tremendous two-goal comeback propelled Montreal to a 3-2 overtime win.
The greatest long-term evaluation to note in this game and on Friday night is the play of Ben Chiarot. It has been a tough year for Chiarot. He and his partner Shea Weber have been trapped in the Canadiens zone for a troubling amount of shifts each contest. So many times it was 40 seconds of pressure against them, then one of the two would ice the puck, so they could start all over with the primary goal being to just get off the ice.
Weber has an upper-body injury now and as a result, he has not played the last two games. Suddenly, Chiarot is the best that Montreal has seen him play in the last two seasons. Chiarot is making solid plays. He is getting out of the zone without issue. He is pinching in down low the odd time, and then hustling back without any issue to be a solid 200-foot player. It’s like Chiarot is transformed.
Notice as well the transformation of Alexander Romanov without Weber. It’s easy to love the courage and determination in the big hits that Romanov lays out as he continues his strong progression. It is also easy to love him taking the puck up ice and looking a lot more comfortable to hold on to it for a time to see if he can make an even better play. Just a much higher comfort level Romanov is showing. These are two big developments to see Chiarot and Romanov ready for bigger roles. Romanov with minutes into the 20s of ice time playing his best of the season.
Another player who showed tremendous hustle and determination in this one was Jesperi Kotkaniemi. While the Canadiens were on the power play, the Senators had a two-man breakaway. It looked horrible for the Habs, but Kotkaniemi hustled 100 feet to break up the play. Kotkaniemi tried so hard that he almost crashed into the net, but he was able to stop in time. That type of caring goes a long way to proving your worth to the coaching staff and your teammates. It’s time to turn this roster over to get younger. This team is ready for youth to be served.
Youth like Cayden Primeau, who former goaltender coach Stephane Waite says is ready to play in the NHL. Primeau, looking for his second career win, played a terrific game as the Senators had many high-quality scoring chances. He had no chance at all on the bullet from Tim Stutzle. Primeau did not even see the shot. It was the all-important first goal though, and it was the key moment of the contest.
Cole Caufield was another young player showing such promise in this contest. In the third period, Caufield made a terrific play showing his vast skill set. Caufield had a man on him tight but protected the puck beautifully, showing that skill isn’t always about size. At the same time, he kept his legs churning. He then made a quick turn, before firing a terrific shot that was so deceptive that it easily could have gone in.
Let’s also look at serving the youth that is Nick Suzuki. He tied it at two only to have it called back on goaltender interference, but he persevered to lay out the perfect saucer pass over two sticks landing on the ice for Tyler Toffoli to tie it up for his 27th goal of the season. Suzuki with four goals in four games, then this vital seventh point in five games with a tremendous assist. Also note, the power play is significantly better without Weber.
Let’s keep the theme of youth going as the game-winner was one of high drama. Jake Evans, who played another monster game, with the pass to Jeff Petry who was back to his Norris Trophy candidate self, who then passed it to the kid. And the kid did it. Caufield, with his first NHL goal, could not have been more dramatic. It was an overtime winner. It was likely the goal that propelled the Canadiens to a playoff spot. You could not ask for a better script than this. Caufield from three feet out and the celebration was glorious.
Change the hierarchy already. This team is ready to be better than stay-at-home defencemen stuck-at-home. This team is ready to let the next generation be the now generation.
Everyone that was raving about the Senators’ speed for the first two periods in this game are a bit tragic. The Sens are a .500 hockey team, and if they were that unbelievably fast, talented, and world-beating, they would be in the standings where the Maple Leafs are — not in last place. What they showed on Saturday night was a lot of energy, while their opponent showed none until a courageous third period.
It’s only taken five minutes each game since this atrocious scheduling started to see how much energy the Canadiens had. After a hard-fought contest against the Jets Friday night where the Canadiens came back from two down to win by two, there was nothing left in the tank for this one for two periods. It was apparent quickly. Ottawa had five high-quality chances in the first seven minutes, while the Canadiens really couldn’t even show enough energy for good cycles.
If you really think the Senators are that much better than Montreal, you really don’t have a clue about hockey. One team was gassed and one team was fresh, and this is what that looks like. Where the Canadiens found the energy for a third period outshooting Ottawa 18-3 is a mystery for Sherlock Holmes. They had no business finding energy in the third period after a hard-fought game Friday.
This was their most courageous 20 minutes of the season. This was their finest moment of the entire season. This was heart, soul, and guts when they should have been reaching for oxygen. This was a night when you get in the room after the win and you can’t even do anything but just sit there and grin. You don’t even have the energy to stand up. You just smile at your mate and feel this is why you love the game, because some nights you find something more; something you were not sure that you had.
After you summon the energy to take off your red white and blue sweater, you look across the room at a kid who looks 14. He also looks like the happiest person in the entire world and your smile grows even wider, and your beer never tasted so good.
The expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken is this July. The Montreal Canadiens are expected to choose the route where they protect seven forwards, three defenders and a goalie.
The forwards are an easy call with Paul Byron being the only signed forward of any significance who will likely be made available. He has already been available through the waiver wire with no takers. Seattle will surely join the not-interested mix in three months.
In net, expectations are that Jake Allen will be not be protected. Carey Price could make himself available by waiving his no-move clause, but it’s unlikely that his GM would even ask.
On defence, Marc Bergevin does have the right to make an interesting choice. Expectations are that the three protected are Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson and Shea Weber.
However, Weber can be left out in order to protect Ben Chiarot. Losing Chiarot likely would not have damaged anyone emotionally recently, until suddenly a better version of the player has emerged playing without the injured Weber.
It’s hard to know the value of a player when he constantly plays only with one other player. They affect each other’s level. Chiarot might just be simply looking for a better situation, like a puck mover to compliment him best, instead of Weber.
It is usually argued that Chiarot should be protected because Weber won’t be taken, but it can also be argued to protect Chiarot because he is better than Weber.
Weber and Price both have big contracts, and they should be made available, but that would take some politicking and creativity from the GM, so you should not expect it.
Instead, expect this organization to lose Jake Allen. Without the GM thinking outside the box, he will likely be the best player available. If not, then Chiarot. That would also feel like a loss, but neither would be catastrophic for the franchise.
Cayden Primeau is waiting to get his chance in net, and there are about five defencemen prospects heading to possible NHL success in the coming years.
No matter who is taken, the silver lining is that youth will be asked to come to the fore after a veteran departs.
The sooner the organization realizes that it is their youth that will be leading this next charge, the better.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.