This was not the way Geoff Molson planned this season. It was an empty building for game one of an eight-game home stand as the Quebec government continues to not allow fans at sports events.
The good news is that no one was disappointed by the result in person as the Anaheim Ducks welcomed the Montreal Canadiens home by edging them 5-4.
Jake Evans is an interesting case study. He’s the perfect example of a player ready for the NHL, possessing enough skill to belong. Sadly, though, he is also the perfect example of a player facing foes at centre too high up the depth chart because of Montreal’s team weakness.
When Marc Bergevin gifted Evans with a three-year contract, what he had in mind was Evans playing a fourth-line centre role. That’s exactly what Evans is, and when he is getting those match-ups, he is a bona fide NHL player who can handle the work.
However, when the club is so bad that Evans has to face the opposition’s best centres some nights, then he’s going to suffer. Even with that, Evans is only minus-nine on the season for Montreal. That doesn’t sound that great, but the Canadiens have the second-worst differential in the entire league.
There’s not a lot of good plus-minus to go around, and Evans’ number is respectable. His goal was on a breakaway and it was a terrific move as even while falling, Evans was able to put it into the top corner. In the third period, Evans had another gorgeous goal as he dangled past the defender and went across the crease to feed it in far side.
Both of his goals were gorgeous. Evans has these moments of offensive brilliance that show what could be possible in the right environment. Give him the right match-ups and watch him shine overall.
Evans is the perfect example of how everything is a mess this season. There’s an asterisk to everything; even the better players on the team could be so much better given the right environment.
Overall, credit has to go to the Canadiens for playing with pride in this one. When they were down 3-0 on six shots allowed, it would have been easy to just say that it wasn’t their night and pack it in. They fought back from that big deficit to cut into the lead while outplaying the Ducks significantly. The Canadiens doubled the Ducks in shots and deserved a better fate than what they got.
All in all, though, fans of the Canadiens understand that this season is a write-off. All that is expected is an effort.
Montreal gave it a great one, even though they just fell short. No one will criticize this one too much. In fact, Evans was outstanding as mentioned; Rem Pitlick has been a terrific waiver-wire pick-up; Nick Suzuki almost tied it late; Josh Anderson played with hunger and Artturi Lehkonen showed nice finish on his tally.
There was a lot to be happy about in this defeat.
Sometimes Cayden Primeau looks ready. He puts in a solid game and it’s easy to think his time is now. He made 43 saves out of 46 shots in Denver and it was a night that seemed like perhaps he had arrived and had settled himself down enough to be an NHLer.
Since then, though, he is simply not ready for the show yet. He was awful for two periods, allowing five goals on 27 shots in Minnesota — not looking strong at all.
It was even worse in Montreal against the Ducks where Montreal actually got off to a good start playing well winning the shot game, but Primeau couldn’t give them a save. Anaheim got three goals on the first six shots. The shots after 20 minutes favoured Montreal 15-7, but the Canadiens were already out of the game and so was Primeau. In came Samuel Montembeault.
Through the years it was easy to take Carey Price for granted. Montreal was in a lot of games, because a night of suspect goaltending like this was extremely rare. Now, without Price, a team like Montreal who struggles to score goals gets exposed in that area quickly.
Price would have had at least two, if not all of them in the first period, and Habs fans would have still had something to watch.
Sometimes going home is exactly what you need to get your mojo back. In the movies, a struggling player goes back to practice with his former team to rejuvenate his confidence and find his game again. The protagonist in films steps out onto that cool ice and feels all the good memories wash over him, and suddenly he’s ready to fly for his new club whereas before nothing was going right.
That’s just for the movies though, right?
Well, part one of the two-part movie script has been written.
Cole Caufield actually was invited to practice with the Wisconsin Badgers yesterday as they prepared for their weekend series. It appeared Caufield had a terrific time, and seeing that smile, one was reminded of last season when he won the Hobey Baker award. The players were thrilled to have him back.
Of course, Caufield isn’t allowed to actually suit up for the Badgers this weekend when they take on Michigan at the Kohl Center in Madison, as fun as that would be to watch. They were just happy to have him on the ice for practice.
Caufield is simply biding time, along with Joel Armia, who are finished with their quarantine according to NHL rules. However, they are not finished with the border patrol rules that demand you total 14 days from the onset of COVID-19 before you are allowed back into Canada.
The pair will be allowed to return to Canada on Saturday. It’s not likely they will be rushed into the line-up for the contest that evening, but when Caufield returns, wouldn’t it be great if he could write the second act of that movie script?