The Montreal Canadiens were back in Columbus, Ohio, for the second time in a week, after losing a high-scoring affair last week. This time the game was completely different as both clubs took care of their own zone much better.
Montreal won it 3-1.
This was no-event hockey for the first 24 minutes of the game. Finally, excitement came in the form of back-to-back breakaways for the Blue Jackets. Both were clear-cut breakaways with no Canadiens defenceman to be found.
Mathieu Olivier was stopped and then Gustav Nyquist was thwarted. Both were outstanding saves. Samuel Montembeault let in five the week before in Columbus, but in this one, he was trying to make sure he didn’t again feel the trauma of that cannon repeatedly pounding in his ears.
The Canadiens have a goaltending battle this season with the winner so far surprisingly Montembeault over Jake Allen.
Allen’s playing two of every three, but Montembeault has the .915 save percentage while Allen’s has fallen below .900 to .898. It has taken Montembeault, who was highly touted as a third-round draft pick, to find his way into the NHL, but in his second secure season at the age of 26, he’s becoming reliable, and he could be the Canadiens’ suitable backup for the near future.
It’s hard to imagine Montembeault as the go-to guy when the Canadiens are vying for playoff series wins, but if he maintains a .915 as a backup, that is absolutely acceptable. Certainly at 26, age is on his side, and now that he has found his way, it seems as if he is getting better and better.
Goalies that figure it out at 26 have many years ahead of them still. Montembeault only needs to consolidate this more as the season progresses to turn this sample size into a bigger one.
Juraj Slafkovsky had a fairly strong game on Tuesday night when he got his first chance ever to play as high as the second line. However, he was dropped back to the fourth line one night later. Slafkovsky is still learning and sometimes you can clearly see the errors.
A good example is when Slafkovsky got a clean look for a shot on the power play, but did not have his brain or stick ready to shoot when a perfect pass came. He needed to be in the ready position to fire it, like Cole Caufield always is primed to rip it.
Slafkovsky is also brilliant at times to create such high hopes. The Canadiens tied it thanks to an Arber Xhekaj goal that was keyed by two superb Slafkovsky moments.
Firstly, it was his superb pass that set up the rush into the offensive zone. As the pressure continued, it was Xhekaj with the point shot that was screened because Slafkovsky was timing a fly-by past the goalie. Superb smarts from the 18-year-old in that moment. He got an assist for his effort.
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Montreal took the lead on a David Savard goal. Caufield showed the dynamic nature of his game with a win of the offensive zone then a pass to Kirby Dach, who fed it into the crease where it caromed off Savard.
Dach has 17 points in 20 games for the Canadiens. The first line that seems to contribute every single game contributed again on the game winner.
The game was looking for a goal and the column was looking for a goat, and both were found early in the third period when Mike Matheson made a terrible giveaway. Matheson had the puck in his own zone and seemed to have time to make a smart decision.
He flipped the puck 40 feet hoping that somehow Joel Armia could get to it, but it wasn’t even close. Olivier skated in front of the weak attempt and stole it easily. He fired a wrist shot past Montembeault for 1-0 Blue Jackets.
Other than that, it was a tight game from the Canadiens who wanted to play much better defensively after allowing seven against Buffalo.
Much was expected of the Laval Rocket this season, but it’s going poorly so far with the Canadiens top affiliate in second last place in the North Division.
It is really quite easy to figure out what went wrong this year and why expectations are not being met.
It’s the lineup. There were so many players that were expected to come to Laval to dominate in the AHL, but they won jobs in the National Hockey League instead.
Imagine if Arber Xhekaj, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Justin Barron, Corey Schueneman and Jonathan Kovacevic were manning the blue line for Laval. That would be formidable, and the goals allowed would be low in Laval, instead of second worst in the entire 32 team league.
Also, in net, Cayden Primeau has not been able to follow up his outstanding Calder Cup playoffs with a strong regular season. His save percentage is a disappointing .895. He was .936 in the playoffs last year. Losses in hockey start with sub .900 goaltending.
On offence, Laval hoped to sell tickets on the back of the Juraj Slafkovsky excitement, but he also has been too good for the AHL.
The truth is that when experts assess the deep prospect pool that the Canadiens have, including all those in college hockey, junior hockey, and in Europe, there is the possibility that not one player in Laval right now will ever be a regular on the Canadiens.
The best hope to be a regular NHLer is Justin Barron on defence, but he will have to play better. On offence, Jesse Ylonen has the best chance, but he too is anything but a given on a club with an extremely deep and talented prospect pool.
Many want to put the heat on the head coach in Laval, Jean Francois Houle, but the lineup he has isn’t anything close to what he expected, and fans of the Rocket had hoped for.
However, that will change soon as the prospects continue to roll in. General manager Kent Hughes continues to stockpile a lot of talented players who will arrive and make Laval a more exciting place again.
The Abbotsford Canucks shaded the Rocket 3-2 at Place Bell on Wednesday night.