ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Canadiens continued their end of year road trip last week by picking up two of the possible six points available in the standings. As a result, Montreal is currently fifth in the Atlantic division, three points behind the Panthers and two points behind the Lightning, who have two games in hand.
It started off Monday night, Montreal easily beating Winnipeg by a score of 6-2. Philip Danault and Tomas Tatar led the way with a pair of goals each.
“It just seemed that the second half of the first we started finding our legs and I thought we started to play better. We had a really good second period and we played a really smart third period,” said Claude Julien post game.
The team enjoyed three days off before heading to the state of Florida for two important division matchups. On Saturday, the Habs were off to an impressive start against the Lightning by taking a 2-0 lead and outshooting their opponents 18-0. After that point, Tampa Bay scored four unanswered goals and went on to win 5-4.
”I really liked our first period, got sloppy there in the last couple of minutes of the first, and they came out with the momentum. Second period really hurt us; the amount of goals we gave, different people to blame on all of them,” commented Julien after the game. “It was an uphill climb that was very hard in the third period. We tried to make a game of it, but the damage was definitely done in the second period.”
On Sunday, the Habs finished on the losing end of an offensive showdown against the Panthers. Montreal wasn’t able to recover from the four allowed goals in the second period and went on to lose 6-5.
“You can’t expect to play pond hockey in this league and expect to win. You score nine goals in the last two games, that should be enough to win; everyone’s to blame: we need saves, we need better defensive plays, guys killing plays,we’re just sloppy defensively right now,” said a frustrated coach after the game.
Over the weekend, we saw the team play the same way defensively that led to the eight game losing streak. “You know, we’ve got to be as determined defensively as we are offensively. Especially when when we get down, it seems like we get down and we find this energy in this life and this passion, whatever you want to call it. We’re playing with that energy, we need to play with consistently especially for 60 minutes and at both ends of the ice as well,” commented Shea Weber on Sunday.
The Canadiens end their seven game road trip on New Year’s eve in Carolina to face the Hurricanes, and then head home to host the Lightning on Thursday and the Penguins on Saturday.
Joel Armia injury
One of the keys for the Canadiens to make the playoffs that I had identified prior to the start of the season, was for them to remain healthy, similar to last season. It hasn’t worked out well so far.
Jonathan Drouin suffered a wrist injury on November 15th, and isn’t expected to return at least until mid-January. Paul Byron hasn’t played since November 15th either, and has been on injury reserve since November 29th. Julien said on Friday that Byron is being evaluated week to week.
On Monday, Joel Armia was added to the list of injuries as he suffered a hand injury during the second period in the game versus the Jets. Armia’s injury will be re-evaluated week to week, which means that he will likely miss a significant amount of time.
This is an important loss to the team as Armia was contributing offensively, used his size to his advantage to win battles and controlled the puck. His 12 goals place him one goal shy to match his career high from last year, and his 21 points is eight away from tying his career high set in 2017-18.
The goal that that Armia recently scored against the Penguins, demonstrates his skills all in one play.
— Chris G (@ChrisHabs360) December 11, 2019
The anticipated roster decision that was expected with Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s return was no longer necessary. Kotkaniemi returned on Saturday and scored 2:08 into the game with a wrist shot that beat Andrei Vasilevskiy top corner blocker side.
— Chris G (@ChrisHabs360) December 29, 2019
Nick Suzuki was moved from third line center to the replace Armia to the right of Artturi Lehkonen and Domi. I would have made the same decision if I was the coach.
It didn’t work out well on Saturday as that line had a lot of trouble with their defensive duties and were on the ice for four of the five Tampa Bay goals. The following sequence sums up the line’s performance during that game.
On Sunday, the Domi-Suzuki duo contributed offensively as they were on the ice for two goals scored while teams were playing four-on-four hockey. Defensively, it’s difficult to give credit to any player on the team based on the results.
The turning point of the game against the Lightning was the goal scored by Alex Killorn in the final minute of the first period. Goals scored at the beginning and at the end of periods usually give momentum to the scoring team.
Killorn’s goal was the 14th time this season that the Habs have allowed a late-period goal, eight of those times in the first period. It has occurred three times in the second and twice in the third.
The team should look into tightening up their play defensively during these moments, as they have only won four of the 11 games that this happened.
Who Gets The Start In Goal?
As I anticipated in last week’s column, Carey Price got the start in both games over the weekend, and I think it was the right call. Price was coming off three days off from the break and the two games were against division rivals that are competing for the same playoff.
The results this weekend couldn’t have gotten any worse for the Habs. Florida and Tampa Bay collected four points each, while Montreal left empty handed.
Based on his body language during Sunday’s game, Price wasn’t happy allowing 11 goals with a .828 save percentage in the two games. “I gotta do my part and make more stops,” said Price after the game.
Tuesday’s game against the Hurricanes is a must win for the Canadiens. Price will want to get back in net to redeem himself, and I think he should get the opportunity to do so.
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