Habs Notepad | Week in Review, Coaching, Young Players

Cale Fleury (Photo by TVA Sports)

ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — After getting an early goal, the Canadiens allowed three unanswered goals against the Capitals last Monday at the Bell Centre and went on to lose 4-2. Dale Weise scored his team’s second goal in his 500th career game in the NHL. “In the first period, we take a 1-0 lead. We have a chance to extend it, and we don’t bury our chances so they get themselves back into the game. But the second period was a real sloppy period,” said Claude Julien.

It was the reverse story on Thursday night in Buffalo, as Montreal scored three unanswered goals after allowing the first one and went on to win 3-1. “The first period for us was pretty sloppy. I think we just kind of needed to make a little adjustment. We started putting some pucks behind them. There wasn’t much flow. But I think from the second period on, I felt more comfortable and our team started to play more our game. We were pretty happy with the way it went after that,” said Brendan Gallagher after the game, which was his first since returning from injury.

On Saturday, the Habs took advantage of the Panthers coming out of their bye week and easily won the game 4-0. Jeff Petry was the first star of the game as he obtained an assist on all four goals.

It was Carey Price’s 47th career shutout, which placed him third in franchise history ahead of Ken Dryden. “It’s pretty cool. It’s special for me because I had a conversation with Ken (Dryden), I think it was my third season in the League when things weren’t going that well, and he helped me through it. I’m very grateful for that, and I’m looking forward to keep on going,” said Price on his milestone. Prior to puck drop, he was awarded the Molson Cup for the month of January. It was the third consecutive month that the received the honour.

The Canadiens finished their Super Bowl weekend with a 4-3 loss against the Blue Jackets.  “I don’t think we got outplayed. I think it was a tight game and like I said, the difference was the mistakes. We made a few mistakes that end up in the back of our net,” was the coach’s evaluation.

Tomas Tatar scored his 20th goal of the season for the sixth consecutive season. He also became the first Canadiens player to score 20 goals in his first two seasons with the team since Brian Gionta in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

The Canadiens are eight points out of a playoff spot with all the teams ahead and chasing them have games in hand. On Tuesday, Montreal travels to New Jersey to face the Devils and then head back home to host the Ducks on Thursday and the Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Coaching to Win

Despite the odds heavily stacked against them, if not impossible, to clinch a playoff spot, it was evident that Julien has continued making decisions with the purpose of winning games. “We know the importance of this weekend, and starting tonight and the next two games are are all huge games for us. So we need to be ready to go. I said it last game and time’s running out here so we need to make a move,” said the coach before the start of the game against the Sabres.

We heard Julien made similar comments throughout the week, that were echoed by the players.  This isn’t surprising because professional athletes and coaches are wired to hate to lose. That’s what brought them to earn a living playing hockey in the NHL. The coach’s job in the NHL is to win games and not to develop players, and he’s making decisions that he feels increase the odds of his team coming out as winners.

From my perspective, it looks like Julien feels that his job is on the line, and that’s where I think the issue lies. It was reported that Marc Bergevin used the recent bye week to make a decision on how they will tackle the remainder of the season.

From what we have seen in the last week, the decision definitely wasn’t to start preparing for next season, and that’s a huge mistake. Without the general manager providing directions to his coaching staff to focus on next season, I can’t blame Julien for doing what it takes to win games.

Impact to Young Players

With Julien feeling the pressure of having to win every single game, he has reverted back to his habits of heavily relying on the veterans on his roster. As a result, Cale Fleury and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were both assigned to the Rocket last week.

“I think it’s just part of the process. I think it’s less of a step back than if I was just gonna be scratched every night in Montreal sort of thing. Playing is a good thing for me,” said Fleury after Friday’s game in Laval. It was his first game since January 15th when the Blackhawks were in Montreal.

“I think it’s normal for young players to hit a wall, first year NHL players. It’s not that we’re disappointed in him, he’s just hit a wall and you know, he’s a he’s a big time hitter, with the puck he struggled, you know, at times in the last little while,” the coach explained the decision.

“Just a chance for me to have a little bit bigger role and kind of get my feet under me a little bit,” added the defenceman. Over the weekend, Fleury played a lot more than he had with the Canadiens including time on the power play and penalty kill.

Kotkaniemi was informed that he was assigned to the Rocket when he arrived to the Bell Centre on Saturday morning prior to the game against Florida. The coach had scratched him for the game against the Sabres.

“We don’t look at these things as negative things. We look at these things as positive things. So you know that’s the problem here, we always look at the negative versus a positive. And right now it’s about a kid who’s had a couple of injuries that hasn’t quite found his game and is probably losing confidence too. So we want him to gain some confidence. We want him to find his game. So there’s nothing negative about that. I think it’s more positive and that’s what we need to see,” explained the coach.

Kotkaniemi had a good debut in the American Hockey League, playing 16 minutes of ice time, as per Joel Bouchard, including time on the power play. “I just can play a lot like today. always brings the confidence up,” assessed the 19 year old.

He recorded an assist and nearly scored his first goal as Gustav Olofsson set him up with a perfect pass for a one-timer that hit the side of the net. Kotkaniemi  was also strong on the face off circle, winning 10 of 13 draws.

“We want him to be a 200-foot player. Power play, PK, five-on-five, four-on-four, three-on-three. We have to get him to kill penalties. He’s a smart hockey player,” Bouchard said on the recent addition to his roster.

Between being healthy scratched or playing in the AHL, I think playing in Laval was the right choice for Fleury and Kotkaniemi. It’s up to Bergevin now to determine if the Canadiens should keep fighting for the slim chance of making the playoffs this season or prepare their young players for next season.

Subban Visits Montreal

In his latest vlog, former Canadian P.K. Subban visits the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He introduces some really special kids to his audience. After the hospital, he gets into the kitchen at Da Emma. Emma shows him how they cook up their Italian dishes. Then PK wraps up the episode with a warm conversation about Montreal with his close Montrealer friend.

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By Chris G., Senior Writer
All Habs Hockey Magazine
Copyright © 2019 Rocket Sports

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