ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — It wasn’t a good week for the Canadiens as they lost all three games and extended their losing streak to five games. It will be a very hard task for them to clinch a playoff spot. Based on the standings, the eight place team in the Eastern Conference will need in the range of 96-98 points to enter the post season. To reach 98 points, Montreal will need to have .688 winning percentage from now until the end. To add some perspective to that number, the Washington Capitals are the only team in the NHL this season to have played at that level.
On Tuesday, Montreal concluded their seven game road trip with a 3-1 loss to Carolina. Charlie Lindgren made his first NHL start of the season and looked sharp in the game. “I felt really good out there. I always feel comfortable up here so I felt good to get back in there,” said the goaltender after his 33-save performance.
The Canadiens began 2020 with a 2-1 loss against the Lightning at the Bell Centre on Thursday. “To me, we were the better team tonight. Anybody that watched the game and that knows the game, knows we were the better team. That’s because we had our guys, our young guys and our call-ups, everybody from the first guy to the last guy working hard and competing hard and caring. I just wish we could have a positive result at the end of the game to reward these guys for how hard they’re working,” said Claude Julien after the game.
Montreal blew two one-goal leads against Pittsburgh on Saturday and went on to lose 3-2 in overtime. With an assist on the first goal, Max Domi extended his point streak to nine games. It’s the longest streak for a Canadiens player since Vincent Damphousse had a 12-game streak in 1993-94.
The game-winning goal was on a questionable play that in my opinion should have been called for goaltender interference as Carey Price was prevented from making a save. “I’ll tell you what I said at the beginning of the year. It’s 50/50 just like the challenges. It depends on how they see it, and whatever so I can’t comment on something I don’t know why they call it a goal,” said the coach.
The Canadiens have a busy week ahead playing four games. On Monday, the Jets visit town, before the Habs travel to Detroit to face the Red Wings. On Thursday, the Oilers pay a visit to Bell Centre and the week ends on Saturday in Ottawa for a matchup against the Senators. In order to play the required .688 winning percentage mentioned earlier, Montreal will need to collect at least six of the possible eight points.
Brendan Gallagher Injury
The injury list keeps on growing with Brendan Gallagher‘s name added to injured reserve after suffering a concussion in the game against Carolina. The concussion occurred on a play where Ben Chiarot‘s knee accidentally entered contact with Gallagher’s head. Gallagher was on the ice Sunday, and may return in action at some point this week.
“Obviously, you never want to see one of your guys hurt and it’s even worse when it’s off of you. Gally is a heart and soul guy for our team, and it’s hard to see him go down like that. He’s not a guy who lays on the ice unless he’s really hurt,” said Chiarot post game.
Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia were also on the ice this week, however a return isn’t imminent for any of them. Julien advised that he doesn’t expect them to return them before the bye week which runs from January 19th to 26th.
Ilya Kovalchuk Signing
Marc Bergevin surprised the hockey world on Friday by signing free agent Ilya Kovalchuk to a one-year two-way contract that pays him $700,000 at the NHL level, and $70,000 at the AHL level.
In his media conference, Bergevin said that he made the move to help out the team in the short term, as four players of the top-9 are out via injury. He also repeated several times that it was a low-risk signing as it didn’t jeopardize the future of the organization.
I agree with the general manager that there isn’t much to lose in this signing. Kovalchuk will be motivated to prove that he still belongs in the NHL, after an unsuccessful stint with the Los Angeles Kings. I also don’t think that his motivation isn’t to cash in on another contract. If he was looking to add funds to his bank account, I believe a bigger contract would be waiting for him in the KHL.
The worse that can happen is that Kovalchuk spends a lot of time in the press box if he doesn’t perform. Even though he signed a two-way contract, I think that the odds of him playing in the AHL are slim to none. I believe that they would mutually agree to terminate his contract if it reached to that point, and move on.
In my books, it’s a good gamble to take. We should find out more about his usage on Monday, but if I had to predict, Dale Weise would likely lose his spot in the lineup to make room for Kovalchuk. That would be an upgrade in the forward group.
Marco Scandella Acquisition
On Thursday, there was a couple of trades made by Bergevin that I think upgraded the defensive group. It started off with Mike Reilly being traded to the Ottawa Senators for a fifth round draft pick in 2021 and forward Andrew Sturtz. Sturtz reported to the Laval Rocket and is out with injury.
That trade was followed with the Canadiens sending a fourth round draft pick in 2020 to the Buffalo Sabres in return for Marco Scandella. Scandella didn’t have a good 2018-19 season, however his play improved this season.
“A guy who’s got a lot of experience as a pretty reliable defenseman. He’s probably known more for his defensive play, but still a guy that can offensively move the puck well, and to me just adds some stability through our blue line and, you know, his experience should be valuable to us,” said Julien about the newest acquisition on the blue line.
“Happy to be home, happy to be part of this team. I mean, it’s been my dream come true to play here. You know, the emotions that I felt the last 24 hours have been incredible. To be lucky enough to play for this organization wear that jersey. I mean, not a lot of people get to do that. And being from Montreal, I feel like the pride that I have for this organization, it’s huge and living out my dream,” said Scandella when meeting the media for the first time as a member of the Habs.
Scandella isn’t the number one defenseman that Julien said earlier in the season that they were looking for, but I suppose that he sees the acquisition as an upgrade as he didn’t have confidence in Brett Kulak and Reilly this season.
In his debut on Saturday, Scandella was used on the third pairing with Cale Fleury on the third pairing, pushing Kulak out of the lineup. Scandella had a good game and nearly scored with a shot that ended up hitting the post. “He made good passes. You know, he hits the post, it could have been easily 3-1, before it became 2-2. So a little bit of bad luck right there on his part, but I thought he made some good plays,” evaluated the coach after the game.
“He’s a good player and I think he’s gonna help the team win, and for me my focus, it stays the same. I got to be ready to go and prepare myself and be ready to go when I get called to step on the ice and be the best I can be and help the team win, so my focus doesn’t change,” said Kulak on Sunday on how the addition will impact him.
Even though I have no major issues with both moves made by Bergevin, I think that these moves are desperate attempts to make the playoffs. Armia and Drouin will miss at least another eight games if the estimates provided by the coach were accurate. The team can’t sit back and hope for the best during their absence. A .688 winning percentage represents 11 points in the next eight games, a very difficult challenge to complete.
In his press conference, I felt that Bergevin was preparing fans using injuries as an excuse for missing the playoffs. I agree that losing four of your top nine forwards simultaneously will have an impact to the team’s performance, however the team wasn’t trending to earn a spot in the post season prior to that.
Will Geoff Molson accept injuries as the cause of his team missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons? If I was the owner, I wouldn’t.
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