ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Canadiens headed into their bye week on a positive note having won four of their last five games. When last week’s column was published on Monday, Montreal was eight points out of a playoff spot. Since then, they won three of their four next games, and there’s now seven points separating them from the eighth spot. A .750 winning percentage advanced them by one point in the standings.
The week started on Monday at the Bell Centre, where Carey Price recorded his 46th career shutout and led his team to a 2-0 win against the Flames. The shutout places Price in third place in franchise history tied with Ken Dryden with 46. “That’s another pretty cool milestone. I’m just looking forward to the next one,” said Price, who’s 12 shutouts shy of tying Jacques Plante for second place.
On Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks came to visit and left with an easy 4-1 win. Claude Julien wasn’t pleased with an unnecessary penalty that Max Domi took during the second period and benched for the balance of the period and didn’t use him during a subsequent power play.
“I did what I had to do, simple as that. I don’t have to explain it more. It’s not the first time [Max Domi] has taken a bad penalty. There’s consequences and sometimes those messages go a lot longer than the situation right there,” said an upset Julien after the game.
“You watch the replay, it’s obviously a penalty. But in real time I didn’t realize I had his head. I’d be the first one to tell you that I was trying to gag him or something. There was no interaction. I hit him, hit him again and as I kind of turned around grabbed him a little too high and then pulled him down to the ground. It’s a penalty,” said an apologetic Domi.
Montreal bounced back the following night with a 4-1 win in Philadelphia. The game was highlighted by Jesperi Kotkaniemi dropping the gloves after Robert Hagg hit Ryan Poehling hard on the boards.
“I think the guy didn’t do too much, and he probably knew my skill,” said Kotkaniemi after the game on the fight that he won. “I think they [teammates] were pretty pumped up, but
this will not be my new habit though.”
On Saturday, the Habs had a 3-0 lead after one period and a 4-2 lead with two minutes remaining in the third, when the Golden Knights tied the game. Tomas Tatar scored the game winning goal in the shootout to give his team a 5-4 win on home ice.
“It’s a team from the other conference, so it didn’t hurt us from that perspective. It’s two points that we’re going to take. We had a good first period and a more difficult second period. Until they scored the third and fourth goals, I found that we played well in the third period,” said the coach after the game.
“At the end of the game, there was small decisions that were costly,” added Julien referring to the sequence where the Golden Knights tied the game. One costly decision was that of the coaching staff sending Ilya Kovalchuk on the ice for a 1:57 shift when their team was defending a lead. Vegas took advantage to score a pair of goals.
Price and Weber Not on the Market
On Tuesday, Pierre Lebrun reported on TSN and in the Athletic that Marc Bergevin has no intention of trading Price and Shea Weber prior to trade deadline. Bergevin also told Lebrun that he wouldn’t even entertain calls on those two players. I was reminded on Twitter (because I obviously forgot) that Bergevin said the same thing in the past about P.K. Subban prior to trading him.
There has never been any indication that either of those players have wanted to leave the organization. Gerry Johannson, Price’s agent, told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that there’s nothing going on in terms of his client’s future.
If Bergevin even had the intention of trading Price or Weber, the trade deadline would be the worst time to do it. Blockbuster trades are completed in the off-season when teams are more flexible with their cap space.
In order for Price to be traded, Bergevin would need to find a team that would have room for the $10,5-million cap space until 2025-26, and that the goalie is willing to waive his no-movement clause to join.
Weber’s contract that also expires in 2025-26 would be more attractive for other organizations as the actual salary is lower than the cap hit.
There’s a portion of the fan base that want the team to tank in order to increase the chances of winning the draft lottery. We will leave the discussion of whether tanking actually works for a future column.
One thing that is certain is that athletes and coaches are competitive by nature. They don’t like to lose regardless of the circumstances. Case in point was on Saturday when Price smashed his stick when Vegas scored the tying goal with eight seconds remaining, and then the entire’s team reaction when Price made the shootout save that confirmed the win.
“We never said that we gave up. I think the message stays the same. We’re going to battle until the end and until we’re told that it isn’t possible anymore. They’re athletes paid to do a job, and you always play the best hockey you can. That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Julien after the game.
The Canadiens have several young players on their roster, and they should be playing in a winning environment. I wouldn’t want players such Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Cale Fleury to be part of a team that isn’t trying to win.
In the situation that they are in, the coaching staff should take advantage of giving them a lot of ice time, allow them to make mistakes, and teach them on how to prevent them from re-occurring.
It has been reported that the organization’s management team will meet during this week to decide their approach for the remainder of the season. If the decision is anything else besides preparing for next season, I think it would be a mistake.
One of the first actions that needs to made is to move Kovalchuk before trade deadline even though he continues to have success since signing with Montreal. Last week, he scored two times against Philadelphia and once versus Vegas, while adding one assist against Chicago. His four points brought his total to eight in as many games with the Canadiens. “The people, the support, it’s unbelievable. It’s a hockey city. I never played in an environment like that so it’s big,” said Kovalchuk following Saturday’s game.
I saw people on social media over the last couple of days suggesting that Montreal should sign Kovalchuk to a contract extension. It would be a mistake to do so at this moment. The GM needs to capitalize on the veteran’s success to move him.
When it comes to extending his stay to next year, I think all the teams will wait for the balance of the season before making a decision. Kovalchuk has played 25 games this season, and the pace of his production would probably be lower if he would have taken part in all 50.
Bergevin’s Lasik Life
After taking part of McDonald’s Big Marc campaign, the Canadiens GM shared his experience with laser-eye surgery. Hopefully, he will able to see things clearly now.
Marc Bergevin wasn’t ready to let his vision slow him down. When he noticed that his glasses to treat his up-close reading vision loss started to get in the way, he came to us. Marc took back is vision. Are you ready to take yours back? #habs #CH #canadiens #mylasiklife pic.twitter.com/QllMcefOSA
— lasikmd (@lasikmd) January 14, 2020
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