ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Canadiens won two of the three games last week as they beat the Panthers 6-2 at home on Tuesday, lost 6-2 in Columbus on Thursday, and finished the week with a 3-1 win in Winnipeg on Saturday.
There are three games remaining for Montreal to head back into the playoff picture, and they will not be easy games. On Tuesday, the Lightning will visit the Bell Centre on Tuesday, then Montreal heads to Washington for Thursday’s game against the Capitals, and then the regular season concludes on Saturday night at home against the Maple Leafs.
My top-5 Canadiens takes of the week
Loss against Blue Jackets
Heading into Thursday night’s game against the Blue Jackets, there was a lot of hype by the media and the fan base, billing it as “the biggest game of the season,” and there was even a story written about it being “the biggest game of the decade.” The fact is that it actually was a critical game for both teams.
It didn’t appear that the Canadiens received the memo. They were off to a good start as Brett Kulak scored 1:15 into the game with a snap shot that went through traffic. Columbus slowly took control of the game as they scored three goals in each of the last two periods of the game.
“They got better as the game went on, and we didn’t. That’s pretty much the story of tonight. A lot of mistakes,” said Claude Julien following the game. The coach is right, there were a lot of mistakes, including a bad line change that led to a 5-on-2.
It’s hard to understand how a team doesn’t show up for such an important game. It’s not unique to the Canadiens or to even hockey, but it happens in professional sports. One thing that is certain, is Thursday night’s loss burst the hopes of most fans that wanted the Habs to take part of this season’s playoffs.
With the loss on Thursday, Montreal doesn’t control it’s fate to clinch a playoff spot. A win against the Blue Jackets would have led to Columbus having to chase the Habs instead of vice versa.
Montreal’s schedule this week won’t make things easy for them to move up from the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference. Their three opponents this week are in the league’s top six. The Canadiens will need to be on top of the game for all those games.
The only teams that Montreal is competing with are Carolina and Columbus. If Toronto gets one point in their last four games, it will eliminate any chance for a top-3 division spot for Montreal.
This week, the Blue Jackets face the Bruins, Rangers, and Senators. I think they can come out of those game with a minimum three points in the standings for a total of 97 points. Carolina faces Toronto, New Jersey and Philadelphia. I can foresee the Hurricanes come out with at least four points in the standings for a total of 97 points. If it plays out this way, it means that Montreal will need six points in their three games this week.
The story line from last week’s 6-1 win against the Panthers was the loss of Paul Byron following a fight against Mackenzie Weegar. According to the team, he suffered an upper body injury but seeing the way he was wobbling off the ice, I believe that he suffered a concussion. It was reported that Byron did return to skate on the ice, and may be back to play on Tuesday.
There was history between these two players as earlier in the season, Byron was suspended three games for a hit on Weegar. It should be noted that Weegar was on IR for a couple of weeks due to a concussion.
The league’s discipline wasn’t enough for Weegar and challenged Byron to a fight in last week’s game. Byron accepted the fight because he wasn’t going to back down.
He received praise from his teammates, and former NHL players showed their respect because he had the courage to drop the gloves. Unfortunately, they are right. In today’s hockey culture, Byron had to drop the gloves or else he would lose respect around the league if he skated away.
I can understand that there was a payback component into the fight, but we have seen that not all suspensions lead into a fight in a subsequent fight. Sticking to the Habs and Panthers, Max Domi was suspended five games for a sucker punch on Aaron Ekblad, and the score hasn’t been settled between those two players.
Why did Weegar feel like he had to settle the score with Byron? Did he capitalize on the situation to fight against Byron, an easier opponent that weighs 50 pounds less than him?
Kotkaniemi Out of Lineup
Jesperi Kotkaniemi was a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game against the Jets. “We’re going to give [Kotkaniemi] a rest again. You see the fatigue in his game, having been through a long season, an 18-year old, totally normal,” explained Julien prior to puck drop. “We need to win hockey games here, we need to try to put the best lineup together.”
Kotkaniemi didn’t have a great game against Columbus, just like most of his teammates that night. I have no issue with the coach pulling Kotkaniemi out of the lineup. My concern is that he was replaced by Matthew Peca, who played on the fourth line. When they were trying to hold on to the lead in the third period, Julien cut the bench and didn’t play the fourth line cause he didn’t trust it.
My criticism of the lineup change, is that Peca hadn’t played since February 25th, over a month of inactivity. He was practicing the whole time, but nothing gets a player ready for a game, than playing a game.
In this critical situation where only wins would get them in the playoffs, I think that the situation could have been better managed by Julien. Considering that all the reserves hadn’t played in a game for such an extended period, I think Kotkaniemi’s ice time could have been reduced instead of playing a rusty player.
On Sunday, the Canadiens announced the signing of Ryan Poehling, and Cayden Primeau to three-year entry-level contracts for each of them. This marks the beginning of fresh prospects into the organization that will join the organization over the next couple of seasons.
Poehling’s NCAA season ended on Saturday as the number one ranked St. Cloud State Huskies were upset by number 16 ranked American International in the NCAA Hockey Tournament. Poehling finished the season with eight goals and 23 assists in 36 games.
The signing is good news for the organization, as there were rumours that he was planning on returning to university next season, which would have made him a free agent at the conclusion of that season. Poehling will join the Canadiens and it will be interesting to see if he will get any playing time this week.
Primeau’s season also ended on Saturday as Northeastern University lost against Cornell University in the NCAA Hockey Tournament. Primeau finished the season with a 25-10-1 record, 2.09 goals against average and .933 save percentage. Primeau will join the Laval Rocket on a professional tryout contract as his contract with the Canadiens begins next season.
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