ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Canadiens trip to the west coast has become an annual tradition of disappointment. Montreal came back from the state of California with two of the six points that were up for grabs last week.
Their lack of success has pushed them out of a playoff spot. The buffer that the team had a few weeks back has now vanished and they need to look in front and behind them in the standings. Columbus in eighth place has one game in hand and more Regulation plus Overtime Wins (ROW) than Montreal.
Below the Habs are the Flyers that also have one game in hand and are only five points behind Montreal. Canadiens playoffs probabilities have now dipped below the 50 percent mark.
Detroit and Chicago will visit the Bell Centre this week on Tuesday and Saturday, and on Thursday night, Montreal will make a quick trip to New York to face the Islanders.
My top-5 Canadiens takes of the week
Price Ties Plante
In Tuesday’s 3-1 win against the Kings, Carey Price tied Jacques Plante for most wins in franchise history with 314. It is an incredible accomplishment by the goalie with which fans have had quite an unique relationship.
Whether it was “chill out,” the Price vs Halak debate or even last season when it seemed that many of the fans had turned against the goalie.
LaPresse Plus posted a story interviewing Jacques Martin, who was the team’s coach during the Price/Halak era. In the summer of 2010, management had to make a decision between both goalies and many fans wanted the organization to part ways with Price as they argued that Halak led the team to the Eastern Conference final.
In the article, Martin mentions that management made an unanimous decision that Price would be the team’s goalie of the future. One of the factors that they decided on Price was because the way he handled the situation when he took a back seat as Halak assumed the number one role that season. It was a sign of leadership in the early stages of Price’s career.
I also read tweets on how reaching 314 wins was harder back in Plante’s days because there were no shootouts. Hockey has changed a great deal since the 1960’s when Plante played with the Canadiens advantaging offence in the NHL. I think that the fact that Price will beat the milestone shows the quality of the team’s current goalie.
Niemi Struggles Continue
Antti Niemi got the start on Thursday night against the Sharks, a game that Montreal lost 5-2. Niemi didn’t look good again. It’s unfortunate, because the team in front of him played well enough to win. The role of a backup goalie is to give his team a chance to win. Niemi hasn’t done that this season.
In hindsight, you can say that Claude Julien made the wrong decision as the Canadiens also ended up losing in Anaheim on Friday night. There was opinions that Price should have been rested in San Jose, others thought that Niemi should have started in Anaheim, and some even had the opinion that Price should have started all three games. All three point of views have merit. I am of the opinion that Niemi should have started in San Jose. Niemi didn’t need to steal the game, he just had to be good.
I also think that the criticism directed towards Julien for that decision isn’t merited. Price had appeared in 15 consecutive games. It’s a lot for any goalie. If you should be upset about the backup goalie situation, it should be directed to Marc Bergevin as he judged that he didn’t need to acquire a goalie by trade deadline.
The selection of starting goalies wasn’t Julien’s only decisions that were under scrutiny last week. The only decision that seemed to have gone in the coach’s favour was the insertion of Jordan Weal into the lineup. Weal scored the game winning goal in Los Angeles, and has won 63.6 percent of face-offs while playing 15:55 on average.
The rest of his decisions didn’t turn out as well. After being a healthy scratch for the first two games of the road trip, Jesperi Kotkaniemi didn’t look good in the game against the Ducks. Was he still tired? Was his confidence impacted by being a healthy scratch? Or was it just another road game where the coach wasn’t able to protect the rookie?
I think that the Brett Kulak had done a good job in his role recently playing with Jeff Petry, when he was scratched for Friday night’s game. The pairing of Jordie Benn and Christian Folin struggled in Anaheim, and I expect one of them to sit out Tuesday’s game.
With Tomas Tatar expected to be back against Detroit, Dale Weise will likely sit as I don’t think he has made a significant contribution since his return.
Record Versus Playoff Teams
Since January 1st, the Canadiens have a 15-12-2 record in 29 games. Using the current standings, Montreal has played 11 games against teams holding a playoff spot and 18 versus teams outside of the playoff picture. Results show that they have 3-7-1 record against playoff teams, and 12-5-1 record against the rest of the league.
In the 13 games remaining in the regular season, six of those games are against a team currently in the playoffs. If the Habs continue in the same pace since January 1st, they will get 17 points to bring them to a total of 96 points for the season. In other words, it will be a fight until the very end of the season.
The record in their 11 games against playoff teams also shows that if they end up clinching a playoff spot, we shouldn’t expect a long run.
Last week at the annual General Manager meetings in Boca Raton, two new rule changes were announced that will be applied during power-plays as of next season. First, the team with the extra attacker will get to choose which side the first face-off will be taken from and that if the team on the power-play gets called for icing, the ensuing face-off will be taken from neutral zone instead of their own zone.
If the league’s intention is to increase scoring with those rule changes, I think that they could have taken it a step further. My suggestions would be that two-minute minors are served for the entire time regardless if a goal is scored and secondly, the team on the penalty-kill should get called for icing if clearing the puck from their side of the red line.
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