ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Canadiens had a good week collecting seven of the possible eight points by beating the Flyers, Islanders, and Sabres. On Sunday night, the Canadiens lost 2-1 in overtime against the Hurricanes. Just last week, their playoff hopes didn’t look promising, but they are back in a playoff spot right now.
The Canadiens are back at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night to host the Panthers. It is a must win game against a non-playoff team for Montreal. The opponents will get tougher over the week as the Habs head to Columbus on Thursday night to face their direct competitors for a wild card spot in a game that should feel like a playoff matchup. On Saturday, the week ends at the Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg to face the Jets.
My top-5 Canadiens takes of the week
Riding Price To The End
It was another spectacular week for Carey Price. The annual NHLPA Player poll results were divulged on Wednesday, and Price finished first in “Who is the best goalie?” category. I think that this is the highest level of recognition that he can receive, as 29.9 percent of the 500 NHL players that answered the survey voted for him. These results come a couple of weeks later after The Athletic unveiled the result of it’s own player poll, where 198 players said that they would choose Price as their goalie for a game 7. I place more importance on players polls, because the people responding are the ones that actually play with or against each other.
Sunday’s start against the Hurricanes, was Carey Price‘s 61st game of the season. It was his eighth consecutive start between the pipes, and his third game in four days. This is a lot of hockey. Price is second in the league for minutes played this season.
Besides a no-show by the entire team including Price in Anaheim, Price’s performance has been nothing less than stellar. In the 8-game stretch, 4-3-1 record with 2.50 goals against average and .917 save percentage.
The risk of overplaying Price is risk of fatigue in the playoffs, that is that they need to make playoffs first. The Canadiens have no choice at this point, but to play their best goalie until they clinch a playoff spot or build a cushion. With six games remaining on the schedule, none of these scenarios are likely to happen. To balance that out, the coaching staff has been giving Price off from most of their practices.
Nicolas Deslauriers, Charles Hudon, Matthew Peca, Mike Reilly, Dale Weise, and Charlie Lindgren. What do all those players have in common? The last time that anyone of them played was on March 8th. Hudon, Deslauriers, and Peca haven’t played since February 19th, 23rd, and 25th respectively. I wouldn’t be surprised if you forgot that some of these players were still with the team.
I think that the only way that any of them return to the lineup would be due to injury. And after having being sidelined for such an extended period, we shouldn’t expect them to play a perfect game. In the final stretch of a playoff race, they can’t afford having rusty players in their lineup.
The coaching staff has lost confidence (with reason) in Antti Niemi. Lindgren was recalled from Laval on March 11th, and has been used as a practice goalie to give Price some rest between games.
Lindgren’s last start with the Rocket was on March 9th. Even though Lindgren has put up good numbers in 17 games in his NHL career, asking him to make his first NHL start of the season right in the middle of a playoff stretch where every point matters, it would be setting him up to fail.
In Claude Julien‘s last shuffle of the line combinations, Artturi Lehkonen was promoted from the fourth to the second line, playing with Max Domi and Andrew Shaw. There was some mixed feedback on the move as Lehkonen at that point had scored once in 33 games.
The first five games of that new line has been conclusive. The new line has collected 10 points (four goals, six assists) and been at plus-6. They were key contributors to Saturday’s win against the Sabres.
“This is a guy that we would like to see more production from. I think this year for some reason when you look at his shooting percentage it’s really low,” said Julien after Tuesday’s game against the Flyers. “Defensively, I think he’s stabilized that line where you’re able to play them against bigger lines and know you’re going to get some good defensive play and overall it’s created better balance.”
Lehkonen will finish with fewer goals scored than most of us anticipated, but we can’t complain about his play defensively and on the penalty-kill unit.
Drouin’s ice time
Lehkonen’s promotion to the second line, bumped Jonathan Drouin down to a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia. As a result, his ice time has been decreased with him playing 10:55, 12:15, 12:13, and 9:57 respectively in last week’s four games. The significance of those numbers is that Drouin was the least used player in three of those games. In the game against Carolina, only Kotkaniemi had less ice time than him.
“We make corrections, you tell him the things he can do better at, and you encourage him to do those things even better,” said Julien on Tuesday. “It doesn’t mean we flatter him, and that there’s no accountability. It’s a question of pushing him to be at his best.”
On Thursday, we saw Drouin score a highlight reel goal against the Islanders. He also added an assist on that night. In what I thought could have been the beginning of a turn around, he didn’t play a good game against the Sabres and his turnover led to the Sabres scoring a goal. On Sunday, a Drouin turnover in the third period led to a Hurricane scoring chance. He didn’t get another shift for the last 9:44 of that period.
Marc Antoine Godin wrote in The Athletic that the Drouin situation is starting to resemble that of Alex Galchenyuk, who was traded last summer to the Coyotes. The similarities are there, and for the team’s sake, there needs to be a better ending to this story.
NHLPA’s Player Poll
There were other Canadiens players besides Price that made an appearance in the NHLPA Player Poll. Shea Weber finished second in the best shot category behind Alexander Ovechkin. Weber’s shot is definitely harder than Ovechkin’s but I think accuracy of the shot was probably the differentiator in that category.
The Bell Centre finished second behind the T-Mobile Arena in Vegas for the best atmosphere. I think there was a couple of factors that led to this result. The first one being the honeymoon phase in Vegas and the second factor is Montreal’s embarrassing season last year. There was no ambiance in the arena for the entire season and at the start of the current season, the fanbase was on their toes and waited to see the team have sustained success before getting excited. As the season has progressed, we have seen more engaged fans at the arena and I think it will be electric once they make the playoffs again.
Tomas Tatar‘s “Tuna” nickname and the ice at the Bell Centre finished first in their respective categories. Youppi finished third in the best mascot category, way behind Gritty who finished with 69.4 percent of the votes.
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