It was becoming obvious as the training camp games unfolded that Jesperi Kotkaniemi was going to start the season with the Canadiens. Claude Julien admitted as much during his postgame comments following the 5-3 Bell Centre loss to Toronto Wednesday night.
But, for the fifth time in six exhibition games, the game story was headlined by 18 year old Jesperi Kotkaniemi. It was his first game in a Canadiens uniform that he faced credible opposition. He passed with flying colours leading coach Claude Julien postgame to say “It’s hard not to see him part of our group on opening night.”
This was the game where we going to find out the level of Kotkaniemi’s play. After being protected and hothoused for four games, against the Leafs he was faced top NHL opposition.
Five-on-five he went up against the already well-established Leafs centre Austin Matthews and more than held his own.
Once again it was his sixth-sense that stood out – his ability to make the right accurate pass at the right time. The nicest goal of the night was a three-way that went from Kotkaniemi to Mete to Gallagher.
The final decision on where he starts the season will be made by general manager Marc Bergevin. Seems like the kid has pretty well taken the decision away from him.
THE SCHERBAK QUANDRY
If ever there was a player that needed a breakout game it was Nikita Scherbak.
Scherbak was on the Canadiens fourth line with Jacob de la Rose and Michael Chaput. All three of them are fighting for a job, none more than Scherbak who came into camp as a favourite to nail down a spot on the opening night roster and proceded to take his game straight backward. Scherbak can’t complain of failing to get a chance. This was his fourth appearance in six games during which he has logged 55 minutes. At no time in this camp has he shown the ability to take control. In this game it was his weakness in his own end that stood out.
Do the Canadiens risk having losing a former first round draft pick through the a waiver wire claim? Seems like it’s a risk they’re going to have to take.
ON THE BUBBLE
Scherbak’s linemates de la Rose and Michael Chaput plus right wing Kenny Agostino also had their jobs on the line going into the game.. Not much of a choice between them.
De la Rose is completely one-dimensional. Fairly good defence; nothing to offer on offence. Julien used him at centre in this game. If he makes the team, that’s not where he will be playing.
Chaput led the Canadiens with five hits. He doesn’t offer much more than De la Rose.
I’ve liked Agostino in this camp and he looked all right again with Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron.
Like Scherbak they all require waivers. My guess is, the Canadiens will keep de la Rose and take their waiver chances on the others.
The six defensemen Julien used in this game should be part of the team roster for the season opener.
For the third time this preseason Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen were paired. Mete was named the Canadiens star. Can’t argue with that.
Mike Reilly played with Jeff Petry which is probably not a good idea. Reilly didn’t accomplish a lot and Petry could be faulted on both of those shorthanded Toronto goals early in the third period. Both play the same offensive style game which can lead to problems.
AMONG OTHER THINGS –
Thirteen of the Canadiens’ 36 shots came from the Danault line. Gallagher had five, Tatar and Danault with four each. Another very good night from Tatar by the way.
Have you noticed throughout the camp that the Canadiens have consistently outplayed their opposition five-on-five. Same story in this game. They have to clean up their special teams though.
The final pre-season game will be in Ottawa on Saturday. There are still 29 uninjured in camp. Final cutdown will probably be made Sunday or Monday. I don’t expect too many surprises.