After Saturday night’s game in Winnipeg you ask yourself why the Canadiens couldn’t have played as well against Columbus as they did against the Jets. A better question might be why Winnipeg could play so badly considering their tentative hold on first place in the Central Division.
But for a brief stretch after the Jets made it a one-goal game with eight minutes remaining, the Canadiens had total ownership of a team that is vastly more talented than they are.
That said, when the Canadiens are skating and implementing Claude Julien‘s stifling defensive game to it’s fullest, they can be very hard to get around. Consider this as one of those ‘perfect road games’ to which we often refer.
What did Marc Bergevin and his pro scouting staff see in Jordan Weal that nobody else saw? No matter what his given role, Weal has been very good after his nearly anonymous acquisition from Arizona for Michael Chaput. There was much public handwringing when Julien decided to replace Jesperi Kotkaniemi with Weal on the line with Joel Armia and Jonathan Drouin. All of the worrying about Kotkaniemi’s psyche ignored the fact that his line was playing so ineffectively that it had been relegated to fourth-line status. Against the Jets, Weal even energized Drouin. Julien thought so much of their overall game, he had the entire line ou the ice in the final moments of the game with Winnipeg’s goaltender out for the extra attacker with Weal finally scoring the clinching empty net goal. Weal also made the key play in the game-opening Armia power play goal. The Canadiens had nine high danger scoring chances in the game, the Weal line had four of them. He also won 68% of his faceoffs (13 of 19).
Weal has six points in his last six games. Who predicted the Canadiens would reap so much out of what appeared to be such a minor trade deadline deal?
Like olives, Artturi Lehkonen‘s hockey is something of an acquired taste. If one is not paying attention the tendency is to write him off as failed project. Playing again on the line with Max Domi and Andrew Shaw, I thought Lehkonen had a really good night. First of all he led the Canadiens with six shots on goal. He didn’t score, which is par for the course. He did hit a goalpost for what seems to be the umpteenth occasion this season. (NHL stats say it was only the third time). Although he wasn’t credited with an assist, he made a key play behind the net on the game winning goal. Lehkonen also made a diving play to save a potential goal on a second period Winnipeg break. We may never see him score at the level of his rookie season, but everything else about Lehkonen’s game is complete.
The Canadiens scored a power play goal and for that brief moment – and it was eight seconds in the making – all seemed right in their world. Who would have predicted that a grab bag first unit would produce the power play goal of the year. Weal won the faceoff back to Armia who gave it to Drouin at the line; back in to Weal, down low to Danault and in front for Armia. All in eight seconds. Couldn’t have been slicker. Notice that Shea Weber, who was also on the ice, didn’t touch the puck. The other two power plays weren’t as successful, but the Canadiens by not using Domi or Kotkaniemi to take the draws at least had more puck control with Weal and Danault winning faceoffs.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….The win did nothing to help the Canadiens in their quest to win a playoff berth. Both Carolina and Columbus also won their games and the three are separated by a single point with the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets still holding a game in hand.
….The only goal scored on Carey Price came off a tough rebound that, despite outnumbering the Jets in front of the net, the Canadiens defenders could not contain. Price came back after that to make two game-saving stops on Bryan Little with just under four minutes left.
…..Another strong game for Brett Kulak along side Petry. Kulak fed Petry for the game winning goal. He now has 2 goals, 3 assists his last three games. Kulak logged more ice time (21:59) than Shea Weber‘s 20:23.
….Petry led the Canadiens with 24:07. He also reached a career high with his 13th goal.
….Max Domi‘s assist on the Petry goal was his 70th point of the season, the first Canadien to reach the plateau in nine years (Plekanec had an even 70 points 2009-2010). The last player with more than 70 points was Alex Kovalev with 84 in 2007-2008.
Both Columbus and Carolina will finally pick up the game-in-hand they hold over the Canadiens Sunday night. The Blue Jackets are in Buffalo while Carolina is in Pittsburgh. Then all three teams will head into the final with with three games remaining. Tuesday the Canadiens will host Tampa. Columbus will face Boston at home on Wednesday. Carolina is in Toronto, also on Wednesday.