The Pittsburgh Penguins came into Montreal five key players on their injury list including Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel while the Canadiens had their much publicized four long term injuries.
Just on that basis it seems fitting this game would wind up in overtime. While the Canadiens seemed to want to win this game more than the Penguins, ultimately Pittsburgh’s talent depth prevailed.
In summation it was the Canadiens fifth straight loss and the team that was third in the Atlantic Division coming out of the Christmas break is now sixth. What was 8th in the Eastern Conference is now 12th and after being 17th in the overall league at the break they are now 22nd. The Canadiens have won seven of their last twenty-three games and, as we close in on next month’s trade deadline, the main remaining question for this season seems to be how much the Canadiens will be sellers on February 24th.
There is a segment of the Canadiens fan base that can hardly wait to be rid of Artturi Lehkonen. I have to say they have it all wrong. It can be conceded that Lehkonen is not blessed with goal scoring skills but in three areas of his game, work ethic, a 200-foot intensity and the penalty kill, Lehkonen is indispensable. For that alone his coaches love him. And once in a while we get goals.
Against the Penguins his hard work not only produced his second two-goal game of the season, he had two glittering chances to record his first career hat trick including a glittering chance in the overtime. Lehkonen now has nine goals and twenty points which isn’t that bad for somebody who never sees a minute of power play time.
IN NEED OF CLARIFICATION
At the end of the season I’m sure that Brandon Tanev’s overtime goal is not going to amount to much in the overall scheme of things, but one could wish the NHL could get it’s act straight when it comes to goaltender interference.
On the OT winner the Penguins Teddy Blueger skated in on a two-on-one. Price stopped Blueger but, in skating through the crease he hooked Price’s left pad pulling him away from the near post and allowing Tanev to score. That’s interference to most of us, but the league decided it wasn’t. Erratic decision making when it comes to goaltender interference has become a too-common feature this season.
This was a game that featured the “good” Carey Price especially in the first period when the Penguins had 62% of the shot attempts and eight high danger scoring chances. Without him this game never gets to overtime. Overall the Penguins had 11 high danger scoring chances to 7 for the Canadiens. That pretty well describes the flow of the game. Price’s best save came in the second period when Evgeni Malkin sent a goal mouth pass to Bryan Rust and somehow he got across to stop it.
May I say again: Nick Suzuki is going to be a terrific NHLer. There were any number of positive things about his play against the Penguins but the highlight was his hustle to erase an icing and then using his body positioning to control and send a puck back to Max Domi who set up Lehkonen’s first goal.
THE ROOKIE WATCH
….The Canadiens used four rookies in the game plus 19 year old second-year pro Jesperi Kotkaniemi. As mentioned Suzuki had an excellent night. I thought Poehling and defenseman Cale Fleury had some issues, all of them attributable to their experience level. No reason to lose faith in either of them.
Defenseman on Fleury’s level don’t usually start to mature until they’re 23 for 24 years old. Until then, enjoy the physical presence he brings to the game. He finished the game at plus-2.
Poehling has now gone fifteen games without a point. Off what I’ve seen the last couple of weeks, the points will come. Meanwhile he’s doing his job on defense.
Lukas Vejdemo’s ice time was a team-low 6:50 and he was often replaced on the fourth line by a double shifted Lehkonen. There are also things to like in his game
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….Lukas Vejdemo’s ice time was a team-low 6:50 and he was often replaced on the fourth line by a double shifted Lehkonen. There are also things to like in his game.
….In the final minute of a tie game, Claude Julien put newcomer Marco Scandella on the ice with Jeff Petry which was not a good sign for Victor Mete, who struggled for much of the night and may find himself relegated to the third pairing by Monday night.
….In his debut Scandella, with only one practice under his belt, played 15:40 including 1:17 as a penalty killer. He also blocked three shots and early in the third period hit a goal post.
….For the seventh time this season the Canadiens gave up a goal in the first minute. In only one of those games were the Canadiens able to come back and win.
….There were 49 faceoffs in the game. Phillip Danault took more than half – 27. He won 56% of them (15 of 27),
…..After he was mauled in front of the Pittsburgh net, Domi also got in a fight with the Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson. It was the Canadiens second fight in two games. In the season’s first forty games the Canadiens took only two fighting majors.
….With Jake Guentzel out, Alex Galchenyuk started the game on the Penguins top line with Evgeni Malkin. For two periods, while Malkin was having another of his big nights, Galchenyuk was all but invisible. In the third period he was demoted to the fourth line. Total ice time 9:22.
Next up the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell Centre Monday night followed Tuesday night by the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday. We’ll probably see Charlie Lindgren in one of those two games, likely Detroit. Thursday the Canadiens are back home to Winnipeg and then they’ll be in Ottawa next Saturday. Four games in six nights.