“A win is a win – take it.” and “Never look a gift horse in the mouth”
That said, all of the things that seem to have troubled the Canadiens this season came to the fore in their 5-4 shootout win over Las Vegas Saturday night. For the fifth time in the last nine games the Canadiens blew a third period lead. This time they got away with it thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk and Tomas Tatar in the shootout.
The Canadiens got an early 3-0 lead on only nine first period shots and then appeared to sit on it, which is always dangerours. Two goals in the final two minutes of regulation and Vegas had tied it up. Not the way you want to win a game but, as usual, the Canadiens will take it and enjoy their nine day All-Star break vacation.
UPHILL ALL THE WAY
It’s worth mentioning that the Canadiens have gone through one of those grinding five games in eight nights stretches and won four of them. It’s a remarkable turnaround from the eight game losing streak that preceded it. Not that it’s altered prospects of the team making the playoffs all that much. Those chances still remain somewhere between slim and none. To demonstrate how difficult it is to gain traction in the standings, the Canadiens managed to pick up only two points on the teams ahead of them in the race for the final wild card berth. At the end of the eight game losing streak they trailed Philadelphia for the final wild card berth by nine points. Now the gap is seven.
For those thinking of the future, if the draft were held today the Canadiens would make the ninth selection. Before the recent surge they would have been drafting sixth. And so it goes.
It was just last week I was decrying the lack of production from the fourth line. Against Vegas the fourth line made the difference; specifically Nick Cousins and Dale Weise. We expect a modicum of success from Cousins. The goals were his sixth and seventh of the season. Weise however is a different matter. Most of us had written off his future as an NHLer when he cleared waivers and was sent to Laval after training camp. Since his recall he has brought a missing and much-needed size and physical presence to the Canadiens forwards. He’ll never be a point producer but against Vegas he won a race for the puck behind the net sent a blind pass back to Cousins for the Canadiens first goal. His pass to Cousins off a two-on-one for their second goal would have made Sidney Crosby proud.
By NHL standards, Ilya Kovalchuk accepted poverty wages in order to prove that his playing career wasn’t over at the age of 36. Eight points in eight Canadiens games tells us it very definitely that the career is not done. Until his arrival the Canadiens forwards mostly had to grind out their goals through hard work and goalmouth presence. Kovalchuk is and always has been a natural goalscorer. Natural goalscorers have the knack for being at exactly the right place at the right time, witness his presence in front of the Vegas goal for the rebound off Phillip Danault’s shot. And his shootout goal was a gem too.
Because of the futures involved, there may be a time when history might consider the Max Pacioretty deal as lopsided in favour of the Canadiens. Right now it’s a win-win. Both teams got what they wanted.
Pacioretty’s 21st goal started Vegas’ late two-goal comeback. On the other end we had both Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar doing what they’ve been doing all season. Like Pacioretty, Tatar leads his team in points. Tatar also won the game with the deciding shootout goal.
….Another good night’s work from Phillip Danault. An assist on the Kovalchuk goal. A team-leading six shots on goal and he won 66% of his faceoffs (14 of 21).
….There is more to come from the Pacioretty trade. Along with Suzuki and Tatar there was a second round Vegas 2019 draft pick included. The Canadiens traded it to Los Angeles for a third and fifth rounder. The Canadiens used them to take defensemen Mattias Norlinder from Sweden and Jacob Leguerrier from Sault Ste. Marie. The jury is out on Leguerrier but Norlinder, the third round choice is considered a real NHL prospect.
….If 95 points is the cutoff point for reaching the playoffs, the Canadiens would need to win 22 of the remaining 32 games. Highly unlikely.
For the most part, the Canadiens are headed for points-south for their one week vacation. At the same time Marc Bergevin will be deciding if he wants to become a seller at next month’s trade deadline. Reality says he will be looking to move some of his upcoming free agents. The list includes Kovalchuk, Weise, Nate Thompson, defenseman Marco Scandella along with minor leaguers Matthew Peca and Keith Kinkaid.
Next game for the Canadiens will be Monday January 27th against Washington followed by a game in Buffalo Thursday the 30th and then back-to-back afternoon home games on Super Bowl weekend against Florida and Columbus.