For instance I (and many others) were of the opinion that Tomas Tatar had some hockey skills but they were not on display every night, which was why he was thrown into the pot as an afterthought in the Max Pacioretty deal. In his 137 games as a member of the Canadiens nobody has in fact been more consistent.
Similarly, there was this feeling that, great as he had been, Ilya Kovalchuk was a me-first type of player who had abandoned his team and contract to return to Russia for five years. Despite endorsements from his former teammates, that impression was a hard one to shake.
But shake it he has. In legendary fashion.
Saturday night, in his fifteenth Canadiens game, Kovalchuk’s overtime goal was his third game winner for the Canadiens who posted their ninth win in their last twelve games. All you need to do is look at his face to know his joy in scoring goals.
In short order Kovalchuk has endeared himself not only to his teammates but the entire city of Montreal, who are getting their first look at a true superstar forward in a couple of decades.
How can you not like someone who, on an off day, spent an entire afternoon trying to find an outdoor rink clear of snow so his sons could skate with their dad. (He finally found one in Verdun).
If, in fact Kovalchuk is traded at the deadline, he will have played twenty-two games over two months in a Canadiens uniform.
We are given a sense, real or not, that Marc Bergevin might try to negotiate an extension to his contract before the deadline. If the offer comes it will be Kovalchuk’s choice. His stated goal is to win a Stanley Cup before his career ends. If that holds true he might decide to move on. If so, his twenty-two games as a Canadiens will not be forgotten.
The Canadiens are also getting superstar-type play from their goaltender. My sense was the Canadiens played the first two periods of the game simply trying not to lose. Toronto carried the play to them and Carey Price kept them in the game especially in the second period when the Leafs had six high danger scoring chances including three from Auston Matthews. His second period put the Canadiens in a position where they could mount their third period comeback and ultimately win the game.
This was Price’s tenth start since the eight game losing streak ended in early January. He’s won eight of them. In the ten starts he has two shutouts and four games in which he’s allowed just one goal. His save percentage over the ten games is an other-worldly .950 and his goals against average 1.58.
Jonathan Drouin returned to the lineup after missing thirty-seven games following wrist surgery. After missing nearly half a season, no one was predicting instant success and they didn’t get it. He played on the third line with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. Got 12 minutes of mostly unremarkable ice time, posted one shot on goal and picked up a penalty. Give him time.
With landing a Eastern Conference wild card berth seemingly out of the question, the Canadiens are looking at third place in the Atlantic Division. In that regard, this was a four point game. When it went to overtime it became a three point game, two for the Canadiens one for Toronto. A six point Toronto lead is now five points with Toronto still holding a game in hand. The fly in the ointment so-to-speak is Florida. The Panthers hold three in hand and stand between the Canadiens and Toronto.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….The Canadiens have won all three games against Toronto this season, once in regulation time, once in a shootout and this overtime win.
….In fifteen games with the Canadiens Kovalchuk has 6 goals and 6 assists. Among his three game winning goals, two came in overtime. He also has scored on both of his shootout attempts.
….Nick Suzuki assisted on the Kovalchuk game-winner. He also screened the goaltender on Marco Scandella’s goal with 2:33 remaining in regulation time. He has points in six of his last seven games – 2 goals, 6 assists.
….Scandella’s goal was his first in a Canadiens uniform.
….With Drouin’s return, Jake Evans was bumped down to the fourth line where he replaced Dale Weise. All three members of the line received less than eight minutes of ice time. Evans had a notable scoring chance early in the first period. He also was given 1:24 of penalty killing time which indicates a certain amount of trust from the coaching staff.
….All but 45 seconds of the ice time of Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak were spend on the ice against the red-hot Matthews/Marner/Johnson line. The fact that they kept them off the scoreboard is remarkable. Kulak continues to play his best hockey of the season.
….Joel Armia led the Canadiens with seven hits. Second with four was Suzuki, most memorably on Travis Dermott early in the second period.
….The Canadiens went to overtime in all three games this past week winning all three, twice in overtime and once in a shootout.
The Canadiens will face the Arizona Coyotes Monday night before playing road games in Boston and Pittsburgh Wednesday and Friday. They’re back home to face Dallas next Saturday.