We are at that point for the third straight Canadiens season where games are merely a number on the schedule, in this case #63. With the team out of playoff contention, each has to be taken for what it is, a game with no contextual value attached beyond it’s entertainment value and the effect it has on the June draft lottery.

Ken Dryden once described the way hockey is perceived in Montreal as, not a game but an ‘art form’. Thursday night’s riveting 4-3 overtime win in Washington may not rank with the Mona Lisa but it could still qualify as ‘fine art’.

BOOKENDS

The Canadiens season will be defined by those four consecutive losses to Detroit and those two losses to 27th place New Jersey,  all of which were sandwiched between what might be argued were the Canadiens’ best two games, both of which were played in Washington.

Unlike the 5-2 November 15th win which was a workmanlike take-down of the Capitals, this game was a thriller. It featured the Canadiens implementing the Claude Julien north-south game to perfection and a neutral zone shutdown of a team possessed with far superior talent.

THE WATERSHED

When the Canadiens defeated the Capitals in November they were looking like a Stanley Cup contender. They lost both Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron to surgery in that game. After winning 11 of their first 18 games they managed only 16 victories over the next 43. Only Los Angeles and Detroit produced fewer wins over that stretch. And so after two eight game losing streaks and another of five games we are where we are, on the outside looking in on the playoffs for the third straight year.

TRADE BAIT?

History tells us nobody is exempt from a hockey trade. So to say that Marc Bergevin would never trade Tomas Tatar ignores the past. There are a couple of teams, most notably Colorado, that would be interested in making a deal for him. If you want Tatar, be prepared to pay dearly for him.

His assist against the Capitals was the result of hard slogging on the back boards against the more physically imposing Brendan Dillon and John Carlson before setting up Ben Chiarot for the goal that gave the Canadiens the lead for the first time in the game. Playing mostly against the Ovechkin line, he was on the ice for all three Canadiens goals and none against. To be sure, Danault and Gallagher deserve credit as well, but there is no downplaying his contribution to the Canadiens best line. Tatar now leads the team with 55 points, 14 more than Danault who ranks second.

LEARNING CURVE

We are often told that the development curve for defensemen is much broader than any of the other positions. Ben Chiarot may be the most recent poster boy for that theory. The Canadiens signed him because they were looking for a big stay-at-home defenseman. As the season has progressed he has become much more than that. Including the overtime winner this was his second two-goal game of the season. Both goals came off outstanding shots. It’s instructive of how Claude Julien views his growth in the fact that he had him on the ice at all in the 3-on-3 overtime.

Then Canadiens had to go with five defensemen after Xavier Ouellet suffered a concussion in his first shift of the game. It was Chiarot that defense coach Luke Richardson called upon to pick up the slack. The Canadiens used nine different pairings in the game. Chiarot was part of four of them. In the end he logged a team-high 27:56.

Chiarot has nine goals this season.  In his 305 games with Winnipeg he scored 12.

BACK IN FORM

After winding up in the bottom of a goalmouth pileup in the Dallas game last Saturday, Brendan Gallagher sat out Tuesday’s game against Detroit with some kind of lower body injury. He was back in full bloom against Washington. On the Canadiens first goal he came off a hard check in the corner from John Carlson to get in front of the net in time to screen the Washington goal for Shea Weber’s shot. For the Canadiens second goal Gallagher was back in his office in front to pick up a loose puck for his 20th goal of the season. But for missing those ten games with the concussion he would be closing in on thirty again.

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

….Carey Price had a good night. Nothing much he could do on the three goals against. He stopped eight of nine Washington high danger scoring chances. This was Price’s league-leading 52nd start in goal including eight in a row and 14 of the last 15. He has also been in 26 of the Canadiens last 30 games. So much for lightening his work load.  Thanks to his heavy work load he also leads the league with 25 victories.

….Artturi Lehkonen was a healthy scratch ending 192 consecutive appearances. The return of Paul Byron, a lack of offense and the recent play of both Nick Cousins and Jordan Weal made him expendable in the short term.

….Weal is one of those players that might be of-interest at the deadline. If he is being showcased, he made an eye catching impression while supplying some punch to the fourth line with Nick Cousins and Nate Thompson, both of whom also might be moved by Monday afternoon.

….Although he failed to produce a point for the sixth consecutive game, I thought Ilya Kovalchuk had a more active night than we had seen recently. His night included three shots on goal. I was also impressed with some of his backchecking work. Kovalchuk is stuck on 12 points through 21 games in Montreal.  I remain convinced the Canadiens will trade him by Monday if they get an offer.

….That knee problem obviously hurt Byron through the five weeks of the season. He’s back and he’s flying. Moved off the fourth line to play with Domi and Kovalchuk he had four high danger scoring chances including, thanks to a flip pass from Kovalchuk, a breakaway in the game’s fifth minute, one of his four high danger scoring chances.

….And indication of the Canadiens lack of firepower. Of the Canadiens 63 shooting attempts, 19 missed the net completely. The Capitals misfired on only six shots.

….Eleven of the Canadiens 32 shots on goal came from the defense led by Weber with five and Chiarot four.

….A total of fifteen high-danger scoring chances would be an average game. What gave this game it’s entertainment value was a total of 25 HDCF, 14 of them by the Canadiens. Gallagher had four of them along with Byron.

….With the win the Canadiens moved from 9th to 10th in the draft lottery, a point ahead of Minnesota (the Wild have four games in hand). The Canadiens have 12 picks in this year’s entry draft and counting. If it were held today they would be drafting 10th (lottery), 39th, 41st, 58th, 72nd, 99th, 103rd, 105th, 133rd, 140th, 164th and 193rd.

MOVING ON

The Canadiens will finish their three game road trip in Ottawa Saturday night. Then they will wait out the trade deadline at 3:00 ET Monday before starting a three game home stand Tuesday against Vancouver followed by the Rangers Thursday and Carolina next Saturday.