Every player who was good enough to play in a major professional sport has competitiveness built into his or her genetic makeup. In some, it might burn brighter than others but I have never met one that considered losing a contest as an option. Where some might consider losing an option at this point of another non-productive season, it is the last thing on the minds of the Canadiens. If in their recent losing streak their effort was unquestioned. Their win in Washington Thursday was a masterpiece which carried on to Ottawa in the 3-0 win over the Senators Saturday night. The Canadiens front office may have given up the ghost on the 2019-2020 season, it’s clear the players refuse to get the message, which speaks to dressing room integrity. .
It was one of those ‘nothing’ wins that come to teams that have nowhere to go at this time of the season. The Ottawa win will only marginally improve their hopeless playoff chances and on the other side, failed to move up their position in the draft lottery.
And now we wait. The trade deadline will pass in the hours between now and the Canadiens next game Tuesday against Vancouver. Who will go? What will the Canadiens roster look like when they take the Bell Centre ice on Tuesday. If I were betting, I would wager Nate Thompson, who has played well the last five games, will be packing his equipment bag by 3.00pm Monday. He’s one of four members of the team facing unrestricted free agency on July first. Ilya Kovalchuk will inevitably stir up some interest. Dale Weise and Christian Folin, not so much. The names Jeff Petry, Tomas Tatar and even Max Domi keep popping up. I can’t imagine any of them being moved but I’ve been wrong more than once before.
Let’s start with the goaltender. Carey Price has been really good over the last month and a half. Three of his four shutouts this season have come since mid January. Anyone paying the least amount of attention could see that Price was zeroed in against the Senators. His puck-tracking was impeccable. He was seldom out of position and almost always square to the shooter. When Price is like that, he makes the game look easy to play.
It wasn’t like the Senators didn’t have their chances. Nine of their thirty shots were listed as highly dangerous. He stopped Jean-Gabriel Pageau on a first period breakaway, made an outstanding glove save on Anthony Duclair during a second period Ottawa power play and in the first minute of the third period stopped Connor Brown on a breakaway. And we shouldn’t forget that he drew that roughing minor penalty after he decided he had enough of Brady Tkachuk’s multiple goalmouth transgressions.
As one look at the standings would make obvious, the Senators are a mess right now. The Canadiens checking produced sixteen Ottawa turnovers in the game, ten giveaways and six takeaways. All three of the Montreal goals came off turnovers. Paul Byron forced the first one, sending Max Domi in alone in the game’s second minute. Goaltender Craig Anderson literally handed the puck to Domi for the second goal and Ilya Kovalchuk’s forechecking pressure caused Nick Paul to pass the puck right on to Paul Byron’s stick in the third period.
The Canadiens are 7-0-2 over their last nine games against the Senators and since the start of the 2016-17 season are 12-2-3 against them. With the raft of young talent on it’s way, Ottawa won’t be near the bottom of the heap much longer and, based on the chipiness of this game, a real rivalry is in the making.
Back on November 15th both Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron suffered injuries that required surgery and kept them sidelined for over thirty-five games. They’re back in the lineup. Despite the knee surgery and the long layoff, Byron is playing his best hockey of the season. He posted his first goal since his return plus an assist. Considering his size, it’s remarkable that Byron led the Canadiens in ‘hits’ for the second straight game.
Different story with Drouin. There is no accuracy in his passing, his puckhandling is terrible and his shots lack velocity, all signs that he hasn’t completely recovered from his wrist surgery. In the seven games since his return he has zero points and is minus-9. If the Canadiens were still in playoff contention Claude Julien would probably sit him out. Now, the policy seems to be let Drouin play through his issues.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….Leading up to Thursday’s game against Washington, the aggression that is the hallmark of Artturi Lehkonen’s game seemed to be slipping. Julien made him a healthy scratch against the Capitals. Against the Senators, the jump was back in his game. He’s never going to be a scoring machine, but his hard work produced two high danger scoring chances, most notably on a setup from Nate Thompson early in the first period. More importantly, the noted energy he normally puts into his checking game returned.
….My opinion goes up and down when it comes Ilya Kovalchuk. A week ago I noted here that the Canadiens would be advised to let him go. His point production has slacked off but I have liked some of the other stuff he’s brought to the team over his last three games. It was his work in the corner that set up Byron for the Canadiens third goal. If the Canadiens can’t get a second round draft pick for him and he’s agreeable to a one year contract I would keep him around.
….Everyone who knows him was happy when Karl Alzner was called up on Friday. The Canadiens defense had very good night, especially keeping traffic away from the area in front of Carey Price. On the third pairing with Christian Folin, Alzner was very much a part of that. In his first NHL game in thirteen months, Alzner logged 16:04 and two shots on goal.
….Sometimes you scratch your head. In the long run it didn’t mean anything, but early in the third period Max Domi was cutting through centre ice with his head down and accidentlally collided heavily with Anthony Duclair. For this, Domi received an incomprehensible interference penalty.
….Speaking of Domi, going in to the Ottawa game he had scored onlyone goal in his previous 24 games. The goals were his 14th and 15th of the season
….High danger scoring chances favoured the Canadiens 13-9. High danger scoring chances are those shots coming from the area directly in front of and within 20 feet of the net, which explains why Brendan Gallagher usually leads the team in that department. Four of his five shots in the game were listed as highly dangerous.
….The shutout was Carey Price’s 48th, ten short of the team record held by Jacques Plante.
….For those who never say die, the win leaves the Canadiens six points behind Toronto and the final Atlantic Division playoff berth. Toronto has a game in hand. Florida is also ahead of the Canadiens by four points and they have two games in hand. According to SportsClubStats.com the win over Ottawa leaves them a 1.8% chance of making the playoffs.
…. If the draft lottery were held today, the Canadiens would be listed in tenth place.
The Canadiens have three home games this week, Vancouver Tuesday, the Rangers Thursday and Carolina on Saturday. Following that, ten of the remaining fifteen games on the schedule will be on the road starting with the Islanders, Tampa and Florida the following week and included is that always dreaded California road trip starting March 15th.