The Montreal Canadiens are hanging on to the final playoff spot in the East Conference heading into a crucial three games in California. Montreal statistically has a horrible time on this swing through Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose. This year, they cannot afford to struggle. Heading into Tuesday evening’s action, the Habs, Carolina Hurricanes, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Columbus Blue Jackets were separated by three points. Every night feels so vital with 15 games remaining. It should be exciting. The trip started with the Kings.
- Brendan Gallagher has registered his second consecutive 30-goal season. No doubt he will finish first on the Habs in goals for a second straight season. Also, no doubt that he will pass his total of 31 from last season considering he needs only one in the final 15 games to tie it, and two for a new career high in goals for a season. Gallagher has scored in four straight games. His 30th was a deflection of a Victor Mete slap shot from the point. What’s remarkable is that Gallagher has attained this impressive total with barely any power play time this year. He has 26 of his 30 goals at even strength. He’s also tied with Alexander Ovechkin for third in the league in 5 on 5 goals with 25. Imagine the goal total he could attain if he could somehow get regular duty with the extra man. Speaking of which, how does the leading scorer on the team for two years running not get any regular power play time? It’s not like putting Gallagher out there with the extra man could hurt the 30th ranked team in the league in this regard. What the power play has lacked often is hard work in digging for pucks in the corners to win control of the offensive zone. That’s where Gallagher could really help. In fact, that’s his strength. That and scoring goals.
- Jordan Weal played his first game for the Habs in this one. In the first period, he was stellar, leading the team in shots with three. He centred Jonathan Drouin and seemed to have some chemistry with him early. Weal skates well, so he’s the right player for a Montreal team trying to do everything at top speed. He had an outstanding first and then topped that immensely by scoring in the second period with a beautiful shot into the top corner. Weal missed a tap in late. He could have had a hat trick. That’s a heck of a coaching decision, bringing Weal in and taking Jesperi Kotkaniemi out. It wasn’t a popular decision, but you can’t argue with a vital goal, a couple other glorious chances, chemistry with Drouin, and a win.
- Victor Mete was the best defenseman on the ice for the Canadiens in this one. He seems to be taking on the position of rover these last two or three weeks. Mete has the speed to try the “rover” position. He can push forward looking to get into the rush, then use that lightning speed to get back into the defensive zone. Mete wins a lot of puck battles by making them not look like battles at all. Whereas many defenders would get locked into it with a forward, Mete simply pulls away often now when the attacker is trying to adjust his edges to follow him. Generally speaking, Mete is skating by himself out of the melee, and then he makes a quality first pass. You really can’t ask for more from a defender than that: go get the puck; win the puck; pass the puck up. Mete is a keeper. He won’t be going back down to Laval anymore. Remember, too, that he is only 20 years of age, and this is only his second season. He’ll be better than this as well when he gets a bit more strength, and also some more situational experience.
- After a horrendous night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jeff Petry found his better self against the Kings in L.A. Petry was barely noticeable except in the third period when he had an outstanding open look from 15 feet and hit the goal post. Other than that, he was so steady on the defensive side of the puck that he didn’t stand out. He head manned the puck effectively, which he almost always does, and handled any pressure easily. Petry is an odd player to measure occasionally. He can be so good that he looks like an all-star for five games, then he plays so badly for a game, you can’t believe it is the same person. Petry was solid in this one as all the defenders were against an anemic Kings attack.
- Max Domi was flying again as he is simply brimming with confidence when he holds the puck on the rush. He backs defenders off, then cuts back, and assesses, then shimmies a bit, finds a feed or attacks again with his moves and speed. Domi has had such an outstanding season. He competes in every game. He hates to lose. He hates his opposition, angry at anyone who tries to stop him from achieving his goals.
- Carey Price has made history. In the more than a century of the Montreal Canadiens, the winningest goalie was Jacques Plante with 314 wins. Now he has company at the top, and soon Plante will be second. Price, with his victory at the Staples Center, tied Plante for most wins in Habs history. Price is going to absolutely destroy the Habs franchise wins record when he retires, if he stays healthy. This 314 number sounds significant and it is, but imagine if Price plays seven more seasons. He would finish with somewhere around 530 wins. If he is able to stay healthy, expecting the Habs to be a strong team, Price could finish his career top five in wins in the history of the NHL. Still, detractors will say he has never won anything, and in this case “anything” means the Stanley Cup. Truth is, he’s won nearly everything: Hart trophy, Vezina trophy, Olympic Gold, World Junior gold, Calder Cup, Calder Cup MVP. The best at the NHL level may be yet to come. It depends on how Trevor Timmins and Marc Bergevin are able to keep building the team, especially the defence. If it improves, the quality of shots he faces would be easier, the wins would come easier, and history-making and re-writing the record book would come easier, too.
- There’s no denying it. Shea Weber is having issues with skating speed. It has to be an injury. It’s too significant to be his normal skating. This slower look is sudden. It’s illogically sudden. Weber took a long time off from hockey after his knee surgery. Often, that first season back after major surgery, a knee is just not ready to be challenged that significantly. A knee can be healthy enough, but it gets fatigued easily, too. Sometimes there can be swelling on a knee that has been operated on as the body sympathetically swells as a reaction to the stressors. It wouldn’t mean that it can’t get stronger, recover more, and continue on for a long time like Andrei Markov’s knee, which was also a concern for a time even after surgery. Right now, all we see is in the moment is that the knee is over-taxed. If he has an injury, it certainly isn’t anything to do with his slap shot. Weber let a howitzer go that went through Jonathan Quick. It had such power from 50 feet. That was Weber’s 10th goal of the season. Weber had the lowest total of ice time after the first period of all the Habs rearguards. Claude Julien is either nervous about the way Weber is playing, or he knows that Weber’s health is not right. Weber doesn’t go from first in Habs ice time to last in the first period accidentally. There’s a reason behind it.
- Claude Julien feels that Jesperi Kotkaniemi has hit a bit of a wall, so his 18-year-old rookie was sat out at the NHL level for the first time in his career against the Kings on Tuesday night. Julien feels that Kotkaniemi is fatigued and that a rest will be good for him. The stats certainly show that if you are going to sit him for a night, then choose a road game. Kotkaniemi at home has 11 goals this season. He doesn’t have a single goal on the road. Fans’ opinions on Kotkaniemi sent to the press box were fierce and varied on Tuesday afternoon. Some felt it was a complete joke. Those fans often referenced a player that they felt was more deserving of the fatigue title such as Shea Weber or Jonathan Drouin. Other fans felt that they weren’t sure if it wasn’t the best thing for Kotkaniemi to sit because they do feel that his game has slipped. There was even a group who said that it didn’t make much sense to them, but that the Julien is a great coach so he must know the right course of action for Kotkaniemi. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on the matter. Never have the mentions at Twitter been so fierce for an issue. This is a good thing because it indicates that people are very invested in the Habs this season, and in this young man’s success. When this is all done, it’s not going to matter that much either way in truth. It’s just one game of 82. It won’t hurt the kid’s confidence. It could make him hungrier to play better when he returns. It will be a footnote in his career by next September.
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