December 4, 2022
In week 8, the Montreal Canadiens had one game at home before heading out on a four-game west coast trip. On Tuesday night, the Habs welcomed the San Jose Sharks and were unable to cash in on multiple chances in a 4-0 loss. In Calgary on Thursday night, the shorthanded Habs stole a 2-1 win under the leadership of Sean Monahan. Then on Saturday night in Edmonton dumb penalties killed a good 5-on-5 road game, and the Habs lost 5-3.
Missed opportunities was the story on Tuesday, and a power play that was cold as ice.
Getting shut out by the San Jose Sharks is not an experience many teams can boast this season. The Canadiens were sloppy for the second time in four games. Cole Caufield was robbed of a couple of chances, Brendan Gallagher dinged a post pretty good, and Christian Dvorak scored a pretty goal that was called back on a penalty. But the ultimate missed opportunity was failing to score on six power plays.
It’s the story that’s longer and duller than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Why the heck is it so bad? On Tuesday, the Sharks got two penalties late in the second period to give the Habs 55 seconds with a 5-on-3 advantage to start the third. They had a whole intermission to plan how to score a goal that would tie the game at one apiece. But they were static, predictable, and harmless, and San Jose scored shortly after the power play ended and didn’t look back.
Nick Suzuki and Caufield connected for a goal on the man advantage in Calgary, and they scored a couple in Edmonton, but generally the power play is simply not good enough, even for a rebuilding team. I’ve said it many times. You will never convince me the power play should be this cold with the personnel they have. Yes, they lack a true quarterback, but not every good power play has Andrei Markov in their ranks.
Fortunately, the Canadiens are generally not as weak a man down as the penalty kill has come along and is delivering – multiple 5-on-3s excepted. In the special teams category, the Habs are better in the role that involves intentionally icing the puck.
Ice packs are in high demand again in Montreal.
We almost made it to December before the injury list started to grow. Of course, Carey Price will be on LTIR for the whole season, and perhaps the rest of his career, and it’s possible we can apply that story to Paul Byron. We’ve also grown accustomed to seeing Jonathan Drouin’s name on the injured list on the regular. This week saw Mike Hoffman added and Gallagher miss games while an injury was assessed. Sean Monahan arrived in Calgary in a walking boot, leaving us holding our breath a little.
The Habs might be walking on a bit of thin ice with their roster management. Since Mike Matheson returned, they’ve been carrying eight defensemen rather than send a kid to Laval. With Hoffman out, Michael Pezzetta was already seeing regular ice, and then when Gallagher couldn’t play there was no 13th forward to call upon. Rem Pitlick was recalled on an emergency loan, but wasn’t available for the game in Calgary, and that meant we saw Chris Wideman in a fourth line forward role. There’s a development that can really put your expectations for a good outing on ice.
Looking at Juraj Slafkovsky on a line with Sean Monahan is like seeing the tip of an iceberg.
The limping Canadiens were greeted in Calgary by an ice cold temperature of -24, and the exciting possibility that we would see Slafkovsky finally get his chance to play with an offensively minded centre. It’s the combo I’ve been waiting for, and a couple of injuries later it was worth the wait.
The Calgary faithful gave Monahan a warm reception, and the coach knows what’s up in these situations. Martin St. Louis gave Kirby Dach the chance to play hero in Chicago and was rewarded, and on Thursday inserted Monahan into the starting line up and was rewarded. 13 seconds into the game, Monahan and Slafkovsky connected to open the scoring.
The line of Slafkovsky-Monahan-Anderson looked really good together in Calgary, strong at both ends of the ice. They were effective in all three zones, pressuring the opposition, creating turnovers. Their play was less dominant in Edmonton, but this line should stick.
It’s time for Kent Hughes to break the ice and get Cole Caufield signed to a long-term contract.
With his power play goal on Thursday, Caufield has scored 40 goals and added 30 assists for 70 points in 100 career games played. He’s only going to heat up from here. It’s time to get that deal done.
A flood of penalties tilted the ice for much of the game in Edmonton.
On Saturday night, the Canadiens dominated most of the first period, including a beautiful power play goal from Suzuki, and then a string of bad penalties gave the game away. From Arber Xhekaj tripping McDavid behind the Habs net after they had already fled the zone, to Joel Edmundson going nuts with his stick, to Suzuki practicing his slow pitch for a brief moment, the Habs played 10 minutes over two periods that were completely undisciplined and changed the tone of the game.
You simply cannot let McDavid and Draisaitl play that much of a game at 5-on-3.
The Habs can take a positive away from that game. When they played the game at 5-on-5, their rookie defensemen didn’t look so bad. They didn’t exactly play with ice in their veins, but they mostly held their own after going down to five guys on the blue line with lots of game left to play?
What was Edmundson thinking with that crosscheck to the face?
Was I the only one wondering why these young Habs, short a defensemen and injury-riddled, looked so good at 5-on-5 against a team icing the best player in the NHL and another guy who is probably in the top five? This game should give the Oilers more angst than it does the Canadiens.
The Habs are 12-11-1 at the end of eight weeks and a tough schedule still to come before December ends. I’m ready to start a petition to have Hughes deal a veteran defensemen so the rookie defenders can see more ice, but the wily GM may be more patient than I am. I might appreciate his patience when a veteran fetches a solid return closer to the deadline.