Week 11 in One Word: Break

December 24, 2022

The eleventh week of action took the Habs up to the Christmas break, but they had to get three road games out of the way first. Since there is nothing like a desert to get you in a festive mood, on Monday, they visited the Arizona Coyotes and the result was a 3-2 overtime win. They flew into a Colorado storm on Wednesday, and lost 2-1 to the Avalanche in overtime. Then on Friday they visited the Dallas Stars and the result was a 4-2 loss.

The NHL trade market took a break for its Christmas freeze without Kent Hughes having made any moves.

This came as no surprise. He’s a patient guy who has no need to rush a deal. He’ll wait until some GM is prepared to break the bank to claim a coveted piece. A less precious piece might find a new home in January.

Watching the game against the Coyotes made me long for Spring break.

There isn’t a hockey viewing experience quite like watching the games in Arizona right now. Televised games from Mullett Arena definitely have the feel of college hockey, and that is not the criticism we thought it would be when the Coyotes announced they’d be playing there for a bit. The small arena offers an intimacy for fans that isn’t possible in any other NHL barn.

Mullett Arena is not the long-term home for the Coyotes – perhaps Gordon Ramsay will have a restaurant in their new digs like he does at Madison Square Garden. Certainly, the locker rooms will be upgraded, and players won’t be walking through what looks like high school hallways to get to the ice.

But in the short term, the small but packed house is offering fans an experience that is a break from the highly commercialized NHL experience. Taking in a Habs game there before they move is now on my bucket list.

Is it an overstatement to suggest that Samuel Montembeault is having a breakout season?

After stealing the game against the Coyotes, Monty has a record of 6-3-2 on the year with a save percentage of .912 and a goals against average of 2.89. The advanced stats also speak in his favour, coming in at .461 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes of play. His numbers are the best of his NHL career, but also better than anything he put up in the AHL. If his solid play continues, it’s possible the Habs have found a long-term back-up netminder.

This week Maxime Truman of BPMSports in Montreal broke the news that the Montreal Canadiens had tried to acquire Devon Levi at the draft this summer, and have continued negotiations with the Buffalo Sabres. Levi, who turns 21 on December 27th, was drafted by the Florida Panthers and traded to Buffalo in the Sam Reinhart deal. He’s having a solid second season at Northeastern University, and is projected to be an NHL starting goalie.

Imagine a future Habs tandem of two Quebec-born goaltenders.

Anthony Richard got his break this week, and took advantage in just his second game.

It was a pretty goal to open the scoring against the Avalanche on Wednesday. A nice job by Armia to get it out of the zone, and a nicer pass from Evans to spring Richard on the quasi breakaway. He made it count, and with the goal broke ahead of both his linemates in the goals scored column. Watching Jake Evans make beeline to claim the puck from the net with the season he’s having himself is a telltale of Evans’ character.

Fans should manage expectations. This Richard won’t ever see his jersey hang in the rafters, but he’s a hard worker who has brought as much life to that fourth line as anyone we have seen this season. He’s earned this call up with his play in Laval, and it’s a very good news story for the Habs.

That top line has been broken up and reunited more times than Victor and Nikki Newman from The Young and the Restless.

Forgive me – my 82-year-old mother is a fan of the Newmans and the Abbotts. I tease her about it and ask how Victor and Nikki’s marriage is going these days. She tells me they’re on a pretty good run for a few years now. Let’s hope Kirby Dach isn’t as old as the Newmans before the Habs settle on where he belongs.

Jokes aside, Dach has kind of become the straw that stirs the drink on that line. Nick Suzuki is developing into a strong 200-foot centre. Cole Caufield will be a top-tier goal-scorer in Montreal for years to come. But having that second centreman, that big presence with the defensive conscience and the beautiful zone entries, is currently the key to making that line unbreakable.

Dach has also demonstrated he can centre his own line and control play, and that’s why there is that constant pressure to break up a line that works like a charm. The Habs obviously have holes to fill before they can break out of their rebuild status.

For the game in Dallas, the coach put the lines in the blender in an effort to break some bad habits.

It didn’t work. They’ve been undisciplined. They’ve lacked structure. They’ve been a one-line wonder. They’ve been awful on the power play. More recently, their best line has been a little off kilter. So the coach shuffled the lines to shake them up, break the complacency, and perhaps get some guys going. The only line it worked for is the line he didn’t touch. 

“Sometimes it’s just a little break from each other,” he said. Marty experienced the benefits of periods of separation as a player, and is hoping that some time apart will get Suzuki and Caufield back to their earlier season level of performance. Except we all knew that level was probably unsustainable, especially if the other lines continued to be such a walk in the park for the opposition. Nonetheless, it’s a valid approach. You want your top six guys to be malleable and able to play in different combos. 

This is a season for development and building, so some behaviour management to improve habits is entirely appropriate. As long as the coach doesn’t lose the plot and get caught up in wins. 

One wonders if maybe the coach should break his habit of minimal practice time for the power play, and focus some of his efforts in that area. The ineffectiveness there has to be breaking the spirits of goal scorers. 

The Montreal Canadiens went into the Christmas break with a record of 15-16-3.

They’re a middling team, but the evidence is there that they can drop in the standings quickly with just a couple of moves. Some GM will eventually break the ice and start dealing. Here is my prediction – we won’t make it too deep into 2023 before the first trade breaks in Montreal.

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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