January 1, 2023
After a brief Christmas vacation, the Montreal Canadiens were back on the road for three games to finish 2022. On Wednesday they were in Tampa Bay and were dominated by the Lightning in a 4-1 loss. The road trip continued in Sunrise, Florida where they met the Panthers and the result was a 7-2 beating. Things went from bad to worse on New Year’s Eve in Washington, where they fell 9-2. Three ugly losses to end 2022.
Cheers went up in the Barron household on Christmas Eve when Justin was recalled to Montreal from the Laval Rocket.
Fans found out on Tuesday morning, but the young defender was given the bit of cheer on Christmas Eve. Barron was the main acquisition, along with a second-round pick, in the trade that sent Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche at last year’s trade deadline. Barron has seven goals and nine assists in 25 games for the Rocket so far this season, and has been taking advantage of the developmental opportunity.
The 21-year-old has also shown some power play prowess, a skill that the Habs should be looking to explore with the big club. Inexplicably, seven power plays came and went in Tampa without Barron getting his feet wet. We could overlook this as an ease-in if the Canadiens didn’t look like a peewee team on the man advantage.
Everyone needs a cheerleader in their life, but the coach’s attempts where Joel Armia is concerned might go beyond the call of duty.
With Sean Monahan injured, I get the desire to test Kirby Dach in the second-line centre role. I’m not sure giving him Jonathan Drouin and Mike Hoffman as line-mates gave him the chance to put his best foot forward, but the options are not exactly limitless. The bigger concern is that every time Dach is removed from the top line the result is serious struggles.
Giving Joel Armia a chance to fill the hole next to Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield did not result in many cheers going up from Habs fans visiting Tampa for the game. I’ve been a bit of an Armia apologist over the years, so I really wanted it to work. But I think we can safely add Armia to the list of players that are not suited to complete that top line.
By the time they made it to Sunrise, Dach had been reunited with Suzuki and Caufield.
Despite a couple of bad outings in Florida, Arber Xhekaj gave fans a reason to be of good cheer.
When a kid shines on the power play in Montreal, you have to roll with it. Heck, if anyone shines there you have to. At Sunrise, Xhekaj managed a goal and an assist with the man advantage. 5 goals and 12 points in 35 games for the rookie. Who could have predicted it?
The young Habs benefitted from the kind of cheering on that only a mother can do, but not on the scoresheet.
The players’ mothers joined them in Washington on Friday for the moms trip, and are due to accompany them until they return to Montreal on January 4th. While fans wring their hands, these women have been cheerleaders since their boys were kids, and that unconditional support is invaluable in the middle of a bad slump.
Their support wasn’t enough to turn the tide in Washington – perhaps there will be better things ahead in Nashville.
While the team falters, prospects are giving Habs fans something to cheer about at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
Joshua Roy is having a solid tournament for Canada. Filip Mesar has been impressive. Lane Hutson is showing his potential. Adam Engstrom is introducing himself to Habs fans. Oliver Kapanen is proving to be a solid 200-foot player. No one is cheering about a kid’s injury for sure but, depending on the outcome for Colton Dach, another Habs prospect may get a chance to join Team Canada.
2022 ends with the Habs holding a 15-19-3 record and in 27th place overall in the standings. Raise a cup of cheer – another one or more of the kids we’re watching at the World Juniors will be drafted by the Montreal Canadiens this summer. Those ugly losses are hard to look at, but if we keep a future focus there are still plenty of reasons to cheer.
Happy New Year Habs fans. Cheers!