January 29, 2023
Week 16 for the Montreal Canadiens featured three games. On Tuesday the Boston Bruins were in town and the result was a 4-2 loss. On Thursday, the Habs took the visiting Detroit Red Wings to overtime, but the result was a 4-3 loss. The Saturday night game was the first of a home-and-home against the Ottawa Senators, and the Habs suffered a 5-0 loss in Kanata.
Any game against the Boston Bruins this year is a bit of a “casting your bread upon the waters” kind of affair.
The Bruins are having a renaissance season, and look to be legitimate contenders once again for the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Canadiens are at the opposite end of the spectrum, going through the pains of what it takes to become what the Bruins have been – consistent contenders over an extended period of time. The rivalry between this pair is usually enough to make for a fun game, even when the best the Habs could do is leave it all on the ice and hope for the best.
The return on investment in this one was two goals from Kirby Dach. Imagine what Dach will look like when he’s not playing with a pair of castaways.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard’s performance is what happens when players are cast in their appropriate roles, and know the role they’ve been cast to play.
The Habs played the first two games this week with 11 forwards, so pinning down the fourth line was a treat. But whenever RHP, Belzile and Pezzetta hit the ice together, they were effective. They played an energy role, were persistent on the forecheck, dependable on the backcheck, and contributed some depth scoring. Fourth line role clarity is something the Habs have lacked this season.
Who were the most common trio cast in the fourth line role this season? I didn’t look it up, but my guess is that Slafkovsky, Evans and Pezzetta were near the top of the list. Three guys who were completely miscast together. Pezzetta trying to provide energy, Evans doing his best Selke, and Slafkovsky trying to create some offence with that pair, while also trying to find his way. Casting pearls before the swine comes to mind.
The challenge was born of a crowded cast of characters in the forward group. There is no chance that Hughes intended to keep all of those guys (with no future in Montreal) as long as he did. The off-season should resolve some of the clog. Certainly guys like RHP and Jesse Ylonen have demonstrated they have proven all they need to in Laval.
Owen Beck got his well-earned casting call this week.
His stay was very brief – just one game and he is already headed back to Peterborough. That’s not a reflection of his play. As an emergency call-up from the OHL, Beck could not play more than five games for Montreal or miss more than one for Peterborough. The Petes play on Sunday afternoon, and again on Thursday after the Habs have already begun their break. Might they bring him back for Tuesday’s game against the Sens?
Beck became the second 18-year-old to play a game for Montreal this season, with the first obviously being Juraj Slafkovsky. The last time the Habs had more than one 18-year-old in the line up was in the 1984-85 season when Stephane Richer and Petr Svoboda were the kids to watch. Remember what happened the year after?
The scoreboard didn’t turn out quite the way Beck might have hoped for his debut, but the coach was happy with his performance. There is little doubt that Beck will be part of the core cast of characters moving forward, perhaps as early as next season. His availability gives Kent Hughes some options to consider at the deadline and through the off-season.
Dach has emerged and Beck may be ready. Depending on where Sean Monahan is in his recovery, and the impact this has on trade offers, the Habs may choose to extend him. Monahan may be open to that possibility, if even for just one year to increase his value and improve his chances at another long term deal. If Hughes goes that route, does this cast doubt on Christian Dvorak’s future in Montreal?
With the Habs claiming just one of a possible six points this week, surely the Tank Wankers are a little less downcast this morning.