Week 18 in One Word: Kickoff

February 13, 2023

It has been a bizarre couple of weeks for the Montreal Canadiens. Their bye week followed the All Star Break, and when they finally got back into action it coincided with Super Bowl weekend. Week 18 featured just two games, both weekend matinees. On Saturday afternoon, the New York Islanders were in town and the Habs delivered a thrilling 4-3 overtime win. Then on Sunday afternoon, the Habs handed the Edmonton Oilers an end to their streak in a 6-2 win.

Here is how I saw this week go down.

Kent Hughes and Jordan Harris came together for a perfect kickoff to end the bye week.

On Friday the Canadiens inked Harris to a two-year contract extension with an annual average value of $1.4M. That’s a tidy bit of business for a defender who has been nothing but solid during his entry-level contract. With the attention shifting to off-ice business for a few weeks, this was an excellent way to kick off.

I wonder if Hughes was inspired by Harris’ off-ice leadership during the break. In an interview earlier this week Harris commented on the recent events in the NHL with teams coming up short in their support for Pride. He said, “We preach that hockey is for everyone, but is it really? The actions of the Rangers and Provorov show there’s a lot going on behind closed doors that makes acceptance in hockey not for everyone.” It’s an interesting turn of phrase – behind closed doors. Closeted homophobes.

In addition to being articulate and evolved, Harris is pretty good on the ice with his 89% projected WAR % in third pairing minutes. If he can figure out the offensive side of his game – a two-goal game on Sunday was a pretty good start – he could become more than forecasted.

The Habs were hoping to have some healthy bodies before kicking off again on Saturday.

As it turns out, only Jonathan Drouin was healthy enough to get back in the line up in their first game back. Armia joined him on Sunday. The Habs are still waiting on Monahan and Edmundson, two players they hope to deal for value before the trade deadline.

Fortunately, some other guys were ready for kickoff. Mike Hoffman is a player that can help a contending team, and he had three assists on Saturday, including a sweet play out of the penalty box in overtime. Josh Anderson’s game against the Islanders was a display of the skillset that general managers crave for a post-season run. He added a goal on Sunday. Evgenii Dadanov got in on the action with two assists on Sunday.

Perhaps Hughes will find a way to convert some of these guys into futures when earnest business kicks off.

The Edmonton Oilers showed up on Sunday looking like they’d celebrated the Super Bowl a day before kickoff.

Perhaps they were tired after a busier week back from the All Star Break than the Habs had, or perhaps they underestimated the lowly Habs, or perhaps they celebrated the Super Bowl a little too early. Whatever the reason, the team that showed up to play on Sunday afternoon was not the team that’s been on a heater in recent weeks. The Habs capitalized.

Is there a funner way to kick off any game than a veteran like Belzile scoring his first? How about a couple of trade chips chipping in? Or a couple of rookies hitting the score sheet?

The Habs came out ready for kickoff and they didn’t take their foot off the gas until the game was over. After the game, the coach noted they are getting closer the “style we want to play” and the “brand that we’re trying to build.” It might not be great for the tank, but it’s an important part of what this year is about.

Rafael Harvery-Pinard is taking full advantage of his NHL kickoff.

Five years in the QMJHL. Three years in Laval with a brief glimpse of NHL action last year. RHP had certainly earned his opportunity to make the jump to Montreal when the injury bug hit. Six goals and two assists in nine games is a pretty good way to kick off.

RHP has been compared to Brendan Gallagher, but I hope a close-up view of this end of Gally’s career is a lesson for the kid. I hope he finds a way to be tenacious and productive without sacrificing his body to the point of no return.

Trade season has kicked off, but so far the Habs have been quiet.

With Tarasenko finding a new home, and Chychrun being held out of a game for trade reasons, the volume has turned up on a trade deadline that is still more than two weeks away. The Montreal Canadiens are still waiting to see which players will be healthy enough to deal, and whether it will be worth it when they are.

Kent Hughes may have to look deeper into his playbook to have the impact at this deadline that was hoped for when the season began. I can’t wait to see how he kicks off.

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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