Week 20 in One Word: Switch

February 26, 2023

The Montreal Canadiens had three games on the docket for the 20th week of action in the 2022-23 season. On Tuesday night they were in New Jersey to face the Devils and pulled off a 5-2 upset. In Philadelphia on Friday night they met a team that looked a lot like they did a year ago and the result was another 5-2 win. Saturday night featured a home game against the visiting Ottawa Senators, and the result in this one was a 5-2 loss.

This is how I saw week 20 go down.

The Habs switched up the roles on Tuesday in New Jersey.

Young and exciting. Strong down the middle. Offense driven by puck-moving defensemen. Solid goaltending. A team on the rise. That’s how the New Jersey Devils are being described in a season where they’re expected to be big-time buyers at the trade deadline. But on Tuesday night the Habs switched the storylines.

With Justin Barron finding his way in the NHL, the Habs suddenly have two legitimate puck movers. Both Barron and Mike Matheson scored on Tuesday night. Star centre Nick Suzuki also scored, and Montembeault stopped 37 shots, and the script was flipped.

How long before the Habs are that young and exciting team who are buyers at the deadline? A year ago they didn’t have a top-4 right-handed defender, but one was acquired at the trade deadline. They didn’t have a top-6 centre about to break out, but one was obtained on the draft floor.

Insiders were sleeping at the switch and didn’t see Thursday’s big move coming.

Okay, it wasn’t a big move at all. But did we see any reports that the Habs might be looking to the waiver wire to stay afloat? That’s a good thing for us to keep in mind for a few days – Habs moves are rarely seen coming, and guessing about their moves is sport in Montreal. 2 p.m. came and we learned that Chris Tierney was the latest member of the Montreal Canadiens after being claimed off waivers. Why, you ask?

The team is decimated with injuries, the latest being a non-COVID illness diagnosis being switched to a lower-body injury. They need to ice a complete roster without killing Laval. Tierney was available for free and has a small cap hit. I also believe he’s a better player than he has looked in Florida.

Wouldn’t it be funny if he found his game a little under Marty and the Habs trade him on Friday for a late pick? Or if he becomes next season’s Chris Wideman among the forward group. More likely is that he will finish the season in Montreal and allow some other guys to fully recover, or fill holes if a forward is dealt. Clever pick up by Hughes.

Coach Martin St. Louis is building a team where players can switch in and out.

Tierney was dropped into the line-up on Friday night with very little preparation. No one was expecting he’d score. Just like the guys who have been brought up from Laval and hit the ground running. We should give JF Houle credit for how he prepares his players in Laval, but he can’t take credit for Tierney. Marty deserves some credit for the culture he’s building in Montreal.

As Arpon Basu wrote about following Friday’s game, Marty has been talking about this culture shift for some time. He talked about the Boston Bruins having roots in the ground, and growing a tree so strong that when new guys come in they just fall in line. He said, “This is what we’re after.”

It feels like the Habs are well on their way. The core roots are growing deep, and that’s making it possible for guys to switch in when needed.

On Saturday night, the Ottawa Senators switched the scoresheet on the Habs.

Three games and three scores of 5-2. On Saturday night, the Habs hoped to sweep the week and looked to be in good shape to do that at the second intermission. But the Sens scored three unanswered goals in the third period. Two wins on the road and a loss at home, but all in all a very strong week for a team that should be getting crushed.

Nick Suzuki with his 20th goal of the season, Barron with another assist and Matheson looking like a defender that should be in high demand at the deadline, but one the Habs should not be moving for less than an absolute haul. Monty looked like he was switch-hitting on a couple of iffy goals to keep the Tank Wankers happy.

With just five sleeps to the trade deadline, Kent Hughes is switching gears on his approach.

On Thursday, Hockey Insider Frank Seravalli reported that Kent Hughes had let GMs know that the Habs were willing to act as third-party brokers. That wasn’t necessarily the strategy he had in mind when the season began. In a perfect world, Sean Monahan, Jonathan Drouin and Evgenii Dadanov would all be healthy, performing and in demand. In a perfect world Hughes would be using his three retention spots to move his own players for value.

But Monahan is of questionable health, experiencing a lengthy recovery from a broken foot and not expected to travel with the team on Sunday. Drouin and Dadanov have had shining moments but those hefty contracts will be tough to move, even with retention. In short, there seems to be no chance all three guys are on the move by Friday. So the nimble Kent Hughes switched gears and communicated his willingness to use his retention spots to help another team.

The latest on Saturday night was that the Habs might be involved in Patrick Kane’s trade to the Rangers. That kind of deal adds an asset, but it doesn’t transform a team. The good news from post-game updates on Saturday night is the Joel Edmundson is going on the road trip. Perhaps there is still a possibility the big playoff performer will find a new home by Friday.

This promises to be a very fun week, and I wouldn’t underestimate HuGo. Don’t switch the channel.

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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