The Montreal Canadiens finished last season with 96 points, just out of a playoff spot that the Columbus Blue Jackets won with 98 points.
This season, the Canadiens, as they headed into their game at the Bell Centre against Columbus, were on pace for 101 points. The Habs seem like a team that knows every result put into the win column in November counts the same as the results earned in March, as they managed to come back for a 3-2 shootout win.
It was a difficult night to find anyone who stood out, but there were some who made a good account of themselves.
The best of the Habs was Max Domi, who seemed to be singlehandedly trying to ignite his teammates. Domi is fiery almost every night. He had a couple of chances, including one where he was alone in front of the net, but the puck hopped over his stick. He also had a partial breakaway in the third period, but was hauled down.
Domi competes hard and creates well — even when the opponent is stifling.
Another player who continues to show his skills is Nick Suzuki.
The rookie has a terrific ability to lose his check. He has a tonne of moves, and it’s remarkable to note how often he surprises NHL defencemen. He is already one of the best on the team at this skill; others who shine at losing their checks effectively are Domi and Brendan Gallagher.
There aren’t many who can do this. It’s extremely difficult in this league to have a man on you and then to completely lose that man with a deke or two, but Suzuki is impressive. It’s remarkable how comfortable he’s already getting, and it’s more than most expected. He’s handling centre duties as well. With under a minute remaining, it was Suzuki who made a tremendous play with the pass to Tomas Tatar to tie it up, with the goalie, Carey Price, pulled for an extra attacker.
It’s easy to rave about this rookie. It feels like he is already on the cusp of finding another level.
Brendan Gallagher provided a Habs goal in the third period that finally gave fans something to cheer about. Gallagher took over the team lead with his eighth goal of the season, one ahead of Jonathan Drouin. Gallagher is often the player to come through when it feels like no one has the magic moment in them. It’s that work ethic that can surprise the opposition who think they’ve got him roped, but he still finds a way.
With about four minutes left in the contest, when the puck hit the ref, the Blue Jackets had a huge chance out of nothing. It looked like it was going to be a breakaway as Shea Weber had to skate around the ref, as well. That left trouble. Out of nowhere came Victor Mete. His closing speed was outstanding and Mete shut down the chance completely. What a way that would have been to lose a game, but Mete saved the moment.
In overtime, the same thing happened as the Habs all got caught out and Mete made up about 20 feet on the Blue Jackets attacker. Mete had to take a minor, but that he was in the same time zone was a moment only Mete could have achieved. He’s been at a higher level for three weeks.
The Habs penalty kill is still 29th in the league, but there are some improvements recently. In this contest, the Habs were a perfect three for three on the kills, including the vital one in overtime. Baby steps, Montreal. Baby steps.
Drouin didn’t have a night to note for 65 minutes, but he sure made a delicious move in the shootout. With some fancy stick handling to open up the five hole, Drouin gave the Habs the vital goal. It was the only goal out of the six shots taken as Carey Price was a perfect three-for-three, and Montreal won a contest that didn’t ever look like theirs.
It was such a low-event game that no one really stood out as having a rough contest. And when almost nothing happens, no one is messing up.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are 30th in the NHL in goals for. They can’t score, so they have to make sure that they don’t allow any goals. The best way to do that is to play a game with nothing happening. When you can’t go toe-to-toe, put your toes away. The Habs are the fifth-ranked team in offence this season, so they’re happy to exchange chances. The way the Blue Jackets play now is the way that Claude Julien had the then-atrocious Habs playing two years ago. He had to make sure the game stayed low-event.
Thankfully, we don’t have to watch many of those anymore. The Habs are an extremely entertaining club, but not on this night. Thank the visitors for that as they collapsed in front of their goalie, and trapped from the opening face-off.
The Rocket have provided nothing but frustration for their fans in the first two seasons in Laval, but it’s finally appearing that season three will be different.
The Rocket have won six straight games as they head into their contest tomorrow night at Place Bell. Laval has moved into second place in the North Division standings, only one point behind the Toronto Marlies, who are idle, so first place is on the line. The Rocket aren’t scoring much as the leader, Alex Belzile, has only 11 points on the season which ranks him a surprisingly low 37th in the league. Belzile’s low placement among the league leaders for points is shocking, but not nearly as shocking as where the top plus-minus player on the Laval team stands.
It’s Noah Juulsen who has played only half of the games. He is a plus-3 which ranks him 127th in the league. With no scoring and no one shining in plus-minus, you might ask yourself what kind of smoke and mirrors event is happening for Laval to not be at the bottom of the league, instead of the top of it. The answer and biggest reason the Rocket have a chance for first on Wednesday night is Cayden Primeau. The rookie goalie has a .943 save percentage and a 1.69 goals against average.
It appears already this season that as Primeau goes, so go they all.
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