The Montreal Canadiens were trying to put the brakes on a two-game losing skid Tuesday night.
The issue for the first time this season, really, is goals. The Canadiens have only scored once in the last two losses at home to the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild. Sometimes you feel more free on the road, though, and that’s what the Habs coaching staff was hoping for in Detroit, Michigan.
With a 3-2 squeaker of a win over Detroit, those hopes seem to have panned out.
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It was one of those lead by example nights for Brendan Gallagher, and it’s not the goal that is setting the example. It was a night where the work ethic was a sight to behold.
It’s difficult to keep being amazed by the same thing. Our minds don’t work that way. We normalize things and they lose their lustre. It’s too bad, because one should be marvelling at the work ethic of Gallagher all the time. What he achieves with his size is one of the most impressive hockey events in the last decade in Montreal.
His goal is a perfect example. He is being mauled but still manages to get a shot away to open the scoring. That Gallagher is even in front of the net in that dirty area is a sight in itself. He shouldn’t be there so much; it is painful and punishing. Gallagher in a bigger man would be something to watch, wouldn’t it? It would seem that desire and heart in a large, unmovable player would be the best player in all of hockey. Sixteen goals on the season.
It’s hard to come up with the words to show the appreciation everyone should have for the desire of this man. He’s on pace for a 30-goal season. It won’t be easy to hit the mark again. Anyone on NHL ice knows he deserves it, even those who begrudgingly have to admit it because Gallagher has driven them crazy time and time again.
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Jordie Benn is still not faltering. It’s been two to three weeks now that Benn has been a much better player than he had been in the first 30 games of the season. The difference is that Shea Weber is back, so Benn can handle his third pairing responsibilities. He plays his 15 minutes instead of 25, and he’s comfortable. The lack of fatigue makes him a much quicker player, obviously, but it also makes him a much smarter player.
Benn is making the right decision and head-manning the puck better than ever in a Montreal uniform. The Benn and Brett Kulak partnership doesn’t seem to have any real ups and downs right now. They are steady every night — not offering anything amazing, but not getting exposed, either.
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Jesperi Kotkaniemi seemed to be getting the nod more in this one, and he was ready for it.
Kotkaniemi found himself on different lines at times and he responded with one of his most engaged games of the season. He even threw his weight around at times — all 87 pounds of it. He had a couple of shots that he wasn’t able to convert as he continues to be so close to scoring, yet finds the actual completion of the act just beyond his reach.
It’s obvious the goals are going to come soon. The beauty is that while they continue to elude him, the overall play is strong. He rarely costs his team in the defensive zone. He’s an NHLer already at 18. At 22, he’s going to be the number one centre of the Habs, for sure.
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It’s been interesting to watch the partnership of Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi in the past couple of weeks. While it’s clear that the two are in an offensive funk right now, one of the two continues to work hard and drive the play, and the other continues to avoid a hit and wait for the play to happen around him.
Domi has an engine. He refuses to let the offensive struggles impact his overall contribution, while Drouin has not been able to keep from feeling down about the more difficult events transpiring. It’s not always going to be an easy path to goals, assists and points, but you have to keep finding ways to help your team. Domi is doing that. Drouin still has to learn to stay in the game, even when the offence dries up — as it inevitably does in a long season.
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It was a night for people with Detroit connections to shine.
The home state of Jeff Petry is Michigan and he scored a crucial goal to put the Habs up 3-1. It was also sweet for Petry to respond after the mistake on Monday night that was so crucial leading to the game’s only goal for the Wild to win it. Petry was also especially happy to score in front of his former major league pitching father Dan Petry, who played for the Detroit Tigers.
The assist on the key goal went to Tomas Tatar. It was his second helper of the night as he, too, wanted to perform well against this former team. Everyone expects Tatar to slow down, but it isn’t happening so far. The superb season for the former Wing and former Golden Knight, who was basically a throw-in in the Max Pacioretty deal, continues.
In the best season of his career, Tatar counted 56 points. He is on pace for 62 points this season.
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The Red Wings were hungry in this contest. Detroit had lively legs and were ready to take on a team that got in at 4 a.m. from Montreal. The Habs worked hard to win this one. They went five minutes without a whistle in the final six minutes, and the Habs looked gassed but they gave it all they could to stay one goal up.
Everyone stood up. Even Victor Mete was on the ice for the final seconds of the game, as the coaching staff included everyone to get it done. They did just that. It takes a lot of character to win this one. There are no goats when there’s a lot against you, including your back-up goalie in the net, and including your captain with a visor on because he took a shot to the face the night before. There are no goats when you win one, seemingly against the odds.
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Marc Bergevin sure has been changing his mind about his personnel through the course of this season.
It’s a view into the new philosophy of the Habs’ GM. He signed Karl Alzner knowing what style of defender he was, and this season he sent him to the waiver wire. He signed David Schlemko knowing what style of defender he was, and he sent him to Laval on Tuesday after he too cleared the waiver wire. So it’s apparent that Bergevin is finally favouring the puck moving-defenders like Mike Reilly, and even Brett Kulak. It took a while, but the Habs are embracing the 200-foot game for everyone as strongly as any team in the league.
Bergevin is showing as well that he isn’t afraid to give up on a high draft pick, if that pick isn’t panning out fast enough. Nikita Scherbak was the surprise demotion here, considering he was a force in the AHL last season and a first-round pick. The only move you don’t want to make is watching a player finally find his upside and making you look foolish while he scores goal after goal, but so far, it seems Scherbak is stuck in quicksand. Scherbak cleared the waiver wire in Los Angeles as well after a short stint of not playing effectively. Bergevin also gave up on Jacob De La Rose, deciding that his defensive awareness was never going to be met with any offensive acumen to match it.
Though the danger remains on the Scherbak decision, however unlikely, Bergevin is batting 1,000 on his roster decisions. The truth is Bergevin has had a reawakening that has proved fruitful since last season. He’s made effective trades like acquiring Max Domi, and Tomas Tatar, and he has allowed Trevor Timmins to draft well.
The future of the Habs probably looks better right now than it has in three or four years. The roster has already got some strong players on it with a lot of strength in the pipeline as well.