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Habs Weekly: A Rare Winning Week For Montreal

The Habs had one of their more successful weeks of the 2023-24 campaign, picking up a pair of victories to allow them to match last season’s point total with nearly three weeks remaining in the season.

The Week That Was

Mar. 26: Canadiens 2, Avalanche 1 – The game didn’t get off to a good start as Nathan MacKinnon scored on the opening shift of the game, extending his season-long point streak at home in the process.  (That streak ended two days later.)  However, Nick Suzuki scored just nine seconds later while Joel Armia took advantage of a loose puck to complete a wraparound past Jonathan Drouin and goalie Justus Annunen to give the Habs the lead late in the first.  They were able to hold on from there with a fairly competitive defensive effort and a good showing from Samuel Montembeault.

Mar. 28: Canadiens 4, Flyers 1 – The first period was a tough one for both sides as scoring chances were few and far between.  However, Montreal was able to score on two of theirs to give them the early lead.  Philadelphia, a team fighting for their playoff lives, got better as the game went on and beat Cayden Primeau three times in the third but the first two were called back (and the third was quite close to being challengeable for offside as well).  The Habs potted a pair of empty netters to make the score look more lopsided than it actually was.

Mar. 30: Hurricanes 3, Canadiens 0 – This was a game where the Habs showed that they can compete with one of the top teams in the East but also demonstrated that there’s still a fairly sizable talent gap that will need to be bridged.  In five-on-five play, Montreal hung around and generated some quality chances while keeping Carolina somewhat quiet.  But that’s only good enough to keep it close which this game was.  Meanwhile, special teams were the difference maker as the visitors picked up a shorthanded goal and a power play marker; their other goal was an empty-netter.



# Player GP G A +/- PIMS SOG ATOI
8 Mike Matheson 3 0 3 -1 0 5 26:02
11 Brendan Gallagher 3 0 0 +1 0 2 12:33
14 Nick Suzuki 3 2 1 +2 4 7 21:38
15 Alex Newhook 3 0 1 -2 0 6 16:24
17 Josh Anderson 3 0 0 +1 2 5 13:59
20 Juraj Slafkovsky 3 0 2 -2 0 9 19:26
21 Kaiden Guhle 2 0 2 +2 0 3 22:58
22 Cole Caufield 3 0 0 -2 0 7 19:13
26 Johnathan Kovacevic 1 0 0 E 0 3 16:05
36 Colin White 3 0 0 -1 2 0 8:29
40 Joel Armia 3 2 1 +2 0 11 17:49
47 Jayden Struble 3 0 1 +1 2 3 16:13
49 Rafael Harvey-Pinard 3 0 0 -1 0 0 11:22
54 Jordan Harris 3 0 0 +1 4 2 19:08
55 Michael Pezzetta 3 0 0 E 0 0 8:03
56 Jesse Ylonen 3 1 0 +1 0 3 11:05
58 David Savard 3 0 1 E 0 0 18:18
71 Jake Evans 3 1 0 E 2 2 17:24
72 Arber Xhekaj 3 0 0 +1 8 2 15:33


# Player Record GAA SV% SO
30 Cayden Primeau 1-0-0 1.01 .967 0
35 Samuel Montembeault 1-1-0 1.50 .947 0

Team Leaders:

Goals: Nick Suzuki (30)
Assists: Mike Matheson (41)
Points: Nick Suzuki (69)
+/-: Johnathan Kovacevic (+9)
PIMS: Arber Xhekaj (79)
Shots: Cole Caufield (273)

News And Notes

– Kaiden Guhle received a one-game suspension for a slash on Flyers winger Travis Konecny late in the second period of their matchup.  He served that game on Saturday and will be eligible to return to the lineup next week.

– Jesse Ylonen snapped a 43-game goalless drought with his goal – the game-winner – against Philadelphia.  That was a span of more than four months between tallies.

– Juraj Slafkovsky set a franchise record for the most points by a teenager in a single season with 41.  He won’t be able to add to that total, however, as he turned 20 on Saturday.

Last Game’s Lines

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Armia – Newhook – Gallagher
Ylonen – Evans – Anderson
Harvey-Pinard – White – Pezzetta

Matheson – Harris
Xhekaj – Savard
Struble – Kovacevic

The Week Ahead

Tuesday vs Florida – The Habs will be catching the Panthers on the back half of a back-to-back as they’re in Toronto the night before.  Florida has struggled as of late, winning just once in regulation over their last eight outings which has dropped them out of first in the division.  Still, they boast the top defence in the league from a goals-allowed standpoint and a deep attack that was augmented with the additions of Vladimir Tarasenko and Kyle Okposo at the trade deadline.  Sam Reinhart recently reached the 50-goal mark for the first time in his career.

Thursday vs Tampa Bay – Montreal will be catching the Lightning on the back half of a back-to-back as well as they’re also in Toronto the night before this one.  Tampa Bay has won eight of their last nine games and has points in 11 of their last 12 contests to get themselves back into the battle for the third spot in the Atlantic.  Nikita Kucherov is one point off the league lead in scoring while trade deadline acquisition Anthony Duclair is averaging a point per game since coming over from San Jose.

Saturday vs Toronto – The Maple Leafs have been banged up as of late, particularly on the back end as they’re currently without four blueliners although some could be back by Saturday.  As usual, the bulk of their offence comes from their top three forwards – Mitch Marner should be back by this game – while John Tavares is still an above-average producer.  Former Hab Max Domi has settled in after a bit of a slow start to his season while Ilya Samsonov has a .914 SV% since January 1st after putting up a mark of .862 in the first three months of the season.

Sunday at NY Rangers – The week ends on a tough note as the Rangers are the number one team in the NHL, buoyed by a high-end offence and above-average goaltending.  Alexis Lafreniere has taken the jump forward that many in New York were expecting, setting new career highs across the board offensively.  Kaapo Kakko, their other high pick in their Jeff Gorton era, meanwhile, has taken a big step back, leading to more questions about his future.  In the meantime, their focus will be on a long playoff run.

Final Thought

Many fans were hoping to see Boston University get eliminated over the weekend, paving the way for Lane Hutson (and probably Luke Tuch) to turn pro.  If Montreal is going to burn the first year of Hutson’s entry-level deal, they might as well get as many games as possible out of it.  That didn’t happen and now the earliest he’ll be eliminated is April 11th.

That has led some to speculate that he won’t burn the first year of his deal after all since there may not be time to give him much, if any, NHL action.  That’s not the case.  Hutson doesn’t actually have to play to burn a year.  Look at Jake Sanderson in Ottawa.  He turned pro in March 2022 but didn’t play at all down the stretch.  He still burned the first year of his deal which is what made him eligible to sign the richest contract for a defenceman in franchise history a few months back after just one season.  Hutson can – and will – follow that path soon enough.

If there’s any small silver lining for the Habs, it’s this.  Last year, Sean Farrell’s team was ousted early enough that he was able to join Montreal with a few weeks left in the season.  There was enough time for a games played bonus to be tacked on at five games.  That bonus was met and counted against the cap this season.  With Hutson’s team staying alive into the Frozen Four, that won’t happen with him which will save a few bucks off next year’s cap.  But whether he plays once or twice down the stretch or not at all, he will burn the first year of that deal now unless the Habs are somehow able to talk him out of it.  One can hope that will happen but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.


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