What a wild league this is.
The Montreal Canadiens collected three points over an eight-game span from the middle of November through the beginning of December, and with their win on Thursday night in Calgary they capped a 6-2-0 run and took control of second place in the Atlantic Division.
You just never know what you’re going to get in this NHL.
On this night, there was no way of predicting anything about the game between the hometown Flames, who wore white, and the visiting red-dressed Canadiens.
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It started with Calgary, who came into the game ranked dead last in the NHL in first-period goals, opening up a 2-0 lead over the first 20 minutes.
Then Flames goaltender David Rittich, who appeared infallible through the first half of the game, let a Brendan Gallagher shot from an impossible angle squeak through him.
Joel Armia tied the game for Montreal on a goal that was challenged for offside and easily could have been considered offside. Earlier this season in Montreal, Boston’s Charlie Coyle kicked a pass up to his stick but crossed the line before the puck caught up to his blade, and the goal that came off this skill play was disallowed on review because it was deemed he wasn’t in full possession of the puck. And on Thursday, in Calgary, Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen tipped a pass to himself and crossed the line before the puck caught up to him, but it was deemed on a review he was in possession.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 20, 2019
It was Lehkonen who set Armia up for his 12th goal of the season and the Canadiens got a power play on the failed challenge from Flames head coach Geoff Ward. Go figure.
After that, who would have predicted the Flames, who were 4-0-1 when tied after two periods, would take a 3-2 lead and then squander it and eventually lose it 4-3 in overtime to the Canadiens, who came into the game with a 4-6 record at three-on-three?
Not I. But here we are…
Julien continues to show trust in Suzuki
With two minutes left in the third period, Canadiens coach Claude Julien had Nick Cousins, Nick Suzuki and Jordan Weal on the ice for a neutral-zone faceoff and motioned for them to make a change as soon as the puck was dropped.
On came Montreal’s top line of Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Gallagher.
Because Julien wanted to put Suzuki on with Cousins and Nate Thompson in the final minute. Yes, the coach with a (long-time) ill-perceived bias towards older players wanted his 20-year-old centreman on the ice in that pivotal situation.
Here we have yet another example of what coaches need to do in order to win games in today’s NHL and Julien is complying. They have no choice but to trust their young players, and the rewards of doing so often outweigh the pitfalls.
It helps that Suzuki is a rookie Julien referred to as “low maintenance” just last week.
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“He’s a good rookie, a smart rookie, and there’s been a lot of those coming through the league,” Julien said. “He’s having a good year so far. He’s shown progression since the start of the season. There’s still some areas we’d like to see him improve on, and that will come with time. It’s not because of a lack of something, it’s experience and him finding his way through this league.”
Last Saturday, following 2-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, Julien said he felt Suzuki was one of several players he wanted to see more on the inside of the action as opposed to on the perimeter, and he added that the young star in the making shouldn’t get ahead of himself and start buying the hype around his game and thinking he’s already a star.
But after a strong performance for Suzuki in a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, the kid was arguably Montreal’s best skater in Calgary and Julien didn’t hold him back.
Suzuki had tied Thursday’s game at 3-3 at the end of the 12th minute of the third period, making a brilliant tip off a Cousins shot from the sideboards. It was his team-leading sixth puck on net and it resulted in his seventh goal of the season.
And Suzuki’s shift in the final minute of the third, and the one he got in overtime, put him up to 17:28 of ice time for the game, which is exactly as much as leading-goal scorer Gallagher played.
To say the London, Ont., native’s development is coming along well would be understating it. And Julien—and the other Montreal coaches, and Suzuki’s teammates—deserve as much credit for that.
• Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was beat for three goals for the first time in six games, but had no chance on any of them. Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm scored tap-ins on cross-crease passes, and Oliver Kylington capped off a beautiful play from Johnny Gaudreau in the third period for his first goal of the season.
Meanwhile, without Price, the Canadiens would have had no chance at gaining one point in the standings, let alone two. He made remarkable saves throughout, finishing the game with 24.
In the second, Price made a brilliant stop on Tkachuk, who pulled the puck between his own legs and tried to beat the Montreal goaltender over his right shoulder. That kept the game at 2-0 Calgary and gave the Canadiens a chance to get back into it a couple of minutes later with Gallagher’s goal.
And in the third, Price’s point-blank toe-save on a T.J. Brodie one-timer was out of this world and it kept the score knotted at 3-3.
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• One of the reasons 20-year-old Ryan Poehling was sent down to the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket after his first four games with the Canadiens this season was because there was no room at centre and he looked terribly out of place on the wing, where he had never played before at any other level of hockey.
Well, it’s a clear sign of Poehling’s greatest skill—his hockey sense—that he has played exceptionally well on the wing since return from Laval four games ago. He’s looked so good at the position that Julien was asked on Thursday morning if that’s where he belongs.
“I’m not going to write off the fact that he can’t play centre,” Julien said. “But it’s nice to see those guys being able to be versatile because you need that. If something happens at centre and I need somebody, I know he can play there. There’s a lot of other guys, too, on our team, whether it’s (Jordan) Weal and that, we have a lot of guys who can play that position. But it’s not a bad thing for him to be able to play there right now.
“Maybe a little less responsibilities down low, although he’s been good at it. It just gives him an opportunity to play more energetic (and) forecheck. Instead of coming from low in your end, he’s up a little higher so his forecheck is valuable. He’s a big body, which we can certainly use, and he’s physical on the forecheck and also a big body going to the front of the net. So that’s been a good asset for us.”
Poehling was a good asset against Calgary.
• The game-winner off Max Domi’s stick was his seventh goal of the season, his first in 12 games and just his third goal in his last 22. Meanwhile, it was his 23rd point in his 35th game, which isn’t quite as disappointing as some have made it out to be.
Granted, Domi’s on pace for only 54 points after registering a career-high 72 a season ago. But it’s fair to say the 25-year-old misses Jonathan Drouin (injured on Nov. 15 and expected to be out until at least mid-January) more than just about anyone else on the Canadiens.
The Canadiens travel to Edmonton, where they’ll take on the Oilers on Saturday. They’ll be rested, but the Oilers will play against the Pittsburgh Penguins at 9 p.m. ET on Friday before playing at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday against Montreal.
Toronto Maple Leafs plan to grind their way to more offence in Edmonton Oilers rematch – TSN
TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Thursday ahead of Friday’s rematch against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Leafs did a good job limiting Connor McDavid and Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl at even strength on Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Oilers.
“It’s tough,” said defenceman Jake Muzzin. “They got good players. You got to focus in on them and take away their game but, on the flip side, we got to focus on us too and make plays and maybe last night we focused a little too much on defending. I don’t think so. We got to continue doing what we’re doing, but get a little harder, get more pucks to the net, bodies to the net.”
Following the game on Wednesday, Auston Matthews suggested Toronto played it too safe.
“We got to play to win, not to contain two guys,” the centre said.
The Leafs had the edge in shots (6-4), shot attempts (9-6) and goals (1-0) in the 12 minutes that Matthews and McDavid shared the ice at even strength, but ultimately fell 3-1. The Oilers benefited from a flukey bounce on their first goal before striking on the power play and adding an empty netter.
“Last night was a great example of how we were able to not get frustrated and not crack defensively,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I thought we stayed with it throughout and that gave us a chance to win the game even though we’re down 1-0 for the vast majority of the game. We stayed with it and that shows the discipline that we have that way.”
The Leafs have made improving defensively a top priority this season with an emphasis on limiting rush chances against.
“We need to find the balance,” said winger Zach Hyman after Thursday’s practice. “Just because we’re defending well doesn’t mean we can’t be attacking and playing well in the O-zone and taking the puck to the net … We need to attack the net a lot more than we have been. We can do a better job of getting to the inside.”
The Leafs have been outscored 9-7 in five-on-five play so far this season and Keefe has urged his players to push the pace on offence.
“We have to really work and grind our way to getting some chances,” Keefe said. “When I say grind, it is not all about chipping and chasing and all of that. It is about challenging defencemen, moving your feet, competing for space, pushing them back and creating space for your teammates. It’s being connected and supporting the puck.”
Generating offence will be even harder if Matthews misses Friday’s game. The 23-year-old left the ice before practice started after consulting with head athletic therapist Paul Ayotte.
“No real update other than he wasn’t feeling great today coming off of the game yesterday,” said Keefe. “He is just going to take the rest of the day here and see how he is for tomorrow.”
Matthews logged 24 minutes and 14 seconds of ice time against the Oilers.
Joe Thornton left Wednesday’s game after taking a hit from Josh Archibald in the third period.
“He’s definitely going to miss some time,” Keefe said. “It is not a day-to-day thing.”
Just before the injury occurred, Keefe replaced Thornton with Hyman on the line with Matthews and Mitch Marner.
“I like Hyman playing in that spot,” said Keefe. “Obviously, we used that a lot yesterday and will continue to use it at times.”
But at Thursday’s practice it was Jimmy Vesey who took top-line reps as Hyman skated with John Tavares and William Nylander.
“With Matthews and Marner and the way they’re playing, they’re able to drive a line together and make it hard on the other team and it allows us to use our depth throughout the lineup,” Keefe explained. “I think Hyman can bring an extra boost to JT and Will.”
After producing at least four shots in each of the first four games, Tavares had just one against the Oilers. Nylander had two.
“They’re two guys I’m really familiar with and I’m excited to get at it with them,” said Hyman. “I don’t know how much I played with them together, but I’ve played with them on different lines and there’s been some great chemistry with each of them so I’m excited to continue that.”
Wayne Simmonds moved up to the third line skating alongside Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot.
“It’s going to be great,” said Kerfoot. “He’s really good with the puck down low so I think we just got to get it deep and work them down low. He’s really good around the net, really good behind the net protecting pucks. He’s a big body and we can use that to get open around him and use our speed to open things up a bit.”
In a lineup littered with new faces and changing combinations, Muzzin and Justin Holl have been the one constant. They played together most of last season and put forward a sturdy effort against the Oilers on Wednesday night.
“He’s a little more confident this year,” Muzzin noted of his partner. “We’re talking it out, coming up with plans against different guys on different teams.”
Despite being 28, the late-blooming Holl only has one full NHL season under his belt.
“We can be a little better with the puck,” noted Muzzin. “If we’re a little cleaner, a little quicker then we can defend less. It’s an area we’ve been focused in on and trying to get better at.”
The entertainment value on Wednesday night left a lot to be desired, but Frederik Andersen didn’t mind the view from Toronto’s net.
“I saw two teams that definitely locked it down pretty good defensively,” the goalie said. “I thought both teams did a really good job of that. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t go our way, but just a few tough bounces.”
Andersen is starting to get in more of a rhythm after allowing nine goals in his first two starts. He has stopped 46 of 49 shots (.939) in his last two outings.
“The last couple games, I settled my game down a little bit,” Andersen said. “Just focused a lot on tracking and moving efficiently. That’s been good. They’ve been playing great in front of me as well making things simple and that’s going to help us eventually down the road. I know the offence will come so that’s not any concern.”
Following the loss on Wednesday night, Keefe fumed about the three penalties his team had taken.
”We had a hold, a high stick, a trip,” the coach said. “These are careless penalties that the other team is not taking.”
The Leafs lead the league in penalties taken (24) entering Thursday’s games. They have drawn 19 calls and that minus-five differential is tied for 26th in the NHL.
“We had a couple of power plays. We had a chance to score on those and didn’t,” Keefe noted. “We took some careless ones there that stalled our game even more. A power play like that is going to break through eventually. We gave them too many opportunities.”
The Oilers had the most potent power play in the NHL last season, but started slow this season. After going 0/10 in two losses to the Canadiens, they snapped out of the drought on Wednesday as Draisaitl scored the game-winning goal on the man advantage.
“We got to continue getting up-ice pressure,” said Muzzin. “I thought we did a good job last night. A couple reads down low that maybe we can get better at, but other than that pretty good … The best way to defend it is to stay out of the box.”
Lines at Leafs practice on Thursday:
Vesey – Brooks – Marner
Nylander – Tavares – Hyman
Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Simmonds
Barabanov – Engvall – Spezza
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Sandin – Bogosian
Dermott – Lehtonen
Canucks look like a team in serious trouble after loss to Canadiens – Sportsnet.ca
VANCOUVER — For the first time since Travis Green was hired as coach, the Vancouver Canucks look dead in the water, truly stalled and in danger of foundering.
Hope that Wednesday’s wonderfully chaotic win against the Montreal Canadiens was a sign the Canucks were starting to move forward again was obliterated Thursday when Vancouver gave away a pile of goals, including two in nine seconds, and was embarrassed 7-3 by the Habs at Rogers Arena.
The seas are getting rougher and the Canucks already look capable of sinking. They no longer seem like a team trapped by circumstance in a slow start, but a team in serious trouble.
“We weren’t just giving up scoring chances, we were giving up goals,” Green, who is in the fourth and final year of his Canucks contract, said after the game. “We gift-wrapped probably four or five goals. It wasn’t a game where we were hemmed in our zone… it was just giving up breakaways. In this league, if you give up chances that are gifts, you’re going to lose bad. We did that tonight.”
After incremental improvements since Green’s arrival and a breakthrough season last year that included three rounds of NHL playoffs, the Canucks look lost.
Six games into 2021’s 56-game sprint, the Canucks have allowed 28 goals, easily the most in the NHL. And Vancouver’s minus-10 goal differential is better than only the Chicago Blackhawks’.
They’ve lost three defencemen to injury already and a fourth hasn’t played since testing positive for COVID. Another, veteran Tyler Myers, may face a disciplinary review for a late hit Thursday to the head of Montreal’s Joel Armia.
On Thursday, the Canucks’ power play was outscored 2-1 by the Canadiens penalty-killing and top forward Elias Pettersson, whose five-game scoring famine is the longest of his short career, was dropped from the first line after his second-period turnover led to one of Montreal’s shorthanded goals.
It is a mess.
“We look a little bit immature at times,” Green explained. “It could be when you have a little bit of success, and you win some playoff series, you come back and you forget how hard it is to win. We’re not a team that has ever won easy; we have to grind out wins. We’ve got to realize that and remember it’s hard to win in the league.
“We had that mentality last year. We’ve got to get back to that.”
When Canucks captain Bo Horvat was asked about Green’s observation, teammate Nate Schmidt, who was sharing the Zoom call with reporters, interjected.
A month before his October trade from the Vegas Golden Knights, Schmidt played against the Canucks in the playoffs.
“This group had a lot of jam… and didn’t give up on it,” Schmidt said. “They made it as hard as it could possibly be for Vegas to move on. It’s a series like that, you look at a team like this. . . (that’s why) there’s frustration in our group because you see how hard we can make it on teams to win.
“When I first got traded here, that’s something I thought was such a positive with the group. (It) was never going to let things like this go. It’s a reality check where we are. But the way I look at it, we know it’s there. I think that’s the reason why it’s frustrating.”
The Canucks defence had more kids in the cast than Sesame Street. With veterans Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic both injured on Wednesday and unable to play Thursday, Vancouver’s blue line included rookies Olli Juolevi (four NHL games), Brogan Rafferty (two) and Jalen Chatfield (one). Sophomore Quinn Hughes was the Canucks’ third-most experienced defenceman.
Of course there were going to be mistakes. And of course, another injury, as Chatfield, who was playing the best of the freshmen, failed to survive the first period.
But for all the concern about the defence’s inexperience, Vancouver’s biggest problems were some astonishingly poor plays from a few of its best players, including Schmidt.
With time and space and the puck in his own zone, Schmidt managed to whiff on a pass, then went to the wrong man after his turnover, leaving Armia with a shorthanded breakaway that he buried in the first period.
On a second-period Canucks power play, Pettersson’s nightmare start to the season got worse when his lateral pass at the Montreal blue line was picked off, leading to another breakaway and another goal for Tyler Toffoli.
When J.T. Miller’s shot bounced back off Canadiens goalie Jake Allen, as both Hughes and Myers were moving forward inside the offensive zone, Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko had the pleasure of another wide-open breakaway.
Demko managed to stop this one on Nick Suzuki, but the puck arced across the crease where Josh Anderson bunted it in after breezing uncontested past an exhausted Miller.
And Myers, the most experienced defenceman in the lineup, took three interference penalties in the first half of the game, then late in the second period turned over the puck along the boards in the Canucks’ zone and was slow to pick up his man as Armia scored again during the Canadiens’ three-goal outburst.
Nobody can win games when their “best” players are making plays this bad.
Horvat had two of the Canucks goals, Brandon Sutter the other. Armia finished with four points before leaving the game after getting crunched by Myers’ shoulder with 2:28 remaining. Myers was assessed a match penalty.
Armia’s linemate, Toffoli, scored twice and has five goals in two games against his ex-team.
Four points adrift of the Canadiens when they could have pulled even on Thursday, the 2-4 Canucks are in danger of losing touch with .500 heading into the series finale against Montreal on Saturday.
“We’re six games into it and we still have things to learn and things to clean up,” Horvat said. “Obviously, tonight wasn’t good enough. We know that as a group. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played and we’re going to be ready to go here in the next couple of days.”
Canucks’ Myers ejected after hit to head on Canadiens’ Armia – Sportsnet.ca
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