The Montréal Canadiens’ team activities have been postponed after forwards Joel Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi entered into the National Hockey League’s COVID-19 protocol. Armia and Kotkaniemi’s quarantine marks the first time a team in the NHL’s North Division has had a probable or confirmed case of the virus as well as the first time a Canadian team’s games had to be postponed as a result.
While the Habs are aiming to re-open their facilities on Monday, it may be the combination of the long layoff and the resulting scheduling changes that could have consequences for their season.
As a result of Armia and Kotkaniemi going into isolation, the Canadiens haven’t played a game or held a practice in nearly a week. In the meantime, the other North Division teams have played upwards of three games and the Habs risk falling behind in the standings. Although the league has said that postponed games will likely be made up by either fitting them into the existing schedule or tacking them on afterwards, there have been questions raised as to whether that is totally possible or whether they’ll just leave it as is. At the start of the season and as a result of the wave of COVID-19 that swept through the Dallas Stars, NHL insider Pierre LeBrun expressed concern about how the league would navigate the potential changes, saying it was going to have to be “nimble.”
As the Canadiens will be held out of team activities until at least Monday, they also risk losing any momentum they may have had built up from last week’s wins against the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks. Habs’ forward Josh Anderson saw the win against the Jets on March 15 as a potential turning point after noticing a full team effort. Adding onto that was the Canadiens’ 5-4 shootout win over the Canucks on March 19, the first win for Dominque Ducharme’s men in extra time this season. The long layoff as a result of the postponements may take some of that energy away.
Rust Building Up?
It’s been nearly ten days since the Canadiens played a game or held a practice. They’ll finally be allowed to resume practicing and other team activities on Monday, but by then they may be showing some obvious signs of rust, given that the league-mandated bye week has traditionally caused problems for clubs returning from it. When first instituted in 2017, teams emerging from the extended time off were a combined 3-8-1. It may not be a surprise to find out that the Habs might be in for a rough first couple of games out of the COVID-mandated break.
The Canadiens will also be dealing with rust on behalf of individual players who were slumping beforehand and for whom the long layoff may prove seriously unhelpful. Former No. 1 centre Philip Danault has been among the most notable struggling players as of late, having scored only two goals this season. Isolated Joel Armia is another player that will have to guard against rust, having missed time earlier this year and having only ten points on the season so far.
Fitting in the New Guy
In a trade with the Buffalo Sabres last night, it was announced that the Canadiens had acquired forward Eric Staal in exchange for a pair of picks. While it’s ostensibly a good move for general manager Marc Bergevin to have made, it’ll be difficult with the extended layoff to really fit Staal into the lineup properly, given that they’ll only have one day before the Ottawa Senators come to town on Tuesday to give him time in practice and to jell as much as possible outside a game situation.
The Canadiens will have a lot of ground to make up starting Monday when their facilities reopen and the team can get back to business. Hopefully, they’ll be able to get things back on track quickly, but they’ll also have to guard against some issues if they want to secure a playoff spot.
Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.