The Montreal Canadiens ended the week on a positive note with a comeback victory over the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs have struggled recently, losing three of their last four games, and needed a win to keep pace with their North Division rivals. In this week’s news and rumours, we take a look at the fallout of a hard couple of weeks for the Canadiens.
Tatar Healthy Scratch Against the Leafs
Before the last game against the Leafs, it was announced that Tomas Tatar would be a healthy scratch for the Canadiens. Tatar led the team in scoring last season with 22 goals and 61 points; however, he is off to a mediocre start to this season, scoring only four goals and eight points in 14 games. On top of that, Tatar had six points in his first six games but only two in the last nine. This slump led Canadiens head coach Claude Julien to decide and sit the veteran winger in an all-important game against the Leafs.
Tatar isn’t the only Canadien player slumping right now, but Julien had to send a message to his players, which was the easiest choice. Phil Danault is another Habs player struggling, having failed to score a goal in his last 37 games and only gathering six points so far this season. Julien could’ve sat him, but that would leave a major hole for the team at the center position, forcing him to play a winger like Paul Byron at the center on the fourth line. The lack of center depth is what made the choice to sit Tatar easy. The fact that the Canadiens won the game is a good sign the message was received.
Julien Could be on a Short leash
With the Canadiens playing very poorly in their last four games, the “Fire Julien” chants – or tweets in this case – have been going full swing. The Canadiens had lost three of their last four, with the only victory coming against the Ottawa Senators, where the Habs were lucky to get the win. The team went from being the best scoring team in the NHL to only scoring six goals over that four-game span and looking lost while doing so. It seems that their opponents adjusted to the Canadiens style of play and clogged up the neutral zone to slow the team down. The Habs didn’t change their game plan and continued using the same technique to negative results.
This failure to answer back by the Canadiens has fans and media questioning whether Julien should stay at the helm. (from ‘What the Puck: Short leash in short season for Canadiens coach Julien?,’ Montreal Gazette, 02/12/2021) As most Canadiens fans know, Julien plays a system and likes to stick to it and have the players commit to it even it isn’t working; with this shortened season, a losing streak could be very detrimental to the team if it continues. In retrospect, the Habs only lost two games in a row, but they haven’t looked good in the past four; this has led some to believe that Julien should be very closely watched and, if things start sliding down, he should be removed. Fans have long memories, and the stain of two eight-game losing streaks last season is still relatively fresh in their minds; there is no room in this shortened season for long losing streaks, and everyone knows it.
The Laval Rocket Off to a Hot Start
The Rocket is off to a hot start to their delayed AHL season with two convincing victories over the Belleville Senators this past weekend. After almost a full year without playing, the Rocket started the weekend with a 5-1 win and followed that up the next night with another 5-1 victory. Head coach Joel Bouchard had his team ready to go on all cylinders playing a strong two-way game and using all his lines to his advantage.
There were a few milestones on the weekend, with Canadiens prospect Joel Teasdale scoring his first pro goal and adding an assist in the first game, while in the second game, Raphael Harvey-Pinard would net his first goal. Habs’ top goalie Prospect Cayden Primeau stopped 22 of 23 shots for the win in game one, and Micheal McNiven was just as solid in game two, stopping 25 of 26 shots. Former Canadiens regular Jordan Weal and prospect Lukas Vejdemo had three points each over the two games. The Rocket next play Bellville again on Feb. 16 in hopes of continuing their hot streak.
Habs Star Ralph Backstrom Dies
With heavy hearts, the Canadiens announced the passing of former Montreal forward Ralph Backstrom on Feb. 7. Backstrom was a member of the Canadiens from 1956 until 1971, winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1958-59. He was mainly used as a depth forward and had his best season in 1961-62 when he scored 27 goals and 65 points in 66 games.
Backstrom would help the Canadiens win six Stanley cups and played over 1,000 games for his career, including stops in Los Angeles and Chicago. He would go on to score 639 points in 1,032 games. He would also help the Canadiens as a member of the Los Angeles Kings, and he helps the Kings finish higher in the standings than the California Golden Seals. The Habs had the Seals’ first-round pick, and this ensured the Canadiens would pick Guy Lafleur in the 1971 draft.
Byron Placed on Waivers
Canadiens’ forward Paul Byron was placed on waivers this weekend. Byron wasn’t having the greatest start, scoring only 3 assists in 13 games. This seems more like a paper move, but the Habs still could lose him on waivers. Byron’s contract should allow him to pass through waivers and allow the Canadiens to save $1.075 million on the cap while Byron is on the taxi squad.
This is a good indication that Habs GM Marc Bergevin is serious about this team and the young players going forward. Although Byron is well-liked, Bergevin is still willing to put him on waivers to clear cap space and replace him in the lineup. With Tatar’s recent healthy scratch and Byron going on waivers, it sends a clear message that no one is considered untouchable in the veteran group.
Well that’s this weeks news and rumours – the Canadiens have the next week off and play the Leafs again on Saturday, starting a five games in seven nights run. Thanks for reading.
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.