Welcome to the Montreal Canadiens Weekly Takeaways column brought to you by The Hockey Writers! In this weekly article, we examine the Canadiens’ recent games from the past week, talk about players and trends that stood out and look at what’s next for Montreal in the week ahead. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below and subscribe to the Montreal Canadiens Newsletter for more content.
The Montreal Canadiens had a relatively light schedule over the past week, with games against the St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders on Thursday and Sunday, respectively. The team is well out of the playoff race, but that doesn’t mean the remainder of the season isn’t important. Under newly appointed head coach Martin St. Louis, Montreal has been playing noticeably better hockey, and that continued this week.
Caufield Propels Canadiens To OT Victory
2/17 vs. St. Louis Blues, 3-2 OT win
Thursday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues was filled with feel-good moments and milestones. For one, it was the Canadiens’ first win in almost a month — the last time they won was against the Dallas Stars on Jan. 18. Perhaps more importantly, it was Martin St. Louis’ first career victory as an NHL head coach, and it was Cole Caufield’s last-minute tying goal and OT game-winner that delivered his new coach the win. Paul Byron even got in on the action, notching his first goal of the season in his 500th-career NHL game.
This was a back-and-forth contest from the start, but the Canadiens held their own throughout the affair. Per Natural Stat Trick, they had 57.1 percent of the shot attempt share and 51.8 percent of the scoring chance share. It’s a far cry from dominance, but for a team that was getting far too comfortable being outshot every game under former head coach Dominique Ducharme, it was encouraging to see them keep the shot count close.
Brendan Gallagher led the Canadiens with a 72.73 percent on-ice shot attempt share (5-on-5). He made a game-saving empty-net stop late in the third period, allowing Montreal to tie the game and win it in overtime. Other good performances came from Caufield, Byron and Jeff Petry, who all had positive on-ice and scoreboard impacts. On the downside, Kale Clague came up the rear with a 30 percent on-ice shot attempt share. He was on the ice for Pavel Buchnevich’s go-ahead goal in the third period and has struggled to find consistency since being claimed off waivers. That’s something to monitor as we inch closer to March.
Sam Montembeault was solid, stopping 25 of 27 shots (.926 save percentage (SV%)) in a much-needed third victory of the season for the 25-year-old netminder.
|Player||Game Score vs. STL on 2/17|
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First Star: Cole Caufield
Honorable Mention(s): Jeff Petry, Brendan Gallagher
Final Grade vs. St. Louis: A-
Canadiens Finally Win Two Games in a Row
2/20 vs. New York Islanders, 3-2 SO win
It took 50 games, but the Canadiens finally won two games in a row for the first time in the 2021-22 season, defeating the New York Islanders 3-2 in a shootout Sunday afternoon. Andrew Hammond registered his first win in a Habs uniform in his first NHL game in over 1425 days. Petry and Josh Anderson scored in regulation, while Caufield and Rem Pitlick beat Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin in the shootout to secure the team’s 10th victory.
This game was a nail-biter. Caufield was buzzing all game, Petry looked more like himself and everyone was having fun. Per Natural Stat Trick, Montreal had 44.1 percent of the shot attempt share and 39.1 percent of the expected goals share. Though the ice was slightly slanted in the Islanders’ favor, the Canadiens had their share of chances and capitalized when it mattered. The Caufield-Suzuki-Anderson line brought the energy all game long, leading all lines with a 68.75 percent on-ice shot attempt share at even strength. The Hoffman-Dauphin-Gallagher line struggled the most, registering a 20 percent shot attempt share at 5-on-5.
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Caufield led the Canadiens with a 70.59 percent on-ice shot attempt share and generated a number of chances in the two minutes and 54 seconds of ice time he received on the man advantage. He also scored a crucial shootout goal, sneaking the puck between Sorokin’s legs. Suzuki, Michael Pezzetta, Brett Kulak, Anderson, and Petry all contributed to the scoresheet as well. While Gallagher led the team in possession against the Blues Thursday, he struggled against the Islanders, putting up a 23.08 percent on-ice shot attempt share (5-on-5).
In his first start in the NHL since 2018, Hammond stopped 30 of 32 shots (.938 SV%) and denied two out of three in the shootout to improve to 1-0-0 on the season.
|Player||Game Score vs. NYI on 2/20|
First Star: Josh Anderson
Honorable Mention(s): Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield
Final Grade vs. Islanders: B+
Canadiens To Watch
Caufield has four goals and one assist in five games since St. Louis took over as head coach. He is exuding a ton of confidence and playing with the puck much more than he has in the past. With the way the first half of the season has gone, it’s been a breath of fresh air watching the 21-year-old over the past couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see how the final 32 games play out, but if the past five games are any indication, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up in the 15-20 goal range by the end of the year.
Since being claimed off waivers, Clague has struggled with consistency. Although the coaching change has seemingly helped most players on Montreal’s roster, the 23-year-old defenseman has not seen that same boost. The Canadiens continue to surrender a concerning number of chances with him on the ice, and while it is still early in his career, his lack of progression is something to keep an eye on as the season winds down. It remains to be seen if he will remain in Kent Hughes’ plans come training camp in September.
Upcoming Week : Maple Leafs (2/21, 7:00 PM ET), Sabres (2/23, 7:30 PM ET), Senators (2/26, 7:00 PM ET)
The Canadiens will have their hands full Monday night, as they face an offensive juggernaut in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Puck drop is at 7 PM ET.