After a successful seven-game road trip during which the Montreal Canadiens counted seven points out of a possible 14, the club finally returned home to face the Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre on Thursday night.
Montreal suffered that so-common lag in the first game back after a long trip. Buffalo coasted to a 6-1 win.
Joel Armia is an enigma. When he uses his strength, his outstanding skating, and combines it with his heavy shot, it feels as if he should be a perennial 30-goal scorer. Scouts thought that was his ability as well. It’s why he was a first-round draft pick taken 16th in 2011.
The only issue is Armia so rarely puts it all together like he did in the second period. Armia was on shorthanded when Rasmus Dahlin had the puck in his own zone. Armia stole it like it was the easiest thing in the world to rob the former overall number one pick of the puck.
Armia then fired a wrist shot over the shoulder of Devon Levi from 20 feet that was so powerful, it left the net as quickly as it entered it. That’s only five goals on the season for Armia. With his skill set, Armia should never get fewer than 20 goals a season, but he’s never attained that total even once in his career.
Armia’s career high in goals is 16, and at 30 years of age, he is already on the downside of his career. That’s a shame. Something never clicked on a consistent basis for Armia. He got the huge four-year $13.6 million contract from former GM Marc Bergevin because the best of Armia is so intoxicating. We simply don’t see it enough.
Other than that singular moment of Armia brilliance, there was close to nothing else to get excited about. Josh Anderson had some good jump and it was surprising that he didn’t convert, at least, once. Jesse Ylonen had a first period chance in close, but Dollard’s Levi made three tremendous saves holding his goal line.
Beyond that, there was little more to speak of; even the number one line had a quiet night. The Habs have to get their energy back for the New York Rangers Saturday night.
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The Canadiens went with 11 forwards and seven defencemen for their contest against the Sabres. They were short a forward because the injuries will not stop at the centre position for Montreal. Christian Dvorak is gone for the entire year with a torn pectoral muscle.
Dvorak suffered the injury against the Florida Panthers on the weekend; he played 25 games this season. He will be operated on as soon as Friday, according to the Canadiens. It’s another huge blow and perhaps is the final blow to a club that was still entertaining playoff hopes.
Kirby Dach was the first centre to go down with a torn ACL and MCL that required surgery and a rehab as long as one calendar year. That forced Head Coach Martin St. Louis to try Alex Newhook at centre. He suffered a high ankle sprain injury requiring four months of rehab.
This means that the centres for now on the club are Nick Suzuki, Sean Monahan, Jake Evans, and Mitchell Stephens. The Canadiens will call up a player from Laval soon, but there aren’t easy options there. There simply is not an obvious choice for GM Kent Hughes.
Speculation is also rampant now that this will lead to Monahan staying the entire season. Logically, he will either be extended to stay in Montreal or traded to a contending team, if the Canadiens are no longer in the playoff hunt at the deadline. They would never keep Monahan just to fill out a roster spot in March and April when losses are beneficial over wins, if there are no playoff hopes this season.
The game itself was still looking for its first goal midway through the second period. Jake Allen had already been fortunate with the Sabres, hitting both the cross bar and the post in the opening frame. However, in the second, there was no good fortune to be had when Buffalo’s power play went to work.
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The Canadiens are still woeful, killing penalties as they have been for so many seasons. It was easy to see the issue in this one as the Sabres scored two goals that looked identical. They were able to make passes across the crease from the low slot.
The diamond that the Habs were employing wasn’t working at all. They didn’t have enough bodies down low, and the passes through the seams were easy for Buffalo. Two power play goals on two quick chances. Montreal’s penalty kill is 31st of 32 NHL teams.
It’s not absolutely vital at the moment that they clean this aspect of their game up right now. They still have time to get it right in this long rebuild. However, at some point, the right personnel have to step in, and some better concepts have to be implemented.
Two Canadiens prospects will play in the final of the World Junior Hockey Championships in Sweden. Lane Hutson and Jacob Fowler will play for the United States as they take on the hosts.
It was a tremendous semi-final for the U.S. against Finland as they spotted the Finns a two-goal lead before roaring back to win 3-2. The winning goal was scored by Cutter Gauthier as he roofed a perfect shot with only three minutes remaining.
Hutson registered the primary assist on the goal with a pass to set up Gauthier. Hutson has six assists in six games which is tied for the team lead among defenders. Hutson has been playing big minutes and is among the best on the club with a plus six.
Hutson was chosen as one of the top three players of the tournament for the United States along with Gauthier and Gavin Brindley. Gauthier has likely been the best player of the entire event with the final to come.
Fowler got the day off as the Americans went with Trey Augustine in the semi-final. He played with a high efficiency and strong resolve in a highly pressured situation, so it should be expected that the more experienced Augustine gets the net in the final.
They have each played three games so far, but Augustine is the first of the goalies to face a strong test, and he passed it beautifully. It’s a U.S.-Sweden final on Friday.
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