1. The season in a nutshell
When someone asks to see the 2017 part of the 2017-18 season, this game, a 3-1 loss, is the one to show. The Canadiens were playing their second game in two nights against one of the bonafide contenders in the league.
And for the first 39 minutes and 49 seconds, they had a lead. And they were sticking with the Lightning. Sure they were giving up a few too many scoring chances, but that’s why you pay Carey Price what you pay Carey Price. Yes, they got lucky with the posts, but so did Tampa.
And Montreal was without two of their regular defenders (including Shea Weber, their number one), and a third would have been playing if he wasn’t at the World Juniors (I don’t think anyone doubts that Victor Mete is ahead of Brett Lernout on the depth chart).
But the Canadiens didn’t look out of place. Then Tampa scored with 11 seconds left. And then they scored in the opening minute of the second. Again, it’s a pattern we’ve seen too many times this season.
This game showed the promise this Montreal team has. Why people think they are a playoff team. But the same demons crept back in and showed why this team is so far down the standings. It was frustrating, but typical.
2. Alex Galchenyuk has found his game
It took almost 40 games, but there is no doubt that Galchenyuk is now the Canadiens best forward. He has had two great games back-to-back and looks like the potential top-line forward everyone thought he would be.
He scored against Carolina, and not against Tampa, but I thought he deserved a promotion to Jonathan Drouin’s line and should be there to stay.
Yesterday was the Habs best lineup they could put together when it came to the forwards and it almost paid off.
He even drove to the net hard and got a goaltender interference penalty leading to this reaction from Claude Julien.
Claude Julien, umm, didn't like the call... #Habs pic.twitter.com/ThLdMstjDW— Jared Book (@jaredbook) December 29, 2017
3. The fourth line is legitimately dangerous
Ever since Daniel Carr came to the fourth line, the unit has gotten better. Adding Charles Hudon to the mix has made it a line that you can put out at any point and could - at worst - dominate the other team’s fourth line. The line of Nicolas Deslauriers, Hudon and Carr controlled over 65% of shots and scoring chances while they were on the ice. For a fourth line, that’s unheard of. Especially on the road.
It’s getting to the point where you almost want to see what they could do with a more offensive winger than Deslauriers (not that he has been bad). This line almost makes it worth two seasons and a playoff series of sitting through Brian Flynn, Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen, Steve Ott, and Devante Smith-Pelly.
4. The Pacioretty-Danault-Shaw line was great
I know a lot of people will lament Max Pacioretty for not scoring (again). That’s fine. You’d like him to score. I’m not even sure he’s 100% healthy. In fact I’m pretty sure he isn’t. However, that line worked very well. Not only did they control most of the shots when they were on the ice (over 60%, playing against the Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos line and Victor Hedman). Oh, and even more impressive? They didn’t allow a scoring chance against. Not high danger, not low danger. Zero.
The scoring chances when the Pacioretty, Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw line faced the Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov line (over eight minutes at 5-on-5) were 7-0 Montreal with Hedman and Jake Dotchin on defence. Let that sink in. Sure you’d like them to score. But if they play games like that it literally will be a matter of time.
Pacioretty right now is like a ketchup bottle. Right now he’s banging the bottle and banging the bottle. Eventually the ketchup will come out and you’ll have goals all over your plate.
5. Jakub Jerabek should not be taken out of the lineup - even when the team is healthy
It has been an up-and-down start for Jakub Jerabek’s NHL career but he finally seems to have adjusted and found his game. He played the fifth most minutes among Habs defencemen but he brings something none of the others do in the transition game. His stretch passes create chances and stretch the defence and his defensive game has gotten better.
He was the best defenceman on the team in shot differential and scoring chances. There’s an argument to be made that he deserves more responsibility and at the very least, a spot on the struggling power play instead of Joe Morrow.
His game is solid and on a Habs blue line that struggles at times, they should try and see how Jerabek handles an increased role. He deserves a longer look.