Last night didn’t go well for the Montreal Canadiens. They blew a two-goal lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and despite putting forth a performance that would normally earn two points, they left Amalie Arena with none.
I wanted to have some words for the officiating, because I felt it was beyond terrible. But as I’ve endeavoured to remain positive wherever possible this season, I want to single out the performance of Jesperi Kotkaniemi in his return to action.
Coming off a pretty rough concussion, he was better than good, he was dominant.
His goal was a great example of awareness and quick release. He gets the puck in an advantageous area, and uses the screen to put a heavy shot on net. It found it’s way through everyone and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Welcome back Jesperi Kotkaniemi!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 29, 2019
He scores a beauty to make it 1-0 Habs! pic.twitter.com/HDQfmH31Fj
Though the Habs could have used a few more goals out of him, you have to love that he made an immediate impact in his return. And that impact went deeper than the goal — as the third line centre he boasted a 68% even-strength corsi-for on the night — the ice was tilted for Montreal when he was out there.
It only gets better, the more you look at the numbers. The Habs held 64.71% of scoring chances with Kotkaniemi on the ice, 75% of high-danger chances, and he did all of this while starting almost all of his shifts in the neutral zone. He didn’t have Phillip Danault deployment, but he wasn’t exactly sheltered either. It was a far better game than you would expect from a 19-year-old who is just returning from a concussion.
Losing to the Lightning, considering the current standings in the East, it’s hard not to be concerned. Every game is important, particularly against one of the more dangerous teams that the Habs will need to beat out in the competitive Atlantic Division. It’s a very unfortunate loss, but it comes with a silver lining.
If this is a sign of more to come from Kotkaniemi, there is still more than half a season left for him to expand on this game.