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After the Canadiens had already learned about the status of Shea Weber’s injuries that would at least cost him the 2021-22 season, lost Phillip Danault in free agency, and expected Carey Price to miss some time after surgery, the roster took one more hit when Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed a $6.1 million (and change) offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes. It would have made Kotkaniemi the second-highest-paid forward on Montreal’s roster, and Marc Bergevin decided the cost was too great, letting his 2018 first-rounder go and making a trade for Christian Dvorak immediately afterward.
The losses turned what was enviable centre depth, with Nick Suzuki and Jake Evans filling out the middle of the ice, to a group in which everyone had to play an elevated role in the new year. There was a series of experiments to find someone to take the fourth spot, one that’s still ongoing a week in.
Results of that new alignment have been poor so far, which was to be somewhat expected after the roster turnover, but no one expected the team to struggle as much as it currently has, with just three goals in four games. They need to figure out a way to get production out of the players they do have, or risk a divisional playoff spot becoming even more difficult to obtain than it already seemed before the season began.
Tale of the Tape
|44.4% (25th)||Scoring-chances-for %||57.3% (7th)|
|0.75 (32nd)||Goals per game||4.50 (4th)|
|3.75 (23rd)||Goals against per game||2.50 (13th)|
|0.0% (31st)||PP%||22.2% (14th)|
|58.8% (28th)||PK%||100.0% (2nd)|
|1-1-1||H2H Record (19-20)||2-0-1|
The Hurricanes have been enjoying offensive success in their 2-0 start, netting nine goals. After a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders last Thursday and a 3-2 victory in Nashville, they’ve had four days of rest to prepare for today’s trip to Montreal.
It has been the player selected one spot before Kotkaniemi leading the way for Carolina. Andrei Svechnikov already has three goals to his name and 11 shots in those two wins. He has been a consistent producer in his brief NHL career so far, and this could be a proper breakout year for the 21-year-old winger.
Kotkaniemi has no points through two games with his new club, playing on Sebastian Aho’s wing. An adjustment to the lines this week moves Teuvo Teravainen up with them, creating a different looking Finnish Line from the one Kotkaniemi used to play on with Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia.
The last thing the Canadiens players want to see is someone who accepted an offer from another team coming into their building and finding his scoring stride, and you can probably expect a bit of animosity between them and their former teammate, amplified by the frustration of how the season has gone so far. The best thing they could do is get the win to make any contributions from Kotkaniemi’s side irrelevant.
To that end, Dominique Ducharme has made a few line shuffles of his own, seeking any combinations that can find the net. Brendan Gallagher will be playing with Suzuki, shifting Caufield down to Mathieu Perreault’s flank hoping to spread out the offensive threats and find better matchups for the rookie. The coach has been reaching for the blender a lot in the opening week of the season, and hopefully his latest creation can result in some goals and restore some confidence for the players and a restless fanbase.