After a disappointing shootout loss on Monday night, the Montreal Canadiens needed a strong showing. The Vancouver Canucks didn’t exactly deserve to win the previous contest, but when you allow a team to stay in a game long enough, and get to overtime, bad things can happen.
But last night the Habs left no doubt — nor risk for overtime — by generating plenty of offensive output in regulation. There was a lot to like from plenty of contributors in a game that they dominated from pillar to post.
But if you had to pick the best forward on the ice last night, you’d have a hard time not giving that to Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
One of the main issues taken with his game is his perceived lack of shooting. He definitely made a point of doing that last night, with seven shot attempts, hitting the net on four of them. The most important of those four was of course that which opened the scoring in the first period.
He has very little space to work with, and is basically down on one knee already by the time he shoots, but still gets great velocity on the puck. His shot is very good, and if this is indeed him listening to all of the calls for him to use it more then it could be just the tip of the iceberg.
Just to round out his stats for the night, he would later fire a gorgeous cross-ice pass to Jeff Petry for a primary assist on an insurance marker. Him shooting the puck more is a very encouraging sign, and I wonder what it has to do with the new look the team has up front under Dominic Ducharme.
The line with Brendan Gallagher and Tyler Toffoli skating alongside Kotkaniemi seems like a stroke of brilliance from Ducharme. They clocked in at nearly 80% of shot attempts-for in just under nine minutes at even-strength last night, and two Habs goals during that time.
After the game, Kotkaniemi talked about how his job is made easier by Gallagher basically doing two jobs out there. Joel Armia is taking nothing away from the de facto top line in Gallagher’s old spot, so this configuration is really working for the Habs, and there’s no reason to change anything until and unless it isn’t.
Kotkaniemi’s playmaking abilities are still highly valuable with two of the team’s biggest scoring threats on his wings. If having those threats keeps giving him shooting confidence, it will be a very dangerous line for this team in the stretch run.