It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but the Montreal Canadiens secured a much-needed regulation victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday night. They got massive goals from Shea Weber and Tyler Toffoli, but the win was locked down by a pair of under-appreciated forwards on the Habs’ fourth line.
Both Jake Evans and Artturi Lehkonen put together a strong effort in limited ice time to seal a victory that was anything but guaranteed in the closing minutes. Since being a healthy scratch to get the veteran Eric Staal into the lineup, Evans has looked like a reinvigorated player, and Monday night saw him at his best.
With just 9:36 of five-on-five ice time, Evans controlled 55.6% of the shot attempts while he was on the ice, and even drew the penalty that led to the Habs’ first goal of the night. His ability to play with speed is what makes him an effective fourth-line piece, as compared to that of Eric Staal or Corey Perry.
Similar can be said for Artturi Lehkonen, whose relentless forechecking and pressure also helped to clinch the victory. He was also among the possession leaders for the Habs in his limited time, something that should clue in the coaching staff that this combination is working.
In the final minutes, with the Flames’ net empty, it was Evans and Lehkonen fending off a hefty amount of pressure with the extra attacker, and that came after they had to kill off a Toffoli penalty as well. Lehkonen’s lunging effort was the final clear that the Habs needed to seal the win, and it’s sometimes the littlest things that have the biggest impact.
While salary-cap issues that I may or may not fully understand will likely keep Eric Staal in the lineup, when the playoffs roll around the Canadiens need to make a decision about their fourth line, and as it stands it should feature both Evans and Lehkonen. The logic behind the Staal trade made sense, as Staal does bring vision in a similar way to Corey Perry. However, Staal is clearly a step behind his linemates on a regular basis, so it’s up to the coaches to either fit them on a different line, or put in someone who fits that speedy fourth-line philosophy.