Canadiens vs. Flames 5 Takeaways: So far so good on the year-ending road trip

The Habs got another win on what is usually a difficult end to the calendar year.

Scratching Charles Hudon

With Artturi Lehkonen making his return to the lineup last night, one of the forwards needed to be scratched to make room. The choice to leave Charles Hudon in the press box wasn’t one that he deserved, but it was the logical choice.

The fourth line is currently playing too well to mess with what it has going, and you need to ride out that wave until those players stop having such a positive impact on a nightly basis. Faced with having to sideline a top-nine winger, the rookie was the one designated to spend the game as a spectator.

Hudon has been playing well enough to hold a regular spot, and his tenacious style of game is one that won’t be affected by missing a game. But he also doesn’t deserve to sit out multiple games of action, so Claude Julien will have to keep juggling his healthy bodies in a way that doesn’t punish any one player unfairly.

Top effort from the bottom trio

The fourth line is the biggest surprise on this current roster, and it would be hard to argue against them being the best bottom-three players in league at this moment. You could even make the argument that it is the best line on the Habs right now, and the counterpoints are limited to stating what other players have done in the past and what they should do in the future.

They added another two goals last night, and they came from playing near the front of the net. Byron Froese got credit for a goal by having the puck deflect off of him while setting up a screen. Nicolas Deslauriers was in the right place at the right time to bat a puck in out of the air on a play that wouldn’t happen if he’d been hanging back looking to find a shooting lane.

How long they will continue to convert their energy into offence remains to be seen, but as long as they are able to make life miserable for opposing defences, there’s little to dislike.

Chemistry issues between Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin

On paper, matching up a dynamic playmaker with one of the league’s best snipers should be a perfect fit, but that hasn’t been the case for Jonathan Drouin and Max Pacioretty.

The captain was called out for a backhand pass in the first period that slid all the way down for icing, but it was clear that he expected Drouin to be racing toward the Calgary Flames’ end after giving up the puck. Instead, his centreman was hanging back waiting for Pacioretty to work the puck into the zone, which is the opposite scenario you’d expect with those two players on the ice, and indeed not how Pacioretty envisioned the play unfolding in his own mind.

The situation was repeated again the offensive zone, with Pacioretty tossing the puck to an area Drouin could have easily moved into, but again wasn’t in position to accept the pass.

Those are things that should be worked out with more communication and learning each other’s tendencies. However, not all of the blame lies on the captain for a slow start to the season. The player brought in specifically to set him up needs to play a more effective game as well.

Alex Galchenyuk’s quiet production

I pointed out a few weeks ago how it was actually Alex Galchenyuk who was leading the team in points since Deslauriers’ arrival. He now has eight five-on-five points and 13 in all situations since November 15 — the best marks in both — yet ranks sixth in even-strength ice time among forwards since that date.

Despite being centred by the likes of Michael McCarron and Jacob de la Rose for nine of the 35 games he’s played in 2017-18, and constantly being shifted around the lineup, he is one point back of the team scoring lead and two up on the player who was given his spot in the centre of the top line before training camp had even begun.

Many of those points are assists rather than goals, but it turns out Galchenyuk will always find a way to etch his name on the scoresheet no matter which situation he’s given.

Attempting to end the year on a high note

The month of December usually ends with a road trip that either kills all hopes of a playoff chance for the Canadiens or forces them to battle hard over the final half of the season to stay in the race.

While the latter fate already faced them before heading to Vancouver for Tuesday’s game, actually making up ground at the tail end of the year would be a novel occurrence for the team.

Five points out of a playoff spot, it’s too early to give up on a playoff berth yet, and how they will approach the rest of the year will depend on how they’re able to finish out the ticket drive the NHL sends them on during the holidays.

After facing the Edmonton Oilers tonight, they embark on a tour through the poorly attended arenas of the Eastern Conference, including a first meeting of the season with the Tampa Bay Lightning that will serve as a measuring stick.

That could potentially be the most critical game of the season for the Canadiens, but first they need to take care of business in their final game in the West to set up that litmus test.

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