Canadiens vs. Hurricanes 5 Takeaways: Defence optional

Well, at least it wasn’t boring!

1. Charles In Charge

It’s no secret that Charles Hudon is one of my favourite players on the Habs roster this season, and to see him struggle to produce goals has been tough to watch.

He did all the right things: went to the dirty areas, had plenty of high-danger chances, but couldn’t find twine with any regularity. Going into last night, Hudon hadn’t scored in 18 games, and he decided enough was enough.

In less than three minutes, the rookie forward poked home a Jeff Petry shot and also ripped an absolute laser into the upper corner of the Carolina Hurricanes‘ net. He’s not the biggest cog in the Habs’ offence, but he’s still going to be relied upon to be a solid source of secondary production outside of Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty.

As he’s done all year, Hudon has gone to the right spots and done the right things on the ice, so the floodgates can’t stay closed much longer. When they do finally open up, whichever line he’s on will become a handful for any defensive unit.

2. He’s Benn better

It’s been a roller-coaster season for Jordie Benn, and last night found him at perhaps his lowest point. On multiple goals, it was Benn who was left holding the receipt for the puck that was in the back of the net. Whether he was just not in the right position or taking the wrong man on a play, he was front and centre for a large amount of goals over the course of this game.

As a bottom-pairing defender who occasionally would step into the top four now and again, Benn was a highly useful tool for the Canadiens. He’s above his paygrade right now, and it’s worth giving some of his minutes to either Jakub Jerabek or Victor Mete, both of whom have earned an expanded role with their play of late.

If the season is truly in full-on tank mode, the Canadiens might consider shipping out some bodies, and making space for some of the AHL prospects in Laval. Noah Juulsen has been solid for the Rocket, despite missing the start of the year. If the season is lost, giving some youth a taste of NHL hockey isn’t a terrible idea, and the organization might as well start looking to build for future teams.

3. An offensive slugfest

Through the opening 20 minutes, it seemed like this game would be a low-scoring domination by the the Hurricanes. They scored two goals and rolled all over the Habs without much pushback from Montreal.

Then the Habs exploded for two goals in rapid succession to tie the game, but immediately gave up two more to go back down on the scoreboard. Then they scored the fifth goal in under three minutes, and not only were the NHL’s official scorers likely cursing at them, I’m pretty sure I burnt out my computer trying to keep up.

Jeff Petry tied the game, and then the Habs promptly handed Carolina another lead to end the second. Even in the third period the Habs tied the game on the power play, then got lazy and gave up the game-winning goal to Justin Williams in short order.

It’s a horrid way to lose as the offence ran at top speed while the defence decided to head to their All-Star break early. But it is a promising sign that this Montreal team has the ability to come out and score four goals in a period when the mood suits them.

4. Petry and Byron continue to step up

It’s not easy to step into the role of a top-six centre or top-pairing defencemen in the NHL. It’s even harder when you’re on a struggling team like the Canadiens. Jeff Petry has been given the monumental task of carrying the load as the number-one defender for Claude Julien, while also lugging around Karl Alzner. In response to that he’s been absolutely fantastic lately, with his offensive ability on display, and his underrated defensive abilities easing the load on Carey Price.

Last night Petry used his smooth skating to carry pucks deep into the offensive zone, and used his point shot to create chances for other teammates. His goal was a perfect example, as he skated in on the wall, cut towards the net, and fired a shot right through Cam Ward. With three points on Thursday night, Petry is closing in on new career highs in points, goals, and likely assists as well.

As for the surprise top centre in Montreal, Paul Byron continues to bust his hump to make things happen, and he’s been rewarded with a six-game point streak now. A pair of deflections off the crossbar and post prevented him from taking another step on his quest for another 20-goal season.

He’s not going to show favourably against established players in the faceoff circle, but his speed and willingness to drive to the net are creating good opportunities for himself and his linemates. It’s not a permanent solution, but for now Byron is doing all he can to make it work.

5. If you’re going to lose, make it exciting

No one wants to sit through a tank of a season while their team plays sleep-inducing hockey for the rest of the year. Outside of the games against Boston, the Canadiens have been doing the opposite of that: playing high-event, free-wheeling hockey, regardless of the result. Last night was the latest case, as they went heavy on the offence after a poor opening frame, clawing back from a number of deficits and nearly tying the game at six goals apiece in dying minutes.

They didn’t win, but if they want to showcase that they have the ability to score goals, while also solidifying a solid draft position, I don’t think fans will be mad in the long run.

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