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The Canadian will fly out to Western canada on Monday. There will be three stops and three games : against the Oilers tomorrow in Edmonton against the Flames Thursday in Calgary against the Canucks Saturday in Vancouver.
The return of this trip, the Habs will have played 20 games, nearly a quarter of the season. With a record of 9-5-3, and the third place in the Atlantic division, Claude Julien and his men have surpassed the expectations. But the next mission will be to maintain the pace. The Journal has compiled a list of seven issues to watch in the coming weeks.
1. The case Price
Carey Price said it himself. He’s not playing at the height of his talent and the bobo is found between his two ears. The number 31 has shown two faces since the beginning of the year. There has been the Price of the good days and the Price from last year. Until 28 October, he presented a record of 4-1-2 with a mean of 2.13 and an efficiency rate of ,922. Since his shutout against the boston Bruins at the TD Garden in Boston, it has lost its bearings. In his last five starts, he has a record of 1-3-1 with an average astronomical 4.41 and an efficiency rate of ,854. He allowed three or more goals in each of his last five outings.
In order to restore confidence, Claude Julien was rested for the visit of Max Pacioretty and the Golden Knights, Saturday, at the Bell Centre. The strategy has worked since the CH won 5 to 4 against the finalists of the Stanley Cup. Without the present of the incredible figures (3,30 and ,894), Antti Niemi did his job as a guard auxiliary since the beginning of the year with four wins in five games. Niemi allows Price to breathe a little better. But to stay in the race for a playoff spot, Julien prays for the return of Price at the peak of his art.
The more optimistic will encourage the idea that Price is no longer the sole guardian star to beat the wing in the beginning of the season. In Boston, Tuukka Rask (3,05 and ,901) also saw dark days. The Bruins have given him permission to take a break for personal reasons. In Pittsburgh, Matthew Murray (3,87 and ,886) knows him as a false start. Ditto for Braden Holtby (3,26 and ,903) with the Washington Capitals and Jake Allen (3,99 and ,879) with the Blues of St. Louis.
2. The imminent return of the captain
Shea Weber has played his last game in the uniform of the CH on December 16, 2017 at the winter classic in Ottawa. Unless an unexpected downturn in its period of rehabilitation, the giant defender will return to the game before celebrating his first anniversary in the infirmary. Weber, who has inherited the title of captain with the departure of Pacioretty, is to be found in the entourage of the team since a few days already. He has accompanied his team-mates during a recent trip to Brooklyn and Manhattan. Claude Julien plays the card of caution when asked to get wet on a likely date for a return. “We don bousculera anything with him, he will play when he will be at 100 % “, has repeatedly said Julien. Without Weber since day one of camp, the CH has managed to maintain a winning record. The team will win in all aspects when it will jump out on the ice. That is for the special units, the game five-on-five, the experience and the leadership. If Weber has multiplied partners in the last year on the blue line, Mike Reilly could become the ideal candidate to play to his left.
3. Traffic at the blue line
Marc Bergevin has always said that a good team never has too many defenders. With the return of the very fragile David Schlemko in the face of the Golden Knights and with the imminent return of Shea Weber, the CH will end up with nine defenders. This is provided that there are no injuries to the blue line in the next few days or weeks. With nine defenders, there will assuredly be a man too, maybe even two. The easy decision would be to return the young Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen with the Rocket de Laval, because they did not have to go through the stage of the runoff. But Mete and Juulsen have the talent to play in the NHL. Julien must simply live with the fact that they will make mistakes. It is normal for defenders of 20 and 21 years old. The other option would be to refer to Karl Alzner in Laval. A salary of 4.625 million until the end of the season 2021-2022, Alzner would never be claimed. Since the beginning of the year, defender of the 30-year-old has watched 11 out of 17 games of his own, gateway press.
If Bergevin doesn’t dare to put on the tie, the DG will consider a transaction. Jordie Benn, who knows a good start of the season, and that earns only 1.1 million, would certainly find a buyer. It would be wise to keep a defender of 25 years as Xavier Ouellet, who also earns a small salary to 700 000 $.
4. Revive the special units
Claude Julien, Dominique Ducharme, and Kirk Muller have not yet found the right recipe for the game in numerical superiority. The CH occupies the 29th rank in the NHL at 13.6 %. In comparison, the Jets (34.8 percent), the Capitals (32.7 %) and the Bruins (32.1 per cent) sit at the top of the circuit to more than 30 %. The Canadian is, therefore, of the moons of the best courses. The coming of Shea Weber will give ammunition to more with his powerful shot, but it will change not only this key phase of the game. It would probably be time to offer a chance to Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the first wave. He was only 18 years old, but his vision of the game and his qualities as a passer would make him an asset interesting. It would cost nothing to try.
For the numerical inferiority, the Habs found a respectable 81.7 %, which is good for 11th position. Prior to the visit of the Golden Knights, the band Julien had not given goal shorthanded in its last five games.
5. A test of depth
Paul Byron and Joel Armia are in the infirmary. For Byron, we are talking about an assessment on a weekly basis. In the case of Armia, he will miss six to eight weeks because of an injury to the right knee. The CH has lost two wingers in the top nine in the attack. Kenny Agostino has received a reminder of the Rocket of Laval. In its first two games in the colours of the Habs, Agostino was fairly well managed with a password and a set time, on average, 13 minutes. In his first four seasons in the pros, he has always collected good statistics at the level of the american League, but he has never earned a place full time in the NHL. He will have his chance in the next few days. To him to seize it.
Charles Hudon, who has slipped in a fourth trio, will also mandates more aggressive. Consistency will be the key for the number 54. Returned to Laval for a period of reconditioning, Nikita Scherbak has missed the last game due to a lower-body injury. If Scherbak needs to be absent for a long enough period of time, Bergevin could launch an SOS to Michael Chaput, who had a good camp, and Jake Evans, who has amassed seven points in its last seven games.
6. Domi can he keep the pace ?
Max Domi is proving to be a blessing in disguise for the CH. Further solidifying awfully the center line, Domi product at a torrid pace with 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists) in 17 games. With 21 points, he flirts with the top of the pointers of the NHL. Before the matches on Sunday, the son of Tie, was just three points of the leaders, Patrice Bergeron and Mikko Rantanen. In its first three seasons in the NHL with the Coyotes of Arizona, Domi has scored 52, 38 and 45 points. It was therefore impossible to predict a season over 70 points, and despite a change of environment. When we analyze his statistics, you note that he has maintained a pace of a point per game since the month of march, 2018. In his last 20 matches in the desert, he scored 18 points (4 goals, 14 assists). In his 37 games, so he has 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists).
7. Kotkaniemi will continue his learning
Jesperi Kotkaniemi is one of the beautiful stories in the beginning of the season in the CH. Yes, he was just 18 years old. Yes, he is a young 18 years since he was born on the 6th of July. But he has the talent and the intelligence to keep pace. Used for a little less than 14 minutes per game, he already has 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) and he has a folder of +1 in his first 17 games in the NHL.
With the retirement of Tomas Plekanec, it is now written in the sky : Kotkaniemi will remain in Montreal until the end of the season. He won the bet. And it represents a breath of fresh air in the locker room of the team. Her smile is simply contagious.