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Canadiens Postgame

Canadiens Harris & Xhekaj Star In Yet Another Strong Team Effort



Montreal Canadiens Cayden Primeau

The Montreal Canadiens were in Florida on Saturday night to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Due to the three-headed monster in the crease, the game would just be goaltender Cayden Primeau’s 13th start of the season, and only his third since January 21.

Defenceman Jordan Harris did not register his name on the scoresheet, but he had yet another strong game when it came to puck retrievals and controlled exits, two crucial aspects when it comes to scoring off the rush. While Harris was on the ice the Canadiens managed to control over 80 percent of the shots and 85 percent of the high-danger scoring chances.

Some may argue Harris doesn’t stand out when analyzing which defencemen bring value to the Canadiens, but the truth is that he does a better job than most when it comes to controlling the flow of the game by quickly turning smart defensive play into offensive opportunities.

The Canadiens played quite well, as evidenced by their 12-5 lead in high-danger chances, but they ended up losing 4-3 to the Lightning in the shootout.

Let’s dive into those highlights!

Segment 1

The Montreal Canadiens had one of their best first periods of the season on Saturday night.

It wasn’t just a matter of controlling the scoring chances, though they did blank the Lightning when it came to high-danger scoring chances at 5v5 (6-0).

Martin St-Louis’ team worked as a complete unit by pouncing on loose pucks, supporting players in the defensive zone, and using speed through the neutral zone to generate chances in the offensive zone.

As per usual, the defencemen played a big part in the team’s offensive strategies by jumping into the play early and often. Kaiden Guhle’s offensive prowess was on full display when he set up a great 2v1 chance for Joel Armia.

Armia’s goal was his 11th of the season, a continuation of a rather underrated campaign with the Habs. For those wondering, it’s probably not enough to lead to any reasonable trade offer before the deadline, but if the 30-year-old keeps up his strong play down the stretch there could be a possibility general managers come calling this summer.

Montreal Canadiens Standing Up

There was a clear mandate heading into the game against Tampa Bay: don’t let them take charge in the physical battles. The Habs responded by aggressively clearing the crease any time the Lightning made their way to Cayden Primeau.

Say what you will about post-whistle scrums, but it’s always encouraging to see a team stand up for itself, especially when you consider just a few years ago the Habs were on the short end of every physical altercation.

Arber Xhekaj will get a lot of credit for transforming how the Habs respond to particularly intense games, and the credit is well-deserved, but we have to give credit to the rest of the lineup for following suit.


Results Follow Process

The Habs doubled their lead with a little over 5 minutes left in the first period. The goal was the direct result of some very strong forecheck by Brendan Gallagher and Josh Anderson, as well as a quick release by Jake Evans, who scored his fifth goal of the season.

Evans will never be considered an offensive dynamo, but he has picked up his production in the final stretch of the season.

It may seem trivial, but the fourth-line centre role is expected to be tightly contested in the next few years by younger players attempting to earn a long-term role with the team. Evans is certainly one of St-Louis’ favourite players, but he’ll have to maintain a relatively healthy amount of production to guarantee his place in the lineup.


Polar Opposites

If the first period was all Habs, the second period was anything but.

Even though the Lightning scored twice, the Canadiens were lucky to head to the second intermission tied at 2-2. It’s par for the course when discussing a team in the middle of a rebuild. The Habs will struggle to maintain consistency from one period to another, let alone from one game to another.

And it’s at this point in the instant recap that I mention we’re not going to blame the goaltender, because as the 20th-century poet Neil Young once said “Rust never sleeps.”

Primeau had played less than 120 minutes of NHL hockey in February, a situation that is simply not conducive to strong goaltending results.


Deciding Frame

The Lightning came out of the gates flying in the third period, which almost led to a lead for the home team. Fortunately for the Canadiens, Primeau stood tall, robbing a very nice early chance while his defencemen attempted to find their rhythm.

The big save paid off shortly afterward, as the Habs took a 3-2 lead when Josh Anderson scored his eighth goal of the year.

You’ll note Cole Caufield and Xhekaj made a few quick passes before sending the puck on the net, which forced Andrei Vasilevskiy to reset on a few occasions. The smart puck movement gave Anderson all the time he needed to make some space near the crease and get the tip of his stick on the point shot.

They officially gave the goal to Caufield during the game, but there’s one eternal truth in hockey: the player who celebrates most is the one who scored the goal.

We should note it was one of Anderson’s best games in a very long time. His underlying numbers were solid, the effort was there, and he even had a little luck on his side, a rarity in 2023-24.

Blue Moon

I don’t want to give the impression that Nick Suzuki has been perfect this season, but his mistakes have been few and far between. That being said, he picked a very bad time to cough up the puck during a third-period powerplay, which led to yet another shorthanded goal against the Canadiens.

No Love

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out this blatant crosscheck was not penalized. Then again, Gallagher rarely gets the benefit of the doubt from referees these days.

The referees did call Caufield for a hooking penalty in overtime, though. The NHL has told referees to call plays that involve getting a stick into an opponent’s hands, but it was a rather harsh decision given how they called the rest of the game.

It’s hard for players to adapt when the refereeing constantly changes.

The Montreal Canadiens are back in action on Tuesday. They will face the Predators in Nashville. The puck drop is scheduled for 8 pm ET.

All Montreal Canadiens statistics 5v5 unless otherwise noted. Via Natural Stat Trick.