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Canadiens Recap: Injuries, Goals, & Poor Officiating Vs Tampa Bay

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Montreal Canadiens Tampa Bay Lightning

The Montreal Canadiens hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, hoping to make it back-to-back wins against Florida-based teams at the Bell Centre.

It was a very difficult game for Montreal, not to mention for the officials.

More on that later.

Tampa Bay eventually emerged with a well-deserved 7-4 win in a high-event match-up, which means we should jump into those highlights! Before we do, we have to mention the loss officially eliminated the Canadiens from qualifying for the 2024 playoffs.

Armia Redemption Tour

Don’t look now, but Joel Armia has become one of the Canadiens’ most potent scoring threats in the offensive zone. The 30-year-old scored two goals, pushing his season total to 16, matching a career-best result he originally set in 2019-20.

His underlying numbers haven’t quite reached the point that would suggest he’s making a significant positive impact, but given the situation in Montreal, we probably shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

And Here We Go

The Lightning set a physical tone to the game from the very get-go, and though the Habs usually don’t shy away from responding to intense playespecially now that Martin St-Louis is the head coach, they did not put up much of a fight when push came to shove.

Tampa Bay also toed the line between big and illegal hits. Nikita Kucherov lined up Kaiden Guhle from just outside Batoche, Saskatchewan, before driving him into the glass from behind. As you can see, it was numbers all the way, but the referees had differing opinions.

The Canadiens later announced that Guhle, who has a history of concussions, would not return to the game.

Unfortunately, the officials did not consider Cirelli’s spear in the first period to be penalty-worthy. It wasn’t the most violent spear we’ve ever seen, but it was clearly against the rules.

Cirelli going unpunished meant the Habs were heading to the penalty kill, and that’s where things really started to fall apart.

Cayden Primeau did not have his best outing of the season, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue the defence did its best to help him out when the Lightning were buzzing in the offensive zone.

More Than Just Good Finnish

Armia was one of the few Canadiens forwards to go above and beyond in the offensive zone. He was rewarded for his strong work with a pair of goals, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention his recent play on the penalty kill.

Thursday night wasn’t the best example, but overall, Armia has become one of St-Louis’ most reliable players in a variety of situations.

Confusing Message

The officiating was not the reason the Habs lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It didn’t help, but it’s only fair to say the Lightning took over midway through the first period and never looked back.

The Habs had no answer for their intensity and skill.

However, it was also impossible for players to get a good read of how the referees were going to call the game. Beyond the hit on Guhle, Jake Evans was also involved in a questionable exchange with Matt Dumb.

On the flip side of things, Mike Matheson was called for the softest trip you’ll see since last year’s WWE Kindergarten Rumble In The Jungle.

It’s not the first time a player gets penalized after his opponent stepped on his stick, but it’s a rather hard pill to swallow when you consider they missed a blatant penalty early in the game that led directly to an injury.

Unforced Errors

The Canadiens were outplayed by a wide margin, that much is true.

But to make matters worse, they consistently forced plays that resulted in terrible giveaways.

It’s one thing to be the second-best team on the ice on any given night, but it’s another to actively hurt your own chances of victory.

 

Easy To Hate

Very few players around the NHL are easier to dislike than Kucherov. And it’s not just due to his personality.

He’s one of the best players in the league, which means he has a penchant for adding insult to injury, as he did on Thursday night.

The NHL needs more villains, and Kucherov certainly fits the bill.

Silver Lining

A few players had respectable games, and that includes the youngest player in the lineup, Juraj Slafkovsky. The first-overall pick scored his 16th goal of the season by outworking his friend and fellow Slovak, Erik Cernak. It wasn’t the first time Slafkovsky got the jump on Cernak, as the two battled all night long, much to the advantage of the Canadiens forward.

The Montreal Canadiens made things interesting in the third period, as Cole Caufield followed Slafkovsky’s lead to cut the Lightning lead to just two goals. It was much too little, much too late, but it was a nice surprise given how the team played in the second period.

It was the second consecutive game in which Caufield scored, making it 22 goals on the season. He’s not going to set a career-high this season, but it’s still important to finish the season on the right foot, especially when your specialty involves scoring goals.

The play also means Nick Suzuki became the first player to register 30 goals and 40 assists in a season since Alex Kovalev did it in 2007-2008.

Hit Of The Game

Steven Stamkos landed the biggest hit when he caught his teammate, Brandon Hagel, in the head. It led to a quasi-fight between Arber Xhekaj and Michael Eyssimont, who was penalized for his confusing decision, but the referees interfered before Xhekaj could make Eyssimont regret his mistake.

 

The Montreal Canadiens will be back in action on Saturday when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre. The puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm ET.


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