After dropping their fourth straight exhibition game, this time 5-1 to division rivals Ottawa, one could not blame the Habs’ faithful for wondering if this may be a long and disappointing season. There is a silver lining, however, as the worst should be over when it comes to the Habs’ lackluster performances so far this preseason.
The Canadiens iced a roster tonight that may well have only six NHL regulars when the season starts, and it showed through the first half of the game as the Ottawa Senators most deservedly jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
The Habs managed to tie the Senators 1-1 in the game’s second half, so all was not lost for those who have short memories. From 9 pm or so on the Habs tied a game!
With 7:48 left in the second period Plekanec spotted an open Hudon in the slot with a sweet feed, and Hudon buried it with a hard, accurate wrist shot that beat Craig Anderson on the glove side. It would be the one and only highlight of the night for a team that has failed to generate much excitement this preseason as it has managed just six goals through four exhibition-game losses.
It didn’t help either that Montoya once again had a so-so first 30 minutes -just like his last start – and the biggest roar from the throng of Habs fans who had to pay $20 alone for parking to get into this debacle was when Jeremy Gregoire throwing Max McCormick to the ice at the end of an otherwise ho-hum fight.
The Habs failed to capitalize on seven power-play opportunities as they continue to struggle when the man advantage does not include Jonathan Drouin. Of note tonight was that we saw our first indication from the club that forwards may be used on the point this season, as both Hudon and Chris Terry saw time on the blueline during the power play.
Hudon remains one of the few bright spots among the newcomers looking to make the roster. He once again did nothing but solidify a top-nine position with the Canadiens to start the season, taking all of about eight seconds to get his first solid scoring chance with a wraparound effort that almost fooled Craig Anderson, and scoring the lone goal for the team.
Hudon made several smart plays while on the point, and is quickly showing the Habs’ brass that he has elite vision that may only be second to Drouin among all Habs forwards. He may have earned himself a serious look on the point for this team’s power play going forward, especially if, as expected, Victor Mete eventually gets sent back to London.
Mind you that is seeming less and less likely as defencemen play their way off of the roster. When the most noticeable defencemen are the ones who make the most mistakes, it doesn’t bode well for those defencemen vying to earn a spot.
Joe Morrow and Brandon Davidson needed strong games, and neither delivered. Davidson had a couple of brutal giveaways and was soft on a few plays in front of his net, and Morrow continued to show little interest in defending oncoming opponents with any type of gap control or aggression…he would simply back in until the Senators’ forward made a pass or shot the puck.
Matt Taormina didn’t take long to make his demotion to Laval quicker and easier either, getting caught with an ill-advised pinch that left Davidson alone to deal with a 2-on-1 unsuccessfully four minutes into the contest. Taormina has some offensive skills and will be in the mix for ice time in Laval as he’s a proven AHL point-producer, but he does not bring enough size/smarts in his own end to be considered for the NHL roster.
Michael McCarron has struggled quite bit in his own end as he re-adjusts to playing the wing. On more than one occasion he has been caught too deep trying to cover the slot when he should have been covering the defenceman. It ended up costing them on the fourth goal as he couldn’t get out to block the shooting or passing lane and a shot got through to the slot that he didn’t come close to blocking. It will take some time for him to adapt to being back on the wing as he’s been at center his past three seasons almost exclusively.
One silver lining was that Jacob de la Rose is looking a bit more comfortable back at center than he did on the wing even if he’s still not getting a lot of scoring opportunities. He will never truly harm the team when he is on the ice, and that will always endear him to a head coach who stresses sound defensive play.
Coach Claude Julien commented after the last game that players are making the decisions on who to cut and who to keep on the roster easier, but if this continues there will only be 20 players left on the roster as the rest will be demoted and/or released.
The movement of Byron Froese to the wing on a line with Peter Holland and Chris Terry signals that the Canadiens want that to be the top line in Laval and that they would like Daniel Audette to fill a top-two center role in the AHL this season as they look for him to take the next step offensively. Mind you, that line failed to impress tonight as Froese played his worst game to date, and they were on the ice for two of Senators’ goals in the first half of the game. They look ready to be playing in Laval now.
Additionally, Audette has not looked as strong the past two games after impressing in rookie camp and the start of camp, so it remains a question mark whether he will be able to fill that role just yet.
One can only guess what the club is now planning with McCarron as he has not looked any better on the wing the past two games. Will he be sent to Laval and be asked to play a third-line center role or perhaps be moved onto the wing on the second line? Are they hoping to start the season with him on the NHL roster?
Right now it looks like he’s heading to Laval as he can clear waivers, and he has not impressed enough to take a spot away from de la Rose, who would have to clear waivers if sent down.
Expect that decision to come right down to the end of the exhibition season, and most assuredly management is hoping that one of them can step up and seize the 13th spot, just as they are hoping that three of the six defencemen fighting for three roster spot can convince them that they deserve to be on an NHL roster.
If that doesn’t happen…Bergevin may be making a move for a defenceman sooner rather than later.