Top News

Canadiens Notebook: Habs bounce back nicely from eight-game slump

Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot (centre) celebrates with teammates Max Domi (left) and Joel Armia after scoring in overtime to give his team a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators in NHL game at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Dec. 11, 2019.
Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot (centre) celebrates with teammates Max Domi (left) and Joel Armia after scoring in overtime to give his team a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators in NHL game at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Dec. 11, 2019.

The Canadiens have bounced back nicely from an eight-game winless streak (0-5-3) and are 4-1-0 in their last five games heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SNE, SN360, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio) .

The Canadiens have allowed only nine goals in their last five games after giving up 38 during their eight-game slump. They head into Saturday’s game in a playoff spot, sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division with a 15-11-6 record, one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-11-3) and Florida Panthers (15-11-5), and two points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs (15-14-4).

When asked after practice Friday in Brossard what the key was to getting out of their eight-game slide, coach Claude Julien said: “I don’t think there’s anything different than what I said when we were going through it. We just had to stick with it, not panic and keep competing hard and playing well.

“I think we lost a few games before we started winning that we played well enough to win,” Julien added. “So this is important that you stick with what you believe in and know that when you’re doing the right things that you’re going to get success. Sometimes it doesn’t come right away, but eventually it does. Right now we won I think four of our last five games, so we got to stick with it. We got a lot of catching up to do because of that eight-game winless streak, so we’re conscientious of that and sticking with it.”

Praise for the coach

After practice Friday, veteran forward Nate Thompson praised Julien for the work he did in getting the team out of its slump.

“I think Claude is really good at getting the most out of guys,” Thompson said. “I think during that skid we had he was really good with us. He told us to stick to it. He found things that we needed to apply to get better and we could see the confidence building. He never panicked. Not just that, but his bench management in the game is really good, too. There’s a reason why he’s won a Stanley Cup and been around for a long time.”

Brendan Gallagher added some tweaks to the system also helped.

“Obviously, we were leaving our goaltenders out to dry,” Gallagher said about the eight-game winless streak. “We had to really buy into a system that we’ve started playing. At the same time, it was a little bit of accountability throughout the locker room because we weren’t playing terrible hockey. We just had these lapses and these big, big costly mistakes that seemed to be costing us points. So just holding each other accountable and not wanting to let your teammate down and that sort of attitude along with the system changes — little tweaks, I won’t say changes — made a big difference.”

Suzuki continues to improve

Heading into Friday’s games, the Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki ranked seventh among NHL rookies in scoring with 6-9-15 totals. More importantly, the 20-year-old continues to progress and is looking better every game.

“Low maintenance … absolutely,” Julien said about Suzuki. “Every player on this team sits down with coaches at some point and watches video and so does he. But he is low maintenance. When you’re a smart player, a lot of times you tell him once and he gets it and you don’t have to tell him two or three times. Others you have to repeat. He’s one of those guys that gets it pretty quickly.

“He’s a good rookie, he’s a smart rookie, and there’s been a lot of those come through the league,” Julien added. “He’s having a good year so far. He’s shown progression since the start of the season. There’s still some areas that we’d like to see him improve on and that will come with time. It’s not because of a lack of something, it’s more about the experience and finding his way through this league. He’s a cerebral player, sees the ice really well. Smart and calm at the right time and capable of making good plays.”

The Man Mountain

Through Thursday’s games, Canadiens captain Shea Weber ranked third among NHL defencemen with 10 goals and was tied for fifth in points with 26. In his last 21 games, Weber has 9-11-20 totals.

“I think he just picks his spots so well,” Canadiens defenceman Brett Kulak said about Weber. “He reads and reacts the game so well. He’s not forcing anything offensively. He lets the game come to him and he positions himself really well to get pucks.

“On the wraparound goal (in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh) he jumps up at a good time there where he sees an opening,” Kulak added. “It’s just his hockey IQ in that sense. He knows when to go, when to stay back and be more defensive. He manages the game and the clock and what part of the period it is, what the score is. So I think it’s just his hockey smarts that have been impressing me lately.”

Weber’s plus-11 rating is the best on the Canadiens, ahead of Phillip Danault and Ben Chiarot, who are both plus-9.

Kulak picks up his game

Brett Kulak has picked up his own game recently, especially since Victor Mete has been sidelined with an ankle injury suffered during a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 30. While Kulak is pointless in the six games Mete has missed, he is also plus-1 while logging more ice time.

Kulak said his confidence level is getting back to where it was last season after being made a healthy scratch 11 times this season.

“I got back in more of a rhythm,” Kulak said. “I’m just playing right now … I’m not thinking too much. Just instincts are taking over and I’m just playing better hockey.”

“I knew that I was going to take on a bit more of a role and play against better lines and play more minutes,” he added about Mete being out of the lineup. “So that’s something you just kind of, whatever, wrap your head around and get ready for that and prepare for that and know who you’re playing against that night. Once you start playing better in those situations and that little more of a heightened role it does help your confidence and just gets you back playing your game.”

What happens when Mete returns?

“For me, it’s just focus on what’s working for me in these minutes,” Kulak said. “Even if the minutes go back down, the shifts are the same. It’s the same thing when you step on the ice and you’re called upon. So remember what you use and what works for you and work to my own strengths.”

Kotkaniemi, Mete skating

For the second time since being injured, Mete and Jesperi Kotkaniemi skated by themselves on Friday. Kotkaniemi has been sidelined since suffering a concussion in a 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at the Bell Centre on Dec. 5.

Julien said there’s a possibility both players could be on next week’s road trip to Western Canada.

“Those two guys, a decision will be made probably tomorrow night in letting us know whether they’re going to join us on this road trip or not,” Julien said.

The lines

Here’s how the forward lines and defence pairings looked at practice Friday:

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Domi – Armia
Cousins – Suzuki – Weal
Byron – Thompson – Barber

Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Leskinen – Fleury
Reilly – Folin

The Canadiens called up forward Ryan Poehling from the Laval Rocket just after 5 p.m. on Friday. That means Paul Byron — who practised with his teammates Friday for the first time since having knee surgery on Nov. 19 — probably isn’t ready to return to the lineup just yet.

What’s next?

The Canadiens will have a morning skate at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard before playing the Red Wings at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SNE, SN360, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio) .

On Sunday, the Canadiens will fly to Vancouver for their annual Western Canada road trip. They will play the Canucks next Tuesday (10 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) , the Calgary Flames on Thursday (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) , the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday (7 p.m., CITY, SNE, TVA Sports) and the Winnipeg Jets the following Monday (8 p.m., TSN2, TSN3, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) .

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

Recent Stories