It’s early November and the Montreal Canadiens (6-8-1) appear to finally be climbing out of the massive grave they dug for themselves with their worst start to a season in 76 years.
Montreal’s 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday was their fifth in their last seven games, pulling them to within three points of the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division. We know this may seem trivial to mention at this point of the season, but in a few days you can read what our very own Elliotte Friedman has to say about teams not being in a playoff spot by American Thanksgiving. It’s a stat Friedman cites in his 30 (now 31) Thoughts column every year, and let’s just say it’s not too flattering to teams who aren’t locking down a post-season berth on USA Turkey Day (which falls on Nov. 23 this year).
We won’t steal Friedman’s thunder. We’ll let him tell you just how unflattering it is.
But Sunday’s win—which followed Saturday’s dramatic one over the Winnipeg Jets—feels like a huge one for the Canadiens, who are opening up a six-game home stand at the Bell Centre this coming Tuesday. Let’s delve into some takeaways from it.
Charlie Lindgren is perfect
With Canadiens goaltender Carey Price nursing a lower-body injury (a suspected minor knee injury, according to Hockey Night in Canada panelist Nick Kypreos), Lindgren was recalled on Saturday on an emergency basis.
He was named the starter for Sunday’s game late in the afternoon, and he responded with his first-ever shutout on the strength of a 38-save performance. He’s now has a perfect 4-0 record in the NHL.
When Lindgren was sent down to the AHL’s Laval Rocket after training camp, everyone in the Canadiens organization—from coach Claude Julien to director of player personnel Martin Lapointe—said that the 23-year-old Minnesotan was ready to be an NHL goaltender. But his start to the season in Laval left a little bit (a lot) to be desired, going 3-3 in nine appearances, and sporting an .885 save percentage.
But you could see Sunday’s performance coming if you were paying close enough attention to recent Rocket games. Lindgren had a .912, a .917, a .929, and a .906 save percentage in the four games he played prior to being called up by the Canadiens.
From the second he stopped Chicago star Patrick Kane on two chances in close at the beginning of the game to the time he made his last save of the night—a 10-beller off Richard Panik—he looked exceptional.
Probably a safe bet that Lindgren will get the nod on Tuesday.
Habs finally beat Corey Crawford
The Chicago netminder, born and raised just outside of Montreal, was previously 8-0-2 against the Canadiens.
Crawford had a .954 save percentage and a 1.49 goals against average against his hometown team and was riding a two-game shutout streak coming into Sunday’s action. He hadn’t allowed a goal in nearly a 173 minutes, when Jonathan Drouin put the Canadiens up 1-0 in the third period.
Canadiens defenceman Joe Morrow notched the insurance marker with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game.
Victor Mete’s ice-time dips again
It’s the number you pay the most attention to when you’re evaluating a 19-year-old defenceman who has cracked an NHL roster.
After Montreal’s Victor Mete played a season-low 10:56 against Winnipeg Saturday he was used for just 10:04 against the Blackhawks on Sunday.
Outside of Shea Weber, Mete’s been Montreal’s most reliable defenceman this season. But if he can’t work his way back into a more considerable role over the next number of games after being pushed down the lineup, you have to wonder how much longer he’ll stick around with the big club.
Mete’s already played in 10 games so his entry-level contract has officially begun. But he’s not assured to remain with the Canadiens until he gets passed the 40-game mark, which would get him to arbitration rights and unrestricted free agency a year sooner than normal.
Meanwhile David Schlemko, who was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights this past summer and has been sidelined by a broken hand since the first week of training camp, is on the mend.
Drouin-Galchenyuk combo makes good against their idols
Alex Galchenyuk has always idolized Kane. This much is pretty well known by Canadiens fans. You can see the similarities in their games (obviously Kane is much more accomplished). Both are shifty, creative and capable of changing the complexion of a game within instants. Both are dynamic playmakers who can score, too.
But not a lot of people around Montreal know that Jonathan Drouin idolizes Jonathan Toews.
When we sat down with Drouin to gather this scouting report on the Eastern Conference’s top centres, we asked him which centre he was most looking forward to squaring off against in his first season playing the position in the NHL.
"I know he doesn’t play in the East, but for me it’s probably Jonathan Toews," Drouin said. "He does everything the right way, he’s very tough, and I just have so much respect for the way he plays."
We have no doubt Sunday’s game was particularly special for Drouin and Galchenyuk, who combined on the winning goal 1:54 into the third period.
Former Hawks come up big
Andrew Shaw won two Stanley Cups with the Hawks before being traded to the Canadiens two summers ago, and current linemate Phillip Danault was drafted 26th overall by Chicago in 2011.
Both players made their mark in Sunday’s game. Shaw helped clear the defensive zone, leading to the rush that Drouin scored on. He also set the screen on Morrow’s later in the period, giving his former teammate no chance to make the save. Danault set up Morrow’s goal and came up with a huge shot block on Michal Kempny with less than five minutes remaining as the Hawks were making a push to even things up.