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Sports Stu Cowan: Math works in Canadiens' favour down the stretch

02:45  02 april  2021
02:45  02 april  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

Cowan: 'It's an honour' to wear Canadiens sweater, Xavier Ouellet says

  Cowan: 'It's an honour' to wear Canadiens sweater, Xavier Ouellet says The days of the Flying Frenchmen are long gone, but it’s still something very special when a francophone gets to play for the Canadiens. “It’s an honour, it’s a dream come true,” defenceman Xavier Ouellet said during a video conference Wednesday afternoon from Winnipeg. “It’s everything to me … I love it. Every time I get an opportunity to wear the jersey and compete out there it’s a dream come true.” The Canadiens signed Ouellet as a free agent on July 1, 2018, after he had spent five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. Since then he has spent most of his time with the AHL’s Laval Rocket and was named the team captain.

a group of hockey players on the field: Montreal Canadiens centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi carries the puck over the blue line under pressure from Edmonton Oilers defencemen Darnell Nurse (25) and Tyson Barrie in Montreal on March 30, 2021. © Provided by The Gazette Montreal Canadiens centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi carries the puck over the blue line under pressure from Edmonton Oilers defencemen Darnell Nurse (25) and Tyson Barrie in Montreal on March 30, 2021.

Are you ready for some hockey — lots of hockey?

Heading into Thursday night’s game against the Senators in Ottawa, the Canadiens had 24 games left in this condensed 56-game NHL season. Those 24 games will be played over 41 days. Starting next week, the Canadiens will play four games a week for five straight weeks before wrapping up the regular season with back-to-back games against the Edmonton Oilers on May 10 and 11 at the Bell Centre.

Stu Cowan: Canadiens get their money's worth from crafty sniper Toffoli

  Stu Cowan: Canadiens get their money's worth from crafty sniper Toffoli The Canadiens’ Tyler Toffoli is turning out to be one of the best bargains in the NHL this season. Heading into Friday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre, Toffoli had 18 goals in 29 games. The only two players in the NHL with more goals than Toffoli were the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews (21) and the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (20). Matthews has a US$11.64-million salary-cap hit this season with a total salary of US$15.9 million, while McDavid has a US$12.5-million salary-cap hit with a total salary of US$14 million. Toffoli’s salary-cap hit is US$4.25 million with a total salary of US$3.25 million.

There’s also a very good chance the Canadiens will keep playing after that when the playoffs begin.

The Canadiens headed into Thursday’s game in fourth place in the North Division with a 15-8-9 record for 39 points. They were four points ahead of the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks, who had identical 16-18-3 records, with the Canadiens holding five games in hand. The top four teams make the playoffs. The Senators were in last place in the seven-team division with a 12-20-4 record.

Heading into Thursday’s game, the Canadiens had a points percentage of .609. If they can maintain a points percentage of .605 for the rest of the season, they would finish with 68 points. That would mean the Flames and/or Canucks would need 33 points from their final 19 games to tie the Canadiens — a record equivalent to 16-2-1.

Canadiens Notebook: Marc Bergevin says Eric Staal trade happened fast

  Canadiens Notebook: Marc Bergevin says Eric Staal trade happened fast When Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin spoke with the media on a video conference Thursday he talked about how he was up tight against the NHL salary cap and didn’t expect to make any moves before the April 12 trade deadline. The next day, Bergevin acquired veteran centre Eric Staal from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick at this year’s NHL Draft. “When I talked to you guys on Thursday I was being up-front and honest,” Bergevin said during another video conference Saturday. “But, again, I don’t think it’s the best interest of the Montreal Canadiens to sit in front of the camera and lay out everything I’m trying to do.

If the Canadiens only play .500 hockey the rest of the season, they would finish with 63 points, meaning the Flames and/or Canucks would need 28 points from their final 19 games to tie them, a record equivalent to 13-4-2.

Of course, there’s no guarantee the Canadiens are going to play at least .500 hockey, especially with the crazy schedule.

Inconsistency has been the biggest problem with the Canadiens this season. When they beat the Oilers 4-0 Tuesday night at the Bell Centre it marked the first time since Feb. 2 that they had won back-to-back games — a span of 22 games. On the bright side, the Canadiens have only lost back-to-back games in regulation time twice. Their longest winless streak was five games (0-2-3) but they still picked up three points during that span.

“It would be nice to see that consistency for the last stretch we have here to pile up some wins,” the Canadiens’ Jonathan Drouin said. “The biggest thing for us, I think, is not losing two in a row. That’s when you start digging yourself a hole.”

Liveblog: Canadiens lead Oilers 3-0 after first period

  Liveblog: Canadiens lead Oilers 3-0 after first period That was a long week, wasn’t it? The Montreal Canadiens haven’t played a game since March 20, so they’ll be hoping for no rust when they meet the Edmonton Oilers at the Bell Centre tonight at 7 p.m. (TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). Forward Tyler Toffoli will miss tonight’s contest as he continues to recover from a lower-body injury. One of the two players on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list, Joel Armia, is still on it and will miss the game. The other, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, was removed from the list and will be in the lineup. Winger Michael Frolik will make his Hab debut. Newly acquired Eric Staal is still in quarantine and will not dress.

When head coach Dominique Ducharme was asked about the standings and the teams behind the Canadiens, he said: “We’re also looking ahead.”

The Canadiens were seven points behind the second-place Winnipeg Jets and six points behind the third-place Oilers heading into Thursday’s game and held five games in hand on both teams. They were 10 points behind first-place Toronto, while holding four games in hand on the Maple Leafs.

“You can look at the standings and we can sit there and analyze everything in the schedule and the other team’s schedule and so on,” Ducharme said. “But, at the end, it’s what we control. And what we control is the way we’re going to be coming out tonight flying and making sure that we bring our best game and from there along the road, we’re confident that the results are going to be on our side.”

We can sit here every day and say: ‘Tonight’s game is a big game.’ They’re all going to be big games. So we’re aware of that and our players are aware of that and now how are we going to have success? We’re concentrating more on that than really just saying we need to win. We all know that.”

Canadiens' Lehkonen tunes out trade noise and lets play do his talking

  Canadiens' Lehkonen tunes out trade noise and lets play do his talking The highlights have been few and far between this season for Artturi Lehkonen , who has had to scratch and claw his way at times simply to be dressed for games. So it was a pleasant surprise when the Finnish winger played one of his best games Tuesday against Edmonton, scoring the Canadiens’ second goal and adding an assist, in the 4-0 victory against the Oilers . Coincidentally, or not, the performance came at a time when speculation continues to swirl over Lehkonen’s future. With the Canadiens tight against the NHL’s US$81.5-million salary cap, it has been reported teams are inquiring about Lehkonen’s availability prior to the April 12 trade deadline.

The Canadiens held an optional morning skate Thursday, which will probably become the norm on game days, and there won’t be much time for practices, either, the rest of this season. The good news is that the Canadiens seem to be comfortable with the new system Ducharme put into place after taking over from Claude Julien on Feb. 24. Heading into Thursday’s game, the Canadiens had a 6-3-5 record under Ducharme, which works out to a .607 point percentage.

The Canadiens will also be adding veteran centre Eric Staal to their lineup next week after he finishes his seven-day quarantine and top prospect Cole Caufield could also join the team later in the season after starting off with the AHL’s Laval Rocket next week when his quarantine ends. Defenceman Ben Chiarot is also expected to return to the lineup before the end of the season after having surgery on his broken right hand last month.

“From the start of the year, it’s something we touched on is the depth that our team has and the internal competition,” defenceman Jeff Petry said. “No matter who’s in, who’s out, we feel like we have a lineup that can win every night. Obviously, with those guys coming back it helps that situation, so it’s exciting to have those guys coming back here in the near future.”

There’s good reason for excitement as the Canadiens head into this wild and crazy final stretch of the season.

Canadiens in complete command during easy 4-1 win over the Senators

  Canadiens in complete command during easy 4-1 win over the Senators The last-place Ottawa Senators have proven to be a thorn in the Canadiens’ side most of this season. Thursday wasn’t one of those nights, however. Montreal won its third consecutive game, defeating the Senators 4-1 at the Canadian Tire Centre. It was the second straight time the Canadiens have produced a thorough and dominating performance, after shutting out Edmonton on Tuesday. Phillip Danault and Paul Byron, two players who have struggled to find the back of the net this season, scored the Canadiens’ opening two goals before Corey Perry and Brendan Gallagher put the game on ice in the third period.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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The Canadiens will be looking to end a three-game losing streak when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, TSN4, RDS, TSN 690 Radio). The Leafs are on a six-game winning streak and are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. Toronto is in first place in the all-Canadian North Division with a 28-10-3 record, while the Canadiens are in fourth place with a 17-12-9 record, 16 points behind the Leafs. This will be the The Leafs are on a six-game winning streak and are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. Toronto is in first place in the all-Canadian North Division with a 28-10-3 record, while the Canadiens are in fourth place with a 17-12-9 record, 16 points behind the Leafs.

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