The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime last night. They are inching closer to the playoff race in the Eastern Conference and can thank Marc Bergevin that they still have any hope of getting in.
The Montreal Canadiens season looked over at the halfway point of the season. They lost their 41st game to the Tampa Bay Lightning and had 42 points in the standings to show for the first half of their schedule. They followed that up with four more losses in a row, though one came in overtime so they had 43 points in 45 games.
It was around that time that the Canadiens were struggling with injuries and obviously inconsistency. They were in the midst of their second eight game losing streak of the season, but somehow looked really good outside of their long losing skids.
This put Marc Bergevin in a difficult spot for a general manager. He had reason to believe this team would be good enough to make the playoffs if they were healthy. They did start the year 11-5-3, lead the league in shots on goal, have Carey Price in net and were among the best teams in the NHL at even strength. Sure, it is great to have exceptional special teams, but most of the game is played at five-on-five so if you can control play in those situations, you should win your fair share of games.
The Canadiens were winning their share of games, until the injuries struck. First it was Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron. Then Joel Armia and Brendan Gallagher joined them on the injured reserve. Victor Mete and Jesperi Kotkaniemi also missed time, then the flu bug bit just about everyone on the team. Most recently, Shea Weber was put on injured reserve and is out indefinitely after blocking a shot.
A month ago, Bergevin was looking to add reinforcements to his injury riddled team, but didn’t want to give up any picks or top prospects. The team’s record made it impossible to give up a first or second round pick as their playoff hopes were extremely thin. But their play when healthy showed signs that they were a good team. So, how does an NHL general manager make his team better without giving up prospects or high picks?
Well, Bergevin traded a fourth round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for Marco Scandella and signed unrestricted free agent Ilya Kovalchuk who had his contract with the Los Angeles Kings torn up.
The two moves have been a masterstroke for Bergevin. In 15 games with the Canadiens, Kovalchuk has six goals and 12 points, proving he is not as old and washed up as many thought after watching him struggle with the Kings this season and last.
Scandella has added some depth to the blue line, playing steady minutes on the third pairing for the most part. He doesn’t add a ton of offence which is fine, but the Montreal native plays a smart, consistent game that fills a need.
These two acquisitions were supposed to give the Habs a bit of a boost in the middle of the season with the hope the team could stick around the playoff race. Once the Habs finally ended their eight game losing streak, shortly after acquiring Kovalchuk and Scandella on January 2nd, they have been on fire.
The Habs biggest game since those acquisitions were made was last night when they faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens most likely chance at a playoff berth is by finishing third in the Atlantic Division after finishing the season on fire while the Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers stumble down the stretch.
Last night was a key part of that hypothetical scenario playing out. The Canadiens needed a win over the Maple Leafs. They got it, and they got it because Scandella and Kovalchuk played the heroes, keeping the Habs slim playoff hopes alive.
The game went into the third period without a goal being scored. John Tavares opened the scoring early in the third period and then the Habs took over for the final 18 minutes of regulation. They finally tied the game when Scandella scored his first in a Canadiens uniform on a point shot with 2:33 to play.
Kovalchuk was the overtime hero once again for the Habs, burying a rebound off a Nick Suzuki chance to give the Canadiens their third straight win over the Maple Leafs this season. It ensures the Habs playoff chances continue to flicker, but haven’t quite gone out yet.
This win wouldn’t have happened without the contributions of Scandella and Kovalchuk. The two players that Bergevin picked up for nothing more than a fourth round draft pick in early January scored the two goals that led to a 2-1 win.
This win keeps the Canadiens alive for now. Without the players that Bergevin keenly identified as low cost options to help the team out, the Habs don’t win that game. Both of these guys have worked out just fine and played an enormous role in the Habs win over the Maple Leafs last night.
Want your voice heard? Join the A Winning Habit team!Write for us!
It is time to give Bergevin credit for a couple of moves that didn’t cost the Canadiens much, but made them a much better team over the past five weeks.