Montreal Canadiens: 24 Thoughts On Habs Weird Game 36

Dec 28, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki
Dec 28, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
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The Montreal Canadiens continued a lengthy road trip last night in Tampa Bay against the Lightning. After consecutive road losses to start their post-Christmas schedule they were looking for a better effort.

The Canadiens began the night just four points back of the Lightning and five points back of the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

Here are 24 thoughts on the Habs 36th game of the season.

First Period Thoughts

Sam Montembeault gets the start after sitting three consecutive games. I think the plan is for him to be the team's starting goaltender for the next couple of years so it is odd to see him on the bench for three in a row, but that's the three goalie system at play.

Seven defensemen were in the lineup last night as Christian Dvorak was ruled out with an injury and Johnathan Kovacevic took his place in the lineup. This always leads to an odd formation as lines and defense pairing keep getting shuffled throughout the game. Will be interesting to see if it affects the team's chemistry at all.

Cole Caufield got a glorious scoring chance but was robbed by the blocker of Lightning goaltender Jonas Johansson. Caufield has not been scoring as often as he would like and isn't getting the same chances he usually does. He finally scored a beauty on the backhand against Florida so it is great to see him get a great chance early on against the Lightning as well. It didn't go in, but they will if he keeps getting open like he did.

Speaking of Jonas Johansson, when Andrei Vasilevskiy was injured at the start of the season, I thought a Montembeault trade to the Lightning made a ton of sense. It was either that, or they had to run with Johansson. Well, they decided to run with Johansson and entered their 38th game of the season outside of the playoffs.

Jesse Ylonen playing up the lineup with Dvorak out. Jake Evans had been playing on the second line with Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson but with Dvorak out, Evans needed to move back to the middle of the ice. This is a big opportunity for Ylonen who I keep saying deserves a chance higher up in the lineup. Hopefully he can make some things happen offensively and earns a longer look in the top nine.

Justin Barron made a breakout pass from behind his own goal line to Caufield at center ice. Caufield then carried the puck into the Lightning zone, stickhandled around a couple of guys and dropped the puck to Nick Suzuki who took a quick shot that was tipped by.... Barron in front of the Lightning goal. It didn't go in, but it highlighted Barron's strengths as a guy who can easily make a 110 foot pass and also jump into the attack to create a scoring chance.

Joel Armia made a nice dash in the final seconds of the period as he stole the puck from Nikita Kucherov just inside the Canadiens blue line and turned it up ice. He carried it all the way into the Lightning zone, froze a defender with a fake drop pass, got a good shot on goal, grabbed the rebound and tried a wraparound. He must hvae received a nice talking to after his selfish penalty cost the team against the Panthers.

Pretty solid first period for the Canadiens as they limited chances against and kept the many stars of the Lightning away from the Habs net aside from one great chance from Steven Stamkos who drove down the middle of the ice for a chance. Tampa Bay had just four shots on goal as the Canadiens defended well, including two minutes while shorthanded.