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It wasn’t hard to pick the first star in the Canadiens’ 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
Canadiens captain Shea Weber was the Man Mountain with two goals — both on the power play — a game-high seven shots on goal and a team-high 25:07 of ice time. Nate Thompson scored the other Canadiens goal and Carey Price stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced to earn the second star.
Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who stopped 34 of 37 shots, was named the third star. The Canadiens improved their record to 9-5-3, while the Kings fell to 5-11-1.
Weber now has 101 career power-play goals, the most of any active defenceman in the NHL, and has 5-8-13 totals in 17 games this season.
After missing the first 24 games last season following foot and knee surgeries, Weber’s game certainly seems to be back on track with a three-game point streak and points in five of the last six games.
“I think it’s just normal,” coach Claude Julien said about Weber’s recent play. “He came back halfway through (last season), in the middle of the season from an injury and all that stuff … it was hard for him to play at the level that he’d like to play. He started off at the same time as everybody else this year, so I think that’s made a big difference.”
The Canadiens now have 13 goals from their defencemen this season — six from Weber, three from Ben Chiarot and Victor Mete, and two from Jeff Petry — the most of any NHL team.
During a post-game, on-ice interview, Weber was asked by Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports if he was surprised by so many goals coming from the defencemen.
“No … Mete finally scored,” Weber said with a smile.
Mete scored his first NHL goal in his 127th career game earlier this season and has added two more since.
“Our back end’s doing great for us,” Weber added in his interview with Lavoie. “Everyone’s played well for us this year. Everybody’s stepped up on the back and and we’re going to need to continue to do so if we want to have success.”
Uncle Nate scores
Thompson’s goal was his first this season, giving him 1-5-6 totals for the season, but the 35-year-old’s game is about so much more than just goals and points.
“When we talked about him at the end of last year a lot of players that came in said: ‘We’d love to have this guy back,'” Julien said after the game. “We had already kind of made that decision in our chats, coaches and GMs, that this is a guy that we could probably use next year. Why? Because what he brings on the ice: experience and everything else. What he brings off the ice: he’s a real pro and he’s a leader in that room with the other leaders and he brings a lot to the table. His play right now, you can’t even complain or find a negative because he’s been probably above and beyond what we probably expected. So good for him and hopefully that continues.”
The Canadiens acquired Thompson from the Kings at last year’s NHL trade deadline and signed him to a one-year, US$1-million contract shortly after the season ended.
“It’s always good to score against a former team and it was just nice to get the first one out of the way,” Thompson said after the game.
“I think going into the year I just wanted to make sure that I continue to get better,” he added. “That’s kind of been my mindset every year is just trying to improve and just try and make an impact. I think that’s the biggest thing for me is just taking it day to day and just making an impact. It’s not too much of what the expectations are. I always expect highly of myself, but I think it’s just making sure that I play solid and play my way.”
Julien juggled his lines for the game.
The biggest change had Jonathan Drouin taking Tomas Tatar’s spot at left wing on the No. 1 line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher, while Ryan Poehling moved from centre to left wing on the fourth line with Thompson and Nick Cousins. Tatar dropped down to the third line with Nick Suzuki, who played centre, and Artturi Lehkonen.
“It’s just we switched lines because we’ve been flat,” Julien said after Saturday’s morning skate at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. “Last three games, I think we’ve been very ordinary. So moving guys around and trying to get their attention and probably get some energy is why we’ve done it.”
Tatar stays out of box
Tatar found himself in Julien’s doghouse after taking two more penalties in Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia, resulting in him being demoted. Tatar leads the Canadiens with 20 penalty minutes — all minors.
Tatar didn’t take any penalties against the Kings and picked up an assist on Thompson’s goal, giving him 300 career points (149 goals and 151 assists in 524 games) and 5-9-14 totals this season.
“Lehky and Suzy, they work really hard,” Tatar said after the game. “They helped me out there a lot. I think we played well.
“It’s up to coach how he’s going to mix up the lines,” Tatar added. “I’m OK to play anywhere. I just want to help my team to win.”
It was obvious Tatar was being very careful when stick-checking the Kings, fearful of taking another penalty.
“Penalties are part of the game,” Tatar said. “I feel pretty bad to have that many at this time. I just got to be more careful, I guess.
“I was disagreeing with a few of the calls on the stick,” he added about the penalties he has taken. “I’m just trying to play hard, lift the puck or lift the stick. Some of the refs are saying I hit the glove. They’re pretty strict now about that. I guess I just have to be more careful. That’s the league the way it is now, they’re calling this stuff and you just have to respect it. Puck battles and stick battles used to be allowed. I guess now they’re not. I feel like it’s changed a lot from last year, so I’m a little surprised by that. But no excuse. I just need to be careful and not in the box.”
Two assists for Drouin
Drouin assisted on both of Weber’s goals and now leads the Canadiens in scoring with 7-8-15 totals, one point ahead of Tatar and two ahead of Brendan Gallagher and Weber.
As for his new linemates, Drouin said: “ We didn’t play (together) a lot … maybe more in the third. But in the first two periods we just played a couple of shifts, a couple of faceoffs. There’s some stuff we could work on but for the first game it’s pretty good.”
Beefing up the defence
For the second time in three games, Julien changed his top two defence pairings, putting Ben Chiarot with Weber and Victor Mete with Jeff Petry. The coach did the same thing last Tuesday night when the Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins 5-4.
Are those pairings something we might see more often moving forward?
“It depends on the games,” Julien said after Saturday’s game. “Sometimes you got to put those guys (Weber and Chiarot) together for the reason you saw again tonight — a big line. But there’s other games where you need a little bit more balance in defending and in bringing some offence. So it all depends on who we play and we need to look at those things close every game that we play and in the pre-scouting of the other team.”
Here’s how the Canadiens lines and defence pairings looked against the Kings:
Drouin – Danault – Gallagher
Byron – Domi – Armia
Tatar – Suzuki – Lehkonen
Poehling – Thompson – Cousins
Chiarot – Weber
Mete – Petry
Kulak – Fleury
Jordan Weal, Mike Reilly and Christian Folin were healthy scratches, while Jesperi Kotkaniemi remains sidelined with a groin injury.
Kulak back in lineup
After being a healthy scratch for the last six games, defenceman Brett Kulak got back in the Canadiens lineup against the Kings, taking Reilly’s spot.
“He’s got to go out and play the way we’ve seen him play in the past,” Julien said about Kulak. “I like the way he closes and he defends and he competes. He’s just got to be better with the puck. Keep his game simple, move it quickly and he’ll be fine.”
Kulak logged 13:03 of ice time, had two shots on goal and was minus-1.
Poehling on the wing
Poehling said after the morning skate that he wasn’t concerned about being switched from centre to left wing, noting he played the wing for two or three games with Team USA at last year’s world junior championship, where he was named the tournament’s top forward.
“I think making the switch from centre to wing is way easier than wing to centre,” he said. “It’s not too difficult, I guess.”
Thompson had some advice for Poehling.
“I just told him to play and have fun,” Thompson said after the game. “He’s a skilled player. He’s a good player … he’s going to be a good player in this league for a long time. I just told him not to worry about too much and go out there and play. I thought he was good tonight. He made some good plays and I thought we had some good shifts together.”
Poehling had a team-low 8:00 of ice time with one shot on goal.
What about KK?
Kotkaniemi remains on the injured-reserve list with a groin problem and missed his fifth straight game Saturday night.
“I’m not in the position to be the doctor here when it comes to that,” Julien said Saturday morning when asked if Kotkaniemi was close to returning. “All I know is that he’s not quite ready yet. From what I’m being told is that he is much better, but there’s an opportunity there that could take a step back if pushed past the threshold that he needs to be in order to play. So, in other words, he may feel like he’s ready, but when he’s being pushed to the max it’s not quite ready yet. So our medical staff and doctors are buying some time here and they want a little bit more.”
The Canadiens will have the day off Sunday and have a practice scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard before facing the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio). The Canadiens then have practices scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday and 10:45 a.m. Thursday in Brossard before playing the Capitals Friday night in Washington (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio). The Canadiens will wrap up the week next Saturday at the Bell Centre against the New Jersey Devils (7 p.m., CITY, SNE, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019