Canadiens weekly notebook: Kaiden Guhle goes down, Sam Montembeault gets his ring and more

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Canadiens weekly notebook: Kaiden Guhle goes down, Sam Montembeault gets his ring and more

The worst part of the weekend for the Montreal Canadiens was not losing twice, it was not leaving Tyler Seguin all alone in front to score twice Saturday, and it was not giving up a touchdown to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

It was watching Kaiden Guhle laying motionless on the ice with the Blues already ahead 7-2 late in the third period Sunday after taking a hit from Marco Scandella, seeing him wincing in pain and skating to the bench with his left arm tucked tightly against his side.

The Canadiens didn’t have an update on his condition after the game and we probably won’t get further news on Guhle before the morning skate Tuesday with the team off Monday, but it certainly did not look good.

If Guhle is out a long time — and watching that, it’s difficult to imagine he’ll be back quickly — the Canadiens will have a major problem on their hands, down a top-pair defender who has been playing excellent hockey of late, playing on his off side, no less.

But the situation in which that hit happened, with the Blues up by five late in the game, makes you wonder what a defenceman was doing forcing the issue below the opposing team’s goal line. Coming one day after we learned scoring an empty net goal with a slap slot was apparently an affront to The Code, a subsection of that convoluted document that had previously remained hidden from the general public but was a prominent passage to those who play the game, it begged the question as to whether this, too, was a hidden subsection of that same Code.

Is it OK to drill a guy into the end boards up five goals with less than two minutes left? That was a clean hit by Scandella, to be clear. But Ridly Greig’s slap shot into an empty net was also clean, and was still apparently a dirty move. Was this similar in that sense, a clean hit that went against The Code?

The Canadiens didn’t seem to have much of a problem with it.

“I think regardless of what time of the game, you need to be engaged and playing the game,” Guhle’s partner Mike Matheson said. “I don’t think for them they should be expecting that they have to just stop playing and let us run out the clock. I didn’t see a replay of the hit, but is the result worse than what it actually was? I think that play happens all the time throughout a game.”

In the same breath, however, Matheson said he liked how the Canadiens showed they didn’t appreciate that hit.

“I think you can still have a response, and I thought right away, guys on the ice went after everybody and had a response,” he said. “And then after (Johnathan Kovacevic) stepped up a couple of seconds later and fought somebody, so I think that was kind of our response that we’re not going to accept our young defenceman getting injured.”

So is it against The Code or not? It can be a difficult document to decipher. The NHL collective bargaining argument has nothing on this thing.

Guhle was the second defenceman the Canadiens lost in the game after Jordan Harris was crunched into boards by Sammy Blais in the first period. The Canadiens called Harris day to day after the game, but you can’t see this without thinking Harris has a concussion and will miss some time.

Jayden Struble had what he called his worst game as an NHL player, but there’s no reason to believe this will be a sign of things to come for him. His play has been too steady to simply fall off a cliff after one game, and he recovered before the game was even over, so there shouldn’t be too much concern for him.

But Harris was in the lineup for Arber Xhekaj, who has been struggling to find consistency, struggling to stay out of the penalty box, struggling to meet coach Martin St. Louis’ standard of play. From the looks of it, he will need to figure that out in a hurry. Xhekaj was on the ice for both those Seguin goals Saturday, though neither was really his fault and his absence Sunday probably had more to do with getting Harris in the lineup than it did taking him out. But he clearly needs to make himself indispensable, and this is a perfect opportunity for him to do that.

Xhekaj familiarizing himself with the line between effective physical play and a lack of discipline will be vital in him seizing it.

“I think it’s just being aggressive at the right time,” Xhekaj said after practice Thursday. “When you need it, when you’re down, when you need some energy in the building, maybe then you can flirt with the line. I think it’s just I came up and I was super excited, I got a little bit in my head, kind of ran around a little bit, but definitely didn’t need it.”

Getting a little bit in your head is a strong element of the sophomore slump — expectations messing with your head, learning how to behave as an NHL player messing with your head, lots of different things messing with your head.

But being in your second year in the NHL doesn’t give you a free pass, either.

“It’s like an offensive player who for his whole life he’s made plays, he wants to make plays, and he’s turning pucks over. Do you allow that just because he’s an offensive player?” St. Louis asked. “To me, it’s the intentions. If he had good intentions and it just didn’t work out, you have to be careful of telling him, ‘You can’t do that.’ Because it was a great read, he just didn’t execute. … On the defensive side and being physical, that’s part of that, too. You can have great intentions sometimes and it’s just not going to work out, so you have to be careful how you coach the intentions, because then you’re making your player second guess all the time.”

Xhekaj’s been second guessing himself a lot this season, but that time needs to be over.

When he was injured earlier this season, he watched as various defencemen were getting opportunities to play further up the lineup and wanted to get back as soon as possible so he could get his turn, only to be sent to Laval, where he worked on his game and left a major impression on the coaching staff and his teammates. Xhekaj now has that opportunity he missed while he was injured. It’s on him to seize it.

Sam Montembeault helped lead Canada to a gold medal at the world championships and got rewarded for it Sunday. (GINTS IVUSKANS / AFP via Getty Images)

Montembeault gets his world championship ring

The Blues’ visit to Montreal meant general manager Doug Armstrong had a chance to take care of a couple of deliveries.

Armstrong was the general manager of Team Canada at last year’s IIHF world championships, a gold meal team that included Sam Montembeault and Justin Barron. Before the game, Armstrong delivered the championship ring to Montembeault.

Asked about it at intermission on Sunday, a big smile came across Armstrong’s face.

“I like being able to come with presents,” he said.

Barron was not there to receive his present. But the reason why is worth noting, because it says something about his engagement while playing in the AHL with the Laval Rocket. The Canadiens, who flew Joshua Roy home from Toronto on Saturday so he could play Sunday after Rafaël Harvey-Pinard was injured against the Dallas Stars, gave the same option to Barron because Armstrong would be there to deliver his ring. The organization thought it was important to give Barron a chance to receive that ring in person.

Barron turned down the offer. Why? Because after the Rocket’s game late Saturday afternoon in Toronto, they would be holding their rookie night, and he wanted to be a part of it. That says a lot about Barron’s priorities when it comes to choosing between himself and his team.

Roy, meanwhile, missed out on rookie night because he had no choice but to fly home. But if you’re wondering, an AHL rookie night is not quite what it is in the NHL, where the entry-level contract guys have to go out not having any idea how much the bill will cost at the end of the night.

“The rookies all paid a certain amount, and they had a night that was paid for with that,” Roy said after the game Sunday.

So he paid his part and then didn’t get to actually partake in the rookie night he helped pay for?

“Everything was paid,” he said with a smile, “but at least it was for a good reason.”

A good one-liner from Slaf

Juraj Slafkovský was not happy after the game Saturday against the Stars, even though he scored a goal. The loss bothered him much more than the goal made him happy. But talking about that goal, he mentioned how NHL goalies are expecting him to pass, so he decided to shoot there as a result, and it worked.

So, you think NHL goalies are expecting you to pass?

“I guess so,” he said, “I only pass, right?”

Slafkovský said it with a dead-serious face. He was angry the Canadiens lost the game. But it was a nice zinger.

Primeau back where he started

At the beginning of the season, Cayden Primeau played one game through the first month, and it was difficult. Over the last month of the season, Primeau has started one game, and it remains difficult.

Talking to Primeau after practice Thursday, he admitted he is back where he was at the start of the season, trying to treat practice like games, taking advantage of the extra work he gets with goalie coach Éric Raymond, trying to stay sharp. When asked if he can actively feel rust setting in, he laughed.

But one thing he was dead serious about was how much he preferred being in this situation over one where he would be in Laval playing in the AHL.

“I don’t think I have anything left to prove in the AHL,” he said. “I’d much rather be in this environment facing these shooters, getting this timing down.”

When asked if he would consider a conditioning stint in the AHL, Primeau said it hadn’t even crossed his mind, but it’s pretty clear he has no interest in the AHL anymore. And when asked if he was thinking at all about March 8, he got a puzzled look on his face.

“What’s that?” he asked. “Oh, is that the trade deadline?”

So, suffice to say Primeau is not waiting for a trade either. He’s just trying to make the best of what is a less-than-ideal situation, but it’s not exactly bad. Now, if the Canadiens could alleviate the competition for minutes …

Jake Allen was not at his best Sunday. (Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)

Allen doesn’t put his best foot forward

Jake Allen has made it clear he doesn’t want to get traded out of Montreal. His performance Sunday may have helped in that regard.

The Blues were credited by Natural Stat Trick with 3.22 expected goals in all situations. The Canadiens had 3.15. The Blues scored seven goals, the Canadiens scored two.

Allen was not good. Had he come out to talk after the game, he probably would have said the same thing. Of the seven Blues goals he allowed, there were probably four, and more likely five, he should have stopped. If there is a team out there that needed convincing Allen is the solution to their goaltending problems ahead of the trade deadline, this was nowhere near a convincing game. With the Canadiens playing one of two games on the NHL schedule, there were an unusually large number of NHL scouts in attendance, and their reports back could not have been glowing about how Allen looked. Even some of his saves looked sketchy.

The chances of Allen being traded by March 8 will not hinge on this one start, let’s be clear. He has a long body of work that will weigh far more heavily on that possibility. If the Canadiens don’t need to retain salary on his contract for the remainder of this season and next, the cost to acquire Allen would likely be pretty low. But if he continues playing like he did Sunday, even that low price is not likely to attract many suitors.

“Jake is a veteran. It wasn’t his game tonight, and that’ll happen to every goalie,” St. Louis said. “It happens. But the sun will come up tomorrow and you go back to work, and I know that’s what Jake is going to do.”

The reality of playing in Montreal expressed perfectly

Late in the game Sunday, Allen was given some mild Bronx cheers for making a routine save on a dump-in. It was not at a Patrick Roy level, but it was audible.

Matheson was asked about it after the game.

“I hate that, honestly,” he said. “I know the fans can do whatever they want and they’re very passionate, and that’s one of the reasons we love them. But to say it was his fault, I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t like that too much.”

That is a fair response from Matheson, recognizing that the fans can do what they want because they are fans, but also recognizing that it is OK for athletes to be bothered by it.

This reminded me of something Mark Streit told me when I spoke to him in Bern, Switzerland last month about the realities of playing in Montreal, and honestly, every current player would probably benefit from reading what he said, because Streit nailed it.

“You can’t have both,” he said. “You can’t love having 21,000 people at every game and being a stud in the city but on the other hand you don’t want to be criticized or you don’t want to be talked to. It goes hand in hand. It’s just a matter of getting used to it and dealing with it. For me, that experience playing in Montreal was unbelievable. You come from (Switzerland), sports is OK, but they’ll leave you alone, but you never have the same status. In the U.S. and Canada, pro sports, it’s just a different story. When you’re a pro athlete everyone thinks you’re unbelievable. Here, it’s like, OK, it’s a job, it’s a hobby where you make money and people ask you what are you going to do after. It’s getting better, but it’s not the same thing.

“So you have to get used to that, but once you get to play for the Habs and you realize … because that’s the other thing for me that was difficult. When you walk into the locker room and you see the history, the tradition, all the former players, the success the franchise had, it’s just so overwhelming. For me, it took me a while to get used to it and just to feel comfortable.”

But ultimately, when Streit looks back on it, the downside of the scrutiny in Montreal was greatly outweighed by the benefits of playing in a passionate hockey city.

“I loved it,” he said. “It can be tough when you’re trying to establish yourself, the team is not doing well, you’re not doing well, you can’t watch TV, you can’t read up on it too much, you just have to keep your focus on hockey.”

(Top photo of Kaiden Guhle: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)