The good news for the Canadiens is that their odds of making the playoffs remain at 95.9 per cent, according to sportsclubstats.com.
The bad news is that they have lost their last three games — including a 5-0 shutout by the Winnipeg Jets Saturday night — and are 1-4-0 in their last five games while being outscored 20-10 during that span.
The Canadiens remain in fourth place in the all-Canadian North Division with a 17-12-9 record, six points ahead of the fifth-place Calgary Flames (17-21-3) while also holding three games in hand. The top four teams make the playoffs and the Flames beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-0 Saturday night.
Games in hand are great, but you still have to win them. The Canadiens also have five games remaining against the Flames and those matchups will likely decide the final playoff spot. The Canadiens are back in action Monday night at the Bell Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., TSN2, TSN4, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) before the Flames come to town for back-to-back games on Wednesday and Friday.
The Canadiens announced Sunday that defenceman Victor Mete has been placed on waivers, one day before the NHL trade deadline, which is at 3 p.m. Monday. Less than two hours after Mete was placed on waivers, the Canadiens announced they had acquired defenceman Jon Merrill from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a fifth-round pick at this year’s NHL Draft and forward Hayden Verbeek, who had 1-2-3 totals in seven games this season with the AHL’s Laval Rocket.
In 36 games this season with the Red Wings, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Merrill had 0-5-5 totals and was plus-2. The 29-year-old, who shoots left, has played 392 career games in the NHL with 12-54-66 totals and 207 penalty minutes. Merrill is playing on a one-year, US$925,000 contract. The New Jersey Devils selected the Oklahoma City native in the second round (38th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft.
The 22-year-old Mete had 0-3-3 totals and was plus-3 in 14 games with the Canadiens this season.
The Canadiens had a 9-5-4 record to start the season under Claude Julien and are now 8-7-5 since Dominique Ducharme took over, so it looks like coaching wasn’t the biggest problem with this team.
Goal-scoring continues to be a big problem and the Canadiens have now scored two goals or less in eight of the 20 games they have played with Ducharme as interim head coach. This Canadiens obviously miss Brendan Gallagher and are 0-3 since he was sidelined with a fractured thumb with the team scoring only four goals in that span. Gallagher is out for at least five more weeks.
Goalie Carey Price, who has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury, still isn’t ready to return.
“He’s doing good … he’s doing better,” Ducharme said after the Canadiens practised Sunday morning in Brossard without Price. “What they’re working on with him is positive, so within the next few days he should be on the ice. But exactly when, tougher to tell today.”
Ducharme said he will announce on Monday morning whether Jake Allen or Cayden Primeau will start in goal against the Leafs.
Joel Armia practised with his teammates Sunday morning for the first time since testing positive for COVID-19 on March 22. Ducharme confirmed that Armia did suffer from COVID-19 symptoms after testing positive for a variant, adding that the right-winger is close to returning to the lineup now but that it won’t happen Monday night.
Ducharme changed his defence pairings at practice Sunday, putting Brett Kulak with Shea Weber and reuniting Joel Edmundson with Jeff Petry on the second pair. Petry had played with Edmundson before Ben Chiarot was sidelined with a fractured hand from a fight with the Vancouver Canucks’ J.T. Miller on March 10.
Petry had 10-14-24 totals and a plus/minus differential of plus-16 in the first 25 games this season with Edmundson as his partner. In the 13 games since then, Petry has 1-4-5 totals and is minus-7. Edmundson continues to lead the NHL in plus/minus at plus-28.
At age 35, captain Shea Weber leads the Canadiens with an average of 22:47 of ice time per game, followed by Petry at 22:42. The Canadiens’ gruelling schedule, which has them playing 17 games in 30 days in April, appears to be taking a toll on Weber, who is pointless in the last four games and minus-3 in the last two, including a brutal giveaway in front of his own net that resulted in a goal Saturday night.
When asked Sunday about the possibility of some “load management” for him moving forward, Weber said: “I’ve never considered that. I’d like to play more if possible, given the chance.”
As far as the pressure on the leadership group now — especially with Gallagher out of the lineup — Weber said: “I don’t think there’s any more pressure now than there is at any given time. I think there’s a solution there and we’ve just got to go get it.”
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