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Week 2 in One Word: Boost

boost /bo͞ost/ help or encourage (something) to increase or improve. Similar: improve, raise, increase, encourage, help, stimulate, invigorate, revitalize, bolster a source of help or encouragement leading to increase or improvement.

Week 2 for the Montreal Canadiens featured three games. On Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks were in town. Then on Thursday the Habs hosted Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the Carolina Hurricanes for their first meeting since the offer sheet fiasco. The Saturday night match-up was the Canadiens’ fourth home game of the season, this one against the Detroit Red Wings. Here’s what I saw shake down.

Game 4 of the season featured the insertion of Mike Hoffman into the line-up, and into an abysmal power play.

The Habs signed Mike Hoffman as a free agent this past summer, but he arrived at camp injured and was unavailable until Game 4. Hoffman has made his career as a power play specialist, and with the Habs scoreless with the man advantage to start the season, he was a sight for sore eyes. Adam Brooks also entered his first game for the Habs with Jake Evans out due to injury. But both new additions were skating into an utter mess.

This game against the Sharks was over by the first intermission. Dahlen scored on an innocent looking point shot that he redirected. A bad pinch by Ben Chiarot led to Dahlen’s second of the game. Then late in the period Karlsson shot one off David Savard to make it 3-0. The final score was 5-0 and the Chiarot-Savard pair was on for too many of those. The Dvorak line the only crew with any chances but didn’t convert. Their fourth loss to open the season was rock bottom for the Habs.

For Game 5 of 82, Coach Ducharme turned to the line blender.

After being blown out in Game 4, Ducharme had the line blender dialed in on bust. Drouin-Dvorak-Anderson remained a thing, but not much else.

The Habs scored first – a power play goal from Brendan Gallagher – but it was called back for goaltender interference. A weak call, but Gally’s reputation will come out on the crappy end of that stick every time. The Canes scored two quick ones in the second, and late in the period Tyler Toffoli broke the power play curse to take them to the intermission down 2-1. Midway through the third, Kotkaniemi scored the back breaker to make it 3-1. The game ended at a 4-1 score on an empty netter.

It was a loss, but there were signs of life.

The Habs desperately needed a win in Game 6 before heading out on their west coast road trip.

Ducharme made another roster change for this one, inserting Sami Niku for Chris Wideman. When the Detroit Red Wings opened the scoring on a power play just over five minutes into the game, it started to look grim again.

But then Chiarot scored – he who had contributed to several goals for the opposition heading into this one, and was in penalty box for Detroit’s opening goal, tied the game at one. Hoffman scored on the power play and the Habs went to the intermission with a lead. In the second, Dvorak finally scored his first for the Habs after several near misses, and Quebec-born Matthieu Perreault scored a hat-trick to land a 6-1 win for the Habs. What a breath of fresh air!

Every Habs fan on the planet is hoping Game 6 was the season turning point, and if it is there are a few things we can give credit to.

Mike Hoffman might be a one-trick pony, but he’s good enough at that one trick that he has given the Habs power play a boost.

The first boost the Habs received this week was the addition of Mike Hoffman. He’s used to power play success. He doesn’t come with the baggage of years of futility with the man advantage. Game 4 might have been rock bottom for the Habs, but the power play looked to be settling down a bit and Hoffman was part of that story.

There was one point of the power play where I cheered out loud for #68. They were recovering the puck in their own zone and breaking out. He saw an opening and skated the puck in, refusing to submit to that ridiculous sling shot that resembles a drunken Harlem Globetrotters spoof.

In Game 6 Hoffman scored his first goal for the Habs. They had spent some time in the zone on the power play and had decent control, but the high-risk chances remained limited. Hoffman took the puck, looked pass, and chose to step in and drill it into the net. I hope he never loses his confidence when the Habs are up a man.

The Habs hit rock bottom, and it might have been the only way the coach was going to face some facts.

With Kotkaniemi in town, much focus was on his return. But the coach was focused on shaking up his group. After the 5-0 loss to the Sharks, the Habs couldn’t afford to be obsessed with an odd rivalry.

The Dvorak line was the only trio left untouched. Suzuki and Caufield were separated and surrounded by veterans on their new lines. Evans was back in the line-up and centered the 4th line. Perreault was moved to 3C. But the line juggling wouldn’t have helped if those D pairs went unmolested.

The separation of Chiarot and Savard should have sparked fireworks somewhere. Shutting down with a lead, this pair might make some sense… maybe. But as a consistent duo, they were a black hole. Constantly hemmed in, giveaways and goals against. Dom formed new pairs that saw each guy land a puck-moving D beside them.

I’m not sure why it took such a devastating start to get the coach there, when fans and pundits saw that 8+58=minus from the day Savard was signed. But at least we got here. For now. Game 6 saw another juggle, with Sami Niku making his debut for the Habs to replace Chris Wideman. But the pair of stay-at-home guys remained apart.

Balancing stay at home guys with puck movers was the exact boost the Habs needed to get the offence going.

The test for the coach will come when Edmundson is back – another stay at home D that had a great first season with the Habs. Who will sit for him? Will the coach maintain the balanced pairs, or will be see a puck mover scratched?

The general manager made it clear no boost was coming from his department.

Ducharme was forced to make line-up changes. Help was not coming from elsewhere. On Wednesday, GM Marc Bergevin addressed the media after the loss to the Sharks the night before. He said he would not be making any moves to try and help the team, and that the solution would have to be found in the room.

I’m not suggesting this was the wrong call in this instance, but when was the last time the Habs got a legitimate in-season boost from their GM?

The power play, when effective, can be a real boost!

One could argue that the tide turned for Montreal when Tyler Toffoli broke the power play curse in Game 5.

The scoring opened in Game 6 when the Habs were able to sustain pressure on the power play, and the Red Wings couldn’t make the change at the end of the man advantage. A beauty of a pass from Drouin to Chiarot, and the puck was in the net.

Sami Niku, in his first game with the Habs, had two assists. The first of them came on the power play when he connected with Hoffman. How good does it look to have just a couple of guys who don’t look terrified to touch the puck with the man advantage?

You might say it’s a bit of a boost.

Every comeback story has a surprise boost in there somewhere.

I loved the Mathieu Perreault signing this summer. I loved his game when the Habs faced the Jets in the playoffs. In the depth chart I saw him as a 13th forward, but I didn’t believe he was signed with the intention of relegating him to the press box. I also love the idea of having a winger or two who can play centre in the roster. An extra guy to take a draw, and who can support the young centres on this team is a very good idea.

I didn’t dream for one moment that by Game 5 he would be the third line centre, never mind skating between Toffoli and Caufield. Last week I tweeted that they were two wingers dying for a centre. I’ll eat crow on that one every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

What a game we saw from the veteran Quebecer in Game 6 against Detroit! A hat trick in the first win of the season for the Habs, on home ice where the fans were just dying for a reason to cheer. The emotion in the rink – the emotion in Perreault’s eyes – are the reason we love this team.

He scored three goals, but that’s not all. He didn’t look out of place at centre. In Game 6 he went 71% in the face-off circle and was keeping up with Toffoli and Caufield. The trio had some developing chemistry. We don’t expect Perreault to lead the team in goal-scoring for long. But if he can fill the hole at 3C and manage to perform at average, it will be a huge boost for the Habs.

Next up is the West Coast road trip. Four games in six nights beginning on Tuesday. Let’s hope Saturday’s win was just the boost they needed to dig them out of their hole.

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