By JD Lagrange – It’s been fast and furious around the NHL, even difficult to keep track of all of the player-movement around the league. As playoffs’ contenders attempt to distance themselves from pretenders by loading up, others like the Arizona Coyotes keep accumulating dead cap space for picks. It’s been so crazy a few days leading up to Friday’s trade deadline that we almost forgot that there are still games needing to be played.
Two of the teams in action last night have made some moves as the Canadiens visited the San Jose Sharks, who started life without Timo Meier. As for Montreal, it was their first game since trading away underwhelming Evgenii Dadonov to Dallas, getting 25 year-old Denis Gurianov. If Dadonov scored in his first game in the lone-star state, the Canadiens’ new addition did everything but putting the puck in the back of the net last night, a very impressive first appearance. The Canadiens came back from a 1-0 deficit after 40 minutes, to win 3-1. Kaiden Guhle, Jesse Ylönen and Christian Dvorak – in an empty net – were the Canadiens’ goals scorers.
The Russian winger, sporting Ryan Poehling’s old number 25, skated on a line with Nick Suzuki and Mike Hoffman for his Habs’ debuts. Not only did head coach Martin St-Louis put the newcomer on the top line, but he also played him on the second powerplay unit against the Sharks.
In 17:02 of ice time (2:24 on the PP), Gurianov ended the night with a plus-one rating and six (6) shots on goal, many of them quality chances. He also hit the side of the net on a one-timer.
Earlier in the day, St-Louis spoke to reporters about what he knew about his new player and about his expectations. Always refreshing to listen to, the coach had this to say: “Honestly, I’ve had people who tried to contact me to tell me about the young player they know, but that’s something I’ll get into in two to three weeks”, said St-Louis. “I want to form my own opinion. I don’t want to be influenced by what someone might tell me before I get to see him. I fee like not everybody sees it the same way, so I don’t want to get tainted just because that’s some person’s opinion”, he added. “I want to see him in practice, I want to see him in games, I want to make my own first impression versus being influenced by somebody with what I should be expecting. Because I don’t think everybody sees it the same way. You’re coaching a hockey player, you’re coaching a person, so if I can get an edge there I will, but in due time.”
With his performance last night, it’s fair to say that Gurianov is starting in the coach’s good grace. He came as advertised. He’s big, he’s a good skater, he has a good shot. On one play, he out skated Erik Karlsson (of all people) on the outside, cut to the net but was stopped by the goalie. In another occasion, he fed a brilliant pass to Suzuki in front of the Sharks’ net, and the Canadiens’ center seemed surprised to get it on his blade, and took too long to shoot.
It’s only one game so it’s important not to get carried away here, but if he is to keep playing the way he did last night, it is not too farfetched to think of him on the right side of Cole Caufield and Suzuki next season.
The game against the Sharks was also the return of Kaiden Guhle into the line-up, he who had left the game on December 29th with a knee injury and hadn’t played since. The rookie defenseman picked up where he left off, paired with David Savard. Smooth skating, always in good position, joining the rush, it’s like he never missed a game.
Guhle finished the night with 18:27, third most behind Mike Matheson and Savard. He scored the game tying goal in the third period, and finished the night with a plus-one rating, three shots on goal, one hit and one blocked shot.
The Canadiens did use their six defensemen rather evenly as the least utilized was Justin Barron, with 15:50 of ice time.
Last night’s win, however, is on veteran goaltender Jake Allen, who stopped 38 or the Sharks 39 shots. In fact, Allen stopped 38 consecutive shots as he allowed a goal on the Sharks’ very first shot of the game, 1:43 minutes in.
Spectacular at times, helped by his defensemen a couple of times, Allen was in full “beast mode” last night. He was a big reason why Erik Karlsson was kept off the scoresheet, something very few teams have been able to do this season. It was the 34th start of the season for the Canadiens’ number… 34.
The Canadiens continue their Western road trip on Thursday, when they will visit the Los Angeles Kings. Game starts at 7:30 PM Pacific, 10:30 PM Eastern.