Hello there, folks! Back with another edition of my three stars of the week column!
Players will earn points each time they appear as a star in this column and at the end of the year, I will award my three stars of the season.
The Canadiens returned to the ice this week, winning their first two games back and dropping the third. So, let’s see who delivered for the Habs this week.
☆ THIRD STAR: Artturi Lehkonen
When the Canadiens returned to the ice on Tuesday against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the Oilers, they did so without the services of both Tyler Toffoli and Joel Armia. This meant they needed contributions up and down the lineup against a high-powered team.
Artturi Lehkonen delivered a really good performance in that game. His line was on the ice for two of the three goals the Canadiens scored in the first period, one of which coming just 18 seconds into the action, really setting the tone for the effort the Habs would play with in that game.
Lehkonen followed up that game with another solid performance against the Senators, picking up an assist on Paul Byron’s shorthanded goal. Unfortunately, he did take the penalty that led to the goal that broke Jake Allen’s shutout, but that was only one play during a two-game stretch where Lehkonen played solid in the absence of two key cogs for the Canadiens.
This is what we have come to expect from Lehkonen. He is as steady and reliable as they come as a forward from a defensive standpoint, and as we see when he is given more opportunity to be an offensive player he can deliver some offense as well.
This comes during a time where the Canadiens have some roster decisions looming and as such, speculation is that the Canadiens could be looking at offers for Lehkonen to alleviate their cap space concerns. If that is the case, Lehkonen’s play this week may increase his value.
☆ SECOND STAR: Jake Evans
Speaking of roster decisions looming, Jake Evans is the guy who has to be feeling the most heat with Eric Staal waiting in the wings and this week he looked like a guy who wanted to make a statement. He did just that against the Ottawa Senators Thursday night, with what was probably his best game as a member of the Habs.
Two beautiful assists, one to Byron on the aforementioned shorthanded goal that displayed some of the solid play on the penalty kill that we saw earlier in the season from Evans, but also showed that he has a little more to give offensively than we have seen to this point in the season.
Then a similar assist on Corey Perry’s goal in which he received the pass from Victor Mete that was not in an ideal location, Evans controlled the pass, spun away from the traffic, and it led to the goal from Perry.
Evans’ performance in this game was a message sent that he could make a difference for this team and if someone is going to have to come out of the lineup to make space for Staal, perhaps the Canadiens should look at someone other than Evans.
Evans does a lot for this team, killing penalties, playing a physical game, and contributing some offense here and there. With decisions needing to be made fairly soon, it will be interesting to see how Evans’ performance of late contributes to the process.
☆ FIRST STAR: Brendan Gallagher
Earlier this season, the Canadiens were looking for more from the Tatar-Danault-Gallagher line to match the type of production they have gotten from them the past two seasons. The play they received from the trio was not nearly what it needed to be, but when Gallagher was moved around, playing with others in the lineup it made it clear that he was not the problem.
Naturally, this also meant when Dominique Ducharme reunited the trio that Gallagher would be the solution. Tatar has had his moments as of late, including the shootout winner, Danault has been playing at a respectable level, but Gallagher is the straw that stirs the drink for this line and this week that was made abundantly clear.
The third goal of the game against the Oilers was the quintessential Brendan Gallagher goal. Even as his line mate, Tatar, was celebrating because he thought the Habs had already scored, Gallagher did the heavy lifting jumping on the loose puck in the crease and batting it home to give the Canadiens an actual reason to celebrate.
Follow that up with a game against the Senators in which Gallagher picked up the primary assist on the Habs opening goal of the game and scored one himself later in the game and he had himself quite the two games.
There was a little bit of concern in the Saturday night game against the Sens with Gallagher leaving that game for a stretch before the second intermission but returning at the start of the third. Gallagher battled his way through and returned to the game just as Canadiens fans have come to expect.
Gallagher had four points in three games this week, which was valuable production for a team that needed to give themselves some breathing room in the North division standings. As expected, Gallagher was right in the middle of everything this week for the Canadiens.
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