You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Canadiens Game Day: Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot stand tall for Habs

The Gazette logo The Gazette 2021-01-29 Stu Cowan, Montreal Gazette
a group of people skiing on the snow: Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot battles with Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk while goalie Carey Price looks on during third-period action at the Bell Centre Thursday night. © Provided by The Gazette Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot battles with Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk while goalie Carey Price looks on during third-period action at the Bell Centre Thursday night.
Replay Video

The Canadiens’ twin towers on defence stood tall Thursday night in a 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames in their home opener at the Bell Centre.

Matthew Tkachuk, who is a very good hockey player and also very good at being a pain in the butt, was basically a non-factor thanks to the play of Canadiens defencemen Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot, who put a physical beating on him.

Chiarot ended up dropping the gloves with Tkachuk at the 10:19 mark of the third period and slamming him to the ice after a battle in front of the Canadiens net. Tkachuk finished the game with no points, was minus-1 and had only one shot on goal in 18:47 of ice time.

“Obviously, he’s a guy that’s very good in front of the net and we’re going to try and do our best to make life a little bit easier on Carey (Price) and Jake (Allen) and try and let them see the puck,” Weber said about the Canadiens’ two goalies. “He’s good at his job and our job is to get him out of there. So it’s something that we know we’ve got to do and we’ve got to do a good job. Tonight was one step, but we’ve got another one Saturday.”

The two teams will meet again Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

The game wasn’t as close as the final score looked with the Flames getting two goals in the final 1:18. The Canadiens got goals from Brendan Gallagher (power play), Weber (power play), Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli (short-handed). The Flames outshot the Canadiens 25-21 with Price earning the win in goal.

The Canadiens improved their record to 5-0-2 and they have now outscored the opposition 33-20.

Weber logged 23:09 of ice time, scored his second goal of the season and was plus-1, while Chiarot logged 20:15 of ice time and was plus-2.

“They’ve been a solid pair since last year and I really liked them,” coach Claude Julien said. “Ben came in here (last season from Winnipeg) and a lot of people were wondering what kind of defenceman he was going to be. But he turned out to have a really good year last year. He’s off to a great start again this year.

“For some reason, those two have made a really good pair,” Julien added. “They talk a lot, they look at video together a lot. They’re always constantly into discussions and trying to clarify things. So I think there’s a good chemistry there with those two guys. And, obviously, what I like as a coach is they’re both big, they’re fairly mobile, good first pass. Not only can you use them against top lines, but you can also use them with your top lines because they move the puck well enough that they help create some offence as well.”

Special teams are special

Toffoli’s goal was the fifth the Canadiens have scored short-handed in their first seven games. Last season, they finished the season with six short-handed goals in 71 games.

The Canadiens also went 2-for-3 on the power play, which is now clicking at 30.8 per cent for the season.

Last season, the Canadiens ranked 22nd in the NHL on the power play at 17.7 per cent and they had the worst power play in the league at home at 12.4 per cent.

“We know our power play wasn’t good last year, definitely at home, too,” said Jonathan Drouin, who assisted on Weber’s power-play goal and also assisted on Anderson’s goal. “It’s nice to get two goals. Not many five-on-five goals tonight. But one shorty, two on the power play is huge for your special teams. We work on it, we watch video a lot now. I think it’s definitely helping the guys and the coaching staff is doing a great job on positioning guys and making sure we’re in the right spots and useful in those spots. So credit to them and credit to the players. We’re doing it well, we need to keep going, though.”

Drouin has 1-7-8 totals in the first seven games to rank third in team scoring behind Toffoli (6-3-9) and Jeff Petry (2-6-8).

Nick Suzuki picked up an assist on Toffoli’s short-handed goal, extending his point streak to seven games and giving him 2-5-7 totals.

Chasing the Leafs

Toronto (7-2-0) moved into first place in the North Division with a 4-3 win over the Oilers Thursday night in Edmonton. The Canadiens trail the Maple Leafs by two points, but hold two games in hand.

“It’s a pretty good start,” Weber said. “I think we were very opportunistic tonight. I still don’t think it was our best effort, by any means. I think we got a lot of room to improve here. That’s a good sign. Obviously, we’re playing well enough to win and we’re capitalizing. I think we just need to tighten up a few areas.”

After Thursday’s morning skate in Brossard, Gallagher warned that it’s too early to get excited about the hot start.

“There’s a few of us that were around here a few years ago,” he said. “We’ve had some pretty good starts. I think we started 9-1 one year and we were 10-0 one year. You know how easily it can switch the other way as well. Lots of areas to improve. The job’s obviously a long way from being done. It’s a good start, it’s encouraging, I think everyone’s kind of figuring out what kind of roles they’re going to have. It’s an exciting group to be around right now, but there’s no need to celebrate us right now.

“Lots of work to do and teams around us are going to continue to get better and improve,” Gallagher added. “And If we’re not doing the same thing we’re going to fall back to the pack pretty quickly. So there’s some emphasis on that, for sure.”

Some stats

Weber led the Canadiens in ice time with 23:09, followed by Chiarot and Petry, who both had 20:15. Suzuki led the forwards with 17:55, followed by Phillip Danault (15:46) and Anderson (15:04).

Gallagher had a team-leading four shots, while Toffoli had three. Alexander Romanov and Joel Edmundson had three hits each.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi had an impressive night in the faceoff circle, going 8-4 (67 per cent), while Danault was 10-8 (56 per cent) and Jake Evans was 6-5 (55 per cent). Suzuki had a tough night on faceoffs, going 3-11 (21 per cent).

Bell Centre debut

Anderson was looking forward to playing his first game at the Bell Centre as a member of the Canadiens — even though there weren’t any fans in the building because of COVID-19.

“It’s going to be nice to be on the other side this time,” Anderson said after practice Wednesday about making his Bell Centre debut after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Max Domi during the off-season. “Obviously, with the circumstances with no fans in the building it’s going to be a little bit different. But that being said, I’m just going treat it like just another game and go out there. When we skated at the Bell Centre yesterday it was pretty exciting just to see the whole arena and the locker room. Seeing the history in that room was pretty special. So I’m going to be pretty excited to play there tomorrow.”

Anderson scored his fourth goal of the season in the second period, batting a rebound of a Kotkaniemi shot into the net out of midair.

Getting adjusted

Changing teams is something new for Anderson.

The 26-year-old played all three seasons of his junior hockey with the OHL’s London Knights and was selected by the Blue Jackets in the fourth round (95th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft. He played 267 games over six seasons with the Blue Jackets, posting 65-50-115 totals, before being traded to the Canadiens.

“To be honest with you, I thought it would be a lot harder than what it’s been,” Anderson said about adjusting to his new team in Montreal. “But it’s been such an easy transition. From Day 1 the guys here have been tremendous. It’s a tight group. Everyone’s really, really close and they welcomed me with open arms here. Just being on the road for those last two weeks it feels like I’ve been here for almost a year now. … It’s been great. The bond’s been awesome, the guys have been great. I’m looking forward to many more years with this team.”

Surprising speed

Anderson surprised his linemates, Suzuki and Drouin, with his speed early in training camp.

“There was one play in practice where he just took off and me and Dru were off to the side and we just looked at each other and smiled,” Suzuki said at the time. “We couldn’t wait to get that down our wing. He’s big and fast and I think he’s a fit to us as a line perfectly.”

Anderson was asked Wednesday if he did any skating drills during the off-season to get quicker.

“To be honest with you, not really,” he said. “In the off-season I was really focused on getting my shoulder back at 100 per cent and doing all the exercises and things like that. When I got on the ice it just felt natural. I don’t know what it is. In the summer I was focused on my shoulder and trying to get that back and trying to work on my shot because I thought I had lost a little bit of accuracy there. But with the skating, I think it was just natural.”

London Knights coach Dale Hunter encouraged Anderson to work on his shot when he was playing junior.

“Just shooting as many pucks as you can every single day,” Anderson said. “There’s always room for improvement and you can always work on your shot before practice, after practice, away from the rink. I know growing up as a kid that was a big thing that my dad told me. Just shooting 50 to 100 pucks every single day. I’m trying to dial that down. When I got to London the Hunters were pretty big on that and they told me to watch players like Corey Perry (also a former Knight) and where he is and look out for him and see the things that he does. And just watch other players, too, that can help you.”

Solid fourth line

Julien has been able to roll his lines this season because he has a solid fourth line now with centre Evans between Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen.

“Honestly, if you just draw up the lines, we have three really, really good hockey lines right now and we just happen to be the fourth line,” Byron said. “But I think if you took our three players and put them on a lot of hockey teams right now they’re probably playing third line somewhere else. So we know that. We know how good we are as a line. We know what we can do to impact the team, impact the game, and I think it gives us a lot of confidence.

“When our team comes off a power play, we get matched up against the top line and there’s no fear from us at all,” Byron added. “We embrace that. We embrace our role, embrace our identity, go out and have a great shift for the team. We generate some momentum, play the other team’s top line hard. The fact that the three of us can penalty-kill gives us the confidence to go out there and play well five-on-five. I think the offence of our line, we’re capable of bringing a lot. I think we can play a really good game defensively. Our identity, our team, is built on four lines just kind of being able to hit you one after another and not really slowing down or giving the other team a chance to regroup, break and get the pressure back on you. So I like our line a lot right now, I like what we can do and I think we’re going to continue to get better and grow as a line the more we play together.”

Replay Video

Coaching connection

Julien and Flames coach Geoff Ward have a long history together, dating back to when they were behind the bench together for an Under-18 Team Canada squad.

“Jeff and I communicated during the summer and before camp started and everything else,” Julien said. “Our friendship goes back a long ways.  I’m going to say ’97, ’98, when he coached with me at the Under-18 Team Canada. It started from there and then we became good friends and then, obviously, I brought him with me to Hamilton when I was with Edmonton’s American league team. It was the Bulldogs back then. And then I brought him to Boston with me. So our friendship goes a long ways.”

Ward was an assistant coach under Julien for seven seasons in Boston and they won a Stanley Cup together in 2011. Ward was promoted from associate coach to head coach of the Flames midway through last season after Bill Peters resigned amid allegations of racism when he was coaching in the minor leagues. The Flames went 25-15-3 under Ward before losing to the Dallas Stars in the first round of the playoffs and his interim tag was removed during the off-season.

“Jeff’s a really good coach,” Julien said. “He knows the game extremely well. Him being a head coach now is not surprising to me. He’s paid his dues. I know he got interviewed before he even got that Calgary job for some head-coaching jobs before. So he was really looked upon as a future head coach in this league. So not surprised and not surprised how well he’s done. He had to take over a team halfway through a season last year and the team never missed a beat and did well. So deservingly he was extended. I know that watching his team so far their team’s playing well, so he’s done a good job. So a good friend and a good coach.”


What’s next?

The Canadiens will practice at 11 a.m. Friday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard before facing the Flames again Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CBC, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

Next week, the Canadiens will play the Vancouver Canucks Monday and Tuesday at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), followed by a visit from the Ottawa Senators on Thursday (TSN2, TSN5, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). The Canadiens and Senators will then meet again next Saturday afternoon in Ottawa (1 p.m., TSN2, TSN5, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).


More from The Gazette

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon