The Montreal Canadiens are on the up and up. After falling just short of the postseason last year, they’ve been on a mission so far this season, eager to prove that they’re not only a playoff team, but can actually work and lock down a spot this time around.A top contender in the Atlantic Division this season, Montreal went into Saturday’s game on a roll, winning three straight and posting a 7-2-1 record through their last 10 games. And coming off a dominant 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday, the Habs returned to Bell Centre with momentum — and it showed greatly against the last-place New Jersey Devils. He also came up big with a number of strong saves for his team and almost saw his second victory of the season, but ultimately, a late goal from Wayne Simmonds on the power play and a Kyle Palmieri overtime winner sunk him in the end.Kinkaid stop on Hall on the 5 on 3. #Habs pic.twitter.com/R6YZSUDRI5— Here’s Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) November 17, 2019While he does need to do better when it comes to pulling together a full 60 minutes, he bailed the Habs out on numerous occasions, especially when the defense was weak at times throughout the night.The backup is now 1-1-2 with a 4.24 GAA and .887 save percentage while winning four of eight possible points. Overall, Kinkaid and the defense corps will have to improve as to not overload Carey Price, while giving Montreal two stable goaltending options and helping the team stay in playoff position. Despite a slow start that saw Montreal outshot 20-9 in the opening frame, the Canadiens still had a decent showing and almost pulled off a late victory until a last-minute goal was waved off. Ultimately, they fell 4-3 in overtime but still got a point out of the contest to improve to 11-5-4 (26 points).SN MAILBAG: Taylor Hall, John Carlson and the 2020 NHL DraftCale Fleury makes statement with first NHL goal, strong gameEvery player has one game that sticks with him in his career, and that may have come Saturday for Fleury. The 20-year-old defenseman was scoreless through his first 14 games of the season, leaving some wondering when he’d get his first NHL goal, let alone point. With each game came a harder effort, and it finally paid off.Against the Devils, Fleury appeared to have more energy in his game. He looked solid, skating with a lot more speed and confidence, and it ultimately led to his first NHL goal 7:43 into the second period. Showing off his hands and getting more involved on the forecheck, he was able to deke his way in tight against MacKenzie Blackwood and fire the puck top shelf to make it 2-1.🚨 CALE FLEURY 1ST NHL GOAL2-1 #HABS pic.twitter.com/jIdrvrmJCH— Here’s Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) November 17, 2019He also shined in his own end, as his performance didn’t stop at his first goal. Just minutes later on the backcheck he was able to get down and slide across to block a surefire shot with his foot and keep the Canadiens up by one. Through 13:57 of ice time, the defenseman finish with three shots, two hits, two blocks and a plus/minus rating of plus-1.Brendan Gallagher stays hotWith back-to-back 50-point campaigns these last two years, it’s easy to expect big things from Gallagher. Prior to puck drop against New Jersey, he was already impressing with 15 points in 19 games and kept the ball rolling Saturday.The 27-year-old forward struck with under two minutes remaining in the first period to make it 1-0 for his ninth goal of the season, as well as his third straight game with a point.Great work from Jeff Petry, and a perfect re-direct by Brendan Gallagher for his 9th of the year. pic.twitter.com/tH0uOvGm47— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 17, 2019Showing speed and grit, as well as a handful of great moves and strong positioning against the Devils, Gallagher demonstrated his skill set and continues to prove that he can be one of the league’s noted goal scorers and top players over time.Brendan Gallagher with the spin-o-rama. #Habs pic.twitter.com/qhDmVCGHsd— Here’s Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) November 17, 2019He’s now on pace for a career-high 39-goal season, which also would mark his third straight 30-goal campaign.Nick Suzuki keeps it goingThis Suzuki kid is pretty good at hockey. Like Gallagher, he’s also now riding a three-game point streak, but he’s also making the most of his rookie campaign, showing off his speed, hands and hockey IQ. He’s also proving his worth over the recent stretch and showing that he’s getting the hang of this thing.Already proving to be a strong bottom-6 center, the 20-year-old forward is showing a lot of confidence and strength so far this season. With a power-play tally to give the Canadiens a two-goal lead in the second, he also showed that he can be an asset on special teams and that he can get to the right areas and follow the puck.🚨 Nick Suzuki PP3-1 #Habs pic.twitter.com/HnT4h1pqhU— Here’s Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) November 17, 2019He’s now registered five goals and nine points through 20 games this season, putting him on pace for a 37-point freshman showing. That’s not too shabby for the 2017 first-rounder.All things considered, a strong game for Phillip DanaultDanault headed into Saturday’s game with four points over his previous two games, including three against Washington just a night before. Not only did he also extend his point streak to three games with an assist — a recurring storyline for the Habs against the Devils — but he was one of their strongest players.The 26-year-old was able to get to high-scoring areas and take good care of the puck while generating scoring chances, winning faceoffs and playing a physical game. He finished with an assist and three hits while leading all forwards with 20:28 TOI.His physical, gritty effort was seen through a last-minute goal, where he came speeding into the zone and was tripped up by P.K. Subban while crashing the net. As he fell and sprawled across the crease, he actually scored off his thigh, but it was disallowed as the referees deemed it “kicked” in.Danault is tripped into the net by Subban and is pushed in with the puck with 49 seconds to go, but the goal is called back pic.twitter.com/QG8kXXJEWx— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) November 17, 2019Keith Kinkaid: “We do a lot of hip thrusts in the summer. That wasn’t a kick.”— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) November 17, 2019It did appear that he pushed it in with the thigh — whether he thrusted his hip to score or was pushed further into the net is debatable — but as per Rule 78.5 (i) of the NHL rule book, “a goal is to be waved off when the puck has been deflected, batted or thrown into the net by an attacking player other than with the stick.”Despite the result, Danault played a strong overall game and proved to be a top center again for Montreal. He now has 15 points in 20 games and has earned his place on the top line between Gallagher and Tomas Tatar.An alright showing for Keith KinkaidSure, four goals allowed isn’t great, but given his workload, Kinkaid’s performance wasn’t the worst. The 30-year-old netminder stopped 39 of 43 shots on the night, including 19 of 20 in the first period to keep the game even after one.
After weeks of rumors, it looks like one plan to finish the NHL season has risen to the top of the list.A proposal to host games at a select few “hub cities,” possibly one per division, has continued to gain traction with the league. On Friday, NHL senior executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell reiterated what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated on Wednesday night; that previous plans to host games at neutral-site arenas in places like North Dakota and New Hampshire couldn’t have worked. “We need to have an NHL arena,” he said on Sportsnet’s “Hockey Central” on Friday. “There was some talk about North Dakota and other sites. We need an NHL arena that’s game-ready, that’s all set up and ready to go for broadcasting, for NHL games. They need four dressing rooms inside those arenas to play the number of games they need to play each day. The hotels need to be adequate and what our players need.”MORE: Bettman on league return, draft: “We don’t live in a world of perfect anymore”Current front-runners are thought to include PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., home of the Hurricanes, and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., home of the Wild. The Arizona Coyotes are also reportedly keen to host. However, Campbell said the NHL is carefully considering the available options.“There’s a number of criteria,” the long-time league executive said. “Is it a friendly hub? What state is friendly? What province is friendly? What are they dealing with [in terms of COVID-19 cases]? Obviously, you look at the New York area, it’s not very friendly, and you look at Alberta, that seems fairly friendly.”On Friday, Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi announced that the city’s ban on public gatherings had been extended until Aug. 31. However, Postmedia’s Danny Austin reported that Nenshi said professional sports teams could possibly get an exemption. The extended ban comes a day after the city’s premier summer event, the Calgary Stampede, was canceled.Calgarys public events ban does include all gatherings of over 15 people.Mayor Nenshi says it’s possible that professional sports teams would get an exemption, but does not “see a world where you’re having a game at a packed McMahon Stadium this summer”— Danny Austin (@DannyAustin_9) April 24, 2020When asked if Toronto could be a potential candidate, Campbell responded positively, referencing the 2016 World Cup of Hockey held in the city. “We dealt with various practice rinks, dealt with various hotels, dealt with (Scotiabank Arena), dealt with various dressing rooms, dealt with all the issues that we’re going to have to deal with, so that’s a step up that Toronto has,” he said. “Plus it’s a 70-cent dollar, there are a number of restaurants in that square there, a number of five-star hotels within shouting distance, so Toronto has a number of excellent pluses on their side to be one of the hub centers.” The plan is far from finalized, though. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Sportsnet in an interview with Ron MacLean on Wednesday that the league wouldn’t be rushing back before it’s safe. “All of this is contingent, nothing has been decided,” he said. “The decision ultimately will be made by medical people and people who run governments at all different levels. We’re not going to try to do anything that flies in the face of what we’re being told is appropriate.”Regardless of where the league chooses to play the final regular-season games, it looks almost certain that fans won’t be in the stands, which would make for a strange atmosphere in the playoffs.