resim 202
resim 202

Artturi Lehkonen avait bien raison de sourire.

In the first period, a video on the giant screen of the Bell Center retraced the best moments from the six seasons he spent with the Canadiens. The highlight is obviously his winning goal in the association final, in June 2021.

The crowd applauded him warmly. And less than a minute later, he scored his club’s fourth goal, earning him another wave of love. The score was then 4-0. Each club added four goals en route to a convincing 8-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. But back to Lehkonen.

The Finn, we said, had every reason to smile. The fans celebrating him on Monday night may well have been the same ones who two, three or four years ago called for him to be traded at the low price, tired of seeing him miss open nets.

Even if he had wanted to be inconvenient, there is no one, behind the bench of the Canadian, that he could have really taunted in relation to his use in Montreal. The fact that he got his 20th point of the season on the power play would have given him the material to do so. When he was with CH, with the exception of the 2017-2018 season and the few weeks before his departure last year, the 5v4 game was denied to him. Here he is an integral part of the massive offense of the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche.

His contribution is “hard to qualify,” head coach Jared Bednar said hours before the game, praising his intensity and forechecking efficiency. “He likes to go to the net and score ugly goals,” he added. As we know, goals-rejects have the same value on the score sheet as those that make Yvan Ponton’s puffs.

“You want guys like that on your team,” Cale Makar said after the game. Not a bad compliment coming from a guy a lot of people want on their team.

“It’s hard not to love him,” Bowen Byram added.

Did the Canadiens, under these circumstances, make the wrong move by trading him, in March 2022, to the Avalanche in return for Justin Barron and a second-round pick?

Not really. Appointed in January 2022, general manager Kent Hughes inherited a club in poor condition, and he needed to get to work quickly to improve it. Offering an onerous contract to Lehkonen at the dawn of a long reconstruction would have been the opposite of optimizing his bargaining chips. It could also be argued that number 62 is enjoying offensive success playing with Nathan MacKinnon and no longer with Jake Evans and Joel Armia. It is obvious.

However, we can wonder about the evaluation and use that the Habs have made of their attacker over the years. A player drafted and developed during the reign of Marc Bergevin, whose record in this area has been, let’s be polite, mixed. A player who, despite the trough of the CH wave in recent years, has had little chance of playing on attacking lines.

Here he is, however, among the trusted men of his trainer. We won’t redo the entire exercise with Lars Eller, but it’s fun to have seen him also in action with the Avalanche on Monday. In his last season in Montreal, in 2015-2016, he played at the center only part-time. Since that day, he’s played center for teams that have reached the playoffs every year — he was with the Washington Capitals until recently.

These are two players who grew up in the bosom of the organization and who, failing to be entrusted with an interesting role in Montreal, found one… in better teams.

In victory as in defeat, and even in thaws like Tuesday, the evaluation of players is constant, said Martin St-Louis at the end of the evening. His flock, he said, are under constant scrutiny. “You evaluate all the time, every day. He also likes to say that he prefers to form his own opinion about his flock, ignoring their past or their status.

At a time when development is an ever-present topic in the life of the Canadiens, seeing Artturi Lehkonen go should be a serious reminder of the risk of labeling a player quickly. The reminder is valid for everyone, by the way. Talk to the Chicago Blackhawks, who parted ways with Kirby Dach last summer, or even the Pittsburgh Penguins, who preferred to acquire Jeff Petry over keeping Mike Matheson.

In this season of all learning, this lesson should not go under the radar.

Despite the score, he played with intensity and produced scoring chances throughout the game. Finding himself on the right of Nick Suzuki gave him wings.

When he returned to the game two weeks ago, he said he had recovered from his knee injury. But is he totally comfortable in his movements? It’s not clear. He’s posted a -6 differential in his last two games.

By freeing Jake Allen from his suffering, Martin St-Louis changed his goalkeeper during the game only for the second time this season. Cayden Primeau was called up for relief on January 19 after Samuel Montembeault allowed five goals for the Florida Panthers.

Many of them held their breath when they saw the young Avalanche defender Bowen Byram drop the gloves against Michael Pezzetta, one of the strong men of the Canadian. It’s that concussions derailed the 2019 No. 4 draft’s early career. He’s officially suffered three – but none this season so far – so Monday’s game was only his 76th in the NHL, although he has been full-time in the NHL since the shortened 2020-21 season. Despite his heavy medical history, he did not hesitate to come to the defense of his partner on the blue line, Samuel Girard, who had just been tackled hard by Pezzetta. “It’s part of hockey, but I’m not very good at it,” Byram admitted candidly. But sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. We defend each other. When we are attacked, we retaliate. As for his concussion issues, Byram explained that “It’s over, it’s in the past, I don’t think about it anymore.” For his part, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said, “It’s an intense game, the temperature is rising and he defended his teammates. But I don’t want to see this all the time. Bednar then added, however, that “I don’t want our guys backing down because they’ve been hurt before. I’m glad he says his problems are behind him and he has the confidence to do so. »

Among the many incongruities of this game, note this one: the first star of the evening only played half the game. We are of course talking about Artturi Lehkonen, author of two goals and an assist. By the end of the match, Bednar already had a clear diagnosis for the Finnish striker, the kind of information that the Habs are not used to revealing. Lehkonen therefore suffers from a broken finger and will be operated on Wednesday. Bednar added that he will not know the length of the absence until the player has undergone surgery. The head coach did not know on which sequence the number 62 was injured, but he knows that it was the result of a puck which reached him. Note that Lehkonen scored the Avalanche’s first goal after deflecting a puck with his hand. The CH also finished the game with 11 attackers, as Rem Pitlick abdicated in the first period after falling hard against the ramp. It’s unclear what he’s suffering from, but Martin St-Louis said Pitlick will be on the plane to Pittsburgh for Tuesday’s game. If crippled Justin Barron is ready to return to action on Tuesday, St. Louis would still have the option of fielding an 11-forward, 7-defender roster. The option is interesting because it would avoid a player recall, and the Rocket must play an important game on Wednesday against Rochester, its direct rival in the race for the playoffs.

When Devon Toews was penalized at the end of the first period, the Canadian returned by deploying a power play with five attackers, a practice that we saw until mid-season, but which had taken the edge with the return to form of defender Mike Matheson. Maybe Martin St-Louis was considering this change in the last game, but we will never know since no penalty had been awarded. But this time, it was therefore a unit made up of Nick Suzuki, Denis Gurianov, Josh Anderson, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Jonathan Drouin who went into the fray. Matheson was part of the second unit. The group of five attackers ended up scoring a goal, but without taking anything away from Gurianov, the goal was the result of a favorable leap as he recovered a puck blocked by Samuel Girard and attempted a new shot, which the goalkeeper Alexandar Georgiev obviously did not see it coming.