Tatar, Domi continue to fuel Canadiens during playoff race

sportsnet.ca – Eric Engels

DETROIT— This wasn’t destined to be the 8-1 beat down it turned into. Not for a tight Montreal Canadiens team that had lost five road games in a row, including one a night prior to a New Jersey Devils team that iced an American Hockey League-level roster. No matter that they were playing against a Detroit Red Wings team that came into Tuesday’s action ranked 29th out of 31 teams in the NHL.

So when former Red Wing Tomas Tatar stormed out of his own zone and chased a Jordie Benn lob to the offensive blue line, fighting off Filip Hronek and avoiding two stick checks before pulling the puck from backhand to forehand and pushing it into the net for his 22nd goal of the season in the seventh minute of the game, it was a good omen for the Canadiens.

It was when Max Domi set up Andrew Shaw to put them up 2-0 that the floodgates opened. He scored their fourth and sixth goals of the game and factored into two more for Shaw’s first-ever NHL hat trick—and Montreal continued on their season-long push towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs instead of diving headlong into their recent slide.

You think about all the players who have played a role in the Canadiens bouncing back from a horrific 2017-18 season that saw them finish 28th in the standings and you can’t help but look at Tatar and Domi as the most essential pieces of the puzzle.

Sure, Carey Price has been otherworldly since the end of November, Jeff Petry has played the most consistent hockey of his career, and Shea Weber—outside of a recent dip in play—has been pretty remarkable for most his games since returning from a near year-long absence from the game. But the contributions Tatar and Domi have made have turned this team into far more of an offensive threat than anyone anticipated they would be.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, who was responsible for bringing Domi over in the summer trade that sent Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes, who had Tatar thrown into the deal that brought A-level prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick to Montreal from Las Vegas for former Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, spoke to that point on Monday in his post-trade deadline media availability.

“I’m really happy with the way these guys have turned out,” Bergevin said. “I think (Tatar’s) a great addition to our team. He brings energy, he’s fun, he loves going to the rink every day, he’s scoring goals, you could see he’s got energy. And Max—Max is Max. He’s producing and you see how he plays; his (fuse is short), but that’s how he is and you’ve gotta work with that, but, also, you don’t want to take that away because that’s what makes him who he is. We brought a different look to our team and I really like it.”

Both players have been as important to Montreal’s success off the ice as they have on it. Domi has immersed himself in the Canadiens’ culture—thriving in a hockey market after growing up under the bright lights of Toronto. And then there’s Tatar, whose high-pitched, brassy laugh is a staple of a happy Canadiens room.

“It’s like a sharp ‘HA’ with some weird noises after it,” said Domi. “It’s funny. It makes everyone else laugh. If you have a laugh that makes everyone else laugh, I think you’re doing something right. We’re very lucky to have him—not just as a hockey player. He’s such a positive guy, he’s hilarious, and his laugh is a big part of that.”

Tatar’s shot, his competitive spirit, his playmaking ability and his puck protection skills have been a welcome addition, too—putting him on pace to potentially equal his career-high of 29 goals in a season. All of those assets have also allowed him to register 25 assists for 47 points in 63 games with the Canadiens.

And Domi? He surpassed his career-high 52 points in a 5-1 over the Philadelphia Flyers last week and now he’s up to 59 points on the strength of his first-ever five point night in the NHL. It was also his team-leading 13th multi-point game of the season.

In this one, Domi was reunited with regular linemates Shaw and Jonathan Drouin for the first time since Jan. 10. They combined for 12 points, with Drouin registering four assists for his first time ever in an NHL game.

Afterwards, the Ste. Agathe, Que., native was full of praise for both Domi and Tatar.

“I played Tatar many years and in the playoffs [when I was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning] and he puts the puck in the net,” Drouin said. “He’s highly-skilled and has [great] hands where around the net he can bury a lot of pucks, and he’s a smart player as well. So I think he’s a great addition and I think [him and Domi] have both proved that Marc [Bergevin] looks very good on those two trades.”

The GM had to be smiling after watching both players play a big part in the bounce-back win over the Red Wings. It kept the Canadiens (34-23-7) in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference after wins for the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins temporarily knocked them to the bubble.

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