Canadiens Jesperi Kotkaniemi showing he can play with the big boys

Canadiens\ Jesperi Kotkaniemi showing he can play with the big boys
Lines and D pairings – October 22
Eighteen-year-old rookie didnt hesitate coming to the defence of Carey Price after goalie got run over during OT loss to Ottawa Senators.

Montreal Canadiens centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi get around Detroit Red Wings left-wing Thomas Vanek during in Montreal on Oct. 15, 2018. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

The Canadiens, who are off to a 4-1-2 start, have three games this week with the Calgary Flames visiting the Bell Centre Tuesday night (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio), followed by road games Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres and Saturday night against the Boston Bruins.

The Montreal Canadiens will look to keep their four game point streak alive after having their three game winning streak snapped with a 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa in their last outing. Max Domi, Phillip Danault and Paul Byron helped Montreal jump out to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes, but thats all the scoring the Habs would do as Ottawa tied the game at 3 by the end of the 2nd period. The game stayed that way until the halfway point of overtime, when Mark Stone scored his 2nd of the game for Ottawa so send Montreal back with only one point to show for their hard work. Carey Price took the OT loss, falling to 2-1-2 this season after allowing all 4 goals on 34 shots.

How Claude Julien and the Canadiens have entered the modern…

If Canadiens rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi plays in all three games, he will reach the 10-game mark and his NHL entry-level contract will automatically kick in. The Canadiens will have a decision to make after Kotkaniemi plays Game No. 9 about whether to keep the 18-year-old or send him back to Assat Pori in the Finnish Elite League for more seasoning, while also saving a year on his entry-level contract.

The Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens meet in NHL action from the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.

It doesn’t look like Kotkaniemi is going anywhere and after practice Monday at the Bell Centre he got a vote of confidence when head coach Claude Julien said he hadn’t even discussed the 10-game mark with the Finnish teenager.

As for Kotkaniemi, he keeps giving the same answer when asked about his future: “One day at a time.”

Kotkaniemi had his teammates smiling during overtime of the Canadiens’ 4-3 loss to the Senators Saturday night in Ottawa. With 2:41 remaining in the OT period, Carey Price stopped Ottawa’s Chris Tierney on a breakaway and then the Senators’ Colin White skated into the Canadiens goalie, trying to knock loose a rebound. Kotkaniemi didn’t hesitate coming to Price’s defence, shoving White away from the net and then exchanging a few more shoves and pushes with him.

“I respect it … I love it,” the Canadiens’ Andrew Shaw said about Kotkaniemi’s reaction — not to mention the fact the kid was even on the ice in OT. “I want him to continue doing that. Stand his ground and never back down. You show weakness in this league and people will try and take advantage of it.

“I gave him the old slap on the shoulder and told him: ‘Keep it up,’ ” added Shaw, who has become a big-brother figure to Kotkaniemi in the locker room. “Don’t change a thing. Guys respect that and Pricey respects that. It just shows how tight our room is right now.”

Added teammate Jordie Benn about Kotkaniemi’s reaction: “I wouldn’t say I was surprised. There’s kind of like this unwritten rule in hockey that if your goalie gets touched someone goes after him. But to see it was KK, it was good to see.”

Nicolas Deslauriers is the Canadiens’ resident tough guy and he also praised Kotkaniemi’s reaction.

“It was good,” said Deslauriers, who played his first game of the season against the Senators after suffering a facial fracture during a pre-season game fight with the New Jersey Devils’ Brandon Baddock. “You see there’s a little bit of character in him. It’s always good to see that. If he gets it at a young age, it’s always a plus.”

The last thing the Canadiens want to see is Kotkaniemi dropping his gloves to fight — he has never had one in his hockey life — but there are other ways to defend a teammate, especially your star goaltender. Kotkaniemi showed he’s willing to do that.

“I think that’s not fine if a guy is slashing our best player,” Kotkaniemi said after Monday’s practice. “So I think someone needs to take care of that.”

Kotkaniemi has three assists in his first seven games and a plus-3 rating, averaging 14:17 of ice time while winning 41.9 per cent of his faceoffs. The Canadiens are the worst team in the NHL on faceoffs, winning only 42.6 per cent.

“Right now, I don’t see a guy who’s necessarily out of place,” Julien said about Kotkaniemi. “If people expected him to lead our team in scoring, I don’t think that’s necessarily realistic, right? But he is producing. Even on faceoffs, we’re not a good faceoff team, but he’s certainly not down there at the bottom of our group.

“I think he’s a young guy that’s learning about the league and that’s what we’re seeing,” the coach added. “The more comfortable he’s going to get, the more experience he’s going to get … right now we have a feeling he’s going to get better. So that’s how we’re looking at it.”

One reporter joked with Kotkaniemi after practice Monday, asking him what would come first: his first NHL goal or his first NHL fight?

MONTREAL – Heres a look at the forward lines and defense pairings featured by head coach Claude Julien at Mondays practice at the Bell Centre.

Tatar – Danault – GallagherDrouin – Domi – LehkonenByron – Kotkaniemi – ArmiaDeslauriers – Peca – ShawHudon – Scherbak