The Montreal Canadiens have not, by their own admission, been strong so far this season. In the locker room after the loss against Detroit in their home-opener Thursday, most commented they just needed to correct a lot of small things. Not an easy task against the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. Montreal had tired legs against the Red Wings. No excuse on a Saturday as the Habs looked for their first regulation win this season in five games. They found it with a 6-3 win handing the Blues their first regulation loss of the season.
- Jonathan Drouin continues to be the Habs best forward so far this season. The reason is his work rate, though the points sure help with five in five games. Drouin has mad skills, but skills without working usually don’t work out well. Drouin’s puck battles are far superior to last season. He was a player who had giant gaffes last year. He gave away the puck seemingly at the worst possible times. This season, though only five games in, Drouin has not had a single gaffe. Instead, it’s been goals and assists. His goal against the Blues was gorgeous. He jumped off the bench after a line change, picked up the puck and charged into the offensive zone. He backed off the defender, then ripped a shot off the post and in. The Habs took the lead 2-1. GM Marc Bergevin needs this trade to look good and it won’t be easy because Mikael Sergachev is finding his better talent this season so far for the Lightning. Sergachev has had some fits and starts, but it appears he is going to come as advertised. Drouin looks right now like he will too.
- Another excellent game from one of the NHL’s best lines. Their five-on-five Corsi last season was the second-best in all of hockey. The line of Tatar-Danault-Gallagher is in the same category statistically with the Bergeron line in Boston and the MacKinnon line in Colorado, but they get zero press. The reason is they don’t put the same offensive numbers on the board, so the media doesn’t get excited. They do, however, hold their opposition off the scoresheet far better than the MacKinnon line. In this one, Tatar scored on a Danault face-off win. Then, in the second period, Danault scored his own. Gallagher had one goal and two assists. Just another solid night for that line. Gallagher now has eight games with three points in his career. Not bad for a fifth-round draft choice who wasn’t supposed to make it.
- Other standouts included Max Domi, who was fiery through the contest. He was hungry in the third period and provided with a key assist and a goal. Joel Armia also continued to be a force with the puck. Nick Suzuki had his best game as a pro as he looked very good on the power play. Jeff Petry continues to be the best defenceman on the team. Artturi Lehkonen scored a hard-working goal. And Carey Price made the key stops when the game was in doubt at 3-3 in the second period.
- There were plenty of culprits on the Habs’ first goal against. It started with a cross-ice pass from Domi that was picked off. That’s an error, but the errors with 140 feet left on the sheet of ice are rarely the most vital error when three players are back still to defend. It continued to go wrong when Victor Mete and Shea Weber gave up the blue line easily, and then kept backing into their goalie. The shot ended up being from 12 feet, and that’s a hard one to stop when it is uncontested. It’s something to watch for because here is how you will know that Weber is feeling anxious about his speed: he will continue to back into his own goalie much too far to ensure that he is not beaten in an embarrassing manner one-on-one. If he is confident, he will challenge the attacking forward.
- Many people will point to Ben Chiarot, others will point to Shea Weber, others still will point to Victor Mete. Another group will point to the forwards not helping out. A different group will blame the goalie. Wherever your finger is pointing, the simple fact is the Habs are allowing one of the worst shots per game totals in the NHL, and they’re allowing too many goals against. The offence is producing. They’re doing their part as expected, but it is hard to win a game when you always need four or five goals to get that result. The Habs allowed 18 goals in their first four games. The Bruins, in contrast, allowed eight goals in their first four games. With another three goals allowed against the Blues, the Habs are allowing over four goals per game. When you need five to get a positive result, you are not going to win very much unless we can all travel back to Wayne Gretzky’s era in the 1980s when backpressure was what you said when a guy had a terrible cold. However, one needs to also look for ways that the glass is half full and here it is: With Brett Kulak back in the line-up and less responsibility for Ben Chiarot, the newest blueliner played his best game for Montreal, and Kulak added a level of calmness as well. Now, overall, they’re not there yet by any means, but the train at least slowed down in this one whereas before it was a runaway. They did allow three, but as said many times, this team can score five, and they will be an extremely entertaining team this season. Six points out of a possible ten now so far this season. That’s where you would expect them to be. If you extrapolate, that is 98 points. So there you go.
- The Habs’ best prospect is Cole Caufield. He was an absolute steal for the Habs at the draft this June. He crushed the goal scoring records of the United States Hockey Development program of Auston Matthews. Caufield now at Wisconsin University where he played his first game of the season Friday night at Boston College. The Badgers lost the game 5-3 but Caufield was outstanding as usual. He has a one-timer that he pots into the top shelf at an elite NHL level already. This is how he scored his two goals with shots that hit the tape of his stick and then hit the top shelf of the net in what seemed like a nanosecond. Caufield has one of the best releases hockey has ever seen. Caufield then played on Saturday as well against Merrimack and he was at it again. Caufield with another two goals. He has four on the season in two games. College hockey is not like junior hockey. It is difficult to score if you are a freshman playing men who are often in their twenties and have physically matured. Caufield is having no issues whatsoever. It should not be so easy. Caufield fell to the midway mark of the first round because he is only 5 foot 7 inches, and that may well be a problem playing 5 on 5 hockey when he tries to score in the NHL, but his work on the power play finding the seems, and one timing passes into the top shelf will not require a frame of 6 feet. He’s going to be an excellent pro for his power-play work alone. If he figures it out 5 on 5, then look out for the goal totals he can put up in the NHL. He could be the elite scorer the Habs have been looking for for a generation.
- Meanwhile, the Laval Rocket were supposed to be better this season finally making it to the playoffs, but so far, it is not going all that well. Milwaukee with a 4-2 win over the Rocket to make Laval have three straight losses to start the season. Josh Brook scored his first goal of the year. Noah Juulsen is now practicing in Laval, but he did not play. Ryan Poehling has not scored yet this season either.