The first three game set of the season for the Montreal Canadiens as they play in Vancouver on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. The goal with these baseball series, as was mentioned, is to take two games out of three. All around the league teams are playing three-game sets. The clubs that make a habit of taking two of three are your division champions without doubt. The Canucks are not off to a great start, so they would bring a lot of hunger to the contest on Wednesday skating away with a 6-5 win.
It was beginning to look like Jesperi Kotkaniemi with Joel Armia and Tyler Toffoli was not going to work. Kotkaniemi had yet to gain a point on the season. Armia wasn’t creating much of anything. Toffoli was the best of the three creating chances, but not converting them as he is known to do. Wednesday was an example of why three games does not a thesis make. Toffoli showed his precision shot and savvy to score his first three goals of the season. One of the goals was set up by a big Armia hit on Quinn Hughes. That allowed Kotkaniemi to pick up the loose puck and find Toffoli completely by himself on the other side of the ice for a breakaway. In the third period, it seemed as if Toffoli scored the winner late on a perfect deflection off a Jeff Petry shot. Suddenly, nagging worries about Toffoli turned into three goals in four games. No one should ever complain about that. Third period, and Kotkaniemi gets his first goal of the season as he earned a shot from 15 feet and flipped it home after a fortunate deflection. This line for the first game this season was the best on the team responsible for four of the team’s five goals.
If the Canadiens are going to be upper echelon, then they need a first-line centre. The hope falls on to the shoulders of Nick Suzuki. He needs to be the one who can compete with the best centres in the game. If he can, the opportunity for the Canadiens to keep building something special is alive. Suzuki’s vision is outstanding, as is his defensive play when he doesn’t have the puck. Suzuki thinks the game like he is 30. It’s hard to believe that he is a second year forward. Case in point in this one, a gorgeous pass to Toffoli for a tap-in goal. In the third period, he spotted Jeff Petry beautifully for a clear cut chance, but it hopped over Petry’s stick. Suzuki is going to have to prove himself over a full season scoring close to a point-per-game. So far, he may just be the answer to a two-decade long question.
They were simply not as sharp on Wednesday. One will definitely point to Jeff Petry being caught up ice on the 2-1 goal for Vancouver. One will definitely point to Alexander Romanov getting caught up ice as well on another two-on-one. However, that’s the Canadiens system, so while the obvious culprits are Petry and Romanov, the coaching staff’s plan is for whoever has a chance to attack successfully to do just that — that includes a defender. The onus is then on a forward to see the plan in play with the defenceman pinching down low, and react to it by falling back to cover. That takes concentration and awareness. Pinching the defencemen can go sour when a team isn’t mentally at their best. That’s how it felt in this one. The Canadiens were not sharp. Carey Price was especially not sharp. It’s hard to remember a game when it didn’t seem as if Price made one big save like this one. They’re talented, so they can stay in a hockey game even when they are not right, but in the long run, mentally sharp is important as well.
One issue that has been very concerning so far this season is how undisciplined Montreal has been. The Canadiens have killed penalties well at times, and that’s a blessing, because with the amount of penalties they are taking, they would not have won a game yet, if there were not killing them well in at least two of the four games. The Canadiens allowed three goals in Toronto in four chances and they lost. They then shut down high flying Edmonton 10 straight times over two games. They won them. Game four in Vancouver and the Habs were again taking penalties by the crate. The worst was Jesperi Kotkaniemi with an unsportsmanlike for getting under the referee’s skin when he mouthed off. The Canucks scored on that penalty. Vancouver got a power play goal in the first period. In the third period, they got yet another with the extra man. In all, Montreal has taken 20 minors already this season in four games. Time for a little discipline. Montreal could have won this one, but when you allow three of six shorthanded, you’re quite simply making it too difficult overall.
A piece of news didn’t get a lot of ink when it broke earlier this week was that the Canadiens have inked a deal to have an ECHL team in Three Rivers. It’s a three year deal. Montreal has certainly improved its situation. When they need to get some help for the major league team and when they need to move players around as well between Laval and Three Rivers, it’s all organized beautifully. It’s a far cry from the days that the AHL team was in Newfoundland and they actually shared an ECHL team. There were times that they needed help immediately, but Newfoundland was an overnight trip. The Habs are doing everything right these days. It does not seem like a big deal during a COVID-19 world, but when we get back to normal, the club in Three Rivers will be welcomed to not only help improve the Habs players, but also create goodwill around the province to watch the team’s pipeline in two different places.