The Montreal Canadiens are looking at a near-perfect road trip, counting points in six straight games.
Finally, two weeks into the season, a chance to play at home. What excitement a night like this would have normally brought, with the fans excited for hockey back to bring the house down — especially with such a successful team. But in the age of COVID-19, this was a night to feel thankful for a pastime to enjoy on a cold January night.
The Calgary Flames were in town at the Bell Centre, with the Montreal Canadiens continuing to play strong hockey, winning 4-2.
There was a moment in the second period when Jeff Petry was all of his years of experience combined with all of his physical talent.
It’s a 3-on-2, with the best of the Flames players coming at him. Johnny Gaudreau is the puck carrier. Gaudreau has great wheels. He’s has made a career out of using those wheels to blast past defenders. He’s quite sure that he will be able to back Petry up and win the blue line, then the rush will get even more dangerous as he can begin to use his lateral skating skills after the blue line is won.
However, Petry, with all the confidence in the world, holds his gap, and actually poke-checks Gaudreau before he even hits the blue line. Petry was able to do this because not only is he a great skater, he also knows that he is a great skater. It was a small play, but it was simply a brilliant play from a defender who keeps getting better at hockey.
These are the finest moments of Petry’s career. He’s near the league lead among defenders in points, and he is also near the top in plus/minus. He’s also making the signing of Joel Edmundson look good as the partnership is on for few goals against.
There is no doubt that Corey Perry has lost his best legs for the game. It happens with age, but if he is slotted in smartly, making sure that he is not too tired to give his best, Perry still can help this cause greatly.
He can help because he is nasty around the net on a team that could use some nasty. First period, Perry is parked in front of the goal where he is so good. He gets a pass from Jesperi Kotkaniemi and quickly feeds a streaking Brendan Gallagher for a power play goal. You can lose some speed and lose some hands, but your savvy will always remain.
It was a savvy play — one of great understanding. It was the second point for Perry in his two games.
The Habs’ two new players brought in to score some goals sure have outstanding hand-eye coordination. Tyler Toffoli, in Vancouver, batted the puck out of the air for a beautiful goal. This is not an easy skill; it’s not a cricket bat they are playing with. It’s a thin hockey stick. Against Calgary, a similar moment of terrific eye-hand coordination is delivered by Josh Anderson. Kotkaniemi takes the first shot and the rebound flies quickly to Anderson and he bats it out of the air to count his fourth goal of the season.
Toffoli also scored in this one for six on the season. It was a breakaway goal on an absolutely sublime feed from Nick Suzuki. Suzuki had two Flames in front of him, and there was only one option. No one is 20 feet tall, thinks Suzuki, so he alley-oops it over the two defenders coming at him. Toffoli was home free from centre ice.
GM Marc Bergevin knew he needed some goal scorers to improve his team’s fortunes. So far, his two new key signings have 10 goals in seven games. Bergevin is looking like a genius.
Jonathan Drouin put in another two-point night for the Canadiens to quietly find himself near the team lead for the club.
It’s quiet because most of the points are assists with only a single goal to go with seven helpers. Some of the passes have been outstanding, like the one in the second period that he set up Alexander Romanov for a free look from 20 feet. Drouin has been more committed defensively this season, battling to win pucks better. That’s always been the weakness of Drouin on the offensive side of his game. When he wins the battle, he can do plenty with it. This season he’s winning plenty and scoring plenty as a result.
Toffoli leads the team with nine points. Drouin and Petry have eight points. Suzuki has seven points in seven games. Being at a point per game pace in the National Hockey League is extremely difficult. The last time the Canadiens had a point-per-game player was 2008, when Alex Kovalev had 84 points in 82 games. The previous time was 1998, when Pierre Turgeon did it.
That’s two times in 22 years. So far this season, though it is early, the Canadiens have four players on pace.
What a shame that Carey Price lost his shutout with 1:18 left in the game on a tight deflection that made the puck bounce like a Baltimore Chop in baseball. It hit the ice just before Price and then ended up in the top corner.
It was going to be the easiest shutout of his entire career. The defence was strong against a club with some weapons. The Flames got two in the end, but it was all an extremely cosmetic finish on a dominating night for Montreal.
The Canadiens have points in seven straight games. They lead the North Division. There are no Wilde Goats in this game.
Exciting news this week for fans of Cole Caufield, as the General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens revealed plans for the young sniper.
It’s always a bit nervy when a U.S. collegian is drafted as time continues to pass. The worry, of course, is that he will let the clock run out on his three years and not sign with the club that drafted him. The player is then free to go anywhere.
Marc Bergevin indicated this week that Caufield will become professional as soon as his season is finished in Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of few teams trying to continue on, as if COVID is not ravaging North America. This is superb news for the Canadiens who hate to see their prospects fight to find places to play. The junior leagues keep having difficulty getting any games in at all.
Bergevin did not indicate where Caufield would play when he turned pro, but it is clear that it must be Laval. There would not be a spot open for Caufield on the Habs roster unless the club were suffering from some serious injury difficulties.
Caufield is having an outstanding season in college hockey. Last year, he was a point per game player, getting 36 points in 36 games. He scored 19 goals in those 36 games. This season, Caufield has played 16 games so far and is ahead of last year’s pace. Caufield has 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points. If he were to play 36 games this season, he is on pace for 47 points. The excellent reveal here is that Caufield continues his progression.
The progression doesn’t just continue in points. He is also a more complete player. His vision has improved. His defence has improved. His passing has improved. The lethal shot remains the same.
The challenge to have enough physicality will be the one to which he rises or does not, but beyond that, all other aspects of his play at the college level indicate that the Canadiens should have hope.
It’s long been maintained here that if Caufield can get off his shot at the pro level, he can score 30 goals with an outside chance at 35. If he cannot find open space to shoot, then his journey to the NHL will be a tough one.
It will be interesting to watch, for sure. The upside of this player is high.
— Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.