After taking five of six points from the Canucks in Vancouver, they are back already in this odd year of NHL scheduling when you play every team either nine or 10 times in a 56-game season.
There is going to either be some big rivalries developing over the course of the season or some big fatigue. Perhaps it won’t get tiring at all playing Toronto, but what may end up being wearisome is facing Ottawa.
Ours is not to lament because this is what we have in a COVID-19 world. Ours is simply to enjoy that we have a pastime to watch, instead of the walls.
The Canucks enter on a high, having won their last four games consecutively. Montreal, meanwhile, came into the Monday evening contest after off a loss to Calgary. It was the Canadiens who brought their best game, winning 6-2.
The Canadiens have equalled their shorthanded goal total from the entirety of last season already, and it’s only their ninth game. It was in Artturi Lehkonen’s 300th game that he notched Montreal’s sixth shorthanded goal of the year. Remarkable. Lehkonen is so good at killing penalties. One of his greatest skills over the years is how he defensively angles players off, so they have no options. It’s a huge sheet of ice, and you would think it impossible to take away all of the passing lanes, but he does.
Adam Gaudette had the puck right on his stick in his own zone, but he could not find a way out of a suddenly bad spot in front of Lehkonen. The Finn stole the puck and then scored on Braden Holtby, making it 2-0 for Montreal early in the first period.
The second-best line in the entire NHL in expected goals percentage is Nick Suzuki, Josh Anderson, and Jonathan Drouin. That’s right. One guy playing centre is only in his second NHL season and is dominating the middle on both ends of the ice. One guy on one wing was traded because his scoring fell off the planet due to a shoulder injury. The guy on the other wing is maligned so often by his own fans, you’d think he was on the other team.
This trio, unlikely to own the sheet for three different reasons, are dominating everyone they play against so far this season. You wonder if this can last, and who will be their toughest test?
The answer is in Toronto. It’s Auston Matthews’ line that will be the test that counts, with Mitch Marner on one side and likely Joe Thornton on the other when he returns from injury. If Suzuki can win that matchup as well, what exactly is the ceiling for this player?
This isn’t supposed to happen. Second-year centres are not supposed to be doing this. This isn’t Sidney Crosby here, it’s Nick Suzuki. Second-year centres certainly aren’t supposed to be the second best in the league, with Drouin and Anderson. They’re supposed to be doing it with Ovechkin and Marchand.
So maybe it is time to stop underestimating these Canadiens. The results are there. The statistics are there. This line is dominant. Just enjoy.
Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Jeff Petry. Those are the top three defenders in scoring in the NHL right now. Two are young and going to get better. The other is in his 30s and still getting better. Petry has still not put a ceiling on his career here. The confidence is pouring out of him now. It helps to play on a good team, doesn’t it?
Now Petry is joining rushes when he feels like he will be covered behind him. He scored on a gorgeous wrist shot in the first period to the top corner. Then in the second, he joined a 4-on-1 rush. Corey Perry danced Hughes to start it, then the feed to Petry and the net was gaping as he scored from two feet. That’s 10 points on the season. The Canadiens were up 5-1 at the midway point of the game.
Plus/minus is not the favourite statistic by any stretch these days among NHL enthusiasts, but the league still notes it, and it still has some merit. The leader in the entire league in plus/minus is Joel Edmundson. He was plus four in this game to move into the lead at plus 12 overall. Petry was all over the ice pinching in any time he felt like it scoring twice.
He’s allowed to do all that roaming because he believes in his defensive partner’s ability to cover for him. Did anyone notice Edmundson in this one? No, he was mostly silent. For a defensive defenceman, there’s nothing wrong with a solid workmanlike night you can’t remember much that he did.
It pains me to say this, but Carey Price has not been his best self so far this season. In fact, Jake Allen has been the better of the two goalies in save percentage by a wide margin with a .933, which puts him top 10 in the league. After that, it’s a considerable scroll of the mouse down to find Price.
There is no reason to panic here at all. One, because it is early in the campaign, and two, because the Canadiens are scoring a lot of goals to mask this issue so far. However, Price entered the game with an .898 save percentage. The first goal against him was a real floater. Adam Gaudette had a simple wrist shot that did not appear to be too difficult, but Price missed it. The goal also made Alexander Romanov look bad as he was the defender who gave the puck away to allow the shot by Gaudette.
That’s the kind of moment in hockey that gets highlighted as a big error for a defender who wouldn’t be in the spotlight at all for it, if a save was made that should have been made. That is the nature of sports. Two goats on the goal.
More concerning, certainly, is that the Canadiens are going to need Price to figure this out in the second 10 games of the season. He looked behind him a couple other times in the game when he lost sight of it, but no foul as he allowed only two goals on the night on 29 shots. Be certain that he is not satisfied with himself, either, and one should not feel that he won’t figure it out. He will.
It was discouraging to see Tomas Tatar with an opportunity in the first period where he had two choices. The first choice was a shot on goal. The second choice was a pass to Philip Danault. The first choice was essentially a breakaway. The defender in tight clearly had chosen to allow Tatar a shot. He clearly had chosen to not allow a pass.
The first choice was obviously the better choice, but Tatar chose to pass. Now why would he do that? Anyone in hockey could see what the better choice was. However, Danault does not have a goal this season. He is struggling. He also is in a contract year. Friends and teammates try to help each other. They should not help each other to the detriment of the team, though.
That’s what happened. Tatar won’t do that again — that’s a guarantee.
It’s a new dilemma in the Montreal hockey world to contemplate what to do with a good player who can’t get ice time. When was the last time the Canadiens had such riches that someone who could play on many NHL rosters isn’t really that close to getting regular work here?
Last year, Cale Fleury was a regular and Victor Mete even spent some time on the first pairing early in the season. This season, neither player can get even close to the ice. Brett Kulak has been a steady defender this season for the Habs and he is the sixth defenceman on a suddenly deep roster.
That is why it was a surprise when Mete got the call to defend for Montreal against the Canucks. Mete was reported to have asked for a trade on the weekend, but GM Marc Bergevin was also reported to have said that that was not going to happen. It wouldn’t make sense to trade him when he is not a regular as his stock would be at a career low. However, there he was on the blue line subbing in for a player who did not deserve to be taken out.
What may be happening is that Mete is being showcased for a trade. That the team who is interested in the speedy but small defender may want to see how he performs this season. It would be an odd trade, but this is an odd season, and the Canadiens have too many good players, so they may want to do Mete that favour.
Looking down the road as well, where does Mete fit in long run on this team? If Mete is dealt, this season, Cale Fleury can be the support staff if there are injuries. Looking further down the road, it’s even harder to imagine Mete playing.
The Canadiens have so many top prospects on the back end with Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, Kaiden Guhle, and Mattias Norlinder all as possible NHL defenders. They are ranked higher than Mete and they all will have trouble cracking a roster that doesn’t have anyone close to retiring or moving on to another team. There are just too many players of high calibre. All four of those prospects were drafted higher than Mete. All four are playing outstanding hockey as they make their way to a chance at the NHL.
Bergevin can afford to make Mete happy by giving him a chance to play somewhere else. Perhaps, some help in the forward position would be workable as a trade for Montreal. Perhaps a high draft pick could work as well. Expect to see a Mete trade. It simply makes sense. The player wants a chance to play. He won’t get a chance to play here.
The Habs could use depth at the forward position. It all adds up nicely for Mete to get his wish, even if it is a bit unusual for a fourth rounder to be trying to write his own ticket at the age of 22.
— Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.