The best night of the season for the Montreal Canadiens, without a doubt, was one of their only two wins in October. Montreal dominated the Detroit Red Wings 6-1 on Oct. 23 for their first win of the season after five losses. Since then, Montreal went right back into the same funk.
They looked to Detroit to provide the necessary elixir again at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night. And the Wings were excellent guests again as Jake Allen stopped 22 shots for the shutout in a 3-0 win.
Scoring goals has been extremely difficult for the Canadiens this season, so there really isn’t an impressive point total on the entire team, but Nick Suzuki seems to be finding his better self finally after a rough start. Suzuki made it seven points in his last five games with a three-point night. He also scored his first goal of the season, adroitly batting his own rebound out of the air waist-high into the net.
His other vital point was on a feed to Josh Anderson who was flying down the left wing to go far side for his third of the year. Anderson also struggled in the early going, and is finding a better game with his last three goals coming in his last four games.
Anderson had a lot of hunger in this contest. He skated well and was physical.
Tyler Toffoli continues to struggle in the scoring department, but this felt like one of those figuring-it-out games as he was in good spaces to convert. On one occasion, Toffoli was wide open at the side of the net just waiting for the easy pass from Jake Evans. However, Evans did not see the wide open Toffoli and fired a shot instead. Confidence comes though for Toffoli out of that moment, knowing that he had an easy one if it were to arrive on his stick as it should have.
The defence was also much tighter than it has been for most of the season. Jake Allen barely had to work for his reward on the night. That’s how good the defensive effort was for Montreal. Their gap control was good. Everyone was doing their part.
Admittedly, the Wings were missing two valuable pieces. Tyler Bertuzzi was absent as he can’t play in Canada because he refuses to get vaccinated. Bertuzzi is the lone holdout in the entire league on this account. The other player out of the lineup was their valuable speedy centre Dylan Larkin, who missed the game for personal reasons.
The Canadiens showed a strong effort and the only difficulty was in injuries. Jonathan Drouin took a Brett Kulak slap shot to the head in the first period. He left the contest immediately, rushing to the trainer’s room. Drouin seemed to have taken the shot to the ear, but the shot was so fast it was hard to determine. Drouin left about a half hour later for the hospital.
This means it wasn’t just a matter of stitches that were needed to get him back out on the ice for the second period. At the hospital, they are able to get a better look at structural damage, whether it goes beyond a laceration to bone structure. Drouin has been one of the top forwards for the Canadiens this season.
In the second period, the Canadiens lost another key member to injury. It was Brendan Gallagher at the end of a long and hard-working shift who reached for the puck and visibly winced. It appeared to be a lower body injury. Just speculation from experience would make the best guess a groin difficulty.
Gallagher has been nursing an injury for much of the season, and the groin is notorious for seeming as if it is healing, but can be damaged again easily. Naturally, Gallagher was out for the third period. Gallagher is basically the Monty Python skit where the gladiator losing a battle is left with no limbs at all but announces to his foe that it is just a flesh wound.
Apart from the injuries, it was a well-played game from the Canadiens.
It’s been a season full of disappointments for the Canadiens and they continued in the last two days, roster-wise. After not scoring in ten games, GM Marc Bergevin decided that he had seen enough. He sent Cole Caufield down to the minors to Laval. Caufield had 22 shots in his 10 games this season. That would usually lead to two goals on the ledger, but they didn’t find holes. Caufield didn’t seem to be finding the corners with the same panache as Wisconsin; nor did he have the same velocity on his shot, and that spelled his demise.
All over the league, too much is asked too soon from too-young players. There has been a real push in the last five years in the NHL to get these top picks to the league without them doing a season in the American Hockey League. It’s a bad development that leads to bad development.
A player needs to dominate in one league before he is ready for the next league. You could argue that Caufield was doing fine for Montreal, especially in relative terms to his also struggling teammates. However, if you want more than fine, you need to make sure a player during those seasons of highest learning has the opportunity to do the most learning.
Time in Laval will be good for Caufield. He will have a lot of ice time. He will play in all situations.
It’s difficult times for Alexander Romanov as well in his second season. Again, this is not to say that other defenders are not struggling. They are all struggling. The scapegoat, though, is Romanov, as he was sent to the press box for Tuesday night’s game.
On the positive side, it is terrific to hear that Carey Price has indicated that he will return after his 30 days in the player assistance program. Price could have taken more time. In fact, he is allowed to take all the time that he wants. However, he said that he is ready to come back as soon as Friday. It is wonderful that he feels ready to return.
Price will have to train to get back into shape for likely 10 to 14 days. He won’t be able to help the cause for a while yet, but his goaltending will make a difference when he returns. As much as Jake Allen was the player of the month for October, his save percentage was only .907. Price had a .935 save percentage in the first three rounds of the playoffs. That’s a big difference, and the Habs would love to see if Price can get back to something resembling this, so they can win some more games.
Price will also help what the leadership in the room as people look up to him. It’s something to get excited about in a season void of that mostly.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.