The Dallas Stars need victories badly to earn a playoff spot and they weren’t going to make it easy for Montreal Thursday night. The Canadiens played another terrific game, but lost in overtime with ten seconds left, 4-3.
The exciting night at the Bell Centre included the return of two key pieces of the line-up: Jake Allen and Christian Dvorak back after long injuries.
There have been so many revived under the leadership of Martin St. Louis. The new head coach has a great sense of how to unlock his players. There are many who are finding a higher gear, such as Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, Jeff Petry, Brett Kulak, Josh Anderson, and more.
That has led many to wonder just how much can he do for players who have seemed restricted by the defensive systems of their previous head coaches. Jonathan Drouin and Christian Dvorak are players who like to use their creativity to add to the offence, but they have been shackled.
We will have to wait to see what Drouin can do under St. Louis. He is close to returning, but not quite yet. However, Thursday night was our first chance to see if Dvorak has more to offer playing with this improved Canadiens club.
Dvorak was a scoring star in the Ontario Hockey League in London, but as a pro he has played with nothing but poor teams, so it’s so hard to know what he actually can bring. The full assessment will take a while, but on night one, Dvorak was on the ice for a terrific shift in the second period.
Dvorak, Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen had 35 seconds of pressure in the Dallas zone. They were cycling it well. The shift ended with the line drawing a penalty. On the ensuing power play Dvorak stayed on the ice.
He was parked in front of the net when the hot two did it again: Nick Suzuki to Cole Caufield to the net. Dvorak was not involved in the cross ice pass. He didn’t get an assist on the play, but he was around it.
That’s four goals in three games for Caufield. They weren’t done. They continued the torrid pace. Late third period, Canadiens down by one, and it was Caufield with a sweet pass to Suzuki who made a gorgeous move for 2-2.
That’s 21 points in 16 games for Caufield who has lead NHL rookie scoring since Martin St. Louis was hired. It is also 18 points in the last 13 games for Suzuki as he is not slowing down his incredible pace. It’s remarkable to see this turn around, and it appears that Dvorak may be a part of it.
Dvorak had a terrific period in the third. On a rush he was strong in working for a chance. Dvorak’s assessment will take more than this one game, but it was a very promising start under the new head coach.
It was also encouraging to see a goalie who seems reliable enough to have a relatively strong game every game. Part of the issue this season for Montreal has been not being able to find a reliable goalie. Sam Montembeault has been strong many games, but every once in a while he puts in a bad one. The Canadiens have pulled their goalie a remarkable 11 times this season due to the starter struggling.
In Jake Allen’s first game back, he was stellar. He robbed two Stars of sure goals in the first period with acrobatic stops. Allen didn’t seem to be carrying any rust after a long layoff. It was a wide open game and Allen was up to the task.
A word as well for Corey Schueneman who scored his first NHL goal in his 11th NHL game. Schueneman ripped a shot that looked like the game winner. He’s been a pleasant surprise for Montreal, and that was a great moment for him. The bench went wild. You can just feel the great team spirit right now.
Schueneman wasn’t the best Montreal defender though, as Alexander Romanov was outstanding. He has not received much ink for a strong sophomore season. He continues to improve, and he does have the potential to be a top four in this league. Romanov’s play has been a success story in a difficult season.
The tough moment comes from the training room again in this season of injuries. Gallagher took a hard hit in the second period. It appeared that he hurt his lower back. He needed a lot of help to make it to the dressing room, and he appeared to be in a lot of pain.
Gallagher did make it back for the third period, but he has taken a lot of bruising during this game, the season, his career.
The management team continues to impress. Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes got maximum return for Ben Chiarot on Wednesday night. The club acquired three assets for the unrestricted free agent from the Florida Panthers who are loading up for a Stanley Cup playoff run.
The grand prize in the deal is a first round draft choice. The Canadiens acquire it in 2023 when there is a greater chance that they get a better pick, hoping that the Panthers are not as powerful as they were this season. Also, tword is that the 2023 draft is deeper than 2022. Add to that the Canadiens already have two picks in this year’s first round.
Two first rounders this year and two first rounders next year gives the club a very good chance to regain their competitive edge. Also, remember that the Canadiens will have three picks this year around the top 35 of the draft with the second rounder this year being an early pick.
The club also acquired a mid-level prospect that they like a lot. Ty Smilanic is having an excellent season of college hockey for top-ranked Quinnipiac scoring 13 goals in 38 games. Smilanic is known for his shot and his speed. If he can translate those assets to the NHL level, there’s a chance he could land.
The club also acquired a fourth round choice. Admittedly, a player lands only five per cent of the time drafted in the fourth round, but it is better to have the pick than not have it.
Chiarot leaves saying nothing but positive things about the organizational rebuild, especially throwing bouquets at Martin St. Louis who he clearly loves as a head coach. Chiarot also opened the door to returning to Montreal in the summer saying he has loved every moment with the Canadiens.