It’s a quick but very difficult three-game road trip for the Montréal Canadiens — it’s harder to find three destinations that are bigger tests than these three, with games in Sunrise, Tampa Bay, and Raleigh.
But that’s what is enjoyable right now in the Canadiens season: to see how they measure up against the league’s best to have a better understanding where they stand overall in their rebuild.
This was another good night to see the development of the club, and the remarkable turnaround from six weeks ago. The Canadiens, however, didn’t have the weapons in this one. They saw where they need to be one day though.
It was a 7-4 Panthers win.
It’s interesting to watch these three-month tryouts for jobs on the Canadiens under the new head coach. It’s captivating to watch who is rising up the depth chart with consistent play.
Early in the year, under the previous head coach, it did not look like Chris Wideman had any hockey left in him at the NHL level. The Canadiens were playing the type of game that was simply unsuited to his style. He was asked to play a safe, plodding style, focusing on banking the puck off the glass as soon as he got a chance to clear it.
That’s not Wideman. He is a passer. He uses his vision to start plays up ice, and help with transitions. He joins the rush. The Canadiens weren’t really interested in the style of hockey he is good at.
Fast forward to the times of Martin St. Louis. Suddenly, it’s clear what he brings. He is free again. He rushes the puck up the ice. He joins in the rush. Like he did when he opened the scoring for the Canadiens. It’s clear that the game is fun again for him. It’s the same script as it is for so many of them. They’ve found their joy.
They have also found a level of stick-to-it that they certainly didn’t have before. Florida was dominating and seemingly coasting to an easy win. They were up 4-1 and outshooting Montreal by a wide margin. However, this group keeps on going. They have no quit because they are doing this not for the score line, but for the process.
When only the score is the thing, when it gets out of hand the game can be over, and the work stops being done. However, when it is the process that is the thing, the learning and the work is never done. The players just keep going in happy pursuit of being a better team and better players.
The Canadiens turned 4-1 and what looked like a rout into 4-4 with three quick goals in five minutes of the second period. Joel Edmundson said that the next one was for his farther who recently passed away. His gorgeous slap shot on a smooth pass from Nick Suzuki was one for Dad.
It was the one that got the Canadiens going. Right after, it was Laurent Dauphin who scored. Two minutes later, it was Christian Dvorak. The process continued, and as a result, so did an entertaining game.
Still on the theme of challenging the players to learn Martin St. Louis’ faster system where the game needs to be executed at the fastest pace, we find some downside if the player can not operate at that frenzy.
For the most part, it’s gorgeous to see this back-and-forth, high-event hockey night after night.
You also see the mistakes when the brain can’t think as quickly as the feet, or the feet let down the brain. Justin Barron has been strong in his first two games. He skates well, but he has physical shortcomings that are naturally present when someone is only 20.
He needs to grow into his body. He can’t win physical battles at the NHL level just yet.
In the first period, Barron was taking the puck up ice, and he lost it. From there, he could not find the strength to break up the play, or the wherewithal to take the right man. It’s natural. It’s only his second game.
While that was a bad moment, the good was that he was ready to carry that puck up ice on the attack, and he had that freedom to be the player that he was in Halifax in juniors.
And even better than that, he was right back on the ice for his next shift after the error that led to the goal. Another strength of St. Louis is he seems to understand that to get the best of them, he needs to believe in them. That mistakes are a part of the game, and during this learning phase of the process, he needs to allow for mistakes that produce freedom later, and advancement always.
It’s remarkable to watch the players branch out into what at times must feel like their childhood going to the rink and having fun again. However, that is not to say that there is not any structure. There is structure. St. Louis indicates that he has much more to say, and is giving them only what they can learn at the moment. It’s exciting to see the next chapters in his book.
In this one, the Canadiens tried to go back and forth up the sheet against the fastest team in the league. The Panthers can execute plays during a tornado. However, they are short at the back sometimes as a result, and that’s what makes it so fun to watch the Canadiens try to exploit that about their style.
Montreal does not have the guns yet to do that, and you could see it by the score of the contest. However, the Canadiens are trying to build a team to be just like the high-flying Panthers, who lead the league in goals, and that’s exciting.
It is strange to say, but it was another beautiful loss for Montreal. Not beautiful in the score, but beautiful in that they are creating a new way to go about this. That means growing pains, but the best part of the phrase ‘growing pains’ is the actual growing.
The entire organization is rejuvenated under Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes. The freedom that everyone is feeling to do this a different way is refreshing. Long ago, PK Subban and Carey Price would celebrate a victory with a triple-low-five. They called it this because they would three times slap each other’s hands at around their waists.
One day, Michel Therrien announced at a news conference that that wouldn’t be done anymore. That this type of fun would not be tolerated. That was the nature of the organization at the time. Wins were paramount. The coach would be listened to as God. The players would fall into line with their behaviour regulated.
This year, it has all changed. The Canadiens’ Instagram and Twitter accounts are suddenly fun, and entertaining. The atmosphere is relaxed even at news conferences with Gorton and Hughes not being competitive with the media.
A lot of the credit for all of this goes to Chantal Machabee. She has revolutionized what it means to do the job. It’s 27 years I have worked in the Montreal market, and another 10 in the Edmonton market. I have never seen the job done like this with such new eyes.
I have never seen such an ability to create joy, and sell entertainment. This is bizarre to say, of course, as we watch hockey and engage in this game to be entertained. It seems simple, yet before Chantal, no one ever seemed to understand it. That the organization could sell the game like this.
A case in point that exemplifies this extremely well is a conversation that Machabee had with Cole Caufield that was reported on Tuesday. She said to Caufield that he was “gold in the bank right now”. She told him that she wanted him to show the same effervescent personality during interviews that he did with his teammates.
She wanted him to not be dull and monotone like the previous regime would have suggested in interviews, but to be the entertaining person that he is. She knows that Caufield, the more that he is loved not just as a player but also a person, the more that fans will enjoy him; the more that fans enjoy him, the more tickets get sold, and the better the mood is overall.
In the end, she is better for business.
Caufield said it all with his response to Chantal: “You really want me to show my personality? It has not always been this way around here.”
No, it has not.
This new regime is exciting, especially Chantal who is the conduit from the board rooms and back rooms, to the media and fans in this successful and electric change.