The four-game road trip continued on Saturday night for the Montreal Canadiens in St. Louis. Montreal was looking for a second straight win after a victory in Buffalo. The Blues are a tough and big team, and this would be a physical test.
And the Canadiens past it with an impressive come-from-behind win. They spotted the Blues a 3-1 lead then scored five straight goals on their way to a 7-4 win.
It’s time to have a Jordan Harris chat. There’s something about this player that makes it difficult for people to notice him and deliver the praise that he deserves. Coming into camp this season, there were many who thought that Harris wouldn’t make the club. This is despite the fact he was someone who already proved himself last season.
This year, again there is plenty of talk and deservedly so about Kaiden Guhle. He’s been strong. There’s also a lot of talk about Arber Xhekaj due to his size and absolutely terrorizing Zack Kassian. This too is deserved.
However, the second leading defender in ice time this season is Harris. The defender who makes the fewest errors per game is Harris. The defender who has the superior Corsi is Harris. The defender who has the best first pass is Harris.
In the first period, the defender who kept getting passes through down low was Harris, and then he capitalized on getting a shot through that was deflected by Nick Suzuki.
Yet it feels like already that they have decided that Harris is a defence-first and defence-only player. They might just find he has all the skills to be their most complete rookie defender by the end of this season. They need to keep challenging him because he doesn’t seem overwhelmed at all with a lot of ice time and a lot of difficult assignments.
The blue line of the Canadiens is well and truly ahead of expectations for this season. They already have three rookies who look capable of having long and successful careers.
They can add a fairly young Mike Matheson to that mix when he gets healthy. In the pike, Logan Mailloux and Lane Hutson have a ton of potential. The blue line of 2025 will be extremely good.
On offence, the club is getting their goals essentially from only one line. Cole Caufield leads the way with seven goals on the season as he pounced on a loose puck and seized on a half-chance that he made look easy. Still in the second period, it was Nick Suzuki with a sublime pass through traffic to an open Caufield who one-timed it in easily.
Caufield is on pace for a 64-goal season. He’s clearly not going to keep that pace, but still, it’s a terrific start and 40 goals isn’t out of the question in his second season in the NHL. That would be remarkable. It would be the first 40-goal season for a Canadiens player in 28 years, since Vincent Damphousse counted exactly 40.
The organization has to be increasingly hopeful that they made the right draft pick at number one. Juraj Slafkovsky with a goal scorer’s goal to tie it up at three. He absolutely wired a one-time shot into the top corner. It was gorgeous, and a much better shot technically than his NHL first goal.
Christian Dvorak finally broke through in this one with his first three goals of the season. The third into an empty net. Montreal was down 3-1 and exploded for five straight goals. They had only 20 goals in eight games, then suddenly looked like the Central Red Army with seven.
Overall, though, they need more scoring from more forwards. Here’s the good news: 19 of the top 20 picks in the NHL draft are forwards and the top eight are better prospects than the first pick last year. They need to go get a couple of these forwards to complete the rebuild.
Martin St. Louis is looking for someone to play with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Josh Anderson has had the longest look and it has worked at times, but other times it has appeared Anderson is just a little too north-south for the two. However, his size does not hurt the smallish line at all.
The head coach then tried Mike Hoffman. He’s supposed to be a scoring winger, and in this case, it didn’t really make much sense and it didn’t work, as that line had no puck winner at all. They were one-and-done because they couldn’t retrieve the puck successfully in the offensive zone.
In Missouri on Saturday, the head coach tried Kirby Dach on the wing with the two best scorers on the Habs team. Dach has a good footprint to work on the line. He has the size to retrieve pucks. He is a good puck-winner as a first checking forward. Dach is also a creative player who finds intelligent solutions to hockey problems to keep the attack going. That could work well with Suzuki and Caufield.
There’s one big issue, though. Dach has to be considered the second-line centre of the Canadiens’ future, unless they find someone better in this year’s draft. If they were to get one of the generational centres in the 2023 draft, then Dach would move to the wing on the top two lines.
That has not happened yet, so Dach needs to be groomed to play centre. The club needs to be strong down the middle, like all clubs. Being on the wing does not help Dach get to a higher level down the middle. He’s also not going to learn how to win face-offs never taking face-offs.
Here’s the positive though: It’s just one game. It’s not as if this is a season-long decision to move Dach to the wing. Christian Dvorak is not a second-line centre. Sean Monahan is an unrestricted free agent. They need someone to keep moving their game forward in experience and academics this season at the centre position. That someone is Dach.
The line-up decisions in the next month are going to be quite interesting. There is hope that unrestricted free agents can fetch draft picks, but if they can’t get in the Montreal Canadiens line-up, they sure can’t get in the line-up for teams with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Jonathan Drouin was taken third overall and should be in the prime of his career, but he was a healthy scratch for Martin St. Louis, who said that he needs to make sure everyone gets ice time. Drouin should not be someone who is in the mix to share his ice time, but he hasn’t earned a season’s pass.
Evgenii Dadonov was also scratched for the contest. Dadonov is another player who is supposed to fetch a high draft pick, but there is absolutely no doubt that he will not fetch any pick of any round.
The reason that these two were out of the line-up is two other players regained their health: Joel Armia and Juraj Slafkovsky were back in the line-up.
It will be extremely telling what the Canadiens do at the trading deadline. Armia is a player that could be moved. He’s a strong playoff performer. However, if the organization views itself as competing soon, then players like Armia and Josh Anderson will not be dealt; instead, they will be viewed as strength for next season.
On the blue line, it is the same script. Joel Edmundson could be thought of as a great acquisition by someone vying for a cup to attain a player instrumental in the Blues winning one. However, the organization might believe that he can help the Canadiens win as soon as next season.
It is hoped here that the club keeps trying to attain first-round draft picks because any rise out of the doldrums this season is just back to middle-of-the-pack. If they allow this season to be poor with roster decisions that remove talent like Christian Dvorak, then the following seasons have a better chance for sustainable greatness.
It says here, anyone over 27 should be dealt because when the Canadiens are ready for greatness, the older players will be on a career decline in their thirties. All the players they acquire through first-round draft picks will be entering their prime at 22.
Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach, Kaiden Guhle and many more can all handle the environment without veteran leadership telling them to keep their chin up. They have all been captains and leaders already. They are already leaders now.
The rebuild is going beautifully. Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes have not made a single false step. However, the work continues. They have to take this to the limit continuing to tear down, so they can build it up better.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.