It was a weird weekend schedule-wise for the Montreal Canadiens.
The Canadiens saw two rarities: A Friday afternoon game and a Saturday night off. Thanksgiving weekend in the United States saw Montreal taking on the Blackhawks in Chicago.
The best Canadiens forward not on the first line is Sean Monahan. It’s clear that this is not the same player whose hips were so bad that he could barely take a skating stride anymore when he was in Calgary. The pain is gone and his game is back.
Monahan is a great second-line centre for Montreal in this rebuilding year. He will fetch a high draft pick at the trading deadline and is playing strong and smart hockey for the Canadiens until he is dealt.
In the first period, Monahan was the best forward on the ice. Early, he set up Joel Edmundson for a deflection for 1-0, then he made a gorgeous play that should have led to 2-0. Monahan gave a feed over to Josh Anderson that gave him a gaping cage to shoot, but Arvid Soderblom made an amazing glove save.
In the second period, Nick Suzuki scored his 12th goal of the season. It was Monahan who grabbed an assist for his 14th point of the season as he closes in on third place Dach at 17 points.
Monahan is bringing the points, but he is also bringing intelligence at the centre position for the rest of the centres on the team to emulate. It’s a win-win-win for management.
It is maybe one of the most intelligent trades in Canadiens history: get a first-rounder to take the player, get a first-rounder to send the player away, and in the meantime, he plays an outstanding 60 games. It’s impossible to imagine a more efficient trade or trades in this case.
The Canadiens have a top fivesave percentage goalie in the NHL so far this season. It’s not the number one goalie, Jake Allen. It’s the red-hot backup, Samuel Montembeault. In only his second season getting a chance to play regularly, Montembeault is showing that he is still improving at the age of 26.
Montembeault has a strong .923 this season. He has had a quality start every time out but one in Columbus when he allowed five goals. Other than that, he’s been tremendous. Montembeault has a lot of years in front of him still. He just might be a piece for years to come no matter how good the Canadiens lineup is down the road.
A .923 is outstanding always. That number keeps a team in games that they’re playing poorly, giving them a chance to win, and that number certainly leads to two points when a good team is playing well.
There have been a lot of positive developments this season: four rookie defencemen playing well, Juraj Slafkovsky showing they may have gotten the big pick right, Kirby Dach at almost a point-per-game, Nick Suzuki becoming a star in the middle, and Cole Caufield top-10 in goals in the league.
Add Montembeault to the list. His goaltending is significant.
The shootout was outstanding as the three young stars of the Canadiens all shone. Cole Caufield had his usual pinpoint accuracy, then Nick Suzuki brought back his Datsyukian delay move to flip it upstairs, and Kirby Dach came back home carrying a knife with the game winner.
That’s the type of excitement that makes fans thrilled about the future.
It’s been interesting to watch the Canadiens’ errors the last three games. It’s been the veterans who are struggling with mistakes more than the rookies. On the Hawks’ second-period goal, it was Brendan Gallagher with the major giveaway, and Joel Edmundson with the minor giveaway before that, to lead to the goal.
The rookies have their best days in front of them. They are improving greatly from game to game. They could become 25 to 35-per cent better than they are now, so for them to already be among the team’s best players, it’s a massive positive in the years ahead.
It’s impossible to know exactly how much these young guns will improve, but they’re doing so well already, and the team is so far ahead of where they were predicted to be, that is is nearly impossible to write a thorough and negative Wilde Goats these days.
The spirit required to write strong criticism while watching this solid development is not there. These kids are going to be amazing players, and some already are.
It’s extremely difficult to know what, exactly, is on the minds of an organization as a season continues and offers surprises. Montreal has surprised this year, reaching a 10-win total about three months faster than last season.
The plan heading into the year was to rebuild the team slowly and with commitment to ensure the long-term sustainability of the club at the top ranks of the standings. The recent past has been one year great and the next year horrible, and new management stated clearly that they wanted that to change.
However, surprising wins and surprising outstanding performances from rookie players and young players well ahead of their expected curve of maturity can create enough optimism to change course.
But that’s not with this management team, apparently, and that’s a good thing. Sustainable results at the top begin with as many top-six forwards and top-four defenders as is possible to get before rising out of the ashes. A nice little start in 2022-23 cannot change that plan. And it hasn’t.
Here’s the proof of such to ease the minds of fans who want this rebuild to have sustainability that begins by staying in the bottom ten of the standings this season.
La Journal de Montreal writer JF Chaumont was in a casual conversation with someone on the management team of the Canadiens and quipped that the season is going well so far. The response from management was that it was going a little too well.
Reading between pretty clear lines indicates that a manager thinks the organization is winning so much that the top draft pick may be in jeopardy.
How to make sure that lost top pick does not happen is up to management. It often gets argued that you can’t tell players to not give their best. Well, of course you can’t — and it would never happen.
Players and coaches are not a part of any organizational attempt to get a top pick. The coaches’ job is to get the best results possible with the players in the lineup to create the best culture of learning and development that they can.
The actual steps taken to make sure a top draft pick is assured are made by management. Kent Hughes would therefore continue to build through the draft by weakening the line-up.
For example, Sean Monahan looks terrific pretty much every night, but the first or second round draft pick that he fetches can’t help the line-up this year at all. Joel Edmundson and David Savard have Stanley Cups to their credit. The draft picks that they fetch would hurt the ability to win games this year.
That’s how the top pick is attained, and according to JF Chaumont, management gets it. That’s great news for the long-term future.
This rebuild doesn’t need to go on too much longer, but management seems to be indicating that they understand it sure needs to go on to the end of this season.