Stop three of four for the Montreal Canadiens road trip. It’s going well with the club competing well in both stops in Alberta winning in Calgary and losing a terrific game in Edmonton.
The Canucks hosting the Canadiens on Tuesday night and it was the wildest game of the season with 13 goals on the board in a 7-6 Vancouver win.
It’s been argued here that the Canadiens will get better as the season continues as these rookie players get more comfortable, and the team gels more under the intelligent guidance of head coach Martin St. Louis.
Experience is worth a lot, so when four rookie defencemen are impressing in their first 10 games, expect that they’re going to get better in the following 10, and then the following seasons.
If a player is good enough to look that good in their first 10, the learning curve has a chance to do a serious amount of bending.
Take Kaiden Guhle as an example. Right away, he is playing 25 minutes in the NHL against the best players in the league. He played Sidney Crosby straight up in October. It’s only going to get better. Crosby is having an excellent season, but not when he went against Guhle.
Midway through the first against Vancouver, Guhle got the puck in his own defensive zone. He looked up and fired an absolute rocket of a pass 120 feet right on to the stick of Nick Suzuki for a breakaway. Just like that, out of nothing, it’s 2-0 Montreal. That’s what a 200-foot defender can do. The stay-at-home defender is dying to be replaced by the skill set that Guhle can bring.
He wasn’t the only of the new defenders on the Canadiens to shine in Vancouver. Jordan Harris was in the attacking zone. He feigned that he was going to take a shot. He drew the defender to him, then suddenly a pass to the left where the sniper stood. Cole Caufield got the pass in the perfect location. The puck was off his stick and into the head in a blink.
That’s 14 on the season for Caufield who is barely not a rookie himself in this league, but seems as reliable as a 10-year veteran. Caufield is on pace for 46 goals in only his second NHL season.
Caufield’s line-mate Nick Suzuki was the star of a four goal first period that had Canucks fans silent and Canadiens fans making it sound like a home game in British Columbia. Suzuki with the goal and an assist on a terrific pass to Sean Monahan for a tap in.
Suzuki with 28 points in 25 games this season as he is on pace for 92 points. Suzuki is still improving and he is only 23 years of age in his fourth NHL season. Now, imagine all of those rookies improving like Suzuki is still growing his game. Imagine a learning curve for Harris, Guhle, Jonathan Kovacevic, Arber Xhekaj and Juraj Slafkovsky that even remotely resembles Suzuki’s advancement.
Now imagine some of the best prospects this organization has had in the last 15 years coming of age as well under the tutelage of this new management team. This rebuild is going quickly.
It’s getting difficult to imagine a top five pick for the Canadiens unless they unload some veterans quickly, and even then, the way the youth are playing, it still may not be enough.
There’s just too much talent here for a top-five pick.
When a young player is 6 foot 4 inches and 230 pounds and playing young man’s hockey, no one hits him. However, the problem is at a certain point, that young giant ends up playing with other giants in a men’s league. The men can hit anyone, and that means everyone has to have their head up at all times, or risk serious injury.
Juraj Slafkovsky has to learn to scan the ice better, or this could all end up going badly. In the first period, Slafkovsky was rocked again hard with a powerful hit from Luke Schenn. He was hit in his head hard again. He seemed to have been dazed.
Thankfully, the training staff handled it intelligently and responsibly. Slafkovsky went to the dressing room as soon as he got to the bench to be administered concussion testing.
He came back in the exact time it takes to administer a SCAT test – 15 minutes. This is a standard test of cognitive and physical ability focusing on memory, visual acuity, and balance. Basically, the test checks if your brain is completely functioning. Thankfully, Slafkovsky was fine.
However, this can not keep happening. He has to make sure that he develops a better sense of where he is on the ice, and when there is possibility of danger for him. A player learns when they are vulnerable, or they won’t be a player for long.
The Canadiens had the game well in hand leading 4-0, but then Sean Monahan left early in the second period after twisting his knee. No word on how serious the injury is, but he did not return for the rest of the game, and in his absence, the Canadiens fell apart.
Win the middle. Win the game. lose the middle, and it can go badly very quickly. The Canucks responded with five-straight goals to turn an embarrassing night into one a competitive one.
The issue wasn’t just the loss of Monahan, but also the difficulty that Samuel Montembeault had in the net. The fifth goal for Vancouver, he gave the puck away behind the net on a simple dump in. It happens, but the timing on this one was particularly bad.
Montembeault has been an outstanding surprise this season with a .925 save percentage, but it took a big hit in this one. It’s to be expected that there are nights that don’t go as well for a goalie that has never shouldered a large load of games in a season.
It is also a good lesson for the rest of the club that the game continues until it does not. A young team with a four goal lead early can get pretty cocky about it all thinking that the professionals on the other bench aren’t going to give much of a fight.
Credit to Vancouver though as they kept on fighting with pride. For the Canadiens, a lesson surely well learned. Play until the clock says zero, and only then have you won in the NHL. In fact, they learned the lesson by the midpoint of the third period coming back with two goals to take the lead again at 6-5.
It was a wild one, so naturally Montreal didn’t hold the lead, and even more expectedly, a wild one needs a 3-on-3 overtime thrown in for some more drama.
That extra five minutes lasted only 13 seconds as Mike Matheson lost an edge in front of his own net giving the puck away to Elias Pettersson who slid it home. Vancouver with seven and the win.
Not all development is physical or pertaining to on ice play. There’s another level of development that is about locking down a game that seems won. They’ll all lock it all down better next time concentrating on staying on the right side of the puck and keeping the game low-event.
The concept can’t be more goals, and more excitement. It has to be dull, low-event, and keep them sleeping and unmotivated. The concept also has to be to have the talent in the middle to win the game.
In the loss, a lot was learned. That’s a perfect loss in a rebuilding season.
There could be as many as nine Canadiens prospects at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Halifax this Christmas.
The nations have begun to announce their preliminary rosters with Canada and the United States coming out on Monday.
So far the decisions have favoured the Canadiens with four selections of Montreal players going to camps.
Firstly, for the United States, Lane Hutson was picked. This is not a surprise, though he was not playing at the COVID-19 delayed tournament last summer, as he was one of the final cuts.
Hutson has simply been too good to ignore in his freshman season at Boston University with 17 points in 14 games. Hutson’s point-per-game average is the best in college hockey for a defender. His numbers are historic for a draft plus one player.
Hutson is not likely to be cut this time, though the American blue line is absolutely stacked with Luke Hughes, Ryan Chesley and Seamus Casey also defending.
For Canada, three Canadiens prospects were chosen. Of the three, Joshua Roy has the best chance to land on the final roster. The biggest reason is he already had a strong event last summer.
Since then, he’s gone back to the QMJHL and lit it up again scoring at the same lightning pace as the year before.
Riley Kidney also was on the summer team for Canada, but as a fourth line player mostly. He was on the cusp then, and he will be on the cusp this time as well.
The final prospect from Montreal is Owen Beck. An early second round draft choice, Beck had an outstanding camp for the Canadiens and then upped his offensive output by double in the OHL in Mississauga for the Steelheads.
Most experts feel Beck has a 50-50 chance at landing in Halifax, but his head for the game is so good that the COTW believes Beck will land on the roster as a defensive specialist. There are very few players at this age that understand how to defend as a forward as well as Beck already does.
It says here that all four chosen Monday make their final rosters. There were two hopefuls who did not get chosen for Canada. Forward Vinzenz Rohrer and defenceman Logan Mailloux were considered long shots.