The Montreal Canadiens took on the 32nd ranked team in the league on Thursday night. A victory was expected but a victory was not attained. The Anaheim Ducks won only their second game of the season in regulation time. The final count — 5-2.
Two goals in three minutes and 26 seconds. That’s all it took for Cole Caufield to make a dull game come to life. It was the third period and nothing was working, including a Canadiens power play that had gone 0-for-23.
Caufield took over doing what he does — score goals.
The first goal was on the power play as Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach crisply passed it side to side until they found Caufield in his spot. He ripped a one-timer for his 17th goal of the season.
The crowd finally had something to cheer about. Barely back in their seats, it was Caufield again. Most of the time it is the powerful shot of Caufield that takes the spotlight, but on the tying goal, he read the play perfectly.
Caufield saw that the point shot was going wide from Jonathan Kovacevic. Caufield went behind the net to retrieve the puck before it even hit the backboards. With everyone unaware, Caufield wheeled around to the other side and found an open net.
That’s 18 goals for Caufield in 29 games. He is on pace for a 51-goal season.
The Canadiens were playing their fourth game in six nights, so they had a difficult time bringing any energy to the game. They were lucky to have the worst team in the league in town as the opposition, or they would not have been able to keep it close.
It wasn’t as if anyone was particularly horrible. They were just a tired team with no legs. The Canadiens have been surprisingly good all season long. This one, for a change, they were surprisingly bad.
The Montreal Canadiens are in the process of trying to construct a sustainable, powerful team. To reach that goal, there are certain must-haves.
A talented goalie is an absolute must. A save percentage of around .920 will be needed. Usually in constructing a team, the goalie is acquired last. If the goalie is acquired first, he’ll steal too many games and the General Manager won’t lose enough to acquire the other vital pieces.
Losing is a must. It’s the only way to draft high to get the best players. Also, a must is having a top of the roster that can take over a game.
When the playoffs begin, the best of the roster plays considerably more minutes than in the regular season.
Often in the playoffs, the back two lines and final blue line pair do not play considerable minutes. They’re important, of course, but their job is to simply attain a 0-0 scoreline.
Those back-of-the-roster players are easy to acquire. They’re generally available in the prospect pool of any club and they’re available at the trading deadline.
For that reason, when a GM is drafting, he should not be making safe picks. He should be swinging for a home run, trying to acquire top-of-the-roster talent.
The goal up front is to have as many top-six forwards as possible because they will be the ones to either get it done or fail. In the salary cap era, no team has six legitimate top-six forwards, but the more a team has, the better.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Mike Bunting and Denis Malgin. That’s arguably four or five of six.
In Edmonton, the Oilers have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto. That’s strong with five top forwards out of six. The Oilers are set up front. Their failure in the playoffs is not from a lack of scoring.
The Canadiens have three with Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Kirby Dach composing the first line. Imagine now if the Canadiens could form a second line as strong or close to as strong as the first. They would win a lot of hockey games.
That is why the goal of management is acquire as many top-six forwards and top-four defenders as possible before they get that .920 goalie to leap up the standings for a decade.
The second line is not up to standards yet. The Canadiens want Juraj Slafkovsky to live up to the hope they had for him when they drafted him first overall.
If Slafkovsky develops, that’s four. If the Canadiens pick in the top ten of this remarkable NHL Entry Draft in 2023, that will be a fifth player in the top-six.
After that, perhaps Filip Mesar can be a top-six, or Owen Beck can continue to improve as rapidly as he is. Maybe Sean Farrell can fill the role.
They are all prospects for now, but good prospects as the Canadiens close in on filling out their top-six.
Now about that defence. We’ll look at the top-four roster construction on Saturday night.