Tuesday night was stop three of a four-game road trip for the Montreal Canadiens in New Jersey.
Montreal is contending with serious injury and health issues, as it seems every game means another lost player. Kirby Dach was out for the last two games, and his presence in the middle was missed.
Dach was out again as the club was horribly weak at centre due to injury, yet the Canadiens won 5-2 in Newark.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard is not interested yet in the end of this Cinderella story. Make it 13 games that Harvey-Pinard is one of the top forwards on the club. He now has seven goals and three assists for 10 points in 13 games.
Harvey-Pinard is helping Nick Suzuki to come out of his slump because of the loss of Cole Caufield to shoulder surgery. The first goal of the night, it was Suzuki who made a tremendous pass to Justin Barron who joined the rush for his third goal of the year.
Barron and Mike Matheson has been the best partnership on defence for the last two weeks. The two seem to bring out the best in each other. They might just be a partnership next season in October.
Barron cannot be denied a spot next season playing as well as he has since his call-up from Laval. Matheson certainly has the confidence of the head coach playing, half of the first period as an example.
The third member of the best Canadiens line of the last month is Josh Anderson. Any GM who has been watching Anderson recently will not think he has any right to low-ball Kent Hughes with an offer. Anderson is playing strong hockey.
He is leading the rush and winning the puck as a first forechecker with great energy and skill. Anderson is cycling through the offensive zone well, allowing Suzuki to find him for chances. He is also delivering a number of big hits.
If any GM thinks they need a power forward in the playoffs when the hockey is heavy, then Anderson is a viable choice in a trade. The trading deadline is March 3rd. Anderson may just be the most viable option for Hughes to get a third first-rounder with the health status of Sean Monahan and Joel Edmundson still uncertain.
Another Canadiens forward who should get a long look next year is Jesse Ylonen. He should fight for a spot on the fourth line next season. Ylonen only needs to use his speed a bit more like he did on the Canadiens second goal.
Ylonen won the blue line with huge speed. He backed up the Devils defence with that speed and by feigning that he wanted to take it to the goal; instead, Ylonen pivoted and turned back to the middle where he found Jonathan Kovacevic. He easily found net.
The Canadiens were putting some nice plays together against a surprisingly defensively sluggish Devils team. All the Canadiens tallies were on some healthy looks at goal.
A minute later, it was 3-1 as Suzuki ripped a shot on the rush to the far side. It’s now 44 points on the season for Suzuki in 57 games. Suzuki has a career high of 61 points that he would love to eclipse. With the surge on Tuesday night, Suzuki is on pace for 63.
The fourth goal was an even easier mark for Montreal as Rem Pitlick got a cross-crease pass from Evgenii Dadonov. Vitek Vanecek had no chance on any of them.
As much as there were a number of great performances up and down the line-up, the win doesn’t happen without yet another theft from Samuel Montembeault. He stopped three breakaways in the contest: Miles Wood, Brendan Smith and Dawson Mercer were all stymied.
Montembeault stopped 37 shots as the Canadiens were outshot 39-18.
The injuries keep piling up for the Canadiens. Joel Armia was on for three shifts in the first period, then left the contest. Halfway through the second period, the club announced Armia was done for the night. The Canadiens have 12 regulars out of their line-up.
Next season’s training camp is going to be fascinating. Very few should assume that their job is assured. Veterans like Armia will have to prove themselves. It could be simply having an expensive contract won’t be enough to own a regular shift.
While the 12 are out, there are many replacement players who look just as good, if not better.
Time to clear out some veterans, because the prospects are coming. It was another strong weekend for the young guns who are making the case as soon as now that they want to be on the roster in October.
Sean Farrell is 21 years of age. It is likely that he is signed as soon as his season ends at Harvard in late-March or early April. He would then get some games in for the Canadiens this season. Farrell is a top-five forward in college hockey this season.
Farrell trails in points per game only a single player: Adam Fantilli, who is expected to be drafted second this June behind only Connor Bedard. Farrell has 46 points in 27 games for a 1.70 PPG. Fantilli has a 1.81. Farrell has been closing that number the last two weeks.
There is a good chance that Farrell could be one of the finalists for the Hobey Baker award for top player in U.S. college hockey. If not Farrell, then another Habs prospect Lane Hutson could be a finalist.
Hutson continued his outstanding freshman season at Boston University with two points on Saturday night against Merrimack. Hutson now has 38 points in 29 games for a points-per-game even higher than the best defensive prospect in hockey Luke Hughes.
The junior ranks see three players absolutely on fire. Joshua Roy played three games for Sherbrooke with six goals and four assists for a whopping 10 points. That included a five-point game against the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Of the two players in the ‘Q’, Roy gets most of the ink because of his success at the World Juniors for Canada, but Riley Kidney is also playing outstanding hockey. Kidney averaged 1.5 points-per-game with Acadie-Bathurst, but after he was traded, he has averaged 2.5 points-per-game.
No one in Quebec junior hockey is scoring at Kidney’s clip for the last 15 games in Gatineau with nine goals, 29 assists and 38 points. Even Connor Bedard only has 45 points in his last 15 games. Kidney is a points machine.
Kidney played only two games on the weekend for the Olympiques counting nine assists. Kidney’s PPG is actually better than Roy’s, but that isn’t necessarily a significant marker for whom might be the better pro. Point is that no one should write-off the underreported Kidney.
The final junior who is on fire is Logan Mailloux. Former Canadiens defender and now a coach in charge of player development for the organization, Francis Bouillon, says Mailloux is a lock to be a strong pro for Montreal.
Recent evidence says he is correct. Mailloux counted six points in his last five games. He is averaging a point-per-game in the Ontario Hockey League this season. That’s top five amongst defenders in the OHL.
Also interestingly, though it is not the best stat in hockey, Mailloux has the second best plus/minus among the top-15 scoring defenders with a plus-20. He trails only Pavel Mintyukov who was drafted tenth overall by Anaheim and is a star in the making.
Mailloux constantly gets criticized for his defence, but second best in this category should get at least a small measure of recognition.
That’s five players who will want to make a mark for the Canadiens soon. Add another two in Owen Beck and Filip Mesar for seven, and it’s clear that the veterans need to move out, so the next generation can begin to show what ceilings they have.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.