The Montreal Canadiens are heading down the home stretch with their final dozen games. Kirby Dach and Brendan Gallagher were both back in the lineup for the first time in two months.
They provided quite a spark as the Canadiens played their best game in weeks, handing a great hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, a 3-2 loss.
It took only three shifts to see how much the Canadiens missed the skill set of Kirby Dach. Head Coach Martin St. Louis put Dach on the wing to ease him back into the lineup. He had Nick Suzuki as his centre and Rafael Harvey-Pinard on the other wing.
From the drop of the puck, they were creating chances. Dach’s fast stick and faster brain helped on rushes, and zone time. He knows how to hold on to the puck, blocking out opponents with his long reach, then feeding his teammates with exquisite passes.
Early in the first period, Dach joined the first power play unit, and the extra-man advantage looked better than it has in months right away. The line had 60 seconds of zone time almost scoring three times. Dach was a catalyst on the left side half wall.
He is simply a player that makes everyone around him better. It has to be said for the one hundredth time: What a steal of a trade!
Nick Suzuki definitely liked having Dach back on his line as well, as the captain was also looking more comfortable than he has since Cole Caufield went down with a shoulder injury.
Suzuki is not a centre who can do it by himself. He needs mates to create with. He loves combination plays, but has not always found a partner in this second half of the season, though Harvey-Pinard many nights has played well above his station.
Halfway through the first period, on only their fourth shift together, it was Suzuki with the hookup with Dach. He fired from the high slot, then followed up his shot to tap it home. The Canadiens were up 1-0 and just about everyone in the Bell Centre looked at the person beside them and said, “They sure missed Dach, didn’t they?”
They sure did.
Whether, in the long run, he plays on the wing or centre, only the construction of the rest of the team will tell that, but wherever it is, he will surely shine.
This trade by General Manager Kent Hughes is an epic win. It’s not often a GM hits a grand slam like this. One can never know what they would have done with that 13th pick overall, but it is a long shot that he ever will be as good as the third pick overall Dach.
Let’s have a Jonathan Drouin chat, shall we? Let’s start that chat with two goals, 17 assists for 19 points in 22 games. Just shy of a point-per-game on a team that is among the lowest scoring in the league is quite a number. That’s important to mention because it means there isn’t a lot of support there to achieve that type of point total.
There’s simply a lower share overall of points when passes don’t get converted, or when other Canadiens can’t get the play up ice.
No, we are not going to worry about being late to a meeting by two minutes. If the assessment of whether Drouin should get a contract offer hinges on two minutes late to a meeting more than 19 points in his last 22 games, there’s a real problem.
Drouin’s also been asked to play centre where he played only briefly as an NHLer four years ago. The only other time he did it regularly was in Halifax his final year of junior. It was a tall ask to move Drouin to centre, but he looks more comfortable than he did in his last incarnation.
If the leading scorer on the club since the all-star break doesn’t deserve a contract offer of some sort, that would be unfortunate. It is supposed to be that forwards who get lots of points get a contract offer. It has always been this way. If Drouin wants to continue with the Canadiens, he should be given the opportunity.
He’s earned at least a one-year offer. A point-per-game on this team is earning it.
It would be a relief to see an end to this ridiculous pattern of having to fight after a perfectly legal and effective hit. in the second period, Michael Pezzetta laid out a powerful, but obviously clean hit, and immediately he got jumped by Pat Maroon.
There’s only one way to stop this: call the player who jumps the legal hitter for an instigator penalty. How could it possibly not be an example of an instigator for a fight? Most of the time, the aggressor has come charging in from a far distance. It’s difficult to imagine what is more instigator than that.
If the officials would merely do that every single time, then the penalty would be too costly for the offending action. Done. Problem solved.
The beauty of this too is it would simply be following the rules of the game. Change nothing. Just apply what is already there.
The other negative is that Josh Anderson seems to have suffered a significant injury in the last minute of the game. He crashed into the net, and was unable to put any weight at all on his right leg. He was carried off the ice by two teammates.
Hughes gave an interview this week to The Athletic that had one extremely revealing and important moment of clarity. It was the type of comment that simply is not usually offered about the future.
We are usually in the dark how management sees the future. Not this time as Hughes laid out a clear path for the coming years with this statement when asked when the club may compete for a playoff spot again: “Listen, I think it’s going to be another two, three years … but again, we’re hopeful we have opportunities to trade for good, young players like a Kirby Dach.”
Hughes continued on with the expressed intent to explain that he did not see the club as like Tampa or Boston, and not even Ottawa or Buffalo. The message here is that there will be no attempt to rise out of the doldrums until the pieces of a rebuild are acquired. He sees Ottawa and Buffalo as having better pieces than his club. He is building assets with a clear head of what it takes to compete.
Hughes indicated they would not sign a 28 year old free agent just to help the following season. Again, this indicates that Hughes isn’t looking for a quick fix. Hughes wants young players that will be part of a long term and sustainable successful path.
For those who have tired of the Canadiens doing a half-hearted rebuild only to end up in the middle of the pack again, this is welcome news. This is a serious rebuild with management extremely comfortable to remain in a rebuilding mode while acquiring young assets.
One can finally now see aspirations that are loftier than the previous regime’s led by Marc Bergevin who often said “make the playoffs, and you never know what can happen”. While that sounds hopeful, it is a strategy that is merely an illogical prayer.
This rebuild is going to have some pain in it, but when it is done, it is clear that the new management’s goal is a Stanley Cup. The long suffering fans have been waiting for that since 1993. What’s another couple years to do this right when it leads to an actual real chance at it.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.