The Montreal Canadiens, heading into the final two weeks of the season, invited another difficult opponent into the Bell Centre on Saturday night. The Carolina Hurricanes posted an easy 3-0 win.
Samuel Montembeault courageously withstanding a barrage is the only positive to be found in this one. The Hurricanes caved the Canadiens in. The only reason it felt like a game at all was Montembeault.
The shots turned 30-7 when Carolina finally got its second goal to take a 2-0 lead ten minutes into the second.
Carolina had 30 shots in the first half of the game. Thankfully, they shut it down somewhat in the second half and finished with 50 shots to Montreal’s 14. It was an ugly game, and though there have been reasons to be positive on many nights even during losses, this was not one of those nights.
There are nights when the Canadiens have been surprisingly good against top teams in the league. They have some solid wins over some excellent clubs. However, there are also nights when it is easy to see that there is some talent lacking overall.
Certainly, the Canadiens having so many injured players explains much of the reason that the team struggles. Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach — who are two of the top three forwards on the club — can’t be out of the line-up without some weaknesses exposed.
At the same time, those injuries don’t tell the full story. The Canadiens lack three top forwards in their top-six. Montreal also needs a right-sided defence partner for Mike Matheson to have even one pair that can compete at a higher level on a nightly basis.
The foundation is getting built, but it also needs to be stressed that the rebuild can’t rise out of the ashes to find success until some more pieces are in place. Expect another two years of this, because even if they draft two top-of-the-roster players this summer with two picks in the top 15, those players must mature their games before Montreal can taste more wins than losses.
The fans have been wonderfully patient so far. They will need to be patient for at least two more years. However, this is the best rebuild that Montreal has done in the last five attempts. This is not being done halfway, finally. Rejoice over that. This management gets it.
When General Manager Kent Hughes traded away Tyler Toffoli, it was assumed that the top asset in return was a first round draft choice from the Calgary Flames. It just might be that Emil Heineman ends up being the golden piece received in the trade.
Scouts have felt that Heineman’s game projects well as a pro. He has a wicked shot and an ability to get it away in tight spaces. That’s exactly what scoring is all about in the NHL. Get the shot away quickly and in traffic to a good location, and you can score goals. Heineman also skates well and is smart with his positioning.
Heineman is certainly scoring goals so far. Heineman has played in six games for the Laval Rocket and he already has scored six times. It’s a small sample, but it’s a great sample. The American Hockey League is a defensive league. It is not easy to score goals in the AHL. It’s very structured. The top goal man is Matthew Phillips with 34 in 60 games.
The head coach in Laval J.F. Houle felt that he was the best player at rookie camp for Montreal, and that was a camp with a lot of top end talent.
Heineman was taken 43rd overall in in 2020, so finding success is not a shock, but he has received almost no ink compared to players like Joshua Roy, Filip Mesar, and Owen Beck. Sometimes players in Europe don’t get the attention that they deserve. Adam Engstrom is a good example of this as he was outstanding on the blue line in Sweden this season, yet received only minimal attention.
It is nearly impossible to project which top notch prospects are going to keep elevating their games in the coming years. It’s almost about volume at this point for Montreal with the hope that if you have enough players on the fence, some will climb over it.
Add Heineman, climbing into the NHL one day with his scintillating start in Laval for a Rocket team that needed his surge to help them make the playoffs this season. The Canadiens have about ten high quality prospects. Surely, some will land nicely on the NHL side of that fence.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.