The Montreal Canadiens have a quick weekend road trip in New York. First the Islanders, then the Rangers on Sunday night. Stop one was a valiant effort, but the Islanders won 2-1.
It’s been a rough go for Jonathan Drouin, still looking for his first goal of the season. But with play like Saturday night, it has to be coming soon. Drouin was the best Canadiens player on the night.
Drouin is definitely learning how to play the point with the extra man now. It took a little while to get comfortable as the last man back, but he’s arriving well. He is tracking the puck well, leading to him keeping the puck in at the blue line many times.
He is also getting some shots through to the net, which is much harder than is given credit for. He’s also making nice passes with his good vision.
It wasn’t just a good night on the power play for Drouin. He had two outstanding looks and it sure looked like he had that goal. The first one especially, where he was streaking down the left side and took a twelve-footer.
Drouin also seems to be having some fun playing the game again. He was interviewed on Thursday about having a certain goal taken away from him because Josh Anderson tipped it over the line. Drouin took it all in stride, smiling and laughing at his own luck.
It felt genuine. It felt like he is comfortable in his own skin right now. We all sure hope so. Drouin is a fine young man, and whatever difficulties he has had off the ice have made life different than the challenges other players face.
Here’s hoping that goal comes soon. He certainly earned his assist that he counted on the night with a terrific pass to Nick Suzuki.
Suzuki finally got that goal that had been eluding him. He hadn’t counted in his last 11 games. Suzuki with his 16th goal of the season. Nice deke on the play, but it doesn’t happen without the excellent pass from Drouin.
Other than that, Jesse Ylonen looked comfortable when he had to move to the top line. Ylonen filling in for Kirby Dach, who was filling in at centre for Jake Evans who left with a knee injury, had a strong chance to finish a two-on-one, but it just went wide.
Also, a good moment for Juraj Slafkovsky in the third period when he skated well down the left side and then fired a shot that Ilya Sorokin stopped with his face. When a shot hits a goalie in the mask, it’s because he couldn’t make the save properly. That was due to the fact the shot had so much pace. Encouraging for the Slovak rookie.
Samuel Montembeault was excellent as well with 36 saves on 38 shots. Montembeault might be a better option for the future than he is given credit. In his last three games, he is pushing a .940 save percentage. It’s only his second season of regular NHL play. Montembeault’s ceiling might be higher than we think.
If you are looking for a silver lining on a night of another loss, it’s that the future of the club isn’t struggling as much as the past, especially on the blue line. Mike Matheson is close to returning to the line-up from injury. Next year, there is a chance that he will be the only veteran defender on the club.
The other five defencemen could be second year players or less. That seems wild, but it’s possible. General Manager Kent Hughes may dig into the free agency pool, but if he does not, it’s Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Jordan Harris, Jonathan Kovacevic, likely Justin Barron, to join Old Man Matheson.
It has to be this way because the partnership of Joel Edmundson and David Savard should be given an opportunity to play for a team that can win a Stanley Cup. They don’t want to be babysitting to end their careers. They want to fight for the holy grail.
It’s also the best idea for the development of a young team for Savard and Edmundson to move. Hughes can get draft picks for the future in trades, and his young guns can keep learning.
The club needs more players to contribute. A little known but interesting statistic is that Cole Caufield has scored 22 per cent of the team’s goals.
That doesn’t sound extraordinary, but it actually is as only two players in the league have a higher percentage of their team’s goals. They are Mikko Rantanen and Connor McDavid. Rantanen leads the league with 24.5 per cent of his team’s goals.
It wasn’t expected that veterans would have breakout years, but it was expected that they would contribute just a little bit. Jonathan Drouin has yet to score. Joel Armia has three all season. Evgenii Dadonov has two goals this year. Jake Evans has two goals.
Imagine if those four players had even somewhat respectable totals. Any type of contribution would have meant more wins, and the club would not be as discouraged overall. The truth is, while many want to give the excuse that the team is full of rookies, it is the veterans that have been the letdown more often.
Next season, there is no reason to keep running out these veterans who do not feel as if they are part of the future rebuilding project anyway. Time to switch to rookies who have even more seasoning than Juraj Slafkovsky.
Rookies like Joshua Roy, Sean Farrell, Owen Beck, and Filip Mesar can get NHL experience next season. Their careers are on the upside, which will pay dividends in future years. If it’s fine to commit to the NHL an 18-year-old Slavkofsky, then it’s more than suitable to try Roy, Farrell, Beck, and Mesar, who are all playing excellent hockey this season.
If anyone is worried about not enough leadership from veterans to show the way, Brendan Gallagher, Mike Matheson, and even a 24-year-old Nick Suzuki are sufficient, especially considering struggling players don’t actually give inspirational speeches.
The Habs have scored about two goals per game for the last month. It really doesn’t get lower than that statistically no matter who gets on the ice. Time for more up-and-comers on a rebuilding team. The fans will love it, and it won’t hurt development either.