After a preseason to forget, the Habs were at least able to kick off their regular season on a winning note before dropping their first two road games of the campaign.
The Week That Was
Oct. 12: Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 3 – One of the questions heading into the season was whether or not Cole Caufield would produce at the level he did in the second half last season. One game alone doesn’t answer that but he picked up where he left off, scoring Montreal’s first two goals of the game in the second period. Sean Monahan looked to have the probable game-winner with 2:30 left but William Nylander tied it up on the next shift. However, the Habs took advantage of a late Toronto giveaway, allowing Nick Suzuki to set up Josh Anderson for the winner with 19 seconds left in regulation.
Oct. 14: Red Wings 3, Canadiens 0 – Jake Allen was tested early and often in this one as Montreal’s inexperienced back end was exposed, particularly with Detroit having the last change. (This is something that’s going to be an issue a lot this season, especially on the road.) Allen kept it even through 40 minutes before Elmer Soderblom was able to break through and score his first NHL goal. The Red Wings added a pair of empty-netters to pad the score although, to be fair, it’s still one that favoured the Habs in terms of quality of play.
Oct. 15: Capitals 3, Canadiens 1 – Washington looked as if they got on the board in the first but Alex Ovechkin’s goal was taken away following a successful challenge for offside. Nick Suzuki scored early in the second and it looked like the Habs were in decent shape but the Capitals replied with three goals in a little over six minutes to give them some quick breathing room. While Montreal had some chances in the third, they weren’t able to get any closer than that.
Goals: Cole Caufield (2)
Assists: Nick Suzuki (2)
Points: Caufield/Suzuki (3)
+/-: Jordan Harris (+2)
PIMS: Kaiden Guhle (5)
Shots: Cole Caufield (11)
News And Notes
– Jake Allen’s 25 saves in the first period tied a franchise record for most saves in a period. Allen tied the record which was set all the way back…well…last season, when Allen made 25 stops against Carolina.
– Mike Matheson will miss the next two months with an abdominal injury. Corey Schueneman was brought up from Laval to serve as the seventh defender.
– Arber Xhekaj is the first player in NHL history whose last name starts with an X.
Last Game’s Lines:
Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Monahan – Dach – Dadonov
Slafkovsky – Dvorak – Gallagher
Drouin – Evans – Hoffman
Guhle – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
Xhekaj – Wideman
The Week Ahead
Monday vs Pittsburgh – The Penguins are off to a strong start offensively, scoring six times in both of their games. That might not be a good omen for a back end that’s dressing four rookies. Former Hab Jeff Petry has the early lead in blocked shots while the duo of Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel have nearly as many points between the two of them as Montreal’s entire team so far.
Thursday vs Arizona – The Coyotes are off to a slow start having allowed a dozen goals in their first two games. Jakob Chychrun hasn’t played yet this season and won’t be available for this one while Nick Schmaltz, who finished second on the team in scoring last season, was injured early in their opener.
Saturday vs Dallas – Things look a bit different in Dallas now with Rick Bowness out and a more offensive-minded coach in Peter DeBoer in. The addition of Mason Marchment in free agency appears to be paying off (of course, it’s a one-week sample size) while 2021 first-rounder Wyatt Johnston cracked the roster coming out of training camp.
The usage of Juraj Slafkovsky has gotten a lot of attention so far. In particular, the lack of it is garnering headlines. I have no issue with the idea of easing him into things in principle. To me, it makes sense. He’s not ready for top minutes in the NHL yet and that’s perfectly fine; we know this wasn’t a deep draft class full of NHL-ready players.
But if this is all that they’re comfortable giving him right now, why is he up? Everyone’s familiar with the nine-game rule where a junior-aged player can play in nine games before burning the first year of his entry-level deal. I don’t know about you but I don’t want those games being all ones where he averages 11 minutes a game. Even if they’re looking to the 40-game mark (the threshold in which a player accrues a season towards UFA eligibility, I don’t want to see a lot of those games being with that type of ice time.
Slafkovsky has a taste of the NHL now which is fine. Now it’s time to send him down for a while and see how he does there. If he forces their hand into bringing him back up, great. At that point, you then expose him to a bit of a tougher role for a few games and see how that goes. If things are looking up, then they decide about burning the year (or if the 40-game mark is the target). They’ll have more information to work from at that time than they will be giving him his current role for two more weeks. And if he struggles in Laval, the decision is simpler – keep him down until he improves.
Patience will be needed with Slafkovsky and there will be multiple evaluation points during the season. Between the preseason and the first three games, they have enough of a sample size to judge from and the evaluation should be that while he can hold his own, he’s not doing a whole lot. Now it’s time to evaluate him in Laval for a little while and chart a plan from there. Waiting until nine games to send him down is about the worst thing they could do as then bringing him back up would burn the first year. Montreal needs to extend the evaluation window and that means an assignment to the Rocket needs to be coming sooner than later.