November 20, 2022
Three games were on tap for Week 6. On Tuesday the New Jersey Devils were in town, and the Montreal Canadiens lost 5-1 to the kind of team they’re building to become. The Habs hit the road for one game, and a chaotic affair with the Columbus Blue Jackets ended in a 6-2 loss. On Saturday they were back at home to greet the Philadelphia Flyers, and what a show they put on, with Nick Suzuki scoring the lone shootout goal for the 5-4 win.
After three wins in Week 5, it took a meeting with the New Jersey Devils for Habs fans to find some balance.
Last week the story was three convincing wins and suddenly the Habs were flirting with a playoff position, and that with their top defenseman not having yet played a single game. We entered the season with expectations of an exciting young team that would make mistakes but be worth watching for the chance to imagine the future. All it took was a few consecutive wins for expectations to get a little unbalanced.
But then on Tuesday night the New Jersey Devils came to town, and they brought with them a little balance. The Devils are a young and exciting team that plays with pace and on the offensive – not one generational talent among them, but several elite players who are growing up together and becoming a force in the NHL. Sound familiar?
A balanced perspective on this season is wise. But if you can look at those Devils, see the comparisons to what the Habs are building and not get excited, you might be experiencing some kind of imbalance.
This week brought some balanced goal scoring.
The dominance of the Suzuki line has been exhilarating to watch, and they continued to shine this week. Saturday night’s performance was fantastic, with two goals coming off highlight reel assists from Slick Nick.
But the downside to date has been the lack of balanced goal scoring. If the other lines couldn’t get going, St. Louis may have been forced to split the trio and spread the offense. This week saw contributions from both the Dvorak line and, to a lesser degree, the Monahan line. This bodes well.
I’m growing concerned about the fourth line, and particularly with Jake Evans. After such a strong performance last year, and being so deep on the wing, I expected good things from the Evans line. They should dominate on many nights, but that has not been the case. I’m seeing little to no chemistry with Juraj Slafkovsky, which has bigger implications, but the chemistry that used to exist with guys like Pitlick and Armia seems to have evaporated. No doubt the injuries and shuffling of players has Evans a little off balance.
On Saturday Michael Matheson was activated and the coach is balancing kids and vets.
The hometown boy finally got into his first game of the season, and his first ever with the Montreal Canadiens. How often have we watched Quebecers play for other teams and come into the Bell Centre and shine? It was pretty sweet to see Matheson notch one for the good guys. The Habs blue line is instantly better with him inserted, and I expect him to be an important veteran into the contention window.
With Matheson’s return, Coach Martin St. Louis made a decision to healthy scratch Jordan Harris, who has formed an impressive pair with Johnathan Kovacevic. I confess I did not love the move. The coach said the choice was based on the type of players he thought they would need in the line up against the Flyers. Consistent with the Habs new brand of transparency, Marty revealed it was his plan to rotate the rookies for the short term.
Before the game, the coach talked about how much the rookies had accomplished, and that he felt the positives of their season so far would overshadow the scratches that would come with a rotation. He said the rotation would be based on matching to the opposition, performance, and keeping them all involved.
How very balanced.
A mini media tour confirmed that the HuGo management duo is a case study in balance.
On Monday Jeff Gorton appeared on The Sick Podcast with Tony Marinaro. True to the form we have seen, Gorton was transparent – even while clarifying when he was not prepared to be transparent. He came off as confident, but humble… smart, but open to ideas… decisive, but not reactive. He came off as balanced. At one point Tony asked if the Habs might be prepared to be buyers at the deadline if the team remained in a playoff position. Cool as a cucumber, Gorton said that’s not a decision you need to make after 15 games.
Kent Hughes was a little less coy with Luc Gelinas of RDS at the GM meeting. While pleased with Montreal’s start to the season, he confirmed to Gelinas that their direction would not change, and they would not be trading their first round pick in March if the Canadiens are fighting for a playoff spot. That’s not to say there will be no deals, but they will balance the present with the desire for a long window of contention.
On Thursday Hughes appeared on The Raw Knuckles with Chris Nilan. He was confident but self-deprecating… telling inside stories while being respectful and discreet… brilliant but approachable. He came off as balanced. They discussed the concept of the tank and Hughes joked about the hockey gods not reacting well to a deliberate tank.
I appreciated Hughes’ commentary about Logan Mailloux, a player and a situation he inherited when he came to Montreal. Hughes said they had gotten a chance to get to know him during his summer rehab in Montreal and that they “think” he is responding well to the personal work he is doing in relation to the incident in Europe that would have amounted to a sexual offence in Canada.
Hughes brought his typical balance to the conversation. He noted that you can do all of the proper due diligence, but realistically there are limits to how much you can truly know a person. Hughes said signing Mailloux to a contract doesn’t mean his work is over, that Mailloux will have to be diligent every day of his career, and that “there is a burden of responsibility that isn’t going away…” I confess I have feelings about this situation that may never change, but there is some consolation in knowing intelligent and balanced leaders are managing it.
That’s the story of this version of the Montreal Canadiens – intelligent and balanced leadership – and it’s a story that’s a lot of fun to watch unfold.