December 10, 2022
Week 9 featured three games for the Montreal Canadiens, the first two a continuation of their West Coast road trip. On Monday night in Vancouver, the Habs blew a four goal lead and lost 7-6 in overtime. A tired and shorthanded team faced the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday night, but managed a 4-2 win. The Habs welcomed the Los Angeles Kings for a Saturday night game at the Bell Centre, but they were out of sync and waited too late to get going. The result was a 4-2 loss.
Here’s how I saw things go down.
Strong pivots are pivotal to success.
Brian Wilde has a pet saying, and it resonates – win the middle, win the game.
After years of drought, the Habs can be more optimistic about the future at centre ice than they have been in decades. Nick Suzuki is on pace for more than 90 points – if you’re looking for someone whose credibility is about to take a hit, find someone who is still disputing whether he is a legitimate first-line centre. After just 27 games in Montreal, Kirby Dach is proving he has the skill set to grow into a centreman.
In the developmental category, several centre prospects will find their way to the IIHF World Junior Championship. Owen Beck, Filip Mesar and Riley Kidney are expected to be there. If healthy, Oliver Kapanen will likely be there. This doesn’t even account for who may be added via the upcoming draft and/or near future trades.
While the future is bright, the Habs are still trying to pivot from what has been to what they are and then to what they will be. Sean Monahan sits in the middle of that, as Canadiens brass consider what to do with the rejuvenated pivot.
On Monday night in Vancouver, Montreal was in control of the game with a 4-0 lead when Monahan went down to injury, and then blew it badly. Obviously, more went wrong for the Habs than a lower body injury to one player, but on Tuesday night with Monahan still out, the line up at centre was rough. Monahan’s spot was filled by Jake Evans, who had exactly zero goals and three assists going into the game.
HuGo still has work to do where pivots are concerned, and the first decision is what to do with Monahan.
The first pivotal decision of the HuGo management duo is working out okay.
Was the timing surrounding Tuesday’s game coincidental? The healthy scratches, the conditioning stint that ends in time for the Habs game, the release of Shane Wright to Team Canada. Of course Wright would score his first NHL goal in his first game against the team that snubbed him.
The celebration was brief, and Slafkovsky had an assist on the game-winning goal from Anderson, but you get the sense that as long as any questions remain about centremen in Montreal, debate will continue about whether the Habs made the right choice at the draft.
On Wednesday night, Tage Thompson had a huge game for the Buffalo Sabres, and after that game Hockey Consultant Jack Han made a couple of interesting predictions on Twitter.
Is there any chance the Habs try to convert Slafkovsky to a pivot?”
“Change occurs when excuses pivot to execution.” ~ Ryan Lilly
Remember the famous motto from the 2015-16 season, a love child born of the Bergevin-Therrien affair? “No excuses”. The season ended with “no playoffs”, and what followed was an eternal litany of excuses. I guess some guys write mottos and other guys win.
Coach Martin St. Louis has seen plenty of adversity this season – too many forwards, a young defense group, underperforming veterans, and now injuries. The coach would be justified to point to legitimate reasons for losses, but to date he has been nothing but positive in every pre- and post-game presser, in every planned interview, and even in how he presents behind the bench. He’s been the epitome of composure and execution.
One thing Marty hasn’t encountered is a prolonged losing skid, but he knows what this season is about and I suspect we will just see more of the same when the losses come. Perhaps selecting Slafkovsky was not the first pivotal decision of the HuGo management duo.
With the IiHF World Junior Hockey Championships approaching, the Habs may be pivoting in how they approach Juraj Slafkovsky.
The Habs, and St. Louis in particular, have been taking a very measured approach in bringing the prized rookie along. Fourth line duty, a gaggle of different linemates and a centreman who is not known for his offence meant there was little to no pressure on Slafkovsky to produce. He was there to learn the game – get used to smaller ice, adjust to the pace, and practice using his size against men in a highly physical league.
The presumption was that when Christmas rolled around Slafkovsky would be joining his countrymen in the Maritimes. But the injury bug hit and that meant opportunity for Slafkovsky – more minutes on a new line with a new pivot. The audition has gone well enough that both St. Louis and Jeff Gorton indicated this week that they would not likely interrupt Slafkovsky’s progress with an East Coast excursion.
It’s amazing how different a goal scoring winger can look alongside an offensively minded pivot.
Short on pivots for a Saturday night game, the coach shuffled his lines.
It didn’t work. A tough road trip followed by three days off is the official recipe for sluggish. In retrospect, it might have been wise to not mess with any chemistry that remained after the injured list was updated.
Anderson with Suzuki and Caufield is a t-shirt we tried and it didn’t fit, but injuries necessitated a shift to pivot for Dach. I thought Slafkovsky, Dach and Hoffman all had decent individual games, but the chemistry between them was a work in progress for obvious reasons. With Hoffman back, it might have made sense to reunite him with Dvorak.
The coach was faced with a shitty game of would you rather, and it’s possible that Saturday would not have been their night, regardless of what choice Marty made. The offense only really got going when the bench was shortened in the third period and Dach was reunited with Suzuki and Caufield.
The rumour mill is heating up, and the Canadiens are at the centre of many. Take that for what it’s worth. But as the season wears on and the true wheeling and dealing get going, Hughes might be wise to keep an eye out for another pivot.