The Dirty Dozen #3
January 22, 2021
By Grant McCagg
The Canadiens have scored 24 goals in their first five games. Even in 2015-16 when the Habs started the season with nine straight victories, it took them eight games to score their 24th goal. The last Habs team to start the season with at least 23 goals in five games was the 1981-82 squad that included Lafleur, Shutt, Mondou, Tremblay, Gainey, Robinson, Larouche and Napier. The Canadiens have five more goals than second-place Philadelphia, and are second overall in goal differential at +8. That’s more like it! It brings back memories of The Flying Frenchmen. Mind you…with three Finnish forwards in the lineup compared to just two Quebecois, it may be more appropriate to dub them The Flying Finns, especially after Joel Armia’s four-game night. Here’s hoping he’s not out of the lineup for long with that concussion.
The Canadiens are in second place overall in the NHL standings to start the season despite being one of only six teams (not counting the Dallas Quarantines) yet to play a home game. An .800 record on the road to start the season, and points in all five games…which means no regulation losses. Even the most optimistic Habs’ fan could not have predicted this sort of start to the season, considering the schedule. What usually happens in instances like this is that the players get home after their successful road trip and let the foot off the gas a little bit. Strangely; because there will be no crowd there to boo them when they invariably are sluggish in their first game back…it may almost work in their favour not having the building full at home.
Brandon Sutter, without speaking a word, told Alex Romanov “Welcome to the NHL, rook!” last night with that highlight-reel goal. Better to let it happen when the game is no longer in doubt, and pretty difficult to lay much blame on Romanov on that one. Give credit where credit is due – Sutter made a helluva move and an even more skilled backhand shot to score that one. It’s not like Romanov didn’t try to play the man, either, and was caught just looking at the puck – once the puck was through the legs, few defencemen would have been able to get a piece of Sutter with that slick lateral move. Simply a terrific play by him.
The Canadiens may have had another goal or two as well last night if Toffoli’s teammates hadn’t been trying so hard to get him his second hat trick in as many nights. Pretty much every pass on the power play and on his shifts with KK in the final period were directed towards Toffoli even though he was covered most of the time. Classy move by coach Julien to put Evans out of the power play at the end of the game when the outcome was no longer in doubt, even if he should have been pissed off at the dirty hit from Tyler Myers on Armia . Nice for him to reward Evans for his solid play as well with the late power-play shift.
Habs have a serious candidate for Player of the Week, and there’s still three days of games to go. Five goals from Toffoli in a two-game span pretty much seals it for Toffoli being at least one of the three finalists. Even this early in a season, it’s odd to see two Canadiens tied for the league lead in points (Petry being the other). So much for Tyler having trouble fitting in and not skating fast enough. He won’t beat Connor McDavid in any All Star Game skating competitions, but when you protect the puck like he does, anticipate the play, and shoot and pass with acuity, you can produce offence in any league. He is turning out to be a great free agent signing already.
It was interesting to see Bo Horvat bail pretty quickly on a play in his own end with Josh Anderson barrelling in on him in the second period. Bo knows self preservation. Bo knows Josh. The pair played three seasons together in junior with the London knights. Horvat’s a tough hombre and he’s not one to back away from a battle. But he’s also not stupid. Getting rid of the puck quickly was the right move in that circumstance.
I have not been gaga over Anderson’s play since the season opener, so it was nice to see him get rewarded with a goal for driving to the net. On a team with so many forwards that can move well laterally, Anderson’s lack of agility is noticeable – there are times when he turns like a battleship out there. As long as he’s skating hard, though, and going to the net and winning puck battles along the boards, his presence is much needed on that line with Drouin and Suzuki. That hasn’t always been the case over the past four games. Don’t get comfortable out there Josh…the club needs you at your competitive best.
Encouraging to see that Kotkaniemi and Suzuki were both over 60 percent in the faceoff circle last night, while Evans was at 57%. Uncharacteristically; Danault won only 27 percent of his draws. Don’t look now, but KK is winning 53% of his faceoffs so far this season. Quite a jump from his 43% average last season. Improved strength and confidence…and most importantly, more experience. He just keeps getting better in all facets of his game. Suzuki and Kk and going to be a formidable one-two punch at center in a couple of years. Here’s hoping that they can also hang onto Danault and eventually convince him to be the top third-line center on the planet.
KK is going to be one of the league’s better faceoff men down the road; he’s just too determined, intelligent and hard working not to continue improving that aspect of his game, just like his skating. He has no problems keeping up with the NHL pace any more, and I daresay he is already one of the most effective forechecking centers in the league. As a rule, it is wingers first in on the forecheck, but KK anticipates the play so well…and is so effective at taking out the man…that he has been given free reign to get in there first and create havoc. He now skates well enough to get back to pick up his opposing center when the puck departs the zone as well.
The Canucks may be in touch with Harold Snepsts and Dennis Kearns to see if they can play in the next one on the blueline. The club has lost Alex Edler, Travis Hamonic and Jalen Chatfield in the past three games to injury. Now Tyler Myers is most likely suspended for the rubber match on Saturday afternoon after that dirty hit. They are decimated on the blueline, and while Montreal’s 12 goals in the two games versus Vancouver so far are impressive, it’s not without an asterisk.
In my research to find out the last Canadiens’ team to score at least 24 goals in their first five games, I came across some rather lopsided, and high-scoring games involving the Canadiens at a season’s start. Many of the highest-scoring games in Habs’ history took place in the first month of the season, and I suppose that makes sense, as clubs were still trying to learn new defensive systems…and in the old days, still trying to get in proper game shape. If Canucks’ fans thought they were swamped last night, it’s nothing in comparison to the whomping Montreal put on the Canucks in October of 1981 by a score of 10-4. I even recall saying “10-4, rubber duck” after that game….a rather popular saying at the time because of CB radios. Okay…their period of popularity was pretty much over by then…but I grew up in rural Ontario – we were a few years behind the times in some regards.
The one game that really stood out was an 11-6 Hartford triumph over Montreal on Oct. 19, 1985. That game was in Ron Francis’ heyday, and he certainly made his presence felt that night, scoring three goals in the first period alone as Hartford jumped out to a 7-2 lead. It must be noted that Montreal coach Jean Perron had the good sense to pull rookie netminder Patrick Roy after the sixth goal that night. It was Mario Tremblay’s final NHL season and he didn’t play in that game. Many Habs’ fans wish he had been taking notes, however. If you had told Habs’ fans that night that Roy would go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy at the end of that season, they’d have committed you to “The Douglas”. It’s a lesson learned that a coach shouldn’t try to show up a young French Canadian…they are proud folks, and they will take it to heart. John Tortorella is finding that out right now. 🙂