We’ve seen this movie before. The Canadiens pick a highly skilled player who is brimming with confidence and proceed to make him doubt himself by refusing to play him in the offensive role he has always played.
The Canadiens will tell you that they are trying to “protect” Juraj Slafkovsky and don’t want him drinking from a firehose too early in his career. They don’t want to put him in a position to fail and give him too much responsibility.
It makes sense not to rush Slafkovsky but why are they reluctant to try him on the first power-play unit despite their abysmal success rate? When he was drafted, was it not the expectation that he would eventually be on the top unit? Kirby Dach’s injury makes it readily apparent that “eventually” is now. One of his nicknames may be “BigBaby” but it’s time to stop babying Slafkovsky.
I fully understand why they kept him out of the top six in even-strength situations last season but why are they keeping him away from optimum man-advantage situations this campaign?
After they gave up two shorthanded goals on one power play…why was the decision not made mid-game to change it up? Even worse – why was Brendan Gallagher on the ice at the end of the game with the goalie pulled instead of Slafkovsky? It was a 6-on-4 man advantage – does the club REALLY feel that a 30-year-old vet is the one who is going to help them the most in the future…and it’s more important to build his confidence than a teenager’s?
Were they deathly afraid that they’d lose 6-2 instead of 5-2 because the young guy might make a mistake? There are plenty of questions and not many answers from the coaching staff at this point. The Canadiens have a former NHLer in Alex Burrows running the power play who picked up a power play point on average every 21 games he played. It may behoove them to let the head coach Marty St. Louis handles those duties on a full-time basis. He was, after all, quite effective on the power play in his NHL career.
Slafkovsky rarely sees the ice when the goalie is pulled and you can see him on the bench grinding his teeth. The kid is so anxious to produce and be successful just as he was in the Olympics and World Championship, and the Canadiens time after time decide to give the opportunity to veterans who don’t need a confidence boost, and are far less capable of doing something magical.
It has been a recurring theme with the first overall pick early in his career when it comes to the Canadiens. One would think that they would want him to build his confidence but they appear intent on keeping him doubting himself instead. Perish the thought that a high pick might produce as a teenager for the first time in club history
The Canadiens have long had a reputation for giving tough love to their young players who are highly touted. Guy Lafleur was played in middle-line roles in his first three seasons despite being the most productive Canadian junior in history. He would only go on to be the most dominant player in the NHL in the second half of the 1970s when he was finally handed a first-line role.
Doug Wickenheiser, after completely obliterating junior hockey and being selected first overall like Lafleur, started his NHL career sitting in the stands, and the Canadiens proceeded to shatter his confidence. Alex Galchenyuk and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were not given top-six roles for any significant period of time in their first three seasons.
At least the club had a partial excuse for “ruining” Wickenheiser. They were coming off of four straight Stanley Cups. Lafleur was also joining a team with great depth and recent success when he joined the club in 1971. This Canadiens club has no such depth or winning pedigree.
Are the coaches afraid that if they put Slafkovsky on the top unit they will get three shorthanded goals scored against them in a shift instead of “just” two?
He is okay to play five minutes 5-on-5 against the Matthews line in the season opener but he can’t possibly play on the top power-play unit because…they are seemingly afraid he’ll make a mistake in the offensive zone.
There is simply no rhyme or reason to it.
Last night the two best power-play chances were manufactured by Slafkovsky at the end of a power play with Montreal’s second-best group of offensive players.
After Dach’s injury, the obvious replacement was Slaf. He brings the size and ability to win puck battles along the boards. He sets up on the right side and presents both a formidable shooting and passing option. He sees the ice well and can set up linemates for scoring chances. He has a hard accurate shot when he chooses to use it, as we saw in the above clip, and also at the Olympics and World Championships in his draft year:
Slovakian national team coach Craig Ramsay spotted Slafkovsky’s talent rather quickly at the 2022 Winter Olympics and promoted him after two games.
Ramsay realized that he had a young stallion in his stable and he let him roam free. He moved him to the top line, used him on the first power play and the penalty kill, and he put him on the ice when the team needed a goal and was protecting leads. Slaf was 17.
As Burrows heavily ponders what the Canadiens should do to fix the power play, Marty needs to bring that video into his office and make him watch Slaf’s highlights from his draft year in Clockwork Orange style.
There is no one on the roster that has the capability of duplicating what Slafkovsky has already shown that he can do when given the opportunity.
Replacing Dach with Josh Anderson didn’t add up. He is most effective when he utilizes his speed to create havoc 5-on-5. He doesn’t see the ice particularly well, and his career assist totals reflect that. How many players are on the first PP unit of an NHL club who have averaged less than 15 assists per season?
In his last 219 games, spanning four full seasons and the start of this one, Anderson has two assists on the power play. Slaf is capable of doing that in one game. This shorthanded goal was a perfect example of how ineffective a stationary Anderson can be:
The alternative isn’t working, so turn to the player who was picked first overall to spark a power play that has been among the league’s worst for several years. Slafkovsky was the seventh-most used forward on the power play Tuesday – he should be in the top four with Dach’s absence. There should be no timetable for giving him man-advantage opportunities. If they need him (and it’s clear that they do), then use him.
I see no downside to this. If it works, you boost his confidence and you have a power-play staple for the next decade or more. If it doesn’t, try someone else.
This isn’t rocket science. Give Slaf a legitimate shot on the top PP unit for an extended period of time. The worst that can happen is that they go from being fourth worst to worst. Given his skill level – the more likely thing to happen is that the power play improves, and right now, that wouldn’t take much.