Twelve Post-Game Grant’s Slants
Ten Habs with five or more points on the season so far. Obviously, the pace isn’t likely to continue, but based on an 82-game schedule that would be ten Habs with 56-plus points by season’s end. The Habs have NEVER had ten players score 56 points in a season. Not during the 70’s…not ever. Yes…the Canadiens have depth. It’s hard not envisioning this club having a half dozen or more players that average 0.7 ppg this season. It has been decades since that happened. Depth is a wonderful thing.
Remember those days when it was often lamented that the Canadiens had no legitimate number-one line? It’s not a difficult memory test – it was last year. And the year before that. And the year before that, and….you get the idea. For the longest time, Montreal had, at the very best, two or three forward units that could be considered middle lines. Today, they have a top line with two players in the top 40 in points and the other top 20 in goals scored. The Suzuki line is a legitimate first line – it brings all of the elements you are seeking in such a unit. A great playmaking two-way center, speedy power forward to slam home some goals and a slick, creative winger that can generate tons of offence.
What is putting Montreal into the elite class of NHL teams this season is a “third line” that perhaps has no equal. Through seven games, players on Kotkaniemi’s trio have collected 21 points. Yes folks; that is a Habs’ third line averaging a point-per-game per player! One could make the argument that the Danault trio is now the third line. There may be no more telling testament to the team depth than a trio that was the first line a few months ago now considered the third-best offensive line. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before with an NHL team. If it has…it’s been a rare happening, indeed. At the very least – it now looks like Montreal has a first line and then 2a and 2b lines. You have to go back to the 1990’s to have that type of depth in the top-three lines when Damphousse, Koivu and Turgeon were down the middle.
Five points in the last four games for Kotkaniemi. It took KK 18 games to collect five points last season. In 46 total games with Montreal in 2019-20, KK collected just two assists. He has doubled that through the first seven games of this season. I knew darn well that last season’s lack of assists was an anomaly – he simply needed to be playing with some finishers, and reach the next level confidence-wise. You could see in his draft year playing against his peers that he was an elite playmaker. We will see that at the NHL level soon enough. He will hit 40+ assists annually in his prime.
This play by Kotkaniemi last night left me shaking my head.
His puck skills have come a long way since that first season when the lie of his stick looked to be off about 4 increments. It wasn’t just the move to evade Sam Bennett that impressed me on that play, either. To then sit there with the puck until the lane opened up and saucering a two-line pass right on Perry’s blade over two lines. He flashed his agility, puck skills, poise vision and passing all within a three-second span.
KK’s skating and stickhandling, and playmaking aren’t the only things that are markedly improved. Don’t look now, but KK is quickly becoming a force in the faceoff circle as well. Kotkaniemi was 67% in the faceoff dot last night and is back above 50% on the season. He and Danault are the two Canadiens’ centers winning more draws than they lose. Suzuki is actually having some struggles, winning just 41% of his draws. KK is 59% on his draws in the past five games. In four of those games he was 62.5% or higher and has been particularly effective this season in the offensive zone, winning more than 60% of his draws so far this season.
Why did Florida claim a kid in Noah Juulsen that needs to be playing hockey…only to sit him in the stands? How is that fair to the player? I’m not happy…it shouldn’t have been allowed! The waiver rules need to be rectified so that a team doesn’t lose a player who missed the major portion of two seasons because of injury. There should be a stipulation regarding the number of pro games played. Here’s hoping the Panthers end up putting him on waivers and the Canadiens reclaim him. It’s the humane thing to do. Two years of inactivity is enough…he needs to play games.
How many errors has Joel Edmundson made since his infamous Canadiens’ debut when hasty fans were referring to him as the next Alzner? We are going to have to start calling him “Steady Eddy”. I opined at season’s start that he may well be the perfect partner for Petry, and it is looking like that is the case. Petry is more free to rush with the puck and pinch in with Steady Eddy backing him up. I have a feeling Petry is going to put up the best offensive numbers of his career this season, and Ed will deserve at least some of the credit.
The Canadiens have one of the top defence corps in the entire league right now. The cost in assets to assemble this group? PK Subban, Matt Taormina, the loan of Tomas Plekanec for one month, a 2015 second-round pick, and fifth-round picks in 2015 and 2020. The Canadiens also have Jacob Olofsson in the system through those deals. There is not a better trader in the league than Marc Bergevin. When Bergy calls you…hang up…because you aren’t winning the deal.
The only trade of any significance Bergevin has made that might be considered a loss was the Sergachev-Drouin deal, and I do not remain convinced that, when it’s all said and done, it will be considered a bad deal, either. People point to Romanov, Guhle, Norlinder, etc. as the main reason why that trade doesn’t look horrible today…but I look at the trade all by itself, and see it as a fairly even one to date. Drouin is on pace for 64 points now that he is finally playing on a line with players who complement his skills. Yes…he needs to keep it up, and I think he will do just that. Sergachev is far from the finished product – he still has defensive issues, and his competitiveness is spotty. You watch him closely on any given night and there are a lot of instances in his own end when he simply stands there, and he fails to cover a man. Sergachev’s offensive totals have also not improved since his rookie season in Tampa. I do not think he has the vision and decision-making skills to ever be a 60-point defenceman.; perhaps not even a 50-point blueliner. Meanwhile…Drouin defensive play is improving by the game. He is far from being a liability out there in any zone right now. Credit must be given to his old junior coach Dom Ducharme. He watched a loty of video with him in the past two seasons, and a number of things have sunk in.
I used to get a kick out of Habs’ fans who were insistent that Drouin lacked hockey sense. Poor decisions and hockey sense are not necessarily synonymous with each other. Drouin’s vision is at the top of the league…few players create more chances than Drouin. In the past, he has been guilty of making risky passes that backfired…did that make him dumb? No…it made him overconfident. Give me a player that tries the odd risky pass over the one who always dumps the puck in. There will always be a bit of bad along with the good when it comes to Drouin..but at this point in his career, the good far outweighs the bad. Those risky passes are becoming few and far between.
Does Armia ever make a pass like the one Perry made to Gallagher for the first goal last night? I think we know the answer to that question. It’s going to be tough to take Perry off of that line when Joel returns even though he had four points in his last game. A pleasant problem. I think you will see Armia, Perry, Lehkonen and Byron all sitting out a few games the rest of the way once Armia is ready to go, and there will be other injuries, or perhaps even positive COVID cases. I feel sorry for Ryan Poehling – it doesn’t look like he’s going to get a shot anytime soon. He will be sent down to Laval when the AHL season gets underway I’d suspect.