The Dirty Dozen #6
January 31, 2021
By Grant McCagg
Twelve Post-Game Grant’s Slants
The game has had the feeling early on that it just wasn’t going to go the Habs’ way. For several reasons. Breaks, refs, hot goalie, karma. Jacob Markstrom looked unbeatable last night. Cutting off the angles, tremendous positioning, confident. Yes…it felt familiar in that Montreal seemingly ran into plenty of hot goalies over the past two seasons where they distinctly outshot opponents only to lose, but he was especially sharp. Full marks to him for an outstanding performance.
Jake Allen kept the Habs in this one right until the empty-net goal. Yes…a Habs’ backup doing that….for the first time in many moons. Allen was such an important acquisition even if he picked up the loss. Had Niemi, Lindgren, Montoya or Kinkaid been in nets? The score halfway through the third period when Calgary was pressing to put it away would have been 3-0 or 4-0. He gave the Habs a chance to win; that’s all you can ask for from your backup.
I think Bergevin needs to quietly shop Danault around. The club isn’t going to come right out and say it, but the coaching staff already thinks that Suzuki is as good defensively as him, and Evans isn’t far behind. They are already phasing him out of Herculean penalty-killing duties. He thinks he is a top-two center, and perhaps there is a team out there that could use him in the two slot going forward – that team certainly won’t be Montreal. Kotkaniemi is improving by the week – he’s not a liability out there versus other teams’ top-two lines.
Danault hits the net from an improbable angle 30 feet out late in the game – dead center. From the slot five feet away? Boards. Not the first time this season, either, missing the net when it seemed like an impossible thing to do. I get the feeling there is the broad side of a barn in the Danault family with very few puck marks on it somewhere in Quebec, and a feast of pucks in the long grass of the nearby meadow.
I’d say Danault’s been a loyal soldier, and up until the past six months that was the case, but turning down a reasonable contract and publicly stating that he thinks he should be handed a top-six role? Bergevin is likely reading the tea leaves. The fact remains that his role on a Cup contender is most likely in an all-purpose third-line role. If he can’t accept that and would rather be a richer second-line center on a non-contender, then the best route before he departs for nothing in free agency this summer would be to deal him for some assets.
I was asked last night what the Canadiens do at center if they don’t have Danault. There are several options. It could be solved internally if the progression of KK and Evans continues. KK looks to be ready to assume top-six minutes, and Evans’ ultimate upside could perhaps be third-line center. Promote Ryan Poehling to fourth-line center and carry on. Yet I’m not sure Bergevin wants four centers with less than 200 games of NHL experience come playoff time…if there IS playoff time, so the more obvious solution would be to deal Danault for a veteran third-line center and a draft pick if Bergy decides that re-signing Danault will be difficult.
It looks like Danault isn’t the only disgruntled player, as it was revealed last night by his agent Darren Ferris that Victor Mete is seeking a trade. I get it – you make the NHL at 19, and at 22 you are overtaken on the depth chart by a 20-year-old? That’s life in the NHL – when a team gets better, players on the bubble often lose their spots. Mete is a serviceable defenceman in a #6 role on a team that lacks bottom-line depth. Maybe you work out a deal with Florida – deal Mete for a late pick, they waive Noah Juulsen, reclaim him and send him to Laval where he belongs. Or maybe you tell his agent to take a hike. Just because a trade is requested doesn’t mean you have to obey the demand. There will be injuries on the blueline…defensive depth is a must. Mete just wants to play; it’s nothing personal. You watch..he will get in the lineup eventually and the trade request will be a distant memory. Bergevin won’t turn down a great trade offer, of course, if it comes along, but usually when you aren’t dealing from a position of strength, it is the wrong time to pull the trigger on a trade. If Mete does eventually get dealt, look for it to be at the deadline, perhaps in a package deal that also includes Danault or Tomas Tatar.
Drouin is so much stronger on board battles than a couple of years ago. He gets good leverage, and, most importantly, he competes. He is by no means a weakling…very strong legs and upper body. He simply needed to try harder. Once again I give credit to the Canadiens for having the foresight to bring on Dom Ducharme, and his efforts in convincing his former star pupil in Halifax to pay the price are finally paying dividends. I heard it opined on TSN690 by Normand Flynn this week that Drouin can only contribute to the success of a team with points. If he’s not getting points, he won’t help a team. I don’t buy that theory. He’s not a 98-pound weakling with no clue on what to do away from the puck. The strength and hockey sense are there; it’s always been about buying in and working his tail off. With the exception of when he first returned from injury last winter and was not yet back in game shape, and again at the start of the playoffs in August, Drouin has competed hard the past two seasons. The harder you work; the luckier you get. He appears to have figured that out as he enters his true NHL prime. He should be a difference-maker for the club over the next few years.
It was nice to see Joel Edmundson jumping up into the play last night trying to get the tying goal. He is gaining more and more confidence as he adjusts to his new team. Luke Richaradson encourages the defencemen to jump into the play when the time is right, and Steady Eddie wanted to help tie the game up; that was indeed the right time.
At the same time, Romanov looks to be tempering his offensive forays of late. I don’t know if the reins were pulled in on him or if he’s lost a bit of that brash confidence he displayed from his first NHL shift, but he’s playing a bit more carefully then he did in Game 1. I suppose that is both good and bad. That brashness will return once he settles into life in the NHL. He’s quickly learning that there is a time and a place to be aggressive offensively, even when you are as talented as him. You cannot help but be impressed by how solid he already is defensively.
Cole Caufield had a four-point game yesterday, and is now tied for the NCAA lead in points with 28 in 18 games. He continues to demonstrate that he is much more than just a goal scorer. On Wisconsin’s first goal last night Caufield demonstrated his speed, tenacity, strength, patience and playmaking abilities:
He showed pass, then he showed shot..and when the goalie and defender bit, slid it over to Linus Weissbach for the easy tap-in. If Weissbach could pass like Caufield, Cole would already have more than 20 goals this college season.
This display of his elite edge work is another example of why I think Caufield can step into the NHL later this season and contribute:
There are not many, if any, NHL defenders who could have stopped Caufield on this play; just a terrific move, and an even more outstanding demonstration of his edges: If he can lead the NCAA in goals without playing on a line with playmakers, imagine what he can do in the NHL.
Montreal was thwarted by a hot goaltender last night, but even Markstrom would have had a difficulty time stopping this rocket from Caufield:
Imagine KK and Suzuki feeding Caufield pucks on Montreal’s power play; he can help this club…now! The Canadiens have a strong enough team now that they can hide deficiencies. Corey Perry as slow as February molasses? No worries; everyone else is fast/smart enough to compensate. Caufield still a work in progress away from the puck? Again; the rest of the team is so solid defensively that it can be tolerated. I see him signing at the end of the season, and getting some NHL action down the stretch. If he proves ready, he’ll be a regular in the lineup sooner rather than later. A power-play goal at some point last night ties the game. The Canadiens are talented, but no one on the big club has a better one-timer than Caufield. Weber’s shot may be harder, but it certainly is not more accurate. Caufield is ready to contribute to an NHL team, just as many other college players in the past who jumped right into the NHL when they signed a pro contract. don’t be surprised if Caufield wins the hobey Baker Award this season – if the vote were held today he would be the odds-on favourite, and Jordna Harris wouldn’t be far behind. The future’s so bright; Timmins and Bergy may have to resort to wearing Oakleys indoors. Yes; they’ll hafta wear shades.
I am with you on danault, I like him, but man we can’t pay that for him and keep everybody else. I really like miles Wood on NJ. Wonder what he would cost….a big fast left winger with Poehling at centre and Gallagher on his right.