The Dirty Dozen
January 19, 2021
By Grant McCagg
Post-Game Thoughts from Recrutes’ Founder
I loved one particular exit pass from Romanov. He didn’t try to put it on a covered teammate’s stick and have it checked away or intercepted…got it to a safe spot between two Habs, one who was moving towards where the puck ended up, and who eventually got it. I have not seen a defenceman do that very often. He thinks the game differently than the vast majority – no clearing passes off the glass that inevitably end up with a turnover of possession – he is constantly looking to get his forwards the puck in the best possible position to attack.
It frustrated me how underutilized Romanov was last season in CSKA. I would watch a game and think to myself: “He’s the best blueliner they have”, and he’d play eight to ten minutes. This kid could have played for the Canadiens all of last season; so glad he decided to come over now instead of wasting another year under the vindictive Igor Nikitin. Did Rimouski’s coach bench Alexei Lafreniere last season because he knew he’d be going to the NHL? It just doesn’t make sense to me. Keep politics and personal grudges off the ice.
An underrated part of Suzuki’s game is the work ethic. Terrific job getting his stick loose and finally getting that puck out at his own blueline, which he’d originally failed to do after his stick was lifted. Quite dexterous there …not many players can pull that one off…he got his stick back so quickly. The kid wants to win badly – and he’s going to help the Canadiens do just that in some big playoff games down the road. It’s no coincidence that his OHL teams played 52 games in his last three years of junior even though they weren’t expected to win a round or two at the most. He carried those teams on his back in the big moments. One NHL scout even suggested to me recently that Suzuki is already better defensively than Danault. Considering that Phil finished sixth overall in Selke voting last season, that’s high praise indeed.
Joel Edmundson has looked better every game so far. It should not be forgotten that it took Ben Chiarot at least eight weeks to adjust to a new system, teammates, coaches and city. Edmundson looks to have done so in the span of a couple of weeks. The consternation over his first-game performance was an example of Habs’ fan’s impatience. No; ladies and gentlemen…he is not the next Karl Alzner!
I don’t know if Bergy is going through his mid-life crisis with the hairdo he’s sporting these days (is he driving a firebird too?), but I like the look; perhaps in part because my better half does not. He has now proven that his hair grows quite prodigiously on both his chin and his scalp. I’m not sure if Molson gave him a directive to grow it out to counterbalance Claude’s follicle challenges but I like it. Speaking of the coach formerly known as Conservative Claude…he is looking svelte these days. Obviously, the health scare was a wakeup call. Here’s to great health and team success this season
Montreal fans may have to pinch themselves to believe it’s real. We’ve seen so many teams for so many years…decades, in fact… have better young players than the Canadiens. But now it’s the Habs’ turn. Nick Suzuki and Alex Romanov are going to be stars. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is going to be a son of a bitch to play against by his mid 20’s…perhaps sooner. Probably by the time he’s 23. It is hard to see the offensive upside on some nights, but it’s just a matter of time. He will likely be a consistent 25-goal scorer at center, and there aren’t many of those in the NHL. Wait until he has the proper linemates and he’s fully matured. Joel Armia does a lot of little things well but he is not a consistent offensive player. Limited vision and limited finishing skills. Toffoli is a lot smarter but his lack of speed prevents him from ever being a top-tier offensive player, either. I look forward to KK playing with the likes of Caufield some day. Then we’ll see what he is truly capable of offensively.
Speaking of “23”, that might be the age where Suzuki starts getting consideration for the Selke Trophy. These days the trophy goes to forwards who both check and produce. Suzuki is going to be doing a lot of both over the next decade. His hockey sense and anticipation are off the charts, and he has an underrated work ethic on top of that.
Jake Evans’ skating has improved significantly every summer from ages 22-24. Not many do that. He is at the point now where his NHL speed is above average. If you had told me during his college career that one day he’d be quick, I’d have been skeptical to say the least. It truly bodes well for his future, as his hockey sense and work ethic are great, and he has solid puck skills. This guy is officially an NHLer; no more AHL for him. He will be moving up Recrutes’ Habs prospect rankings in the next update. Mind you; he will soon graduate from the prospect ranks whenhe hits 50 NHL games.
One of the things that made Scotty Bowman a great coach was that he always kept the players guessing. He made them practice hard after a perfect game. He’d bring in the spare forwards to play when the team was on a ten-game winning streak. Claude needs to do the same this season; perhaps even next game. Byron isn’t exactly standing out so far – let him ride the pine for a game and bring in Poehling. RP trained hard in the offseason; he’s been sitting for a week. Get him in the lineup. The same goes for Corey Perry. Insert him in the lineup in place of Armia sooner rather than later. Perhaps bump Lehkonen up to the third line as a reward for his hard work and shorthanded goal. They can’t let complacency set in; they can be better.
The Oilers had seven power plays, including a couple of abbreviated 5-on-3’s. No PP goals for…one against. That was the ball game right there. Special teams are an important part of winning NHL games. Shorthanded goals in back-to-back games is an encouraging sign, as is the power play clicking. Romanov is such an important addition to the mix. Also interesting to see Toffoli tasked with killing penalties. It gives you an idea of how impressed the coaching staff has been with his defensive hockey sense. Nice to see him contributing even when he doesn’t produce offensively.
The Canadiens haven’t picked up points in their first three road games of the season since 2016-17, when they started the campaign with three road wins and an OT loss. The game that snapped the streak that season likely won’t be repeated this time around. The streak ended in 2016 with an unforgettable 10-0 whitewashing in Columbus. I can still hear the cannon going off…I think they ran out of gunpowder that night and had to light it with the ashes of Al Montoya’s stick. This Habs’ club isn’t going to lose any games 10-0….too much depth; especially on the back end and in nets.
The quartet at center may be the best the club has had from a defensive standpoint in decades. We already knew about Phil Danault and Suzuki – Evans and KK are hitting new levels in their defensive play as well…KK in particular from a physical standpoint in his forechecking, and with the improvements in Evans’ speed and assertiveness . He’s getting more and more comfortable at the NHL level. All four centerman can be on the ice against other teams’ top lines and Claude won’t be fretting. This is a solid group at both ends of the ice.
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Great and pretty funny article. The ashes of Al Montayas stick, yeah that was an unforgettable night.
The D-core is the biggest difference so far, the goaltending have been solid but defense isn’t letting any rebounds get lost in the crease, and opponents grade A scoring opportunities can be counted on one hand so far. But I agree with you CJ should mix in some of the taxi squad soon so they don’t get comfortable. Anyhow great start to the season.