By JD Lagrange – The Canadiens have passed the seven-game mark already. They are having a surprising start to the season, going 3-4-0 during that stretch. While they sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings, they are only two point from third place. I’m not sure that anyone would have predicted that kind of start, particularly knowing that neither Joel Edmundson or Mike Matheson has played a game so far.
As individuals, there are some pleasant surprises. There are also some deception. Instead of giving a report card with grades from A-F as we often see, I chose to separate the players into three groups. Those who are carrying the load and driving the team, those who are being okay, and those who need to show more.
Carrying the load
Nick Suzuki: The captain has answered the call. He is clearly not intimidated by the letter on his jersey or the role that comes with it. With seven points in as many games, he is a driving force out there. Martin St-Louis recognizes that by playing him almost 20 minutes per game.
Cole Caufield: Goal Caufield has picked up where he left off. With five goals in seven games, he is well ahead of what we could expect. But it’s more than the goals. He is involved defensively as well, and he is fun to watch with the puck. While the assists aren’t there (yet), he has shown great creativity in setting up his teammates.
Sean Monahan: Perhaps, to me, the most pleasant surprise so far. His hips seem to be holding up to the grind of the NHL. He’s faster than he’s been the past couple of seasons in Calgary, which allows him to showcase his true skills. Five points in seven games so far. While I understand why they put him on the wing on the top line, I wish they brought him back to his natural position at center.
Kaiden Guhle: We can describe this guy in one phrase: mature beyond his young age. There is absolutely no doubt that he is NHL-ready and the odds of him ever playing in the AHL have all but vanished. Poised, composed, he has the speed, mobility and hockey IQ to go along with his skills’ set. He will be a top-pairing defenseman for years to come.
Jordan Harris: In my book, he is one of two of the biggest surprises so far, along with Xhekaj. In his last two games, he played over 22 minutes against Dallas and over 25 minutes against Minnesota. Think about this. These two teams are some of the biggest and most physical teams in the West. And he’s looked very good.
Arber Xhekaj: True that he has been used on the third pairing, against more favourable opponents. Also true however, he was undrafted and wasn’t expected to even make the team. Speaking of unexpected, he leads the Canadiens defensemen with three points in seven games so far. He’s also the only defenseman with a goal this season.
Jake Allen: Jake has been phenomenal so far this season. He had one bad outing (to his standards) against Dallas where he allowed five goals on 30 shots. Still, he has a .917 saves percentage and a 2.62 goals against average on the season. Fingers crossed that he stays healthy…
Having an okay start
Kirby Dach: As to be expected in this category, there are good things but overall, it could be better. Sitting at a 32.6% faceoffs’ efficiency, he is by far the lowest of all five Canadiens’ centers. Monahan (56.8%), Evans (56.4%), Dvorak (54.7%) and Suzuki (51.4%) are all over 51%. But he’s fast, shifty, has some grit and he is creating chances. Three points in seven games is respectable, but here’s hoping he breaks out.
Josh Anderson: Overall this season, he has played quite well. A bit lighter, he is flying out there but he is still a bit out of control. He has two goals so far so we can’t complain about that, but he would have more if he didn’t miss the net as often as he does.
Brendan Gallagher: Gally is off to a flying start if you look at the way he skates this season. But unfortunately for him, he has not one, but two anchors on his line in Dvorak and Dadonov, who have zero points between them. The only one generating anything on this line is Gallagher (1 goal) but the production isn’t there… yet. And that’s why I put him in this category instead of the one above.
Juraj Slafkovsky: The Canadiens’ rookie has missed the last two games to an injury but so far, he has performed as I personally was expecting. We think first overall and we think McDavid. This wasn’t that kind of Draft (look at Shane Wright in Seattle). He has shown flashed of what he’s capable of, and signs of things that he needs to adjust to at the NHL level, on a smaller ice surface.
David Savard: I feel for Savard. Expecting him to be on the top pairing of any NHL team is unrealistic at best. This is definitely not his seat yet, he does the best that he can with his limited abilities. At best, he’s a second pairing defenseman, a third pairing on a good team. But he’s helping Guhle develop and he is second in the entire NHL in blocked shots with 33.
Johnathan Kovacevic: Another very pleasant surprise and yet, another rookie defenseman! His play is improving from game to game and he is showing more and more confidence. With a little bit of luck, he would have a few points as only Harris has more shots than him (13) amongst Canadiens’ defensemen.
Sam Montembeault: If Montembeault is in this category all year, he will have had a good season. In fact, anything over .900-.905 saves percentage would be an improvement over last year. In two games thus far, he has a .912 saves percentage and a very good 2.48 goals against average. One cannot expect more from him at this point.
Need to give more
Mike Hoffman: No one on this team is being given more opportunities to get out of his funk that Hoffman. The Canadiens find themselves in a dilemma. They use him profusely (particularly on the power play) and he doesn’t produce. Yet, they must do that if they want to have any hope of trading him. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…
Jonathan Drouin: Those who know me, know that I’ve been defending Jo for a long time. But like many, I have given up hopes that he will ever have any success in Montreal so I wish that the team would find a taker for him. That would be what’s best for both the player and the team, with the current depth on the wing. But much like Hoffman, he hasn’t shown enough for teams to be interested in acquiring him and his $5.5 million contract.
Jake Evans: I had high hopes for Jake this season. He has gained a few pounds of muscle in the off-season and worked on his shot. He is much improved on the faceoffs’ circle and he has had some decent wingers so far on the fourth line. But it has yet to start paying off for him. The tools are there… just waiting for the toolbox.
Chris Wideman: What can one expect from a veteran who accepted to play for minimum wage, right? Well when you play three minutes a game on the power play, a few points would be nice. Only Suzuki (3:17), Caufield (3:10) and Monahan (3:06) play more than Wideman (3:00) with the man advantage. The other three create things… he doesn’t. With that said, it’s not his fault if the Habs don’t have a better option. And he has shown good leadership.
Rem Pitlick: I’m not sure what’s going on with Rem but he’s not the shadow of his old self so far. It seems to be a lack of confidence, for some odd reason. Because of it, he has been a healthy scratch for a couple of games, and only Slafkovsky is given less ice time than him when in the line-up.
Christian Dvorak: So far, he’s a big disappointment. The guy was one of the most improved players (offensively speaking) after the hiring of St-Louis last season. He has zero points and he can’t really blame his linemates for it, at least not Gallagher. One constant: his faceoffs. But he must start producing offensively.
Evgenii Dadonov: The price to pay to unload Weber’s contract, I guess. But I was expecting to see a player fighting for a job in the NHL for next season, as a pending UFA. We’re not seeing that. He started on the second line, dropped to the third and has seen time on the fourth line too. It seems like the coaches are wanting more from him as well…
There you have it. Is your list similar to mine? Share your comments below. And now for the team, onto the four-games road trip…
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