By JD Lagrange – The Canadiens are up to a surprisingly good start. Few would have predicted that after 11 games, they would be playing for .500, particularly not without Mike Matheson missing every game and Joel Edmundson only playing one. Yes, the team’s rookie defensemen are a pleasant surprise and they must share part of the credit for this unpredicted start. We could also give some credit to the two goaltenders, Jake Allen and Sam Montembeault, who have been solid in net.
But two guys are carrying the offense and yes, we’re talking about the same individuals who have been on fire since the hiring of Martin St-Louis: Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. The Canadiens have scored a total of 30 goals so far this season and the dynamic duo has 13 of them (43.3%). When you go beyond those two offensive juggernauts, it goes down hill in a hurry. In fact, only two more forwards average more than half a point per game.
The Canadiens are 28th in the NHL with 2.73 goals per game and averaging 29.1 shots. The scored 3.22 goals per game and averaged 30.6 shots last season after St-Louis came on board. Looking at numbers and the pace the forwards are on, we can easily see why that’s the case.
Kirby Dach’s career best is nine (9) goals and 26 points, so he is on pace to doubling his points production. Hard to complain about that. The team’s other center acquisition, Sean Monahan, is on pace to having his best season in three years. But he’s far from his best seasons in Calgary. Josh Anderson is on the same pace he’s been since joining the Canadiens a little over two years ago. Expecting more might be unrealistic. Juraj Slafkovsky is on pace for a 20 goals season. Time will tell if he stays in Montreal or heads to Laval but with only averaging 11 minutes of ice time per game, one would be hard-pressed to expect more from the rookie.
Then you arrive to a list of players from whom the team (and the players themselves) must be expecting more.
Brendan Gallagher and Christian Dvorak have been playing some pretty solid hockey, but the goals and points just aren’t enough so far. When you consider that Dvorak scored all three of his goals in the same game – including an empty net goal from his own zone – he has been off the scoresheet way too often for a top-9 player. Gally has had his chances but his two linemates simply haven’t been helping much. But when the chances are present, there is hope.
We then get to the three Amigos. We’ve written about them before, but the production (or lack of thereof) from veteran wingers Jonathan Drouin, Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman simply isn’t up to par for the $15 million in cap space they are occupying. Drouin had a good game against Winnipeg on Thursday so there is hope. Hoffman was a healthy scratch and Dadonov has just recently been placed on the injured reserve. But one single goal amongst those three simply won’t cut it, no matter how we try twisting this.
Rem Pitlick and Jake Evans have not been up to par so far this season with their play in general, and on offense as well. They have what it takes to make the Canadiens’ fourth line a fast and productive line but have yet to show the necessary consistency needed.
We cannot complain about Michael Pezzetta, who has only seen action in one game so far this season. Joel Armia is just coming back from injury and he has shown some good things in Winnipeg. Here’s hoping that he can build on that momentum.
If the Canadiens are to maintain the level of success (or more) than what they’ve shown so far, they will need for several players to step up their game to where it can be reasonably expected to be. We’re not talking about having unrealistic expectations here, but putting up numbers as NHL players should be putting up. Suzuki and Caufield can’t do it all themselves. The skills and tools are there. They just need to turn it around.