David Savard – The Unsung Hero

By JD Lagrange – We look at the Canadiens’ start of the season, playing .500 hockey through the first eight games, without Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson on defense, and we praise the goaltenders and the four rookie defensemen. And rightfully so. Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj and Johnathan Kovacevic are all NHL rookies this year and they deserve the accolades that they are receiving. Both Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault have been outstanding so far. But there’s one man that seems to be a second thought and he too, deserves some attention. His name? David Savard.

In the absence of Edmundson, the coaching staff game the assistant-captain job to the 32 year-old St-Hyacinthe, Quebec native. After all, he has played over 680 games in the NHL and he has a Stanley Cup ring to show for. And Savard is taking his role seriously on this young defense. In fact, he and Chris Wideman have been good role models for the Canadiens’ young defensemen.

But why is he so often overlooked by the media and fan base alike? Well, he’s not a fast skater. He’s not one who will carry the puck end to end. He’s not the best at anything on the ice. But he does the little things right. And that doesn’t draw the attention of those who like the flashiness and spectacular side of the game. But rest assured, the coaching staff and his teammates know and appreciate what he does out there.

At the time of writing this, Savard leads the Canadiens in ice time, and the team’s defensemen in points with four in eight games. His 37 blocked shots place him first in the NHL in that category.

Teaching Guhle

You cannot talk about Kaiden Guhle’s amazing start to his NHL career and leave Savard out of the equation. Yes, it is amazing to see Guhle playing almost 21 minutes a game in his rookie season, on the top defense pairing. David Savard is his partner and averages just under 22 and a half minutes of ice time per game. Yes, Guhle’s first goal in the NHL against the Buffalo Sabres was on an amazing shot. But it’s Savard who set him up beautifully, drawing the defender on him, with a perfect pass for that one-timer.

Not his chair

With that said, there is no doubt that first pairing is not his seat. He’s also too smart to believe that it is. But the Canadiens losing Shea Weber and Jeff Petry in back to back season without replacing either of them is not Savard’s fault. Yet, he is the one who must face the opposition’s top lines, while bringing along and teaching the ropes to a – talented – rookie by his side.

Ideally, Savard would be on the second pairing but neither Kovacevic nor Wideman are better replacements than him for that role right now. And that’s not even the coaches’ fault. The responsibility sits fully on Kent Hughes who, like his predecessor, has not addressed the issue. Although at least Bergevin had Petry there.

Justin Barron and Logan Mailloux both have the potential to become better defensemen and better candidate to first pairing duties than Savard is. But neither of them is there yet in their development. Aside from unloading a few veteran wingers who aren’t carrying their weight, the number one priority for Hughes is – or should be – to trade for someone who would allow Savard to continue what he’s doing, but on the second pairing.

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Habs’ Players Off To a Great Start

By JD Lagrange – Championships aren’t won in October, but they are often lost at that time. Of course, the Montreal Canadiens will not be contending this season but after the season that they’ve had last year, it was important for them as a team to get off to a decent start. After going 0-6-2 in pre-season play, fans were already disgruntled and pessimistic before the puck even dropped on the regular season.

After playing their first four games in six days, the team have a couple of days off. After the game against the Penguins, Martin St-Louis’ team will be playing five games in 12 days, with three of those games being played at home. It’s a much friendlier schedule. Still, after four games, they surprised the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins, while dropping games against the Detroit Red Wings and the Washington Capitals, both on the road. The Canadiens are a surprising 2-2-0 so far this season.

The team’s success – or failure – all starts with individual players on the team. We’ve already touched on three veteran wingers who are off to a rough start, so why not revert back to our old habits and focus on some positive? As yes, there is a lot of positive to be seen so far this season. For the purpose of this article, I have divided the group into two: those who perform as most of us expected them to, and the ones performing beyond expectations, the surprises so to speak.

As expected

For some players, we expected great things, or a continuation of what they had started to build in the previous season or two. There are two names that jump to mind and both are having a great start to the season.

Nick Suzuki

Nick Suzuki

We knew what we had in Suzuki. What some feared, was the added pressure and the weight of responsibilities which comes with adding the “C” on his jersey. With five points in four games (including two goals), and playing just under 21 minutes a game, I think it’s fair to say that we can put those doubts to rest. The captain will be leading the charge.

Cole Caufield

I think that the four power play goals that he scored and the way that he played in pre-season gave us a pretty good idea that Goal Caufield was ready to continue what he has started under Martin St-Louis. As if his three goals in the first four games of this season wasn’t enough, it’s the way he drives the offense that is most impressive. He is a threat just about every time that he’s on the ice. He seems set for a great season and the talks around him are about his next contract.

Surprises

In the surprises, we’re talking about players either for whom we had low expectations, or who are simply performing beyond what we expected even if we knew how good they were. I limited it to the top four, in my humble opinion.

Kaiden Guhle

We knew that he was going to be good but let’s be honest here. Most of us thought that he would be part of that rotation of young Canadiens’ defensemen taking the Metro from Montreal to Laval for most of the season. But he has, by far, been the team’s best defenseman and it now seems unlikely that he would see any time in Laval this season… or for the rest of his career! We had previously shown the comparisons with Shea Weber in junior, and he is pursuing a similar path as the Habs’ former captain and perennial All-Star defenseman in the NHL as well.

Sean Monahan

Most people around hockey thought that the key to the Monahan trade with Calgary was the Flames’ first round pick acquired. There were huge question marks on his health and if his hips would recover from surgeries, he who hadn’t been himself the past two seasons. But he is skating extremely well, and having seen him play a lot here out west, he truly seems to be back to his old self. If he keeps it up, “Future Considerations” sent the other way better perform well, otherwise it will be a steal by Kent Hughes! Who knows, but the Canadiens might even consider extending him

Kirby Dach

One word: Wow! Whether the coaching staff uses him at center or on the wing, he is driving his line. After some serious injuries, including wrist surgery, the 21-year old Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta native is on a mission. Fast, shifty, good hands, great vision, responsible defensively, he is one of the Canadiens’ best players since the start of the season!

Brendan Gallagher

It seems like in the surprises, aside perhaps for Guhle, those making the list had huge question marks on them, mostly due to past injuries. And Gallagher is no exception. Most Habs’ fans had given up on him even though he kept repeating to anyone who would listen that having a full, regular off-season to rebuild his body was what he needed. And boy has he made the most of it! While still his old fiesty self, he seems faster than ever. He seems shiftier too with the puck and he has been a very positive force out there this early on.

Jake Allen

Yes, he’s a veteran goaltender. Yes, he has been a starter in the past, although never the undisputed starter, more like in a 1A-1B type of role. With his wife having just given birth to a beautiful baby daughter, Jake is having a spectacular start to this season. As if a 2.03 goals against average wasn’t enough, he has stopped 66 of the 70 shots that he’s faced, for an amazing .943 saves percentage. It is unlikely that he’ll be able to sustain that kind of performances but he fully deserves the accolades right now.

The others

Those who didn’t make the list in the previous article or in this one, either haven’t had enough of an opportunity to show what they could do, or are playing okay… no more, no less. That includes rookies Juraj Slafkovsky and Jordan Harris. I hesitated putting newcomer Johnathan Kovacevic on the list above as he has been getting better every game that he’s played, but decided to see where he goes from here.

With the two Joel’s skating (Edmundson and Armia), it will be interesting to see who will be out of the line-up and who will be sent to Laval when they return. And in another seven weeks or so, more decisions will have to be made (pending injuries) when Mike Matheson makes his season debut.

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