The Canadian of this young 2021 season is not at all the same team as last season. We have said it over and over again, it is enough to look at half a period to realize it, but some evenings, it shows more than others.
Saturday was one of those evenings. The Habs settled that with a 5-2 victory over the Canucks in Vancouver, a gain that, on paper, will not be particularly evident when we take stock of this campaign in a few months.
However, this victory was perhaps the best illustration of the transformation of this team.
For the first time this season, injuries have struck. Joel Armia was absent. Paul Byron played, but since the decision to employ him was taken at the last moment, we can guess that the small winger was not 100%.
Let’s go back one year, to November 15, 2019. That night, the Habs lost the services of Byron and Jonathan Drouin. The latter was playing very well, while Byron had a so-so start.
To replace them, the next day, Claude Julien called on Charles Hudon, recalled from Laval, as well as Jesperi Kotkaniemi, in his disturbing version of the fall of 2019. The head coach had finally employed them for 8 and 9 minutes. The Canadian had given himself a 3-1 lead against the not very good Devils, but would lose the game 4-3, in overtime. It was the first in an eight-game losing streak as the train began to derail.
Want a contrast? The player to replace Armia this year was Corey Perry, a far superior player to Hudon and last year’s Kotkaniemi. Perry finally played 15 minutes, in the third line. “He still brings a lot. For a guy who was playing his first game, with players who played five, he did that very well, ”said Julien.
Like last year, the Habs let slip a two-goal lead, this time against a team much more dangerous than the Devils last year. But instead of collapsing, the Montrealers responded three minutes after the Canucks’ tying goal to make it 3-2. Three more minutes later, Drouin let out his Sunday feints to double the lead and get the Canucks out of the game.
“There was no panic on the bench,” said Drouin. We would have liked to keep it at 2-0, but nobody panicked and we kept the same style throughout. ”
With the nets from Drouin, Perry and Joel Edmundson on Saturday, they are now 16 different CH players to have scored at least one goal. After only six games, should we remember.
The effect of newcomers is obvious. Perry did more than fill a sweater. Josh Anderson is the perfect complement to the Drouin-Suzuki duo. Joel Edmundson offers a lot more assured play than what he showed at camp. Tyler Toffoli would have his name on the Art-Ross trophy if the season ended on Saturday night… Here is one who would have a good reason to shout “Stop the count! “.
But there is more.
“We took a step. Yes, we have new ones, but the players in general took a step, Drouin analyzed. It was visible from the first day of camp. It’s hard to play against us in the defensive zone, the opponents don’t have much time to control the puck. We create reversals. It helps generate attack. Everyone plays well as a team. ”
Drouin himself is one of those players who has taken a step forward. Discreetly, he has six points in six games. Kotkaniemi is another; part of Toffoli’s success is due to him, and his game in defensive territory has improved markedly. And what about Nick Suzuki, steady as a clock so far?
“It’s a mini Patrice Bergeron in my eyes,” Drouin said. I know he’s going to do his job in the defensive zone, and that helps me to attack. He will become quite a player. ”
Let’s put aside the big comparisons; we will come back to this when the sample is larger than six matches. However, something special is happening before our eyes, which means that the CH will come home on Sunday with 10 points out of a possible 12.
By the way, who was the star of this trip? Is it Toffoli and his eight points? Suzuki and his exceptional vision? Jeff Petry and his flair for knowing when to press the attack, and when to stay back?
No one will have the same answer, and this is the best proof of this group effort, of this depth that we are so praised.
Hunt the natural …
Marc Bergevin hoped Corey Perry would pick up where he left off last year… but maybe not in that sense! It’s because Perry was one of the most unruly players in the NHL last season. He has indeed finished first among the Stars in the season for the ratio of minor penalties (1.84 per 60 minutes of play, far ahead of Alexander Radulov). In the playoffs, he received 11 minor penalties. On Saturday, he took one in his fifth appearance on the ice, tripping Brandon Sutter. Not exactly a speed trader, Perry risks being punished often. The veteran however recovered well in the second period with a nice feint at the expense of Zack MacEwen. He also knocked on the door in the third period, positioning himself in front of the goalie. Let’s forget about his lucky goal: he had a strong game.
Elias Pettersson’s outfit must be of concern for the Canucks. The lack of offensive results is one thing, and in that regard the Canadiens can take some of the credit. Twice, early in the match, the Swede could have had great scoring opportunities, but Paul Byron and then Tomas Tatar prevented him from shooting. Pettersson was also unlucky when his receiving shot hit the post. But the rest of his game is not worthy of the all-star player he was for two years. For a second game in a row, his blunder at the blue line allowed a CH player to escape. He finally scored his first goal of the season by deflecting a shot. We’ll see if that’s the click he needed.
The good old code
In the 2021 NHL, what do you do to avenge a teammate who has suffered a head injury? We try to hurt the opponent in the head. This is what Joel Edmundson did, inviting Tyler Myers to fight early in the game. Myers, remember, tackled Joel Armia hard late in the game on Thursday, and the Canadiens forward suffered a concussion. Edmundson announced his colors in the warm-up by going to say a few words to Myers. From his second presence, Myers and Edmundson therefore dropped the gloves. The kind of situation the NHL Player Safety Department could have prevented by sanctioning Myers …
It was going quickly to my first visits. But I have good feelings in my hands, and I played with good players.
In the warm-up I asked him if he wanted to give me a fight he said yes so the first time we were together he did. Our team did not really appreciate his checking [contre Joel Armia jeudi], but in his defense, he accepted my invitation. It doesn’t change the fact that we’re not happier with his checking.
Joel Edmundson, on his fight with Tyler Myers
You have to answer the call. Myers did. Everyone has to do it. The players don’t forget these things. It was done from the start and we were able to move on.
Corey Perry, about this fight
No matter the trio on the ice, no matter the situation, we have confidence. We ride our four trios, we keep our energy. The playing time is balanced. Nobody plays 22 minutes. We do not get tired, we will be able to play several matches in a few days. It’s the same with defenders.
His pass on Nick Suzuki’s goal in the first period heralded a good night’s work. Last year he had his best moments playing a bigger role, but now he’s showing that he can also excel in a more limited role.
Romanov is a rookie and will have less good times, that’s completely normal. His teammates seem ready to help him, however, as seen with Carey Price during a commercial break.
The number of the match
That’s Quinn Hughes’ differential over the three games between the Canadiens and the Canucks. The little defender is exciting to watch, but he will have to cost fewer goals than he produces.