The Montreal Canadiens are in the final push of the regular season with only six games remaining heading into Monday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs, the class of the division, and a potential first-round matchup for Montreal faced the team Monday, so the Canadiens wanted to have a solid outing.
They did indeed.
It was another comeback by the Canadiens as Phillip Danault scored in the final minute, and Cole Caufield scored in overtime in a 3-2 win.
The young guns didn’t score on that late first period power play, but was it ever superb to look at a bright future working so well together.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Alexander Romanov and Cole Caufield were throwing it around, easily creating chances. Caufield had hit the cross bar on the previous power play with a laser beam. Nick Suzuki was also on the ice on the man advantage. What a sight! They are all basically the same age around 20 or 21. They have all of their best years in front of them, and they already are in the show making a difference. The last time the Canadiens had this much promise in their line-up was early in the careers of Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, and PK Subban, but even they were much older than 20.
These kids are way ahead of the usual progress NHL players generally see at 20. Romanov is a blue liner and that usually takes time. He’s already getting more than 20 minutes a game of ice, and he is also getting power play time. Suzuki is only in his second season and has been the best Canadiens forward for the past two weeks. Kotkaniemi is already in his third season, and while some nights there are growing pains, he continues to push his ceiling upward.
And the final of the four, we do not even have a sense of how good he can be, but so far, Caufield looks dynamic. He scored his first goal in overtime on Saturday night. Again, in overtime, he did it once more against the Maple Leafs with one of his perfect pinpoint shots as he loves the extra ice of 3-on-3. Beyond the two goals, he is showing fans so much more than just an elite shot. He is a strong forechecker. He skates better than most people had noticed. He handles himself size-wise quite well winning puck battles more than anyone should expect. And he has not been a liability on defence even in the slightest.
This club is not old by any means. There are a couple of players who are on the downslope of their careers, but the majority of this team is trending upward. The future is bright, and for one power play in the first period, the future wasn’t just bright, it was extremely young as well.
There is another wave of Canadiens who are also young and have so much hockey in front of them. Josh Anderson has been one of the best forwards this season second in goals. He is 26. Tyler Toffoli scored again for 28 on the season. He is 29. Brendan Gallagher is 28 and he has shown no signs of slowing down. Jake Evans had a terrific game once again on Monday. He has been a high energy player showing he is still improving. He is 24. Phillip Danault is not guaranteed to be on the club next year, but he is 28.
It was Danault who allowed the drama in the overtime with the game-tying goal.
There is so much consternation among the fan base that the window is closing and that the best years of Carey Price and Shea Weber have been wasted, and when they inevitably age, it’s all over. It’s not all over in the slightest. It’s just beginning for this group.
They had a two-decade-long problem for which they have finally found solutions for in Suzuki and Kotkaniemi. Their issue right now is they are too loaded with stuck-at-home defencemen, and that problem will soon be solved with a pipeline that is jam packed with young puck movers. The line-up of the future does not have the issues of the line-up of the last 20 years at centre, nor the issues of this year’s line-up on the blue line.
Being completely forthright, one issue remains. This team is still without a game-breaker. Could it be Caufield? Is it possible that he could be that good? He sure does have a magic touch in overtime so far.
There are three ways to acquire players: draft, trade, and unrestricted free agency. They won’t get a game breaker in the draft. It’s highly unlikely, because they won’t be drafting top five anymore. They won’t be getting a game breaker via trade, because general managers simply are not that dumb. Optimistically speaking, the game-breaker comes when some $20 million leaves the cap, and some serious bidding can be done to find a player who can put this team over the top.
That’s the blue print. Can they get there? No one has that crystal ball. But the likelihood of getting there is greater now than it has been in ages. So let’s just sit back and enjoy the future of a team that finally has some assets here already and many more assets to come.
The Canadiens are playing four games every seven nights and are somehow playing .500 hockey during this pace of games that has never been asked of a hockey player at any time in the last 60 years. Sure, there may be a one-week period where a player is asked to play four in seven, but not ever five consecutive weeks.
Every single sequence is three games in four nights. That’s the number that has always been known as the third game is difficult to have enough energy to compete well with at all. Well, that sequence is every sequence. It’s ridiculous, but it doesn’t seem to matter to these players.
With that in mind, how can you critique anything? They should have been exhausted; instead, they have come back from a deficit to win three straight games. It’s hard to know where they are getting the energy for this, but it doesn’t matter. Just sit back and enjoy.
Sean Farrell is one of few of the Montreal Canadiens prospects still playing this season. Farrell continues his USHL playoff run after the Chicago Steel had no trouble at all in their opening round series against the Dubuque Fighting Saints winning 2-1 and 6-1 to complete the sweep. Farrell had two points in the two games on a goal and an assist.
It’s actually not a big total for Farrell who set scoring records for Chicago with 101 points in 53 games in his second season in the USHL. Farrell was supposed to play in the ECAC for Harvard, but the Ivy League cancelled their season because of COVID-19. It was fortunate that Farrell had an alternate place to play.
The Steel now take on the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the East Conference final in another best-of-three affair. It will be a difficult series likely as the two teams are evenly matched. They met 10 times this season and each team won five games. The winner takes on the West Conference final winner between the Fargo Force and Sioux City Musketeers.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.