Two games in two nights, both resulting in loss, have kicked off the season for the Montreal Canadiens.
On Thursday, the Habs faced a club waiting for them for their season opener, the Sabres in Buffalo. Montreal lost on opening night in Toronto in a tight contest and hoped to show more offence than that game’s one goal, but it was another rough contest.
The Sabres took it to the Habs 5-1.
The feeling is that the Sabres are the worst team, or perhaps the second worst team in the league. They destroyed the Canadiens. It wasn’t close on the scoreboard; it wasn’t close in analytics; it wasn’t close with your eye test.
There wasn’t a thing to like in the Canadiens’ game. You can’t pick out a single player that looked better than any of the Sabres. The goal scorer was Chris Wideman on an open look on a pass from Joel Armia, but they weren’t stand-out players. They just happened to combine for a goal.
Two goals in two nights for the Habs.
There is no one that looked good. No one on defence, where the immobility was an issue again, and no one on offence, as the attackers have no chance to show speed waiting for the puck to be cleared.
It also appears the head coach has already decided that he doesn’t trust his rookie, who is supposed to win the Calder Trophy this year. Cole Caufield was demoted to the second unit of the power play only two nights in. Overall, it felt like there were forwards that had absolutely no time on the puck at all. I can’t remember even hearing the name Lehkonen or Dvorak.
It is only two games in, though, so the magnifying glass is always over-focused on the small sample size.
Just two games. It’s just two games. It’s only two games.
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Samuel Montembeault played 25 games in his NHL career in before the affair in Buffalo. He had a save percentage of .892 for the Florida Panthers. As a junior, he played four seasons in Blainville where he had a save percentage of .900. He had three years in Springfield in the American Hockey League where he also managed .900.
The club is immediately feeling the loss of Carey Price from the lineup. Jake Allen can’t play every night. Cayden Primeau needs to play a lot in Laval to prepare himself for the backup role when Price returns. He can’t be in a Habs uniform on an every-seventh-game basis.
The underwhelming numbers of this career minor leaguer are what the Canadiens have, so Sam is the man and he needs to step up.
The difficulty is that there is just too much hockey in the Canadiens zone, even against the poorer teams in the league. It has always been this way, and Price made a lot of bad structure look acceptable. The bad structure is the defence has not been mobile enough since Andrei Markov left the club. When there is no mobility, it is hard to get the puck up ice. You could see it against the lowly Sabres.
Joel Edmundson is greatly missed. What if this blue line suffers considerable injuries this season? It is entirely possible that the defence could have to go nine deep. It’s difficult to imagine who those nine are. There are always injuries to the shot blockers of the league.
We shall see. It’s important to not overreact on just two games, but you know that everyone in the organization is concerned with this.
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The Canadiens signed Nick Suzuki to an 8-year deal this week for just under $8 million per season. It is an outstanding move by the General Manager who if he is on his way out after this season sure has a lot of freedom despite it.
When you commit eight seasons to a player, you better be certain of his value.
Suzuki should not give the club any cause to worry over the length of this deal. Firstly, it will encompass the best years of his athletic life in the NHL. Every player is different, but historically speaking, a forward has his best years at around 25 or 26. That is right in the hard of Suzuki’s contract.
He is already a strong player at 22, but what is his potential?
His statistics over last season and his playoffs indicate that he is a 60 point player. He counted 41 last season in the shortened campaign, but when one pro-rates that over a normal campaign of 82 games, Suzuki is right on the 60 point level.
That’s after only two seasons. He will get more comfortable over the course of his career, and should be able to put up 70 point campaigns. There’s likely an outlier in there with the right line-mates and chemistry with two wingers that he could top a point-per-game plateau. Any full season where he pushes in at only 50 points would begin to cause criticism to surface that the contract was not a good one.
This is unlikely to happen. Suzuki as a junior was also able to contribute high point totals that made him a first round draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights. The pedigree is there. When a draft pick reaches that potential, it surprises no one.
Suzuki also has outstanding leadership skills and is a pillar in the locker room, exhibiting a maturity beyond his years. He will play a responsible 200-foot game to mitigate the moments that he is not contributing on the scoreboard.
All in all, this eight-year commitment did not come cheaply, but if you are to manage well in today’s NHL with its salary cap constraints, the motto must be pay your best players what it takes to lock them in, and skimp on your fourth line and third pair.
When the playoffs start, it’s your best players who win you the games, and your fourth line and third pair who see their ice time cut down anyway.
Well done by the GM. Apart from his tragic under-appreciation of the puck-moving defenceman, Bergevin continually makes good trades and signings. This is another strong one.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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