The Los Angeles Kings entered their Thursday night affair in Montreal with an astonishing 10 straight road wins to start the season, so the Canadiens knew they had quite the challenge in front of them.
Montreal gave it their best effort, but these Kings are special. They posted a 4-0 win for an NHL record 11 straight road wins to start a year.
The Canadiens gave a good effort against a terrific team. When they meet in Los Angeles, the Canadiens got only 18 shots the entire contest. In this one, they had 13 by the end of the first period. The Canadiens are not a bad team on a good night.
It’s a shame that this season is one of rebuilding again after such massive injuries to key players like Kirby Dach, Alex Newhook and David Savard. One of these years the Canadiens might just stay relatively healthy.
Leading the best of the Habs was again Juraj Slafkovsky. He still isn’t scoring, but in many respects, this project is actually ahead of schedule. At only 19 years of age, there are components to Slafkovsky’s game that are ahead of where anyone could have expected.
The best part of his game is how he is already protecting the puck to win board battles. Early in the first period, Slafkovsky was in a board battle with one of the best in all of hockey, Drew Doughty, and Slafkovsky held him off easily, then made a play. It’s one thing to hold off a journeyman NHLer, but Doughty is a special player who wins most of the battles he has.
Also uplifting is that Slafkovsky looks good on the top line of the club. If this line can click on a regular basis, then that’s another top-six player that the Canadiens are desperately in search of. He also looks good on the power play with the top players.
Second period, it was Slafkovsky with an excellent steal. He took it behind the net where he had his head up and laid a perfect pass on the stick of a streaking Nick Suzuki. He hit the crossbar. Another great forecheck from the Slovak.
Still second, Slafkovsky was in tight with a terrific feed to Cole Caufield who remained snake-bitten on his chance.
Slafkovsky is getting his touches. He is winning pucks. He is already not a liability defensively at the NHL level. As much as Logan Cooley is putting up points and getting plenty of opportunity in Arizona, he is actually a liability on the defensive side of the puck right now.
That is not to say that Slafkovsky will be a superior player to Cooley in three years, but it is to say that early in the assessment, Slafkovsky is ahead defensively. Cooley is ahead in more categories, but Slafkovsky is ahead in some aspects that are undervalued at times — that is until the playoffs start.
However, the bottom line is Slafkovsky was drafted to score goals. He was not drafted first overall to simply win touches, be strong defensively, but not put the puck in the net. The goals should be coming soon with his play improving so rapidly, and the extra chances that should come due to his comfort on the top line of the club.
It would be fair to complain about the Canadiens’ lack of scoring against the Kings, but no one scores against Los Angeles. They play a 1-3-1 and a heat map graphic of their games is a winter storm trudging through the snow. That’s certainly how Canadiens players felt with five Kings players back all the time. The Canadiens have been shut out by only one team this year, and it’s the Kings both meetings.
When the Kings get the lead, it’s basically over. They are one of the favourites to win the cup, and if they do, there will be copycat head coaches following their lead next season and ruining what is an exiting league-wide product.
If you want to see exciting hockey next season, cheer for the Kings to fail in the playoffs. They play ugly hockey, and they play it well. All that fans in Montreal can be thankful for is they are on the west coast and watching them is finished for the year.
Call of the Wilde!
Every year, the Montreal Canadiens strengthen the players they have in their farm system, and every year the team seems to disappoint. The Laval Rocket have only five wins in 21 games this season. If it weren’t for the Bridgeport Islanders, the Rocket would be the worst team in the entire American Hockey League.
This seems shocking considering the expected NHL talent that the roster has. Joshua Roy, Jan Mysak, Sean Farrell, Logan Mailloux, Emil Heineman, Lias Andersson, Jayden Struble, Gustav Lindstrom, Riley Kidney, Gabriel Bourque, Arber Xhekaj, William Trudeau, Mitchell Stephens, Mattias Norlinder, Joel Armia, and Jakub Dobes are all players who have played in, or have potential to be, NHL-calibre players.
That is 16 players that you could see in a Canadiens jersey one day. The talent is there. Admittedly, some are young, but possible NHL talent trumps that. Also, players do come and go due to injuries. Still, at any given time, the Rocket have had 10 NHL calibre-players on their roster, yet they are not succeeding in the American Hockey League.
Joshua Roy got off to a hot start for the Rocket, but has fallen off a cliff. Roy doesn’t have a point in his last seven games, and in one contest he was minus five. Sean Farrell and Roy seemed to have chemistry going for the first 40 days, but the next 40 has been a massive disappointment.
There’s an oddity to speak of. Though it points to a brutal conclusion, it must be said. In some cases, a player goes up to the NHL and he is a better player in the more difficult league than he was in Laval.
Lindstrom played only four games in Laval and he was a minus six. Not to suggest he is a star at the NHL level, but he is giving a better account of himself in Montreal. Add to the point that Lindstrom was a regular for two seasons for the Detroit Red Wings last season before being traded.
Lindstrom already graduated from the AHL. He plays respectably in the NHL, but when he is in Laval, it seems like a trip to the East Coast Hockey League in Trois Rivieres is just as likely as a call-up to Montreal. Why is Place Bell the Bermuda Triangle for these players?
Something is amiss in Laval. Something needs to be done in Laval. There is too much talent there for this. Perhaps it is that the actual results of the games don’t matter that much, and what is important is that the Rocket graduate players who are ready for the NHL.
That probably doesn’t make fans who show up regularly to Place Bell all that content, but it may just be that it’s OK for the front office on the seventh floor of the Bell Centre. Maybe, Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton are fine with these results.
Maybe, the fans are fine, too — grab a beer, have a nice conversation with a buddy, see your team lose, all good. Maybe, the players are happy to learn systems, adapt to pro hockey, become better defensively, and lose games pretty much every night.
Or maybe with just one good season in seven since the inception of the franchise, it’s time to do something finally. It might be fun for everyone to see all these star prospects who were dominating their various junior and minor leagues actually go to Laval to not get caught in a vortex of stink.
Call of the Wilde!