The final game of the traditional Super Bowl weekend series for the Montreal Canadiens was against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon. The Blues are in the playoff hunt, while the Canadiens are trying to stay above water.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard was out of the line up after suffering a knee injury Saturday, which meant the return of Joshua Roy from the Laval Rocket.
St. Louis posted an easy 7-2 win.
Juraj Slafkovsky continues to develop his game at a shocking rate. The opening goal was a power play set-up for Montreal. Slafkovsky had the puck on the right side. Rather than remain static looking for a hole, Slafkovsky kept skating slowly and passed it through both Blues defenders to Nick Suzuki who put it into a wide-open net. It was solid moment from a player who simply would not have had it in his mind to try this only three months ago, never mind do it successfully.
That’s 17 points in the last 23 games for Slafkovsky. That’s Suzuki continuing along his path to possibly striking a point-per-game pace. He is pro-rated to hit 76 points.
In terms of support, Joel Armia deflected a David Savard shot for a second Canadiens marker, and Joshua Roy created some offence as well.
However, it was a difficult game to watch. Jordan Harris suffered a concussion in a hit from Sammy Blais. Harris had his head crushed against the boards, then fell to the ice and hit his head again.
Harris remained on his knees with the trainer. He should not be exerting himself for the next ten days. This is the word from the medical community who understand long-term effects of concussions.
Late in the third period, Marco Scandella laid out Kaiden Guhle. He was in a lot of pain as he made his way to the tunnel. Guhle was holding his arm and tucking it close to his body. This can be a sign of a shoulder dislocation.
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Next was the Canadiens overall game. It’s an unusual team to watch now, because if the top line is not performing at a strong level, the rest of the forward group cannot provide enough in support. The Suzuki line cannot expect consistent support anywhere else at the moment. Next year may be better, but this is a one-line hockey team.
On defence, it took 33 games, but we finally saw the first truly bad moment from Jayden Struble. He has been a revelation, but in the first minute, he was beaten to the outside cleanly. It led to the first goal and the start of a difficult day for everyone.
That included Jake Allen who wasn’t sharp. He lost his post on the opening goal which caused him to swim on a poke check. The second goal allowed was a point shot that he wasn’t truly screened, but he didn’t seem to see the shot. He should have.
The rest was academic. Allen continued to struggle. Struble continued to show that the road to being an excellent NHL defender is an up-and-down affair. Three lines struggled to help out.
In the summer of 2022, the Montreal Canadiens had the first pick overall in the draft. They took Juraj Slafkovsky in a huge surprise. Not even two seasons later, it appears they may have made the right pick. It didn’t look like it early as Slafkovsky wasn’t able to achieve even the simple win of a puck battle, but as season two concludes, the Slovak is ahead of his peers.
It appears it is a battle between Slafkovsky and the player taken second, Simon Nemec, who is strong already as a defender in New Jersey with 14 points in 29 games and a minus 6.
However, at forward, it’s all Slafkovsky. He has half of the goals scored by players in his draft year. He is far ahead of his competition, especially in overall goals. He is improving at a rapid pace since the beginning of December. Slafkovsky is on a 63-point pace since Head Coach Martin St. Louis put him on the top line.
His top competition is from Logan Cooley who is a flashy offensive player and who is putting up respectable numbers with 25 points in 50 games this season. Playing 5-on-5 as a centre, Cooley is actually struggling to learn how to play NHL-style hockey defensively.
Cooley is a minus 10 overall. Only two players are worse on the Coyotes. Cooley will be a good one, but the consternation that the team blew it, and he should have been the pick was clearly overdone. As far as driving a line, Slafkovsky at wing has vastly stronger skills than Cooley as a centre so far.
The player that everyone thought that the Canadiens would take, Shane Wright, is still in the American Hockey League. In the second season after the draft, Wright sits at 32 points in 42 games.
The future might see Cooley figure out how to defend as a centre. Wright in Coachella Valley may be the perfect tutelage. Cutter Gauthier may be the sleeper in the end, as well taken at five.
Right now, though, this isn’t close: as bold and aggressive as it was taking Slafkovsky at number one, GM Kent Hughes may have got it right. Most of the 2022 picks haven’t even made their debuts.
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