The Montreal Canadiens are not making a charge to a high draft pick so many experts in the hockey world had predicted. They are, instead, making a charge toward a playoff spot in mid-January.
After wins over strong clubs Colorado and New Jersey, they had a weaker opponent to face Thursday night in Ottawa. Strangely, though, it is the weaker teams that are giving the Canadiens trouble this year.
Sure enough, it was the same script as all season, as Montreal went down against weak Ottawa, losing 6-2.
When Cole Caufield’s shooting percentage dipped to six per cent this season, it was shocking. Caufield had a shooting percentage of 16.5 per cent last year, and over the course of his career his reversion to the mean number had been 12 to 13 per cent.
His shooting had to improve. Caufield’s shot is far too good to settle at seven per cent. The shot has so much velocity. He has such accuracy, as well. It simply could not continue that Caufield would be so snakebitten. Finally, it hasn’t.
Caufield is suddenly on fire, scoring in four straight games and 11 goals in his last 15. Caufield got the Canadiens on the board with a 20-footer that Joonas Korpisalo got a piece of, but could not stop completely, as it flipped over him into a gaping net. It just barely made it over the line.
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They all count, and for Caufield that is now 15 goals on the season. Caufield is now on pace for 27 goals on the season. It’s not the 40 that fans were hoping for to be the first Canadiens player to get 40 since Vincent Damphousse in 1994, but at least he’s not struggling.
He also has his shooting percentage back up to a more respectable nine, and if it continues to track toward his usual 12, then Caufield may hit 30 on the season in the end. That would be a strong goal total on a low scoring team.
The Canadiens are a bizarre team. Someone tell them they are playing the Central Red Army, not the Ottawa Senators. This club plays to the level of its opposition every single time it seems.
This week, the Canadiens beat Colorado and New Jersey, yet lost to Ottawa. Earlier this season, they beat the New York Rangers, but then lost to the San Jose Sharks. It’s bizarre.
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It’s the same script all season long, and it’s difficult to understand why this is happening. If they could take care of business against poor clubs, they would be in a playoff spot right now. They started the night only four points out. If they had just a couple more wins against the Coyotes, Sharks, or any other weak club, they’d be in a fairly optimistic spot.
If a guess had to be made why they lose to weak clubs, it would likely fall on the lack of goal scoring. They can stay with strong clubs because they can play at both ends of the ice with great teams. However, against poor teams, they just don’t have the firepower to put them away properly.
This was a fourth game in six nights for the Canadiens, including two in three, so this one getting out of hand was entirely predictable. They’ll likely recover nicely Saturday night against the Bruins in Boston.
However, if they don’t, they can point to five games in eight nights. The schedule can be a grind at points in the season.
The third game in the NHL career of Joshua Roy sure lifted the spirits that other top forward prospects can also excel in the pros. The popular consensus is that the club doesn’t have a completed top-six, but they may just have a close to completed top-12.
If Roy can be an NHL player, and it certainly looked like he can be one in only his third game, then how about the other top forward prospects of the club right now? They are on the same level as Roy, so they also could have enough game to play at the NHL level.
Filip Mesar has been outstanding for the Kitchener Rangers this season as well as for Slovakia at the World Junior Championships. In Sweden, Mesar was one of the top scorers in the entire tournament. In Kitchener, he has one of the best point-per-game totals in the Ontario Hockey League. Mesar has 36 points in 23 games.
Owen Beck is also tearing up the OHL, especially since being traded to the Saginaw Spirit. Beck will play in the Memorial Cup this spring because Saginaw is the host. Beck has only played three games for the Spirit and he has a whopping nine points.
There is no argument that the top players on every NHL club need to be extremely talented. The first line will get the most minutes of ice. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that all four lines do get on the ice, and if a club can dominate one through 12, not dominating one through three doesn’t have to be a massive shortcoming.
Also, it can also be successfully argued that the Canadiens top line can hold their own against the best as well.
Imagine, then, this forward mix for the Canadiens in the future years: Nick Suzuki, Juraj Slafkovsky, Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach, Alex Newhook, Filip Mesar, Joshua Roy, Owen Beck, and Jesse Ylonen. That is nine young forwards for the future. They are then joined by the first round draft choice in 2024, and two first round draft choices in 2025.
This is a 12-forward mix that would perhaps lack in a superstar but the potential for Montreal to be better than their opponent on lines three and four would be significant. The more popular way to get to 285 goals is certainly to have someone who can get 50, or perhaps two players who each can get to 35.
However, it is also possible to arrive at that winning 285-goal total with strength throughout the roster. That was the message that GM Kent Hughes was trying to send in his state-of-the-union address earlier this week when he argued that a point-per-game player isn’t absolutely necessary.
Let’s see where it all lands in 2026, but it feels like at least a top-nine is in place already with some good possibilities to add to it in the next two years. With a strong 12 forwards, first to last, a consistent rolling of four strong lines can be powerful, too.
No disputing 285 goals is easier with a couple 40-goal players, but it is possible to arrive there spreading the strength through the entire roster. However, those back-six forwards have to be strong, not journeymen. If that’s Hughes’ plan, let’s give him the opportunity to see if he is able to execute it.
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