Now I know it was a loss, and a frustrating one at that, but I want to focus on one positive takeaway from this game and the first few of the season: this team cares. In arguably stark contrast to last year’s Montreal Canadiens, this team is one that seems to have its groove back.
This is a young team. Young athletes tend to feel that they have a little more to prove to their teammates and coaches. In addition, some of the youth that was added ahead of this season brings fresh perspective to the team — cue Joel Armia, Max Domi, and Mikey Reilly just to name a few. How can this translate to the ice?
When a team has good cohesion, you see their performance levels rise. Now even with a loss on Thursday night, the difference in performance so far this season has been pretty obvious. Check out this play from Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He capitalizes on the giveaway, gains the zone, gets a shot away, gets the rebound, and sends it back to Xavier Ouellet, who has another go at Jack Campbell.
Kotkaniemi trying his best to create something offensively pic.twitter.com/Z14cmhqF8c— David St-Louis (@RinksideView) October 12, 2018
If you’ll indulge me, I want to dive into this a bit further.
A few factors affect cohesion: environment (the organization, age of players), leadership (influence of coaching staff, veterans), and team (identity of the team, the ability and role of each member).
Environment: Only nine of the 27 players listed on the Habs’ roster were born earlier than 1990. While this team has its share of veterans, it is a young team. What does this mean? These athletes have an easier time relating to one another. This is obvious off the ice with the way they interact on social media and the fact that Victor Mete has Kotkaniemi rooming with him this season, because he “remembers what it’s like” to live away from home at that age. They are smiling more than I can remember seeing in at least a few seasons.
Leadership: It makes sense to have Shea Weber as the next captain. A veteran player, and very much a respected player in and around the league, Weber brings poise and a calmness to the room paralleled by other vets like Carey Price and Tomas Plekanec. What’s interesting is that the coaching staff is putting their trust in the youngsters, letting them show what they can do, and having some of the healthy veterans actually take a bit of a back seat — at least for now.
Team: Brendan Gallagher said it best during his pre-game interview when asked about being one of the smallest teams in the league. “Our identity around here has always been team speed and coming after teams with four lines. Whenever we’ve had success every single year I’ve been here, it’s been due to that strength [...] I think we have a lot of guys who compete hard so [being a small team] really doesn’t matter much.”
The Habs know who they are and what they need to do to compete. We saw it in the first two games, and I would argue quite a bit in last night’s as well: they’re a quick team and they can use that speed to their advantage.
Even down 3-0, after a goal was called off, and right to the very last whistle, this team was relentless. They didn’t give up like they would have if faced with a similar situation last season. They didn’t sit on their heels and let the Kings skate all over them. They fought, and my god, there were moments of brilliance.
So I know it wasn’t anywhere near what we wanted to see for the home opener, but this team seems much more in tune with one another. Were there some breakdowns? Of course. Did they cost them the game? Potentially. I still argue there were more positives than negatives in this game and this team is light years ahead of what I expected this season.
With more time, that team cohesion will only get better, confidence levels will improve, and I think it’s going to be a fun one this year, friends. Buckle up.