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Micro Analysis: Joel Armia’s offensive game is coming out of hibernation

Steps are also being taken by Victor Mete and Nick Suzuki, which could be very good news for the Canadiens.

Montreal Canadiens v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

Joël Armia’s star potential

In a recent interview, Teemu Selanne said that Joel Armia, a dominant player over in Finland before coming over to North America, has the potential to be a star. With eight points in 10 games (and possibly one more if he is credited with an assist or a goal on the final scoring play last night), it looks Armia could be breaking out. A career-best season seems in the works for him.

His reach, quick hands for his size, and above all, his puck-protection ability make him a great complement for the skilled, speedy forwards the Habs employ. It is also clear that the Finnish forward himself possesses above-average skill.

The only thing that currently puts a cap on his offensive impact is his vision and decision-making with the puck. Armia sometimes doesn’t see or looks off better scoring opportunities to execute less optimal plays. He can get fixated on certain outlets.

He gave us a good example of this tendency last night when he tried to reach Max Domi with a short pass while he had a great shooting opportunity from the slot. There were also a couple of other instances of this I collected in games from the start to the season.

It’s only recently that Armia has joined the Habs and been given a chance at more minutes and an offensive role. That was something he knew all of his life before adapting his game to be more defensively-inclined with the talent-stacked Winnipeg Jets team.

As he continues to build his confidence, we could see improvements in his decision-making with the puck, enough for him to continue his role in the top six — that is his to lose at this point — and sustain a high scoring pace.

Victor Mete’s skating

Mete has been using his quick feet in the offensive zone a lot more in the past few games. It probably comes from an influx of confidence coming from finally scoring his first goal.

The Coyotes’ defence collapsed heavily toward the middle of the ice last night, a default position when players feel disorganized. It left a lot of space on the periphery, and Mete wasn’t shy to exploit it. He activated multiple times from the point to pick up the puck along the half-wall and try to fire from closer to the goal line or create scoring chances to the slot. It was a welcome change of pace from the point-shot heavy offence of the Habs.

The second goal the Canadiens scored was almost all Mete. He skated down in the offensive zone with multiple rapid crossovers, released a shot that deflected off Antti Raanta to the stick of Phillip Danault, who missed a wide-open net. Mete then moved back to his position at the point while giving an option for a return pass from Danault. Mete slid the puck over to Weber for the goal.

The last clip in the video above features Mete dragging the puck very quickly toward the middle of the ice after an offensive-zone faceoff. The defenceman has improved his shot, but he still doesn’t have the power necessary to beat goalies from the corner of the offensive zone. Quickly getting to the middle and closer to the net like this will help him get his second goal of the season.

Nick Suzuki’s vision

Suzuki’s passing ability is one of the best on the team. As he adapts to the NHL, we should see more and more sequences like the one that led to yet another Nick Cousins goal.

The rookie, instead of immediately bouncing the puck back on net after a point shot deflected to his stick, anticipated the net-drive of his teammates. He threaded the pass into space, out of the reach of the defence but still in range of Cousins, who managed to get enough lift on the puck to beat Raanta.

Cousins also made a great play protecting possession and feeding it to the point earlier in the game. He retrieved a puck that escaped Suzuki as he entered the zone and didn’t cycle it back to his less-experienced teammate as he was surrounded by opponents. He kept it until a good release from pressure could be found.

The fourth line has been extremely effective for Claude Julien. The players support and cover for each other, and the trio has enough combined skill to dominate depth players from weaker teams.

What plays in their favour is that Suzuki has been adapting his pace of play quite well. His ability to manipulate defenders is resurfacing and he has shown some creative dangles in the past couple of games, beating defenders not with superior speed but by out-waiting and baiting them.

Last night, he invited a pokecheck from Jakob Chychrun and slowly dragged the puck out of reach. He used the window where the stick of the Coyotes defender was extended to abruptly turn in front of him and cut to the slot. Suzuki employed the same manoeuvre to then release a shot; he waited for a second pokecheck and over extension from Chychrun and pivoted to fire under the opposing stick.

The second clip in the video is Suzuki doing the same thing to Jake Muzzin against Toronto a few days ago. He gave himself a runway to the opposing goalie, but unfortunately the puck escaped him.