With Brendan Gallagher out of the lineup, the Montreal Canadiens were in tremendous need of another player to step up and help drive the offence in his place. There is plenty already said about Nick Suzuki, and almost certainly much more to still be said. Many people shifted their expectations towards Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi, and with good reason.
Drouin has always had a bright spotlight on him due to the trade that brought him to Montreal and sent Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Domi had lesser expectations based on the way he was brought in, a swap for Alex Galchenyuk that was a fresh-start move for both. They were both tasked with being difference makers when it counted for Kirk Muller behind the bench.
One showed up, one most certainly did not.
And unlike the majority of the last two years, it was not the player many fans expected. It was Drouin finding chemistry with Suzuki and showing everyone what he was capable of doing. Domi in an elimination game, had one moment in the spotlight and it resulted in him taking a penalty, then getting elbowed in the face, and finally crashing into the net.
With the Canadiens facing elimination, Drouin racked up four points in two games and was a huge factor in pushing the Flyers to their absolute limits. When the final horn sounded it was Drouin tied with Suzuki for the team lead in playoff scoring with seven points in ten games. While Suzuki was good all post-season, he and Drouin found another level when it counted when the Canadiens needed some big performances.
For contrast, Domi had three points — all assists — that all came in the 5-0 Game 2 blowout. When the team needed him to step up he was disappointingly quiet in all facets, and with a contract negotiation looming this did him few favours.
Many people assumed the playoffs would bring out the best in Domi, who thrived in so many crucial moments for the Canadiens, while many wrote off Drouin after a quiet showing against the Penguins. Expectations and what we see often go hand in hand. Domi looked much sharper when he was promoted from the fourth line, but it was still Drouin who played the better series overall.
This isn’t meant to be an overtly negative collection of thoughts, in fact I want to use it to praise Drouin for playing arguably his best hockey of the season when his team had their feet to the fire. As for Domi, I know he’s better than what he showed in the post-season, but he won’t get a chance to prove that until next year now, something that no doubt will eat at his competitive personality.
Both players can be a huge piece for the Canadiens in the near future, but this playoff run taught us two important lessons: To not write off a player who might have had struggles, and to not anoint someone before they’ve truly shown their mettle.