Before I start, let me be clear about one thing. Moral victories are overrated. They don’t really matter, and if you have too many of them, they become pretty irrelevant.
What matters, in the grand scheme of things, are wins and losses. The NHL is decided by results, and the NHL is not a development league.
But for a handful of teams that find themselves far outside of the playoff picture, it can very much become a development league for that season. We’re only 14 games into the 2021-22 season. There are still Mike Hoffman (68) games left in the season. That’s a lot of hockey. But it may be time for the Montreal Canadiens to look at things other than wins and losses.
We know the story about teams out of the playoff picture at American Thanksgiving. If you are more than four points out of the playoffs, you very likely won’t make the post-season. The later start of the NHL season changes that timeline slightly, but the Canadiens are currently seven points behind the second Wild Card spot, but more damaging may be the eight teams they need to pass to get there. It’s still early, but like Yogi Berra once said, it gets late early out there.
There was a lot to like about the team’s overtime loss against the Los Angeles Kings, but there are three things that stick out in my mind. The first was Nick Suzuki. He has been outstanding, and that continued on Tuesday despite the fact he didn’t get a point. The better Suzuki looks as the season goes on, the better it is for the Canadiens regardless of what the scoreboard says.
It should be noted that Suzuki had 100% of the shots at goal in the close to four minutes he played against either Anze Kopitar or Phillip Danault.
Jake Evans’ game will likely be defined by his highlight-reel goal to tie Tuesday’s game. It was a surprising bit of skill that we haven’t really seen much at the NHL level. His development is also key for the Canadiens this season. The closer he can get to a great defensive player, the better it is for the team. Playing with Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen makes it pretty clear what that line’s role will be on a given day. That line played the majority of their time against Anze Kopitar’s line and kept the possession even and outscored them 2-0 at five-on-five.
Yes, Evans didn’t look as solid on the game’s winning goal in overtime, but steps back are alright if they are surrounded by steps forward. Like Suzuki, Evans improving will only help the Canadiens going forward.
One of the other highlights of the game was Alexander Romanov’s improved play. His confidence has never wavered, and since being a healthy scratch, he has come back and played some of the best hockey he has played all season. He is hitting people hard, and generally looking better overall. There will be setbacks, but we’re not looking for perfection.
You, the reader, may look at this and say that I just wrote that moral victories don’t matter. The improvement of key young players isn’t a moral victory, though. They are very much tangible, and very much important for the future of the Canadiens’ organization. The same thing goes with the strong play of Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Toffoli plus players like Christian Dvorak settling in. We’re not talking about shot attempts or bad luck here.
When Mattias Norlinder gets an NHL look after his conditioning spell in Laval with the American Hockey League’s Rocket, there will be setbacks and adjustments to be made. He may likely turn out to not be NHL ready at all, which is fine. He can finish the season in Sweden if the team wants to send him back.
The NHL isn’t a development league, but sometimes it ends up as one, and it may end up defining the Canadiens’ season sooner rather than later.