It’s hard to believe sometimes, but Nick Suzuki is only 21 years old and in his second NHL season. There are times where his play belies his age and experience, but as we saw in the Montreal Canadiens’ 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, there will be growing pains.
Suzuki wasn’t alone in having a tough game on Thursday. Tomas Tatar called the team’s execution sloppy. When Suzuki was asked about his game, he smirked likely knowing the question was coming. His awareness didn’t stop there.
“It was definitely a tough night. It was definitely my worst game of the year so far,” Suzuki said. “I was fighting the puck a bit. [... Our line was] frustrated playing a lot in the [defensive] zone, we wanted to get a good transition going... We [have to] bounce back for sure.”
The line of Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin, and Josh Anderson had their toughest game of the season and was the team’s only line where Ottawa controlled more shot attempts when they were on the ice. They did get more chances in the third period, Suzuki said, but he expects more from himself.
“I was struggling to read the play a bit,” Suzuki said. “There were a few times I was getting lost in the defensive zone and that’s not something I’m used to so I’ve got to definitely clear that up. I’ll watch my shifts, learn from that and be ready for the next game.”
For his part, Canadiens head coach Claude Julien agreed that the 21-year-old had a tough night, but also seemed encouraged by the centre’s reaction.
“Nick had a difficult night. He was right. It was his hardest game since the start of the season,” Julien said. “Proud athletes aren’t afraid to admit it and say it. Just that alone is a step forward because I’m convinced he’ll rebound next game.”
Two of the Senators three goals came directly off of missed face offs. Suzuki lost the draw leading to the eventual game-winning goal, and Jake Evans lost one on the penalty kill that led to Tim Stützle’s 2-1 goal late in the first period.
“We said it at the beginning of the season, we’re young at centre,” Julien said. “We have to take our medicine. There are moments where it may be hard. The only way to get through it is to give them the experience to take those face offs and hope they learn from it.”
Evans actually won 55% of his face offs in the game, but Suzuki was at 27% and Jesperi Kotkaniemi was at 33%
“We had two young guys [around 30%], and we need to find a way to be better than that,” Julien said.