Given a very convincing win over the Winnipeg Jets, it was tough to single out one performance worthy of further discussion. The Montreal Canadiens completely took over the game in the second period, and you could easily pick five or six players that had noteworthy outings. This team badly needed a game like that.
But there was one player who personally needed a strong performance more than any of his teammates. That man is Phillip Danault, and he absolutely delivered for his team on Saturday night.
His struggles of late have been well documented, and it is no secret that he’s playing for his next contract this year. As such, those struggles have been put under a magnifying glass, and even more so with the team going on a bad streak. As the de facto top-line centre, the team needs him to contribute more offensively.
He did exactly that on Saturday night by feeding his right winger. He started by faking a shot, only to fire a slick cross-ice pass to Brendan Gallagher on the Habs’ third goal of the night.
The key here is lateral movement. Gallagher’s shot isn’t great, but the pass across the zone forces the goaltender to move, and reduces the need for a precision shot. You don’t need to truly beat a goaltender if the puck movement prior to the shot is good enough to have him guessing where the puck is going.
And they clearly took notes on the effectiveness of that technique. Just a few minutes later, the pair would hook up again on a similar play to make it 4-0. After some excellent forecheck work between Danault and Tomas Tatar, Gallagher found himself alone in front.
This time, Danault found Gallagher close enough to the net that the quality of the shot mattered even less than it did on the first goal. This trio is very important to any success the Canadiens are to have this season, and if they can continue creating scoring chances with puck movement like this, the team can continue to emerge from their slump.
Claude Julien made a mistake when he benched Tatar, and then took him away from that line. Dominic Ducharme put them back together, and since he’s done so, they’ve gotten progressively better. Danault in particular seems to have taken a considerable step forward, and hopefully that continues to be the case.
If it does, he may take a similarly considerable step forward in contract negotiations. There hasn’t been much chatter about his future with the Habs, and understandably so given that he’s been underperforming. If there was a long-term deal to be had in Montreal, it would require him to play more like he did last night on a regular basis.
Danault’s future in Montreal can still be considered as uncertain, but if he can build off last night’s performance, it will help both his negotiations and the team’s position in the standings.