With the trade deadline come and gone, and the Canadiens standing pat on adding forward help, the team needed a strong showing from some of their underperforming, or quieter veterans against a red-hot Maple Leafs team. They got that kind of performance from Paul Byron and Tomas Tatar.
Byron has been doing quite well since returning from the taxi squad, having compiled seven points (2G, 5A) in his last eight games played, including a pair of primary assists on Tatar’s goals last night. It hasn’t been an easy season for the Habs’ alternate captain, being a healthy scratch, moving up and down the lineup, even going on waivers multiple times to help Montreal save some cap space.
He isn’t scoring 20 goals a season anymore, but that doesn’t mean he is without his uses, and he showcased that against Toronto. The Canadiens’ strength has lain in their ability to have their depth overwhelm opposing teams, and having Byron playing like this is a huge part of that.
As for Tomas Tatar, he’s somehow always been among the most consistent and one of the most scrutinized players over the course his tenure in Montreal. With Brendan Gallagher out long-term, the team needed the Slovak sniper to find his top form once again, and he repaid the coaching staff’s patience in kind with a two-goal night.
His empty-netter to seal the game was all effort and hustle, the kind of play this team wasn’t making during its losing streak. He broke out of the defensive zone with Byron, took the lead pass, and sped through the neutral zone, around Mitch Marner and into range to lift his backhand shot into the net.
Yes it’s an empty-net goal, but after a strong showing against Auston Matthews and Marner at five-on-five (Tatar controlled 60.9% of the shots against them), the insurance goal was a just reward.
His partnership with Phillip Danault continues to be critical to Montreal’s success, and the fact they were able to hound one of the NHL’s top lines without Gallagher was a huge building block going forward.
The road ahead for the Canadiens does not get an easier, but with veterans putting together more games like this, it becomes a lot more manageable.