The Montreal Canadiens were desperate for a win, and they got it. More importantly, they got it against the Calgary Flames team chasing them in the standings and who have had their number in nearly every meeting this season. A loss last night could have put a very serious damper on any playoff hopes they have.
The big story was of course the debut of Cole Caufield, but the Habs rode big goals from Shea Weber and Tyler Toffoli to victory. They also leaned heavily on their defensive game in a low-shot affair against a trap team in the Flames.
Defensively, Jon Merrill was one of the most important players on the ice for the Tricolore.
Of the several pre-deadline acquisitions made by Marc Bergevin, perhaps the most impressive so far has been Merrill. This was particularly true on Monday night, as his defensive presence was a very welcome sight for a team that has struggled in their own end of late.
When Caufield and Erik Gustafsson collided at the offensive blue line and gave a partial break to the Flames, it was Merrill who kicked it into high gear and got back to prevent a scoring chance against Mikael Backlund.
That’s a heck of a defensive play. Not only does he have to get back and towards the middle unexpectedly, but he does it perfectly clean in a situation where taking a penalty would actually be forgivable. He saved a goal in a key moment of the game, and managed to do it without putting his team short handed. Quite impressive.
And that was just one play in a stellar night for him. The Canadiens controlled 55.56% of shot attempts while he was on the ice at even-strength, and though he didn’t find the score sheet, he was looking to get involved offensively at times. He seems very comfortable venturing into the offensive zone, and he’s always quite careful to ensure he isn’t being irresponsible when he does it.
Even so, he’ll likely never have close to the offensive numbers that defencemen like Jeff Petry and Shea Weber can have. But the Canadiens didn’t acquire him hoping he’d suddenly turn into a point scoring machine, they acquired him to provide a steady defensive presence.
If he can continue providing defensive efforts like last nights, he’ll be a very useful player in this stretch run and beyond.