The Montreal Canadiens were riding a successful stretch of three games where it seemed like they were coming into their own as a rebuilding team. On Tuesday night they ran into a New Jersey Devils squad that was riding a nine-game winning streak. By the end of the night that was a 10-game run.
A 5-1 scoreline hides a few positives in this game, while highlighting several glaring negatives. We’ll start with the good, namely the first Canadiens’ goal for Evgenii Dadonov, who was very overdue for some luck in his favour. At the end of the game Dadonov led the Habs with an expected-goals-for percentage (xGF%) of 72.6 at five-on-five, and linemates Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson were right behind him.
Also worth noting that despite one truly noticeable gaffe, Jordan Harris continued to be a team leader in most possession metrics, and is making it really difficult to argue against giving him a larger role going forward.
The Habs as a whole started well, truly well, outplaying the Devils in the opening frame, but that’s about where the tactics switched, and the game changed.
The harsh truth is that this will not be the last time the Habs play a game like this in the coming months. The Canadiens’ top line struggled to operate at their usual level, and the depth in the lineup wasn’t able to pick up the slack.
That’s not shocking, even good players struggle in games, and this one was a struggle for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, especially. New Jersey honed in on the star winger in particular, and Montreal lacked a secondary plan in that situation, leaving the offence stuck in neutral for most of the game.
For Martin St-Louis and his staff, this needs to be a lesson learned quickly or else they risk falling into ruts like they did last year. Given the success the Monahan line had in terms of underlying metrics they might give them a bit more leeway to try to chip in another goal or two if the luck is in their favour.
Above all else, the Habs need to avoid just leaning entirely on Nick Suzuki and his line. It’s great to have a dominant trio, but it cannot be your only source of production. The team needs to figure out a way to unlock the depth scoring in a group that is not bereft of offensive talent.
It’s another challenge to learn and conquer on the fly for St-Louis, the good news is that while the head coach works on this, competitive losses still help advance the long-term goals of the front office.