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Sitting on 10 consecutive losses, it seemed like the Montreal Canadiens were destined for an 11th when Pavel Buchnevich put the St. Louis Blues in the lead with just over a minute to play on Thursday night. It was reminiscent of the winning goal scored by Patrik Laine in the dying seconds two days earlier. The Habs, however, had put together one of their best games of the season to that point, continuing their gradual improvement in play since the coaching change, and they weren’t going to let that effort go to waste.
It was the player whose game has improved the most under Martin St. Louis who turned things around. Cole Caufield was the sniper to find the net in the final 10 seconds of regulation on that occasion as he stayed disciplined with the puck on the opposite side of the ice, ready and waiting in case the puck came in his direction. Deflecting off a blocked shot from the right side of the ice, it did just that, and he calmly fired it to the back of the net.
Since we were all being reminded of older goals to end the third period, Caufield brought us all the way to back to his first NHL goal scored nearly a year earlier when he made his stick a sturdy target for Jeff Petry to find at the side of the net, and just had to push the puck in for the overtime winner. It was his fourth goal in four games, (along with the one from a play that was an inch offisde), and a clear return of the player we witnessed break into the league last season.
With those two clutch goals added to his tally, he’s taken his hot hands on the road to the newest arena in the NHL, the New York Islanders’ UBS Arena. He’ll be getting his name rattled off by plenty of in-arena announcers in his career, and today is a chance to check another building off his list.
Tale of the Tape
|45.7% (27th)||Scoring-chances-for %||47.2% (23rd)|
|2.20 (32nd)||Goals per game||2.45 (29th)|
|3.94 (32nd)||Goals against per game||2.73 (5th)|
|13.0% (31st)||PP%||18.6% (22nd)|
|73.8% (30th)||PK%||82.4% (9th)|
Caufield wasn’t in the lineup when the Islanders came to Montreal on November 4, having just been assigned to the AHL after a difficult start to the season. He was spared the game in which New York scored the first five goals en route to a 6-2 win. It was the first case of an opponent scoring four goals versus Montreal before Jeff Skinner did so one week ago, as Brock Nelson managed that feat in the first contest.
Nelson leads the team in goals three-and-a-half months later, but as is the case for the Canadiens, the Islanders have struggled with their offensive game, averaging 2.45 goals per contest. They are a good defensive team once again, which has become the identity of the team, but they’ve still been outscored 26 times in 44 games this season.
Starting their season with 13 games on the road as they waited for their arena to be finished, the prevailing thought was that they just needed the stability of their home rink to start moving up the Metropolitan standings, but they’ve only managed a .500 points percentage at UBS Arena, barely an improvement over the early road results. Even though they have several games in hand on their competition, they’re too far back to challenge for a playoff spot, and instead are destined for the draft-lottery ranks of the NHL.
The team wasn’t built for this type of season. The majority of the Islanders’ forward corps consists of players signed for at least two more years. Lou Lamoriello tried to bolster the club with some veterans in the twilight of their careers, but the team just hasn’t received enough from its stars to be competitive. Now their only real rental players are those veterans who are 37 years old or more, leaving little opportunity to at least gain draft picks from this lost season without shipping out core roster players.
Montreal took advantage of a Blues team in a bit of a slump on Thursday, and they’re now catching an Islanders team that seems to have reality setting in regarding their fate for 2021-22. Even their defensive posture has begun to slump recently, with four losses by multiple goals in their last six outings. The Canadiens could ride their upward trend to another win this afternoon, and it would be the first time all season they’ve strung wins together.