“I have no animosity or anything like that towards them,” Hammond said after Saturday’s win. “It’s natural when you play one of your former teams you want to win and I’m happy we were able to do that tonight.”
Hammond wasn’t the only former Senator to play for the Canadiens as Chris Wideman also made his return.
“I think both of us were pretty adamant that it would be a little sweeter to get the win against them,” Hammond said.
Only a few months earlier, they also had a goaltender who badly wanted to win a game, Jake Allen in St. Louis. The Canadiens allowed a goal in the opening 1:08, and lost 4-1. It’s hard to consider everything that has changed since then. The Canadiens won’t go undefeated the rest of the year, but the main difference with the team now compared to even a few weeks ago is that they have reason to smile.
There are more important things for this season than ensuring you have the highest draft pick possible. Drafting first overall and having the choice to pick Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky, or anyone else doesn’t matter if Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield don’t develop. Losing development time this year due to the losing environment would have set the team back long-term. Having Suzuki and Caufield grow is worth so much more than the difference between the first and fifth pick in the upcoming draft.
That takes us back to Hammond. The expectations were low for him, and for Samuel Montembeault, when he was acquired. They have both exceeded expectations, but the opportunity provided to Hammond is exactly the breath of fresh air that has been given to this team since Dominique Ducharme was fired.
It’s hard not to feel good when you see a player genuinely just happy to be in the NHL. The fact that his wife and kid seem to think that he stole Youppi’s look is just the icing on the cake. There is something to be said about not taking any time in the NHL for granted.
The team has a fresh outlook on their games. It’s about growth and progression. The wins that have come don’t hurt, either. The criticisms regarding Martin St. Louis when he was hired were his lack of experience, or that Hall of Fame players don’t often become good coaches.
It’s clear now that people discarded the experience he did have. St. Louis isn’t your typical Hall of Fame player. His entire career wasn’t something that came easy to him. He had to overcome and work for everything he got. He wasn’t handed every opportunity. If he made mistakes as a player, it wasn’t brushed aside, it could have meant the end of his chance.
His Hall of Fame credentials aren’t what is making him look like the perfect coach for the team right now, it’s the road he took to get there. I’m not sure why it took St. Louis to change the mindset of this team, but it’s clear it has already had a positive impact beyond simply the results.
The players that the Canadiens need to step up have stepped up. The important pieces, the pieces that will be the core of any future success this team has in the medium term.
The Western Canadian trip coming up won’t be easy — it never is, after all — but the one thing that has come across over this winning streak is that even when the losses return to the Canadiens, it won’t be a losing environment any more.
It looked like the digging to rock-bottom this season was never going to end, but now it seems like the climb back up has begun.