Just last game, there was a takeaway on this site about how there is still a lot of work to do with this Montreal Canadiens team. Sunday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers showed why it’s still OK to be optimistic.
Nick Suzuki scored twice, and Cole Caufield had the overtime winner and an assist. They are the two main reasons why this Canadiens turnaround can be quicker than a normal team that is last in the NHL. In Suzuki and Caufield, the Canadiens have two bonafide top-six offensive talents. Despite being 22 and 21 respectively, they are two of the stars of this Canadiens team.
They proved on Sunday that they don’t even have to play together. Most of Sunday’s game saw Suzuki with Mike Hoffman and Brendan Gallagher while Caufield played with Josh Anderson and Rem Pitlick (who also had a goal and an assist in the win).
Since Caufield returned from his COVID quarantine at the University of Wisconsin, he has been a different player and that coincided with the coaching change and more opportunity. It’s a perfect storm. When good players get good opportunities, they more often than not produce good results.
In Suzuki, the Canadiens have a future star. Not only has he set a career high in points despite the team having absolutely no offensive centre depth for most of the season, but he did it with 23 games remaining. Between injuries and departures, opponents often have no one else to key on, and yet he’s still thriving.
Of all the players on the Canadiens, only Ben Chiarot played more than Suzuki’s 23:27 against the Flyers. He’s played 22 minutes or more in each of the team’s last five games and nine of the 14 games since Martin St. Louis became interim head coach.
How many 22 year olds can say they have led their team in playoff scoring twice? How many 22 year olds are their coach’s first choice centre no matter what situation of the game? Power play? Yes. Tied? Yes. Up by a goal, down by a goal, shorthanded, it doesn’t matter and he’s showing no sense of slowing down.
It’s no wonder that players who have great hockey sense are thriving under St. Louis. Suzuki and Caufield are the subject of this article, but you can add Artturi Lehkonen, and even Pitlick to that equation. St. Louis is letting players be themselves, and it’s something that has been behind this team’s improved play.
Suzuki’s eight-year contract was always looking like it would be a bargain at some point, but that point could now be as soon as next season.
Even if the Canadiens keep winning after the trade deadline, and after they trade some additional pieces away, that’s fine. Even if they lose the number one odds in the draft lottery, or drop down in the top five, that’s fine.
The Canadiens aren’t winning games because their goaltender is stealing games. They aren’t winning games because their older veterans are carrying the team. They are winning games because their young stars are thriving, and that is only a good thing.