The Montreal Canadiens lost to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. The final score was 7-4 after the team fought back to tie the game 4-4 after trailing 4-1.
It was a game that showed their resilience and multiple things that made them a team in 31st place in the 32-team National Hockey League.
The Canadiens were outplayed, outshot, and out-chanced by the superior Florida Panthers. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that the Panthers are one of the better teams in the league.
I won’t focus on those numbers, though. I want to focus on something else, like 25:56 and 20:43. Those were the time on ice numbers for two of the three most-used Canadiens defenders on Tuesday night. They belonged to Alexander Romanov and Justin Barron.
The best way to learn how to play in the NHL is to play in the NHL. The top league is not a development league until it is. When fewer than 20 games are remaining, and the only thing you’re fighting for is the top spot in the draft lottery, priorities change.
There has been opportunity due to the trades of Ben Chiarot and Brett Kulak, plus the injury to Jeff Petry, but the fact remains that interim head coach Martin St. Louis is leaning on his young players. This is not only to see what you have for next season, but it is also for developing their entire careers.
Nick Suzuki once again approached 20 minutes and also reached the 50-point plateau for the first time in his career. He has been a point-per-game player since the coaching change. Cole Caufield had over 16 minutes. Rem Pitlick played over 18 minutes.
St. Louis has chosen to roll three lines, which is expected against a top team on the road. The Canadiens’ fourth line didn’t play very much, but they managed to get on the board all the same.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign of giving the young defencemen a load of work is that they don’t seem overwhelmed by the responsibility. If anything, in the case of Romanov, he has taken new steps that we had yet to see at the NHL level. Romanov and Barron have also worked directly with the team’s new director of hockey development Adam Nicholas.
Youngster Jordan Harris is with the team and will play his first NHL game shortly. We shouldn’t expect Harris to play 20 minutes immediately. After all, Barron played under 18 minutes in his team debut. We know that Harris will be put in a position to succeed, whether that means extra practice time before his debut or easier responsibilities.
The Canadiens are embarking on a new outlook, with new ideas and fresh implementation. People must look at the organization differently from how they viewed the recent past.
The team gives players increased roles because they show they can handle it. Mistakes will likely happen, but the Canadiens are building a new culture. Mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. Players are sent back out to correct mistakes instead of being asked to sit on the bench and think about what they had done.
The long-term outlook of the organization will be better because of it.