When Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St-Louis was asked about the injuries before Tuesday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, he focused on the opportunities it would provide to others to grab a chair.
Jesse Ylönen, who has been with the team for about a week, started the game next to Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, and played close to 12 minutes at even strength with them. Injuries are not only offering Ylönen a chance, but veterans are being pushed. Internal competition is strong in Montreal right now. There’s a lot of ice time up for grabs, and Ylönen has pushed for more and earned it.
Evgenii Dadonov’s strong play of late could be due to him getting used to the system, but it could also be him pushing for more. Veteran players like Dadonov are not only playing for a contract as he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, but if you want to be on a contender and take part in the playoffs, your play will dictate whether teams want you. He played well before his two-goal game, but there’s no replacement for production.
He’s also seeing Ylönen who has earned the top spot, and players like Rem Pitlick and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard who will push for more time and will have every opportunity to do so.
On defence, the Canadiens have had an internal competition all year, with the young rookies pushing each other and when fully healthy, a rotation had to be formed. Internal competition and players pushing is a great equalizer despite the injuries.
It’s hard for a team in the position the Canadiens are in to get up for games, but with chairs open and available, it’s forcing everyone to push. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Canadiens have been playing as well as they have against two very good teams in the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.
There’s no sign of an imminent influx of returning players, which means that the competition will continue. While we tend to look at it from the angle of young players pushing for more and making the most of their chance, there are also a lot of veteran players now looking over their shoulder and not wanting to get passed.
The result is a team that is pushing hard, and winning games they weren’t expected to.