A lot of the talk about the future of the Montreal Canadiens’ offence hinges on Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, and Kirby Dach. Those three players were together on a line for most of last year (at least most of the time they were all healthy). This year, the team has decided they are stronger with Dach also playing centre, which means they would start the season on separate units.
After a few different combinations, the Canadiens opened the season Wednesday in Toronto with Dach, Alex Newhook, and Juraj Slafkovský. They saw a heavy dose of the Leafs’ second unit of John Klingberg, Jake McCabe, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Max Domi. They won that matchup easily.
They were on the ice together for seven minutes (against McCabe and Klingberg) and around five minutes against the forwards. They had over 70% of the shots at goal, 60% of the shots on goal, and outscored Toronto 2-0 in those minutes at five-on-five. The matchup wins didn’t end there, and on a night where the Canadiens were heavily outshot (although it was closer at five-on-five), that line controlled the puck more than their opponent when they were on the ice.
Providing the Canadiens with a second attacking line that can win matchups like that is a huge difference. Secondary scoring will be the difference between this team relying too heavily on their top line, and simply not scoring enough to win games. Largely, the team is the same as it was a year ago. The main difference is Newhook being added, but a secondary difference is that Juraj Slafkovský has come in looking like a different player. Turning the Canadiens’ big three into a big five goes a significant way in how successful the rebuild gets. If teams have to start thinking about defending this line more heavily, it would open up things for Suzuki and Caufield and vice versa.
Newhook won’t score two goals a game for the entire season, but it was a good start for a player who a lot of people started to write off offensively. If he can be a top-six scorer instead of a top-nine one, it makes the trade to bring him in look significantly better.
Dach and Slafkovský had chemistry in pre-season, and adding Newhook has made it even better. The three players seem to know where they’ll be as evidenced as the multiple chances created from Slafkovský’s backhand passes. It’s already getting some people thinking up a name for the trio on social media, and my personal favourite was Run D-N-Ský (pronounce the last part like you would say his name).
It was only one game, and the rebuild is far from complete, but it was as good as a start as you could imagine from three players the Canadiens need to take steps this season.