Game 10: Montreal Canadiens @ Arizona Coyotes
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For 65 minutes, the Montreal Canadiens stormed the fortress, pushing the defending Stanley Cup champions harder than anyone expected. Unfortunately, and perhaps poetically, the house still took home the pot in the end, leaving the Habs with a consolation prize and the praise of their head coach. Now, as is the case for so many, it’s time for the Canadiens to leave Paradise with the lessons of a few days in Vegas and head to school.
Arizona State University is no stranger to professional sports, with the Tempe campus’s Sun Devil Stadium hosting the NFL’s Cardinals for over 15 years. Despite this, few would have predicted that the NHL would come knocking at ASU’s doors. Still, there may be a silver lining to playing at the 4,600-seat Mullett Arena until at least 2025. For most prospects making the NCAA-to-NHL transition, the bright lights and deafening crowds of professional hockey take some time to get used to. Logan Cooley, coming from the University of Minnesota’s 10,257-capacity Mariucci Arena, didn’t have this problem.
Joking aside, Cooley deserves all the credit in this world for starting his NHL career with seven points in nine games — a number that already puts him into second among the 2022 draft class. It’s also a number that has Canadiens observers worrying about Juraj Slafkovský, stuck on a solitary assist and looking more at sea since Kirby Dach’s departure from the lineup.
However, there are more statistical similarities than contrasts between the first and third overall selections from 2022. Prior to Arizona’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, both had a single five-on-five point to their names so far this season, with Cooley’s other five all coming with the man advantage. Both averaged just a shade above 12 minutes of five-on-five ice time per game. The two were virtually tied when it comes to expected goals and scoring-chance generation, while it’s actually Slafkovský who holds a slight advantage in shot attempts, shots on goal, and high-danger chances. The similarities even stretch to deployment and team composition: without Jason Zucker on his wing, Cooley is currently adapting to a bottom-six role, while Slafkovský’s travails with Josh Anderson instead of Dach are impossible to miss.
|49.1% (18th)||Scoring-chances-for %||51.3% (12th)|
|3.00 (20th)||Goals per game||3.38 (11th)|
|3.11 (15th)||Goals against per game||2.63 (7th)|
|20.0% (15th)||PP%||26.5% (7th)|
|75.0% (24th)||PK%||74.1% (27th)|
|2-0-0||Head-to-Head Record (22-23)||0-1-1|
Just as Montreal’s visit to Seattle turned into the Shane Wright show, Cooley will inevitably have the brightest spotlight on him on Thursday. But the Coyotes are far from a one-man show. The offence is led by franchise cornerstone Clayton Keller, Nicks Schmaltz and Bjugstad, as well as 2023 Calder candidate Matias Maccelli provide top-six support, while Barrett Hayton — somewhat forgotten now that Jesperi Kotkaniemi is no longer a Canadien — is playing almost 20 minutes a night (although zero points in nine games isn’t exactly a vote of confidence for that kind of usage).
On the blue line, Sean Durzi has been a revelation. Traded by the Los Angeles Kings to Arizona for a second-round pick this off-season, Durzi has backed up last year’s 40 points in 72 games with a near point-per-game performance so far. He lines up with J.J. Moser, who had a surprising 31-point sophomore campaign last season and might be the second-most important player on the Coyotes blue line. Behind them are Matt Dumba, Juuso Välimäki, and Troy Stecher — three players who are good value for their potential to optimists and simply warm bodies meant to fill up the roster to pessimists. Karel Vejmelka is the Coyotes’ starting goaltender, but the Canadiens should expect to see backup Connor Ingram, since Vejmelka manned the pipes in Arizona’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Ducks last night.
Arizona was expected to make progress this season, with pundits and modelers putting them in the tier above the Canadiens — no longer basement-dwellers, but not ready for a serious playoff push. Nine games into the season, the Coyotes are playing according to form, more or less beating teams that they should beat and losing against contenders such as the Kings and New York Rangers.
The question for the Canadiens is what tier do they really belong in? If they want to prove that they’re legitimate playoff contenders, then out of Vegas, Arizona, and the St. Louis Blues — their three opponents on this western swing — these are the two points that they have to secure.