Five consecutive losses to start the Montreal Canadiens season. Never in the entire history of the league has a team that was in the final the previous year started the next season with six consecutive losses. Montreal didn’t want to be part of that record. So the first job was to score first. Montreal has been in the lead this season for just two minutes and 50 seconds. However, the Red Wings scored first, but from there, Montreal flipped over to win 6-1.
Finally, an opportunity to pick out some solid individual performances in this section. It’s been a routine for five games to find something high-quality, but on Saturday night, they got some mojo back.
It helps when you have a shooter in the lineup who has a chance to shoot. Mike Hoffman has a wicked shot and has used it his entire career effectively. Hoffman has six seasons with more than 20 goals topping 36, so he can put the puck on the net, and he is expected to do so here. He certainly showed skill in the first period with a rocket, and in the power play none other than. With the tally, the Canadiens actually moved ahead and scored two in a game for the first time this season.
The other top performer was Jonathan Drouin, who has been the team’s best striker in all six of the club’s games. In a team struggling to score goals with just four in the first five games, it’s a miracle what Drouin is doing here. With Drouin’s superb pass to Ben Chiarot, he scored four points on the season, then early in the second period, he was also on Christian Dvorak’s first goal for Montreal. It’s not a huge number, but when goals have been so hard to come by, Drouin’s five points from six games are a feel-good moment considering last year’s mental health breakdown. Drouin is back and it looks like he’s ready to play some of the best hockey of his career this season. Hopefully this continues.
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The fun continued into the second period as the sudden burst of goals continued. Mathieu Perreault’s shot shot into the top corner to make it 4-1 in Montreal, then two minutes later Cole Caufield went to Tyler Toffoli to Perreault and he had his second goal. Suddenly the once surly fans were chanting ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’. Four goals in five games, then five goals in two periods for Montreal. You try to discover hockey. I dare you.
Perreault joined Caufield and Toffoli as a line that appears on paper to be the team’s third line, but they were the best in this contest analytically by a large margin. Perreault seems to read the style of their extremes very well, and they showed good chemistry at first. Perreault completed his hat trick in the third period, and no one beat him as the Habs’ first three-goal game of the season. It was 6-1 when the faithful chanted Perreault’s name and enjoyed the night at the top of their lungs.
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Sami Niku has been in and out of the Winnipeg Jets lineup for four seasons. This year, general manager Marc Bergevin took a wheel in hopes that he could find another level this season. Niku is only 25 years old and, for a defender, he is still young compared to a forward. I could find a better game that Bergevin believes in. In his first of the Habs, Niku certainly did. Niku had two assists, and his analysis was outstanding, as he and Brett Kulak had 85 percent of goals expected for the match.
There were many others who shone in this one at the beginning and at the end.
Josh Anderson must have had three amazing looks and he didn’t even get a shot on the net, but when you get looks that good, you’ll find out. Brett Kulak just plays good hockey most nights without any fanfare. Nick Suzuki seemed to be gaining confidence after a rough start as he made a couple of pendants that were beautiful. Jake Evans had a good jump now that he has found a role that suits him more and that is the fourth center line, so his line pairings are better suited to what he can handle. All defensive pairings were better, as each had a puck move and a stay-at-home style player. Ben Chiarot and David Savard not together could be the best play of the season so far by the head coach. You can’t have two defenders stay home together or you just stay home too long.
Montreal’s next game is in Seattle on Tuesday night. Montreal must take advantage of this now. They cannot back down against the expansion team. They need to be respectable again in the next two weeks, or it will be extremely difficult to make a season out of this.
There were five games to fill this section completely, so only one to point out here considering how well the club played. Jeff Petry seems reluctant to pass Cole Caufield on the power play. Look to his left where Caufield is perfectly positioned to land his right shot, but Petry refused to pass the rookie. There are times when Petry looks to the left at Caufield who is alone, then chooses the right side where the opposition has three players waiting to defend. It’s weird why Petry doesn’t pass Caufield, who is a sniper at that spot for a reason: to take good soft passes and connect them.
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Ticket sales have been slow across Canada this season as we grapple with the safety of a new world living with a pandemic. Many people still do not feel generally safe from being in crowds. There has been little attendance. For example, there were less than 9,000 to see that exciting young club in Ottawa. But Montreal has struggled too, which is, of course, unusual. The Canadiens have accumulated season after season of 21,273, but this year they are not. Only 16,095 attended the Canadiens game Tuesday night against San Jose.
As Geoff Molson and his organization look forward to those heady days when everyone feels safe, this week they have shown their support for the community wonderfully. On Thursday night and also Saturday night, Molson donated 2,000 tickets to healthcare workers in the province who have done everything possible to keep us all safe in these difficult times.
Sante Quebec director Christian Dubé tweeted his message of support for Canadians tonight. Everyone appreciates the brave effort. Hopefully the worst of the pandemic is behind us and perhaps in the not too distant future we can all feel safe again and fill the Bell Center every night.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after every Canadiens game.
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