What the heck: With the addition of Juraj Slafkovsky, Montreal now has a front line

With linemates Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, this could be the number one trio to carry us through the decade.

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The Canadiens actually have a genuine front line.

You’re probably saying, ‘Yeah, a lot of other teams do it, too.’ And you would be right. But the Habs have spent much of this century searching for a front line that can actually be called that without us all laughing.

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Remember Guy Lafleur’s infamous prank, sometime in the middle of Marc Bergevin’s hellish years?

“There is no first line, second line, third line. I think they have four fourth lines,” said Lafleur, a teammate who was rarely ashamed to criticize the team that was his home during his glory years.

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Okay, so La Flor was being a little harsh, but he wasn’t entirely wrong. In the past, the Canadiens kept naming people number one centers when they simply weren’t true number one centers. Saku Koivu was a great player through and through, but he wasn’t the top-line center who could take you to the Promised Land.

Scott Gomez certainly wasn’t. David Desharnais? Please. But Nick Suzuki is. He now has 12 goals and 34 points in 38 games this season and that’s playing on a team that has remarkably few goals, and with teammate Cole Caufield not scoring like he used to.

It’s not that people are down on Suzuki, but the captain doesn’t get the praise he deserves for his consistently high-caliber performance. He has 87 goals and 243 points in 329 career games spanning four and a half seasons. That doesn’t make him the best center back in the league, but he is very good in that position. That’s something that hasn’t been said about a Canadiens player since Pierre Turgeon was traded for Réjean Houle in 1996 after just one season with the CH for reasons no one understood except Reggie.

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The real reason why the first line has been formed is the arrival of Juraj Slafkovsky on the right wing. Suzuki, Caufield and Slaf have been together for about a month and, during that time, the Slovakian winger’s game has improved dramatically. Arguably their best game of the year was that thrilling 4-3 win over the Stars in Dallas on Tuesday.

That was an incredible game for the Slafanator. He moved along the boards to grab the puck and made a beautiful pass to set up Suze’s goal. On Caufield’s goal, the crucial play was Slafkovsky keeping the puck in Zone O. He’s the real deal. He may not be a star, but he is a good power forward.

Caufield is the member of the trio that worries me the most. Yes, the diminutive right winger scored goals in three straight games at the end of a long journey, but he still looks nothing like the sniper who put the puck in the back of the net 26 times in 46 games last season. . I believe in Caufield, but there is something wrong with the picture right now. He still has a respectable 27 points in 38 games, but if he finishes the season with just over 20 goals, that has to be considered a disappointment.

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The best news is that Suzuki and Caufield are signed to long-term deals, and presumably Slafkovsky will be as well. So this could be a first line that could take us throughout the decade. That’s great.

Canadians Jake Allen looks behind him at the puck in the net after the Sabers scored during the second period.
Canadiens Jake Allen looks behind him after being scored by Sabers’ Jeff Skinner during the second period Thursday night at the Bell Center. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

A trio of goalkeepers: Having three goaltenders was a disaster and a distraction in the 1985-86 season, until a young man named Patrick Roy got the top job, and it remains a disaster and a distraction in the 2023-2024 season. It’s time for this to end.

And there is a simple solution. You tell Jake Allen “thank you very much for your faithful service” and finally give Samuel Montembeault the number one designation with Cayden Primeau as his backup. The team recently signed Monty to a three-year, $9.45 million contract extension, clearly making him their man between the pipes. And Monty is playing like a number one hot guy. Did you see him on Tuesday in Dallas? Unreal. So why do they continue to play with this carousel of three goalkeepers?

When I say this, people keep saying, ‘Yeah, but they have to show Allen to be able to trade him.’ That’s absurd. The other 31 general managers know very well who and what Allen is. If they want it, and someone will in the next few weeks, all they have to do is call Kent Hughes. Also, let’s be real here. You’re not going to get a king’s ransom for a 33-year-old backup goalie with a 3.52 goals-against average.

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