Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis isn’t in the business of instant gratification; he’s looking to teach, and that takes time.
After a 3-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs where only a couple of youngsters were able to stand out, St. Louis doubled down on his coaching philosophy and called for patience. After all, it was a very young and inexperienced lineup on the ice that wasn’t aided by the underperformance of some veterans.
He felt the team began to find its bearings in the third period, as the game opened up a little more; but it was the small details that concerned St. Louis the most.
“I don’t think it’s about taking more chances. Like I said, in the 2nd period, we had good intentions, but a lack of execution that led to turnovers,” said St. Louis on how he looks at the way players. “Turnovers don’t bother when the intentions are excellent. It’s when you start making turnover after turnover when it wasn’t the best play to make, especially at the end of your shift; that’s not what I like as a coach. You need to calculate the risk/reward factor.”
In the past, coaches would have looked at the many turnovers in this game and quickly lamented the lack of execution, and punished the prospect for trying risky plays. However, for St. Louis, he’s not looking to see perfection or safe plays on the ice; he’s looking to teach good habits and promote creativity.
“We’re throwing different concepts at them every game, and it’s a lot for young guys to grasp. We’re trying not to overwhelm them and coach them along the way,” said St. Louis about his process with the young players. “If you expect immediate understanding and execution, then you don’t understand what teaching is.”
Those are a very strong shift from the usual rhetoric directed at youngsters in this city. St. Louis is looking to teach lasting habits and ways of thinking that will help these youngsters better integrate within their system. Some players, like Owen Beck or Emil Heineman, already play a style that is very similar to St. Louis’ vision for his team. While others, like Juraj Slafkovsky or Justin Barron, might need more time to fully grasp the finer details in order to optimize their game.
Ultimately, it remains a process; not a race to instant gratification. Past iterations of the Montreal Canadiens often sought the instant gratification of strong preseason performances as a means of self-assurance, but St. Louis is playing a long game here.
A Learning Process
When asked to discuss how his teaching has been going, one player that came up quickly was Filip Mesar, who was likely the most effective forward in the game. Instead of promoting his play, it was rather a promotion of Mesar’s ability to process tutelage and quickly incorporate it into his game.
“You can see the talent he has,” said St. Louis of Mesar. “We show them how we do things, and there’s a lot of players that need to learn and incorporate those teachings in their game. When it’s going to be their (Mesar’s) time to jump to the NHL, they’ll know exactly what to do.”
Mesar unknowingly returned the compliment a few minutes prior, when he discussed how much he appreciated learning from St. Louis and how it’s impacted his game in such a short time.
“Coach St. Louis is a great guy, which helps a lot. During practice or a game, he tells you what you do well or wrong so you can get better,” said Mesar of his experience with St. Louis so far. “I’m getting some good experience from him and I’m really glad for it.”
The growing pains of a true rebuild are tedious and require a significant amount of patience and discipline to be executed correctly. St. Louis’ view on the process of learning and player growth seems to line up with those parameters, as he’s looking to bring the best out of his players.
That may take more than a few preseason games or even an 82-game season, and that’s normal. It’s simply a change in mentality that the organization and fans will need to become more accustomed to with Professor St. Louis around.
Gone are the days of instant gratification that have led to poor developmental choices. Learning is the goal and school is now effectively in session.