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Montreal Canadiens

Game Notes: Suzuki Hits Ground Running, Caufield Keeps Scoring

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Montreal Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki

MONTREAL — With just eight veterans in the lineup, the Montreal Canadiens were facing quite the challenge on Tuesday night versus the veteran-laden Ottawa Senators.

The Canadiens rallied late, but it was all for naught, as they dropped their sixth game of the preseason, 5-4.

Welcome Back

Nick Suzuki marked his return to the lineup with a jaw-dropping individual effort that quickly reinvigorated a rather sleepy Canadiens team in the second period.

He gave two Senators players the ole ‘how do you do?’ while setting up Joel Armia with one of the easiest goals he’ll ever score.

If the Montreal Canadiens were a car, Suzuki would be the engine. And the tires. And maybe the steering wheel. And perhaps the transmission.

Without him, the lineup simply doesn’t go very far. His ability to flip the script on a dime and shift the momentum to the offensive zone was a sight for sore eyes.

All Eyes On Slafkovsky

The headline heading into Tuesday’s game was Juraj Slafkovsky’s promotion to the first line, alongside Suzuki and Cole Caufield.

Playing his second game in as many nights, first-overall pick Slafkovsky showed clear signs of fatigue. He got caught out of position on the Senators’ second game goal, but more noticeably, he struggled to make accurate passes, particularly in the offensive zone. His balance seemed off as well, resulting in several spills throughout the first two periods.

It’s hard to fathom the amount of pressure Slafkovsky is facing at the moment, not only due to the inevitable pressure faced by the first player to hear his name at the Draft but also due to the Canadiens’ long history of struggling to develop high draft picks.

He did, however, show flashes of why Kent Hughes chose to invest in his long-term development. His wingspan is a great weapon in the defensive zone, allowing him to break up plays with the greatest of ease.

He has good offensive instinct, as evidenced by his ability to find open ice in high-danger areas. If he can improve his timing and decision-making, his scoring opportunities will quickly multiply.

Third Amigo

Caufield was up to his old tricks: taking a lot of shots and finding a lot of open ice in high-danger areas.

He’s finding a lot of open ice, particularly on the power play, which may very well become a strength for the Canadiens if Caufield keeps his shot rate up throughout the regular season. He can’t single-handedly fix their woeful power play, but he can become one of the best players in the league on the man-advantage.

Beck Watch

It wouldn’t be a proper Montreal Canadiens preseason game without at least one great play by newly-signed prospect Owen Beck.

Front Runner

Kaiden Guhle’s ability to close the gap due to his anticipation and active stick will serve him quite well if, or rather once he makes the NHL. His fantastic skating allows him to get back into position whenever he does cheat, which happens on occasion, but more often than not he makes the right read at the blue line.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Guhle is left off the opening night roster, even if he did get caught out of position on the Senators’ fifth goal.

Guhle’s likely defensive partner to start the year, David Savard, stood out as the best player against the Senators. His play in the offensive zone was fantastic, leading to a great goal, but more importantly, he broke up several high-danger scoring plays in the defensive zone. His leadership was also on display, communicating with his younger teammates during every break in play.

Defensive Woes

While players like Guhle, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj continue to inch closer to the NHL, Corey Schueneman’s stock has dropped significantly. He’s found himself out of position in the defensive zone during many of his preseason shifts. In a pure meritocracy, Schueneman would not have a spot on the opening night roster.

Xhekaj, on the other hand, is doing everything he can to convince the Canadiens he deserves to stick around.

The Canadiens have two preseason games left on the docket, both of which will take in Eastern Canada against the Ottawa Senators.

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STEPHEN MICHAELS

Hughes and Gorton are doing the right things with the team. Martin St Louis as coach is something the NHL has never seen before. He is teaching all the young players how to play in the NHL. His pstience with them is unmatchec compared to other nhl head coaches

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