When Martin St-Louis praised the play of his top line last week, he noted Kirby Dach’s skillset would lead to more scoring opportunities for the team’s best offensive weapons: Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield.
“Good players can determine the best plays to make on the ice, rather than just make a play,” he said. “It helps Cole and Suzuki to have more space and have continued offensive-zone pressure.”
And while St-Louis is certainly correct Dach’s transition game leads to sustained offensive pressure, and his playmaking gives his linemates more options, it should be noted that Caufield and Suzuki are returning the favour.
Take the fifth goal of Wednesday night’s game against the Canucks, for example:
LE DACH-TEUR EST LÀ!
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) November 10, 2022
You’ll note the play arose due to solid forechecking by Caufield and Dach, as well as perfect anticipation by Suzuki, and we’ll talk more about that later, but the play started a little earlier than what’s shown in the highlight clip.
Following a botched 2-on-1 that involved Dach and Gallagher, the puck is lost behind the Canucks net. The Canadiens are actually in the middle of a line change, but Gallagher is stuck deep.
Suzuki takes over forechecking duties, placing himself in the only passing lane that could lead to a controlled breakout for the Canucks.
This allows Dach time to pressure the puck carrier and allows Gallagher to head to the bench for a change.
The puck is filtered to Hoglander, who has very few, if any, options for an outlet pass.
Suzuki has once again shut down the middle of the ice, denying the Canucks any opportunity to build up speed through the neutral zone.
As the play continues, Dach keeps up fantastic pressure and resumes his duties as the F1, leaving the Canucks with only one option for a pass.
Once again, the only passing option left open is a player skating toward his own goalie, which mitigates any risk for a quick, controlled breakout.
Here’s where the effort pays off.
At this point, the puck carrier, Jake Rathbone, had been on the ice for almost a minute, the vast majority of which he spent pinned in his own zone.
Exhausted, fatigue sets in.
He simply wants to get off the ice and finally sees an opportunity for an outlet pass.
As the famous poet Admiral Ackbar once said, “It’s a trap!”
Suzuki quickly closes the gap and easily intercepts the puck. The Canadiens now have puck control in the offensive zone against a Canucks defensive pairing that’s gasping for air.
This is when Suzuki’s intelligence truly shines brightest.
He needs to buy time.
Remember, Gallagher, who was deep in the Canucks zone, just made a line change. Caufield is on the ice, but he’s not in a position to accept a pass.
Suzuki uses his body to safeguard the puck, buying precious seconds for Caufield’s eventual appearance.
Caufield makes it to the offensive zone but forgets to hit the brakes and overshoots his landing.
Suzuki is now being pressed by two Canucks players, but his stick is free. He’s angled himself to be able to not only see the potential pass options in the offensive zone but also to have the best odds to make contact with the puck in the scrum.
Suzuki wins the puck battle and shovels the puck into the corner, where Caufield steals Tyler Myers’ lunch money, which allows Suzuki to regain control of the puck and feed Dach for his second goal of the game.
Tyler Myers loses the puck off a Cole Caufield hit and Kirby Dach buries his second of the game! pic.twitter.com/VBKBskSZHs
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 10, 2022
Of course, it’s fun to watch a player outmuscle an opponent that’s literally a foot taller than him, but Suzuki’s excellent play, which put an onus on stopping the Canucks’ transition game, was the true highlight of the play.
Hockey IQ is a term we throw around loosely, but in Suzuki’s case, there’s no doubt he’s usually a few steps ahead of his opponents, as evidenced by his play on Wednesday night.
He used foresight and perfect defensive positioning to exhaust the Canucks players, which then forced them into a stressful situation that led to a series of mistakes.
Mistakes that Suzuki anticipated and exploited perfectly due to his greatest asset: intelligence.