There’s no denying Jake Evans started the 2022-23 season on the wrong foot.
However, in recent games, the Montreal Canadiens centre has found another gear, leading his team by example by displaying the type of intensity that led to Evans earning a roster spot with the Canadiens in 2019-20.
“It’s about starting on the right track,” explained Evans. “Not getting behind it, push for that first goal.”
Despite a strong start against the Nashville Predators on Thursday night, which saw Evans’ line take five shots on net during their first shift, the Canadiens once again allowed their opponents to score the first goal of the game.
But unlike previous games, the Canadiens immediately bounced back, starting with a great breakaway scoring chance for Evans, who came very close to tying the game.
A few moments later, Evans streamed into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1, earning the goal he had worked so hard to create since the drop of the puck.
Jake Evans’ goal tonight pic.twitter.com/X0Nf0CDp6M
— Habs Fan TV (@habsfantv_) January 13, 2023
Evans was millimetres away from earning a second goal a few moments later thanks to yet another individual high-danger scoring chance, his third of the game.
Jake Evans nearly hits the ESPN top ten and gets absolutely stonewalled by the post. pic.twitter.com/dC95uirceM
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 13, 2023
But Evans’ resurgence isn’t simply the result of one good start, although that’s certainly part of the equation.
Throughout the last four games, there’s been a notable uptick in engagement from Evans all over the ice, not to mention an elevated level of emotion as the Canadiens traversed the most difficult stretch of their season.
His frustration boiled over in the loss to the Kraken, with Evans engaging in his third fight since joining the NHL.
Evans is not a fighter, nor should he be fighting given his history with concussions, but he was sending a very message to his teammates, a message that put an onus on giving an honest effort, even when the chips are down.
I think Jake Evans is pretty much fed up with the way tonight has gone pic.twitter.com/qFSNXlmkde
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 10, 2023
With four points in his last four games, Evans’ hard work has paid off, and it’s not just a matter of a few more pucks bouncing his way.
When Martin St-Louis decided to shake things up and play Evans alongside struggling wingers Joel Armia and Evgenii Dadonov, all three players suddenly showed a lot more intensity, and with it, much better underlying numbers.
Not only have they controlled almost 60 percent of the shots during their shifts, and thanks to their affinity for creating high-danger chances, something all three players failed to do in the first 30 games of the line has an impressive expected goals percentage of 73.5%.
In other words, they’ve been excellent, showing instant chemistry from the very first shift.
“It’s just about being engaged physically and mentally,” said Evans. “It’s a pretty easy recipe. Getting a hit, making some simple plays from there.”
There’s been a well-deserved increase in ice time, but Evans revealed there’s another significant factor at play.
It’s a matter of pride.
“We’re all just hungry to fix our game,” said Evans. “None of us were happy with how the season has gone so far. We’ve been pretty bought-in recently, and meshing well, feeding off each other. We’re bringing some good energy.”
The Big Picture
Not only has Evans’ leadership alleviated some of the pressure faced by the team’s young stars, but it should also make life a little easier for Kent Hughes.
Evans’ work ethic seems to be contagious, particularly among the team’s many veterans.
Suddenly, Joel Armia has four points in his last four games. Evgenii Dadonov has also hit the scoresheet with more frequency. Jonathan Drouin is coming off a three-point effort, his best game of the year.
That’s not to say the handful of great games will lead to an abundance of trade offers, but with the NHL trade deadline quickly approaching, any teams recently scouting the Canadiens will have seen the aforementioned players at their very best.
All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via Natural Stat Trick.