Amid the Montreal Canadiens early season struggles, Martin St. Louis made the bold choice to split up Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki.
The move was made in an effort to spread the offence more evenly throughout the top six. Lacklustre starts for Alex Newhook and Josh Anderson also factored into the change.
But the experiment hasn’t gone well, and it seems inevitable that the duo will reunite.
What this did was take away the elite goal scorer’s number-one playmaker. Caufield scored an overtime goal versus the Red Wings but has since gone scoreless in the last five games.
Juraj Slafkovsky has benefitted from playing on the wing opposite Caufield, and his production has improved slightly, but his underlying numbers have suffered.
With all due respect to Christian Dvorak, his production level paints the picture of a centre that can’t necessarily complement two talented wingers.
As for Suzuki, he has been rewarded with two struggling wingers. While I can see that an attempt is being made to integrate Newhook into the top six, so far it has come at a large cost. Suzuki has done his earnest, but truthfully the line hasn’t clicked. The recent addition of Gallagher to that trio may spark some sort of semblance of sustainable offence, but it’s a hail-mary attempt at best.
Suzuki and Caufield have come along side-by-side, and they have found success together. To be noted, in their young careers, they helped steer the Canadiens ship to the Stanley Cup final in 2021. If you want success, it seems obvious, but you go with what has worked.
New Montreal Canadiens Top Line
If head coach Martin St-Louis is looking for a spark on the top line, he may want to turn to the youngest player in the lineup, with the important caveat of reuniting his two best players.
Slafkovsky has played well in recent games, and having a centre of Suzuki’s ilk working the puck around the offensive zone should increase his scoring opportunities. Add goal-scorer Caufield back in the mix, and this line has a little bit of everything: size, playmaking, and scoring.
It should also be noted that Suzuki is one of the most productive players in the NHL from a playmaking standpoint, but the lack of finishing talent among his wingers in recent weeks has not yielded much in terms of goals. Furthermore, both Suzuki and Caufield have seen a significant downtick in underlying numbers since they were split up.
And while it’s true the two have struggled to yield good underlying numbers in the past, it’s important to note that for the first time in a long time, Suzuki and Caufield were producing sustainable offence before St-Louis split them up.
Primary scoring chance assist leaders pic.twitter.com/tcpEAptg8R
— Meghan Chayka (@MeghanChayka) November 16, 2023
Sean Monahan’s hockey sense and brilliant two-way play would work nicely with a speedy, tenacious winger. Newhook fits the description, and adding Brendan Gallagher to the mix could make for a line that is not fun to play against.
Pushing Anderson to the third line puts him in a great position to wear down the opposition’s second or third defence pair. Tanner Pearson plays the game the right way and plays the game the right way in all three zones. Add Dvorak down the middle, and you have a hard-working line, that with some chemistry could provide the team with a do-it-all line that will grind down opponents.
Balancing out the lines isn’t an exact science. And it’s not for a lack of trying, but for whatever reason, certain players just have the ability to make their linemates better. Monahan and Suzuki both possess that ability, and they would be a safe bet to help the group of snake-bitten Habs wingers.
All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted. Via Natural Stat Trick.