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Canadiens Highlights

Slafkovsky Shines, Caufield Scores In Canadiens Win Vs. Sharks



Montreal Canadiens Slafkovsky and Caufield

The Montreal Canadiens continued their West Coast tour on Friday by facing the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Centre.

Despite missing practice on Thursday, veteran Sean Monahan was in uniform, whereas goaltender Cayden Primeau was given his fourth start of the season for the Habs. Defenceman Gustav Lindstrom received a promotion to the second pairing with Kaiden Guhle, whereas Johnathan Kovaevic was slotted on the third pairing with newcomer Jayden Struble.

It wasn’t the prettiest win by any means, but the Canadiens managed to emerge with a 3-2 shootout win.

If you’re looking for more Habs content once you’re done with our recap, don’t forget to join me for Game Over, which goes live following every game. Today our guest is Swiss hockey expert Thibaud Chatel, who will give us some insight into David Reinbacher’s development. Here’s the link to join the podcast.

Before we start discussing the game, we should note that Arber Xhekaj, who was listed as day-to-day, was added to the injured reserve midway through the game. Consequently, forward Joel Armia was recalled from the Laval Rocket.

Let’s dive right into the highlights!

Prime Opportunity

Johnathan Kovacevic isn’t having a great season when it comes to his decision-making. It seems like his marching orders include a directive to join the rush more often, something head coach Martin St-Louis said he’d like to see Kovacevic do with more regularity earlier this season.

But one of the main reasons Kovacevic was so effective last year was that he kept things simple, and acted as an insurance policy on most nights for Jordan Harris by playing within his limits.

This year, he’s pinching a lot, but the results are far from encouraging.

One of those ill-timed pinches took place early in the game, but Cayden Primeau was up to the task.

Speaking of Primeau, he did face the Detroit Red Wings earlier in the season, but his two other starts took place against the Vegas Golden Knights and the New Jersey Devils, two Stanley Cup contenders. The game against the struggling Sharks was a perfect chance for the young goalie to show general managers around the league what he could bring to the table for their organization.

MUST READ: The Pros And Cons Of Trading Each Montreal Canadiens Goaltender

The Habs had a 9-4 shot lead midway through the period, but a Mike Matheson penalty led to a momentum swing and the Sharks entered the first intermission with an 11-9 shot advantage in shots.

Primeau’s positioning wasn’t perfect, but he did make several nice saves on the penalty kill to keep the score at zeros across the board.

Shark Bite

The Sharks struck first thanks to some questionable defensive work by the Canadiens. Not only did the forwards fail to cover any of their players, but Tanner Pearson had a prime opportunity to avoid the entire situation when the puck was on his blade just a few seconds before the turnover.

You don’t expect Pearson to score every night, but he has to make fewer mistakes if he’s to stay in the lineup while his offence has stalled.

Juraj Slafkovsky led the charge in an attempt to swing the momentum to the Canadiens’ side. The youngest player on the roster may not have picked the right location for his shot during the 2v1, but the mere fact that he shot is an encouraging sign.

He also fed Cole Caufield with a great pass shortly after the scoring chance, yet another sign that Slafkovsky is getting more comfortable with each passing game. In recent games, he’s been one of the best forwards on the ice. Now, much of that has to do with the rest of the forwards struggling to find their rhythm, but in rebuilding seasons you take any good you can from frustrating stretches.

The Sharks doubled their lead shortly thereafter, thanks to another penalty from the indisciplined Habs. This time around it was Justin Barron in the box while the Sharks took over the momentum.

William Eklund scored a very nice goal, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Primeau was at fault for this one.

More than anything, it was rather embarrassing that the worst team in the league took a comfortable 2-0 lead without playing very well against the Canadiens.

The Sharks, who were yet to outshoot a team during a game this year, held a 21-16 shot advantage by the time they doubled their score. Martin St-Louis is a great motivator, but his in-game strategies leave a lot to be desired, as evidenced by how his team was outplayed significantly by the Sharks for the better part of two periods.

Defensive Impact

Remember how I said Kovacevic needs to play within his limits? Well, forget everything, because he proved me wrong in the dying minutes of the third period by scoring the opening goal for the Habs.

It was a fantastic shot, and we have to give credit to Struble for selling the play perfectly. That forced Blackwood to re-adjust, which is exactly what you need to do if you want to improve your scoring odds. It was Struble’s first point in the NHL, a well-deserved reward for a player who has played with the utmost confidence since joining the Canadiens. It was also Caufield’s 100th NHL point.

A stick tap goes out to Slafkovsky, who created a fair amount of chaos in front of the net.

Welcome Back, Caufield

Caufield, who has been getting a lot of great scoring chances despite his goalless streak, put an end to his offensive woes early in the third period via a great shot that was always going to find the back of the net.

It was just Caufield’s first goal 5v5 goal of the season, which is a little odd since he has a history of scoring the majority of his goals during even-strength play.

Regardless, the goal is sure to motivate the young winger, and hopefully serve as a rallying point for a team that lacks offensive prowess.

We also should note that Kaiden Guhle had a great defensive backcheck shortly before the goal which shut down a prime Sharks scoring chance.

In addition, thanks to his great breakout pass, Slafkovsky registered his fourth point in his last five games on the play. St-Louis even used him in the dying minutes of the game, as well as during 3v3 play in overtime and the shootout, a sign that the head coach is finally starting to trust his young forward.


Suzuki Speciality

Suzuki did his usual thing in the shootout, scoring a goal that looked way too easy when you consider he’s facing an NHL goaltender.

Jesse Ylonen, who had been stapled to the bench since the end of the second period, then gave the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 shootout win thanks to his underrated hands.

The Montreal Canadiens are back in action on Saturday. They will face the Los Angeles Kings, with the puck drop scheduled for 4 pm ET.

All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted. Via Natural Stat Trick.