The Montreal Canadiens continue to flirt with a .500 record, thanks to the notable improvement of youngsters; something that should give fans some hope for the future.
Prior to their recent western road-trip, the Canadiens were playing some abysmal hockey, with a grand majority of the roster in scoring slumps and goaltenders left to fend for their own.
It was clear to anyone watching that the Canadiens looked like the bottom-five team as odds from many Ontarian bookies currently have projected to be by season’s end. In fact, the odds of the Habs finishing in the bottom five of the NHL standings actually increased over the last two weeks, as they continued to drop winnable games.
Although the Canadiens were able to extract six of a possible ten points during their five-game road-trip, it wasn’t pretty by any means. Goaltending was a big reason why the Canadiens were able to return home with a winning record.
Their victories over Anaheim and Columbus had Samuel Montembeault written all over them, while their shootout victory against the San Jose Sharks, the worst team in the league, was brought to you by a stellar performance from Cayden Primeau.
However, although goaltending was the most impressive part of the Montreal Canadiens’ performances during the road-trip, certain youngsters have started to show some improvement; trending in the right direction as the Canadiens get set for a bumpy December schedule.
The young Slovak winger had himself a road-trip. In five games, the 19-year-old was able to pot a goal and three assists for four points, all while increasing his minutes at even strength.
That being said, his point totals only tell half the story, as it seems that Juraj Slafkovsky is slowly starting to figure out how to use his massive 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame to his advantage.
The chemistry that he found with Cole Caufield is no accident, as both have been able to find each other quite well on the ice, but, unlike during pre-season or the start of the year, Slafkovsky is finding success by being in constant motion.
The efficacy of the line comprised of Slafkovsky, Caufield and Christian Dvorak, albeit not an optimal line combination, was been effective in sustaining offensive-zone pressure and cycling the puck.
A big reason for that was Slafkovsky’s puck protection and faster decision-making with the puck. It’s a big step in the right direction for the young power forward, with a significant amount of development ahead of him.
Now, if head coach Martin St-Louis and development coach Adam Nicholas can help him with getting shots off faster and trusting in his abilities a bit more, he’ll be a force for Montreal for the foreseeable future.
What a game by Slafkovsky tonight! Not only was he the best forward on his line, but also for the #Habs overall. This was capped off by this exceptional shift in the second. His head was always held high, he had a good read on the play and created a couple of chances. 2/3 pic.twitter.com/BZYXzzJZuS
— Cédrick Blais-Turcotte (@cbturcotte17) November 30, 2023
Despite the Canadiens inability to score at forward, the offence coming from the back end has been quite notable over the last few weeks.
Justin Barron has been a major contributor to not just offensive chance generation, but also to the Montreal Canadiens’ transition game; which remains quite lacklustre when either Matheson or Barron aren’t on the ice.
For a player who began the season on the outside looking in, Barron was quickly seized the opportunity to show that he can not only be an everyday NHL defenceman, but also one that can push the pace of the game on a regular basis.
The defensive lapses are to be expected for such a young and inexperienced defenceman, but, especially when paired with long-time friend Kaiden Guhle, he’s found a balance on the ice that he didn’t have last season.
With David Savard still a few weeks away from returning and Jordan Harris now out indefinitely with injury, Barron’s speed and offensive abilities will make him very difficult to move out of the lineup.
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights & News (@HockeyDaily365) November 30, 2023
Freshly called up from the Laval Rocket, Jayden Struble has been nothing but solid for the Montreal Canadiens during this road trip.
The 22-year-old had proven to be the most complete defenceman on the Canadiens’ farm club and seamlessly translated that calm demeanor to the NHL without issue.
He was given third-pairing ice-time to start, but worked his way to nearly 15 minutes of ice time against the Columbus Blue Jackets, looking like one of the most composed defencemen in what was a festival of giveaways from the Canadiens.
His physical play and impressive skating ability immediately stick out and caught the attention of fans and scouts alike. With Arber Xhekaj missing time with injury, Struble brought many of the elements the Canadiens were lacking and, when called upon, was able to make the right play on almost every shift.
As the Canadiens continue to evaluate what to do with the abudance of left-shooting defencemen in the organization right now, Struble’s play only helps move that process along, as he continues to show that he has a future in the NHL.
Defencemen Jayden Struble and Johnathan Kovacevic take matters into their own hands.
Kovacevic with a great snipe to put the #Habs on the board.
It's Struble's first NHL point. pic.twitter.com/XfyHKXNRIK
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) November 24, 2023