The Montreal Canadiens hosted the Dallas Stars at the Bell Centre on Saturday afternoon, part of their yearly matinee weekend which coincides with the Superbowl.
The two early games give younger fans an opportunity to watch their heroes in action, and seeing as how tickets are becoming impossibly expensive, it’s one of the few reasonable chances for parents to bring their children to the game without completely destroying the household’s budget.
— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) February 10, 2024
The game also marked the return of Alex Newhook, who hadn’t played since injuring his foot in late November.
The Stars emerged with a 3-2 win, but there were a few positives to discuss, including the play of the top line and the importance of adding speedy players to the lineup.
Let’s dive into the highlights!
The Canadiens did not score in the first period, but they did control much of the momentum after they were forced to kill a Tanner Pearson penalty just six seconds into the game.
Newhook’s style of play, which involves constantly executing plays as quickly as humanly possible, forced the Canadiens to up their tempo. It led to a few high-danger scoring chances and was a much-needed energy boost for a team that sometimes struggles to find its rhythm.
Energy levels tend to vary when you play on a team that loses more games than it wins, especially during the last stretch of the schedule. Adding a speedster like Newhook to the mix can often mitigate some of the losing-season blues and improve the number of rush chances the Canadiens produce.
Rush chances are key due to the higher odds of scoring when shooting off the rush.
We saw a perfect example of the value when Nick Suzuki opened the scoring for the Canadiens early in the second period. Cole Caufield, who extended his scoring streak to 11 games, made a smart outlet pass by banking it off the boards, which led to the perfect shot by Suzuki.
Nick Suzuki’s goal tonight (1-0) pic.twitter.com/ScCZl6WUPY
— HFTV (@HFTVSports) February 10, 2024
The Stars took over after they allowed the Canadiens to score first. It led to three straight goals for the visiting team, including two goals scored by Tyler Seguin.
Dallas controlled the higher danger shots in the second period (83%), which isn’t overly surprising given the discrepancy of talent between both teams. In this case, it wasn’t necessarily because the Canadiens made a poor effort, they were simply outclassed by a better team, which is easy to accept when you consider where both teams are in the standings.
The good news is that Juraj Slafkovsky once again found the back of the net, and he did so without hesitating to take a shot. Canadiens fans are well aware that Slafkovsky tends to shy away from shooting opportunities, even if he’s in a high-danger scoring area.
Seeing him take shots from difficult angles is a very encouraging sign when it comes to his shot rate.
The Slafkovsky goal was his fourth in three games, cutting the Stars lead to just 3-2. It was also Suzuki’s ninth point in the last six games.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official. The first line has established itself as a scoring threat while maintaining the type of underlying numbers that suggest it’s a sustainable experiment.
And we can also confidently conclude that Slafkovsky’s presence on the top line is one of the main reasons they’ve improved their possession numbers.
Juraj Slafkovsky scores from a tight angle. Assists to Suzuki and Caufield. pic.twitter.com/HOidLSANjY
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) February 10, 2024
Here We Go Again
Unfortunately, there was more bad news from a health standpoint. Forward Rafael Harvey-Pinard, who missed significant time with a lower-body injury this season, was forced to head to the locker room when he collided with Joel Armia at centre ice.
Harvey-Pinard could not put any pressure on his leg as he retreated to the locker room and the Canadiens quickly announced he would not return to the game.
We don’t want to play internet doctor, but it did seem like the injury could be quite serious.
Voici la séquence lors de laquelle RHP s'est blessé.
On voit clairement que sa jambe encaisse la totalité du choc, choc accentué par la chute d'Armia, qui n'est pas un petit monsieur.
En souhaitant que le Québécois ait évité le pire. pic.twitter.com/wyaPtYzHf1
— Anthony Martineau (@Antho_Martineau) February 10, 2024
The Canadiens ultimately lost 3-2, but we saw the impact of having speedy players in the lineup on a few occasions. It wasn’t only Newhook who turned on the afterburners.
Brandon Gignac and Mike Matheson made a great play late in the third which generated a high-quality chance while the Habs were shorthanded in the dying minutes of the game.
Speed + speed = good scoring chance.
Gignac and Matheson come close to tying the game. pic.twitter.com/elcMSD1MZk
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) February 10, 2024
The Montreal Canadiens will be back in action on Sunday afternoon. They will face the St-Louis Blues at the Bell Centre. The puck drop is scheduled for 1 pm ET.
All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted. Via Natural Stat Trick.