The CH won a soporific match Wednesday night in Columbus. This 3-1 victory, the Montrealers’ first since 2016 in the land of cannons, was won despite obtaining five miserable chances to score. To everyone’s surprise, the Canadian thus crossed the quarter of the calendar with a record of 10-9-1 (.525), only two points from the last place giving access to the playoffs in the East.
The CH find themselves at the start of the second half of the peloton. It’s the worst possible place for a rebuilding team, as one of the most promising draft picks of the past 20 years looms on the horizon.
Last week, I was discussing the Canadiens’ situation with a respected agent. Half-serious, half-joking, the latter launched that Kent Hughes would soon have to conclude a transaction to help Martin St-Louis. However, my interlocutor did not mention a transaction aimed at improving the team. Rather, he was talking about the need to weaken her(!) in order to make her dive deep below the waterline.
Canadian captain Nick Suzuki
Photo: Reuters/Eric Bolte
Even if this reflection seems totally surreal in the eyes of purists, it reflects what has become of modern professional sport. This joke was also launched by an expert in the field taking for granted that the great plan of the management of the CH is undermined by St-Louis and his surprising team.
As I wrote before the start of the calendar, the composition of the formation of the CH had all the appearance of a meticulous operation of planned obsolescence.
A bit like companies that foresee in advance the fragility of the goods they manufacture, Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton had concocted a line-up composed of a duo of correct guards, nothing more; of a defensive brigade composed of half of recruits; as well as a group of attackers populated by many veterans engaged on the slope of decline, and whose depth was limited to a line and a half.
Generally, we do not make strong children with such a recipe. And when we look at the portrait as a whole after 20 games, the Canadian does not have the characteristics of a concrete organization.
The team is 27th out of 32 in defense and 19th in attack, with an average production of 3.00 goals per game. Its number one goaltender, Jake Allen (.891), ranks 23rd among the 28 NHL goaltenders with at least 10 starts.
There are, however, two significant obstacles which, so far, have hindered the perfect execution of the
plan . Those obstacles are Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki.
Caufield, who has 12 goals to his name, is keeping pace with a 49-goal season. For his part, Suzuki (11 goals) sails at the rate of a season of 45 nets.
CH fans haven’t witnessed such an explosive first quarter of the season from a forward duo since Bobby Smith (12 goals) and Claude Lemieux (11 goals) in 1988-89. That season, the CH had notably reached the Stanley Cup final.
Moreover, the CH has not bet on a scorer of 40 goals and more since Stéphane Richer in 1989-1990. The latter then shook the nets 51 times.
Stephane Richer (archives)
Photo: Getty Images/Robert Laberge
The combativeness of young CH players and the almost historic start to the season experienced by Caufield and Suzuki have kept the fans on edge since the beginning of October. At the same time, these two factors earn CH up to 10 additional ranks in the overall NHL standings.
The Canadian was ranked 18th after Wednesday’s game in Columbus. If we took away four goals each from Caufield and Suzuki (which would still be an excellent start to the campaign), the Habs would be somewhere around 29th in the league in attack. And inevitably, the team standings would reflect that reality.
The killer question is therefore whether Caufield and Suzuki can maintain such a pace for much longer.
In Caufield’s case, the stats suggest it could be. At the Canadian, the 21-year-old winger is the one who, by far, gets the most chances to score quality. He gets 23% more than Brendan Gallagher, his closest pursuer on the team. But the latter, unfortunately, seems less and less able to convert the chances he enjoys.
Caufield’s success rate (15.6%) compared to the number of shots he puts on the net is not science fiction either. Nevertheless, it will be difficult to maintain it. Over a full season, Alex Ovechkin, the leading scorer of his generation, exceeded 15% success only three times during his career.
Suzuki’s case is different because the captain has so far maintained a 25.6% success rate on the pucks he directs at opposing goaltenders. Unless there is a miracle, we must therefore expect a slowdown in production on its part.
How long can Caufield and Suzuki continue to skew the data?
This question is of interest to all supporters of the team. As much those who wish to see the CH win as those who dream of seeing a future superstar join the core of the formation next summer.