The Montreal Canadiens’ better-than-.500 record this season is one of the early surprises of the NHL campaign. The Canadiens with a soft schedule in the next two weeks, and there is a chance that hockey experts could be changing their minds what this season is supposed to be about in Montreal, if good results continue.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were in town and Montreal put on another entertaining show with a 5-4 overtime win.
Never trade a third pick overall who hasn’t had a chance yet to show why everyone thought he was going to be so great. At the age of 21, Kirby Dach was acquired by General Manager Kent Hughes for the 13th pick overall. The Chicago Blackhawks had seen enough. They thought Dach was not going to ever find his game.
After 15 games, Dach has definitely found his game. On a line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, every game Dach plays is better than the one before it. Dach is brimming with confidence.
In the first period, it was Dach splitting the defence like it was nothing. That split included one of the best defenders in hockey — Kris Letang. Dach got a great shot away. In the second period, Dach with a terrific turn and fire in front of the net on a shot that just went wide.
Dach, it was once said, was a perimeter player. It was said that the wrist injury that he suffered was making him frightened to go into the dirty areas. Splitting the D for a breakaway and parking in front of the net, taking cross-checks, he is not frightened. The complaint seems preposterous this season. This player is afraid of nothing.
Third period and Dach takes a big hit, then gets up right away and heads to the front of the net where he is the one running the screen that leads to Cole Caufield tying it with his ninth goal of the season. Dach doesn’t draw a point on the play, but the goal doesn’t happen without his work.
Dach was parked in front of the net for a give-and-go with Nick Suzuki when the Canadiens scored their third of the night. It’s one line night after night for the Canadiens. Suzuki and Caufield were strong together before, but with Dach, they are close to unstoppable.
Dach is also running the point on the power play. This is a position that the Canadiens have been abysmal at since Andrei Markov left. They’ve tried everyone in this role – defencemen and forwards – and no one has looked at all comfortable. Dach looks comfortable.
He is head faking to the right and feeding Caufield on the left for his wicked one-timer. He was one of two forwards playing defence on the 4-4 goal as both Jonathan Drouin and Dach got assists on the Sean Monahan goal. The club may have finally found someone who works as the power play quarterback. Still early to know for sure, but it looks promising.
In overtime, it was Dach pulling away from Evgeni Malkin on a rush, like Malkin was skating in slush. Dach passed to Mike Hoffman for the game-winner.
Dach is scoring at almost a point-per-game pace this season. He has 14 points in 15 games this year. He has 11 points in the last seven games.
Dach makes excellent decisions with the puck. He finds solutions in tough spaces. He wins the offensive zone on the rush. He can play centre or on the wing. His only weakness is face-offs where he can certainly improve.
The problem in Chicago was a lack of opportunity. He came back from his wrist surgery not confident, and he wasn’t given a chance to get that confidence.
With his size and skating ability, this trade appears to be an absolute steal. Depending on the construction of the club in the passage of time, Canadiens Head Coach Martin St. Louis either has a first-line winger or a second-line centre. Both are absolute musts to a winning team. Dach can fill any role.
It was said once by a GM that you can’t trade for a top centre; that they are not dealt away, ever. That GM was wrong. This new GM has done it by acquiring Kirby Dach.
The shots on goal after two periods favoured Montreal 27-12. After the overtime, 42-24. The Canadiens are not a team in turmoil. The only turmoil suffered these days is Tank Nation is depressed the tank is going very poorly.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the Montreal Canadiens this season and how it may progress. The first school is that the Canadiens are only going to get better this season. The reason is most of the blue line corps are playing the first games of their careers, so improvement is surely to come as they get more comfortable in their learning.
Also, the entire team is quite young. Generally speaking in sports, experience means improvement. Add to that that Head Coach Martin St. Louis is instilling new philosophies into the system that take time to take root.
Very importantly as well, the number one defender on the entire club has not even played a single minute this season, but Mike Matheson is set to return soon. He is skating with a blue jersey on which indicates no contact, but he will be back. It’s a giant lift to a team to get your best defenceman back.
The other school of thought is that this is the highlight of the season this first quarter of the campaign, and it will be only downhill from here. Mental and physical fatigue is cited for the young defending corps who with the passage of games will start to make more mistakes, and find the grind of the league to be difficult.
It is also noted that the goaltenders do not have the ability to continue to play as well as they have this season. This may be the case for Sam Montembeault who is .030 better than his career save percentage. However, Jake Allen’s numbers are around what they have been through the course of his career.
The final noted reason that this early success can’t continue for the Canadiens is the production of the first line of the club is much higher than expected. Nick Suzuki has outlier numbers. He is shooting at a percentage of 27 which is massively higher than his past at 12 per cent. He is also on pace for nearly 100 points with a career-high of 61.
Caul Caufield’s numbers are actually in line with expectations on both goals and shooting percentage. Whether Kirby Dach continues with numbers almost double better than he has done before will also play a large factor. It is conceivable that Dach at 21 is actually having a breakout year and this could be his new level. It is also conceivable at his age that Suzuki is a point-per-game player, and this is his breakout moment.
It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out because, right now, the Canadiens are more in the realm of a playoff spot than they are a top-five draft pick.
Wouldn’t that shock the league, if at the trading deadline, the Canadiens weren’t sellers, but buyers?