The Montreal Canadiens had another chance Thursday to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
At the midpoint of the campaign, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t happened yet. And it didn’t happen Thursday night in Las Vegas, either. The Golden Knights won 4-3 in overtime.
The Canadiens are starting to put up better numbers along with a better roster as players return from COVID-19 and injuries. Tyler Toffoli returned from wrist surgery for the second game and scored for the second straight game. It was a brilliant play, with Nick Suzuki sliding it from behind the net back and forth where he found Toffoli, who promptly pushed home.
It was a power play goal. That’s one aspect of the Canadiens’ game that’s also improving lately with the strengthening of the lineup. Indeed, with Mike Hoffman and Toffoli on opposite sides for the wily Suzuki to find, the power play is looking good for the first time this season.
Montreal has scored with the extra man in four straight games.
Hoffman’s return has also been instrumental in the recent improvement. Christian Dvorak is also playing better than at any time this season. Dvorak had an excellent pass to Hoffman in a tight moment as the Canadiens took a 3-2 lead in the third period.
Montreal Canadiens shock Dallas Stars with long-awaited win, 5-3 (January 18, 2022)
However, none of this would be possible were it not for Sam Montembeault. He was shaky when he first arrived in the Montreal uniform. He was clearly a goalkeeper with no confidence, and perhaps believed he didn’t belong. Now Montembeault is stealing games for Montreal. In Dallas, Montembeault faced 51 shots as Montreal won a game due to his .940 save percentage.
In Las Vegas, it was the same story that Montreal was outshot again, but Montembeault was better than his opposite Robin Lehner. Montembeault faced 53 shots and saved 49 to give the Canadiens a chance. It wasn’t enough, but the youngster is giving himself the chance to continue his NHL career with goals like this.
Montreal has racked up points in two straight games in tough cities, Dallas and Vegas. There are no goats to speak of that anyone tired of complaining can find.
The contrasts between Kent Hughes and Marc Bergevin during the press conferences are stark. While Bergevin often delivered fabulous quotes like “if you want loyalty, buy yourself a dog,” there was none of that from Lawyer Hughes that could irritate the wrong audience. In fact, what stood out the most was that we were looking at a man who had never really spoken to the mass media before like he did on Wednesday afternoon, but seemed completely in control and was never the victim of a moment of ‘ I caught you” that could hurt him.
Canada lends Ukraine $120 million as tensions with Russia rise
Adele breaks down in tears announcing the delay of her concert in Las Vegas
Regarding the friendship with Jeff Gorton, it was clear to him that he felt he was the best man for the job. Hughes even boldly pointed out that the line of questioning that the hiring may not have been meritocratic seemed to be quite a popular topic. He specifically made a point to end that topic of conversation immediately with a definite statement that he was there because he was the best candidate.
Call of the Wilde: The Montreal Canadiens drop another 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes (January 17, 2022)
Furthermore, the problem of how a man named Kent Hughes from Beaconsfield would fare in French was over quickly as he did not search for words, had no trouble communicating his thoughts, and possessed a more than acceptable accent. In fact, a common comment on Twitter was that his French was better than Bergevin’s French.
The organization’s desire has always been for the General Manager to be able to speak to the French population. Canadians have never said that the GM should have a French-sounding name. Hughes’ ability to communicate with all of his fans shouldn’t be questioned after a very quiet first hour.
All off-ice issues quickly disappeared as concerns within the first 10 minutes.
However, being a good GM is not about what the off-ice issues might be in terms of friendships and language. Work is work to build a team. Hughes also passed that test with ease.
He touched on many topics that have been hot topics for decades. Some of Hughes’s thoughts that resonated were that he wants to create an offensive team. What a welcome thought after GMs like Bob Gainey and Marc Bergevin, for whom defense always came first.
No one can deny the value of defensive skills, but after 30 years of that, it will be nice to see a partnership of Gorton and Hughes trying to rebuild this team with an eye toward entertaining fans. There has been a lack of goal and enthusiasm.
It’s hard to find a star striker. The Canadiens haven’t had a 40-goal man this century. It will be exciting if Montreal really acquires a player who makes fans jump out of their seats for his skills, not just saves. The joy of the game, in general, is in the goal. As it stands now, the Canadiens are the lowest scoring team in the entire league, so there is work to be done here.
Hughes also discussed analytics as an area the organization would like to improve. The previous general manager talked about analytics. It will be a welcome change knowing that the Canadians will try to cover all areas to compete and maybe even have an advantage over other teams.
The salary cap does not allow the Canadiens to spend more on players than other teams, but there are no restrictions on how much money the Canadiens can spend on personnel. Montreal should have the biggest analytics department. Montreal should have the most explorers. Montreal should never be short of knowledge because they didn’t want to spend on staff.
No other team gets 21,273 fans every game in a world without COVID. Montreal has an economic advantage thanks to fans who pay a lot of money to go to games, then park their cars, and then consume a lot of beer and hot dogs. The Canadians have never used that advantage to its full extent.
If Hughes wants a great analytics department, it’s time to give it to him. If Hughes wants another European scout, then give it to him.
The Hughes and Gorton partnership has a lot of work to do. The Canadiens are the worst team in hockey, but the fans are pretty excited right now. They believe a rebuild could bring the talent and excitement of more enjoyable offensive hockey.
It’s a new day in Habs Land. Let the work begin.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.