The Canadiens have one of the toughest schedules in the second half of the season, and the western division-leading Dallas Stars were no exception to that. With Miro Heiskanen back in the lineup, the Stars seem poised to make a run for first overall in the league. The Habs, on the other hand, are dealing with not only the usual injuries but also the loss of Sean Monahan in the trade to the Winnipeg Jets.
Given the talent on the teams and their respective records this season, the Canadiens played a strong game on Saturday, and might well have come away with a point or two had it not been for those 25 fateful seconds in the middle frame. As it is, the young players could hold their heads high as they walked off the ice, in spite of conceding a 3-2 loss to the Stars. Given that the loss does nothing to hurt the Habs’ prospects for this summer’s draft, Kent Hughes must have been satisfied overall with how this game unfolded–the injury to Rafael Harvey-Pinard aside.
Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Evans – Anderson
Harvey-Pinard – Newhook – Armia
Pezzetta – Gignac -Ylonen
Matheson – Guhle
Savard – Struble
Xhekaj – Kovacevic
1) The Habs looked strong to start the first period, but, on the whole, those 20 minutes were quite uneventful. No scoring, and all of 12 shots on net between the two teams–four of which were during the two early penalties. Montreal might have held a slight edge in play, but a scoreless tie largely reflected what happened in the period.
2) The second period was a whole different thing, though, and Nick Suzuki made that clear just 38 seconds in. After Mike Matheson freed the puck in the corner to the left of Samuel Montembeault, Cole Caufield sent Suzuki off along the right-side boards with a cross-ice stretch pass. Thomas Harley was unable to catch the Canadiens’ captain, and Suzuki opened the scoring with a quick wrist shot that beat Jake Oettinger cleanly.
3) The Habs’ season is again looking like a season of A Series of Unfortunate Events. In this episode, less than four minutes into the second period, Rafael “HP” Baudelaire collided with his older brother Joel “Armia” Baudelaire and was injured badly enough to have to be helped off the ice. The two were moving in opposing directions, and Armia had just turned around to follow the play when Harvey-Pinard ran into him; it appears that he was focusing on the puck carrier and thus did not see Armia.
4) Harley made up for the Suzuki goal three minutes later, though, as he took a Roope Hintz pass and shot it through Samuel Montembeault’s five-hole to tie the score. Even if Harley was unimpeded, with the Habs still discombobulated after the Harvey-Pinard injury, Montembeault would surely like to have another chance to stop that one.
5) On the next play, just 25 seconds later, Montembeault attempted to clear the puck along the boards from behind the net, but that was blocked by Mason Marchment. After that, Jake Evans and Josh Anderson just watched as Tyler Seguin took a pass from Matt Duchene at the edge of the blue ice and tucked it past Montembeault. Not the defensive work we should expect from the forward corps.
6) Seguin scored a second one with two minutes to go in the second, as the Stars had hemmed the bleu, blanc et rouge in their zone, tipping in a cross-ice pass from Duchene. This one could not be blamed on Montembeault, who played a credible game overall, even if it wasn’t one of his best ones.
7) Juraj Slafkovsky sure looks like the real thing. After his struggles last season, the “send him to Laval” chorus was large and vocal, but the young Slovak has honed his skills and gained self-confidence, and he is now a force to be reckoned with. He has scored six goals and four assists in the 15 games in 2024, and how he has scored is even more impressive. This time he scored on a Suzuki pass from behind the net, a quick one-timer from a bad angle that still found the corner of the net above Oettinger. Hughes said at the time of the draft that they wanted the player who would be the best in five years’ time, not the one best in the draft plus one year. Slafkovsky is looking better and better by that criterion.
8) And, by extension, the top line is actually quite credible now, with Caufield (11-game point streak), Suzuki (47 points), and Slafkovsky (6g+2a in the last 10 games). Alas, there is a big gap after that, as the second line is effectively MIA. It might have been Kirby Dach (now lost for the season), Monahan (traded), and Alex Newhook (just returning from injury) but at the moment there is nothing to write home about there. Dach and Newhook might be the foundation, but there will be a need for another top-six player for that line yet.
9) As for Newhook, it was a credible first game, even if the Harvey-Pinard-Newhook-Armia line had only about a 33% xGF share in the game. Newhook and Armia seemed to fit together well and had some scoring opportunities, including Armia’s short-handed break through the Dallas defence corps. Newhook’s faceoff win percentage was only 44.4%, but Dallas has the second-best faceoff crew in the league, and none of the Habs centres could get to 50% on the afternoon.
10) We’ll need to wait and see what the severity of Harvey-Pinard’s injury is–as much as the Canadiens are willing to disclose, that is–but he will certainly miss games even in the best case, and the Habs have now recalled Joshua Roy from Laval to take his place.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Nick Suzuki (1g, 1a, 1 shot, 25:23 TOI) continues to show what he can do with skilled linemates, extending his point streak to six games, including four goals in that span. 64% xGF against the best the Stars have to offer is nothing to scoff at.
Second Star: Juraj Slafkovsky (1g, 0a, 2 shots, 19:30 TOI) is not just shooting more, but he’s using his vision, his body, his speed, and his hands effectively. It has taken him a bit of time, but he is on his way to proving that the Habs made the right choice with the first overall draft pick.
Third Star: Joel Armia (0g, 0a, 3 shots, 18:27 TOI) has been a changed man after his stint in Laval, and his play has earned him the confidence of Martin St. Louis, too, with over 17 minutes of ice time in each of the last four games. He had a great short-handed opportunity in the second that might have changed the outcome of the game, had he been able to get a good shot off on Oettinger.