After the best effort of the season for the Montreal Canadiens in beating the powerhouse Boston Bruins, Montreal was right back at the Bell Centre taking on another strong team — the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canadiens seemed to have used up all their high energy competing against Boston, falling flat to a 5-2 loss.
Was the glass half full or half empty for Juraj Slafkovsky against the Canucks? If it was half full, it was impressive that he streaked down the left side on a 2-on-1 to have a quality chance. If it was half empty, it was disappointing that his pass rolled off his stick helplessly into the corner.
A positive person would take heart that he got another two clear-cut looks in the second period, including a clean shot from the slot. However, a negative person would tell you that the shot hit Casey DeSmith in the middle of his crest.
One wants to be positive that Slafkovsky is now finding himself implicated in the play more, and winning more puck battles, though you will find someone to note that it isn’t actually leading to anything. Yet.
There is improvement in Slafkovsky’s game recently. It’s true that the goal total remains at one and the assist total also at one, but he is a better player on a line with Christian Dvorak and Cole Caufield.
Against Vancouver, Slafkovsky was on the puck more than any other game he has played for Montreal. He had a whopping seven shots on goal. He has averaged one shot on goal per game for the first 53 games of his career. This is an outstanding shot total for any player in the NHL. Seven is a number of shots that would thrill Cole Caufield.
Also, Slafkovsky’s Corsi is respectable enough at over 50 per cent, which is middle of the pack among forwards on the club. It’s not a liability to the overall flow of the game that Head Coach Martin St. Louis is trying to teach.
The organization wants Slafkovsky to learn how to play without the puck, and they want him to learn how to do that at the NHL level where the game is faster. In truth, if everyone takes themselves out of the emotional landscape of it all, this is quite an interesting hockey experiment.
The Canadiens are trying to teach a player to learn without the puck in hope that he understands all that entails, so that one day when he finally touches the puck on a regular basis that last part won’t be foreign to him. At the lower level, he would have owned the puck constantly. In truth, it’s a hockey version of the age old question – what came first…the chicken or the egg?
No one should behave like they are the smartest guy in the room on this. There are two schools of thought. For Slafkovsky, for Kent Hughes, for Nick Bobrov, they better hope they are favouring the right school. The wrong school is the glass that was once half full, got mishandled and broke.
Against Vancouver, the entire Canadiens organization, no doubt, put some more water in the glass. It was a night that showed great promise and progress for the number one draft pick that they have put so much faith in.
Seven shots. That’s the weighty bottom line and the biggest positive in this contest. A player can’t score without shots. Historically, a forward scores once every ten shots. Surely, a Slafkovsky goal is coming soon. If he gets seven shots per night, it might just be that many goals are coming.
It was mostly a flat night. The Canadiens didn’t have the required fire to compete with a team that has surprised the league this season. Vancouver is playing an organized game and the entire Montreal team was not up to it, though the Canadiens definitely stay in the fight. Montreal’s third period was their best period.
Defensively, it wasn’t as if the Canadiens were making a massive amount of errors, but they certainly paid for each one they made. Offensively, there was just not enough intensity on the forecheck to frighten the Vancouver system which looked very sound.
Mike Matheson scored a power play goal. Arber Xhekaj scored in the last minute. Sean Monahan continued to play intelligently. Christian Dvorak was surprisingly good again. Jake Allen made some tremendous saves again to up his trade stock.
What one must remember about the American Hockey League from time to time is how much it is a veteran league. The best players are often journeymen who are just a slight cut below the NHL. They often spend some time in the show, but are sadly lacking by the smallest measure and remain salaried at one-tenth of their dreams.
The leading scorer in the AHL is Adam Gaudette. He is a player who had a Hobey Baker season as best collegian. He made a brief go of it for the Canucks, but ultimately wasn’t a complete enough player. Gaudette is now 27. If he were to land successfully in the NHL now, it would be a surprise.
Also, near the top of the scoring race is former Canadiens winger Charles Hudon. He is another who worked his tail off to find top-tier success but could not land full-time. Hudon is 29.
More indicative of pending NHL success is a look at top scoring in the AHL combined with a young age. These are the players who are still developing and who will more likely find a short stay in the minors. For them, the AHL is a pit stop; not the entire race.
The top young player is Logan Stankoven who sits fifth in league scoring on 15 points. He is 20 years of age. Another Dallas Stars hopeful is Mavrik Bourque. He is 21. He also sits on 15 points.
The next top prospect finding his way is Jiri Kulich. He is only 19. He possesses a wicked shot and is learning how to use it in Rochester.
Also shining is Joshua Roy of the Canadiens. He wrapped up an outstanding junior career in Sherbrooke and already is finding his way in the AHL. Roy, at only 20, has 14 points in 11 games. That’s a tremendous clip in a defensive league. Last year, not even all of the top-ten in scoring had a point-per-game.
Roy scored once in an easy win for the Laval Rocket on Sunday over the Manitoba Moose. He added an assist as well.
Roy finding success so early in his AHL attempt bodes well for his future. Playing in an adult league against mature physical opponents is a good stepping stone to the NHL for top prospects.
Roy is a top prospect.
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