Chronicle of François Gagnon – Suzuki-Caufield: the two go hand in hand

MONTREAL – We are still far from the formidable two-headed monsters formed by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner in Toronto;

We are still far from the formidable first lines of the Avalanche, the Panthers, the Flames, the Bruins or the Lightning;

But once again on Thursday, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield displayed a combination of talent and bonding that gives the Canadian and his supporters confidence that they will one day form a top line first. And who knows? That they may even turn into a two-headed monster one day!

The talent is there. It jumps out.

Suzuki has a vision of the game and hands that allow him to multiply dangerous pushes in enemy zone. A vision and hands that allow him to offer lots of good, very good and excellent scoring opportunities to his playmates.

Although he is not a sniper, Suzuki does become one when he forays into the face-off circle to the right of the opposing goalkeepers from where he scored his 19and goal of the season, Thursday, to launch the Canadiens ahead 1-0 at the expense of the Devils in New Jersey. Of the 19 goals he’s scored this season, of the 47 he’s scored since joining the NHL, it seems to me that the vast majority of those goals, almost all of them, have all come from the face-off circle that Suzuki uses as a launch pad. A shooting range where he feels confident regardless of whether it is at equal strength or during power play.

In contrast, Cole Caufield is a sniper in the making. It’s clear. Caufield will become even more formidable when he is able to better frame his shots. But when he fires a shot towards the opposing net, when he goes on a breakaway like he did on Thursday before scoring his 16and goal of the season, we can already anticipate the goal.

Oh yes! Speaking of goals, Caufield now has 16 in 26 games played since Martin St-Louis changed the course of his first real NHL season. Maybe even his career…

But Caufield again proved Thursday that having magic hands to hit the target with pucks that he shoots with force and precision does not prevent him from being also able to distribute skillful passes. As he did on the first goal of the game.

Talent is good, talent and complicity is better

Even more than the obvious talent they have, it’s the bond between Suzuki and Caufield that impresses me the most.

Like two thieves at a fair!

When you watch, in slow motion, the play that led to Caufield’s goal late in the first period, you can clearly see Suzuki acting like a quarterback in football. We see him looking straight ahead and realizing that the game is opening up in front of his favorite target. When Suzuki makes the long raised pass that will allow Caufield to take advantage of a breakaway, the “little Cole” does not yet know that the puck is coming. But he anticipates it. He’s been anticipating it since the moment he put the pedal to the bottom to launch himself towards the enemy zone while Suzuki was about to recover the puck on the other side of the defensive zone. Caufield skates hard. He has his head down to push a little more. And when he turns his head, the puck is there. Two seconds later, she is behind Andrew Hammond and it’s 3-1 Montreal.

Two players can have all the talent in the world. If they can’t develop a bond like the one that Suzuki and Caufield are developing, they can’t maximize that talent.

Watch McDavid and Draisaitl go when they are sent to the ice at the same time; watch the genius Mitchell Marner displayed game after game to help Auston Matthews become the all-time leading scorer for the Maple Leafs; watch MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog in Colorado, Gaudreau, Lindholm and Tkachuk in Calgary mystify their opponents; it is this complicity that allowed Patrice Bergeron to transform Brad Marchand from a simple pest to an elite player in the NHL and to make David Pastrnak one of the very best snipers in the NHL.

In an insignificant match in which he scored 11 goals, I gave some importance to only two goals: those of Suzuki and Caufield. Because these two goals are the only ones that really assure the Canadian and his supporters of a better future.

The other five goals of the Canadian?

Those of Jake Evans and Joel Armia were threaded on high quality shots. In fact, these goals should convince their authors to shoot more often if they are able to do so with as much force and precision on a regular basis.

The other three?

I don’t want to take away from the justified joy of Chris Wideman, Christian Dvorak and Kale Clague who enjoyed a three-point night (one goal, two assists each), but those goals showed that it’s always a good idea to put the puck at the opposing net, because you never know what can happen.

Especially against such bad goalkeepers as Andrew Hammond who was pulled from the game after allowing six goals on 19 shots and Nico Daws who gave Clague a gift on all seven shots he faced in relieves during the last third.

The Devils dream of a Jake Allen

The Devils have sent seven different goaltenders in net this season. It will still be one more than the Canadiens when Carey Price becomes the sixth to defend the Habs’ cage – next Monday when the Jets visit? – as part of his first game of the 2021-2022 season.

If they ever want to be a club to be taken seriously again in the Metropolitan Division to begin with and then in the NHL as a whole, they will have to put a real goalie in front of their goal.

Could this guard be Jake Allen?

The Canadian must wait for the return to play of Carey Price. He must wait to see if he will be able to assume his number one role next year. And if he wants to fill it in Montreal or elsewhere. But if Price is able to return on a regular basis in front of the Canadiens’ net, then the Habs could take advantage of Jake Allen’s certain value around the NHL to get good value in return for his services.

Thursday night in New Jersey, Jake Allen changed the course of the game. If Allen had made the saves he multiplied (33 of 37 shots) in front of the Devils cage, the Canadian would never have won.

Because the Canadian did not deserve the victory on Thursday. In a very messy match, the Habs were more messy than their opponents. Especially during the middle period.

After 40 minutes of play, the score of 4-2 favored the Canadian. I don’t mind. But the Devils dominated shots on target (27-15) and dominated even more in shots attempted (46-24). It must be said that 17 face-offs had been disputed in the Habs zone, against only three in the Devils zone.

In the end, the Devils lost by three goals (7-4), even though they dominated 37-26 on shots on target, 65-46 on shots fired and they played 25 face-offs in the Canadiens’ zone against 11 only in their territory.

Jake Allen, once again, didn’t just give his team a chance to win. He contributed greatly to this victory despite the four goals he allowed. In fact, he was the Habs’ best player on Thursday. By many!

After haunting the Devils, especially in the middle period, Allen will give the Devils good reason to dream of him in their search for a real goalie to help them next year.

Between the lines

  • It was the first time this season that the Canadian did not get the slightest power play during a game. And it’s not because the referees turned a blind eye to offenses committed by the Devils…

  • Speaking of the Devils, already that their goalkeepers were lamentable, the massive attack specialists did nothing to help them by trashing the two numerical superiorities obtained just as miserably…

  • Nothing against Kale Clague, but I hope to see Jordan Harris as soon as possible on the blue line of the Habs…

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