The Canadiens’ top line of Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach have been putting points on the board, but they’re also doing a good job keeping the opposition’s best players from scoring.
Suzuki and Caufield scored a goal Saturday and Dach set up Mike Hoffman for the game-winner in overtime as the Canadiens topped the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4.
Coach Martin St. Louis has been pairing his young top offensive line (Suzuki is the veteran at 23) with the opposition’s top line, and they’re meeting the challenge.
Evgeni Malkin scored a goal for the Penguins, but the team’s other superstar, Sidney Crosby, was limited to two shots on target and didn’t add a point.
“I think the most important thing (for the youngsters) is to get a chance to play against those guys,” St. Louis said. “You’re not going to do the work all the time, and when you do, you’ll probably learn, and when you don’t, you’ll probably still learn. There is a lot of progression in everyone’s game. I think collectively it allows our young guys to play against those guys. I think we are very organized and that helps youngsters to compete against elite players in this league.”
While the plus/minus numbers are not always the most accurate measure of a player, progression can be found in the Suzuki and Caufield numbers. They were among the worst players in the league last season, but Suzuki currently has a plus-6 and Caufield a plus-3.
“As a line, we feel like we can play anyone and if we’re in the offensive zone, it’s hard for them to score, and that tires them out and that’s our main focus.”
The addition of Dach to the line has been a huge plus. He helped make Caufield’s goal possible by creating a presence in the net against Tristan Jarry, and set up the winner. He’s not the center the Canadiens thought they were getting when they traded him in the draft, but he’s proving to be the perfect complement to his linemates.
“He’s not playing a game, he’s playing the game,” St. Louis said. “When you understand that as a player you get on base every at-bat, then you get your home run. It is a sign of intelligence, absorbing it and applying it because we trained it. That is our job and it is progressing very well.”
St. Louis said the move to the wing was beneficial for Dach because it freed him from the responsibility of taking faceoffs, which are not his strong point. There’s also less defensive responsibility, though Suzuki said Dach’s experience as a center allows him to help from the bottom.
“He’s playing for free right now,” St. Louis said.
There was a lot of talk about consistency in the dressing room. Josh Anderson, who started the scoring early in the first period, noted that the Canadiens have four scoring lines (five different players scored Saturday) and goaltenders Jake Allen and Sam Montembeault took turns scoring wins. Allen made 20 saves for the win on a night when the Penguins’ offense appeared only in streaks. The Canadiens outscored the visitors 42-24.
With the win, the Canadiens improved to 8-6-1 on the season and are tied with the Florida Panthers for fourth place in the Atlantic Division.
Note: An earlier version of this story said that Kirby Dach set up Sean Monahan for the game-winning goal. In fact, Mike Hoffman scored the winner in overtime. The Montreal Gazette regrets the error.
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