Montreal has 15 games left in this gruelling, injury-filled season. It’s a three-game road trip for the Canadiens with the first stop in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night against the Penguins.
Montreal rode the strong goaltending of Samuel Montembeault for a 6-4 win.
On Monday night, the Colorado Avalanche gave the Canadiens a lesson in the skills of the modern defenceman. On Tuesday night, the Canadiens showed that they wish to be a quick study of the skill set.
For the first time in seven games, Justin Barron was back in the lineup. He has strong modern-day skills of reading the play and getting the puck up ice. The best way for a defender to help win games is not only to defend well, but to make sure that there isn’t much need for defending. Puck movers are required and Barron is one.
The Canadiens got on the board thanks to Barron’s heady play.
Barron intercepted the puck at his own blue line. This is the end of the play for a stay-at-home defender. For Barron, he skated up ice to win the offensive zone, then fed a gorgeous pass to Rem Pitlick who fed Mike Hoffman for the Montreal goal.
Barron came through with another beautiful play in the third period as he hit his own blue line and found a streaking Anthony Richard for a breakaway that he converted for a 5-4 Montreal lead. The way Barron threaded the pass is an outstanding look at what he can bring in an increasingly bright future.
On the second goal, it was another modern-day defender showing how vital the skill set is for success. Mike Matheson got the puck at the Pittsburgh blue line. He was pressured hard to give the puck by throwing it away, but Matheson wouldn’t settle for that.
Matheson continued to fight for time and space, holding off the defender with one hand. He danced along the blue line, then finally found Jesse Ylonen who ripped a shot into the top corner. Two goals for the Canadiens. Two defenders making all of the difference with their complete skill sets.
There simply is no successful hockey in today’s modern game without all players having all skills. Nick Suzuki after the game on Monday night spoke of the Avs complete game: “It’s not that structure where the D are just playing D. All five guys are all everywhere.
“Sometimes they have four guys high. Sometimes they have four guys low. They have the structure that the league is trying to emulate, and they have the D that can do it.”
Head Coach Martin St. Louis added, “They have so much movement. It’s a position-less offence.” It’s excellent to hear that the leadership, from the captain to the coach, is focused and attentive to a style of hockey that will dominate the game in years to come.
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In fact, look for this trend to continue to such an extent that it feels like all of the players on the ice are rovers, and all of the players must have all of the skill sets required to play perfect hockey.
Defenders will need to know how to lead rushes and finish chances. Forwards must be able to skate backwards fluently and defend rushes perfectly when the blue liner has pinched in on offence. All for one job and one job for all.
That’s what 2026 will look like. It’s already what the present Stanley Cup champions look like.
The beauty is that the talent that the Canadiens are developing are those type of players. Barron, Matheson and Kaiden Guhle are strong, complete modern-day defenders already in the lineup. Ready to join them in the near future are two more strong puck movers in Logan Mailloux and Lane Hutson.
The blue liners of the future for the Canadiens will fit the hockey of the future. Nothing in the world is static and the winners are those who can see change coming. Thankfully, GM Kent Hughes has come to Montreal in a timely manner.
The Canadiens were dominated. The shots on goal favoured Pittsburgh 41-20, but with much better goaltending from Samuel Montembeault than Tristan Jarry, the Canadiens won 6-4.
When the club is healthy again, and much stronger down the middle, expectations will be higher, as will a desire to criticize a club getting dominated. These days, the glass is more half-full because Connor Bedard has a better chance of drinking from it.
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During the four-game home stand that the Canadiens just concluded, the club didn’t win a single game. The thought has been through the years that there would be boos raining down on the players for such failure; that the fans simply would not tolerate the legendary Montreal Canadiens losing again and again.
Think again, because not only are these fans tolerating losses, boos have barely been heard this season. In fact, when the club has shown great hustle and competed with the best teams in the league, fans have given standing ovations for entertaining and energetic play.
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It’s difficult to know where the idea came from that the Canadiens fans wouldn’t accept losses, but it has always been this way. This negative thought has always been pervasive — that Montreal management could not do a real rebuild, because the fans would not tolerate it.
However, step back for a second and look at it again. It should have been thought that the most passionate of fans, like Montreal hockey fans, would hold their passion easily through the hard times.
Let’s be serious here. Montreal fans aren’t turning away from hockey. They’re lifers.
It should have also been thought that Montreal hockey fans, being among the most knowledgeable, would also understand what a rebuild is. They would naturally understand that a rebuild takes time and patience would be required. Montreal fans fully comprehend that losses lead to high draft picks, and high draft picks lead to stars, and stars lead to subsequently great teams to come.
The fans have shown a terrific attitude for two years running through a lot of losses. We should have expected this. Some wonder how long they will remain patient. The answer has to be that there is no reason to think they will lose passion as they never have before.
Fans can see the improvement from season one of the rebuild to season two of it. They’re always well aware of prospects in the pipeline and draft picks to come. They can see the future is looking better already.
Time to give these amazing fans some credit. Sure, they love a winner, but more than that, they love their Habs.
Time is on ownership and management’s side more than they ever thought.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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