BROSSARD, Que. — It would be an understatement to say this season started on the wrong foot for Daniel Carr.
But if it hadn’t gone that way, you have to wonder if we’d be witnessing the redemptive tale he’s currently authoring.
The 26-year-old, who was waived and went unclaimed after coming to Montreal Canadiens training camp — basically as an afterthought after scoring eight goals and 18 points in his first 55 games in the NHL — is on a burner. With two goals and five assists and at least a point recorded in each of his last five games since being recalled to Montreal from the AHL’s Laval Rocket, only Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak (eight-game streak), Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin (six games) and Florida Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck (six games) are hotter.
Boston’s Brad Marchand, Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson are all also on five-game streaks.
The thing is, all of those guys — and all the other aforementioned players — are top-sixers who play big minutes on the power play and play with elite linemates, whereas Carr is working his miracles from Montreal’s fourth line.
He hasn’t played more than 12:32 in any of his five games, and only two of his shifts this season have been on the man advantage.
"It’s a tough league to score in," said Carr’s centreman, Byron Froese, on Wednesday. "But, with little opportunity, he’s just making a mockery out of that right now."
And it’s probably fair to say Carr’s most recent bout of adversity set him up for the success he’s currently enjoying.
He’s no stranger to facing obstacles. He’s an undrafted, undersized guy, who fought tooth and nail to be recognized by the Canadiens on the heels of earning a degree and a national championship at Union College. And he’s faced his fair share of hardship since then, suffering a knee injury early in 2016, struggling to score with the Canadiens last season before going down to the St. John’s IceCaps, missing three weeks due to an infection to his elbow that required emergency surgery, and closing out the year with a concussion.
But what Carr faced at the beginning of this year — being waived by the Canadiens on Sept. 31, going unclaimed on Oct. 1 and suddenly losing his father to an undisclosed illness on Oct. 2 — presented the biggest challenges he’s faced yet.
"I’d prefer not to talk about it," Carr said recently, regarding his father’s passing.
That was the case earlier this year, too, when Carr returned to the Rocket after his father’s funeral and in his first game back scored a hat trick.
"It was really tough on him and we tried to be sensitive to his wishes," said Froese, who played all of his shifts with Laval on a line with Carr and has quickly found chemistry with him in Montreal. "He just put his head down and went to work.
"He’s just really driven, really focused, and he knows what he wants to accomplish and he goes out there and does it."
There’s no denying it.
Carr scored eight more goals and added eight assists in his 19 other games with the Rocket before bringing a spark to Montreal’s fourth line that wasn’t previously there.
Froese, left winger Nick Deslauriers and centre Jacob De La Rose had found a recipe to spend some shifts in the offensive zone in the games leading up to Carr’s arrival with the team, but they hadn’t found a way to combine on a goal.
In fact, the Canadiens’ fourth line — which has seen a rotation of different players — had just one goal on the season, scored by Alex Galchenyuk in an 8-3 shellacking of the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 30, before Carr came up.
But Carr, Deslauriers and Froese have since combined for 15 points.
"The thing that’s really paid off for us lately is something as simple as our puck dumping choices," said Froese. "We’re putting the puck in places we can get it back, and whether it’s Carr flying down the wing or Deslauriers flying across, we’re finding time to make things happen."
"We’re three hard-working players," added Deslauriers. "We each know what each other’s going to bring and we played together in Laval. We’ve brought an identity to that part of the lineup, and we just want to keep working."
It’s paying off, and Carr, who’s been at the root of the line’s success, even found himself on a power play unit at Wednesday’s practice.
That’s a considerable leap from the farm.
"I’ve had a lot of good people around me — my family, and different people who have helped me put things in perspective," said Carr. "[Former Canadiens assistant coach and fellow Albertan] Perry Pearn was someone who sent me good advice at the beginning of the year and told me to just keep working because you never know what can happen.
"It’s basic advice, but it was something I needed to hear at the time. He gave me examples of players who had been through similar things, sent me some ideas on things I could work on in practice and things that other guys do, like Jagr.
"The big thing for me was getting back to just doing little things well and practising some things that were fun, like practising scoring goals and shooting pucks."
The results have brought a smile back to Carr’s face after not having much to be happy about a little over two months ago.