Canadiens Takeaways: Nick Suzuki stars in big win over Flames

Max Domi scored the overtime winner to lead the Canadiens to a 4-3 win over the Flames Thursday.

What a wild league this is.

The Montreal Canadiens collected three points over an eight-game span from the middle of November through the beginning of December, and with their win on Thursday night in Calgary they capped a 6-2-0 run and took control of second place in the Atlantic Division.

You just never know what you’re going to get in this NHL.

On this night, there was no way of predicting anything about the game between the hometown Flames, who wore white, and the visiting red-dressed Canadiens.

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It started with Calgary, who came into the game ranked dead last in the NHL in first-period goals, opening up a 2-0 lead over the first 20 minutes.

Then Flames goaltender David Rittich, who appeared infallible through the first half of the game, let a Brendan Gallagher shot from an impossible angle squeak through him.

Joel Armia tied the game for Montreal on a goal that was challenged for offside and easily could have been considered offside. Earlier this season in Montreal, Boston’s Charlie Coyle kicked a pass up to his stick but crossed the line before the puck caught up to his blade, and the goal that came off this skill play was disallowed on review because it was deemed he wasn’t in full possession of the puck. And on Thursday, in Calgary, Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen tipped a pass to himself and crossed the line before the puck caught up to him, but it was deemed on a review he was in possession.

It was Lehkonen who set Armia up for his 12th goal of the season and the Canadiens got a power play on the failed challenge from Flames head coach Geoff Ward. Go figure.

After that, who would have predicted the Flames, who were 4-0-1 when tied after two periods, would take a 3-2 lead and then squander it and eventually lose it 4-3 in overtime to the Canadiens, who came into the game with a 4-6 record at three-on-three?

Not I. But here we are…

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Julien continues to show trust in Suzuki

With two minutes left in the third period, Canadiens coach Claude Julien had Nick Cousins, Nick Suzuki and Jordan Weal on the ice for a neutral-zone faceoff and motioned for them to make a change as soon as the puck was dropped.

On came Montreal’s top line of Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Gallagher.

Why?

Because Julien wanted to put Suzuki on with Cousins and Nate Thompson in the final minute. Yes, the coach with a (long-time) ill-perceived bias towards older players wanted his 20-year-old centreman on the ice in that pivotal situation.

Here we have yet another example of what coaches need to do in order to win games in today’s NHL and Julien is complying. They have no choice but to trust their young players, and the rewards of doing so often outweigh the pitfalls.

It helps that Suzuki is a rookie Julien referred to as “low maintenance” just last week.

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“He’s a good rookie, a smart rookie, and there’s been a lot of those coming through the league,” Julien said. “He’s having a good year so far. He’s shown progression since the start of the season. There’s still some areas we’d like to see him improve on, and that will come with time. It’s not because of a lack of something, it’s experience and him finding his way through this league.”

Last Saturday, following 2-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, Julien said he felt Suzuki was one of several players he wanted to see more on the inside of the action as opposed to on the perimeter, and he added that the young star in the making shouldn’t get ahead of himself and start buying the hype around his game and thinking he’s already a star.

But after a strong performance for Suzuki in a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, the kid was arguably Montreal’s best skater in Calgary and Julien didn’t hold him back.

Suzuki had tied Thursday’s game at 3-3 at the end of the 12th minute of the third period, making a brilliant tip off a Cousins shot from the sideboards. It was his team-leading sixth puck on net and it resulted in his seventh goal of the season.

And Suzuki’s shift in the final minute of the third, and the one he got in overtime, put him up to 17:28 of ice time for the game, which is exactly as much as leading-goal scorer Gallagher played.

To say the London, Ont., native’s development is coming along well would be understating it. And Julien—and the other Montreal coaches, and Suzuki’s teammates—deserve as much credit for that.

QUICK HITS:

• Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was beat for three goals for the first time in six games, but had no chance on any of them. Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm scored tap-ins on cross-crease passes, and Oliver Kylington capped off a beautiful play from Johnny Gaudreau in the third period for his first goal of the season.

Meanwhile, without Price, the Canadiens would have had no chance at gaining one point in the standings, let alone two. He made remarkable saves throughout, finishing the game with 24.

In the second, Price made a brilliant stop on Tkachuk, who pulled the puck between his own legs and tried to beat the Montreal goaltender over his right shoulder. That kept the game at 2-0 Calgary and gave the Canadiens a chance to get back into it a couple of minutes later with Gallagher’s goal.

And in the third, Price’s point-blank toe-save on a T.J. Brodie one-timer was out of this world and it kept the score knotted at 3-3.

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• One of the reasons 20-year-old Ryan Poehling was sent down to the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket after his first four games with the Canadiens this season was because there was no room at centre and he looked terribly out of place on the wing, where he had never played before at any other level of hockey.

Well, it’s a clear sign of Poehling’s greatest skill—his hockey sense—that he has played exceptionally well on the wing since return from Laval four games ago. He’s looked so good at the position that Julien was asked on Thursday morning if that’s where he belongs.

“I’m not going to write off the fact that he can’t play centre,” Julien said. “But it’s nice to see those guys being able to be versatile because you need that. If something happens at centre and I need somebody, I know he can play there. There’s a lot of other guys, too, on our team, whether it’s (Jordan) Weal and that, we have a lot of guys who can play that position. But it’s not a bad thing for him to be able to play there right now.

“Maybe a little less responsibilities down low, although he’s been good at it. It just gives him an opportunity to play more energetic (and) forecheck. Instead of coming from low in your end, he’s up a little higher so his forecheck is valuable. He’s a big body, which we can certainly use, and he’s physical on the forecheck and also a big body going to the front of the net. So that’s been a good asset for us.”

Poehling was a good asset against Calgary.

• The game-winner off Max Domi’s stick was his seventh goal of the season, his first in 12 games and just his third goal in his last 22. Meanwhile, it was his 23rd point in his 35th game, which isn’t quite as disappointing as some have made it out to be.

Granted, Domi’s on pace for only 54 points after registering a career-high 72 a season ago. But it’s fair to say the 25-year-old misses Jonathan Drouin (injured on Nov. 15 and expected to be out until at least mid-January) more than just about anyone else on the Canadiens.

UP NEXT:

The Canadiens travel to Edmonton, where they’ll take on the Oilers on Saturday. They’ll be rested, but the Oilers will play against the Pittsburgh Penguins at 9 p.m. ET on Friday before playing at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday against Montreal.

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