Canadiens' depth the main theme in early-season success

The Montreal Canadiens got four goals in the second period as they took down the Vancouver Canucks 7-3.

They came to Vancouver with one assist between them, having watched the other three lines on the Montreal Canadiens account for 12 of 13 goals at 5-on-5 through the first three games of the season, and they seemed determined to change that.

We had a feeling Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Tyler Toffoli and Joel Armia might take it as a personal challenge to take over and rise to the occasion against the Canucks.

So did Canadiens coach Claude Julien.

“I think when you look at the games, they seem to have some opportunities, some chances,” Julien said of the trio on Wednesday afternoon, ahead of three games in four nights on the Pacific Coast. “I think the only thing right now that hasn’t happened is they haven’t been able to get the results from either the puck going in or whatever. But they’ve had some chances.

"Not everything is perfect as far as some lines seem to have found chemistry a little quicker and some lines take a little longer, but I still see potential right now. So, we’re being patient with them and hoping that they’re going to get some results here soon.”

About that: After Toffoli scored a hat trick, Kotkaniemi had a goal and assist and Armia a helper in Montreal’s 6-5 shootout loss to the Canucks Wednesday night, they powered the Canadiens to a 7-3 win at Rogers Arena Thursday. These three players combined for eight points in just the first two periods — four of them shorthanded — and offered a proverbial slap to anyone referring to them as Montreal’s third line.

Meanwhile, Paul Byron, Jake Evans and Artturi Lehkonen — the clear-cut fourth on this balanced and deep Canadiens team — each had a point Thursday. They’ve now combined for six points in five games.

Line 1A, consisting of Nick Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson, came together for the nicest goal scored by the Canadiens in this one and brought their total to 12 points on the season. And Line 1B — Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher — has collected 11 points since the puck dropped on Jan. 13.

All six defencemen have recorded at least a point so far. And the ice-time distribution at both ends has been as evenly spread as you’d expect after seeing the balance in the scoring.

Over on the taxi squad, a couple of Stanley Cup winners in Corey Perry and Michael Frolik haven’t just been biding their time.

“Being around them, seeing them in practice today, they’re not just going through the motions,” said Toffoli. “They’re working hard, staying ready to be in the lineup.”

We could see one or both of Perry and Frolik join the party Saturday. Byron took a Shea Weber slap shot off the foot with just over six minutes remaining in Thursday’s game and has since been deemed day-to-day by Julien, and Armia took a hit from Tyler Myers that resulted in a concussion.

The 6-foot-7 defenceman was assessed a 10-minute match penalty after charging at Armia from the blind side and levelling him while the score was lopsided and the clock was ticking down.

“It’s a loss for us, for now, and it’s too bad,” said Julien. “I didn’t like the hit from Myers. (Armia) didn’t see him coming. It’s a shoulder hit that seemed high. I think the refs reacted well giving him a (10)-minute penalty. Now we’ll have to wait and see what the league’s disciplinary committee decides, which is something we don’t control, unfortunately. But I didn’t like the hit — especially with 2:28 to go in a 6-3 game. He didn’t see it coming and it’s from a big guy who I think is 6-foot-7. Was it necessary? We’re trying to clean these types of hits out of the NHL, so we’ll wait and see how they’ll deal with it.”

How the Canadiens will deal with it is by relying on their biggest weapon — their depth.

It’s served them exceptionally well in establishing a 3-0-2 record — one that would probably be better if not for the 26 penalties they’ve taken so far — and it was an obvious factor against a tired Canucks team missing Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic to start Thursday’s game. That Canucks defenceman Jalen Chatfield left after playing just five shifts only made it clearer.

“I think it started last night,” said Suzuki. “Claude ran the bench pretty evenly. We had a lot of special teams, but we have guys that are playing a lot of PK and a lot of power-play time, so it’s pretty even. I think you saw that tonight. We were able to get on them pretty quickly starting in the second period. We had fresher legs. You can definitely see it on the ice, we all felt pretty good heading into this game.”

It was most evident on Kotkaniemi’s line, with Toffoli seemingly unstoppable and Armia putting up a career-best four points (two goals, two assists) before collecting himself off the ice and wobbling his way down the tunnel toward Montreal’s dressing room.

Great start, devastating finish, but the Canadiens feel equipped to handle this.

“We've got a team full of guys that we can expect on any given night to step up and be difference-makers for us,” said Gallagher prior to Thursday’s game. “I think that's kind of been the story early on this year. It's been different guys on different nights, and it's fun to be a part of because everyone feels like you've got a team, you've got guys that support you, but you want to be the guy that steps up as well.

"We definitely have that depth to come at teams like we want to with energy, and when every line shows up, we're definitely pretty dangerous.”

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