MONTREAL — Jeff Petry, Brendan Gallagher and Nick Suzuki were the three players at the heart of this crucial win for the Montreal Canadiens, three players showing those letters stitched to the front of their jerseys were precisely in the right place — over their hearts.
Never mind that their best came in a 3-0 win over a hapless Detroit Red Wings side that was missing two of its three leading scorers — Dylan Larkin (for family reasons) and Tyler Bertuzzi (for selfish reasons); it’s not as if the 2-8 Canadiens were heavy favourites to win against the 4-3-1 Wings at the Bell Centre, and they’re not likely to be heavily favoured in other games until they can show with a modicum of consistency they won’t be completely crippled by not having Carey Price, Shea Weber and Joel Edmundson at their disposal.
But it’s not a coincidence that a game coach Dominique Ducharme referred to as one that led to the rediscovery of the Canadiens’ identity was owned by its current leadership group.
Petry had been a shell of himself for many of Montreal’s first 10 games, but he looked much more like the guy who put up 42 points in 55 games last season — and he did it playing 26:14 with an upper-body injury.
Gallagher had just one goal and one assist in his first nine games and doubled up in both categories in Game 10 while appearing anything but comfortable on the ice. He had missed the team’s loss in Anaheim on Sunday with an undisclosed injury, missed Monday’s practice back in Brossard, and missed the optional morning skate on Tuesday before jumping into warmup full of energy.
It was energy the 29-year-old sustained through the game, in the most Gallagher way — playing his abrasive, in-your-face and in-the-crease style—even if he spent the last few minutes of the second period receiving treatment in Montreal’s room before returning for the third and sealing the win with an empty-net goal in the 57th minute.
“Gally’s always going to be ready if he’s in the lineup,” said Suzuki. “Always gives 110 per cent, winning battles even if he has a little injury. His will really fires us up.”
Suzuki’s skill can drive the Canadiens.
It hadn’t really had that effect through the first 10 games, culminating with the 22-year-old calling himself out for what he deemed one of the worst performances of his young career in Anaheim.
But Suzuki played his best game of the season on Tuesday and was compensated with his first goal and two assists to bring his total to eight points in 11 games. He centred Montreal’s top-two lines after Jonathan Drouin took some friendly fire from Brett Kulak and left the game early in the first to go to the hospital and have his head checked, he won 68 per cent of his 18 faceoffs and won almost all of his battles.
Josh Anderson says Jonathan Drouin was back at the Bell Centre after the game and appears to be ok after getting checked at the hospital following shot that his him in the head.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) November 3, 2021
It showed character.
“He’s a potential front-runner leader for this hockey team for the next seven-eight years with his deal,” said Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen, who made 22 saves for his second shutout in a Canadiens uniform and his second in his last three starts.
Nick Suzuki says a meeting with #Habs assistant coach Trevor Letowski yesterday was very beneficial to him. Said Letowski showed him clips of him fading out of battles and emphasized staying in the fight. Details were there today--certainly Suzuki's best game of the season.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) November 3, 2021
The Canadiens didn’t quite need Allen to be as good as he was in a 45-save, 4-0 win over San Jose last Thursday.
But they desperately needed Suzuki, Gallagher and Petry to play the way they did.
“Leadership starts by what you do on the ice,” said Ducharme. “You can say whatever you want in the locker room, it’s what you do on the ice first, and they did a good job. For sure, for the guys on the bench, like we mentioned, to see (Gallagher) battle through those things, and to see Jeff not being a 100 per cent but (playing) the way he played tonight brings leadership for sure without saying a word. It’s just the action that you bring on the ice.”
Tyler Toffoli, who’s also in the rotating cast of assistant captains for the Canadiens this season, brought it as well and recorded two assists.
Josh Anderson, who doesn’t wear a letter, scored the team’s second goal, had six shots on net and played at the height of his abilities to vault himself into that leader category.
Everyone else followed, and the Canadiens built up a template that can garner the type of success they so desperately need.
“On top of the win tonight, it’s the way we did it,” said Ducharme. “That’s our team identity, that’s our way of playing… When you play that way and defend the right way, it creates momentum and rhythm. That’s our way of playing. Tonight, that’s our team and that’s what we have to do. And it’s the first time we’ve done it over 60 minutes.
“We need to do that every game.”
The Canadiens weren’t able to do that through most of their first 10 games, and as Ducharme said, there’s nothing they can do to change that.
But if they want to do better over their next nine Petry, Gallagher and Suzuki have to provide the type of leadership they did against the Wings.