Canadiens' Toffoli, Anderson delivering early returns on big-money deals

Tyler Toffoli scored twice as the Montreal Canadiens held off a late push from the Vancouver Canucks for a 5-3 win.

MONTREAL — It snowed, the wind-chill factor made staying at home in a locked-down Quebec an easy decision for anyone not obliged to be elsewhere, and the Montreal Canadiens beat the Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre, with Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson both hitting the board.

Do we need 700 more words? We wrote this story 24 hours ago.

Groundhog Day, 2021. How fitting.

OK, here’s what was different Tuesday, aside from Shea Weber playing in his 1000th NHL game: This wasn’t exactly like Monday’s 6-2, wide-open romp, over which more than half the players in red sweaters recorded at least a point. No, this was more of a grind-it-out, muck-it-up affair with two hired guns firing most of the bullets — a 5-3 Canadiens win keyed by Toffoli and Anderson.

General manager Marc Bergevin, just like the rest of us, has watched them combine for 15 goals in 10 games since awarding them hefty contracts over the off-season to do exactly that. Toffoli leads the NHL with nine — eight of them scored in five games against this Vancouver team he was skating for just four months ago — and Anderson’s six puts him in solo second on the Canadiens in the category.

Do you think the GM of this NHL-leading Montreal troupe is happy? If there wasn’t a foot of snow on Saint-Antoine Street, we think he’d probably be doing cartwheels toward the 720 highway right about now.

And it’s not just about the goals that Toffoli and Anderson are delivering, it’s how they’re scoring them and fitting the exact profiles Bergevin thought he was purchasing when he asked owner Geoff Molson for just north of $55 million to pay them.

It was the six-foot-three, 226-pound Anderson bullying his way to Thatcher Demko’s crease to push the puck — and Canucks defenceman Jalen Chatfield — into the net for Montreal’s first goal of the game. Just before he scored his second, Anderson chased down Brandon Sutter and forced a turnover in the offensive zone and then installed himself in the slot for a tip that gave the Canadiens a 2-0 lead.

Toffoli, who’s made a career of sneaking his way into the scoring areas and finding ways to get his stick in the perfect position did exactly that to score his eighth of the season in Period 2. And then he turned a routine one-on-one into a clean scoring chance with a deft pull of the puck between his legs and a cross-body backhand that landed in the shelf of Demko’s net.

The way Toffoli later described it, it was as if he was boiling the whole sequence down to luck.

“I definitely didn’t have that setup in my mind,” he said. “Just trying to get it on net, I didn’t even see it go in, to be honest, but all the boys on the bench were howling.”

It was a beauty, but not a stunner.

Toffoli came to Montreal with 145 goals already banked — many of them scored in highlight-reel fashion.

Just like Anderson came — even after an injury riddled season that saw him produce just one goal in 26 games — as an established power forward.

“Before they even played a game, we told you guys what kind of players they were and what they could bring, and that’s what they’re doing,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “I think in Josh Anderson’s case, we said he’s got unbelievable speed, he’s great on the forecheck, he’s also got outside speed and he also takes the puck to the net. Or he goes to the net if he doesn’t have it. That’s why he’s having success scoring.

“We always thought that Tyler Toffoli was really good at scoring goals and was a smart player and we could use him in all kinds of situations as well. That’s what he’s doing — he’s killing penalties, he’s on the power play and at 5-on-5, that goal he scored tonight on the backhand is a beauty. So, those guys are just filling in the gaps that we needed to fill, and they’re doing it in a really good fashion.”

They’ve been doing it since the puck dropped Jan. 13, and ritualistically against these Canucks, who are probably thrilled to be leaving Montreal knowing they won’t have to face the Canadiens again until March.

You know what else is getting repetitive? Jeff Petry scoring.

He was the recipient of a gift-wrapped, empty-net goal Toffoli could’ve scored for himself, and he now leads all NHL defencemen with 13 points this season.

Also on repeat: Jake Allen played great in his fourth game as Carey Price’s backup, recording his third win — this one on the strength of 36 saves — and improving his save percentage to .930. How consistent.

He’s rolling, this Canadiens team is rocking, and we’ve just about hit our word count.

Here’s hoping for clear skies and less wind come morning.

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