MONTREAL — We’ll call it $4.25 million well spent, especially after watching Tyler Toffoli come up with the only two goals his Montreal Canadiens managed in their most important game of the season to date.fo
They were Toffoli’s 20th and 21st goals of the campaign — a total that would’ve looked good after 82 games, but one that looks magnificent after 38 — and without them, the Canadiens would’ve faced some real tough questions about how they played in what turned out to be a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames Friday at the Bell Centre.
They were disjointed against this desperate Flames team, which could’ve closed the gap in the standings to two points but instead fell six back of the Canadiens with the loss. The Montreal defence handled the puck like it was a package of anthrax for most the night, the forwards generated very few scoring chances, but Toffoli came up clutch like he has for most of the season.
He came to Montreal on a Village de Valeur-level discount, with the pandemic raging and ravaging hockey-related revenue and whatever leverage the 2020 crop of unrestricted free agents hoped to be carrying into the market. In a normal year, a 28-year-old Stanley Cup winner who’s consistently done hockey’s hardest job — scoring goals — would’ve cashed in with a life-setting deal. Something in the neighbourhood of six or seven years at over $6 million per.
But the Scarborough, Ont., native settled for four years and $17 million, and it was the best offer he got. It came without trade protection but also without a single dollar dedicated to a much-coveted signing bonus.
Who knows how it turns out in Years 2, 3 and 4, but it’s a heist in this first one. And not only because Toffoli’s scored a bunch of goals — though, that’s good enough — but also because of the way he’s competed night in, night out, leading the Canadiens in both goals and points (32).
“I think just coming in, obviously having a good start, the team having a lot of confidence in me to be put out there in big key situations gives me a lot of confidence,” Toffoli said. “I think just from the start of the year, I’ve just been trying to work and trying to stay consistent. Obviously my game kind of tailed off there coming back after missing a few, but just been trying to work and be key and successful and be a big part of this team.”
Done, done, done and done.
Though, it’s true Toffoli had fallen off an even more torrid pace after suffering a lower-body injury on Mar. 19 and missing three games. He scored in his first one back and then went six without one — his longest drought of the season following two four-gamers.
So, Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme pulled him and Nick Suzuki aside after both were minus-3 in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Flames, and whatever he said helped them get back on track, as they connected — with the help of linemate Joel Armia — on both goals in Friday’s win.
“He had a few games where he didn’t score and I could see he was getting frustrated a little bit, which is normal and which is good to see in a guy that he wants to make the difference,” Ducharme said of Toffoli. “Sometimes just taking a step back and going back and doing small plays and being patient enough to find his pockets in the O-zone to get pucks in good positions to shoot like he did on his first goal. And at the same time, his second goal is more about competing. So, he’s such a smart player, he can really analyze well what he’s doing from one game to another, what he’s doing, and I don’t need to talk to him that often.
“But we had a good conversation, it wasn’t that long, and I really liked their game — and his game especially.”
Goaltender Jake Allen played a great one, too. Sure, he caught some bounces when three Calgary shots found the post within just a couple of minutes in the second period, but he caught one really bad one when Elias Lindholm’s shot hit Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot and deflected in to tie the game 1-1 in the seventh minute of the third period.
Allen still made 28 saves, the Canadiens blocked 22 shots and they got two goals from a pure scorer who’s provided more than his share already this season.
“Toff, I played against him a lot in the West,” said Allen, who was with the St. Louis Blues when Toffoli was with the Los Angeles Kings for eight seasons before he landed with the Vancouver Canucks last spring. “He played (under current Flames coach and former Kings coach Darryl) Sutter a lot, which is a little bit of a different system. Now he’s able to get these chances, and you can just tell he’s always had that scoring touch. He sort of just knows where to go. And when he gets his chances, the majority of the time they’re going in or coming close to going in. He’s just got that knack for the net. He’s a smart hockey player.
“He’s not the fastest guy in the world by any means. But if you have a better mind, you don’t really need to be fast; you just gotta know where the puck is and anticipate the play. And it’s on and off his stick. He doesn’t stickhandle with the puck, which is huge. Once it’s on the stick, it’s off the stick, and that’s the way it’s gotta be if you want to score in this league.”
On a team that isn’t doing much of that right now, Toffoli’s presence is full value. Friday’s performance just reinforced it.