It took until late February, but the Montreal Canadiens have finally won consecutive games during the 2021-22 NHL season.
They accomplished that on Sunday afternoon with a 3-2 shootout win over the New York Islanders. On Thursday they beat the St. Louis Blues in overtime.
While the wins themselves do not really mean much in terms of playoff races or seeding or anything in the standings, the Canadiens have looked like a completely different team under new coach Martin St. Louis. After his (surprising) hiring a couple of weeks ago St. Louis talked about wanting to free up players within the system to let them make their own reads and try to make plays. No player seems to have benefitted more from the early changes than rookie forward Cole Caufield.
Caufield entered the season as a preseason Calder Trophy favorite after his strong debut at the end of last season (and in the playoffs) but struggled to find his game through the first half of the season. He never really seemed to gain the trust of former head coach Dominique Ducharme, and even found himself in the American Hockey League at one point. He had just one goal in his first 30 games this season.
But since the hiring of St. Louis Caufield’s performance, ice-time, and ultimately his production have all rapidly taken off. He He already has four goals in his first five games under St. Louis, and has logged three of his four highest ice-time totals of the season over the past week. While he did not score a goal in regulation or overtime on Sunday, he did play more than 20 minutes, record three shots on goal, and score a beautiful goal in the shootout.
While this season may already be a lost cause for the team, positive development from young players like Caufield and Nick Suzuki will be very important to watch. If the Canadiens are going to turn this thing around quickly in future seasons, those two players are going to have to play major roles in that. Getting them going and playing to their potential is a must.
The other big story to come out of Sunday’s game was goalie Andrew Hammond earning his first NHL win in nearly six years. It was first NHL appearance since the 2017-18 season when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
He stopped 30 out of 32 shots to record his first NHL victory since April 9, 2016. He has not had a ton of time in the NHL during his career, but when he has been given a chance he has mostly played well. He burst onto the scene during the 2014-15 season with Ottawa and took the city by storm with his play, and the fact Senators fans littered the ice with hamburgers after his wins due to his nickname (the Hamburglar).