The Boston Bruins are the best team in the NHL this season. They have only five losses in 47 games.
Considering they were playing half of the Montreal Canadiens and half of the Laval Rocket, they were expected to have no issue at the Bell Centre, but they sure had some before prevailing 4-2.
General Manager Kent Hughes is getting some extremely strong offers for Josh Anderson, but the offers have not yet met his target. It’s hard to say what, exactly, the expected return is for Anderson, but it should be in the neighbourhood of a first-round draft choice and another top prospect.
It’s a lot for a player in his late 20s, but Anderson is earning the offers with his play. Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anderson was the best Canadiens player, and against the Bruins he continued to be a force.
Anderson is flying through the neutral zone looking for passes and when he gets one, he approaches the blue line with speed that’s backing up the best defences in the league. Anderson is the type of player who excels in the playoffs with his big frame and won board battles.
Hughes has indicated at times that he isn’t even sure if he wants to move Anderson, but considering the Canadiens are in a rebuilding project, by the time they are ready to compete, Anderson’s best days will be behind him. Logically then, he should be dealt.
Hughes has done a tremendous job of playing chicken with GMs so far. He says what his price is and then does not move off of it. If Anderson continues to play this well, one GM might see a cup run with a power forward too good to pass up meeting Hughes’ asking price.
The Canadiens are playing far too well to get a top-five draft pick, so they may need another first-rounder to make up for it in a trade for the likes of Anderson, Sean Monahan or Joel Edmundson. Montreal was full value for a win over the Maple Leafs on Saturday, and on Tuesday, they gave the Bruins a strong contest.
Kirby Dach continued his breakout season with another two goals. Except poor statistics overall in the face-off circle, Dach is a natural centre. He reads the game beautifully. He’s a monster in transition. His zone entries are the best on the club. Also, in this one, he was 70 per cent in the dot.
It’s easy to see how well-coached the Bruins are. They are organized on every rush. They flood zones well. They don’t just go to the net; they go through the net. Every line is dangerous. They have a primetime face-off winner. They kill penalties like they’re on the power play.
So why did the Canadiens, who are near the basement in the NHL, manage to stay close? They played a strong conscientious 5-on-5 game. It was clear that the plan was to not get caught up ice; to make sure a third man was high, so they couldn’t be beaten easily on the counter.
Credit has to be given to Martin St. Louis, of course, for how the Canadiens are being coached. However, let’s not forget the head coach in Laval who has these replacements like Jesse Ylonen, Rem Pitlick, Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Alex Belzile, and Justin Barron fitting right into the system at puck drop. Ylonen was one of the top forwards against the Bruins.
Jean-Francois Houle even has the Rocket playing well right now, which is a miracle considering half their team has driven down Highway 15 to play in Montreal, including Cayden Primeau.
Organizationally, there are many losses these days, due to the rebuild, the number of rookies and a rash of injuries to key players, but overall, fans should be impressed with how competitive Montreal is during a difficult time.
That is unless you’re a member of Team Tank. Then this is driving you crazy.
None of this praise of the organization is possible, though, without a goalie playing better than even he probably thought he could. Samuel Montembeault has been asked to play eight straight games, and he’s not only handling the fatigue of that challenge well, he’s actually getting better with each start.
Montembeault looks like a solution going forward for the Canadiens in the net. He’s only 26 years of age, and this is only his second season that he’s had a chance to shine at the NHL level.
His save percentage over the last eight games is elite. He has faced 284 shots and stopped 264 for a .930. This is an extremely strong save percentage considering the league average is a low .910 this season.
Wanting the team to tank and knowing that a team needs to have talent going forward is a fine balance. There’s a trade-off here. It’s promising for the Canadiens to know that have a goalie who can make some stops when they’re competitive again.
However, it would be a shame if he was so darned good that the Canadiens dropped out of the top-10 in the draft. Maybe it’s time to give someone else a chance.
Montembeault has what it takes. He’s proven himself. Even Martin Brodeur took the odd night off.
With half the club from Laval, or an NHL rookie, that this was a close game against the Bruins was a miracle. No one criticizes miracles.
The Canadiens prospects continue to shine, but none more so than Lane Hutson.
What he is accomplishing at Boston University in his freshman year is phenomenal. He is unequalled in the college ranks not only this year, but he’s also putting in one of the best college campaigns for a defender in history.
The gold standard for defenders is Brian Leetch, who in his only season of college hockey in his draft plus one season for Boston College played 37 games, scoring nine times assisting on 38 for 47 points. Hutson’s numbers are comparable with 27 points in 22 games.
The gold standard the last two seasons at the college level is New Jersey Devils prospect Luke Hughes, but even he is not equalling what Hutson is doing in his first year, even though Hughes is thought of as the best defender not in the NHL today.
Hughes is scoring at less than a point-per-game pace at Michigan, while Hutson has the second best points pace for defenders in college hockey. Hutson is top ranked in points-per-game when one computes the statistic using a 15-game minimum, as the leader, Cade Mason out of Long Island, has played only 14 games.
On the weekend, there was more magic from Hutson as he racked up another three points. The game before that, he scored the winning goal with five seconds remaining. Hutson is one behind the winning goals leader Matthew Knies in college hockey. Knies has five. Hutson has four winners as a defender.
It is difficult to believe that Hutson was taken 62nd overall in the 2022 draft. It was because of his small stature and even that is improving. Hutson told scouts that he had a doctor’s note suggesting his growth spurt had not yet finished, and he was right.
Hutson was five-feet-eight-and-a-half-inches at the summer combine. He is now reportedly up to five-feet-10-inches. This is excellent for the Canadiens who are hoping that with longer legs and more bulk, Hutson can handle the physicality of the NHL. It’s his only question mark. Everything else, he is elite.
The Canadiens have not had a dynamic defender like Hutson since PK Subban and Andrei Markov. Just Hutson’s ability on the power play could make a massive difference to Montreal’s second worst power play in the entire NHL.
It is likely that Hutson plays one more college season, then it will be exciting to see how his slick game translates to the pros. At the college level, he is having such a phenomenal season that he likely to receive a Hobey Baker nomination this spring as the NCAA’s best hockey player.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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