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In Hainsight: Challenge Accepted

February 7, 2024, 4:25 PM ET [294 Comments]
Karine Hains
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On a night where it could have been understandable for the team to be down after losing a guy who helped make them competitive in Sean Monahan, the newly reformed first line of Caufield-Suzuki-Slafkovsky answered the call. Prior to the break, Slafkovsky had been playing with Monahan, but it looked like he hadn’t missed a beat with Caufield and Suzuki.

Speaking of Caufield, his forechecking led to the first goal of the game after he intercepted the puck and drove to the net alongside his captain. The winger waited just long enough to send a saucer pass to Suzuki who buried the puck behind Charlie Lindgren. The former Canadiens goaltender had a perfect record against the Habs prior to last night, but yesterday nothing seemed to be working for Washington. 57 seconds after the Canadiens’ opened the score, Arber Xhekaj sent one of his patented wristers to the net and hit the post. The puck bounced right to Suzuki who was on the wing on the goal line in “no angle territory” but he still managed to score making it 2-0. A little over five minutes later, Raphael Harvey-Pinard got the puck along to board, sent it to the middle and Michael Pezzetta grabbed it and scored to send Lindgren back to the bench after surrendering three goals on nine shots. The first period ended 3-0 Canadiens with 13-5 advantage shots on goal wise.

In the second period though, the Canadiens looked like a completely different team, like they were threading carefully on the ice, afraid to interfere with the Capitals. Sensing their opponent’s vulnerability, the Capitals pounced, and Alexander Ovechkin scored his 10th goal of the season to bring the Capitals back within two. In those 20 minutes alone, the Capitals managed to put 16 shots on goal, but Samuel Montembeault stood tall, multiplying the saves and when there was a chance he may be caught out of position, David Savard acted as the savior. It will be interesting to see if someone comes knocking for Savard at the trade deadline, the rugged veteran provides sound defensive play and he’s got plenty of experience, but his contract doesn’t run out until the end of next season.

Washington controlled most of the play in the final frame as well, dominating 18-8 in the shot department, but Montembeault carried on being brilliant and Montreal was opportunistic capitalizing on its chances. A little over halfway through the third, Juraj Slafkovsky scored a beautiful goal after pulling off a toe drag and a very quick release that beat Kuemper. Seconds later though, Sanding pulled the Caps back within two goals of the visitors. Three minutes later though, the Capitals took a penalty and Slafkovsky scored his ninth of the season on a hard one-timer, final score Montreal 5 Washington 2.

Last night, Slafkovsky looked like he did in those highlights before being picked first overall at the draft. He looked comfortable, confident, and assertive. He only took three shots on net, but two of those found their way into the net. Right now, Slafkovsky is fourth in scoring on the team with 22 points, he’s on pace for 36 in an 82-game season, which would be a fantastic improvement on his rookie season and would also be exactly what I expected to see from the young Slovak: What to Expect from Jurak Slafkovsky. Of course, if he stayed as hot as he is right now, he could even produce more, but the fact is the first line being the only real threat in the Canadiens’ line-up now that Monahan’s gone will make it even harder for the trio. For this game though, the first line has risen to the challenge its GM extended.

Meanwhile, Cole Caufield extended his point streak last night and he did it nice and early in the game following a turnover he forced himself. Granted, he’s got less goal than he did last season, but the sniper has improved as a hockey player overall, he’s got a more complete game, which is exactly what Martin St-Louis wanted to see from him.

The Canadiens have now headed back to Montreal, and they’ll get ready for the traditional back-to-back Super Bowl weekend matinees. Dallas will be in town on Saturday and the Blues will be the visitors on Sunday.

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