Young Canadiens showing perspective and hanging in despite losses

Slaf vs Bruins March 14

MONTREAL — Perspective in life is an important trait, something that allows you to take things in context with a level head. But when you’re young, perspective is difficult, because you lack the life experience to have it.

This is true in general, but it is particularly true of athletes, who tend to look at things as black and white with little nuance in between.

Juraj Slafkovský was once like this, because he’s young.

Back on Nov. 12, Slafkovský had 2 points in 15 games, but his game was progressing. He was more visible on the ice, his details were better, he was getting more puck touches and making more plays. But the points weren’t there.

That’s when he revealed who was supplying him with the perspective he might have been lacking. It was the Montreal Canadiens coaching staff.

“I would say it’s not me, but the coaches when they say that maybe you don’t have as many points but you’re doing the right things on the ice,” Slafkovský said then. “That helps you a little bit better in the head and you feel a little better about yourself, even if you don’t have the most important things: points.”

The next game, Slafkovský got an assist, and since that game, he has 33 points in 51 games, including an assist in Thursday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins. That is roughly a 53-point pace over 82 games, which would be a very solid second NHL season for a 19-year-old.

But the assist Thursday was evidence of how Slafkovský’s sense of perspective has changed. It was important because of what came before it.

The Canadiens were down 1-0 less than five minutes into the game because Slafkovský’s man in front of the net, Danton Heinen, was able to get free and put in a rebound.

There have been a few similar goals the Canadiens have given up recently where Slafkovský lost his man in front. He’s aware of it, and yet he didn’t let that mistake bury him.

“You look at it on the bench and there’s not much I can change. I can just make sure that doesn’t happen moving forward. Yeah, it shouldn’t happen,” he said. “There’s not much I can do about what happened. If I’m just being frustrated about it, it will ruin my game. So I try to just shake it off as quick as possible and just try to go out there and take it back.”

On his very next shift, Slafkovský had a great scoring chance in front of the Bruins net that was thwarted by Andrew Peeke. And on the shift after that, Slafkovský took it back.

How exactly did Slafkovský see Nick Suzuki on that play?

“I kind of knew he was coming behind me so I tried to cut in front and create some space for him,” he said. “Yeah, I don’t know, I can still make plays, so I just gave it to him.”

So was it an educated guess?

“No, it was behind-the-back, tape-to-tape,” he said, tongue-in-cheek, but not really. “I mean, I knew he was there. It’s good we connected.”

There, in a nutshell, is the benefit of perspective at work, to be able to make a play like that two shifts after feeling awful about costing his team a goal. That is healthy, that is growth.

Then there is defenceman Kaiden Guhle, who might have been the Canadiens’ best player this game, talking about how they are still pushing for the playoffs, as ridiculous as that sounds. Guhle is 22, he doesn’t need perspective when it comes to believing you can achieve the impossible. That’s the attitude that got him to the NHL.

But he is still able to see what the Canadiens did against the Bruins, or the Toronto Maple Leafs before that, or the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers before that — all Canadiens losses — and see what that means for the future of this team, a future he continues to demonstrate he will be a big part of.

“You look at our team last year to this year, I think there’s a big difference,” Guhle said. “It’s exciting. You never want to be okay with a loss or accept a loss, but it’s not like we’re getting blown out. Every game’s close. We still got a point tonight, which again, it’s not ideal, you want 2 points. But there’s still a lot of positives in the game tonight.”

On that, take a look at how much more competitive the Canadiens are this season compared to last season.

Canadiens’ competitiveness in games

Last season This season




1-goal games



2-goal games



3+-goal games



Last season, the Canadiens lost 37 games by two or more goals. This season, that number is 19. They have played 38 one-goal games, and while their success rate is not quite what it was last season, the fact they have already easily surpassed last season’s total of 31 is a sign this team is indeed becoming more competitive. The Canadiens’ 16 wins in one-goal games are tied for fifth in the NHL, while their 11 regulation losses are tied for first and their 11 overtime or shootout losses are tied for fourth.

Bob Gainey once said a one-goal loss means you are two goals away from winning, which is true, but it is also a sign that you are sometimes a bounce away from winning as well. Saturday’s game against the Maple Leafs, when John Tavares scored the winner on a fortunate bounce in front of the net, was a perfect example. The Bruins are another because they lead the league with 15 overtime or shootout losses and have a 12-4-15 record in one-goal games. A few unfortunate bounces might have made a difference the other way for them, as well.

That’s perspective.

The same is true of how well Joshua Roy is playing for the Canadiens, making it difficult for them to send him down to the AHL to help with the Laval Rocket’s playoff push. The same is true of Joel Armia, who is playing his best hockey in years after spending time in the AHL at the beginning of the season. And the same is true of Slafkovský, as head coach Martin St. Louis put so well regarding his ability to park a bad goal against and continue moving forward.

“It’s easier this year than it was last year, not just because he’s older, but obviously he’s produced more,” he said. “It’s kind of like the chip count in poker. He’s got a good chip count. You’re going to lose a hand sometimes. It’s okay, play the next hand. Don’t lose all your chips because you get emotional.”

That same analogy can apply to the Canadiens. Yes, they are losing hands, but they are not losing big hands.

They are mitigating their losses, they are hanging in. And sometimes, when you continue getting bad hands, hanging in is the best you can hope for.

(Photo of Juraj Slafkovský and Danton Heinen: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)

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