Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian social reformer who campaigned against child labour in India and advocated the universal right to education, once said: “The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people.” The Montreal Canadiens seem to struggle with that concept, but had a swift reminder last night when youth forced a game six in their series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The first game of this series saw the likes of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov all sitting in the press box. Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme preferring to go with a veteran line-up. He included underwhelming veterans Eric Staal and Jon Merrill, amongst others, instead of giving his young guys a shot. Seeing the Canadiens win the first game 2-1 against heavy favourites Toronto, it was hard to argue.
It took an injury to Jake Evans get Kotkaniemi into the line-up for game two and he responded with a goal. It took more injuries to finally see Cole Caufield play in his first NHL game and while he didn’t score, he has had some good opportunities since.
With the team down 3-1 in the series, Ducharme drew the hire of the fan base when choosing to leave Romanov out. The 21 year-old defenseman has yet to see any action in the playoffs. Removing Brett Kulak from the line-up, he preferred Erik Gustafsson to his young Russian. Results? The coach overtaxed Ben Chiarot (28:27) and Shea Weber (27:06) while Gustafsson (10:16) and Merrill (9:18) were barely used. The Canadiens ended up forcing game six by winning 4-3 in overtime, surrendering a two-goal lead in the third period to force the game in extra time. The winning goal? A breakaway between 21 year-old Nick Suzuki and 20 year-old Caufield. Kotkaniemi also scored his second goal of the series in this game. Youth prevailed.
When Claude Julien was relieved of his duties in late February, many of us were thrilled. The old coach wasn’t particularly keen on giving a second opportunity to the team’s young players after they made the expected odd mistakes on the ice. Ducharme, a younger and more progressive coach, was more likely to throw them back in after a mistake, hoping they learned from them. Little did we know…
Kotkaniemi and Romanov had a rough end of the season. So did the rest of the team, mind you. The Canadiens played a league-leading 25 games in 43 days since March 30th since coming back from a forced COVID break. Physical and mental fatigue was a factor for every single player on the team at that point.
But prior to the playoffs’ starting, the Canadiens had a full week off to heal and rest. Finally being able to get some much needed practice time is a luxury Ducharme hadn’t had since taking over the team. Most people expected the team’s young players to be part of the team’s line-up. Even Caufield, who had four goals and five points in his first 10 NHL games, was in most people’s projected line-up.
Now that the team’s youth is in and performing, what will it take for Romanov to finally gets a kick at the can? He has played in 54 of the team’s 56 regular season’s games. Someone mentioned that the playoffs are for winning. Fair enough. I’m just not sure that Merrill, Gustafsson and even Kulak give the Habs a better chance at winning than Romanov. I don’t know if it’s Ducharme or defense coach Luke Richardson holding him back but something’s gotta give. Unless he’s injured or the decision to not play him is disciplinary (remember Ryan Poehling in the last playoffs), just put the kid in and see what he can do. I bet he can help as much, if not more, in the 10-13 minutes you’ll use him for. Go Habs Go!