Canadiens weekly notebook: Sean Monahan’s and Kaiden Guhle’s rising importance

We had a rather extraordinary admission from Martin St. Louis last week that warrants a bit of examination.

“The success we had early this season might have hidden certain things. And I’m going to take responsibility for that as a young coach to be careful and not really diving in on every part of the game just because we’re winning,” St. Louis said Wednesday. “I’m not saying we didn’t do that, but sometimes you put a little band-aid on something that requires minor surgery.

“But when you don’t get the results, that forces you to really work. And if you don’t have that mindset, maybe you put band-aids on for too long and at a certain point you need major surgery and it’s too late. So that’s part of a season, and I’m happy it’s happening now.”

Not every NHL coach would be willing to admit he let the results cloud the process, but St. Louis did that and volunteered that information, to boot. Then he went about making adjustments.

The following day in Detroit, prior to facing the Red Wings, St. Louis was asked by TSN colour analyst Dave Poulin about breaking up a forward line that works to help out the other lines, and how that bothered him as a player.

“As a player, I experienced that. I didn’t enjoy that,” St. Louis said. “But the well-being of the team is always more important than the individual.”

That evening, St. Louis split up Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield and changed all his defence pairings. And the Canadiens won 3-2 in overtime on a Caufield power-play goal.

What was interesting about the split was that St. Louis decided it was better to simply swap Suzuki and Christian Dvorak, which allowed Caufield to stay with Juraj Slafkovský and Josh Anderson to stay with Alex Newhook on the wings. But more importantly, it allowed the line of Tanner Pearson and Brendan Gallagher with Sean Monahan to remain intact.

When you look at that decision within the context of what St. Louis said that morning, it gives a real reflection of how important the Monahan line is to any success the Canadiens hope to have. The well-being of the team is apparently reliant on it.

Because it would have been reasonable for St. Louis to try Monahan with Suzuki and Caufield for the well-being of the team, seeing as getting those two going offensively at five-on-five — where they have seven points combined in 15 games — seems like a critical thing for the Canadiens. But St. Louis also said last week that what is important when you feel pressure to produce as a top offensive player is having support in those responsibilities, having the depth necessary to not make the team as reliant on their top stars to carry too heavy a load.

That’s what Monahan’s line provides, and more specifically, that’s what having Monahan on their line allows Pearson and Gallagher to provide.

“It’s pretty easy,” Pearson said Sunday morning when asked what it is like reading off Monahan. “He controls the game so well, can speed it up, slow it down. He has such a good knack of that next play, or where that next play’s going to happen. He talks to you as a winger, it’s so key to have a centreman who’s vocal to you to let you know if you have time or not, or chip it or whatnot.”

For now, an argument can be made that Monahan is the most important forward on the Canadiens. He’s helped Pearson and Gallagher find their games and become an impactful line — they have 14 points combined at five-on-five this season — he’s helped the power play start to hum, he’s an important part of the penalty kill and he’s one of the top faceoff guys in the league. That’s all.

Monahan is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He is 29 years old. His importance to the Canadiens is only boosting his value ahead of the trade deadline, not to mention Pearson’s as well.

Though it will likely be tempting for the Canadiens to consider keeping Monahan beyond this season, having a trade chip this valuable at this stage of a rebuild is a gift, one the Canadiens must accept.

Kaiden Guhle has taken a massive step early in his second NHL season. (Vincent Ethier / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The rapid coming of age of Kaiden Guhle

Speaking of sneaky important players, the Canadiens’ most important defenceman right now is Kaiden Guhle. It’s not even a debate.

Just look at his impact on the forwards through the lens of the Canadiens’ expected goal percentage when they are on the ice with Guhle at five-on-five, and when they are on the ice without him, via Natural Stat Trick.





XGF% w/ Guhle


XGF% w/o Guhle








































Not sure what is going on with Slafkovský, but that is striking.

When St. Louis was asked to describe what Guhle brings to his team, he chose one word: stability. For a 22-year-old defenceman who has not yet reached 60 NHL games played, that is quite the compliment from his head coach.

Guhle’s pairing with Johnathan Kovacevic played a pure shutdown role over the weekend. Against the Boston Bruins, David Pastrnak’s most frequent opponent at five-on-five was Guhle at 9:34, and over those minutes, the Canadiens outscored the Bruins 1-0, outshot the Bruins 6-4, had an 11-10 edge in shot attempts and controlled 64.01 percent of the expected goals.

This is Guhle checking Brad Marchand in the second period. Just casually sound defence.

Against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, Elias Pettersson’s most frequent five-on-five opponent was again Guhle at 7:36, and though the Canadiens got outscored 1-0 in those minutes, shots on goal, shot attempts and expected goals were basically 50-50, with a slight edge to the Canucks.

Prior to that game against the Canucks, Kovacevic revealed his quick appreciation for the game of his new defence partner.

“I’ve always known how good of a player he is, right when I came in last year,” Kovaecvic said. “He has all the tools, he’s a lot of fun to play with. A night like last night he gets rewarded, he’s first star and all that (Guhle was actually named the third star Saturday, somehow), but every night he comes in and he does that. What I appreciate in his game is he’s really in control. For someone to be that fast — he’s an amazing skater — but he’s also in control the whole time.

“He’s a great guy to play with, we come to the bench, we’re serious in the fact that we’ll talk about whatever happened, but not put too much weight on it. I feel like sometimes younger guys can put too much weight on a bad play or a mistake. He’s always on to the next play, kind of like water off a duck’s back. So he’s got the physical tools and the mentality to take him so far.”

Never was that more evident than when Guhle was killing that pivotal five-on-three power play the Bruins had in the third period of Saturday’s game.

The anatomy of a great two-man disadvantage

St. Louis said what he was most proud in that game against the Bruins was that penalty kill when Pearson and Gallagher were each called for hooking on the same sequence with the Canadiens on a power play and leading 2-1 in the third period.

But what preceded that five-on-three kill was a four-on-three kill, one where Guhle lived the St. Louis mantra that winning hurts.

Guhle went from that guy suffering on the bench to being back on the ice less than a minute later, which is what made this that much more impressive.

But it wasn’t just Guhle on that penalty kill. Kovacevic was blocking shots as well, as were the forwards. No five-on-three gets killed without it.

“So five-on-three you kind of have to rely on blocks more than five-on-four, because obviously they have two more guys and they’re going to get chances, so you kind of have to eat bullets on five-on-threes, even on four-on-threes,” Kovacevic said. “Another thing that worked for us was pressures off entries. Usually on a five-on-three they’re kind of expecting to get the zone. I think on two separate occasions, we were able to get a clear and disrupt their offence off an entry.”

That disruption is a three-man project. Here is one of those instances, and Kovacevic was especially impressive here battling two Bruins for the puck along the boards and ultimately freeing it for Jake Evans to clear it.

Evans providing a bit of hindrance to the initial entry, forcing the Bruins to drop it, and Kovacevic aggressively attacking the puck as soon as he saw an opportunity along the boards were the keys to that successful clear.

These are the types of sequences that lead to wins and don’t necessarily show up on a scoresheet but are just as valuable as a goal or an assist.

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Canadiens 2022 first-round pick Filip Mešár is off to an excellent start with the Kitchener Rangers. (Marc DesRosiers / USA Today)

Filip Mešár’s change in mindset

When Filip Mešár was sent down to the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers from the Laval Rocket, he met the team in Mississauga and immediately had a conversation with Rangers GM Mike McKenzie.

“I think it’s best to be open and honest with young guys — not just him but everyone — and just lay the cards on the table,” McKenzie said. “I just said, listen, I know you wanted to play pro this year and I know you’re probably upset that you’re being sent down, and that’s good. It means you’re competitive and it means you want to move up. But the decision’s been made now, Montreal’s made the decision, and now you have to come down and do all the things they’re asking of you.”

The most important aspect of that conversation was for McKenzie to make it clear to Mešár that his hockey career is not a short-term thing, it is a marathon more so than a sprint. But Mešár was already there, he had already made that realization and seeing what the possible reality was for him in Laval, fighting for minutes with a number of rookie forwards, may have helped with that.

“He realizes now that it is longer term, it’s about developing and making sure he can have a long career and not short-cutting any steps along the way,” McKenzie said. “So he’s been great and we had real good, open talk about it and really got things going on the right foot.”

Through eight games with Kitchener, Mešár has 15 points including a three-point outing on Sunday. That followed his first scoreless game of the season on Friday against Owen Beck and the Peterborough Petes. Aside from that game and one on Nov. 2 where Mešár was limited to a goal, he has gotten at least two points in the six other games he’s played.

That’s encouraging after an underwhelming second half of last season from a production standpoint. But there’s more to Mešár’s second season in Kitchener from a development standpoint.

“The points are great and obviously he’s going to produce at a certain level,” McKenzie said. “But I think for Montreal and for Filip, it’s not the points that are going to be determining factors for how quick he’ll be in the NHL or be ready for pro. You can go through a game log and see a goal and an assist and say he played great, and he probably did, but there’s more detail Montreal wants to see and our coaches want to see and Filip wants to see from himself on the defensive side of the puck, winning battles, getting involved, when you don’t have the puck getting it back, moving your feet. All the things coaches harp on. Playing on the inside of the ice, going to the net, to the dirty areas.

“What we want to do to help him prepare to be pro is help him take care of all those other details of the game, so that when he goes up there next year he can be relied upon, whether it’s the NHL coach or the AHL coach, to play and be relied upon defensively and do those other things outside of point production.”

And McKenzie has seen progress in those areas.

“Yeah, I have. I think he’s more tenacious on pucks this year, he’s moving his feet a little bit more, getting to the middle of the ice,” he said. “Like any young player, I think he can still continue to grow those areas. But Filip’s been here a couple of weeks now and I think he’s definitely headed in the right direction.”

(Top photo of Sean Monahan celebrating a goal: Zac BonDurant / Getty Images)

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