Saturday, March 2, 2024

Juraj Slafkovsky outshines Connor Bedard in Canadiens’ 5-2 victory

Picks up a objective and an help as Habs head dwelling for Christmas break after incomes factors in every of their final 5 video games (3-0-2).

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The Canadiens gained the NHL Draft Lottery a yr too early.

That’s not a knock on Juraj Slafkovsky, however No. 1 general draft picks aren’t all created equal.

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The Canadiens chosen Slafkovsky with the No. 1 decide in 2022 and the Chicago Blackhawks took Connor Bedard at No. 1 this yr.

Whereas Slafkovsky is a challenge at age 19 and nonetheless taking child steps — whether or not they be fancy analytics stats exhibiting his enchancment or the attention take a look at watching him begin to use his 6-foot-3, 230-pound physique extra to his benefit — Bedard is already a star at age 18.

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The 2 No. 1 general picks squared off Friday night time in Chicago with the Canadiens beating the Blackhawks 5-2 and Slafkovsky stealing the highlight from Bedard. Slafkovsky had a objective and an help, whereas Bedard was restricted to at least one help.

Mitchell Stephens, Josh Anderson, Nick Suzuki and David Savard (empty-netter) additionally scored for the Canadiens, who got here again from a 2-0 deficit early within the second interval and improved their report to 15-13-5, together with 8-4-3 on the highway. The Canadiens have earned factors in 5 straight video games (3-0-2) and are solely three factors out of a playoff spot within the Jap Convention.

Ryan Donato and Jason Dickinson scored for the Blackhawks, who fell to 10-21-1.

This recreation included just a few firsts for the Canadiens.

Stephens, who spent all of final season with the AHL’s Laval Rocket, scored his first objective within the NHL since March 3, 2020, when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Slafkovsky scored in back-to-back video games for the primary time in his NHL profession and goalie Cayden Primeau gained back-to-back begins for the primary time within the NHL because the Canadiens outshot the Blackhawks 28-21. Defenceman Jayden Struble received in his first NHL struggle, dropping the gloves with MacKenzie Entwistle within the second interval.

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Anderson now has 5 targets this season, together with 4 within the final 4 video games, whereas Suzuki prolonged his level streak to 5 video games with 2-6-8 totals throughout that span. Suzuki now leads the Canadiens in targets (10), assists (20) and factors (30).

“I like the place my recreation is true now,” Suzuki informed reporters in Chicago after the sport. “It’s only a matter of preserving that constant recreation, figuring out I can do it every night time. I assumed my begin was fairly dangerous as we speak, however I used to be in a position to come again within the second interval and play higher and have a great recreation general.”

Bedard has 12-17-29 totals to guide all NHL rookies in scoring whereas taking part in on a crew that’s tied with the San Jose Sharks for final place within the general standings and will find yourself with the No. 1 general draft decide once more subsequent yr.

Slafkovsky has 4-8-12 totals this season, together with 2-3-5 totals within the final 4 video games.

These child steps are beginning to get larger.

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GM Kent Hughes stated final week on The Sick Podcast — The Eye Take a look at that he believes will probably be one other three or 4 years earlier than Slafkovsky turns into the participant the Canadiens hope he will probably be.

This was the ninth straight recreation Slafkovsky performed on the No. 1 line with Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Slafkovsky had gone 13 video games and not using a objective earlier than scoring in Thursday’s 4-3 additional time loss to the Wild in Minnesota.

“It’s been enjoyable to observe his development,” Suzuki stated about Slafkovsky. “Every recreation he appears to get extra snug. We didn’t actually have the very best first interval, however he dialed again in. He scores a giant objective. He’s come a great distance because the first recreation he’s performed with us. Simply seeing that day-after-day from him is superior.”

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Slafkovsky used his dimension to struggle off Blackhawks defenceman Isaak Phillips in entrance of the web to bang dwelling a free puck within the crease. Towards Minnesota, Slafkovsky was standing in entrance of the web when some extent shot from Savard went in off his leg.

“Yesterday, it went off the leg,” Slafkovsky informed reporters in Chicago after the sport. “As we speak at the very least it went off the stick. So it’s getting nearer … possibly I’ll begin scoring from a little bit farther out, too.

“I simply really feel higher general, really feel higher making performs,” Slafkovsky added. “Taking part in with these two guys, it’s unbelievable they usually’re simply serving to me and we’re serving to one another.”

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Slafkovsky and his teammates flew again to Montreal after the sport and can take pleasure in a four-day Christmas break earlier than flying to Carolina subsequent Wednesday and going through the Hurricanes the next night time.

Slafkovsky has performed extra NHL video games (72) and has extra factors (8-14-22) than another participant chosen on the 2022 draft. However Logan Cooley (chosen third general by Arizona), Pavel Mintyukov (chosen tenth general by Anaheim) and Matthew Poitras (chosen within the second spherical, 54th general, by Boston) are shortly catching up in factors after making their NHL debuts this season. Cooley has 3-14-17 totals in 32 video games with the Coyotes, Mintyukov has 2-15-17 totals in 32 video games with the Geese and Poitras has 5-8-13 totals in 27 video games with the Bruins. Boston has loaned Poitras to Staff Canada for the world junior championship, which begins Boxing Day in Gothenberg, Sweden.

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Bedard was the star finally season’s world junior championship with 9-14-23 totals in seven video games whereas serving to Staff Canada win the gold medal.

Friday night time was Bedard’s second and closing recreation this season towards the Canadiens. He additionally had one help when the Canadiens beat the Blackhawks 3-2 of their dwelling opener on the Bell Centre on Oct. 14.

Will probably be fascinating to see what kind of progress Bedard and Slafkovsky have made once they meet once more subsequent season.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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