MONTREAL — He thought he was simply “OK.”
Once we requested Cole Caufield, after his Montreal Canadiens misplaced 6-3 to the Arizona Coyotes, to evaluate his recreation on Tuesday — he scored two targets in eight seconds to tie Maurice “the Rocket” Richard in third place for the 2 quickest targets in Canadiens historical past and his crew managed 71.4 per cent of the shot makes an attempt over his 11:39 at 5-on-5 — that’s what he mentioned.
“I believed I used to be OK.”
It was considered one of Caufield’s most mature moments in his brief NHL profession. The 21-year-old burst onto the NHL scene with a Hobey Baker Award virtually in hand, with a well-justified confidence that bordered on cockiness and a knack for scoring massive targets on massive events. He rose above the hype with the efficiency he authored to assist the Canadiens attain the 2021 Stanley Cup Last — posting 4 targets and 12 factors in 20 video games and establishing himself as a star within the making.
Then this yr started with Caufield placing up only one purpose and eight factors over his first 30 video games of the season. He was humbled.
However even when the five-foot-seven Wisconsin native didn’t get taller from that have, he nonetheless grew.
The targets he scored in opposition to the Coyotes have been his ninth and tenth — and the 18th and nineteenth factors — he’s registered in 15 video games since Martin St. Louis took over as head coach, and people targets and factors are samples of his progress.
However one other pattern is Caufield saying after the loss to the Coyotes: “Clearly, you will get higher each recreation.”
The reality is Caufield was correct in his evaluation.
He wasn’t unhealthy, however he wasn’t fairly on the similar stage we noticed him at over his earlier 14 video games. He made an ill-advised cross to Alex Romanov, which led to a Lawson Crouse breakaway purpose that proved to be the sport winner with 11 seconds left within the first interval, and he received rinsed in his personal finish on a few shifts that he most likely received’t must assessment on video to remind himself of what occurred.
There’s loads to love about Caufield holding himself accountable for that after the sport. And doing that — even whenever you’re the principle motive your crew had an opportunity to come back again in a recreation that appeared out of attain — is among the greatest issues a younger participant can do to speed up his personal improvement.
“He’s a competitor, he sees extra than simply the targets,” mentioned Paul Byron. “A whole lot of gamers — it’s straightforward to deal with factors and assume you’re simply doing a superb job, however there’s lots of areas of the sport which you could proceed to work on. I believe it exhibits his dedication, his drive and his ardour to get higher daily.
“And to have that sort of self-awareness to critique his recreation like that’s solely going to make him higher every day. It’s good to see a superb child who possibly would rating a few targets and be ok with himself and never care an excessive amount of — that’s not Cole. He actually cares concerning the particulars, profitable video games and ensuring he’s good for 60 minutes. As he will get older, if he retains that mindset, there’s little doubt in my thoughts he’s going to be that participant for us.”
Not that we’re suggesting Caufield must tone down his confidence to proceed being the participant everybody anticipated he’d be after he burned up Auston Matthews’ goal-scoring report with the USA Nationwide Improvement Group, received himself drafted fifteenth general in 2019, ripped it up with the Wisconsin Badgers and made his spectacular NHL debut.
We all know that confidence is on the coronary heart of what makes Caufield particular.
So does Brendan Gallagher, who emphasised that after this recreation.
“I believe he’s been in a position to be taught what makes him a profitable participant — he has to have that little little bit of swagger,” mentioned Gallagher. “I believe it’s onerous to explain — he’s dancing across the locker room, he’s having enjoyable, and we like to see that. He’s being himself. He has to come back to the rink with that swagger he’s had his whole life.
“I believe when he was struggling, he most likely didn’t really feel that method. He most likely felt like he most likely couldn’t do something proper. Now he looks like he’s a participant we depend on, and that’s necessary all through his profession to recollect whenever you undergo these robust instances. And it’ll occur once more, he’s going to play on this league for a very long time and also you undergo droughts, and also you undergo slumps. It’s necessary to have the ability to look again at what you’re doing whenever you’re enjoying properly and never neglect about it. For him, we depend on him extremely. He’s an enormous participant for us, and he understands that, and he brings it each night time.”
However it’s an enormous step for Caufield to have the ability to acknowledge when he hasn’t introduced it for the entire night time, and it’s an indication of progress that he’s already doing it.
Alex Romanov taking over an even bigger function
Concerning the expansion of Montreal’s key younger gamers, the 22-year-old Romanov is making extra strides.
In Tuesday’s recreation, he took the fifth-most strides he has in an NHL recreation — skating 23:58 in 22 shifts. No Canadien performed extra in opposition to Arizona.
How did Romanov deal with it? He had three pictures on web, eight makes an attempt, one hit and 4 blocked pictures. In his 20:43 at 5-on-5, the Canadiens had 31 shot makes an attempt to Arizona’s eight.
In fact, Romanov was put in that place to start with as a result of his common companion, Ben Chiarot was held out of Tuesday’s recreation by administration as a result of he’ll be traded between now and the March 21 NHL commerce deadline. And he additionally took on as a lot as a result of Joel Edmundson was enjoying simply his second recreation after battling a season-long again harm.
Romanov’s function goes to extend from right here to the top of the season, and that ought to solely assist him turn into the participant the Canadiens want him to be as early as subsequent season.
“I believe the extra he will get used to it the higher he’ll proceed to play,” mentioned St. Louis. “While you take a key man like that out of the lineup like that in Benny, it offers different guys alternative. And that’s the factor about this recreation — whether or not it’s accidents or circumstances that we’re in — is different guys are getting alternatives. And that’s what Romy’s getting proper now.”
It’s coming on the proper time, because the Canadiens blue line takes on a special complexion over the approaching months and Romanov is predicted to succeed in the subsequent part of his improvement in brief order.