Montreal Canadiens: Jonathan Drouin Could Still Be Key To Habs Victory Over Penguins

TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 01: Jonathan Drouin #92 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 01: Jonathan Drouin #92 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens surprised many with a Game 1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a chance to build on that tonight.

The Montreal Canadiens were not given a chance by many in this play-in series against the heavily favoured Pittsburgh Penguins. They surprised many when they built a 2-0 lead before a Jeff Petry overtime goal gave them a victory in Game 1 over the Pens.

The Canadiens still have a long way to go, even in a short series, before they can feel comfortable. A 1-0 series lead in a Best-of-5 series is no different than a 2-1 series lead in a regular Best-of-7. Sure, winning Game 1 can help build confidence and help the Habs feel like they are a lot closer to the Penguins than the overall standings from the regular season would suggest.

Still, how often do we see a team take a 2-1 series lead in the NHL Playoffs and find a way to lose. It happens every year, so the Habs need to be even better than they were in the first game if they want to build on that series advantage and eventually stun the Penguins in this series.

One player that could be better the rest of the series is Jonathan Drouin. Acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning three years ago for Mikhail Sergachev, Drouin had enormous expectations, but hasn’t been able to live up to them in a Canadiens sweater. At least not yet.

Drouin is 25 years old and was finally showing his true potential early in the 2019-20 season. He scored 15 points in the team’s first 18 games before suffering a wrist injury. Drouin required surgery to repair his wrist and was out for three months. When he returned, he just didn’t look as comfortable as he did to begin the season, and then he suffered an ankle injury that finished his regular season.

The ankle injury likely would have been the end of Drouin’s season altogether, but here we are playing hockey games in August and Drouin is back healthy. Did he look fantastic in Game 1? No, but he is getting a little more hate than is necessary because of his penalty shot that didn’t even result in a shot on goal.

What has been forgotten are the positives in Drouin’s game. The penalty shot was not terrific, but how often do we see pucks jump over sticks when a player dekes in the shootout? Drouin had some room to go upstairs and beat Matt Murray and win the game for the Habs, but the third game of NHL playoff hockey and the 10th period of the day on the same ice surface resulted in bad ice. On a cleaner sheet, maybe Drouin buries that backhand and is the hero for the Habs right now.

Also, how did he get a penalty shot in the first place? Well, he made a great read defensively inside his own zone. He cut off a passing lane and picked off a puck from midair. He then used his terrific speed to beat the three Penguins chasing him and get a partial breakaway. He also got off a really good shoot while the Pens defender chopped at him with a heavy slash. If not for Murray making a great save, Drouin would have been the hero before the penalty shot even occurred.

Looking back at Drouin’s playoff numbers over the years shows he doesn’t shy away when the games are bigger. As a rookie, Drouin hardly got on the ice for the Lightning in their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, but he was incredible the following year. He only played 17 regular season games for the Lightning as he split the year between the AHL and the NHL.

When he finally took on a full time role, he scored 14 points in 17 playoff contests as the Bolts looked for someone to fill in for Steven Stamkos who was injured for the playoffs. Drouin filled those big shoes and was the third highest scorer on the team as the Lightning went on a run to the Eastern Conference Final.

Dating back to his Junior days, Drouin was always the most dangerous in the playoffs. He had 29 points in 33 games as a rookie with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2011-12 but scored 26 points in 17 playoff games. His sophomore season, he far outperformed Nathan MacKinnon on the scoresheet, with 105 points in 49 contests. His 35 points in 17 playoff games was even more impressive.

Finally, the year after the Mooseheads won the Memorial Cup, they were supposed to take a step back in the standings. Drouin scored 108 points in 46 regular season games and was unbelievable in the postseason with 41 points in 16 games. As good as he was in the regular season, he was always a little better in the playoffs.

It has been a tale of two seasons for Drouin already, even before the league pressed pause for 20 weeks. He was at his best in the first six weeks, and played a big part in the Habs record being so good in the middle of November. When he returned from injury, he had one of his longest scoring droughts of his career.

Next. Lineup changes the Habs should make in Game 2. dark

Which Drouin will we see against the Penguins? Though his miscue on the penalty shot got all the attention, the rest of his performance wasn’t that bad. If he can quickly get back to the player we saw in October, a healthy player, then he can be the key that wins this series for the Montreal Canadiens.