Montreal Canadiens: Scoring Will Come For Second Line – Patience Is A Virtue

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 30: Alex Newhook #15 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck against Brayden McNabb #3 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the first period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on October 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 30: Alex Newhook #15 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck against Brayden McNabb #3 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the first period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on October 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /
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The first big test of the season for the Montreal Canadiens is staying patient with the team’s second line.

Naturally, when a new line is configured it needs some time to grow, and develop some chemistry and a comfort level together. The trio of Juraj Slafkovsky, Alex Newhook and Josh Anderson has struggled, and pundits have shouted to the gods, in hopes of the line being dismantled. You are right that this line has struggled, but two of the three players are under 25 years old and are trying to find their footing in a market with such a massive spotlight on each player.

Tony Marinaro, Craig Button and Eric Engels discussed all things Canadiens, and the second-line discussion was fascinating. If you haven’t watched the podcast I highly recommend it, because there are a ton of great guests and fantastic Habs content. The discussion about the second line dove deep into why they believe the second line will come along at some point, but it will take some time.

Juraj Slafkovsky

Let’s start with Slafkovsky he is a first-overall pick, so the expectations and comparisons will naturally come to light. For many, Slafkovsky has struggled, and while he looks very raw, this was known when he was treated. Craig Button touched on that the Habs have put an onus on allowing Slafkovsky to play in the NHL to learn the game at the highest level.

Eric Engels felt that Slafkovsky wouldn’t benefit from playing in the NHL the most, and aside from growing his confidence in the American Hockey League, it’s a move he wouldn’t do. Slafkovsky will need to adjust to his large frame and learn how to use it, regardless of where he plays. Dominating at the AHL level is great, but Engels felt that letting Slafkovsky adjust to the line, and learn against NHLers how to use his size is the best path.

Button felt that Slafkovsky could benefit from going down to Laval to get touches working on things that would translate to the NHL. The confidence to do the small things that help in a big way could grow in the minors. I wrote a piece recently touching on why I think Slafkovsky would benefit from an AHL stint, but I can see why staying in the NHL makes sense as well.

There are a lot of tantalizing tools that Slafkovsky possesses, and while they haven’t translated to the NHL level yet when they do, he will look far more confident on the ice. He is quick, and maybe he will never be a physical specimen, but he has the size to hold off opponents with his large frame. Slafkovsky’s size will also create space in front of the net for Newhook and Anderson, which should also create rebounds. He just needs the reps, and the rest should take care of itself.

Alex Newhook

Newhook, with Kirby Dach out, has a big opportunity to center the second line for the Canadiens, but his faceoff numbers haven’t looked great. This, of course, is something that has and will be consistently worked on. The reason is that if he can grow as a center, his speed and North-South game would benefit the team and player if he stays in the middle. If not, when Dach returns, Newhook can shift to the wing easily.

For the purpose of discussing the second line, we will look at things plainly, Newhook is the Habs second line center. He has great footspeed and great edges and he thinks the game at high speeds, which results in breakaways, and many odd-man rushes. He creates a ton of chances for his line, and will benefit increase zone starts with puck possession if he can improve in the faceoff dot.

He is the smallest player on the line, insulated by his two stallion wingers, but he brings a ton of tenacity. While he isn’t very physical, he does win a ton of puck battles and foot races, which works well for the line in transitional play. Once the line develops more chemistry and confidence, they will be able to work the cycle and leave the opposition looking flatfooted at times.

Newhook fits the age group of the team perfectly, as he was selected in the 2019 Draft, the same one that Dach and Cole Caufield were picked in. He was a high pick at 16th overall and was highly sought after by the Habs for a reason. In due time, his speed and processor are going to elevate him to another level, and I think the Avalanche will be kicking themselves.

Josh Anderson

Anderson is a great player, and he fits beautifully on the team, but he can be a frustrating player. The reason is that he can rush the puck up the ice, and he has separation speed, but he doesn’t have the puck skills to finish. And that’s okay, if the line can get a feel for one another, they would benefit from Anderson making drop passes, and driving the net to open up space for his linemates.

He is the veteran of the line, and because of that, he provides a ton of experience. He plays physically and bullies his way around the offensive zone, which will continue to create chances. If he and Newhook find some chemistry, this duo could make the team significantly better, and Slafkovsky is the third piece of the puzzle who can rush the puck and has the puck skills to create chances for himself.

Shooting the puck is something that Anderson should do more often because his shot will either go in or create rebounds. Slafkovsky would also benefit from shooting more and picking his spots better. If the two can increase their shooting percentages, Newhook can zip around the zone and clean up rebounds or pass the puck to increase zone time.

I agree this line has been frustrating, but each of these players brings some very great characteristics. All three players can explode up the ice, and create plays on their own, which will become more apparent as they get through this tough stretch. Anderson will become increasingly more valuable to the team when this line finds its way.

Final Thoughts

If this line continues to struggle, then I think the players will be moved around, in the interest of distributing the offense throughout the lineup. Slafkovsky will likely get moved to another line and some reps with one of their two smart two-way centers Nick Suzuki and Sean Monahan. They think the game well and know how to create plays, which will give Slafkovsky more touches.

Anderson and Newhook should be kept together, and maybe infusing a spark plug like Brendan Gallagher or Rafael Harvey-Pinard could make this line explode. One thing is certain, if the line is broken, it will only be a matter of time before it is fixed. And when it is, the team will have some balance in offensive production in the top six to complement the solid young defence and steady goaltending.

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