Caufield Benefiting the Most From Canadiens’ Coaching Change

Without question, the Montreal Canadiens are playing their best hockey of the season since Martin St. Louis took over behind the bench as interim head coach. That’s not saying much considering the abysmal 2021-22 campaign that the team has endured. But the improvement shown by multiple players over the past few weeks, most notably Cole Caufield, is good news for the future.

Rediscovering His Scoring Touch

In five games under St. Louis, the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner has four goals and five points in five games plus a shootout goal against the New York Islanders on Sunday after posting just one goal in his 30 previous games this year. His underlying numbers are significantly better too largely because he’s touching the puck more.

Related: Expectations for Canadiens’ First-Ever Rebuild

It’s more than just the confidence Caufield is gaining by putting pucks in the net regularly again. It’s about St. Louis allowing him to get those scoring chances by putting him in a position to succeed. He goes out with the top power play unit, plays on the first line with Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson, and gets a regular shift during 3-on-3 overtime.

Cole Caufield Montreal Canadiens
Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, Caufield was on the ice at the end of regulation with the Canadiens looking for the tying goal and he potted it with less than 10 seconds to go. He then scored the overtime winner which was virtually identical to his first NHL marker off a great pass from Jeff Petry. The most promising thing about those two sequences, beyond the resulting goals, is the fact that Caufield was on the ice, to begin with.

Sign up for our regular 'Habs Newsletter' for all the latest.

“I think the trust factor is there, I think he believes in me, and he wants me to succeed,” Caufield said of St. Louis. “As long as I am working hard and playing the right way doing what I can control, the other things will fall into place but so far he’s been a really good mentor for me.”

Martin St. Louis 2018 Hockey Hall Of Fame
New interim head coach Martin St. Louis has the Canadiens playing inspired hockey.
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The increased ice time and situational hockey which allows him to best put his skills to use means that he has the puck on his stick more often to create in the offensive zone. From the moment that St. Louis was hired, the idea that he and his offensive genius could help Caufield escape his slump was floated around. The similarities between the two were too obvious not to. But it’s doubtful that anyone could have predicted that the transformation would happen this quickly.

Not the Only One

Caufield is just one of several players who is thriving since the coaching change. Other members of the Habs’ young core have also picked up their games recently including Nick Suzuki, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling, and Alexander Romanov. They are all being encouraged to use their instincts and play with more freedom which has resulted in them not being shy about showing some creativity, especially in the offensive zone. It’s easy to imagine how excited they must be to learn from St. Louis every day, a player they looked up to growing up.

Related: Top Rangers Who Fit Canadiens’ Trade Deadline Needs

Meanwhile, don’t look now but Jeff Petry is starting to look like his old self all of a sudden with four points in the last three games as he attempts to salvage a very difficult season. That’s music to the ears of general manager Kent Hughes not only because his veteran defenseman is contributing to Montreal’s recent success, but also because Petry, who would welcome a change of scenery, is raising his trade value to what it should be just in time for the deadline on Mar. 21.

Jeff Petry Montreal Canadiens
Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Watching Petry lately makes it clear that his game is well-suited for the aggressive and dynamic style of play that St. Louis wants his team to adopt. Can the relationship be repaired if his strong play continues? Not likely, but if he can give the Habs a solid asset or two in a potential trade then all is not lost.

Positive Early Returns

St. Louis has successfully reignited the passion of his players, top to bottom. He’s reminded them that hockey is supposed to be fun. Not to mention that they are buying what he’s selling from a strategy and tactics perspective as well.

While this season is lost, much can be gained during these last 30 games to build on for next year and beyond. St. Louis was brought in to right the ship in the present, but also to ensure that the future of the Canadiens is well taken care of and so far, he’s doing just that.