Talk about saving your best for last. Heading into the Montreal Canadiens’ last game of April, the Canadiens had struggled mightily in the face of adversity in the form of a condensed schedule and injuries to key players piling up (arguably as a result).
Probably the biggest of those injuries is Brendan Gallagher, who suffered a broken thumb early. Without his services, the Canadiens failed to so much as win two games in a row all month, tallying a horrible 7-10 record in the process. That seventh victory though, a 5-3 win, coming on the last day of the month against the Winnipeg Jets, almost singlehandedly turned the whole narrative of the month on its head.
Before that final game, in which the Canadiens scored four unanswered goals to secure the victory, Gallagher actually led the Habs in points per game for the month. Granted, it was over a small sample three-game size. However, that one fact arguably makes two prime points:
- How badly the Canadiens need Gallagher as their heart and soul.
- How piss-poor the offense fared in general, considering Gallagher‘s two points in three games, with both scored in the same contest mind you, normally wouldn’t constitute anything about which to write home.
However, write about the rest of the team we must. And, even though the Canadiens were without their top star for the preceding month, March, for the vast majority of April, at least a few players picked up the slack, including against the Jets, in which two Habs were thankfully able to surpass Gallagher in that one aforementioned metric. Here they are, as part of the team’s three stars for the month of April.
3. Josh Anderson
Time and again Josh Anderson has worn his heart on his sleeve in front of the media. Prior to playing the Edmonton Oilers on April 21, Anderson said of being promoted to the top line with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar in Gallagher’s absence that: “We all know what’s at stake and we’re going to treat tonight like a playoff game… We’ve got to start playing harder and meaner.” He then went out and scored two goals, including the eventual game-winner.
Sure, it could be coincidence, that one of the times Anderson was made available prior to a game he just ended up being the biggest difference-maker on the ice. However, it wasn’t, for the simple reasons that Anderson had been promoted to play in Gallagher’s spot and he then knew what to do with the looks once he got them. That he was put in that position in the first place wasn’t a coincidence either, seeing as his power-forward game and willingness to go to dirty areas seems to match Gallagher’s… at least to a degree.
Truth be told, while the points aren’t always there for Anderson, as evidenced by his five pointless games to end the month, the effort level generally is. It’s (almost) gravy that he potted six goals last month, the second-most amount on the team, and two assists, good for third spot in this month’s rankings.
2. Nick Suzuki
Nick Suzuki hits No. 2 on this list with a bullet after a game-breaking performance against the Jets in that final game of the month. After the Canadiens fell behind 2-0 to the team directly above them in the standings, Suzuki scored both the 2-1 goal to get the Habs back in it as well as the game-winning goal, adding an assist for good measure.
The significance of the performance should not be understated. Had the Canadiens lost the game, they would have effectively let the Calgary Flames back in the playoff picture, down just four points in the standings. Now, not only are the Canadiens back to six points up on the fifth-place Flames, but they’re also just four points back of the third-place Jets with one game in hand and seven to play overall.
It’s not just recency bias either. Suzuki has a four-game point streak entering May and quietly led the Habs in points in the month with five goals and eight assists (13). He only reaches No. 2 on the list because there’s a heavy emphasis on the word “quietly.” Far too often Suzuki either flew under the radar or visibly struggled with two separate six-game goalless droughts in the month, the first stretching to seven back into March.
Nevertheless it should be reassuring to know Suzuki would be on pace to shatter his rookie-season stats from 2019-20 (13-28-41 in 71 games) over a complete 82-game season. For example, he’s just one goal away from tying his goal output from all of last season, in spite of his struggles this one, which is a good sign for the 21-year-old to say the least.
1. Tyler Toffoli
As should be no surprise, Toffoli’s eight goals in 16 games (a 41-goal pace) led the Canadiens. He also added three assists for a respectable 11 points and 38 overall in 46 games so far this season.
To put his performance with the Canadiens in perspective, Toffoli, who now has 26 markers on the season, reached the 25-goal mark for just the second time in his career. The only other time he accomplished the feat, in 2015-16 with the Los Angeles Kings, he needed 68 games to do it. There are only 56 games this season.
Ultimately, there should be no doubt as to who the Canadiens’ most valuable player this season has been, with Toffoli arguably only having missed the March list due to a lower-body injury that shortchanged him a few games late in the month, including one in at the start of April. His numbers in spite of it and the struggles surrounding this team simply don’t lie. He’s the team’s best player, maybe even including Gallagher.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.