Whether we like it or not, there remains a certain aura around a Saturday night game at the Bell Centre.
The Saturdays of the last two years have certainly not always been rich in emotions on rue De La Gauchetière. Let’s think about this 8-4 beating suffered at the hands of the Capitals two springs ago.
But the fact remains that these are matches broadcast a mari usque ad mare. From Patrick Roy’s last match with the CH to the opening of the Molson Center for the wiser generation, including Ilya Kovalchuk’s goal in overtime against Toronto for the youngest, there are plenty of memorable moments. Imagine, the most superstitious even go so far as to take out their ties for these duels.
In any case, for Martin St-Louis, these are sweet meetings.
This Oilers-Canadian will not exactly fit into the great history of Saturday nights in Montreal. The Oilers won 2-1 in overtime, at the end of a duel where the defensive prowess – not necessarily the goalkeepers’ saves – stood out more than anything else.
And it is in this highly anticipated duel that St-Louis decided to challenge Kaiden Guhle. The Canadian head coach systematically pitted his young defender against Connor McDavid.
“It’s definitely a challenge for him, we show him that we have confidence in him. I think he likes that, those challenges. He did a very good job,” summarized St-Louis.
McDavid certainly set up Evan Bouchard’s winning goal while Guhle tried to protect the slot, but it was during a four-on-three Oilers power play. At even strength, however, Guhle and Mike Matheson closed the door.
” This is the dream. We always want to play against the best, described Guhle. I had fun. It’s cool to play against these players and try to make life difficult for them. This is why we play, to experience these moments when the pressure is high, where the minutes are important. »
For Guhle, it was also a great way to bounce back after, by his own admission, a recent slump. Slump which was felt in its usage time: 21 min 12 s on average before Christmas, 18 min 21 s since. On Saturday, the clock stopped at 4 seconds from 20 minutes.
“I definitely wasn’t playing my best hockey, it wasn’t up to my standards,” Guhle admitted. Lately, I’ve started to play better, to find my game. It’s a difficult league and it won’t be perfect every game. You have to make sure you don’t get bogged down, keep your confidence, believe in your abilities. »
Where it gets intriguing is that Guhle delivered this performance alongside Matheson, while Justin Barron, his partner since late November, was left out.
In Matheson and Guhle, St-Louis therefore brought together its two best skaters to face one of the most agile players on his skates in the circuit.
“We managed McDavid’s speed well,” judged St-Louis. Matheson and Guhle cover a lot of ice, that helped us. Our forwards also helped us manage the speed, we didn’t let him breathe much. […] It runs on a dime, it’s very explosive. With Matheson and Guhle, I was hopeful that we could handle it. »
Matheson, Guhle, Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble in Montreal, Arber Xhekaj in Laval, Lane Hutson in the NCAA and Adam Engström in Sweden… The Habs will have no shortage of options on the left in the coming years.
Guhle on the right, “it gives flexibility,” admitted St-Louis. It’s easier for a defender to play on his edge and it’s easier for me to have left-right duos. The transition is easier. It’s about continuing to evaluate, seeing how he can manage his matches on the other side. He is not the only one capable of doing this. We know that we have a lot of left-handers. »
By moving further and further away from the race for the playoffs, CH will be able to carry out experiments in the second half of the season. The blue line will be a laboratory to watch, on Saturdays or during the week.
Applied defensively all evening, he did quite a job shorthanded. His 18 minutes on the ice, a season high for him, was well deserved.
No one really stood out in this duel, but Gallagher, who had avoided the dungeon since Christmas, received two penalties, one of which was more or less justified.
Like Joshua Roy, Philip Kemp also played his first game in the NHL, urgently inserted into the Oilers lineup. This defender was, however, used in attack. “Employee” is strong; he only made three appearances.