Cole Caufield’s face said it all.
It was a strong play target that cut the capitals’ lead to 4-2 – a match that would have ended up losing Montreal. But you can see relief within Coffield now that his 18-game drought, which dates back to November 26, is over.
The February 10 goal in Martin St. Louis’ first game as interim coach of the Canadiens marked the beginning of this current scoring rupture for Coffield, which has seen him score five goals and eight points in six games.
After Monday’s 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs, the Canadians found themselves three-goal winners in a row, something they haven’t done since sweeping the Jets in the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs. Indeed, that streak was the last time Montreal won a games consecutive, period.
Things are getting better for Les Habitants right now, and that was almost to be expected. Many teams get the “new coach bounce” when a different sound arrives behind the bench. But for Caufield, that may have been a lifeline during a season in which the Calder Cup nominee has struggled pre-season, dealt with COVID-19, and spent time with AHL Laval.
Coffield loved St. Louis and wore the No. 26 as a young player in his honor. They are both young players and have had to constantly prove themselves. Caufield fired him offensively for the US national team development program and then at the University of Wisconsin before waiting until No. 15 for Montreal to draft in 2019. St. Louis is known to have dropped out of the University of Vermont without drafting, was cut short after two seasons with The Flames and went on to have a career Hall of Fame, mostly with Lightning.
St. Louis has seen the potential within Coffield and is allowing it to thrive. Having averaged an icy time of 14:42 in 30 games under Dominique Ducharme, Coffield has played 16:49 nights in six games since St. Louis took charge, including another 32 seconds in average playing time. His eight points under St. Louis match what he scored when Ducharme was in charge this season.
“I think he trusts me,” Coffield said of St. Louis, after scoring a goal and helping two others in Monday’s game. “He puts me in the positions to succeed and I play with great players too and that helps. He trusts my game and I think that is the biggest part for me. I have to keep playing the right way and it will continue to be like that.”
St.Louis wanted to stir up some of their key offensive players who were struggling, so he put Coffield with Josh Anderson and Nick Suzuki – An important trio advancing towards the franchise. They’ve clicked so far, which is a vital development since the training change.
Anderson’s game is very different from that of Caufield and Suzuki. He can drive towards Grid in a north-south style, while the other two create scoring chances with their movements in the attack zone.
“With all the back pressure that’s there these days, it’s hard to keep playing fast all the time and not try to slow down for anything,” Coffield said. “So just kind of keep the tweaks going forward and timing yourself to be in the right place for support, and then always moving around the area until you find yourself opening up in more areas.”
“It is important that these men know that there is someone to look out for so that they are not roughed up on the ice,” said St. Louis. “What I love about Andy is his speed, his obvious size, but he can play the game as well. It’s not just about adding volume, you have to add someone who can complete him and someone who can stop the play.”
Play without a disc
One of the philosophies of training in St. Louis is that it is important to play without a disc. Find the spot on the ice where you will create an opportunity to score, this will result in more touches from the disc. The way Suzuki and Coffield can move in the attack zone plays a role.
“It’s a big key to the game,” Coffield said. “If you look at the stats and stuff, you don’t have the disc for a long time you’ve been on the ice. So if you can have success without the puck, stay ahead of the players, be in the right position, and find yourself at the right time in the right place, I think that’s it. The time you get more touches. I think that’s what he will preach from now on, the better you play without the puck, the more touches you get.”
When young players find their way into the NHL, it can be difficult to develop if they are constantly afraid of making mistakes. Will I see my ice time? Will I go back to AHL? These are all ideas when players hit a wall and the good times stop. It was a perfect start to Coffield’s career in the National Hockey League when he joined the Canadians after leaving Wisconsin last April. He scored four times in his first 10 games and then scored four goals and 12 points during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. But it took 13 games for Caufield to score his first goal of the season and then another 18 games to score his second goal – the outcome of playing against Washington.
Errors will occur. When you are a skilled player, the more you try to play high stakes, the more mistakes you will make. But the gains are worth it and will outweigh the transformations that come over time.
St. Louis is letting Caufield play his game and his mistakes and all, because in the end the Canadians will reap the benefits.
“It’s just to reset his mental side,” St. Louis said. “He plays for free. He makes mistakes on the ice of course. I also make mistakes on the ice. But he does more good things than mistakes, so as a coach you have to live with mistakes as long as there are good things.”
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Leave him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter Tweet embed.
Caufield’ Canadiens have found their offensive touch once again under Martin St. Louis Originally on NBCSports.com