Some hockey players do not always have a precise memory of details. Jonathan Drouin is not one of them, however.
The Canadiens winger on Wednesday recounted his memories of the 2016 playoffs, during which he had his best moments in the National League. Drouin was in the Tampa Bay Lightning colors at the time, and in the association final he faced the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were led by centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
“My trio was with [Valtteri] Filppula and [Ondrej] Palat. We were playing against one of those two lines. I was nervous playing guys like that in the association final. You check your back, you play your game less. I learned from those shows. "
In such cases, it is the reporter’s job to verify the player’s statements, and the Natural Stats Trick site becomes a valuable resource. We learn that Palat and Filppula were indeed the two attackers with whom Drouin played the most.
But the most interesting information comes out when you check out whether he was indeed against the top lines. That spring, Drouin and the Lightning faced the Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, and then the Pittsburgh Penguins. And who was, for each of these teams, the striker Drouin had faced the most? In order, Henrik Zetterberg, John Tavares and Evgeni Malkin.
Despite this challenge, Drouin had finished the playoffs with 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in 17 games, with a differential of -1. The Tampa course ended with a victory in the Stanley Cup final; the Penguins won 2-1 in Game 7. The 1 of the Lightning? That nice goal… from Drouin.
These performances were on top of what he had accomplished in the junior ranks with the Halifax Mooseheads. In three years, Drouin had played 50 games in the playoffs and had amassed 102 points!
“Whether it's midget or peewee, I've always felt something in the playoffs. This time, we won't have the fans. But we know we are at the point where the season is over. We have the chance to win the Stanley Cup. Personally, I feel something different, ”Drouin described.
We're back in 2020, so hey, Drouin will still have Crosby and Malkin on his way into the playoff qualifying round.
But as everyone in life ages, except maybe Richard Séguin, the game will change for Drouin. In 2016, he was 21 and was paired with a 25-year-old (Palat) and a 32-year-old (Filppula). Here he is at 25, with a center (Nick Suzuki) who is 20 years old. The other winger, Joel Armia, is older than Drouin (27) but has less experience in the NHL.
"We hope that when we start the playoffs they will be a big factor in our chances of winning the series," Claude Julien said of them.
This trio, obviously, will have to do battle with that of Malkin or Crosby. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan will try to keep his two stars out of the Phillip Danault line, and Julien has repeatedly expressed his confidence in Suzuki at center.
"I won't have the last change in the first two games," said the Habs head coach. No matter how hard I look for confrontations, [Sullivan] will do his best to avoid them. If we don't have our best line against Crosby and Malkin, we'll have to take that into account and be good without the puck, and good enough with the puck that they pass their presence in their zone. "
When Julien has the last word, the Suzuki trio will possibly be his safest option after Danault's. And Drouin is up for the challenge.
“All the players want these confrontations, assures Drouin. Crosby, Malkin, these are two of the best, so this is what you want. It will be up to us to play our game. Sometimes you worry too much about who is on the ice, but you still have to respect your system. You just have to be more careful of mistakes or turnovers, to make sure there aren't any overcrowding when these two are on the ice. "
The idea now will be to see if Drouin, Suzuki and Armia will use the break to return to what they were at the start of the season.
Suzuki had a very encouraging first season before "hitting the wall", as Julien has often said. In the last 12 games before the shutdown, he had shown a -11 rating, the worst in the NHL during that time.
Armia had 12 goals in 34 games before arriving in Winnipeg for the game on Dec. 23, in which he was injured. He was then sailing towards a 29-goal season. Upon his return, he was limited to four goals in 23 games.
Drouin, he had had 18 games of thunder before landing in Washington in November and injuring his wrist. Like Arm