It was a statement game for Nick Suzuki
Nick Suzuki's first preseason outing earlier in the week against New Jersey was good. His second was even better.
The 20-year-old London, ON native emphasized the importance of taking his game up a notch versus Florida, and he certainly accomplished that objective.
Suzuki made the most of his 18:48 of ice time, picking up a pair of assists before scoring a highlight-reel goal to kick off the shootout.
The move itself was nothing short of magical, as Suzuki channeled one of his hockey idols - Pavel Datsyuk - on the breakaway maneuver, and completely fooled Panthers goaltender Sam Montembeault.
"I had a pretty good idea what I was going to do. I've been trying to come down the right side and do a few things off of that. I was just lucky that time it went in," said Suzuki, regarding his goal that captivated everyone in the building. "It wasn't kind of a backhand toe-drag move that he used to do, but I guess it's kind of close."
Before going one-on-one with Montembeault, Suzuki was a real difference-maker during regulation time and the overtime frame alike.
He attributes his stellar performance to getting a better feel for the NHL game with practice and experience.
"It's coming pretty natural right now. I still have to figure out a few things, but I think I'm getting better every day," explained the former OHL standout with the Owen Sound Attack and Guelph Storm. "The tempo is a bit higher now, and I think I'm playing right with all these guys. Hopefully I can stay with the team as long as possible."
One of the "guys" Suzuki is referencing is Jordan Weal. The pair continued to click on the same line on Thursday night.
"We created a lot more, seeing each other a lot more. It's been a lot of fun to play with him and he's really talented," mentioned Suzuki, who picked up the primary assist on Weal's goal that opened the scoring just 61 seconds into the first period. "I think we think the game the same way. Hopefully moving forward we get to still play together and score some more goals."
Video: FLA@MTL: Weal finds twine from tough angle
Suzuki knows full well that the challenge will only get bigger as the preseason marches on and opposing teams trim down their training camp rosters.
But he's looking forward to the test and he feels prepared for it.
"It's going to keep ramping up as we move along, and the time and space is going to go down," acknowledged Suzuki. "But I'm getting more comfortable out there to see what I can do personally, and just being comfortable for me is huge and I'm using my linemates to the best of my advantage."
Video: FLA@MTL: Kulak redirects home Suzuki's saucer pass
It looks like tough decisions are ahead
During his postgame press conference, head coach Claude Julien's praise of Suzuki was a good indicator that he's paying close attention to every move the youngster makes.
"He's so intelligent. Every time he's on the ice, something happens," said Julien, when asked about the Canadiens' No. 14. "These are gifted players. Right now, he's really confident with his game and it shows."
It's evident that both Suzuki and fellow prospect Ryan Poehling are earning serious looks from team brass, and discussions about their respective futures will need to be had rather quickly.
"It's clear that these guys are really knocking on the door," admitted Julien. "They might be forcing us to make some really tough decisions towards the end of training camp."
Video: Nick Suzuki on his performance against Florida
Assistant captain Brendan Gallagher is certainly in agreement there after watching Suzuki and Poehling continue to impress.
If they continue on their current path, Gallagher believes spots may just open up regardless of the fact that they're both only 20 years old.
"It's been the same way ever since I've been here - Berg and management - if they see a young kid come in and prove that he's going to help the team, age doesn't matter, they'll put him on the team and find room for him," insisted Gallagher. "I think these guys are definitely making the decisions tough, which is good. It's what you want. They understand they have an opportunity and they're all taking advantage of it. It's really fun to watch."
As for Suzuki's shootout move, Gallagher is a fan.
"It was pretty nice. I can't do it, so it was pretty special to see," said Gallagher. "They're confident. These kids are confident and they should be. They're good players. He showed it off again tonight."
Brendan Gallagher remains a constant scoring threat
Julien wasn't at all surprised to see Gallagher chip in with a pair of goals in his first preseason contest.
That's just what the seven-year NHL veteran does.
Video: FLA@MTL: Gallagher corrals puck, scores wrist shot
"With Brendan, it's always the same thing. We never have to worry about him," said Julien, who has watched Gallagher deliver back-to-back 30-goal campaigns, including a career-high 33 markers last season.
And Julien went on to explain why Gallagher is so vital to the success of the Canadiens going forward.
Video: FLA@MTL: Gallagher scores tap-in tally from in close
"Brendan plays a certain way. It's always one way. He doesn't play two, three different types of games. He plays the same every night, and I think any line that ends up with him on it is going to benefit from that," said Julien. "He's one of those players whose work ethic and compete level - but also you look at his shot and his quick release - that's why he's been scoring 30 goals a year lately. That's what he does. Every line benefits from having him on it. I wish I had four right-wingers that way."