MONTREAL - It's the story of the season for many Canadiens players, but not many on the Montreal roster enjoyed as momentous a turnaround in 2018-19 as Tomas Tatar.
Joining his third team in seven months, Tatar became a Hab as part of a blockbuster deal also involving prospect Nick Suzuki which sent former captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights. Perhaps sensing the concern among some fans over losing the five-time 30-goal scorer, Tatar - who lit the lamp a career-high 29 times in 2014-15 with the Detroit Red Wings - proclaimed upon arriving that he hoped to "maybe" reach the 30-goal plateau.
He didn't waste any time getting to work. Tatar scored his first two goals in a Canadiens uniform (and added an assist) in just his sixth game of the season and enjoyed another three-point night just two games later. In November, the Slovakian winger led the Habs with seven goals, and also tied for the team lead in assists (5) and points (7) in January.
Video: PIT@MTL: Tatar sneaks a quick shot in from the slot
Video: PIT@MTL: Tatar nets a PPG for his second of the night
Of course, Tatar didn't do it all on his own. Head coach Claude Julien matched him up with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher, and the trio gelled and stayed in place for most of the season as the team's No. 1 line, going on to combine for 42 of the team's 249 goals this season. The line's 39 even-strength goals were tied for fifth in the NHL and ahead of trios such as Tampa Bay's Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov-Tyler Johnson and Dallas' Alexander Radulov-Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin.
Video: MTL@CGY: Tatar snaps puck past Smith to open scoring
It didn't take long for Gallagher to recognize what Tatar brought to the table.
"He works incredibly hard. He's going to win puck battles and create second chances," praised Gallagher of his new linemate during the preseason. "He wants to win. He's an easy guy to play with. Guys who work hard and want to compete are guys you want to be on the ice with. Playing with him and Phil right now, it's pretty easy for me to go out and do my job."
Video: MTL@DET: Tatar fights off defender and beats Howard
Looking back at the end of the season, Tatar realized he had not only created synergy with his new work mates on the ice, but had also formed a strong personal bond with them away from the rink.
"I was really thankful. Since day one, coach gave me a chance to play with Gally and Phil and I think we connected really well and we felt really good together," shared Tatar, who celebrated his 500th career NHL game with yet another three-point night on March 23 against the Buffalo Sabres. "I think I played 70 games with these two guys and we talked a lot on the ice which helped. We're really good friends off the ice."
When all was said and done, Tatar came up five short on his 30-goal pledge but Habs fans would agree that in no way did that diminish his impact on the team's success. After all, he finished 2018-19 with career highs in assists (33), points (58), differential (plus-21), and blocked shots (30). His 25 goals were also third on the team behind Gallagher and Max Domi.
With that total, Tatar and Domi (28G) became only the fourth pair of teammates to each score 25 goals in their first season in Montreal. They also became just the third pair of teammates in franchise history to finish first and second in team scoring in their inaugural season in Montreal.
Video: Carpooling with Max Domi and Tomas Tatar
Now, like so many Canadiens who enjoyed career years in 2018-19, the challenge will be repeating - if not beating - the feat. Tatar wasn't making any guarantees of that when he cleared out his locker in early April, but he certainly has an action plan in place.
"The goal is to go home, relax, take time off and then work the same way, work hard. There are some things you can control as a player," explained Tatar, who admitted he had made some changes - he wouldn't specify what, exactly - to his offseason regimen which he believes contributed to his bounce-back season. "I can't promise that next season is going to be the same, but I'll do everything in my hands to be ready to repeat it and be ready to help this team as much as I can."
Video: Tomas Tatar on his first season in Montreal
The 28-year-old, who will be representing Slovakia at the upcoming World Hockey Championships in his home country, has already helped this team plenty in just his first season, and he also took some time to recognize how much the organization and the market had helped him at a critical juncture in his career.
"Honestly, if somebody would ask me I could only say positive things. I think media were nice to us, fans were great. Nothing comes to mind why unrestricted free agents shouldn't come here. They would really enjoy the hockey Club and everybody's interest in hockey here," he concluded. "The players who played against us this year can say we're a fast team and a really young team too, so there's a future here for sure."