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Max Domi is at his best when there's bad blood on the ice

The Montreal Canadiens center is coming off a great first campaign in Montreal and so far in 2019-20, he's keeping that going. The second-generation NHLer plays better when he's engaged and as long as he doesn't cross the line, that's huge for the Habs.

Max Domi’s first season in Montreal was a rousing success on an individual level. Though his Canadiens didn’t make the playoffs, Domi smashed his career highs from Arizona in all offensive categories, ending up with 28 goals and 72 points for the Canadiens.

This season, the son of famed NHL enforcer Tie Domi is off to a similar start with two points in two games, both of which came in a wild, come-from-behind shootout win against the archrival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

While the Habs also got key performances from Carey Price and Jeff Petry, there was an electric current that ran through the game and Domi was a major part of that. He had several run-ins with fellow second-generation NHLers Kasperi Kapanen and was even caught on camera chirping the Leafs winger after a thrown broken stick resulted in a crucial Montreal penalty shot (buried by Petry).

I asked Domi after the win if he enjoys the game when there’s bad blood on the ice and his answer was short and blunt.

“Yeah,” he said. “Who doesn’t, right?”

No doubt there are some NHLers who are perfectly happy playing games that don’t involve helmets getting ripped off in scrums and opponents jawing at them, but that’s a foreign concept to Domi, who was raised in NHL dressing rooms and played his junior hockey under legendary competitor Dale Hunter with OHL London.

“That’s what makes him good, but it has to be controlled,” said Habs coach Claude Julien. “The bottom line is, you don’t want the other team to throw him off his game. He’s gotta stay focused. At the same time, if he’s overly quiet, he doesn’t usually play his best game. He’s emotionally engaged and as long as he doesn’t cross the line, it’s good for him. He’s always been that kind of player.”

And that passion is appreciated by his teammates, too.

“Max definitely has that fire when he plays,” said left winger Jonathan Drouin. "There’s that expression: ‘don’t wake up the bear.’ If you get him going, he’ll get mad and do something. He wants to create something and he’s been that way all his life. Maybe he gets that from his dad."

Drouin and Domi came together for a crucial Habs goal in the third period when the team was down 4-1, kicking off a comeback that saw them score four straight against Toronto. But Domi had actually played mostly with Artturi Lehkonen and rookie Nick Suzuki as his wingers. In a perfect world, Suzuki – a natural center – will eventually switch spots with Domi (a natural winger), but given Suzuki’s lack of NHL experience, the current iteration makes sense. Either way, Domi has been impressed with his new linemate early on.

“You see him finishing in front, chipping pucks in,” Domi said. “At a young age, to do that and understand what’s at stake is huge for us. We have confidence in him and he works so hard.”

Julien noted that he likes his team’s forward depth right now and the fact he has a lot of moveable parts to work with. While Domi is key to that equation, he’s not alone and the mix of talent is intriguing, especially with Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi still in the early days of their NHL careers. If Domi can be an emotional leader and an offensive driver – without crossing that line – the Canadiens will not be a fun team to play against this season.

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