Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price steals one in Calgary – Montreal

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Every season when the Montreal Canadiens head out west, it feels like the week when the team crashes back to earth, or in some cases, digs a bigger hole.

Game one in Edmonton saw the same scenario play out yet again: the Habs were shellshocked against the Oilers.

Game two in Calgary saw the Habs put their number one goalie back in net, but even he didn’t feel right. Carey Price said last week, after a self-admittedly abysmal game, that he needs to figure things out upstairs.

That means this was a very important game to see whether Price can find his better self physically and his more confident self mentally.

Habs fans know that this can’t be a successful season without some solid goaltending from Price.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Edmonton Oilers rout the Montreal Canadiens

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Montreal Canadiens, Golden Knights matchup more than just another game

Wilde Horses

  • When Tomas Tatar was dealt by Vegas, all anyone could think about was how little he fit in on the Golden Knights’ playoff run that saw them make it to the Stanley Cup Final. Tatar sat more than he played under head coach Gerard Gallant. His stock was so low that he was a throw-in by GM George McPhee in a 3-for-1 deal for Max Pacioretty. A quarter of a season later and Tatar is looking like he will hit the 20-goal mark for the fifth time in his career. Tatar with the opening marker in the first period to give him eight goals on the season to go with eight assists for 16 points. That’s second on the team behind only Max Domi. It’s remarkable how much Tatar was punished in the trade market for not fitting in on a Vegas team that was oozing chemistry, so much that the head coach didn’t want to upset their special balance. There’s an added bonus overall: Marc Bergevin somehow convinced the Golden Knights to pick up a portion of Tatar’s salary. What a robbery!
  • Eight straight games with a point for Max Domi. He has 23 points in 19 games this season, good enough for top 10 in the league. The line of Domi, Jonathan Drouin and Andrew Shaw continues to sparkle offensively, though they did struggle in their own zone in this one. Drouin has a 53-point best NHL season, but right now, with his goal, he has moved to 15 points in 19 games. Drouin is on pace for a 65-point season.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres go to overtime

  • If Carey Price wasn’t as outstanding as he was, this game would have been a Flames rout by the 10-minute mark of the second period. Price was stellar in front of a defence that abandoned him completely. The quality of chances and the quantity of chances were astronomical, yet Price had an answer just like the gold old days. The shots on goal were 45 to 22 Calgary. Price entered the game admittedly fighting the puck, but he had no confidence issues at all. The best thing that came out of this game, even better than the win, is that Price looked like he could be his better self this season after all. They’ll need him. They’ll need to support him more though, because you can’t expect him to be MVP like this all the time. This was a special one for Price. It was one where he was focused and very much wanted to silence critics. Mission accomplished in Calgary. These two points are all his.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — New York Rangers wear out Montreal Canadiens

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  • In just about every power play the Habs have these days, the opposition actually has the best chance to score. The Canadiens have the most 5-on-5 goals in the NHL. Scoring is not an issue for this team, but when they get on the power play, the likelihood that they’ll give up a “Grade A” chance is just as good as that they’ll get a “Grade A” chance. The belief is that the return of Shea Weber will change everything, and one more weapon will certainly help. However, what they need to do be less static. There is no movement on the Habs’ power play. They are predictable in their behaviour. They all stand in the expected spots. That means the defenders also stand in their expected spots. The predictability means that the players, who are talented enough, are easy to defend. This isn’t a short-term problem. It’s been an issue for a long time. Weber will make some difference, but not as much of a difference as he should if everyone is simply going to be static waiting for 55-foot bombs to go in. Goalies are fairly adept at 55-foot bombs these days.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Strong comeback spirit

  • Things are becoming quiet on this West Coast road swing for Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Shift after shift for the 18-year-old without him touching the puck much. The coaching staff is working on his defensive game and it is improving. They’re doing good work with the young Finn on that front as, for a teenager, he’s looking better at centre than Drouin did last season. However, it’s his offence in the coming years that will be needed most, so it’s a little concerning to see that Kotkaniemi isn’t receiving many opportunities to develop his stick skills. Certainly, he has shown outstanding vision and passing, but some skills are not being developed here enough considering he might have the puck on his stick for only 10 seconds in an entire contest. In Calgary, it felt like he made no impression with the puck whatsoever, but chased the game, and yes, that point does include the fact that he got an assist on the Artturi Lehkonen goal.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Habs Got Goalied

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  • History may record it as the best trade that GM Marc Bergevin ever made. Max Pacioretty, who struggling mightily with only two goals this season, was dealt in a bold move for three assets: Tomas Tatar, who is on pace for his best season in the league, a second-round draft choice next season, and perhaps the gem of the trade – prospect Nick Suzuki. The former first-round draft choice is pouring on the points for Owen Sound. Suzuki has played 19 games and has 17 goals and 16 assists for 33 points. That puts him in the top 10 in league scoring. Suzuki is listed as a centre but it looks like he will line up on the right side for the Habs when he arrives. He will be loved there, especially with Jesperi Kotkaniemi who, as a left hander, will see Suzuki easily with a forehand pass on his right side, Instead of Joel Armia not finishing exquisite passes for Kotkaniemi, it will be Suzuki finishing the play with his lightning shot. On nights when it seems rough this season, fans only need to remember what the future looks like with players like Suzuki arriving, and Kotkaniemi maturing.

WATCH: Call of the Wilde — The Price is wrong






  • Mike Reilly was scratched for the first time this season. Reilly has certainly seen his game drop, but the use of Jordie Benn and David Schlemko over Reilly is still a head scratcher. This is a league of puck movement from the defence, especially for the Habs who need to feed their speedy wingers in full flight to find success, and these two do not bring that to the rink at all. The problem is Reilly wears down. It’s been his issue over the years. As the season grows longer, he loses his will to make the body-bruising sacrifices necessary for success. As much as the league has grown softer, you still have to go for the puck first even if the forechecking “F-1” is coming hard at you to hit you into the boards. Reilly has to get past this to become a “3-4 D” in this league, because if he can’t, then he is still a “5-6 D.” How many top-pair defenders do the Habs have? Shea Weber is the only one, and that is a “perhaps” as he has played so little in the last year that he has to prove he hasn’t lost anything from his game. How many 3-4 defenders do the Habs have? The answer is probably Jeff Petry now and Noah Juulsen in the coming years. The rest of the lot are third-pair defenders at best. Xavier Ouellet, who drew back into the line-up, along with Benn, Schlemko, Victor Mete, and Karl Alzner are all third pair. It is no wonder why the Habs are both 27th in the league in goals allowed, and 29th in the league in save percentage, causing their goalies to face a shot quality that’s just too high. It’s about talent. You can’t fake it. GM Marc Bergevin has done an excellent job turning the club around up front, especially strengthening the centre position, but now it’s time to evaluate the position he played for in his long NHL career, and not fall in love with what he was for that entire time — a journeyman defenceman.

WATCH: Global’s hockey analyst Brian Wilde breaks down the key plays from the Habs






© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Call of the Wilde: Edmonton Oilers rout the Montreal Canadiens – Montreal

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The Montreal Canadiens often find their sad truth during Canadian West Coast road trips. It’s been a graveyard of sadness for years and years. So far in 2018-2019, the Habs have surprised all the experts.

The biggest surprise of all would be success in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver this week. The Habs started in the Alberta capital with Antti Niemi getting the surprise start.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Montreal Canadiens, Golden Knights matchup more than just another game

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Max Domi is a star every night it seems. Domi has points in 13 of the last 14 games for the Habs as he continues his torrid scoring pace. He kept the points streak alive with a perfectly placed shot into the top corner early in the first period. That made it 10 goals on the season for Domi in 18 games. He had only nine goals in all 82 games last season in Phoenix. He’s also top 10 in league scoring. The last time the Habs had a point per game player was Alex Kovalev. What a revelation Domi is this season.

It is shocking how improved the centre position is this season compared to last. People speculate that the Habs will move Domi back to wing when Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling and Phillip Danault are all ready to star at the same time. Not a chance.

When a player is infinitely better at centre than he is at wing, there is no possible way that he is going back to wing. When he is producing at a point-per-game, no possible way he moves back to a place he did not produce. The Habs are going to have four strong centres down the middle in the not-too-distant future. What a remarkable turnaround for this franchise!

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres go to overtime

The Habs’ No. 1 line continues to roll. What a stroke of brilliance putting Andrew Shaw with Domi and Jonathan Drouin. Shaw was languishing looking like he didn’t really belong anywhere anymore only two weeks ago. He gets lined up with the top forwards on the team and he has come alive with four goals in his last three games.

A great line has three components: one player has to go win the puck on the forecheck and win the puck battles, one player has to be the playmaker, and one player has to be the finisher. The Habs’ top line has all three components. When some of the players on that line can bring all of the skills like Domi who can win it on his own, pass it, and finish, then you truly have the potential of a top line.

Drouin as well showing both passing and finish with 14 points in 18 games. Drouin’s best season is 53 points and he is also scoring at an elevated rate on pace for 64 points. The Habs coaches have long favoured switching lines every half-dozen games or so, but this one could last for a while. Especially because they had a player who was doing nothing in Shaw who suddenly is contributing in a big way.

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Connor McDavid makes everyone look bad at one time or another, so it is expected that defenceman are going to find some difficulties in Edmonton. McDavid was flying down the right side and David Schlemko tried to time a hit against him but basically did a face plant against the boards instead while McDavid blew past him and set up Leon Draisaitl for the Oilers’ second goal of the night. You’re not going to stop McDavid by trying to keep pace with him while skating backwards, and you’re not going to stop him by trying to sandwich him against the boards. Basically, you’re not going to stop him. It’s just what scale of embarrassment he is going to cause for you. On a scale of one to 10, Schlemko suffered about a seven or eight. Normal really, against the most talented player in hockey.

The Habs have a goaltender problem. Both of the goalies are putting in about an 890 save percentage on the season. This is 30 points lower than what you need and 30 points of save percentage is worth one goal a game on average. That’s a big number and the Habs have to get better.

Antti Niemi didn’t get a feel for the bounce off the backboards for the first goal off the back of his leg. He didn’t have a chance on the second goal on the McDavid to Draisaitl pass. The pass was lateral across the crease. It is such an obvious thing that when a goalie has to go east-west, it is so much harder than when he does not.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: New York Rangers wear out Montreal Canadiens

The Habs are leaving their goalies with so many extremely difficult east-west shots. They’re going to fail in that environment. So while the Habs’ goaltending is extremely suspect this season, the defence is just as suspect. Schlemko and Jordie Benn on your first pair are simply facing more talent than they can handle. Add to that, they are getting more ice time than they are used to so a mental fatigue sets in as well.

While many thought the Habs would not find goals this season, the truth is, offence is not an issue at all for the Habs. The defence is the issue. It’s just not good enough. It’s not a system issue, nor is it completely a goalie issue — it’s, in truth, a defencemen issue. The Habs have allowed four goals or more in seven of their last eight games. The club, to truly compete in the years to come, needs to get at least two strong defenders more talented than they have now.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Strong comeback spirit

Nicolas Deslauriers getting a contract was the only bad move by Marc Bergevin in the offseason. He isn’t good enough. He’s out of place. He’s got to go. Nikita Scherbak is dog housed and that’s a shame. He is dealing with an injury now, but the organization favouring Deslauriers over the talent of Scherbak since the beginning of the season says everything you need to know about how the club values a lunch bucket more than a paintbrush.

Deslauriers can’t provide a thing on offence, spends many shifts in his own end on defence. Sure he finishes his checks, but it is after the puck is long gone. The organization likes that “whole lot of nothing” more than Scherbak who can provide moments of excellence on offence and couldn’t possibly be hemmed in his own zone more than Deslauriers. There has to be something we do not know about on Scherbak, because what we do know that is on the surface does not add up to this type of sad treatment. Scherbak must play. The fourth line is a mess.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Habs Got Goalied

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Shea Weber is practising with the main team earlier than anticipated. It is expected that Weber is two weeks ahead of schedule. He won’t play on the west coast swing, but will continue to practice. He may be ready before the start of December. The first date given in July right after surgery was that he would return mid-December. This would be a huge boost for the club that has been without a first pair defender for the first quarter of the season. Adding Weber now, and a first pair defenceman on the left side in the future, is the most important element to the club becoming a long-term contender again in the Atlantic Division. Weber will also help the Habs’ woeful power play. He can’t come back soon enough.

WATCH: Global’s hockey analyst Brian Wilde breaks down the key plays from the Habs






Carey Price didn’t play in Edmonton on Tuesday night. He also didn’t play on the weekend against Vegas. It’s unusual for a No. 1 goalie to not play over a five-day stretch. Certainly, fatigue isn’t an issue early in the season. The next one is in Calgary on Thursday night, and it seems popular to let this oddity go for now as simply scheduling, but if he doesn’t play the next one, you can officially start to be concerned. It’s not as if the other goalie Niemi is hot and it’s simply a choice to go with the hot hand.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Special K

Both goalies are cold, but one is the apparent all-star, and the other was about three bad losses from the end of his hockey career last November. This season has been one of great promise for the future so far, but they’re going to need a goalie soon. There is no such thing as a playoff spot for a team with two goalies with 890 save percentages. This is not an exaggeration. It simply does not happen.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres go to overtime – Montreal

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The Montreal Canadiens were back at home to face the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night. It’s early in the season, but it could be that only one of the Sabres or Habs will make the playoffs fighting for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as a wild card.

Most believe that Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston will take the top three spots. So far, with what we have seen this season, there is no reason to believe otherwise.

The Habs have surprised but they need to keep surprising, especially against a Sabres team that is right with them in the standings as we hit the quarter mark in the season.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Strong comeback spirit

Wilde Horses

A breakout season happens more often in the fourth season than any other season for an NHL player. If you are thinking that your first-round draft choice has finished developing after three seasons, then think again. Don’t give up on that player until he has finished his fourth season at least. In season one, Max Domi was a strong player and showed the promise that made him a first round draft choice and star for Canada at the World Junior championships. In seasons two and three, he struggled. In fact, in season three he scored on a goalie only five times. So what did GM Marc Bergevin know that mostly everyone else did not when he traded Alex Galchenyuk, drafted third overall, for Domi?

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: New York Rangers wear out Montreal Canadiens

He answered that Domi drives the play and Habs fans are going love his engine. He could have also answered that you shouldn’t think that a player has shown you everything after three seasons. In fact, Domi started to score at a point-per-game pace in the last third season three last year. In his last 36 games, he has 37 points combining Arizona and Montreal. Domi continues to be an absolute star in a Habs uniform. He leads the team with nine goals and 11 assists for 19 points in 16 games. That puts him top 10 in the NHL in scoring early in this season. The last time the Habs had a point-per-game player for an entire season was Alex Kovalev in 2007-2008 with 84 points in 82 games. Last season, Brendan Gallagher led the team with 54 points. Domi should eclipse that by Saturday. Domi’s pass to Jonathan Drouin was absolutely perfect on their two-on-one to tie it at one. The pass to Tomas Tatar on the fourth goal was perfect. He’s just doing everything right. Have the Montreal Canadiens found their number one centre? Domi plays better at centre than the wing. He’s a puck handler. He’s a passer. He’s a zone entry player. He drives the play. The man is a natural centre in every way. How did the Coyotes not see this? Bergevin did.

WATCH: Global’s hockey analyst Brian Wilde breaks down the key plays from the Habs






Domi is bringing Drouin out of his painful 2017-18 with a much better start points wise this season. Drouin with a goal and a helper for 12 points in 16 games. That’s a significantly better total pro-rated than any season in his career. His best is 53 and he is on pace right now to get 62 points this year. Now if he can just play tighter defensively so he isn’t having minus four nights like the debacle at Madison Square Garden. Drouin’s celebration for his first period marker showed the care, and showed that he wanted to recover from that bad night quickly.

The first line of Domi and Drouin had Andrew Shaw on it for the first time this season. It’s been a tough year for Shaw, who is looking very suspect and not contributing on the fourth line. Shaw got a chance to play with some talent and he showed that he belonged. It’s a big moment this season for the Habs potentially. They need Shaw to be a part of this. He can implicate himself well along the wall and win pucks for Domi and Drouin. He is fundamentally the right complement for these two who drive the play in the middle of the ice and are known for shooting and passing. Someone has to go get it for them and Shaw fits that role. His challenge is to keep contributing every game and to stay healthy, which has been his biggest challenge since coming to Montreal.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Habs Got Goalied

Many offensive stars to speak of after this game. Nicolas Deslauriers played his first strong game of the season. He was already skating miles and driving the play before he scored the huge shorthanded goal. It was his first goal of the season.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi didn’t find the scoresheet but he brought the fans to their feet again with moves that not too many players can do at the NHL level. Kotkaniemi with a great toe drag to win space and then fire a shot. Kotkaniemi could use more power play time, but that has to be down the road for now. He is actually needed on this team that is competing very well early this season. While Domi shines and Danault does yeoman’s work defensively down the middle, they need Kotkaniemi to eat minutes — even if he isn’t always ready for the intensity of this hockey night after night.

Wilde Goats

The Habs had a lengthy five-on-three power play in the first period, and they didn’t muster an outstanding shot in it. They worked the puck around for a clear look for 35 seconds and when it was done the open man was Jeff Petry who fired a shot that couldn’t have been more than 45 miles per hour. The obvious issue for the Habs on their power play is they don’t have a shot from the point, so defenders can key down low. It’s easy to see how if Shea Weber were firing it at over 100 miles per hour instead of 45, then the Habs could have easily been on the board first, instead of Buffalo. To show how much they’re holding the stick too tight, they had a five-on-three power play again in the third period. This time they created well and could have scored three times if it were at equal strength. It’s going to be extremely interesting to see the power play numbers pre-Weber and post-Weber. He should improve it considerably.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Special K

A difficult first period for Victor Mete. On the first goal he was the lone defender back and it was a two-on-one, but he didn’t play it right in the slightest. The rule for defenders is quite simple: take away the pass and allow the goalie to take the shooter. Mete was caught in the middle giving up both the shot and the pass. The Sabres took the pass option for an easy goal. On the second goal, Mete and his partner Xavier Ouellet were again caught, but this time it was backing up way too much on a simple rush. The Habs had a ton of manpower there to defend. While all five Habs skaters were around the zone on the rush, Ouellet and Mete gave up the blue line far too easily. Mete was again caught guarding no one with the Sabres having two players alone to whack at it until Price was beaten.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: A just result

The entire collective of defensemen are starting to struggle for the Habs. This defence was atrocious last year, and if they rely on some of the players of last year too much, they are going to find the same problems. The problem is obviously talent. The Habs do not have a first pair man on the ice for the first quarter of this season. Shea Weber will be back in mid-December or sooner, and he has to stabilize the blue line by playing the hard minutes. You simply can not ask Jordie Benn to be a first-pair defender night after night. Petry is playing too much as well and as a result he is wearing down rapidly. You see often in the past week that Petry is standing in front of the net when the opposition is scoring and he is not taking a man. Taking a man takes a lot of energy and Petry is suffering from too many minutes. When Weber returns, it is hoped that he can make his partner Mike Reilly look like a first-pair defenceman too. This is a long shot. Reilly is a one-two, but this is all the Canadiens have right now. It’s a thin blue line for the Habs and they’ve been winning with some outstanding coaching basically to ensure that with an aggressive forecheck most of the game is not played in their own end. It’s a great idea, but it can’t stop zone entries entirely.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Another win

Carey Price. It didn’t turn around for Price in this game either. Absolutely no help for him on so many occasions, but the save percentage is the save percentage and it’s not good at all. Price has to figure out how to help this cause because the club is scoring enough. In fact, they are scoring more than anyone could have predicted. One of the only holes so far honestly is the player who is expected to be the sure thing.

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There is a tremendous amount of consternation surrounding Price. Sadly for Habs fans and the GM who signed him to an eight-year contract, there should be at the moment. Don’t be interested in the “he is not making the big save” crowd. They’re just angry and nervous. Don’t be interested in the “he has to have the best save percentage because he makes the most” crowd. That is simply not how this works. You get paid for your years of service. If you want to just always trade a player away as soon as he becomes an unrestricted free agent, then that’s an entirely different hockey team-building strategy and a different discussion for another day. What you need to be interested in are the simple statistics and only the statistics. Here is where all discussions should start and end: at the cold hard facts of the matter and those facts are completely not supportive of Price — but the sample size is small, so those facts can still change rapidly.

WATCH: Long-time Habs journalist Pat Hickey discusses his new book chronicling more than five decades of inside access






There could easily be a long discussion about the more complex analytics with high-danger chances and the heat map shot location. Those numbers are not supportive of Price in any way. But let’s keep this simple and look at the basic number that matters and tells an accurate story: it’s save percentage — and it’s bad. It’s very bad. Price was at .901 this season before the game against the Sabres and with a difficult game allowing six goals on 31 shots, Price now has a save percentage of .892. Now, that is not worth noting if every goalie is struggling because of the equipment changes. However, Price is among the worst in the league in save percentage. Price is 35th in the NHL. He had a poor season last year as well. In fact, Antti Niemi was clearly the better goalie for the Habs last season. Price has been a world-class goalie for a long time — the best save percentage for the last five years – but one can not ignore last year and this season so far either. The positive is these tough spells don’t tend to last for Price but it is time for this one to end. 

The Habs have lost two forwards for an extended period. The Paul Byron injury is more serious than first thought. Head coach Claude Julien said Byron is now listed as week to week. Also, the MRI is back on the injury suffered in New York City on Tuesday night and he has a knee injury that will keep him out for six to eight weeks. The Habs also said that Noah Juulsen has been playing with a nagging injury, which may explain his poorer play after an outstanding start. The head coach rested him as a result and brought in Karl Alzner. It was Kenny Agostino who dressed in the spot of Armia. Tomas Plekanec has also been out with a bad back. Despite all of this, Nikita Scherbak remains in Laval purgatory though he must be brought back soon from his conditioning stint or he will have to be put on waivers. Clearly, he will get a chance to play before long.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Call of the Wilde: Strong comeback spirit – Montreal

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A quick two-game road trip for the Montreal Canadiens through New York to face the Islanders on Monday and the Rangers on Tuesday. Both are good tests to show if the Habs can win the games that are against supposedly easier competition.

The Habs have shone nicely against the upper-echelon teams showing they can compete with anyone, but another test for a club is how they handle the expectedly lower-echelon teams to see if they are definitely a cut above.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Habs Got Goalied

They are off to Brooklyn first to see if they are indeed better than the New York Islanders who are also off to a surprisingly strong start. The Isles have five straight wins heading into their date with the Habs and lead the Metropolitan Division early in the campaign.

Wilde Horses 

Jonathan Drouin seems to be wearing a bull’s eye in the Montreal media these days. Cries of “Bench him” or even “Put him in the press box” can be heard on the radio and on the catwalk — which is a little unusual for a player who is on pace for career highs. Drouin has hit in his career a top mark of 53 points.

Drouin can do better than that. He has the stick skills to be a 65-point player. He’s more likely to find a regular plateau at 55 to 60 points, and that would be the total of a solid contributor. It’s early certainly but Drouin is on pace for a career high. He fired a remarkable shot into the top corner in the first period. Players who are mostly puck possession players — but not 200-foot players — often face the wrath of the media. Max Pacioretty was often cited for being just a goal scorer. Drouin is a point producer. That’s what he is designed to be. Truth is he is never going to be a terribly strong 200-foot player or an amazing back checker. That’s the way it is in hockey because sometimes all you really need is a goal. Could he do more? Yes, he could. But if he is going to the press box for punishment, then he’s going to another team in a trade right after because that won’t fly. Don’t expect the press box, but also don’t expect some of the media to come off the ledge over Drouin either. Looks like that is his plight here, sadly.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Special K

It’s a regular occurrence for Max Domi to be in the Wilde Horses. Domi was the player of the month for October and he hasn’t missed a beat in November either. Domi with a lightning strike shot as the Habs broke a zero-for-16 run on the power play. Another two-point game for Domi. He now has eight goals and seven assists for 15 points in 14 games. That’s better than a point per game. Domi is on pace for an absolutely stunning breakout season in his career. If Domi continues to find close to this form for the entire season, his breakout would happen in season four at the age of 23 when it often does for a pro. It’s beginning to look like a theft by Marc Bergevin and that has nothing to say about Alex Galchenyuk. It is simply a point about Domi because not only is he gaining points at a remarkable pace, but he is also playing the centre position like he has his entire life.

WATCH: Global’s hockey analyst Brian Wilde breaks down the key plays from the Habs






Strong recovery game from Noah Juulsen after struggling a couple contests recently. Juulsen with a terrific outlet pass to free Domi who then freed Drouin. He then in the third period worked hard to get into the shooting lane allowing the deflection by Artturi Lehkonen. Juulsen was also strong defensively on a night when others were quite challenged overall.

As much as the Joel Armia on the power play completely confuses me, a bouquet has to be given to the coaching staff for how much they are trusting Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who got another point in this one. Claude Julien and his staff has Kotkaniemi out in the last minute of a tie game against Matt Barzal. This is a remarkable show of confidence for an 18-year-old from a coach who has not often rolled the dice trying to help a young man get some real lessons on the fly. Being a coach is a thankless job; you don’t often get complimented but you sure do get insulted a lot. Credit to Julien for pulling a lot of the right levers this season with this Habs team.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Winning the middle, winning the game

Lehkonen finally managed to score but it is his penalty killing that must be mentioned. Lehkonen could become one of the best penalty killers in the NHL. He has an ability to cut off the angles on the forecheck that is second to none in hockey. When he was killing a penalty in the first period, Lehkonen was able to turn around two Islanders defencemen for 30 full seconds simply by angling and circling over and over again. They simply could not figure out a way to get beyond him. He understands the physics of it. It’s a remarkable thing to watch through the years.

Antti Niemi was reading the shooters so well in the shootout it was uncanny. The Isles have some very talented shooters and Niemi went five for five in the breakaway competition. He seemed to be ready for the shot before it was even taken. The style was so unorthodox before the Isles hit the blue line as he was standing completely upright almost looking disinterested in the proceedings, but when the shot was taken, he was right in front of it. Amazing shootout from Niemi and an amazing win.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Some passengers

Armia hasn’t gotten a lot of praise this season, but when you are the only shooter in 10 shots to score to win the game breaking the Islanders five-game winning streak, you get praised. Armia was the only Habs participant to actually take a shot. It worked. The Habs are 8-4-2 in 14 games. The Habs are on pace for a 105-point season. Is that right? That can’t possibly be right. Yes. It’s right.

Wilde Goats

The key pairing that struggled was Jordie Benn and Jeff Petry. In the first period, Benn with a pinch at the blue line that was costly leading to a two-on-one where Petry tried to time his slide to stop the pass across the slot. The slide was reminiscent of a baseball comedy movie where the runner slides into second base and doesn’t actually make it to the bag stopping about 10 feet short where he is an easy tag out. Benn and Petry were also at fault on another of the three goals in the first period. Benn is backing off the blue line too easily now because he doesn’t want to be beat for speed. It’s natural, but it’s not working.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: A just result

The Habs power play was zero for its last 16 chances. Their early second period attempt had a lot of good, including some clear shot attempts and a full one minute and 45 seconds of possession in the Islanders zone. What it didn’t have though was the actual use of all of the five players. It seems hard to believe but in 105 straight seconds with the puck, Armia did not touch the puck a single time. Armia was in front of the net the entire time and it didn’t go off his stick, his skate, his butt or his head. They just don’t look for him and he can’t find a way to get implicated at all. This seems like a good time to remind you that Armia has not scored a power play goal in his entire NHL career, but there he is game after game on the first power play unit. You have to give the coaching staff credit for perseverance at least.

Wilde Cards

The situation in Laval is not good so far this season as the club is seventh of eight teams in the North Division of the American Hockey League. The Rocket record is only 4-7-1. The club struggles mightily to score goals. The Rocket are second worst in goals with 27 on the season. Only San Antonio has fewer with 26. Kenny Agostino is the leading scorer on the team with four goals and six assists. He is 46th in the league with that total. That’s positively sensational compared to the top plus-minus Laval Rocket player’s rank. Michael McCarron is plus 1, which makes him 293rd in the league. As they say though, it’s all about developing players and on that front, Jake Evans is making progress each game becoming more and more comfortable at the AHL level.

WATCH: Long-time Habs journalist Pat Hickey discusses his new book chronicling more than five decades of inside access






While it is quite disappointing so far in Laval, in the prospect ranks there are many players looking strong and three who are definitely standing out. The top prospect in the organization Nick Suzuki is certainly not disappointing. Suzuki scored a gorgeous shorthanded goal on Sunday night for Owen Sound with a series of dekes that left the goaltender on the wrong half of the net. Suzuki is once again having no trouble scoring for a third straight season in the OHL. This year he has played 16 games with 13 goals and 12 assists. He is also an impressive plus-9 for the attack.

The other stand-out is Ryan Poehling, another first-round draft choice from 2017. He continues to up his point totals from year to year at the college level for powerhouse St. Cloud State in rural Minnesota. In his first season, he had 13 points in 35 games. In his second season, 31 points in 34 games. It’s early in 2018-19, but Poehling is now a point-per-game player, and in college this is not an easy feat like it is in the Canadian juniors. Poehling has eight points in eight games on three goals and five assists. One can easily see Suzuki patrolling the right wing, and Poehling in the centre position, with a complete 200-foot game, for years to come.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Another win

So while Laval is disappointing, if you can add two high quality hockey players to your roster each year, you’re on a path to greatness. Last season, the Habs added Victor Mete and Juulsen. This year, they added Kotkaniemi to the youth brigade. Next season, they could potentially add Suzuki, Poehling and Josh Brook. The final of the big three prospects shining right now, Brook is absolutely dominating on the right side of the defence in Moose Jaw. Another product of the 2017 draft, Brook has offensive numbers that would make you think he is a forward. Brook has played 12 games and has five goals and 10 assists. Brook is going to make it difficult either next year or the year after to figure out who is going to be long term on the Habs blue line on the right side with Shea Weber, Petry, and Juulsen already in secured positions. There will come a day when Brook won’t be denied. In fact, Tim Hunter, his head coach in Moose Jaw, had huge praise for Brook saying he was one of the best defensemen in the country right now. Brook is the captain for Canada at the Canada-Russia Junior hockey series that started late Monday night.

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Call of the Wilde: Winning the middle, winning the game – Montreal

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The Montreal Canadiens had two line-up changes for the visit to Boston to face the Bruins.

One was a change forced upon them, thanks to an upper-body injury to Noah Juulsen that resulted in Karl Alzner getting back into the line-up. The other was a change that was a decision from the head coach who didn’t like the work of Andrew Shaw taking two costly minor penalties in Buffalo, so he was sat for Charles Hudon to draw back in.

Nikita Scherbak hits game 10 and he still has not played a single minute this season.


READ MORE:
Call of the Wilde: A just result

Wilde Horses

There has not been a special line in Montreal for a long time and this may seem a bit premature, and it may well be in the end, but you get the feeling that Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen have the chance to be something special.

The line is keyed by the Domi’s shocking ability to play the centre position as if he has his entire life. Moved from the wing to centre to start the season, most thought this was going to be another abysmal, failed experiment to turn a winger into a centre, much like Drouin last season.

However, it hasn’t worked out that way at all.

Domi is having zero difficulty with being a solid defensive centre and he is also lighting it up offensively. He’s also turning around the fortunes of Drouin, who hasn’t played better hockey than right now since arriving in Montreal. Lehkonen is the perfect complement as a player who does not give an inch to anyone and is terribly difficult to handle on the forecheck. Domi is solid defensively; Lehkonen is solid defensively. The result is that Drouin is allowed to roam freely and create with the puck like he can.

As a professional hockey line, the three of them work together perfectly. You don’t get the feeling — and this is a first in Montreal in a long time — that they can be dominated by any other line.

Domi continues to lead the team in scoring this season. This is a player who got only five goals all last season in Phoenix with a goalie in the opposition net. This season, he has hit that total already, and we aren’t even out of the month of October yet. Remarkable.

Most didn’t give Brendan Gallagher a chance to duplicate his 31-goal season last year, with most thinking of it as an outlier. Gallagher has played 10 games this season and already has six goals this year. It’s early to extrapolate on numbers, but if you were to try, Gallagher would be in line for a 48-goal season.

Now, he obviously is not going to get that number, but it is beginning to look like that remarkable 31-goal total for Gallagher is not an outlier at all. It’s easy to see him with a second 30-goal campaign in his career.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Another win

Jesperi Kotkaniemi continues to impress with his hockey sense and awareness at such a young age.

Eighteen-year-olds aren’t supposed to be this intelligent. He’s having some difficulty getting implicated in the play regularly now, but he makes up for it with an acumen that belies his age. Midway through the second period, Karl Alzner decided to go deep behind the net in the Bruins’ zone. From what we know about Alzner, there is no way that he is getting back in the play as a defender with any effectiveness. Kotkaniemi knows that, too, and he is actually the last man back, even behind the Habs’ defender, as he breaks up what would have been an odd-man rush — perhaps even a 3 on 1 — to end the Bruins danger.

This on-ice awareness just isn’t supposed to be possible for an 18-year-old.

He’s one of the smartest players that I have ever seen at his age. He is not the most skilled at his age, certainly, but the hockey brain that he possesses virtually guarantees that he is going to be a very effective NHL player for a long time.

The Habs completely nailed this pick. It took guts to pick at three-overall a player who wasn’t even in the top-30 rankings to start the season, but they chose only what they saw and didn’t worry about others’ opinions or rankings. They took the best player and he happened to be a centre, meeting a two-decade long need. He doesn’t have the puck on his stick a lot early in his career here, though his numbers were actually better in this one than they had been for possession time, but when he does have the puck, his decision-making is impeccable.

What a marvelous bonus for the Habs, who likely thought this player would arrive ready for the league in two seasons.

Credit to the entire coaching staff for the work they did on the line matchups. The Bruins have one of the best trios in all of hockey with Patrice Bergeron centring Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. This is a line that chews everyone up, night after night. The Habs bench coaches worked hard to make sure they protected Kotkaniemi and had Phillip Danault at the ready to do what he does effectively defensively to neutralize some of the best players in the game.

What’s shocking so far this season is that the Habs, who were once the laughing stock of the league down the middle even last year, have beaten Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin twice this season already, and now add Bergeron to the mix. When you ask yourself why the Habs have lost only twice in regulation in 10 games this season, look to the centre of the ice, where Domi, Kotkaniemi, Poehling, and Peca are vastly superior to what they stumbled out of the gate with last season.

Look to Phillip Danault in the shutdown role. He can neutralize some the best in the game.

Carey Price is now the second goalie in Montreal Canadiens’ history in terms of wins, with 290, passing Patrick Roy. What a night to pass Roy, winning in Boston with a shutout against a talented Bruins club. Only Jacques Plante has more wins with 314 for the Habs. That is obviously a feat that Price will attain, perhaps as early as this season, considering the surprising way things are going for this club that does not look like they’ll be drafting top five again this season.

No need to pick out one defenceman over another defenceman. Pick them all as heroes in this one. The Bruins can put a lot of goals on the board, but the Habs made it a very easy night for Price. He made a couple of thrilling stops, but overall, he did not have a busy night.

Defenders like Jordie Benn and Mike Reilly are miles better than they were last season. The addition of Xavier Ouellet, who is not flashy but solid, has also been huge for the Habs’ fortunes.

WATCH: What should happen to Kotkaniemi? 






It’s been extremely interesting to watch how talent is prevailing in today’s NHL. Look at Charles Hudon vs. Andrew Shaw, for example. Hudon was in for Shaw in this one, after Shaw got the hook for two stupid penalties in Buffalo. Shaw is a hard-nosed player and he had his time in Chicago being an influence for the Hawks in their Stanley Cup runs.

Shaw is now finding the game passing him by. He is not fast enough; he does not bring enough skill. Hudon is a better player for the Habs on that fourth line. He also has a brighter future than Shaw. This will be a difficult decision for Claude Julien this season, because he knows what it means to not upset the veteran apple cart, but he will come to Hudon over Shaw as the season progresses.

He will have to. He’ll need the talent to win games.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Late-game heroics

Wilde Goats

There are fans who like Nicolas Deslauriers, with some of the reasons being that he finishes his checks, or that he keeps the opposition honest with his toughness.

These are thoughts that belong in the year 2012.

No one on the opposition changes his game anymore, because he is worried players are going to finish their check on him. Talent is what wins games now. All four lines have to be able to bring the play to the opposition with skill. Win all of the line matchups by having better talent on all of the lines. You can’t get in a fourth line versus first line matchup and find that you are overwhelmed because you have a player out there chasing the puck all the time, but he keeps his opposition honest because if he gets mad, he can beat you up.

No one is afraid of being beat up out there.

The game has moved past that attitude. How many fights have the Habs been in this season? Exactly. It’s not the game anymore. Get talent out there. Nikita Scherbak needs to play. Deslauriers brings nothing to the game that changes the course of the game.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Overtime Madness

WATCH: Call of the Wilde: 4 wins so far






READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Special K

Wilde Cards 

With his 10th game of the season, Jesperi Kotkaniemi ignited the first year of his three-year entry level contract.

This means that his next contract begins as soon as 2021. This is his restricted free agent contract that will pay him significantly more than the contract he just signed. When the collective bargaining agreement first put this ’10 game’ caveat in, general managers were extremely reluctant to allow a rookie to play game 10 of the season, preferring to push their rookies back to the junior ranks.

As time has moved on, though, GMs have realized that money is the only loss when you let your player engage in game 10 of the season. You don’t lose your player, you just pay him the big money sooner. The real difficult decision is actually game 40, because it’s on that night that a team’s rookie gets credit for a full season played in the NHL.

That means one season is used up of his seven seasons before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. So the next target for Kotkaniemi is game 40. This will be a much harder decision for Marc Bergevin. Stay tuned.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas

Nick Suzuki continues to tear it up in the juniors with the Owen Sound Attack.

Suzuki, the first-round draft choice the Habs acquired for Max Pacioretty, has played 12 games this season. He has 10 goals and 9 assists for 19 points. People scouting the Attack this season say that his shot is unstoppable. Suzuki is quite likely to be a winger when he comes to the NHL. The Habs are suddenly strong at centre and he has the composition as a player more as a shooter, and more offensive.

It really is quite an accomplishment how quickly Bergevin has turned this around. The empty well is filling up quickly.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Call of the Wilde: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas – Montreal

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The Montreal Canadiens have been one of the surprises of the young season with only one regulation time loss in four starts, including two wins over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The game at the Bell Centre against the Detroit Red Wings Monday was all about Tomas Plekanec. It was a special night in his career as he played game 1000. Plekanec started out as a third-round draft choice, taken 71st overall. He wasn’t given much chance to make it, but he parlayed his work-ethic, and intelligence into a superb career.

While some focus was on game 1000 for Plekanec, the more important focus was on game five as the Habs tried to solidify their strong start against a Wings team that has struggled to start the year.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Work ethic vs big talent

Wilde Horses

Most everyone for the first week of the season was in an uproar seemingly ready to end the career of Jonathan Drouin or trade him to anyone for a draft choice, if the Habs got lucky. The entire time, on my radar, the thinking was this is a player who is trying hard moves and that’s excellent. Skilled players are supposed to try to show what they can do. When you should be scared is when a high-talent player doesn’t want to participate anymore. Drouin wants the puck. He’s got energy in his stride. He believes in his ability to beat players directly with his stick and skating.

So it’s no surprise that Drouin is now finding his better self. He scored in the shootout on Saturday night against the Penguins, then early on Monday against the Wings, he earned a breakaway and had the stick knocked out of his hands. Drouin was awarded a penalty shot. Now considering when you have not scored yet on the season, there can be a little bit of butterflies to finally get going. But what we saw instead was a player completely in the moment without fear. Drouin skated over the blue line near the right-side boards to make the goalie Jimmy Howard move laterally, and then he fired blocker side just over the pad. It’s the hardest shot in hockey in close for a goalie to stop. It’s the dead zone and Drouin found it. Same shot twice in a row one-on-one as the shot duplicated the shootout against the Pens. Drouin’s going to be fine. He looks freer than he did last year. He’s thinking offence. Some players need to think offence and not worry about centre duties and the defence that comes with it. This move to the wing is absolutely what Drouin needs.

WATCH: Call of the Wilde: Habs season opener






Plekanec doesn’t have a lot of goals left in his stick, but it sure was nice for him to find one of the last goals in his 1000th game. Plekanec scored it not with a lightning shot or some gorgeous end-to-end rush, but with savvy. He scored in the same manner that he has done to make a career for himself — with his terrific hockey sense. He ended up on a clear advantage down the left side not being able to get a shot away, so he found himself behind the net where he did the Plekanec thing to do: he fired it off a Red Wings defender trying to get back into the play. The ricochet worked perfectly and Plekanec had his first goal of the year.

Good things happen when you charge the net and you then stay there. The Habs line of Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, and Philip Danault kept possession over the blue line and then stumbled their way with it to the front of the net. They then simply overwhelmed the Red Wings with numbers. All three forwards were all over the crease area. It was Tatar who batted it out of the air for his third goal in two games. Tatar is the leading point getter on the Habs with three goals and four assists. For Tatar, apparently, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. By contrast, Max Pacioretty has one goal this season. He has no assists and he is -3. Pacioretty can do better. Tatar already is — and a little reminder that he is only 27. He is hardly a player on the down slope. This may be a very hard trade for Vegas general manager George McPhee. He may never want to hear the name Tatar ever again. He acquired Tatar giving up a first, second, and third rounder. That’s three assets. He then didn’t like Tatar and wanted Pacioretty, so traded away another three assets in Tatar, first rounder Nick Suzuki and a second rounder. That’s three times two and that’s not how to manage effectively.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Opening night

The line of Tatar, Danault and Gallagher is the best line on the team. It was Max Domi‘s line last week that was the best. If the best line can change from week to week, you might just find you have a pretty good hockey team. The pass from Tatar to Gallagher on the first goal of the second period was sublime. It was very sweet. It was a pass of only two feet but it changed everything making it an easy swipe for Gallagher’s third goal of the season.

It wasn’t a minute later and the Habs scored a fifth bringing the crowd to a frenzy. Again, it was sublime passing that left the defence mesmerized. Matthew Peca had a clean lane to shoot, but chose a cross-ice pass leaving Howard no chance. Charles Hudon with the goal and Howard with a seat on the bench to watch the rest of the night. These are not last year’s Habs.

Wilde Goats

The Red Wings scored their first goal on an extremely unfortunate moment of puck watching for Jeff Petry. In front of the net, Petry ended up going a whirlwind tour of the crease area watching the puck go to his left and then to his right and then back to his left. It ended up being a severe case of “puck watching” instead of “player taking.” Frustrating for Petry for sure as today’s NHL is certainly less designed for him to just hold on to a man and let Victor Mete take the other man.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Special K

It was the first night that Jesperi Kotkaniemi looked like he didn’t belong quite yet. Not to suggest that he was bad, but he didn’t create anything. Not an easy feat to be without a scoring chance or shining offensive moment when there were so many for the Canadiens. Not saying his path back to Finland or Laval is certain by any means, but that road being taken is starting to get some focus.

Wilde Cards

A flu is going through the locker room to start the season. It has hit only two so far, but these things can get out of hand when the players are in such close quarters with each other. Carey Price missed two starts with the virus. He is heathy now and was the back-up. Head Coach Claude Julien said that Antti Niemi was slated to start against the Wings anyway and Price had not skated in three days, so he felt Niemi was the more prepared goalie. Andrew Shaw came down with the flu as well and missed the game against the Red Wings. Peca played in Shaw’s spot on the wing.

WATCH: Call of the Wilde: Habs impress in first game 






The Canadiens fans did the moment right when the PA announcer indicated that it was the 1000th game for Plekanec. The fans were standing as soon as Plekanec showed up on the giant scoreboard. And they stayed standing through the commercial break of two minutes. The Habs fans are so passionate and that means knowledgeable too. They knew that this was certainly well deserved and they were well aware it was coming.

There are a lot of years left on the contract of Karl Alzner. Four years and $18 million left on a player who can not get in this lineup and it’s hard to imagine that he will get in this lineup. There will have to be injuries, though perhaps Jordie Benn could falter with a little fatigue. The drama is not around when Alzner will play but what to do with him when players become healthy. Nicolas Deslauriers and Jacob De La Rose will be healthy soon and when they are, it’s difficult to imagine that Alzner will stay up in Montreal. Nikita Scherbak is also in the mix to stay up and not be lost on waivers. It’s looking more and more like Alzner will go to Laval with the improved play of Benn and Xavier Ouellet.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Plan the parade

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Call of the Wilde: Work ethic vs big talent – Montreal

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The challenge in front of the Montreal Canadiens in game four was a difficult one: they had to try to beat the same very talented team twice in one week.

That’s a tall order, statistically. The Canadiens also had to try to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins without Carey Price, who was out with a virus, and Antti Niemi faced the Pens in his first start of the season as the Habs tried to avoid falling below .500.

Wilde Horses

It was the fifth period at home before the Canadiens finally scored a goal. Only 11 seconds in, Tomas Tatar got his first as a Hab. He’s been working hard and has had chances so, of course, it was a broken play: just throw it at the net and hope the shot finally goes in. They all count, and the excitement for Tatar in scoring his first was obvious.

On the power play, it was also a simple throw-it-at-the-net moment that brought the Habs to their first lead at 3-2. The angle was terrible and so was the goaltending, but they all count, and for Tatar, again, the excitement was obvious. Tatar is on the first line, and that’s too much for his skill set in the long run, but he is probably one of the better finishers on the team this season. Eventually, a player like Jesse Ylonen or Nick Suzuki is going to fill this role, but for now, Tatar is a hard-working stopgap who had some great moments in this one.

It is impossible not to love Brendan Gallagher. If heart was the measure of the Hart then Gallagher would be in the running for it, like Connor McDavid is on talent. Gallagher played the game with a superb effort throughout, but what hits you after his goal is the high level of caring; he just wants this so much. Think about how he has always wanted this so much: he’s a fifth-round draft choice who got passed over in the entry draft time and time again. Whatever people might say — “He’s too small. He’s not fast enough. He’s never going to be a pro. He’ll get eaten alive by faster and stronger players” — Gallagher doesn’t care. He has never cared. He gets slaughtered in front of the net by the fists of large men and bashed across the back from cross-checks, and he just doesn’t care. He’s going to the dirty areas and he’s going to make things happen. He would be a perfect captain on any other team, but the Habs have the quintessential captain in Shea Weber. He’s a leader just the same. He’s who you want your kid to model himself after, not just in hockey but in everything. Try harder and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something like that little guy out there wearing number 11.

Xavier Ouellet had a rough outing in the home opener against Los Angeles, but he was very strong in this contest. He’s the type of player that needs his minutes limited and his opponent to not be top tier and he can manage well on many nights. In this one, the opposite happened. He got used a lot and he shone.

Mike Reilly appears to be the defender who has gained the confidence of the head coach more than any other. Head coach Claude Julien has singled Reilly out as his best defender a number of times already this season. Reilly led the defenders in minutes in the first period. He fell behind Jeff Petry by the second, though, as Petry saw the ice a lot on the power play. Reilly was a reclamation project who has certainly stabilized the blue line. It’s not an NHL blue line yet, but it sure is better than Jordie Benn, Karl Alzner, David Schlemko, a rookie Victor Mete, novice Noah Juulsen and veteran Petry. Last year, only Petry was ready for his role, and by game 60, he had lost his will.

Jonathan Drouin got his first point of the season, and his talent produced a little bit of overtime magic that Max Domi should have converted in the last seconds for the winner, but he hit the post. Drouin played his best game of the season. He also scored in the shootout and made it look very easy.

Niemi had Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in the shootout. They tried every move they knew, it seemed. He was there, standing right beside them when they were in the corner trying to shoot, still looking for an opportunity that never came.


READ MORE:
Call of the Wilde: Special K

WATCH: Call of the Wilde: Habs season opener






Wilde Goats

It was difficult right from the very first shift for Phillip Danault. He was given the assignment of facing Crosby, and the domination was clear. On the opening shift, it was 40 straight seconds for the Habs in their own zone as he, Gallagher and Tatar couldn’t clear the puck. By the mid-point of the first period, Julien had already moved Danault away from Crosby and tried Domi against the Pens’ top line. With Tomas Plekanec on his last legs, Danault is the defensive heir apparent at centre for the Habs, and it’s going to be a huge challenge for him.

When the Habs are a much better team than they are now, Danault will be the fourth-line centre, perhaps the third line — no more than that. To me, he’s already in the wrong role playing with scoring top-line forwards. A better Habs team has Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Gustav Olofsson or maybe Suzuki at centre ahead of Danault, who is no more than a third or fourth centre.

The Habs struggle right now because players are fighting above their weight class. Danault shouldn’t be asked to be a top-line centre. Benn and Ouellet shouldn’t have second-pairing minutes. But this is what you get when the talent is not sufficient. People want to give Danault the benefit of the doubt because he’s a nice kid, but he’s a 40-point nice kid; he doesn’t have the creativity or the stick skills to be more. When he is asked to do much less in two years then you will know the Habs are in the mix for a division title. For right now, everyone will continue to overestimate Danault’s skill set. He’s a useful player, but he’s not a top-line centre useful player, or even second line. Plenty of improvements still to come for this Habs team in the next two seasons.

The first bad moments of the season for Juulsen in this one. He got schooled pretty badly twice in the opening frame. It’s probably not a good idea to try to dangle around Crosby when you’re the last man back. Crosby had a breakaway from 100 feet but didn’t score. Later, in the first period, an equally embarrassing moment happened as Riley Sheahan undressed Juulsen in his own zone, and Niemi was called upon again. Juulsen has been one of the positives of the young season, but he’ll need to remember to look his opponent in the chest and not his feet when he is getting nutmegged.

Joel Armia has long stretches of nothing.

At a certain point, you must be negative a bit and make the fans face some real truths. Look at the talent discrepancy of the two clubs: the Pens have a first-line centre of Crosby, and the Habs reply with Danault. The Pens have a second-line centre of Malkin, whereas the Habs have a winger, Domi. The top defender on the Pens is Kris Letang, and the Habs have… who is the top defender? The best winger of the Pens is Phil Kessel, whereas the Habs have Gallagher. Work ethic only takes one so far; the Habs need to up the talent level from here significantly. In many cases, it’s coming. Watch them work their tails off until it does. This year’s team is certainly prepared to work, but they don’t have upper echelon players. Give it time.

This one was a microcosm of talent versus work ethic. The Pens were often lazy, doing little, but they only needed the slightest opening to score. The Habs doubled their opponent in shots for the first half of the game, fought for every puck and played like the Stanley Cup was on the line to stay in the game. What this means in the long run is that the Penguins will win games they shouldn’t really win, and the Habs will lose games in which they were the better team and walk away feeling as if justice wasn’t served.

A perfect moment to measure talent versus hard work is always on the power play. The talented just roll with the ease of an extra man. Look at the Maple Leafs, who are scoring at around 50 per cent on their power play right now. They roll out John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri, and they’re unstoppable.

The Habs had a five-on-three advantage for over one minute and 50 seconds, and they couldn’t score in one of the key moments in the contest late in the second period. Talent matters on power plays, and it matters even more on five-on-three power plays, so it was an obvious moment for Kotkaniemi to see what he could do with his creativity and imagination. However, he wasn’t used because of a silly pecking order. If you don’t let the kid find success then he won’t. Imagine the Habs take the lead there, as they really should, and the game takes on a much different tone. Instead, they don’t score and even take a too-many-men penalty to close the second frame. That’s a big turnaround.

I’m giving the head coach a goat. He had a terrible game. Armia and Andrew Shaw on the power play over and over again? What creativity do they have to warrant that? On the five-on-three power play, two men are behind the net passing to each other? You think the Penguins defenders are going to chase the Habs players behind the net? Why not just cancel the power play completely and have a passing skills competition behind the Pittsburgh goal instead? Kotkaniemi has the best vision on the team already and perhaps the best passing skills, and when he ripped a shot off the bar it was obvious he’s got a laser, too, but he didn’t get a sniff. I’m a big Julien supporter, but this was old-school Julien relying on old comfort like Plekanec late in the game to try to protect a goal instead of going to get one, and with that attitude the game is more than likely in your own end all of a sudden. Bad power play thinking, bad player usage — just bad.


READ MORE:
Call of the Wilde: Plan the parade

WATCH: Call of the Wilde: Habs impress in first game 






Wilde Cards

The Habs need to make sure they don’t lose Jacob De La Rose or Nikita Scherbak. Fans will always take the short view on this, suggesting that these two players are not doing well anyway and they wouldn’t be missed. However, many a hockey player has taken a while to find his game, and you don’t want to give up on a first-round draft choice just because he hasn’t figured it out yet. See Paul Byron for a perfect example and a moment the Calgary Flames would like back. The worry is that they would lose Benn or Alzner or that the team would be thin on the blue line, but taking a look at the Laval Rocket games, the replacement is already there in Brett Kulak. He played for the Calgary Flames last year and was in for 71 games so that’s a regular blue liner on a better blue line than the Habs have. He was also outstanding for the Rocket this weekend.

The argument could certainly be made that Kulak is even better than the players that they are now using in Montreal. The point is that if there is a decision to be made on the roster when everyone gets healthy, it better be an aging defenceman who loses his spot on the 23-man roster instead of a player like Scherbak, who could come back to haunt you by figuring out how to play at the NHL level.

Coaches are all the same. It’s remarkable to see the same patterns repeat over four decades as a hockey reporter. Kotkaniemi was certainly not the worst centre in the first period for the Habs; that honour was clearly Danault’s. He wasn’t the second-worst centre, either, as Plekanec had a shift and was miles behind the play on the Penguins’ second goal. He was probably the second-best centre, in fact, behind Domi, who did good things. However, it was Kotkaniemi who was punished for an abysmal Habs first period. The 18-year-old was dropped to the fourth line for not actually doing anything wrong. He didn’t get a lot right but he wasn’t hemmed in his own zone like the other lines, either. That’s how coaches roll, though; they get frustrated when it is not going right, and the easiest prey for their frustration is the rookie. They never want to upset the social pecking order and send the message to the right players.

Too bad, as it looks like they’re getting ready to send a message to the hockey world that they don’t think this kid is ready. He may not be, but if that is the case, it sure wasn’t because of the first period against the Penguins. If it was the case, then the entire team should be sending a message to the hockey world that no one is ready because the entire team was second best on just about every play in the first period. Too bad the kid got targeted; I don’t like it. That’s the way it has always rolled, and it will roll this way again.

On this arc, it is only a matter of whether Kotkaniemi goes to Finland or Laval. The Assat team in Finland is horrible, struggling to win even a single game. Laval is a better choice for the kid, as Joel Bouchard has that team working hard. Kotkaniemi could benefit from that competitive nature, and the AHL is the second-best league in the hockey world. He belongs in the second-best league at this point, not the fifth-best La Liiga (NHL, AHL, KHL, SHL, Liiga). I don’t think he has anything to learn there anymore. It’s a bad environment and too easy for him. The ice is the wrong size. Earlier, it was my belief that Finland was a better choice because Kotkaniemi would possess the puck a lot there and get to work on his skills. My feeling is now that he will possess the puck enough in Laval. He’s good enough already to be there. He might be good enough here, too, but if he doesn’t play five-on-three, gets demoted to the fourth line for nothing and gets his minutes cut down to plug-level then what’s the point of having him here? He won’t progress playing eight minutes; in fact, he will regress. That’s the one thing they can’t do is let this special player regress by having him languish this year with limited minutes, no power play time and weak linemates. He needs opportunity somewhere. Play him where he gets opportunity. There’s not going to be a parade down Saint-Catherine Street this year, so just make sure that you don’t mess with one of the kids who gives you a chance years from now.


READ MORE:
Montreal Canadiens name Shea Weber the 30th captain in franchise history

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Call of the Wilde: Special K – Montreal

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The home opener to the Montreal Canadiens season and the sentiment was livelier after three of a possible four points in Toronto and Pittsburgh — two of the toughest places to play in the league.

The Los Angeles Kings in town with the opening ceremonies celebrating the 1993 Stanley Cup — the last cup champions to come from Canada a shockingly long 25 years ago.

The Kings without their number one goaltender Jonathan Quick were forced to start Jack Campbell. The short view had little to cheer for with the Habs being shutout, but the long view had plenty to cheer for as Jesperi “Special K” Kotkaniemi shone again.

Wilde Horses

Paul Byron continues to be among the best Habs this season. Early first period and Byron is absolutely a rocket down the ice against Alec Martinez. It’s a 100-foot race for the puck and Byron starts two strides behind the Kings rearguard and finishes four strides ahead of him. The shift eventually earns a power play on the back of the stunning speed of Byron. I would love to see a McDavid race against Byron one-on-one for 100 feet. I’m sure everyone will say McDavid would win easily, but I am not that sure.

Noah Juulsen is an NHL rookie. It’s hard to remember that watching him but he played fewer than 25 games last season. He’s a remarkably composed rookie. Juulsen is maturing at a rapid pace. His decision making is already so strong. If he continues to develop at this level, there is no way that Juulsen is not a top four defender. He might already be a top four defender on a strong NHL team, not just the Habs. He takes the body when it’s right to. His vision is better than advertised as well, and he makes a strong first pass often. Juulsen is a foundation piece on the right side of the blue line for the next decade.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Plan the parade

Marc Bergevin takes a lot of heat and deservedly so considering the drop the club had in the standings last season, but he also made some terrific moves in 2018. Mike Reilly is one for sure. Reilly came over from the Minnesota Wild for a paltry fifth-round draft choice. Reilly was the best defenseman in camp and he continues to play solidly in the regular season. Reilly with an early first period breakaway. Doesn’t seem possible for a defender, but he saw the opportunity and took it. That’s confidence, but it’s also talent. You can’t make that play unless you have the wheels to jump up and the wheels to get back after. Reilly isn’t shying away from the physical either making him a really important piece on the left side that the Habs had to have this season if they hope to compete.

Max Domi is playing with a lot of confidence. He has an active stick. He wants the puck. If it doesn’t come to him, he goes and gets it. This is a player who is “feeling it” as they say. Domi has a tremendous work-rate. He could stand to shoot more, but perhaps that will come with even more confidence. This type of work-rate is infectious. The road to rating a trade is a long run, but early advantage to the Habs. You might want to excuse Galchenyuk for being injured, listed as week-to-week with a lower-body injury, but that is actually the story of his career. Some players get injured a lot, and if you can trade them away, you always win a trade when the other player is not actually ever putting in a full season. We will see, but when the deal was made I loathed it. As it stands now, it might just be a Bergevin win. We shall know better in the fullness of time, but you can’t like Galchenyuk’s game in the weight room rehabbing.

WATCH: Call of the Wilde: Habs impress in first game






The kid just makes things happen. Jesperi Kotkaniemi shouldn’t be able to find this much success. It really is quite a story. He was, at only 18 years of age, not even on the radar as a first rounder at this time last year. It was easy to predict that the big bodies of the Kings would be too much for the young Finn and he would look out of his element in the home opener. Instead, he won his share of face-offs and took four shots in the first period alone. In the second period, he dangled around the net to create one of the best chances for the Habs in the contest. In the third period, he was the best player on the ice. He was making “wow” plays that lesser players couldn’t convert or prepare for. The good thing is he is the most creative Habs player. The bad thing is — in only his third NHL game — he shouldn’t be the most creative Habs player. The coaching staff is no doubt looking for the moment that he shows that he can’t handle it, but that moment is certainly not here yet. In fact, he might be gaining strength from game to game. Don’t forget the Habs don’t have to choose his future after game nine. That’s the game that the entry-level-contract year gets used up, but it is game 39 that the player moves one year closer to unrestricted free agency. So for those people who think game nine is the magic moment, it really isn’t that vital if a player advances a year on his first entry-level-contract. What’s more important is when he advances towards unrestricted status. I can see him moving forward beyond game nine at this point.


READ MORE:
Call of the Wilde: Opening night

Wilde Goats

They keep telling me that Jordie Benn is playing better. That’s what they say. I know this because I keep reading it. So about that second goal: Benn was doing pirouettes trying to check someone effectively. Not only did he have a problem initially when he lost his check, then he went to the front of the net and didn’t get his check there either. I’ve said for a long time, the issue with the Habs is the third pair. It’s going to be extremely hard to shield whoever is on it. The third pair has to get some minutes at least. You can’t keep them off the ice completely. Whether it be Benn, or Xavier Ouellet who was on for the second goal also not finding a man to cover. Second period and Benn has lost his man again leading, so he is forced to cross-check leading to a Kings power play as they tried to put the game out of reach.  It also may be Karl Alzner, or it could be David Schlemko on the third pair. It could be four different players on the third pair. It doesn’t matter — none of these players are quality. On a good NHL defence, they’re not on the roster. When Shea Weber gets back into the line-up, the hole won’t be so significant as the third pair will have at least one quality player on it as Weber pushes into the leadership position logging 30 minutes when he’s healthy. I maintain that the GM has to trade someone on the wing where the Habs are stacked to get a top four defender if possible. This is a hard trade to make though. Wing is the least important position on the ice and they usually don’t fetch a top four D unless they are a very high-quality winger. That’s the goal for Bergevin anyway. They need to shore up the blue line, especially the left side.

READ MORE: Montreal Canadiens name Shea Weber the 30th captain in franchise history

Some nights the issue is going to be how poor the chances that the Habs are getting. They can be around the net a lot, and seem to have plenty of opportunities, but the truth is there is a considerable lack of finish in the line-up. That they struggled that hard to score against the Kings didn’t say that much about goalie Jack Campbell, who looked shaky, but the quality of the finish against him. This will be a popular theme this season. They’ll have to get a lot of chances to score. Watch for the shooting percentage that the Habs have during the season. It will be in the bottom third. The club will also struggle to score on the power play especially until Weber returns. The opposition penalty killers simply give the Habs the point shot teasing them to let it go from 50 feet, and there’s no one there who has the goods to deliver and punish them for that strategic choice. I expect the Habs power play to vastly improve with Weber back, not because he will get 15 goals, but because opponents will have to at least cover him which of course will leave other options open.

Wilde Cards

The Habs are going to have some roster issues soon, and it will be very interesting to see how they handle them. The club will have too many healthy bodies in a couple of weeks and when they do, they have to decide whether they believe some of their youth can still become great hockey players. The usual move would be to send Jacob De La Rose and Nikita Scherbak down to the minors hoping they would not be claimed on waivers by other clubs looking to strengthen their forward position. Scherbak is a first-round draft choice and De La Rose is a second-round pick. Both players are on the cusp of figuring out what it means to be an NHLer player, but neither has blossomed yet. If they keep the youngsters, then they have to send down some veterans.

This means that Tomas Plekanec and/or Alzner would find themselves in the minors which considering their contracts and status, it would seem, on the surface, unusual. However, both would no doubt clear waivers and not cost the club any future. In fact, if Alzner were claimed on the waiver wire, this would practically be Christmas for GM Marc Bergevin as he would lose a difficult and expensive contract considering the return Alzner is providing. The Habs could certainly afford to put Plekanec and Alzner in the minors as they are not up against the salary cap in any meaningful way. For me, the move is to keep the youthful players still hoping that they can find their better selves. Every one of the players in question — Scherbak, De La Rose, Deslauriers, Alzner, Benn, Plekanec — are all the same class of player: fringe. So if you have to lose someone, then lose someone who has no chance of getting better in the future. The worst thing would be to see Scherbak scoring 20 goals a season for another team. He does have the talent for it, but he just hasn’t put it together yet. For the GM, he’ll likely go the predictable route hoping he can avoid losing the youthful players on waivers when he sends them down. It’s going to be interesting, then again, there are so many injuries in hockey that there might be more injuries before Bergevin ever even has to make the difficult roster decision. On verra.

WATCH: Call of the Wilde: How are the new Habs prospects doing?






Weber is due back from knee surgery in mid-December, yet he skated before practice on Thursday for the Canadiens. Weber wasn’t there to skate with the intention of playing. He was just there to skate, so he could be a part as captain to symbolically light the ice with the torch for the opening ceremonies. It was interesting to note watching Weber move as well as he did during the morning that you certainly did not think you were looking at a player who needs more than two months still to get healthy for a hockey game. Certainly, not saying there is any inside knowledge here, but in also being around hockey for 35 years, I believe that I certainly was not looking at a player who needs 70 more days to recuperate from injury. I am going to guess more like 45 days for Weber’s return. The Habs could sure use their captain and best defender. Remember that my future right side of the blue line has Weber, Juulsen and Josh Brook. Jeff Petry is traded for another piece, preferably a left side defender.

Not a strong start for Max Pacioretty in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights appear to be having a hangover after the shock of last season. They are one and four on the year after getting dumped in Pittsburgh. In the five games, Pacioretty has one goal and no helpers. He is also -3 on the year. Poor Max though. The guy can’t catch a break on his line at centre. He finally gets a top quality centreman to play with and he barely gets a game in with Paul Stastny as he is injured. In the meantime for the Habs, Tatar is playing good minutes, the second rounder awaits, and Nick Suzuki is more than a point per game player in Owen Sound of the OHL. This could be an outstanding trade for the Habs. Again, we will only know in the fullness of time but chapter one is looking like a good book to read.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: The Max Pacioretty era in Montreal is over

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Call of the Wilde: Plan the parade – Montreal

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The Montreal Canadiens’ first test opening night was an extremely difficult one. They faced the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are picked by many to reach the Stanley Cup final.

Montreal fared well, actually, taking the game to the Leafs before losing in overtime. The schedule-maker was not kind to the Habs on night two, either, with just as many challenges. The Penguins are the opposition in Pittsburgh, and they also are favoured by many experts to reach the final.

Also, the Pens scored seven goals on their opening night of the season, so the Habs defence would surely be tested. The upside is at least you will know quickly where the Habs stand in the overall picture.

Wilde Horses

They put an “A” on the jersey of Artturi Lehkonen, who seemed to very much like it. Lehkonen is off to a superb start this season. He had hard luck, injury-wise, and the sophomore blues last season for the most part, before putting in an outstanding last 20 games of the season. He’s picked up just where he left off. That tip pass to Paul Byron on the second Habs goal was sublime. Just devastatingly talented to read the play and to execute it. This cannot happen unless the two players read each other perfectly. Lehkonen and Byron go together like peanut butter and jam; perfection by Lehkonen. And what a superb idea by the coaching staff and management to put a letter on the sweater. Nothing says things are changing around here more than passing the torch on to youth — a mature youth that can use it well and be more motivated to be a leader.

Paul Byron is off to an outstanding start as well for the Habs. He rang one off the post in Toronto that could have changed everything in the season opener, and his goal in this one was all-world. He took the pass and skated in like only Byron can, pulling away from his opposition as if they were skating in mush. The move was equally devastating to pot it home on the deke. Second period and it was more Byron as his speed was too much for the Penguins defence. It was his second goal of the game on an easy poke in. Byron isn’t taking a moment off after getting a surefire secure contract.

Max Domi rounds out the best three players on the team so far this season. Byron, Lehkonen and Domi dominating when they are on the ice against a team that usually not only dominates you, but can also embarrass you. It’s easy to fall asleep in Phoenix when no one seems to be paying attention. In Montreal, you wake up and feel that fan attention and sometimes remember why you love the game. Domi is playing with a huge smile on his face and a hungry attitude. He’s also playing with better line mates and it’s making a difference. This is the best that I have seen Domi play as a pro. This is the Domi that we all fell in love with at the World Junior Championships when they were in Montreal. This is the Domi that so many scouts were heard to say, “Well, the Coyotes really stole Domi drafting him there.” The trade of Galchenyuk to get Domi was not a popular one. It was a trade that I did not like at all, but so far, Domi is arguably the best Habs player and Galchenyuk is listed as week-to-week with yet another serious lower-body injury. A trade is assessed over many years, but round one is definitely the Habs with a 10-7 score.

The Habs made a change in lines, moving Kotkaniemi away from the first line at times, but it didn’t matter to the 18-year-old as he looked comfortable again. He played smartly defensively, reminding me that he angles off forwards exactly the way that Lehkonen does thinking that the Finnish coaches really focus on this, because they’re both exceptional at it. He also made this sublime move behind the net to lose his check and lead the clear of the defensive zone for the Habs.

It was certainly a quieter night than opening night when he put in a shockingly good Corsi of 68, but he still was strong, and the head coach should not worry that any of this is too big for him so far. In fact, credit to Claude Julien for playing Kotkaniemi on the power play.

Brendan Gallagher brought his usual “the Stanley Cup on the line” effort in this one. Gallagher scored the opening goal, but the real story was again a work ethic that is unequaled. To clear the zone on one occasion, he sprawled out and made the play. Gallagher would have made a good captain on any other team that didn’t have one of the greatest natural leaders in hockey Shea Weber, but he sure makes a great assistant captain leading with effort.


READ MORE:
Montreal Canadiens name Shea Weber the 30th captain in franchise history

The Habs’ penalty kill even showed some strong results proving that sometimes it can all come together at the same time — that one successful aspect produces confidence that another aspect can also be successful. It was Byron to Joel Armia and he got on the scoreboard shorthanded with a perfect tip-in. The Habs were up 4-0 and the Penguins didn’t know what hit them. What hit them was a team skating at breakneck speed and bringing the game to their opposition unlike any moment of last year’s Habs.

The coaching staff gets a lot of credit for the success so far this season. This is a much more aggressive team than they have been. You can only do what the talent allows you too, of course, but the Habs forecheckers are relentless. The speed the team is bringing seems more significant and in some cases it would be fair to say that Toronto and Pittsburgh have been unable to keep up.

Mike Reilly does not look at all like last year. Perhaps he is another player who just didn’t see the need to give it that much of an effort when it had all gone downhill already anyway when he arrived. His strengths and weaknesses are well known. His strengths are skating, passing, head manning it quickly. His weakness has always been a commitment to make a play when there was a physical price to pay at the end of it. Not so far this season — Reilly is committed; he is excellent. Perhaps the best defender on the team this season. When a team turns around a terrible season into a good season, a lot of things have to happen.

The bottom line, of course, is players have to play better. Just look at all of the players delivering so far so much better than last season. Reilly might be the biggest change of everyone after two games. He’s significantly better.

Congratulations to Trevor Timmins who is massively under-appreciated. The zone that he drafted Noah Juulsen is a 50-50 proposition that he becomes an NHLer. Timmins has found a gem. Claude Julien thinks so too as he had Juulsen among his highest for ice time among defencemen in the game. Juulsen is playing so steady. He is soaking up the pressure with aplomb. He isn’t tense. He isn’t finding the game too fast. He’s just playing one smart and steady shift after another. In the third period of this one facing immense pressure, he mad an extraordinary outlet pass to help clear the zone. You have Juulsen and Reilly for a full season, and actually add Mete for a full season, and suddenly this isn’t the same blue line as last year’s that struggled so mightily. It’s still the Achilles heel of the team but it is so much better than last year, and if the wingers can continue to force the play with a ferocious forecheck, then the issues on the blue line can be mitigated even more.

Carey Price sure is enjoying this tighter defence. He probably feels like he’s in heaven after getting peppered for 35 shots night after night last season. Price against the Penguins had faced eight shots halfway through the game. It’s hard to even put Price in the Wilde Horses because he did so little, but when you allow one goal against a team that got seven goals on opening night against the Stanley Cup champions, it’s a pretty good night to be a hockey goalie.

Price was great, naturally, and the defencemen also were solid blocking a ton of shots to help the cause. The Habs had 22 shots to the Penguins 7. A very committed effort over all 200 by 85.

WATCH: Call of the Wilde: Habs impress in first game






Wilde Goats

It’s difficult to pick out goats when the team is playing so well so far this season. It would be fair to say that most fans and hockey experts saw two bad losses for the Habs to start. Many would have thought blow-outs were even possible, so when they have competed so well, it’s not easy to write up failures.

With that said…

Jonathan Drouin on opening night I thought that he carried the puck well, but it just didn’t come together for him. But talented players have to try to do talented things. They can’t just pass the puck off to someone else. They’re the ones with the expectations to try a difficult thing. Well, it seems night one kind of played on Drouin’s mind, because on night two he wasn’t ready to try the difficult thing. He essentially didn’t have the puck at all. He has to have the puck more. He has to chase it. He has to be around it. Stars can’t be stars chasing the play all night. So here’s a thought you might find odd, but here it is: I would rather see great players who are there for their hands to try difficult things and fail than to not be a part of the game. If you’re not a part of the game, then there isn’t even hope that it’s going to change. If you’re trying difficult things and they just don’t come together, then next time they just might. However, let’s relax here. It’s two little games. Big deal. Let’s keep the knives in the drawers for a time, before everyone starts to worry.


READ MORE:
Call of the Wilde: Opening night

For me, the future right side of the blue line is Shea Weber, Noah Juulsen and a Josh Brook that is absolutely lighting it up in the juniors as perhaps the best defenceman in the WHL. So where does that leave Jeff Petry? I think it leaves him in a difficult spot when Marc Bergevin needs some serious help on the left side of the blue line to truly compete down the road. So, for me, each mistake that Petry makes is magnified. Like the mistake on the Pens first goal when both Petry and Mete played it too soft. There was nothing in that play that said goal, except when it went in and both of the defenders were outworked. Mete gets a free-pass. Not Petry. That’s what it means to be a veteran compared to someone just out of his teens. You have to get just a little bit more from Petry, especially when Josh Brook is expanding his ceiling every game he plays in junior as his replacement.

Those are a couple names that can give more than they have so far, but let’s be honest here: if we told you the score was 5-1, you would have said, “Well, gonna be a long and tough season,” and no one would blame you. That’s the score they won by. How many of you called that?

Watch: Call of the Wilde: How are the new Habs prospects doing?






Wilde Cards

The Canadiens may need some time for sure to get back to the top notches of the standings again, but they have made significant strides to that goal in a very short amount of time.

The roster that finished fourth to last in the NHL last season has improved greatly. It may not translate to that many more points overall. I’ve predicted a rise from 71 to 83, but the stepping stones are being laid with skill so far. It was the summer of Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins. Most of what Timmins did will be known more in the longer passage of time, though we can already see the impact of first round draft pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the roster.


READ MORE:
Habs de la Rose sidelined after ‘cardiac episode’

We also can already see the improvements from Bergevin. Here is who has arrived on the Canadiens: Kotkaniemi, Tatar, Domi, Armia, Plekanec again, Peca, Ouellet, soon first round pick Suzuki, and coaches Bouchard, Richardson, and Ducharme. Here is who has departed: Galchenyuk, Pacioretty, and coaches Daigneault, Lefebvre, and Lacroix. It is significant how much more talented this team is, and at least a dozen players who have a shot at the NHL are drafted and waiting for their chance in the junior leagues, college, and Europe.

The team is still weak on defence and that, along with the centre position, will hold the Habs back from achieving playoff success this year, but the roster is better overall and the hope for improvement is a lot higher than it was only a half-year ago. The hole was dug fairly deeply, but they’re filling it up rather quickly too.

It’s going to be quite interesting to see the growth of this extremely young hockey team this season. I believe the low point in this rebuild is already in and it’s upward from here.

 

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