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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens edge Connor Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks

The home opener of the Montreal Canadiens featured the excitement of Connor Bedard’s first visit to the Bell Centre.

Bedard was outstanding and showed clearly that he will be the star everyone expects him to be. Bedard had nearly a third of the Hawks shot attempts as he was clearly Chicago’s best player.

The Canadiens posted a 3-2 win.

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The Canadiens with an entertaining product so far this season. They’re playing wide open hockey and it’s a treat to watch. Every player seems to have freedom to show his skills. This is not Jacques Martin hockey. This is Martin St. Louis hockey. It’s free-flowing. That’s not a criticism of Martin either. He chose the best method to win always with the talent he had. St. Louis seems more about seeing what that talent might be, growing pains and all.

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The talent showed when Cole Caufield opened the scoring in the second period. Caufield undressed Kevin Korchinski at the blue line with a sensational move, leaving him chasing. Caufield then fired a tremendous shot from the outside, but it was stopped. He persisted. Caufield batted the puck out of the air, on the fly, to pot it home. Not many can do any part of this goal; never mind all of the parts.

The Canadiens added to their lead when Tanner Pearson introduced himself to the Montreal crowd with a laser of a snap shot from inside the dot on the left. Petr Mrazek waved at it over his shoulder. It left the net with just about as much energy as it entered it.

The red hot second period concluded with Sean Monahan scoring a shorthanded marker on a breakaway. He was freed on a terrific one-handed pass from Rafael Harvey-Pinard.

The defence also gets a lot of credit as it wasn’t a particular difficult night for Samuel Montembeault. Kaiden Guhle was dominant. He made many excellent decisions. He joined the rush. He won puck battles. He looked extremely comfortable in his second season. The Guhle we saw on Saturday night is a top-four defender for the next decade. Put it in the bank.

The defence has allowed only two goals this year when the other club didn’t have an extra man on the ice. That’s impressive growth considering Montreal is a blue line with four NHL sophomores.

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It appears the Canadiens are picking it up right where they left off last season. The club had a catastrophic season in the infirmary last year. It was far worse than the one that they had on the ice.

In only their second game of the season, it appears the Canadiens have lost their best play driver.

Kirby Dach took a ferocious hit from Jarred Tinordi in the first period. It was so violent that Dach flew into the Hawks’ bench. After getting pushed back on to the ice, Dach went straight to the Canadiens bench where he sat down to catch his breath.  He began testing his knee about 30 seconds later.

Dach tried to put weight on it, but struggled. He then sat back down for three minutes waiting for a stoppage in play, so he could test it on the ice. The test went poorly as Dach tried to put weight on the right knee. He also made timid attempts at lateral movement that did not go well.

He then returned to the bench where he called the trainer over. The television cameras picked up the conversation he was having where he pointed to his knee. He made a chopping action against the outside of the right knee indicating where he was struck and where the pain was.

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They then both went to the dressing room. Dach did not return for the rest of the contest.

Dach is close to the most valuable player on the team. Only Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Mike Matheson are in the same category of value as Dach. What’s more is he is the perfect complement to Juraj Slafkovsky to make sure that the first pick overall gets some touches in the offensive zone, and also that he doesn’t spend too much time in the defensive zone.

Dach is the Canadiens best Corsi player. He has the ability to carry it out and then carry it in. He’s also a horse in the offensive zone extremely difficult to take off the puck. A loss of Dach for an extended time would be a soul crusher for the Canadiens season.

This only two games in and already it looks like last year when they lost Caufield, Matheson and Guhle for extended periods. The Canadiens don’t seem to just get injuries; they seem to get them to their best players.

That 80 point prediction for the Canadiens this season at Call Of The Wilde drops ten points, if Dach is out for long. What a shame that would be.

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Rebuilds are fascinating. A team has to acquire all of the necessary pieces, or they move back straight to the middle of the standings for another decade.  Acquiring the pieces is skill in scouting, but it’s also rather shocking how much is also luck.

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In a rebuild, a team will get many high draft picks, but there’s no guarantee no matter how high the pick that it will be the superstar required to rebuild properly.  If every top pick were a Connor McDavid, this would be a rather simple tale to tell. Be lousy for three or four years and get your reward. However, what if your draft year’s first pick is Nail Yakupov, or Alexandre Daigle.

There is also the luck of the lower picks. One can call the Canadiens excellent for taking Lane Hutson, but they passed on Hutson many times, as did every other team as well. That they own Hutson is one part smarts and another part luck that he was still around at 62nd overall.

The Canadiens have a most difficult challenge in front of them. They are rebuilding nicely, but they have to find a way to get that final star. Organisationally, this is nearly impossible because all the good young draftees keep arriving and playing well. Getting the superstar with the 10th pick is tough math. There are always outliers, but it’s some very tricky math.

So where do the Canadiens stand now in their rebuild?

A historic look at champion rosters shows that almost every single title team has five forwards in the top-six of extremely high quality, and four defenders.

The Canadiens are extremely close to their goal on the blue line: Kaiden Guhle, David Reinbacher, Mike Matheson seem to be top-four locks. One more should arrive in Hutson or Logan Mailloux. General Manager Kent Hughes should feel comfortable that the talent is sufficient in his top four.

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However, at forward, the Canadiens are not quite there. They do have two top-six centres in Kirby Dach and Nick Suzuki. They have a sniper in Cole Caufield. He was on his way to a 40-plus goal season before injury last year. That’s three of the top-six.

Juraj Slafkovsky is an absolute must develop into a top-six forward. He has to become that fourth top-six forward. When he is on the ice, facing the other team’s best, Slafkovsky has to be winning shifts.

Who is number five? Is there anyone in the organization who can actually develop into a true top-six? Alex Newhook? Joshua Roy? This is why Hughes traded for Newhook. He knows what his team lacks. He lacks goals. He lacks a top-six structure that wins shifts.

The Canadiens seem to be locked in with three sure things and two maybes. Of the three locks, there is no Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon, so if Montreal can’t find a true superstar, then they need the five-of-six to all be able to neutralize that superstar.

Ultimately, getting Connor Bedard would have suited the rebuild just fine. This season, Macklin Celebrini as a Hab would be a nice development.

It’s a long shot Celebrini will be a Canadien, because Montreal is already developing too well. Finishing last will be nearly impossible. Perhaps they can win the lottery. Free agency may be the answer to that fifth top-six man, or perhaps Hughes can pull off another Dach trade in years to come.

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Four top-four defenders and five top-six forwards is the pathway to a championship. For the Habs, it’s two top-six forwards to go. When they get the numbers, they’ll get the wins. For now, the check marks are adding up nicely. Just a little bit more to go.

Good luck staying at the bottom though to finish the job. Ironically, do you know what stops a rebuild from completing to perfection historically? Too many wins from the pieces already put in place before ‘all’ of the pieces are in place.

Quite the paradox!

Click to play video: 'Thousands of Habs fans attend annual scrimmage at the Bell Centre'
Thousands of Habs fans attend annual scrimmage at the Bell Centre
Click to play video: 'Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki visits Montreal elementary school to announce Breakfast Club donation'
Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki visits Montreal elementary school to announce Breakfast Club donation
Click to play video: 'Brian Wilde weighs in on upcoming Montreal Canadiens season'
Brian Wilde weighs in on upcoming Montreal Canadiens season

 

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Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.

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