Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens wrangle Seattle Kraken, prevail with 4-2 win

After making it to the second round of the playoffs, the Seattle Kraken have fallen off a cliff this season. Seattle has fewer points than the Canadiens this year.

Montreal tried to keep Seattle’s poor season going at the Bell Centre and they did with a 4-2 win.

Wilde Horses 

This is the one Habs fans have been waiting for. Juraj Slafkovsky just went a level up. He was put on a line with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, and he didn’t look like he was an extra. He looked like he belonged.

It can’t be called a coming-out party; that would be premature. But that was significantly better. It’s interesting when a player is put with the best. Sometimes, it becomes apparent painfully quickly that they do not belong there. They can’t keep up. They can’t see the game well enough. The better linemates keep looking for their third player, and he’s never in the right spots, nor contributing.

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Other times it becomes clear immediately that this is where the new addition should be — that they should be with the best, so they can be at their best. Slafkovsky wasn’t a complementary piece for the two best forwards on the Canadiens team. He led the action at times.

Late first period, Slafkovsky had a brilliant play in front of the net to steal the puck. He had it in front, but at a bad angle, so he fed it in front for an excellent chance that was not converted. Slafkovsky was also winning board battles with ease. He had his head up all the time making smart decisions on up-ice passes to break linemates free for opportunities.

In the second period, Slafkovsky saw an opportunity at his own blue line with some open ice in front of him. This time, he didn’t just dump it in, or look for someone to feed the puck. He was feeling it. He was confident, and in a groove. He successfully took it all the way to the net and split the two defenders with speed and stick handling. They had to haul him down.

The Canadiens scored on the ensuing power play as Sean Monahan scored his second of the night. Slafkovsky was on the ice for the tally, but did not count an assist on a sweet passing play from Caufield then to Suzuki onto Monahan.

Slafkovsky didn’t seem to be behind the play. He didn’t get the puck, and then made the decision what he could do with it. He was preparing to do what was already decided as the puck arrived to him. The game slowed down for him. We witnessed that moment when it all stops being too fast — when it all stops being overwhelming.

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Admittedly, this is only a single game, and a single game is not a season, nor a career. However, if this is a harbinger, then this is what the Canadiens were hoping for when they chose him first overall.

They wanted a big board-battler who was tough to take off the puck, using his big reach to protect and scan for chances. They are seeing a bit more of that each night. Now the challenge is to bring the same energy every game. It can’t be just that the puck took the right path for him on Monday night. He needs to find the right routes every time.

After that, confidence grows, and some times magic happens. If the development curve doesn’t plateau, and he keeps improving, at 19 years of age, there’s a lot of runway here, folks.

Wilde Goats 

It was kind of surprising how much the Canadiens dominated the Kraken for the first two periods.  There were a busload of strong Montreal players. Josh Anderson made a perfect pass for the opening goal.

Jayden Struble is still shocking as a very serviceable NHL defender so early in his career, still waiting for the Struble growing pains since game one. They’re not coming. He’s looking more and more comfortable, even though he looked comfortable from shift one.

Jake Evans had his best game in a long while, enjoying the ride with his new linemates Anderson and Monahan. Tanner Pearson worked hard in front of the net for his tap-in tally. Kaiden Guhle looked so relaxed with every decision he had. Brendan Gallagher worked and worked with good results in his 700th game.

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Even Anderson scored on a 200-foot empty-netter wing and a prayer. It was the first of the season from Anderson. You could actually see the monkey lift off his back as he watched it roll nicely into the middle of the unguarded net.

It was strong through and through, so this Wilde Goats is simply filled with more opportunities to sing the praises of a Montreal team that was well rested and hungry to prove itself. The score got tight, but the just result was found.

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Call of the Wilde!

Wilde Cards

Each year at the Call of the Wilde, an early attempt is made to target who the Montreal Canadiens might pick in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. This season, there can be no doubt that the Canadiens need to be targeting a forward.

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The club still lacks an elite and dominating offensive force. One doesn’t absolutely need a 90-point player to win a Stanley Cup, but it sure does help.

Montreal is 50-55 goals short of having a competitive team. It’s obvious again this season as the Canadiens are the fifth lowest scoring team in the league. They have offensive talent arriving, but there is no expectation that Filip Mesar or Joshua Roy will be elite point-getters. They may be top-six, but 90 to 100 points is not in the offing.

Last season, with a chance to get an expected elite point producer in Matvei Michkov, the Canadiens passed on the player over worries about his attitude. They also felt defender David Reinbacher was an excellent pick.

Defensively, the future looks bright to bring down the goals-against total, as expected high-level talent is on the way.  The future of Reinbacher, Lane Hutson, a mature Logan Mailloux, and maturing improvements from Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron should bring the goals-allowed total down to 240 eventually.

There are many elite forwards in this entry draft. The elite are Macklin Celebrini, Cole Eiserman, Ivan Demidov, Konsta Helenius, Berkly Catton, and Cayden Lindstrom. At this moment, that is six top-flight forwards for the Canadiens to choose from.

It appears Montreal will pick in the top-10. There are four high-quality defenders as well in the expected top-10, so one can make the fairly safe presumption that the Canadiens will be able to attain one of these top-six forwards.

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The standout is Macklin Celebrini, who is on the verge of setting point records for Boston University as a freshman. He is the consensus pick to go first overall, so the Canadiens would need to win the lottery as San Jose seems to have last place locked up.

After that, inferences can be made by looking at recent Montreal draft history. It does not seem like the Canadiens favour Russian players early. The Canadiens don’t seem to like the doubt on their arrival times, or the lack of control they have over their development in Russia.  That likely eliminates Demidov.

Eiserman is going to eclipse Cole Caufield’s goal scoring record in the United States Development Program, if he stays healthy. However, Eiserman is a winger with a one dimensional profile of an amazing shot. He is also listed at 6 feet which is unlikely by two inches. The combine will clear that height up for all players.

Catton is also in the mix as a terrific point producer. He is 14th in the Western Hockey League with 32 points. He was also a wrecking ball of scoring at the Hlinka Cup with eight goals in five games. No Canadian has ever scored more in a single Hlinka Cup. Catton has the goods. However, he is five-feet-11-inches tall, and that doesn’t seem to fit Montreal’s plans.

The player that seems to fit the profile of the Canadiens’ biggest need of size and talent up front is Lindstrom. He is six-foot-five-inch centre. He is trending in the right direction, moving up the charts quickly.

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Lindstrom has magnificent skating ability and high-end talent for a big man. He also plays with an edge. He loves to hit as much as score. He is exactly what Canadiens head scout Nick Bobrov loved about Juraj Slafkovsky, except Lindstrom has a more complete resume. It’s easy to see Bobrov loving Lindstrom.

Lindstrom has great numbers for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League. He has played 27 games with 22 goals, 16 assists for 38 points.

The Canadiens will likely pick at around five to eight. That will give them a chance for around the third to fifth best forward in the draft. The choice early in the proceedings is Lindstrom with a possibility of Catton.

The choice last year here was Will Smith, who was taken the pick before Montreal’s fifth overall. Smith went to San Jose. He is excelling at Boston College this year as a member of the powerful line of Gabe Perreault with Ryan Leonard. Leonard was second favourite at COTW for the Canadiens, but they passed on him for more defence in Reinbacher.

Eventually, the club has to stop passing on elite offensive talent like Michkov, and Leonard. Head Coach Martin St. Louis is outstanding, but the hardest thing to teach is finish. They’re going to need to draft scoring talent instinct.

Another chance comes this June.  They need to finally take it.

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