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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall to the Nashville Predators

It was a busy weekend for the Montreal Canadiens. They registered a shootout victory 3-2 in Buffalo Saturday night, then flew right back after the game for the conclusion of the back-to-back against the Nashville Predators at the Bell Centre.

Montreal didn’t have their best and fell 2-1.

Wilde Horses 

For most of the first two periods, it was Brendan Gallagher trying to drag everyone else into the fight. No one seemed to have any legs. It felt like everyone was going through the motions. In a long 82-game season, there are nights when no one can get their legs or mind going.

That is, no one except Gallagher. He was crashing the net, getting upset at the officials, emotionally involved throughout. Finally, after a disallowed goal because Gallagher was ruled to have crashed the crease that he was pushed into, the Canadiens found their form and their will.

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Jake Evans scored his first goal since opening night, and his first goal since last January at the Bell Centre. The elation was obvious as Evans yelled loud enough for the rafters to take notice. Montreal was back in the game.

The third period was Montreal’s best. They pressed for the equalizer against a Nashville team that also played last night, and wasn’t exactly full of energy either. From late in the second period, to the end of the game, Montreal had the shot advantage of 23 to 7.

However, they could not find the equalizer. Only one goal, and not a lot of chances. Overall, not a terrific night for the horses.

Wilde Goats 

It’s fatiguing, these last three weeks typing the long list of game improvements of Juraj Slafkovsky. He’s improved in his puck battles. He is throwing his weight around. He looks comfortable on the number one line with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki. However, one big concern remains. For some reason, Slafkovsky refuses to shoot the puck. No matter how outstanding the opportunity, he will not shoot. It’s apparent that the rest of the league has noticed this as well. The Canadiens were on a power play in the first period, and the Predators left him all alone on the right side half-wall.

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There really isn’t any reason to cover a player who receives the puck 30 feet from goal and just passes it back to another player, rather that taking it to the goal or one-timing shots. It could not be more obvious that this is what Slafkovsky must do.

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Anyone who has watched any hockey at all has seen this set-up millions of times. The pass comes from the defenceman or the left side as a cross-crease pass, and the receiver winds up and lets it rip.

Slafkovsky should already have his stick cocked when this opportunity arises. Due to the fact that he is left open, he has many chances to shoot. The penalty killers key on Caufield even harder on the left side knowing Slafkovsky doesn’t shoot. Caufield would have far more space and be able to take better shots from better positions, if Slafkovsky were a shooting danger.

The beauty of this complaint about Slafkovsky is nothing could be easier to correct. It’s not like it is a skill-set that he doesn’t have. We don’t even know if he has a powerful shot from that spot yet because he won’t show it to us.

Time for a change. Shoot the puck, Juraj. Raise the stick into position as the pass comes and simply shoot it. No doubt the coaching staff is driving this point home as hard as they can already.

Wilde Cards

December promises to be an exciting month for Lane Hutson, who the Canadiens chose at 62nd overall in 2022 in the NHL entry draft.  After setting scoring records for a defender last year, he is scoring at an even higher pace this season at Boston University.

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When he counted 48 points in 39 games last season, Hutson broke the college rearguard scoring records of the great Brian Leetch that had stood since the 1980s.  That is a points-per-game clip of 1.22 in 2022. This season, Hutson is scoring at a pace of 1.33 per game. His totals are 20 points in 15 games.

He’s also become more of a goal scorer. He had 15 all last season, and already has eight this year with two-thirds of the season to go. He also leads all college players in the entire United States with almost 29 minutes of ice time per game.

He will soon take a break from action at Boston University to focus on the World Junior Hockey Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. The Americans have a formidable line-up, and should be favoured to take the gold medal.

Their defence is stellar with Hutson likely joined by Ryan Chesley, Seamus Casey, Drew Fortescue, Sam Rinzel, and a player out of the University Of Denver everyone should keep an eye out for Zeev Buium. If you are playing the USA, don’t take a penalty, because you are likely to pay for it.

After the WJHC, look for Hutson to star in the Beanpot Tournament in Boston with the top competition being the Boston College Eagles. They are two of the top teams in the nation with the Eagles having one of the best lines in the country: Will Smith, Ryan Leonard, and Gabe Perreault. All three players were drafted in the first round last season. Good competition for Hutson to gauge his level.

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When his season finally concludes, either late-March or early-April, expect GM Kent Hughes to sign Hutson as soon as he possibly can. Hutson would be available to play for the Canadiens for final dozen games approximately.

Hutson would like to begin making professional money as soon as this season. The Canadiens would like to get his name on a contract as soon as possible.

It’s exciting times for Montreal hockey fans with some of the best prospects they have had in a very long time. With the recently much improved play of Juraj Slafkovsky, the breakout in scoring from Filip Mesar, the steady intelligence from Owen Beck, and the massive steal, Hutson, the 2022 entry draft has a chance to be one of Montreal’s best ever.

Nothing will rival the best draft of the franchise when Trevor Timmins chose Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty, PK Subban, and Yannick Weber. However, this one could have four regular NHL players as well. Nothing better for a rebuild than drafting four strong players in a single year.

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

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