Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens handle Chicago Blackhawks

The Montreal Canadiens have been playing their best hockey of the season, heading into the Blackhawks game Friday night in Chicago with points in four straight games. Chicago promised an opportunity to add to the success, but every night in the NHL has a chance to surprise.

The Hawks jumped out to a two-goal lead, but then the Canadiens joined the contest with five straight in a 5-2 win.

Wilde Horses 

The case has been made since Juraj Slafkovsky first donned a Canadiens uniform that he had a terrific shot. While he was scouted as having a high-quality shot, unfortunately, two seasons into his career, it isn’t something that he has shown a lot. The entire NHL has taken note that he is deferring to Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield and keeps passing instead.

Click to play video: 'Habs reveal top picks for Thursday’s NHL entry draft in Montreal'
Habs reveal top picks for Thursday’s NHL entry draft in Montreal

A new chapter has been added to the Slafkovsky development arc recently – goals. Oddly, though he is still not shooting, the goals are finally coming. Make it two in two games for Slafkovsky, and they were big goals.

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Against Minnesota, with only three minutes remaining, Slafkovsky showed brilliant hand-eye coordination by somehow managing to deflect a puck that was about to hit him in the stomach.

In Chicago, Slafkovsky was in front of the net fighting with a Chicago defender for a rebound. He won the battle for an easy tap-in tally. Surely, he will begin shooting from 20 feet soon, but for now, the new wrinkle of being just too hard to handle physically has led Slafkovsky to success in the blue paint.

In his first season, everyone could see all of that size and strength, but he could not use it in any capacity. It was concerning as he lost puck battles and often was the player getting rocked, instead of the player doing the rocking.

Fast forward to now and Slafkovsky is completely unmanageable physically. He can not be handled. At times, he meets a checker and pushes right through them as if they are only a small annoyance.

Slafkovsky was a bull again on the 4-2 goal late in the contest. He won the battle along the wall and simply charged right through two defenders to set up Caufield who set up Suzuki. The line is cooking.

The arc of Slafkovsky at the age of 19 is one of the fastest ever seen – going from concerning to perhaps the best player in the 2022 draft after all. It did not look good for a while, but this is a prospect story as old as sports itself. Each player learns at their own rate, and any large claims of overall inability must be hedged until, at least, three seasons have passed.

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Josh Anderson is another player who has found his spark this month. Anderson was stuck on zero goals for 25 games. Since then, he has five goals in seven games. It had to come as his analytic ‘expected goals’ was high. He just wasn’t converting chances.

As the old saying goes among hockey players, if you’re getting chances, the goals will come. And they are. Anderson took a pass from Sean Monahan across the crease as he streaked toward the net and he put it upstairs deftly. Suddenly, Anderson is playing with a ton of confidence.

Click to play video: 'Brian Wilde on back-to-back Habs games before Christmas on Global News Morning'
Brian Wilde on back-to-back Habs games before Christmas on Global News Morning

Wilde Goats 

Cayden Primeau is turning into an NHL goalie. He is 24 years of age, and though that may seem mature to some, in goalie terms, that is a goalie teenager. Primeau has taken a bit of time at the NHL level to find his rhythm after an outstanding college career at Northeastern.  He is coming of age.

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However, there is one issue that he has yet to resolve. Primeau has a terrible time making glove saves. It seems to be a structural issue in the way he thinks through the save. Anyone who has played baseball knows how to catch –the arm goes in front and the arm projects to the ball. The way Primeau attempts a glove save in hockey is unlike what you see from other goalies.

We have seen through the ages so many amazing glove saves. It’s easy in Montreal to have a vision of Patrick Roy reaching out his hand to make spectacular saves with his glove. It almost can look like a windmill at times as the hand projects to the oncoming puck.

Primeau on the glove side almost seems frozen, as if it is not in his mind that he should go to catch it, but to let it come to him; as if it is not a catch at all. He acts like he wishes to move his entire body to the puck; like his limbs aren’t working.

Perhaps this seems unnecessarily harsh, but the evidence is clear. Friday night, there were issues again. Against Florida three weeks ago, he allowed five goals on the glove side without actually moving his hand to make the save on any of them.

He has every other element in his game. He is rarely beaten in any other capacity. He only needs to find a way to correct this one hole in his game, and he will be a top NHL goalie. This is fixable. At least, he should be able to fix it.

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Wilde Cards 

Still on the topic of goaltenders, the Canadiens may be with only two soon after the Christmas break. Earlier in the year, the Edmonton Oilers were in the hunt for a goalie, but General Managers Ken Holland and Kent Hughes could not agree on a big trade.

The phone calls continue for Hughes as many clubs are suffering and are hungry for one of the three goalies on the Canadiens. It’s remarkable that so many teams can not find even one good goalie, and the Canadiens have three. In fact, a statistic called Stolen Games has all three Montreal goalies in the top five in the league.

Recently it has been reported that talks are off for the Christmas break, but the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils are both watching Montreal goalies closely and communication lines are open with the clubs.

It’s a game of chicken. The clubs in question can’t let too much of their season go by or they will lose the edge on the entire season. At the same time, it is a difficult situation in Montreal with three not going into two for the local goalies.

All three in Montreal have behaved with maturity and grace as they wait for the situation to be resolved. They may want that to be soon, but Hughes has every right to take as long as he wants waiting for the best offer.

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Stay tuned for after the Christmas trade freeze ends on Dec. 28.

Click to play video: 'Call of the Wilde on Global News Morning'
Call of the Wilde on Global News Morning

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