Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens taken down by Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in shootout

The Montreal Canadiens had a quick one-game road trip through Philadelphia against the surprisingly good Flyers. Philadelphia is fighting for a playoff spot, needing the two points. Montreal is also better than expected this year, but with only a slight chance at a post-season berth.

Montreal took it to a shootout thanks to the stellar goaltending of Cayden Primeau. Philadelphia scored the only goal in six sots to win it 3-2.

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Juraj Slafkovsly is still having issues getting away quality shots at the NHL level, but he is using his strengths to score. Slafkovsky is quickly understanding that he is a physical force and difficult to pull away from the front of the net, if he chooses to make a path there.

Midway through the first period, the Canadiens are sitting on only one shot on goal. They’re getting dominated, even though they lead 1-0 thanks to a Sean Monahan deflection, when Slafkovsky simply skates to where goals are scored.

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The defender wasn’t even making an attempt to stop the big Slafkovsky who caused a scene in front of the net. He got an assist on the David Savard tally.  It would be great for the Canadiens if Slafkovsky were also shooting the puck three to five times a night, but this is an excellent start, just causing havoc in front of the net.

The number one line continues to be excellent, with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield finding that with Slafkovsky they have better possession numbers than with anyone else except Kirby Dach who got a brief run with the pair. The makings of a good hockey team are found in this line. The makings of a better hockey team are this line with Slafkovsky getting some quality shots away.

It should come. Slafkovsky’s arc of improvement this season is astronomical. He went from unable to achieve anything, to highly successful in a stunningly short amount of time. There is no reason to believe that he can not keep growing at this rapid pace.

Take a moment in the second period as an example. Slafkovsky earns a breakaway and has a stride on a defender who is quickly pursuing. He chooses to deke. With the defender’s pursuit, that was the harder play to execute. Easier would have been to take a shot before the distance was closed on Slafkovsky. One could take this as a negative, but it’s a positive because he earned the breakaway. How to convert it comes next.

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This first pick overall may have been the right selection in the end. Almost no one would have said that in late-October. Another reason to believe this is his dedication to his craft, and desire to be outstanding. He is taking extra practice with the coaching staff almost every day.

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He was firing one-timers with Martin St. Louis coaching him, and then the next day he was out with Adam Nicolas a half hour before practice working on other fundamentals. It is all you can ask for: be a player who wants it badly, work your hardest, and see where it all lands.

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There is not a lot of positive to point out for a team that had only eight shots in the first two periods of the game. The Canadiens are a difficult team to understand. They have beaten the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars and the Winnipeg Jets twice.

They have taken on the best that the league has and handled themselves as if they were among them. However, they have also struggled to compete at all against the mid-tier teams and the worst that the league has.

No theory at all why they can play so poorly that they can manage only eight shots in two periods. Philadelphia is surprisingly good this year, but for Montreal to be second on the puck so significantly is perplexing.

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The Canadiens’ three goalies lead the league in Goalie Stolen Games. All three are in the top five in the league in the statistic. This time it was Cayden Primeau who helped Montreal gain a point they didn’t deserve. The shots on goal were 32-17 after three periods. The Flyers had 20 scoring chances; 10 were high danger. Primeau let in two.

Primeau with more magic in overtime to keep Montreal in the game. The Flyers had another four quality chances. He was the reason that they stole a point and forced the shootout.

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One of the biggest complaints about the new management team in Montreal is about an event that hasn’t even proven to be an error yet. Certain factions are absolutely positive that passing on Matvei Michkov to draft David Reinbacher was an unforgivable mistake.

The speculation is that Michkov will be the next Wayne Gretzky while Reinbacher will be only a serviceable first or second pair defender.

It will be five years before we know the outcomes of either of these two players’ development. It’s a lot of grief for GM Kent Hughes over a future not even slightly knowable with both now playing in different European leagues.

Why did six teams pass on the player who was consensus 1A with Connor Bedard in 2021 and 2022? Why did Michkov fall so far in the eyes of six clubs? Five clubs if you prefer to forget that Michkov was right there with Bedard when the Russian lit up the under-18s as practically a child.

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One issue is Michkov interviewed terribly. He was expected to go second, but fell to seventh because the popular sentiment around hockey circles is the young man didn’t present a good attitude. While attitudes can change, it’s not a good start for a player to be not especially respectful or likeable. The locker room is a team environment and it was felt that he didn’t have a team attitude. This has been the scuttlebutt in Russia as well as North America.  Even in Russia’s KHL, which is notoriously free and easy, Michkov has been traded multiple times.

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Also, against Michkov are two other important factors. Size was not in his favour. GM Kent Hughes is on record as saying that some small players are okay, but there can’t be too many. Hughes already has a small winger in his top-six.

Finally, wing is the least valuable position on the ice. While there are important wingers on championship rosters, wing is the position least important to that title. Michkov being a winger with absolutely no interest in defending didn’t help the cause.

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While the offensive skill set is obvious, all these factors left six teams on the sidelines.

It wasn’t just Montreal who left Michkov alone. He was supposed to go second. His numbers were as good as Connor Bedard’s, but sometimes top GMs and scouts look at more than just numbers.

The Canadiens didn’t favour Michkov but they also didn’t favour the skill-sets of Ryan Leonard or Zach Benson either. Perhaps they didn’t want a winger, or they perhaps they wanted a bigger player.

Taking the difficult to find right-side-defender Reinbacher doesn’t mean that the Canadiens don’t know they need goals. Of course, they know they need goals. Only a fool wouldn’t.

Cayden Lindstrom, Konsta Helenius, Berkly Catton, Cole Eiserman, Ivan Demidov,  and Macklin Celebrini all will be stellar NHL forwards. One will, all but surely, fall to Montreal. The guess here is the Canadiens want a centre with size.

Perhaps one day, the comparison can be made between Michkov and Lindstrom, instead of Michkov and Reinbacher.

It takes more than one entry draft to build a team. Let’s see how they built a team when all three of these top-10 picks are chosen.

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

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