Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall to the Dallas Stars

It may be Super Bowl weekend but of the Montreal Canadiens are hosting two back-to-back contests at the Bell Centre. Visitor number one, today, was the Dallas Stars, one of the best clubs in the NHL. The game marked the return from injury of Alex Newhook after missing 27 games with a high ankle sprain.

The Stars lived up to their billing with a 3-2 win.

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The top Canadiens forwards are making strong hints that they have more to give. The arrival of a more confident Juraj Slafkovsky is causing Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield to have more ice to maneuver and succeed.

It’s a beautiful sight to watch that first line on some shifts. Slafkovsky, fresh off his first two-goal game, is brimming with confidence. Caufield, with 14 points in his last 11 games, is becoming a more complete player. Suzuki is just happy to have two great players on his wings for a change. His career best is 66 points. This year, Suzuki is on pace for 76 points.

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In the second period, the Canadiens opened the scoring on a clever long pass through two zones, off the boards, from Caufield to Suzuki. It was a bit of billiards magic from Caufield, working the angles to avoid the defender. Suzuki ripped a shot to the top corner.

Suzuki got an assist as well on a breathtaking goal from Slafkovsky late in the second period. Suzuki passed it to the corner thinking that Slafkovsky would work a better angle from there. What he did instead was fire a one-timer off his back foot from a brutal angle into the top corner.

Slafkovsky now has four goals in his last three straight games. In his last 22 games, Slafkovsky has 16 points. He has six goals in his last nine games. Slafkovsky’s arrival on the line has made it better.

The line got a power play early in the first, but was unable to beat a strong Jake Oettinger.

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With the man-advantage, the Suzuki line is joined by Alex Newhook now with the departure to Winnipeg of Sean Monahan. Newhook looked strong as he didn’t seem to need a break-in period to get comfortable with the recovery from injury.

The final member of the power play Mike Matheson was skating beautifully from the point, and with Slafkovsky finally releasing one timers from the right half-wall, it seems he is actually ready to pass right to the Slovak.

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It’s a one-line hockey team at the moment, but when Newhook gets Kirby Dach back next season, and another highly talented winger arrives through the draft, it could come together better than expected.

It’s encouraging from a rebuild point of view, even if the results aren’t there this season. The margins between wins and losses are thin many nights.

The club competed for two months without Newhook. It was easy to see what his recovery meant to the Canadiens. Newhook was flying. He’s one of the game’s best skaters. He was not suffering in the slightest. The high ankle sprain can be tricky in recovery, but Newhook, has lost nothing.

General Manager Kent Hughes has bet on two players with high pedigree, and both appear to have been excellent gambles in Newhook and Dach. They could be getting started to reveal their better selves, if they can keep healthy for an extended period.

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Just as one player returns to the line-up, it appears another is leaving it for a while. Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Joel Armia collided in the second period. They didn’t see each other in the neutral zone. Harvey-Pinard’s left leg bent against Armia’s hip.

Usually, when you see a leg bend that hard sideways, there is structural damage. News should come Sunday when the Canadiens host the St. Louis Blues.

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It was another outstanding week for Lane Hutson as he continues to grow his game at the college level.

Hutson was instrumental in Boston University’s first win of the year against Boston College at the perfect time. It was the Beanpot Tournament’s semi-final Monday with Hutson counting an assist, playing almost half the contest, and leading the Terriers to a 4-3 verdict over the Eagles. The final of the Beanpot is Monday with Boston University facing Northeastern.

Hutson then followed it up with a two assist performance on Friday night as the Terriers humbled Merrimack 7-1. The combination of Hutson to expected first pick overall Macklin Celebrini is exciting. It conjures up future visions of Hutson to Cole Caufield that could lift the fortunes of the Canadiens sniper looking for some more sneaky passes from a clever defenceman.

The totals are stunning for Hutson this season. He eclipsed record-breaking numbers for a college defender from the 1980s Brian Leetch last year, and his pace this season is even better.

Hutson had 48 points in 39 games last season for a points-per-game of 1.23. This season, Hutson has 35 points in 25 games for a PPG of 1.4. Hutson is on pace for 55 points. He is the top scoring defender in college hockey.

Not bad for a draft pick taken 62nd overall. His arrival this spring to Montreal is highly anticipated.

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Call of the Wilde

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

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