Call of the Wilde: Toronto Maple Leafs double the Montreal Canadiens

The final meeting of the season between historic rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, went down at the Bell Centre on Saturday evening. Toronto took advantage of two Montreal blue-line injuries with Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj both out of the line-up. Toronto also celebrated the return of Mitch Marner in a 4-2 win.

Wilde Horses 

What a terrific season for Nick Suzuki. Goal number 33 for Suzuki came on a pass from Juraj Slafkovsky, the highlight of the evening for Montreal fans. Suzuki went to his knee so he could get more leverage on the shot.

Suzuki also got an assist on the second goal for the Canadiens, as Mike Matheson set up Cole Caufield from behind the net. Caufield is heading towards a respectable goal total with number 23.

It’s a career-high in points and goals for Suzuki. He is hoping to reach 82 points and be only the second point-per-game player for Montreal this century. Alex Kovalev is the only other, with 84 points in 2008.

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Suzuki has already easily surpassed his best of 66 set last year, but for a point-per-game, he must finish with a flourish. Only six games remain and Suzuki needs eight points.

A total of 74 points may not sound like a lot in this era of higher-scoring games, but Suzuki is one of the best two-way centres in hockey. It has been suggested that Hockey Canada may choose Suzuki for the Olympics to be a defensive shutdown centre.

Suzuki has been frustrating some of the best scoring centres this season. He is as cerebral as a player gets in this game — far more valuable than other 75 to 80-point men in the league. Surrounded by a higher level of excellence, he should manage a point-per-game.

Wilde Goats 

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The goal total of last season was 232. This season, the goal total will likely be the same number.  It’s not good enough. Montreal has made improvements overall, but the bottom line is this club needs 50 to 60 more goals.

Auston Matthews scored his 64th goal of the season in the second period, banking a pass into the crease of David Savard. Matthews’ 64 goals is more than the entire second, third, and fourth lines of the Canadiens, who total just 63.

The Canadiens have 211 goals this season. They have six games left. They need 21 goals in that last half-dozen. It’s not important to beat last season’s total. But it will be important to bring in some more scoring talent. The rebuild needs secondary scoring.

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Wilde Cards

Thursday was an unusually annoying night for the Canadiens. It should have been annoying to the entire hockey world. Instead, the events surrounding Kaiden Guhle are barely a blip on the radar.

The league believes it’s preposterous to worry about a likely second concussion this season for Guhle on a dirty Nikita Kucherov hit. Even the Canadiens aren’t taking issue. Officially, they are calling it an upper-body injury.

The entire structure of the league should be taking responsibility for every concussion, but no one cares. There is so little concern that even Guhle may not be giving it much thought, if no one else even notices.

The Canadiens players have stuck up for each other this season. However, they sought no retribution against Kucherov. If the league doesn’t care, referees don’t call a penalty, and teammates don’t care. Kucherov can carry on his merry way concussing anyone in his eye line.

It’s going to take a lot to change this. A culture change seems to happen in small increments, if it ever happens at all.

Players don’t think CTE can ever happen to them. It’s just a hit to the head. It’s just a concussion. They believe they’ll be back in a week or two, and there will be no long-term impact on the brain.

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In this backwards league, players have to answer for clean hits, like perfect hip checks, yet no one has to answer for hitting a defenceless player in the numbers so his head smacks against the glass. That’s messed up.

Arber Xhekaj should have made Kucherov answer for his actions. If you’re not there to protect your player from a cheap shot to the head, then what is your purpose? No doubt Xhekaj at the first intermission he saw in the dressing room that Guhle was not coming back. He may have even seen that his teammate’s world was spinning and in turmoil.

Do your job, Sheriff, or find another nickname, because the NHL won’t help Guhle or penalize Kucherov. NHL players say they have a code, and they can police themselves. Fine, get policing, Xhekaj.

Sadly, in the absence of anyone else caring, this also falls on you.

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


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