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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens lose to the Carolina Hurricanes

It is the worst run of the season for the Montreal Canadiens, so the return of Shea Weber to the lineup comes just at the right moment.  It’s been almost an entire calendar year away from hockey for Weber as he returns three weeks ahead of schedule after knee surgery.

Weber’s return means the end of Karl Alzner for the time being in Montreal. Alzner, as expected, cleared waivers at noon on Tuesday and he has been assigned to Laval to play for the Rocket.

The Habs needed to end their four game losing run taking on the Carolina Hurricanes at the Bell Centre.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Montreal Canadiens lose to the Boston Bruins

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It was remarkable to see how adding one top-flight defenceman settled everyone else down in the rotation. Weber was his usual steady self and didn’t seem to miss a beat, but what was even more noteworthy is how everyone else played. First, Weber’s partner David Schlemko. That was the best game that we have seen from Schlemko in a Habs uniform. He was confident. He broke up a two-on-one as perfectly as you can as he wasn’t enticed to take the man with the puck. He simply took away the pass and let Carey Price do what he does. Schlemko also had a little power play time, and he dances along the line quite well to create space and a better angle for himself on the shot.

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WATCH: A mixed bag of games 

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Call of the Wilde – Nov 23, 2018

The second pair was also stabilized with the arrival of Weber. Brett Kulak was on the Calgary Flames blue line last season as a regular. That was a good blue line, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he can find a spot on this blue line in Montreal. Kulak and Jeff Petry had an extremely strong game. They didn’t seem to be challenged for time or space at all. They were always in control. They compliment each other well. Kulak seems to have a good sense of when Petry may join the rush. So the Habs may have two strong pairs here for the first time this season. When they add the now-injured Noah Juulsen, they may be in quite good shape on the blue line considering what it looked like without Weber to absorb big minutes. We shall see, but night one with Weber back was a positive for the future. The shots on goal were 49 to 22 for the Habs. They dominated this game, but they just couldn’t finish which has been a popular refrain, of course, but you keep shots on goal totals looking like that and you’re going to win a lot of hockey games eventually.

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READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — New Jersey Devils embarrass Montreal Canadiens

The fourth line is finding some game. Matthew Peca is not going to draw back in if Michael Chaput is able to centre the line as well as he is right now. Kenny Agostino is forechecking well and creating plenty of havoc as well. Nicolas Deslauriers had the best chance in the first half of the game with an open net from the door step that he missed. All in all, that’s what you want the fourth line to do for you. For much of this season, the fourth line has been hemmed in, but they did the hemming in this one. Well done even though we all know Paul Byron returning would be better. For now this will do well. You can’t hook the loss on the fourth line certainly and you could have said that this year quite a bit.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Montreal Canadiens continue losing streak against Buffalo Sabres

There just is no way that a second-line centre of a successful hockey team pro-rates to a six-goal season. Phillip Danault scored, but that gives him only two goals nearing the third of a season played. Jesperi Kotkaniemi will need to be the second-line centre soon. He makes two or three sublime passes each game that are absolutely gorgeous chances for the recipient. Unfortunately, that recipient is Artturi Lehkonen. Lehkonen couldn’t finish his chances in this one as has been his script since a rookie campaign that showed such offensive promise. What does it look like overall if Kotkaniemi is making those sweet passes to Tomas Tatar or Brendan Gallagher, the man who led the team in goals last season? It would most certainly look better. Again, it is a 100 per cent guarantee that one day in the not too distant future Kotkaniemi is the Habs 2C. Will it be soon enough though for Montreal to be in a playoff race? Julien loves good defence, so expect that it will be next season before Kotkaniemi gets that promotion. It would be exciting to be wrong.

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READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — New Jersey Devils embarrass Montreal Canadiens

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The one pairing on defence that didn’t benefit from the return of Weber was Jordie Benn and Victor Mete. It was a rough night for the youngsters. On the first goal, he did not take his man in front of the net who was unencumbered to deflect the shot past Price. On the second goal, Mete was standing again in front and not doing much really. Again, the goal happened right around him, but he was unable to influence it in any defensive way at all. It’s been a rough second season at times for Mete after quite a good rookie campaign. Defence takes time. When Weber is asked what is the most important part of being a defenseman, he doesn’t answer skating, or a slap shot, or hitting — he answers the brain is most important. That means making the right hockey decision all the time: where is your man? Who is your man? How to check him, front him to intercept the pass, tie him up, join the rush, stay back, allow the shot, block the shot, mind your gap, concede the gap. It never ends. You are always using your brain and using it correctly takes time. Being discouraged about Mete would be a mistake. This is natural. He needs to keep making mistakes and keep learning. He’s likely a third-pair defender in this league because he will never have a shot and he will never throw people around with that size — but he will learn how to join the rush, help offensively and he’s already excellent at his first pass. Mete will be fine. In fact, he will be more than fine. Very few defenders don’t fall back a notch in year two in the NHL. It’s quite common.

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WATCH: Global’s hockey analyst Brian Wilde breaks down the key plays from the Habs

Click to play video: 'Call of the Wilde: A week of home games' Call of the Wilde: A week of home games
Call of the Wilde: A week of home games – Nov 2, 2018

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Mike Reilly remains in the doghouse for the Habs. He got off to a tremendous start this season and looked to have a spot locked up, but the same issues of consistency have plagued him again. Head coach Claude Julien commented that he didn’t feel as if he knew what he was going to get from Reilly from game to game. While this may be true, it is unusual that Reilly has been singled out for this issue considering Benn and Schlemko are wildly inconsistent. The theory is that Reilly takes more chances than the ultra-conservative head coach likes. Sometimes it seems Julien would prefer to lose 2-1 than to win 6-5. He is so conservative that he can’t help but dislike a player like Reilly, who is high risk at both ends, so that falls into Julien’s distaste for 6-5 games — even the ones that he wins. Reilly is more a new-era player, but Julien is more an old-era coach who is trying to change his ways, but falls back into old patterns when the going gets tough. Julien knows the game, and he can see the changes in the game, but it is not convincing that he can wear the new stripes of the new game.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals go to overtime

Alzner has apparently asked for the Canadiens to find a way to trade him to another NHL team that will find use for him at the top level. One can easily presume that Marc Bergevin would like nothing more than to find a home for Alzner somewhere, but who is going to want him at a price tag of $4.5 million for three more full seasons and the rest of the this year? If Bergevin picks up half of the salary, then there is a chance. If not, there is no chance and a more likely scenario is that Alzner will be bought out at the next open window before next season begins. The cost to Bergevin and owner Geoff Molson is at that point two-thirds of his remaining salary spread out over six seasons. Quick math says that is $1.5 million against the Habs salary cap for six straight seasons. It sounds bad. However, is it better or worse than being on the hook for the rest of the deal paying $2.25 million per year for Alzner to play for someone else? Either way this is an albatross.

WATCH: Call of the Wilde — The Price is wrong

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Call of the Wilde: The Price is Wrong – Nov 9, 2018

The Habs have liked Agostino so much that he has played 10 games. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. Agostino now has to clear waivers when he is sent back down to the American Hockey League. Montreal could now lose him, but at the same time, they need him right now. It can’t be easy being a general manager. When the team gets healthy, if someone picks up Agostino, it won’t be a happy day for Bergevin, but at the same time, he needed to pick up two points against the Hurricanes.

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