Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens hit new season heights, dominating Winnipeg Jets 6-2

The Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of a seven-game road trip, with stop four in Winnipeg. The Canadiens have done well so far, with wins in Vancouver and Calgary, but a loss in Edmonton leaves Manitoba as a key stop to keep momentum going.

The Canadiens played one of their best games of the season, as they dominated the Winnipeg Jets, getting almost 50 shots in a 6-2 win.

Wilde Horses 

It was a night to speak of the Max Pacioretty trade.

It’s worked out very well for the Vegas Golden Knights. Pacioretty is having a strong season for Vegas, and he has definitely not been a disappointment for them. However, what the Canadiens have here in their future has without question made this trade a win for Marc Bergevin.

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Tomas Tatar is the leading scorer on the Canadiens, with another two goals in this contest to move to 15 goals on the season. He has 32 points in 37 games and is producing at a clip that will rival the best seasons in his career. At the present pace, Tatar would count his first 60-point campaign.

His previous best season was 58 points, and that was last year — also as a Hab.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall to the Edmonton Oilers

However, Tatar is likely the second best asset that the Canadiens got in the deal. Nick Suzuki is the revelation.

He’s everything that Montreal could have possibly hoped for when they acquired the 13th pick overall in 2017. His improvement this year has been unexpected. Every challenge that head coach Claude Julien throws at Suzuki, he passes with excellence.

In the first period, Suzuki showed a duplicity that isn’t supposed to show up in someone’s game until they’re much more seasoned than he is.

Here’s the scenario: Suzuki has it on his stick with Tatar on the other side of the ice, and not once does Suzuki acknowledge that he has any idea that Tatar is there through a maze of bodies. The entire time that Suzuki is preparing his pass, he is looking at the net, with his stick in the shooting position, and his body pointed towards goal as well.

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Just as he is about to shoot, he passes cross-ice to Tatar, who fires it home. Beautifully done by Suzuki; he is such an intelligent player. The only mystery at this point is what is he doing on the second power play unit. The power play gives him the time and space to be at his most talented. It’s time to let him show all the skills and cleverness that he possesses in a primary role.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens beat Calgary Flames in overtime

Phillip Danault, meanwhile, has never been a Selke nominee for best defensive forward, but he is closing in on it one season.

It likely won’t be this one, but if life is at all fair, he will finally get there one day. Danault centres one of the best lines in hockey, looking at Corsi analytics. Last season, it was the best line, in fact — but this season, Danault, Brendan Gallagher, and Tatar aren’t quite as strong.

When Danault scored his second goal of the game, he was nine of 10 in the face-off circle on the night. Danault has 10 goals on the year. In his top campaign he had 13 goals, so it looks like he will be another Habs player to count his career best.

Again, it’s another trade that Bergevin wins, and it’s sometimes a mystery with all these trades that he has won that the Canadiens don’t make the playoffs often, but on nights like these, it feels they’re clearly trending in the right direction. Danault is still young, but for real youth, there’s Victor Mete and Cale Fleury at 21, while Ryan Poehling and Suzuki are 20.

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There are so many who have the better part of their careers in front of them, it’s impossible to imagine that the arc of this collection of players is not ascending.

The Habs first pair defencemen are playing like it. The ascendancy of Ben Chiarot continues, as he is once again the top defender for the Canadiens in ice time, playing almost half the game. Just behind him is his partner, Shea Weber. The second pair has Brett Kulak on it and as a result, it is not as steady as it could be with a better left side defender there.

The third pair is better than it has been in a long time, with Victor Mete back for the first time in 11 games, as he was with Cale Fleury. But it’s the first pair that almost every coach relies on for an enormous amount of minutes. Ben Chiarot started weakly, but has he ever been an outstanding signing. It’s hard to imagine that even Bergevin didn’t think he had 30 minutes in him nightly.

Challenge accepted by Max Domi, who got a little bit of a jab from Bergevin early last week. Since then, in four games, Domi has three goals and three assists for six points, suddenly putting him on pace for a 20-goal season. He’s been dominant on this road trip. His third-period play that put the game out of reach was sensational. He drew three players to him, which left Artturi Lehkonen all alone for a tap in to make it 6-2.

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Domi’s rejuvenation has meant a lot for the Habs to acquire six points out of a possible eight on this road trip so far. The rejuvenation has also led Lehkonen to a quiet resurgence, with five points on the road trip.

Wilde Goats

The Habs simply need to work harder when they kill penalties.

The 1-0 Jets goal is a prime example. By the time Kyle Connor finished it off, the Jets had taken three hacks at it with no one on the Canadiens providing any body or any commitment to stop him. It’s not enough to just whack away at it with the stick. The defender has to work much harder than that.

Jeff Petry was the culprit on this one, but one could pick all of the defenders this season for this error, except Shea Weber. NHL referees allow a massive amount of cross-checking and pushing in front of the net, so as a defender, you have to crack someone just standing there like he owns the space. Petry needs to either crush Connor or he needs to get to his knees to block the shot. He can’t just stand there and whack with his little twig while Connor is in such a dangerous position.

It simply is not enough determination and dedication in that moment. That danger and that moment requires a much greater commitment. It’s no wonder the final result is a goal.

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A sour note for the Habs is what looks like an injury to Joel Armia, after Nathan Beaulieu slashed him in the hand during the second period. He continued his shift for another 40 seconds, but then did not return to the contest.

The Canadiens PR department described it as an upper-body injury. The Habs are now on Christmas break, so hopefully it isn’t too serious for another Canadiens player having a career season.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens shade the Vancouver Canucks

Wilde Cards

The World Junior Championships start on Boxing Day in the Czech Republic, with the Americans one of the pre-tournament favourites.

In the final warm-up game, Cole Caufield scored four times, as the USA romped over Germany 7-1. Caufield continues to score at will in international competitions. One can try to mitigate the accomplishment, considering that it was just a tune-up, but it’s never anyone else getting the four-goal games. It’s always Caufield. He’s always doing something right; it cannot be denied that he’s a sniper of an extraordinary high talent.

Jordan Harris also made the team for the United States. He’s another Canadiens draft pick, albeit one who not as many expected, but continues to impress. Harris will man the blue line for the Americans, which is a bonus that the Canadiens were likely not expecting. His improvement from last season to this has been meteoric.