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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens lose in OT to the Pittsburgh Penguins

Arturri Lehkonen, shown in this file photo, is one of the most underrated players in the NHL, Brian Wilde writes.
Arturri Lehkonen, shown in this file photo, is one of the most underrated players in the NHL, Brian Wilde writes. Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

With four-straight losses heading into their Saturday night contest at the Bell Centre, it seems the Montreal Canadiens hit the must-win mark at the 42nd game of the season.

The Canadiens faced the Pittsburgh Penguins with hometown native Marco Scandella playing his first in the bleu-blanc-rouge.

It went to overtime, and it was more of the same for the Habs — a 3-2 loss.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: For the Canadiens, playoffs a challenge after falling to Tampa Bay 2-1

Wilde Horses 

  • The hot run for Max Domi continues. In his last 10 games, Domi has six goals and six assists for 12 points. In the first period, Domi set up Artturi Lehkonen to give the Canadiens a short-lived lead. He also got into a fight in the first to try to ignite his mates. He took an extra penalty there, so that had a downside, but at least he is a player showing a lot of fire right now during a terrible stretch for the Canadiens. During Montreal’s run of basically being eliminated from the playoff chase, Domi isn’t where you point your finger for an explanation about the demise. When you look at his game, Domi is all about his feet dancing or not dancing. When he continues to stride, that changes everything with his stickhandling. He becomes much more dangerous. When he is gliding, he is not effective with his stickhandling. It has to be said again that GM Marc Bergevin needs to sign Domi as soon as possible. He has found his better self since coming to Montreal. He was a highly-ranked junior after playing outstanding hockey in the OHL and in the World Junior Championship in Montreal. This is Domi’s natural progression. Some players take a little longer before they arrive. He has arrived. He will cost more the longer that you wait.
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READ MORE: Habs forward Brendan Gallagher out indefinitely with concussion

  • Never has a player been criticized for not being a finisher as much as Arturri Lehkonen. He’s not the greatest goal scorer, it is true, but he does so much right on the ice besides frustrate with a poor rate of chance-conversion that the criticism is completely overdone. Lehkonen is supremely intelligent. Scouts absolutely love his game. They think he is one of the truly underrated players in the league. And here’s the thing about the finishing part that fans can’t forgive for some reason: he scored his eighth and ninth of the season in this game. He now is projected for an 18-goal season. Here are his campaigns in goals so far: 18, 12 and 11. If he gets 18, that is once again in line with a strong third-line player in the NHL considering all the other aspects of the play that he shines. One could even try to make the argument that 18 is a second line number in today’s NHL, but Lehkonen can’t arrive at that 18-goal mark consistently enough to win that lofty argument. The heat that he faces is bizarre. He’s a helluva hockey player. He’s the type of player who supports cup winning teams in the same way that Lars Eller does and did.
  • Another hot Canadiens player is Nick Suzuki, who is improving by the game. In the last seven games, Suzuki has nine points. He has eight assists, including a three-assist game in Florida. Suzuki’s vision and intelligence have been well noted by many, but what is getting less attention is how surprisingly strong Suzuki is in puck battles. It’s hard to know who is going to be a good puck battler. Many will mention size, but it is not always about size. Brendan Gallagher is an outstanding puck battler. Mike McCarron is in the American Hockey League because he can’t win puck battles, which should be the big man’s strength. Size does not seem to be the deciding factor. Suzuki is a small man at this point in his development, yet he is very strong along the wall coming out with the puck many times more than he does not. What a steal Suzuki is by GM Marc Bergevin! He’s got a terrific future. It’s starting to look like there are no holes in his game, though he is going to have to learn how to play 3-on-3 overtime more intelligently. The one weakness that we have seen is an ability to save some energy at the end of the shift to back check after the offensive effort fails him. That’s more about attitude, and he will clean that up pretty easily after a couple more tongue lashings and win-costing moments. All in all, Suzuki is the real deal, but at the same time, there are growing pains in a 20-year-old as his OT shift was too long and too aggressive without the puck.
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READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens end 2019 on low note, fall 3-1 in Carolina

  • It was the first game for Marco Scandella and he was strong. He covered for his defensive partner often on a night when the Penguins were able to create a lot of offence. Scandella also fired a shot in the third period that clanged directly off the post. He made very quick first passes. He joined the rush a couple of times. He looked very good. This is not easy, no matter what the talent level in your first game. You don’t know your mates. You don’t know the system well yet. You usually play it safe to make sure that you’re not the goat in your first game. Scandella looked comfortable in every facet. His family, from Notre Dame de Grace in west Montreal, were at the game and they looked emotional about their son coming home. That bodes well for any thoughts that he might as an unrestricted free agent think about sticking around, if it feels right. Those that say that Scandella is not needed because young prospects are arriving don’t understand that you have to be deep on defence; way deeper than the Habs have been. You need to be eight deep because there are so many defenceman injuries, and fatigue is a factor as well. Also, eight deep is good when the prospects need to get comfortable on a nightly basis in their first game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much. Scandella needs to bring a good game like this one night after night.

Wilde Goats 

  • The defence had a difficult night leaving Carey Price alone on many occasions. The Canadiens goalie had one of his best games in the last two or three weeks. And it wasn’t the weaker defenders who were the problem. It was the talented veterans who had issues. Ben Chiarot, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry all struggled to contain the Penguins forwards. The Canadiens had a lot of puck luck around their own net. Many times Price made the first save and the puck was free for a Penguin to slot it home, but the bounce left it just out of their reach, or the puck jumped over their stick. But that’s hockey, and the Habs benefitted this time. It was a shock that it was 2-2 late in the third with all of the high-quality chances around both nets. All in all, though, the Habs team defence has to get better. It’s a well-said refrain, so much that it is tiresome. It needs to be said again and again, though, because any honest assessment of what has been going wrong here has to start with the Canadiens being 20th in goals against in the league. Further assessing that number has to have mentions of Price, Weber, Chiarot, Petry. The leaders have to lead. Only Price led against the Penguins.
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READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall to the Edmonton Oilers

Wilde Cards

  • Another roster change since the last contest as the Canadiens acquired former sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. He wasn’t able to get his visa clearance in time for the contest, but he did meet the media winning everyone over quickly with a greeting that he was happy to be in Montreal that he said in French. Kovalchuk is a strong signing because the Habs have no downside with it. If Kovalchuk works out and finds his game again helping a depleted line-up, it’s a big win. If he doesn’t work out and can’t find that scoring touch at all anymore, it’s a draw. It’s a draw because he signed a two-way contract for one season. He gets sent to Laval to play for the Rocket, and the Canadiens put someone else on to the ice. Nothing lost. They have the cap room certainly. Kovalchuk should be able to help the power play. His shot is obviously better than Jordan Weal’s shot.

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