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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens drop a vital game to the Arizona Coyotes 3-2

After huge victories over the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs as part of nine wins in 12-game stretch, the Montreal Canadiens remain alive in their improbable chase for a playoff spot.

The challenge remains, but so far it seems as the players are up for it, especially Carey Price who is pushing toward a .950 save percentage in 2020. The only drawback for the Habs is they have put themselves into such a precarious situation every game is practically a must-win.

The Arizona Coyotes visited the Bell Centre on Monday night, and the Canadiens couldn’t muster a result as their playoff hopes took a big hit.

It was a 3-2 win for the Coyotes.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens shock the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime

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Carey Price took the loss, but he was the best Canadiens player on the night. The Habs just didn’t have the intensity for this one after expending so much energy to put a winning run together. They relied on Price, but he couldn’t get them there by himself.

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After a good opening five minutes on goals by Jake Evans and Brendan Gallagher, the team largely fell asleep, and was widely outshot in the second period. The Habs are bizarrely bad at home playing hockey at two games under NHL .500. They are better on the road. This doesn’t make sense with the best fans in the league and the most raucous building cheering on Price and everyone else, but that is the script that we have seen. The players get no lift from this atmosphere at the Bell Centre.

You can’t say that the fans cause grief, either. They have barely whispered a boo during two eight-game winless streaks. But Price is by himself on many nights at home, and this was one of them. He has been doing .950 for a dozen games, and as soon as it drops any lower, it’s a loss.

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There is no worse goat than a serious injury.

Phillip Danault took a powerful shot to the jaw in the second period, courtesy of Tomas Tatar and deflected off an Arizona defender. The action was stopped immediately as players and referee Chris Lee all waved for the training staff to get quickly onto the ice to administer first aid.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens battle through injury, illness to shade the Anaheim Ducks

Danault was prone on the ice for four minutes before being helped off, and there was a lot of blood, both on the towel he was using and on the ice. One presumes that Danault lost teeth from the shot. He also suffered a similar injury when a Zdeno Chara shot hit him directly in the face a couple seasons ago.

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Danault, who didn’t return to the contest, has had some terrible misfortune on the injury front. The Habs have to hope that it’s just a dental issue and not a jaw issue that could leave him out for a while. They cannot afford to lose their first line centre after already losing their first pair defenceman Shea Weber on the injury reserve list.

The Canadiens’ power play was one of their best aspects of the season in the opening months, but they’ve hit a wall recently. The power play had a four-minute opportunity late in the first that turned into a 5-on-3 chance for two minutes, and the Habs could do nothing. Head coach Claude Julien even put five forwards out on the ice, and still, the club still did not do much. The Habs have been hovering under 10 percent on the power play in the last month.

The playoff math, meanwhile, took a major hit in this one.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens wake up, eke out 5-4 shootout win over New Jersey Devils

The goal is 97 points to make the playoffs, and that loss stung in terms of reaching that goal. To get to 97, the Canadiens now have to finish the season with an 18-6 mark in their final 24. It was mentioned in the Call of the Wilde podcast released Monday that the Canadiens needed to finish 5-2 in the seven games leading to the trading deadline. They are now at zero wins and one loss. They can lose only one game in the next six against formidable opponents like Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington and Dallas.

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This is going to be one heck of a challenge, but the positive aspect is that the GM Marc Bergevin will clearly know what his course of action should be Feb. 24 at the deadline. They are either in it or not in it.

With this loss, it doesn’t look like there will be a grey area.

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Two recent draft studies have put the Montreal Canadiens in a solid position for the future. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler has done a team-by-team study of prospects in the NHL, revealing the results with a team per day. Only two teams remain in the reveal, with Wheeler seeing the club with the best prospects as either the Los Angeles Kings or the Canadiens.

Led by players like Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov, the Habs haven’t been stronger in the last 30 years in their prospect pool. There are a lot of prospects in a second tier, as well, with Cayden Primeau, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, Josh Brook, and Mattias Norlinder as players with a very good chance at attaining an NHL career.

Many more also have a chance to crack the NHL down the road.

It’s a wealth of talent, with Trevor Timmins also having 11 picks for the draft this June in Montreal. Recrutes’ Grant McCagg also did an extensive study on drafting and found that Timmins was at the top of the list for draft success after taking into account many variables, including the most important that is forever overlooked: where the actual drafted player was chosen overall.

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For example, a pick 25th overall only has a 50 per cent chance of making it to the NHL, historically, while a top five pick overall has a 95 per cent chance. Both studies are a high recommendation, especially for Habs fans looking to feel good about the future of the team.

READ MORE: Canadiens host the Coyotes following overtime victory

It’s being reported by Associated Press without confirmation from Northeastern or the Canadiens that Jayden Struble has suffered a serious lower body injury. Struble is apparently gone for the season after suffering the injury last Friday against Maine. The Huskies missed the Beanpot final in Boston and he’s expected to miss the rest of the season as well. Struble was taken in the second round last June.

Meanwhile, a major trade in the NHL Monday adds interest to the fortunes of the Canadiens, should they be in the trade market leading up to Feb. 24.

Jason Zucker, who has inferior numbers to Tomas Tatar, was traded to Pittsburgh. Minnesota received a first round-draft choice, Alex Galchenyuk and Calen Addison. This means that Tatar is worth at least a first-round draft choice to the Canadiens in a trade and likely more.

Galchenyuk is the throw-in here, believe it or not, as his career is in free-fall. Addison is a prospect with some potential. With Tatar actually being better than Zucker, one can expect that Bergevin could get a first for his leading scorer, a strong prospect, and perhaps even another pick. The exact return is always hard to nail down, but the point here is that the market has been set with this trade and the bar is high. The GM of the Canadiens has to be thrilled.

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However, will he even be in the market? The Habs have to be out of the playoff race. Thankfully, they should know where they stand by the 24th, so they can make the choice with more wisdom than if they made it today. With this move, the Wild, for example, admit that their hopes for the post-season are on the back burner as they lose talent today for more talent tomorrow.