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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens looking like a different team after blanking Ottawa 3-0

Ottawa Senators centre Josh Norris (37) and Montreal Canadiens left wing Jonathan Drouin (92) battle for the puck during first period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. .
Ottawa Senators centre Josh Norris (37) and Montreal Canadiens left wing Jonathan Drouin (92) battle for the puck during first period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

The Montreal Canadiens’ journey into the great unknown continued in Ottawa Saturday night against the Senators.

I say “unknown,” because no one can figure where they think they’re going. They might think it’s destination playoffs, except for the fact they need to go 16-3. It’s not destination tank, that’s for sure, because no one was kept out of the lineup 48 hours before the trading deadline to ensure they didn’t get injured.

The Senators had an eye to the future, though, as they did keep two healthy players out of the lineup with an eye to a trade before Monday evening. That was the backdrop of a nothing game for two teams with only one team seemingly aware of their sad destiny.

The Canadiens, however, kept their domination of the Senators alive with a 3-0 win — making for nine straight positive results against Ottawa.

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Wilde Horses 

It’s been an unusual year for Max Domi.

He had the breakout season of his career last year, playing centre and being secure in his role. But the arrival of Nick Suzuki this season as the better of the two at centre position has caused Domi to not be at his best overall.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Trade deadline looms large as Montreal Canadiens felled by Detroit Red Wings

Suzuki is a better centre, defensively. Domi is designed for the wing, and that’s a concern — not that he can’t play the wing, but that he might not want to. This is the only reason to not extend the 24-year-old former first round draft choice.

He is an ascending asset at his age, and a restricted free agent. This is an opportunity to lock down a player for six seasons, and that’s exactly what a GM is trying to do: lock down ascending assets as he tries to build a team. If Domi is ready to play the wing, then the commitment should be made to him. You might even get a better annual salary, considering that he is not in a strong negotiating position like last season, when he led the team in scoring.

If he keeps playing like he did in Ottawa, then the negotiations won’t go as well for the GM, as Domi was on fire in this one, scoring two goals in the first period. Some people also point to Domi being small, but size is only an issue when a player plays small.

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Domi plays three inches taller than he is. He puck-battles very well, winning a strong share of 50-50s. He also stops on the puck well, choosing to engage instead of skating away from the difficulty. He also goes to the dirty zones well.

His big game drawback is he is not great defensively, so not only does he need to play the wing, but it also helps if his centre is responsible on his behalf.

It could be that this is Domi’s low point: the upheaval of the position change and psychological anger over that, then the ultimate attitude recovery and natural reawakening of offensive numbers. He had 72 points last season. It’s not likely that he has already begun a career regression — not at the age of 24.

Paul Byron has also played extremely well since coming back from injury, which is kind of shocking.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens stun the Capitals in Washington with 4-3 overtime win

Before his injury that kept him out more than three months, Byron was playing poorly, seeming to be living the trauma of his concussion suffered the year before. He looked tentative; he wasn’t involved. Perhaps he had some residual effects of that concussion that subsided as time passed on the sidelines for the knee injury, but clearly, something has happened, because Byron looks like a different player. He looks like the Byron who earned a long-term deal.

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In Washington, he was sprinting away from defenders for a breakaway, having set upa a goal in the first minute. He did the same thing in the early going in Ottawa. It was a nice set up to Domi, and Byron was on the board again. In the second period, Byron was in front of the net to send it home for his first goal since returning from injury.

This is the Paul Byron the Canadiens missed dearly throughout their 2019-20 season of frustration. They could have used this guy all year.

Carey Price, meanwhile, had the shutout in this one, his 48th in an illustrious career and his fourth of the season. He now has his save percentage up to .912.

It’s not the .920 that was the benchmark, but it’s close enough to look at it in the rear-view mirror to say that this season of disappointment is not on the back of their star goalie. Price has done his job overall. He had some rough patches, and you can always pick apart moments in a season where a goalie has struggled.

It’s the nature of the game, but Price did his job this season. Save percentages don’t always tell the statistical story, but they sure do not outright lie.

Wilde Goats 

It’s getting increasingly ridiculous how little the hit has to be for a player to have to answer for it in the form of getting attacked in a fight.

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Brendan Gallagher went into the boards with Thomas Chabot, who ended up getting injured on the play. The term “went into the boards” was used there on purpose and not “hit,” because it wasn’t even contact in the form of a hit. They basically just arrived at the boards at the same time and Chabot was unlucky enough to get his leg tangled with Gallagher.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Dallas Stars beat the Montreal Canadiens in overtime

Two seconds later, Gallagher was in a fight with Brady Tkachuk, having to answer for a non-event. Sure, it makes sense if the player has smacked your teammate from behind and crushed his face into the glass, or put a shoulder into your teammate’s face, but locking knees is not enough.

This silly event needs to stop. It’s hockey they’re playing, not golf.

Wilde Cards 

Carey Price has played 15 of the last 16 games for the Canadiens. He has played 53 games this season.

The management has vowed to play Price less to save him through the length of his contract. They’ve stated they want to help him to not break down, not suffer the regular wear and tear that a body goes through.

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Yet here we are.

They are overtaxing him to try to win a playoff spot, even though they need to conclude the season with a 16 and 3 record to record the 96 points that it will require, should the Panthers and Maple Leafs continue their present pace. This is extremely unusual behaviour.

Somehow they believe they are still in a fight for the post-season. Time to call this the St. Louis Blues syndrome: as if all the teams who are struggling in December can now go on to win the Stanley Cup everywhere, when the truth is every year there are 10 Blues and they all fail miserably each year, missing the playoffs.

The truth is that Price should not be playing at all. What if he gets injured in one of these nothing games, and they start next season without him because of that injury in a nothing game? It’s easy to suggest that won’t happen, but look at his history. He has gotten injured a lot. It is the reason that they said they wanted to lower his workload in the first place.

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Okay, then, lower his workload. Now is the time to do it, when there is nothing to play for. That gives Charlie Lindgren and Cayden Primeau a chance to get some games in.

For Primeau, he needs to stay in Laval to see if he can help them get a playoff spot, but when that endeavour ends, then it’s time to get his feet wet at the NHL level for the learning experience. But don’t overtax Price — heavens to Betsy, what are they thinking? Some want to argue that he wants to play and no one is going to tell Carey that he can’t play.

Who, exactly, is the boss of this organization? Carey Price? No.

Marc Bergevin should be saying, “You sit over there, Carey. You are needed for the start of the regular season in October when, at least, there is a pretend chance of being good a team. You got 53 games in this season which is higher than your career average. Now relax those weary knees. You are signed until you are 38.”

If he doesn’t get injured, then this entire point doesn’t seem like much. However, imagine if he did get injured. Imagine it. Imagine the excrement flying from the fan from a serious injury in a nothing game.

It would be a mistake so colossal it would break Twitter and probably the GM.

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