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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens honour Henri Richard, topple to Nashville Predators

The retired jersey number of Former Canadiens great Henri Richard, who died Friday at the age of 84, is highlighted during a tribute before the team's NHL game against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, March 10, 2020 in Montreal. .
The retired jersey number of Former Canadiens great Henri Richard, who died Friday at the age of 84, is highlighted during a tribute before the team's NHL game against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, March 10, 2020 in Montreal. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Tuesday night’s game at the Bell Centre honoured one of hockey’s greats, Henri Richard.

Richard played 20 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, winning an unequaled and surely forever to be untouched 11 Stanley Cup championships. After the touching ceremony, it was on to hockey, where the present-day Canadiens tried to win one for one of the all-time greats.

The Habs took on the Nashville Predators, but Nashville doubled the Canadiens, 4-2.

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Charles Hudon made a unique play in the first period that made all Habs fans feel excited at first, then melancholy over what might have been for this player in an alternate universe.

Hudon has so much skill. He’s one of a few players who could streak through two defencemen, flip the puck up, bat it down, then head to the net for an excellent breakaway scoring chance. In the end, though, he didn’t finish.

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That’s been his story. He didn’t finish.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Florida Panthers dump the Montreal Canadiens

At the AHL level, he’s one of the top five players in the league. At the NHL level, it’s close, always close, but it does not happen. One of the issues is when Hudon gets to the NHL, he is told to play with fourth-line mates and prove himself offensively with eight minutes of ice. Hudon needs offensive mates to prove that he can be offensive.

It is massively difficult to be an offensive star in the league with two non-offensive players. There might be only a half dozen players in the NHL who can generate by themselves, so this is Hudon’s chance to shine. He must prove himself right now when he is aligned with Max Domi and Brendan Gallagher.

This might be Hudon’s last opportunity to prove that he is an NHLer. He has his offensive linemates, now he must prove he can provide the offence. It’s one thing to make an amazing move to break through for a chance, but when the coach looks up at the scoreboard and there is not a one beside Montreal, then that coach doesn’t really care all that much about a good try.

Time for Hudon to get past good try and make his way to well done, or he’s done.

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READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Tampa Bay Lightning complete sweep, shut out the Montreal Canadiens 4-0

There are not a lot of pots of gold at the end of the rainbow these days, but it sure is nice to see the huge smile on the face of a player who scored his first NHL goal.

Lucas Vejdemo may not have a long career in the NHL in front of him, but now, one thing he can always say is that he scored in the best hockey league in the world. It was the third period, when Vejdemo broke for the net and saw Dale Weise had the puck behind it. Weise had the perfect feed, and Vejdemo simply fired it as fast as he could.

Goal!

The smile was as wide as the rink. Weise made sure the puck was saved, and then they went back to hockey. On the bench, the smile stayed on his face as he got back pats from his mates and coaches. Now go get that second one.

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Injuries have hit the Canadiens harder this season than last year, and it’s been difficult for the club more on offence than defence.

When the Habs were healthy, they were scoring well — as high as fifth in the league in goals. After losing Jonathan Drouin, however, they fell hard and fast. The club moved out of the top half of the league.

The latest serious injury is Tomas Tatar, their leading scorer.

What horrible timing as Tatar was on his way to the best season of his career, but it appears that he will be gone for a long time, with the club having announced today that he will be out indefinitely. Tatar saw a specialist today, and clearly it did not go well. It’s an upper-body injury, according to the club who has decided not to reveal the exact nature of the mysterious injury.

It would have been very interesting to see how much Tatar could have done this year in the best year of his career.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Focus shifts to next season for Habs after dominating New York Islanders 6-2

There were many goats again, though, as the Canadiens moved to an abysmal three games under .500 at home.

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Montreal are the second-worst team in the league in their home arena — a startling statistic. The Canadiens have a full, enthusiastic building every game, so they have every reason to be one of the best in front of their excellent fans. It’s a mystery without clues, another lost season.

It’s also a season in which the fans continue to absorb the body blows of not feeling as if they got their money’s worth, and they do pay a lot of money to watch loss after loss. In any other city, there would be serious concerns that the fans will not return. You see the interest erode, but never crack. Four years out of five without the playoffs, it does feel sometimes that there will be a crack.

However, so far, it’s all good for the owner on the money front, even if on the hockey front the results aren’t there whatsoever.

Call of the Wilde: time for Habs to focus on next year
Call of the Wilde: time for Habs to focus on next year

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Cole Caufield concluded his freshman season at Wisconsin University with a less than stellar final weekend.

Caufield was minus-4 on a night that the Badgers were blown out against Ohio State 9-1. The next game in the best-of-three went to overtime, but the Badgers lost again. They were an underachieving team this season, not ever figuring out how to play strong defence. Caufield was strong, though, leading his team in every offensive category and being the Big 10’s top scorer.

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Now comes the time to decide the best course of action for next season.

READ MORE: Call of the Wild: Montreal Canadiens shade the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime

GM Marc Bergevin has indicated that he wishes for Caufield to continue his seasoning in the college ranks, suggesting he still has a lot to learn without the puck. This is all true, but Caufield has indicated that he would like to turn pro already.

A season in Laval would not be detrimental for Caufield. He has proven he can score already at the college level; he doesn’t need to prove that one more season. He needs to play well without the puck and develop a more complete game. He can do that in Laval and challenge himself to learn how to play better team defence in a pro environment.

One never got the sense for a second that any of form of defence was being taught on that Badgers team this season. It literally cannot be worse in Laval than in Madison. It’s his best course of action to go to Laval to continue his progression. The only mistake that could be made is rushing him into an NHL lineup.

Let’s see how that conversation goes between the two. It will be interesting what comes of it.

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