The Montreal Canadiens were an exhausted group as they lost to the Flames in Calgary on Thursday night 2-1. They simply did not have any legs. They barely pushed the play, and they did not show any of their trademark strong forechecking style. On Saturday night, much more was expected, yet they played even worse, losing again 3-1.
- In the second period, Jeff Petry put a shot into the top corner again like he is one of the great sniping forwards in the game. Petry’s shot has become one of the most accurate shots in the league, and that is certainly saying something considering he is a defender. It was a one timed snap-shot which is even more impressive as this is not exactly a common shot for a defenceman. Petry now has 11 goals on the season which leads the NHL for a defender. He also has 25 points on the season which is tied for the league lead among rearguards with Victor Hedman. There were few bright spots in this one, but this moment was yet another for Petry.
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- Thursday night in the loss to Calgary, there was a reason for it. It could be easily argued that the fatigue of two games inside 19 hours was simply too much. Saturday night, the Canadiens played their worst game of the season and there was no excuse for it. They were not competitive, even in the slightest. They were run over like an 18-wheeled truck runs over a pylon. It resembled some of the worst losses in the Marc Bergevin regime. It’s the type of night that makes one wonder just exactly how much is lacking here in this team construction. Are the centres still too young to have this level of expectation overall? Are the defenders not mobile enough in a modern NHL of fast transitions? Can we really qualify this as just a one-off when the Flames are breathing down the Canadiens necks in the standings for the final playoff spot? Is this another season of either making or missing the playoffs on the final night? How many years will it be before the Canadiens are upper echelon enough that the fans are not biting their nails to the nub in the regular season’s final week? Fans on Twitter during this one were completely fed up. Expectations were that this season was going to be better than this. And it still could be. Every team has bad nights. This Montreal team has had enough good nights that they are in a playoff spot, but if the warning bells need to ring out, let them ring out tonight.
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- The contest wasn’t six minutes old before the game had its first giant gaffe. Joel Armia had the puck after a simple dump in. He had options but decided instead to see if he could beat the first forechecker and even the second forechecker. He got the job done once, but then the pressure that continued was too much. Armia fell, and it was a total giveaway to Sean Monahan. The Habs tried to provide support for Armia, but it was too late. Monahan fired high on Carey Price, who was on his knees, and it was 1-0. It’s difficult to win with mistakes that severe, especially when it’s the first goal that sets the tenor for the game.
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- It feels like piling on, but it’s clear that Shea Weber is not the same defender that he was years ago. Every aspect of his game is just a little less effective. It actually takes a long memory to recall how dominant he was in Nashville. Montreal actually never saw those dominant years for Weber, but he was always strong enough as a Canadiens defender. He always found the answers enough. It is becoming apparent from month to month now though that he is not a first pair defender anymore. It is clear that the same speed is not there. The other night there was an example of poor decision-making with the giveaway on the Flames winning goal, which thankfully is still rare. It also seems recently that the officials are less impressed with Weber as they are calling him for the type of violent net-front infraction that they would have before ignored as his God-given right to dish out. It must be time now for the coaching staff to give the big minute nights to Jeff Petry. The path to the playoffs is through Petry.
The Big Ten tournament begins on Sunday with three contests between the second to seventh ranked teams. The Wisconsin Badgers have a first-round bye thanks to winning the conference on the final weekend. Cole Caufield leads the Badgers, but they are loaded with talent, like top prospect Dylan Holloway at centre, and Cameron Rowe in goal. While Caufield’s close to goal per game pace at 25 in 28 this season gets all the ink, it was Holloway who had the best point-per-game in all of college hockey. Cameron Rowe has received almost no press, even though his save percentage was 943.
While the Badgers will go in as the favourite, the conference was the strongest in college hockey this season. Some of the other conferences did have some brutal difficulties with COVID-19, while the Big Ten was able to roll on without too much difficulty overall.
The Badgers await the winner of the Notre Dame-Penn State contest played on Sunday. Wisconsin is ranked fourth in the nation, while the Nittany Lions and the Fighting Irish are not nationally ranked. Against the Nittany Lions this season, the Badgers won three and lost one. Against the Fighting Irish, the Badgers won three and tied the final contest. In a one-game affair, nothing is guaranteed.
The winner of the semi-final plays the next night in the final, so that first-round bye won was important. If the Badgers win their game against either Notre Dame or Penn State, their opponent in the final will be playing three games in three nights.
If it all should go wrong for Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, don’t fret that that is the end of the season for them. The Frozen Four starts out with 16 teams made up of groups of four in four cities with one winner in each group heading to the final round. The Badgers as the fourth ranked team in the country would definitely receive an at-large bid to the event should they falter in the coming four days at their own conference tournament.
That means more hockey to watch of Cole Caufield setting the college world on fire as the big favourite to win the Hobey Baker Award. It also means that it’s still some weeks before he signs with the Montreal Canadiens and General Manager Marc Bergevin makes a decision where to post him. Odds are that he plays in Laval first, and if he is doing at all well, he will get a look with the big club this season.
Never has there been a greater gap between the end of a college season and an end of a regular season in the NHL. Usually, it is only one week that a collegian has to impress as a pro after he signs at the conclusion of his college season. With COVID-19 this season, the Frozen Four ends April 10. The NHL regular season ends May 8.
That is at least a month for Caufield to show what he has this season at the pro level. An outstanding opportunity for both Caufield and the Canadiens.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.