With only nine games left in the season, the Montreal Canadiens seem in good shape to win a playoff spot this season. However, injuries are piling up and fatigue is growing with a game every two nights.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were trying to take advantage of a depleted Montreal line-up, and they had no trouble at all posting a 4-1 win.
There aren’t many moments to celebrate in this one, but the Canadiens’ goal in the second period was right from the archives of what has been preached in the Call of the Wilde all season long: the big issue with the Canadiens overall, and why they are 17th place in the league and not higher, is they lack puck-moving defencemen.
One that they do have is Jeff Petry and he showed on the Nick Suzuki goal how valuable the defender is who can find a forward on the transition with pace. Petry skated between two forecheckers right at his own goal line, then skated quickly up to the dots, before finding Suzuki flying down the left side. Suzuki was carrying so much speed that the defenders were forced to back off. He was able to take a shot from a healthy distance to roof a beautiful shot.
This does not happen without a puck mover on defence. It does not happen with a stay-at-home defenceman. We’ve usually made this point negatively in the Wilde Goats referring to players not able to get the puck out of their zone.
It’s important to not only see why failing at it hurts a club. It’s also important to show why succeeding at it helps. You don’t get a better example than Petry’s pass to Suzuki.
If the Canadiens want to take advantage of their speedy forwards, they need to be in flight when they get passes, so they can back off defenders. Speed is nothing when you’re just standing there waiting for a pass that isn’t coming.
It would be easy to point a lot of fingers at many Canadiens players on this one, but it wouldn’t be fair. Firstly, there were five Canadiens regulars who were not in the line-up because of injury. That includes two players from one of the top lines in the league Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar.
The injuries are one thing, but it is the fatigue that is the key reason to not be hyper-critical of the performance that Montreal turned in. Even when the two clubs are equally healthy and equally rested, the Maple Leafs will be an extremely difficult game. With Toronto waiting for their next game since Saturday and Montreal in another four games in seven nights week, it was obvious that Montreal was exhausted from the get-go.
This all started when Montreal lost 11 days to a COVID-19 scare. The schedule became condensed and everyone knew that some days there was going to be a team without any giddy-up.
When Montreal has been rested enough, they have turned in strong performances. Just last week, the contest against the Edmonton Oilers was one of Montreal’s best. But when they have no energy, it gets ugly.
This entire season is ugly in many ways as the NHL has failed to create a competitive environment with integrity. If you think Montreal has it rough, the Vancouver Canucks play 19 games in 31 nights to conclude the season. That’s after the entire team suffered COVID-19, and not a mild case, either. The Canucks were smashed by the Brazilian variant.
Here is the good news, though, for Canadiens fans: If Montreal does hang on for a playoff spot, they will get a full week off before they play again. That is a time to find their legs, and also find players like Gallagher have healed enough to contribute again.
This next two weeks is going to be ugly. A playoff spot is not a lock by any means. However, if they get to the playoffs, they can compete again at their very best when they are, once again, healthy and rested.
Keep your fingers crossed that they can find enough energy and health to get to a mid-May date likely against the Maple Leafs.
This is one of those moments that it is my preference to say nothing, because nothing can truly be said well. However, it is the job to speak so speak I shall of Jonathan Drouin taking a personal leave of absence.
Each one of us has our theories why Drouin would walk away from the game right now, but we do not know. They are just theories. Let others speculate. Here we will just support him.
In fact, I am not here to offer condolences to Jonathan Drouin today. I am not here to presume this was a bad day for Drouin. Perhaps this was the first day in a long time that he feels good about himself because of the action he took. Perhaps a huge burden was lifted off his shoulders today. We just don’t know.
We do know it takes courage — a massive amount of courage — to do what he did today.
To Jonathan: Well done for putting yourself first and taking care of you. Well done for taking control of this.
Whatever personal reason it is for your stepping away from the game, you did, in your heart, what you know you had to do. I hope you are at peace with yourself today, and always at peace with it for all of your days whatever path you take.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.