Six wins in the first 25 games this season. There were many who thought the Montreal Canadiens would struggle without Carey Price and Shea Weber, but this is more than anyone could have predicted.
Montreal looked to recover on a Saturday night in Nashville, but it didn’t happen as the Predators skated to a 4-3 overtime victory.
It might just be that the executive vice-president of hockey operations, Jeff Gorton, had a little chat with the head coach, Dominique Ducharme, about player usage. There is no need to play the veterans so much because this season is a write-off. It’s smart to play the rookies to better prepare them for next season. Play them in all situations, so they can learn. Play them 20 minutes, on the power play, late in the game, on defensive zone faceoffs. They’re going to have to get there eventually.
And there is no argument to play the veterans to pull up their trade value. There is no upping of the trade value during losses piling up. The players will fetch what they fetch. The theory behind driving up a player’s value works when you play Dave Semenko with Wayne Gretzky or Rob Brown with Mario Lemieux. There’s no miracle streak coming for anyone here to drive up player value, so play the rookies.
And it seemed like Ducharme was giving the young guns a better chance in this one. On the second-period power play where the Canadiens scored, it was Cole Caufield on the half wall, Nick Suzuki on the other side and Ryan Poehling in front of the net.
Caufield looked extremely comfortable many times, making strong plays to keep the puck alive. He wasn’t rushed. He fed it to Nick Suzuki, which allowed him to wire a shot upstairs to make it 1-1. The entire time it was Poehling using his big frame down low in front as he is strong on his skates. He also dug out a puck to keep the play going. It was impressive and it was great to see the kids getting a chance to shine.
However, even after scoring, Poehling and Caufield didn’t see the ice at all on a 5-on-3 power play later that same period. That might have been the most disappointing moment of the entire game — not allowing Caufield on the ice during a two-man advantage after he had looked so good.
Caufield looked great on the go-ahead goal in the third period as well. He streaked down the right side and delayed his action, buying time until he found Brett Kulak trailing. He found the far side. Caufield got his second assist. That’s five points in six games for Caufield, who is slowly finding his way.
The Canadiens took the lead in the second period as Christian Dvorak hung tough in front of the net and waited for the rebound to count. Montreal actually took the lead, looking for a win over Nashville for the second time this season.
Ben Chiarot had another monster game as he played over 28 minutes on the night. Chiarot is one player who has driven up his value for sure this season and Gorton will be able to get a good return for him thanks to his strong campaign.
Jake Allen has to be given not only a mention, but maybe also an award for valour. Shots were 19-18 Nashville halfway through the game. After regulation, the shots were 41-20 for the Predators. For the second half of the game, the Predators outshot Montreal 22-2. Many saves by Allen were of the spectacular variety, including late off Matt Duchene from in close. Allen’s save percentage may not be spectacular this season, but the quality of shot he faces is high. He had no chance on Filip Forsberg’s overtime winner with 12 seconds left.
It’s getting repetitive here in the Wilde Goats section. It’s the same issues every night. Nothing sticks out beyond what you have seen all season long. Very little organization defensively, and little creativity offensively. It will always be maintained here that there is no reason for this season to be this bad.
The Canadiens need to lose some stay-at-home defenders and get some real puck-moving talent. They also need to be better down the middle. Not sure how Gorton is going to go about this rebuild, but this club is strong in all the wrong places. You don’t build a team without a strong middle and two great all-around defenders. If you have those components, you can cover a lot of blemishes.
If you are built from the wing with your best players, then you have some great wingers flying up and down the ice who never get the puck in scoring positions, because no one can get it to them. It’s going to take some hard work by Gorton, but it doesn’t have to be a Buffalo Sabres situation in Montreal in the coming seasons. Get three important pieces to start, and see how it shapes up from there.
The Canadiens’ first move for new “hockey ops” man Gorton is an excellent one. Gorton picked up Kale Clague off the waiver wire from the Los Angeles Kings.
And with that move, Gorton shows right away that the club needs to pick up some puck-moving defencemen and the balance is not good enough on the blue line. That the club needs more offence from the back end. That they need more talent at the modern game.
Clague was an AHL all-star for the Kings affiliate the Ontario Reign. He piled up the points there with 70 points in 129 games. Clague has even managed 11 points in 33 games as an NHL defender. Clague also played for Canada for two years at the world juniors. He was a big scorer in juniors in Brandon for the Wheat Kings.
Clague immediately becomes one of the best blue-liners on the club from a vision point of view on his outlet passes up ice. He’s a strong skater who could use a heavier shot.
Clague was a second-round pick in 2016 and still is only 23 years of age. He has taken some time to find his feet, but this could be a strong acquisition. Clague could still make strides here in his game. He automatically becomes a power-play hope.
This opens the door as well to have some team depth when a Chiarot trade has to be in the offing soon. Chiarot will fetch a first-rounder, so the Canadiens need to make sure he doesn’t get injured first.
It also opens the door for Mattias Norlinder to be sent back to Sweden, if Dominique Ducharme won’t play him.
All in all, it’s a small move to the roster, but a significant move in terms of the symbolism of what Gorton will focus on as executive vice-president of hockey operations.