The Montreal Canadiens have done it.
They finally have seven wins on the season, as they won in a shootout over the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 — in front of not a single fan at the Bell Centre.
It’s not possible that a player who shot at 18 per cent in college hockey drops to less than two per cent in pro hockey. Cole Caufield is ripping shot after shot, but they simply will not go in for him. His shot is too good for this to continue. Caufield, with eight shots in this game, moves to 55 shots on the season, yet he has only one goal all year.
This is a player who got a goal per game in his Hobey Baker Award-winning season last year. Admittedly, he shot at 18 per cent in college hockey and that obviously wouldn’t continue against NHL goalies, but this two per cent is shocking.
This was Caufield’s best game of the season. What was most impressive was how he kept his feet moving into the attack zone. One of the difficulties Caufield has been having this season is he skates hard into the attacking zone, but then begins gliding. Caufield is not big enough to ever stop skating in this league. The legs must be churning or he is too easy to defend.
He will get an average of four shots per game in the NHL only if he keeps his skating stride going. His best attribute is his shot, but he gets that shot away so often because of the speed he carries around the ice.
Caufield will likely have a shooting percentage as a pro with the quality of his shot at around eight per cent. That’s a modest prediction. More boldly, one could surmise 10 per cent. If he pulls that shooting percentage with the number of shots he takes, he should be a 20-goal scorer at least in the NHL.
This one goal over 54 shots simply can not continue, and it won’t.
The Canadiens had 18 quality chances to four after two periods. It was one of their best games of the year despite the fact that goals continued to be elusive. Some other performances stood out. Artturi Lehkonen had a ton of energy, scored a goal and hit a lot of people as F1 on the forecheck.
Laurent Dauphin worked hard all night and was rewarded with the tying goal with five minutes to play in the third. It was his first goal in the NHL since December of 2016. Now that is perseverance.
His excitement was obvious. Jesse Ylonen was also in the crease to tap it home, but Dauphin arrived just in front of Ylonen. The entire play was set up thanks to a terrific skate from the left point to the half wall by Ben Chiarot to get the puck down low. Chiarot is having a strong season personally, though he is probably not enjoying it all that much.
Kale Clague had his best game as a Canadiens defender. He didn’t look that strong in some of his first performances as he adapted to a new club, but in this one he stepped off the boards to create offensively, rushed the puck up ice well, passed it even better, and handled himself well defensively.
The odd thing about Clague’s excellent performance was he was actually on his off-side. The left-handed shot played on the right. That’s supposed to be harder, but Clague may have found a home, if he continues to perform that well on his wrong side.
Clague is only 23 and that’s still young in the development time of a defender at the NHL level. Don’t judge too harshly too early, even if the early returns haven’t been sparkling until this contest.
This one went to overtime, where Jonathan Drouin snapped one into the top corner beautifully to score for Montreal, and Cayden Primeau was perfect on all three shots as the Canadiens snapped their losing skid. Primeau looked better than he has at any time that he’s been called up for Montreal.
In this one, there were some things to build on for Montreal.
The spotlight is on Jeff Petry after his comments that his club plays without structure. It seems as if it was a criticism of his head coach. It could have been a criticism against his teammates as well, but whatever it was, Petry had to come out and have the best game that he could to lead the team out of the doldrums of which he speaks.
Sadly, that did not happen. The Flyers got two goals in the first two frames, and Petry was in on both of them. He couldn’t clear on the first goal, and he was caught out on a 2-on-1 on the second goal.
A goal against usually has more than one culprit. It generally takes two mistakes or even sometimes three for a goal to be scored, but it sure feels like everyone was looking to solely Petry on these two tallies.
No issue here showing his frustration. Petry should be frustrated. I don’t want to know anyone who plays on a team who is not frustrated with this and can roll with it languidly.
You better be angry. Petry was, and he’s now taking the heat for it, but everyone is failing here.
The most recent data delivered Thursday must be showing that a freight train of COVID-19 cases is coming to Quebec.
The government of Francois Legault asked the Montreal Canadiens at the last minute to play their contest against the Flyers without fans. Owner Geoff Molson obliged, but what a terrible spot to put him in, as well as the entire Canadiens organization. Fans had come from as far away as Fredericton, N.B., and Philadelphia for the contest, only to be told at 5:20 p.m. that they could not go to the game.
Imagine as well the thousands who had already hopped into their cars or on the metro, only to learn upon arrival at the Bell Centre that they were locked out. The Canadiens have been assured that the move is only temporary by the Quebec government, and they will be allowed to have fans in the Bell Centre in January with limited capacity. Perhaps Quebec will choose something mirroring the policy in Ontario, where 50-per cent capacity is being allowed at events.
The Omicron variant is running wild, with cases doubling every three days. We are on the verge of the worst numbers of the entire pandemic in Quebec and beyond. Santé Quebec must have been made aware of projections that were well worse than thought, because this feels very last minute.
All over the NHL, the situation is also bleak. There are 180 players who have had COVID-19 this year. Five teams have had to shut down their teams to recover back to health. It is very difficult to imagine that the players will be heading to China for the Olympics, but that decision is still in favour of going as of Thursday.
The Canadiens, without any fans for the contest on Thursday night, played the first game in the NHL with that restriction this season.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.