Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens’ COVID-19 hiatus ends with 5-1 loss to Boston Bruins

The 12-day wait is over — the Montreal Canadiens actually played a hockey game in the NHL on Wednesday night. The still under-manned Canadiens took on the Bruins in Boston.

This game was originally scheduled for Montreal, but with attendance limits enforced, the Canadiens stood to lose around $2.5 million in revenue, so it was moved to Boston. The Bruins will come to Montreal later in the year when COVID-19 has lessened, allowing fans to return to the Bell Centre.

The Bruins rolled to a 5-1 win.

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It’s been interesting this season to watch two types of players in a Montreal uniform. You have veterans who have nothing to prove and little to play for in a season like this. Watching Joel Armia mail it in has been painful, but what does Armia have to play for during this carnage? He has a comfortable long-term contract, and at his age and experience, he just wants to get through this healthy. And it shows.

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They you have the rookies who are trying to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They know this is the time to shine, or they may never get to shine again — players like Michael Pezzetta who, despite being on the losing side of the ledger most of the games, is having the time of his life.

Pezzetta celebrated the 4-1 goal as Montreal got on the board like his life depended on it. And he deserved to celebrate. He did everything on his shift to earn his glory. He laid out a big hit behind the net to start the play, then went straight to the front of the net where he deflected a shot. He pounced on the free puck, then turned and fired to the top corner. It was a beautiful, hard-working goal.

Pezzetta is doing what a rookie has to do to stick around in the show a little longer. It may not be pretty, but it is much more enjoyable to watch the talent-short Pezzetta work his butt off to provide a goal and some pride than it is to watch the talented-but-underachieving Armia go through the motions this year.

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You can understand Armia just wants this over with, and you can appreciate that Pezzetta wants this to go on as long as possible.

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The excitement of the Canadiens returning to the ice for the first time in 12 days lasted just 15 minutes of hockey. Montreal was competing fairly well. They almost looked like they belonged on the same ice as the Bruins.

Then reality struck and it struck quickly — and with force.

Boston scored three goals in the final five minutes of the period, and the game was over. It was also over for Jake Allen in his first game back in a month. He seemed to be favouring his groin. There’s certainly no reason to play anyone who is not at 100 per cent at this point. In came Sam Montembeault to let a goal in during the first minute of his game.

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So the Canadiens got some key players back, only to lose their goalie right away. It’s been that kind of season. It’s difficult to not run out of words to describe this. Every game is a different and new nightmare. Montreal is on the way to the worst season here in their history.

We are approaching the halfway point of the campaign and they have not even won two games in a row. Their best winning streak is a one-game winning streak.

The culprits on the goals were many. Assignments were missed all over the place, but also, high talent was the opposition. Talent wins games and when Brad Marchand is who the Canadiens have to stop, they don’t have the talent to do that.

So embrace that the Canadiens are finishing low enough that they will be bringing some more talent on board soon with a high draft pick.

Until then, we look for young individuals to learn and figure things out with real life experiences at the highest level of hockey. That’s all there is at this point. Watch the young kids in hopes that they figure this out to some extent.

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It seems hard to believe, but the Montreal Canadiens at one point had 24 players in COVID protocols of the 48 players the club had under contract of the 50 that are allowed. It’s a good thing they had a break in the schedule anyway, because that was getting embarrassing.

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No wonder they were losing so many games. There’s nothing like a healthy body around, so the Canadiens went to the waiver wire to claim one that should be able to help going forward.

The Canadiens claimed forward Rem Pitlick from the Minnesota Wild. The 24-year-old from Ottawa  has 11 points in 20 games with Minnesota this season. Pitlick was a third-round choice of Nashville’s in 2016. He is a product of the University of Minnesota.

That doesn’t sound like much, but if a forward can play solid defensive hockey while attaining 40 points and not costing a lot, there is value there.

Add this thought: If you are Jeff Gorton, this is the time to see any player you can in your own uniform on your own team. It’s a free three months to assess players for next season. Might as well take a look at anyone who you are curious about. There is no downside.

Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on after each Canadiens game.

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