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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall in OT to Vegas Golden Knights

The Montreal Canadiens had yet another chance on Thursday to win two straight games for the first time this season.

At the halfway point of the campaign, it’s hard to believe that it still has not happened. And it didn’t happen on Thursday night in Las Vegas, either. The Golden Knights won 4-3 in overtime.

Wilde Horses

The Canadiens are starting to put some better numbers together with a better roster as players return from COVID-19 and injuries. Tyler Toffoli was back from wrist surgery for the second game, and he scored for the second straight game. It was a terrific play, with Nick Suzuki sliding it from behind the net from one side to the other where he found Toffoli, who quickly poked it home.

It was a power-play goal. That’s an aspect of the Canadiens play that is also improving lately with the line-up strengthening. In fact, with Mike Hoffman and Toffoli on opposite sides for the crafty Suzuki to find, the power play is actually looking good for the first time this season.

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Montreal has scored with the extra man in four straight contests.

The return of Hoffman has been instrumental as well to the recent improvement. Christian Dvorak is also playing better than he has at any point this season. Dvorak had an excellent feed to Hoffman in tight for the Canadiens to take a third-period lead at 3-2.

Read more: Montreal Canadiens shock Dallas Stars with long-awaited win, 5-3 (Jan. 18, 2022)

Yet none of this would be possible were it not for Sam Montembeault. He was shaky when he first arrived in a Montreal uniform. He was clearly a goalie without confidence, and perhaps believed that he did not belong. Now Montembeault is stealing games for Montreal. In Dallas, Montembeault faced 51 shots as Montreal won a game because of his .940 save percentage.

In Vegas, it was the same story as Montreal was badly outshot again, but Montembeault was better than his opposite Robin Lehner. Montembeault faced 53 shots saving 49 to give the Canadiens a chance. It wasn’t enough, but the young man is giving himself a chance of continuing his career in the NHL with goaltending like this.

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Wilde Goats 

Montreal has collected points in two straight games in tough cities, Dallas and Vegas. There are no goats to speak of that anyone tired of complaining could find.

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The contrasts between Kent Hughes and Marc Bergevin during news conferences are stark. While Bergevin often gave terrific quotes like, “if you want loyalty, buy a dog,” there was nothing at all like that coming from the lawyer Hughes that could rile the wrong audience. In fact, what stood out most was that we were watching a man who hasn’t really spoken to the media ever before en masse like on Wednesday afternoon, yet he seemed completely in control and never once fell victim to a “gotcha” moment that could hurt him.

On the friendship with Jeff Gorton, he was clear that he felt that he was the best man for the job. Hughes even boldly noted that the line of questioning that the hiring may not have been a meritocracy seemed to be a rather popular topic. He specifically made a point to end that talking point right away with a definitive statement that he was there because he was the best candidate.

Read more: Call of the Wilde — Montreal Canadiens drop another with 5-2 loss to Arizona Coyotes (Jan. 17, 2022)

Also, the issue of how a man named Kent Hughes from Beaconsfield would do in French quickly ended when he didn’t search for words, didn’t have any issue at all communicating his thoughts, and possessed a more-than-acceptable accent. In fact, a common jab on Twitter was that his French was better than Bergevin’s French.

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The desire from the organization has always been that the General Manager should be able to speak to the French population. The Canadiens have never said that the GM should have a French-sounding name. The ability of Hughes to communicate to all of his fans should not be questioned after a very smooth first hour.

All of the off-ice issues quickly fell away as concerns in the first 10 minutes.

However, being a good GM isn’t about what the off-ice issues might be in terms of friendships and language. The job is the work to build a team. Hughes passed that test with ease as well.

He hit on a lot of themes that have been hot-button issues for decades. Some of the thoughts from Hughes that resonated were that he wants to create an offensive team. What a welcome thought that is after general managers like Bob Gainey and Marc Bergevin, for whom defence always came first.

No one can deny the value of defensive skills, but after 30 years of that, it will be enjoyable to see a partnership of Gorton and Hughes try to rebuild this team with an eye toward entertaining the fans. Goals and excitement have been sorely lacking.

It’s difficult to find a star scorer. The Canadiens haven’t had a 40-goal man this century. It will be a thrill if Montreal actually acquires a player who makes the fans jump out of their seats at skills, not just saves. The joy of the game, generally speaking, is in the goal. As it stands now, the Canadiens are the lowest-scoring team in the entire league, so there is some work to do here.

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Hughes also spoke of analytics as an aspect that the organization would like to improve. The previous GM gave lip service to analytics. It will be a welcome change to know the Canadiens will attempt to cover all areas to compete and perhaps even have an edge against other teams.

The salary cap doesn’t allow the Canadiens to spend more on players than other teams, but there are no restrictions on how much money the Canadiens can spend on staff. Montreal should have the largest analytics department. Montreal should have the most scouts. Montreal should never be short of knowledge because they didn’t wish to spend on staff.

No other team gets 21,273 fans to every game in a non-COVID world. Montreal has an economic advantage thanks to fans paying top dollar to go to the games, then park their cars, and then consume a lot of beer and hot dogs. The Canadiens have never really used that advantage to the full extent.

If Hughes wants a big analytics department, it’s time to give it to him. If Hughes wants another European scout, then give it to him.

The partnership of Hughes and Gorton has a lot of work to do. The Canadiens are the worst team in hockey, but fans are actually quite excited right now. They believe that a rebuild could bring the talent and excitement of more enjoyable offensive hockey.

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It’s a new day in Habs Land. Let the work begin.

 

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