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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens return to play, get blown out by New Jersey Devils 7-1

The hope was that the eight days between games for the Montreal Canadiens would cause the club to regroup, come back with more energy and better play.

Hope, however, did not float. Montreal returned from the all-star break looking exactly the way they looked before it — overmatched.  New Jersey, not exactly a league powerhouse, beat the Canadiens 7-1. The Devils had lost seven straight heading into their contest with the Canadiens.

For the Canadiens, that’s two wins in their last 22 games.

Wilde Horses 

There was not much to like again for the Canadiens, but there were a couple of performances that stood out. Cole Caufield and Ryan Poehling were the best forwards on the night.

Caufield had the attitude of a shooter for a change. That is how he treated every game in college, but he hasn’t done it much in the pros. In this one, Caufield was thinking to shoot every chance he got. In one instance, in fact, perhaps he should have passed. It was a 3-on-1 and Caufield took the shot and missed the net.

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The defenceman gave him the shot, and he took it, but when you miss the net, it’s hard to not be criticized that maybe there was a better option on a 3-on-1. However, to flip that coin over, it was good to see that he was aggressive looking for a goal all night.

Read more: Call of the Wilde: Price, Petry, and a Blue Jackets win over the Canadiens

Caufield will score if he keeps unloading shots like he did against the Devils. After two periods, Caufield had three shots on net and had another seven shots attempted. These are outstanding numbers. He’s too good a shooter to not score with these numbers. It is a complete mystery that he could fire 10 in 40 minutes and score on none.

Poehling seems to have gotten the message that with his strength, and his balance on his skates, he needs to get to the net every time the Canadiens get into the offensive zone. He was skating beautifully, charging the net whether he had the puck or did not.

He made a direct path toward the New Jersey goalie every chance he got. As a result, Poehling played a strong game. He was around the puck all the time. He and Caufield played together and they had good chemistry.

Wilde Goats 

Right from the get-go, the Canadiens were second best. The shots on goal were 12-5 in the first period with New Jersey leading 2-0. Montreal just wasn’t there again to compete.

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With much of the lineup back healthy, this is quite discouraging at this point. There are many who feel that the club can regroup quickly next season to be competitive, but to have most of your lineup healthy and be dominated again so easily, it’s hard to understand where that positive thinking comes from at the moment.

Something is missing. This club is having a hard time playing motivated hockey. On the one hand it is good for the fans of a high draft pick, but on the other hand it is a bit discouraging to contemplate just how many years of high draft picks there are going to be for Montreal. No one wants high draft picks until 2028.

Read more: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens return to Bell Centre, drop 5-4 loss to Anaheim Ducks

Coming off the break, it was hoped there would have been some sort of understanding passed from management to coaching that the young players have to get more minutes to improve their games. However, again, it is hard to understand what the plan is from Dominique Ducharme.

Cole Caufield is playing on the fourth line and getting limited minutes. Not to suggest that he deserves to play many minutes, but this season is for development. If Caufield can’t get minutes in Montreal, then he needs to get a lot of minutes in Laval.

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It’s the same situation for Ryan Poehling, who the head coach contemplated not even dressing in favour of a veteran. This, of course, makes absolutely no sense. Players of the future must be given ample opportunity to improve their games with a lot of good minutes and better linemates.

Baffling. So much is baffling right now.

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As if it hasn’t been difficult enough for the Montreal Canadiens, the organization learned Tuesday that they will have to make a successful business out of continued reduced capacity for some time to come.

The NHL has tried to help the Canadian franchises with postponed home games on their schedule until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. In some cases, games at home were subbed out for games on the road to help the cause for Canadian teams.

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While the contests are continuing with full attendance in the United States, in Canada, restrictions are still being set by each provincial government. In some instances, like Alberta, it appears attendance restrictions will be lifted very shortly.

However, owner Geoff Molson will continue to suffer for some time still, it appears. Premier François Legault indicated on Wednesday that he would allow half capacity for the contests starting on Feb. 21st. That’s a long time for Molson who has five home games until then.

Read more: Canadiens GM Hughes thrilled to start building winning franchise in his hometown

With ticket sales, concessions, parking and other intangibles, the Canadiens earn about $2.5 to $3 million per contest. So this is almost a $15-million hit for the Canadiens. It’s extremely difficult to reconcile that from a business point of view when American teams have not suffered at all to their bottom line.

Montreal is a rich franchise, so they will be fine, but in some instances — like Ottawa, for example — the reality is harsh. Commissioner Gary Bettman has indicated that he has contemplated moving some games from Canada to the United States to help the bottom line for struggling Canadian teams.

Premier Legault also suggested that if COVID-19 cases continue to be under control in the coming weeks, full capacity is indicated for the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on March 14th.

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The best-case scenario for the Canadiens, then, is this: First, five games with no fans whatsoever, followed by three games with half capacity, followed by the rest of the season of 14 games with full capacity. That’s if we don’t suffer another surge of COVID-19 cases again in Quebec.

The only consolation for Molson these days is the franchise value continues to soar yearly in the inflationary environment of the world today.

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

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