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Call Of The Wilde: Improved Montreal Canadiens fall in last seconds to Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s Super Bowl weekend and that means matinees for the Montreal Canadiens.

It is a shame that only 500 are in attendance for the games in their private loges as Covid restrictions to attendance continue in Quebec. It’s usually a festive atmosphere, with parents getting a rare chance to get their young kids to the games. It’s another reminder about all that this virus has taken from us.

The Canadiens continue to improve under Martin St. Louis. They put in another entertaining effort against Columbus before losing 2-1 on a goal by Patrick Laine with seven seconds remaining.

Wilde Horses 

There are a lot of players on the Montreal Canadiens that will be traded in the next months. If Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes could find takes, more than ten players will exit, which would actually be good for the long-term development of the club.

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One player who has to stay is Josh Anderson. This is a player who has shown how much he cares these last few weeks, while others have accepted losing too readily. Anderson has the kind of player profile that is absolutely necessary to have on a team.

In the first period, with the Canadiens seemingly sleeping again, Anderson saw he had a chance to line-up Patrick Laine in the corner, and he absolutely took it. Anderson was already angry about the proceedings. He threw an extra elbow in there for good measure.

The next time Laine decides he wants to be the first forward on the forecheck, he will think twice if Anderson is on the ice. That’s not all there is to hockey, of course, but when you are the size and strength of Anderson, you take the gift and run with it.

Anderson cares. He hates losing. He competes hard. While many will be traded, he had better not be one of them. He is needed in Montreal. Power wingers of his skating speed, and physical talent are rare.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde – Canadiens vs Capitals

One complaint over the years with Montreal head coaches was their propensity to think defence first and forget that trying to score first is also something to be admired. The most obvious misunderstanding of how it worked was when the head coach would start three defensive players to begin an overtime period.

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One point in the standings is already earned when overtime started. The objective is to get that second point. Defending the net can’t get that second point. Attacking the other end is the only way to get it. It was stupefying when the offensive talent on the club wouldn’t try to get that goal, and inevitably, through poor coaching decisions, the Canadiens overtime record was horrific.

In the first period this afternoon, during a four-on-four two minute stretch, Martin St. Louis put out offensive players looking to take advantage of the open ice. He didn’t treat it like two minutes to get through without being scored on.

The fewer players on the ice, the more the game is about ‘our best players have to beat your best players’. Not ‘our average players will try to hold off your best players’. So, it’s easy to like the approach that St. Louis has shown so far.

It’s already benefitting Cole Caufield. He is playing with a lot more confidence. Under the previous regime, it seemed like his most pressing concern was not making a mistake. This is not the type of attitude to have on the ice when you are supposed to be a goal scorer.

Caufield was flying. He took some chances to win the offensive zone. He seemed to be reading the play so much better, when it felt like he was stapled to bad reads and a bad attitude.

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That he scored in the third period was no surprise at all. He was on it all night. He almost got a goal on the next shift as well. He was dangling. He wanted the puck.

Martin St. Louis might just be building something.

It would be impossible to speak so highly of this one if not for the goaltending of Sam Montembeault. He kept the Canadiens in the game before they found their way in the second and third periods. Montembeault was tracking the puck beautifully. His performance was exactly what the Canadiens need.

Don’t worry about the result. Right now, it’s the journey that counts.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde – Canadiens vs Devil

 

Wilde Goats 

It is beyond logic in a season already lost without a playoff spot that the Canadiens continue to give a lot of ice time to players who will be traded. During the second period, Ben Chiarot went to the dressing room with an injury. Surely, at that moment, Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes must have looked at each other and thought they might be losing a first round draft choice to injury.

Thankfully, Chiarot came back and the injury wasn’t serious. But what about the next time? What if he is injured for the rest of the year?

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There is no upside to Chiarot playing 25 minutes per game and possibly being lost for the season. There is only downside that a first rounder would not be utilized for his services during the rest of his final contracted season, before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Same goes for other players who are likely to move on. Jeff Petry and the organization have indicated they are going to move on from each other. Again, this is a first round draft pick that could change the future of the team for the next seven years. If he gets injured, a talented 18 year-old won’t be coming to Montreal. Not getting a seven year asset in return for him is a real possibility, and it would be tragic.

 

Wilde Cards

There was a time when Andrew Hammond was the greatest goalie in the world. In 2015, he went from also-ran to the Hamburgler as he stole a playoff spot for the Ottawa Senators. Hammond ran a .941 save percentage for 24 games as Ottawa did what everyone said was the impossible.

Hammond has reverted back to more modest numbers through the years, but he has been to battle. He won’t be overwhelmed at the age of 34, taking the reins for Montreal for the next couple of months until they get some goalie-health back from Jake Allen and maybe even Carey Price.

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That’s what this trade is. It is simply a stop-gap for when Montreal was left with only one healthy NHL contracted goalie, and that goalie was feeling overwhelmed. Cayden Primeau was losing his confidence. He could not continue to free-fall, considering the hope he will develop into a solid NHL goalie one day.

He still may, but in the moment it was too much for him. He will eventually go back to Laval where he had been developing well enough. His journey continues where he can handle it — in the American Hockey League.

The Canadiens lose Brandon Baddock in the one-for-one deal. The trade almost looks like a favour between two general managers. Baddock won’t make the NHL. He is 26 and has only played one NHL game. He doesn’t even rate at the minor league level. This looks like a gentleman’s agreement really.

Whatever the reason Minnesota made this deal, the Canadiens brass has got to be thankful. They could not keep trotting out Primeau. Hammond won’t be overwhelmed. That had to have been the thinking for Kent Hughes — to simply get a goalie in Montreal that can  give the club a steady .900. He was doing a .908 in Iowa for the Wild this season in 11 starts.

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

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