The Calgary win was a tremendous test for the Canadiens, with the Flames having the hottest record in the entire league in the last month.
It was a great opportunity for Call of the Wilde to see exactly where this Montreal club actually stands under Martin St. Louis. And the answer: They stand tall.
The Flames were expected by everyone to set a franchise-record, 12th-straight home win, but the Canadiens won it 5-4 in overtime.
There have been a lot of paragraphs written about the new first line of the Canadiens rejuvenating the club since St. Louis took over as head coach. It isn’t just that line with improved play, though. Just about every player is better than he was three weeks ago.
Attention must be given to Jeff Petry who was suffering mightily under Dominique Ducharme. Last week, Petry said that it is fun to come to the rink again. Wins will do that, but also some level of personal success will cause that happiness quotient to shift as well.
In his last eight games, Petry has three goals and four assists for seven points. His tying goal late in the first period was a perfect example of a Petry who feels the freedom of his better game again. It was a 3-on-1 play with the Canadiens already having two men in advantage. Petry was not one of the three players on the breakout.
Under Ducharme, there is no way that Petry feels free to join that rush to become a fourth player leaving only one player back. It is a risky move. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. However, St. Louis wants instincts. He wants players to go with their gut.
Petry saw the scrambling nature of the play as it continued after the Artturi Lehkonen shot, and he made a hard line to the net where he picked up a short rebound to slide it home. He went with his gut. His instincts were true.
The Canadiens made it through the first period against one of the best teams in hockey tied at one, thanks to the goal from Petrynds aided in large part by a terrific 20 minutes from goalie Andrew Hammond.
The club is better. There’s just no other way to describe this. Players who didn’t seem all that talented not too long ago are suddenly holding their own against the NHL’s best. St. Louis is making a massive difference. He’s doing so much that it is suddenly a little tricky for the new top brass to decide who needs to go and who needs to stay.
It shouldn’t mean that much considering what is required to become an NHL powerhouse and then sustain it. It doesn’t just take the players on the squad playing better like this to be top 10; it actually takes some better players.
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Here’s hoping that Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton have not altered their plan, and realize that the defence has to have two top talents still to be acquired. They also need another strong centre to compliment Nick Suzuki, because Suzuki is one of the key pieces to big-time success. He is turning into a stud.
In this one, on the 3-3 goal, Suzuki made a series of moves to win the blue line. He is so good on offensive zone entries. He has 10 points in the last seven games.
It’s a much better hockey team than it looked three weeks ago, and there are a lot of strong complementary parts on the club. There’s also the potential of a number one line blooming right in front of us.
Still, the word here is patience. The team needs more star power, and that takes some high draft picks with the emphasis on some, as in more than one.
For the purposes of now though, this certainly is more entertaining than it was. The Canadiens were flying in a terrific game. They haven’t looked this entertaining since the Guy Carbonneau era. Hope has returned.
The way the club competed against an extremely good hockey club means there is not much reason to fill this section, but there is one concern that might be significant.
It does not feel as if Jake Evans is able to sustain a hit without his brain being injured. Brett Ritchie knocked Evans on the chin in the second period and he left the game immediately. Evans suffered a serious concussion last year in the playoffs after a brutal late hit from Mark Scheifele.
Perhaps he was just leaving as a matter of precaution. It is sad though as Evans is playing well, but he is struggling to stay healthy. Evans did return to the contest, but on his next shift after coming back, Evans got hit in the face yet again. And this time he didn’t return. It could become an issue for this young man. Let’s hope not.
There are 18 days to the trading deadline, but this week has still not produced any activity of great excitement. When the Canadiens announced a trade earlier this week, there was a lot of excitement that perhaps some of the big names had started to move.
However, it was simply a minor deal involving goalie Michael McNiven as he was dealt to the Calgary Flames for future considerations. The considerations could be something like a seventh-round draft choice, or the Canadiens may eventually take a player back one day from Calgary that the Flames wish to release.
It’s a good move from a human relations point of view for the Canadiens as McNiven had indicated that he did not feel that he got a fair look in Montreal. When that happens to a player who is not expected to reach great NHL heights, that is more trouble than it is worth. The only time an organization has any tolerance for this sentence is when the player in question is expected to be a bona fide NHLer.
There was some purpose to the deal from a Montreal point of view as well as the club had 48 contracts already on the books of a possible 50 contracts allowed according to the CBA. Montreal needed to make some space just in case they make a trade or two in the coming weeks that they would acquire more contracted players than they would release.
Sitting only two contracts from the maximum leaves little wiggle room at the deadline. So while it was not a considerable deal, it was an intelligent deal in every aspect.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.