Call of the Wilde: Florida Panthers continue attack, defeat Montreal Canadiens 4-3

The opponents don’t get tougher than the Florida Panthers right now. They have been high flying all season and they added Ben Chiarot and Claude Giroux at the trade deadline. If Montreal could have stayed tight with this club, they’d be considerably better than the 32nd ranking they are placed.

Florida did have their power turned up to 11, but Montreal stayed close thanks to Jake Allen.

It was a 4-3 final for Florida.

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When Trevor Timmins drafted Alexander Romanov in the second round, the initial reaction was a cross between “who?” and “what the heck is he thinking?”

Romanov was not known at all. Most people started scrolling down their draft lists to see where their favourite scout had ranked him. When Timmins was asked why he would draft someone who was ranked so much lower so early, he said that he didn’t want to lose him because he was sure that he is that good.

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Fast forward to Romanov’s second NHL season and he is turning into a star on the blue line already. He has a love for the game that keeps his desire to learn at a plateau all the time.

Romanov is still developing his offensive side of the game, but the defence has strongly arrived. Martin St. Louis is certainly relying on him now. In the first period, Romanov got almost 11 minutes of ice time, including nearly four minutes killing penalties. And offensively, he is making some strides feeling more free these days with five points in his last seven games.

Just another player who is breathing easier and feeling more comfortable playing more to his strengths and instincts, instead of a regimented pattern of convoluted X’s and O’s.

Romanov isn’t even close to hitting his plateau as a player. He is starting to destroy players coming up the boards on a regular basis. His trademark hitting is getting better. His marking in front of the net is improving as well. His stretch passes have begun to arrive as well.

The shot isn’t there yet, but it appears that Romanov is at least a second-pair defender, and he might even be good enough to be a top-pair blue liner, if he keeps improving at the same rate as he has in his first two years.

Read more: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens lose to Boston Bruins 3-2 in overtime squeaker

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The amazing turnaround of Cole Caufield’s season continued with another strong game. Caufield had an assist on Nick Suzuki’s marker in the first period. He fought off a big body to get the pass away to lead the offensive thrust.

In the second period, he was equal a couple of Panthers at Montreal’s blue line in a chase, and by the time Caufield arrived to the Florida goal, he had a clear cut breakaway. He did miss his shot pretty badly, though, as it somehow got caught up and he was very high with it.

Caufield now has 23 points in his last 19 games since the coaching change. That includes a whopping 12 goals in 19 games. These totals would have made him the rookie of the year and Calder Trophy winner easily, if he maintained anything resembling that pace this season.

As it is, he won’t be nominated for the Calder as he is well behind the point leaders. It is a shame. However, that he has arrived at all is a tremendous boost to the excitement level in the building and the hope for the future.

Other players that seem to be waking up with the new head coach are Joel Armia, Paul Byron, and Christian Dvorak as well. All three combined for a late tally for Montreal.

Patience must be shown with Dvorak. This was an Ontario Hockey League scoring star, but he has been playing with terrible organizations in his past. Let him play for a coach that appreciates his skills and targets his skillset better before anyone gives up on what he can actually do.

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It was another solid effort from the Canadiens. It’s wonderful to see them compete so much better than they were before.

This part of the season has been so refreshing. They can’t make the playoffs, and history will look at this as a lost year, but it isn’t. They’re progressing under a new head coach. They’re learning. They’re improving. In essence, they are preparing for next season.

This competitive spirit against the high-flying Panthers means no goats to find from the Bell Centre.

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It is an important time of the year for the Montréal Canadiens prospects who are concluding their college seasons in the next 10 days or sooner.

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First up was Sean Farrell with the Harvard Crimson who has had an outstanding freshman season. Farrell was eliminated from the regionals falling to Minnesota State 4-3. However, it was another terrific game for Farrell as he scored one goal and added an assist.

Both were spectacular. The goal was an intelligent bank off the back of the goalie on a shot that he took from behind the goal line in the corner. He meant to do it and it was brilliant. The assist was equally strong as he fed a cross-ice pass through some bodies that ended up leading to another pass and a goal.

Farrell will return for a sophomore season at Harvard, but it will perhaps be a difficult one as most of the top players on the Crimson will be moving on to try their hand at the NHL.

Read more: Kent Hughes adds flexibility, youth in first trade deadline day as Canadiens GM

There was a win for another prospect of the Canadiens Blake Biondi for University of Minnesota-Duluth.  Biondi didn’t count a point, but he was strong in an easy 3-0 win over Michigan Tech.

The final Canadiens draft choice playing on Thursday was Brett Stapley favoured for the University of Denver against U-Mass at Lowell. However, that was a late starting contest and is not yet final at time of publishing.

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Friday at noon will be a huge game as Jordan Harris may conclude his college career and declare his NHL future. Northeastern plays Western Michigan in a one versus four match-up. Jayden Struble, another Habs prospect, will also play for the Huskies.

If Harris loses, the Canadiens hope that he will quickly sign with the club and begin his NHL career in Montreal. If he wins, he goes on to the regional finals on Sunday against the winner of U-Mass and the University of Minnesota.

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

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