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Call Of The Wilde: Montreal Canadiens upset the Tampa Bay Lightning

Three of the most difficult opponents in the NHL on a three-game road trip for Montreal. So far, not so good. Two losses in Sunrise and Raleigh in the books already, with game three in Tampa Bay.

The defending Stanley Cup champions trying to take advantage of a young Montreal defence, but it was the young blue liners who stepped up as the Canadiens won 5-4 in a shootout.

Read more: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens shut out by the Carolina Hurricanes 4-0

Wilde Horses

That was a strong first game in the NHL for Jordan Harris. Head Coach Martin St. Louis sure wasn’t afraid of giving him a challenge. He can tell his kids that his first shift in the NHL was against Brayden Point, Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. He can also tell his kids that he did just fine.

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In fact, as the game continued, it was remarkable just how smooth Harris was. He did not seem overwhelmed by the moment at all. It felt, instead, that he reads the game at the NHL level extremely well. He followed the flow of the game and had a strong sense of his assignment at any given moment.

Halfway through the first period, he almost got his first point in the league. He made a strong pass down to a down-low forward who could not convert on the play.

On his next shift, Harris again looked extremely smooth and smart. He felt the pressure of a hard forecheck and intelligently slammed on the breaks while his opponent didn’t read it and kept skating away. He had won the moment again, which led to an easy zone exit. An outstanding start for Harris.

By the second period, he was leading rushes down the ice without any fear at all. He saw open space and he took it. There wasn’t a poor decision in the entire game, and that was against the Stanley Cup champions.

That was the best first game for a Canadiens defenceman that I have seen in a long time. Honestly, very hard to believe that was a first game. It looked more like a third season. Pencil him in for the blue line next October. It says here that Harris makes the team out of camp.

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Call of the Wilde! – Apr 1, 2022

Wilde Goats

It’s interesting to note as two players begin their NHL careers how they have differed in these early days. Justin Barron was a first-round draft choice taken 25th overall. Jordan Harris was taken 71st overall in the third round. It should be that Barron looks smoother of the two. That he does not could come down to that Harris was a 2018 draft and Barron was a 2020 draft.

The extra two years could naturally mean that Harris is more polished. Harris has the experience in order to mentally developed his game more and is more physically a man. It is very important to note that the path of the first weeks of the two players may not be the ultimate path at all years down the road.

2026 may show us that Barron is a star and Harris stagnated. However, in a first analysis, and it’s important to understand that this is a first analysis and may very well mean nothing in the passage of time, but if it does, Harris is more developed.

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Barron has had moments where his decision-making has left him out of the play. On the first goal, Barron was trying to stick-check Steve Stamkos. It didn’t work as the Tampa superstar fought off that check to score easily.

Read more: Call of the Wilde: Growing pains continue for Canadiens with 7-4 fall to Florida Panthers

Two shifts later, Barron was caught up by the blue line with Tampa already having gained the offensive zone. Why Barron was covering a defender standing right beside the winger who was supposed to be on that defender was a bit odd.

However, on the plus side, Barron had more than 20 minutes of ice in this contest against one of the best teams in hockey and he did just fine overall, except the two suspect moments.

Again, this is early. There is a learning curve. Let Barron learn. It can take years, and this is a terrific time to practice and learn. What is happening today may not mean much tomorrow, but in the first blush, Harris looks like he already has the jigsaw puzzle done and is ready for the NHL.

Barron needs to fill in the pieces just a bit more, though his physical overtime around his own net with no quarter given was impressive. Overall, he needs more seasoning, but perhaps he gets enough in the month of April. He will surely keep playing in Montreal until the end of the season.

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Here’s the good news: It’s going to be very enjoyable to watch all of these young blue liners develop and see where the upside tops out.

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Call of the Wilde! – Mar 25, 2022

Without belabouring the same point again and again, the organization needs to solve its special teams issues. They’ve been at the bottom of the league or close this entire season in both power play and penalty kill. The power play is somewhat understandable as a quarterback is needed. They do need a Kris Letang type who has great finish, can distribute and get his shot through.

On the kill, it’s impossible to figure out why they are so passive in an age of attack the puck carrier to take away time. Montreal is bad by design.

If the Canadiens could just figure out that aspect of the game, the results would be significantly better overall. For example, Montreal 5-on-5 outscored Tampa 4-1 in this contest. Even if the Habs are middle of the pack on special teams, they are a much better club overall.

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They don’t even have to be outstanding on special teams to turn 15 one-goal losses into overtime games. That’s how you turn around a hockey team without even changing a lot of personnel. Add a Letang type, change the tactics while killing, and it’s 20 to 25 more points in the standings.

Read more: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens lose in OT to Dallas Stars

Wilde Cards

Scouts say that a good NHL Draft is if a team sends two players to the NHL and they become regulars. There are tons of drafts by tons of teams with only one player successful and sometimes no players that make the NHL at all from a draft year.

Naturally, how early the first-round pick is taken decides a lot of how many actually land. Choosing top five means a 95 per cent success rate with the pick. That percentage has already dropped 10 by pick 10, and by pick 20, the drop is already to 65 per cent success rate for a pick.

Many people don’t know that by the bottom third of the first round, the likelihood that a pick makes the league is already only 50 per cent. It’s incorrect to hear so many fans say, “he blew his first-round pick as it didn’t even make the NHL,” when the team chose 30th. It’s actually more likely odds-wise that that pick misses than it is that it lands.

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This is all to say what a terrific draft it was for the Montréal Canadiens in 2018. They may wish to redo that number three overall to take Brady Tkachuk, instead of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, even though the Finn has been offered an eight-year deal. That means that Kotkaniemi is definitely not a miss as the hugely successful Carolina Hurricanes want to commit the maximum to the still 21-year-old. That fact gets lost a lot. It’s extremely rare that a player’s growth is finished at 21. In fact, it’s just as common that a player hasn’t even made the NHL yet at 21.

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Call of the Wilde! – Mar 11, 2022

The Kotkaniemi debate won’t finish for another five years, so we move on to the other three players who look like they will land as regulars in the NHL. The most advanced is the shocking pick of that year, Alexander Romanov. He was so barely known that many so-called experts were looking down at their lists, hoping he was even on it. Romanov looks like he will top out as a strong second-pair defender. A big success.

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The Canadiens drafted another in the second round who looks ready to breakthrough in Jesse Ylonen. The Finnish forward has played only a dozen games, but he is acclimating to the smaller rinks in North America very well, and looks like he will be a good pro. He has a great shot, and he used it for a nice tally in this contest. Ylonen has four points in his last five games.

That brings us to the fourth who debuted on a Saturday night in Tampa Bay. Jordan Harris was the top defender in Hockey East this season. He completed all four years of his education at Northeastern before signing on with Montreal, finally.

If scouts call a draft successful with two NHL players, the potential of four players being NHL regulars is a home run. While the previous regime made some horrific long-term signings of aging players that could sting for a long time, at least it can be said that the prospects coming up have big potential.

Hopefully, with better player development in the future under a new GM, the growth phase of the draft choices picks up speed in the near future.

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

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