Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens’ losing skid extended with 2-0 loss to Minnesota Wild

The Montreal Canadiens looked to Carey Price to help them break a five-game losing skid on Tuesday night. The Minnesota Wild had an 8-2 win the last time the two clubs met in January.

It was more of the same, but at least the score was respectable this time, as Minnesota won 2-0.

In 120 minutes of hockey, they have yet to score a goal for Price.

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It is bizarre to hear Carey Price say that he just wants to be able to play at an acceptable level. Price says he doesn’t want to be a burden. That doesn’t sound like a player who will stick around to get the remaining money from his contract, if he can’t play the game well.

It’s hard to imagine Price being a burden, but if he can’t stop the puck, then he would be. That’s the bottom line for a hockey goalie. At the moment, all he wants to do is stay healthy. That’s why he is taking his time between starts. He needs to make sure that the knee is responding well between games.

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He was strong in his first game. He chose four days between games to challenge that knee again. He certainly picked a great team to test it against, and he succeeded. He looked strong. He looked like Carey.

It’s not a mystery whether he can stop the puck. Of course he can.

The mystery is whether he can stay healthy, and that is why it is uplifting to see how serious the Canadiens are about protecting him. Any Wild player that got even close to contacting Price got five Habs players in his face. There was no doubt about it that the word was out that there would be hell to pay, if you touch Carey.

Wins and losses aren’t really that important at the moment for the organization, but a healthy Carey Price could decide the fate of the franchise for the next four years. Protect the most valuable asset. It was good to see it, and it was good to see Price make it through another game looking talented and healthy.

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There is no question the Canadiens are more entertaining under Martin St. Louis. The games are more wide open and talented players are much more free to show their skill set. The joy of watching Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield each amass a point-per-game has made watching a team eliminated from the playoffs in December enjoyable to watch in March and April.

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However, there’s a flip side to this new regime that is becoming rather apparent and rather troublesome. The Canadiens are a terrible hockey team defensively and that needs to change a lot without sacrificing the excitement at the other end of the ice.

In the first five minutes of the Wild’s visit, the Canadiens were barely were able to exit their own zone. It was messy. The giveaways were in the double digits before each of the Canadiens lines had a second shift.

The Habs have now lost six straight games and it is not because they can’t score. It’s because they can’t defend.

Montreal has allowed 43 goals in their last ten games. No team is going to find any success at the NHL level allowing four and a half goals per game. Even the Florida Panthers cannot be a top flight team needing five to win it.

In St. Louis’ defence, this blue line is quite inexperienced. That doesn’t tell the entire story though. The pair struggling most recently is David Savard and Alexander Romanov. Savard is going to be with the club for the next three years.

Jeff Petry also is having difficulty handling forechecking pressure. Jordan Harris is faring alright which is good, but it’s also troubling because he can’t be the shining example. He’s barely played in the league.

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The troubling question that has to be asked is why are the Canadiens so bad defensively?

If it’s talent, then that’s good because there’s a lot coming in the pipeline. If it’s no coach knows how to teach a strong defensive system, then that’s bad because no amount of talent can overcome a lack of direction, planning and instruction.

No one wants the return of Claude Julien defensive hockey. Everyone wants to see this work out with the club remaining exciting. However, allowing eight against Washington can’t keep happening. The fan base is giving everyone in the upper management and coaching staff a long leash right now for this type of troubling defence, but next season there will be expectations.

They have to cut down the goals allowed by as much as two per game. They have to move to the middle of the pack in special teams. They have to stop allowing a startling amount of shorthanded goals. And they have to do all of this while being a much more entertaining club than they have been for a long time.

There’s a honeymoon period for Martin St. Louis, Jeff Gorton, and Kent Hughes. It would be great if that honeymoon could last another two seasons. They should get that much time to rebuild this. For example, it’s going to take years just to unload all of these ridiculously long Marc Bergevin contracts. The former GM was under the impression everyone’s body lasts until 40 like his did at the NHL level.

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Instead, the club will have to tolerate many aging players being a drag on the salary cap and the win total. This fix is going to take a long time. Look to the goals against column first to see if things are progressing at all. If it’s 4.5 goals against, it will mean trouble. Just like the trouble you see now.

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When the season ends, it is likely that Nick Suzuki will be chosen to play for Canada at the World Hockey Championships. Suzuki says he will go, if he is asked, and certainly considering he is leading the Canadiens in scoring, he will be asked.

It would be outstanding if Cole Caufield were also asked to play for the Americans. These young players are at the point in their careers that any high level hockey that they can play, they should seek to play.

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

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