Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall to Vegas Golden Knights

The Montreal Canadiens took on the Vegas Golden Knights at the Bell Centre on Saturday. It shaped up to be a difficult test, Vegas being the best team in the west.

Montreal held its own but fell 6-4.

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The Canadiens have a new but old problem again. If Kirby Dach is the answer to whom should play with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, the club needs a number two centre again. It certainly looks like Dach belongs on the number one line.

He has terrific chemistry with the two, who also belong together. Dach is the right type of player for the pair. He is a puck-winner. Suzuki and Caufield definitely need a player who can go into the corners and come out with the puck. Dach also brings size. Again, this is needed on that line.

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Finally, Dach has terrific vision on the ice. His pass in the first period to a trailing Caufield was outstanding. Caufield came in late and didn’t even seem to be in the picture when the pass was delivered through three Vegas players. Caufield was alone for his eighth goal of the season in his 12th game — on pace for 52 goals this season.

Early third period, it’s a three-on-one for the Canadiens, with all three members of the line rushing up the ice. It’s Dach who is actually in the middle. He works a give-and-go and Suzuki finishes for the tying marker.

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Still in the third period, and the three count again. This time on the power play. Dach and Caufield with the assists on Suzuki’s second of the night. They have something here. They have a legitimate top line in the NHL. The line is in on 18 of the team’s 34 goals this season. That’s a ridiculously high total. Dach is a perfect partner for the pair, and credit to Head Coach Martin St. Louis for seeing it.

Here’s the issue though: to win in the NHL, you need to be strong down the middle. Christian Dvorak is not the answer to the 2C question. Owen Beck absolutely lighting it up in his draft plus one year for the Mississauga’s Steelheads may be a better answer than Dvorak.

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However, neither is projected to fill that role for a championship calibre team, and that has to be the goal for management, to get all of the pieces necessary before their rise out of these ashes like a phoenix.

Where do they find that 2C? This year’s draft is the best this century and perhaps ever. There are eight players who would have been chosen ahead of Juraj Slafkovsky this year. Six of those players are centres. The Canadiens have to get one.

The goal is Connor Bedard, but if they can’t land him, then Adam Fantilli is like a 1A compared to Bedard. He is also world-class and a generational player. Down the line, you find more like Leo Carlsson lighting it up in Europe.

Here’s the issue though on that front: the Canadiens are just too good for a top-eight pick to come to pass. They are not drafting higher than ninth playing like this — thirteenth, maybe, if they’re lucky.

The Vegas Golden Knights are the best team in the west right now, playing at a frantic pace, but the Canadiens didn’t have any issues keeping up with them. The Canadiens simply are not bad enough. They are not likely to get worse either. This roster is young and improving by the game. This was expected to be their hardest quarter of the season.

The three rookies on defence who played Saturday look like they are veterans. They are so poised and clever. They play the modern game as well. They have first passes that are better than the previous generation of Habs defencemen by a large margin.

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The ceiling of the young D-corps looks high and getting higher. But you must leave this standings malaise with two first pair defenders and two top centre men. This is the prerequisite to every cup winner this century but one — the St. Louis Blues.

They don’t have the components yet. They have two locks: Nick Suzuki and Kaiden Guhle. They must get more. If Dach is not a centre, then they need one. If Lane Hutson can’t handle the NHL physically, then they need a defender like him who can quarterback the power play and lead offensively while taking care of his own end as well.

The club is not ready to rise up. They still need two more marquee pieces.

The club is too ready to rise up. They’re too good to finish bottom eight.  Quite the paradox.

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It’s been a tough time for Joel Edmundson, who is trying to get healthy again from a bad back. He finally got to play his first game to end the road trip, and he did alright. Not perfect, but alright. However, that rust came in hard in game two.

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Edmundson struggled mightily. He was directly responsible for the first goal with a terrible pass straight to Vegas. He added some blatant errors as the game went on, but let’s keep in mind that Edmundson needs a little time to get his game back. He’s an excellent defender, and he will be again soon.

The other negative on the night was a late hit by Josh Anderson. He must have been feeling frustrated because his hit on Alex Pietrangelo was out of character. Anderson charged into him and boarded him from behind. Anderson got five minutes and a game, and the NHL may just add another game’s suspension to the mix.

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The fan base of the Montreal Canadiens will be forced to make a moral decision one day: what to do about Logan Mailloux. There are those who think Mailloux deserves a second chance for the sex crime he committed in Europe, while others think he should remain in purgatory or continue his penance.

At some near future moment, the fan base will need to resolve how they feel about this player one way or the other. Why? Because Mailloux is coming. It is undeniably clear that he is, without a doubt, an NHL player. He has star potential even.

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Mailloux has suffered countless injuries over the last two seasons, so his game total is still at only 25. That’s a sample size that is so small, it is easy to have no idea exactly what the Canadiens have with this defender.

Now that he is healthy and playing a lot of minutes with the London Knights, he is shining. He is showing the outstanding potential that made him a first round draft choice.

He also is showing an offensive side that could make him, alongs with Lane Hutson, the power play specialist that the club has needed since losing Andrei Markov. Mailloux and Hutson on the power play at the blue line would be massively superior to what the club has now.

The Canadiens are 29th in the league with the extra man, yet again. It’s a black hole on the club that won’t be filled until they have one or two defenders with some vision of how to create and open up seams to break down defenders.

In a loss on Friday, Mailloux scored two goals. However, his best moment was a gorgeous rush through traffic where he not only won the zone but then carried on right to the goal. He passed off a sitter to the other side of the crease that was not completed for the easy goal. What Mailloux did on the play screamed NHLer.

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One day in an arena in the NHL, one fan base is going to have to decide if they’re prepared to cheer amazing plays from Mailloux, or still hold him accountable for his past.

The day is coming. It must. He won’t be denied. He’s too good.

Time to decide, Montreal.

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

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