Call Of The Wilde: Washington Capitals rout the Montreal Canadiens

The seven-game road trip has gotten rough. Make it only one win in the first six games after a difficult day in DC. The Washington Capitals ripped the Montreal Canadiens 9-2.

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“Those are repetitions that you can’t buy.” That’s how Head Coach Martin St. Louis described Nick Suzuki facing Aleksander Barkov all night Thursday and getting dominated by one of the game’s best centres.

It’s been a tough go recently for Suzuki who was a point-per-game player earlier this season, but now looks like he will end up this year only a little higher than his career-best 61 points.

It’s not as if Suzuki isn’t improving. He is. However, to start to become a point-per-game player, there has to be some support overall through the ranks. It’s extremely difficult when the team itself hasn’t had a three-goal game since December 6.

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The power play has to add to the goal total as well, but the Canadiens are at the bottom of the league. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for Suzuki overall. He, Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach are all struggling at the moment as teams realize that if you shut down these three players, then that’s an easy win.

The top line doesn’t get any easy shifts against the other club’s fourth line. They also never face the third defensive pair of the opposition. It all adds up to a dreary time right now. However, it’s a 23-year-old and two 21-year-olds. It will improve.

All three of the first line were involved in the first Canadiens goal. That’s how it has been going. They get one goal or none, and the rest of the forwards don’t support with much.

Caufield scored again for two on the afternoon and 21 on the season. He’s on pace for a 47-goal season. Suzuki leads in points. Dach has the best Corsi on the team. It’s all on them, and most of the time they deliver, but they can’t score all of the goals and keep the club in the game by themselves.

Give them time. Give them support through the line-up. They’ll be top-six players for many seasons.

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Now, if only the three top forwards on the club could get even a smidgen of support overall.

However, Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia don’t have a single goal this season. Jake Evans has one goal this season. Evgenii Dadonov has two goals. We are almost halfway through the campaign already.

The prospect pool is going to mature soon and it will be a welcome change to see what they can do, because it has to be better than three goals from four forwards that so much was expected and so little has been delivered.

The good news is most of the contracts will run out when the highly touted prospects arrive.

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All six of the Montreal Canadiens draft picks in the World Junior Championships are having strong tournaments as we head to the knockout phase. A top-of-the-lineup player or two from this group is possible for the Canadiens.

It’s difficult to say who has had the best tournament when there is such disparity in opportunity between the have and have-not nations. However, Lane Hutson is the best place to start in terms of relief that he can bring it at all levels.

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Hutson had to prove at the world junior level that the dominance that he has shown offensively could continue while showing that he would not be overwhelmed by the world’s best in his age group while playing defence. He has proven it all with great talent.

Hutson has not been beaten at all in this event in a strength capacity, and that is the biggest positive revelation of the event from a discovery point of view. Hutson doesn’t even get into many strength battles. What he skilfully does most of the time is separate himself from the battle with ease before it even begins.

On dump-ins into his corner, Hutson is already making his decision on what to do with the puck as he approaches it. There is no physical battle most of the time, so he doesn’t get into any difficulty with his small frame.

On the offensive side of the puck, Hutson has had such a strong tourney that he has been moved up to the top pairing often with Luke Hughes, who is likely the best defenceman in the world not playing in the NHL today, though David Jiricek might take exception to that statement.

Hutson in four preliminary round games has one goal and one assist. He has been all around the puck, moving it up ice, threading gorgeous stretch passes with ease, and reading the ice with the same skill that he is doing regularly at Boston University.

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Joshua Roy has also moved up the depth chart at times in the tourney, getting ice time on the top line. Roy has three goals and three assists in four games. He is a clever player with great instincts in the offensive zone. It will be interesting to see how his lack of outstanding foot speed translates to the NHL.

Filip Mesar, on the other hand, skates beautifully. He has in four games two goals and three assists, and could have so much more with a little belief in his own game. Many times Mesar has a defender on the back foot and he has already won the offensive ice, but he refuses to take it.

When a coach is able to train Mesar to aggressively take that ice and take the defender on, his level is going to elevate easily without any change to his talent footprint. On this small instinctive adjustment alone, expect Mesar to show much more as he progresses in North America.

Another player who has elevated his standing during the tourney is Adam Engstrom of Sweden. He has moved to the first pairing for Sweden thanks to strong play. He has a goal and two assists after the group stage. Engstrom doesn’t get a lot of ink as a third round draft pick playing in the SHL, but he’s ahead of many on the Canadiens blue line depth chart with this WJC performance.

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The Finnish forward Oliver Kapanan has a goal and an assist after the round-robin. He was a second rounder in 2021, and should be a little farther along at this stage, but he is having a good season in Liiga and progress is not a straight line ever.

The final player Vinzenz Rohrer is difficult to evaluate as he plays for Austria. He missed a game due to illness, and notched only an assist in three games. However, it’s difficult to create offence alone. Austria was outscored 35-2. Rohrer can’t score from 160 feet away, so throw this event out as an evaluation of his skill set. You can’t show skills chasing the puck all day.

Overall, no one has disappointed. All six have NHL potential. Some have the potential to crack a top-six or top-four. A great event for the Canadiens and five of the six players are still playing in the quarter-finals.

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

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