Call Of The Wilde: Montreal Canadiens come back to beat the St. Louis Blues

The Montreal Canadiens losing skid is over at seven games. At the Bell Centre on Saturday night, the Canadiens thrilled the crowd with a comeback 5-4 win over the St. Louis Blues.

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It was uplifting to see the best young players on the Canadiens show some jump in their stride again after a rough go on the road. Nick Suzuki has hit a dry patch in the last three weeks, but he had excellent jump in this one.

Suzuki on the power play was especially sharp as he was creating around the edges, changing angles, setting up Caufield, and ringing the post with a crisp shot. It was his best game in a month. He contributed with two assists.

Kirby Dach also contributed, ending his malaise. Dach was strong on the power play and counted with a snapshot from 25 feet to tie the contest at two. Dach celebrated enthusiastically, which is a good indicator that the monkey on his back was getting heavy.

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Cole Caufield offered his usual great shots as well on a power play that was more effective in movement and ability to keep pressure on than it has been in a long time. Caufield was robbed of a sure goal on a one-timer with the extra man.

In the third period, Caufield came through with his 23rd goal of the season. He was in tight to the goalie and flipped it upstairs. He usually snipes with power and accuracy, but this one he scored with savvy.  Caufield’s pace to become the first 40 goal scorer on the Canadiens this century is well in reach. Caufield projects to a 47 goal season.

The club also got some contributions from players who have been struggling. Joel Armia scored twice after scoring his first goal of the season on Thursday just to show how much can be about confidence. Jonathan Drouin was credited with his first goal of the year, though it was tapped in by Josh Anderson.

Either way, whoever gets credit, they were enthusiastic for each other and both could use the marker. It ended up being the game-winner, and the camaraderie was actually more telling than anything else.

If you see a club in a tailspin this deep, and the friendships seem to be well intact, it speaks to a strong head coach keeping learning in the forefront. It also speaks to a good spirit amongst the players as well. This was a Saturday night filled with good spirit when no one would have been surprised if they weren’t that united after a month of losses.

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It was an enthusiastic night at the Bell Centre. The fans totally enjoyed it as the building was alive. The goals were flying. The players needed this as well.

There have been a lot of opportunities to fill this section over the last month. This is a chance to not, so we will take it.

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It appears General Manager Kent Hughes and Executive Vice President Jeff Gorton have decided to keep Juraj Slafkovsky in Montreal for the season. If they were interested in sending the 18-year-old rookie to Laval, it would have logically been done on Saturday afternoon.

The reason is that against the Blues, the Canadiens had Slafkovsky on their roster for a 40th game. That triggered a full season of service designation, meaning that Slafkovsky brought his unrestricted free agent status one year closer. Management showed they’re more concerned about Slafkovsky in 2023 than 2030.

Right now, Slafkovsky needs to develop as a better hockey player. If the management team had an idea that this can happen in the American Hockey League, then they would have made the call with the added bonus of not burning a year of his eligibility toward freedom.

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Obviously, a management team is trying to keep its assets under their control as long as possible, but the greater goal is to provide your player with the best chance to succeed. Hughes and Gorton felt the greater need is to be in Montreal as an 18-year-old for better development.

Not how that is seen here, but they have not faltered so far as managers, so let’s see how this develops. The popular formula is to put the high pick in the NHL and ride him with limited minutes, limited opportunity, and hope he picks it up anyway at the highest level.

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Alexis Lafrreniere is a good example as he still has not found his game, nor has he found much opportunity on the fourth line and in the press box. Another example is Jack Hughes, who struggled in his first year looking lost and too small, but he eventually figured it out.

At the end of the argument for or against whether an 18-year-old should play in the NHL or not is one underlying thought that overrides everything else: If the player is truly talented, no matter how he is developed, he will figure it out. He will rise above any mistakes his managers make.

Hughes has risen above his 18-year-old issues to become one of the best players in the game. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has not developed, on the other hand. One asks the question then is that about development or talent? Maybe Hughes is simply more talented, and even if Kotkaniemi was developed perfectly, it would never change that he’s just not that talented.

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Cole Caufield was developed beautifully at Wisconsin where he had seven shots per game in his sophomore season with all the opportunity that he could hope for. He set college scoring records and won the Hobey Baker award.

Caufield then was destroyed by his first pro head coach, but he recovered beautifully under his second head coach. Was Caufield always going to figure it out because of his talent, or would his career have continued to falter under the wrong head coach?

The answer is the talented player will find his way despite any missteps in development. Hughes and Caufield always had the talent to figure it out, and they did.

For Slafkovsky, while Laval is better than Montreal conceptually for me, he will rise to his talent level no matter where he receives his chance as long as he receives a chance.

The more important issue for Slafkovsky is he needs to be given opportunity. He needs ice time, talented line-mates, power play time.  Given a chance, he will rise to his talent level wherever he plays.

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

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