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Call Of The Wilde: Montreal Canadiens shock the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Montreal Canadiens lost more players for the entire season this week than they played hockey games. What a week that ended with the Toronto Maple Leafs visiting and the Canadiens pulling off a shocker, winning 3-2 in overtime.

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This Canadiens team under Martin St. Louis simply will not mail it in. Nine regulars out of the line-up from opening night, and they still beat the Maple Leafs. There are 22 points between them in the standings, yet Toronto was flummoxed trying to get out of their own zone.

The Canadiens could have definitely laid down their sticks after the first period, getting outshot 15-4 and trailing 2-0. Instead, they dominated the second period, outshooting powerhouse Toronto 19-8 to tie the game at two.

Josh Anderson was an absolute force. He showed a national Saturday night audience why NHL General Managers are clamouring to acquire him for a playoff run. Anderson ripped a one-time shot into the top corner for the first goal of the night on a perfect pass from Nick Suzuki.

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Rafael Harvey-Pinard tied it up with a hard-working effort around the net falling as he flipped it upstairs. The building was rocking and it was shocking. The Leafs are an extremely talented team, but they looked like the injury-riddled club.

READ MORE: Canadiens forward Caufield will require season ending shoulder surgery

Credit again to the pride of this group. They don’t have an Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner. In fact, they have only two forwards who are even in the same area code as those two players. Somehow, none of that mattered in a terrifically entertaining contest.

In overtime, Rem Pitlick ripped a shot perfectly into the top corner as the Bell Centre celebrated yet another win over the Leafs, who must be confused why they always seem to lose to the Canadiens.

Samuel Montembeault continues to make the case that he is a bona fide NHL goalie, and deserves a longer term contract. Often a back-up, when given a larger role with the team, folds as his concentration level goes down and his fatigue goes up.

That’s not happening with Montembeault. He’s played the last seven games straight and he’s playing the best hockey of his life. In seven contests, Montembeault has stopped 234 of 251 shots for a sparking save percentage of .932.

That can drop 20 points and it is still a strong save percentage this season where the shooters increasingly win more of the confrontations. Montembeault’s numbers say NHL goalie. Ignore the pedigree. If your 26-year-old goalie is figuring it out, roll with it, and roll with him.

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The fans are only asking for an entertaining night full of effort, because they all understand the injuries and that it is a rebuilding year.

The fans are more than smart enough to know the challenges the protagonists have in this script: Give the Leafs a scare, and it’s all good. Beat them and it’s even better.

READ MORE: ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’: Montreal Canadiens general manager provides mid-season update

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A team that struggles to score at the best of times certainly did not need to lose the player responsible for 22 per cent of the goals this season. In a shocker on Saturday morning, Cole Caufield was lost for the rest of the season to a shoulder injury. Caufield will require surgery in the near future for a torn labrum, so he can return in good health for the next campaign.

The best information comes from team captain Nick Suzuki, who spoke after the morning skate: “It’s an ongoing injury that he’s been battling through, trying to play. It was just decided that it was best to shut him down and get him ready for next year. Obviously, it’s tough for Cole. I feel for him. He wants to be here and play. He’s a bit upset, but I think it will be best for his future and next year, for sure.”

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Caufield has actually scored at the same clip recently that he has all season. He was on pace for a 46 goal campaign, which would have been the best total this century for the Canadiens. It’s a devastating moment for the fans who have little reason to get excited now. The Caufield goal chase was the most exciting story that remained.

The curiousity of watching the first pick overall Juraj Slafkovsky is also gone. Injury. The joy of watching the rookie rearguard Kaiden Guhle is also gone. Injury. Only Kirby Dach and Nick Suzuki remain as exciting young forwards on the club, and there’s a rumour floating that Dach is also now injured.

Having the surgery now is about which season is more important for Montreal. If they were to hold off until the end of this season to keep the 40 goal hunt alive, then Caufield would not have been healthy and ready for what Montreal is hoping will not be such a rebuilding year starting in October.

You can pay me now or you can pay me later.

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The Canadiens wisely chose next season, but this was not an easy choice. The six months of rehab will begin soon, and when bringing Caufield’s agent Pat Brisson into the conversation, it appears that it should have actually started sooner.

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Again, to Suzuki for an idea of how deep a decision like this gets between a player’s wishes, agent’s wishes, and General Manager Kent Hughes wishes as he builds for a better season in 2023-24:  “I know Cole’s been talking with the GM and his agent.”

An agent would usually want a 40-goal campaign in the back pocket to use it as a bargaining chip as his player heads to his next contract with hopes of locking in long term big money. However, Brisson indicated to Sportsnet’s Eric Engels that the injury had a chance to get worse and the surgery more complicated if it were aggravated more. Brisson indicated that every shift Caufield skated made him cringe.

All of us learning that vital point, cringe right along with Brisson.

Why Caufield would continue to play with an injury that could get more complicated in a nothing season is perhaps the first organizational error under Kent Hughes. Thankfully, it is an error that they got away with, but let this be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for more caution from the medical staff from now on.

Caution finally won out this morning after receiving another medical report on the shoulder last night. Historically, often the decision is changed when an MRI shows something new.  After many imaging tests, they finally got one that said pull the plug. It should not have come to that.

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What a shot to the gut for the fans this season. The line-up is so thin up front it resembles the Laval Rocket as much as the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, even with three call-ups at forward this week, the club still has only 11 forwards to ice.

The situation is so dire that Montreal does now have the right, through the Collective Bargaining Agreement, to bring up an emergency call-up from junior hockey. It could lead to Joshua Roy, Owen Beck, or Filip Mesar joining the roster.

It’s a good idea from an entertainment point of view, considering this season has lost almost all of its good storylines. Watching Roy play his first NHL games would be thrilling after he was so exciting at the World Junior Championships.

Read more: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens shock the Winnipeg Jets with easy 4-1 win

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It’s always a difficult moment for fans when the best storyline is the standings and the focus on them is to go lower. However, pain brings gain, and the gain is a high draft pick that should be getting higher with the loss of the only truly elite scorer on the entire team.

If the glass is half full though, might as well get a full infirmary out of the way this season, so everyone is healthy, fresh, and ready next year.

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This season is now a write-off, except for all the rookie defencemen learning their craft on the fly.  It was always going to be a write-off in some capacity. Now, they’re doing it with authority to draft top-five to get Will Smith, or win the lottery to draft first or second to get Connor Bedard, or Adam Fantilli.

That’s the real prize now, but January 21st to mid-April is a lot of suffering before that gift is finally presented.

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

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